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Issue #1822      May 16, 2018

Taking Issue – Rob Gowland

Syria, imperialism and oil (and other resources)

Capitalism is all about making profits. Large corporations call the tune with regard to government policy at all times. Capitalist powers used to wage wars to acquire territory – for territory itself was thought to have profit-making potential, but these days they most commonly go to war to secure direct control over resources, either natural or man-made.

Initially, the capitalist powers sought to gain control of global energy resources – specifically oil and gas – but now they have expanded that goal to encompass “full spectrum dominance”, meaning control of food and water as well as all forms of energy.

Imperialism’s efforts to achieve dominance in these three prime areas lie at the heart of Western machinations in the Middle East. Although European powers like Britain, France and Germany have all helped to fund and arm proxy armies in the region, most notably the so-called Free Syrian Army and its rival Daesh/ISIS, these groups’ most active and generous backer has been the US.

US backing has sometimes been direct but at other times has also been provided by proxy through US client Saudi Arabia. The US and the Saudis are both keen to subdue oil-rich Iran.

For the Saudis, Iran is a rival for leadership of the Moslem Middle East world. The Saudi-favoured Wahhabi version of Islam is extremely reactionary and readily supports terrorism. For the US, Iran is at once oil-rich and crucial to blocking the pipeline supply of oil to the USA’s economic and political rival China and to a lesser extent Russia. And the key to taking down Iran is to gain control over its ally Syria.

The US and its allies have been trying for years to crush Syria and impose their own government on the country. The democratically elected al-Assad government refuses to kow-tow to the West and has maintained its popular support despite a US-led war of death and destruction of such severity that it has forced fully half the population to flee the country as refugees.

The current disinformation campaign, alleging that the Assad regime is waging chemical warfare against own people, is simply another part of this same struggle. The Syrian army is winning the war against the terrorists despite the latter’s copious support from the US and the Saudis. Despite all the suffering and destruction caused by the US-funded war against Syria, the overwhelming bulk of the Syrian people still support their democratically-elected government. Why would the Syrian government resort to poison gas attacks against its own people, attacks, which can only undermine the support the government forces have built up by lifting the yolk of ISIS/Daesh from the shoulders of the people?

Daesh on the other hand is only too willing to do anything that might undermine the Al Assad government. Daesh is widely believed to have used poison gas before and to have blamed it on the Syrian government. With the Western corporate media hanging out for just such stories (and images) it would be curious indeed if such a well-funded operation did not provide them with what they wanted.

And sure enough, we have Western media positively flowing over with footage of “child victims” having chemical agent hosed out of their hair and eyes. It doesn’t matter where the agent comes from: Britain and France say it’s the work of the Syrian government, so it must be, mustn’t it? For surely they are all honourable men (and women)?

Their unsupported claims provided the US and its NATO allies with convenient “justification” for missile and bomber attacks on the Syrian capital.

These attacks are part of a complex four-pronged US strategy: to remove a government in Damascus that refuses to bow to US diktat, to eliminate Syria as an ally of Iran, currently bête noir for the US and Saudi Arabia, to partition Syria so that its resource rich areas pass under the control of US corporations, and to deny Syria’s oil and gas to Russia.

Allowing the Russian fossil fuel sector to strengthen, whether in Syria or elsewhere, would harm US strategic objectives, US corporate bottom lines and the White House’s vision of maintaining a unipolar world at all costs.

Already the US occupies about a third of Syria, with between 2,000 to 4,000 troops stationed there. Significantly the US-occupied area is the oil and gas rich north-east, which also has the country’s major water resources. Ominously, after the latest US, French and British airstrikes the US boasted to the UN that US forces would stay in Syria “until all US goals in the area are fulfilled”. Which is a conqueror’s way of saying “we’re staying indefinitely”.

As Whitney Webb, a staff writer for independent US news source MintPress News and a contributor to Ben Swann’s Truth in Media, notes, “Since 2014, the US has been aggressively trying to limit Russia’s fossil-fuel sector, particularly its exports to Europe, and replace them with US-produced fossil fuels.” In pursuit of this objective, the US has reportedly developed plans to build a new pipeline from the Persian Gulf to Northern Iraq and into Turkey through north-eastern Syria.

