The Pipeline From Hell

by , May 28, 2005

George W. Bush’s arrival at the Moscow commemoration of V-E Day was preceded and followed by open provocations. The stopover in Riga, Latvia’s capital, was a stinging reminder to the Russians that this former Soviet satellite state, conquered by Stalin as a result of our “victory” in World War II, is now ensconced in the NATO alliance – which stands ready to extend its influence deep into the Eurasian heartland.

However, it was the visit to Tbilisi, the capital city of Georgia, that stuck most painfully in the Russian craw. Aside from the historical and cultural links that tie the Kremlin to the Caucasus, there are vital economic interests at stake in the region – which Russia, starved for cash, can ill afford to lose. The stakes were made clear on May 25, the day the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline (BTC) was officially opened at a ceremony in Baku, Azerbaijan, hosted by President Ilham Aliyev, and attended by the presidents of Georgia, Kazakhstan, and Turkey. Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili captured the spirit of the occasion as he exulted that the BTC is a “geopolitical victory” for Caspian Basin nations – and we have only to ask ourselves the question “A victory over whom?” before Eurasia.net has the answer:

“Securing an independent energy export source will allow both Georgia and Azerbaijan to more effectively resist geopolitical pressure exerted by Russia, regional political analysts suggest.”

Well, that’s one way to look at it. Another way is to see the BTC as a way for an emerging alliance of Western interests to exert geopolitical and military pressure on Russia.

The U.S., for its part, hailed the opening as a great victory for freedom and prosperity in the region, and this was to be expected. The opening of the BTC marks the culmination of a long-standing American project, begun by Bill Clinton, and assiduously pursued by the U.S. government and its favored corporate interests ever since. The idea was to pump in the huge Caspian Sea oil reserves directly to Europe, short-circuiting a far easier route from Azerbaijan through Iran and bypassing the Russians completely. Clinton set up a special Caspian Sea oil task force in 1994, under Richard Morningstar, but it was under a Republican administration particularly disposed to the success of this scheme that the grand plan finally came to fruition. As I wrote way back in 1999:

“For sheer clout in Establishment circles, the Azeri and Georgian lobbies are hard to beat. Several prominent figures in the Bushian wing of the Republican party stand to make a substantial profit through their investments in companies doing business in the region, among them: James Baker, Brent Scowcroft, Dick Cheney and John Sununu; the secretary of state, national security adviser, secretary of defense, and chief of staff respectively for George [Herbert Walker] Bush.”

The power of the Caspian lobby in both parties was enough to direct the flow of U.S. government subsidies, “loans,” and diplomatic pressure toward the day when the pipeline would finally be opened, and its inauguration marks a new stage in the development of a Euro-American alliance that aims at the encirclement of Russia.

In Iraq and the rest of the Middle East, the views of the Europeans and the Americans are radically divergent, but when it comes to Eurasia and the alleged rise of a Russian “threat,” the old boys club of global bullies is reunited with a passion. There is much reason to believe that the European involvement in the recent color-coded revolutions in Georgia, Ukraine, and – potentially – Belarus, is a lot more than they’re usually given credit for, and the OSCE has taken an aggressive stance against Russian “separatism” in South Ossetia, Abkhazia, and other dissident Russian-speaking splinter republics in the former Soviet Union. The Europeans need that Caspian oil – remember the fuel-tax strikes that swept Europe and threatened to bring Tony Blair and his fellow Euro-socialists to their knees? – and they would rather not have it pass through Russian territory for both strategic and economic reasons.

And so the Europeans and the Americans are playing what Rudyard Kipling called “the Great Game” in the heartland of the Eurasian landmass, outmaneuvering the Russian bear and domesticating the indigenous “independent” republics – or else, as in the case of Georgia, replacing them with suitably “democratic” rulers entirely dependent on U.S. aid and political support.

