On the Invisibility of Blood
— Aijaz Ahmad
NO BLOOD FOR oil is the title of this talk. First, on Blood, there is the blood that has flowed, and the need to stop blood from flowing further. Associated with that is the question of the visibility and the invisibility of the blood.
I think it is indecent to talk about “the possibility of an invasion of Iraq.” A war against Iraq has been waged for over a decade. It has lasted longer than the American war in Vietnam, longer than the combined duration of the two world wars. Those who are in the business of counting have suggested that a half million children have died so far.
Iraq had, relatively speaking, a welfare state in the Middle East; in every welfare index there has been a tragedy, which ever way you count it. There is an illegal no-fly zone declared over one half of Iraq by the United States and Britain, not authorized by the Security Council.
These two countries have decided unilaterally that Iraq will have no right to intercept their aircraft. Yesterday Iraq tried to intercept one such aircraft. Bush made a statement that Saddam Hussein is not serious about compliance with the inspections.
Front page major New York Times and Financial Times articles have said how exemplary the cooperation has been in the inspections. The fact that Iraq dares to intercept an aircraft over its own space, which these two countries have unilaterally decided is no longer a space for Iraq, has resulted in this Bush statement.
Much blood has flowed elsewhere, in Palestine. A full-scale invasion of the territory of Iraq is in the cards and much more blood will flow. This is all connected with the visibility and the invisibility of blood.
Western blood when it flows is highly visible, but it doesn't flow very much because of the kind of technology the West has. The automated battlefield can ensure that hundreds of thousands will be killed from the other side but no American will be killed. So Western blood is literally invisible because it doesn't flow.
But blood that flows from the other side is invisible because there is an absolute regime of censorship in the West, which all kinds of valiant people are trying to breach all the time, but the state of atrocities is made invisible day after day after day by electronic and print media.
Partly this is because what we have today is an extraordinary conjuncture in history where, after the collapse of the Soviet and Eastern European regimes, you have the unprecedented situation of one global superpower completely confident in its ability to launch as many theaters of war as it wishes.
No global power in history has ever had this privilege. America has this amazing power in that its military capacity is greater than the next eight military powers in the rest of the world, and it coincides in a moment of history where the United States has the most right wing regime in its history.
This is not an ordinary Republican regime, it is a right-wing Republican regime. Never has there been in the history of the United States this amazing conjuncture of unprecedented power in the hands of the most rabid right-wing regime in memory.
Beyond that you have an extraordinary coalition of the advanced countries -- China is part of it -- around this particular [UN Security Council] resolution, which eventually authorizes a war against Iraq, after the noise that Russia and France had made.
Mr. Schroeder of Germany, having won the elections on an antiwar platform, fearing that he would lose if he did not take a stand against the war, soon after winning the election has now announced that he will allow unrestricted U.S. flyover rights as well as the use of bases on German soil.
All the Western powers have fallen in place. You have a situation where the new Islamic party that has just come to power in Turkey has undertaken to continue to provide bases in Turkey for use in the war. It is very enthusiastic in favor of this war.
As far as the Kurdish question is concerned, the Turkish government has come to believe that the only way it can maintain its position on Kurdistan is by joining and therefore serving the Americans in this war.
On the other side what you find is that there is no regime in the Islamic world, except little principalities like Qatar, which are willing to stand up on the side of Americans because they are afraid of what will happened to them if America goes into Iraq.
In Saudi Arabia they are afraid of being overthrown. The Americans have come to a point when they are saying to the Saudis: You come on board or we will break up your country. We will break off the eastern part of Saudi Arabia where the oil is largely located and turn it into a separate protectorate.
My sense is that Iranians are trying to stay out of the line of fire. They know that this charge of creating weapons of mass destruction can be turned against them any day and the kind of inspections as well.
If there is an invasion of Iraq, and Iran tries to continue to normalize relations with the United States, it is precisely to ward off those kinds of events. Whether they can continue this I do not know. This will provoke anger from the masses of Iran; on the other hand, if they stop the normalization, this thing can be turned against Iran. The Kurdish question can also be used with Iran.
You have an amazing combination of arrogance, incompetence, imperial visions of an omnipotence that you can control everything. So we are meeting in a very dangerous time, I think.
Blood for Oil and Pipelines
Second, the title of the talk said Oil. It is a complex matter; let me just point out one or two things.
That is what the war in Afghanistan was about, oil in the Caspian Sea basin. Together the five `stans' as they are called, the new states that have come out of the Soviet Union [Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan] have what is estimated to be the second largest oil reserves in the world, plus natural gas reserves larger than the combined reserves of North and South America.
That is what the Afghan war was about. Within the first four months after 9/11, thirteen new U.S. bases were established all around the Caspian Sea basin. Not only the quantity but the direction of the oil flow is at issue: That is to say, pipelines.
Would the oil in that area continue to flow towards Russia, or would there be a new direction through Georgia or Turkey? But to build such pipelines requires that the pipelines go through Chechnya. The great brutality of the Russian policy in Chechnya is directly related to this issue of the pipeline.
Iraq has the second largest known oil deposits, and is estimated to have hydrocarbon reserves even larger than that of Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iraq are really at the heart of the oil conflict; that is what the first Gulf War was about, that is what the second Gulf War will be about.
That such a war is going to happen was quite clear since February last year; and Colin Powell was quoted as saying in the New York Times (February 5, 2002) that whatever happened to the question of inspections, regime change is a priority and will not be given up. Since then he has been portrayed as the dove in the U.S. administration.
