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Easter Island as a metaphor: resource depletion, climate change and the word of God

Easter Island

Sunday’s Zaman, Sunday, 12 December 2010.

On the other side of the world lies Easter Island, located in the southeastern Pacific Ocean, at a distance of 3,747 kilometers west of Concepción, Chile. Its original inhabitants, the Rapa Nui, are now Chilean citizens (officially since 1966), and number about 3,000, confined to the island’s sheltered west coast, while some have migrated to mainland Chile over time.

In the past few months the island has been in the news occasionally. Since last summer, Rapa Nui activists have been occupying more than two dozen buildings in a “land dispute that dates back to 1888.” The Chilean Santiago Times reported in early August 2010 that “Rapa Nui clans have occupied close to 30 properties on the island, including museums, government-owned buildings, municipal buildings, the local tourism office and a hotel. The Rapa Nui Parliament is also working to increase the importance of Rapa Nui representatives in the Chilean government. Two weeks after Rapa Nui demonstrators began occupying properties on Easter Island, Chile’s government has sent more police [45 officers] to ‘monitor’ the situation.”

But rather than talk about indigenous rights, the vicissitudes of colonization and human rights’ abuses, I would now like to turn to the island’s pre-colonial history as a means to shed some light on our current global predicament. Giant monolithic statues called mo‘ai that can weigh up to 90 tons are Easter Island’s most striking feature (a total of 887 have been inventoried). They were made relatively recently, in the period between 1250 and 1500 CE.

When Europeans arrived on the island it was utterly treeless. Pollen analysis has revealed however that the island was “almost totally” forested until about the year 1200. But now the island is barren. A volcanic crater on the island’s eastern plain, Rano Raraku, provided the source of the sideromelane (basaltic) tuff from which 95% of the statues were carved. Some 250 mo‘ai are found in an almost unbroken line around the perimeter of the island, while 600 others in various stages of completion are scattered around the island. It is hard to imagine that this now barren island was once covered with trees and forests, but as wood and other tree materials were needed to transport the mo‘ai, trees had to be cut down and forests subsequently disappeared. In view of this rapacious resource depletion executed in the space of two and a half centuries, the locals devised narratives that managed to minimize the role of humans destroying the island’s abundant forests.

The environmentally concerned physicist Adam Frank, on the other hand, relates in a matter-of-fact voice that the “need for trees, rope, and food to maintain a population of laborers eventually led to the destruction of the very forests the islanders depended on. After the forests were gone erosion took the soil too. What followed was Easter Island collapsing into starvation, warfare and cannibalism. The chance of escape disappeared too as seafaring canoes require large trees for their hulls.”

A metaphor for the state of planet earth

The Easter Island story is truly a metaphor for the state of planet earth in the 21st century. It presents a bleak picture of the future awaiting our planet as a result of climate change: Resource depletion, soil erosion, desertification, ocean acidification, sea-level rise, habitat destruction, species’ extinction, in addition to overpopulation are some of the most salient problems humanity has ever faced. The Director of Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) and Germany’s Chief Government Advisor on Climate and Related Issues Hans Joachim Schellnhuber declared publicly that “We are on our way to a destabilization of the world climate that has advanced much further than most people or their governments realize . . . In nearly all areas, the developments are occurring more quickly than it has been assumed up until now.” Action is urgently needed, and currently the Mexican city of Cancún is hosting the latest round of UN climate talks and negotiations (Nov. 29 – Dec. 10). But the event has so far not produced any positive results. Far from ushering in change we can believe in, President Obama is simply continuing his predecessor’s stance on the Kyoto Protocol and allowing the US Congress not to ratify this internationally binding treaty committing most of the world’s richest countries to making emission cuts. And now Japan has categorically stated its opposition to extending the Protocol.

Christiana Figueres, secretary-general of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, announced that “It is very clear that given the diversity of positions on the Kyoto Protocol it is not going to be possible for Cancun to take a radical decision one way or the other on the Kyoto Protocol.” In a surprising turn of events, Huang Huikang, a special representative for climate change negotiations at China’s Foreign Ministry, said that some nations “want to kill the Kyoto Protocol, to end the Kyoto Protocol . . . This is a very worrying movement.” Worldwide, the three largest emitters of greenhouse gases are China (17 percent), the US (16 percent) and the EU (12 percent). China is trying very hard to convince the world that it is going green, but its power plants remain largely if not primarily coal-powered. Surprisingly, the US also uses coal for about 50% of its energy. After all, the US has the largest coal reserves in the world, which makes for a cheap, though dirty, resource.

Debates deemed ‘unnecessary’

Last week the US House of Representatives’ Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, created by Speaker Nancy Pelosi in 2007, held its final meeting. Pelosi set up the Committee to debate the latest developments on climate change issues and research, but following the recent success of Republicans during the mid-term elections, House Republicans deemed such debate “unnecessary.” Next there is the House Energy and Commerce Committee, headed since November 2008 by veteran Democrat Harry Waxman who is to be replaced shortly. One of the contenders to take over is Illinois Republican John Shimkus, a Lutheran by religion practicing climate change denial by vocation. Shimkus will now likely take over the US Energy Commission and has produced such memorable quotes as: “As long as the earth endures, seed time and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, will never cease”, adding, “‘I believe that is the infallible word of God, and that’s the way it is going to be for his creation. The earth will end only when God declares its time to be over. Man will not destroy this earth. This earth will not be destroyed by a flood. Today we have about 388 [carbon doixide] parts per million in the atmosphere. I think in the age of dinosaurs, when we had the most flora and fauna, we were probably at 4,000 parts per million.

