Great Power Rivalry

Georgia On My Mind

Posted by Cutler on August 13, 2008
France, Georgia, Germany, Great Power Rivalry, Russia / 1 Comment

If I were blogging these days–which I am not–I would want to take up some old themes about the role of Georgia (along with Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Iran and Turkey) in US-led efforts to circumvent Russia in the export of Caspian oil and natural gas to Western Europe and to Israel.  (Note recent reports that Israeli was involved in the initial Georgian military offensive into South Ossetia on August 8.)

After all, the US-Russian proxy war in Georgia is a perfect example of Great Power Rivalry.

But I’m not blogging these days.

But if I were, I might also note that the US has been coordinating closely with its man on the Seine, Nicolas Sarkozy.  Formally, the French president is being consulted as the key US interlocutor because France currently holds the rotating presidency of the European Union.  And yet, I wonder whether there isn’t something more to it.  Yes, Sarkozy is the most pro-American French leader since… well, since Gilbert de Lafayette.  But the flip side of the pull toward Sarkozy is the “problem” of Angela Merkel.  No, I am not talking about the back rub.  I’m talking about the relatively cozy relationship between the Germans and the Russians.

And where is Angela Merkel on the question of Georgia?  Ask Moscow.  Back in March, AFP reported:

German Chancellor Angela Merkel signalled on Monday that she opposes granting NATO membership to former Soviet republics Ukraine and Georgia.

“A country should become a NATO member not only when its temporary political leadership is in favour but when a significant percentage of the population supports membership,” Merkel said in Berlin in reference to Ukraine and Georgia.

“Countries that are themselves entangled in regional conflicts, can in my opinion not become members,” she added after talks with NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Saturday during a visit by Merkel to Moscow that NATO was aiming to replace the United Nations and warned this raised the potential for conflict.

The White House is already signaling a willingness to engage Russia militarily in Georgia.  But it might prove quite awkward for Bush to have to “save Europe” from a future of Russian energy blackmail if Germany seems uninterested in being “saved.”

Iran and Great Power Politics

Posted by Cutler on August 15, 2007
China, Great Power Rivalry, Iran, Iraq, Russia / No Comments

Iran is, by most accounts, riding high these days, with unprecedented influence within Afghanistan and Iraq and powerful Mediterranean proxy forces like Hezbollah and Hamas.

Who am I to disagree?

Nevertheless, a few small news stories shed a slightly different light on the Iranian strategic position.

For example, an August 11, 2007 report from BBC Monitoring of Al-Sharqiyah Television suggests the limits of Iranian influence in Iraq, if not also Russia:

“Diplomatic sources in Moscow said that the Iranian Government played a mediatory role in the visit of Iraqi Oil Minister Husayn al- Shahrastani to Moscow. Sources close to the Iranian Embassy in the Russian capital added that Iran asked Al-Shahrastani to agree on Russia’s demands to re-negotiate the investment of some southern oil wells based on a memorandum of understanding signed by the former Iraqi regime with a number of big Russian oil firms in the early 1990s. The sources went to say the Iranian step seeks to secure Moscow’s support for its nuclear programme.”

As I noted in a previous post, Shahrastani appears to have resisted Russian pressure for re-negotiation on the West Qurna fields–Iranian “mediation” notwithstanding.

What does it say about Iranian influence in Iraq if the Iranian regime cannot “deliver” Iraq for Russia?

And, can this outcome bode well for Iranian attempts to renew Moscow’s support for its nuclear programme?

Even as the US attempts to use financial pressure to isolate the Iranian regime, there are signs that Iran may be having some difficulty lining up Great Power allies.

The Washington Post reports:

The key obstacle to stronger international pressure against Tehran has been China, Iran’s largest trading partner. After the Iranian government refused to comply with two U.N. Security Council resolutions dealing with its nuclear program, Beijing balked at a U.S. proposal for a resolution that would have sanctioned the Revolutionary Guard, U.S. officials said.

China’s actions reverse a cycle during which Russia was the most reluctant among the veto-wielding members of the Security Council. “China used to hide behind Russia, but Russia is now hiding behind China,” said a U.S. official familiar with negotiations.

Be that as it may, there are also limits to China’s willingness to shelter the Iranian regime.

The Financial Times reports on China’s potential reluctance to back Iranian efforts to get a seat at the Shanghai Co-operation Organization:

Russia that is pushing the latest efforts to give the [Shanghai Co-operation Organisation] more muscle. Moscow is expected to lobby this week for Iran’s inclusion, which would deepen the rift with the US over Washington’s plan to site missile interceptors in central Europe.

While Russia is at odds with the US, Nato and the European Union on a range of issues, China regards the recently sealed US nuclear pact with India with deep suspicion and could see that as justification to allow Iran’s entry…

Some analysts, however, believe China would block any proposal to allow Iran to join the SCO. “Admitting Iran would further strain already tense Chinese-US relations and would not advance China’s main priority in the SCO, which is to manage relations with its western neighbours,” says Martha Brill Olcott, a central Asia expert at the Carnegie Endowment for Inter-national Peace.

It would be a mistake to underestimate Iranian strategic leverage in the Middle East, the Gulf, and Central Asia.

But there are limits.

From Cheney’s perspective, it might even be argued (as he did during the 1990s), that Iran–as a Caspian regional power–would do well to align itself not with Russia or China, but with the United States.

That seems difficult to imagine, given all the tough talk between the US and Iran.  But stranger things have happened.

Cheney, Putin, and the Battle for Iraqi Oil

Posted by Cutler on August 13, 2007
Great Power Rivalry, Iraq, Russia / 1 Comment

Vice President Cheney allegedly continues to beat the drum for war with Iran.  The McClatchy Washington Bureau reported as much last week:

Vice President Dick Cheney several weeks ago proposed launching airstrikes at suspected training camps in Iran run by the Quds force, a special unit of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, according to two U.S. officials who are involved in Iran policy.

The Bush administration has launched what appears to be a coordinated campaign to pin more of Iraq’s security troubles on Iran.

Last week, Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, the No. 2 U.S. military commander in Iraq, said Shiite militiamen had launched 73 percent of the attacks that had killed or wounded American troops in July. U.S. officials think that majority Shiite Iran is providing militiamen with EFPs, which pierce armored vehicles and explode once inside.

Cheney and Odierno appear to be particularly close allies.  Cheney, in his recent interview with Larry King, singled out Odierno for his service:

General Petraeus is a very impressive officer… I don’t want to put the whole burden on him… there are a lot of people working at it, too. General Ray Odierno, who is his number two, a superb officer. A man who spent about 28 months in Iraq himself so far, whose son served and lost an arm, who is dedicated — is just as dedicated as Dave Petraeus is to the success of this enterprise.

Perhaps all this anti-Iranian talk risks undermining the Bush administration’s relationship with Shiite-led political figures in Iraq.

But the White House appears to be working hard to maintain the image of a distinction between the Maliki government and the Iranian regime–even if neither Maliki nor the Iranians appear to put much stock in the distinction.  Al Jazeera reports:

When asked whether he thought al-Maliki shared his views on Iran, Bush said: “So the first thing I looked for was commitment against the extremists.

“The second thing is ‘does he [al-Maliki] understand with some extremist groups there’s connections with Iran’, and he does. And I’m confident…

“Now, is he trying to get Iran to play a more constructive role? I presume he is. But that doesn’t – what my question is – well, my message to him is, is that when we catch you playing a non-constructive role there will be a price to pay.”

The White House later clarified with Al Jazeera that Bush was referring to Iran when talking about a price to pay.

All of which goes to the central question: is Cheney secretly horrified by the Maliki government?  Is there anything to the old assertion from the Economist that Cheney was “said to favour an alternative Shia leader as prime minister”?

Or does Cheney share the enthusiasm for the Shiite-led Maliki government expressed by Right Zionists like Fouad Ajami and Reuel Marc Gerecht?

If there is any reason to believe that the latter is true, it might have something to do with the politics of Iraqi oil.

However closely–and provisionally–aligned Cheney may be to Right Zionists, his most consistent enduring commitments center on Great Power rivalry with Russia.

This has significant implications for US-Russian relations in Europe–i.e., Kosovo, missile shields, etc.–and the Caspian–i.e., Turkmenistan, Georgia, etc.

But it also may help clarify Cheney’s enthusiasm for the Sistani-backed regime in Iraq.

If the US invasion of Iraq was motivated, in part, by the desire to prevent Russia from winning access to Iraqi oil after the collapse of UN sanctions, then Cheney is being well served by his Shiite friends in Iraq.

I first made that argument in an April 2007 post entitled, “The US-Russian War in Iraq” in which I suggested that the details of the draft hydrocarbons law tended to leave Russian-backed companies–especially Lukoil–out in the cold.

Last week, Sistani-backed oil minister Hussain al-Shahristani confirmed Russian fears.

In meetings with Shahristani, Russia sought to use the promise of debt relief to win better terms for Lukoil.  According to Kommersant, that plan to make debt relief conditional appears to have crumbled:

It was Iraq’s Oil Minister Hussein al-Shahristani that announced yesterday the results of his Moscow meeting with Russia’s Industry and Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko. According to al-Shahristani, Russia confirmed it would fully execute Paris Club’s decision to write off the debt of Iraq and today’s concern is ensuring some technical procedures. Writing off is conditioned to nothing…

Paris Club raised the issue of writing off $140 billion from Iraq after the U.S. invasion of 2003. Russia pressed for conditioning its pardon to reviving the West Kurna-2 agreement but wasn’t backed up by other creditors. So, the agreement of 2004 spells out writing off 80 percent of amount due to Paris Club nations….

The agreement on Iraq’s debt will be inked till this year-end, Deputy Finance Minister Sergey Storchak announced not long ago. Hussein al-Shahristani was expected to deliberate on the terms of the deal in Moscow, but the minister arrived with no authority given to the effect. As a result, Russia was forced to confirm adherence to Paris Club commitments without additional conditions.

As noted in some press reports, Shahristani had a few nice words to say about Lukoil:

“Lukoil has done much in Iraq, has experience of working in our country, possesses vast data about Iraqi oil deposits. These temporary advantages raise the company’s chances for winning free and transparent oil tenders,” the minister said.

But this sweet talk tended to obscure the real issue of control over the enormous West Qurna fields.  The oil industry journal, Platts, explains:

Shahristani, who spoke at a press conference in Moscow, said Iraqi
oilfields currently in operation, including West Qurna, would fall under the
control of the national oil company.

“For the discovered fields where there are no risks involved…we do not
see any necessity for foreign companies to take control. We think the Iraqi
national oil company can do it with the cooperation with other oil firms,” he
said.

“All the discovered and producing fields will be assigned to the national
oil company, this includes West Qurna,” Shahristani said. “It is up to the
Iraqi national oil company to decide how it can develop that field.”

In other words, the West Qurna field will be under the political control of the national oil company under a Shiite-led, US-backed administration.

The Saddam-era deal had promised Lukoil commercial control.  RIA Novosti reports:

“Assigning oil fields to the National Oil Company means that the company will have the right to choose foreign companies under contract terms,” Hussain al-Shahristani told a news conference in Moscow….

Under the [Saddam-era] West Qurna deal, LUKoil held 68.5% and Iraq’s SOMO organization 25%.

In other words, Russia can forget about control.

As for the new fields, Shahristani has not ruled out the “necessity for foreign companies to take control.”

Could Cheney have found a better ally in Iraq?

Now, if he can deliver on his promise to get the oil legislation passed in September, Cheney should be able to sleep soundly…

Even as he allegedly dreams of war with Iran.

Cold Wars Are Not What They Used To Be (They Never Were)

Posted by Cutler on June 06, 2007
Great Power Rivalry, Russia / No Comments

Thank heavens the President of the United States relates on “a first-name basis” with the President of Russia.

Watching Bush discuss US relations with Russia, one almost gets the sense that the President of the United States is convinced that personal “friendship” will prevent Russian President Vladimir Putin from appreciating the growing tensions between Washington and Moscow.

Here is Bush in Prague on Tuesday:

“My message will be, Vladimir — I call him Vladimir — that you shouldn’t fear a missile defense system,” Mr. Bush said during a morning appearance with the leaders of the Czech Republic at Prague Castle, high on a hill overlooking the city.

And Bush in Germany on Wednesday:

“I will continue to work with President Putin — Vladimir Putin — to explain to him that this (the missile shield) is not aimed at him,” Bush said.

Asked if the meeting with Putin would be tense, Bush said: “I’ll work to see to it, that it’s not (tense).”

Perhaps personal chemistry between “Condi and Sergey” will work similar wonders.

