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Saturday, December 17, 2011

Ahmed Chalabi:the Conning of America


It’s ironic that only now, eight and a half years after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, as the last American troops pull out, that we finally get a book dissecting the machinations of one of the men most responsible for that catastrophe: Ahmed Chalabi, the brilliant, treacherous, endlessly scheming Iraqi refugee who, from 1991 to 2004, played a singular role in contorting U.S. policy towards Iraq.

The book, “Arrows of the Night,” (Doubleday) written by “60 Minutes” producer, Richard Bonin, is based on lengthy and remarkably frank interviews with Chalabi as well as scores of others who dealt with him over the years. The result is a chilling chronicle of how this charismatic and totally amoral Iraqi exile, without any power base among his own people, was, at various times, able to con everyone from the New York Times, to the CIA, to the U.S. Defense Department, to Dick Cheney-- even Iran’s intelligence chiefs--in his single-minded determination to overthrow Saddam Hussein and take power himself. 

It is a also an alarming tale of how a feckless American President, George W. Bush, buffeted by conflicting counsels of feuding advisors, stumbled into one of the most disastrous military quagmires in America’s history.  

Chalabi was born to an Iraqi family of immense wealth and influence, remarkable because they were Shiites in a country dominated by a Sunni minority. In 1958 ,however. the family was forced to flee Iraq after a military coup.  Almost from the beginning, the young exile was obsessed with overthrowing the regime in Baghdad which, after 1968, was led by Saddam Hussein.

Chalabi studied first in London, then at the University of Chicago and MIT. He was an outstanding mathematician, but with a con man’s soul. At age 32 he founded what would quickly become Jordan’s second largest bank. But his triumph was brief: Chalabi was obliged to flee that country as well when he was charged –and then convicted—of fraud and embezzlement of more than a hundred million dollars.

The contretemps might have ended the career of lesser men, but not Ahmed Chalabi. Still determined to topple Saddam, he came to the United States, convinced that the path to Baghdad led through Washington, D.C.

Lacking any real backing from Iraqis, by his own brilliance and conniving, Chalabi created a support network among influential Americans, many of them prominent neo-conservatives. They saw in the articulate Iraqi an ingenious strategist whose vision of sparking an uprising in Iraq with U.S. help, coincided with their own view: it was time for America to step forward and wield its vast power to promote democracy and other vital U.S. interests abroad. (Key among such interests were ensuring access to Middle Eastern oil and the survival of Israel.) Chalabi and his new allies set out to transform Iraq and Saddam into a hot-button U.S. political issue.

In 1991, George H.W. Bush agreed to clandestinely fund an Iraqi exile group and Chalabi was picked to head the operation, receiving a stipend of $340,000 per month. Actually, as the administration and the CIA saw it, that move was just window dressing to make it appear as if the U.S. was really doing something to overthrow Saddam. 

In fact, they had no intention of getting the U.S. involved militarily. Nor did they want a popular uprising that could have brought the majority Shiites to power, and increase the influence of neighboring Iran. What they wanted was to topple Saddam by a military coup and replace him with a more tractable government of Sunni generals.

But Ahmed Chalabi had different ideas. Rather than the CIA using him, he would use them. He deployed his secret U.S. backing to get himself elected leader of the exile group, the Iraqi National Congress, then started dictating policy to an outraged CIA. His plan, to take power himself after a popular uprising, protected by an American military umbrella.

Incredibly, at the same time he was pocketing Washington’s money, Chalabi was also dickering with Iran. He calculated that to take power in Baghdad, he would also have to win the backing of America’s prime foe in the region, the mullahs in Tehran. And, for a while, he did. In fact, in 1995, by his cunning and deceit, Chalabi almost succeeded in provoking a U.S. military intervention in Iraq and a possible war between Iraq and its neighbors.

When outraged government officials tried to rein him in, Chalabi turned to his powerful Washington backers. Over the years, they would include such figures as Steve Solarz, John Murphy, Douglas Feith, Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Scooter Libby and Dick Cheney. Shrewd, supposedly worldly men with brilliant Washington resumes, they were dazzled by Chalabi: he was an Iraqi De Gaulle, a George Washington. They ridiculed CIA and State Department experts and rode roughshod over their warnings. 

In 2001, George W. Bush came to power and Chalabi’s lobby grew more shrill. To build their case to invade Iraq, the White House turned to Chalabi’s INC for hard evidence of Saddam’s WMD’s and his links with Al Qaeda. And, presto, Chalabi produced informants with precisely the tales required. After the invasion, when it was revealed that those informants were lying,  Chalabi was unabashed.

Similarly, when Washington asked Chalabi to gather his much-vaunted thousand-man Iraqi army, only a motley 600 showed up, many of them Iranian-speaking with no knowledge of Arabic. Turned out they were mercenaries hired at $5000 a piece—on America’s tab.

Still Chalabi’s Washington fans were unfazed. When the U.S. occupied Iraq, the exile leader was appointed to key positions in the interim government—which he then milked to build his own political base as well as a huge personal fortune.