There are valiant correspondents who have dug up all kinds of secret documents, war plans as well as plans for Iraq after the war is over. They are now public knowledge, in the New York Times and so on, especially the Los Angeles Times. But nothing seems to change.
When you look at where the war against terror arrived it was first in Afghanistan, essentially with the view of securing the oil resources of the Caspian Sea basin, secondly the Gulf region, thirdly on a lesser scale Southwest Asia.
In the Philippines, the U.S. bases were established in the south in the province of Basilan and as a prelude, I believe, to recapturing the bases which the Americans had to vacate as a result of popular pressure.
I have been to the Basilan, Clark and Subic Bay bases and they are exactly in the condition as when the Americans left in the late 1970s. Last time I had gone there was in the late 1980s. This time I actually went inside. They are spic and span, waiting for the Americans to come and take them.
Then there is Indonesian oil and the passage of ninety percent of oil that goes from the Middle East to the Far East through the Malacca Straits. So the geography of this war on terror is the geography of the oil economy.
That is what it is, and it has been going on for a very long time; and 9/11 was simply used cynically in the United States to put in place the entire structure of the military design of the coming decade. What is extraordinary is how predictable it has all been.
That is where I want to share with you a longish extract from an extraordinary commentary which appeared in Pravda on September 19, 2001, eight days after 9/11 but four days before the historic speech of George W. Bush where he announced the war on terror.
This was a period when we all around the world were waiting to see how America was going to react. This is what Pravda wrote about what it called “a war for the USSR (Soviet Union) inheritance.” After that I have to say very little more:
“The ruling Republican Party is going to correct America's domestic and foreign policies due to the grand terrorist attack. The Democratic remnants are going to be completely removed from the military and administrative structure and the control of the private and public life of the American people is going to be toughened . . .
“The United States will shift its emphasis from the high tech constituents to raw material companies -- the ones which deal with oil and gas fuel first and foremost . . . and the national Anti-Ballistic Missile program will certainly be launched . . . The U.S. will use these priority procedures when fortifying the armed forces in the Persian Gulf area, modernizing the bases there, and providing additional arms and defense technology . . .
“America will increase its military presence along the entire 40th parallel, which is what we can see now in Bosnia, Kosovo and Macedonia; soon we will also see it in the Republics of Georgia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenia and Uzbekistan.
“The Injirlik military base (in Turkey) will surely be modernized, and this base will become one of the key points of the U.S. presence. The establishment of reserve points in the several countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States will be performed under different forms. However, the mid-Caspian area and Turkmenia's deposits will be taken under the control of the United States. It should be mentioned that the authorities of Azerbaijan and Georgia are in willing contact with the NATO and the United States . . .
“The USA will require the republics of Central Asia to reconsider the Collective Security Treaty of the CIS, and Russian troops will be called back to Russian territory. The United States will gain total control over Central Asia, over the Indian Ocean, and the country will be able to efficiently control the processes in Indochina and Indonesia. This will actually bring about the total control of the United States over the Islamic world, since the actions of Iran and Iraq will be dictated by the military presence of the United States.”
New Colonial Occupation
This remarkably prescient commentary predicted what this past year has been about, in almost every detail. I have already mentioned new military bases in the Central Asian states. The military base in Qatar was modernized with an expenditure of $1 billion in one year, and a second extensive base is under construction.
For Iraq my sense -- and not just my sense, based on a Pentagon document discovered by somebody working for the LA Times -- is that they still cannot put together a credible regime which could take over, even to the extent they have done in Afghanistan. Karzai is protected personally by U.S. Special Forces. They cannot trust any Afghan to protect him.
In Iraq they cannot put together such a regime which is part of the reason the war has been delayed. They are quite ready now to have a military administration, so that Tommy Franks of the Central Command would serve as Governor General in Iraq.
More importantly, a consortium of primarily U.S. corporations will be put in charge of the oil in Iraq. Iraq will be presented with the bill for the costs of the war and required to pay reparations. They are talking of $200 billion at the moment. The consortium of U.S. companies will manage the oil directly until Iraq pays off its reparation.
Whether they can get away with it I don't know. Within the last three-four days I have seen statements by a retired Assistant UN Secretary-General that an invasion of Iraq will trigger a third world war, which will not look at the first or second world war because it will be a war of terror -- many Balis, many Mombasas, an eruption all over the world.
These are people at the highest levels of the global elite who are predicting that sort of development.
Time to Resist
The war seems to be fairly preordained. There is mighty little the Iraqis can do to prevent that. I think that one of the things that have delayed it is the extraordinary resistance to war that has evolved really in many parts of the world including the United States.
I was young at the time of the anti-Vietnam War movement and many of us will recall it took two years of actual fights before 100,000 people came out on the streets in Washington, D.C.
What has happened now is quite unprecedented. Across Europe you have had the biggest demos in European history since the antiwar movements of the 1960s and `70s; you have had these huge demos in the United States itself.
Secondly, I think the Arab street has been remarkably quiet. But any invasion of Iraq will create an explosion of a completely different sort; and I don't mean demonstrations.
Thirdly, the world seems to be in considerable turmoil even on the level of regimes, particularly in Latin American countries. In short we seem to have arrived to a very peculiar and still unclear conjuncture in the world.
What we are witnessing is a new kind of imperialism. We can date it to 1989, and now, within ten years of the collapse of the communist regimes, we are also witnessing an immensely large mass mobilization, not centralized, not ideologically united but global in scale.
The U.S. government will redraw every map, believing they can get away with it. I don't think they can. In terms of resistance the arena is going to be one of great experimentation, and the scale at which it has begun makes me very optimistic about being able to fight back.
ATC 102, January-February 2003