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Eurasia Notes #7 - Afghan Squid
Turmoil Disguises Motives and Tentacles
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Synopsis: Change in Afghanistan is being driven by consistent and powerful interests. While the world acts in Lockstep on Covid it might be delightfully quirky to make a case for butterfly wings. The prosaic reality is that while you are told to prepare for a Great Reset, the same forces — fundamental and human — are driving geographic and economic adjustments. The appearance of turmoil and incompetence is a jet of squid’s ink to disguise changes at floor level.
Aug 28, 2021
After the financial crisis of 2008 the more governments talked about fixing the economy, the more they inflated the bubble. The more they bailed out the banks, the more the crooks gambled.
Likewise, until now, Afghanistan. The war on drugs saw a boom. The war on terror saw lots of booms.
Moral hazard is the academic euphemism for rigging the game. Banks do just enough actual banking to keep their licenses. The money's in crime, real gangster, knuckleduster, beat 'em up heist, fraud and laundering.
Outsourcing the war to contractors did not change the for-profit nature of military exploits — Major General Smedley Butler made that resoundingly clear — but it did make it more brazen and bring the money closer to politicians' pockets.
Images of British and American soldiers standing guard over poppy fields did not suddenly reveal that military and intelligence agencies are players in the narcotics trade. Instead it reminded us that the Opium Wars that began in the 1830s never ended. Narcotics has been one of the top global industries ever since. The licit and illicit drugs industries share the same needle. Alfred McCoy published his book on CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade in 1972.
As for rare earth minerals beneath Afghan soil, wars have been fought over resources forever. They are just more in demand now that surveillance capitalism is morphing into smart cities and the transition to "renewable" energy is being pushed harder.
Journalists who get the story right rarely add much new because there isn't anything new. They just stick doggedly with the story.
Matt Taibbi famously called Goldman Sachs “a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.”  More accurately squid use their siphon to shoot ink and hide their actions — the ink creates a dark cloud behind which they make a quick getaway — and something like that is going on here.
The "adults in the room" are hemming and hawing. That is why my reaction on Friday morning to the needless slaughter of marines and Afghans in bombings at Kabul airport was to write down a staccato of stock phrases: Truly a nightmare... the army had time to prepare... failure of intelligence... strategy in tatters.
None of this media reaction is necessarily wrong, nor is it illuminating. It tells us nothing. Much of it is filler or talking points that are intended to trade blame.
An inner voice played devil’s advocate: Who’s riding the warhorse… ISIS seesaws on the teeter-totter, toe to toe with whom… and now we have a new variant, scariant.
You can rap it out — it’s that familiar. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Tehran to Kabul
Common threads are beginning to emerge. The lumping together of Taliban and ISIS, the needless and deliberate rush for the airport, creating the perfect target for an anonymous bombing. The blasts that came 48 hours after a CIA chief’s warning — even the chaotic exit from Afghanistan itself — all serve to paint Taliban into a corner where they serve as bogeyman and target.
Taliban are demonized though one gets the feeling that no truly-indigenous authority would ever be allowed to manage the country in the interest of its inhabitants.
This is not opinion. Iran sits across the border to Afghanistan's west, testimony to the centuries-long envy for its assets and an admitted conspiracy that toppled its government in order to secure its oil.
In Iran the usual suspects were involved, notably the CIA and the Rockefellers, and despite the hurling of abuse and the occasional missile at Iran, the country's close relationship with France and Switzerland suggest it may be less of a pariah in practice.
ISIS-K has been touted in the press in order to further link Taliban with Al Qaeda in the public mind. Google Trends suggests it's a completely new invention. The K stands for the place where the group purportedly has its headquarters, as in: The Islamic State in Khorasan Province.
You may recall that ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) appeared overnight in June 2014 as President Barack Obama wrestled with Congress for authorization to carry out punitive strikes against the Syrian government. 
Never mind that Taliban and ISIS have bad relations, The Wall St Journal finesses that by linking ISIS-K to disgruntled members of the Afghan Taliban and its Pakistani counterpart, the TTP. The newspaper provides a backstory dating from 2015. 
Ibrahim al-Marashi, an associate professor at California State University, tells Al Jazeera we’ve been underestimating the threat of ISKP in Afghanistan.
Despite the media’s focus on ISIS, Taliban are in charge. Alastair Crooke writing for The Strategic Culture Foundation notes their new maturity. 
