A recent article in the "Washington Post" provided a brief
but revealing portrait of the role of US Special Forces in Afghanistan.
The story was not about searching out Bin Laden and his followers in
the caves of Afghanistan. Instead, the "Post" reported on a
US Special Forces operation aimed at interdicting and destroying Iranian
oil shipments to Afghan cities. According to the report, the trucks carrying
the oil were destroyed by the camouflaged and goggled-eyed soldiers.
Shouting "terrorists" at the frightened Iranian truck-drivers,
the Special Forces handcuffed the drivers and led them away from where
the trucks were then blown to bits. Although not harmed physically,
the Iranians were completely baffled by why they were targets of such
an attack, especially given the alleged civilian customers.
The reader of the story might also be baffled as to why US Special Forces
would conduct such an operation. Certainly, one could argue from the
Pentagon's perspective that delivering precious fuel to potential Taliban
supporters would constitute an important target. Of course, acknowledging
that military targets encompass fuel supplies raises questions about
how precise and restricted these military targets are. In fact, the Pentagon
has conducted its military campaign in Afghanistan with weapons (e.g.,
cluster bombs) and targets (e.g. power stations) that put civilians,
in particular, at risk.
But, then, the larger question remains: "Why Iranian oil trucks?"
What does Iranian oil, or indeed, any oil have to do with the war in
Afghanistan? Simply put, the answer is that one of the primary subtexts
for the Bush Administration's war in Afghanistan has been to guarantee
control over the oil flow and reserves in Central Asia.
Such intervention in this region is not new. In fact,
when the popularly elected Dr. Mohammed Mossadeq threatened to nationalize
Iranian oil in 1953, US and British secret services conspired in overthrowing
him and restoring the Shah to power. Then, the political rationale
for this intervention was the "communist" threat. So, Cold
War ideology became a convenient cover for what would become an oil
bonanza for Standard and Gulf. It's also not surprising that one of
the key CIA operatives at the time in Iran, Kermit Roosevelt, later
became an executive with Gulf Oil.
Protection of US oil interests became a consuming matter
to a host of Administrations. The so-called Carter doctrine, based
on President Carter's State of the Union address in 1980 in the aftermath
of the Iranian revolution made clear that an "attempt by any outside
force to gain control of the Persian Gulf will be regarded by an assault
on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an
assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military
The presence and build-up by the Carter, Reagan, and
Bush Administrations of the US military in the region was, of course,
not viewed as an "outside
force," at least not by the client Gulf states whose corrupt and
undemocratic regimes were willing partners in the oil business and
even more willing clients for Pentagon products and forces. As long
as Iraq was a willing junior partner in its war with Iran, the US willingly
fed Saddam Hussein all the heinous weapons that he turned against the
Kurds and other inhabitants of Iraq. Only when Iraq threatened Kuwait
and Saudi Arabia and talked about taking its petrodollars elsewhere
did the Bush Administration raise its concern about stability in the
region and US vital interests.
Obviously, other geopolitical matters and internal politics in the US
were part of the subtext for the Gulf War. But it's no surprise that
the Gulf War was quickly labeled a war for oil by opponents of Bush's
policies in the region and gained some resonance with the general population
in the US. Unfortunately, the corporate media, submitting rather pliantly
to government censorship, had little interest in probing the connections
between the politics of oil and the Bush Administration.
Now with another Bush Administration in Washington, but
with many of the same players, including those with obvious oil connections
like VP Dick Cheney, and another war in the region, there needs to
be some analysis of the politics of oil. The "Post" article
gives no inkling of the oil connections. Nor should one expect to find
those linkages in the corporate media. However, when one turns to alternative
media sources and the internet, an interesting history comes to light
- a history focused in particular around the role of the Unocal Oil
Unocal has been actively engaged in doing business with repressive regimes
throughout the world in their search for oil and natural gas reserves.
From connections to military dictatorships in Burma and Indonesia, Unocal
spread its oily tentacles throughout the third world. Having been part
of a consortium of US oil firms exploring potential gas and oil reserves
in Central Asia, Unocal turned its attention to Afghanistan in the late
1990's. Not averse to doing business with the Taliban, Unocal unsuccessfully
tried to induce the Taliban as late as last summer into making a deal
for a major oil pipeline across the country. When the talks broke off,
there were rumblings in Washington that the Taliban would have to make
way for a more pliable government.
It's important to stress that Unocal, like many Washington
policymakers, was willing to do business with the Taliban and turn
a blind eye to their outrageous human rights abuses. More importantly,
Unocal was fishing around for Washington to assert its power in the
region to get a more pliable government in Afghanistan. Appearing before
the House International Relations Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific
in February of 1998, John J. Maresca, Unocal's VP for International
Relations asserted: "From
the outset, we have made it clear that the construction of our proposed
pipeline cannot begin until a recognized government is in place that
has the confidence of our government, lenders, and our company." Maresca
went on to urge "the Administration and Congress to give strong
support to the UN-Led peace process in Afghanistan."
Now that the Bush Administration through its military campaign has devastated
an already brutalized country, the touting on a new non-Taliban government
has become a key political objective and the UN is offering its services
to help broker a new government in Afghanistan. Of course, neither the
UN nor any other international agency was utilized by the Bush Administration
to seek an alternative to the war in Afghanistan. Working through the
World Court on the newly developed International Criminal Court (which
the US has spurned) would have been impossible given the track record
of Washington in these matters. Even when the Taliban offered to give
up Bin Laden to a third country, Washington rejected this and pursued
its nearly unilateral military campaign.
With this larger context in mind, the US Special Forces operation against
Iranian oil shipments to Afghanistan becomes less murky. Furthermore,
Bush's executive orders to prevent release of the presidential papers
of his father's Administration and the Reagan Administration and the
use of secret military tribunals against terrorist networks also takes
on a new perspective. A cover-up of connections to the politics of oil,
including the financial involvement of the Bin Laden family interests
in Saudi Arabia, is an obvious subtext in all of this.
It would be a mistake to assume that the only motivation
for the war in Afghanistan is oil. The whole agenda of military and
business interests in the region and the continuing necessity to prop-up
an arcane military Keynesianism, especially through the expenditure
of funds for weapons, however immoral and in violation of international
law, is of paramount importance to the military-industrial complex
running this country. Until the people wake up to the message contained
in Eisenhower's farewell address, we will face unending wars made by
Washington policymakers. Warning against the "unwarranted influence" of the
"military-industrial complex," Eisenhower prophesied about
the "potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power."
In this two front war at home and abroad, we are witnesses to the misplaced
power of the Bush Administration. Before there are more victims of such
megalomanical Washington policymakers, we need to recall another Eisenhower
prophecy, albeit paraphrased: Some day the people of this country will
get so tired of the warmakers that they will rise up and get rid of them.
With so many lives in the balance, can we afford to wait any longer?
Fran Shor is a Professor at Wayne State University and a member of the
Michigan Coalition on Human Rights. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.