Wednesday, August 13, 2008

War in Georgia

When I heard about the conflict in the Caucasus between the Republic of Georgia and Russia, and especially Michael Klare’s (author of Blood and Oil) comments about its relationship to United States designs on the huge oil deposits nearby, something rang a bell.

Then I remembered. Jeremy Scahill, in his book "Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army," has a short chapter on Blackwater and Caspian Sea oil. Take a look at a map of the region and you see that Georgia is located smack in the corridor between the Caspian and the Black Seas. Its closest neighbor, bordering its south and east, is Azerbaijan. Scahill tells us that in order to protect western oil and gas interests in that region, the Pentagon “deployed ‘civilian contractors’ from Blackwater and other firms to set up an operation that would serve a dual purpose: protecting the West’s new profitable oil and gas exploitation in a region historically dominated by Russia and Iran, and possibly lay the groundwork for an important forward operating base for an attack against Iran” (p. 173).

Now, with the battle over Georgia, we see more of what’s going on. According to Klare, the United States, beginning with the Clinton administration, has been pouring arms into a province, Georgia, that had never had a real army of its own (it is, after all, the Russian province which gave the world Josef Stalin). Now it’s armed to the teeth, and those arms (plus special forces training similar to the kind the U.S. has long exported to its neighborhood friendly dictators via the School of the Americas) apparently gave it the notion that it could simply invade Ossetia without consequences. In Azerbaijan, the tactic is a bit subtler, but possibly more dangerous: send in private “contractors,” i.e. mercenaries, instead of our own forces. And why? Because we love democracy, as the President would have it; because we love freedom?

Not exactly. As Scahill and Klare make clear, it’s about oil, folks. Russia and its Caspian Sea region has all this oil. And we have almost none (Klare, in a recent essay, “Portrait of an Oil-Addicted Former Superpower,” contends that, because of its insatiable need for foreign oil, the U.S. has already faded as a superpower). Russia also has these former provinces which seem open to western money, influence, and clandestine activities—not to mention that western-owned pipeline which bypasses Russia and therefore avoids Russian control. More than that, both countries, Georgia and Azerbaijan, are “sandwiched between Russia and Iran,” so sending uniformed American troops could be provocative, but sending private contractors keeps things a bit quieter (at least, that was the hope).

Now, however, the Georgian attack on Ossetia and the overwhelming Russian response has blown things into stark relief. The United States has been caught playing a risky game, inciting the Georgians into a tweak of the Russian bear’s whiskers, and no doubt doing the same in Azerbaijan. In the latter country, according to Scahill, Blackwater mercenaries are being used to “bolster Azerbaijan’s military capabilities, including creating units modeled after the United States’ most elite Special Forces, the Navy SEALs—this in a country, according to Human Rights Watch, already prone to employing “torture, police abuse, and excessive use of force by security forces.” In Georgia, though, the Russian bear has struck back, with consequences no one can really predict. What we can predict is that, once again, the United States is stirring up a witch’s brew of conflicting loyalties, as in Iraq, which may prove impossible to control. And it is doing so in a region that has exploded before, and could well explode again. For all we know, that may be the intention here: start a little backfire, set the tanks and planes rolling, and perhaps find the excuse the Bushies have been looking for to invade yet another muslim country, Iran. Then the United States of America, the great “peacemaker,” will have torched not just Afghanistan, not just Iraq, not just Georgia, but the whole damn region.

Meantime, our leaders are singing their song of outrage: big bully Russia has attacked a defenseless “democracy,” is trying to reincorporate Georgia into its “empire,” and must withdraw, immediately. How noble they sound, demanding a ceasefire, pretending to work hard for peace—all the while knowing that they themselves are the incendiaries, the naughty boys who simply can’t stop pouring oil on fire, or fire on oil, take your pick. Only this time, the game is not working very well. Russia holds all the cards here. It has all the oil, and the United States has nothing but oil debt. So weakened has the Bush Administration made us (Klare points out that with the average GI in Iraq using 27 gallons of petroleum-based fuels per day, America’s gasoline bill for 160,000 troops comes to more than $14 million per day, or $5.1 billion per year) that it took France’s President Sarkozy to put together an initial cease-fire.

At this writing, Georgia is licking its wounds and a once-invincible superpower is left with nothing but protests about the brutality of Russia’s “invasion.” That, and the vain hope that somehow its oil exploitation in the Caspian region can survive the blow. If it does not, and if the U.S. keeps adding fuel to the regional fire (such as today's Bush administration action of using military planes to send "humanitarian aid" to its dear ally, Georgia), the least of the consequences may be the $200-a-barrel oil prices that many have predicted.

Addendum, 8/14: It bears noticing that, as Robert Scheer suggests in “Georgia War a Neocon Election Ploy?” (common dreams, 8/13), Republican candidate John McCain might well benefit from the current demonizing of Russia in the Georgia conflict. Instead of having to defend an unpopular war in Iraq, McCain gets to look tough with respect to the alleged expansionist ambitions of America’s old reliable enemy, Russia. All of which might sound far-fetched until we consider McCain’s senior foreign policy adviser, Randy Scheunemann. Not only is Scheunemann one of the leading neocons who gave us the war in Iraq, but served for 4 years as a paid lobbyist for this same Republic of Georgia. Turning Russia into an enemy once again would thus be a triple play for Scheunemann: it would fulfill his and other neocon wet dreams of reviving the Cold War, as well as serving his old client, Georgia, and his new one, McCain. That it might also start a Hot War, of course, is just one of those risks “real men” like the neocons are willing to take.

Lawrence DiStasi

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