The Long Haul
The intensifying battle in Iraq has riveted the media attention upon it. But it is sometimes useful to step back and see Iraq in the larger context. The story, it turns out, goes not only through the Middle East, but through Europe, Russia and Central Asia as well. In an analysis of the geopolitics of oil in the Asia Times, A New Dividing Line in Europe author M K Bhadrakumar, a retired Indian ambassador to Uzbekistan, asserts that much of US policy since the Kosovo crisis has been driven by a single purpose: to prevent Russia from dominating the distribution of Caspian Sea gas and petroleum. That would give Russia too much power over Europe. Therefore a lot of American effort has been devoted to finding alternative routes from these products.
The geopolitical implications are self-evident. The Russian daily Kommersant was no doubt exaggerating when it commented that with a "gas OPEC" under its belt, "politically, Russia will be able to dictate any terms it wants in Europe. And the EU will be totally dependent on Moscow's political will and will have almost no leverages of its own left." ...
Moscow anticipates that it is only a matter of time before Washington begins to work on the complex interplay of Russian and Turkish interests (a backlog of history) by projecting Turkey as a regional hub for the movement of oil and gas from the Middle East and Central Asia to Europe. Thus the US has backed several pipeline projects bypassing Russian territory, which would envisage Turkey as the conduit for energy supplies transported from east to west.
The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline is the most celebrated case. Two other projects on the table are the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzerum (BTE) gas pipeline, which will run parallel to the BTC, and the Nabucco pipeline that will connect Caspian/Central Asian/Iranian gas via the Turkish gas network to Europe through Romania, Hungary and Austria. Simultaneously, with US encouragement, Turkey has been progressively tightening the screws on Russian tanker traffic through the straits of Bosporus and Dardanelles on the pretext of environmental factors but in effect compelling Russia (and Kazakhstan) eventually to reroute Caspian oil via the bypass pipeline of BTC running through Turkey.
In this battle over oil routes the politics of Islam becomes central to both sides since many of the countries through which the oil pipelines or tankers must pass are Muslim or have large Muslim populations. The question of the proposed grant of independence of Kosovo from Belgrade is a case in point. Richard Holbrooke, assistant secretary of state in the Bill Clinton administration, the man who negotiated the Dayton Accords, provides an insight into how the Democrat policy professionals want to play the Great Game. He recently warned Russia that peace in Europe and the stability of Russia's own Muslim affiliated states would be at risk unless Russia abandoned their Serbian ethnic relatives to the Muslim Kosovars. Otherwise the Kremlin's obstruction might make a Kosovo a new cause celebre, a European. Holbrooke said:
If Moscow vetoes or delays the Ahtisaari plan, the Kosovar Albanians will declare independence unilaterally. Some countries, including the United States and some Muslim states, would probably recognize them ... Bloodshed would return to the Balkans. NATO, which is pledged to keep peace in Kosovo, could find itself back in battle in Europe. ... Moscow's point about protecting 'fraternal' Slav-Serb feelings is nonsense. Everyone who has dealt with the Russians in the Balkans, as I did for several years, knows that their leadership has no feelings whatsoever for the Serbs.
This is a reminder of how Russia, America and Europe have all been playing the "Islamic card" as instruments of great power rivalry within Central Asia. The Kremlin, which together with the Europeans historically had the largest Islamic colonial empire may have noted with some irony that Holbrooke now fears Russia could be turning the tables against the West in Afghanistan, exactly where the former Soviet Union was caught. Afghanistan's honeymoon with the press has only been due to the media's fixation on Iraq. In reality NATO is not only facing serious challenges stabilizing Afghanistan, but may be indirectly destabilizing Pakistan as the fight against the Taliban surges back and forth across the border. An ABC News story says:
Afghanistan's U.S.-backed government, tarnished by corruption and unable to control large swaths of its own territory, is rapidly losing the support of ordinary Afghans, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Richard Holbrooke said Saturday. ...
