Qatar emir suggests sending Arab troops to Syria

Demonstrators take part in a protest against Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad after Friday prayer in Talbiseh near Homs
REUTERS

By Khaled Yacoub Oweis

AMMAN | Sat Jan 14, 2012 10:07am EST

(Reuters) – Qatar has proposed sending Arab troops to halt the bloodshed in Syria, where violence has raged despite the presence of Arab League monitors sent to check if an Arab peace plan is working.

Asked if he was in favor of Arab nations intervening in Syria, Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani told the U.S. broadcaster CBS: “For such a situation to stop the killing … some troops should go to stop the killing.”

The emir, whose country backed last year’s NATO campaign that helped Libyan rebels topple Muammar Gaddafi, is the first Arab leader to propose Arab military intervention in Syria where protesters are demanding President Bashar al-Assad stand down.

CBS said on its website that the interview would be broadcast in its “60 Minutes” programme on Sunday.

Qatar’s prime minister heads the Arab League committee on Syria and has said killings have not stopped despite the presence of Arab monitors sent there last month.

In the preview of the interview on the website, the emir did not spell out how any Arab military intervention might work.

How the West is wholly missing China’s geopolitical focus

By Alexandros Petersen

Alexandros Petersen is Advisor with the European Energy Security Initiative at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC, and the author of The World Island: Eurasian Geopolitics and the Fate of the West. This post is the result of a recent visit to China and Central Asia.

On a recent visit to China, Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov smiled broadly as he was awarded the title of Emeritus Professor at Peking University. Yet his satisfaction was probably less  the academic distinction than a lucrative energy export deal he had signed earlier that day — 65 billion cubic meters of natural gas, roughly half of China’s 2010 gas consumption, would eventually flow from Turkmenistan’s massive fields to China’s seemingly insatiable consumers.

This end-of-year agreement prompted some observers to proclaim that gas-rich Turkmenistan had achieved a coup against regional political powerhouse Russia: For years, Moscow has been negotiating a gas export deal with Beijing, but what would it do now that China was receiving so much supply from Turkmenistan? Yet that analysis is backwards: Rather than a Turkmen power play, the natural gas deal was a geopolitical chess move by Beijing, whose fundamental interest in the region is both raw resources, and raw power. While the West is focused on constraining China’s actions in the Asia-Pacific, Beijing is capitalizing on vast space for influence to its west in Central Asia.

For years, Ashgabat has been a small power. It holds among the ten-largest natural gas reserves in the world, but has never parlayed these riches into a perch atop the list of rich petro-states — Turkmen gas has been sold at its border to Russia’s Gazprom, which has re-exported it to European consumers at inflated prices. That has relegated Turkmenistan to the status of a hermit kingdom in energy terms.

But now Ashgabat is not only courting Beijing, but also flirting heavily with the European Commission, which wishes to build a Trans-Caspian gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to Europe, and vigorously pushing for a Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India gas pipeline. Such increased export options have strengthened Berdymukhamedov’s hand against domination by Russia’s Gazprom.

Yet those who focus on Turkmenistan are missing the larger story. It would be more accurate to say that Beijing’s choice of Turkmen, Kazakh and Uzbek gas over Russian has forced Gazprom to reassess its regional strategy.  While price negotiations with Moscow have slogged on over the last five years, the China National Petroleum Corp. (CNPC) has cobbled together and upgraded largely existing transportation infrastructure to create the China-Central Asia gas pipeline (pictured above).  The resulting shift in the region’s energy geopolitics reflects China’s rise.

It also reveals a Beijing whose intentions are inherently geopolitical. The deliverable for Beijing is stability — client states with predictable, subservient governments. The Chinese analysis is that they are the adults in Central Asia, while Russian and Western actors breed instability.

China is eager, however, to mask the geopolitical dimension of its presence in Central Asia. Chinese energy and foreign ministry officials argue that Beijing’s sole objective is to obtain access to natural resources.  On a recent trip to Beijing, I spoke with foreign ministry researchers who insisted that attempting to understand Chinese moves in Central Asia through a geopolitical lens was “based on an inaccurate Western perspective” that “sounds like an excuse to fit mere business deals into a ‘China threat’ paradigm.”