And all the while, he continued his double-dealing with Iran; for instance, turning over to them sensitive files seized from Saddam’s secret police. Finally, in March 2004, outraged American intelligence agents discovered that Chalabi had informed the Iranians that the U.S. was deciphering Iran’s most sensitive communications.

Incredibly, Chalabi still had his protectors in Washington. President Bush only learned of the Iraqi’s treachery when he read about it in the May 10, 2004 edition of Newsweek. He also learned of Chalabi’s $340,000 monthly stipend—which was still continuing.

According to Bonin’s account, at a meeting of his National Security Council, Bush asked Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld,  “Who does Chalabi work for? Who pays him?” Rumsfeld claimed not to know, though Chalabi’s payments were coming from the Pentagon’s own intelligence agency.

“If we’re paying this guy and he’s giving away our secrets” Bush ordered. “it needs to stop. Condi look into it.”

But even the President’s National Security Advisor, Condelezza Rice, was no match for Chalabi’s Pentagon supporters: it took two more NSC meetings, the President growing ever more irate, before, on May 19, Paul Wolfowitz announced that the INC stipend was ending. Not because of Chalabi’s treachery, but because it wasn’t “appropriate” for the U.S. to be funding an Iraq political party. 

Ironically, it was the Iranians who finally thwarted Chalabi’s ambitions. In February, 2005 the Iranian ambassador to Iraq bluntly ordered Chalabi to drop out of the race for prime minister.  Tehran would never accept a secular Shiite like Chalabi running Iraq. Chalabi might defy the Americans, but never the Iranians. “He would be dead in two days, and he knew it,” a Chalabi aide later told Bonin.

In 2007, however, Chalabi would again profit from U.S. backing. With the support of U.S. General David Petraeus, Chalabi was appointed by prime minister Nouri al-Maliki to another key post, charged with restoring Baghdad’s shattered infra-structure.

True to form, within a few months Chalabi betrayed Maliki and the Americans by siding with Iranian-backed Shiite radical Moqtada-al-Sadr, whose goal was to drive the Americans from Iraq.  

Today, according to Bonin, Chalabi remains ensconced in his sprawling Baghdad compound, surrounded by a small army of security guards, and the enormous wealth his government positions enabled him to amass. But he’s no longer a contender to lead post-Saddam Iraq. History, says Bonin, has finally passed him by.
                                                            - - -

America’s military adventure in Iraq is, hopefully, ended. But there’s still much to be learned from this case study of national hubris--how the policies of the most powerful country on the planet were shaped by a group of arrogant players with insiders’ cunning and their own, often shadowy, agendas. 

It’s a lesson particularly relevant today, as the political climate heats up and another American president ratchets up tensions with Iran, while simultaneous dispatching U.S. troops to the Pacific in a new but vague and open-ended challenge.




Saturday, December 10, 2011

Iran-A murky, perilous game


The downing of a sophisticated U.S. RQ-170 Sentinel drone over Iran is the latest ratcheting of tension between Washington and Tehran and Jerusalem. Iran’s nuclear enrichment facilities have been crippled by sophisticated cyber attacks; key Iranian scientists and officials have been killed, including a senior Iranian Revolutionary Guard Commander who died when a rocket research site was hit by a spectacular and still unexplained explosion.

That we know. But what else is going on in this murky, perilous game?

In July, 2008, Seymour Hersh reported in the New Yorker  that in 2007 the U.S. Congress agreed to a request from President George W. Bush “to fund a major escalation of covert operations against Iran, according to current and former military, intelligence, and congressional sources. These operations, for which the President sought up to four hundred million dollars, were described in a Presidential Finding signed by Bush, and are designed to destabilize the country’s religious leadership. The covert activities involve support of the minority Ahwazi Arab and Baluchi groups and other dissident organizations. They also include gathering intelligence about Iran’s suspected nuclear-weapons program."

 
That American backing included support for actions, which, were they to be committed against the United States or one of its allies, would definitely qualify as “terrorism”. 
           
Has the support for such operations continued under President Obama? If so, what does it include? Just financial backing? Training? Logistics? Clandestine raids into Iran? American “boots on the ground”?  

Predictably, such aggressive acts will provoke retaliation from Iran—a situation, which, in the context of America’s superheated presidential primaries, could spiral dangerously out of control. Which is just what militants in Tehran, Jerusalem, and Washington may be out to provoke. 

We know from President George H.W. Bush’s decision to fund the opposition to Saddam Hussein in 1991, that once such a program is launched it takes on a life of its own--extremely tricky to control, even more difficult to shut down by succeeding presidents, as Bill Clinton would discover. The funding created its own lobby, ready to run to the media and sympathetic congressman at any attempt to rein it in.

Such a potentially explosive situation would be nothing new. Washington has already been involved in a much more violent clandestine war against Iran, via its de facto ally of the time, Saddam Hussein, who invaded Iran in 1980.

