Thursday, July 24, 2008

US Invasion of Afghanistan

The next question is, why did the US invade Afghanistan? The official story is, to get Osama bin Laden. There are two problems with this story.

1) I just did a quick Google to check my memory. According to The Guardian, the Taliban government offered to discuss turning over bin Laden to a third party for trial, provided they were given evidence of bin Laden's involvement with the 9/11 attacks.

This is more or less what I remember, and it seems a reasonable offer, given the fact that the US did not recognize the Taliban government, and there was no extradition treaty. Per The Guardian, the US government had no interest at all in negotiating with the Taliban.

2) The US quickly lost interest in finding bin Laden, who is apparently now in Pakistan, a country allied to the US. As far as I know, the US has not pressured Pakistan to turn bin Laden over nor threatened to attack Pakistan.

Why, then, did the US attack Afghanistan?

According to an article in the current Monthly Review, which appears to be based on Michael Klare's book Blood and Oil, the invasion of Afghanistan was part of a plan to control remaining oil reserves, as the world approached peak oil.

Oil makes sense as a reason to invade Iraq. But Afghanistan has no oil, as far as I know. However, it has an interesting position: east of Iran and south of the Central Asian oil fields, which are believed to have the biggest reserves outside the Middle East. An oil pipeline from Central Asia to the nearest seaport would have to go through Afghanistan (and Pakistan).

Now, I think running a pipeline through Afghanistan is flat out nuts. The Afghans would almost certainly not like it, and it would be impossible to guard. But the smart guys in the US may not have realized this.

The US oil company Unocal was in contact with the Taliban in the 1990s, when the Taliban was in the process of taking over Afghanistan. Unocal may have helped fund this takeover, per Wikipedia. At the time, Unocal was involved in development of Central Asian oil fields and looking for a way to get Central Asian oil to the sea. According to Wikipedia, "The Taliban and Unocal were in negotiations in Texas to discuss arrangements for the gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to Pakistan in 1997 and a deal was struck but later failed."

It's interesting to note that the Taliban, usually described as ravening fanatics, were perfectly willing to negotiate with a US oil company.

In any case, whether or not a pipeline is built, US forces in Afghanistan are nicely positioned to threaten or guard the huge oil fields to the north and west. Or they would be, if there were enough of them, and if the Afghans would stop fighting.

What the Monthly Review article argues is as follows:

It was evident by the late 1990s that world oil production was no longer adequate for world needs and especially US needs. The countries with most of the oil reserves were not investing in exploration and extraction, since they already had enough petroleum for their own use and for foreign export. It made sense for them to hold on to their reserves. It wasn't as if they had an unlimited supply. Why sell it before they needed to? And why sell it, if prices were likely to rise?

Per the Monthly Review article, Iraqi oil production was 31% less in 2001 than in 1979, and Iranian oil production had fallen 37% between 1976 and 2001.

As long as these vast reserves were controlled by national oil companies, the interests of the oil-holding nations would come first, rather than the interests of oil consuming countries, especially the US. So the idea behind the current war in Iraq was to replace the Iraqi national oil company with multinational companies based in the US. These companies would pay attention to US needs.

The second country on the oil hit list would probably be Iran. Afghanistan made the list because of its position in relation to the Central Asian and Iranian oil fields.

I find the Monthly Review analysis convincing. It may have seemed like a good plan to guys sitting in Washington, convinced that that nothing could stop the US, now that the Soviet Union was gone. Take over Iraq and Afghanistan, which would give the US access to Iraqi and Central Asian oil, and then be in a good position to threaten Iran, which would have American armed forces on two sides. It must have looked very good on paper.

At no point did the American planners consider the people of Iraq and Afghanistan, who have not proved cooperative.

It would have been much smarter to begin thinking about alternative kinds of energy. Pumping every last drop of oil out of the ground as quickly as possible is not going to solve the basic problem.

But I don't think we are talking about people who are able to plan long-range.

Footnote: This entire long post assumes that the people running this country are rational and minimally intelligent. Another theory is they're stupid or crazy or both.

Maybe the true explanation is a combination of cold-blooded, evil profit-seeking and loopiness. Iraq really does seem to be about the oil. Alan Greenspan has admitted this in his recent book. I suspect he ought to know. But maybe the US went into Afghanistan because of bin Laden, acting in the period of fear-crazed frenzy after 9/11, and then lost track of its reason for being there. Or maybe it went in because Bush wanted a war, and this one looked little and safe. Or maybe it was a test run for Iraq.

But I don't think Obama is loopy. So why does he want to be in Afghanistan, except to control a country that has a strategic position? Is Afghanistan somehow more important than Iraq? How can it be?


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