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December 2001 • Vol 1, No. 7 •

Unocal Executive Sheds New Light
on US ‘War on Terrorism’

by Nat Weinstein

April 3, 1999. U.S. warplanes struck Iraq’s key control center of the main pumping station used by Iraq to export oil via the southern oil terminal of Mina-al-Bakr—CNN

Early last month, we received a copy of a document that sheds new light on the underlying motives behind the U.S. declaration of a “War on Terrorism.” The document is a transcript of a report by Unocal Vice President John Maresca. He had been called to testify before the Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on International Relations on February 12, 1998.

In his testimony, the Unocal executive laid out his company’s recommendations for achieving a vast expansion of the world capitalist market in the oil-rich regions of Central Asia and surrounding countries. He refers to several multinational consortiums of oil and gas corporations to which Unocal is linked. He reports that they are at various stages of planning and negotiating with governments in the region and with each other over the projected construction of pipelines for transporting gas and oil extracted from Central Asia’s bountiful energy deposits to markets in Europe and Asia. One of the choicest routes favored by Unocal and the consortiums it is allied with (there are several) passes through Afghanistan for the last 400 miles to an export terminal Maresca said was to be constructed on the Pakistan coast on the Arabian Sea.

To be sure, all energy corporations are deeply interested in developing and extracting the vast deposits of oil and gas in Central Asia. They have been scrambling for an inside track with the oil rich countries and the territories over which they plan to lay their pipelines ever since the Soviet government began its march toward capitalist restoration, a process accelerated after the collapse and disintegration of the Soviet Union.

Ever since then, the world’s imperialist powers, striving to protect the interests of its giant energy corporations, have been wheeling and dealing—alternately threatening and cajoling—in their efforts to help their own energy corporations to stake as large a claim as they can on the natural resources of the newly independent ex-Soviet republics of Central Asia.

But so far, a full-scale implementation of these plans has been blocked by the widespread poverty and its consequent deep social unrest in the oil-rich countries and the surrounding territories through which pipelines must be built to take the oil and gas to markets in Europe and Asia.

How imperialists see it

The Unocal executive states the problem as his company and the industry as a whole sees it:

The country has been involved in bitter warfare for almost two decades. The territory across which the pipeline would extend is controlled by the Taliban, an Islamic movement that is not recognized as a government by most other nations. From the outset, we have made it clear that construction of our proposed pipeline cannot begin until a recognized government is in place that has the confidence of governments, lenders and our company. [Emphasis added.]

In spite of this, a route through Afghanistan appears to be the best option with the fewest technical obstacles. It is the shortest route to the sea and has relatively favorable terrain for a pipeline. The route through Afghanistan is the one that would bring Central Asian oil closest to Asian markets and thus would be the cheapest in terms of transporting the oil….

The Central Asia and Caspian region is blessed with abundant oil and gas that can enhance the lives of the region’s residents and provide energy for growth for Europe and Asia.

The impact of these resources on U.S. commercial interests and U.S. foreign policy is also significant and intertwined. Without peaceful settlement of conflicts within the region, cross-border oil and gas pipelines are not likely to be built. We urge the Administration and the Congress to give strong support to the United Nations-led peace process in Afghanistan. [Emphasis added.]

How the victims of imperialism see it

The peoples of the countries through which the pipelines must pass see things quite differently. They have been blocked by hundreds of years of imperialist domination from sharing the benefits gained by the combined efforts of the human race over hundreds of years of scientific, technological and economic development.

In the case of South Asia and the Middle East, their peoples live in a world not too different than it was hundreds of years ago. They have received few if any of the benefits of a modern industrial society, but a heavy dose of its evils. Afghanistan and others of the least developed neo-colonial countries have not merely been left behind as the advanced capitalist countries got richer and richer at their expense. Rather they have suffered a rate of exploitation so intense that their societies have been driven back to a state of social disorder dominated by warlords reigning over virtual fiefdoms.

The images of life in Afghanistan that we see every day in newspapers and on television are little different from the scenes of everyday life that might have been drawn by artists in times long past. However, the scenes shown over and over again in the printed and electronic media of dirt-poor Afghans, donkey-drawn carts, mud huts and dirt roads are incongruously commingled with tanks, hand-held rocket launchers and automatic rifles—it’s as if we are watching a science fiction movie set in a world after an apocalyptic nuclear war.

But the world created by imperialism in order to reap superprofits is, ironically, not good for business. The imperialist-imposed breakdown of civilization tends to disrupt their highly vaunted and indispensable “rule of law.” Desperation engulfs the impoverished masses; human solidarity is reduced to one’s immediate family or tribe or ethnic social formation. The chaotic social, economic and political environment results in a world in which rulers can rule only by naked force.