For the scheme to work, it is necessary to bring peace to a region that has rarely known it, and never less so than today. The political stability of the post-Soviet order is seriously threatened – along with the huge investment in the pipeline – by minority groups in the Caucasus that insist on their right to national self-determination and stubbornly resist the efforts of their new overlords in Tbilisi, Ankara, Baku, and Washington – to integrate them into larger states.

The BTC pipeline snakes just a few miles from the troubled Nagorno-Karabakh region, an enclave of Armenians in a sea of Azeris. Azerbaijan and Armenia have long battled for possession of this strategically key region, and the Nagorno-Karabakhians have managed to fight off the Azeris and do-gooder Westerners intent on imposing a “peace” that compromises their independence. Then there are the two independent republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, pockets of Russian-speakers who won’t submit to the central authorities in Tbilisi and have been similarly successful in fighting off all comers – including the U.S.-trained-and-funded Georgian army.

The route of the pipeline embeds it deep under some of the most disputed territory on the face of the earth, and this can only portend war. As much as this administration warbles on about “free markets” and “free enterprise,” the crude mercantilism that constitutes the real economic philosophy and foreign policy of our rulers means that one principle is consistently followed when it comes to “defending” “American interests” abroad: the costs and the risks are socialized, but the profits are privatized. If American oil companies are due to make mega-profits in the Caspian region, then the U.S. military will be doing guard duty along every inch of the BTC pipeline, ensuring “stability” in a land of nomadic herders and exporting “democracy” to a region formerly ruled by pashas, sultans, and various and sundry dictators.

We are, in short, being set up for another major military intervention, and, as I warned in November of 1999, both parties are in on it:

“All the elements for a major confrontation between nuclear-armed Russia and the US are being put in place: not only the ‘humanitarian’ aspect of the coming war with Russia, but also the developing ‘national security’ rationale. With billions of dollars invested in the area, including untold millions in U.S. government subsidies, the building of the pipeline has suddenly become a matter of ‘the national interest’ instead of just certain private interests.

“Big Oil has its champions in both parties, but Dubya is certainly that interest group’s Great White Hope for the White House. He has solid links to the powerful and wealthy Azerbaijan lobby in Washington, which has been unusually visible and active. As Robert C. Butler put it in a piece posted on oilandgas.com: ‘It is clear that if George W. Bush, son of the former president and today governor of Texas, is nominated by the Republican Party and elected, then the international energy consortia will have a new friend in the White House and Azerbaijan will profit from the situation. Many of the advisors whom Bush has chosen for his campaign have in the past been either active advocates of close ties with Azerbaijan or have voted against maintaining Section 907 restrictions on US assistance to the country.’”

Aside from the contentious terrain of Georgia, where a U.S.-backed “Rose Revolution” installed a compliant satrap who has continued the dubious human rights record of his predecessor, the BTC consortium has to deal with instability in Azerbaijan, ruled over by absolute dictator Ilham Aliyev, the playboy son of former KGB chieftain and longtime Azeri Maximum Leader Heydar Aliyev. On the occasion of Papa Aliyev’s death in 2003, the prognosis for Aliyev the Lesser published on the CIA-connected Stratfor.com Web site sticks in my mind:

“Ilham Aliyev lacks his father’s charisma, political skills, contacts, experience, stature, intelligence and authority. Aside from that he will make a wonderful president.”

Recent street protests in Baku by Western-backed “democratic” opposition groups may be a harbinger of the future: if Western power-brokers decide Aliyev is in any way unreliable, they could easily abandon him for a more Saakashvili-like alternative.

In any event, no matter what color the exporters of “democratic” revolutions choose for Azerbaijan – if they choose one at all – the coming confrontation with a Russia that is supposedly sliding back into “authoritarianism” under President Vladimir Putin is bound to escalate from here on out. We will be hearing much much more about how Putin is really the second incarnation of Stalin. The recent conviction of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the Russian oligarch who stole entire industries, has already given rise to the charge that the Russian leader is behind a supposed return of official anti-Semitism. Putin, Stalin: see, they even sound the same! The Kremlin, according to this scenario, is the world headquarters of a revived national socialism, and, like the German variety, it’s a danger to us as well as to the Russian people.

