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Pepe Escobar’s brilliant analysis of the Mali War – mega Afghanistan in Africa

Burn, burn – Africa’s Afghanistan
By Pepe Escobar
From Asia Times Online

LONDON – One’s got to love the sound of a Frenchman’s Mirage 2000 fighter jet in the morning. Smells like… a delicious neo-colonial breakfast in Hollandaise sauce. Make it quagmire sauce.

Apparently, it’s a no-brainer. Mali holds 15.8 million people – with a per capita gross domestic product of only around US$1,000 a year and average life expectancy of only 51 years – in a territory twice the size of France (per capital GDP $35,000 and upwards). Now almost two-thirds of this territory is occupied by heavily weaponized Islamist outfits. What next? Bomb, baby, bomb.

So welcome to the latest African war; Chad-based French Mirages and Gazelle helicopters, plus a smatter of France-based Rafales bombing evil Islamist jihadis in northern Mali.
Business is good; French president Francois Hollande spent this past Tuesday in Abu Dhabi clinching the sale of up to 60 Rafales to that Gulf paragon of democracy, the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

The formerly wimpy Hollande – now enjoying his “resolute”, “determined”, tough guy image reconversion – has cleverly sold all this as incinerating Islamists in the savannah before they take a one-way Bamako-Paris flight to bomb the Eiffel Tower.

French Special Forces have been on the ground in Mali since early 2012.

The Tuareg-led NMLA (National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad), via one of its leaders, now says it’s “ready to help” the former colonial power, billing itself as more knowledgeable about the culture and the terrain than future intervening forces from the CEDEAO (the acronym in French for the Economic Community of Western African States).

Salafi-jihadis in Mali have got a huge problem: they chose the wrong battlefield. If this was Syria, they would have been showered by now with weapons, logistical bases, a London-based “observatory”, hours of YouTube videos and all-out diplomatic support by the usual suspects of US, Britain, Turkey, the Gulf petromonarchies and – oui, monsieur – France itself.

Instead, they were slammed by the UN Security Council – faster than a collection of Marvel heroes – duly authorizing a war against them. Their West African neighbors – part of the ECOWAS regional bloc – were given a deadline (late November) to come up with a war plan. This being Africa, nothing happened – and the Islamists kept advancing until a week ago Paris decided to apply some Hollandaise sauce.

Not even a football stadium filled with the best West African shamans can conjure a bunch of disparate – and impoverished – countries to organize an intervening army in short notice, even if the adventure will be fully paid by the West just like the Uganda-led army fighting al-Shabaab in Somalia.

To top it all, this is no cakewalk. The Salafi-jihadis are flush, courtesy of booming cocaine smuggling from South America to Europe via Mali, plus human trafficking. According to the UN Office of Drugs Control, 60% of Europe’s cocaine transits Mali. At Paris street prices, that is worth over $11 billion.

Turbulence ahead
General Carter Ham, the commander of the Pentagon’s AFRICOM, has been warning about a major crisis for months. Talk about a self-fulfilling prophecy. But what’s really going on in what the New York Times quaintly describes as those “vast and turbulent stretches of the Sahara”?

It all started with a military coup in March 2012, only one month before Mali would hold a presidential election, ousting then president Amadou Toumani Toure. The coup plotters justified it as a response to the government’s incompetence in fighting the Tuareg.

The coup leader was one Captain Amadou Haya Sanogo, who happened to have been very cozy with the Pentagon; that included his four-month infantry officer basic training course in Fort Benning, Georgia, in 2010.
Essentially, Sanogo was also groomed by AFRICOM, under a regional scheme mixing the State Department’s Trans Sahara Counter Terrorism Partnership program and the Pentagon’s Operation Enduring Freedom. It goes without saying that in all this “freedom” business Mali has been the proverbial “steady ally” – as in counterterrorism partner – fighting (at least in thesis) al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

Over the last few years, Washington’s game has elevated flip-flopping to high art. During the second George W Bush administration, Special Forces were very active side by side with the Tuaregs and the Algerians. During the first Obama administration, they started backing the Mali government against the Tuareg.

An unsuspecting public may pore over Rupert Murdoch’s papers – for instance, The Times of London – and its so-called defense correspondent will be pontificating at will on Mali without ever talking about blowback from the Libya war.

Muammar Gaddafi always supported the Tuaregs’ independence drive; since the 1960s the NMLA agenda has been to liberate Azawad (North Mali) from the central government in Bamako.

After the March 2012 coup, the NMLA seemed to be on top. They planted their own flag on quite a few government buildings, and on April 5 announced the creation of a new, independent Tuareg country. The “international community” spurned them, only for a few months later to have the NMLA for all practical purposes marginalized, even in their own region, by three other – Islamist – groups; Ansar ed-Dine (“Defenders of the Faith”); the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO); and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

Meet the players
The NMLA is a secular Tuareg movement, created in October 2011. It claims that the liberation of Azawad will allow better integration – and development – for all the peoples in the region. Its hardcore fighters are Tuaregs who were former members of Gaddafi’s army.
But there are also rebels who had not laid down their arms after the 2007-2008 Tuareg rebellion, and some that defected from the Malian army. Those who came back to Mali after Gaddafi was executed by the NATO rebels in Libya carried plenty of weapons. Yet most heavy weapons actually ended up with the NATO rebels themselves, the Islamists supported by the West.