Short period of ruling class indecision after September 11

The report by Unocal’s John Maresca all but declares that the world’s oil and gas corporations share his views. And the course of action followed by President Bush and his bipartisan capitalist government after September 11 is entirely consistent with the general line of Maresca’s report, which called for the removal of the Taliban from power and for an imperialist-imposed “pacification” of Afghanistan.

However, conflicting tactical responses issued by authoritative politicians on the first couple of days after the terrorist suicide attack, gave strong indication that the political and economic leaders of American capitalism were at least briefly uncertain over how American imperialism should respond. The subsequent unanimity of support expressed by the bipartisan congress and the mass media monopoly to President George W. Bush’s declaration of a “global war on terrorism” indicated that a short but intense debate—one kept secret from the rest of society—had been conducted among the political, financial and industrial leaders of capitalist America, during the nine days after September 11. The debate undoubtedly was over how to respond to the terrorist attack.

There were only two options open for the American leaders of world imperialism: Either take extraordinary steps to relieve the terrible poverty and desperation that drives some of imperialism’s victims into the arms of terrorists when it appears that there is no other way to end their suffering; or organize a global war on terrorism likened to the biblical Armageddon—where the last decisive battle between the forces of good and evil is to be fought before the Day of Judgment.

It can now be seen, that while the terrorist suicide attack was certainly a horrible tragedy from which New Yorkers and the country will not easily recover; it was also a golden opportunity for those who would miss no opportunity to advance the commercial and financial interests of corporate America.

Moreover, for those who had been straining at the bit to mobilize another U.S.-led assault to impose imperialist “peace keepers” in Afghanistan and remove the pestiferous Taliban obstacle to their long-simmering scheme for “economic development” in South Asia and the Middle East, the murder of close to 4000 New Yorkers (the latest estimate) provided the most bloodthirsty capitalist leaders with the perfect pretext for bringing imperialist “law and order” to Afghanistan, South Asia and the Middle East!

In other words, what better opportunity could be found than to rally the American people around a jingoistic, flag-waving, vengeful campaign to make the neo-colonial world a safer and more profitable place for imperialist exploitation.

But despite the awesome power for dispensing death and destruction at the disposal of U.S.-led world-imperialism, many among America’s allies have good reason to fear that even if they were to rid themselves of the Taliban, the extreme poverty prevailing in the region would be worsened and the imposition of imperialist “peace and tranquility” made even more unattainable.

That’s where the programmatic content in the Unocal executive’s report becomes important for understanding why the boldest among the America’s ruling class won over their more cautious counterparts. It was easy to convince them that ameliorating the suffering of the captive peoples of the South Asian region would be far too expensive. And they no doubt argued, too, that the rest of the world’s suffering masses would also demand similar concessions.

But what may well have contributed to the unanimous decision to embark on the road to Armageddon was the projected program of economic development of South and Central Asia, as outlined in Mr. Maresca’s report for Unocal and for much of the world’s energy corporations. It offered the prospect of triggering “the potential to recharge the economies of neighboring countries and put entire regions on the road to prosperity.”

In other words, the prospect of instituting a level of development and profits that might trickle down to feed a few more tens, or even hundreds, of thousands of hungry people in the region might inspire a hope for the future among them that could ultimately make the difference between whether these captive peoples are governable or not.

However, this utopian “solution” does not take into account the fact that the economic laws of capitalism that dictate a tendency for the average rate of profit to fall have already forced global capitalism to carry out a decades-long campaign to increase the rate of exploitation—and increased mass suffering in the neo-colonial world and even in the developed industrial countries.

The war on terrorism and the global economic crisis

Moreover, it is quite obvious that this war is intimately connected with the unfolding global economic crisis. We dismissed—we think correctly—the intuitive presumption by many that war production in and of itself would contribute significantly to an economic revival, at least in the United States, which would, nonetheless, benefit the global economy as a whole. The reason we gave was that the defeat of Afghani resistance would not require any significant increase in war-production, as had been the case in World War II, the Korean “police action,” the Vietnam War and the Gulf War on Iraq.

In support of this thesis, we noted that hundreds of billions of dollars a year (in terms of today’s inflated prices) have been expended on war production every year since the post-war recession of 1946 and the opening of the Cold War; and that only a relatively small increase in the military budget would be needed to pay for this one.

But even so, it appears now that a large part of the motivation for the “War on Terrorism” was, indeed, an expected positive impact on the U.S. and world economies—that is, the positive impact of the new markets they hope will be generated in the region from the economic-development scheme outlined by the world’s energy corporations.

The difference, however, with previous military expeditions—implemented at least partly for its “positive” impact on maintaining the equilibrium of capitalist economic relations—is that in this case the positive economic effects are slated to come only after a “victory,” and not in the course of the war, as had occurred in the previous wars cited.