Crooke identifies new dynamics in the maturation of Taliban leadership from parochial, xenophobic and rigid into a multi-ethnic and sophisticated coalition.
"They talk Afghan political inclusion – and look to Iran, Russia, China and Pakistan for mediation, and to facilitate their place in the ‘Great Game’. They aspire to play a regional role as a pluralist Sunni Islamist government."
As with the Shah, "there is a limit to how long a corrupt elite, severed from its roots in its own people, can be sustained by a waning alien culture," says Crooke. That won't stop outside forces pursuing their dream of a pliant puppet regime in Kabul.
CIA can't even
U.S. intelligence will blame blowback — unforeseen consequences of the genus, "who could have imagined people would fly planes into buildings?"
It is less likely blowback than burnout. We won't see anything new from the CIA. It will argue from two positions: that of a self-perpetuating bureaucracy seeking make-work and that of its more opaque paymasters. It will lean on the Afghan government but it will be less a negotiating strategy than traditional terror. Assassinations and happenings may destabilize government and make the economy scream, in the Nixon-Kissinger phrase. The objective? Something will come along. In the process it may buy time to negotiate control of the drugs and minerals business.
Strategy will be determined by regional powerplays. When I worked with Turkish television the strong Pakistani presence among the editorial staff was reflective of the country's ambitions. Influencing Afghanistan is nothing new. Playing alongside Russia and China is. Pakistan serves as sherpa to Taliban and perhaps a model for its regional integration.
Islamabad will be the source of economic and technical advice to Taliban soon to be followed by China. Pakistan may also play a key role as an intermediary on the sensitive topic of militant islamic fundamentalism. Pakistan has new friends: declining to host U.S. military bases or the CIA's drones. 
Like Russia, China is hugely sensitive to muslim separatism and is likely to use its economic might to buy acquiescence from Afghanistan in border surveillance and possibly more. Russia — although its primary region of concern is north of Georgia in Dagestan, Kabardino-Balkaria and Chechnya — will watch for any signs of terrorist training on Afghan soil. China's weath buys relative silence on the topic of the Turkic Uighurs from much of the muslim world, from Pakistan as much as Turkey.
Economically, Afghanistan finds itself in Russia and China's emerging trade zone. Although Russia's attempt to build a Eurasian Customs Union has progressed slowly — Armenia and Kyrgyzstan have joined the founding members Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia — its goal is now a full Eurasian Economic Union, with ambitions to copy the European Economic Commission.
It is more than a political construct. It contributes the rail element of the Belt and Road link to Europe and Russia, of course, is the hydrocarbon fuel hub with long-term contracts to supply oil to China.
The apparent attempts to foment a Color Revolution in Belarus may be linked to Western attempts to disrupt Belt and Road. China had originally considered building a deep sea port in Ukraine before the 2014 Maidan protests and presidential ouster. Landlocked Belarus might be regarded a second choice.
Russia and China's leading role in Central Asia has been long in the making and if it caught the CIA by surprise it should not have. To understand it one must account separately for Russia and China.
Steppe by steppe
Every stride that Russia has taken to strengthen its economic integrity has been countered by Western interests since the dissolution of the Soviet Union — and before if you read my account of the Tsars here.
The Harvard Boys failed under President Boris Yeltsin to seize control of the country's mineral assets and their ulcers have suppurated since.
Economic conflict has continued to the present day, pressuring Germany to withdraw from the Nord Stream pipeline project. The split continues to worsen between German business who see their destiny to the east and the country’s politicians — the latter under the thumb of the tax-exempt foundations (Chancellor Angela Merkel is an alumnus of the World Economic Forum Global Leaders Programme).
Occassionally it gets bloody. The CEO of France’s Total oil company died on the tarmac at Moscow’s Vnukovo airport after talks to sell oil for gold instead of dollars.
U.S.-instigated sanctions against Russia had a number of pretexts but they served to isolate the country economically. This was a cheap hand for Washington whose Commerce Department barely registers any American trade with Russia. It hurt the Russian oil and gas sector, however, which had to replace Western engineers and it forced the country to source other skills at home and abroad.
No, Russia has not magically become self-sufficient. Except for a few sectors like poultry, the Russian economy is too centered upon hydrocarbons and lacks the industrial depth to consider anything approaching economic independence — even before you account for the climate.
