Troops to protect civil rights versus troops to protect oil

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Sun Sep 26 06:19:06 MDT 1999

>I keep trying to write this as carefully as I can but it seems to be going
>over people's heads. What I was pointing to in the cases of the South and
>Boston is NOT a demand that revolutionaries projected as their own, or urged
>the working class to take up as its own, but rather a demand by the Black
>community that revolutionaries supported and urged the working class as a
>whole to support.

Since I brought up the comparison originally, I suppose I should address
it. Sending US troops to support the right of black students to attend
schools in Arkansas in the early 1960s should be seen in the context of the
uncompleted bourgeois-democratic revolution. It was seen at the
time--correctly so--as being connected with Reconstruction. It was very
much, in other words, a task related to the promotion of equal rights under
the constitution. As such, it was tied to a system of laws and guarantees
that at least on paper were a product of representative democracy that was
backed by a bill of rights won by working people.

I would argue that military interventions overseas have nothing to do with
bourgeois democratic rights. The people do not vote on them by and large.
Furthermore, when votes do take place, as they did in WWI--the mother of
all "humanitarian interventions"--they take place in a climate of
intimidation, when opponents of the war get jailed or worse. I recommend
British novelist Pat Barker's "Eye in the Door" for a powerful description
of the witch-hunt against pacifists during WWI. Remember also that Eugene
V. Debs was jailed for his antiwar stand, as were the American Trotskyists
during WWII.

When imperialist interventions take place today, they are launched by elite
bodies that keep their deliberations secret. One of the problems in
analyzing Australian intervention in East Timor is that the motives have
been kept secret, except for the obvious bullshit about "saving East
Timorese lives." Who knows what is motivating the Australian government.
Who knows why the US got involved in Somalia. At the time, there was oceans
of ink about the poor starving Somalians. But every so often you got a
glimpse of the real motivations, as indicated in this article. The reason
presented to the masses was "humanitarian". The true reason in Somalia as
in East Timor is probably petroleum:


The Washington Post, October 17, 1993

In Somalia, the Saudi Connection;  Is America Intervening in the Horn of
Africa to Protect Persian Gulf Oil?

By Christopher Whalen

LIKE THE slow economy and NAFTA, U.S. military intervention in Somalia was
not Bill Clinton's idea. He inherited the situation from the Bush
administration, which itself was unsure whether troops should be sent into
that war-torn shell of a country.

But even now, informed analysts say, the White House does not fully
appreciate why it is in Somalia and the grave regional political
consequences of a hasty withdrawal. What most Americans, including White
House policymakers, may not fully understand is that the situation in
Somalia is being exacerbated by America's old enemy in the Middle East --

Many observers accept that U.S. intervention in Somalia was spurred by
George Bush's avowed "humanitarian concerns" or even a cynical attempt to
prepare the American public for eventual involvement in Bosnia's genocidal
war. Last week, in a speech critical of the Clinton administration, Bush
reiterated that view: "The mission was to go in and save lives," Bush said.
"People were starving, and American troops went in there and they opened
the supply lines and they took food in. They weren't fighting."

In fact, though, the United States is in Somalia for other reasons, too --
the same geopolitical reasons that persuaded Bush to go to war against
Saddam Hussein: to protect the increasingly isolated Saudi Arabian monarchy
from the combined threat of Iranian military and political power and
Islamic fundamentalism. This time, "humanitarian assistance" became the
sole label for the latest intervention, an intervention that follows a long
tradition of American defense for European interests. As Charles Callan
Tansill wrote in his classic 1952 book, "Back Door to War": "The main
objective in American foreign policy since 1900 has been the preservation
of the British empire."

One former Cabinet official in the Carter administration notes that the
Bush administration wanted to be seen "doing something" about Somalia. This
official, a longtime student of the region, says that continued instability
in eastern Somalia was viewed as a long-term threat to Saudi Arabia and the
major interest of America's principal allies -- namely Persian Gulf oil.
Specialists in Gulf oil politics, such as veteran journalist Sol Sanders,
also recognize that Iran's limited but growing role in East African states
like Sudan and Somalia is part of a much larger strategy to gradually
encircle the prime target in the region -- Saudi Arabia -- with a web of
regional alliances and covert military operations.

Strategically, as Yossef Bodansky wrote recently in Global Affairs, "all of
this effort was aimed at [a] Sudanese-Iranian presence in the Horn of
Africa toward a transformation of the Red Sea into a 'Green [Muslim] Lake.'
" Iran's ultimate objective is to put pressure on Saudi Arabia, in this
instance by destabilizing Somalia and Yemen -- the latter located just
across the narrow strait that divides the Arabian peninsula from the
eastern tip of Somalia. Since the British withdrawal from its naval base at
Aden in 1967, safeguarding against threats in the Horn of Africa has been
left to the United States. Veteran Middle East-watchers say that Iran today
is "firmly entrenched" in war-ravaged Sudan and has established guerrilla
training bases there, directly across the Red Sea from Saudi Arabia.

