Tuesday, September 18

21st Century foreign policy trade-offs, and the snowballing Muslim backlash against terrorism

In the early 1990’s, a consortium of American oil companies (led by Unocal) had hired Enron to determine the profitability of building an oil and gas pipeline across Afghanistan so that America could have access to the Caspian Sea Basin, holding 1/8th of the worlds energy supplies.

There is no doubt that these secret negotiations existed, and that they were known to Al Qaida.[...]

The worst condemnation ever written of the financial corruption in the Clinton administration can be found in the last chapters of Robert Baer's recent book, See No Evil, where he blames the pipeline cover-up for substantially contributing to 9/11.

Baer's book makes a strong case [...] The explanation is raw and blunt. No partisan politics, just greed. A crooked handful of high level officials in the Clinton and Bush administration were clearly obsessed with the Caspian pipeline plan
-- John Loftus, 2002
August 18, 2007
[Re Pundita post al Qaeda the dope dealer and say whatever happened to Julie Sirrs?]

Go to my website and read my writings on Enron and 9/11. Also, al Qaeda is just a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, stronger and longer than you think.
John Loftus"

Dear John:
I considered your 2002 Enron writings so important that I wanted to do a full-length essay on them after receiving your note, then events overtook me. I hope the following brief comments will at least convey why I consider the writings important.

Your explanations about the Enron-Unocal deal and related cover-ups throw much light on many things, including why Julie Sirrs was railroaded.

Your reports are a must-read for those crafting US foreign policy in the post-9/11 era. The bottom line is that American-led companies must negotiate energy deals with foreign governments and that several such governments are repressive and very corrupt.

Both situations have been in play for a long time, but the Enron-Unocal debacle instructs us that during this era we must factor in post-9/11 defense concerns before deciding that a particular energy deal is in America's best interest.

There are no easy decisions, only the knowledge that consequences can be quick and severe for the United States, if Washington does not closely monitor energy deals made with underdeveloped nations.

And not only energy deals present a conundrum. My fear is that history is repeating itself, only this time with heroin instead of oil and Pakistan's government as the locus instead of the Taliban in Afghanistan -- and with military strategy as the main motivation instead of greed.

My impression is that US intelligence agencies are being held back somewhat from investigating the worst about Pakistan. I think this is partly because the Bush administration and the State Department consider Pakistan to be an indispensable ally in the war on terror. If I'm correct, the approach studiously ignores much about the ISI-Pak military connection with the dope trade. If it's true that the US is again backing Benazir Bhutto I think this is whistling in the dark no matter how much Bhutto frowns on the ISI-al Qaeda connection. The reality is that Pakistan is a narco-state.

There are other strong forces working against an objective assessment of Pakistan's dependence on the dope trade. One is the private international banking sector, which wants to increase business in Pakistan; another is that the World Bank and other development banks are heavily invested in Pakistan.

Here again the situation is very complex, very much a 21st century problem. One way to fight the dope trade is to go after the underground banking system, which is deeply entrenched and wide-scale in Pakistan. International banks, and with the encouragement of the World Bank, are working with Pakistan's government to modernize Pakistan's banking sector and woo Pakistanis away from their heavy reliance on underground banking.

Of course this approach takes time, which works to the advantage of al Qaeda, the Taliban, and those in Pakistan's government who profit from the dope trade. But if you go after underground banks head-on, in the attempt to strike a blow against the dope trade, this will bring forth great resistance from Pakistanis who depend on such banks for legitimate reasons.

Again, there's no easy decision; every move the US can make against the dope trade in that part of the world is a trade-off. This point is starkly illustrated in the conflict between the goals of NATO forces and the DEA in Afghanistan. On the one hand, the State Department and the DEA are trying to eradicate poppy growing in Afghanistan. On the other hand, NATO forces are trying to chase down the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan.

The latter goal means that NATO forces must make as many friends as possible among the Afghan locals, and at the least not rile the locals into siding with the bad guys. So they ran smack dab into the fact that many Afghan farmers see the poppy eradication program as not only destroying their livelihood but also setting them up for starvation.

At one point things got so hairy between the State/DEA program and NATO's objective that NATO took out an ad on Afghan airwaves -- in which they assured the population that they were not interested in doing poppy eradication or ratting out any poppy farmers.