Years of sanctions, however, have bolstered the political will to overcome tensions with China. Realistically Russia has little choice as nature has dealt the cards: China has the work culture and the population. Russia has the energy. The U.S. just provided added impetus.
More so than Russia, China is integrated into the international economy and increasingly flexes its political muscles.
In May 2021 it hosted the second C+C5 meeting of Central Asian states in in Xi’an. Around the same time China complained that the U.S. was financing local NGOs and media as a way of interfering in some of those countries' domestic affairs. The economic pole is Belt and Road, including the China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan highway, agricultural training and technology and customs clearance.
The political pole is best left to the address of Foreign Minister Wang Yi to the C5:
We should seek harmony and stability. Relying on bilateral or multilateral platforms such as the SCO and the CICA, we will firmly crack down on the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, and other "three evil forces" of terrorism, extremism, and separatism. We will strengthen cooperation on preventing transnational organized crime, and on narcotics control, cybersecurity, NGO management, and large activity security, striving to create a "safe Silk Road".
We will give each other staunch mutual support on safeguarding national sovereignty and security, clearly oppose foreign intervention, and maintain regional security and stability. China supports the peace talks in the "Afghan-led and Afghan-owned" principle, and the inclusive political arrangement for the future national structure of Afghanistan. Foreign troops should withdraw from Afghanistan in an orderly and responsible manner to ensure a stable transition of the situation in Afghanistan. China and the Central Asian countries should leverage their respective strengths to play a constructive role.
What of Iran? This week the U.S. special envoy for Iran Robert Malley told Radio Free Europe he did not know whether Iran still intends to continue the nuclear negotiations known as the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
Now the Carnegie Endowment is asking if there is room for a U.S. military base in Central Asia, suggesting that the young nations of the former Soviet space no longer view hosting the U.S. as a step up in the world. Maybe Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, it asks, or Kyrgyzstan? Or maybe not, as these countries are mostly dependent on remmitances from their disapora in Russian, along with Chinese economic aid. 
"There are no interests that require Washington to have a long-term policy on the region," writes Temur Umarov for Carnegie. How things change.
This sudden willingness to question the Brzezinski doctrine on Central Asia is accompanied by an apparent crisis of confidence, a yawning gap opening under the feet of once-cocksure America, that has led to comparisons with Vietnam.
Is it the falling of dominoes — the cliche that so many reach for? Remember that the Domino Theory was wrong. President Dwight Eisenhower's team took at face value Leon Trotsky's ideology of permanent revolution. In reality there was no reason why a communist putsch in one country should determine the course of another. When the U.S. left Vietnam in the mid-1970s, Southeast Asia did not fall to communism. It turned into the enthusiastically-capitalist Asian Tiger economies.
The Domino Theory was wrong but it was, however, a handy way of bouncing the administration into ever-expanding military budgets and interventions abroad. The relentless, irresistible force turned out not to be communist Russia but the Military Industrial Complex. The domino matrix is far more networked and hidden.
Bare economic necessities
Perhaps Central Asia's evolution reflects the economic forces that have shaped the region for centuries. The U.S. has never been part of the Central Asian economic story except to the extent of its oil majors and their co-option of the military for their resource wars. As with Russia, the world's largest land mass, it barely registers in the Commerce Department's ledgers.
Pause for a moment and ask why that is. Are Central Asia's people too poor? Do the enigmatic Asians defeat capitalist cunning? Is it a culture clash in which the Asians exist on some philosophic plane that Americans can't access? How did Asians resist the democratizing power of free markets? Is the failure not America's but the failure of globalism?
Or do economic realities rule the roost? The United States is not the exporter you imagine — and it never has been. In fact, U.S. exports represent only 8-to-12 per cent of national output as measured by gross domestic product. The equivalent German figure is nearly 50 per cent. In both cases, imports are roughly equivalent, so the U.S. is not nearly so open an economy.
China's exports approach 20 per cent of GDP but it has a much bigger population, at 1.4 billion versus 320 million Americans. (These figures are pre-Event Covid and sourced from the World Bank among others.) Enough statistics. Even numbers from brand name organizations are hard to compare due to different ways of counting.
Take an overview: the biggest U.S. export goods sector is capital goods, which aircraft (Boeing) tops. Industrials are headed by petrochemicals, consumer goods by pharmaceuticals — you can already see how those sectors influence U.S. policy abroad.