The fact is that while the stock market appears to have recovered from its post-September 11 losses, it has given rise to false hopes that the recession is bottoming out. But the stock market only reflects what has already occurred in the economic infrastructure—essentially, but imperfectly—and is rarely a measure of future trends in the economy. Far more important as an indicator of coming trends in the economy are what Wall Street analysts call “the fundamentals”—that is, things like the levels of capitalist investment, production and unemployment. And these continue to indicate a prolonged and deep recession.

Conquest in this region is one thing, pacification is another

The American ruling class has been heartened by the very surprising, sudden evacuation of Kabul and other key cities in Afghanistan by the Taliban, and the Northern Alliance’s sweep through much of Afghanistan. The war aims and prospects of capitalist America and its imperialist allies certainly appear brighter than just weeks before.

But there is good reason to take seriously the concerns expressed widely in the mass media by its more sober observers that the victorious opponents of the Taliban are far from reliable surrogates for imperialist power over Afghanistan. They have already demonstrated the dreadful things they can do and did when they had held power in Kabul and elsewhere in Afghanistan.

The U.S. government and its imperialist allies are well aware that the collapse of the Taliban and the success of the Northern Alliance may well turn out to be a victory that hurts imperialism at least as much as it helps.

Afghan people fleeing Kandahar arrive at Spinboldak, Afghanistan, 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) from Pakistan-Afghanistan border of Chaman, Nov. 21, 2001. At left is a Taliban soldier. Photo by Mattiullah Achakzai (AP)

Moreover there is much substance to reports that the Taliban may have decided that giving up the cities was the wisest course to take. Rather than suffer huge casualties in an effort to hold on to the cities—given the overpowering destructive capacity of the American military colossus—it would be wiser to retreat into the mountains with the aim of conducting a prolonged guerrilla war. That strategy, after all, brought the Soviet Union down in a bitterly destructive defeat precipitating its collapse and disintegration.

Also in the cards is the big question: to what extent will the uneasy alliance of imperialists and their client regimes in the region hold up? A great part of the concern of the imperialists is over Pakistan’s president, General Pervez Musharraf’s, extremely tenuous hold on his country. Mass anti-American imperialist sentiment among the masses is deep; in large part because as they say in Pakistan, the British separation of Afghanistan from Pakistan “was a line drawn on water!”—a reference to the Durand Line between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The border is named after Sir Mortimer Durand, a British diplomat who arbitrarily drew his pencil along a map in 1893, dividing British Indian territory from fiercely independent Afghanistan to the north and west. To this day, neither Afghanistan nor the Pashtun tribes-people on both sides of Durand’s border recognize its existence. It is said that the bonds of tribe and ethnicity among the Pashtun are as important as their Islamic faith.

In any eventuality, whether or not the Taliban is able to repeat its previous success against the Soviet Union is questionable. This time they face the world’s only remaining superpower without, as before, having the help and support of the very same superpower. Moreover, American imperialism has no doubt absorbed the lessons of the Soviet defeat and is not likely to make the same mistakes.

In any case, the dream advanced by the vice president of Unocal, that by opening up this new market in South Asia the global economy can be restabilized, will most likely remain only a dream.

A member of the Taliban points a handgun at the Pakistani border town of Chaman November 28, 2001. The Taliban were holding on to the Afghan border town of Spin Boldak, near Chaman, despite heavy bombing of the area.. REUTERS/Adrees Latif (Reuters)

Furthermore, the degree of economic development that would be meaningful has never been achieved in such extremely undeveloped countries as Afghanistan. Imperialism’s ability to spark the Afghani economy has been made even more elusive by the utter destruction of its infrastructure in the course of two decades of war and civil war. And worse yet, Afghanistan’s destruction is now being made even more complete by uninterrupted American bombing.

Also to be kept in mind is that even where significant economic development had been achieved, as in South Korea and Thailand during the long period of capitalism’s booming and expanding global economy, the benefits of development were restricted to the cities—with the countryside remaining stuck, for the most part, in its pre-industrial, primitive agrarian past. And Afghanistan’s almost exclusively agrarian economy is not likely to benefit from economic development in the region.

And finally, even if the projected plans for the economic development of Central Asia’s energy deposits and the construction of a network of pipelines needed to take the oil and gas to countries hungry for cheaper energy in Europe and Asia materializes, the problem won’t be solved. It is extremely unlikely that it would do more than delay the time, by a few years at most, when the unfolding recession descends into what promises to become another global depression.

And with that, a new upsurge of global class struggle, broader and deeper than those that began with the Russian Revolution of 1917, and then again with the Great Depression of the 1930s, is sure to come.





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