There is a theological debate that this is a carbon-starved planet — not too much carbon. And the cost of a cap-and-trade on the poor is now being discovered”. This so-called ‘cap-and-trade’ bill refers to President Obama’s American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 that attempts to limit carbon emissions, and which Shimkus opposes vehemently. In view of such developments, what hope can there be for smaller countries to influence climate negotiations or to promulgate policies that could effect any influence upon the ever-accelerating pace of climate change?

Turkey’s Environment and Forestry Minister Veysel Eroğlu is also in Cancún, but in spite of Turkey’s recent pseudo-Ottoman stance in the world, its record on action regarding climate change is not very impressive. Still, last March, the country’s business leaders held a meeting to “brainstorm about how Turkey’s transition to a low-carbon economy” could be achieved. Emel Türker, spokesperson for Greenpeace Mediterranean, declared recently that the “meetings are continuing in Cancún. The Turkish government is taking part in the meetings without promising to reduce emissions. While climate change knocks at our door with all its disasters, the decision-makers continue to sleep. Taking 19th place in the world in greenhouse gas emissions, Turkey continues its long sleep, claiming that it is a developing country and has contributed little to climate change” — a rather bleak statement with a message that seems to be in line with developments worldwide. The failure of the Cancún talks does not bode well for planet earth’s chances of avoiding a fate similar to, or rather worse than, Easter Island’s and its vanity statues.

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Drumpfian Attacks on U.S. Environmental Rules

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33 rules have been overturned
  • Flood building standards
  • Proposed ban on a potentially harmful pesticide
  • Freeze on new coal leases on public lands
  • Methane reporting requirement
  • Anti-dumping rule for coal companies
  • Decision on Keystone XL pipeline
  • Decision on Dakota Access pipeline
  • Third-party settlement funds
  • Offshore drilling ban in the Atlantic and Arctic
  • Ban on seismic air gun testing in the Atlantic
  • Northern Bering Sea climate resilience plan
  • Royalty regulations for oil, gas and coal
  • Inclusion of greenhouse gas emissions in environmental reviews
  • Permit-issuing process for new infrastructure projects
  • Green Climate Fund contributions
  • Endangered species listings
  • Hunting ban on wolves and grizzly bears in Alaska
  • Protections for whales and sea turtles
  • Reusable water bottles rule for national parks
  • National parks climate order
  • Environmental mitigation for federal projects
  • Calculation for “social cost” of carbon
  • Planning rule for public lands
  • Copper filter cake listing as hazardous waste
  • Mine cleanup rule
  • Sewage treatment pollution regulations
  • Ban on use of lead ammunition on federal lands
  • Restrictions on fishing
  • Fracking regulations on public lands
  • Migratory bird protections
  • Department of Interior climate policies
  • Rule regulating industrial polluters
  • Safety standards for “high hazard” trains
24 rollbacks are in progress
  • Clean Power Plan
  • Paris climate agreement
  • Car and truck fuel-efficiency standards
  • Offshore oil and gas leasing
  • Status of 10 national monuments
  • Status of 12 marine areas
  • Limits on toxic discharge from power plants
  • Coal ash discharge regulations
  • Emissions standards for new, modified and reconstructed power plants
  • Emissions rules for power plant start-up and shutdown
  • Sage grouse habitat protections
  • Regulations on oil and gas drilling in some national parks
  • Oil rig safety regulations
  • Regulations for offshore oil and gas exploration by floating vessels
  • Drilling in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge
  • Hunting method regulations in Alaska
  • Requirement for tracking emissions on federal highways
  • Emissions standards for trailers and glider kits
  • Limits on methane emissions on public lands
  • Permitting process for air-polluting plants
  • Use of birds in subsistence handicrafts
  • Coal dust rule
  • Haze rule for national parks
  • Review process for forest restoration projects
10 rollbacks are in limbo
  • Wetland and tributary protections
  • Methane emission limits at new oil and gas wells
  • Limits on landfill emissions
  • Mercury emission limits for power plants
  • Hazardous chemical facility regulations
  • Groundwater protections for uranium mines
  • Efficiency standards for appliances
  • Efficiency standards for federal buildings
  • Rule helping consumers buy fuel-efficient tires
  • Aircraft emissions standards

As the above list amply illustrates, “[s]ince taking office last year [2016], President Trump has made eliminating federal regulations a priority”.1 

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1“67 Environmental Rules on the Way Out Under Trump” NYT (31 Jan 2018). https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/10/05/climate/trump-environment-rules-reversed.html.

Climate Change is a Hoax: World Meteorological Organization Report

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The insurance expert Joe Ryan matter-of-factly declares that “[u]nusually warm weather in the Arctic is helping shift weather patterns this year from North America to the Middle East, after global warming shattered records in 2016, according to the World Meteorological Organization. Rising ocean temperatures that are melting polar ice sheets, killing marine life and flooding coastal communities may have increased more than previously reported last year, the WMO said in a report Tuesday [, 21 March 2017]”.i

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The WMO Statement on the State of the Global Climate in 2016 puts it like this: “Warming continued in 2016, setting a new temperature record of approximately 1.1 °C above the pre-industrial period, and 0.06 °C above the previous highest value set in 2015. Carbon dioxide (CO2) reached new highs at 400.0 ± 0.1 ppm in the atmosphere at the end of 2015. Global sea-ice extent dropped more than 4 million km2 below average – an unprecedented anomaly – in November. Global sea levels rose strongly during the 2015/2016 El Niño, with the early 2016 values making new records. The powerful 2015/2016 El Niño event exerted a strong influence on the climate and societies against a background of long-term climate change. Severe droughts affected agriculture and yield production in many parts of the world, particularly in southern and eastern Africa and parts of Central America, where several million people experienced food insecurity and hundreds of thousands were displaced internally, according to reports from the World Food Programme (WFP), the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM)”.ii

