The Greatest Game of All: Central Asian Oil and Gas

Lost in the angst over the war in Afghanistan, underwear bombers and fanatical jihadis is the whole competition for oil and gas access in Central Asia.  The Russians and the Chinese, not natural allies by any means, have struck up a cooperation for the production and delivery of oil and gas from Central Asia to Europe, and as a side note to Asian markets as well:

The inauguration of the Dauletabad-Sarakhs-Khangiran pipeline on Wednesday connecting Iran’s northern Caspian region with Turkmenistan’s vast gas field may go unnoticed amid the Western media cacophony that it is “apocalypse now” for the Islamic regime in Tehran.

The event sends strong messages for regional security. Within the space of three weeks, Turkmenistan has committed its entire gas exports to China, Russia and Iran. It has no urgent need of the pipelines that the United States and the European Union have been advancing. Are we hearing the faint notes of a Russia-China-Iran symphony?

Maybe, maybe not…

To some extent, this alliance of convenience between Beijing and Moscow is driven by what the U.S. has done.

Most Americans think of the war in Afghanistan as a war to prevent the country from becoming the spring training camp for people who want to repeat and expand on 9/11.  But a little geography will show that Afghanistan is a stepping stone to the formerly Soviet Central Asian republics, which are not only rich in oil and gas, but also the logical pipline routes to get those resources to market, primarily in Europe.  An American presence there would not only give the U.S. dominance in this path (and thus the resources) but also a gateway to help insurgents in Xinjiang, which would destabilise the U.S.’ rising rival, China.  (Why we would be stupid enough to support jihadis in Xinjiang after the blowback from supporting them in Afghanistan against the Soviets is beyond me, but it’s our government…)

So one rationale to support the war in Afghanistan is to keep in the game in Central Asia.  A Sino-Russian alliance definitely has the inside path (just look a the geography) in this situation; developing that relationship has taken time, but now it’s moving forward.

Now that this alliance as congealed and our pipeline dreams turn into pipe ones, another player potentially gets cut out: the Iranians.  Their decision now is whether to go along with this or try to develop their own path for the oil and gas out.  Given that the U.S. military surrounds them on three sides, that may not be a difficult decision, but it would leave the Iranians as decidedly the junior partner of two powers which have shown that they will do what they have to do to eliminate Muslim power challengers.  That last point is significant: if the Obama Administration, true to its intellectual roots, turns the Afghan “surge” into a prelude for withdrawal, Russia and China, probably with some help from India, will, IMHO, make short work of any power challenger in Afghanistan or Pakistan.

And, of course, since we’re speculating, same Obama Administration might consider using planned weakness in the Middle East to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.  How? By using same planned weakness to cut off our supply from this region, making it look like someone else’s fault.  Who needs cap and trade in a situation like this?

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