The Great Game

Redwood Valley

July 30, 2009 Ukiah Valley, Mendocino, North California

The Editor of Obama-Watch.US, Jim Houle, spent three weeks in June and July traveling across Central Asia along the legendary Silk Road visiting Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and China’s Xinjiang Province where the Uighur (wee-gur) people predominate. These Turkic-speaking people have been the “Stopper in the Bottle” between Europe, Russia, China and India for over a thousand years. The Gateway to Elsewhere, it has seldom, at least until now, been desired for its own value but was seen as a portal to the riches of India for the Russians and to the markets of Europe for the Indians and Afghanis. In the 20th century, with the discovery of oil and gas around the Caspian Sea, the collapse of the Soviet Hegemony, the withering away of British majesty, and the United States’ global domination of world energy resources, all has changed – or has it changed at all? Perhaps the “Great Game” by Peter Hopkirk, that amazing story of the 19th century battle over these remote kingdoms stumbles on, with Putin replacing the Czar and Obama taking Queen Victoria’s role.

Obama sees Central Asia as an important element in his program to expand ‘Full Spectrum Dominance’, assure the supply of oil and gas, and the continued sustenance of the Dollar as the world reserve currency. Petroleum (oil and gas) has since 1971 replaced gold as backing for the dollar and our huge military machine has taken on the role of enforcer. Should people decide to pay for their oil barrels with some other moolah, or a ‘market basket’ of currencies, the value of the dollar would drop like a stone. Our indebtedness would soon crowd us off the world stage. We could no longer print oil-soaked dollars and offer them to China and Japan as legal tender.

Genghis Khan found the ‘Stans’ (Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and East Turkestan (now renamed Xinjiang by the Han Chinese) a wonderful launching pad, (good horses, good grain, plentiful food supplies, terrible roads) for his insatiable drive to the west. Later, Temur who was born in Samarkand, went on to occupy Russia, Turkey, much of the Middle East, parts of China and northern India. Buddhism had been strong here before Islam but little remains of its influence today. The Arabs swept through in the late 7th century preaching from the Messenger’s Koran and driving out Buddhism. Mohammedanism changed the entire culture, imposed Koranic law, and introduced a new vision of science, mathematics, poetry and philosophy.

The region’s only protection from outside invaders had been it greatest natural resource: a ring of impenetrable high mountains, and surrounding trackless desiccating deserts. Ghenghis Khan, traveling light, penetrated these physical barriers and made its lush valleys his base for fodder, for food and for further conquests. Temur, a native of Samarkand who knew the region well, established the Moghul Empire in northern India and brought their riches home. Bukhara, Samarkand, and Tashkent became glorious and wealthy cities. The Russians were never very successful here until they built a rail line across those deserts in the 1880s, and under Stalin’s regime absorbed the five ‘stans’ into the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The British, who were the world class Hegemon in the 19th century, wanted to strengthen and maintain their hold upon India and keep the Russians, the Persians and the Ottoman Turks the hell out.

All of this changed during the 20th Century with the collapse of the Soviet Empire, the independence of the five stans, and the discovery of vast natural gas deposits around the Caspian Sea. In the 21st Century we have introduced the pilot-less drone, aerially refueled troop transports, and Barack Obama. What has really changed? Has everything changed from the days of The Great Game or are we still fighting the age-old battle for territory and influence? The five stans have now been repackaged as the eight stans in the minds of our Pentagon strategists, if you throw in Pakistan and Afghanistan, nicknamed AfPak, and add that new concept called ‘Pipeline-istan’. These are the new focus of America’s militant foreign policy. The Obama presidency has also introduced us to a brand new acronym to justify all of this: OCO for Overseas Contingency Operations, formerly known as GWOT (as in Global War on Terror).


John Pilger suggested in his interview on ‘Democracy Now’ July 6th, that: “The Afghanistan War, so called, is really about building what Defense Secretary Robert Gates describes as a number of secured permanent bases throughout that country and reinforcing the major airbase facility at Bagram. The United States has no intention of getting out of Afghanistan. It is now building another of its fortress embassies in Kabul, just like the one in Baghdad and the $1 billion embassy planned for Pakistan’s capital city of Islamabad. In the long term plan, having large numbers of boots on the ground will make no difference. They will be replaced by a string of heavily fortified and electronically advanced bases that will dot the landscape all the way from our client states of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman and the Emirates and thence on to Iraq, Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan and Pakistan. These new-age Crusader Castles will be manned by American soldiers and supported by a large number of mercenaries. Electronic surveillance will employ drones and other remote control devices capable of both monitoring and inflicting instant retaliation upon populations from monitors as far away as Reno, Nevada. No more horrible treks across the desert wastes and the frozen Pumirs. At present we are not allowed, by treaty, to build fortresses within Pakistan, but that too could change. Hegemony without pain, high altitude murder without mayhem or even guilt. These are seen as places where our long term strategic position will allow us to observe objectively every country’s behavior, help shape their internal policies, sit in on every rural wedding party, and restrain the influence of our imperial rivals. And oh yes, and insure that the oil and gas valves remain open.