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The Executive summary contiues as follows: “Hurricane Matthew in the North Atlantic led to the most damaging meteorological disaster, with Haiti sustaining the heaviest casualties. There were also major economic losses in the United States and elsewhere in the region. Flooding severely affected eastern and southern Asia with hundreds of lives lost, hundreds of thousands of people displaced and severe economic damage. Wet conditions led to good crop production in many parts of the Sahel, with record yields reported in Mali, Niger and Senegal. Detection and attribution studies have demonstrated that human influence on the climate has been a main driver behind the unequivocal warming of the global climate system observed since the 1950s, according to the Fifth Assessment Report of IPCC. Human influence has also led to significant regional temperature increases at the continental and subcontinental levels. Shifts of the temperature distribution to warmer regimes are expected to bring about increases in the frequency and intensity of extremely warm events”.iii

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World Climate Research Program Director David Carlson did not mince his words in a statement: “We are now in truly uncharted territory”.iv For his part, WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas added that “[t]his report confirms that the year 2016 was the warmest on record – a remarkable 1.1 °C above the pre-industrial period, which is 0.06 °C above the previous record set in 2015. This increase in global temperature is consistent with other changes occurring in the climate system . . . Globally averaged sea surface temperatures were also the warmest on record, global sea levels continued to rise, and Arctic sea-ice extent was well below average for most of the year. With levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere consistently breaking new records, the influence of human activities on the climate system has become more and more evident”.v In contrast, “U.S. President Donald Trump [now] pushes to dismantle programs to combat climate change. Last week, the Republican called for relaxing fuel-economy standards for cars and trucks, which along with other vehicles are the U.S.’s largest source of greenhouse gases. Trump also released a budget with sweeping cuts to climate change research and grants for clean energy development”, as stated by Joe Ryan.vi

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i Joe Ryan, “Higher Arctic Temperatures Likely to Shift Global Weather in 2017: WMO” Insurance Journal (22 March 2017). http://www.insurancejournal.com/news/international/2017/03/22/445278.htm.

ii “Executive summary . WMO Statement on the State of the Global Climate in 2016” WMO (21 March 2017). http://library.wmo.int/opac/doc_num.php?explnum_id=3414.

iii “Executive summary . WMO Statement on the State of the Global Climate in 2016” .

iv Joe Ryan, “Higher Arctic Temperatures Likely to Shift Global Weather in 2017: WMO”.

v “Climate breaks multiple records in 2016, with global impacts.” WMO (21 March 2017). https://public.wmo.int/en/media/press-release/climate-breaks-multiple-records-2016-global-impacts.

vi Joe Ryan, “Higher Arctic Temperatures Likely to Shift Global Weather in 2017: WMO”.

AKP Turkey’s Favourite Terrorists in Syria: Ahrar al-Sham

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The Berlin-based SWP (or Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik or German Institute for International and Security Affairs)’s Dr Guido Steinberg relates that “Ahrar al-Sham belongs to the Islamist/Salafist part of the rebel spectrum. It aims to topple Asad and replace his regime with an Islamic state based on sharia. While its leadership has never spelled out in detail what the political system of such a state would look like, it is sure to be strongly authoritarian”.(1) Founded by “by Hassan Aboud (aka Abu Abdullah al-Hamawi) [died on 16 March 2016 “from wounds received in a battle near Aleppo”],(2) the group is a coalition of Islamist and Salafist units fighting to unseat Bashar al-Assad. Over time, Hassan Aboud’s outfit even became the ‘principal constituent force’ of the Syrian Islamic Front (or SIF), set up in December 2012 as a ‘Salafi umbrella formation, which is arguably the best fighting force within the opposition’ to the Assad regime in Damascus, in the words of the Richard Borow Fellow at the Washington Institute and founder of the website Jihadology, Aaron Zelin and Charles Lister, the Visiting Fellow, Brookings Doha Center”.(3)

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According to the journalist and freelance writer Aron Lund, “the Ahrar el-Sham Brigades are made up of nearly fifty jihadi groups, such as the Qawafil el-Shuhada (Idleb), Ansar el-Haqq (Idleb), and Salaheddine Brigade (Hama). They exist in most of Syria’s Sunni-populated governorates, but are particularly concentrated in the Idleb Governorate (half of the brigades listed), with Hama a distant second. [In 2012 p]ress reports appear to confirm that the group has a strong foothold in the Sunni countryside stretching from the northern Ghab Plain west of Hama, towards Idleb and the Turkish border, east of the Alawite mountains. Also judging from its own website, the Ahrar el-Sham Brigades are conspicuously weak in some Sunni-majority governorates otherwise known for intensive rebel activity: Homs (only two brigades, in the Houla region and Tel-Kalakh respectively), Deraa (one brigade, no location specified) and Deir el-Zor (no presence)”.(4) On a dedicated website, the group itself posits that “The Islamic Movement of Free Men of the Levant [or Ahrar al-Sham] is an Islamist, reformist, innovative and comprehensive movement. It is integrated with the Islamic Front and is a comprehensive and Islamic military, political and social formation. It aims to completely overthrow the Assad regime in Syria and build an Islamic state whose only sovereign, reference, ruler, direction, and individual, societal and nationwide unifier is Allah Almighty’s Sharia (law)”.(5)