Does all this chummy warmth have any political meaning?  Maybe amidst all the talk of a new “Cold War,” there are pro-Russia forces pressing the President to tone down the hawkish rhetoric.  According to the Financial Times, the Russia hawks at the Jamestown Foundation seem worried:

But Glen Howard, president of the Jamestown Foundation, a security think-tank, noted Mr Bush’s invitation to Mr Putin to become the first foreign leader to visit Mr Bush in the family home in Maine in early July. US policy was not hardening, Mr Howard said. “It is just the opposite…”

The “family home” in Maine belongs to Bush Sr.–long criticized by Russia hawks like Frank Gaffney for being soft on Russia.

But the Financial Times also reports on fears among self-proclaimed Russia “realists” that Russia hawks are gaining ground inside the Bush administration:

Dimitri Simes, president of Washington’s Nixon Center think-tank… noted the “hardline” speech on Russia given last week by David Kramer, a State Department official.

Mr Simes said the departure of Thomas Graham as senior Russia director in the national security council in February had led to a lack of “realistic thinking” in policy. “There is no alternative voice in the administration now,” Mr Simes said, describing the more dominant role played by “hawks” Daniel Fried and Mr Kramer in the department.

In truth, the “new” Cold War began even as the “old” Cold War was ending.  The only difference today is the increasingly harsh tone of the rhetoric.

On Wednesday, Bush insisted, “The Cold War is over.  It ended.”

In a way, he is right.  Soviet Communism is dead… so the Cold War must be over.

Some folks–like Stephen Cohen, a writer for the Nation and partner of its publisher, Katrina vanden Heuvel–seem to think the “new” Cold War was always about Communism and, indeed, still about Communism.

Alluding to that myopia on the part of people who had sought the destruction of the Soviet state, a Moscow philosopher later remarked bitterly, “They were aiming at Communism but hitting Russia.”

Similarly, Cohen seems dismayed that during the post-Cold War era, “US policy has fostered the belief that the American cold war was never really aimed at Soviet Communism but always at Russia.”

The advent of a “new” Cold War should foster the belief–a crucial revisionist project–that for many elements of the foreign policy establishment, the “old” Cold War was never really about Soviet Communism so much as Russian empire.

Perhaps the “crisis” of the Soviet Union was not so much the Soviet part but the “Union” that allowed Russia to win control of Eastern Europe, Central Asia, etc.

Stephen Cohen’s view of the Cold War is, in some sense, overly ideological.

But even the “ideologues” have long recognized (even as they regretted) that much of the Cold War was about the old fashioned power politics of the Great Game rather than ideology.

Norman Podhoretz, in his 1999 Commentary essay, “Strange Bedfellows,” expressed the disappointment of ideological true believers:

Of course, Kissinger and Nixon were themselves strong anti-Communists as well as devotees and practitioners of Realpolitik. Yet it was realism that won out over anti-Communism in the most spectacular example of their efforts (in Kissinger’s words) to “seize the initiative and control the diplomatic process.” This was the opening to China. From the realist perspective, it was a great triumph, driving a wedge between the two major Com munist powers; even many hardline anti-Com munists, to whom an alliance with Communist China against the Soviet Union was analogous to the one we had made with the Soviet Union in fighting Hitler, applauded it as a masterstroke.

But other hard-liners, I among them, saw matters differently…

In the American policy of holding the line against any further expansion of Soviet power, no one, up until that moment, could easily distinguish between ideology and power politics…

However, in allying itself with Communist China (even if, for diplomatic reasons, the word “alliance” was never used), the United States was in effect announcing that the enemy in the cold war was not Communism but Russia. This being the case, the methods of Realpolitik were best suited to dealing with it. Those of us who disagreed-who, in other words, saw the cold war as a struggle against Communism, not against Russia as such-feared that the new turn of events would confuse public opinion about the true nature of the enemy, and that the willingness of the American people to go on supporting the struggle would thereby be undermined. For we had no doubt that this willingness had always been based-as our own was-on a moral and ideological opposition to Communism rather than to Russia as a nation.

Today, Russia hawks like Anne Applebaum at the American Enterprise Institute try to muster some of that “moral and ideological opposition.”  But it rings hollow and they seem to know it:

Last week, I found myself in Dom Knigi, the very largest of all the very large Moscow bookstores, staring at the history section.

Spread out over an entire wall were books of a sort I’ve never seen in such quantities during 10 years of visits: endless glorifications of Soviet fighter pilots, Soviet war heroes, even Stalin himself. Stalin: the Author of the Great Victory was one title; others had cover illustrations featuring red stars, or hammers and sickles.

I don’t think this new publishing trend heralds a new period of Stalinism, or not exactly. But it does illustrate a growing Russian fascination–encouraged and manipulated by the Kremlin–with Russia’s imperial past.

Cold Wars are not what they used to be.  Indeed, they never were.

Cheney: Beyond Hypocrisy

Posted by Cutler on May 30, 2007
Great Power Rivalry, Iran, Right Arabists, Right Zionists, Russia / 1 Comment

In many respects, the factional battle lines that have formed around the US invasion of Iraq have been pretty stark and predictable.  In my ZNET essay on foreign policy factionalism, “Beyond Incompetence: Washington’s War in Iraq,” I suggested that the US invasion of Iraq tended to split the foreign policy establishment into two camps: Right Zionists and Right Arabists.

One of the central puzzles, from that day to this, has been locating Vice President Cheney on that spectrum.

Of course, Cheney has been very clearly aligned with Right Zionists for some time now and he continues to surround himself with Right Zionist advisers like David Wurmser.

But Cheney was not always perceived as a “sure thing” for Right Zionists.   Cheney was not always thought of as allied with Right Zionists.  Among other things,  the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) has never forgotten that Cheney—serving as a Congressman from Wyoming in 1981—voted to support the AWACS sale to Saudi Arabia.

Back in the 1990s Cheney did not seem to be above taking pot shots at the Israel lobby and its zeal for US sanctions against Iran.

Nick Snow interviewed Cheney for Petroleum Finance Week at a 1996 Energy Conference and filed the following report:

Halliburton Co. Chairman Richard B. Cheney sees many opportunities worldwide for U.S. oil and gas producers, drilling contractors and service and supply companies. But he’s also concerned that sanctions sought by domestic politicians to please local constituencies will hurt U.S. business growth overseas…

But he also considers sanctions the greatest threat to Halliburton and other U.S. companies pursuing opportunities overseas. “We seem to be sanction-happy as a government. The problem is that the good Lord didn’t see fit to always put oil and gas resources where there are democratic governments,” he observed during his conference presentation.

If anything, Cheney was probably considered a Right Arabist eager to do business with the Saudis and willing to find a modus operandi for doing deals with the Iranians.

Something changed.  Cheney closely aligned himself with Right Zionists.

Commentators who note the change often seem to focus primarily on Cheney’s hypocrisy.  Be that as it may, there are important questions to be asked about what triggered Cheney’s change of “heart.”

I have tried to offer up some explanations, including one that focused on post-9/11 tensions between Cheney and Saudi King Abdullah.

More recently, I have also found reason to suspect that at least some of Cheney’s shift might have begun before September 11th.  According to this account, Cheney was handed a huge defeat by the Israel Lobby in early 2001.  Unable to beat them, he joined them.

Those who do not attend to the factors the triggered Cheney’s change are least likely to anticipate the possibility that other factors might cause Cheney to change course again.

In several recent posts last week (here, here, here, and here) I pondered the possibility that Cheney might “come to terms” with the Iranian regime.

Needless to say, these are merely speculations.

Even as Cheney “allowed” the US-Iranian meeting in Iraq, there are signs that he is far from committed to this track.

Apart from Cheney’s own strident, anti-Iranian bluster during his recent visit to the Gulf, there are also rumors that he and his Right Zionist allies are telling friends to discount all the “diplomatic” talk.

In early May, the Jewish Daily Forward reported such a rumor:

Deputy National Security Advisor Elliott Abrams told a group of Jewish communal leaders last week that the president would ensure that the process does not lead to Israel being pushed into an agreement with which it is uncomfortable.

Also last week, at a regular gathering of Jewish Republicans, sources said, Abrams described President Bush as an “emergency brake” who would prevent Israel from being pressed into a deal; during the breakfast gathering, the White House official also said that a lot of what is done during Rice’s frequent trips to the region is “just process” — steps needed in order to keep the Europeans and moderate Arab countries “on the team” and to make sure they feel that the United States is promoting peace in the Middle East.

Was Abrams speaking truth to the “Jewish Republicans” or was he trying to manage their potential discontent?  Hard to say.

More recently, Steven Clemons has offered up alleged details of a similar “reassurance” campaign among Right Zionist allies:

Multiple sources have reported that a senior aide on Vice President Cheney’s national security team has been meeting with policy hands of the American Enterprise Institute, one other think tank, and more than one national security consulting house and explicitly stating that Vice President Cheney does not support President Bush’s tack towards Condoleezza Rice’s diplomatic efforts and fears that the President is taking diplomacy with Iran too seriously…

There are many other components of the complex game plan that this Cheney official has been kicking around Washington. The official has offered this commentary to senior staff at AEI and in lunch and dinner gatherings which were to be considered strictly off-the-record, but there can be little doubt that the official actually hopes that hawkish conservatives and neoconservatives share this information and then rally to this point of view…

Is there any reason to doubt that the “senior aide on Vice President Cheney’s national security team” who has been “meeting with policy hands of the American Enterprise Institute” is either John Hannah or David Wurmser?

As Juan Cole has suggested, Steven Clemons is “very well connected in Washington,” especially among Right Arabists.  I’m in no position to discount the rumor.  I do think it is peculiar that, according to Clemons, there is “little doubt” that the “Cheney official” hoped “hawkish conservatives and neoconservatives would share this information.”  So far, only Clemons appears to be sharing the “information.”

In a more general sense, I think it is unwise to assume that Cheney will remain forever faithful to his Right Zionist allies.  He has bigger fish to fry.

Specifically, Caspian Sea fish.

I have no doubt Cheney would gladly discard his Right Zionist allies if he thought the incumbent Iranian regime could become a useful foil to Russian geopolitical aspirations.

Confrontation with Iran?

Posted by Cutler on May 24, 2007
Great Power Rivalry, Iran / No Comments

The news is awash in stories about rising tensions between the US and Iran.  Reuters reports on US naval maneuvers in the Gulf and accompanying jitters in the oil market.

So, maybe the US is heading for a military confrontation with Iran.

I doubt it.  Here is Israeli Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu on the subject in an interview with the Financial Times:

[Y]ou can reserve the military option, preferably by the US, which has the means to do so. But that should be a last resort, because it is far too complicated.

Maybe the US is leading the way toward a “velvet revolution” in Iran.

I doubt it.  Those who most wish it were so discount the possibility.  Here is Right Zionist Michael Ledeen on recent reports that the White House authorized the CIA to undertake covert operations to undermine the Iranian regime:

[I]t’s a typical CIA product: the opposite of a serious program. You don’t need a secret disinformation operation; instead, we need an effective, public, information effort, including a VOA Farsi Service that entertains criticis of the mullahs more than their apologists, and administration spokesthings who talk about the grisly repression of the Iranian people carried out by the regime. Above all, four little words “we support regime change” would be a great way to start. And those words should come from the White House or Foggy Bottom. So far, we’ve got the secretary of state saying she doesn’t want regime change, just “better behavior” from the mullahs….

[T]his sort of leak invariably comes from people trying to kill the program. My guess is that CIA doesn’t want to do ANYTHING mean to the mullahs, and so they are trying to sabotage their own silly program.

The nuclear issue is in the news, but the nuke story is only a proxy for a larger geo-political story.  As hawks on both sides recognize, nobody really cares about the nukes, as such.

Not surprisingly, an Iranian official recently asserted as much:

Deputy Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) for International Affairs Javad Vaeedi [said], “Iran’s access to nuclear technology is not the problem of the US or the West. Iran’s attaining a geostrategic position is their problem.”

More surprising, at least on the surface, is that Right Zionists like Michael Rubin over at the American Enterprise Institute tend to agree that the real issue is the current geostrategic orientation of the regime.  A nuclear Iran allied with Israel and the United States might continue to be a concern for Arab regimes (as the Iranian nuclear program was under the Shah).  But it would be far less threatening for a figure like Rubin:

A democratic Iran might not abandon its nuclear program, but neither would it sponsor anti-American terrorism, undercut the Middle East peace process or deny Israel’s right to exist. Democratization, therefore, can take the edge off the Iranian threat.

All of which goes to saying that the real question on the table right now is whether the US can “flip” Iran and change its geostrategic orientation.

All through the 1980s, Right Zionists like Michael Ledeen thought this was urgent work.

During the 1990s, Cheney clearly favored an opening with Iran, in part to enhance US leverage in its Great Power rivalry with Russia.

Are we seeing a return to that older Cheney?

If so, will his Right Zionist allies follow his lead?  Or will they accuse him of “selling out Israel” by cutting a deal with an “unreconstructed” anti-Zionist regime in Iran?