AQIM is the Northern African branch of al-Qaeda, pledging allegiance to “The Doctor”, Ayman al-Zawahiri. Its two crucial characters are Abu Zaid and Mokhtar Belmokhtar, former members of the ultra-hardcore Algerian Islamist outfit Salafist Group for Predication and Combat (SGPC). Belmokhtar was already a jihadi in 1980s Afghanistan.

Abu Zaid poses as a sort of North African “Geronimo”, aka Osama bin Laden, with the requisite black flag and a strategically positioned Kalashnikov featuring prominently in his videos. The historical leader, though, is Belmokhtar. The problem is that Belmokhtar, known by French intelligence as “The Uncatchable”, has recently joined MUJAO.

MUJAO fighters are all former AQIM. In June 2012, MUJAO expelled the NMLA and took over the city of Gao, when it immediately applied the worst aspects of Sharia law. It’s the MUJAO base that has been bombed by the French Rafales this week. One of its spokesmen has duly threatened, “in the name of Allah”, to respond by attacking “the heart of France”.

Finally, Ansar ed-Dine is an Islamist Tuareg outfit, set up last year and directed by Iyad ag Ghali, a former leader of the NMLA who exiled himself in Libya. He turned to Salafism because of – inevitably – Pakistani proselytizers let loose in Northern Africa, then engaged in valuable face time with plenty of AQIM emirs. It’s interesting to note in 2007 Mali President Toure appointed Ghali as consul in Jeddah, in Saudi Arabia. He was then duly expelled in 2010 because he got too close to radical Islamists.

Gimme ‘a little more terrorism’
No one in the West is asking why the Pentagon-friendly Sanogo’s military coup in the capital ended up with almost two-thirds of Mali in the hands of Islamists who imposed hardcore Sharia law in Azawad – especially in Gao, Timbuktu and Kidal, a gruesome catalogue of summary executions, amputations, stonings and the destruction of holy shrines in Timbuktu.
How come the latest Tuareg rebellion ended up hijacked by a few hundred hardcore Islamists? It’s useless to ask the question to US drones.

The official “leading from behind” Obama 2.0 administration rhetoric is, in a sense, futuristic; the French bombing “could rally jihadis” around the world and lead to – what else – attacks on the West. Once again the good ol’ Global War on Terror (GWOT) remains the serpent biting its own tail.

There’s no way to understand Mali without examining what Algeria has been up to.
The Algerian newspaper El Khabar only scratched the surface, noting that “from categorically refusing an intervention – saying to the people in the region it would be dangerous”, Algiers went to “open Algerian skies to the French Mirages”.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in Algeria last October, trying to organize some semblance of an intervening West African army. Hollande was there in December. Oh yes, this gets juicier by the month.

So let’s turn to Professor Jeremy Keenan, from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at London University, and author of The Dark Sahara (Pluto Press, 2009) and the upcoming The Dying Sahara (Pluto Press, 2013).

Writing in the January edition of New African, Keenan stresses, “Libya was the catalyst of the Azawad rebellion, not its underlying cause. Rather, the catastrophe now being played out in Mali is the inevitable outcome of the way in which the ‘Global War on Terror’ has been inserted into the Sahara-Sahel by the US, in concert with Algerian intelligence operatives, since 2002.”

In a nutshell, Bush and the regime in Algiers both needed, as Keenan points out, “a little more terrorism” in the region. Algiers wanted it as the means to get more high-tech weapons. And Bush – or the neo-cons behind him – wanted it to launch the Saharan front of the GWOT, as in the militarization of Africa as the top strategy to control more energy resources, especially oil, thus wining the competition against massive Chinese investment. This is the underlying logic that led to the creation of AFRICOM in 2008.

Algerian intelligence, Washington and the Europeans duly used AQIM, infiltrating its leadership to extract that “little more terrorism”. Meanwhile, Algerian intelligence effectively configured the Tuaregs as “terrorists”; the perfect pretext for Bush’s Trans-Saharan Counter-Terrorism Initiative, as well as the Pentagon’s Operation Flintlock – a trans-Sahara military exercise.

The Tuaregs always scared the hell out of Algerians, who could not even imagine the success of a Tuareg nationalist movement in northern Mali. After all, Algeria always viewed the whole region as its own backyard.

The Tuaregs – the indigenous population of the central Sahara and the Sahel – number up to 3 million. Over 800,000 live in Mali, followed by Niger, with smaller concentrations in Algeria, Burkina Faso and Libya. There have been no less than five Tuareg rebellions in Mali since independence in 1960, plus three others in Niger, and a lot of turbulence in Algeria.

Keenan’s analysis is absolutely correct in identifying what happened all along 2012 as the Algerians meticulously destroying the credibility and the political drive of the NMLA. Follow the money: both Ansar ed-Dine’s Iyad ag Ghaly and MUJAO’s Sultan Ould Badi are very cozy with the DRS, the Algerian intelligence agency. Both groups in the beginning had only a few members.

Then came a tsunami of AQIM fighters. That’s the only explanation for why the NMLA was, after only a few months, neutralized both politically and militarily in their own backyard.

Round up the usual freedom fighters
Washington’s “leading from behind” position is illustrated by this State Department press conference. Essentially, the government in Bamako asked for the French to get down and dirty.

And that’s it.

Not really. Anyone who thinks “bomb al-Qaeda” is all there is to Mali must be living in Oz. To start with, using hardcore Islamists to suffocate an indigenous independence movement comes straight from the historic CIA/Pentagon playbook.