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In spite of the above-quoted programmatic statement, “the movement is generally not seen by the Syrian public as fame or power-hungry, and Syrian activists’ comments on social media often describe the movement as working quietly and in an organised manner”, as expressed by Al Jazeera’s Malak Chabkoun.(6) Ahrar al-Sham’s supposed moderate character also seems to have induced AKP Turkey’s then-Prime Minister Ahmed Davutoğlu to utilize the groups as a middleman in negotiations between the National Intelligence Organization (or MİT) and the Islamic State (or ISIS or the Caliph and his Merry Men) in 2014.(7)

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(1) Guido Steinberg , ‘Ahrar al-Sham: The “Syrian Taliban”’ SWP Comments, 27 (May 2016). file:///C:/Users/K55V/Desktop/Ahrar%20al-Sham.pdf.

(2) C. J. Chivers and Karam Shaoumali, “Hassan Aboud, an ISIS Commander, Dies From Battlefield Wounds” New York Times (17 March 2016). https://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/18/world/middleeast/hassan-aboud-an-isis-commander-dies-from-battlefield-wounds.html?_r=0.

(3) C. Erimtan, “Turkey between rock and a hard place in US fight against ISIS” RT Op-Edge (18 September 2014). https://www.rt.com/op-edge/188796-turkey-isis-usa-conflict-syria/.

(4) Aron Lund,, “Syrian Jihadism” UIBrief, 13 (14 September 2012). file:///C:/Users/K55V/Desktop/Syrian%20Jihadism%20(012).pdf.

(5) Ahrar al-Sham official webpage: http://ahraralsham.net/?page_id=4195. Translated and quoted by Malak Chabkoun, “Syrian Revolution’s Path after Attacks on Ahrar al-Sham” Al Jazeera English (17 September 2014). http://studies.aljazeera.net/en/reports/2014/09/2014“Syrian Revolution’s Path after Attacks on Ahrar al-Sham” . 9147499306405.html#a2.

(6) Malak Chabkoun, “Syrian Revolution’s Path after Attacks on Ahrar al-Sham” .

(7) C. Erimtan, “Turkey between rock and a hard place in US fight against ISIS”.

The War in Afghanistan (2011)

25-jan-2011

Originally published on 25 January 2011

A Frontline in the New Cold War against Islamic Extremism or

Crucial Part of the oddly shaped Eurasian chessboard?

Last week, the new U.S. Congress convened for its first session. The newly-elected Republicans and Tea Party favourites started the new year with a stunt: reading the complete U.S. Constitution, that semi-sacrosanct document of yesteryear many swear by but few appear to know . . . On the sidelines, another somewhat overlooked speech took place as well. California Democrat Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey took the floor for a short address. Woolsey is the co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and gained notoriety as a result of her outspoken stance on the war in Iraq. She was one of the 133 members of the House who voted against authorizing the invasion of Iraq on October 10, 2002. Since then Woolsey has taken an active role in urging U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq, and has been a vocal critic of the Bush administration’s foreign policy. Last week, however, Lynn Woolsey showed that she was beyond party politics in criticising America’s active military involvement in the Hindu Kush mountains and Afghanistan: “This war represents an epic failure, a national embarrassment, and a moral blight on our nation”.

In contrast to Woolsey’s words, the White House appears to view the war in Afghanistan in quite different terms. In the first half of December 2010, it released a new report on America’s war in the Hindu Kush mountains, publishing a 5-page summary for public consumption: Overview of the Afghanistan and Pakistan Annual Review. The short document shows that the Obama administration remains beholden to the Bush rationale for the war saying that the “core goal of the U.S. strategy in the Afghanistan and Pakistan theater remains to disrupt, dismantle, and eventually defeat al-Qa’ida in the region and to prevent its return to either country”. Repeating President Obama’s alliterative mantra, the White House presents the hostilities in Afghanistan as part of the War-on-Terror meant to safeguard the U.S. homeland as well as the rest of the Free World. Rather than taking account of the reality on the ground that sees U.S. and ISAF troops battling “insurgency” or rather resistance fighters known as Taliban, the White House document continues to portray the enemy as al-Qa’ida, a shadowy network of Islamist terrorists bent on destroying the Free World. But already in December 2009, a senior U.S. intelligence official told ABC News that there were only about 100 al-Qa’ida members left in Afghanistan, basing himself on the conclusions of American intelligence agencies and the U.S. Defense Department. In June 2010, CIA director Leon Panetta went a step further, telling ABC News: “I think at most, we’re looking at maybe 50 to 100, maybe less. It’s in that vicinity. There’s no question that the main location of al-Qaeda is in tribal areas of Pakistan”. As a result, the Overview of the Afghanistan and Pakistan Annual Review now confidently talks of the “Pakistan-based leadership and cadre of al-Qa’ida”, thereby offering justification for the U.S. drone attacks in Pakistani territory. But the Pakistani army has for the past years been fighting the Pakistani Taliban (TTP or Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan) in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan who, in response, have unleashed a campaign of terror throughout the whole country.

