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Surprise! It's also a dirty war for oil

Nick Woomer, 11/02/2001 Back to the Woom

The truth: How hard it is to hide - and that's bad news for the Bush administration.

America's so-called "New War" in Afghanistan is fueled by public perception that our primary goal is to emerge victorious from a struggle to the death with terrorists who despise American freedoms, and the battle begins by destroying the Al-Queda terrorist network and its supporters. The secondary goal of the war is purportedly liberating the people of Afghanistan from their brutal Taliban rulers. End of story - you can keep waving that flag.

But that's only 2/3 of the story, there's yet another goal; one that has received sparse attention and mostly in the foreign or alternative press: Access to oil deposits in central Asia.

While Afghanistan itself is relatively oil-poor, its neighbors in the Caspian region are quite the opposite. To quote Dick Cheney in 1998, back when he was just a humble oil baron: "I can't think of a time when we've had a region emerge as suddenly to become as strategically significant as the Caspian." Given the unimpeachable integrity of the Bush administration, I'm sure it's just a coincidence that:

Cheney used to serve on the Kazakhstan Oil Advisory Board with executives from Chevron and Texaco.

The Federal Trade Commission announced that it had approved a merger between Chevron and Texaco only days before the bombs began to fall on Afghanistan. The resulting company, ChevronTexaco, will have a 45 percent interest in Kazakhstan's huge Tengiz oil field near its border with Afghanistan (ExxonMobil has a 25 percent interest).

Bush the Elder, also cozy with Texas oilmen, is a member of the $12 billion private equity firm the Carlyle Group, which invests heavily in defense contractors, according to journalist Nina Burleigh in an 10/11 article for This worries Charles Lewis, who works for the Center for Public Integrity in Washington D.C. Lewis told Burleigh that "in a really peculiar way, George W. Bush could, some day, benefit financially from his own administration's decisions, through his father's investments. And that to me is a jaw-dropper."

These "coincidences" are relevant to the current conflict in Afghanistan, and not just because of its proximity to an oil-rich region. Afghanistan occupies a critical strategic position in a grand plan for U.S. oil companies to control Caspian oil.

For years, U.S. oil interests have drooled over the prospects of building a $4 billion, 1,000-mile long pipeline across Afghanistan that would pump Caspian oil to Karachi, Pakistan, thereby allowing U.S. firms to sell it in the lucrative South Asian market. All that is needed is a ruling government in Afghanistan friendly to U.S. corporate interests, not necessarily the Afghan people; that is why U.S. firms - and recently even the U.S. government -were warming up to the Taliban right up until Sept. 11.

When Taliban troops rolled into Kabul in 1996, the California firm Unocal began wooing Taliban leaders until "long after the movement's bloody brutality and ties to terrorism became the commonest knowledge" according to a story by Michael Daly in last Sunday's New York Daily News. Daly goes on to describe in detail how Unocal flew Taliban Mullahs to the United States and entertained them lavishly. When Bill Clinton sent cruise missiles into Al-Queda training camps in 1998, Unocal suspended its plans for a trans-Afghanistan pipeline.

"Lest anyone think the company had taken a moral stand, a spokesman insisted that Unocal had not been influenced by protests over its dealings with the Taliban. The real reason was that oil had dropped to a paltry $12 a barrel," explains Daly.

Clinton's cruise missile adventure was a setback for Unocal but, as a Sept. 29 article in the Toronto Star elaborates, right-wingers in Washington still saw a lot of money to be made in a U.S./Taliban partnership. With the Bush administration's arrival in Washington, there was talk of returning to the good old days between 1994 and 1997 when "American policy toward the Taliban was driven by fear of Iran and support of Unocal."

These suggestions were bolstered by concern in right-wing policy circles that isolating the Taliban would force companies to transport Caspian oil through Russia, thereby increasing Russia's influence in the world unnecessarily. When the Taliban banned opium production in 2000, the U.S. gave $43 million in aid to Afghanistan through the United Nations and independent aid agencies. U.S. Secretary of State Collin Powell even suggested publicly that the U.S. should reconsider its economic sanctions against Afghanistan.

There are two direct implications of this information to the events that are unfolding before our eyes on CNN. The first implication is that access to oil might be the reason why our government refuses to enter into good-faith negotiations with the Taliban for bin Laden - even if doing so will cause thousands or even millions of Afghans to starve in the harsh Central Asian winter that starts in two weeks (see my 10/17/01 column).

The second implication of the "oil angle" is that it contradicts the administration's position that this war is a struggle between good and evil, indeed for America's very existence. But, as Mark Danner observed in a 10/16/01 op-ed piece in The New York Times, "Unfortunately, as we know from the last quarter-century or more, political support thus purchased tends to be built on emotion and brittle and weak. In the days and hours following the next terrorist Spectacular, or the next, Americans may well begin to ask themselves why exactly they are being targeted and what exactly it is they are risking their lives for."

Bush had better hope Danner is wrong. When this war turns into what some commentators fear will be "Vietnam with snow," and dead 19-year olds start coming home en-masse, I doubt most Americans (or at least American students) will decide the war is an acceptable price to pay just so they can continue driving gas-guzzling SUVs.

Nick Woomer can be reached via e-mail at

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