Moreover, Mali is crucial to AFRICOM and to the Pentagon’s overall MENA (Middle East-Northern Africa) outlook. Months before 9/11 I had the privilege to crisscross Mali on the road – and by the (Niger) river – and hang out, especially in Mopti and Timbuktu, with the awesome Tuaregs, who gave me a crash course in Northwest Africa.
I saw Wahhabi and Pakistani preachers all over the place. I saw the Tuaregs progressively squeezed out. I saw an Afghanistan in the making. And it was not very hard to follow the money sipping tea in the Sahara. Mali borders Algeria, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Senegal, the Ivory Coast and Guinea. The spectacular Inner Niger delta is in central Mali – just south of the Sahara.
Mali overflows with gold, uranium, bauxite, iron, manganese, tin and copper. And – Pipelineistan beckons! – there’s plenty of unexplored oil in northern Mali.

As early as February 2008, Vice Admiral Robert T Moeller was saying that AFRICOM’s mission was to protect “the free flow of natural resources from Africa to the global market”; yes, he did make the crucial connection to China, pronounced guilty of ” challenging US interests”.

AFRICOM’s spy planes have been “observing” Mali, Mauritania and the Sahara for months, in thesis looking for AQIM fighters; the whole thing is overseen by US Special Forces, part of the classified, code-named Creek Sand operation, based in next-door Burkina Faso. Forget about spotting any Americans; these are – what else – contractors who do not wear military uniforms.

Last month, at Brown University, General Carter Ham, AFRICOM’s commander, once more gave a big push to the “mission to advance US security interests across Africa”. Now it’s all about the – updated – US National Security Strategy in Africa, signed by Obama in June 2012. The (conveniently vague) objectives of this strategy are to “strengthen democratic institutions”; encourage “economic growth, trade and investment”; “advance peace and security”; and “promote opportunity and development.”

In practice, it’s Western militarization (with Washington “leading from behind”) versus the ongoing Chinese seduction/investment drive in Africa.

In Mali, the ideal Washington scenario would be a Sudan remix; just like the recent partition of North and South Sudan, which created an extra logistical headache for Beijing, why not a partition of Mali to better exploit its natural wealth? By the way, Mali was known as Western Sudan until independence in 1960.

Already in early December a “multinational” war in Mali was on the Pentagon cards.

The beauty of it is that even with a Western-financed, Pentagon-supported, “multinational” proxy army about to get into the action, it’s the French who are pouring the lethal Hollandaise sauce (nothing like an ex-colony “in trouble” to whet the appetite of its former masters). The Pentagon can always keep using its discreet P-3 spy planes and Global Hawk drones based in Europe, and later on transport West African troops and give them aerial cover. But all secret, and very hush hush.

Mr Quagmire has already reared its ugly head in record time, even before the 1,400 (and counting) French boots on the ground went into offense.

A MUJAO commando team (and not AQIM, as it’s been reported), led by who else but the “uncatchable” Belmokhtar, hit a gas field in the middle of the Algerian Sahara desert, over 1,000 km south of Algiers but only 100 km from the Libyan border, where they captured a bunch of Western (and some Japanese) hostages; a rescue operation launched on Wednesday by Algerian Special Forces was, to put it mildly, a giant mess, with at least seven foreign hostages and 23 Algerians so far confirmed killed.

The gas field is being exploited by BP, Statoil and Sonatrach. MUJAO has denounced – what else – the new French “crusade” and the fact that French fighter jets now own Algerian airspace.

As blowback goes, this is just the hors d’oeuvres. And it won’t be confined to Mali. It will convulse Algeria and soon Niger, the source of over a third of the uranium in French nuclear power plants, and the whole Sahara-Sahel.

So this new, brewing mega-Afghanistan in Africa will be good for French neoloconial interests (even though Hollande insists this is all about “peace”); good for AFRICOM; a boost for those Jihadis Formerly Known as NATO Rebels; and certainly good for the never-ending Global War on Terror (GWOT), duly renamed “kinetic military operations”.

Django, unchained, would be totally at home. As for the Oscar for Best Song, it goes to the Bush-Obama continuum: There’s no business like terror business. With French subtitles, bien sur.

Iran tests America’s grasp of reality – Pepe Escobar’s view

By Pepe Escobar

In Election 2012’s theater-of-the-absurd “foreign policy” debate, Iran came up no less than 47 times. Despite all the fear, loathing, threats, and lies in that billionaire’s circus of a campaign season, Americans were nonetheless offered virtually nothing substantial about Iran, although its (non-existent) WMDs were relentlessly hawked as the top US national security issue. (The world was, however, astonished to learn from candidate Romney that Syria, not the Persian Gulf, was that country’s “route to the sea”.)

Now, with the campaign Sturm und Drang behind us but the threats still around, the question is: can Obama 2.0 bridge the gap between current US policy (we don’t want war, but there will be war if you try to build a bomb) and Persian optics (we don’t want a bomb – the Supreme Leader said so – and we want a deal, but only if you grant us some measure of respect)?

Don’t forget that a soon-to-be-reelected President Obama signaled in October the tiniest of possible openings toward reconciliation while talking about the “pressure” he was applying to that country, when he spoke of “our policy of… potentially having bilateral discussions with the Iranians to end their nuclear program.”

Tehran won’t, of course, “end” its (legal) nuclear program. As for that “potentially”, it should be a graphic reminder of how the establishment in Washington loathes even the possibility of bilateral negotiations.