The Obama administration seems adamant to stay the course, having recently committed “1,400 more Marine combat forces to Afghanistan”, as reported by the Associated Press on 6 January. In a way, the War-on-Terror, renamed the Overseas Contingency Operations, is the 21st-century incarnation of the 20th-century Cold War that saw many proxy conflicts and an escalating nuclear arms’ build-up (the could only have led to MAD or Mutually Assured Destruction). As I have indicated in an earlier piece, the NATO establishment already predicted, or maybe rather presaged, such a development in the mid-1990s. Then-NATO secretary-general Willy Claes at the time said that “Islamic militancy has emerged as perhaps the single gravest threat to the NATO alliance and to Western security”.

In the absence of a Soviet threat, the Obama administration has now declared al-Qa’ida and its by now more than legendary and possibly defunct leader Osama bin Laden to be America’s main military adversary. While making sure not to declare an outright Crusade against Islam and Muslims worldwide, President Obama continues Cold War policies that ensure that the “military-industrial complex”, to use President Eisenhower’s famous 1961 phrase, is kept busy, happy, and well-fed. Quite some time ago, the independent journalist Pepe Escobar declared that “Osama bin Laden may be dead or not. ‘Al-Qa’ida’ remains a catch-all ghost entity”. In other words, his contention is that the name al-Qa’ida is used by the U.S. to suggest the presence of a threat that is then employed to justify military intervention. The flipside of that stance is now that terrorists and like-minded individuals opposing U.S. dominance and interventionism equally cite the name al-Qa’ida to gain credibility, notoriety, and media exposure.

But does al-Qa’ida as a worldwide terrorist network aiming to deceive, disrupt and destroy the Free World really exist? Already in 2004, the British film-maker and writer Adam Curtis suggested in his documentary The Power of Nightmares that al-Qa’ida as an international terrorist network was basically an American invention to secure the prosecution and conviction of guilty parties and individuals in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. As such, even the guilt of Osama bin Laden, as the true instigator of the “9/11” attacks, arguably also remains a somewhat open question. On 28 September 2001, Bin Laden was interviewed by the Urdu-language Pakistani daily Ummat: “I have already said that I am not involved in the 11 September attacks in the United States. As a Muslim, I try my best to avoid telling a lie. I had no knowledge of these attacks, nor do I consider the killing of innocent women, children and other humans as an appreciable act. Islam strictly forbids causing harm to innocent women, children and other people. Such a practice is forbidden even in the course of a battle . . . Whoever committed the act of 11 September are not the friends of the American people. I have already said that we are against the American system, not against its people, whereas in these attacks, the common American people have been killed”. Was Osama bin Laden merely trying to deflect attention and building up an alibi against a possible U.S. attack? As for the famous video confession so conveniently stumbled upon in the Afghan city of Jalalabad in November 2001, the theologian-turned-9/11-debunker Prof. David Ray Griffin maintains that “bin Laden experts have called this later video a fake, and for good reasons. Many of the physical features of the man in this video are different from those of Osama bin Laden (as seen in undoubtedly authentic videos)”. The fact that the FBI last year used an image of the Spanish lawmaker Gaspar Llamazares to create an up-to-date picture of an aging Osama bin Laden proves that U.S. institutions do indeed dabble in creating fakes and make-believes. The incredible story of the digitally enhanced image of Bin Laden using Llamazares’ “hair and facial wrinkles” was broken by the Associated Press.

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President Obama entered the world stage on an unprecedented wave of goodwill and optimism, relying on his message of “change we can believe in” to affect a serious alteration in the way the U.S. conducts foreign policy and treats other nations. Now that he has been in office for two years, disappointment and disillusion in his actual track record seem widespread. Obama’s continuation of the Bush administration’s championing of the TAPI pipeline project, that would Turkmenistan and India, and his seeming reliance upon Brzezinski’s legacy in pursuing the New Great Game on the “oddly shaped Eurasian chessboard” have transformed him into a proponent of a New Cold War against Islamic Extremism, as personified by al-Qa’ida. Even though many Conservative and Tea Party Obama opponents have cast doubt upon the U.S. President’s religious and political affiliation, referring to him variously as a Nazi-Socialist-Communist-Muslim, his grounding in the Christian faith remains beyond doubt. In particular, Barack Obama is much attached to the work of the American Protestant exponent of “Christian realism,” Reinhold Niebuhr’ (1892-1971). Back in April 2007, then-Candidate Obama told the New York Times columnist David Brooks: “I take away [from Niebuhr’s work] the compelling idea that there’s serious evil in the world, and hardship and pain. And we should be humble and modest in our belief we can eliminate those things. But we shouldn’t use that as an excuse for cynicism and inaction. I take away . . . the sense we have to make these efforts knowing they are hard, and not swinging from naïve idealism to bitter realism”. And now in 2011, Obama is not wavering in the face of evil as personified by al-Qa’ida, present in the Af-Pak Theatre and providing the U.S. with a pertinent reason to stay the course.

During the Cold War, Niebuhr was a public intellectual, or rather theologian, who took an active part in the fight, as a virulent defender of the U.S. and an outspoken opponent of the Communist threat. He regarded Communism as a position claiming “to embody a social system in which [the] miracle [of achieving an ideal society] has actually taken place”, a society where a “’vanguard’ of ‘class-conscious’ workers, the members of the Communist Party, whose purposes were so identical with the very purposes of history that every weapon became morally permissible to them and every vicissitude of history was expected to contribute to the inevitability of their victory”. Niebuhr’s words appear easily applicable to the 21st century, one would only need to replace the words Communist Party and Communism with the terms al-Qa’ida and Muslim extremism. Politicians and newscasters alike continuously remind the public that al-Qa’ida wants to turn the world into an Islamic welfare state ruled by a new and all-encompassing Caliphate, “a social system in which [the] miracle [of Islamic providence or Shariah] has actually taken place”. Al-Qa’ida operatives are 21st-century versions of “members of the Communist Party”, who were bent on undermining and ultimately destroying the Capitalist world in the 20th century.

