Op-Ed: Obama, Congress and Our Afghan Reality

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By Roger Armbrust
Special to The Clyde Fitch Report

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The Washington Post reported Tuesday that “Congress will debate its divisions over U.S. policy on Afghanistan.” Let’s not let political rhetoric fog our view of historic reality.

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President Barack Obama and Congress’ efforts to secure the invasion of Afghanistan represent a continuum going back to Jimmy Carter. Our present president realizes, just as his predecessors did, that the object of maneuvering in Afghanistan is not to destroy the Taliban — which obviously no nation’s been able to do since we first gave them weapons in the early 1980s — but to continue efforts to neutralize Russia while also forcing the Taliban eventually to reach an agreement. On what? Allowing multibillion-dollar Trans-Afghanistan pipelines for natural gas and oil, stretching from Turkmenistan to Pakistan, India and beyond. Why? Controlling energy is the key to superpower. American presidents and lawmakers know this, although they don’t seem to want to talk about it.

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Carter’s national security advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, revealed in a 1998 interview that Carter in 1979 had provided the catalyst for the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. The president signed a secret directive on July 3 of that year which aided enemies of Kabul’s pro-Soviet regime. Brzezinski said the move was calculated to induce the Soviets into the “Afghan trap,” thus “giving to the USSR its Vietnam war.”

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U.S. arming of Islamic fundamentalists in Afghanistan pushed the Taliban into a power foothold. Brzezinski’s 1998 view of that:

“What is most important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Moslems or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the cold war?”

In his 1997 book The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives, Brzezinski presents his premise that the U.S. must concentrate on Eurasia to remain the lone global superpower and “to make certain that no state or combination of states gains the capacity to expel the United States from Eurasia.” To do that, it helps to control energy sources and supplies.

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Brzezinski went on to become a consultant for Amoco, which later became a player in the push for Trans-Afghan pipelines. Henry Kissinger, Nixon’s former secretary of state, got involved, too, through consulting for California-based Unocal, which led negotiations with the Taliban in a major Trans-Afghan effort. Dick Cheney’s Halliburton also joined the mix, as did Chevron when Condoleezza Rice sat on its board. Enron chief Ken Lay, a George W. Bush crony, also worked for an Afghan pipeline to feed a gigantic Enron-built Indian power plant. All this in the 1990s after the Soviet Union’s fall, allowing the strong Western attempt to take control of gas and oil in the Caspian region.

Bill Clinton stalemated oil companies’ efforts at the Trans-Afghan lines in the late ’90s, classifying the Taliban as an enemy. In April 1999, excluding U.S. interests, Afghanistan (under the Taliban), Pakistan and Turkmenistan reactivated the Trans-Afghan effort. In July, Clinton froze the Taliban’s U.S. assets and prohibited trade with Afghanistan, economically frustrating the pipeline effort.

Meanwhile, Clinton had put millions of U.S. tax dollars and thousands of administrative man hours in developing the Baku-Tblisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline, moving the Caspian Sea’s oil and gas through Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey to the Mediterranean — a way to get energy to Europe and circumvent Russia.

Then, Clinton’s out of the White House, and oilman George W. Bush is in, bringing Cheney and Rice, along with other oil connections, with him. And the Trans-Afghan pipelines again become a quiet priority.

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One Bush cohort, Paul Wolfowitz, joins them with a position paper describing how the U.S. could seize the Persian Gulf’s oil wells: “some catastrophic and catalyzing event — like a new Pearl Harbor” (see page 51). Bush and Cheney obviously respond to that. Bush later canonizes Wolfowitz president of the World Bank, where he begins rerouting hundreds of millions of dollars, designed originally for fighting poverty, to Pakistan and other nations supporting the U.S. in its invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

After Sept. 11, 2001, news reports began appearing, revealing how the Bush Administration had attempted to negotiate with the Taliban about the Trans-Afghan pipelines, as well as trying to get the Afghan rulers to turn Osama bin Laden over to the U.S. The BBC reported that U.S. representatives had informed a former Pakistani foreign secretary in mid-July 2001 that Bush — tired of negotiating — was preparing to attack Afghanistan as early as October. A U.S. State Department report noted that U.S. reps met with the Taliban, for the last time, five weeks before Sept. 11.

After invading Afghanistan, Bush placed Hamid Karzai as head of the interim government. He now reigns after a disputed election. Karzai is a former consultant to Unocal. Under him, in December 2002, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan and Pakistan again signed an agreement to build the Trans-Afghanistan natural gas pipeline. Meanwhile, the war has kept the Trans-Afghan pipelines from developing.

But news reports surfaced last week that Karzai had recently met with Taliban leader and al-Qaida affiliate Sirajuddin Haqqani in an effort to build a “separate peace” with the Taliban. The New York Times reported that Karzai was discussing with Haqqani (who has a $5 million U.S. price on his head) a “power sharing” arrangement.

Meanwhile, as President Obama and Congress scurry to replace U.S. military leadership in Afghanistan, the Trans-Afghan pipelines just might remain quietly in their plans. And not so quietly in the mind of Brzezinski (called by Obama “one of our most outstanding thinkers“). Brzezinski was reported saying after the 2008 Russia-Georgia war how “the construction of a pipeline from Central Asia via Afghanistan to the south…will maximally expand world society’s access to the Central Asian energy market.” The news report, by Asia Times correspondent Pepe Escobar, placed the price on the 1,600 km gas pipeline at more than $7.6 billion. And where there’s a natural gas pipeline in place through Afghanistan, would an oil pipeline not be far behind?

Roger Armbrust is editor-in-chief of Parkhurst Brothers, Inc., Publishers, and its Our National Conversation book series. Armbrust’s views do not necessarily represent those of The Clyde Fitch Report.