Mr President, tear down this wall
Let’s start with the obvious but important: on entering the Oval Office in January 2009, Obama inherited a seemingly impregnable three-decade-long “Wall of Mistrust” in Iran-US relations. To his credit, that March he directly addressed all Iranians in a message for Nowruz, the Iranian New Year, calling for an “engagement that is honed and grounded in mutual respect”. He even quoted the 13th century Persian poet Sa’adi: “The children of Adam are limbs of one body, which God created from one essence.”

And yet, he was crippled from the start by a set of Washington misconceptions as old as that wall, and by a bipartisan consensus for an aggressive strategy toward Iran that emerged in the George W Bush years when congress ponied up US$400 million for a set of “covert operations” meant to destabilize that country, including cross-border operations by special forces teams. All of this was already based on the dangers of “the Iranian bomb.”

A September 2008 report by the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington think tank, was typical in assuming a nuclear-weapons-capable Iran as a fact. It was drafted by Michael Rubin from the neo-conservative American Enterprise Institute, the same AEI that had unashamedly promoted the disastrous 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq.

Several future Obama advisers “unanimously approved” the report, including Dennis Ross, former senator Charles Robb, future Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, Anthony Lake, future UN ambassador Susan Rice, and Richard Clarke. The 2007 National Intelligence Estimate by all US intelligence agencies stating that Iran had ended any nuclear weapons program in 2003 was bluntly dismissed.

Mirroring the Bush administration’s “all options are on the table” approach (including cyberwar), the report proposed – what else? – a military surge in the Persian Gulf, targeting “not only Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, but also its conventional military infrastructure in order to suppress an Iranian response.” In fact, such a surge would indeed begin before George W Bush left office and only increase in scope in the Obama years.

The crucial point is this: as tens of millions of US voters were choosing Barack Obama in 2008, in part because he was promising to end the war in Iraq, a powerful cross-section of Washington elites was drafting an aggressive blueprint for a future US strategy in the region that stretched from North Africa to Central Asia and that the Pentagon was then still calling the “arc of instability.” And the key plank in this strategy was a program to create the conditions for a military strike against Iran.

R.e.s.p.e.c.t.?
With an Obama 2.0 administration soon to be in place, the time to solve the immensely complex Iranian nuclear drama is now. But as Columbia University’s Gary Sick, a key White House adviser on Iran during the Iranian Revolution and the Tehran hostage crisis of 1979-1981, has suggested, nothing will be accomplished if Washington does not start thinking beyond its ever-toughening sanctions program, now practically set in stone as “politically untouchable.”

Sick has proposed a sound path, which means that it has no hope of being adopted in Washington. It would involve private bilateral discussions by credible negotiators for both sides based on a mutually agreed-upon agenda.
These would be followed by full-blown negotiations under the existing P5+1 framework (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council – US, Russia, China, France, and Britain – plus Germany).

Considering the frantic post-2009 seesawing of sanctions, threats, cyber attacks, military surges, and colossal mutual incomprehension, no one in his right mind would expect a pattern of “mutual respect” to emerge easily out of Washington’s “dual track” approach.

It took Ambassador Hossein Mousavian, research scholar at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and spokesperson for the Iranian nuclear negotiating team from 2003 to 2005, to finally explain it all last August in a single sentence: “The history of Iran’s nuclear program suggests that the West is inadvertently pushing Iran toward nuclear weapons.” Chas Freeman, former US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, agrees, suggesting in a recent speech that Iran now “seems to be reenacting Israel’s clandestine weapons development program of five decades ago, developing capabilities to build and deliver nuclear weapons while denying that it intends actually to do any such thing.”

What makes these developments even more absurd is that a solution to all this madness exists. As I wrote a few weeks ago (see War fever as seen from Iran, Asia Times Online, August 22, 2012), to satisfy the concerns of the West regarding Iran’s 20% stockpile of enriched uranium:

A mutually acceptable solution for the long term would entail a “zero stockpile”. Under this approach, a joint committee of the P5+1 [the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany] and Iran would quantify the domestic needs of Iran for use of 20% enriched uranium, and any quantity beyond that amount would be sold in the international market or immediately converted back to an enrichment level of 3.5%. This would ensure that Iran does not possess excess 20% enriched uranium forever, satisfying the international concerns that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons. It would be a face-saving solution for all parties as it would recognize Iran’s right to enrichment and would help to negate concerns that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons.

Time to hit the New Silk Road(s)
The current US strategy is not exactly a raging success. Economist Djavad Salehi-Esfahani has explained how Tehran’s theocratic rulers continue to successfully manage the worst effects of the sanctions and a national currency in free fall by using the country’s immense oil and natural gas wealth to subsidize essential imports. Which brings us to the bedrock question of this – or possibly any other – moment: will Obama 2.0 finally admit that Washington doesn’t need regime change in Tehran to improve its relationship with that country?

Only with such an admission (to itself, if not the world) are real negotiations leading to a Wall of Mistrust-blasting deal possible. This would undoubtedly include a genuine detente, an acceptance of Iran’s lawful pursuit of a peaceful nuclear program, guarantees that the result would not be a covert weapons project, and a turning away from the possibility of a devastating war in the Persian Gulf and the oil heartlands of the Greater Middle East.

Theoretically, it could also include something else: an Obama “Nixon in China” moment, a dramatic journey or gesture by the US president to decisively break the deadlock. Yet as long as a barrage of furiously misinformed anti-Iran hawks in Washington, in lockstep with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Israeli government, deploy a relentless PR offensive burning with incendiary rhetoric, “red lines,” deadlines, and preemptive sabotage of the P5+1 negotiations, such a moment, such a gesture, will remain the faintest of dreams.

