Stephen J. Sniegoski on the anomalies of September 11 -- part three

September 11 and the origins of the "War on Terrorism":
A revisionist account

by Stephen J. Sniegoski, continued.

Table of contents

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Part three


Big Oil — and Big Policy

Since their motives for war differ, it is necessary to discuss the actions of Big Oil and Israel separately. (Israel's moves — and movers — will be examined in the fourth and concluding part of this article.) President Bush and his top advisors, most significantly Vice President Dick Cheney, have had close connections with major oil companies. And major oil interests have for some time been eyeing the vast, largely untapped oil and gas resources of the Caspian Basin and Central Asia.

The Caspian Sea reserves comprise 10 percent of the world's known supply — worth about $5 trillion at today's prices. However, Central Asia's oil and gas reserves are landlocked, which means that the energy wealth must be sent through long pipelines to reach global markets. Control of Afghanistan is valuable not because of any oil or gas reserves of her own but because of her crucial geographic location. Potential transit routes for oil and natural gas exports from Central Asia to the Arabian Sea run through Afghanistan. American oil companies have sought to lay such a pipeline across that country, but political stability must first be established in the turbulent region.

The value of Afghanistan, however, far transcends the oil-pipeline issue. Elie Krakowski, a former Department of Defense specialist on Afghanistan, points out that Afghanistan has traditionally been, and remains, a key area in global power politics:

Why then have so many great nations fought in and over Afghanistan, and why should we be concerned with it now? In short, because Afghanistan is the crossroads between what Halford MacKinder called the world's Heartland and the Indian subcontinent. It owes its importance to its location at the confluence of major routes. A boundary between land power and sea power, it is the meeting point between opposing forces larger than itself. Alexander the Great used it as a path to conquest. So did the Moghuls. An object of competition between the British and Russian empires in the 19th century, Afghanistan became a source of controversy between the American and Soviet superpowers in the 20th. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, it has become an important potential opening to the sea for the landlocked new states of Central Asia. The presence of large oil and gas deposits in that area has attracted countries and multinational corporations. Russia and China, not to mention Pakistan and India, are deeply involved in trying to shape the future of what may be the world's most unchangeable people. Because Afghanistan is a major strategic pivot what happens there affects the rest of the world. [56]

Leftist critics of American imperialism frequently portray American policy as based simply on the desire for corporate profits — in the case of Central Asia, profits from oil. And their argument contains an element of truth. Most Persian Gulf countries place stringent restrictions on American investment, which means that Central Asia is one of the few remaining growth regions for U.S. oil companies. [57] Undoubtedly some individuals profit monetarily from those restrictions; but the policies that American state officials pursue go far beyond providing mere personal wealth for themselves or their cronies.

American policies reflect certain geopolitical beliefs — connected to the economic interests of particular groups, indeed, but not necessarily related to the immediate financial gain of particular policymakers. The United States, or at least her foreign-policy elite, sees a need for the United States to dominate Central Asian energy resources as she dominates the Persian Gulf oil fields. Obviously, the development of those energy resources will mean financial gain for American investors. But control of the area will also enhance U.S. global power, and such control is thus a critical part of a geostrategic strategy to achieve global hegemony.


U.S. geostrategic models

Among the higher circles, views differ on how best to achieve the agreed goal of American dominance of Central Asia. Opinions fall along a continuum between two contrasting foreign-policy models: competitive and cooperative. According to the competitive model, other powers are adversaries in the quest for world power and wealth. It's a zero-sum game — anything that benefits the United States's adversaries automatically harms the United States. America's goal is to achieve world hegemony — any lesser achievement would leave the United States vulnerable to her enemies. To achieve hegemony America must act unilaterally. In particular she must monopolize the world's crucial energy sources to keep that wealth out of the hands of potential enemies such as Iran, Russia, and China.

