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Friday, February 20, 2009

Pepe Escobar: Obama, Osama and Medvedev

For those who harbored any doubts, the Barack Obama administration's adoption of the George W Bush framework of the "war on terror" - it does feel like a back-to-the-future "continuity" - here are two key facts on the ground.

Obama has officially started his much-touted Afghanistan surge, authorizing the deployment of 17,000 US troops (8,000 marines, 4,000 army and 5,000 support) mostly to the Pashtun-dominated, southern Helmand province. Justification: "The situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan demands urgent attention." The marines start arriving in Afghanistan in May. Their mission is as hazy as it is hazardous: eradication of the poppy culture, the source of heroin (which accounts for almost 40% of Afghanistan's gross domestic product). There are already 38,000 US troops in Afghanistan, plus 18,000 as part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's 50,000 contingent.

Of course, in all this charade there's never a slight mention in the US - even in passing - of why Afghanistan matters: as a transit node of Pipelineistan - that is, the key Caspian oil and gas branch of the New Great Game in Eurasia. Compared to the real game, the monochromatic Washington rhetoric of "winning Afghanistan for democracy" does not even qualify as a joke.

The best of it all - as usual - is left unsaid. Washington cannot admit that its only real interest in Afghanistan is as a transit corridor for a gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to Pakistan and India (the TAPI pipeline). Moscow cannot admit that the opportunity of helping the US to be bogged down in Afghanistan for a few more years is too good to pass.

Iran is getting closer and closer to Russia. Russia currently holds the presidency of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) - the Eurasian answer to NATO not only in terms of security but also in the economic and energy spheres. The SCO unites Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, with Iran and Pakistan as observers. In an interview with RIA Novosti, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said, "Iran has officially addressed SCO members and expects its observer status to be finally upgraded to full membership during Russia's chairmanship period." This is what it's all about in Eurasia - the inexorable march of Asian integration, via the Asian Energy Security Grid and, in security terms, via the SCO. Both China and Russia are deeply connected with Iran. China has signed mega-multibillion dollar deals to be supplied by Iranian oil and gas while selling weapons and myriad goods; and Russia is bound to sell more weapons and is already selling nuclear energy technology. All this while Washington is focused on bombing Pashtun peasants and chasing the ghost of Osama bin Laden.


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