From early in the conflict, the U.S. secretly supplied Saddam with arms as well as satellite intelligence. By 1987, Washington was shipping American-made weapons directly to Iraq from the sprawling U.S. Rhine-Mein Airbase in Frankfurt. Some of Saddam's elite troops were even being sent to the United States for instruction in unconventional warfare by U.S. Special Forces at Fort Bragg.

As I detail in my book, Web of Deceit, the Reagan administration would be dangerously sucked even deeper into the conflict. Encouraged by the U.S., Saddam intensified his attacks against vital Iranian economic targets, including neutral tankers in the Gulf. Iran of course retaliated. Concerned about the safety of their own ships, the Kuwaitis asked for protection.

Some U.S. officials worried back then--just as they do today--that by venturing into the narrow confines of the Gulf, the U.S. risked direct conflict with Iran. Despite such concerns, American warships were dispatched.

On May 1987, it became dramatically clear how dangerous that policy was. An Iraqi Air Force plane mistakenly attacked an American frigate, the U.S.S. Stark, killing thirty-seven of the crew.

Then, to counter mounting congressional opposition to the operation, the Reagan administration decided to go one step further. They would justify a continued U.S. presence in the Gulf by permitting Kuwaiti ships to operate under the American flag.

That fiction would give the Kuwaitis the right to American protection.
A U.S. liaison officer was stationed in Baghdad to avoid a repeat of the Stark incident.

That, at least, was the cover story; in fact, over the following months, American officers would help Iraq carry out long-range strikes against key Iranian targets, using U.S. ships as navigational aids. "We became", as one senior U.S. officer told ABC's Nightline, "forward air controllers for the Iraqi Air Force."

The Reagan administration, in effect, decided to undertake a secret war, not bothering with congressional authorization.

Heavily armed U.S. Special Operations helicopters, stealthy, sophisticated killing machines that could operate by day or night, were ordered to the Persian Gulf. Their mission was to destroy any Iranian gunboats they could find. Other small, swift American vessels, posing as commercial ships, lured Iranian naval vessels into international waters to attack them. The Americans often claimed they attacked the Iranian ships only after the Iranians first menaced neutral ships plying the Gulf. In some cases however, the neutral ships which the Americans claimed to be defending didn't even exist.

Beginning in July 1987, the CIA also began sending covert spy planes and helicopters over Iranian bases. Several engaged in secret bombing runs, at one point destroying an Iranian warehouse full of mines. In September 1987, a special operations helicopter team attacked an Iranian mine-laying ship with a hail or rockets and machine-gun fire, killing three Iranian sailors. Official authorization for those clandestine attacks was purposely restricted to a low level in the Reagan administration so that top government officials could deny all knowledge of the illegal operations.

By early 1988, officers from the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency dispatched to Baghdad were actually planning day-by-day strategic bombing strikes for the Iraqi Air Force. In April 1988, the day before a key Iraqi offensive, U.S. forces sank or demolished half the Iranian navy--one destroyer and a couple of frigates.

If Saddam had not ultimately prevailed, the Pentagon had prepared an even more ambitious strategy: to launch an attack against the Iranian mainland. "The real plans were for a secret war, with the U.S. on the side of Iraq against Iran, on a daily basis," retired Lieutenant Colonel Roger Charles, who was serving in the office of the secretary of defense at the time, told British reporter Alan Friedman.

As Admiral James A. "Ace" Lyons, who was commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet put it, "We were prepared, I would say at the time, to drill them back to the fourth century."

Relatively cooler heads prevailed. According to Richard L. Armitage, who at the time was assistant secretary of defense "The decision was made not to completely obliterate Iran. We didn't want a naked Iran. We wanted a calm, quiet peaceful Iran. However, had things not gone well in the Gulf, I've no doubt that we would have put those plans into effect."

Which brings us back today.

Monday, November 28, 2011

U.S.Pakistan Shipwreck:China Cleans Up-Again


The killing of 24 Pakistan troops by NATO forces is just the latest disastrous chapter in U.S. Pakistan relations. As affairs go from bad to catastrophic, it’s not just the Taliban who will benefit, but also China.

For several years now the Pakistanis have found China a very willing and increasingly powerful counterweight to the Americans and their often strident—you could call it arrogant--political demands.   
Toeing Washington’s line, in other words, is no longer the only game in town. And the pragmatic Chinese, as always, seem willing to work with whomever holds power.
Take for instance, the outrage in both the U.S. and Pakistan after American troops secretly entered Pakistan last May 2, to kill Osama Bin Laden. The day after the killing, as Americans officials in Washington intimated that top duplicitous Pakistani military had been harboring the Al Qaeda leader, and fulminating U.S. congressmen were demanding immediate cuts in aid, a foreign ministry spokesperson in Beijing lept to Pakistan’s defense.  He declared that "The Pakistani government is firm in resolve and strong in action when it comes to counterterrorism -- and has made important contributions to the international counterterrorism efforts."  America should respect Pakistan’s sovereignty the Chinese said.
 