One of the foremost articulators of the competitive position is Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security advisor in the Carter administration. In his 1997 work The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and its Geostrategic Imperatives, Brzezinski portrays the Eurasian landmass as the linchpin for world power, with Central Asia being key to the domination of Eurasia. [58] For the United States to maintain the global primacy that Brzezinski equates with American security, the United States must, at the very least, prevent any possible adversary, or coalition of adversaries, from controlling that crucial region. And, of course, the best way for the United States to prevent adversaries from controlling a region is to control it herself. [59] With considerable prescience, Brzezinski remarks that, because of popular resistance to U.S. military expansionism, his ambitious strategy could not be implemented "except in the circumstance of a truly massive and widely perceived direct external threat." [60]

The second model envisions cooperation, rather than competition, in seizing and managing the resources of Central Asia. The idea that cooperation with Russia and China in an expanded world state-capitalism, with its (notional) concomitant prosperity, would enhance world peace closely resembles the old Kissinger/Rockefeller 1970s vision of détente with the Soviet Union. Better transport and communications links in the Central Asian region could transform presently isolated countries into key trading centers at the crossroads of Europe and Asia — reminiscent of the Silk Road of the Middle Ages. U.S. officials predict the 21st Century Silk Road running through Central Asia will include railroads, oil and gas pipelines, and fiber-optic cables. [61]

One twist on the cooperation thesis has it that energy production in Central Asia, hinging on cooperation between the United States and Russia, is intended to lessen the industrial world's dependence on the unstable Middle East. Making Central Asia safe for state-managed capitalistic development aimed at enhancing the prosperity of the great powers entails, of course, the suppression of troublesome destabilizing elements such as Islamic fundamentalism and ethnic nationalism. [62]

It appears that actual U.S. policy in Central Asia leans toward the competitive model, but with elements of cooperation.


U.S. policy toward Afghanistan

Whereas U.S. officials now portray the Taliban as the essence of evil, that was not their prevailing view in the past. It certainly was not their view in the first part of 2001, when the United States saw the Taliban as a friendly government, and negotiated with it as such.

Officially the United States condemned the Islamic groups that used Afghanistan as their base for terrorism, and officially the United States demanded the extradition of Osama Bin Laden to face trial in the August 1998 bombing of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. (After the 1998 bombings, the Clinton regime even launched missile strikes on Bin Laden's guerrilla camps.) Although the record is convoluted and murky, it seems that, while the United States wanted to apprehend Bin Laden, she also sought to improve relations with the Taliban government, and that the latter goal often took precedence. Alternatively, one might argue that although Washington preferred to use negotiation to turn the Taliban against terrorism and achieve the stability necessary for regional energy exploitation, she had for some years considered the military option to remove the Taliban.

U.S.-Taliban relations can be roughly divided into four periods, though there is much overlap:

• From perhaps two years before the Taliban captured the capital city of Kabul in 1996 until the embassy bombings in August 1998 the United States was, at the very least, covertly friendly toward the Taliban.

• From August 1998 to the beginning of the Bush administration in January 2001, the U.S. attitude toward the Taliban cooled, and Washington made plans to eliminate Osama Bin Ladin; at the same time, however, some covert cooperation with the Taliban may have continued.

• After the present U.S. regime took power, it attempted to improve relations with the Taliban but abandoned that approach in August 2001, owing to a paucity of results, and made concrete preparations to remove the Taliban militarily.

• And after the September 11 tragedy, of course, the U.S. regime implemented the military option to eliminate the Taliban regime.

American oil companies had cozied up to the Taliban from the time it took over Kabul in 1996. In 1996, the U.S. oil company Unocal (Union Oil of California) reached an agreement with the Taliban to build a pipeline, but the continuing Afghan civil war prevented that project from getting started. According to Ahmed Rashid, a Central Asia specialist and author of Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil, and Fundamentalism in Central Asia, "Between 1994-96 the U.S. supported the Taliban politically through its allies Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, essentially because Washington viewed the Taliban as anti-Iranian, anti-Shia, and pro-Western." From 1995 to 1997, Rashid says, "U.S. support was driven by the UNOCAL oil/gas pipeline project." [63] Private companies conducted the actual negotiating, but their actions were "encouraged by the U.S. government." [64]

In May 1997 the New York Times wrote: "The Clinton Administration has taken the view that a Taliban victory ... would act as a counterweight to Iran ... and would offer the possibility of new trade routes that could weaken Russian and Iranian influence in the region." [65] The Wall Street Journal opined that Afghanistan could provide "a prime transshipment route for the export of Central Asia's vast oil, gas, and other natural resources.

