The Roving Eye

China? Have Grandmaster, will travel

Off the keyboard of Pepe Escobar
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THE ROVING EYE

chinese chess

 

Originally published in Asia Times on June 12, 2015

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As intellectual acumen and cross-cultural expertise go, it would be hopeless to expect self-described “Don’t Do Stupid Stuff” Obama administration foreign policy advisers — as well as Pentagon functionaries/hacks — to understand the complexities of China.

For instance, they would be incapable of evaluating all the myriad ramifications included in Professor Alfred McCoy’s masterful deconstruction of US-China geopolitics.

Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha is currently visiting Singapore, where he is discussing with his counterpart Lee Hsien Loong the intricacies of ASEAN-China concerning the formidably complex South China Sea disputes.

Thailand fully supports Singapore — ASEAN’s number one investor — to succeed Bangkok in the rotating role of ASEAN-China coordinator. Contrary to alarmist/paranoid scenarios paraded in the Beltway, the South China Sea disputes will be resolved diplomatically, within the ASEAN-China framework.

Lee Hsien Loong happens to be the elder son of late Singapore founding father, Prime Minister and Minister Mentor, the larger-than-life Lee Kuan Yew. He learned everything there is to know about Asia — and China — from Dad, first-hand.

When I moved to live in Asia in 1994, out of Paris, my first port of call was Singapore. That was at the height of the Asian miracle. Full immersion meant learning everything that revolved around Lee — and from Lee himself. Ideology, and political gaps aside — for instance, he was not exactly his usual razor-sharp about Iran or Russia or Latin America – Lee arguably knew more about China than any outside observer/analyst.

After all, it was Lee who dazzled the Little Helmsman Deng Xiaoping in person, in the late 1970s, prompting Deng to launch a modern China conceived as a sort of “a thousand Singapores”; sterling economic success under tight political control. President Xi Jinping, crucially, admires Lee as “our senior who has our respect.”

As Lee tells it, when he was asked by Chinese think tanks about “peaceful rise” as the new Chinese mantra, he responded with “peaceful renaissance, or evolution, or development. A recovery of ancient glory, an updating of a once great civilization.” Not accidentally, “peaceful development” was adopted by the previous Beijing leadership.

Now that the non-stop hysterical meme across the West is the “China threat,” or, extrapolating from the South China Sea disputes, “China aggression,” it’s quite enlightening to come back to the Grandmaster for some sobering China-related hard facts. Call it the Grandmaster’s concise China, and concise China-US, most of it compiled at Lee Kuan Yew (MIT Press, 2013). No meaningful analysis of China is possible without it.

Make no mistake; in geopolitics, Lee was pure status quo. He believed “no alternative balance can be as comfortable as the present one, with the US as a major player …The geopolitical balance without the U.S. as a principal force will be very different from that which it now is or can be if the U.S. remains a central player.”

Well, things are not so “comfortable” anymore.

The Grandmaster speaks

On China as number 1: “Theirs is a culture 4,000 years old with 1.3 billion people, many of great talent — a huge and very talented pool to draw from. How could they not aspire to be number 1 in Asia, and in time the world?”

On what the Chinese people want: “Every Chinese wants a strong and rich China, a nation as prosperous, advanced, and technologically competent as America, Europe, and Japan. The reawakened sense of destiny is an overpowering force.”

On the master scenario: “The Chinese have calculated that they need 30 to 40, maybe 50, years of peace and quiet to catch up, build up their system, change it from the communist system to the market system. They must avoid the mistakes made by Germany and Japan … I believe the Chinese leadership has learnt that if you compete with America in armaments, you will lose. You will bankrupt yourself. So, avoid it, keep your head down, and smile, for 40 or 50 years.” (Not anymore; Xi is turning Deng’s “keep a low profile” upside down.)

On what China needs from the US: “China knows that it needs access to US markets, US technology, opportunities for Chinese students to study in the U.S. and bring back to China new ideas about new frontiers. It therefore sees no profit in confronting the U.S. in the next 20 to 30 years in a way that could jeopardize these benefits.” (And as Michael Hudson has noted, China’s new economic push is all about its thriving internal market; “China doesn’t need more dollars. Indeed, the more dollars it gets, the only thing it can safely do with them is lend them to the US Treasury, funding the military’s “Asia Pivot” to encircle China.”)

On Southeast Asia: “China’s strategy for Southeast Asia is fairly simple: China tells the region, ‘come grow with me.’ At the same time, China’s leaders want to convey the impression that China’s rise is inevitable and that countries will need to decide if they want to be China’s friend or foe when it ‘arrives.’ China is also willing to calibrate its engagement to get what it wants or express its displeasure.”

On why the U.S. “lost” Southeast Asia: “China is sucking the Southeast Asian countries into its economic system because of its vast market and growing purchasing power. Japan and South Korea will inevitably be sucked in as well. It just absorbs countries without having to use force. China’s neighbors want the U.S. to stay engaged in the Asia-Pacific so that they are not hostages to China. The US should have established a free-trade area with Southeast Asia 30 years ago, well before the Chinese magnet began to pull the region into its orbit. If it had done so, its purchasing power would now be so much greater than it is, and all of the Southeast Asian countries would have been linked to the U.S. economy rather than depending on China’s. Economics sets underlying trends.”

On Asian trade: “What are the Americans going to fight China over? Control over East Asia? The Chinese need not fight over East Asia. Slowly and gradually, they will expand their economic ties with East Asia and offer them their market of 1.3 billion consumers … Extrapolate that another 10, 20 years and they will be the top importer and exporter of all East Asian countries. How can the Americans compete in trade?” (that explains the Obama administration’s desperation to push for a China-excluding TPP.)

On China going asymmetrical: “Economically and militarily, they may not catch up for 100 years in technology, but asymmetrically, they can inflict enormous damage on the Americans.”

On the Party’s fear of chaos: “To achieve the modernization of China, her communist leaders are prepared to try all and every method, except for democracy with one person and one vote in a multi-party system. Their two main reasons are their belief that the Communist Party of China must have a monopoly on power to ensure stability; and their deep fear of instability in a multi-party free-for-all, which would lead to a loss of control by the center over the provinces, with horrendous consequences, like the warlord years of the 1920s and ‘30s.”

On why culture rules: “Can the Chinese break free from their own culture? It will require going against the grain of 5,000 years of Chinese history. When the center is strong, the country prospers. When the center is weak, the emperor is far away, the mountains are high, and there are many little emperors in the provinces and counties. This is their cultural heritage …Chinese traditions thus produce a more uniform mandarinate.”

On the inevitability of being back to number 1: “They operate on the basis of consensus and have a long view. While some may imagine that the 21st century will belong to China, others expect to share this century with the U.S. as they build up to China’s century to follow.”

On why it’s so hard for the US to accept it: “For America to be displaced, not in the world, but only in the Western Pacific, by an Asian people long despised and dismissed with contempt as decadent, feeble, corrupt, and inept is emotionally very difficult to accept. The sense of cultural supremacy of the Americans will make this adjustment most difficult. Americans believe their ideas are universal — the supremacy of the individual and free, unfettered expression. But they are not — never were. In fact, American society was so successful for so long not because of these ideas and principles, but because of a certain geopolitical good fortune, an abundance of resources and immigration energy, a generous flow of capital and technology from Europe, and two wide oceans that kept conflicts of the world away from American shores. Americans have to eventually share their preeminent position with China.”

Now live with it: “The US cannot stop China’s rise. It just has to live with a bigger China, which will be completely novel for the US, as no country has ever been big enough to challenge its position. China will be able to do so in 20 to 30 years.” (Lee said that at the FutureChina Global Forum in Singapore, in 2011. Under Xi, China is already challenging the U.S.’s position.)


Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

U.S. wakes up to New (Silk) World Order

Off the keyboard of Pepe Escobar
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THE ROVING EYE

Marco Polo's Route On Silk Road To China

Originally published in Asia Times on May 15, 2015

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The real Masters of the Universe in the U.S. are no weathermen, but arguably they’re starting to feel which way the wind is blowing.

History may signal it all started with this week’s trip to Sochi, led by their paperboy, Secretary of State John Kerry, who met with Foreign Minister Lavrov and then with President Putin.

Arguably, a visual reminder clicked the bells for the real Masters of the Universe; the PLA marching in Red Square on Victory Day side by side with the Russian military. Even under the Stalin-Mao alliance Chinese troops did not march in Red Square.

As a screamer, that rivals the Russian S-500 missile systems. Adults in the Beltway may have done the math and concluded Moscow and Beijing may be on the verge of signing secret military protocols as in the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. The new game of musical chairs is surely bound to leave Eurasian-obsessed Dr. Zbig “Grand Chessboard” Brzezinski apoplectic.

And suddenly, instead of relentless demonization and NATO spewing out “Russian aggression!” every ten seconds, we have Kerry saying that respecting Minsk-2 is the only way out in Ukraine, and that he would strongly caution vassal Poroshenko against his bragging on bombing Donetsk airport and environs back into Ukrainian “democracy”.

The ever level-headed Lavrov, for his part, described the meeting with Kerry as “wonderful,” and Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov described the new U.S.-Russia entente as “extremely positive”.

So now the self-described “Don’t Do Stupid Stuff” Obama administration, at least apparently, seems to finally understand that this “isolating Russia” business is over – and that Moscow simply won’t back down from two red lines; no Ukraine in NATO, and no chance of popular republics of Donetsk and Lugansk being smashed, by Kiev, NATO or anybody else.

Thus what was really discussed – but not leaked – out of Sochi is how the Obama administration can get some sort of face-saving exit out of the Russian western borderland geopolitical mess it invited on itself in the first place.

About those missiles…

Ukraine is a failed state now fully converted into an IMF colony. The EU will never accept it as a member, or pay its astronomic bills. The real action, for both Washington and Moscow, is Iran. Not accidentally, the extremely dodgy Wendy Sherman — who has been the chief U.S. negotiator in the P5+1 nuclear talks — was part of Kerry’s entourage. A comprehensive deal with Iran cannot be clinched without Moscow’s essential collaboration on everything from the disposal of spent nuclear fuel to the swift end of UN sanctions.

Iran is a key node in the Chinese-led New Silk Road(s) project. So the real Masters of the Universe must have also — finally — seen this is all about Eurasia, which, inevitably, was the real star in the May 9 Victory Day parade. After his pregnant with meaning Moscow stop — where he signed 32 separate deals — Chinese President Xi Jinping went to do deals in Kazakhstan and Belarus.

So welcome to the New (Silk) World Order; from Beijing to Moscow on high-speed rail; from Shanghai to Almaty, Minsk and beyond; from Central Asia to Western Europe.

By now we all know how this high-speed trade/geopolitical journey is unstoppable — spanning the Beijing-led, Moscow-supported Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and the BRICs Development Bank. Central Asia, Mongolia and Afghanistan — where NATO has just lost a war — are being inexorably pulled into this trade/geopolitical orbit covering all of central, northern, and eastern Eurasia.

What could be called Greater Asia is already shaping up — not only from Beijing to Moscow but also from business center Shanghai to gateway-to-Europe St. Petersburg. It’s the natural consequence of a complex process I have been examining for a while now — the marriage of the massive Beijing-led Silk Road Economic Belt with the Moscow-led Eurasia Economic Union (EEU). Putin described it as “a new level of partnership.”

The real Masters of the Universe may have also noted the very close discussions between Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and the deputy chairman of the Central Military Council of China, Gen. Fan Changlong. Russia and China will conduct naval exercises in the Mediterranean Sea and the Sea of Japan and will give top priority to their common position regarding U.S. global missile defense.

There’s the not-so-negligible matter of the Pentagon “discovering” China has up to 60 silo-based ICBMs – the CSS-4 – capable of targeting almost the whole U.S., except Florida.

And last but not least, there’s the Russian rollout of the ultra-sophisticated S-500 defensive missile system — which will conclusively protect Russia from a U.S. Prompt Global Strike (PGS). Each S-500 missile can intercept ten ICBMs at speeds up to 15,480 miles an hour, altitudes of 115 miles and horizontal range of 2,174 miles. Moscow insists the system will only be operational in 2017. If Russia is able to rollout 10,000 S-500 missiles, they can intercept 100,000 American ICBMs by the time the U.S. has a new White House tenant.

Once again, the real Masters of the Universe seem to have done the math. Can’t reduce Russia to ashes. Can’t win in the New (Silk) World Order. Might as well sit down and talk. But hold your (geopolitical) horses; they might still change their mind.


Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

Rejoice with the ‘new’ House of Saud

Off the keyboard of Pepe Escobar
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saudiheaddress

Originally published in Asia Times on May 8, 2015

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It’s fascinating to watch the vast, well-rewarded western army of Saudi lobbyists/stenographers singing the praises of a “traditional and conservative institution”, a.k.a. the House of Saud, now embarking on a new, “assertive foreign policy.”

As this concerns the ideological matrix of all Salafi-jihadi variations in the demented galaxy of Wahhabi extremism, I’d rather call it a Mob rule update. Not nearly as entertaining as Coppola’sGodfather saga, but certainly more sinister.

Imagine the outrage, broadcasted to distant galaxies, if this was taking place in certified opponents of the Empire of Chaos such as Iran, Venezuela, Ecuador, Russia or China. But as the House of Saud are “our bastards”, complete with a minister, Ali al-Naimi, capable of saying that Allah should set oil prices, they can get away with literally anything.

New House of Saud capo di tutti I capi, King Salman, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, must have been brushing up on his Al Pacino to learn how to be swift as a dagger. Lesson learned; with a single move, he achieved the following:

He got rid of his half-brother and sitting Crown Prince, Muqrin. Muqrin duly pledged allegiance to the new boss.

He promoted his nephew, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, from No. 3 to No. 2 in the House of Saud succession line.

He promoted his own son, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, to No. 3.

He got rid of the former, eternal, Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal, and placed a Washington darling, the non-royal Adel al-Jubeir, who as ambassador to the U.S. has been the voice, in English, not lost in translation, of the (illegal) Saudi war on Yemen.

He gave the entire military and security forces a bonus of one-month’s pay.

He separated the Saudi Oil Ministry from ARAMCO, the state-owned oil company. Gotta try to balance the books — especially with the Saudi-instigated oil price war going nowhere; the ridiculously expensive war on Yemen; and all those huge bonuses to content the subjects; after all, virtually everyone in the oil hacienda works for the House of Saud. It was Salman’s son, Mohammed bin Salman, who came up with the oil ministry/ARAMCO scheme.

Married to the Mob, remixed

Here’s what the world needs to know about the Mob rule update.

Let’s start with the “youthful” Prince Mohammed bin Salman (What’s not to like? Fawning western hagiographers gleefully speculate over his age like he’s a precious damsel in distress, not a black-bearded hunk. Anything goes, but not upwards of 35.)

The Royal Youthful “wields enormous power” and as defense minister has been prosecuting the (illegal) bombing/war/”kinetic operation” on Yemen. The king himself vaunted his “massive capabilities”. Saudi sources tell me he’s been a (incompetent) cross of Dr. Evil and Mini-Me, with no Austin Powers to save his day. Although he’s a pop star and a TV celebrity inside the Mob hacienda, he’s convinced absolutely no one – from Egypt to Pakistan – to send troops to “his” war.

For his new No. 3 role, according to the official spin, he gained “support from the vast majority of members of the Council of Allegiance.” The operative word here is “vast majority.” This implies Muqrin’s people were a tad uncomfortable. The Council of Allegiance is a group of 35 descendants of the Mob founder, King Abdul Aziz bin Saud.

The Royal Youthful, according to his official biography, had a murky “professional career of 10 years” but then — miraculously — became a special adviser to his father, then governor of Riyadh. He was appointed defense minister and chief of the royal court the same day, Jan. 23, when Salman became king, after the death of former king Abdullah, whose entire family has been completely erased politically.

Mohammed bin Nayef, 55, the new crown prince, is very much loved in the Beltway as a sort of top Saudi cop and a counterterrorism tough guy. He allegedly defeated al-Qaeda inside Saudi Arabia just for it to regroup in Yemen and now, for all practical purposes, enjoy indirect Mob help, adding new meaning to the concept of married to the Mob. His father, the ultra-right winger late Crown Prince Nayef, was colorfully known as the Black Prince.

As the new number two, Nayef will be a busy fellow — as he remains head of the economic and development council, and was also named second deputy prime minister. For all practical purposes, he’s the new go-to guy in the Mob.

As for al-Jubeir, he’s being lauded by the usual suspects for his “expertise” in U.S. politics. Nonsense; al-Jubeir was directly appointed by Washington.

Within this ballet, it’s Muqrin’s silence that speaks volumes. He’s the son of a Yemeni slave girl; was a key protégé of late King Abdullah; and is not exactly close to Salman’s branch of the Mob, the Sudairis. Bets are off on when he’ll finally spill the beans, if ever, about what walks and talks like a palace coup.

What’s the strategy today?

Whatever the scope of the shake-up, the “new” House of Saud – with the Obama administration “leading from behind” — will keep selling the fiction that it’s freeing Yemen from a bunch of terrorists, when it’s actually empowering al-Qaeda in the Arabic Peninsula (AQAP). It’s AQAP’s fierce enemies — the Houthis — which have been bombed under the orders of the Royal Youthful.

Not to mention the fact the revamped Mob — with a little help from Qatari and Turkish friends — is making sure the Nusra Front (al-Qaeda’s Syrian spinoff) and ISIS/ISIL/Daesh (which originally split from al-Qaeda) are advancing on all fronts across “Syraq”.

And beyond the scope of the shake-up, as wily Israelis have already identified it, the self-described “Don’t Do Stupid Stuff” Obama administration will keep duly following convoluted Mob mantras. Sort of. As if there’s any coherence in support for hardcore jihadis in Syria but bombing of hardcore jihadis in Iraq; support for hardcore jihadis in Yemen; support for hardcore jihadis in Libya and then repression of hardcore jihadis in Libya, and so it goes.

What makes it even more absurd is that the “new” House of Saud absolutely detests Washington’s “strategy” in Iraq and doesn’t believe for a second there’s a “strategy” for Syria. As for its own convoluted war on Yemen, it’s much less about Wahhabis hating “apostate” Shi’ites than Wahhabis impermeable to any whiff of Arab Spring near their borders.

Mob rule is in effect since 1902, enforced either by founder Ibn Saud Abdul-Aziz, or his sons. King Salman will be the last of his sons in power. The Royal Youthful is already sharpening his daggers. Expect western corporate media to make him more popular than Justin Bieber.


Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

Pakistan enters the New Silk Road

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silk-road1-1024x528

Originally published in Asia Times on April 24, 2015


 

Now how do you top this as a geopolitical entrance? Eight JF-17 Thunder fighter jets escorting Chinese President Xi Jinping on board an Air China Boeing as he enters Pakistani air space. And these JF-17s are built as a China-Pakistan joint project.

Silk Road? Better yet; silk skyway.

Just to drive the point home – and into everyone’s homes – a little further, Xi penned a column widely distributed to Pakistani media before his first overseas trip in 2015.

He stressed, “We need to form a ‘1+4′ cooperation structure with the Economic Corridor at the center and the Gwadar Port, energy, infrastructure and industrial cooperation being the four key areas to drive development across Pakistan and deliver tangible benefits to its people.”

Quick translation: China is bringing Pakistan into the massive New Silk Road(s) project with a bang.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry, also on cue, stressed that Pakistan would be in the frontline to benefit from the $40 billion Silk Road Fund, which will help to finance the Silk Road Economic Belt and Maritime Silk Road projects; or, in Chinese jargon, “One Belt, One Road”, that maze of roads, high-speed rail, ports, pipelines and fiber optics networks bound to turbo-charge China’s links to Europe through Russia, Central Asia and the Indian Ocean.