And even such an elusive “Obama in Tehran” moment would hardly be the end of the story. It would be more like a salutary twist in the big picture.
To understand why, you need to grasp just how crucial Iran’s geopolitical positioning is.
After all, in energy and other terms that country is the ultimate crossroads of Eurasia, and so the pivot of the world.
Strategically, it straddles the supply lines for a sizeable part of the globe’s oil and gas reserves and is a privileged hub for the distribution of energy to South Asia, Europe, and East Asia at a moment when both China and India are emerging as potential great powers of the 21st century.

The urge to control that reality lies at the heart of Washington’s policy in the region, not an Iranian “threat” that pales as soon as the defense spending of the two countries is compared. After all, the US spends nearly a $1 trillion on “defense” annually; Iran, a maximum of $12 billion – less, that is, than the United Arab Emirates, and only 20% of the total defense expenditures of the six Persian Gulf monarchies grouped in the Gulf Cooperation Council.

Moreover, the Iranian nuclear “threat” would disappear for good if Obama 2.0 ever decided to push for making the Middle East a nuclear-free zone. Iran and the GCC have endorsed the idea in the past. Israel – a de facto (if never officially acknowledged) nuclear power with an arsenal of up to 300 warheads – has rejected it.

Yet the big picture goes way beyond the strategic gaming of the US and Israel about Iran’s possible future arsenal. Its position at the ultimate Southwest Asian strategic crossroads will determine much about the future New Great Game in Eurasia – especially whose version of a modern Silk Road will prevail on the great energy chessboard I call Pipelineistan.

I’ve argued for years that all these intertwined developments must be analyzed together, including Washington’s announced Asian military “pivot” (aka “rebalancing”). That strategy, unveiled in early 2012 by President Obama, was supposed to refocus Washington’s attention away from its two disastrous wars in the Greater Middle East to the Asia-Pacific region with a special focus on containing China. Once again, Iran happens to lie right at the heart of that new policy, given how much of its oil and natural gas heads east to China over waters patrolled by the US Navy.

In other words, it hardly matters that Iran is a rickety regional power run by aging theocrats with an only modestly impressive military. The relationship between Obama 2.0 and Iran is guaranteed to involve the nuclear question, but also (whether acknowledged or not) the global flow of energy across Pipelineistan, and Washington’s future relations with China and the rest of Asia.
It will also involve Beijing’s concerted movements to prop up the yuan in relation to the dollar and, at the same time, accelerate the death of the petrodollar.
Finally, behind all of the above lies the question of who will dominate Eurasia’s 21st century energy version of the old Silk Road.

At the 2012 Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) meeting in Tehran, India, Iran, and Afghanistan pushed for the creation of what might be called a new southern Silk Road – really a network of roads, railways, and major ports that would connect Iran and its energy wealth ever more closely to Central and South Asia. For Delhi (as for Beijing), getting closer to both Afghanistan and especially Iran is considered crucial to its Eurasian strategy, no matter how much Washington may disapprove.

India is betting on the port of Chabahar in Iran, China on the port of Gwadar in Pakistan (and of course a gas pipeline from there to Iran) as key transshipment hubs linking Central Asia and the Gulf. Both ports will be key pawns in Pipelineistan’s New Great Game, which is quickly slipping from Washington’s control. In both cases, despite its drive to isolate Iran, there is little the Obama administration can do to prevent these and other instances of closer Eurasian integration.

Washington’s grand strategy for a “Greater Central Asia” under its control once centered on Afghanistan and India. Its disastrous Afghan War has, however, blown a hole through its plans; so, too, has its obsession with creating energy routes that bypass Iran (and Russia), which looks increasingly irrational to much of the rest of Eurasia. The only version of a Silk Road that the Obama administration has been able to devise has been war-related: the Northern Distribution Network, a logistical marathon of routes crisscrossing Central Asia for bringing military supplies into Afghanistan without relying fully on an increasingly unreliable Pakistan.

Needless to say, in the long term, Moscow will do anything to prevent a US/NATO presence in Central Asia. As with Moscow, so with Beijing, which regards Central Asia as a strategic rearguard area when it comes to its energy supply and a place for economic expansion as well. The two will coordinate their policies aimed at leaving Washington in the lurch through the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. That’s also how Beijing plans to channel its solution for eternally war-torn Afghanistan and so secure its long-term investments in mineral and energy exploitation. Ultimately, both Russia and China want post-2014 Afghanistan to be stabilized by the United Nations.

The ancient Silk Road was humanity’s first globalization highway centered on trade. Now, China in particular is pushing for its own ambitious version of a new Silk Road focused on tapping into energy – oil and natural gas – from Myanmar to Iran and Russia. It would, in the end, link no fewer than 17 countries via more than 8,000 kilometers of high-speed rail (on top of the 8,000 kilometers already built inside China). For Washington, this means one thing: an evolving Tehran-Beijing axis bent on ensuring that the US strategic target of isolating Iran and forcing regime change on that country will be ever just out of reach.

Obama in Tehran?
So what remains of the initial Obama drive to reach out to Iran with an “engagement that is honed and grounded in mutual respect”? Not much, it seems.

Blame it – once again – on the Pentagon, for which Iran will remain a number one “threat,” a necessary enemy. Blame it on a bipartisan elite in Washington, supported by ranks of pundits and think tanks, who won’t let go of enmity against Iran and fear campaigns about its bomb. And blame it on an Israel still determined to force the US into an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities that it desires. In the meantime, the US military build-up in the Persian Gulf, already at staggering levels, goes on.