After nearly eight years of fighting, Obama has escalated the Afghani conflict to a new and bloodier level. David Kilcullen, the former advisor to General David Petraeus, told the British Independent this week what is being openly discussed in the White House and on Downing Street: “We are looking at 10 years at least in Afghanistan, and that is the best case scenario. At least half of that will be pretty major combat. This is the commitment that is needed, and this is what the people in America and Britain should be told, and they should be told that there will be a cost involved.”

“General Stanley McChrystal, the newly-appointed US commander, has launched a lobbying drive for a substantial further increase in troop numbers” James Cogan WSWS, 7/14/09. An unnamed senior officer told the Washington Post that: “the view in the military was that as many as 30,000 more US troops were needed, on top of the 68,000 already deployed. Obama has committed his administration to the establishment of a US client state in Afghanistan and selected McChrystal to ensure that this is accomplished. This will certainly require the mobilization of more National Guard and reservist units and a stepped-up recruiting drive.”

The original pretexts given for waging war in Afghanistan have fallen by the wayside. The “authorization of the use of military force” legislation passed by the US Congress in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks on Washington and New York City was predicated on the American military being used to hunt down those blamed for these atrocities—al-Qaida and Osama bin Laden, a name that now goes virtually unmentioned in official Washington circles.

However, Hilary Clinton was apparently not informed of the change in the wind for, in her big policy speech at the Council on Foreign Relations 7/18/09, Information Clearing House, she explained “In Afghanistan and Pakistan, our goal is to disrupt, dismantle, and ultimately defeat al-Qaida and its extremist allies, and to prevent their return to either country”. As for Bush’s purported desire to bring democracy to the Afghan people, Obama has explicitly rejected such a goal as unrealistic. The only reason left for what is now clearly Obama’s war is the real and original one—the utilization of American military might to assert Washington’s dominance over the oil-rich and geo-strategically vital region of Central Asia. Three major pipelines are planned to bring the vast gas resources of Iran and Turkmenistan to India and China go through Afghanistan. Could this be the real motivation for our military policy?


The Central Asian country that cannot speak its name is Pipelineistan and it is not easy to locate 0n the map. The only explanation for the massive US investments in the GWOT is that the Middle East and Central Asia are not only the source of most of the world’s remaining oil and gas resources, but also the territory through which pipelines must transit to bring these resources to Europe, to India and to China where the big markets are. We are currently looking at a number of expensive pipeline projects such as (Pepe Escobar, 5/13/09):

TAPI – Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India Gas Trunk line, a $7.6 billion project through the deserts of Afghanistan to Pakistan and India. Note that the US is already building a mega-base at Dasha-e-Margo (‘the Desert of Death’) along this proposed route and plans more.

IPI – The Iraq-Pakistan–India Pipeline (the so-called Peace Pipeline) intended to transport gas from Iran’s huge South Pars field (9% of total world gas) in the Persian Gulf. This line goes to the south of Afghanistan. This presumably would be financed by the Chinese.

The Mother of all Pipelines: Turkmenistan-Kazakhstan-China Gas Line to south China’s energy-starved Guangdong Province. Cost is $26 billion and the length 7,000 kilometers. The Chinese financing agreement specifically calls for no US bases to be built in Turkmenistan. The first phase is under construction.

Nabucco Gas Pipeline: From Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan across the Caspian Sea and through Georgia and/or northern Iran to Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and on into Austria, German and the Czech Republic. Promoted by the US to break Russia’s control of Western Europe’s gas supply.

The foreign policies of Russia, the United States, China and India are all focused upon Pipelineistan. Forget about the GWOT and freeing women from the tyranny of the burkah.