Putin’s Caspian Coup, Cheney’s Iran Plan

In a major coup, Russian President Putin has clinched a deal to export Central Asian gas via Russia’s preferred overland route and has almost certainly dealt a fatal blow to Vice President Cheney’s vision of a submerged Trans-Caspian pipeline that would bypass Russia.

Putin claimed his Great Game prize at a weekend meeting with Turkmenistan President Gurbanguli Berdymukhamedov and Kazakhstan Presdient Nursultan Nazarbayev.

Cheney had personally courted Kazakh President Nazarbayev in a bid to win support for the Trans-Caspian pipeline.  And the US had made similar overtures to Turkmenistan President Gurbanguli Berdymukhamedov after the sudden death of his predecessor, Saparmurat Niyazov, in December 2006.

Kazakh President Nazarbayev had been slated to attend an energy summit of ex-Soviet bloc leaders meeting in Poland to discuss pipeline projects designed to bypass Russia.

Instead of bypassing Russia, Nazarbayev bypassed Cheney.

This is an enormous victory for Putin in the increasingly intense Great Power rivalry between Russia and the United States.

Turkmen President Berdymukhamedov, seemingly eager to forestall an inevitable US-led smear campaign against his authoritarian regime, has held out hope that the Russian pipeline agreement does not preclude alternatives, including the Trans-Caspian pipeline:

Turkmen ambassador to Austria Esen Aydogdyev told the Viennese daily Der Standard that ‘Turkmenistan has enough gas to export it in all directions; the project involving a trans-Caspian pipeline remains an option. The West doesn’t need to have any worries.’

Austrian oil and gas company OMV AG plays a leading role in the consortium currently planning the Nabucco natural gas pipeline and recently confirmed its commitment to the project.

Nevertheless, officials in the US and Russia appear to read the situation differently.

Russian Industry and Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko, clearly gloating, suggested that Cheney’s pipeline is now dead:

“In my view, technological, legal, and environmental risks that are involved in the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline project make it impossible to find an investor for it, unless it is viewed as a purely political project and unless it does not matter what this pipe will pump,” Khristenko told journalists in Turkmenbashi on Saturday.

Khristenko’s American counterpart, US Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman, appears to view the outcome as a significant setback for US efforts to help break European dependence on Russia.

U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said Monday that a deal to pipe gas from Turkmenistan to customers in the West via Russia was bad for Europe.

Speaking at a press conference on the sidelines of an International Energy Agency meeting here, Bodman said: “It would not be good for Europe. It concentrates more natural gas to one supplier.”

Implications for Iran

Putin’s Caspian delight may have significant implications for US policy toward Iran.  Cheney had been hoping to use the Trans-Caspian Pipeline, along with the Baku-Tiblis-Ceyhan oil and Baku-Tbilisi-Erzerum gas pipelines, to bypass Iran and Russia.  The gas would eventually flow to Europe through the NABUCCO pipeline.

Now, Cheney will arguably be forced to choose between “the lesser of two evils.”

From the perspective of Great Power politics, there is no question: Cheney will try to reconstruct an alliance with Iran.

The only question now may be how Cheney will rebuild ties between the US and Iran: diplomacy or regime change.  For the vice president, mere “containment” of Iran is no longer an option.  Cheney will not be likely leave office without an alliance with Iran.

One challenge, among several, is to pry Iran away from Russia.

Several weeks before the news of Putin’s Caspian coup, Nikolas K. Gvosdev–a self-proclaimed Washington “realist”–published an article in the National Interest entitled, “The Other Iran Timetable.”

Gvosdev argued that Europe needed Iranian gas for the NABUCCO pipeline:

[T]here is only so much time before Europeans will decide that Iran, which has the world’s second largest reserves of natural gas, is a critical part of ensuring their energy security. So far, the United States has been largely successful in convincing Europeans to delay proposed investments in Iran’s natural gas sector and has expressed strong disapproval of plans to connect Iran to the so-called NABUCCO pipeline (designed to bring Caspian gas via Turkey to Europe).

But NABUCCO has limits. Many Europeans are skeptical that there is enough Caspian gas to really make a difference for their consumption… In the end, I was told, for NABUCCO to make sense, it will have to include gas from Iran.

This means that sooner or later Europe’s ability to give Washington support on isolating Iran will give way to its own needs for energy….

[W]as this is a case of advising, “Whatever you do, do it quickly”—meaning that if the United States were to pursue forcible regime change the preference would be to do it sooner?… [B]y 2011 or 2013, large-scale European investment in Iran will begin no matter whether it is still the Islamic Republic or some other form of government…

Right Zionists like Michael Ledeen were once champions of engagement with Iran.  That idea seems to have collapsed after 1991.

During the middle of the 1990s, Cheney was himself a leading petro-realist, advocating direct engagement with Iran.  That idea seems to have collapsed by July 2001.

Will Cheney and the Russia hawks go wobbly on Iran now that the US appears to have lost Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan?

Will Right Zionists revert to their earlier support for an opening with Iran?  Or is Russia the “lesser of two evils” for Right Zionists, especially in light of Israeli interests in Turkmenistan and Iranian support for Hezbollah and Hamas?

Or, will Cheney and Right Zionists constitute a united front toward regime change in Iran?

Cheney’s Man on the Seine?

Posted by Cutler on May 07, 2007
France, Great Power Rivalry, Turkey / No Comments

Is French President-elect Nicolas Sarkozy Bush’s lapdog?  Cheney’s man on the Seine?  A Right Zionist in Paris?

In the context of great power rivalry, Sarkozy says he favors the US over Russia.  When he made the comment in mid-April 2007, RIA Novosti took notice:

“If you want to know which one is closer to me – the U.S. or Russia, which we saw in action in Chechnya – I will say the U.S.,” the candidate said…

“I tell great powers, including the U.S., that they are mistaken because they have not signed the Kyoto Protocol and that they are wrong in Iraq. But we have common values, such as democracy,” Sarkozy said.

Setting aside perfidious talk about “common values” regarding democracy, Sarkozy and Cheney may yet find at least enough common ground upon which to lay gas pipelines, specifically the so-called NABUCCO pipeline.

The Moscow Times says “Russia Faces Rougher Ride After French Vote” and notes that Sarkozy–like his defeated opponent–favors NABUCCO.

Sarkozy… support[s] the participation of state-owned Gaz de France’s participation in the Nabucco pipeline, which would reduce Europe’s dependency on Russian natural gas.

In a mid-April debate among the three top contenders for the French presidency, Sarkozy was the most outspoken in his support for NABUCCO.  Reuters reported:

The [three candidates] all expressed support for the Nabucco pipeline project, due to ship Caspian natural gas from Turkey to Austria, reducing Europe’s energy dependence on Russia.

Sarkozy went further, saying he was prepared to accelerate the project, led by Austrian oil firm OMV.

But Sarkozy is going to have to do a bit of backtracking from the campaign if he is going find a place for France along the NABUCCO pipeline.

Sarkozy’s relatively pro-American stance was decidedly not a “populist” way to distinguish himself from fellow “Union for a Popular Movement (UMP)” Gaullists, Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin and President Jacques Chirac.

Instead, Sarkozy established his populist foreign policy bona fides by bashing Turkey and the idea of Turkish membership in the EU.

There will have to be some fence mending with Turkey–especially among the fiercely the nationalist military leaders that forced Turkey’s Islamic-backed foreign minister Abdullah Gul to withdraw his Presidential candidacy–if Sarkozy is going to restore plans for Gaz de France to join the NABUCCO consortium.

NABUCCO is a Turkish dream for transporting Caspian Sea gas.  It is strongly supported by the US and the EU:

If it is built and made functional by 2012 as intended, Nabucco can provide an estimated 15 percent of EU demand. The Baku-Tiblis-Ceyhan pipeline was translated into reality from a dream. But what are the chances at this stage for the Nabucco Pipeline Project? The idea was conceived in 2002, within the EU’s Common Energy Security policy. It will start from Georgia’s border with Turkey, then run a 3300 kilometer stretch crossing Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary, ending in Austria… Five energy companies have already signed up to build the pipeline, namely BOTAS from Turkey, Bulgargas, Transgaz from Romania and Mol of Hungary.

BOTAS Turkish state-owned pipeline company, has led the opposition to Gaz de France participation.

If Sarkozy is going to position France as a core member of an anti-Russian bloc in the EU, look for him to become decidedly more “pragmatic” in relations with Turkey.

Biden’s War

Posted by Cutler on May 01, 2007
Great Power Rivalry, Iraq, Right Zionists / No Comments

Happy May Day! I’ll be brief because this is labor’s day for reinvigorating the cultural battle for less work.

Senator Joseph Biden made an April 29, 2007 appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press.

Set aside, for the moment, Biden’s assertions about the future (“all of us have been arguing… in both parties, that you’re going to have to leave forces behind in Iraq”).

Biden’s most interesting comments concern the past. Biden’s explanation and justification for the invasion gets to some of the “truth” behind the lies:

[W]e were talking then about whether or not we could keep the pressure of the international community on Iraq to stay in the box we had them in. And remember, you had the French and others say the reason all those children were dying in Iraq, the reason why hospitals didn’t have equipment is because of what we, the United States, were doing, imposing on Iraq these sanctions. And that was the battle. The battle was do we lift these sanctions or do we in fact increase the sanctions? And everyone at the time was talking about—from the secretary of state to even the president—that this was to demonstrate to the world the president of the United States had the full faith and credit of the United States Congress behind him to put pressure on the rest of the world to say, “Hey, look, you lift the sanctions, you’re—we’re going to be on our own here. Don’t lift the sanctions. Get the inspectors back in.” That was the context of the debate, to be fair about it…

MR. RUSSERT: But you said Saddam was a threat. He had to be…

SEN. BIDEN: He was a threat.

MR. RUSSERT: In what way?

SEN. BIDEN: The threat he presented was that, if Saddam was left unfettered, which I said during that period, for the next five years with sanctions lifted and billions of dollars into his coffers, then I believed he had the ability to acquire a tactical nuclear weapon—not by building it, by purchasing it. I also believed he was a threat in that he was—every single solitary U.N. resolution which he agreed to abide by, which was the equivalent of a peace agreement at the United Nations, after he got out of—after we kicked him out of Kuwait, he was violating. Now, the rules of the road either mean something or they don’t. The international community says “We’re going to enforce the sanctions we placed” or not. And what was the international community doing? The international community was weakening. They were pulling away. They were saying, “Well, wait a minute. Maybe he’s not so bad. Maybe we should lift the no-fly zone. Maybe we should lift the sanctions.” That was the context.

In light of recent controversies over George Tenet’s new book, At the Center of the Storm, and his sense of the origins of the invasion plan, it might be worth noting that Biden’s justification for the invasion is not very different from the one offered, on the eve of the invasion, by Right Zionist Richard Perle over at the Project for a New American Century:

“Let’s be candid about it. France has found a way of dealing with Saddam Hussein that simply wouldn’t work for the United States because it entails a degree of cooperation that is not acceptable for us. The commercial relationship between France and Saddam’s regime is on hold owing to the sanctions but I think it’s clear that the moment the sanctions are removed there is a pipeline of contracts that would be promulgated and they’re important for France. We shouldn’t kid ourselves, they’re important for France. It’s my understanding that the Total contract with Saddam is worth $40 billion to $60 billion…. So there are commercial interests and for those people who accuse the United States in being interested in oil in this matter, I submit to you that our interest in oil is in purchasing it on the world market. That could best be accomplished by lifting the sanctions, hardly by going to war against Saddam Hussein. The French interest in the promulgation of contracts that will only go forward with this regime is perfectly obvious.

“But there’s a second French attitude that I think we have to come to grips with and understand and that is the desire on the part of France to build the European Union as a counterweight to the United States. Counterweight is the term most frequently employed by the French, by Chris Patten in Brussels and by others. For a long time the United States and France have been allies. Good allies. Vital to each other’s security at many times in our history and never in the period in which we were allies who supported one another did either of us think of describing the other as a counterweight. A relationship that can be described by the term counterweight is not a relationship of alliance”…

“Well, I don’t think we have the luxury of changing priorities from one day to the next. There was a review of Iraq policy underway on September 11th and the administration hadn’t decided at that point what to do, but one thing was very clear: the consensus behind the sanctions which had become the central element of western United Nations strategy for dealing with Saddam Hussein was crumbling. France and Russia had already indicated they were opposed to continuing the sanctions. The French wanted to weaken the sanctions regime. The so-called smart sanctions policy of the United States was really a response to the eroding support for those sanctions and it was very clear that if something wasn’t done that Saddam was going to emerge the survivor who had outlasted the United Nations….So it was urgent to deal with Iraq, and we set on a course of dealing with Iraq.

The specific “crisis” that generated the US invasion of Iraq was the collapse of the sanctions regime, understood in terms of Great Power Rivalry, was “not acceptable to us.”

All that remains, it would seem, is to understand the contours of US policy after the invasion, i.e., the geopolitical rationale for de-Baathification (rather than, say, “grabbing” Iraq but maintaining Baathist rule).