Somebody, it seems, has yet to break the news to Washington: we are in an increasingly multipolar world in which Eurasian powers Russia and China, and regional power Iran, simply won’t subscribe to its scenarios. When it comes to the New Silk Road(s) linking South Asia, Central Asia, Southwest Asia, and China, whatever Washington’s dreams may be, they will be shaped and constructed by Eurasian powers, not by the United States.

As for an Obama 2.0 “Nixon in China” moment transplanted to Tehran? Stranger things have happened on this planet. But under the present circumstances, don’t hold your breath.

Pepe Escobar is the roving correspondent for Asia Times, an analyst for al-Jazeera and the Russian network RT, and a TomDispatch regular. His latest book is Obama Does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

From Asia Times, initially from TomDispatch.

China and India at war October 20th

Fifty years ago this month, China defeated India in a short war in the Eastern Himalayan region, including South Tibet/Arunachal Pradesh and near Assam.
Today, both have almost half a million soldiers in the area and are upgrading their capabilities.
With Myanmar “open for business” and the US egging on India to “contain” China, this backwater is set to become a flashpoint this decade.
To complicate matters, a quarter of a billion Bengalis (in Bangladesh and West Bengal) are next door and will increasingly have a say in what happens in this region.

What should be a New Economic Frontier of peace, prosperity and progress could easily turn into a US-induced arena of conflict between two still poor countries (billing themselves as superpowers).
Let us never forget there are more poor people in India than in the whole of Sub-Saharan Africa.
The West of China especially rural areas still has grinding poverty. i.e. a poor population the size of Europe..

If Mao and Zhou en Lai had wanted, they could have sent their troops into the Ganges-Brahmaputra valleys and cut off eastern India & (then)East Pakistan.
History would have re-written. Nehru’s administration was a shambles and would not have put up a fight.
Today, the region needs to think ahead and look at Kashmir and Tibet through the same lens.
Delhi needs to admit it has misruled Assam and the rest of North East and must very quickly come up with a new Settlement and allow economic, social and environmental progress.
It won’t, of course.
So the scene is set for a short burst of ‘investment’ proposals to capture the fossil fuel reserves, build infrastructure into Myanmar and then watch as social and political turmoil put those aspirations on hold.
Very soon, this region will become the centre of the world’s attention, for all the wrong reasons

Farid Erkizia Bakht

Click below for an article from the Asia Times for reference (though with a health warning that it is skewed towards Delhi and thereby Washington)

http://atimes.com/atimes/China/NJ11Ad03.html

This is the Indo-China of the 21st Century (1)

WIkipedia “Indo-China” and it will refer to Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia and then onto the defeat of the French colonialists (so much for liberte, egalite e fraternite) and the ‘American anguish’ over defeat even though they killed 2 million Vietnamese, opened the path for Pol Pot and destroyed the jungles with Dow Chemical Agent Orange (soon to be seen at the London Olympics).

Geographically, it makes more sense to see Indo-China to the north west of this region.

Myanmar, Yunnan, the Seven Sister states, Bangladesh, West Bengal, Bhutan, Nepal, Tibet and Kashmir.

And this area is the new fault line in much of our lifetime. A Venn Diagram of states, provinces and regions in a Nuclear Neighbourhood.

The great prize for Washington is the ‘containment’ of China by building up India, making inroads into Myanmar and sowing discontent in Tibet and Western China up to Chongking.

The great prize for Delhi? (I don’t say India as like I never subscribed to the idea of ‘whats good for General Motors is good for America’ I also don’t believe that the neo-imperial tendencies of South Block and neo-liberal ideologies of Mumbai-Delhi are any good for the state of India)…….. a fulfilment of the urge to be the Asian superpower (piggy-backing the US) putting China back in its cage.

A necessary condition for Delhi is therefore economic, political and military domination of South Asia, a version of the ‘Near Abroad’ to use post Soviet terminology.

This 21st century Indo-China is the next frontline. The ‘re-opening’ of Myanmar should be seen in this context.

Essentially, this has the makings of the ‘Balkan Question’ of the 1800s up to the assassination of Franz Ferdinand and the onset of an epoch changing World War. This time it moves east, out of Europe into Forgotten Asia.

Minerals, Natural Gas, hydro-energy, cheap labour, a half a billion consumers, the gateway to the potential riches of Northern Indian gangetic plain and to South-east Asia up to Singapore and Hanoi as well as the untapped potential of Western China (a continent away from Shanghai and the Pacific Coast)…. added to the vital rare earths of Tibet and the perennial impasse (and half a million Indian troops) over Kashmir…… the armed national liberation movements in the Seven Sisters and the inexorable rise of the Maoist rebellion in the Strategic Corridor cutting the sub-continent in half from Nepal down to the Bay of Bengal.

In the next post in this series, we turn to a country in the middle of all this.. a population with a history of volatile politicisation, with a youth bulge and a desperate need for jobs, economic uplift to offset a looming environmental catastrophe…..

 

These countries won’t exist by 2020…..

One of the biggest casualties of the Great Crisis (set to get worse over the next 3 years) could be the Westphalian system of nation states – this notion of nation states was solidified after the bloody Thirty Years War in Europe.