President Obama proves to be a crafty proponent of ‘Niebuhrianism’, which Harry R. Davis and Robert C. Good define as a “constellation of perspectives, Biblically derived and validated by experience”. As a Christian Realist, the U.S. President is fighting the “good fight” in the Af-Pak Theatre, while keeping a close eye on China, the new superpower in the making. On Monday, 10 January, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates went to Beijing to “begin regular strategic security talks” between the U.S. and China, a year after the latter cut military ties in protest to American arms sales to Taiwan. Gates stated that military relations between the world’s two biggest economies shouldn’t be “subject to shifting political winds”. Even while the U.S. is busy opposing China on the “oddly shaped Eurasian chessboard”, pitching the TAPI natural gas pipeline project against the Kazakhstan–China oil pipeline connecting the Caspian shore to Xinjiang in Wild West China, President Obama is easing the climate for Chinese President Hu Jintao’s planned trip to Washington, D.C. later this month.

<> on January 19, 2011 in Washington, DC.

 

Is it a Gas? “9/11” and the Occupation of Afghanistan

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Originally published on 11 September 2010

It is all but an article of faith that the War in Afghanistan, which began on October 7, 2001, was launched in response to the September 11 attacks. Then-U.S. President George W. Bush followed his predecessor’s lead and focused on the figure of Osama bin Laden as U.S. Public Enemy Nr. 1. In 1998, President Clinton had launched missile strikes on Sudan and Afghanistan in retaliation for the African U.S. embassy attacks, apparently carried out by terrorists linked to the Saudi millionaire and erstwhile champion of the U.S.-led Jihad against the Soviets in Afghanistan during the 1980s. Following the Soviet withdrawal from the Hindu Kush, Bin Laden left Afghanistan and went to Sudan upon the invitation of Hassan al-Turabi, and spent five years there (1992-96). Then Bin Laden returned to Afghanistan to apparently continue his Jihad against the United States.

Following the attacks on New York and Washington, DC the population of the U.S. was in deep shock. On 11 September 2001, or “9/11”, the world changed forever, or that is what George W. Bush had us believe. That same evening, in an address to the nation from the Oval Office in the White House, Bush pronounced that “Thousands of lives were suddenly ended by evil, despicable acts of terror. The pictures of airplanes flying into buildings, fires burning, huge — huge structures collapsing have filled us with disbelief, terrible sadness, and a quiet, unyielding anger”. He then declared that “These acts of mass murder were intended to frighten our nation into chaos and retreat. But they have failed. Our country is strong”.

But in reality, fear has pervaded American life ever since, and the Bush Administration has cunningly employed this fear to push through some far-reaching measures affecting the lives of millions of U.S. citizens and many more hapless people across the wider world. Domestically, the rapidly passed Patriot Act clearly limits the much-valued Constitutional Rights of U.S. citizens as well as “aliens” deemed threats to U.S. national security. Currently, the Obama Administration has not revoked this legal measure.

It is all but an article of faith that the War in Afghanistan, which began on October 7, 2001, was launched in response to the September 11 attacks. Then-U.S. President George W. Bush followed his predecessor’s lead and focused on the figure of Osama bin Laden as U.S. Public Enemy Nr. 1. In 1998, President Clinton had launched missile strikes on Sudan and Afghanistan in retaliation for the African U.S. embassy attacks, apparently carried out by terrorists linked to the Saudi millionaire and erstwhile champion of the U.S.-led Jihad against the Soviets in Afghanistan during the 1980s. Following the Soviet withdrawal from the Hindu Kush, Bin Laden left Afghanistan and went to Sudan upon the invitation of Hassan al-Turabi, and spent five years there (1992-96). Then Bin Laden returned to Afghanistan to apparently continue his Jihad against the United States.

9-11-shock

Following the attacks on New York and Washington, DC the population of the U.S. was in deep shock. On 11 September 2001, or “9/11”, the world changed forever, or that is what George W. Bush had us believe. That same evening, in an address to the nation from the Oval Office in the White House, Bush pronounced that “Thousands of lives were suddenly ended by evil, despicable acts of terror. The pictures of airplanes flying into buildings, fires burning, huge — huge structures collapsing have filled us with disbelief, terrible sadness, and a quiet, unyielding anger”. He then declared that “These acts of mass murder were intended to frighten our nation into chaos and retreat. But they have failed. Our country is strong”.

But in reality, fear has pervaded American life ever since, and the Bush Administration has cunningly employed this fear to push through some far-reaching measures affecting the lives of millions of U.S. citizens and many more hapless people across the wider world. Domestically, the rapidly passed Patriot Act clearly limits the much-valued Constitutional Rights of U.S. citizens as well as “aliens” deemed threats to U.S. national security. Currently, the Obama Administration has not revoked this legal measure.

