"Stuck in the Gulf"

By Damien Cave

Published October 31, 2001 8:25PM (EST)

Read the story:

I understand and accept the argument that oil from the Caspian Sea area, piped through Afghanistan, could never replace oil from the Persian Gulf area.

But that is not the point. The point is that the oil and natural gas companies who fund the politicians who "fight" the wars would make billions from extraction and sale, not to mention transport, drilling rigs and equipment.

That is by no means the whole story of the Afghan effort, but it may be the financial subtext.

-- Phyllis Guest

The article does not take into account an even more worrying prospect; emerging powers such as India and China will require vast quantities of oil to feed their rapidly growing economies. If the U.S. leaves the Persian Gulf, the danger may not be a radical fundamentalist takeover of oil-producing nations, but a future conflict with whatever new power seeks to control the region after a U.S. withdrawal.

For this reason alone, the Americans will need to radically rethink its long relationship with the Middle East. It needs to become more sensitive to local concerns, and become a force for democratic change and development -- and cease to be the military ogre it is perceived to be.

-- Kashif Salman

Damien Cave argues well that overland accessibility is no answer to the need for Saudi and Gulf oil. But aside from commenting that a U.S. takeover of the oil fields is unlikely, he never mentions what could stop us from doing just that.

The Saudi and Gulf Arab oil fields are owned by corrupt monarchies that are propped in power by the U.S. military or our surrogates. They are in easy access of our carrier-borne naval air forces, whose power is singular on this planet. We could (and would) share the spoils with the other Western oil importers and perhaps use some of the profits to set up and maintain appropriate democratic and Western-oriented republics. Meantime, the third-world and fourth-world beggar states would howl. This all is exactly how the British Empire handled similar situations in the governance of subject races, until liberalism sapped their national will to power. In any case,

"Whatever happens,
we have got,
the air cavalry divisions,
and they have not"

-- Arnold Harris

We MUST bite the bullet and use renewable energy in the not too distant future anyway. Why not start right now?

Regulate the auto industry so that they MUST produce more fuel efficient transportation.

Pour much more of our taxes into renewable technology.

Instead this administration thinks we should give our tax dollars to the oil companies! It's a fine thing!

-- Lucinda Adams

Your article, "Stuck in the Gulf" overlooks another aspect of the Caspian oil factor. Namely, why is Saudi Arabia, with Pakistani logistical support, funding the Taliban?

The simple point is that control of Afghanistan gives both access to Central Asia and its Caspian Oil. Kashmir also is necessary to secure this link -- hence the widespread, under-reported terrorism there.

With Taliban and Pakistani support, widespread terrorism is taking place throughout Central Asia. This extends Saudi and Pakistani influence in the area.

Conversely, India, which opposes Pakistan, and Iran, which wants its own pipeline access to Central Asia, support the Northern Alliance.

Caspian oil may not be a substitute for Persian Gulf oil, but it is a nice little asset which any fool would want to control if he could.

The above analysis is well understood and widely reported by journalists and commentators throughout South Asia -- Indian, Pakistani, and Arabian alike.

In this overall context, we can only hope the Bush administration also has some Caspian oil scheme up its sleeve. For if it does not, then its war on terrorism strategy would be worse than a crime, it would be a blunder.

-- Duncan C. Kinder

Your charge that all who see the prosecution of the war in Afghanistan through the lens of conspiracy is to err on your part. Bush has no legal right nor precedent to remove the Taliban from power. The Taliban had nothing to do with the Sept. 11 air attacks (Bush admits this); even if there were sufficient evidence (which this office has reviewed well, and is found wanting, in our humble opinion) that Osama bin Laden was solely responsible; there are many means to see he comes to justice without bombing Afghanistan into the stone age. That there are interests in the region you admit, as one could hardly miss, but you failed to mention the other political objectives which surround The Silk Road Strategy (HE.OR. 2867 and attendant hearing, 1997) in the Caspian region: The isolation of Iran (and Iraq). This in fact was the original objective for running pipelines through Afghanistan, (they had been proposed to run through Iran at first) not "only" to "help" wean America off OPEC oil; "not only," is the important part. You are wrong in arguing that we shall remain dependent on Persian Gulf oil.