The Silk Road Fund will disburse funds in parallel with the new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), which has already enticed no less than 57 countries. China’s assistant foreign minister, Liu Jianchao, has not delved into detailed numbers, but he assures China “stands ready to provide financing.”

So no wonder Pakistani media was elated. A consensus is also fast emerging that China is becoming “Pakistan’s most important ally” from either West or East.

Beijing’s carefully calibrated commercial offensive mixing Chinese leadership concepts such as harmonious society and Chinese dream with a “win-win” neighborhood policy seduces by the numbers alone: $46 billion in investment in Pakistan ($11 billion in infrastructure, $35 billion in energy), compared to a U.S. Congress’s $7.5 billion program that’s been in place since 2008.

The meat of the matter is that Washington’s “help” to Islamabad is enveloped in outdated weapons systems, while Beijing is investing in stuff that actually benefits people in Pakistan; think of $15.5 billion in coal, wind, solar and hydro energy projects bound to come online by 2017, or a $44 million optical fiber cable linking China and Pakistan.

According to the Center for Global Development, between 2002 and 2009 no less than 70% of U.S. aid was about “security” –  related to the never-ending GWOT (global war on terror). As a Pakistani analyst wrote me, “just compare Xi’s vision for his neighbors and the history of America in Latin America. It is like the difference between heaven and hell.”

That “X” factor

At the heart of the action is the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), whose embryo had already been discussed when Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif visited Beijing in the summer of 2013. The economic corridor, across 3,000 km, will link the port of Gwadar, in the Arabian Sea, not far from the Iranian border, with China’s Xinjiang.

China is already in Gwadar; China Overseas Port Holding Company is operating it for two years now, after helping to build the first phase. Gwadar formally opens before the end of the month, but a first-class highway and railway linking it to the rest of Pakistan still need to be built (mostly by Chinese companies), not to mention an international airport, scheduled to open by 2017.

All this action implies a frenzy of Chinese workers building roads, railways – and power plants. Their security must be assured. And that means solving the “X” factor; “X” as in Xinjiang, China’s vast far west, home to only 22 million people including plenty of disgruntled Uyghurs.

Beijing-based analyst Gabriele Battaglia has detailed how Xinjiang has been addressed according to the new guiding principle of President Xi’s ethnic policy. The key idea, says Battaglia, is to manage the ethnic conflict between Han Chinese and Uyghurs by applying the so-called three “J”: jiaowangjiaoliujiaorong, that is, “inter-ethnic contact”, “exchange” and “mixage”.

Yet what is essentially a push towards assimilation coupled with some economic incentives is far from assured success; after all the bulk of Xinjiang’s day-to-day policy is conducted by unprepared Han cadres who tend to view most Uyghurs as “terrorists”.

Many of these cadres identify any separatist stirring in Xinjiang as CIA-provoked, which is not totally true. There is an extreme Uyghur minority which actually entered Wahhabi-driven jihadism (I met some of them in Masoud’s prisons in the Panjshir valley before 9/11) and has gone to fight everywhere from Chechnya to Syria. But what the overwhelming majority really wants is an economic shot at the Chinese dream.

The Pakistani counterpart to Xinjiang is Balochistan, inhabited by a little over 6 million people. There have been at least three different separatist factions/movements in Balochistan fighting Islamabad and what they call “Punjabis” with a vengeance. Former provincial minister Jaffar Khan Mandokhel, for instance, is already warning there will be a “strong reaction” across Balochistan to changes in the corridor’s routes, which, he says, “are meant to give maximum benefit to Punjab, which is already considered the privileged province.” Islamabad denies any changes.

The corridor is also bound to bypass most of the key, northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Opposition political star Imran Khan – whose party is on top in Khyber – has already condemned it as an injustice.

Beijing, for its part, has been very explicit to Islamabad; the Pakistani Taliban must be defeated, or at least appeased. That explains why since June 2014 the Pakistani army has been involved in a huge aerial bombing campaign – Zarb-e Azb – againt the Haqqani network and other hardcore tribals. The Pakistani army has already set up a special division to take care of the corridor, including nine battalions and the proverbial paramilitary forces. None of this though is a guarantee of success.

Karakoram or bust

It will be absolutely fascinating to watch how China and Pakistan, simultaneously, may be able to keep the peace in both Xinjiang and Balochistan to assure booming trade along the corridor. Geographicaly though, this all makes perfect sense.

Xinjiang is closer to the Arabian Sea than Shanghai. Shanghai is twice more distant from Urumqi than Karachi. So no wonder Beijing thinks of Pakistan as a sort of Hong Kong West, as I examined in some detail here.

This is also a microcosm of East and South Asia integration, and even Greater Asia integration, if we include China, Iran, Afghanistan, and even Myanmar.

The spectacular Karakoram highway, from Kashgar to Islamabad, a feat of engineering completed by the Chinese working alongside the Pakistan Army Corps of engineers, will be upgraded, and extended all the way to Gwadar. A railway will also be built. And in the near future, yet another key Pipelineistan stretch.

Pipelineistan is linked to the corridor also in the form of the Iran-Pakistan (IP) gas pipeline, which Beijing will help Islamabad to finish to the tune of $2 billion, after successive U.S. administrations relentlessly tried to derail it. The geopolitical dividends of China blessing a steel umbilical cord between Iran and Pakistan are of course priceless.

The end result is that early in the 2020s China will be connected in multiple ways practically with the mouth of the Persian Gulf. Large swathes of massive China-Europe trade will be able to avoid the Strait of Malacca. China will be turbo-charging trade with the Middle East and Africa. China-bound Middle East oil will be offloaded at Gwadar and transported to Xinjiang via Balochistan – before a pipeline is finished. And Pakistan will profit from more energy, infrastructure and transit trade.

Talk about a “win-win”. And that’s not even accounting for China’s thirst for gold. Balochistan is awash with gold, and there have been new discoveries in Punjab.

New Silk Road action is nothing short than frantic. The Bank of China is already channeling $62 billion of its immense foreign exchange reserves to three policy banks supporting New Silk Road(s) projects; $32 billion to China Development Bank (CDB) and $30 billion to Export-Import Bank of China (EXIM). The Agricultural Development Bank of China (ADBC) will also get its share.

And it’s not only Pakistan; the five Central Asian “stans” – rich in oil, gas, coal, agricultural land, gold, copper, uranium – are also targeted.

There’s a new highway from Kashgar to Osh, in Kyrgyzstan, and a new railway between Urumqi and Almaty, in Kazakhstan. We may be a long way away from the new high-speed Silk Rail, but trade between, for instance, the megacities of Chongqing or Chengdu in Sichuan with Germany now moves in only 20 days; that’s 15 days less than the sea route.

So it’s no wonder a “special leading group” was set up by Beijing to oversee everything going on in the One Road, One Belt galaxy. The crucial action plan is here. Those who’re about to go silk, we salute you.


Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

Civil war up, humanism down

Off the keyboard of Pepe Escobar
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THE ROVING EYE

General Strike Leads To More Clashes in Athens

Originally published in Asia Times on April 9, 2015


“…the backward half-look

Over the shoulder, towards the primitive terror”

–T.S.Eliot, The Dry Salvages

 

These are sorrowful – and dangerous – times. We’re powerless facing the perennial Middle Eastern agonies or the build up towards Cold War 2.0; the myriad ramifications of the Pentagon’s Long War or the pauperization of the Western world’s middle classes. The feeling of a global civil war is unmistakable. At least, in a few obscure corners of NATOstan, some of the best and the brightest, in silence, are thinking.

In a short volume – Stasis. La Guerra Civile come Paradigma Politico – based on two seminaries at Princeton and available in Italian and French but not yet in English, master philosopher Giorgio Agamben identifies civil war as the West’s fundamental sign of politicization. The key question is whether this proposition has been altered by our civilizational plunge into the dimension of global civil war.

Stasis is the civil war that provoked trouble inside the ancient Greek polis. Hannah Arendt was already conceptualizing global civil war in 1963. Agamben argues that in global historical terms, civil war now is represented by terrorism.

So if Foucault was right when he qualified modern politics as “biopolitics,” says Agamben, “terrorism is the form taken by civil war when life becomes a political game.”

It’s all about the balance between oikos (the family) and polis (the city) as the Greeks – always them – identified it. So, when the polis presents itself under the reassuring face of an oikos, as in the so comforting image of the “house of Europe” sold by Brussels, or in “the world as the absolute space of global economic management,” Agamben argues, “the stasis, which cannot be placed between oikos and polis, becomes the paradigm of every conflict and assumes the figure of terror.”

Thus terrorism equals global civil war. The next step, which Agamben does not take – after all it’s a short essay  –  would be to qualify the myriad declinations of terrorism; not only of the ISIS/ISIL/Daesh kind, but also state terrorism, as in the indiscriminate killing of civilians worldwide by our usual imperial and sub-imperial suspects.

isis al qaeda

Barbarism begins at home

As terrorism is a form of barbarism, another short essay – L’Europe a Deux Visages – by master sociologist Edgar Morin, goes a step further as he takes us on a brief but very ambitious anthropology of human barbarism.

Morin argues that the ideas of Homo sapiens, Homo faber and Homo economicus are insufficient. After all, Homo sapiens can become Homo demens (see the endless political archive of delirium and dementia, from Nero to Dick Cheney). Homo faber may also produce an endless collection of myths. And Homo economicus may also turn into Homo ludens, a joyful player (German Finance Minister Schauble excluded.)

Human barbarity belongs of course to Homo demens; an avid producer of delirium (Daesh’s Caliph Ibrahim), hatred (Saudis against Shi’ites), contempt (the wealthy towards the downtrodden) and – the Greeks, once again – hubris (the trials and tribulations of the Empire of Chaos). Not to mention, as Morin reminds us, that technology introduces its own form of barbarism; the barbarism of pure, glacial calculation.

Morin shows us that Europe may not have had the monopoly of barbarism, but has certainly manifested all forms of barbarism recorded in history in a much more durable, massive and innovative form. And he ties all this innovation to the formation of the modern European nation, in Spain, France, Portugal, England.

The most damning case is Spain. In Islamic areas – Al Andalus – there was plenty of tolerance towards Christians and Jews, and in the Christian zone, tolerance towards Muslims and Jews, up to 1492.

So what happened in 1492? “Not only the discovery of America and the start of the conquest of the New World. It was also the year of the conquest of Granada, the last Muslim bastion in Spain, and slightly later, of the decree imposing to Jews and Muslims to choose between conversion or expulsion. This European invention, the nation, was built from the start over a foundation of religious purification.”

Well, at least the West was also blessed by the Renaissance – which gestated European humanism. Morin identifies two divergent explanations for the essence of humanism. One extols the Judeo-Christian tradition. The other is about Ancient Greece – because it’s in Greek thought that human spirit and rationality affirm their autonomy. The best case can be made that humanism developed a Greek message, revitalized in Renaissance Italy. A few minutes contemplating Botticelli’s Spring at the Uffizzi may be enough to clinch the case.

Auschwitz =Hiroshima

Morin also reminds us that, “in the democratic city of Athens, goddess Athena does not govern, she protects.” The true meaning of democracy is that “responsible citizens have the government of the city in their hands.” Hard to fit Merkel, Cameron, Hollande or the new House of Saud capo into this description.

In parallel, as European barbarism evolved, Morin also reminds us that it has always treated The Other – think the Global South – as barbarian, instead of celebrating a difference and seeing the opportunity of mutual enrichment through knowledge and human relations.

There are exceptions, of course. So in our current pitiful condition the least we could do is to heed the lessons of Spinoza – for whom reason was sovereign; not “a cold, glacial reason, but a profoundly compassionate reason.” Spinoza was a spirit as independent as Montaigne – another one of our inspiring models.

Morin is implacable; if Auschwitz was supreme barbarism, so was Hiroshima. He qualifies Brussels, correctly, as an “European techno-bureaucracy”; insists that Turkey is “a European power”, especially after the fall of Byzantium; and fondly remarks that “Russian culture brought sensibility and a human depth to European culture,” as “Russia is also European.” Try telling purveyors of Cold War 2.0 about it.

So all is not lost, even though we must admit barbarism is also us. Morin tells us that to think seriously about barbarism is to contribute to regenerate humanism. So even under siege, and under the aegis of a global civil war, we shall resist, with our hearts and minds. No pasarán.


Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

Eurasian emporium or nuclear war?

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THE ROVING EYE

art: Anthony Freda

art: Anthony Freda

Originally published in Asia Times on April 6, 2015


A high-level European diplomatic source has confirmed to Asia Times that German chancellor Angela Merkel’s government has vigorously approached Beijing in an effort to disrupt its multi-front strategic partnership with Russia.

Beijing won’t necessarily listen to this political gesture from Berlin, as China is tuning the strings on its pan-Eurasian New Silk Road project, which implies close trade/commerce/business ties with both Germany and Russia.

The German gambit reveals yet more pressure by hawkish sectors of the U.S. government who are intent on targeting and encircling Russia. For all the talk about Merkel’s outrage over the U.S. National Security Agency’s tapping shenanigans, the chancellor walks Washington’s walk.  Real “outrage” means nothing unless she unilaterally ends sanctions on Russia. In the absence of such a response by Merkel, we’re in the realm of good guy-bad guy negotiating tactics.

The bottom line is that Washington cannot possibly tolerate a close Germany-Russia trade/political relationship, as it directly threatens its hegemony in the Empire of Chaos.

Thus, the whole Ukraine tragedy has absolutely nothing to do with human rights or the sanctity of borders. NATO ripped Kosovo away from Yugoslavia-Serbia without even bothering to hold a vote, such as the one that took place in Crimea.

Watch those S-500s

In parallel, another fascinating gambit is developing. Some sectors of U.S. Think Tankland – with their cozy CIA ties – are now hedging their bets about Cold War 2.0, out of fear that they have misjudged what really happens on the geopolitical chessboard.

I’ve just returned from Moscow, and there’s a feeling the Federal Security Bureau and Russian military intelligence are increasingly fed up with the endless stream of Washington/NATO provocations – from the Baltics to Central Asia, from Poland to Romania, from Azerbaijan to Turkey.

This is an extensive but still only partial summary of what’s seen all across Russia as an existential threat: Washington/NATO’s intent to block Russia’s Eurasian trade and development; destroy its defense perimeter; and entice it into a shooting war.

A shooting war is not exactly a brilliant idea. Russia’s S-500 anti-missile missiles and anti-aircraft missiles can intercept any existing ICBM, cruise missile or aircraft. S-500s travel at 15,480 miles an hour; reach an altitude of 115 miles; travel horizontally 2,174 miles; and can intercept up to ten incoming missiles. They simply cannot be stopped by any American anti-missile system.

Some on the U.S. side say  the  S-500 system is being rolled out in a crash program, as an American intel source told Asia Times. There’s been no Russian confirmation. Officially, Moscow says the system is slated to be rolled out in 2017. End result, now or later: it will seal Russian airspace. It’s easy to draw the necessary conclusions.

That makes the Obama administration’s “policy” of promoting war hysteria, coupled with unleashing a sanction, ruble and oil war against Russia, the work of a bunch of sub-zoology specimens.

Some adults in the EU have already seen the writing on the (nuclear) wall. NATO’s conventional defenses are a joke. Any military buildup – as it’s happening now – is also a joke, as it could be demolished by the 5,000 tactical nuclear weapons Moscow would be able to use.

When in doubt, bully

Of course it takes time to turn the current Cold War 2.0 mindset around, but there are indications the Masters of the Universe are listening – as this essay shows. Call it the first (public) break in the ice.

Let’s assume Russia decided to mobilize five million troops, and switch to military production. The “West” would back down to an entente cordiale in a flash. And let’s assume Moscow decided to confiscate what remains of dodgy oligarch wealth. Vladimir Putin’s approval rate – which is not exactly shabby as it stands – would soar to at least 98%. Putin has been quite restrained so far. And still his childishly hysterical demonization persists.

It’s a non-stop escalation scenario. Color revolutions. The Maidan coup. Sanctions; “evil” Hitler/Putin; Ukraine to enter NATO; NATO bases all over. And yet reality – as in the Crimean counter coup, and the battlefield victories by the armies of the People’s Republics of Donetsk and Lugansk – has derailed the most elaborate U.S. State Department/NATO plans. On top of it Merkel and France’s Francois Hollande were forced into an entente cordiale with Russia – on Minsk 2 – because they knew that would be the only way to stop Washington from further weaponizing Kiev.

Putin is essentially committed to a very complex preservation/flowering process of Russia’s history and culture, with overtones of pan-Slavism and Eurasianism. Comparing him to Hitler does not even qualify as a kindergarten prank.

Yet don’t expect Washington neo-cons to understand Russian history or culture. Most of them would not even survive a Q&A on their beloved heroes Leo Strauss and Carl Schmitt. Moreover, their anti-intellectualism and exceptionalist arrogance creates only a privileged space for undiluted bullying.

A U.S. academic, one of my sources, sent a letter to Nancy Pelosi copied to a notorious neo-con, the husband of Victoria, the Queen of Nulandistan. Here’s the neo-con’s response, via his Brookings Institution email: “Why don’t you go (expletive deleted)  yourself?” Yet another graphic case of husband and wife deserving each other.

At least there seem to be sound IQs in the Beltway driven to combat the neo-con cell inside the State Department, the neo-con infested editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post, an array of think tanks, and of course NATO, whose current military leader, Gen. Breedlove/Breedhate, is working hard on his post-mod impersonation of Dr. Strangelove.

Russian “aggression” is a myth. Moscow’s strategy, so far, has been pure self-defense. Moscow in a flash will strongly advance a strategic cooperation with the West if the West understands Russia’s security interests. If those are violated – as in provoking the bear – the bear will respond. A minimum understanding of history reveals that the bear knows one or two things about enduring suffering. It simply won’t collapse – or melt away.

Meanwhile, another myth has also been debunked: That sanctions would badly hurt Russia’s exports and trade surpluses. Of course there was hurt, but bearable. Russia enjoys a wealth of raw materials and massive internal production capability – enough to meet the bulk of internal demand.

So we’re back to the EU, Russia and China, and everyone in between, all joining the greatest trade emporium in history across the whole of Eurasia. That’s what Putin proposed in Germany a few years ago, and that’s what the Chinese are already doing. And what do the neo-cons propose? A nuclear war on European soil.


Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

Pepe Escobar in eastern Ukraine: Howling in Donetsk

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THE ROVING EYE

Nulandistan

Originally published in Asia Times on March 30, 2015

Asia Times’ roving correspondent Pepe Escobar just returned from a reporting trip to the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR), the pro-Russian enclave in the Donetsk Oblast province of eastern Ukraine. The area’s been the scene of heavy fighting between pro-Russian rebels and the Ukrainian military. Escobar traveled to Donetsk at the invitation of  Europa Objektiv, a German-based non-governmental media project. He traveled at his own expense.

 


I’ve just been to the struggling Donetsk People’s Republic. Now I’m back in the splendid arrogance and insolence of NATOstan.

Quite a few people – in Donbass, in Moscow, and now in Europe – have asked me what struck me most about this visit.

I could start by paraphrasing Allen Ginsberg in Howl – “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness.”

But these were the Cold War mid-1950s. Now we’re in early 21st century Cold War 2.0 .

Thus what I saw were the ghastly side effects of the worst minds of my – and a subsequent – generation corroded by (war) madness.