A CNPC representative put it in these terms: “Some regional partners like to use our presence as a foreign policy tool.” He was quick to add, “Chinese companies are not involved in politics.”  I heard the terms “non-interference” and “harmonious relations” more times than I could count. But, addressing the Turkmen deal directly, a senior policymaker with the Chinese energy ministry said, “Energy is the basis for a wider relationship with Turkmenistan, which we see as a major, long-term partner in the region.” Kazakhstan has far more oil, in addition to much natural gas, but Turkmenistan appears to be at least equivalent and perhaps more consequential to China. When I asked whether the relationship with Turkmenistan was important in diversifying China’s energy import options in light of recent civil unrest in Kazakhstan, he answered simply, “Yes.”

Central Asians understand China’s calculus. In a discussion in the Turkmen capital of Ashgabat, a top Turkmen energy official told me that China is seeking political influence rivaling Russia and Western actors, but that Turkmenistan would thwart them. As I have argued together with my colleague Raffaello Pantucci, Russia, too, is moving to counter what it sees as Chinese encroachment on its traditional geopolitical space, specifically through its advance of a “Eurasian Union” of former Soviet republics.

Interestingly, Chinese geopolitical aims seem similar to Russia’s — the maintenance of largely authoritarian stability and predictability in Central Asia. “Our interests and the interests of our government are to see stable governments in the region,” a Sinopec analyst told me.  The result is soft geopolitical competition between China and Russia. And it is spreading — a Chinese military delegation will cross the Caspian and visit Azerbaijan later this month.

One forgives China for attempting to mask its geopolitical thrust as long as it can in hopes of avoiding too many red flags. So far, it has largely succeeded.

The Prospects of Facebook Activism in Uzbekistan

A fascinating discussion over at the Central Asian blog, Registan.net, has been taking place this past week about the possibility of Internet-fueled revolution in Central Asia. The debate coincides with recent reports about increasing numbers of Internet users in Uzbekistan, and the surging use of Facebook.

In light of those developments, I thought I’d survey a few Uzbeks that I know to ask if they felt that those numbers would translate into more online activism and any additional pressure on the authorities to loosen their domineering grip on society. The uniform answer was “no” and the prime reason: “fear”.

Everyone agreed about the upsurge in Facebook use and how it had become standard for most young people to have their own profiles, as IWPR pointed out already last September:

Most of my friends started surfing the net this year, the main reason being social networking sites, which are becoming very popular in this country,” a university student in the capital Tashkent, who did not want to be named, said. “Almost all young people who have mobile phones are internet users here. It’s now normal for young people to have a Facebook profile, which they use to try to express themselves.

Still, those that I spoke to doubted that Facebook would be used anytime soon for Arab-spring-like political activism. People are still just too afraid. One person I spoke to gave me an example. Let’s call her Tania. So Tania was posting comments in a discussion on her friend’s Facebook wall about the arts week organized by the president’s daughter last year. Tania was questioning the use of public money for the event, but was not rabidly critical of the presidential family. Nevertheless, her friend got spooked and deleted all of Tania’s comments and any others that might be deemed critical.

Tania felt that almost no one would dare to post overtly political comments on their profiles.

So far, the Uzbek authorities have not become antsy enough to opt for a wholesale shutdown, though, according to IWPR, the authorities did get pretty nervous in the wake of the Arab spring and “pages where Uzbek users were posting and commenting on news from Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain and Libya became unavailable.”

They also apparently got nervous when some young people took to YouTube last year to post videos from school. As RFE/RL reported back in October, there have been at least a few cases of something possibly resembling Internet activism among students. I say “possibly” because it’s impossible to know the motivations of those who placed two videos up on YouTube, one showing the daughter of a local prosecutor screaming at and beating her teacher, and the other depicting a bunch of young men waving money at their instructor. Were they posted to show the special treatment that politically connected kids get in school and to highlight corruption inside universities? In any case, one Uzbek that I spoke to claimed that the government had reacted by firing the two teachers, expelling the girl, and passing a measure restricting the use of Facebook in classrooms.

