They just got a different tool to use than we do: They kill innocent lives to achieve objectives. That's what they do. And they're good. They get on the TV screens and they get people to ask questions about, well, you know, this, that or the other. I mean, they're able to kind of say to people: Don't come and bother us, because we will kill you. Bush - Joint News Conference with Blair - 28 July '06

Friday, June 16, 2006

Michael T Klare: New moves on the tripolar chessboard

Asia Times

For months, the US press and policymaking elite have portrayed the crisis with Iran as a two-sided struggle between Washington and Tehran, with the European powers as well as Russia and China playing supporting roles.

It is certainly true that US President George W Bush and Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad are the leading protagonists in this drama, with each making inflammatory statements about the other to whip up public support at home.

But an informed reading of recent international diplomacy surrounding the Iranian crisis suggests that another equally fierce - and undoubtedly more important - struggle is also taking place: a tripolar contest among the United States, Russia and China for domination of the greater Persian Gulf/Caspian Sea region and its mammoth energy reserves.

When it comes to grand strategy, top Bush administration officials have long attempted to maintain US dominance over the "global chessboard" (as they see it) by diminishing the influence of the only other significant players, Russia and China.

This classic geopolitical contest began with a flourish in early 2001, when the White House signaled the provocative course it planned to follow by unilaterally repudiating the US-Russian Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and announcing new high-tech arms sales to Taiwan, which China still considers a breakaway province.

After the events of September 11, 2001, these initial signals of antagonism were toned down to secure Russian and Chinese assistance in fighting the "war on terror", but in recent months the classic chessboard version of great-power politics has again come to dominate strategic thinking in Washington.

Advancing the strategic pawns

This was perhaps first signaled on May 4, when Vice President Dick Cheney went to Lithuania, a former Soviet republic, to lambaste the Russian government at a pro-democracy confab. He accused Kremlin officials of "unfairly and improperly" restricting the rights of Russian citizens and of using the country's abundant oil and gas supplies as "tools of intimidation [and] blackmail" against its neighbors. He also condemned Moscow for attempting to "monopolize the transportation" of oil and gas supplies in Eurasia - a direct challenge to US interests in the Caspian region. The next day, Cheney flew to another former Soviet republic, Kazakhstan, in oil-and-natural-gas-rich Central Asia, where he urged that country's leaders to ship their plentiful oil through a US-sponsored pipeline to Turkey and the Mediterranean rather than through Russian-controlled pipelines to Europe.

Then, on June 3, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld weighed in on China, telling an audience of Asian security officials that Beijing's "lack of transparency" with respect to its military spending "understandably causes concerns for some of its neighbors". These comments were accompanied by publicly announced plans for increased US spending on sophisticated weapons systems such as the F-22A fighter and Virginia-class nuclear attack submarines that could only be useful in a big-power war for which there were just two realistic adversaries - Russia and China. Read more