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Behind U.S. military maneuvering
Return of the "great game"

September 28, 2001 | Page 10

LEE SUSTAR looks at Washington's military and political maneuvering.

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IN HIS speech before Congress September 20, George W. Bush all but announced U.S. military action against Afghanistan in retaliation for the attacks on New York and Washington. "The Taliban must act and act immediately," Bush said. "They will hand over the terrorists, or they will share in their fate."

In fact, the U.S. has been preparing for military action since it fired cruise missiles at the country in 1998 because of Osama bin Laden's alleged involvement in the bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa.

According to several press reports, the U.S. last year joined the "Shanghai Five"--an informal alliance of Russia, China and three Central Asian states against "Islamic terrorism." Joint operations of U.S. and Russian commandos to capture Osama bin Laden were discussed, and Washington turned a blind eye to Russia's slaughter of Islamist rebels in Chechnya.

But Washington's goals in Central Asia go beyond attacking bin Laden or the Taliban. The collapse of the USSR in 1991 brought a revival of what 19th-century diplomats called the "great game"--military and political maneuvers by the big powers to gain control of the region.

In 1997, the U.S. Marine Gen. John Sheehan led a military exercise in Kazakhstan on the territory of the former USSR. As U.S. News and World Report noted: "After shaking hands with the defense ministers of Kazakhstan, Kirgizstan and Uzbekistan, Sheehan told some American journalists: 'The message is that there is no nation on the face of the Earth that we cannot get to.' Why did the U.S. military conduct the longest airborne operation in history to get to Kazakhstan? Oil. By 2010, Central Asia is expected to surpass the North Sea and become the world's third-largest producer of oil and natural gas, after the Middle East and Russia."

Last year, the Washington Post reported that U.S. troops were training Kirgistani troops in "anti-terrorism" tactics to fight the Islamic Movement of neighboring Uzbekistan, a group said to have ties to the Taliban.

Ironically, it was the drive to gain control of Caspian Sea oil in Central Asia that led the U.S. to support the Taliban after it came to power in 1996. "This amoral or immoral policy is based on the assumption that the Taliban would bring stability to Afghanistan and permit the building of oil pipelines from Central Asia through Afghanistan to Pakistan," said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), a conservative supporter of the CIA's covert operations in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

The U.S. was willing to support the Taliban regime in order to prevent a pipeline from running through Russia or Iran. But when the Taliban pursued its own interests--tolerating bin Laden and supporting Islamist movements in neighboring countries--Washington reversed course.

Demonizing yesterday's allies is nothing new for the U.S. Manuel Noriega, the former dictator of Panama, was a CIA "asset" until he crossed Washington. U.S. troops ousted and imprisoned him.

Slobodan Milosevic, the former president of Yugoslavia, was hailed in Washington as a "peacemaker" until the U.S. decided that its interests were better served by launching NATO's war over Kosovo.

And Washington politicians would have us forget that they backed Saddam Hussein in the horrific Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s.

In each case, the U.S. has pursued its own agenda--and those of the major corporations that back it. Freedom, human rights and justice have nothing to do with it.

The frictions in Bush's "coalition"

WASHINGTON'S NATO allies in Europe were quick to invoke a treaty measure that calls for a "common defense" whenever one member is attacked.

German Prime Minister Gerhard Schroeder offered German participation in military action, calling the September 11 attacks a "declaration of war against the civilized world." For Schroeder, this is another opportunity to legitimize the use of his country's military, which saw no action between the defeat of the Nazis in 1945 and NATO's Kosovo war of 1999.

As usual, British Prime Minister Tony Blair endorsed Washington's call for a war.

But Bush's repeated baying for blood soon unnerved other allies--such as France, which worries that a Western attack on Middle Eastern countries could spiral out of control.

Even Bush's advisers were split, with some calling for a coalition with mainly Muslim countries and others demanding immediate action against Afghanistan, Iraq and even other countries.

Even to make possible a coalition with Muslim countries, Washington had to pressure Israel into agreeing to a cease-fire in its war on the Palestinians. But even if the U.S. muzzles Israel, it won't overcome problems with Bush's "coalition against terrorism."

The U.S. had to pressure Pakistan into supporting U.S. action against the Taliban--which could provoke a civil war in that country.

And while Russia initially welcomed U.S. action against the Taliban--Afghanistan threatens Russia's own interests in Central Asia--the conflict could also set the stage for a dangerous confrontation between Moscow and Washington.

As Socialist Worker went to press, there were reports that U.S. forces would use a former USSR air base in Uzbekistan--a move that Russia will see as a threat.

The air attacks in the U.S. have been used by all the great powers to justify aggressive policies and militarism everywhere. But far from making the world a safer place, Bush's "war on terrorism" threatens violence and war on a far greater scale.

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