I couldn’t find independent verification of any of that and inquiries among some other Uzbeks failed to turn up much beyond a news story from last August that talks about the creation of a new committee to monitor the media. But simply the rumor of a Facebook ban might be sufficient to make others think twice about posting anything potentially inflammatory. And if Facebook carries the “taint” of something dangerous, users might be more likely to use something like Muloqot.uz, which was launched in the fall with support from the state telecoms company – intended for Uzbeks within the country, and in all likelihood closely monitored by the secret services.

If Muloqot.uz managed to offer serious competition to Facebook, that could negative the potential consequences of a theory highlighted in the Registan debate: Ethan Zuckerman’s “cute cats” hypothesis. Ethan, a senior researcher at the Berkman Center of Internet and Society and an old friend of TOL’s, has made the very valid point that the masses generally don’t care or even know about if some single site monitoring human rights is shut down, but they become irate if their government blocks entire services – say YouTube or Facebook – that they regularly use to post pictures of their cats or to do some other non-political activity. They also tend to become more knowledgeable about abuses because they start to wonder why the authorities decided to turn off their favorite site in the first place.

To avoid that scenario, the authorities could simply decide not to wait for the user numbers to get big enough for people to really care if Facebook or YouTube connections come up empty. In December, for example, the arbuz.com web forum shut down, a place where people had posted critical comments, including attacks on the government for not doing more to protect ethnic Uzbeks in Kyrgyzstan during the recent conflicts there. But the site was used mainly by the Diaspora and the move didn’t elicit a major response from within the country.

Given the fear factor, it’s hard to imagine all this new online activity making a difference without many other developments occurring “offline” at the same time. What would happen, however, if usage continues to rise exponentially, the authorities don’t turn off the lights, and at least a small fraction of those new users started to post critical comments on Facebook or at least to access the pages of people living abroad that might not be as scared as their peers to post something controversial?

In other words, .1 percent of 106,000 users (the current number) might present no threat, but what about .1 percent of 1 million?

Screenshot above is from Muloqot.uz.

When Is A Murder Cover-Up NOT A Murder Cover-up?–When Intelligence Agencies Are Responsible

[The report blames neither the ISI nor the CIA, making at least 50% of  the report a cover-up.  Which is the more likely reason behind Saleem’s murder, silencing a critic of the ISI, or making the murder look like it was an ISI hit?  That is the nature of “false flag” terrorism, to implicate the other side.  The Commission report basically put the murder off onto a shadowy phantom network of former Afghan mujahedeen, turned terrorists, who spread the skills taught them by the CIA and the ISI throughout the Muslim world, a.k.a., “Al-Qaeda.”   The report then defers blame by the junior part of the spy union, without ever referring to the senior agency’s possible guilt in the murder.  Since the CIA claims immunity in anything involving Qaeda, the whole American government hides behind the excuse that time has erased the CIA’s connection to its Frankenstein “Qaeda” monster, even though the same Qaeda eagerly participates in joint military actions with NATO in places like Africa and Lebanon.  Syed Saleem Shahzad was a spokesman for the CIA, as much as he was for the ISI.  You cannot blame one group of spies, liars, thieves and killers more than you can the other.  I often described him as a “CIA mouthpiece.”  

There is no hope of either America or Pakistan making things right with the world until they both admit what has been done, and what is being done in Pakistan today.] 

Saleem Shahzad murder: Commission report points out everything, but the murderers

The report links Saleem Shehzad’s murder to the War on Terror. PHOTO: EXPRESS/FILE

KARACHI: The judicial inquiry report into journalist Saleem Shahzad’s murder deals with everything, save pointing out who did it.

The 146-page report gives page after page of recommendations and proposals on how to fix the “systemic causes of tension between agencies and the media.” It even suggests “practical steps” about making the press and agencies law-abiding and calls for a human rights ombudsman. However, despite six months of painstaking work that included 23 formal meetings and examinations of no less than 41 witnesses, apart from access to Shahzad’s 33,000 emails, even the motive behind the murder could not be conclusively drawn.