Part of the strategic importance of the Caspian region is the fragility of the Saudi and Al Sabah regimes, growing weaker every year as the standard of living of the "people" in Saudi Arabia has gone from $28,000 per capita, during the '80s, to today below $7,000 per capita). Dependency on oil as their only substantial export is the regime's inherent weakness, as Lt. General William Odom, Ret., has consistently pointed out for years. Your use of the term conspiracy is naive and shows a narrowness of your own views; no wars have ever been fought with but ONE objective; if you had served in the military during combat, war that is, you would know this only too well: Every strategic objective that is desired is tabled by the National Security apparatus (Energy Security is this nation's number two priority) to be achieved using the conflict, of whatever size or complexity, as the means. Commercial interests are always and everywhere part of every war's objective since the beginning of time. Yes Oliver Stone is (and admittedly, I should add, I know Oliver well) a conspiracy theorist. But those that see the illegal bombing of Afghanistan, and the entirely illegal attempt to remove the Taliban from power, as having another, though secondary, realistic, separate and important, political objective ... ("replacing the regime with one more favorable to the international community, our company and lenders," according to John I. Maraca of Unocal, in testimony at the above noted hearing) -- that being, the pipelines, in the plural (proposed to run north, west, east and south) and the forced stabilization of the regimes in the "entire" region, is hardly a theory. The objectives are crystal clear and require no conspiracy to achieve. The other, another that is to say, principal political objective, outlined in now twenty major NSC, NSA, CIA, Pentagon statements, is to see that no other hegemonic power arises in these regions and threaten the oil and stability. (Russia and China are the principle threats observed) So then, why would you see these objectives, once known and reported, talked about, as a "theory," when you know the objectives are very real and only problematic in their ability to be achieved? That the government will try to achieve them is the point, not whether they will succeed, or accomplish what they are set out to accomplish.

Thank you for your other insights into the region in any case.

-- Craig B. Hulet, Policy Analyst, KC & Associates

Damien Cave's article "Stuck in the Gulf" was based on information in a 1998 Rice University report which is obsolete. For example, in May 2000, Kazakhstan announced discovery of the largest oil discovery anywhere in the world in the past 20 years -- the Kashagan field [Ref 1]. Kashagan is estimated to have 8 to 50 billion barrels of oil --a second test well 40 km from first recently confirmed size of find.

If estimates of some analysts that Caspian may have up to 200 billion barrels of oil are true, then Caspian would hold roughly 20 percent of world reserves, not 2.7 percent.

Much of the information held by oil companies (results of seismic surveys, etc.) is probably closely held and not yet public.

Vice President Dick Cheney has long been interested in the Caspian Sea oil deposits.[Ref 8,9,10]. While CEO at Halliburton, Cheney sat on Kazakhstan's Oil Advisory Board and his recent energy report advocated that President Bush direct the Cabinet to "deepen their commercial dialogue with Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, and other Caspian states."[12,13]

Interestingly enough, Kazakhstan also receives money from the huge defense contractor, Lockheed Martin, due to satellite launches at the Baikonur space port. Dick Cheney's wife, Lynne Cheney, served on the Board of Directors of Lockheed Martin from 1994 until January 2001.

In the past, Vice President Cheney advocated relaxation of sanctions against Iran so that a pipeline could be built to carry Caspian oil to a tanker terminal on the Indian Ocean. Given China's projected thirst for oil in the coming decades, the potential for profits is enormous. However, a pipeline from Kazakhstan to the Indian Ocean via Afghanistan and Pakistan would work equally well.

Mr. Cave should not sneer at the "netherworld" of Internet media. Certainly, the mainstream news media says little to nothing about the private business agendas behind much of America's foreign policy. Thus, we heard about the Clinton administration spending $1.3 billion for a "war on drugs" in Colombia, but the voters were not informed that much of that taxpayer money would go to buy Sikorsky helicopters (made in Joe Lieberman and Chris Dodd's state of Connecticut). Nor were we informed that Occidental Oil has lost about $100 million to rebel sabotage of Colombia's electric grid and of oil facilities like the Cano Limon oil pipeline. Nor were we told of Al Gore's past relationship with Occidental.

Past history shows that fighting for "human rights" can be very lucrative for some people. Europe also needs oil. But while the Russians have a pipeline from Baku to ports on the Black Sea, the Bosphorus is a chokepoint. The Turks are growing increasing nervous that a Russian oil tanker will wreck and ruin Istanbul. (Note: Russian war in Chechnya was in part done to protect their pipeline from guerrilla attacks.)

Back in 1995, the Brown and Root subsidiary of Dick Cheney's Halliburton Inc. did an engineering study on running an oil pipeline from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean across Bulgaria, Macedonia, and Albania south of Kosovo; thereby bypassing the Bosphorus. The U.S. government kicked in about $588,000 for the feasibility study.

After a nice brisk "peacekeeping operation" in Kosovo, AMBO Inc is now proceeding with plans for the pipeline. A former Halliburton/Brown & Root executive is AMBO's president. I don't think we will be pulling our troops out of Kosovo any time soon.

-- Don Williams

By Salon Staff

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