On an international plane, less than a month after the terrorist strikes, the invasion of Afghanistan took off in earnest following covert CIA operations in the country. The progress of the American-led coalition was swift – in fact the invasion proceeded so quickly that the journalist Jon Simpson even claimed live on radio that the BBC had liberated Kabul on the morning of 13 November 2001. Following “9/11” and the swift and successful invasion of Afghanistan, Bush’s approval rating soared domestically to 86%. Back in 2001, the whole world followed the Bush lead into Afghanistan, everybody was keen to have the perfidious Taliban – oppressors of women and growers of beards – defeated and destroyed. The U.S. took the lead in a NATO mission named ISAF or International Security Assistance Force. This 40-nation mission was set up to pacify the country, support the Karzai government and keep the Taliban in check. But, is that really the whole story???  Why was everybody so eager to blame Osama bin Laden? And why was Bush suddenly so anxious to punish the Taliban? Did George H. W. Bush’s notoriously Texan and cowboy-like son even know where Afghanistan was located or who the Taliban were?

It turns out that he knew both the country and its fundamentalist rulers quite well. As long ago as 1997, the Taliban had sent a delegation to Texas to talk about a possible lucrative pipeline passing through their territory. Then-Governor of Texas, George W. Bush, supported the Texan firm Unocal in its dealings with the Afghans. Subsequently, Unocal and its partners planned to build a 1,000 mile gas pipeline from resource-rich Turkmenistan to Multan in Pakistan, passing through the Taliban heartland of Kandahar. In the waning years of the 20th century, the BBC dutifully reported that this deal was part “of an international scramble to profit from developing the rich energy resources of the Caspian Sea”. In other words, the Unocal deal with the Taliban was instrumental in the 21th-century development of what the Pakistani author Ahmed Rashid has termed the “New Great Game”, in reference to the 19th-century rivalry between the Russian and British Empires for supremacy in Central Asia.

The American bestselling author, and academic Michael T. Klare coined the term “Resource Wars” in 2001, indicating that in his opinion most wars of the future, like many of those of the past and present, will be caused by conflicts over access to natural resources, particularly oil, natural gas, and water. Is the war in Afghanistan such a conflict, and were the “9/11” attacks used a pretext to launch this military aggression? Is all the talk we hear of Al Qaeda and its allies really a ruse hiding a blatant economic imperative?

Already in 2007, then-Candidate Obama unequivocally stated that, when President his “first step must be to get off the wrong battlefield in Iraq and take the fight to the terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan”. At the time, Barack Obama also hinted at the threat posed by an Al Qaeda presence in the so-called Af-Pak theatre. In the meantime, the above-mentioned pipeline project has been expanded to include a 400-mile extension to India, giving rise to the acronym TAPI indicative of the countries the project encompasses: Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India. In the first seven years of the 21st century, eleven high-level planning meetings have been held with the support of the Asia Development Bank. The next three years remained without much action on the TAPI front however, as the world was focusing on finishing the war in Iraq while the formerly business-friendly Taliban slowly regained ground in Afghanistan. But then, in late 2009, President Obama decided to pay heed to his then-man in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, and authorise the dispatch of more U.S. troops to Afghanistan: a total of 30,000 troops over a period of six months, bringing up the total of US and NATO troops to more than 100,000. In addition, numerous mercenaries or rather private security contractors (PSCs), working for the notorious outfit Blackwater (renamed Xe Services and the US Training Center) as well as other companies, are now also present in the Af-Pak theatre in sufficient numbers. These men and women number up to 104,000, effectively outnumbering the real military presence in the country.

The war in Afghanistan has been heating up lately, and the U.S. and its allies still concentrate on the southern part of the country, on the province of Kandahar to be precise. Consequently, the recent Taliban strike on Forward Operating Base Salerno and Camp Chapman in the eastern Khost province came as a surprise to most if not all. In the south, Kandahar is awaiting the completion of the TAPI pipeline, which will traverse the province on its way to Pakistan and India. In meetings, held in the Turkmen capitol of Ashgabat on 17-18 April, the go-ahead was given and work on the lucrative project started in May, with 2015 as the provisional completion date when Turkmenistan’s liquid gas will start flowing southward. The U.S. government is one of the strongest backers of this project.

How do these machinations surrounding the pipeline project relate to the current war in the Hindu Kush region? According to the former Pakistani diplomat Niaz Naik, approximately two months prior to “9/11”, the Bush administration had already decided to topple the Taliban regime and install a more amenable transitional government of moderate Afghans in its place. In July 2001, a four-day meeting was held in Berlin under the portentous heading of “brainstorming on Afghanistan”. The TAPI project was undoubtedly high on the session’s agenda. Literally one week after the attacks, the BBC’s former Pakistan correspondent George Arney related that Naik had “no doubt that after the World Trade Center bombings this pre-existing US plan had been built upon and would be implemented within two or three weeks”. And Niaz Naik proved right. Was he therefore really a man who knew too much? In early August 2009, Naik was tortured and murdered in his residence in Sector F-7/3 of Pakistan’s capital of Islamabad.

In spite of the very real TAPI project and the American backing for the pipeline in the U.S. pursuit of a fossil fuel policy, President Obama is keen to continue the Bush rhetoric as well as policy. In his address to the nation from the Oval Office on 31 August to mark the end of the combat mission in Iraq, he made the following remarks: “And no challenge is more essential to our security than our fight against al Qaeda . . . Americans across the political spectrum supported the use of force against those who attacked us on 9/11 . . . As we speak, al Qaeda continues to plot against us, and its leadership remains anchored in the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan. We will disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda, while preventing Afghanistan from again serving as a base for terrorists”.

Is President Obama being simply disingenuous by keeping quiet about his administration’s support for the TAPI project and continuing to sell War on Terror, renamed Overseas Contingency Operations, to the American public and the world at large? Is he being merely circuitous continuously talking about al Qaeda and its allies while ordering his troops to fight the Taliban and pacify Kandahar province?