I saw refugees on the Russian side of the border, mostly your average middle-class European family whose kids, when they first came to the shelter,  would duck under tables when they heard a plane in the sky.

I saw the Dylan of Donetsk holed up in his lonely room in a veterans’ home turned refugee shelter fighting the blues and the hopelessness by singing songs of love and heroism.

The Dylan of Donetsk

I saw whole families holed up in fully decorated Soviet-era bomb shelters too afraid to go out even by daylight, traumatized by the bombings orchestrated by Kiev’s “anti-terrorist operations”.

Soviet-era bomb shelter

I saw a modern, hard-working industrial city at least half-empty and partially destroyed but not bent, able to survive by their guts and guile with a little help from Russian humanitarian convoys.

I saw beautiful girls hangin’ out by Lenin’s statue in a central square lamenting their only shot at fun was family parties in each other’s houses because nightlife was dead and “we’re at war”.

Donetsk girls by Lenin's statue

I saw virtually the whole neighborhood of Oktyabrski near the airport bombed out like Grozny and practically deserted except for a few lonely babushkas with nowhere to go and too proud to relinquish their family photos of World War II heroes.

Bombed out Oktyabrski neighborhood

I saw checkpoints like I was back in Baghdad during the Petraeus surge.

I saw the main trauma doctor at the key Donetsk hospital confirm there has been no Red Cross and no international humanitarian help to the people of Donetsk.

Oktyabrski neighborhood, bombed hospital

Oktyabrski neighborhood, bombed hospital

I saw Stanislava, one of DPR’s finest and an expert sniper, in charge of our security, cry when she laid a flower on the ground of a fierce battle in which her squad was under heavy fire, with twenty seriously wounded and one dead, and she was hit by shrapnel and survived.

I saw orthodox churches fully destroyed by Kiev’s bombing.

I saw the Russian flag still on top of the anti-Maidan building which is now the House of Government of the DPR.

I saw the gleaming Donbass arena, the home of Shaktar Donetsk and a UFO in a war-torn city, deserted and without a single soul in the fan area.

I saw Donetsk’s railway station bombed by Kiev’s goons.

I saw a homeless man screaming “Robert Plant!” and “Jimmy Page!” as I found out he was still in love with Led Zeppelin and kept his vinyl copies.

I saw a row of books which never surrendered behind the cracked windows of bombed out Oktyabrski.

I saw the fresh graves where the DPR buries their resistance heroes.

I saw the top of the hill at Saur-mogila which the DPR resistance lost and then reconquered, with a lone red-white-blue flag now waving in the wind.

Top of the hill at Saur-moglia

Top of the hill at Saur-moglia

 

I saw the Superman rising from the destruction at Saur-mogila – the fallen statue in a monument to World War II heroes, which seventy years ago was fighting fascism and now has been hit, but not destroyed, by fascists.

 

The superman statue rising from the destruction at Saur-mogila

I saw the Debaltsevo cauldron in the distance and then I could fully appreciate, geographically, how DPR tactics surrounded and squeezed the demoralized Kiev fighters.

I saw the DPR’s military practicing their drills by the roadside from Donetsk to Lugansk.

I saw the DPR’s Foreign Minister hopeful there would be a political solution instead of war while admitting personally he dreams of a DPR as an independent nation.

I saw two badass Cossack commanders tell me in a horse-breeding farm in holy Cossack land that the real war has not even started.

I did not see the totally destroyed Donetsk airport because the DPR’s military were too concerned about our safety and would not grant us a permit while the airport was being hit – in defiance of Minsk 2; but I saw the destruction and the pile of Ukrainian army bodies on the mobile phone of a Serbian DPR resistance fighter.

I did not see, as Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe international observers also didn’t, the rows and rows of Russian tanks and soldiers that the current Dr. Strangelove in charge of NATO, General Breedhate, sees everyday in his exalted dreams invading Ukraine over and over again.

And I did not see the arrogance, the ignorance, the shamelessness and the lies distorting those manicured faces in Kiev, Washington and Brussels while they insist, over and over again, that the entire population of Donbass, traumatized babushkas and children of all ages included, are nothing but “terra-rists”.

After all, they are Western “civilization”-enabled cowards who would never dare to show their manicured faces to the people of Donbass.

So this is my gift to them.

Just a howl of anger and unbounded contempt.

 


Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

Germany’s future lies East

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THE ROVING EYE

Reuters / Ueslei Marcelino

Reuters / Ueslei Marcelino 

Originally published in Asia Times on March 3, 2015
Discuss this article here in the Diner Forum.

What the BRICS plus Germany are really up to?

Winston Churchill once said, “I feel lonely without a war.” He also badly missed the loss of empire. Churchill’s successor – the ‘Empire of Chaos’ – now faces the same quandary. Some wars – as in Ukraine, by proxy – are not going so well.

And the loss of empire increasingly manifests itself in myriad moves by selected players aiming towards a multipolar world.

So no wonder US ‘Think Tankland’ is going bonkers, releasing wacky CIA-tinted “forecasts” where Russia is bound to disintegrate, and China is turning into a communist dictatorship. So much (imperial) wishful thinking, so little time to prolong hegemony.

The acronym that all these “forecasts” dare not reveal is BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa). BRICS is worse than the plague as far as the ‘Masters of the Universe’ that really control the current – rigged – world system are concerned. True, the BRICS are facing multiple problems. Brazil at the moment is totally paralyzed; a long, complex, self-defeating process, now coupled with intimations of regime change by local ‘Empire of Chaos’ minions. It will take time, but Brazil will rebound.

That leaves the “RIC” – Russia, India and China – in BRICS as the key drivers of change. For all their interlocking discrepancies, they all agree they don’t need to challenge the hegemon directly while aiming for a new multipolar order.

The BRICS New Development Bank (NDB) – a key alternative to the IMF enabling developing nations to get rid of the US dollar as a reserve currency – will be operative by the end of this year. The NDB will finance infrastructure and sustainable development projects not only in the BRICS nations but other developing nations. Forget about the Western-controlled World Bank, whose capital and lending capacity are never increased by the so-called Western “powers.” The NDB will be an open institution. BRICS nations will keep 55 percent of the voting power, and outside their domain no country will be allowed more than 7 percent of votes. But crucially, developing nations may also become partners and receive loans.

Russia's President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech as he attends the VI BRICS Summit in Fortaleza July 15, 2014.(Reuters / Paulo Whitaker )

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech as he attends the VI BRICS Summit in Fortaleza July 15, 2014.(Reuters / Paulo Whitaker )

Damn those communists

A tripartite entente cordiale is also in the making. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be in China next May – and ‘Chindia’ will certainly engage in a breakthrough concerning their bitter territorial disputes. As much as Delhi has a lot to benefit from China’s massive capital investment and exports, Beijing wants to profit from India’s vast market and technology savvy. In parallel, Beijing has already volunteered economic help to Russia – if Moscow asks for it – on top of their evolving strategic partnership.

The US “pivoting to Asia” – launched at the Pentagon – is all dressed up with no place to go. Bullying Southeast Asia, South Asia and, for that matter, East Asia as a whole into becoming mere ‘Empire of Chaos’ vassals – and on top of it confronting China – was always a non-starter. Not to mention believing in the fairy tale of a remilitarized Japan able to “contain” China.

Isolating the “communist dictatorship” won’t fly. Just watch, for instance, the imminent high-speed rail link between Kunming, in Yunnan province, and Singapore, traversing a key chunk of a Southeast Asia which for Washington would never qualify to be more than a bunch of client states. The emerging 21st century Asia is all about interconnection; and the inexorable sun in this galaxy is China.

As China has embarked in an extremely complex tweaking of its economic development model, as I outlined here, China’s monopoly of low-end manufacturing – its previous industrial base – is migrating across the developing world, especially around the Indian Ocean basin. Good news for the Global South – and that includes everyone from African nations such as Kenya and Tanzania to parts of Southeast Asia and Latin America.

Of course the ‘Empire of Chaos’, business-wise, won’t be thrown out of Asia. But its days as an Asian hegemon, or a geopolitical Mob offering “protection”, are over.

The Chinese remix of Go West, Young Man – in fact go everywhere – started as early as 1999. Of the top 10 biggest container ports in the world, no less than 7 are in China (the others are Singapore, Rotterdam, and Pusan in South Korea). As far as the 12th Chinese 5-year plan – whose last year is 2015 – is concerned, most of the goals of the seven technology areas China wanted to be in the leading positions have been achieved, and in some cases even superseded.

The Bank of China will increasingly let the yuan move more freely against the US dollar. It will be dumping a lot of US dollars every once in a while. The 20-year old US dollar peg will gradually fade. The biggest trading nation on the planet, and the second largest economy simply cannot be anchored to a single currency. And Beijing knows very well how a dollar peg magnifies any external shocks to the Chinese economy.

Sykes-Picot is us

A parallel process in Southwest Asia will also be developing; the dismantling of the nation-state in the Middle East – as in remixing the Sykes-Picot agreement of a hundred years ago. What a stark contrast to the return of the nation-state in Europe.

There have been rumblings that the remixed Sykes is Obama and the remixed Picot is Putin. Not really. It’s the ‘Empire of Chaos’ that is actually acting as the new Sykes-Picot, directly and indirectly reconfiguring the “Greater Middle East.” Former NATO capo Gen. Wesley Clark has recently “revealed” what everyone already knew; the ISIS/ISIL/Daesh fake Caliphate is financed by “close allies of the United States,” as in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and Israel. Compare that with Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon admitting that ISIS “does not represent a threat to Israeli interests.” Daesh does the unraveling of Sykes-Picot for the US.

The ‘Empire of Chaos’ actively sought the disintegration of Iraq, Syria and especially Libya. And now, leading the House of Saud, “our” bastard in charge King Salman is none other than the former, choice jihad recruiter for Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, the Afghan Salafist who was the brains behind both Osama bin Laden and alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammad.

This is classic ‘Empire of Chaos’ in motion (exceptionalists don’t do nation building, just nation splintering). And there will be plenty of nasty, nation-shattering sequels, from the Central Asian stans to Xinjiang in China, not to mention festering, Ukraine, a.k.a Nulandistan.

Parts of Af-Pak could well turn into a branch of ISIS/ISIL/Daesh right on the borders of Russia, India, China, and Iran. From an ‘Empire of Chaos’ perspective, this potential bloodbath in the “Eurasian Balkans” – to quote eminent Russophobe Dr. Zbig “Grand Chessboard” Brzezinski – is the famous “offer you can’t refuse.”

Russia and China, meanwhile, will keep betting on Eurasian integration; strengthening the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and their own internal coordination inside the BRICS; and using plenty of intel resources to go after The Caliph’s goons.

And as much as the Obama administration may be desperate for a final nuclear deal with Iran, Russia and China got to Tehran first. China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi was in Tehran two weeks ago; stressing Iran is one of China’s “foreign policy priorities” and of great “strategic importance.” Sooner rather than later Iran will be a member of the SCO. China already does plenty of roaring trade with Iran, and so does Russia, selling weapons and building nuclear plants.

Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel.(Reuters / Eric Vidal)

Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel.(Reuters / Eric Vidal)

Berlin-Moscow-Beijing?

And then there’s the German question.

Germany now exports 50 percent of its GDP. It used to be only 24 percent in 1990. For the past 10 years, half of German growth depended on exports. Translation: this is a giant economy that badly needs global markets to keep expanding. An ailing EU, by definition, does not fit the bill.

German exports are changing their recipient address. Only 40 percent – and going down – now goes to the EU; the real growth is in Asia. So Germany, in practice, is moving away from the eurozone. That does not entail Germany breaking up the euro; that would be interpreted as a nasty betrayal of the much-lauded “European project.”

What the trade picture unveils is the reason for Germany’s hardball with Greece: either you surrender, completely, or you leave the euro. What Germany wants is to keep a partnership with France and dominate Eastern Europe as an economic satellite, relying on Poland. So expect Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy to face a German wall of intransigence. So much for European “integration,” it works as long as Germany dictates all the rules.

The spanner in the works is that the double fiasco Greece + Ukraine has been exposing. Berlin as an extremely flawed European hegemon – and that’s quite an understatement. Berlin suddenly woke up to the real, nightmarish possibility of a full blown, American-instigated war in Europe’s eastern borderlands against Russia. No wonder Angela Merkel had to fly to Moscow in a hurry.

Moscow – diplomatically – was the winner. And Russia won again when Turkey – fed up with trying to join the EU and being constantly blocked by, who else, Germany and France – decided to pivot to Eurasia for good, ignoring NATO and amplifying relations with both Russia and China.

That happened in the framework of a major ‘Pipelineistan’ game-changer. After Moscow cleverly negotiated the realignment of South Stream towards Turk Stream, right up to the Greek border, Putin and Greek Prime Minister Tsipras also agreed to a pipeline extension from the Turkish border across Greece to southern Europe. So Gazprom will be firmly implanted not only in Turkey but also Greece, which in itself will become mightily strategic in European ‘Pipelineistan’.

So Germany, sooner or later, must answer a categorical imperative – how to keep running massive trade surpluses while dumping their euro trade partners. The only possible answer is more trade with Russia, China and East Asia. It will take quite a while, and there will be many bumps on the road, but a Berlin-Moscow-Beijing trade/commercial axis – or the “RC” in BRICS meet Germany – is all but inevitable.

And no, you won’t read that in any wacky US ‘Think Tankland’ “forecast.”

 

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

Russia, China mock divide and rule

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THE ROVING EYE

Map-New_Silk_Road

Originally published in Asia Times on December 23, 2014
Discuss this article here in the Diner Forum.

ROME and BEIJING – The Roman Empire did it. The British Empire copied it in style. The Empire of Chaos has always done it. They all do it. Divide et impera. Divide and rule – or divide and conquer. It’s nasty, brutish and effective. Not forever though, like diamonds, because empires do crumble.

A room with a view to the Pantheon may be a celebration of Venus – but also a glimpse on the works of Mars. I had been in Rome essentially for a symposium – Global WARning – organized by a very committed, talented group led by a former member of European Parliament, Giulietto Chiesa. Three days later, as the run on the rouble was unleashed, Chiesa was arrested and expelled from Estonia as persona non grata, yet another graphic illustration of the anti-Russia hysteria gripping the Baltic nations and the Orwellian grip NATO has on Europe’s weak links. [1] Dissent is simply not allowed.

At the symposium, held in a divinely frescoed former 15th century Dominican refectory now part of the Italian parliament’s library, Sergey Glazyev, on the phone from Moscow, gave a stark reading of Cold War 2.0. There’s no real “government” in Kiev; the US ambassador is in charge. An anti-Russia doctrine has been hatched in Washington to foment war in Europe – and European politicians are its collaborators. Washington wants a war in Europe because it is losing the competition with China.

Glazyev addressed the sanctions dementia: Russia is trying simultaneously to reorganize the politics of the International Monetary Fund, fight capital flight and minimize the effect of banks closing credit lines for many businessmen. Yet the end result of sanctions, he says, is that Europe will be the ultimate losers economically; bureaucracy in Europe has lost economic focus as American geopoliticians have taken over.

Only three days before the run on the rouble, I asked Rosneft’s Mikhail Leontyev (Press-Secretary – Director of the Information and Advertisement Department) about the growing rumors of the Russian government getting ready to apply currency controls. At the time, no one knew an attack on rouble would be so swift, and conceived as a checkmate to destroy the Russian economy. After sublime espressos at the Tazza d’Oro, right by the Pantheon, Leontyev told me that currency controls were indeed a possibility. But not yet.

What he did emphasize was this was outright financial war, helped by a fifth column in the Russian establishment. The only equal component in this asymmetrical war was nuclear forces. And yet Russia would not surrender. Leontyev characterized Europe not as a historical subject but as an object: “The European project is an American project.” And “democracy” had become fiction.

The run on the rouble came and went like a devastating economic hurricane. Yet you don’t threat a checkmate against a skilled chess player unless your firepower is stronger than Jupiter’s lightning bolt. Moscow survived. Gazprom heeded the request of President Vladimir Putin and will sell its US dollar reserves on the domestic market. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier went on the record against the EU further “turning the screw” as in more counterproductive sanctions against Moscow. And at his annual press conference, Putin emphasized how Russia would weather the storm. Yet I was especially intrigued by what he did not say. [2]

As Mars took over, in a frenetic acceleration of history, I retreated to my Pantheon room trying to channel Seneca; from euthymia – interior serenity – to that state of imperturbability the Stoics defined as aponia. Still, it’s hard to cultivate euthymia when Cold War 2.0 rages.

Show me your imperturbable missile
Russia could always deploy an economic “nuclear” option, declaring a moratorium on its foreign debt. Then, if Western banks seized Russian assets, Moscow could seize every Western investment in Russia. In any event, the Pentagon and NATO’s aim of a shooting war in the European theater would not happen; unless Washington was foolish enough to start it.

Still, that remains a serious possibility, with the Empire of Chaos accusing Russia of violating the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) even as it prepares to force Europe in 2015 to accept the deployment of US nuclear cruise missiles.

Russia could outmaneuver Western financial markets by cutting them off from its wealth of oil and natural gas. The markets would inevitably collapse – uncontrolled chaos for the Empire of Chaos (or “controlled chaos”, in Putin’s own words). Imagine the crumbling of the quadrillion-plus of derivatives. It would take years for the “West” to replace Russian oil and natural gas, but the EU’s economy would be instantly devastated.

Just this lightning-bolt Western attack on the rouble – and oil prices – using the crushing power of Wall Street firms had already shaken European banks exposed to Russia to the core; their credit default swaps soared. Imagine those banks collapsing in a Lehman Brothers-style house of cards if Russia decided to default – thus unleashing a chain reaction. Think about a non-nuclear MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) – in fact warless. Still, Russia is self-sufficient in all kinds of energy, mineral wealth and agriculture. Europe isn’t. This could become the lethal result of war by sanctions.

Essentially, the Empire of Chaos is bluffing, using Europe as pawns. The Empire of Chaos is as lousy at chess as it is at history. What it excels in is in upping the ante to force Russia to back down. Russia won’t back down.

Darkness dawns at the break of chaos
Paraphrasing Bob Dylan in When I Paint My Masterpiece, I left Rome and landed in Beijing. Today’s Marco Polos travel Air China; in 10 years, they will be zooming up in reverse, taking high-speed rail from Shanghai to Berlin. [3]

From a room in imperial Rome to a room in a peaceful hutong – a lateral reminiscence of imperial China. In Rome, the barbarians swarm inside the gates, softly pillaging the crumbs of such a rich heritage, and that includes the local Mafia. In Beijing, the barbarians are kept under strict surveillance; of course there’s a Panopticon element to it, essential to assure internal social peace. The leadership of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) – ever since the earth-shattering reforms by the Little Helmsman Deng Xiaoping – is perfectly conscious that its Mandate of Heaven is directly conditioned by the perfect fine-tuning of nationalism and what we could term “neoliberalism with Chinese characteristics”.

In a different vein of the “soft beds of the East” seducing Marcus Aurelius, the silky splendors of chic Beijing offer a glimpse of an extremely self-assured emerging power. After all, Europe is nothing but a catalogue of multiple sclerosis and Japan is under its sixth recession in 20 years.

To top it off, in 2014 President Xi Jinping has deployed unprecedented diplomatic/geostrategic frenzy – ultimately tied to the long-term project of slowly but surely keeping on erasing US supremacy in Asia and rearranging the global chessboard. What Xi said in Shanghai in May encapsulates the project; “It’s time for Asians to manage the affairs of Asia.” At the APEC meeting in November, he doubled down, promoting an “Asia-Pacific dream”.