The commission comprised two judges, Supreme Court Justice Mian Saqib Nisar, who also chaired the Commission and Chief Justice Federal Shariat Court Justice Agha Rafiq Ahmed Khan; two senior police officers – Inspector General Police Punjab Javed Iqbal and Inspector General  Islamabad Police Bani Amin Khan; and one journalist, President Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists Pervaiz Shaukat.

Yet, about the possible reasons behind the brutal killing of the journalist, all they could come up with was the conclusion that “in all likelihood, the motive behind the incident was provided by the writings of Saleem. What is not so clear is the question of who had that motive and actually acted upon it.”

In fact, deep in the report, the commission says that Hamza Ameer, the brother-in-law and complainant in the case, and Anita Saleem, Shahzad’s widow, “were the two most important persons who should have indicated the motive.”

A beeline of journalists and prominent personalities had met members of the commission, including the Dawn CEO Hameed Haroon, Ali Dayan of Human Rights Watch, Najam Sethi, Nusrat Javed, Hamid Mir, Absar Alam, Umar Cheema, Matiullah Jan, Zahid Hussain, Jugnoo Moshin, Nasim Zehra, Imtiaz Alam and Qamarul Munir Yousafzai.  At least 13 of them either filed their statements in writing or appeared before the Commission to make statements.

Many of them gave testimonies to the effect that intelligence agencies, especially the ISI personnel harass and sometimes even threaten journalists. Even though the commission took note of the alleged culture of threats, it also could not ignore the possibility that theoretically an imposter posing as agency man could have also issued the threats.

However, when it came to pointing out the same lack of authenticity in the alleged recording of a wiretapped conversation between two al Qaeda operatives, in which they supposedly expressed satisfaction over Saleem’s death, the report keeps mum.

Interestingly, the two intelligence agencies, the Military Intelligence and Intelligence Bureau were not questioned further after they had written to the commission that they had no nexus with the incident.

The ISI, which the report says “bore the brunt of blame right from the day one,” was made to answer the concerns. Brigadier Zahid Mehmood Khan, Sector Headquarter Central Islamabad, contested all allegations.

ISI’s alibi

Brigadier Khan gave a written statement that had “Saleem been threatened or coerced, he would have broken all contacts and refused to interact anymore with the ISI, something he did not do.”

In fact, the official said, Shahzad had himself asked to have a cup of tea, and other rendezvous, with the same officials that, he alleged, had threatened him in the past.  ISI says the last telephonic interaction with Shahzad took place on May 2011, soon after the US operation in Abbottabad in which he was told their DG had been wrongly quoted as saying they were hands-in-glove in the OBL raid.

It even put on the record a telephonic conversation of renowned television personaility Hamid Mir with ISI in which “he condemns Saleem Shahzad being a dubious case, [and] laments Americans for their extraordinary interest in this case.”

In their testimonies before the commission, the ISI build the case that Shahzad was in fact killed by al Qaeda, specifically the Ilyas Kashmiri group since he was increasingly revealing their strategies and assets in his articles.

“The individual named Nawaz Khan, an important militant of the Ilyas Kashmiri (al Qaeda) network, is detained in Adiala Jail on the charges of abduction for fund generation for terrorists and murder. He was in contact with Saleem,” the ISI statement said. “After Saleem’s abduction and murder, while discussing the matter with a front man of the Ilyas Kashmiri group, Nawaz expressed praise for Saleem, but Ilyas Kashmiri’s front man cursed Saleem for the damage that he had done to their network and remarked that a bad man had only met his fate. This, according to the statement of Brigadier Zahid Mehmood Khan of ISI, speaks volumes of the Ilyas Kashmiri group’s enmity with Saleem and provides evidence for al Qaeda’s possible involvement,” the report added.

The brigadier further said “if he was a man of intellectual integrity, and his writings were based on acquired intelligence through his contacts, then obviously he could be considered a great threat to al Qaeda when he dared and promised to expose strategic assets of the terrorist organisation in his article on Mehran Base attack”.

