Pseudo-events, and Prisons:
The fallout from Abu Ghraib
[The greatest ally
of an insurgency is the occupier's arrogance, his
linear thinking, and his top-down decision making
structure. In this as in so much else, America's
glittering military juggernaut is even dumber than
its British predecessor. The Abu Ghraib prison “abuse” scandal — which
is really a torture scandal — is the unmistakable
death-knell of the occupation. No matter how long
it drags on, it can't possibly restore Iraqi production
to 3.5 billion barrels per day if the occupiers are
perceived as depraved, sadistic racists. But surely
this sort of behavior can be pinned on the guys who
held the broom handles? No, this week Seymour Hersh
reports that Abu Ghraib is a transplant of DoD's
most cherished black operation, for which the approval
(and perhaps even the planning) came from the top
of the Department and maybe even higher. As the United
States grabs at all the petroleum it can steal, Russia
and China position themselves for a role in the post-Bush
energy landscape; China trying to avoid encirclement,
and Russia trying to compete with a politically fragmenting
May 18 , 2004 1800 PST (FTW) -- On
May 5, 2004, President of the United States George
W. Bush, Commander-in-Chief of the United States Armed
Forces and the man with the authority to launch the
largest nuclear arsenal in the world, alleged-architect
of the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, went onto
two Arab news channels and laid himself before the
Middle Eastern public like shirtless King Henry II
taking his licks at the tomb of Thomas a Beckett.
Henry was forgiven. Bush's pseudo-event was received with contempt throughout
the Arab and Muslim world.
"This is a show," said a young Lebanese woman said. "They're trying
to cover this up. If they hadn't been exposed, Bush would not have done this."
How did a dozen pornographic snapshots bring pitiful Prince George down from
his throne to bare his tender back to the wogs?
This is The Question coiled still as a snake under the table around which harried
staffers are now putting in 20-hour days manufacturing televised regret. Lots
of regret. Enough, they hope, to entertain the newly anxious American masses
who sign their checks. Enough, they pray, to hold at bay the surlier multitudes
of Southwest Asia and North Africa whose patience has dwindled to a thimble
of water in a hot room.
It is The Question they can't answer - won't.
They have nothing left but illusions, and the answer to that question - the
true answer - is that they were illusions all along.
Dangerous, dirty, deadly illusions for which others pay.
One of my favorite modern parables is Jurassic Park, a story about the impossibility
of control and the law of unintended consequences. Character Ian Malcolm, a
chaos theorist, tells John Hammond, the visionary who has just cloned dinosaurs
back into existence in order to build a giant theme park, "John, the type
of control you are attempting here is simply not possible."
Hammond, of course, ignores him, and before long Tyrannosaurs and Velociraptors
are sampling lawyers and game wardens like hors d'oeuvres.
Perhaps we should find Malcolm and send him over to speak with Donald Rumsfeld.
What we have seen - beginning with the millisecond it takes for a camera shutter
to snap and ending by threatening the government of the most powerful empire
in history - is "the butterfly effect."
This is the poetic shorthand that chaoticians use for "sensitive dependence
on initial conditions." Lorenz once asked at a symposium if a butterfly
flapped its wings in Brazil, could it cause a tornado in Texas?
It is more than merely a line of dominoes falling. The Butterfly Effect says
that each domino, so to speak, creates multiple instabilities that then move
out through multiple systems. It takes into account that real life is not linear,
not a line of dominoes.
That's why the weather is a good example. Meteorologists can make some decent
broad predictions most of the time, but then every so often… well, shit
If a system itself is unstable, then a tiny variation can lead to catastrophic
consequences for the whole. Malcolm said that Jurassic Park was unstable.
James Gleick compares the equation for standing a pencil on its point with
the equation for keeping a marble inside a bowl. Both solutions can be mathematically
worked out, but the pencil trick is an unstable solution and will be disrupted
almost before we attempt to employ it. We can introduce all sorts of disequilibrium
to the marble in the bowl, however, and it is fairly easy to keep the marble
inside, where it will tend back toward the bottom-center at all times.
The Afghanistan and Iraq invasions were unstable solutions in an unstable system.
Here is an analogy from mathematician Jim Loy of "sensitivity to initial
Imagine a flat surface with nails driven in it. The surface is slanting, so
that a marble will roll down it. A marble hits one of the nails, and momentarily
stops, before falling to one side or the other. The situation is chaotic. A
very small change in the marble's initial trajectory will make a big change
in its final trajectory. The phenomenon is called "sensitivity to initial
conditions," and is one pervasive feature of chaos. The study of chaos
has become the science of the unpredictable. And sensitivity to initial conditions
is a chief source of that unpredictability. And sensitivity to initial conditions
is the main way in which you can recognize a chaotic system.
There were nails all over this surface in Afghanistan and Iraq… and
a lot of marbles… and a lot of initial conditions.
What were some of those initial conditions?
It is an arbitrary decision where to start, so I'll start with September 11,
In the wake of the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Europe,
Russia, and China - each of whom is a uniquely situated economic and political
competitor - were confronted with the sudden disruption of geopolitical inertia.
