How Does This Joker Get Published? Pt. III: It’s Not a “New Great Game,” Not Really

by Joshua Foust on 5/12/2009 · 7 comments

Pepe Escobar, a reporter for the Asia Times, has a long essay on Tom Dispatch about how “Af-Pak” is really all about oil:

We’ve already seen Pipelineistan wars in Kosovo and Georgia, and we’ve followed Washington’s favorite pipeline, the BTC, which was supposed to tilt the flow of energy westward, sending oil coursing past both Iran and Russia. Things didn’t quite turn out that way, but we’ve got to move on, the New Great Game never stops. Now, it’s time to grasp just what the Asian Energy Security Grid is all about, visit a surreal natural gas republic, and understand why that Grid is so deeply implicated in the Af-Pak war.

Every time I’ve visited Iran, energy analysts stress the total “interdependence of Asia and Persian Gulf geo-ecopolitics.” What they mean is the ultimate importance to various great and regional powers of Asian integration via a sprawling mass of energy pipelines that will someday, somehow, link the Persian Gulf, Central Asia, South Asia, Russia, and China. The major Iranian card in the Asian integration game is the gigantic South Pars natural gas field (which Iran shares with Qatar). It is estimated to hold at least 9% of the world’s proven natural gas reserves.

Hrm. So far, we have totally unconnected wars (Kosovo was about an oil pipe? Georgia wasn’t about South Ossetia?), and a phrase (“Asian Energy Security Grid”) I’ve only ever read in paranoid Noam Chomsky columns and Pepe Escobar dispatches. Along with the “surreal” Turkmenistan, and something about Iran and a sloppy metaphor about sprawling mass of pipelines, this is not a very promising start.

Is it worth going through point by point? No—this is nothing new, aside from a slightly more coherent of the same paranoid conspiracy theories that don’t see a superpower run by short-sighted morons but rather the long-term machinations of evil super-geniuses who are so super smart they invaded Iraq and never tried to win in Afghanistan and waited a year and a half after Berdimuhamedov gained power to reach out to him for energy talks after Russia already pounced.

No, there’s little here aside from standard lefty rambling, which isn’t really surprising. Once the Bush administration went away and Tom Dispatch stopped being a protest publication, it’s fallen rather spectacularly flat. Oddly like the Republicans, when it’s in the majority it doesn’t have the same vibrant, counter-culture ring to it. And people trying to make it so only seem to fall flat. Pepe Escobar’s book doesn’t seem to offer much more—the mandatory allusions to the “new Rome,” the assumption that everything revolves around oil (as if the world operated like Syriana), even a Kaplan-esque belief in permanent Balkanization that would surely horrify both Escobar and Kaplan should they realize it.

Much like my complaints about right-wingers and crazy old-hats, my question of the left-wing is very short: who in their right mind would publish this? It is just uneducated crap.

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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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Fabius Maximus May 12, 2009 at 9:07 pm

Urban legends need little basis in fact to thrive, and the Af-pak energy/pipeline tales have a stronger basis than (for example) P&G being owned by Satanists — which circulated for decades despite P&G’s efforts to stamp it out.

The only “read” discussion I have found about the af-pak energy stories is “BALOCH NATIONALISM AND THE GEOPOLITICS OF ENERGY RESOURCES: THE CHANGING CONTEXT OF SEPARATISM IN PAKISTAN”, Robert G. Wirsing, Strategic Studies Institute, April 2008 (63 pages).


Fabius Maximus May 12, 2009 at 11:46 pm

Typo! That should say “The only ‘real’ discussion I have found” (not ‘read’ discussion).

Christian May 13, 2009 at 1:32 am

Gotta give Escobar “credit” for paying attention to the region before 9/11. Actually, just 12 days before 9/11 he wrote:

“Osama bin Laden – also the No 1 target of the CIA’s counter-terrorism center – is now a superstar playing the bad guy in some sort of planetary Hollywood fiction. Yet inside Afghanistan today, where the Saudi Arabian lives in exile, Osama is a minor character. He is ill and always in hiding – usually “somewhere near Kabul”. Once in a while he travels incognito to Peshawar. His organization, the Al Qa’Ida, is split, and in tatters.”

“The UN has now posted more than 20 monitors in countries bordering Afghanistan – part of a sanctions enforcement support team – to ensure full implementation. This means, in practice, a lot of electronic surveillance on the very porous 1,200 kilometer Pakistan-Afghanistan border, and a lot of “counter-terrorism tactics”.

Karl May 13, 2009 at 5:13 am

Is the man contractually obligated to end every word with -stan?

Joshua Foust May 13, 2009 at 6:40 am

Fabius, That’s a good study. Balochistan is the only place it makes sense to talk about oil pipelines, since the discovery of natural gas deposits have exacerbated a seperatist streak amongst the Balochis since the 1970s.

Christian: ouch. That’s all I have to say. Poor, poor, poor Pepe, so wrong about everything for years. Oh well, it’s a good thing he gets paid to write about this stuff, right?

Karl, I don’t know what you mean. Stan.

Alex May 13, 2009 at 3:38 pm

The thing that really irritates me about the ‘new Great Game’ stuff is the terminology. Its always a ‘constant struggle’, as if Richard Morningstar is, even now, girding his loins for a swordfight with the hydra-headed Gazprom. Everything is a ‘potentially explosive situation’ with ‘global consequences’.

I think as well as being misinformed about the nature of a ‘superpower run by short-sighted morons’, people are also misinformed about the fact that these things are often about boring things like engineering and market share and price and cost, rather than solely about reclusive dictatorships and ‘ethnic tinderboxes’.

An obvious point, but I just felt I had to get it out.

Jeffrey Renz May 14, 2009 at 1:55 pm

“Afghanistan, as it happens, sits conveniently at the crossroads of any new Silk Road linking the Caucasus to western China. . . .” This is pretty laughable. I guess he’s never seen the Pamirs, much less the Silk Road.

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