From Russia (To Israel) With Love

Posted by Cutler on April 19, 2007
Great Power Rivalry, Israel, Right Zionists / No Comments

One of the central assumptions behind discussions of the domestic political influence within the US of the “Israel Lobby” is that the power must be grounded in domestic lobbying because there is no coherent strategic rationale that justifies the “special relationship” between the US and Israeli.

One might assume that the bond between the two countries was based on shared strategic interests… Instead, the thrust of US policy in the region derives almost entirely from domestic politics, and especially the activities of the ‘Israel Lobby’…

Without minimizing the importance of domestic politics, there may be more to say about the strategic significance of Israel.

Consider the role of oil.

In a region that is home to enormous oil reserves, why favor a country that has almost no energy of its own?

Because much of the geopolitics of oil is about oil transport.

Consider, for example, an October 2006 report by the Energy Information Administration (EIA), statistical agency of the U.S. Department of Energy.

Israel has one main operational oil pipeline, known as the “Trans-Israel Pipeline” or the “Tipline,” built in 1968 to ship Iranian oil from the southern Red Sea port of Eilat to the northern Mediterranean port of Ashkelon, as a gateway to Europe. The pipeline went into disuse after relations with Iran soured in 1979. The 152-mile pipeline has a reported current capacity of 1-1.2 million bbl/d (having been expanded from 400,000 bbl/d) and 18 million barrels of storage capacity….

During 2003, the Eilat-Ashkelon Pipeline Company (EAPC) modified the pipeline to reverse flows on the 42-inch line, to facilitate Russian Caspian petroleum exports to Far East. In October 2003, it was first reported that Swiss trader Glencore would ship 1.2 million barrels of Kazakh CPC Blend crude and 600,000 barrels of sour Russian Urals through the line as an alternative to the Suez Canal, which can accommodate only smaller, “Suezmax” tankers. In July 2006, Israel also signed and agreement with the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan (SOCAR) to import and transport Azeri Light Crude through the pipeline.

That brief EIA narrative raises a whole host of interesting questions.

Who, for example, might harbor the dream of restoring the original direction of the Eilat-Ashkelon pipeline as an Iranian-Israeli route that reaches Europe but bypasses Arab oil?

Who dreams of bypassing the Suez canal?

Who dreams of oil, loaded onto VLCCs (Very Large Crude Carriers) in the Red Sea for shipment to markets in Asia?

Note, too, the possibility that the Israeli pipeline route might get tangled up in the Great Power rivalry between the United States and Russia.

After all, the Azerbaijan oil that flows through the BTC pipeline is specifically designed to bypass Russian influence in the transportation of Caspian Sea oil.

But Russia is making its own play for the Israeli route, also via Turkey.

Black Sea ministers… faced conflicts over competing pipeline projects, such as Russia’s plans to expand its Blue Stream gas pipeline through Turkey to Israel and possibly Europe, which would rival the planned [US-backed] Nabucco pipeline.

One might even imagine Israel being wooed by Russia and the US.

As it was in the beginning, so shall it be in the end.


The US-Russian War in Iraq

Posted by Cutler on April 04, 2007
Great Power Rivalry, Iraq, Russia / No Comments

Was the US invasion of Iraq was an opening salvo in a US-Russian war?

According to such a scenario, the “crisis” that led some in the Bush administration to press for an invasion of Iraq was not WMDs, a terror threat, domestic repression of Shiites and Kurds, etc.  The crisis came when Saddam began to slip out of his “sanctions” cage by shacking up in 1997 with Russian oil giant, Lukoil, for an agreement for the development of the giant West Qurna field.

So, have those most concerned to keep Iraq from Russia managed to do so?

Not yet.

Lukoil–and its American partner, ConocoPhillips, which owns a minority share in Lukoil–are still eager to try to get back in the game.

An April 2 Reuters report details a campaign by Lukoil and the Russian foreign ministry to insure that Lukoil doesn’t get shut out:

Russia’s top oil producer LUKOIL… signed a partnership deal with the foreign ministry on Monday and said it counted on its support as it prepares for talks to revive a giant oil deal in Iraq.

LUKOIL and the ministry said in a statement that the deal, the first of its kind in Russia, aims to support LUKOIL’s projects abroad, defend the firm’s interests by diplomatic means and facilitate the firm’s meetings abroad…

“Our company is entering new regions, including politically unstable regions. We will especially need support of the ministry in Iraq,” Interfax news agency quoted LUKOIL chief executive Vagit Alekperov as saying at a signing ceremony which was closed to reporters from foreign media organisations.

Nevertheless, Lukoil may have reason to worry that the proposed Iraqi oil legislation will leave the Russians out in the cold.

Much of the chatter in the US has been about the “scandal” of proposed “production sharing agreements” in the hydrocarbons law.  These are said to offer up the prospect of a massive money grab by the Oil Majors by coming very close to “privatizing” Iraqi oil.

That gets folks in the US all excited about the ways in which the US invasion of Iraq was all about the spread of neo-liberal market ideology.

When the so-called “Left” thinks about these issues, it misses the Great Power battle and sees only a struggle between the forces of statist justice and market greed.  Christian Parenti, for example, deserves props for noticing that the new Iraqi oil law is not all about privatization.  He even mentions that the Lukoil deal will be restructured.  But he appears to be comforted rather than alarmed by the implications:

Nor does the proposed oil law simply serve Iraq up on a plate to the oil giants. One London-based oil analyst who expected a more decentralized and free-market law called it “bloody confused.” On key questions of foreign investment and regional decentralization versus centralized control, the law is vague but not all bad

The draft law will leave ownership of the oil in state hands….

Indeed, the new law does not mention PSAs and it stipulates that firms will have to negotiate on a field-by-field basis.

The law will restructure the oil industry in other important ways: It will appoint a Federal Oil and Gas Council led by the prime minister to oversee all future contracts as well as review existing deals. Those agreements include the five contracts signed by the Kurdish Regional Government and six outstanding PSAs signed between Saddam Hussein and a mix of companies–most notably Lukoil of Russia, Total of France, the China National Petroleum Corporation and Italy’s Eni.

A single state-owned Iraqi National Oil Company will be reconstituted under central government control.

So close.  And, yet, so far.

The “scandal” may not be American market ideology in Iraq.  The real scandal may be the US move to nationalize some key elements of the Iraqi oil industry in an effort to thwart Russian (and French) ambitions.

Platts Oilgram News offered up this analysis of the Iraqi hydrocarbons law (Faleh al-Khayat, “New Iraqi oil law to open upstream sector; Gives powers to rejuvenated national company,” March 6, 2007):

The final draft of Iraq’s long-awaited oil and gas law opens up the country’s prized upstream sector to private, local and foreign investors for the first time since the 1970s, but appears to give more powers to a revived national oil company to manage current producing fields and giant undeveloped discoveries.

Platts has obtained the final draft of the law in Arabic, dated February 15 and approved by the Council of Ministers February 26, along with annexes classifying the oil fields and blocks to be opened up…

The law, now awaiting approval by parliament, re-establishes the Iraqi National Oil Company (INOC), which was disbanded in 1987…

INOC will operate Iraq’s producing fields, numbering 27, and, significantly, the partially developed fields of Majnoon, Halfaya, Nahr BinUma, Suba and Luhais, Tuba, and the whole of the giant West Qurna field. The ousted regime of Saddam Husssein had given France’s Total the right to negotiate exclusively a production sharing contract for the giant fields of Majnoon and Nahr Bin Umar. Saddam’s government also signed in 1997 an agreement with a Lukoil-led consortium to develop the West Qurna field, but the agreement was later terminated.

The inclusion of these fields under INOC’s direct responsibility would exclude foreign companies from any production sharing role and limit them to service or management contracts.

All of which amounts to saying that the Russians may get back into Iraq via the West Qurna field, but it will have to operate under the terms of the national oil company under the political control of the Iraqi government.  The same goes for France which would lose its “production sharing contract” agreed with Saddam Hussein’s government.

Some of the Russian press seems to agree that the terms of Iraqi hydrocarbons law are designed to hurt Russian interests.  Kommersant published a story, “Lukoil to Be Stripped Off A Field In Iraq“:

Russia’s oil blockbuster, LUKOIL, could be stripped off a field in Iraq, lentar.ru reported. The government of that country has presented to parliament a bill implying revision of crude oil agreements concluded in time of Saddam Hussein.

If passed, the bill advocated by today’s government of Iraq will hit two companies of Russia. One of them is LUKOIL that is developing the West Qurna-2 field, the second is Stroitransgaz that has a geological exploration contract for the fourth block of the West Desert, Vremia Novostei reported.

Under the bill that lobbies the U.S. interests, 51 fields and 65 exploration blocks will be split into four categories. The first one will include 27 fields that are currently developed, while the second category will specify the fields with proven reserves located near the fields of the first category. The remaining fields will form the third category and the forth category will be represented by exploration blocks.

Predictably, the fields of the first two categories, including West Qurna-2, will pass under control of the national oil company of Iraq that is being created now.

If the US invasion of Iraq was part of a Great Power battle with Russia, then the key decision on the Iraqi hydrocarbons law may have been to renationalize those Iraqi oil fields that were set to fall into the hands of Russia and France.

Cheney and Iran

Posted by Cutler on March 21, 2007
Great Power Rivalry, Iran, Right Zionists, Russia / No Comments

What is the relationship between Cheney and Iran?

In a March 20, 2007 New York Times column, Nicholas Kristof describes the VP as “Iran’s Operative in the White House.”

Is Dick Cheney an Iranian mole?

Consider that the Bush administration’s first major military intervention was to overthrow Afghanistan’s Taliban regime, Iran’s bitter foe to the east. Then the administration toppled Iran’s even worse enemy to the west, the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq.

You really think that’s just a coincidence? That of all 193 nations in the world, we just happen to topple the two neighboring regimes that Iran despises?

Moreover, consider how our invasion of Iraq went down. The U.S. dismantled Iraq’s army, broke the Baath Party and helped install a pro-Iranian government in Baghdad. If Iran’s ayatollahs had written the script, they couldn’t have done better — so maybe they did write the script …

We fought Iraq, and Iran won. And that’s just another coincidence?

Kristof, it seems, is joking.

O.K., O.K. Of course, all this is absurd. Mr. Cheney isn’t an Iranian mole…

Mr. Cheney harmed American interests not out of malice but out of ineptitude. I concede that they honestly wanted the best for America, but we still ended up getting the worst.

I have no problem stipulating a lot of ineptitude in the Bush administration, starting at the top.  But I have also warned–in my essay, “Beyond Incompetence: Washington’s War in Iraq“–that the simplistic charge of ineptitude can lead one to underestimate opponents.  This is almost certainly the case when thinking about Cheney and geopolitical strategy.

So, without suggesting that there is any transparency about Cheney’s current thinking about Iran, it might be worth recalling that Cheney was not always an Iran hawk, especially when it came to thinking about Russia and the Caspian Sea.

Dick Cheney, chief executive officer of Dallas-based Halliburton Co. and former U.S. defense secretary, argued Wednesday the U.S. policy toward Iran hampers another American effort, to encourage Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and the other countries in the Caspian region to act independently of Moscow.

Policies against Iran interfere with our policy of independence for the Caspian nations,” Cheney said. (“U.S. moves to foil Iran pipeline; Kazakhs seek loans for alternate routes,” The Houston Chronicle, November 20, 1997, p.2)

A lot has changed since then.  Among other things, Cheney’s potential overtures to Iran in 2000 were blocked by the Israel lobby in the US Congress.

But Cheney has certainly not lost his focus the urgency of “our policy of independence for the Caspian nations.”  Some of that has meant working mightily to construct energy pipelines that bypass Russia and Iran.  But some of it has also meant preparing the way–one way or another–for a new dawn in US-Iranian relations, all at the expense of Russian influence in the Caspian.

Indeed, according to Cheney’s own calendar, the time is coming near:

“I think we’d be better off if we in fact backed off those [Iran] sanctions . . . didn’t try to impose secondary boycotts on [Australian] companies like BHP trying to do business over there,” he told the Business Sunday program.

For several years BHP has been discussing a 2400km natural gas pipeline from Turkmenistan through Iran to Turkey but has been reluctant to commit to the project for fear of US reprisals…

“I think the [hawkish] Iranian policy the US is following is also inappropriate, frankly,” he said.

“I think we ought to begin to work to rebuild those relationships with Iran . . . it may take 10 years but it’s important that we do that.”  (“BHP pipeline should not face US sanctions, says Cheney,” The Australian, April 20, 1998, p.35.)

It may take ten years.  Hmmm.  That gives him until April 20, 2008.  Mark your calendars.