When Obama went to Annapolis on July 21, he said we’re getting out of Iraq and appeared to be giving a timetable: “within a matter of weeks, I believe”. General Casey contradicted him and said “we will probably be there for another 10 years. Another Pentagon general upped it to 15 years. The VOA News reporter Al Pessin quoted Pentagon spokesman Whitman on 14 July 2009 as follows: “Whitman says there will be no significant increase in the U.S. troop strength in Iraq, currently at 128,000. The plan is for that number to fall sharply in the first part of next year to between 35,000 and 50,000 by August 2010. Much of that residual force is expected to fall into the new category of Advisory and Assistance Brigades. All U.S. troops are to be out of Iraq by the end of 2011.” We had previously been told that this withdrawal would begin in mid-2009 and by 2010 only 30,000 to 50,000 would remain at remote bases. No combat forces would be stationed in the cities and towns. The date “for all troops out” may be 2011 or it may be 2024 depending upon who has the most credibility and what we actually mean by the word ‘troops’.

Stratfor reports July 1: “Iraqis celebrated the long-awaited departure of American combat forces from their cities on Tuesday, July 1st. But concerns about the fragility of the new-found stability in Iraq persists, and nowhere is that more evident than in the fact that U.S. troops remain essentially the same as at pre-surge level of three years ago.” While it is important that the “withdrawal of US combat forces be seen in the US media as a “stunning turnaround”, the truth is that the US needs these troops elsewhere but cannot allow Iraq to fall into chaos again as lethal political battles amongst the party factions replace the U.S.-jihadist war. “In other words, there is a reason the United States continues to commit 130,000 troops to Iraq: to assure the day-to-day security of its cities as effectively as possible.” Stratfor July 1. So the July 1st deadline for withdrawal has passed but the troops remain, despite slight-of-hand about who is combat and who is trainer, and whether downtown Baghdad comprises one of those remote fortifications to which our forces would withdraw upon Iraqi takeover of security needs. No mention is made of the enormous American army of mercenaries. They are never counted when it comes to withdrawal schedules but they’re armed, poorly disciplined and well compensated.

The US was kicked out of the Manas Air Base at Bishkek, which also serves as the country’s only international airport last February as the government tried to extract concessions from the US and get counteroffers from the Russians for another base near the city of Osh. The Manas Base is a hub for C-17 transports to Afghanistan and the lead refueling location for US and NATO forces. Without Manas, the Afghan war becomes a logistical nightmare as routes through Pakistan have become less secure. I sat in the airport in June for hours awaiting a flight to Osh and watched the heavy US troop transports lumber into the air and the lines of GI’s being dumped from buses into the bellies of these behemoths. I thought they kicked us out, I asked, and later discovered that on June 23, 2009, a new deal had been reached between the U.S. and Kyrgyz governments. Under the terms of the new agreement, U.S. payment for use of the facilities will increase from $17.1 million to about $180 million per year including a $60 million signing bonus and funds for upgrading the airport, $21 million for fighting drug trafficking in the country, and $20 million for economic development. Stratfor 7/7/09. These Kyrgyz sure are learning how to play ‘The Great Game’. While Russia generally wants the US out of Central Asia, they are, at the same time, unwilling to see a Taliban government in Afghanistan. They are not interested in committing their scarce resources to such an effort and seem convinced the Manas agreement can be revoked once again when it’s in their interest.

Are you still unconvinced, despite Bill Gates’ testimony, that the Clinton/Bush doctrine of Total Global Dominance continues? Then try reading Obama’s wonderfully Churchillian speech in Annapolis, Maryland: Barack Obama Annapolis Graduation Speech 5/22/09:
“I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many months of struggle and suffering. You ask, what is our policy? I say it is to wage war by land, sea, and air. War with all our might and with all the strength God has given us, and to wage war against a monstrous tyranny never surpassed in the dark and lamentable catalog of human crime. That is our policy.
“You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word. It is victory. Victory at all costs – Victory in spite of all terrors – Victory, however long and hard the road may be, for without Victory there is no survival. We will ensure you can meet the missions of tomorrow, which is why we’re investing in the capabilities and technologies of tomorrow — the littoral combat ships, the most advanced submarines and fighter aircraft — so that you have what you need to succeed. In short, we will maintain America’s military dominance and keep you the finest fighting force the world has ever seen.”

What is this never-surpassed monstrous tyranny? Surely Mr. President you aren’t talking about that almost forgotten group of Al-Qaida fighters holed up in the AfPak mountains? Are you speaking of the Shi’ites in Iran, the Sunni Taliban in Pakistan’s Hindu Kush, the Somali pirates? No? Then we must admit that we have never heard such ringing phrases to describe the defense of the dollar. Could it have been scripted at one of those Think Tanks in Washington that are staffed by our military-industrial contractors and their Pentagon pals? Is all this rhetoric really necessary to assure the free flow of oil and gas from producer to consumer?