As U.S.-Pakistani relations continued to curdle, the Chinese and Pakistanis only tightened their embrace. .Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, on an official visit to China told Chinese state radio, "We appreciate that in all difficult circumstances China stood with Pakistan -- therefore we call China a true friend and a time-tested and all-weather friend."

During that trip China’s Premier proved that friendship by announcing that China would supply Pakistan with 50 JF-17 fighter jets equipped with sophisticated avionics, the planes to be paid for by China.

Pakistan’s nuclear program provoked a similar flurry. The U.S. very upset by Pakistan’s clandestine development of nuclear weapons, had been looking at Pakistan’s program with a baleful eye. Not the Chinese, who raised hackles in Washington when they sold the Pakistanis two new nuclear reactors, supposedly to be used only for civilian purposes. The deal, the Chinese insisted, was peaceful. [The Pakistanis are quick to point out that the U.S. has been much more willing to forgive India—America’s ally--for also developing clandestine nukes.]
In fact, for years now, China has been the major supplier of military hardware to Pakistan. The two countries also have arms manufacturing co production deals, and  carryout joint military exercises.
But military links are just for starters. While the U.S. has spent billions on military bases in the Persian Gulf, the Chinese have been funding a sophisticated deepwater commercial port in Gwadar, Pakistan near the Persian Gulf. Just as important, they’re also rehabilitating a 1300 kilometer long highway to connect that Gwadar to China through Pakistan. You may never have heard of Gwadar, but you will in the future. “Come back in a decade and this place will look like Dubai,” a developer recently said.”
Trade between China and Pakistan has soared from $2 billion in 2002 to $7 billion in 2009.  After a flurry of new agreements, they are hoping to hit $18 billion by 2015. Those agreements target everything from agriculture to heavy machinery, to space and upper atmosphere research, alternative energy projects, power plants, and urban security.
The Chinese are also aiming to increase investment in Pakistan from the present $2 billion a year, to more than $3bn a year by 2012. That’s double the annual $1.5bn in economic assistance from the United States that supposedly has kept the Pakistani military in line all these years. http://asianmedia.com/GAAN/www/delivery/lg.php?bannerid=1639&campaignid=23&zoneid=36&loc=1&referer=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.atimes.com%2Fatimes%2FSouth_Asia%2FLD21Df01.html&cb=6cba299f8c
Indeed, since 9/11 2001, the United States has provided Pakistan with some $20 billion in aid, mostly military--in effect pay-offs for Pakistan’s cooperation in fighting terrorism. But that aid —more like mercenary payments—has done little to prevent the disastrous decline in relationship between the two countries.
The basic reason is simple:  China and Pakistan have more interests in common than do America and Pakistan. Looking to the future, powerful elements in Pakistan’s military have long viewed America’s enemies in Afghanistan, the Taliban, as valuable allies against India when America inevitably pulls out of Afghanistan. China, like Pakistan, also regards India as a regional rival to be harassed and thwarted.
By working together China and Pakistan will be able to challenge not just India, but also the United States and with its claims to hegemony in the area—particularly since President Obama’s recent announcement that 2500 U.S. marines would be stationed in Australia as part of America’s determination to increase its presence in the Pacific. 
China’s swollen coffers now also enable it to use foreign aid in the way that America did in Washington’s plusher days. After the disastrous floods in Pakistan last summer, for instance, China announced its biggest-ever humanitarian aid program including $250 million in donations. It also included a $400 million loan to help Pakistan tackle the financial impact of the flooding, and a cash grant of $10m towards a fund to compensate people rendered homeless.
--As part of this new “hearts-and-minds” policy the Chinese offered 500 university scholarships over the next three years for Pakistani students, with programs focusing on technological areas of expertise not taught in Pakistan. The two countries will also exchange high-school students, young entrepreneurs, and voluntary social workers.  Meanwhile, Chinese surgeons are being dispatched to Pakistan to perform cataract operations on 1,000 blind patients.
Such efforts are obviously paying off. It turns out the Pakistanis are now also proselytizing for the Chinese.

According to the New York Times earlier this year, “At a key meeting on April 16 in the Afghan capital, Kabul, top Pakistani officials suggested to Afghan leaders that they, too, needed to look to China, a power on the rise, rather than tie themselves closely with the United States, according to Afghan officials. 

“You couldn’t tell exactly what they meant, whether China could possibly be an alternative to the United States, but they were saying it could help both countries,” an Afghan official said afterward.”

 And all that was before this last catastrophic weekend.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Egypt's Military: State within a State



On Friday, Washington added its voice to Egyptians demanding that the Egyptian military give way to civilian rule. It’s instructive, however, to consider why the Egyptian brass are so reluctant.

Their resistance stems not just from a fear of an ultimate takeover by radical Muslims. There is also the fact that real civilian rule could spell an end to the system of massive military corruption and patronage that has gone on for decades in Egypt, a system that has given the military unimpeded control over a huge sector of the Egyptian economy:  “a state within a state” as a well-informed Egyptian friend of mine puts it.

That’s the state that’s now being challenged.