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The War in Afghanistan: Jihad, Foreign Fighters and al Qaeda

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Originally published on 18 September 2010

This year, on the momentous date of 11 September, the English-language section of the Arab broadcaster Al Jazeera aired a report on foreign fighters joining the Jihad against U.S. and ISAF forces in Afghanistan. The report showed exclusive footage of a Taliban group in northern Afghanistan where foreign fighters, whom Al Jazeera’s Sue Turton called al-Qaeda, are bolstering the local forces. Turton interviewed the ISAF Spokesperson, Brigadier-General Chris Whitecross. Upon being queried about the identity of the outsiders strengthening the Taliban in Afghanistan’s north – a clear tactical counter-weight to ISAF’s presence in the south – Whitecross spoke without hesitation: “That means al-Qaeda and foreign fighters”.

Given that the current war in the Hindu Kush was supposedly caused by “9/11” and that allied action in Afghanistan still aims to “disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda”, to use President Obama’s alliterative war mantra, it is interesting to note the ease with which foreigners joining the Taliban Jihad against the ISAF occupation are termed “al-Qaeda”. As such, this recent development, arguably scooped by Al Jazeera, shows the way in which the war effort in Afghanistan has come full circle in the space of 30 years.

On 25 December 1979, Soviet forces officially entered Afghanistan in an effort to support the Communist regime led by the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA). The Communists had seized power in April 1978, during the so-called Saur Revolution when Afghanistan’s first President Mohammed Daud Khan, who had himself seized power in a bloodless coup in 1973, was killed. The Communist government in Kabul was highly unpopular in the conservative countryside, and prone to fall prey to yet another coup or even an armed insurrection.

As a result, the Soviets deployed their troops to support a friendly regime in its southern neighbour. The Director of Studies at the Center on International Cooperation Barnett Rubin argues in his book “The Fragmentation of Afghanistan” (1989) that the Soviets had primarily entered Afghanistan with the aim of establishing a key position in Asia, one with trade possibilities and access to Gulf oil. But, once the Soviets had installed themselves in the country, they “imposed military and social reforms that began to make enemies within different sectors of the indigenous population”, as related by the Reuters Multimedia journalist Sehrish Shaban. Afghanistan as a land-locked country in the Hindu Kush mountains is home to a whole host of different ethnic groups professing adherence to Islam. Islam thus really functions as the single unifying factor in Afghanistan, and as a benchmark of Afghan identity.

The type of Islam practiced in the Afghan mountainside tends to be rather conservative and grounded in local tribal traditions and attitudes. As a result, the Soviets’ proposed “military and social reforms” could not but engender hostility among “different sectors of the indigenous population”. This resentment grew and grew into a fully-fledged call for a jihad against the unbelievers – the Soviets being notoriously atheist.

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Nowadays the term jihad is much bandied about and used and/or abused at will by Muslims as well as non-Muslims the world over. The historian and Islam specialist Mark Sedgwick maintains that the concept of jihad was developed in the 8th century, when it basically functioned as a “mixture of the Army Regulations and the Geneva Conventions, appropriate for the circumstances of the time”. At the time of the Islamic conquests (7-8th centuries), the world was divided between a House of Islam (Darülislam) and the House of War (Darülharb) and international relations between both spheres were primarily military in nature. But as the centuries progressed and relations between Muslims and the outside world achieved a quasi-peaceful status quo, punctuated by commercial exchanges and trade links, the idea of jihad changed as well. There is the well-known distinction between the greater jihad (al-jihād al-akbar) and the lesser jihad (al-jihād al-asghar), between a personal struggle in the way of Allah (crf. Surah 29:69) and an armed struggle to protect believers against oppression and violence perpetrated by unbelievers. In other words, jihad evolved from a code of war into a defensive mechanism, tantamount to a religious duty leading to religious rewards. In Afghanistan during the 1980s, the protection of the land from Soviet occupation warranted the execution of a jihad by locals and other sympathetic believers willing to participate in a meritorious act proving one’s commitment in the way of Allah (al-jihād al- asghar).

But what about the Soviets’ main rival, the United States? Were they but passive observers of these weird scenes in the mountains? A few years ago, Hollywood reminded the world of the activities of U.S. Congressman Charles Wilson, whom the New Yorker’s foreign correspondent Mary Anne Weaver called “one of he most enthusiastic supporters of the jihad on Capitol Hill”. The Hollywood movie detailed Wilson’s role in organising and financing the Afghan Mujahedeen against the Soviets throughout the 1980s.The Reagan administration, in conjunction with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the ISI (the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency), actively supported the Mujahedeen fighting the Evil Empire. In 1985, U.S. President Ronald Reagan even entertained the notorious Gulbudin Hikmatyar as well as other Mujahedeen in the White House, calling them “valiant and courageous Afghan freedom fighters”. At the moment, still leading the Hezb-i-Islami, Hikmatyar continues to fight – this time, his enemies are U.S. and ISAF forces, however. Back in the 80s, in struggling for their country’s freedom, not just Afghans volunteered freely, but also militants from nearly thirty counties participated in this jihad, these foreigners were collectively known as “Afghan Arabs”. And now apparently, the unending war in Afghanistan has come full circle. Today’s Mujahedeen, known as Taliban, again seem to enjoy the support and fighting power of non-Afghan militants. The Taliban and these non-Afghan militants, whom ISAF refers to as “al-Qaeda and foreign fighters”, are once again engaged in a jihad to drive an occupying force of unbelievers from Afghan soil – but this time, these unbelievers are Americans and their allies.

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