Why have tensions suddenly escalated along the Turkish border with Iraq? Why have Kurdish PKK guerrillas been going out of their way in recent weeks to provoke a conflict with Turkish forces? Why have Kurdish PJAK guerrillas been stepping up their cross-border activities into Iran?
The catalyst may well be Bush crony Ray L. Hunt.
Ray L. Hunt is CEO of Hunt Consolidated, Inc., a member of the Halliburton Board of Directors, a Bush "Pioneer," a major Republican fund-raiser, a contributor of $35 million to Southern Methodist University (SMU) to support a George W. Bush Presidential Library and think tank (oxymoron alert), and, by the way, a member of the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (PFIAB).
PERHAPS MORE THAN JUST A HISTORICAL FOOTNOTE
If there is to be a history written of World War III, we should probably start drafting it now, for after our species self-immolates, it may be millions of years before another intelligent species evolves from the apes, porpoises, parrots, or ants to unearth and ponder the traces that we may leave behind.
Just as Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip's assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand on June 28th, 1914 is generally cited as the triggering event for World War I, we may already have seen the triggering event for World War III, or at least for a major regional cataclysm in the Middle East.
On September 8th, 2007, Hunt's company signed an oil production sharing agreement (PSA) with the Kurdistan Regional Government--much to the irritation of the Iraqi central government in Baghdad.
A major strategic goal of the signing may have been to resurrect an old pipeline route from Mosul in Kurdistan, through Jordan, and on to Israel. The pipeline would presumably follow the southern route on this map.
Is there any sentient observer on the planet who doubts that Hunt was acting on the basis of inside information? Republican money, Republican White House, Halliburton, PFIAB connection, personal contact with President Bush and Vice President Cheney--is it not just possible that Hunt was in a position to know what Cheney and Bush would like to see happen in Iraq? Is it not just possible that Hunt was privy to the neocon grand strategy for the Middle East? Is it not more than just possible that Hunt decided to use that knowledge for the profit of his company and himself? How could a rich Texas Big Oil Republican resist such an opportunity?
MORE THAN JUST ANOTHER OIL DEAL
It seems possible that that Hunt's connections with the intelligence community may go beyond his membership in the PFIAB. A Hunt company aircraft is recorded as landing at the CIA's training facility at Camp Peary, Virginia in late November, 2006. Does Hunt's connection with CIA activities extend to covert activities in Iraq's Kurdistan? Seymour Hersh has reported on U.S. support for militant groups such as the PJAK (Kurds targeting Iran) and MEK (radical leftist Sunnis targeting Iran). Reese Erlich has provided some excellent ground truth reporting on the PKK and PJAK, including evidence of Israeli support. The Telegraph has reported on helicopter flights taking U.S. officers in Iraq to meet with Kurdish fighters and also has reported on recent Kurdish cross-border violence inside Iran.
There are some public hints of Presidential Findings directing covert operations, including armed actions, against Iran. Has Hunt allowed his company to be used as a commercial cover mechanism to ship arms and launder money for any such activities directed by the CIA? Or has the Bush/Cheney White House circumvented the legal requirement to inform Congress of such covert activities by conducting such operations through the National Security Council and the Department of Defense as "black operations" with no notification of Congress? Is Hunt's company involved in such "black operations" for Dick Cheney? Remember that these people, notably convicted and pardoned Elliot Abrams, have experience in this kind of approach dating back to the Iran-Contra days. Such operations would likely be run through SOCOM, the Special Operations Command.
In short there is a growing body of credible investigative journalism and circumstantial evidence (i.e., follow the rhetoric and the oil) to suggest that the U.S., perhaps in collaboration with Israel, is providing covert funding and arms support to the PKK and the PJAK. Hunt Oil, with it presence in Kurdistan, would be in an ideal position to serve as a commercial vehicle for such "black operations." Another possible commercial vehicle would be Blackwater USA, which has been linked to arms smuggling to Iraq--just what the PKK and PJAK would need.
Was Hunt's PSA with the Kurds his payoff for serving as a conduit for such "black operations" in Iraqi Kurdistan, Turkey, and Iran under the direction of Cheney's office? Perhaps someday Seymour Hersh will be able ferret out a tranche of incriminating details.
Other oil companies have followed Hunt's lead in signing oil deals with the Kurds. One example is the French company Perenco. Perenco's deal may help explain French President Sarkozy's otherwise puzzling support for Bush Administration policy in the Middle East. But is Sarkozy any better at managing affairs of state and geopolitics than he is at managing the affairs of his own bedroom?