Meanwhile, frenzy is the norm. Apart from the two monster, US$725 billion gas deals – Power of Siberia and Altai pipeline – and a recent New Silk Road-related offensive in Eastern Europe, [4] virtually no one in the West remembers that in September Chinese Prime Minister Li Keiqiang signed no fewer than 38 trade deals with the Russians, including a swap deal and a fiscal deal, which imply total economic interplay.

A case can be made that the geopolitical shift towards Russia-China integration is arguably the greatest strategic maneuver of the last 100 years. Xi’s ultimate master plan is unambiguous: a Russia-China-Germany trade/commerce alliance. German business/industry wants it badly, although German politicians still haven’t got the message. Xi – and Putin – are building a new economic reality on the Eurasian ground, crammed with crucial political, economic and strategic ramifications.

Of course, this will be an extremely rocky road. It has not leaked to Western corporate media yet, but independent-minded academics in Europe (yes, they do exist, almost like a secret society) are increasingly alarmed there is no alternative model to the chaotic, entropic hardcore neoliberalism/casino capitalism racket promoted by the Masters of the Universe.

Even if Eurasian integration prevails in the long run, and Wall Street becomes a sort of local stock exchange, the Chinese and the emerging multipolar world still seem to be locked into the existing neoliberal model.

And yet, as much as Lao Tzu, already an octogenarian, gave the young Confucius an intellectual slap on the face, the “West” could do with a wake-up call. Divide et impera? It’s not working. And it’s bound to fail miserably.

As it stands, what we do know is that 2015 will be a hair-raising year in myriad aspects. Because from Europe to Asia, from the ruins of the Roman empire to the re-emerging Middle Kingdom, we all still remain under the sign of a fearful, dangerous, rampantly irrational Empire of Chaos.

Notes:
1. See here.
2. What Putin is not telling us, Russia Today, December 18, 2014.
3. Eurasian Integration vs. the Empire of Chaos, TomDispatch, December 16, 2014.
4. China set to make tracks for Europe, China Daily, December 18, 2014. China’s Li cements new export corridor into Europe, Channel News Asia, December 16, 2014.

Pepe Escobar’s latest book, just out, is Empire of Chaos. Follow him on Facebook.

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

Go west, young Han

Off the keyboard of Pepe Escobar
Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666
Friend us on Facebook

THE ROVING EYE

chinarailway

Originally published in Asia Times on December 17, 2014
Discuss this article here in the Diner Forum.

November 18, 2014: it’s a day that should live forever in history. On that day, in the city of Yiwu in China’s Zhejiang province, 300 kilometers south of Shanghai, the first train carrying 82 containers of export goods weighing more than 1,000 tons left a massive warehouse complex heading for Madrid. It arrived on December 9.

Welcome to the new trans-Eurasia choo-choo train. At over 13,000 kilometers, it will regularly traverse the longest freight train route in the world, 40% farther than the legendary Trans-Siberian Railway. Its cargo will cross China from East to West, then Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, Poland, Germany, France, and finally Spain.

You may not have the faintest idea where Yiwu is, but businessmen plying their trades across Eurasia, especially from the Arab world, are already hooked on the city “where amazing happens!” We’re talking about the largest wholesale center for small-sized consumer goods – from clothes to toys – possibly anywhere on Earth.

The Yiwu-Madrid route across Eurasia represents the beginning of a set of game-changing developments. It will be an efficient logistics channel of incredible length. It will represent geopolitics with a human touch, knitting together small traders and huge markets across a vast landmass. It’s already a graphic example of Eurasian integration on the go. And most of all, it’s the first building block on China’s “New Silk Road”, conceivably the project of the new century and undoubtedly the greatest trade story in the world for the next decade.

Go west, young Han. One day, if everything happens according to plan (and according to the dreams of China’s leaders), all this will be yours – via high-speed rail, no less. The trip from China to Europe will be a two-day affair, not the 21 days of the present moment. In fact, as that freight train left Yiwu, the D8602 bullet train was leaving Urumqi in Xinjiang Province, heading for Hami in China’s far west. That’s the first high-speed railway built in Xinjiang, and more like it will be coming soon across China at what is likely to prove dizzying speed.

Today, 90% of the global container trade still travels by ocean, and that’s what Beijing plans to change. Its embryonic, still relatively slow New Silk Road represents its first breakthrough in what is bound to be an overland trans-continental container trade revolution.

And with it will go a basket of future “win-win” deals, including lower transportation costs, the expansion of Chinese construction companies ever further into the Central Asian “stans”, as well as into Europe, an easier and faster way to move uranium and rare metals from Central Asia elsewhere, and the opening of myriad new markets harboring hundreds of millions of people.

So if Washington is intent on “pivoting to Asia,” China has its own plan in mind. Think of it as a pirouette to Europe across Eurasia.

Defecting to the East?
The speed with which all of this is happening is staggering. Chinese President Xi Jinping launched the New Silk Road Economic Belt in Astana, Kazakhstan, in September 2013. One month later, while in Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta, he announced a 21st-century Maritime Silk Road. Beijing defines the overall concept behind its planning as “one road and one belt”, when what it’s actually thinking about is a boggling maze of prospective roads, rail lines, sea lanes, and belts.

We’re talking about a national strategy that aims to draw on the historical aura of the ancient Silk Road, which bridged and connected civilizations, east and west, while creating the basis for a vast set of interlocked pan-Eurasian economic cooperation zones. Already the Chinese leadership has green-lighted a $40 billion infrastructure fund, overseen by the China Development Bank, to build roads, high-speed rail lines, and energy pipelines in assorted Chinese provinces. The fund will sooner or later expand to cover projects in South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and parts of Europe. But Central Asia is the key immediate target.

Chinese companies will be investing in, and bidding for contracts in, dozens of countries along those planned silk roads. After three decades of development while sucking up foreign investment at breakneck speed, China’s strategy is now to let its own capital flow to its neighbors. It’s already clinched $30 billion in contracts with Kazakhstan and $15 billion with Uzbekistan. It has provided Turkmenistan with $8 billion in loans and a billion more has gone to Tajikistan.

In 2013, relations with Kyrgyzstan were upgraded to what the Chinese term “strategic level.” China is already the largest trading partner for all of them except Uzbekistan and, though the former Central Asian socialist republics of the Soviet Union are still tied to Russia’s network of energy pipelines, China is at work there, too, creating its own version of Pipelineistan, including a new gas pipeline to Turkmenistan, with more to come.

The competition among Chinese provinces for much of this business and the infrastructure that goes with it will be fierce. Xinjiang is already being reconfigured by Beijing as a key hub in its new Eurasian network. In early November 2014, Guangdong – the “factory of the world” – hosted the first international expo for the country’s Maritime Silk Road and representatives of no less than 42 countries attended the party.

President Xi himself is now enthusiastically selling his home province, Shaanxi, which once harbored the start of the historic Silk Road in Xian, as a twenty-first-century transportation hub. He’s made his New Silk Road pitch for it to, among others, Tajikistan, the Maldives, Sri Lanka, India, and Afghanistan.

Just like the historic Silk Road, the new one has to be thought of in the plural. Imagine it as a future branching maze of roads, rail lines, and pipelines. A key stretch is going to run through Central Asia, Iran, and Turkey, with Istanbul as a crossroads site. Iran and Central Asia are already actively promoting their own connections to it.

Another key stretch will follow the Trans-Siberian Railway with Moscow as a key node. Once that trans-Siberian high-speed rail remix is completed, travel time between Beijing and Moscow will plunge from the current six and a half days to only 33 hours. In the end, Rotterdam, Duisburg, and Berlin could all be nodes on this future “highway” and German business execs are enthusiastic about the prospect.

The Maritime Silk Road will start in Guangdong province en route to the Malacca Strait, the Indian Ocean, the Horn of Africa, the Red Sea and the Mediterranean, ending essentially in Venice, which would be poetic justice indeed. Think of it as Marco Polo in reverse.

All of this is slated to be completed by 2025, providing China with the kind of future “soft power” that it now sorely lacks. When President Xi hails the push to “break the connectivity bottleneck” across Asia, he’s also promising Chinese credit to a wide range of countries.

Now, mix the Silk Road strategy with heightened cooperation among the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa), with accelerated cooperation among the members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), with a more influential Chinese role over the 120-member Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) – no wonder there’s the perception across the Global South that, while the US remains embroiled in its endless wars, the world is defecting to the East.

New banks and new dreams
The recent Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Beijing was certainly a Chinese success story, but the bigger APEC story went virtually unreported in the United States. Twenty-two Asian countries approved the creation of an Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) only one year after Xi initially proposed it. This is to be yet another bank, like the BRICS Development Bank, that will help finance projects in energy, telecommunications, and transportation. Its initial capital will be $50 billion and China and India will be its main shareholders.

Consider its establishment a Sino-Indian response to the Asian Development Bank (ADB), founded in 1966 under the aegis of the World Bank and considered by most of the world as a stalking horse for the Washington consensus. When China and India insist that the new bank’s loans will be made on the basis of “justice, equity, and transparency”, they mean that to be in stark contrast to the ADB (which remains a US-Japan affair with those two countries contributing 31% of its capital and holding 25% of its voting power) – and a sign of a coming new order in Asia. In addition, at a purely practical level, the ADB won’t finance the real needs of the Asian infrastructure push that the Chinese leadership is dreaming about, which is why the AIIB is going to come in so handy.

Keep in mind that China is already the top trading partner for India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. It’s in second place when it comes to Sri Lanka and Nepal. It’s number one again when it comes to virtually all the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), despite China’s recent well-publicized conflicts over who controls waters rich in energy deposits in the region. We’re talking here about the compelling dream of a convergence of 600 million people in Southeast Asia, 1.3 billion in China, and 1.5 billion on the Indian subcontinent.

Only three APEC members – apart from the US – did not vote to approve the new bank: Japan, South Korea, and Australia, all under immense pressure from the Obama administration. (Indonesia signed on a few days late.) And Australia is finding it increasingly difficult to resist the lure of what, these days, is being called “yuan diplomacy”.

In fact, whatever the overwhelming majority of Asian nations may think about China’s self-described “peaceful rise”, most are already shying away from or turning their backs on a Washington-and-NATO-dominated trade and commercial world and the set of pacts – from the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) for Europe to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) for Asia – that would go with it.

When dragon embraces bear
Russian President Vladimir Putin had a fabulous APEC. After his country and China clinched a massive $400 billion natural gas deal in May – around the Power of Siberia pipeline, whose construction began this year – they added a second agreement worth $325 billion around the Altai pipeline originating in western Siberia.

These two mega-energy deals don’t mean that Beijing will become Moscow-dependent when it comes to energy, though it’s estimated that they will provide 17% of China’s natural gas needs by 2020. (Gas, however, makes up only 10% per cent of China’s energy mix at present.) But these deals signal where the wind is blowing in the heart of Eurasia. Though Chinese banks can’t replace those affected by Washington and EU sanctions against Russia, they are offering a Moscow battered by recent plummeting oil prices some relief in the form of access to Chinese credit.

On the military front, Russia and China are now committed to large-scale joint military exercises, while Russia’s advanced S-400 air defense missile system will soon enough be heading for Beijing. In addition, for the first time in the post-Cold War era, Putin recently raised the old Soviet-era doctrine of “collective security” in Asia as a possible pillar for a new Sino-Russian strategic partnership.

Chinese President Xi has taken to calling all this the “evergreen tree of Chinese-Russian friendship” – or you could think of it as Putin’s strategic “pivot” to China. In either case, Washington is not exactly thrilled to see Russia and China beginning to mesh their strengths: Russian excellence in aerospace, defense technology, and heavy equipment manufacturing matching Chinese excellence in agriculture, light industry, and information technology.

It’s also been clear for years that, across Eurasia, Russian, not Western, pipelines are likely to prevail. The latest spectacular Pipelineistan opera – Gazprom’s cancellation of the prospective South Stream pipeline that was to bring yet more Russian natural gas to Europe – will, in the end, only guarantee an even greater energy integration of both Turkey and Russia into the new Eurasia.

So long to the unipolar moment
All these interlocked developments suggest a geopolitical tectonic shift in Eurasia that the American media simply hasn’t begun to grasp. Which doesn’t mean that no one notices anything. You can smell the incipient panic in the air in the Washington establishment. The Council on Foreign Relations is already publishing laments about the possibility that the former sole superpower’s exceptionalist moment is “unraveling”. The US-China Economic and Security Review Commission can only blame the Chinese leadership for being “disloyal”, adverse to “reform”, and an enemy of the “liberalization” of their own economy.

The usual suspects carp that upstart China is upsetting the “international order”, will doom “peace and prosperity” in Asia for all eternity, and may be creating a “new kind of Cold War” in the region. From Washington’s perspective, a rising China, of course, remains the major “threat” in Asia, if not the world, even as the Pentagon spends gigantic sums to keep its sprawling global empire of bases intact. Those Washington-based stories about the new China threat in the Pacific and Southeast Asia, however, never mention that China remains encircled by US bases, while lacking a base of its own outside its territory.

Of course, China does face titanic problems, including the pressures being applied by the globe’s “sole superpower”. Among other things, Beijing fears threats to the security of its sea-borne energy supply from abroad, which helps explain its massive investment in helping create a welcoming Eurasian Pipelineistan from Central Asia to Siberia. Fears for its energy future also explain its urge to “escape from Malacca” by reaching for energy supplies in Africa and South America, and its much-discussed offensive to claim energy-rich areas of the East and South China seas, which Beijing is betting could become a “second Persian Gulf”, ultimately yielding 130 billion barrels of oil.

On the internal front, President Xi has outlined in detail his vision of a “results-oriented” path for his country over the next decade. As road maps go, China’s “must-do” list of reforms is nothing short of impressive. And worrying about keeping China’s economy, already the world’s number one by size, rolling along at a feverish pitch, Xi is also turbo-charging the fight against corruption, graft, and waste, especially within the Communist Party itself.

Economic efficiency is another crucial problem. Chinese state-owned enterprises are now investing a staggering $2.3 trillion a year – 43% of the country’s total investment – in infrastructure. Yet studies at Tsinghua University’s School of Management have shown that an array of investments in facilities ranging from steel mills to cement factories have only added to overcapacity and so actually undercut China’s productivity.

Xiaolu Wang and Yixiao Zhou, authors of the academic paper “Deepening Reform for China’s Long-term Growth and Development”, contend that it will be difficult for China to jump from middle-income to high-income status – a key requirement for a truly global power. For this, an avalanche of extra government funds would have to go into areas like social security/unemployment benefits and healthcare, which take up at present 9.8% and 15.1% of the 2014 budget – high for some Western countries but not high enough for China’s needs.

Still, anyone who has closely followed what China has accomplished over these past three decades knows that, whatever its problems, whatever the threats, it won’t fall apart. As a measure of the country’s ambitions for economically reconfiguring the commercial and power maps of the world, China’s leaders are also thinking about how, in the near future, relations with Europe, too, could be reshaped in ways that would be historic.

What about that “harmonious community”?

At the same moment that China is proposing a new Eurasian integration, Washington has opted for an “empire of chaos”, a dysfunctional global system now breeding mayhem and blowback across the Greater Middle East into Africa and even to the peripheries of Europe.

In this context, a “new Cold War” paranoia is on the rise in the US, Europe, and Russia. Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who knows a thing or two about Cold Wars (having ended one), couldn’t be more alarmed. Washington’s agenda of “isolating” and arguably crippling Russia is ultimately dangerous, even if in the long run it may also be doomed to failure.

At the moment, whatever its weaknesses, Moscow remains the only power capable of negotiating a global strategic balance with Washington and putting some limits on its empire of chaos. NATO nations still follow meekly in Washington’s wake and China as yet lacks the strategic clout.

Russia, like China, is betting on Eurasian integration. No one, of course, knows how all this will end. Only four years ago, Vladimir Putin was proposing “a harmonious economic community stretching from Lisbon to Vladivostok”, involving a trans-Eurasian free trade agreement. Yet today, with the US, NATO, and Russia locked in a Cold War-like battle in the shadows over Ukraine, and with the European Union incapable of disentangling itself from NATO, the most immediate new paradigm seems to be less total integration than war hysteria and fear of future chaos spreading to other parts of Eurasia.

Don’t rule out a change in the dynamics of the situation, however. In the long run, it seems to be in the cards. One day, Germany may lead parts of Europe away from NATO’s “logic”, since German business leaders and industrialists have an eye on their potentially lucrative commercial future in a new Eurasia. Strange as it might seem amid today’s war of words over Ukraine, the endgame could still prove to involve a Berlin-Moscow-Beijing alliance.

At present, the choice between the two available models on the planet seems stark indeed: Eurasian integration or a spreading empire of chaos. China and Russia know what they want, and so, it seems, does Washington. The question is: What will the other moving parts of Eurasia choose to do?

Pepe Escobar‘s latest book is Empire of Chaos (Nimble Books). Follow him on Facebook.

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

Russia, Turkey pivot across Eurasia

Off the keyboard of Pepe Escobar
Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666
Friend us on Facebook

THE ROVING EYE

Putin-chess

Originally published in Asia Times on December 8, 2014
Discuss this article here in the Diner Forum.

 

The latest, spectacular “Exit South Stream, Enter Turk Stream” Pipelinistan gambit will be sending big geopolitical shockwaves all across Eurasia for quite some time. This is what the New Great Game in Eurasia is all about.

In a nutshell, a few years ago Russia devised North Stream – fully operational – and South Stream – still a project – to bypass unreliable Ukraine as a gas transit nation. Now Russia devises a new sweet deal with Turkey to bypass the “non-constructive” (Putin’s words) approach of the European Commission (EC) concerning the European “Third Energy Package”, which prohibits one company from controlling the full cycle of extraction, transportation and sale of energy resources.

Background is essential to understand the current game. Already five years ago I was following in detail Pipelineistan’s ultimateopera – the war between rival pipelines South Stream and Nabucco. Nabucco eventually became road kill. South Stream may eventually be resurrected, but only if the EC comes to its senses (don’t bet on it.)

The 3,600 kilometer South Stream should be in place by 2016, branching out to Austria and the Balkans/Italy. Gazprom owns it with a 50% stake – along with Italy’s ENI (20%), French EDF (15%) and German Wintershall, a subsidiary of BASF (15%). As it stands, these European energy majors are not exactly beaming – to say the least. For months, Gazprom and the EC were haggling about a solution, but in the end Brussels predictably succumbed to its own mediocrity – and relentless US pressure over weak-link and European Union member Bulgaria.

Russia still gets to build a pipeline under the Black Sea, but one now redirected to Turkey and, crucially, pumping the same amount of gas South Stream would. Not to mention Russia gets to build a new LNG (liquefied natural gas) central hub in the Mediterranean. Thus Gazprom has not spent US$5 billion in vain (finance, engineering costs). The redirection makes total business sense. Turkey is Gazprom’s second-biggest customer after Germany; much bigger than Bulgaria, Hungary and Austria combined.

Russia also advances a unified gas distribution network capable of delivering natural gas from anywhere in Russia to any hub alongside Russia’s borders.

And as if it was needed, Russia gets yet another graphic proof that its real growth market in the future is Asia, especially China – not a fearful, stagnated, austerity-devastated, politically paralyzed EU. The evolving Russia-China strategic partnership implies Russia as complementary to China, excelling in major infrastructure projects from building of dams to laying out pipelines. This is trans-Eurasia business with a sharp geopolitical reach and not subjected to ideology-drenched politics.