Cheney and the Neocons

Posted by Cutler on March 19, 2007
Great Power Rivalry, Iran, Right Zionists, Russia / No Comments

If there is any daylight to be found between Cheney and his Right Zionist allies–and I’m not sure if there is–look to the Russia-Iran axis as the source of the split.

The alliance between Russia and Iran also provides a foundation for the alliance between Cheney and Right Zionists.

Insofar as a split develops between Russia and Iran, however, Right Zionists would likely to try to bring Russia into the anti-Iranian camp.  For Cheney and other Russia hawks, the temptation would be to bring Iran into the anti-Russian camp.

The possibility of such a split has become far more likely in recent days, as Russia has distanced itself from Iran’s nuclear program.

Public Enemy #1: Iran or Russia?

For the most part, Right Zionists join Cheney in his hawkish approach to Russia.  Richard Perle, for example, took the lead back in 2003 in demanding that Russia should be thrown out of the G8.  And Right Zionists are very well represented in campaigns that castigate Russia for its war in Chechnya.

But there are several countervailing tendencies that might make Right Zionists go “wobbly” on Russia.  One is Iran.

For Right Zionists, the Iran Question–as a threat and an opportunity–arguably trumps the Russia Question.

Can the same be said for Cheney?

Cheney’s approach to regional actors like Iran, Iraq, and much of Central Asia mirrors Teddy Roosevelt’s approach to Great Power rivalry a century ago: battles were fought in places like the Philippines, but the War was with another empire, i.e., Spain.

Cheney is focused on Great Power rivalries with China and Russia.  Iraq and Iran are pawns in the Great Game.

Right Zionists are, not surprisingly, focused on Israel and its neighborhood.  Russia and the US are, in effect, viewed as pawns in a Zionist game.  For much of its history, the Zionist movement has proven itself adept in courting Great Powers and making them compete for its loyalty.

So, what happens when hawks are forced to choose between Iran and Russia?  It depends on the hawk.

Zionists Go “Wobbly” on Russia

The most high profile sign of a major shift on Russia among Zionists in the US came in February when Congressman Tom Lantos, Democratic chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, visited Moscow and turned heads with a dramatic flip-flop on Russia.  As one media source suggested in reference to the Lantos visit, “the hitherto staunch critic of Russia” had now embarked on a path of “good will and appeasement to Russia” (Natalia Leshchenko, “U.S. Promises to Lift Trade Restrictions with Russia,” Global Insight Daily Analysis, 21 February 2007).

Even as Washington was reeling from Putin’s anti-American speech in Munich, Lantos found nothing but blue skies ahead for US-Russian relations.  A report from Kommersant tells the story of the Lantos conversion:

In 2003, Mr. Lantos set the tone for the discussions of the Yukos affair in the US, and at that time he was one of the authors of the congressional resolution that called on the US President to bar Russia from the G8. Thus far this year, Mr. Lantos has already at least twice confirmed his reputation as the “bad cop” when it comes to Russia, first by accusing Russia and China of throwing up “constant roadblocks” to the resolution of the Iranian nuclear question, and second by sending a letter to the State Department in which he called on the department to include the sentence “Khodorkovsky and Lebedev are political prisoners” in its annual human rights report.   In his letter, Mr. Lantos wrote that the former Yukos executives “are imprisoned not for any crime that they committed but for their political activities, which threatened Putin’s totalitarian regime.”

Tom Lantos arrived in Moscow soon after President Vladimir Putin’s speech in Munich, which was followed by more harsh anti-American rhetoric from the Russian leadership that has caused many to comment on the threat of a return to Cold War-era relations between the two countries. However, his visit has not caused the scandal predicted by many observers. [State Duma Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Konstantin Kosachev] Konstantin Kosachev, who spoke with his American colleague for more than an hour, told Kommersant that his impression of Mr. Lantos during their conversation was entirely positive… In reply to a question from Kommersant about whether they had discussed the Yukos affair, the problems of democracy, or other Russian domestic issues, Mr. Kosachev said that such questions had not come up. “He did not bring up those subjects, and so we didn’t either,” he explained, adding, “I liked Mr. Lantos’ attitude. He had a lot to say about how Russia and the US are on the same side of the barricade, and that the problem is that in many cases they have not yet arrived at mutual understanding when confronting threats and challenges that they both face.”

With his trip to Moscow, Mr. Lantos appears determined to shed the image of Russia’s “chief persecutor.” Yesterday he captured the interest of Russian journalists by promising that at his press conference today he will make “an important statement, one that will have historical significance for Russian-American relations.” Kommersant has learned that the surprise up his sleeve is thought to be a statement of America’s readiness to repeal the infamous Jackson-Vanick Amendment, which has hobbled trade relations between the two countries ever since it was introduced by Congress at the height of the Cold War. Thus, America’s “chief persecutor” of Russia may well become Russia’s “chief savior.”

A column in RIA Novosti described as “sensational” the announcement by Lantos that he would, indeed, support the repeal of the Jackson-Vanik amendment, thereby facilitating Russia’s WTO entry.  [The “Jackson” in the Jackson-Vanik amendment is Henry “Scoop” Jackson, the late Senator from Boeing/Washington, also mentor in the 1970s of two young Right Zionist staff aides, Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz].

An Associated Press report included remarkable quotes from a Lantos press conference in Moscow:

The chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee said Wednesday he would call for the removal of Russia from the 1974 Jackson-Vanik amendment, which has restricted bilateral trade and remained a key irritant in relations between Moscow and Washington.

It’s time to put behind us this relic of the Cold War,” Rep. Tom Lantos, D-Calif., said at a news conference. “I will spare no effort to bring this about and I have every expectation that I will be successful.”

Moscow has long urged the United States to abolish the Jackson-Vanik amendment tying Russia’s trade status to whether it freely allows Jewish emigration…

In what appeared to be an attempt to strike a conciliatory note, Lantos said Putin’s [Munich] statement was a “fully understandable” attempt to demonstrate that his country, a former superpower, was resurgent after years of post-Soviet demise and stressed that Putin’s criticism should not stand in the way of the two countries’ cooperation.

The United States and Russia have far too many common interests and long-term goals,” Lantos said… “We certainly will not allow… [Putin’s Munich] speech to stand in the way of our very positive attitude towards Russia and our future cooperation.

What was the cost, for Putin, of all this “appeasement” from Lantos?

The answer appears to have arrived on February 19 while Lantos was in Moscow: Russia’s retreat from Iran’s nuclear program.

A source in Russia’s nuclear power agency Rosatom told Reuters it was obvious the timetable for the Bushehr plant needed to be “corrected” because Tehran had not made payments for the work for more than a month.

Moscow had been due to start nuclear fuel deliveries for the plant in March, ahead of the reactor’s planned September start. It was unclear how long the delay would be. Moscow has already pushed back completion several times, citing technical reasons…

Atomstroiexport, the Russian state company in charge of the Bushehr work, said existing U.N. sanctions against Iran were also contributing to the delays because of a trading ban on certain atomic equipment.

“There are certain obstacles affecting our work in Bushehr,” said spokeswoman Irina Yesipova. “Because of the embargo a number of third countries declined to supply equipment (to Iran). That’s why Russian producers have to provide all the equipment all of a sudden. It’s a tough situation.”

Right Zionists took note and suddenly began to elaborate the potential joys of diplomacy.  When the news broke, Cliff May had this to say over at the National Review Online:

If ever there was a time for skillful diplomacy, this is it. The focus should be on Russia. Whatever his faults (and they are many) Putin can be made to see that Russia’s future should not be as the junior, infidel partner to an aggressive, expansionist, radical Islamist, nuclear-armed Iran.

Russia Hawks Go Wobbly on Iran

Even as some Right Zionists were cooing over the prospect of a US-Russian axis against Iran, Russia hawks in the Bush administration–focused on Caspian Sea energy politics–were arguably going “wobbly” on Iran.

Consider, for example, the case of Matthew Bryza, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs.

Within the Bush administration, Bryza is one of the figures responsible for finding ways to break Russia’s leverage as a supplier of natural gas to Europe and its monopoly control over energy routes out of the Caspian Sea.  Iran looms large as both a source of fuel and a potential route for natural gas from Turkmenistan.

Bryza’s recent interview with Turkish Daily News speaks volumes about his priorities when it comes to Russia and Iran:

[T]he planned Nabucco [pipeline] raises hopes for providing Europe with natural gas from Central Asia, not Russia. It is set to run through Turkey to Vienna via Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary. However there are concerns that the Azerbaijan gas fields are not yet suitable for extraction.

I don’t know if Nabucco needs a lot of help from America and Europe, but we are all for it,” said Bryza.

“Nabucco needs good, clear gas production from Azerbaijan. We believe that within five to 10 years this could be achieved and Azerbaijan could be producing enough gas”…

Asked whether the United States felt apprehensive about Russian state-owned Gazprom’s tactics, Bryza said that the United States stood for a free, competitive market.

“Gazprom is a monopoly,” he emphasized, “and monopolies behave as monopolies. We don’t like monopolies…

In recent statements President Putin raised the possibility of a Russia-Iran agreement on the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) model. Bryza said it was hard to tell if these were empty threats, adding, “I think the Iranians have proved themselves to be difficult associates”…

“Although President Bush has said that no option is off the table, I don’t think a [U.S.] attack on Iran is likely. Our policy is to change the behavior of the Iranian government through diplomacy, not to change the regime,” stated Bryza.

That kind of talk is enough to drive Right Zionists–committed, as they remain, to popular insurrection and regime change in Iran–into fits of rage.

Is it also enough to allow some daylight between Cheney and his Right Zionist allies?

German Gas

Posted by Cutler on March 07, 2007
Germany, Great Power Rivalry, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia / No Comments

So many enemies, so little time.

It cannot be easy to be Dick Cheney.  When your list of enemies gets long enough, you are inevitably asked to compromise and support the lesser evil.

For Cheney, the challenge is to keep both Iran and Russia in the crosshairs at the same time.

Take Germany, for example.

The German appetite for natural gas makes Russia and Iran attractive trading partners.

The Russian option is championed by Gazprom subsidiary Nord Stream and has the active support of ex-German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

As suggested by an article in Business Week, the former chancellor–now on the Gazprom payroll–retains influence within the Merkel administration.

The German ex-chancellor caused a furore at home when he took the lucrative Gazprom job in 2005 just weeks after brokering the pipeline deal at government level. Current chancellor Angela Merkel has backed the pipe, but has frostier relations with Russia’s Mr Putin, once described by Mr Schroeder as a “crystal-clear democrat”…

But the ex-chancellor also showed glimpses of the canny pragmatism that characterised his foreign policy while still in power and which continues to function inside the German government in the person of foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier – Mr Schroeder’s ex-cabinet chief.

The “canny pragmatism” mentioned above refers to Schroeder’s question, implicitly directed at Vice President Cheney:

Where are the alternatives to Russia?” Mr Schroeder asked in the context of soaring EU gas imports, mentioning Algeria, Libya, Qatar, Nigeria and international pariah Iran. “You have to think if this would be politically better than Russia. My view…is that as far as security and stability of supply goes, Russia is the best option.”

Schroeder’s reference to Iran is not merely an exercise in hypothetical speculation.  Spiegel Online reports that the German energy giant E.on is in talks with Iran to buy natural gas.  The Iranian initiative is depicted as a move to break German dependence on Russia.

German energy giant E.on has confirmed it is in talks with Iran to buy natural gas — although Germany is currently discussing further sanctions over Iran’s nuclear program with its allies.

Germany has for years been talking about diversifying its natural gas supplies to reduce over-reliance on Russia. But the solution currently being considered by German energy utility E.on may end up being just as controversial — the company wants to buy gas from Iran.

Berlin has become increasingly skeptical about the reliability of Russia as an energy supplier as Gazprom, the Kremlin-controlled gas company in charge of most of Siberia’s vast reserves, has repeatedly flexed its muscles in price spats with Russia’s neighbors. But E.on’s interest in Iran comes just as the international community is discussing further sanctions on Tehran for its controversial nuclear program.

So, Vice President Cheney: Is Russia the lesser evil?  Or is Iran?

Cheney’s answer (like Clinton’s): BTC.

One can only hope that the gas arrives in time for the American Eagle to free the German Adler from the clutches of the Russian Bear and the Persian Lion.

What is Kazakhstan’s inner animal, anyway?  I don’t remember Borat ever having mentioned it…

Who Lost Germany?

Posted by Cutler on March 06, 2007
Great Power Rivalry, Russia / 3 Comments

The New York Times has published an article–“U.S. Moves to Soothe Growing Russian Resentment“–that appears to signal a shift in the Bush administration’s hawkish approach toward Russia.

Not a chance.

The report by Thom Shanker and Helene Cooper seems to suggest that after Putin’s speech in Munich, the Bush administration has been “shocked, shocked,” to find Moscow upset with Washington and they are now contrite. Indeed, Bush administration officials have launched a new “initiative” to calm bilateral tensions.