Defaming Shahzad

In an effort to defame the journalist as a possible American spy agent, the ISI statement to the commission said “Why in this case [after Saleem’s murder] from President Obama to every man worth a name in the US felt disturbed. Was he a pawn who could be used at appropriate time to further use the US objectives and create a wedge between establishment and other segments of society?”

Brigadier Zahid also termed Saleem’s article about Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Baradar’s mysterious release, as fake and frivolous.

He categorically denied that the book and writings of Saleem in any way has caused any grievance to the establishment or agencies, and in this context deposed: “I do not think that most of the articles written by Saleem Shahzad were against the national interest, rather those exposed al Qaeda and Taliban; qua their way of working and even their entering into Armed Forces and the Navy. This is particularly so envisaged by his article on ‘Mehran Base.’”

Also no defamation of a journalist can be complete unless he is terms as a possible Indian agent.

“Though I do not have any concrete evidence, but Saleem Shahzad in my presence stated that he was approached by Indian Intelligence Agency (RAW) and now he has to present a paper in UK on which he wanted the input of ISI. He also stated that he is in contact with the intelligence agency in UK. I do not remember the exact date of this meeting, but perhaps it was in the month of October, 2010,” the ISI official said.

Denying threats

Also, when ISI’s Rear Admiral Adnan Nazir was asked whether he had in fact threatened Saleem, which the slain journalist had also mentioned in his email to him, Hameed Haroon and Ali Dayan, he said: “it is correct that the above quotation is a part of this e-mail. I did not respond to this e-mail. Though I found that the quotation portion of the e-mail was wrong and false, but I did not find it expedient to respond”.

ISI’s Commodore Khalid Pervaiz said Shahzad’s article in which he said that the terrorists involved in the Mumbai attacks were from PNS Iqbal, which is a naval base, and the boats were also provided by PNS team was totally incorrect, frivolous and baseless. Commodore Pervaiz, who later took charge of PNS Mehran, Karachi that was attacked in 2011, said that he came to know about Shahzad’s explosive article about the issue much later. He said he was very busy in connection with the Mehran Base incident and had no chance or occasion to even read that article. On a further question, he said: “I cannot say whether it was [a] false or [a] correct story because I had never read it … I cannot say if the story is in the national interest or otherwise because I have not read it even so far”. He categorically refuted having threatened Saleem as being imputed by Mr Hameed Haroon or mentioned in the e-mail sent by Saleem to Tony.

In the end, the commission’s report cites lack of ‘substantive piece of evidence’ to pin point the murder to ISI officials.  “It does not allow us to safely conclude that the ISI was the culprit behind this incident.”

Published in The Express Tribune

Obama’s dangerous Asia “pivot”

obamaAus2

“On his recent trip to Asia Pacific, the President made it clear that the centerpiece of this strategy includes an intensified American role in this vital region,” Financial Times Nov. 28, 2011

- Tom Donilon, President Barak Obama’s national security advisor

“An Indo-Pacific without a strong U.S. military presence would mean the Finlandisation by China of countries in the South China Sea, such as Vietnam, Malaysia and Singapore,” Financial Times Nov. 30, 2011
- Robert Kaplan, senior fellow Center for a New American Security and author of “Monsoon:
The Indian Ocean the Future of American Power”

Donilon is a long-time Democratic Party operative and former lobbyist for Fannie Mae and a key figure in the Clinton administration’s attack on Yugoslavia and the expansion of NATO into Eastern Europe. Kaplan is a Harvard Business School professor and advisor on the Mujahedeen war against the Soviets in Afghanistan, as well as current U.S. military intervention in the Horn of Africa.

Something is afoot.

Indeed, it is. In both cases, a substantial buildup of military forces and a gloves-off use of force lie at the heart of the new approach.

The U.S. now has a permanent military force deployed in the Horn of Africa, a continent-wide military command – Africom – and it has played a key role in overthrowing the Libyan government. It also has Special Forces active in Uganda, Somalia, and most of the countries that border the Sahara.