For years, Egypt’s top military ranks have enjoyed a pampered existence in sprawling developments such as Cairo’s Nasr City, where officers are housed in spacious, subsidized condominiums. They enjoy other amenities the average Egyptian can only dream of, such as nurseries, bonuses, new cars, schools and military consumer cooperatives featuring domestic and imported products at discount prices. In other areas, top officers are able to buy luxurious apartments on generous credit for 10% of what those apartments are actually worth.

But we’re not just talking about sensational official perks. Many of Egypt’s brass are notoriously corrupt. Vast swathes of military land, for instance, were sold by the generals to finance some major urban developments near Cairo-with little if any accounting.

Other choice military property ran on the Nile Delta and Red Sea coast boasted idyllic beaches, and exquisite coral reefs. In return for turning the land over to private developers, military officers became key shareholders in a slew of gleaming new tourist developments. 

The reason Egypt’s military became so involved in non-military activities was because, after peace was signed with Israel in 1975, the military lost much of its raison d’etre, as did its military factories. The problem, though, was how to keep those factories going and employ the hundreds of thousands of young men who would otherwise flood the domestic market?
The answer was the military would also produce for the civilian market. Thus the generals came to preside over 16 enormous factories that turn out not just weapons, but an array of domestic products from dishwashers to heaters, clothing, doors, stationary pharmaceutical products, and microscopes. Most of these products are sold to military personnel through discount military stores, but large amount are also sold commercially.

The military also builds highways, housing developments, hotels, power lines, sewers, bridges, schools, telephone exchanges, often in murky arrangements with civilian companies. 

The military are also Egypt’s largest farmers, running a vast network of dairy farms, milk processing facilities, cattle feed lots, poultry farms, fish farms. They’ve plenty left from their huge output to sell to civilians through a sprawling distribution network.  

The justification for all this non-military activity is that the military are just naturally more efficient that civilians. Hard not to be “more efficient” when you are able to employ thousands of poorly paid military recruits for labor.

Many civilian businessmen complain that competing with the military is like trying to compete with the Mafia. And upon retiring, top military officers are often rewarded with plum positions running everything from factories and industries to charities.
Whatever the number, Robert Springborg, who has written extensively on Egypt, says officers in the Egyptian military are making "billions and billions and billions" of dollars.”
But there’s no way to know how efficient or inefficient the military are, nor how much money their vast enterprises make, nor how many millions or billions get skimmed off since the military’s operations are off the nation’s books. No real published accountings. No oversight. Just as there is no civilian oversight of the entire military budget, and that’s the way the current military regime have said they aim to keep things
Of course none of the above is a surprise to U.S. officials who dole out some 1.3 billion dollars a year in military aid to the Egyptian Army, and hope that sum and the neat weapons it provides will keep the army in line. [One of the most detailed studies of the military’s non-military activities was done by a U.S. military researcher at Fort Leavenworth.]

A perceptive look into all this comes via a 2008 U.S.diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks. The writer in the U.S. Embassy in Cairo ticked off the various businesses the military was involved in, and considered how the military might react if Egypt's then president, Hosni Mubarak, were to lose power.

The military would almost certainly go along with a successor, the cable's author wrote, as long as that that successor didn't interfere in the military's business arrangements. But, the cable continued, "in a messier succession scenario, it becomes more difficult to predict the military's actions."
Thus, the messier scenario today.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

China and the Gulf: Learning from a Lab Rat: Part Two


In my previous blog, I cited the old chestnut: What’s the difference between a laboratory rat and a human being? Answer: The lab rat finally ceases scurrying through a maze when he realizes there is no cheese at the end. Human beings, on the other hand, never stop trying.
Confronted with the maze that is the Arabian Gulf, the Chinese are the lab rats. To make that point, in the previous blog, I discussed how China, while resisting calls for sanctions against Iran for its alleged nuclear weapons program, has actually benefited from those sanctions: Iranian oil becoming more important to China than Saudi’s oil is to the United States.
China’s activities in the Gulf, however, are not restricted to Iran. Just as American troops and bases have spread along the Gulf, so have China’s businessmen, eager to exploit the vital resources that the U.S. military is thoughtfully protecting.
The surprising twist is that the Gulf is far more vital to China than to the United States. China gets 58% of its oil from the region. Estimates are that by 2015, that dependence will soar to 70% .  [By comparison, the U.S. gets only18.2% from the Gulf. ]
Another irony: while China has developed close ties with America’s prime enemy in the region, Iran, Beijing has been even more successful in wooing Washington’s major Arab ally in the Gulf , the Saudis.

Mao’s revolutionary China decried the Saudis and the feudal sheikdoms of the Gulf. But that’s then and now’s now. The Saudis currently provide China with 20% of its crude oil imports—and Saudi leaders have assured Beijing they will furnish all the crude China will need over the coming decades.