In the wake of criticism from President Vladimir V. Putin and his inner circle of political advisers and generals, there is a growing acknowledgment among officials in Washington that the United States has not responded as rapidly or eloquently as it might have to a widespread sense of grievance in Russia…

Senior administration officials said their initiative called for engaging Russian leaders in private discussions to illustrate that the United States was putting extra effort into nurturing the relationship and that Russia deserved a more thorough dialogue on American foreign policy and national security plans.

A senior administration official involved in developing the strategy said that under the program, “we’ll have more consultation and we’ll do it more extensively and more intensively, so that there is a good understanding of each other’s views.”

It strains credibility to suggest that anyone in Washington thinks the problem here is miscommunication.

But the report goes on to suggest that the substance of US policy toward Russia–all the well-communicated disagreements that constitute the crux of Russian animosity–will not change:

Administration officials have said they will stand their ground in defending the United States against the substance of the Russian critique. In particular, the officials say, Russian threats will not halt Washington’s plans to place elements of a missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic, nor diminish Washington’s support of NATO expansion.

The notion that Putin’s objections can be met with responses that are simply more rapid or eloquent is implicitly insulting to the Kremlin. Can the Bush administration actually believe that this kind of talk–the new “strategy”–will actually appease Moscow?

No.

Rather, the real target of the “eloquence strategy” is Germany.

The stunning directness of Moscow’s recent public complaints is viewed as undermining United States-Russia relations. Equally worrisome to the administration is that the harsh tone of the Kremlin’s comments has greatly troubled European allies caught in between, especially in former Soviet client states in Eastern Europe that later joined NATO.

This is the real news story. The headline is that the Bush administration moves to soothe growing European anxiety.

The charm offensive, insofar as one can see evidence of it, is directed toward Europe, specifically what Rumsfeld called the “old” Europe.

The “problem” with the “old” Europe was supposed to have been solved with the triumph of German Chancellor Angela Merkel over her predecessor Gerhard Schroeder. (I guess that was before the “back rub.”)

Merkel is “going wobbly” on Russia and it is to this development–not Putin’s anger–that has the Bush administration scrambling.

The Financial Times captures the political dynamic in its reporting:

Angela Merkel, German chancellor, added her voice to the heated international debate over the missile defence system by calling for Nato to be given responsibility for defusing concerns over the [US missile defence system planned for eastern Europe]…

“Nato is the best place for discussion of this issue,” she told the Financial Times in an interview, arguing that Washington should step up consultation with its western allies and Russia.

Her statement reflects concerns over increasing east-west tensions since Vladimir Putin, Russian president, delivered a speech in Munich sharply criticising US unilateralism, and the US formally asked Poland and the Czech Republic to host parts of the anti-missile system…

Mrs Merkel said that Nato should be the forum for greater consultation by Washington of both its western allies and Russia on the issue of missile defence. “It is better to have more discussion on this issue rather than less,” she said…

German officials said Berlin was concerned that while the defence system was not targeted at Russia, there was a danger its creation could mark a departure from the international trend since the early 1990s towards disarmament.

At an EU meeting yesterday, Jean Asselborn, Luxembourg’s foreign minister, was more outspoken, calling the US plans “incomprehensible”.

“We will have no stability in Europe if we push the Russians into a corner,” he said.

Nevertheless, the US charm offensive toward Europe has ceded little or no ground on questions of substance.

In recent remarks to the Atlantic Council, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns–a Russia hawk and an architect of NATO expansion during the Clinton administration–was unrepentant. The speech is worth quoting at some length, for it gets to the heart of some of the key tensions:

[One] intra-European issue that is so much a part of our current agenda is what to do about Russia, how to relate to modern Russia, how to be a partner with Russia, but also how to protect NATO and the European Union and the states of Central Europe from whatever dangers may lurk in the future.

You’ve all seen the extraordinary — you’ve heard about or saw the extraordinary speech that President Putin gave at the Wehrkunde Conference in Munich two weeks ago. You’ve seen this unusually unwise and irresponsible statement by the Russian General Staff about targeting the Czech Republic and Poland because they have the temerity to negotiate with the United States a missile defense agreement.

Our response to that has been that we need to seek a balanced relationship with Russia. We need to take account of what is working in our relationship with Russia but also to be very clear about where we disagree with the Russian leadership — whether it’s on the lack of democracy inside Russia itself, the declining fortunes of the democrats in the Russian political spectrum; whether it’s on Russia’s attempts to, we think, be overbearing at times in their relations with their neighbors; or whether it’s the recent Russian reaction to our attempt to establish a modern missile defense system in Europe, not aimed at the Russians themselves, of course, but aimed at the threats that emanate from Iran and other countries to the south of Russia…

[T]he Russians and our government — perhaps other governments in Western Europe — are operating at cross-purposes.

We believe that Georgia should have a right to define its own future. We believe that Georgia should have the right to seek membership or association with international organizations like NATO in the future if that is what Georgia elects to do, and if Georgia, of course, at some point in its future history meets the requirements of NATO membership.

We believe that Moldova should be allowed to overcome the internal divisions that have held that nation back since the breakup of the Soviet Union in December 1991.

And we certainly believe that the three Baltic countries — Estonia and Latvia and Lithuania, now members of both the European Union but especially of NATO — have a right to live in peace and free of the harassment that is sometimes afflicted upon them by the Russian Federation.

We’re concerned about the lack of democracy inside Russia itself, the declining fortunes of those who stand up for democracy in Russia.

So I know that President Putin put a number of criticisms before the world audience about United States foreign policy. We have been equally clear about where we disagree with the Russian Federation, and that’s our responsibility to do that — to define a modern relationship in those terms, to be frank about what’s working and to thank the Russian Federation when we are able to achieve things together whether it’s on counter-terrorism or counter-proliferation, but to be equally frank that when there are challenges in the relationship we face those challenges, and we disagree with the Russians publicly when they do things that are profoundly not in our

Russia is going to have to understand that NATO will continue to exist. NATO will continue to grow. We will continue to add members to the NATO Alliance. And the strength of NATO will be based on our common will and our ability to project NATO as a force for peace and for stability as it certainly is in its Afghan mission. And Russia has to understand that NATO is not and has not been, for the history, for the many years since 1989, ’90 and ’91, directed at all against Russia, but is the one uniquely unifying force for peace and stability in Europe itself.

NATO enlargement… has brought so many positive benefits to the Europeans, as well as to the North Americans over the last 15 years that we think NATO’s vocation has to be strong in the future.

We have invited Russia into a NATO-Russia partnership five years ago in Italy. It has worked well at points, but it’s been sometime disappointing in a lack of a strategic engagement. That was apparent in the Russian reaction to our plan to establish a very small number of interceptors in Poland and at radar sites in the Czech Republic, to have some capacity to deter the looming missile threat from Iran and other states in the Middle East that all the European countries and the United States face.

To think that in this day and age a member of the Russian General Staff would threaten two NATO countries because they have the temerity to consider negotiating this agreement with us is really quite astounding. Secretary Rice said today when she was asked about this in Berlin, “It was profoundly unwise for that statement to be made, and we hope that the Russians will think twice about such statements in the future.”

Burns has offered up a relatively frank version of US policy toward Russia.

The “strategy” toward Germany, on the other hand, is to try to offer some political cover for a Chancellor who will find it increasingly difficult to defend US policy in the face of Russian pressure.

The question is no longer “who lost Russia?” That was settled long ago. The spark behind the New York Times article about a Bush administration “initiative” toward Russia is an attempt to forestall a more contemporary question: “Who lost Germany?”

Karzai’s Russian Card

Posted by Cutler on March 01, 2007
Afghanistan, Great Power Rivalry, Russia / No Comments

In a recent post–entitled “Choosing to Lose in Afghanistan?“–I suggested that Vice President Cheney might have geopolitical reasons to want to support the Taliban in Afghanistan, notwithstanding the links between the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

The central idea was that the Taliban is today–as it was in the 1990s–a bulwark against Russian influence in Afghanistan. As a Russia hawk, Cheney might choose to “lose” in Afghanistan–i.e., to lose the Karzai government and the NATO battle against the Taliban–in order to keep Moscow out of Kabul.

It was an interesting exercise to try to make the argument. And it may have some merit.

Nevertheless, there are very few signs of any US overture to the Taliban (i.e., pressure for the cooptation and integration of Taliban forces as part of the political landscape in Kabul). And, well, tensions between the Taliban and Cheney seemed kind of intense this week, what with the former trying to kill the latter.

I continue to think the the Russian angle is part of the story, but I’m not sure that support for the Taliban is the only option for a Russia hawk.

It is true, as I argued, that the so-called “Tajik clique” behind the Karzai government was historically aligned with Russia. It is also true that the Taliban has had and continues to have very tense relations with Moscow.

Perhaps Cheney is now pressing for a major crackdown against the Taliban. Maybe Cheney thinks that the best way to grab Afghanistan and keep it from Russia is to compete for the hearts and minds of the “Tajik clique.” And maybe the “Tajik clique” of the Karzai regime is playing hard to get.

Back in December 2006, Fareed Zakaria published an essay that about efforts by Afghan President Karzai to get Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to crackdown on the Taliban:

Karzai argues that Pakistan has been tacitly—and often actively—supporting the Taliban along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, and in Pakistan itself…

At the dinner that Bush threw for both presidents in September, Karzai was extremely blunt, according to those familiar with the discussions (who wish to remain anonymous because of the private nature of the event). Karzai warned that if the United States was forced to leave Afghanistan, Kabul would ally far more closely with India and Russia, which would not be in Pakistan’s interests.

Is it too much to suggest that Karzai was threatening Cheney as much as Musharraf?

Karzai is often caricatured as a well-dressed US puppet whose weak regime may control the city of Kabul, but little else.

Is it possible, however, that Karzai is using inter-imperialist rivalry between the US and Russia to leverage US pressure on Musharraf and the Taliban?

Choosing to Lose in Afghanistan?

Posted by Cutler on February 26, 2007
Afghanistan, Great Power Rivalry, Russia / No Comments

Vice President Cheney has made unannounced visits to Pakistan and Afghanistan. According to the New York Times, Cheney’s visit to Pakistan was intended to deliver “an unusually tough message” to President Pervez Musharraf.

The decision to send Mr. Cheney secretly to Pakistan came after the White House concluded that General Musharraf is failing to live up to commitments he made to Mr. Bush during a visit here in September. General Musharraf insisted then, both in private and public, that a peace deal he struck with tribal leaders in one of the country’s most lawless border areas would not diminish the hunt for the leaders of Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

Nobody is going to question the idea that Cheney can deliver a tough message when he wants to (see his latest warnings to Iran).

The real question is whether Cheney actually wants a fight with Musharraf. He might. I’m just not sure.

The “tough” message in Pakistan is being delivered by the House Democrats, not the Bush administration. Indeed, the Bush administration opposed the Pelosi bill that threatened to link Pakistani aid to a crackdown on the Taliban.

For Cheney, however, the problem with a tough message to Pakistan and a crackdown on the Taliban is that such initiatives may ultimately undermine Cheney’s anti-Russian goals in Central Asia.

In an August 5, 1999 article in the Financial Times (“Contest For Regional Supremacy Replaces Cold War Conflict in Afghanistan”), Charles Clover put the post-Cold War history of the Afghan factionalism in the context of geopolitical rivalries:

[T]he war in Afghanistan is not just a tribal or an ethnic conflict but a geopolitical one; that the superpower conflict between the USSR and the US in the 1980s has been replaced by a contest for regional supremacy, pitting Pakistan against Iran and Russia

“The Taliban are not Pakistani mercenaries but they are facilitated and trained by Pakistan. They are permitted to recruit in Pakistan. They are really a transnational, Afghan-Pakistani phenomenon,” said Barnett Rubin, an Afghanistan expert at the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations…

Jamiat-i-Islami… [is] the main faction opposed to the Taliban… Burnahiddin Rabbani, who is still recognised internationally as the president of Afghanistan, is the political head of Jamiat…

Funds for the Taliban appear to come mainly from the Gulf states or individuals, according to Mr Rubin. The movement is recognised by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, in addition to Pakistan, as the legitimate government of Afghanistan…

[T]he prospect of Pakistani dominantion over Afghanistan proved too threatening for other countries in the region, and an unlikely alliance between Iran and Russia formed to support an anti-Taliban force made up primarily of… Jamiat-i-Islami.

“There is a big Russian and Iranian role with [anti-Taliban] forces, but it is not as extensive as Pakistan’s role with the Taliban,” said Mr Rubin…

Several times a week [anti-Taliban forces fly] an old MI-17 helicopter to Tajikistan, which has signed defence co-operation agreements with Russia and Iran. Tajik airbases such as the town of Kulyab have become centres for Russian and Iranian supplies…

In other words, the Afghani civil war of the 1990s was a proxy battle between US-backed forces–the Saudis, the Pakistanis, and the Taliban–and Russian-backed forces–Iran, India, Tajikistan, and the so-called “Northern Alliance.”