All these actors immediately sent condolences and convened emergency meetings
at home to begin figuring out how to position themselves to the greatest advantage
within this transformation.
It was apparent within hours - especially given the previous declarations of
Bush cabinet ministers through the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage
Foundation, Project for a New American Century, etc. - that the US would use
this event as a pretext for the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan.
In fact, my own thinking on the 9/11 attacks is that (1) this was a pre-emptive
strike by Bin Laden, who was privy via his close relation to Pakistani intelligence
to American plans to invade in October anyway. It has already been well-established
that the Pakistani foreign ministry was advised at least as early as July 2001
of this intent. (2) The Bush administration had foreknowledge that something
was about to happen, even if it didn't know the specific time, place, or scope
of the operation, and there was a plan on the table to mobilize outrage to
gain support for the follow-on invasion of Iraq.
The Europeans certainly saw an advantage in allowing the US to become the heavy
among Islamists with an invasion of Afghanistan. It would shift the attention
of Islamist international guerrillas away from potential European targets -
given that Europeans have been consistently more critical of Zionist depredations
against Palestinians - and onto American targets.
But there was a more direct financial inducement to the Europeans, especially
European banks. Heroin.
Under the Taliban, the production of heroin for the European market (Afghanistan
had produced 70% of Europe's total heroin.) was cut by over 90%. The top three
industries in the world, in terms of cash flow, are - in order - petroleum,
weapons, and illicit drugs. Drug money not only circulates like all money,
it has to be laundered, and that means it has to be moved through banks that
collect fat royalties in the process, meaning European banks and the Central
Intelligence Agency share one key characteristic. They are both addicted -
so to speak - to the un-traceability of cash flowing from the illicit drug
Before the Taliban dammed this river, that flow was around $300 billion a year.
And then there's oil… which brought up Iraq… which is where Russia
and China (and of course, Japan) came in.
Prior to the 1991 invasion, Iraq was the world's second largest exporter of
oil, behind only Saudi Arabia. With the systematic destruction of Iraq, via
war and sanctions, the second-place position fell to Russia. This became the
backdrop for Bush and Putin gazing into one another's eyes in the wake of September
Russia's continuing dream of regaining great-nation status hung completely
on a strategy of displacing the power of OPEC. Sensing the decline of US imperial
power in the face of the looming global energy slump, Putin maneuvered to take
advantage of that weakness by positioning Russia to answer the inevitable increase
in US dependence on foreign oil. Putin drew the Russian oil oligarchs closer
to him and began plotting a US-Russian strategy to shatter OPEC's power, and
position Russia in an international Troika of the US, Russia, and Europe, as
indicated by his constant lobbying to become a member of NATO.
Putin even stood aside as US military forces began staking out positions in
the former Soviet backyard of the Caucasus. In reciprocation, the US made supportive
noises on behalf of Russia's continuing counter-insurgency against the Chechens.
China grew very alert. For the world's most populous nation, this was as ominous
a sign as they might imagine. Just as the Americans, Europeans, and China had
encircled Russia a generation before, now the Chinese were seeing a steel ring
being constructed around them.
In his commentary, Stand-off Between OPEC and Russia, in November 1991, Mark
Jones - who had worked in the Soviet oil sector and was intimately familiar
with the methods and psychology of post-Brezhnev apparatchiks - explained:
If the emerging US-Russian strategy succeeds, then the balkanization of the
Middle East can only accelerate. The West will reassert its control over the
social and political destiny of the Islamic world. Other potential rivals may
fare no better; China, in particular, will face a grim future. A geopolitical
realignment which leaves China effectively encircled by Russo-American power,
means that the 21st century will not, after all, be one of Asian renewal, as
many had speculated.
But control is no more possible for the Russians and Chinese than it is for
the Americans, and the Mad Maximalists prevailed in the administration on the
point of Russia. Russia would be abandoned, and none too gently either.
By September 2002, Russian and American oil execs were holding a joint convention
in Houston, "the first U.S.-Russia Commercial Energy Summit," and
the subject was… Iraq.
Eugene Rumer, reporting on the summit for the Washington Post, said it had
the potential to "form a partnership that could bring stability and security
to the global oil market."
Further along in the article, however, he reported:
The Russian oil executives attending the Houston summit, including some
holding contracts with Hussein's government, have been watching U.S. policy
toward Iraq with a wary eye. They are concerned that the post-Hussein oil sweepstakes
will be rigged against them. They have used a variety of surrogates to let
it be known that when Iraq's future leaders award new oil contracts, Russian
oilmen want a seat at the table.
With two U.S. Cabinet secretaries in attendance -- Commerce's Donald Evans
and Energy's Spencer Abraham -- as well as scores of other senior officials,
Russia's oilmen will be looking for clues about the direction of U.S. Iraq
Clues wouldn't be long in coming, and the other actor with fat existing contracts
in Iraq was Total-Fina-Elf of France. Russian oil gangsters like Mikhail Khodorkovsky
- who had Putin's ear - were more than willing to play Cassius to Saddam's
Caesar. But hard-line US machinations in the UN to secure a fig leaf for the
coming invasion had strongly hinted that the US military-petroleum complex
was not in a sharing mood.