Russian “defeat”? Really?
Turkey also made a killing. It’s not only the deal with Gazprom; Moscow will build no less than Turkey’s entire nuclear industry, and there will be increased soft power interaction (more trade and tourism). Most of all, Turkey is now increasingly on the verge of becoming a full member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO); Moscow is actively lobbying for it.

This means Turkey acceding to a privileged position as a major hub simultaneously in the Eurasian Economic Belt and of course the Chinese New Silk Road(s). The EU blocks Turkey? Turkey looks East. That’s Eurasian integration on the move.

Washington has tried very hard to create a New Berlin Wall from the Baltics to the Black Sea to “isolate” Russia. And yet Team “Don’t Do Stupid Stuff” in Washington never saw it coming – yet another Putin judo/chess/go counterpunch applied exactly across the Black Sea.

Asia Times Online has been reporting for years how Turkey’s key strategic imperative is to configure itself as the indispensable energy crossroads from East to West – transiting everything from Iraqi oil to Caspian Sea gas. Oil from Azerbaijan already transits Turkey via the Bill Clinton/Zbig Brzezinski-propelled BTC (Baku-Tblisi-Ceyhan) pipeline. Turkey would also be the crossroads if a Trans-Caspian pipeline is ever built (slim chances as it stands), pumping natural gas from Turkmenistan to Azerbaijan, then transported to Turkey and finally Europe.

So what Putin’s judo/chess/go counterpunch accomplished with a single move is to have stupid EU sanctions once again hurt the EU. The German economy is already hurting badly because of lost Russia business.

The EC brilliant “strategy” revolves around the EU’s Third Energy Package, which requires that pipelines and the natural gas flowing inside them must be owned by separate companies. The target of this package has always been Gazprom – which owns pipelines in many Central and Eastern European nations. The target within the target has always been South Stream.

Now it’s up to Bulgaria and Hungary, which have always fought the EC “strategy”, to explain the fiasco to their own populations, and to keep pressing Brussels; after all they are bound to lose a fortune, not to mention get no gas, with South Stream out of the picture. Bulgaria alone reportedly has lost more than 6,000 new jobs and over $3 billion of investment due to the loss of South Stream.

So here’s the bottom line; Russia sells even more gas – to Turkey; Turkey gets much-needed gas with a cool discount; and the EU, pressured by the Empire of Chaos, is reduced to dance, dance, dance like a bunch of headless chickens in dark Brussels corridors wondering what hit them. And while the Atlanticists are back to default mode – cooking up yet more sanctions – Russia is set to keep buying more and more gold.

Watch those spears
This is not the endgame – far from it. In the near future, many variables will intersect.

Ankara’s game may change – but that’s far from a given. President Recep Erdogan – the Sultan of Constantinople – has certainly identified a rival, Caliph Ibrahim of ISIS/ISIL/Daesh fame, trying to steal his mojo. Thus the sultan may flirt with mollifying his neo-Ottoman dreams and contemplate steering Turkey back to its previously ditched “zero problems with our neighbors” foreign policy doctrine.

Not so fast. Erdogan’s game so far was the same as that of the House of Saud and Qatar’s House of Thani; get rid of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to allow an oil pipeline from Saudi Arabia and a gas pipeline from the South Pars/North Dome mega-field in Qatar. This pipeline would be Qatar-Iraq-Syria-Turkey, rivaling the already proposed, $10 billion Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline. Final customers: the EU, of course, desperate in its “escape from Gazprom” offensive.

So what now? Will Erdogan abandon his “Assad must go” obsession? It’s too early to tell. The Turkish Foreign Ministry is spinning to the media that Washington and Ankara are about to agree on a no-fly zone along the Turkish-Syria border – even as the White House, earlier this week, insisted the idea had been scrapped.

The House of Saud is like a camel lost in the Arctic. The House of Saud’s lethal game in Syria always boiled down to regime change so that the Saudi-sponsored oil pipeline from Syria to Turkey might be built. Now the Saudis see Russia about to supply all of Turkey’s energy needs – and still be positioned to sell more gas to the EU in the near future. And Assad still won’t go.

But it is US neo-cons who are sharpening their poisonous spears with gusto. As soon as early 2015 there may be a Ukrainian Freedom Act in the US House of Representatives. Translation: Ukraine being dubbed a “major US non-NATO ally”, which means, in practice, a virtual NATO annexation. Next step: more turbo-charged neo-con provocation of Russia.

A possible scenario is vassal/puppies such as Romania or Bulgaria, pressed by Washington, deciding to allow full access of NATO vessels into the Black Sea. Who cares that this would violate current Black Sea agreements that affect both Russia and Turkey?

And then there’s a dangerous Rumsfeldian “known unknown”: how the fragile Balkans will feel subordinated to the whims of Ankara. As much as Brussels keeps Greece, Bulgaria and Serbia in a strait jacket, in energy terms they will start depending on Turkey’s goodwill.

For the moment, let’s appreciate the magnitude of the geopolitical shockwaves after Putin’s latest judo/chess/go combo. And get ready for another chapter of Russia’s “pivoting across Eurasia”. Putin hits Delhi next weekend. Expect another geopolitical bombshell.

Pepe Escobar’s new book, just out, is Empire of Chaos. Follow him on Facebook.

 

 

 

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

Will Russia, Germany save Europe from war?

Off the keyboard of Pepe Escobar
Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666
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THE ROVING EYE

NoBoots_freda_web

Originally published in Asia Times on December 1, 2014

Discuss this article here in the Diner Forum.

Are the United States, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and Russia on a mad spiral leading to yet another war in Europe? Is it inevitable? Far from it.

The US-propelled vassal currently starring in the oligarch dance in Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, last week advanced the proposition that Ukrainians in the near future, after his “reforms”, will be asked to vote on whether to join NATO.

Let’s be serious here. Many of you will be familiar with the concept of “shatter belt” – territories and peoples that historically have been squeezed between the Germanic Eagle and the Russian Bear.

As we stand, the whole shatter belt – apart from Ukraine and Belarus – has signed up to NATO. A new Berlin wall, this time US-built – from the Baltics to the Black Sea now runs through Kiev. Were Ukraine to become a NATO member in an albeit remote future, the shatter belt buffer zone would disappear. This means NATO – essentially the US – planted right on Russia’s western border.

Washington has just announced that it will be pre-positioning more military vehicles in Europe to be used in exercises or “potential military operations”. This is perfectly in tune with the relentless US Think Tankland spin that NATO and the US will be “forced” to balance their commitment to security in Eastern Europe against potential Russian “aggression”.

As Ukraine, the Baltic states and Poland persist in compounded hysteria about such “aggression”, the option of a post-MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) US-Russia nuclear war, terrifying as it must be, is now – casually – back on the discussion table. At least there’s a countercurrent: strands of informed Americans are wondering why the US should be paying for Europe’s defense when European GDP is larger than that of the US.

Wanna play war, boy?
Now for the “threat” of nuclear war in Europe – bogus or otherwise. It’s pointless to compare the strategic nuclear capabilities of the US and Russia based on numbers, but not on quality.

Take the compounded GDP of US, Germany, France and the UK and compare it to Russia; it’s a victory by landslide. Then examine the strategic nuclear scenario, and it’s a totally different story. GDP alone does not “win” anything.

Washington/Wall Street elites are now deep into nuclear war paranoia. A Council on Foreign Relations study basically “found out” what Pravda had already reported. Other pieces such as this at least hint at the obvious – glaring US strategic shortcomings.

Consider some of the basics:

  • Russian ICBMs armed with MIRVs travel at about 18 Mach; that is way faster than anything in the US arsenal. And basically they are unbeatable.
  • The S-400 and S-500 double trouble. Moscow has agreed to sell the S-400 surface-to-air missile system to China. The bottom line is this will make Beijing impermeable to US air power, ICBMs and cruise missiles. Russia, for its part, is already focusing on the state-of-the-art S-500 – which essentially makes the Patriot anti-missile system look like a V-2 from World War II.
  • The Russian Iskander missile travels at Mach 7 – with a range of 400 kilometers, carrying a 700 kilogram warhead of several varieties, and with a circular error probability of around five meters. Translation: an ultimate lethal weapon against airfields or logistic infrastructure. The Iskander can reach targets deep inside Europe.
  • And then there’s the Sukhoi T-50 PAK FA. Talk about a real near-future game-changer.NATO clowns dreaming of a war on Russia would have to come up with an ironclad system to knock out the Iskanders. They don’t have any. Additionally, they would have to face the S-400s, which the Russians can deploy all over the spectrum.Think of a hefty batch of S-400s positioned at the enclave of Kaliningrad; that would turn NATO air operations deep inside Europe into an absolutely horrendous nightmare. On top of it, good ol’ NATO fighter jets cost a fortune. Imagine the effect of hundreds of destroyed fighter jets on a European Union already financially devastated and austerity-plagued to death.As if this was not enough, no one knows the exact extent of NATO’s strategic capabilities. Brussels is not talking. Extra-officially, these capabilities are not exactly a marvel. And Russian intelligence knows it.Still assuming those NATO clowns would insist on playing war, Moscow has already made it very clear Russia would use their awesome arsenal of 5,000-plus tactical nuclear weapons – and whatever else it takes – to defend the nation against a NATO conventional attack. Moreover, a few thousand S-400 and S-500 systems are enough to block a US nuclear attack.None of this hair-raising Apocalypse Now scenario is even taking into account the Russia-China alliance – the major, game-changing Eurasian story of the 2010s.Just in case the “pivoting to Asia” gang starts harboring funny ideas about the Middle Kingdom as well, China is massively investing in bouncing lasers off satellites; satellite-hitting missiles; silent submarines that surface beside US aircraft carriers without prior detection; and a made-in-China anti-missile missile that can hit a reentering satellite moving faster than any ICBM.

    In a nutshell, Beijing knows the US surface fleet is obsolete – and undefendable. And needless to add, all of these Chinese modernizing developments are proceeding way faster than anything in the US.

    A modest proposal
    The spin by the Washington establishment has been relentless: Russia is expanding towards a 21st century empire.

    Here, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov explains in detail how this is undiluted rubbish. What has actually happened is that Moscow deftly called the Brzezinski-inspired bluff in Ukraine – with all its overtones. No wonder the Empire of Chaos is furious.

    And yet there is a solution to defuse the current, hysterical rush to war logic. Here I have examined in some detail how Washington is playing Russian Roulette. Now it’s time to advance a modest proposal – as it has been floated by a few concerned analysts from the US, Germany and Asia.

    Essentially, it’s very simple. It’s up to Germany. And it’s all about undoing Stalin.

    Stalin, at the outset of World War II, took East Prussia from Germany and moved the eastern part of Poland into Ukraine. Eastern Ukraine was originally from Russia; it is part of Russia and was given by Lenin to Ukraine.

    So let’s have East Prussia returned to Germany; the eastern part of Poland returned to Poland; and eastern Ukraine as well as Crimea – which Khrushchev gave to Ukraine – returned to Russia.

    Everyone get their share. No more Stalin. No more arbitrary borders. That’s what the Chinese would define as a “triple win” situation. Of course, the Empire of Chaos would fight it to death; there would be no more chaos manipulated to justify a crusade against bogus Russian “aggression”.

    The ball is in Germany’s court. Now it’s up to East Prussians to present the facts to Angela Merkel. Let’s see if she’s able to get the message.

    Pepe Escobar’s new book, just out, is Empire of Chaos. Follow him on Facebook.

 

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

Washington plays Russian roulette

Off the keyboard of Pepe Escobar
Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666
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THE ROVING EYE

first on the ground

Originally published in Asia Times on November 21, 2014
Discuss this article here in the Diner Forum.

These are bleak times. I’ve been in serious conversation with some deep sources and interlocutors – those who know but don’t need to show off, privileging discretion. They are all deeply worried. This is what one of them, a New York strategic planner, sent me:

The propaganda attack against Putin equating him with Hitler is so extreme that you have to think that the Russians cannot believe their ears and cannot trust the United States anymore under any circumstances.

I cannot believe how we could have gotten ourselves into this situation to protect the looters in the Ukraine that Putin would have rid the Ukraine of, and even had the gall to place in a leadership role one of the worst of the thieves. But that is history. What is certain is that MAD [mutually assured destruction] is not a deterrent today when both sides believe the other will use nuclear weapons once they have the advantage and that the side that gains a decisive advantage will use them. MAD is now over.

That may sound somewhat extreme – but it’s a perfectly logical extension, further on down the road, of what the Russian president intimated in his already legendary interview with Germany’s ARD in Vladivostok last week: the West is provoking Russia into a new Cold War. [1]

Mikhail Gorbachev just stressed a few days ago the new Cold War is already on. Princeton’s Stephen Cohen says the Cold War in fact never left. The Roving Eye reported about Cold War 2.0 months ago. Brits – still stranded in the 19th century new Great Game – prefer to spin the “strident toxic personality” of “diminutive Putin”; [2] he is the “ruthless, charming and ultimately reckless” man who “put the cold war back in vogue”. The Council on Foreign Relations, predictably, mourns the end of the post-Cold War world, blasts the current “disorder”, and dreams of the good ol’ unchallenged exceptionalist days. [3]

For arguably the best detailed background on how we came to this perilous state of affairs, it’s hard to beat Vladimir Kozin of the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies. [4] Read him carefully. And yes, it’s Cold War 2.0, the double trouble remix; between the US and Russia, and between NATO and Russia.

Seeing red
In his ARD interview, Putin stuck to actual facts on the ground: “NATO and the United States have military bases scattered all over the globe, including in areas close to our borders, and their number is growing ? Moreover, just recently it was decided to deploy special operations forces, again in close proximity to our borders. You have mentioned various [Russian] exercises, flights, ship movements and so on. Is all of this going on? Yes, it is indeed.”

For the Russia-demonizing hordes, it’s always convenient to forget that NATO expansion to Georgia and Ukraine was clinched at a NATO meeting in Bucharest in April 2008. The Georgia op spectacularly failed in the summer of 2008. Ukraine is a work in progress.

Crucially, in the ARD interview, Putin also told the EU coalition of the clueless/vassals/puppets/ that Russia can bring down the Ukraine House of Cards in a flash; Moscow just needs to emphasize it’s time to collect the humongous amounts of cash it is legally owed.

Putin also made it very clear Moscow won’t allow – and that was categorical: won’t allow – Donbass to be overrun/smashed/ethnic-cleansed by Kiev: “Today there is fighting in eastern Ukraine. The Ukrainian central authorities have sent the armed forces there and they even use ballistic missiles. Does anybody speak about it? Not a single word. And what does it mean? What does it tell us? This points to the fact, that you want the Ukrainian central authorities to annihilate everyone there, all of their political foes and opponents. You want that? We certainly don’t. And we won’t let it happen.” [5]

According to Kiev’s own figures, no less than 65% of residential buildings and 10% of schools and kindergartens in Donbass have been destroyed. Over 40,000 medium-sized companies are paralyzed. Unemployment – Ukraine-wide, is over 40%. External debt may reach US$80 billion – and don’t expect the International Monetary Fund, which now owns Ukraine, to go philanthropic. Most of all, Kiev can’t pay its billionaire gas bills to Gazprom because it spends a fortune terrorizing eastern Ukraine citizens. This Poroshenko rant sums it all up – with the US and EU fully complicit.

So NATO has been warned about Russia’s real red lines. Still, substantial sectors of the Washington/Wall Street elites can’t get enough of war. And they like it hot. [6] No one should ever underestimate the unlimited stupidity of the Return of the Living Neo-con Dead using their favorite pulpit, the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal.

The “logic” behind Cold War 2.0 – now in full swing – couldn’t give a damn about European stability. The Obama administration launched it – with NATO as the spearhead – to in fact prevent Eurasian integration, building a New Berlin Wall in Kiev. The immediate target is to undermine Russia’s economy; in the long run, regime change would be the ultimate bonus.

So the logic of escalation is on. The economically devastated EU is a joke; the only thing that counts for the US is NATO – and the overwhelming majority of its members are in the bag, sharing the prevailing mood in Washington of treating Putin as if he were Milosevic, Saddam Hussein or Gaddafi. There are no signs whatsoever Team Obama is willing to de-escalate. And when the Hillarator President-in-Waiting ascends to the throne, all bets are off.

Notes:
1. Putin’s Sunday Interview on German TV (Dubbed + Transcript), Russian Insider, November 19, 2014.
2. The new cold war: are we going back to the bad old days?, The Guardian, November 19, 2014.
3. The Unraveling: How to Respond to a Disordered World, foreignaffairs.com, December 2014 issue.
4. See here.
5. The broken-down beauty of Eastern Ukraine, 25 years after the end of the USSR, Quartz, November 15, 2014.
6. The Wall Street Journal Wants the US to Go To War in Ukraine, Russia Insider, November 18, 2014.

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

China’s silky road to glory

Off the keyboard of Pepe Escobar
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THE ROVING EYE

Map-New_Silk_Road

Originally published in Asia Times on November 14, 2014
Discuss this article here in the Diner Forum.

If there were any remaining doubts about the unlimited stupidity Western corporate media is capable of dishing out, the highlight of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Beijing has been defined as Russian President Vladimir Putin supposedly “hitting” on Chinese President Xi Jinping’s wife – and the subsequent Chinese censoring of the moment when Putin draped a shawl over her shoulders in the cold air where the leaders were assembled. What next? Putin and Xi denounced as a gay couple?

Let’s dump the clowns and get down to the serious business. Right at the start, President Xi urged APEC to “add firewood to the fire of the Asia-Pacific and world economy”. Two days later, China got what it wanted on all fronts.

1) Beijing had all 21 APEC member-nations endorsing the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP) – the Chinese vision of an “all inclusive, all-win” trade deal capable of advancing Asia-Pacific cooperation – see South China Morning Post (paywall). The loser was the US-driven, corporate-redacted, fiercely opposed (especially by Japan and Malaysia) 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). [See also here.)

2) Beijing advanced its blueprint for “all-round connectivity” (in Xi’s words) across Asia-Pacific – which implies a multi-pronged strategy. One of its key features is the implementation of the Beijing-based US$50 billion Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. That’s China’s response to Washington refusing to give it a more representative voice at the International Monetary Fund than the current, paltry 3.8% of votes (a smaller percentage than the 4.5% held by stagnated France).

3) Beijing and Moscow committed to a second gas mega-deal – this one through the Altai pipeline in Western Siberia – after the initial “Power of Siberia” mega-deal clinched last May.

4) Beijing announced the funneling of no less than US$40 billion to start building the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road.

Predictably, once again, this vertiginous flurry of deals and investment had to converge towards the most spectacular, ambitious, wide-ranging plurinational infrastructure offensive ever attempted: the multiple New Silk Roads – that complex network of high-speed rail, pipelines, ports, fiber optic cables and state of the art telecom that China is already building across the Central Asian stans, linked to Russia, Iran, Turkey and the Indian Ocean, and branching out to Europe all the way to Venice, Rotterdam, Duisburg and Berlin.
T768776_01Now imagine the paralyzed terror of the Washington/Wall Street elites as they stare at Beijing interlinking Xi’s “Asia-Pacific Dream”way beyond East Asia towards all-out, pan-Eurasia trade – with the center being, what else, the Middle Kingdom; a near future Eurasia as a massive Chinese Silk Belt with, in selected latitudes, a sort of development condominium with Russia.

Vlad doesn’t do stupid stuff
As for “Don Juan” Putin, everything one needs to know about Asia-Pacific as a Russian strategic/economic priority was distilled in his intervention at the APEC CEO summit.