The outcome will not be just lurches to the Right or Left. It will lead to the biggest fragmentation of Europe since 1918 as empires collapsed after WW1 (Austro-Hungarian, German and Russian)
On top of financial and economic crises, we have a situation of permanent resource war in the Middle East, Africa and Asia including the ‘containment of China’, the war on Muslim states, the Maoist rebelion in India & independence movements in the Seven Sister states bordering China,  the ‘opening up of Myanmar’, the battle between (and within) Latin America and the Yankee North…..

So, let’s prepare for a new World where the following states will fragment/break up (and while a rump may retain the name, it will be far smaller in size than today) and the ‘original’ will only exist in history, nostalgia and our imagination:

United Kingdom

Spain

France

Italy

Belgium

Rumania

Libya

Syria

Iraq

Congo

Pakistan

India

Myanmar

Mexico

Colombia

Phillipines

Saudi Arabia

Jordan

UAE

Qatar

 

We have had a Thirty Years War in our lifetime – that of ‘Globalisation’ or as I see it ‘Amercanisation’ where borders were weakened in a free for all for multinationals and finance.

The casualties are everywhere: hollowed out industries in the Western economies, peoples and states bulldozed in petrodollar wars… a billion or is it two in urban slums… climate ravaged regions…

The result: this is the decade of fragmentation.

The New Zone of Disorder in the East

For obvious reasons, all eyes are focused on the Mediterranean or the Gulf. The former for economic turmoil on the northern coast of the Med, and war, coups and state fragmentation on the southern shores of the Med, and now the east with the imminent fragmentation of Syria. A recent article in the Jerusalem Post quoting a Kurdish Syrian gives us a clue.

The latter, with the Gulf, revolves around the drive to grab Iran’s fossil fuel as well as control Shia dominated oil regions (in ‘Iraq’ and ‘Saudi Arabia’) and Qatar too.

When Iran is put to the sword in 2013, we will not look elsewhere for our Daily News.

Or should it be called Old News.

The strategic direction for the US is to the East in Asia.

Today it’s about saving the US Dollar as a reserve currency and thus the debt-soaked US economy. How? Attack oil countries to a) grab the oil & gas and b) ensure everyone pays for it in US Dollars and not paper like the ‘Euro’…

Tomorrow, the game will be different once the above objectives have been secured.

South Asia is now the new region being prepared for a showdown.

So far,  the instability has reached the Indus valley (Pakistan) as the Afghan war spills over into Pathan/Pashtun territory and more importantly to mineral & fuel rich Baluchistan – give the latter four years for independence.

India’s political frame is being being hollowed out on the eastern front as Maoists fight the Indian Army & paramilitary over resource rich states.

This will follow its logical conclusion. Not sure? Look at Nepal.

Myanmar or Burma is now in play. The target is China. It’s awful economic colonisation is set to be challenged as Western interests vie with India to restore the old British era order of reconnecting with South Asia.

The US wants China ‘contained’. Encircled. Kept at bay. New Delhi is being given an old song to sing. It’s the strategic ally par excellence of Washington. Islamabad is being ditched as NATO leaves Afghanistan (except for its permanent bases).

Delhi is eager to be top dog and craves recognition. It wants to win, once and for all in South Asia and then ‘challenge’ China.

To do that, it needs to secure the far flung Seven Sister states, led by gas-rich Assam and get into Mandalay.

In the way is Bangladesh, otherwise known as the Philippines of South Asia, i.e. a compliant ally of Washington.

The Pentagon wanted Sri Lanka but they went to the Chinese and Russians for weapons and ended that 3 decade long war, and guess who will be eager to invest and control that wonder island with its 99% literacy – a new TIger economy in the making.

Instead, the 7th Fleet is looking to Chittagong and the possibility of a base, giving it a few minutes flying time into Chinese airspace and ensuring a zone of control over Burma/Myanmar as well as India.

The writing is on the wall that there will be a hard military coup in Bangladesh in 2013, latest 2014. The democratic experiment will come to an end as will the two party dynasties of the Awami League and BNP.

The 165 million densely packed population will somehow be expected to accept continued and never-ending World Bank economic rule and then an overt US military presence on top. The plan is for Indian multinationals to pour in billions of rupees to build power plants and other infrastructure to get the buy in of the Bangladeshi business class as well get directand shorter  communications through Bangladeshi territory, rather than around it.

Transhipment, in the local parlance.

The neglected Seven Sister states have been fighting for independence for decades. They are supposed to trade in freedom for economic prosperity, Delhi style. To which begs the question: why didn’t Delhi do this in 1972 rather than talk about it in 2012? Why were they solely focused on fighting over glaciers with the Pakistani army when they could have invested in their own people?

In other words, too little too late and too opportunistic.

Including Myanmar as well Yunnan and Western China beyond, this region is the NExt Economic Frontier. Its strategic importance is something the Robert Kaplan s of this world truly grasp. Clues to future /current US policy can be seen in his book (Monsoon) on the Indian Ocean.

Specifically, Eastern ‘South Asia’ is soon to be the new zone of disorder.

In this nuclear neighbourhood, aspiring superpowers and a declining hyperpower are going to take things to their logical conclusion.

The second decade of the 21st century is going to get even more dangerous.

Green, Equal and Nationalist?

Gold reaches a ‘nominal’ record price just shy of $1600 an ounce. Some predict it reaIching $2000 by Xmas, and anything up towards $5,000 in the next few years as Western governments print oceans of new ‘money’… launching QE3, QE4 and more.

Utah accepts Gold as legal tender. This week, there was talk of the Swiss planning a gold-backed Swiss Franc.