In a recent Washington Post Op-Ed (“Discarding An Afghan Opportunity”), Selig Harrison of the Center for International Policy argues that after 9/11, some elements of the Bush administration supported what amounted to a Russian- and Iranian-aligned “Tajik clique” in Afghanistan:

In 2001 the United States lined up with the Tajik ethnic minority, whose small military force, the Northern Alliance, helped dislodge the Pashtun-based Taliban and has subsequently dominated the Karzai government. Tajik generals and their proxies still control the army as well as key secret police and intelligence agencies hated by the Pashtuns. Karzai, a Pashtun, has attempted to soften Tajik domination with Pashtun appointments to top security jobs, but the real power remains in the hands of a U.S.-backed Tajik clique.

Does Cheney support this “Tajik clique”? Or does he accept NATO’s failure to defeat the Taliban as the price of blocking Russian and Iranian political dominance in Afghanistan?

In a recent Foreign Affairs essay–“Saving Afghanistan“–Barnett Rubin suggests that the US continues to send mixed messages about its geopolitical aims in Afghanistan.

The rushed negotiations between the United States and Pakistan in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 changed Pakistan’s behavior but not its interests. Supporting the Taliban was so important to Pakistan that Musharraf even considered going to war with the United States rather than abandon his allies in Afghanistan. Instead, he tried to persuade Washington to allow him to install a “moderate Taliban” government or, failing that, at least to prevent the Northern Alliance, which Pakistanis see as allied with India, from entering Kabul and forming a government. The agreement by Washington to dilute Northern Alliance control with remnants of Afghanistan’s royal regime did little to mollify the generals in Islamabad, to say nothing of the majors and colonels who had spent years supporting the Taliban in the border areas. Nonetheless, in order to prevent the United States from allying with India, Islamabad acquiesced in reining in its use of asymmetrical warfare, in return for the safe evacuation of hundreds of Pakistani officers and intelligence agents from Afghanistan, where they had overseen the Taliban’s military operations.

The United States tolerated the quiet reconstitution of the Taliban in Pakistan as long as Islamabad granted basing rights to U.S. troops, pursued the hunt for al Qaeda leaders, and shut down A. Q. Khan’s nuclear-technology proliferation network. But five years later, the safe haven Pakistan has provided, along with continued support from donors in the Persian Gulf, has allowed the Taliban to broaden and deepen their presence both in the Pakistani border regions and in Afghanistan. Even as Afghan and international forces have defeated insurgents in engagement after engagement, the weakness of the government and the reconstruction effort — and the continued sanctuary provided to Taliban leaders in Pakistan — has prevented real victory…

[F]ailing to address Pakistan’s support of the Taliban amounts to an acceptance of NATO’s failure.

Nobody is likely to accuse Cheney of accepting failure easily. Cheney is, however, willing make awkward alliances with unsavory forces in order gain advantage over a strategic rival.

The US and Russia seemed to get on well in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 because any move to unseat the Taliban aided Russian and Iranian allies in Afghanistan.

Perhaps Cheney harbors doubts about the wisdom of this idea.

If Cheney shies away from a direct US confrontation with the Taliban, it is not only because he has been distracted by the “diversion” in Iraq. It is because his attention is focused on Russia.

[UPDATE: The Taliban, on the other hand, is not shying away from a direct confrontation with Cheney.  I guess they didn’t read my blog post.]

Limits of Liberalism

Posted by Cutler on February 15, 2007
Great Power Rivalry, Russia / 3 Comments

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman asks so many of the right questions.  Too bad he provides so few meaningful answers.

Still, his views are so emblematic of the liberal mind that I cannot help find value (although not really enough to want to pay) in watching him construct his world.

One of my favorite questions is the one he asks in his most recent column, “Putin Pushes Back.”  He has recently returned from Moscow and now he wants to know, in essence, “Why do they hate us?

Friedman’s Answer: NATO expansion.

We need to stop kidding ourselves. After the end of the cold war and the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact in 1991, the Bush I and Clinton administrations decided to build a new security alliance — an expanded NATO — and told Russia it could not be a member.

And let’s not forget that the Russia we told to stay out in the cold was the Russia of Boris Yeltsin and his liberal reformist colleagues. They warned us at the time that this would undercut them. But the Clinton folks told us: “Don’t worry, Russia is weak; Yeltsin will swallow hard and accept NATO expansion. There will be no cost.”

Why would a patriotic dude like Friedman go and join the “blame America first” crowd after all that time defending the American crusade in Iraq (really wanted/wants to do Saudi Arabia, if you listen to the guy)?

Because it is his way of saying that our illiberalism was and is the cause of their illiberalism.  And that goes a long way toward salvaging the idea that there was no internal crisis of liberalism in Russia (or the US).

So, a couple of points:

1. A huge chunk of what went “wrong” in Russia (say, with the rise of the ultra-nationalists in the December 1993 parliamentary elections) was a backlash against the neo-liberal economic proposals (shock therapy, tight monetary policy with its deflationary bias, massive unemployment, relentless austerity) that Friedman constantly champions in his embrace of neo-liberal “globalization.”  The Russian liberals weren’t done in because they were abused by American illiberalism.  The Russian liberals imploded because they championed some of the most politically unpopular economic measures anyone could imagine in Russia.

Did Russian’s want consumer goods?  You bet.  But didn’t they also want cash to pay for all those goodies?  And, honestly, Tom, describe to me again the kind of delayed gratification that was and is required under the neo-liberal plan…

There has always been an antagonism between political liberalization and economic liberalization.  In Russia, it was nothing other than political liberalization itself that put paid to the idea of neo-liberal austerity.

(The preferable model continues to be China where neo-liberalism need not worry about its popular mandate.  It thrives–so far–without all the fuss and bother of political liberalization).

2. We live in a world of great power rivalry.  What that means is that the US is neither the sole source of all things good nor all things evil.  The US is one locus of energy in the Great Game of Empire.  Friedman often oversteps by suggesting that the US is the sole source of all things good.  Here, he oversteps in the other direction by understating Russian “agency” in the Great Game.

Friedman:

Mr. Putin… said: “The process of NATO expansion has nothing to do with modernization of the alliance. We have the right to ask, ‘Against whom is this expansion directed?’ ” We all know the answer: it’s directed against Russia. O.K., fine, we were ready to enrage Russia to expand NATO, but what have we gotten out of it? The Czech Navy?

Disingenuous: we weren’t in it for the Czech Navy.  We offered the Czechs and others a security umbrella, not the other way around.  That has always been the story of NATO, so let’s not kid ourselves.

We were in it for control of Europe, for control of Caspian oil and natural gas, and much else to boot.  So were the Russians.

Friedman:

For those of us who opposed NATO expansion, the point was simple: there is no major geopolitical issue, especially one like Iran, that we can resolve without Russia’s help. So why not behave in a way that maximizes Russia’s willingness to work with us and strengthens its democrats, rather than expanding NATO to countries that can’t help us and are not threatened anymore by Russia, and whose democracies are better secured by joining the European Union?

This makes a mockery of the facts on several fronts.

Can he be serious that all throughout Eurasia countries were “not threatened anymore by Russia”?  The Russian-backed coup in Azerbaijan in wasn’t a threat?  The troops in Georgia weren’t/aren’t a threat?  Russian intervention in Ukraine and Belarus?  Russian control in Turkmentistan?  Russian support for Serbian nationalism?

It takes at least two Great Powers to tango.  We live in a world with at least two–quite a few more, really.

The whole point, in the world of Great Power Rivalry, is that Iran is a “problem” for the US because of its alliance with Russia.  Otherwise, a “deal” would have been done with Iran a long time ago.  This is why Cheney and Putin deserve one another: neither is willing to “share” Iran and so the Russians and the Americans fight over it.

Here is the tough question to send back Friedman’s way: does he advocate a world where Great Powers “share” the bounty of the “periphery”?

Given the very old, very real “Great Power” ambitions of Russia (all of which pre-dated the advent of the Soviet Union and continued on immediately after the demise), Friedman can only be suggesting a return to a world in which Great Powers carve up the “periphery” into exclusive spheres of influence.  Like Roosevelt, Friedman would then grant Russia its sphere of influence (everything but the Baltics, I guess).

I’m no fan of American empire.  I’m no fan of Russian empire.  But neither am I a fan of inter-imperialist collusion at the expense of the rest of the world.  If the “periphery” has any chance at leveraging a better deal in this world, it will have to come through effective efforts to play Great Powers against one another.

Bush Sr’s “New World Order” was specifically designed to try to keep that from ever happening again.  Part of the deal was that Russia could keep Ukraine and much else along with it.  Remember?  Tom?

Does Great Power rivalry always guarantee competition for the “hearts and minds” of the underlying population?  No.

Does it ever have that consequence?

Ask India if it could have won independence from Britain without the threat to go with the Germans in World War II.  A nasty business, but Gandhi’s entire campaign cultivating British conscience pales in comparison on the question of raw leverage for extracting concessions from the British.

While you are at it, ask the Egyptians if they didn’t play the Americans against the British.

And, Tom Friedman, ask the Israelis if they didn’t win statehood by playing both the Americans and the Soviets against the British.

Our Man in Turkmenistan?

Posted by Cutler on February 05, 2007
Great Power Rivalry, Turkmenistan / No Comments

Sometimes Great Power Rivalry can facilitate democratic or populist uprisings.  Sometimes, not so much.

In Turkmenistan, not so much.  At least, not yet.

The Washington Post has published a report on the “battle” to succeed the late Turkmenistan President Saparmurad Niyazov who died in late December.

Acting President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, 49, will almost certainly win when the Central Asian country’s citizens go to the polls Feb. 11. His opponents, a deputy minister and four regional officials, are willing foils, according to analysts and exiled politicians.

Murad Karyev, the supposedly neutral chairman of the Central Election Commission, has already said Berdymukhammedov is the best man for the job.

Any protests from the US and the idealistic “true believers” in the Bush Administration who reportedly really believe in democracy?  Not so much.

The opposition-in-exile has expressed frustration at what it sees as muted statements from those countries about the need for real democratic change.

In a previous post, I argued that in the Caspian energy pipeline rivalry between Washington and Russia, the Turkmenitstan stakes have been very high.  The Washington Post report explains:

For the outside world, the direction Turkmenistan takes will carry profound implications for energy security. The former Soviet republic is becoming the focus of competition among Russia, China and the West as they vie for its natural gas resources.

Most of Turkmenistan’s gas is now exported through Russian pipelines. The supply could become vital to the ability of Gazprom, the Russian energy giant, to meet rising demand over the next decade. But Western governments would like to see construction of new export routes that bypass Russia and diversify the supply chain, something Niyazov had resisted.

Thus far, however, all of the Great Powers appear content to compete exclusively for the loyalty of the incumbent authorities rather than making an appeal to dissident or popular forces:

Russian President Vladimir Putin has embraced Berdymukhammedov….

The United States and the European Union have stepped up contacts with Turkmenistan’s new leadership.

The US attempt to “flip” the Russian-backed incumbent regime, rather than facilitate rebellion against it, was already clear when Richard A. Boucher, Assistant Secretary For South And Central Asian Affairs, traveled to Turkmenistan for the Niyazov funeral.

Boucher met with Berdymukhammedov and has been clear ever since that he wants to cut a deal at the top:

I wanted to go to the funeral to express our condolences, first of all, to the people of Turkmenistan, but also to signal — to say clearly that we are ready for a new beginning if they’re ready to start something new. And I’m not sure how far I can elaborate it at this point. We’re certainly interested in a smooth and peaceful transition in Turkmenistan. We understand that people have lost their leader and they have hope for the future, but they also have some uncertainty about it, so we want to work with them as they move forward…

As we hope Turkmenistan will move forward to a new future, we’re quite ready for a new relationship…

QUESTION: Yeah, but [Berdimuhhamedov]… didn’t mention anything about the political reforms.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: No, he didn’t. Obviously, we think that needs to be part of the package, creating a more open society, a more dynamic society, more creative society, a better economic opportunity for everyone. Those things all go together, and so we do think that needs to be part of the package; but — you know, where they need — where they’re ready to get started, we’re ready to get started as well. Education, access to information, economic opportunity, entrepreneurship, these are things that are fundamental to creating a more open society and we’d obviously like to see it become a society where people of Turkmenistan get the kind of justice and openness that they deserve.

QUESTION: Almost all Turkmen opposition are currently abroad. Will the United States support Turkmen opposition?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: What we have said, what we’ll continue to make clear is that we look for a more open society where everyone can participate in the social life, the political life, the economic life. That’s fundamental and that needs to be part of the change. But those decisions are going to have to be made in the end in Turkmenistan. And so we’re encouraging that kind of change, but I can’t — we’re not supporting particular people one way or the other. We’re supporting a more open society, and continue to make clear that that’s the direction that we think they have to go.