China has also offered to sell the Saudis intercontinental ballistic missiles. But in deference to Washington, the Saudis have so far turned down such proposals. Meanwhile, business is booming: China’s annual trade with Saudi Arabia totals $60 billion, the Saudis selling not just petroleum but chemicals for China’s surging manufacturing sector.
The Saudi’s new found ties with China, also enable Riyadh to pay less heed to  annoying calls out of Washington for democratic reforms—an issue that never bothers the Chinese.
Iraq’s relations with China represent another bitter paradox: You’d think that America’s huge sacrifice of treasure and blood in Iraq would have brought the U.S. some benefit--the inside track, for instance on the development of Iraq’s massive petroleum reserves. That’s what Dick Cheney and his friends were supposedly after. But in Iraq, as in Iran, the Chinese have been willing to take risks few American firms were willing or able to take.
As a result, China winds up as one of the largest oil beneficiaries of the Iraq War.
In fact, the first major deal for oil exploration signed by the new Iraqi government with foreigners  was with a couple of Chinese companies: a 23 year agreement for $3 billion in 2008 to pump oil from the Al Adhab field.  In 2009 PetroChina teamed up with Britain’s BP to win a 20 year contract to boost output from Iraq’s largest oil field, Rumaila—the only contract awarded in Iraq’s first post Saddam auction of oil licenses.
Earlier this year, Iraq President Maliki journeyed to China hoping to convince  more Chinese companies to invest in Iraq—in everything from energy, oil, transport, housing, telecommunication and agriculture.  He even welcomed Chinese military aid.

With China’s commercial successes in mind, it might be instructive to compare the size of China’s Embassy in Baghdad with the sprawling American compound, the largest U.S. Embassy in the world, staffed by 16,000 employees,  protected in turn by an army of  5,000 “independent contractors”. 
Beijing however, would probably favor a continued U.S. combat presence in Iraq. Many of the Chinese companies now operating there are afraid to expand further because of the on-going danger of terrorist attacks.
Not that the Chinese are uninterested in strategic facilities of their own.
China has contributed $200 million to construct a deep-sea port in the Baluchistan Province of Pakistan, only 250 miles from the key Strait of Hormuz.  Nearby is the port of Salalah in Oman, where Chinese navy escort force now dock to resupply; not to mention the Chinese warships that have docked in Abu Dhabi.                                            


But there’s no way the Chinese military presence will ever challenge the U.S. in the Gulf. Nor is there any evidence they want to. The hulking American bases have their own obvious downside: Remember, it was the huge inflow of American “infidel” troops into Saudi Arabia in 1990 following Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait, that provoked Osama Bin Laden’s outrage and provided him with thousands of similarly inflamed recruits.
Concern about continued opposition to U.S. troops in Saudi lay behind the decision to move the American centre of operations to nearby Qatar. As a result, since the drawdown in Iraq, the vast new air base of Al Udeid in Qatar has become a lynchpin for the U.S. buildup in the Gulf. 
But Qatar also boasts the third-largest reserves of gas in the world, and the Chinese are thus very present. 
In May 2010, CNPC  (the China National Petroleum Corporation) signed a 30-year deal for gas exploration and production in Qatar. That was just for starters. CNPC, Shell and Qatar have also put together a joint venture to build a 10 billion dollar petrochemical complex in Eastern China.
Nearby Abu Dhabi also has huge oil reserves, and in 2009 a Chinese firm for the first time won a service contract to supply oil rigs for onshore drilling. The deal came after a visit to China by Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi. The goal: to foster strategic co-operation with Beijing. The Crown Prince was also Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces.
Oil-rich Kuwait, of course, was the country that the U.S. went to war to “save” in 1991 after Saddam’s troops invaded. In 2009, a Chinese state-controlled oil company, Sinopec, won a $140m contract to supply drilling rigs to the Kuwait Oil Company after Kuwait promised to export 500,000 barrels per day of oil to China by 2015. Kuwait Oil and Sinopec have also agreed to build a $9 billion oil refinery in China.
But it’s not just oil. Trade between China and the Gulf is a two-way affair. In 2009, the same year that China became the largest importer of oil from the Gulf, it also passed the United as the largest single importer to the region.
Remarkably, there are now more Middle Eastern visitors to Yiwu, a city in China that houses tens of thousands of retailers, than there are to the entire United States. Cross-border investment from the Middle East in Chinese financial institutions also represents a new mode of exchange. By 2020 annual trade between China and the Gulf will top $350 billion,
And perhaps that’s how things will continue to go: a strange symbiosis: American bases and Chinese markets.

Or maybe not. As  Jon B. Alterman at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies observes  “there is something inherently unstable about a region that relies on the West for security and the East for prosperity.”


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

China and Iran. Lessons from a Lab Rat


Remember the old chestnut? What’s the difference between a laboratory rat and a human being? The lab rat finally ceases scurrying through a maze when it realizes there is no cheese at the end. Human beings, on the other hand, never stop trying.

Confronted with the maze that is the Middle East and Central Asia these days, the Chinese are the lab rats. Take Iran, for instance.