This was in fact an economic update of his by now notorious speech at the Valdai Club meeting in Sochi in October, followed by a wide-ranging Q&A, which was also duly ignored by Western corporate media (or spun as yet more “aggression”).

The Kremlin has conclusively established that Washington/Wall Street elites have absolutely no intention of allowing a minimum of multipolarity in international relations. What’s left is chaos.

There’s no question that Moscow pivoting away from the West and towards East Asia is a process directly influenced by President Barack Obama’s self-described “Don’t Do Stupid Stuff” foreign policy doctrine, a formula he came up with aboard Air Force One when coming back last April from a trip to – where else – Asia.

But the Russia-China symbiosis/strategic partnership is developing in multiple levels.

On energy, Russia is turning east because that’s where top demand is. On finance, Moscow ended the pegging of the rouble to the US dollar and euro; not surprisingly the US dollar instantly – if only briefly – dropped against the rouble. Russian bank VTB announced it may leave the London Stock Exchange for Shanghai’s – which is about to become directly linked to Hong Kong. And Hong Kong, for its part, is already attracting Russian energy giants.

Now mix all these key developments with the massive yuan-rouble energy double deal, and the picture is clear; Russia is actively protecting itself from speculative/politically motivated Western attacks against its currency.

The Russia-China symbiosis/strategic partnership visibly expands on energy, finance and, also inevitably, on the military technology front. That includes, crucially, Moscow selling Beijing the S-400 air defense system and, in the future, the S-500 – against which the Americans are sitting ducks; and this while Beijing develops surface-to-ship missiles that can take out everything the US Navy can muster.

Anyway, at APEC, Xi and Obama at least agreed to establish a mutual reporting mechanism on major military operations. That might – and the operative word is “might” – prevent an East Asia replica of relentless NATO-style whining of the “Russia has invaded Ukraine!” kind.

Freak out, neo-cons
When Little Dubya Bush came to power in early 2001, the neo-cons were faced with a stark fact: it was just a matter of time before the US would irreversibly lose its global geopolitical and economic hegemony. So there were only two choices; either manage the decline, or bet the whole farm to consolidate global hegemony using – what else – war.

We all know about the wishful thinking enveloping the “low-cost” war on Iraq – from Paul Wolfowitz’s “We are the new OPEC” to the fantasy of Washington being able to decisively intimidate all potential challengers, the EU, Russia and China.

And we all know how it went spectacularly wrong. Even as that trillionaire adventure, as Minqi Li analyzed in The Rise of China and the Demise of the Capitalist World Economy, “has squandered US imperialism’s remaining space for strategic maneuver”, the humanitarian imperialists of the Obama administration still have not given up, refusing to admit the US has lost any ability to provide any meaningful solution to the current, as Immanuel Wallerstein would define it, world-system.

There are sporadic signs of intelligent geopolitical life in US academia, such as this at the Wilson Center website (although Russia and China are not a “challenge” to a supposed world “order”: their partnership is actually geared to create some order among the chaos.)

And yet this opinion piece at USNews is the kind of stuff passing for academic “analysis” in US media.

On top of it, Washington/Wall Street elites – through their myopic Think Tankland – still cling to mythical platitudes such as the “historical” US role as arbiter of modern Asia and key balancer of power.

So no wonder public opinion in the US – and Western Europe – cannot even imagine the earth-shattering impact the New Silk Roads will have in the geopolitics of the young 21st century.

Washington/Wall Street elites – talk about Cold War hubris – always took for granted that Beijing and Moscow would be totally apart. Now puzzlement prevails. Note how the Obama administration’s “pivoting to Asia” has been completely erased from the narrative – after Beijing identified it for what it is: a warlike provocation. The new meme is “rebalance”.

German businesses, for their part, are absolutely going bonkers with Xi’s New Silk Roads uniting Beijing to Berlin – crucially via Moscow. German politicians sooner rather than later will have to get the message.

All this will be discussed behind closed doors this weekend at key meetings on the sidelines of the Group of 20 in Australia. The Russia-China-Germany alliance-in-the-making will be there. The BRICS, crisis or no crisis, will be there. All the players in the G-20 actively working for a multipolar world will be there.

APEC once again has shown that the more geopolitics change, the more it won’t stay the same; as the exceptional dogs of war, inequality and divide and rule keep barking, the China-Russia pan-Eurasian caravan will keep going, going, going – further on down the (multipolar) road.

 

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

Lame-duck Obama’s brave new world

Off the keyboard of Pepe Escobar
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THE ROVING EYE

Industry-welcomes-new-US-free-trade-agreements_strict_xxl

Originally published in Asia Times on November 7, 2014
Discuss this article here in the Diner Forum.

Fresh out of his latest Congressional election shellacking delivered by the minority who bothered to vote in the United States, the formerly most powerful leader in the world, US President Barack Obama, will star in a thriller this weekend, appearing in the same room with China’s Xi Jinping, Japan’s Shinzo Abe and – fasten your seat belts – Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

What a drag – the Bomber-In-Chief must be musing. The global economy is mostly a disaster. China, even growing at “only” 7% a year, keeps eroding his “indispensable nation” aura. Japan has decided to copy the Federal Reserve and embark on its own kamikaze version of quantitative easing. Numerous Southeast Asian nations keep freaking out about a few rocks in the South China Sea.

And last but not least, Obama’s nemesis, pesky Vlad “the Hammer” Putin, has just been crowned Most Powerful Leader in the world – even if for the most stupid reasons (“unpredictable” head of a “rogue state”) [1] – while he, the Nobel Peace Prize leader of the exceptionalist, indispensable nation, is now nothing but a pitiful lame duck.

The get-together, extended to Monday and Tuesday, will be the highlight of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Beijing – actually, outside of Beijing, so presumably unpolluted blue skies may also have a chance at the photo op. This is APEC’s 25th birthday. And the 20th birthday of the Indonesian summit in Bogor – I happened to be there – which, under Bill Clinton’s flowery charm, set the 21-member APEC nations a goal of “free” and open trade and investment by 2020. “Free” as in US corporations dictating the rules, of course.

What the whole planet really wants to know about APEC is whether The Lame Duck with meet The Bear face to face, one on one. The White House remains mum. The Kremlin did not rule it out. Well, there’s always Plan B: the Group of 20 summit on November 15-16 in Brisbane, Australia.

What the whole planet already knows is that the new slimy show premiering on Capitol Hill on January 2015 has a top priority: the Republicans will do everything in their power to make the lame duck cry for mercy over and over again. So what will this mean in terms of Obama’s self-styled “Don’t Do Stupid Stuff” foreign policy doctrine, which that 2016 juggernaut known as “The Hillarator” has already derided as a “non-organizational principle”? Just extra layers of cosmic stupidity, or something more substantial?

That old axis of evil
Let’s start with The Caliph, aka Islamic State (IS) leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Obama already said, after his shellacking, he is going to seek Congressional authorization for his coalition of the cowards bombing IS – aka Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or Daesh, the jiahdi outfit’s Arabic acronym

Now that’s not a dumb move. If Republican-ruled Congress says “yes”, they will be responsible for the fiasco (and it’s already a fiasco). If they say “no”, the fiasco can be attributed to their irresponsibility.

Republicans are immersed in their own internal split – the boots-on-the-ground favored by the establishment against the non-interventionist Tea Party. So in the end, the lame duck may profit from it after all.

Iran is a much dicier proposition. It all depends on a nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany) being reached in a little over two weeks, on November 24. That’s a taller-than-the-Himalayas order, although feasible. The Obama administration is desperate for a deal – as the leak of a “secret letter” from Obama to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei attests. But a deal under Washington’s terms, which for Tehran is unacceptable. [2]

The new US Senate only takes over in January. Obama has already stressed he won’t ask the Senate to ratify the deal. Once again, the problem is what deal? Obama’s idea of a grand design in the Middle East is to use a “responsible” – according to US standards – Tehran to balance the Sunni-Shi’ite divide and get rid of the current proxy wars, the whole thing arbitrated by Washington. This is a pipe dream. But it’s what the lame duck wants.

Needless to say, Republicans – for whom Tehran never left the “axis of evil” – will try to bomb the dream, pipelines and all, for instance by passing legislation preventing the lifting of key sanctions. Sparks will fly. Tehran won’t accept a nuclear deal where Washington just says “take my word for it, we will lift sanctions”; this has to be in the letter of the agreement. After all they have vast experience of dealing with gun-crazy Republicans in power.

Nothing will change on Russia – even as the Obama administration needs Moscow to get a deal with Tehran. The relentless demonization of Putin and the resurgence of the same old Cold War meme, “The Russians are Coming”, are guaranteed to keep propelling stupidity 24/7 to intergalactic spheres.

Capitol Hill will go on overdrive. After all, Russia demonization is a bipartisan sport in Washington. The only “solution” would be regime change. Not only is Putin not going anywhere, but he’s ratcheting up his defiance of the Empire of Chaos. This implies increased problems with Germany, where Chancellor Angela Merkel keeps appeasing the Americans while German businesses want increased trade with Russia and Eurasia as a whole.

free-trade

Another China win-win? 

On trade, here’s where APEC collides with the two-pronged US version of an economic NATO: the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with Europe and the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) with Asia.

What the Obama administration is fighting for is nothing less than a totally unregulated global marketplace. Imagine the “free” market – as Bill “Bubba” Clinton was already parading in Indonesia two decades ago – setting all sorts of standards on everything from working conditions to the environment. In theory, that’s exactly what Republicans love. So here Obama would be right in their alley, which implies an easy Senate ratification.

It’s actually way more complicated. Republicans simply cannot stomach an Obama victory. That means this upcoming Senate won’t give him the fast track he needs to clinch the TPP deal.

That happens to be exactly what China wants. Beijing will use APEC to promote the road map for its own, anti-TPP trade deal, the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP). TPP involves 12 APEC members – but not China. And even inside TPP there’s a monster revolt; Tokyo is battling the US because they Japan is sure its auto industry and agriculture may be devoured by US corporations.

So we’re right into a titanic Transformer-style Battle of the Deals. In fact any deal is problematic, as China, Japan and South Korea may want, in principle, broader economic cooperation. But on trade, in so many levels, they are fiercely competing against each other – as in the auto industry and agriculture, for instance – not to mention that heavy historical baggage between Japan and China and Japan and South Korea.

The Chinese charm offensive at APEC in Beijing is all about “innovative development”, “building infrastructure investment” and “comprehensive connectivity”. It’s all a mirror image of the extremely ambitious New Silk Roads proposed by President Xi to connect Eurasia.

Beijing is proposing a new “connectivity framework” into three key areas – “physical connectivity, institutional connectivity, and people-to-people connectivity”. But still no one knows how this will work out in practice towards Asia integration. Washington doesn’t care; it just wants a “free” unregulated mega-market for US corporations.

Beijing sees Asian economic integration as APEC facilitating an FTAAP by 2025. Needless to say, the US and a few vassals aboard the TPP have been adamant that no regional deal jeopardizes TPP. Washington was betting on TPP being signed before APEC. It didn’t happen. So Plan B is to boycott FTAAP until TPP is signed. And that Beijing won’t allow. The lame duck will have to duck a lot on his one-on-one with Xi in Beijing.

Finally, what about the Obama-Capitol Hill battle on the climate-change field? For the absolute majority of Republicans, climate change and global warming are nothing but an evil conspiracy. End of story.

The lame duck and Capitol Hill at least may agree on – what else – the Global War on Terror. Pentagon supremo Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel recently said the US should get ready for endless wars, as “tyranny”, “terrorism”, national security challenges and – surprise! – climate change pose a substantial “threat”.

Since 2002, the Pentagon has been saying to anyone who was bothered to listen that Endless War is the only deal in town – or the universe, for that matter. The lame duck might even fraternize about it with his Republican nemeses over the odd round of golf. What a wonderful (lame duck) world this would be.

Notes:
1. Putin Vs. Obama: The World’s Most Powerful People 2014, Forbes, November 5, 2014.
2. Obama Wrote Secret Letter to Iran’s Khamenei About Fighting Islamic State, Wall Street Journal Online (subscription).

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

The Caliph fit to join OPEC

Off the keyboard of Pepe Escobar
Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666
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THE ROVING EYE

caliphate-isis

Originally published in Asia Times on November 1, 2014
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Islamic State leader Caliph Ibrahim – aka Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi – never ceases to amaze us – and most of all his powerful petrodollar-stuffed backers. The Caliph is for all practical purposes now an oil major worth of membership of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). His takfiri/mercenary goons – in theory – have for some time been extracting, refining, shipping and/or smuggling and clinching juicy deals involving vast quantities of oil, reaping profits of roughly US$2 million a day.

The Caliph’s oil prices are to die (be beheaded?) for; after all, he’s implementing the same low-price strategy concocted by the people he wants to dethrone in Mecca, the House of Saud. The caliphate’s GDP across “Syraq” has only one way to go: up.

And oh, the irony Top customers for The Caliph’s cheap oil happen to be “Sultan” Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Earthly paradise, aka Turkey – a North Atlantic Treaty Organization ally – and that King “Playstation” Abdullah II ibn al-Hussein’s domain impersonating a country, aka Jordan.

Meanwhile, the awesome, immensely sophisticated military apparatus/intel agency acronym fest deployed by “free” US/NATO somehow is simply unable to register/intercept this racket.

Not surprising, when they somehow had not previously registered/intercepted The Caliph’s goons taking over large swaths of “Syraq” this summer with their cross-desert version of rolling thunder – that gleaming white Toyota promo ad.

As for the Empire of Chaos “solution” to intercept The Caliph’s oil profits, the only decision so far has been to bomb oil pipelines that belong to the Syrian Arab Republic, that is, ultimately, the Syrian people.

Never underestimate the capacity of US President Barack Obama’s “Don’t Do Stupid Stuff” foreign policy doctrine to soar towards unreachable stupidity heights.

Yo sheikh, talk to the hand
Then there’s that fateful Secretary of State John Kerry/House of Saud capo hand-kissing fest that took place in Riyadh last month.

In this masterful piece, William Engdahl goes no-holds-barred on the supposed Saudi-US cheap oil/bomb Bashar al-Assad/undermine Russia deal. Yet there may not have been a direct deal; more like Washington and Riyadh working in tandem towards common objectives: regime change in Syria in the long term, and undermining both Iran and Russia in the short term.

As for that crucial Pipelineistan gambit central to the Syrian riddle – a gas pipeline running from Qatar to regime-changed Syria, instead of Iran-Iraq-Syria – that’s not exactly a Saudi, but a rival Qatari priority.

What Kerry did give was the Master’s Voice seal of approval to the Saudi strategy of low oil prices, thinking short-term about US oil consumers at the pump, and medium-term on putting pressure on the revenues of both Iran and Russia. Yet he obviously played down the blow to the US shale gas industry.

The Saudis, for their part, have other key considerations, not least how to recover their market share across Asia – where their biggest customers are located. They are losing market share because of discounted crude sold by both Iran and Iraq. Thus, both must be “punished”, on top of the House of Saud’s pathological aversion to all things Shi’ite.

As for the big picture in Syria, Obama’s capo for dealing with The Caliph, General John Allen, laid down the law to Saudi newspaper Asharq Al-Awasat. He said, “[T]here is not going to be a military solution here [in Syria]”. And he also said, “The intent is not to create a field force to liberate Damascus.”

Short translation: those old goons of the previously “winning against Assad” Free Syrian Army (FSA) are now six feet under. And the new FSA goons to be trained in – of all places – Saudi Arabia are not exactly being regarded as holy saviors. For all practical purposes, the medium-term scenario spells out more US bombing (of infrastructure belonging to the Syrian nation); no regime change in Damascus; and The Caliph steadily consolidating his wins.

And finally, the Hollywood factor
Imagine if shabby “historical” al-Qaeda had these ultra-slick PR skills. Bearded has-beens with old Kalashnikovs in Afghan caves is so passe. The Caliph not only smuggles tens of thousands of barrels of oil a day undetected, but he also deploys a British hostage turned foreign correspondent (and who may have converted to the Salafi version of Islam) reporting from a hollowed out Kobani about to be totally captured by a bunch of takfiris and mercenaries (they certainly are not mujahideen).

One’s gotta marvel at the production values. The Caliph’s special report opens with drone footage of Kobani. Is it an American drone? Was it captured in Iraq? Is it an Israeli drone? Turkish? Brit? The “mujahideen” certainly are not on Lockheed Martin’s speed dial – yet.

Meanwhile, on the ground, only now has Ankara allowed roughly 200 peshmergas from Iraqi Kurdistan – whose slippery leaders do business with Turkey – to cross the border to, in theory, help Kobani. No soldiers, weapons or supplies are allowed for the Kurdish PKK/PYD forces which have been actually defending Kobani all along. Sultan Erdogan’s endless procrastination will be judged by any independent investigation as the key element in allowing the possible fall of Kobani.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu once again has laid down the “conditions” for his country to help with the – so far spectacularly innocuous – US campaign against The Caliph; the possible liberators of Kobani must only be Iraqi peshmergas, and remaining FSA goons, not “terrorists” (as in PKK/PYD).

In the end, Kobani – precisely on the border between southeast Anatolia and northern Syria – is highly strategic. The situation on the ground is dire. There may be a little over 1,000 residents left, barricaded in their houses. Protecting them, a little over 2,000 Syrian Kurd fighters, including the female Ishtar brigade. Only 200 peshmergas coming from Iraqi Kurdistan are not going to make a huge difference against a few thousand heavily weaponized caliph goons deploying as many as 20 tanks. It does not look good, even though, unlike in the Caliph-approved Brit hostage report, the fake “mujahideen” are not in total control.

The Caliph, anyway, is bound to remain on a roll. Absolutely none of the above would be remotely possible without US/Western overt/covert complicity, proving once and for all that The Caliph is the ultimate gift that keeps on giving in the eternal GWOT (Global War On Terra). How come the Dick Cheney regime never thought about that?

 

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

The Kobani Riddle

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THE ROVING EYE

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Originally published in Asia Times on October 24, 2014
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The brave women of Kobani – where Syrian Kurds are desperately fighting ISIS/ISIL/Daesh – are about to be betrayed by the “international community”. These women warriors, apart from Caliph Ibrahim’s goons, are also fighting treacherous agendas by the US, Turkey and the administration of Iraqi Kurdistan. So what’s the real deal in Kobani?

Let’s start by talking about Rojava. The full meaning of Rojava – the three mostly Kurdish provinces of northern Syria – is conveyed in this editorial (in Turkish) published by jailed activist Kenan Kirkaya. He argues that Rojava is the home of a “revolutionary model” that no less than challenges “the hegemony of the capitalist, nation-state system” – way beyond its regional “meaning for Kurds, or for Syrians or Kurdistan.”
Kobani – an agricultural region – happens to be at the epicenter of this non-violent experiment in democracy, made possible by an arrangement early on during the Syrian tragedy between Damascus and Rojava (you don’t go for regime change against us, we leave you alone). Here, for instance, it’s argued that “even if only a single aspect of true socialism were able to survive there, millions of discontented people would be drawn to Kobani.”

In Rojava, decision-making is via popular assemblies – multicultural and multi-religious. The top three officers in each municipality are a Kurd, an Arab and an Assyrian or Armenian Christian; and at least one of these three must be a woman. Non-Kurd minorities have their own institutions and speak their own languages.

Among a myriad of women’s and youth councils, there is also an increasingly famous feminist army, the YJA Star militia (“Union of Free Women”, with the “star” symbolizing Mesopotamian goddess Ishtar).