But it is in Asia that the administration is making its major push, nor is it coy about whom the target is. “We are asserting our presence in the Pacific. We are a Pacific power,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said at the National Defense University in August, “we know we face some long-term challenges about how we are going to cope with what the rise of China means.”

There is whiff to all this of old fashioned Cold War hype, when the U.S. pumped up the Russian military as a world-swallowing force panting to pour through the Fulda Gap and overrun Western Europe: the Chinese are building a navy to challenge the U.S.; the Chinese are designing special missiles to neutralize American aircraft carriers; the Chinese are bullying nations throughout the region.

Common to Clinton’s address, as well as to Kaplan’s and Donilon’s opinion pieces, were pleas not to cut military spending in the Pacific. In fact, it appears the White House is already committed to that program. “Reduction in defense spending will not come at the expense of the Asia Pacific,” Donilon wrote, “There will be no diminution of our military presence or capabilities in the region.”

The spin the White House is putting on all this is that the U.S. has been bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan, allowing China to throw its weight around in Asia. Donilon’s opinion piece was titled “America is back in the Pacific and will uphold the rules.”

It is hard to know where to begin to address a statement like that other than with the observation that irony is dead.

Asia and the Pacific has been a major focus for the U.S. since it seized the Philippines in the 1899 Spanish-American War. It has fought four major wars in the region over the past century, and, not counting China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA), it deploys more military personnel in the Pacific than any other nation. It dominates the region through a network of bases in Japan, the Philippines, South Korea, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, the Marshall Islands, and island fortresses like Guam and Wake. The White House just announced the deployment of 2,500 Marines to Australia.

The American Seventh Fleet – created in 1943 and currently based in Yokosuka, Japan – is the largest of the U.S.’s naval fleets, and the one most heavily armed with nuclear weapons.
We aren’t “back,” we never went anywhere.

But the argument fits into the fable that U.S. military force keeps the peace in Asia. Kaplan even argues, “A world without US naval and air dominance will be one where powers such as China, Russia, India, Japan and others act more aggressively toward each other than they do now, because they will all be far more insecure than they are now.”

In short, the kiddies will get into fights unless Uncle Sam is around to teach them manners. And right now, China is threatening to upend “the rules” through an aggressive expansion of its navy.

China is indeed upgrading its navy, in large part because of what the Seventh Fleet did during the 1995-96 Taiwan Straits crisis. In the middle of tensions between Taipei and Beijing, the Clinton administration deployed two aircraft carrier battle groups into the Taiwan Straits. Since there was never any danger that China was going to invade Taiwan, the carriers were just a gratuitous slap in the face. China had little choice but to back down, but vowed it would never again be humiliated in its home waters. Beijing’s naval buildup dates from that crisis.

And “buildup” is a relative term. The U.S. has made much of China acquiring an aircraft carrier, but the “new” ship is a 1990 vintage Russian carrier, less than half the size of the standard American Nimitz flattop (of which the U.S. has 10). The “new” carrier-killer Chinese missile has yet to be tested, let alone deployed. Only in submarines can China say it is finally closing the gap with the U.S. And keep in mind that China’s military budget is about one-eighth that of the U.S.

If the Chinese are paranoid about their sea routes and home waters, it is not without cause. Most invasions of China have come via the Yellow Sea, and 80 percent of China’s energy supplies come by sea. China ships much of its gas and oil through the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea. With major suppliers based on the west coast of Africa, the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf, it has little choice. Those sea-lanes are controlled by the U.S. Fifth Fleet based in Bahrain and the Seventh in Japan.

China is also building friendly ports for its tankers – the so-called “string of pearls” – and that is why Beijing is suspicious about the sudden thaw in U.S.-Myanmar relations. China plans to build a “pearl” in Myanmar.

Indeed, a major reason why China is building pipelines from Russia and Central Asia is to bypass the series of choke points through which its energy supplies pass, including the straits of Hormuz and the Malacca Strait. The Turkmenistan-Xingjian and Eastern Siberia Pacific Ocean pipelines are already up and running, but their volume is not nearly enough to feed China’s 11 billion barrels of oil a day appetite.