These bases in Sudan, according to State Department spokesman Michael
McCurry, were used to train the supposedly "untrained militia" that badly
wounded American Ranger forces. In actuality, warlord Mohammed Farah
Aideed's men are a well-trained and motivated light infantry force that
operates with support from Iran and elsewhere in the same way that previous
Somali factions took arms and money from successive European, Arab,
American and Soviet governments.

Given the resurgence of Iran's regional military and political influence,
it should surprise few Washington observers that the financial and
logistical support for Aideed, who was himself trained in Soviet and Warsaw
Pact war colleges, is coming in part from Tehran. U.S. officials concede
that several Somali factions receive support from Sudan, which in turn
maintains links with Iran.

During the Reagan and later Bush administrations, Iranian expansion was
held in check by its long war with Iraq and other less obvious means,
including a de facto embargo on foreign loans and on arms shipments by most
(but not all) major producers.

Today, analysts believe that Iran is fast rebuilding its military
capability even as its covert ties throughout the region grow faster. One
former U.S. intelligence operative in the region told me that Iran has
purchased "several dozen" Russian-made nuclear artillery shells from former
Soviet army units in Kazakhstan. "They don't yet have the capability to
deliver these weapons," he told me, "but they have them and they will very
quickly figure out a way to use them."

The rising coercive power of Tehran -- and the subordinate position of the
OPEC cartel's largest oil producer -- could be observed at the latest OPEC
meeting last month, at which Saudi Arabia agreed to limit production to 8
million barrels per day, while other members, including Iran and Kuwait,
were effectively given increased quotas. Indeed, press reports say that the
OPEC accord was finalized only after "consultation" among Iran, Saudi
Arabia and Kuwait, elevating the second-tier Iranians to full-partner
status with OPEC's two largest, long-term producers.

Iran and Saudi Arabia were described by many observers of that meeting as
"cooperating" to push other producers to agree on new production ceilings.
Yet even with demand for oil in non-industrialized nations rising, any
Saudi accommodation with Tehran is driven more by fear than comity and
trust. Without a strong U.S. military and political presence in the gulf to
counter the obvious ambitions of Iran, Saudi Arabia's position at the OPEC
bargaining table is weakened to the detriment of the interests of the
industrialized nations and the long-term OPEC oil producers. From a
domestic political perspective, Somalia presents Bill Clinton with the same
political threat that Jimmy Carter faced in Iran unless he soon manages to
extricate U.S. ground forces or -- less probably -- uses a more realistic
justification for their presence. In this regard, it is notable that the
Iranians and British, who have a long and painful colonial history in
Somalia, are leaving the scene as U.S. military involvement grows. It is
particularly ironic that there are currently no British troops in the U.N.
operations zones in eastern Somalia.

Comparisons between America's role in Somalia in 1993 and the American
"exchange" of responsibility with the French in Vietnam is more than
coincidental, particularly given the ultimate lure exerted by oil. As in
Vietnam, America is in the position of defending a weakling regime (Saudi
Arabia) that cannot survive in its own increasingly dangerous neighborhood.

It has been said that an American military withdrawal from Somalia will
have a negative impact on U.N. relief efforts. From a geopolitical
perspective, particularly seen from Europe or Tokyo, an American withdrawal
would have serious consequences in the Persian Gulf. The Saudis and other
fearful Arab states would believe that Washington can no longer be trusted
to serve as regional watchdog to protect a vulnerable oil superpower from
intrigues and pressures by Iran, the traditional regional power in the
gulf. Yet both fiscal realities and a shift in the American political mood
point to a decline in U.S. willingness to send the children of Carolina
farmers and Michigan factory workers to fight and die in places like
Somalia for objectives that their leaders cannot even define.

As the United States withdraws militarily from Somalia, the Saudis may be
forced to capitulate to further Iranian demands at the OPEC negotiating
table and elsewhere, a development that can only exacerbate the kingdom's
deteriorating financial and political situation. For Washington, the
long-term results of an eventual disengagement from Somalia may suggest an
unlikely irony closer to home. Ten years from now, we may all rue the fact
that Bush and then Clinton failed to push for redevelopment of new, secure
energy sources in this hemisphere -- particularly in Mexico through NAFTA
-- at a time when America's ability and willingness to project military
power in the Persian Gulf was gradually declining.

© 1999, LEXIS®-NEXIS®, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Louis Proyect

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