The US oil giants began developing plans to seize north-eastern Syria as early as the 1940s. Why? Because N-E Syria “contains 95 percent of all Syrian oil and gas potential. Nearly all the existing Syrian oil reserves – estimated at around 2.5 billion barrels – are located in the area currently occupied by the US. In addition to Syria’s largest oil field, the US and its proxies in northeast Syria also control the Conoco gas plant, the country’s largest” (Whitney Webb).

Trump and his administration have numerous ties to US big oil. Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was previously the top executive at ExxonMobil, an oil company that unilaterally brokered an oil deal with Iraqi Kurds behind the back of the Iraqi government and has expressed interest in developing Syrian oil reserves in the portion of the country currently occupied by the US.

ExxonMobil also had a major stake in a US-backed proposal to take natural gas to Europe by pipeline from Qatar via Syria. The rejection of this project by the Assad government in favour of a Russian-backed proposal that would instead have taken natural gas originating in Iran was no doubt the likely cause of the otherwise inexplicable but well-engineered civil strife that erupted in Syria eleven years ago and which was immediately labelled a “revolt against the Assad government” by the West.

Trump himself, prior to assuming the presidency, also had sizable investments in ExxonMobil – as well as in 11 other major oil and gas companies, including Total, ConocoPhillips, BHP and Chevron.

In addition, Tillerson’s replacement, Mike Pompeo, is the “#1 all time recipient” of money from the billionaire Koch brothers, who have numerous interests in oil and gas exploration, drilling, pipelines, and fossil-fuel refining.

Beyond fossil fuels and pipelines, northeast Syria boasts several other key advantages in terms of resources. Chief among these is water – a resource of prime importance in the Middle East. The US-controlled portion of Syria is home to the country’s three largest freshwater reservoirs, which are fed by the Euphrates River.

Whitney Webb also points out that “In addition to its abundant water resources, north-eastern Syria is also home to nearly 60 percent of Syria’s cropland, a key resource in terms of Syria’s sustainability and food independence. Prior to the conflict, Syria invested heavily in bringing irrigation infrastructure into the area in order to allow agriculture there to continue despite a massive regional drought. Much of that irrigation infrastructure is fed by the occupied Tabqa Dam, which controls the irrigation water for 640,000 hectares of farmland.”

By controlling much of the country’s water and agricultural land – not to mention its fossil fuel resources – the US occupation will not only accomplish its goal of destabilising Syria’s government by depriving it of revenue; it also advances the USA’s other principal strategic goal – partitioning troublesome or resource-rich countries into powerless small religious or ethnic enclaves.

In the Middle East, the US has floated the idea of partitioning Iraq as well as Syria. To this end, the US initially allied itself with the Kurds in north-eastern Syria, but opposition from Turkey led Washington to switch to working with Saudi-allied Wahhabi groups, in order to create a Saudi-controlled enclave. “Already”, says Webb, “the Idlib province is essentially an enclave for Wahhabi terrorists.”

If you think a US plan to create a Wahhabi enclave in northeast Syria is an unrealistic conspiracy theory, think again. As Webb notes, it was “directly referenced in a Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) from 2012. That report stated:

“THE WEST, GULF COUNTRIES, AND TURKEY SUPPORT THE [SYRIAN] OPPOSITION ... THERE IS THE POSSIBILITY OF ESTABLISHING A DECLARED OR UNDECLARED SALAFIST PRINCIPALITY IN EASTERN SYRIA (HASAKA AND DER ZOR), AND THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT THE SUPPORTING POWERS TO THE OPPOSITION WANT, IN ORDER TO ISOLATE THE SYRIAN REGIME ...”

[capitalisation in the original]

And the means the US relied on to achieve control over north-eastern Syria was to cultivate and support the presence there of the “moderate” terrorist outfit the Free Syrian Army and also the “extreme” terrorists Daesh/ISIS. Both have now been defeated but they allowed the US to occupy the region. And now the US is actively pursuing its aim of partition.

Next article – Imperial road to conquest

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