By November, Ian Bruce, writing for the Herald, would remark on the impending
invasion of Iraq:
Russia's Lukoil has the largest potential stake, with a 23-year deal worth
£2bn to exploit the West Qurnah field. France's TotalFinaElf is negotiating
to develop the Majnoon field and its 30 billion barrels of black gold.
China's state-owned national petroleum corporation has a contract to repair
and bring back on stream part of the Rumailah production area damaged in the
1991 Gulf war.
All three governments suspect that toppling Saddam and installing a
US-controlled military administration would lead inevitably to a carve-up of
the oil riches among American corporations to the exclusion of their own firms.
There was little doubt among insiders about why Russia and France lined up
to threaten a veto on the Security Council… or why China played so coy
with the whole process.
If it wasn't clear enough to the Cheney faction that held sway over Commander-in-Chief
Presidente Arbusto, Viktor Kremenyuk of the USA-Canada Institute in Moscow
said, "Resolving the Iraq problem is all about the rivalry surrounding
the country's oil bonanza. How it is managed is the key."
But the lunatic faction, ears blocked with the wax of its own hubris, could
not hear this clear statement. And they were confirmed in their delusions by
the intense lobbying by American giants Exxon Mobil and Chevron Texaco. The
US petroligarchs were assisted by Dick Cheney's buddy Ahmed Chalabi who - facing
a lengthy prison sentence if ever extradited to Jordan - never found an American
oil company's ass he didn't desperately want to kiss, kiss, kiss… since
he was being lined up as the new post-war leader of Iraq.
Everyone had visions of conquered Iraq producing 3 million barrels of oil a
day, and of US companies, not unlike Halliburton for example, getting the reconstruction
contracts to bring the war shattered production infrastructure back up to that
magic capacity. This blinding vision is what reduced key members of the UN
Security Council to behaving like seagulls fighting for a single fish.
And Russia was not in the fight simply for access to Iraqi oil, but for more
control of the market where they are still - for a while at least - a major
exporter. China, on the other hand, has been a net oil importer since 1993,
and its phenomenal economic growth is predicated on ever steeper increases
in fossil fuel consumption.
Writing for Japan Times in 2001, Kenichi Ohmae
described "Asia's Next Crisis: Made in China." Ohmae's
approach was aptly revisited last year by oil
industry commentator Andrew McKillop:
"To get to its present status…China
has used what the Japan Times article rightly calls
'Dickensian England' sweat shops and near slave
labor… This fulfils that dream of any true
grit, reptile minded capitalist - to have throwaway
labor. About 100 years later, and still in England,
Mrs. Thatcher spouted loud and strong that this
kind of labor 'flexibility' is what any 'advanced'
country or nation needs.
"Just like Dickensian England, China today depends
mostly on a vast - and growing - coal burn. At over
1.3 Giga tons per year it is about one and one-half
times the coal burn of the USA, already second to
China in this league table. Contrarywise, the USA
today uses over 4 times more oil than China, which
can be understood from just one statistic: the USA
has about 747 cars and motor vehicles per 1000 population.
China has about 9 / 1000.
Using a growth rate figure of 16% per year for
automobiles and oil-powered motor vehicles China
can likely get to about 36-50 cars / 1000 population
by around 2015, and just this will require at least
5 Million barrels/day of additional oil consumption,
to produce and keep those vehicles running, serviced,
repaired, with bitumen-based roads and highways,
with all kinds of mostly oil-based support and
control systems. At 36-50 motor vehicles / 1000
population China would still be trailing the USA
by a long, long way in this road transport oil
Adding in other requirement China is facing an
oil need that - very simply - the world cannot
supply, and will be increasingly unable to supply.
In other words China is cutting into an "exponential
oil growth" period of its economic history,
like Singapore in the 1960s and 1970s, at just
that moment when world oil output will hit its
absolute geological limit, or ceiling on production
(perhaps about 85 Million bpd and by 2007).
From about 2005 oil prices only rise."
Not simply because of peak oil, with which readers of this site are already
painfully familiar, but because of the immense energy thirst of the world's
most populous nation, and their willingness to bid up the price to get as much
of it as they need. And while China's aggressive wrangling and investment in
places like Venezuela, Kazakhstan, Sudan, and Azerbaijan are related to this
escalating petroleum addiction, the global reality is that there is only one
region where that oil can ultimately come from ten years from now, and that
is the Gulf.
If the US fails in its current war, and if the US-Saudi relationship goes sour
or there is an Islamic regime change there, China is waiting in the wings with
the idea of filling the void left by US expulsion.
Coy as China was on the issue of the UN resolution for a US-led invasion of
Iraq, behind the scenes it split hairs over the text of the resolution while
indicating its support of the Russian-French position against US occupation.
At the same time, there was a global anti-war movement exploding onto the scene.
This anti-war movement, combined with the delays in the UN created by "betrayed" France
and Russia, would push the invasion into late March with increasing heat and
wild sandstorms, and it would deny the US military its northern front.
The neocon marble was bouncing off the nails of this new realignment.
But there were more nails further along.
-End, Part One-