Friday, April 18, 2003

Food for thought, geopolitics. You learn that situations are as important as ideologies. After all, communists, capitalists, libertarians, and royalists are all human. That is one of the core conceits of much political theorists (at least macro theorists); that capitalists, et. al., will react in similar manners to similar situations, they will just use different rhetorical excuses.

In broad terms, I agree with this. Exceptions must always be made for those political actors who are 'strict' ideologues like, say, the Vatican, or Cuba. To these political entities ideology often does override typical reactions.

A few days ago I discussed the ways that America is beginning to act as a hegemonic power, or empire. But what sort of empire are we? Early Rome was a Republican Empire (not that way! They were a Republic that acted as an empire) while later Rome was a Dictatorial Empire. I suspect that America is becoming an Oligarchy, or 'rule by a few'; more precisely a Plutocracy, or 'rule by the richest'. I also threw out some (U.S. Government supplied) numbers on how the richest 1% of America out earn the lowest 90% - they control much more than that - after all, they make all that money by controlling massive corporations. So the richest 1% also decides who among the rest has a job, how much that job pays, etc. Rarely discussed, this power disparity is much more dramatic than the income disparity.

And this power is actually much more effective in the US, and its use much more naked. In virtually every other democratic (or non-democratic, for that matter) nation on Earth it is illegal for a corporation to give millions of dollars to a politician or political candidate - its called 'bribing someone'. Here, its called 'fund raising'. Ditto for private individuals giving huge sums of cash to, say, a chief of police, or mayor, or president. Heck, our big argument is if some big donors even have to be publically revealed! The 2000 presidential election cost $3 billion dollars; you can't tell me that the people who 'donated' over $1 billion to the winner don't expect something in return for their money.

Not that long after the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, Unocal (aka United Oil of California) starting working on negotiations to complete a pipeline from the Turmenistan accesses to the oil and gas resources of the Caspian Sea area to the Indian Ocean ports of Pakistan via Afghanistan. Indeed, in December 1997 they were training Afghans to build this pipeline. And despite the already notorious actions of the Taliban, Unocal and other American energy companies were more than willing to do business with them.

Except, of course, for the continued instability in the region. It was too dangerous to build a pipeline. And a broken pipeline would send stock prices down. What to do?

Then the Bush Redux administration came in, an administration where most of the 'top players' (the President, the vice-President, the Secretary of Defense, the National Security Advisor, and many others) were all ex-oil corporation executives. And most still had close ties *cough, cough, stock, cough* to the 'energy sector'.

And Eurasia (the very eastern edge of Europe, the Middle East, and Central Asia) is estimated to have about, oh, 75% or so of the energy reserves (oil, gas, coal, and fissionables) on Earth. Controlling this region, militarily, politically, or economically, would go a long way to making a lot of oil people much richer than they already are. and they are already rich enough to donate billions of dollars to politics.

And lest you think I am on a "blood for oil" rant I learned from Chomsky, there are many other reasons to be involved in the region.

It is politically very important. Arab nationalism is in some ways finally catching up to the sentiments felt in other regions in the '60's, '70's, and early '80's. Just as the political oligarchs felt it was critical for us to blunt the 'extreme effects' of nationalism (like local people and governments controlling and profiting from local resources, rather than watching multinational corporations strip the land reap the benefits) in places like Latin America and Africa, there are certainly people very interested in curbing this disturbing notion on the part of some Arabs that they are perhaps getting a raw deal from existing governments and maybe they want newer, more representational, governments. And lest you think that America, child of revolution that she is, would never prevent the people of another nation from determining their own destiny, may I point out that in the late '50's/early '60's when the people of Iran ejected their King and tried to go to a representational democracy based upon the American model the CIA stopped the revolution, helped grab the elected leaders, and placed the Shah back on his throne. Why? Because the Shah would keep the existing contracts in place (to the incredible profit of a number of foreign multinational oil corpoprations) rather than nationalising the industry (so that well-trained Iranians would pump, process, and profit from Iranian oil). So the Iranians had their democracy squashed by the CIA, British Petroleum and its American partners kept their fat profits, and Americans paid a higher price at the pump (after all, BP had to ship the oil a few times to process it. It maximized their profits, but resulted in more expensive gasoline than if it was all done centrally in Iran).

Is it any wonder the Iranians were so very angry at America when they had their next revolution?

A military reason to be quite interested in the region is its central location. From this area you can directly 'project power' (also known as 'threaten') all of Europe and Asia, as well as northern Africa. Russia, China, and India - all potential major political and military powers of the future - can all be watched very closely. Currently, to launch a ground war on any of these nations would require some other nation allowing us to base ourselves in their territory before attacking their powerful neighbor. In some cases even air attacks are very, very tough because of distance. The solution would be army, air force, and naval bases in the Middle East and Central Asia. This is currently not possible.

Well, not exactly. Afghanistan has been considered strategically critical to the region since about the time of Alexander the Great. Since its central location provides access to Russia, Iran, China, and India its probably more important now. Great location from army and air bases. But where to put the navy? I mean, carrier groups travel the high seas all the time - how do we increase our influence on the local waterways?

Unless you have lived in a cave since the opening of the Silk Road, you know I mean the Persian Gulf. But where in the Gulf? There is a place that is politically and militarily important - it has a deep water port; its location gives an excuse for travelling the entire Gulf; the surrounding territory borders Iran and the splinter Russian Republics (also getting nationalistic); and it can threaten virtually every nation in the Middle East. It is, of course, Iraq.

So if you want to begin to politically, economically, and militarily dominate Eurasia, where would you start? Almost certainly Afghanistan and Iraq - they are strategically important, politically isolated, and militarily pathetic. Seizing either or both would allow you to continue hegemonic activity/empire building/economic-political-military aggression against the immediate neighbors of that state.

So, do i think that some shadow conspiracy is running this thing? Not really. As a matter of fact I thinks its almost certainly not truly coordinated. What I do think is happening is a confluence of events that make certain things virtually inevitible. In broad strokes they are;

the beginnings of a true plutocracy in America

America's position as hegemonic power

The power vacuum caused by the lack of a true coalition in opposing America's hegemony

The social and political turmoil of growing Eurasian nationalism

A morally and ethically weak administration and legislature that has no core ideology with which to resist the tides of political and economic interests.

The last is important. You see, no matter how common human reactions are in similar situations, they are not fated. Most people flee a fire in terror - some save others at risk to their own life. Geopolitics are the same: some react like "most people", some change the world. And history has proven time and again that one person can change the world and, indeed, individuals are effecting change all of the time. But without some core ethical and moral framework it is virtually impossible to resist these "common reactions" - that's why they are common.

Our current political climate, with its soundbites, soft money, and reliance on polls, is probably not the place to find many people with a strong, internally-consistent moral/ethical framework. Hence, the growth of Imperial America.

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