The symbolism could not be more graphic; think of the forces of Ishtar (Mesopotamia) fighting the forces of ISIS (originally an Egyptian goddess), now transmogrified into an intolerant Caliphate. In the young 21st century, it’s the female barricades of Kobani that are in the forefront fighting fascism.

Inevitably there should be quite a few points of intersection between the International Brigades fighting fascism in Spain in 1936 and what is happening in Rojava, as stressed by one of the very few articles about it published in Western mainstream media.

If these components were not enough to drive crazy deeply intolerant Wahhabis and Takfiris (and their powerful Gulf petrodollar backers) then there’s the overall political set up.

The fight in Rojava is essentially led by the PYD, which is the Syrian branch of the Turkish PKK, the Marxist guerrillas at war against Ankara since the 1970s. Washington, Brussels and NATO – under relentless Turkish pressure – have always officially ranked both PYD and PKK as “terrorists”.

Careful examination of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan’s must-read book Democratic Confederalism reveals this terrorist/Stalinist equation as bogus (Ocalan has been confined to the island-prison of Imrali since 1999.)

What the PKK – and the PYD – are striving for is “libertarian municipalism”. In fact that’s exactly what Rojava has been attempting; self-governing communities applying direct democracy, using as pillars councils, popular assemblies, cooperatives managed by workers – and defended by popular militias. Thus the positioning of Rojava in the vanguard of a worldwide cooperative economics/democracy movement whose ultimate target would be to bypass the concept of a nation-state.

Not only this experiment is taking place politically across northern Syria; in military terms, it was the PKK and the PYD who actually managed to rescue those tens of thousands of Yazidis corralled by ISIS/ISIL/Daesh in Mount Sinjar, and not American bombs, as the spin went. And now, as PYD co-president Asya Abdullahdetails, what’s needed is a “corridor” to break the encirclement of Kobani by Caliph Ibrahim’s goons.

Sultan Erdogan’s power play
Ankara, meanwhile, seems intent to prolong a policy of “lots of problems with our neighbors.”

For Turkish Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz, “the main cause of ISIS is the Syrian regime”. And Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu – who invented the now defunct “zero problems with our neighbors” doctrine in the first place – has repeatedly stressed Ankara will only intervene with boots on the ground in Kobani to defend the Kurds if Washington presents a “post-Assad plan”.

And then there’s that larger than life character; Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, aka Sultan Erdogan.

Sultan Erdogan’s edicts are well known. Syrian Kurds should fight against Damascus under the command of that lousy fiction, the reconstituted (and to be trained, of all places, in Saudi Arabia) Free Syrian Army; they should forget about any sort of autonomy; they should meekly accept Turkey’s request for Washington to create a no-fly zone over Syria and also a “secured” border on Syrian territory. No wonder both the PYD and Washington have rejected these demands.

Sultan Erdogan has his eyes set on rebooting the peace process with the PKK; and he wants to lead it in a position of force. So far his only concession has been to allow Iraqi Kurd peshmergas to enter northern Syria to counter-balance the PYD-PKK militias, and thus prevent the strengthening of an anti-Turkish Kurdish axis.

At the same time Sultan Erdogan knows ISIS/ISIL/Daesh has already recruited up to 1,000 Turkish passport holders – and counting. His supplemental nightmare is that the toxic brew laying waste to “Syraq” will sooner rather than later mightily overspill inside Turkish borders.

Watch those barbarians at the gates
Caliph Ibrahim’s goons have already telegraphed their intention to massacre and/or enslave the entire civilian population of Kobani. And yet Kobani, per se, has no strategic value for ISIS/ISIL/Daesh (that’s what US Secretary of State John Kerry himself said last week; but then, predictably, he reversed himself). This very persuasive PYD commander though is very much aware of the ISIS/ISIL/Daesh threat.

Kobani is not essential compared to Deir ez-Zor (which has an airport supplying the Syrian Arab Army) or Hasakah (which has oil fields controlled by Kurds helped by the Syrian Arab Army). Kobani boasts no airport and no oil fields.

On the other hand, the fall of Kobani would generate immensely positive extra PR for the already very slick Caliph enterprise – widening the perception of a winning army especially among new, potential, EU passport holder recruits, as well as establishing a solid base very close to the Turkish border.

Essentially, what Sultan Erdogan is doing is to fight both Damascus (long-term) and the Kurds (medium term) while actually giving a free pass (short-term) to ISIS/ISIL/Daesh. And yet, further on down the road, Turkish journalist Fehim Tastekin is right; training non-existent “moderate” Syrian rebels in oh-so-democratic Saudi Arabia will only lead to the Pakistanization of Turkey. A remix – once again – of the scenario played out during the 1980s Afghan jihad.

As if this was not muddled enough, in a game changer – and reversing its “terrorist” dogma – Washington is now maintaining anentente cordiale with the PYD. And that poses an extra headache for Sultan Erdogan.

This give-and-take between Washington and the PYD is still up for grabs. Yet some facts on the ground spell it all out; more US bombing, more US air drops (including major fail air drops, wherethe freshly weaponized end up being The Caliph’s goons).

A key fact should not be overlooked. As soon as the PYD was more or less “recognized” by Washington, PYD head Saleh Muslim went to meet the wily Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) leader Masoud Barzani. That’s when the PYD promised a “power sharing” with Barzani’s peshmergas on running Rojava.

Syrian Kurds who were forced to abandon Kobani and exile themselves in Turkey, and who support the PYD, cannot return to Syria; but Iraqi Kurds can go back and forth. This dodgy deal was brokered by the KRG’s intel chief, Lahur Talabani. The KRG, crucially, gets along very well with Ankara.

That sheds further light on Erdogan’s game; he wants the peshmerga – who are fierce enemies of the PKK – to become the vanguard against ISIS/ISIL/Daesh and thus undermine the PYD/PKK alliance. Once again, Turkey is pitting Kurds against Kurds.

Washington for its part is manipulating Kobani to completely legitimize – on a “humanitarian”, R2P vein – its crusade against ISIS/ISIL/Daesh. It’s never enough to remember this whole thing started with a barrage of Washington spin about the bogus, ghostly Khorasan group preparing a new 9-11. Khorasan, predictably, entirely vanished from the news cycle.

In the long run, the American power play is a serious threat to the direct democracy experiment in Rojava, which Washington cannot but interpret as – God forbid! – a return of communism.

So Kobani is now a crucial pawn in a pitiless game manipulated by Washington, Ankara and Irbil. None of these actors want the direct democracy experiment in Kobani and Rojava to bloom, expand and start to be noticed all across the Global South. The women of Kobani are in mortal danger of being, if not enslaved, bitterly betrayed.

And it gets even more ominous when the ISIS/ISIL/Daesh play on Kobani is seen essentially for what it is; a diversionary tactic, a trap for the Obama administration. What The Caliph’s goons are really aiming at is Anbar province in Iraq – which they already largely control – and the crucial Baghdad belt. The barbarians are at the gates – not only Kobani’s but also Baghdad’s.

 

 

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

Do the Trans-Siberian shuffle

Off the keyboard of Pepe Escobar
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THE ROVING EYE

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Originally published in Asia Times on October 23, 2014
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A specter haunts the elites of the Empire of Chaos; the new Russia-China strategic partnership. It’s manifesting itself in myriad ways – energy deals, investment deals, a closer political alliance inside the G-20, the BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a concerted effort to progressively bypass the petrodollar. I have described this long process as essential to the birth of the Eurasian century.

From a Washington/Wall Street point of view, it was so much easier in those long gone, unipolar, “end of history” days. China was still tiptoeing on the banks of the river of capital accumulation, and Russia was down if not out.

So allow me a flashback to the early 1990s. I had been on the road in Asia for months, from all points Southeast Asia to India, Nepal, the Himalayas and the eastern Chinese seaboard. Then I finally hit Beijing – waiting in the bitter winter of early 1992 to take the Trans-Siberian to Moscow. I was barely aware of the collapse of the Soviet Union – not exactly a news item in the Himalayas. I was also fortunate enough to be in southern China just a few days after Deng Xiaoping made his famous tour – whose key consequence was to catapult the dragon to dizzying development heights. A look back to those heady times may have the merit of illuminating our present.

All aboard the night train
It’s 8:32 pm in Beijing Railway Station, and the Trans-Manchurian Train 19 to Moscow is about to depart. It’s minus 9 degrees Celsius. A bunch of Romanian crazies are trying to load more than 20 huge, vaguely green bundles stuffed with Made-in-China gear into one of the carriages. The Russian comptroller spouts out a “Nyet”. Romanian chicks immerse in Transylvanic hysteria. Then a stash of George Washingtons changes hands at the final whistle, just in time for PLA soldiers and lady sweepers sporting the ubiquitous red armband with the words “Serve The People” to impassibly observe the happy ending.

A cacophony of Russians, Poles, Romanians, Czechs and Mongols has deployed dozens of bags, bundles and sacks to totally overload the train corridors. 300 kg of shoes. 500 kg of jackets. 200 kg of T-shirts. Thousands of beauty cream pots that will be all the rage from Bucharest to Cracow. A “bed” on the train is a concavity over one of the bundles. That will be story for six days, across over 9,000 snowy kilometers in the former USSR, now Russia, from East to West.

At the comptroller’s compartment, more bags – whose content will be sold in the streets of Moscow. With so many George Washingtons in sight, the success of her bazaar is guaranteed – what with multiple stops on the way and an unregulated “free” market in every platform. The whole of Eastern Europe is loaded with stuff and dying to make a quick buck.

In the Chinese stretch of the journey, nothing happens, unlike the 1930s, when Japan occupied Manchuria, installed puppet Pu Yi on the throne and was ready to take over Asia. The Terminator action starts in Zabaikalsk, at the Russian-China border – after we cross a huge Arc of Triumph in cement, complete with Leninist motto and not-yet-destroyed hammer and sickle. Customs – on both sides – is absolutely deserted.

The train changes configuration to adapt to the new tracks. Yet all sights are set on the new dining car; exit Chinese, which only offered a miserable pork with soya sauce; enter Russian, crammed with goulash, soup, salami, frozen fish, black caviar, champagne from Crimea, coffee, eggs, even cheese – everything on the black market paid with US dollars.

With the border behind us, it’s go-go bazaar time. Everyone freaks out, because we instantly move from Beijing time to Moscow time. Sunrise is at 1 in the morning. The black market is running at $1 = 110 roubles, the rouble in free fall as we cut through the sublime snowy infinite desert of the Siberian tundra, where each spectacular sunrise under a slight Arctic fog is an epiphany celebrated with more Crimea champagne.

Occasionally we spot reindeers or even huskies. The taiga – coveted by Japan, Korea and the US – is enveloped in snow. Beyond lay the ghosts of the 20 million corpses in Stalin’s gulags, the hunters of the rare Amu tiger (fewer than 200 left) and the sinister Norilsk complex; 2 million tons a year of sulphuric acid and other heavy metals dumped in the atmosphere – the reason for that Arctic fog.

The train stops stretch for 15 and even 20 minutes, reaching a nadir in Novosibirsk and Perm, which previously housed a notorious gulag. At every stop, hordes of Russians in Genghis Khan mode attack the train with little plastic bags. The best deal in the Trans-Siberian is anoraks and leather jackets. Jao, from Beijing, sells 50 in three days, at up to US$50 each; she paid $20 each in the Beijing hutongs. The Russians buy everything in sight and sell roubles – now plunging to 160 to the US dollar – as well as vodka, beer, salami, champagne and local $1 Pepsi bottles.

The whole of Eastern Europe has taken over Train 19. Post-Ceausescu Romanians are the most exuberant – from former boxers to hookers to a seedy gangster in a tracksuit boasting about his two hours with a Russian doll for $10 (the going rate is $20). There’s an Albanian contingent, young Polish students, shirtless Mongol nomads feverishly counting their profits, babushkas bored to death and even a loquacious Chinese dandy.

The Russian carriages, once elegant, are a mess: foul air, dense cigarette smoke, drenched in sweat, toilets crammed with sacks, and “Kapitan”, the only waiter, trying to make a quick buck selling Soviet paraphernalia. I find it the ideal setting to devour almost 1,000 pages of Norman Mailer’s Harlot’s Ghost, a history of the CIA.

Blame it on glasnost
Train 19 is not only a bazaar but also a multinational Agora. Young Russians elaborate how the almost genius perversity of the Soviet system led it to boost to the limit all the problems of modern industrial societies – offering nearly none of its benefits. Eastern Europeans volunteer that it was not the Cold War that finished off “real socialism”; it was the invasion of the capitalist economy combined with the inefficiency and “stupidity” (copyright by a Polish undergraduate) of the socialist economy.

Russians say that glasnost finished off authority and perestroika finished off the economy – and there was nothing to replace either. End result: physics graduates selling caviar tins in a moving train for survival. Everyone praises Gorbachev but essentially condemn him to a short historical footnote. In the train, I heard arguments that would be reproduced years later in countless US academic studies.

All the Trans-Siberian navigators exhibit a solidarity not to be found at the United Nations; they exchange currencies, swap addresses, lend money and the indispensable calculators, help to load and unload the loot, accept bundles in their compartment, offer their places for half an hour for those who only have the corridor to sleep, and crack jokes about the small Bank of China yuan bills. They are all ardent defenders of this unheard of form of direct democracy that is synonym with the end of the Cold War.

Amid the casino lurks the most improbable character: Lulu, a diminutive Bangladeshi, always attached to a Samsonite, dabbling in Allah-only-knows mysterious activities, passport filled with dodgy visas, Saudi Arabian included. Chinese and Russians treat him like an allergic Pekingese. Train chow is predictably unbearable for this strict Muslim, who wakes us all up everyday at 5 am with his prayers – Rashid Muhammad spends six days literally on bread and water.

Skolka? That’s the Trans-Manchurian bazaar motto, a preview of Moscow. Pink Floyd launched the legendary Dark Side of the Moon at the height of the Brejnev era; Moscow suburbs look like the ghostly, dark side of the moon. Stalin’s lunatic legacy is alleviated only by a solitary kiosk selling flowers, fruit or sweet Georgia brandy.

We arrive as zombies – and only a few hours late – at Yaroslavlsky Vakzal, one of nine Moscow train stations, where a deluge of Volga taxis fight for the precious Chinese cargo. Those moving on to Eastern Europe without a reservation are doomed: seats for Warsaw and Berlin are only available in 40 days.

In Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Shanghai and Beijing, I had witnessed the spectacular success of post-Tiananmen Chinese “market socialism”, where the economy was the locomotive and politics was dispatched to the bottom end of the train. Nothing more astonishing than the contrast with Moscow, where politics was the locomotive.

I’m housed by Dmitri, an odontology student, three metro stops from the Kremlin, paying $6 a day, a small fortune; he and his girlfriend precariously subdivide the two-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment with a whole family, dog included, besides the occasional Western visitors, who sleep in the master bedroom. This is considered an upper middle-class lifestyle.

At the beautiful metro stations, it’s the return of the Trans-Siberian bazaar; on sale are political or porno samizdats, second-hand clothes, bottles of every possible liquid. Only when I reach Red Square do I see the light; at the Himalayas and China, my time-zone was still on Gorbachev. What’s now at the top of the Kremlin is a Russian flag – as well as in the center of Dzerzhinsky square, in front of the KGB. As a perfect idiot, I aim for the statue of Felix Dzerzhinsky, the former head of the Soviet secret police, only to be warned by a student that it had been torn down weeks ago. Gorbachev is now a vodka brand. And I can’t get inside the KGB building.

The whole city is converted into a giant Turkish bazaar. After Boris Yeltsin liberated the sidewalks, everyone wants to exercise this privatizatsiya thing. Until 1990, nobody knew what a checkbook or a credit card was, and $1 was equivalent to 1 rouble. There are absolutely astonishing street markets on Prospekt Marka and Gorki street, everyone silently in line exhibiting their wares; a broken doll, a solitary shoe, dusty champagne bottles, perfume, instant coffee, sardine tins, an empty beer bottle.

The streets are filled with all the stuff brought by the Trans-Siberian navigators, but the supermarkets are empty. There’s very little milk or meat, but lots of canned fish and interminable lines to buy nothing – with potential consumers resigned to play chess.

The biggest hit in town is the new McDonald’s on Pushkin square – one of the busiest in the world, selling full meals for 50 cents by cashiers sporting an Eva Herzigova smile. In front of the MacD, a paper Gorbie poses for tourists, and a crowd sells caviar tins for $5 and champagne for $3. At the GUM department store, there is not much except a few Sony and Honda showrooms and a new Dior window.

The recent past does not let go; it’s impossible to call Europe. It’s impossible to send a fax from the Post Office. It’s impossible to make a train reservation. It’s impossible to make a plane reservation – at least on the Aeroflot shop in Lubyanka; only at the cavernous Intourist Hotel.

At the lugubrious ground floor of the Mockba Hotel, deaf and dumb characters straight out of an Ionesco play crowd the corridors while a beer black-market does brisk business in front of the hotel bar. A glass of champagne goes for 50 cents. At the hall of the legendary Metropol – the 1899 Grand Dame favored by Trotsky – a dry martini is a steep $7,70. The Metropol is the new Wall Street; Danes, Italians, Americans and Chinese discuss all deals this side of a Brave New World downing Heinekens at $5 a pop.

On Armed Forces Day, a Sunday, there’s a communist demonstration, repressed with tact, boasting large numbers of old ladies carrying flowers and flags. For their part, Moscow punks with anarchist flags protest against the Armed Forces. A pre-historic Volga takes me to Sheremetyevo as if I was running from a 1950s Cold War B-movie set. The Volga gurgles, stops, cools off, runs, gurgles, stops again, cools off; a metaphor of the new Russia, and I almost miss Aeroflot SU 576 back to Paris.

Nothing will ever be the (unipolar) same
Those were the days. That McDonald’s – symbol of unipolar, “end of history”, Pax Americana – has been recently shut down. It’s harder and harder for the Empire of Chaos to rule the world alone while McDonald’s serves burgers. Across Pushkin square, the fashionable Cafe Pouchkine now serves the best of Russian haute cuisine.

And still, both Russia and China are seen as pariahs by the unipolar, imperial elite. It’s as if we were still frozen in those early 1990s days. Russia and China may have changed almost beyond recognition – but for the Empire of Chaos the priorities are to tear Russia apart, starting with Ukraine, and “pivot to Asia” via an anti-China military/economic axis in the Western Pacific.

Meanwhile, the Trans-Siberian will soon be linked with the Chinese-driven New Silk Roads. And then one day in the early 2020s this will all be a high-speed rail network, linking Eurasia in a flash. And nothing will ever be the (unipolar) same. Except for the back-to-Russia Crimean champagne.

 

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

A Caliph in a wilderness of mirrors

Off the keyboard of Pepe Escobar
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THE ROVING EYE

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Originally published in Asia Times on October 15, 2014
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I’m aiming at you, lover
Cause killing you is killing myself

Orson Welles (director), The Lady from Shanghai,1947

 

He’s invincible. He beheads. He smuggles. He conquers. He’s the ultimate jack-of-all-trades. No Tomahawk or Hellfire can touch him. He always gets what he wants; in Kobani; in Anbar province; with the House of Saud (which he wants to replace) trying to make Putin (who he wants to behead) suffer because of low oil prices.

If this was a remake of Orson Welles’s noir classic The Lady from Shanghai, in the mirror sequence the lawyer (American?) and the femme fatale (Shi’ite?) would also get killed; but The Caliph of Islamic State would survive as a larger than life Welles, free to roam, plunder and “give my love to the sunrise” – as in a Brave Caliphate World shining in “Syraq” over the ashes of the Sykes-Picot agreement.