"Like them or not," the Journal continued, "the Taliban are the players most capable of achieving peace in Afghanistan at this moment in history." [66]

The U.S. government's main objective in Afghanistan was to consolidate the position of the Taliban regime, which would be friendly to the United States, in order to exploit the oil and gas reserves in Central Asia. Moreover, Washington saw the Taliban as the enemy of Iran, which had her own proxy in Afghanistan — the Northern Alliance.

Military support for the Taliban came from Pakistan's intelligence agency, the ISI (Inter Services Intelligence). In fact, the Taliban was a virtual creation of Pakistani intelligence, which viewed Afghanistan as a potential client state. [67] The United States, in turn, supported Pakistan as a counterweight to Iran.

Throughout the period when the United States took a favorable stance toward the Taliban, the Taliban was massacring civilians, oppressing women, and, in general, depriving the Afghan people of their basic liberties. It was those very same horrors that the United States, after September 11, 2001, would cite as justification for her use of military force to overthrow the tyrannical regime and, presumably, liberate the downtrodden populace.

Amnesty International, which was concerned not with gas and oil concessions but rather with the Taliban's violations of human rights, commented negatively about Washington's apparent friendliness toward that regime. According to Amnesty International, "Many Afghanistan analysts believe that the United States has had close political links with the Taliban militia. They refer to visits by Taliban representatives to the United States in recent months and several visits by senior U.S. State Department officials to Kandahar including one immediately before the Taliban took over Jalalabad." [68]


After the 1998 embassy bombings, the Clinton administration does seem to have moved to a position of opposition to the Taliban, pushing the UN Security Council to adopt UN Resolution 1267, which called on the Taliban to hand over indicted terrorist Osama Bin Laden and to deal with the issue of terrorism. Economic sanctions were imposed to pressure the Taliban to comply. The United States also engaged in some covert operations on Afghanistan's borders and within the country itself, aimed at ultimately removing the regime. [69]

But still Washington seems to have mixed its opposition with covert support. The International Herald Tribune reported that in the summer of 1998, "the Clinton administration was talking with the Taliban about potential pipeline routes to carry oil and natural gas out of Turkmenistan to the Indian Ocean by crossing Afghanistan and Pakistan." [70]

In 1999, Rep. Dan Rohrabacher, a Republican who was a senior member of the House international relations committee, with oversight responsibility on policy toward Afghanistan, complained that "there is and has been a covert policy by this [Clinton] administration to support the Taliban movement's control of Afghanistan." Rohrabacher surmised that U.S. policy was "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." [71]

In July 2000, Rohrabacher pressed his charge that the United States was aiding the Taliban in his testimony on global terrorism before the committee. Rohrabacher said: "We have been supporting the Taliban because all of our aid goes to the Taliban areas, and when people from the outside try to put aid into areas not controlled by the Taliban, they are thwarted by our own State Department."

He continued: "Let me state for the record [that] at a time when the Taliban were vulnerable, the top person in this administration, Mr. [Karl F.] Inderfurth [assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs], and [Secretary of Energy] Bill Richardson personally went to Afghanistan and convinced the anti-Taliban forces not to go on the offensive. Furthermore, they convinced all of the anti-Taliban forces and their supporters to disarm and to cease their flow of support for the anti-Taliban forces." [72]

U.S. humanitarian aid to Afghanistan did help prop up the Taliban regime. The United States provided an estimated $113 million in humanitarian aid to Afghanistan in 2000 and a comparable sum in 2001 prior to September 11. [73]


In 2001, the new Bush administration greatly expanded American efforts to come to terms with the Taliban on oil and terrorism. From February to August, the Bush regime conducted detailed negotiations with Taliban diplomatic representatives, meeting several times in Washington, Berlin, and Islamabad. A recent book by French intelligence analysts Jean-Charles Brisard and Guillaume Dasquie, Bin Laden: The Forbidden Truth, tells that story and tells it well. [74]