Hunt, like Bush, is a wealthy child of privilege and wealth. In Hunt's case, his father was the renowned Texas oilman H. L. Hunt, the famously wacko John Birch Society sponsor and JFK hater. Ray L. Hunt inherited his father's fortune at the age of thirty-one. Unlike George W. Bush, however, Ray L. Hunt actually appears to be intelligent and hard-working, as presaged in his quite impressive performance as a student at SMU. True, SMU is not a top school, but it is clear from Hunt's record that he was not an intellectually lazy legacy party boy like Bush was at Yale. Hunt is not merely a rich crony of Bush and Cheney; he is a smart, rich crony, and therefore perhaps doubly dangerous. He may actually come up with some ideas of his own to implement.
A CATALYST FOR WHAT?
Many other events have cascaded swiftly since Hunt's PSA deal with Iraq's Kurdistan: Senator Joseph Biden's Defense Authorization Amendment calling for a loose federal structure for Iraq and supported by Texas Republican Senator Kay Hutchison (and many other Republicans); the Blackwater fiasco in Baghdad; the continuing drawdown of British troops in the Basra area; the visit of Russian President Putin to Tehran for the Caspian Summit; stepped up U.S. attacks on Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army (al-Sadr supports a strong central Iraqi government); and escalating cross-border PKK attacks inside Turkey.
What conclusions would any sentient observer in Iraqi Kurdistan, Baghdad, Turkey, Syria, or Iran draw from these cascading events? Here are four likely ones:
(1) The Bush Administration is now moving swiftly toward a "soft" partition of Iraq into three largely autonomous regions: an oil-rich Shiite-dominated region in the south, an oil-rich Kurdish region in the north, and a resource-poor, mixed Sunni and Shiite region in the center and west. There will be ample bipartisan support in the U.S. Congress for this divide-and-conquer approach.
(2) The "soft" partition will surely embolden Iraqi Kurdish nationalists to accelerate their efforts to create a Kurdish nation state encompassing also Kurds in Turkey, Iran, and Syria. The Kurds seem already to have begun stepping up their military tempo in cross-border raids.
(3) Bush and Cheney, with their current escalation of threatening rhetoric against Iran, seem to have set their sights on wreaking the same sort of destruction upon Iran that they have wreaked upon Iraq, likely with the same goal of national disintegration and partition. Besides U.S. support for the PJAK and MEK to conduct guerrilla operations in Iran, note also the reports of U.S. support for the Baluch militant group Jundullah to conduct assassinations and kidnappings in Iranian Baluchistan. The key prize, of course, will be the oil and gas of Khuzestan.
(4) The "Mighty Wurlitzer's" repeating-loop refrain asserting that Iranian weapons (or training) are responsible for killing U.S. troops in Iraq and that Iran's nuclear program is an "existential" threat to Israel and the whole world is essentially an agitprop operation. Catapulting this propaganda seems intended to demonize Iran in the eyes of the U.S. public in order to provide domestic political cover for a U.S. assault. If some slice of world opinion outside of Israel is sufficiently credulous to believe such claims, all the better in the view of the necons. The Bush/Cheney White House and the neocons understand that citing the intent to steal oil and natural gas as the real reason for going to war with Iran would seem less than compelling even to the normally unquestioning, heel-clicking Republican Hard Core 30 percenters. So Cheney and his Wurlitzer organists must dream up other pretexts, just as they did to bamboozle the press and public before the invasion of Iraq. Perhaps they have kept the satellite imagery of WMD depots and the cartoon posters of mobile BW labs that then Secretary of State Colin Powell displayed with such gravitas at the UN to make the case for invading Iraq. The graphics people in the basement will just need to change one letter on the labels: a "q" to an "n." The corporate-funded "Freedom's Watch" TV campaign to build support for continuing war in the Middle East appears to be another part of the White House strategy. The major U.S. arms manufacturers have been running their own Orwellian, patriotic mood commercials to undergird support for perpetual war--of course to "defend freedom," not to grab oil.
The Turks seem to have come to the realization that their national interests are diametrically opposed to the Bush Administration's neocon plans for the region. Note, for example, this report that the Turks have warned Israel not to use Turkish air space for attacks on Syria. (Note the same report's claims about stern Russian and Chinese warnings.) Note also Syrian President Bashar Assad's mid-October visit to Turkey and Syria's support for Turkey in its confrontation with the Kurds.
What shall we look for next? A high-level visit between Turkey and Iran would be a clear signal of what is to come: a concerted effort by Turkey, Iran, and Syria to crush Kurdish guerrilla activity and national aspirations. The Turks would surely also like to encourage Iraqi nationalists--Shiite and Sunni--to restore Iraqi central authority over Kurdistan. The reality is, however, that the Iraqi Army lacks the capability to confront anyone, least of all the well armed and well led Kurds. There seems to be no conclusive military solution in sight.
Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan seems to understand the futility of chasing PKK guerrillas around the Kurdish hills. His scheduled meeting with Bush for November 5th may largely be an effort by Erdogan to buy time and hope for an early winter to resist rising domestic pressures for large-scale strikes against the PKK. Erdogan will of course seek assurances that the U.S. will take serious action against the PKK. However Bush chooses to respond, the reality will probably remain as described this week by the U.S. commander in northern Iraq, Maj. Gen. Benjamin R. Mixon. When asked what he was planning to do about the Kurdish militants, his answer was: "Absolutely nothing." (See Karen DeYoung story on page A9 of The Washington Post for October 27th.) Why on earth should the U.S. military commander in Kurdistan take action against PKK and PJAK forces that seem to be receiving covert support from CIA and/or SOCOM? Bush will have some 'splainin" to do to Erdogan, for the Turks likely have rather good intelligence on U.S. links to the PKK and PJAK, as likely do the Iranians. It will be a difficult meeting, for Erdogan, who is both intelligent and able, will be discinlined to be manipulated and lied to by a bullying oaf.
After that November 5th meeting, which seems doomed to go badly, watch for Russia to step into the opening to try to reconfigure the strategic landscape. If Turkey considers its concerns over Kurdish nationalism to be slighted by the U.S., Israel, and Western Europe, it may see little alternative to looking elsewhere for political and military support to abort an already forming Kurdish national entity. Russian President Putin will likely have some interesting proposals in mind to pique Erdogan's interest. Turkey itself is a major energy player, with pipeline links to Central Asia.
THE STAGE IS SET AND THE SET HAS BEEN DRESSED
So here we all sit on top of an in increasingly active volcano. The Turks seem to be very close to concluding that Turkish interests largely coincide with Iranian interests and with the interests of Iraqi nationalists (as opposed to soft federalists or outright sectarian separatists). At this very moment a large Turkish force has assembled at the Iraqi border, and the cross-border bombing and shelling has already begun. Syria from the sidelines is providing the Turks with what little political support it can. The Syrians will also surely put a close watch on Syrian Kurds. Iran absorbs attacks from PJAK guerrillas (quite possibly sponsored by a U.S. covert program), observes with alarm the massive propaganda campaign directed against it by the Bush Administration, and waits for developments. Is another provocative U.S. operation to arrest and jail Iranian diplomats or officials assigned to Iraq perhaps in the works?
If coming weeks bring a regional Middle Eastern conflict or worse, we can reasonably judge Ray L. Hunt to have been the Bush/Cheney Administration's key catalyst for the cataclysm. The moment that Hunt sealed the deal with Kurdistan on September 8th was the moment that the regional powers fully comprehended what the Bush/Cheney Administration truly had in mind for the region: the age-old imperial formula of divide, conquer, and loot the resources, in this case, the oil. The looting will be accomplished through production sharing agreements highly favorable for Big Oil, but for the peoples and governments of the region--other than the local ruling elites who sign the agreements--not so much, as Borat would observe.
Ralph Peters' proposed reordering of the borders of the Mideast.
(Click for larger image)Of course, Gavrilo Princip's assassination of Archduke Ferdinand did not really cause World War I. The German, Austro-Hungarian, Russian, British, French, and Turkish Empires were all armed to the teeth, saddled with mediocre jingoist leaders, and eager to assert themselves in the great imperial game of maps and colonies. The bullet fired by Gavrilo Princip merely affected the timing of the cataclysm.
Likewise, Ray L. Hunt's oil PSA with Iraq's Kurdistan Regional Government will not itself be the cause of the coming regional or even global conflict. As events unfold we can reflect on the parallels between the Serbian nationalism of 1914 and the manipulation of the Kurdish nationalism of 2007. But it is the neocon grand strategy to shatter and then remake the Middle East that provides the strategic underpinning for the coming conflict. War cheerleader Ralph Peters' oft-cited article in the Armed Forces Journal outlines how the neocons wish to redraw the map of the Middle East. Here is an illustration of the neocon before and after vision for the region.
Are these neocon theorists merely aged adolescents obsessed with maps, markers, and piles of political blocks? Many of them behave like the progeny of Graham Greene's character Alden Pyle:
'He never saw anything he hadn't heard in a lecture-hall, and his writers and his lecturers made a fool of him. When he saw a dead body he couldn't even see the wounds. A red menace, a soldier of democracy.' --Graham Greene, The Quiet American
Ray L. Hunt is not an armchair theorist but an active player. He stands at the intersection of Republican fund-raising, crony capitalism, U.S. intelligence, neocon strategy for the Middle East, and concerted looting by Big Oil. That intersection of interests has reached critical mass and is now impelling movement toward Kurdish autonomy and even independence, and therefore toward a widening and escalating conflict in the Middle East.
Ray L. Hunt's PSA contract with the Kurds was simply the catalyst for the neocons' long-planned cataclysm in the Middle East.
It's really about the oil, stupid. Has been all along.
And just as Gavrilo Princip's name has lived in infamy, so may Ray L. Hunt's.