Saturday, 23 October 2010

CASE 122 - Geopolitics

Geopolitics is the art and practice of using political power over a given territory. Traditionally, the term has applied primarily to the impact of geography on politics, but its usage has evolved over the past century to encompass a wider connotation.
In academic circles, the study of geopolitics involves the analysis of geography, history and social science with reference to spatial politics and patterns at various scales (ranging from the level of the state to international).
The term was coined at the beginning of the 20th century by Rudolf Kjellén, a Swedish political scientist, inspired by the German geographer Friedrich Ratzel, whose book Politische Geographie (political geography) was published in 1897. It was later popularized in English by the American diplomat Robert Strausz-Hupé, a faculty member of the University of Pennsylvania. Halford Mackinder had a pioneering role in the field, however he actually never used the term geopolitics himself. The Great Game is afoot and no matter how we may disapprove of the Global Empire, we would be wise not to discount the cards it alone holds.

Geopolitics is not called The Great Game without reason. The game of dominating the world's resources, nation-states and alliances is like a combination of Go and chess, with the threat of military conquest or defeat always hovering over the statecraft and financial game. Is it mere accident that Iraq and Afghanistan have dropped almost entirely out of the "news"? They only make a brief appearance when a "top leader" of the Bad Guys gets liquidated, or when a suicide bomber leaves an especially gruesome aftermath. That Iraq and Afghanistan are rarely in the "news" is understandable because war, occupation and "nation-building" are "normal" in the U.S. Empire. We are there because we're "taking care of business" in the sense of the "noble cause" described so aptly in the 1975 film Three Days of the Condor.

If you want to control or influence the Mideast, then by all means take the center, Iraq; and if you want to extend your influence all the way to China, Pakistan, Russia and India, then take Afghanistan, too.

A cursory glance at the map offers a staggering array of strategic advantages to controlling or influencing Iraq and Afghanistan. Even to an amateur these pop off the map:

- you divide troublemakers Syria and Iran, collaborators despite Syria being Sunni and Iran being Shi'ite.
- you sit astride two great rivers in a parched landscape.
- you can easily project military power into Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iran, Jordan and Kuwait, and threaten Russia's southern flank and Egypt.
- you can also fill the airwaves of all these surrounding nations with disruptive ideas/propaganda like freedom of the press, individual liberty, economic opportunity, etc.-- dangerous ideas to the surrounding kleptocracies/oligarchies.
- you sandwich Iran between Afghanistan and Iraq.
- your land forces are within easy range of air support from the US Navy in the Persian Gulf, Arabian Sea and the Mediterranean Sea, not to mention long-range air power from bases in Europe, Diego Garcia and the U.S. mainland.
- Afghanistan is central to "the Stans" and shares a small border with China.
- even if you do nothing, you unsettle everyone around you because you hold the strategic aces of location, power projection, etc.

We know about the oil, but what else is in play strategically? It's about the oil, of course, but beyond that observation lies a wealth of other factors, such as denying that oil to others who you might want to influence. Just choke off the Straits of Hormuz and a world of leverage suddenly opens up.

The general assumption is that the U.S. is vulnerable to Iran shutting that chokepoint, but what happens if Iranian tankers bound for China get stopped? Who gets hurt then? Certainly not the U.S. The chokepoints work in all kinds of directions. The U.S. needn't "control" Iraq; all it need do is disrupt anyone else's grand ambitions or access to the oil. Disruption is cheaper and easier than control, as the Taliban discovered in 2001 when their control of Afghanistan was fatally disrupted by homegrown resistance. In other words: all the U.S. need do is deny others access to the oil. So China has Sudan, and the U.S. controls access to the Mideast and 80% of the world's remaining oil reserves. Which position would you choose?

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