I know what you are thinking: That Boucher… he must be one of those naive, democracy-loving, idealistic, messianic missionary zealots from the crazy Cheney administration!

But let’s just wait and see.  It ain’t over until it is over.

If the US manages to flip the incumbent regime and get to the natural gas, then all will remain quiet on the US side.  But don’t forget: the incumbent regime is aligned with Putin.  Will Putin remain quiet if the US flips Berdimuhhamedov and he loses his monopoly on the gas?

If Putin pressures Berdimuhhamedov to show Boucher the door, will the US continue to remain silent?  Or will the US suddenly and conveniently discover the virtues of a democratic uprising in Turkmenistan?

Cheney’s 2007 State of the Union Address

Posted by Cutler on January 25, 2007
Great Power Rivalry, Iran, Iraq / No Comments

The day after George W. Bush stood before the US Congress, Vice President Cheney delivered his 2007 State of the Union Address on CNN.

Much of it goes to show that Cheney continues to be committed to his original interest in the Wurmser-Gerecht outlook on Iraq.

Iraq, Great Power Rivalry, & The Collapse of Containment

WOLF BLITZER, CNN: [Saddam Hussein] was being contained as we all know —

VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: He was not being contained. He was not being contained, Wolf.

BLITZER: — by the no-fly zones in the north and the south.

CHENEY: Wolf, the entire sanctions regime had been undermined by Saddam Hussein. He had –

BLITZER: But he didn’t have stockpiles of weapons of —

CHENEY: – corrupted the entire effort to try to keep him contained. He was bribing senior officials of other governments. The oil-for-food program had been totally undermined, and he had, in fact, produced and used weapons of mass destruction previously, and he retained the capability to produce that kind of stuff in the future.

BLITZER: But that was in the ’80s.

CHENEY: You can go back and argue the whole thing all over again, Wolf, but what we did in Iraq in taking down Saddam Hussein was exactly the right thing to do; the world is much safer today because of it. There have been three national elections in Iraq, there’s a democracy established there, a constitution, a new democratically elected government, Saddam has been brought to justice and executed, his sons are dead, his government is gone and the world is better off for it.

The Shiite Option & the Najaf-Qom Rivalry

BLITZER: How worried are you of this nightmare scenario, that the U.S. is building up this Shiite-dominated Iraqi government with an enormous amount of military equipment, sophisticated training, and then in the end, they’re going to turn against the United States?

CHENEY: Wolf, that’s not going to happen. The problem that you’ve got –…

BLITZER: Here’s the problem that I see, and tell me if I’m wrong — that he seems to be more interested right now, the Prime Minister of Iraq, in establishing good relations with Iran and Syria than he is with moderate Arab governments, whether in Jordan or Egypt or Saudi Arabia.

CHENEY: I just think you’re wrong, Wolf. He’s been working with all of them. They’re all in the neighborhood. He’s got to develop relationships with all of them, and he is.

BLITZER: Because he’s a Shia, and these moderate Arab governments are Sunni.

CHENEY: He’s also an Iraqi. He’s not a Persian. There’s a big difference between the Persians and the Arabs, although they’re both Shia. You can’t just make the simple statement that he’s Shia, therefore he’s the enemy. The majority of the population in Iraq is Shia. And for the first time, we’ve had elections, and majority rule will prevail there. But the notion that somehow the effort hasn’t been worth it, or that we shouldn’t go ahead and complete the task, is just dead wrong.

On a related note: the Cheney-Bandar Saudi oil war on Iran is very much in the news.  It is all the buzz on NBC and at the World Economic Forum.

Turkmenbashi

Posted by Cutler on December 21, 2006
Great Power Rivalry, Iran, Russia, Turkmenistan / No Comments

Saparmurat Niyazov, the President of Turkmenistan, is dead.

Turkmenistan–a Caspian Sea country which contains either the fourth or fifth largest natural gas reserves in the world and considerable oil reserves, as well–is a central site in the “Great Game” of inter-imperialist rivalry being waged between dominant forces within the US and Russia.

And if you care about US policy toward Iran, then the larger context of US-Turkmenistan relations might be of interest.

The gossip side of the news is simple. Niyazov was a nutty authoritarian dictator. The Times Online reports:

Saparmurat Niyazov, the colourful but authoritarian President of Turkmenistan, has died suddenly after 21 years of iron-fist rule which crushed his opposition and created a cult of personality that saw cities and even a meteorite named after him.

Mr Niyazov, who made himself President-for-life in 1999, died early today of a heart attack aged 66, according to a statement by the state-controlled media…

During his rule – extended in an unopposed presidential election in 1990 – he established a bizarre personality cult in which he was styled as Turkmenbashi the Great, or Leader of all Turkmens.

Obsessed with maintaining personal power, he ensured his presence was felt in every corner, commissioning thousands of hoardings and gold statues of himself across the country, as well as plastering his image on the national currency, carpets, vodka bottles and launching his own brand of perfume.

In a symbolic show of his unrestrained authority, the former Soviet leader also renamed the months and days of the week, titling January after himself – Turkmenbashi. His name has been given to a sea port, farms, military units and even to a meteorite.

From the perspective of Great Power Rivalry, however, the key question, is whether he was “our” nutty authoritarian.

Turkmenistan and Iran

Throughout much of the 1990s, the US worked very hard to win Niyazov away from Russian influence.

At first glance, this seemed easy enough. In 1997 Royal Dutch/Shell and Niyazov joined in a partnership to build a pipeline that would avoid Russia by carrying gas through northern Iran (“Shell to construct pipeline through Iran,” The Jerusalem Post, October 14, 1997, p. 10):

The Shell group… has responded to an invitation from the Turkmeni president and has agreed to be the lead party in trying to finance and manage the project, said a Shell spokesman in London.

The company believes it won’t run into opposition from Washington…

But Shell did run into opposition from Washington.

Turkmenistan, Iran, and Russia

The October 14, 1997 Jerusalem Post article reported a potential source of the trouble:

[T]he Turkmeni government has expressed its concern at Russia-based Gazprom’s decision to join Total SA in a $2b contract to develop the South Pars gas field in Iran. The Turkmenis fear the contract could prevent it from exporting gas reserves to Turkey.

Russian partnerships in Iran would, in fact, doom the Shell pipeline. The Boston Globe reported the story (“US warns against pipeline going through Iran, but few listen,” March 1, 1998, p.A12):

No one has welcomed the US policy promoting independence from Russia more than Turkmenistan…

Shell officials say they are wary of the US Iran-Libya Sanctions Act, designed to punish any company that invests more than $ 20 million in Iran. But they also express hope that Washington will soon abandon its efforts to exclude Iran from the Central Asian bonanza…

So do the Turkmens, who spent seven decades as a southern Soviet outpost with their 600-mile-long border with Iran shut tight. They are not about to let someone else tell them to close it again.

“I understand that the US has its interests as a superpower, but we have our interests, and we have to feed our people,” Yolbaz Kepbanov, Turkmenistan’s deputy foreign minister for economic affairs, said in the capital, Ashkabhad…

Perhaps in the spirit of supporting such independence, when the Iran-Turkmenistan pipeline was announced last July, Washington seemed tacitly to accept the deal.

But the number and scale of the projects involving Iran have increasedGazprom is planning to develop, along with French and Malaysian companies, a gas field in southern Iran.

As a result, Washington has restated its hard line. “US policy is to oppose all pipelines across Iran,” said a Western diplomat in Ashkhabad. “The Turkmens know the light is red, believe me.” But while Turkmen officials are aware of the US position, they say they are not bothered by it.

“Let the Americans say, ‘Don’t be friends with Iran,’ but we can’t do that, because we are a neutral country,” said Kepbanov, the Foreign Ministry official. “In our eyes, everyone is equal but Iran comes first. . . . We have to cooperate with them.”

The Israeli Connection

The US offered up an alternative–a pipeline under the Caspian Sea that would travel through Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey, skirting both Russia and Iran.

This so-called “TransCaspian” alternative was actively promoted by an Israeli with very close relations to the regime in Turkmenistan. The Wall Street Journal covered the Israeli angle (“Israeli Is Subtle Player in Central Asia Oil–Ex-Intelligence Agent Advances Western Interests,” April 7, 1999):

A former Israeli intelligence agent… 53-year-old Yosef A. Maiman possesses probably the one key to success in the region: the ear of one of its autocratic leaders. For the past few years, Mr. Maiman has served as the right-hand man on energy matters to President Saparmurat Niyazov of Turkmenistan, home to the world’s third-largest natural-gas reserves.

In this role, Mr. Maiman has wittingly or unwittingly furthered the geopolitical goals of both the U.S. and Israel. How? By nudging the Turkmen leader to bypass Russia and Iran in building the country’s main gas-export pipeline.

The race to find a market for Turkmen gas, and a way to get it there, has picked up great speed of late. Mr. Maiman was the behind-the-scenes player in the $2.5 billion agreement that Mr. Niyazov signed in February with PSG International to build an export pipeline between Turkmenistan and Turkey. PSG is a joint venture between Bechtel Enterprises, a unit of Bechtel Group Inc., and General Electric Co.’s finance arm, GE Capital Services. Mr. Maiman acted as the intermediary between the Turkmenis and the U.S. firms.

The contract represents a victory for the U.S. The companies involved are both American. And for Washington, the pipeline deal freezes out Russia and Iran, which Mr. Niyazov had been reluctant to challenge. Russia and Iran quickly denounced the project. In early February, Russian gas monopoly RAO Gazprom teamed up with Italy’s ENI SpA and Dutch financial backer ABN-Amro Holding NV to build a competing gas pipeline across the Black Sea from Russia to Turkey…

This is the Great Game all over,” Mr. Maiman says during an interview in his office in Herzliyah, an Israeli resort town, referring to a late 19th century, three-way contest for control of Central Asia. “Controlling the transport route is controlling the product.”

Israel’s security interests in the region have been furthered, as well. “Maiman is the Israeli-Turkmenistan relationship,” says Shmuel Meron, the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s director of Commonwealth of Independent States affairs. “He is our ambassador at large. He opens doors and understands the rules of the game.”

For a time, Niyazov seemed to be playing along.

During the US Presidential transition in November 2000, however, the Russians managed to flip Niyazov.

Turkmentistan: “A Lost Cause”

James Dorsey reported (“US Blues as Turkmenistan Opts for Russian Route,” The Scotsman, November 15, 2000, p.10):

Turkmenistan’s President Saparmurat Niyazov appears to have sounded the death knell for US-backed efforts to ensure that Caspian Sea gas is exported to world markets via Turkey rather than Russia.

Mr Niyazov has announced that he has reached agreement with Russian gas monopoly Gazprom to sell it up to 30 billion cubic metres of gas next year. “If everything works out, we shall have an agreement by mid-November,” he told the cabinet.

The deal would account for most of Turkmenistan’s gas exports and leave little over for a $ 2 billion, United States-backed TransCaspian pipeline which would have been built from the Central Asian state via Azerbaijan and Georgia to Turkey by a consortium involving the Royal Dutch/Shell Group and a US contractor, Bechtel.

According to a May 2006 report in the Financial Times (“Scramble to Grab central Asia’s Gas,” May 5, 2006, p.3, third-party on-link here):

Lengthy negotiations of a scheme to pipe gas from Turkmenistan across the Caspian to Azerbaijan broke down in the 1990s mainly because Saparmurat Niyazov, the authoritarian Turkmen leader, kept changing the terms. US energy officials now regard Turkmenistan, the central Asian republic with the biggest gas reserves, as a lost cause“.

A Massive Fight For Power

Will the sudden death of Niyazov allow US officials to salvage this “lost cause”?

As Reuters reports, the Russians are understandably content with the status quo and the incumbent regime:

Russia said it hoped Turkmenistan would stick to Niyazov’s course. “We count on the new Turkmenistan leaders continuing their course and further developing bilateral ties,” top Kremlin aide Sergei Prikhodko told Itar-Tass news agency.

The onus for regime “change” is on the US. Another Reuters report suggests a likely scenario:

“I expect there will be a massive fight for power now in Turkmenistan and it’s likely to take place between pro-U.S. and pro-Russian forces,” said a Russian gas industry source, who declined to be named. “Gas will become the main coin of exchange and the key asset to get hold of.”

For starters, one might learn the name of a key “political prisoner” in Turkmenistan: former Boris Shikhmuradov (also Boris Sheikhmuradov).

Shikhmuradov, former Turkmeni Foreign Minister, was arrested in connection with an alleged 2002 assassination attempt on Niyazov.

Among other things, Shikhmuradov has had good relations with Israel, having visited at the invitation of Yosef A. Maiman to discuss the sale of Turkkmeni natural gas to Israel (“Shell to construct pipeline through Iran,” The Jerusalem Post, October 14, 1997, p. 10).