He’s winning big in Iraq’s Anbar province. The Caliph’s goons are now closing in on – of all places – Abu Ghraib; Dubya, Dick and Rummy’s former Torture Central. They are at a mere 12 kilometers away from Baghdad International. A shoulder-launched surface-to-air missile (or MANPAD) away from downing a passenger jet. Certainly not an Emirates flight – after all these are trusted sponsors.

Hit, in Anbar province, is now Caliph territory. The police forces and the province’s operational command have lost almost complete control of Ramadi. The Caliph now controls the crucial axis formed by Hit, Ramadi, Fallujah; Highway 1 between Baghdad and the Jordanian border; and Highway 12 between Baghdad and the Syrian border.

The Caliph’s goons are no less than taking over the whole, notorious Baghdad belt, the previous “triangle of death” in those hardcore days of American occupation circa 2004. Message to Donald Rumsfeld: remember your “remnants”? They’re back. And they’re in charge.

Both Ramadi and Fallujah have been reduced to an accumulation of bombed-out schools, hospitals, homes, mosques and bridges. Residential streets are virtually deserted. According to the United Nations, there are a least 360,803 internally displaced persons in Anbar, as well as 115,000 others in areas under The Caliph’s control. At least 63% of the 1.6 million people living in the province are classified as “in need” – with hair-raising minimal access to water, food and health care, and receiving little to absolutely zero humanitarian support from that fiction, the “international community.” US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power is not screaming her lungs out for R2P (“responsibility to protect”).

How could the Pentagon’s spectacular Full Spectrum Dominance possibly not see any of this happening? Of course they see it. But they don’t give a damn. The Pentagon occasionally uses AH-64 Apache helicopters to attack some of The Caliph’s goons in Ramadi and Hit. But Apaches can be easily hit with MANPADS. They are stationed at Baghdad International and their only mission is to protect the airport. Who cares about local, civilian “collateral damage”?

Married to the Mob
In Kobani, the former third-biggest town in Syrian Kurdistan, in the far northeast, The Caliph also wins big. Another biblical exodus has reached 300,000 refugees – and counting, with over 180,000 headed to Turkey.

The Caliph counts on indirect help from The Sultan (or alternate Caliph), aka Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan. Tehran is – rightfully – furious, as it sees the “West” – and Turkey – betraying the Kurds all over again. It’s no secret Sultan Erdogan is doing nothing because he wants to screw the guerrillas of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Syrian-Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD); let them die instead of repelling The Caliph and then be strong enough to threaten Turkish domination of those huge, essentially Kurdish patches of Anatolia. Thus the only thing Sultan Erdogan does support is aimless bombing by the Pentagon cum coalition of the clueless-cowards.

Anybody who believes the US Central Command’s spin that House of Saud and United Arab Emirates fighter jets conduct “bombing raids” on the outskirts of Kobani gets a one-way ticket to Oz. Imagine these clowns being able to deploy precision-guided bombs or trained laser spotters. To start with, the Pentagon has zero local intel – as in zero operatives able to paint lasers on targets. Thus the “coalition” can barely hit the odd tank (out of 25 around Kobani) or Humvee out of 2,000 crammed in a valley for almost two weeks now.

But the “coalition” certainly is able – miraculously! – to hit Syrian state infrastructure, as in energy installations. In June, the official Pentagon excuse was, “We don’t have any drone assets in Iraq.” Now there’s no excuse for drones which can read a “Smoking Kills!” warning in a packet of Marlboros not hitting The Caliph’s assets in Kobani – or in Anbar province for that matter. So it’s down to a mix of incompetence and neglect. It was so much easier to hit Pashtun wedding parties in the Waziristans. Especially because no one was paying attention.

Erdogan’s own goons, meanwhile, have instituted a curfew on all major towns and cities in southeast Anatolia, and are even gunning down peaceful Kurdish protesters. Fifteen million Kurds in Anatolia cannot be wrong; Erdogan wants Kobani to fall. Ankara remains for all practical purposes the top logistical hub for The Caliph’s goons. The Sultan is using The Caliph as a proxy army to smash the Kurds.

Terminal evidence has been offered by the leader of the Kurdish PYD, Salih Muslim, meeting Turkish military intel and asking for help. Conditions: abandon any hope of self-determination for Syrian Kurds; give up all your self-governing towns and regions; and watch as we install a Turkish “buffer”/no-fly zone inside Syrian territory.

Don’t expect the Obama “Don’t Do Stupid Stuff/We Have No Strategy” administration to sentence, “Erdogan must go”. Besides, the pathetic club of National Security Advisor Susan Rice and her deputy Ben Rhodes has no clue about what’s goin’ on.

To the Green Zone!
Tehran, for its part, has clearly identified Erdogan’s nasty game. The Sultan knows monster B1-B bombers flying over Kobani are absolutely useless – while The Caliph’s goons deploy massive car bombs and keep advancing. “Boots on the ground” will be needed. Enter NATO asset Turkey. But with one condition: regime change in Damascus, or at least a prelude, via that “buffer”/no-fly zone over Syria.

The Big Picture remains the same. Sultan Erdogan and the House of Saud want regime change in Damascus (Erdogan dreams of a Sunni puppet as a vassal of Ankara; the Saudis want their own Wahhabi schemer). Israel merrily agrees. And if that comes with a bonus – attacking the new Iraqi government, still supported by Iran, in the American-made Green Zone – even better. The lowdown: “Don’t Do Stupid Stuff” translates as the Gulf Cooperation Council, Turkey and Israel using Washington to advance their quite explicit agenda.

Sultan Erdogan, as a Mob boss, does seem to heave learned a thing or two from watching Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas. He’s extracting the maximum pound of flesh from the bewildered “Don’t do Stupid Stuff” team. The Sultan is boldly aiming at Turkish boots on the ground gloriously invading Syria in NATO “humanitarian intervention” mode. And all this sold as NATO offering “protection” to a member-nation. NATO’s new secretary-general, former Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, has just been to Ankara. Saudi Arabia has already “voted” out loud for the “buffer”/no-fly zone. Same for General Francois Hollande, that pitiful excuse for President of France.

Once again, it’s Tehran to the rescue. The Foreign Ministry has duly announced Iran is ready to liberate Kobani from The Caliph’s goons (and they can do it) if Bashar Al-Assad says the word. Now that’s how you work the chessboard; NATO is left with zero excuses to mount an invasion of Syria, whatever Mob Boss Erdogan comes up with.

Operation Hands Off My Toyota
The Caliph also wins big in the “bleeding the Pentagon” department. A single US “strike” against his goons – involving F-15s, F-16s or F-22s – costs up to US$500,000. The Pentagon has just revealed it has spent no less than $1.1 billion against The Caliph since June.

What for? Virtually all the assets being destroyed by American bombing are made in the USA, deployed to the Iraqi army and then duly captured during The Caliph’s offensive. So here we have the Empire of Chaos spending a fortune from the US Treasury to smash tanks, Humvees and other gear already paid for by American taxpayers. No wonder taxpayers are fuming. Thus Operation Hands off My Toyota.

Additionally, the Pentagon does not have a clue on how to build its Obama-designed proxy “rebel” force to fight The Caliph (with no US soldiers or marines; only fanatic Wahhabis and assorted mercenaries).

To start with, they have no clue who the hell qualifies as a “moderate rebel”. The rabble must be “vetted” – and then sent to, of all places, Saudi Arabia for training. There the guy in charge will be – who else – a Special Ops honcho, Major General Michael Nagata. Even under the most optimistic scenario, the Pentagon won’t have its proxy “moderate rebel” army on the ground in Syria before the summer of 2015.

Hefty bottles of Chateau Margaux can be bet that all this prime US weaponized know how will ultimately end up captured by The Caliph’s goons. Same applies to reliable “rebel” intel on the ground.

But the real Dadaist masterpiece is that first these “rebels” will be politely asked by the Pentagon to forget about getting rid of Assad to fight The Caliph. At least for a while. Re-enter Stoltenberg, the new NATO head: “Next year, at the ministerial meeting, we will take decisions regarding the so-called spearhead but, even before it is established, NATO has a strong army after all. We can deploy it wherever we want to.” OK, tough guy; why not “Syraq”?

If this all sounds like a plot straight out of hit series Blacklist, that’s because it is. Why not get Red (James Spader) to fight The Caliph? And then again, what if Red is The Caliph? He pretends to fight himself – and he wins, handsomely. Back to Welles’ The Lady from Shanghai: “Killing you is killing myself”. Yet nobody could possibly want The Caliph dead when he’s such a smashing, undisputed box-office success.

 

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

Pure War in Tehran

Off the keyboard of Pepe Escobar
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THE ROVING EYE

Obomber

Originally published in Asia Times on October 8, 2014

 

I’ve just spent a frantic week in Tehran. Before departure, I had made a conscious decision; only one book in the backpack. Maximum concentration. I ended up choosing Pure War, the 2008 reprint by Semiotext(e) in LA of the 1983 Paul Virilio classic I had picked up at the revamped Foyles in London a few days back.

For a roving correspondent, going to Iran is always extra-special. Getting a press visa approved usually takes ages. This was my sixth trip – and I had no visa. Just a number, tied to a visa at the airport. Until the last minute, I thought I’d be deported from Imam Khomeini International – back to Abu Dhabi, which is now pretending to bomb The Caliph. Then, a small miracle; a VIP room, a visa in 10 minutes and the next I know I’m zooming into an eerily deserted Tehran at sunrise on a Friday, past the psychedelic space station decked in green that is Imam Khomeini’s shrine.

Why Virilio? Because he was the first to conceptualize that with the explosion of asymmetrical warfare, Total War had become local – on a global scale. I expanded on the theme in my 2007 book Globalistan and in my writings. Washington and Tel Aviv had been threatening to bomb Iran for years. Virilio was the first to assert that “peace” merely extends war by other means.

May 1968 as a theatre of the mind – a theatre of the imagination. When society could be an artwork, a performance, with the crowds in the street as the chorus. The last creative reaction against consumerism. “Power to the imagination”.

A beautiful sunny morning in front of the Foreign Ministry compound. An exhibition/installation about the “imposed” – as it’s widely known – Iran-Iraq war. A reconstructed minefield; a map of nations weaponizing Saddam; pictures of young fighters/martyrs who wouldn’t have been older than 14. A theatre of painful remembrance. In late 1978, Tehran also had its crowds in the streets as chorus – against the shah. Khomeini was a reaction against consumerism; but was he “power to the imagination”? And then, all was engulfed in a theatre of cruelty – the tragedy of the “imposed” war.

War in the journalistic sense is national delinquency elevated to the scale of an extremely important conflict – It’s the equivalent of the “tumults”, as ancient societies called them. We can no longer even speak of wars, they are interstate delinquencies. It’s State terrorism.

In Tehran, my immensely gracious hosts were the organizers of New Horizon: the International Conference of Independent Thinkers. After plenty of twists and turns, the Foreign Ministry ended up also being involved. The conference issued a important resolution condemning ISIS/ISIL/The Caliph; Zionism; Islamophobia; sectarianism; and Washington’s blind support for anything Israel unleashes over Palestine: Israel’s national delinquency, or State terrorism. The conference also called for cooperation and understanding between the West and Islam: that implies a struggle against interstate delinquencies.

The best defense is to attack; and to attack you must have some ideas; right now there aren’t any ideas. Imagination today is in the image, and the image is in power. There’s no imagination for anything but the image.

I have to leave a fabulous open-air traditional Persian dinner to go to Press TV studios for a debate with notorious neo-con Daniel Pipes about ISIS/ISIL/Daesh. We surprisingly agree more than I would normally expect. Well, not hard considering the Obama administration’s non-strategy “strategy”; an image (bombs and Tomahawks) fighting an image (The Caliph’s carefully edited beheading show).

Meanwhile, President Hassan Rouhani’s speech at the United Nations kept making waves; “Extremists threaten our neighbors, resort to violence and shed blood.” It’s “the people in the region who can deliver” in the fight against The Caliph. Rouhani was not exactly referring to the made in USA jets allegedly deployed by the Gulf Cooperation Council coalition of the clueless/cowards; the House of Saud, UAE, Bahrain and associate member Jordan.

In all my conversations, a consensus emerges; the power vacuum of post-2013 Shock and Awe and occupation led to the rise of al-Qaeda in Iraq and eventually ISIS/ISIL/Daesh. But even as Tehran and Washington may have flirted about a joint move against The Caliph, Washington then denied it wanted help and Tehran rejected it outright.

Still, what Rouhani said in New York kept echoing day after day everywhere in Tehran; weaponizing the “new” Free Syrian Army in Saudi Arabia, of all places, amounts “to train another group of terrorists and send them to Syria to fight”. And Washington’s “strategy” is further enabling hardcore Sunni dictators who’ve made their careers demonizing Shi’ites.

And then that other “unofficial” Caliph, neo-Ottoman Recep Tayyip Erdogan, stepped in; there would be no use of Turkish “territory” or “military bases” by the “coalition” if “the objective does not also include ousting the Bashar al-Assad regime”. Who needs Caliph Erdogan to fight Caliph Ibrahim? Major General Qassem Suleimani, head of the Iranian Quds Force, can do it; his picture, side by side with Kurdish peshmergas, made a splash all over Iran when published by IRINN.

The cinema shows us what our consciousness is. Our consciousness is an effect of montage – It’s a collage. There is only collage, cutting and splicing. This explains fairly well what Jean-Francois Lyotard calls the disappearance of the great narratives. Classless society, social justice – no one believes in them anymore. We’re in the age of micro-narratives, the art of the fragment.

The joy of Laleh park – a Persian park crisscrossed by stray Persian cats as well as accomplished volleyball and badminton players and pram-pushing families. That’s where Arash Darya-Bandari, medievalist extraordinaire with many years spent in the Bay Area, gives me a crash course on the finer points of one of the great surviving narratives; Shi’ism and Khomeini’s concept of velayat-e-faqih. In Pure Non-War terms, this was always supposed to be about social justice. And that’s why it’s unintelligible to turbo-capitalism.

The park as Agora; a garden of intellectual delights. Nearly all my top conversations took place walking across or around Laleh park. And then one night, I went for a solitary walk, just to find a revolutionary movie/performance on a makeshift stage, complete with a trench and mortars. An audience of a few solitary men and some scattered families. The cinema keeping the consciousness of the Iran-Iraq war alive.

The end of deterrence corresponds to the beginning of the information war, a conflict where the superiority of information is more important than the capability to inflict damage.

The New Horizon conference could not but be about information war. The overall theme was the fight against the Zionist lobby. Everyone knows what the lobby means and how it operates, especially in the US. And yet, in my short interventions, at the Foreign Ministry and at the conference, I preferred to focus on its global financial/economic reach. Follow the money. That’s the only way to pierce the lobby’s seemingly invincible armory.

Another face of information war. Everywhere I went, I had the pleasure to see how Gareth Porter’s book – Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iranian Nuclear Scare – was received as a blessing. The book was translated into Farsi by the Fars News Agency, in only two months, with meticulous care, and launched in a simple ceremony.

It’s bound to become a best seller – as it conclusively proves, for instance, how the Iranian “plot” to equip missiles with nuclear warheads was entirely fabricated by the terrorist outfit Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) and then handed over to the International Atomic Energy Agency by the Mossad. Contrast the respect shown to Gareth in Tehran to the wall of silence of its US reception – just another reflection of the 35-year-old “wilderness of mirrors” opposing Washington to Tehran.

Predictably, the usual illiterate morons in the US dubbed the conference as an “anti-Semite hate fest”. Gareth was described as “an anti-Israel journalist” and myself as “a Brazilian anti-Israel journalist”. Obviously the moronic inferno is not familiar with the concept of “foreign policy”.

Space is no longer in geography – it’s in electronics. Unity is in the terminals. It’s in the instantaneous time of command posts, multinational headquarters, control towers, etc. Politics is less in physical space than in the time systems administered by various technologies. ? There is a movement from geo- to chronopolitics: the distribution of territory becomes the distribution of time. The distribution of territory is outmoded, minimal.

Time to go to the bazaar – the ultimate urban distribution of territory. At the main entrance, a gaggle brandishing calculators and pieces of paper is involved in an incredible racket. With Roberto Quaglia – author of a wicked debunking of the 9/11 saga – we joke this looks like a slaves market. Not really. This is nothing less than a futures market on the course of the rial. With the national currency fluctuating so much because of the sanctions – it lost three quarters of its value in the past few years – the chance to make a bundle is irresistible.

We meet the beautiful Zahra – she sells handmade towels but is essentially a killer fashion photographer. And then the ritual I’ve loved since forever; haggling for the perfect tribal rug. In this case, a Zaghol from the 1930s, never to be reproduced because the local nomads are becoming sedentary and there are no new weavers. A case of distribution of territory becoming the distribution of (lost) time.

The Pharaohs, the Romans, the Greeks were surveyors. That was geopolitics. We’re no longer there, we’re in chronopolitics. Organization, prohibitions, interruptions, orders, powers, structurings, subjections are now in the realm of temporality. And that’s also where resistance should be.

Which lead us, once again, to sanctions. Much had been made of what Rouhani told Austrian President Hans Fisher at the UN – about Iran being ready to deliver gas to the European Union. That’s not happening tomorrow; the last figure I had, in Tehran, years ago, is that the country would need at least US$200 billion in investments to upgrade its energy infrastructure. Rouhani was forced to clarify it. And Tehran won’t sell itself to the EU on the cheap.

The end of sanctions is all about chronopolitics.

We have entered an age of large-scale terrorism. Just as we speak of petty delinquency and major delinquency, I think the same should be said of petty and major terrorism. … The military-industrial and scientific complexes continue to function on their own momentum. It’s a crazy engine that won’t stop.

Tehran thinks about the crazy engine all the time. I’m sort of “kidnapped” from a meeting and end up in a small think tank with a fabulous map on the wall detailing the US command centers. All the students are eager to know what the Empire is really up to with Iran.

A visit to the “nest of spies” – the former US embassy – is also inevitable. An apotheosis of 1970s technology – immaculately preserved like nowhere else in the world; radio equipment, proto-computers, telephones, telexes, rolodexes, a “forgery room” for fake passports. No wonder Washington could never recover from the loss of this sterling listening post of the whole Middle East. Will this building ever be a “normal” US embassy again? Someone should ask the hick Hamlet who almost turned into a mad bomber.

This is why the airport today has become the new city. People are no longer citizens, they’re passengers in transit. No longer a nomad society, in the sense of the great nomadic drifts, but one concentrated on the vector of transportation. The new capital is … a city at the intersection of practicabilities of time, in other words, of speed.

The last day had to contain an epiphany. I waited for it all day long – amid myriad interviews and a fabulous Indian lunch in North Tehran with Gareth and Dr Marandi of the Faculty of World Studies, University of Tehran; the ideal Platonic banquet of conviviality and intellect. Then, at night, a mad dash across town to the Rey shrine; working-class neighborhood, foundation stone of Tehran, one of the top pilgrimage sites in Iran alongside Qom and Mashhad.

Aesthetic illumination meets sensorial overload meets spiritual pull – with an extra kick because you’re arguably the only Westerner in sight. Tens of thousands of pilgrims honor the death of Imam Ali’s son-in-law. What’s that thing about the death of grand narratives? Not in deep Iran.

And then it’s all over, as in a Coleridge dream; did I dream this fleeting Persian interlude, or did Tehran dreamed a little dream of me? I’m back to my default mode – the essential passenger in transit; a nomad carpet, a backpack and a boarding pass. Next stop; a faceless city in an intersection of speed.

 

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

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