But the Taliban balked at any pipeline deal and refused to eliminate the terrorist camps in their country. Instead of serving as a pliable government that could provide requisite stability for American exploitation of energy resources, the Taliban were exporting their revolutionary Islamic fundamentalism to nearby Central Asian countries, thus destabilizing the entire energy-rich region. According to Brisard and Dasquie, U.S. negotiations with the Taliban broke down in August after a U.S. negotiator threatened military action against the Taliban, telling them to accept the American offer of "a carpet of gold, or you'll get a carpet of bombs." [75]


Months before August 2001, however, the United States had been making plans to remove the Taliban. In this connection, note that it is not unusual for a country to have a multifacted foreign policy, with contingency plans that vary widely. In any case, the United States seems to have sought to solve her differences with the Taliban through negotiations, while at the same time making plans to remove the regime if negotiations failed.

Washington had considered projecting its military power into the Central Asian region for some years. For example, in 1997, U.S. Special Forces took part in the longest-range airborne operation in American history, to reach Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan in order to engage in joint military operations with military forces from Russia and the former Soviet Central Asian republics. U.S. News and World Report opined that this demonstration of America's military muscle was primarily aimed at "Iran's Islamic-fundamentalist regime. But it also could be seen as a warning to other potential rivals, including China and the fundamentalist Taliban militia of Afghanistan." [76]

After the September 11 attack, it transpired that the United States and Uzbekistan had been sharing intelligence and conducting joint covert operations against the Taliban for two to three years. That prior secret relationship helps explain the rapid emergence of the post-September 11 military partnership between the two countries, making Uzbekistan a base for launching attacks on Afghanistan. [77] Furthermore, since 1997 special military units of the CIA had been inside Afghanistan, working with Taliban opposition forces. Not only did the CIA work with the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, it also helped establish an anti-Taliban network in southern Afghanistan, the area of the Taliban's greatest support. [78]

With the advent of the Bush administration in 2001, U.S. officials settled on concrete plans for military action, in cooperation with other countries, to remove the Taliban regime. Significantly, some information on those plans leaked to the public before September 11. On March 15, 2001, the British-based Jane's International Security reported that the new U.S. regime was working with India, Iran, and Russia "in a concerted front against Afghanistan's Taliban regime." India was supplying the Northern Alliance with military equipment, advisors, and helicopter technicians, the magazine said, and both India and Russia were using bases in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan for their operations.

"Several recent meetings between the newly instituted Indo-U.S. and Indo-Russian joint working groups on terrorism led to this effort to tactically and logistically counter the Taliban," Jane's reported. "Intelligence sources in Delhi said that while India, Russia, and Iran were leading the anti-Taliban campaign on the ground, Washington was giving the Northern Alliance information and logistic support." [79]

According to a June 26, 2001, article in the Indian public-affairs Web magazine, the United States, Russia, Pakistan, and India made a pact for war against the Taliban. Iran was considered a covert participant. The powers planned to begin the war in mid October. [80]

A similar story, reported by the BBC on September 18, was provided by Niaz Naik, a former Pakistani foreign secretary. He said he was told by senior U.S. officials in mid July that military action against Afghanistan would go ahead by the middle of October. The broader goal was the removal of the Taliban and the installation of a compliant pro-American regime. According to Naik, he was told that the United States would launch her operation from bases in Tajikistan, where American military advisors were already in place. [81]

Four days later, on September 22, The Guardian newspaper confirmed Naik's account and added that Pakistan had passed a warning of the impending attack to the Taliban. The story implied that the warning may have spurred Osama Bin Laden to launch his attacks, stating that "Bin Laden, far from launching the attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York and the Pentagon out of the blue 10 days ago, was launching a preemptive strike in response to what he saw as U.S. threats." The warning to Afghanistan came out of a meeting of senior U.S., Russian, Iranian, and Pakistani officials at a hotel in Berlin in mid July. [82]

March 18, 2002

To part four (conclusion).

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