"I can sense a tremendous deterioration in the standing of the government. Afghans are now universally talking about their disappointment with (President Hamid) Karzai. Let's be honest with ourselves ... the government must succeed or else the Taliban will gain from it," he told the Brussels Forum, an annual trans-Atlantic security conference.
Taliban guerrillas have vastly expanded their activities during the past year. Insurgents have now returned to many regions outside their traditional strongholds in the east that were rebel-free since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan.
Iraq is currently the central battlefield in a complex struggle to over ideology, geopolitics and energy. It is a test of strength between radical Islamic ideology and the West. It is about sectarian conflict within the Muslim world. But it is also about Russia's place in the Middle East and Europe's energy future. Those issues are not bound up by anything local to Baghdad. Blocked or diverted from one place, it is like a current that will move somewhere else.
If the Democrats succeed in forcing a withdrawal from Iraq, the Jihad against the West will shift in focus to from Iraq to Afghanistan-Pakistan, where NATO will be fighting at the end of a long supply line inside a landlocked theater with the potentially hostile nations over every logistical route. Central Asian Republics to the North, Iran to the West and Pakistan to the East and South. It will be interesting to see whether a Democrat administration, having forced the US Armed Forces to accept a defeat in Iraq, can force them to hang on in Afghanistan. It is practically certain that increased combat in Afghanistan-Pakistan will have a much more direct impact on European terrorism than anything in Iraq. It is Pakistan, with its vast network of madrassas, its radical politics and its traditional ties to England which has historically been the West's Achilles Heel. Operation Iraqi Freedom, whatever its defects, unquestionably prevented Saddam from getting an atomic bomb; and it may be still be possible to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. But in Pakistan things are already too late for that. It is in possession of a working nuclear arsenal. In Iraq, the West could count on finding allies among the Shi'ites against the Sunnis and among the Sunnis against the Shi'ites. The pickings may be slimmer in Southwest Asia, but America will have to relearn everything, because this is where the central front against radical Islam will soon be moving if the Democrats succeed in shutting down Iraq.
The recent conviction of five British Muslims, all with ties to Pakistan, for plotting a huge string of bombings across the UK highlights the linkage of all these issues in motivating terrorism. Radical Muslim politics, the Great Game and oil geopolitics are all tied together. It is often argued that "Palestine" is at the heart of the world terrorism; that might be true but only if Kosovo can be consider the throat; Pakistan the brain, Central Asia the lungs and Iran the kidney of the entire apparatus. The British had 1,600 suspects under observation, so many that they actually stopped surveilling the cell wich was actually responsible for the London bombing to concentrate on a group they thought represented the larger threat.
Most of the seven men on trial admitted supporting jihad, or "holy war,'' in places like Afghanistan, Chechnya and Kashmir. Several had traveled to Pakistan for training in weapons and explosives. One of the men, Amin, had links to senior al-Qaeda figures and at one stage made inquiries about buying a radioactive ``dirty bomb'' from the Russian mafia, prosecutors claimed. ...
U.K. intelligence officials have said they are monitoring 1,600 other individuals and as many as 30 possible terror plots aimed at causing death and damage to the British economy. ... During 17 days on the witness stand, Babar provided a detailed account of the group's activities, from their military training in Pakistan to efforts to obtain fertilizer and detonators for explosives. Aluminum powder for the bombs' ignition was eventually found in a cookie tin, stashed away in a disused gardening shed in the back of one of the group's homes. Khyam, a cricket enthusiast from Crawley, south of London, organized military exercises around the Afghan border to teach the group what he'd learned, the jury was told. Another suspect, Waheed Mahmood, obtained detailed plans of the U.K.'s gas and electricity network while working for a contractor for utility National Grid Transco. At one point during the trial, prosecutors played a taped conversation between Akbar and Khyam, where they discussed targeting a popular London nightspot.
"No one can turn around and say they were innocent, those slags dancing around,'' Akbar says on the recording.
No matter what the Democrats do in Iraq the war on terrorism has only just begun. It did not really begin with September 11 nor can it be ended by a withdrawal from Iraq. It is part of a world-wide conflict which the religion, history, oil and geopolitics have all conspired to create, and to which so far, we can see no end.