Putin, we’ll be told, is threatening the peace by his championing of all those “racist” Russian-speakers who object to being lorded over by central authorities in some distant capital. After all, what right have they to rebel against regimes that have outlawed their language, their history, and their very existence? “Russian revanchism” will become the neocons’ favorite alliteration. They’ve already taken up the Chechen cause, and they will be joined in this holy crusade for politically correct multiculturalism and “democracy” in the Caucasus by the same interventionist liberals who joined the anti-Slav crusade against Serbia.

I’ve been covering the Caucasus and predicting it would be a future battlefield pitting the U.S. and the Europeans against Russia since at least 1999: see here, here, here, here, here, and here – oh yeah, and also here. (Yikes, there’s more!) It’s at times like this that weariness almost overcomes me, and the prospect of repeating myself is most uninviting. There is nothing new in any of this: the War Party’s plans have been apparent from the start. What is new, however, is this emerging Right-Left alliance of warmongering “democratizers” unleashed on the hapless peoples of the former Soviet Union. In faraway places with odd names, like Kyrgyzstan, the ambitions – and fortunes – of both sides of the political spectrum meet and merge in a harmonic convergence of interests and ideology.

United in their hatred of Putin and “authoritarian” Russia, the neocons and the Clintonian liberals will be reunited at last, and can work hand-in-hand as they did during the run-up to the Kosovo war. As powerful factions on the “right” and the “left” position themselves to back a policy of Eurasian aggression by the U.S. and its allies, and the encirclement of Russia continues, the grand interventionist consensus is taking shape. The marriage of transnational progressivism and internationalist neoconservatism – of George Soros’ Open Society Institute and the American Enterprise Institute – will sanctify the rising American Imperium from all sides.

However, a realignment is also taking place on the other side – the “isolationist” side. Anti-interventionist conservative Republicans have found their voice and are even beginning to be heard in the halls of Congress. On the Left, too, it isn’t just Ralph Nader who is now speaking out and becoming actively involved in the fight against interventionism. Having been lied into war by the Republicans, antiwar liberals are less likely – at least in many cases – to take the same guff from elected Democrats.

Don’t be deluded into thinking that the American people are so sick of the Iraq war that they couldn’t be whipped up into a renewed war hysteria by the arrival of some novel “threat,” the advent of some new Hitler substitute, a looming bogeyman to scare them in between episodes of Desperate Housewives and the latest “reality” show. Yet there is reason to hope that when it comes to the Caucasus, the War Party might not have such an easy time of it. For that, in large part, Antiwar.com – with its strategy of forging a solid Left-Right anti-interventionist united front – can rightfully and proudly claim the credit.

NOTES IN THE MARGIN

I had a great time on Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now! radio-TV broadcast, commenting on the Larry Franklin spy case, and you can listen to what someone who got up at 4:00 in the morning sounds like here.

I also have an article in The American Conservative, in the June 6 issue, but my review of The Woman and the Dynano, Stephen Cox’s fascinating biography of Old Right author and columnist Isabel Paterson, is but a minor addition to what is a blockbuster issue of TAC: Scott McConnell has a wonderful account of the life and career of the late George F. Kennan. Andrew Bacevich – author of the excellent recent book, The New American Militarism – has a perceptive look at the messianic vision of Paul Wolfowitz, with the apropos title of “Trigger Man.” You won’t want to miss Anders Strindberg’s piece on how the neocons are trying to muzzle anyone who doesn’t follow their Israel First line on the Middle East. William Lind on “the case for mass transit” – I don’t agree, but it’s an interesting read – and Nicholas von Hoffman on the vitiation of national sovereignty round out 35 pages of the best of the opinion magazines currently on the market.

You mean you haven’t subscribed yet? Well, there’s one way to fix that: by clicking here. And you’d better hurry: I have a major piece on the Larry Franklin spy scandal due to be published in an upcoming issue, and you won’t want to miss it.

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