Linked to all this is the continuing debt crises on both sides of the Atlantic.

The Europeans have performed yet another joke ‘stress-testing’ examination of the banks. 9 failed, 16 nearly.

Let us not forget the Irish banks passed with flying colours last year and then promptly went under, and had to be bailed out.

It looks like a choice between the European Central Bank printing €3 trillion to buy the bonds of the PIIGS or accept that Greece, Portugal and Ireland will default.. and then Spain and Italy will revert back to the Peseta and Lira.

Despite all the political capital invested in the Euro project by the Spanish elite, they will have no choice but to leave the Euro.

It is likely that the ultra right of the Partido Popular will win handsomely in the next general elections (latest by March 2012 but could be earlier) while the nationalists (an

d increasingly to the left of the spectrum in the Basque country) will win in the Iberian periphery.

You can see where this leads. A sullen, right wing elite in Madrid unwilling or unable to accept that the post-1975 road to European milk and honey is at an end and then facing disintegration of the Spanish state by the middle of the decade.

When the Euro collapses, it will inevitably lead to the rolling back of the European project. Forget Lisbon. It will be over.

Remember the Hanseatic League? Vaguely.

Picture a new 21st century variant something like this:

Germany, Walloonia, Holland, Denmark, Austria, Sweden and Norway will become a new Deutch Mark dominated economic zone. The richest region on the planet.

Everyone will want to trade and ally with them.. Russia, the Swiss, the new rich ‘states’ of Northern Italy, Catalonia, Euskalherria, Scotland, Eastern Europe and of course the Chinese and Japanese.

The centre of gravity is set to shift from Western Europe into Central/Northern Europe. Economically, it has already happened.

What is left is monetarily, politically and culturally.

Paris and London: eat your heart out. Enjoy your colonial wars in places like Libya…. while you still can.

The Brazilians will buy up Portugal in a reverse of five centuries of colonialism and turn Lisbon into southern Europe’s Sao Paolo as industrialisation arrives in a big way.

Europe’s Politics stand on a knife-edge.

The old institutions look ripe for dissolution.

To divert people from daylight robbery (i.e. austerity for the majority, honey for the rich minority) and flirting with radical ideas of the Greens and the Indignados, there will be shift to semi-fascist ideologies… watch Le Pen in France, the continuing rise of the Freedom Party in Austria, its equivalent in Holland, Sweden, Denmark and Hungary.

Is any of this possible?

If we look back at European history upto the 30 years war and the Treaty of Westphalia, then why not?

Twenty years after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, a new generation is seeing politics in a new light. The worldview of Central/Northen Europe is no longer bound by the necessary ‘payment’ by Germany for its ghastly crimes of WW2. It no longer has to seek US support against the Russian collosus.

The US and English may still have tanks and missiles in Germany, but they are just relics from the Cold War. Elites find it impossible to move on and accept the world has changed.

London, as a Trojan horse for Washington, can no longer pursue the centuries old scheme of preventing the rise of a dominant ‘continental power’. It has happened.

There are no ideological, political or economic barriers for Central/Northern Europe to forge strong relations with a reviving Russia, even in its present callous form.

If the Chinese cannot save the Euro, then they will accept a new Deutsch Mark 2 (or whatever it is called.. EuroCor or Euro-Mark?).

Follow the Money, as they say.

In this background, the Green and Indignado movements have their work cut out. How to convince the peoples of these new states and region that ecology and equality have a central role in this new World?

Greens have won a notable victory over Big Nuclear in this new heartland: Germany. This paves the way to a ramp up in use of Russian natural gas while a vast new infrastructure for renewable energy is laid out, a more energy & waste-efficient industrial system is put in place.

But the war for equality is the key.

The intellectual and political challenge is how to construct and continental (and ultimately global) movement on the following premise:

Eco-Socialism through National Liberation.

A marriage of Green & Left with the desire for national freedom, with nationalism.

If Greens and the Left remain wedded to a universalist framework, they will be outfought by the Right, riding on sentiment about nations and race.

One can be Nationalist as well as Left (the Basques prove this).

And one can be Green as well as Nationalist. That is a right-wing Green nationalist as well as a Left Wing Green Nationalist.

The monumental challenge is to ensure we get the latter not the former.

The Green movement has to grow up.  It has to get its hands dirty. It has to choose sides. It has to recognise that it is a minority or even non-existent in most of Asia, Russia, Eastern Europe, Iberia, Africa and the Americas. Forget conferences. Forget the Big NGOs. Forget ‘winning’ arguments on barely read journals (such as the Guardian in the UK).

It has to link up with wider forces from below as well as the Left. Most of all, it must seek to influence the nationalist dialogue. To help define ‘national liberation’. To wrest the argument away from Berlusconi, Sarkozy, Le Pen and the ultra-rightists.

That political war will be fought in the Iberian peripheries, parts of France and Italy and most of  all in Germany. I would like to say Scotland  but there are no signs of it. Yes, Scotland is going solo this decade but it’s not too different from CIU of Catalonia or PNV of the Basques. It has to shift much more towards the ideology of equality and ecology within its present nationalist framework.

If the Chinese cannot save the Euro, then they will accept a new Deutsch Mark 2 (or whatever it is called.. EuroCor or Euro-Mark?).

Follow the Money, as they say.

In this background, the Green and Indignado movements have their work cut out.

Whichever side prevails in Europe, the end of this decade will be unimaginable to its start.

Aftter decades of disappointment and anguish, that’s a start.