In spite of protests, the U.S. recently carried out major naval operations in the Yellow Sea, and Washington has injected itself into tensions between Beijing and some of its neighbors over the South China Sea. In part, China has exacerbated those tensions by its own high-handed attitude toward other nations with claims on the Sea. In responding to protests over China’s claims, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi remarked, “China is a big country and other countries are small countries, and that is just a fact.”

China’s initial arrogance on the issue has allowed the U.S. to wedge itself into the dispute and portray itself as the “protector” of small nations. Less than 40 years ago it was trying to bomb several of those nations back into the Stone Age, and Vietnam just recorded its 100,000th casualty since 1975 from explosives left over by the American war.

Beijing has since cooled its tone on the South China Sea and is backing away from defining it as a “core” Chinese area.

Why the “strategic pivot?” Undoubtedly, some of it is posturing for the run-up to the 2012 elections. Being “tough” on China trumps Republican charges that Obama is “soft” on foreign policy. But this “pivot” is more than cynical electioneering.

First, China does not pose any military threat to the U.S. or its allies in Asia, and the last thing it wants is a war. Beijing has not forgotten its 1979 invasion of Vietnam that ended up derailing its “four modernizations” drive and deeply damaging its economy.

Part of this “China threat” nonsense has to do with the power of the U.S. armaments industry to keep the money spigots open. When it comes to “big ticket” spending items, navies and air forces top the list. An aircraft costs in excess of $5 billion, and the single most expensive weapons program in U.S. history is the F-35 stealth fighter.

But there is more than an appetite for pork at work here.

China is the number two economy in the world, and in sharp competition with the U.S. and its allies for raw materials and human resources. It is hard to see the aggressive U.S. posture in Asia as anything other than an application of the old Cold War formula of economic pressure, military force, and diplomatic coercion. From Washington’s point of view, it worked to destabilize the Soviet Union, why shouldn’t it work on China?

“If you are a strategic thinker in China,” says Simon Tay, chair of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, “you do not have to be a paranoid conspiracy theorist to think that the U.S. is trying to bandwagon Asia against China.”

Since U.S. foreign policy is almost always an extension of corporate interests, squeezing China in Asia, Africa and Central Asia helps create openings for American investments. And if such a policy also protects the multi-billion dollar military budget, including the likes of Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Dynamics and Northrop Grumman, so much the better.

It is a dangerous game, first, because military tension can lead to war, and, while that is an unlikely event, mistakes happen. “If we keep this up, then we are going to leave the impression with China that we are drawing battle lines,” Douglas Paal of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace told the Financial Times. In fact, the Obama administration has drawn up a plan called AirSea Battle to deny China control of the Taiwan Straits.

The consequences for those caught in the middle will be severe. China has pulled hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, but it still has a ways to go. An arms race will delay that. For the average American, racked by double-digit unemployment, a vanishing safety net, and the collapse of everything from education to infrastructure, it will be no less of a tragedy.

This article originally appeared in Dispatches from the Edge and Counterpunch.

Photo: Creative Commons 2.0

Turkmen Caspian Oil Wells Show Steady Increase In Production

Dragon talks up Cheleken potential

Firing up production: Dragon Oil garners test success at Turkmenistan field

Dragon Oil has said it is confident of the “great potential” of sidetracking low producing wells at its Cheleken field offshore Turkmenistan.

Bill Lehane

 

The London- and Dublin-listed player’s comments came in a statement on Friday announcing it had achieved an initial test rate of 2123 barrels of oil per day with its Dzheitune (Lam) 13/140A well at the eastern Caspian Sea field, where it holds a 100% interest.

The explorer also completed the Dzheitune (Lam) A/165 development well, which tested at initial rate of 2272 barrels of oil per day.

Dubai-based Dragon Oil also announced meanwhile it had surpassed its target production of 70,000 barrels of oil per day for the year, with a 2011 exit rate of 71,151 barrels of oil per day.