Though careful not to directly challenge the Americans, China’s diplomats and businessmen have followed a sinuous route, publicly urging Iran to back away from plans to produce nuclear weapons, but refusing to support American and European calls for tougher sanctions.

True to form, the Americans have been pushing trade sanctions in various degrees of severity ever since American diplomats were taken hostage in Tehran back in 1979.

The Chinese argue the current stiff sanctions won’t convince the Iranians to stop their nuclear program. However, those sanctions have certainly helped the Chinese gain a remarkable foothold in Iran.

So much so, that today 15% of China’s petroleum and gas imports come from Iran, which makes Iran more vital to China than Saudi Arabia is to the United States [the Saudis provide 11% of U..S. petroleum imports].

At one time or another, all the great powers have had their eyes on Iran’s oil and gas reserves, the second largest in the world. But, because of the U.S. embargo, Iran suffered from a woeful lack of modern technology, engineering expertise, and capital.

The Chinese, however, have been willing to offer Iran much of what it needs to develop--as well as sophisticated arms, anti ship-missiles and nuclear technology.

In return, of course the Chinese obtained access to Iran’s massive energy reserves. In 2004, for instance, Iran signed a $100 billion dollar deal for a Chinese company to develop Yadavaran, Iran’s largest undeveloped oil field. That concession in exchange for China’s receiving 10 million tons of Iranian liquified natural gas annually for a period of 25 years.

 That deal was followed by other huge gas and oil exploration contracts, as well as a plan to deliver Iranian oil from the Caspian Sea, through a pipeline from Kazakhstan to China.
 In another convoluted agreement, a Chinese company CNPC bought the Iranian subsidiary of Sheer Energy in Calgary, Alberta, thus winding up with a 49 percent stake in another Iranian oil field.

The flourishing Chinese-Iranian trade is not restricted to the energy sector.
Chinese companies have won contracts to build everything from broadband fiber optics, to television sets, to automobiles, not to mention a $680 million contract to expand the Tehran subway system.
 And all the while, Washington has continued to view Iran as THE menace looming over the Gulf.

Thus the Americans made an ally out of Saddam Hussein after he invaded Iran, and continued to back him despite his use of nerve gas and long range rockets against civilian targets.

Again, in 1991 when Iraq’s Shiites and Kurds rose against the Iraqi tyrant following the first Gulf War, the United States stood by as tens of thousands of Iraqis were slaughtered by Saddam—despite the fact that George W. Bush had himself called for the uprising. The reason for the betrayal:  Washington was afraid that an Iraq governed by its Shiite majority would open the doors to an Iranian takeover of Iraq.

Fast forward twenty years. After having spent literally trillions of dollars to oust Saddam, U.S. troops are withdrawing from Iraq, leaving the shattered country governed by---a Shiite majority. Many of those Shiites sympathetic to Iran and still deeply embittered by America’s betrayal in 1991.

But even as they withdraw from Iraq, America has been pouring hundreds of billions of dollars into Iraq’s neighbors to ensure a massive and enduring military presence in the oil-rich Gulf. Their major purpose again, a bulwark against Iran.

In addition, Washington has reportedly been funding and training opposition groups in Iran to carry out activities that, were they directed against American targets, would certainly be labeled as “terrorist.”

That American military build-up in the Gulf has long provided Iran’s leaders with a rationale for developing nuclear weapons: not to incinerate Israel, but to defend Iran against an American/Israel attack. For years now, American officials have calmly and openly discussed such military action as an on-going and viable option.

What American officials don’t like to discuss is the fact—repeatedly cited by Iran’s leaders hard-line and moderate --that Israel, which clamors most shrilly about the Iranian nuclear threat, possesses an “illegal” nuclear arsenal that American has never been officially willing to deal with.

However, despite enduring U.S. hostility, the regime in Tehran is still very much in place, its nuclear weapons program still apparently active. And while revolts are still roiling much of the Arab world, the iron-fisted mullahs in Tehran have managed to squelch internal opposition. Indeed, there are those who argue that the embargo and constant threat of an American cum Israel military attack have in fact strengthened the hands of Tehran’s often feckless and feuding leadership.

And as all this has been going on, the Chinese have been prospering.  Chinese/Iranian trade has mushroomed from $3.3 billion in 2001 to $30 billion in 2010, and is expected to hit $50 billion by 2015.  The prize, though is the gas and petroleum.

No wonder, then, that the Chinese are as solicitous of Tehran’s interests as the folks in Washington are of the Saudis.

Their interest is not just economic.

Like Russia, China views Iran as a quasi-ally in their effort to check American power and influence in the Middle East and Central Asia.  One particularly ironic blow came in July 2005, when Iran (along with India and Pakistan) was granted observer status in the Shanghai Co-operation Organization, a regional-security arrangement—established to combat separatism, extremism and terrorism.

China’s activities in the Gulf, however, are not restricted to Iran. While the U.S. continues its huge military expenditures, the Chinese are making impressive inroads throughout the region—which, ironically, in the end, may cause them to back off their stubborn support of Iran.