The country was the biggest exporter of services in 2018 and thanks to its patent lawyers it can wring profits from licensing around the world. In some ways it is true that the biggest U.S. export is ideas.
Then there's off-the-books. It's not only Google and Amazon who hide their profits off-shore to avoid paying taxes. There is a hidden world of business that intersects with top industries, many of which don't feature in the financial press: slavery and human trafficking, the connection between licit and illicit drugs and bootlegging, from the arms trade to oil. 
Much business is shielded, not just by tax havens but also through opaque investment vehicles of private equity and venture capital and the major investment holding companies BlackRock, State Street Corporation and Vanguard.
Last but not least is the business of government, perhaps the most lucrative of all. Behind governments stand the central banks. These are a mechanism to generate money from thin air by lending to governments and making taxpayers foot the bill. In practice it's much more complex and devious. The U.S. government moved from gold to a global money machine.
The greatest U.S. export of all is the U.S. dollar. And if you view the dollar as an export in its own right, it all begins to make sense. The U.S. economy is dependent on oil. The U.S. exports dollars to Saudi Arabia in return for oil. The deal is that the U.S. offers military protection to the Saudis in return for the Saudi’s lending those dollars back to the U.S. by buying U.S treasury bonds. Saudi has since been joined by Japan and China.
This makes the U.S. dollar the world reserve currency, or the base in which people prefer to hold their wealth. That gives the U.S. power over banks around in every country: comply or die.
By combining the forces of law and banking, oversight of cash flow, patents and control of intellectual property, the U.S. financial system has the ability to launder money through almost any route in the world — with punitive sanctions for those who don’t comply.
If banking is criminal, as we discussed at the open, then an empire founded on banking is a criminal enterprise. No wonder it gravitates to parts of the world where resources can be seized, people trafficked, drugs harvested and money laundered. No wonder the agencies best placed to control that business end up in control of the government.
That is the world as was. Proposals for a new monetary system lie behind Event Covid and The Great Reset. The media barely reflects these discussions because they do not happen at the legislative or political level but they are nonetheless real for that.
The big money is in every country. It knows no borders. Throughout Event Covid the politicians and state-corporatist media have flip-flopped on masks, quarantines and treatments but they have been remarkably consistent on governance:
“There is, ultimately, not much of a meaningful borderline between domestic and foreign policy.”
“The pandemic has freshly reminded us how little nature notices national borders."
"… the pandemic may even have enhanced the reputation of some authoritarian states." 
Interdependence, interrelatedness, stakeholders… you may filter out the jargon but it’s trying to tell you something. The wealth extracted from the governing system is being transferred into new mechanisms of control. The push for renewable energy does not eliminate the power based on hydrocarbons. If anything it protects and preserves that wealth.
By ending the petrodollar economy, the resource wars do not disappear they just move to new geographies and new minerals. The nature of war changes, as Britain's Chief of the Defence Staff Gen Sir Nick Carter tells us: it becomes permanent, hybrid and, though I don't think he used the word, cybernetic.
The world's biggest industries and sources of wealth — define as you may the timeless and most powerful means of control — are drugs, slavery, war and energy. They are becoming more important, not less and their impact will be felt not just in the badlands and back roads of mountain territories but coming to a town near you.
Great Game Over - Eurasian Notes #5 (Aug 7, 2021)
Making Sense of Taliban - Eurasian Notes #6 (Aug 22, 2021)
Eurasia Notes #8 - Petrodollar Smoulders (Sep 4, 2021)
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 Forbes, 2015: Should Jamie Dimon Be Criminally Prosecuted?
Rolling Stone, 2010: The Great American Bubble Machine
 AP, 2019: A timeline of the US involvement in Syria’s conflict
 WSJ, Aug 26, 2021: What Is ISIS-K?
 SCF, Aug 23, 2021: ‘Strategic Apocalypse’ in Afghanistan: A Seismic Shift, Years in the Making
 The Diplomat, Jun 2021: Don’t Expect Pakistan to Host US Military Bases
 Carnegie Center, 2021: Is There a Place for a U.S. Military Base in Central Asia?
 Forbes, 2020: Cracking The $150 Billion Business Of Human Trafficking
 BBC/Andrew Marr, Aug 14, 2021: Treat people like grown-ups and they will fight climate change like Covid-19