Thursday, August 14, 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

Lawrence DiStasi

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