The Afghan government, which supports the DEA program, quickly yanked the ad. But the situation illustrates another 21st Century trade-off -- a trade-off that's just as complex as the one with oil and gas deals.

Provided we continue to reference the kind of situation you describe in your Enron reports, at least the trade-offs in this era will stay in the public awareness -- and, one hopes, in the awareness of foreign policy analysts who listen closely to defense and business lobbies.

With regard to your comment about al Qaeda lasting longer and stronger than I assume, I stand by my prediction that al Qaeda will fall from the inside. In the areas where Qaeda is deeply involved in criminal enterprises it will last longer simply because the organization is making big profits off crime, and notably the dope trade. But I think that as an organization preaching the creation of a global caliphate through terrorism, al Qaeda's shelf life is very limited.

Did you catch Christiane Amanpour's documentary, God's Warriors -- the one on Islam? You had to turn off the sound to get the full impact. It was just two hours of death and destruction, violent image upon violent image -- Muslim-on-Muslim violence, Muslims killing innocent civilians.

And there was the Muslim Brotherhood in one segment, trying their best to convince Amanpour that they were a moderate, peace-loving bunch.

The violent images connected with Islam, which are now broadcast daily throughout the Muslim world by Arab TV stations, are taking their toll on Muslims. My notes are languishing on another computer and I can't remember the name of the Muslim sect -- but its peaceful message is getting converts in droves among Palestinians who are sick of the pitched battles between Fatah and Hamas. They've had it with all the bloodshed.

The simple truth is that al Qaeda's violence is coming on top of much other Muslim violence directed at civilians. And Qaeda's rationale for all the bloodshed has managed to portray Islam as a death cult and Allah as a bloodthirsty god demanding human sacrifice, which is what the suicide bombers are.

In short, for those fighting the Islamists, al Qaeda is the gift that keeps on giving.

Surely none of this is lost on the Muslim Brotherhood. Pundita thinks the time is fast approaching when they would like nothing better than to yank al Qaeda.

But the tough nut to crack is Qaeda's profits from the dope trade in Afghanistan and Pakistan. So we're right back to the Vietnam War, where going after the dope trade would have been the best and perhaps only way for the US to stop Ho Chi Minh's forces. It would be far more difficult today, given the sophistication of electronic banking and the trade-offs I mentioned earlier. But it would cost relatively little for the US to emphasize al Qaeda's involvement in dope. That would be a worthwhile counterpropaganda effort, I think.

For more on the growing Muslim backlash against violence and al Qaeda, see Sinking in the Polls by Karen P. Hughes in Monday's Washington Post. Here's an excerpt:
People in America and many other Western nations have expressed strong disapproval of bin Laden and al-Qaeda since the Sept. 11 attacks. What's new is the dramatic decline in his standing in majority-Muslim countries. Polls in the two nations that have suffered some of the worst of al-Qaeda's violence -- Afghanistan and Iraq -- show that more than 90 percent of those populations have unfavorable views of al-Qaeda and of bin Laden himself. [...]

Support for terrorist tactics has fallen in seven of the eight predominantly Muslim countries polled as part of the Pew Global Attitudes Project since 2002; in most cases, those declines have been dramatic. Five years ago in Lebanon, 74 percent of the population thought suicide bombing could sometimes be justified. Today it's 34 percent -- still too high, but a stark reversal. Similar declines in support have occurred in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Indonesia and Jordan.

Perhaps most significant, Muslim populations are increasingly rejecting bin Laden's attempts to pervert their faith. found in April that large majorities in Egypt (88 percent), Indonesia (65 percent) and Morocco (66 percent) agree:

"Groups that use violence against civilians, such as Al Qaida, are violating the principles of Islam. Islam opposes the use of such violence."

These shifts in attitude are beginning to show up in actions. Sunni leaders in Iraq's Anbar province are working with coalition forces against al-Qaeda because, as one local leader said to journalists, all the terrorists bring is chaos -- "killing people, stealing goats, everything, you name it." After recent terrorist attacks in Algeria, protesters shouted: "Terrorists are not Muslims" and "no to terrorism; don't touch my Algeria."

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