More of that in my next blog.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Norway and America's Radical Right (New Version)


 

In his voluminous writings, Norwegian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik  cited American Pamela Geller, who runs the site, Atlas Shrugs, and has made a career from her shrill  Islamophobia.

 

Geller  has scrambled to distance herself from Breivik’s horrific acts. “No dealings, no emails, no nothing,” Geller said. “He mentions me once in a 1,500 page ‘manifesto,’ and this is the tie? Does anyone see how completely ridiculous this whole thing is?”
Intrigued by the mention of Geller in my original blog on this subject, John Smith decided to check out Geller’s site. “It looks like she’s been ‘scrubbing her links” Geller wrote me, but what he uncovered on Google’s cache of Atlas Shrugs, was –particularly in light of the racist rampage in Norway—an incredibly chilling email sent to Geller on June 24,2007.

Introducing it simply as an “Email from Norway,” Geller wrote:  
“I am running an email I received from an Atlas reader in Norway. It is devastating in its matter-of-factness:”

According to her Norwegian reader: 

“Well, yes, the situation is worsening. Stepping up from 29 000 immigrants every year, in 2007 we will be getting a total of 35 000 immigrants from somalia, iran, iraq and afghanistan. The nations capital is already 50% muslim, and they ALL go there after entering Norway. Adding the 1.2 births per woman per year from muslim women, there will be 300 000+ muslims out of the then 480 000 inhabitants of that city.  

“Orders from Libya and Iran say that Oslo will be known as Medina at the latest in 2010, although I consider this a PR-stunt nevertheless it is their plan.  

“From Israel the hordes clawing at the walls of Jerusalem proclaim cheerfully that next year there will be no more Israel, and I know Israel shrugs this off as do I, and will mount a strike during the summer against all of its enemies in the middle east. This will make the muslims worldwide go into a frenzy, attacking everyone around them.  

[Lando: my italics added]

“We are stockpiling and caching weapons, ammunition and equipment. This is going to happen fast.  
Before, I thought about emigrating to Britain, Israel, USA, South Africa, etc. for taxes and politics, but instead (although I believe we are the very last generation on earth before the return of God) I will stay and fight for the right to this country and indeed the entire peninsula, for the God-fearing people, just in case this isn't the end of the world after all. Doesn't hurt to have a backup plan.  

“It's far from impossible to achieve, after all my people has done it every time before, in feats that match the ancient greek, hebrew and british "legends".  

“Oslo and the southeast may fall easily, but there are other lines than "state"-borders drawn across this country since long before there was even a single muslim in the world, and we have held them this long, against everyone else too. We are entering a new golden age for my people, and those of a handful other countrys, but only through struggle.

“Never fear, Pamela. God is with you too in this coming time.”
Was Anders Behring Breivik  the author of that message?  If not—as Geller now claims-- it was a countryman with equally apocalyptic—and frightening views.

Did Geller worry that talk of stockpiling and caching weapons and equipment went too far? Did she consider turning over that email to Norwegian authorities?  Did she at the very least counsel her Norwegian correspondent—and her readers-- that the problem of immigration and Islamic fundamentalism would not be solved by armed violence? This, after all, was not the kind of action she was calling for. Right?

 Nope, she posted those views on her site for her radical followers using their pseudonyms to debate, cheer on, or become inspired by—as the majority of the comments made clear. [I suggest you read them all in full, but here are some excerpts]:

“Miluimnik said…

What a wonderful letter. We've come to expect this sort of exceptional correspondence an the pages of Atlas...but I remain in awe of your readership and their commitment to freedom and liberty nonetheless.
…………………
John Jay said…

christians and jews:
to arms!! to arms!!
if our leaders betray us, and surely norwegian leaders betray their citizens, then we have no one left to betray us, except our selves and our own cowardice.
are we to slip into an eternal dark ages without a fight?
so, i say.--
to arms!! to arms!!
the fight has started, and we must respond.
………………….
wxjames said….
“I only hope that in the event civil war breaks out there or any other democracy, that the US still has enough moral clarity to supply the native populations with guns and ammunition if not troops.
I fear, however that the world is in such a general state of instability that it may become every man for himself. Even here in the USA, people speak of civil war to overthrow leftism and political correctness and the general loss of individual rights to regulations and special interests.
How much further can we go down this road ? How much more crap before critical mass is reached. … The time is close.
…………………..
turn said…..

There's an Old Testament blood-bath comin'.

Question remains: Are there enough Norsemen that will hear the Wyking song pulse in their veins?

Season after season Norway (and Sweden) are conceding whole neighborhoods populated by 'immigrants' as no-go zones. Police and EMS won't respond there. It's the friggin' death-cry of civilization when the barbarians can intimidate in this manner.

So...yes. A very nice letter to you, Pam, from a Norwegian Atlasite (Atlasonian?). Unfortunately, he or she could be prosecuted under hate-speech laws for writing or posting in Norway what you have passed on to us.
To which Geller replied:
"yes turn, which is why I ran it anonymously"