Another War for Oil

by Paul Donahue
October 2001

Along with the rest of the country, we at the Forest Ecology Network are deeply saddened by the events of September 11th and mourn the needless death of the innocent civilians killed in the attack on the World Trade Center. This is important and necessary to mention because in this issue of The Maine Woods we have published several political cartoons aimed at George W. Bush’s position on important environmental issues, and we want our readers to understand why.

We realize that many Americans support the actions that President Bush has taken in retaliation for the September 11th attacks. However, regardless of the heightened tensions surrounding us, and regardless of your personal position on the war being waged on Afghanistan, it is important to remember that our critical environmental problems have not gone away. The George W. Bush who many feel is now doing a good job with the new “war on terrorism” is the same George W. Bush who has relentlessly attacked the environment since taking office last January.

The list of environmentalists’ grievances with Bush is a long one, beginning with his controversial appointments of Gale Norton and Christie Todd Whitman to head the Department of the Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency, to his attacks on the Endangered Species Act, his rollback of the standards for arsenic levels in drinking water, his attempted rollbacks of the Roadless Area Conservation Rule for remaining wilderness areas in our National Forests and protection for National Monuments, his pressuring to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, to, most infamously, his pullout from the Kyoto Climate Change Treaty. His disregard for our environment has been frightening.

In many ways, environmental policy and foreign policy are inextricably linked. U.S. foreign policy and the oil industry are also closely intertwined. Due to our endless thirst for oil, pursuit of the sticky black liquid has been a driving force in our foreign policy for some time. In fact, oil and politics can be nearly inseparable. On this point the record is clear. We have been quite willing to support terrorists and despots around the globe if it has advanced our pursuit of cheap oil. Indonesia, Nigeria and Iran are just a few examples that come to mind. Even as we bomb Afghanistan, in Colombia, under the guise of a drug war, we are supporting right wing paramilitaries and an army with a horrific human rights record, all for the sake of oil.

Given the numerous close ties to the oil industry within this administration, oil may be playing an even bigger foreign policy role than it has in the past. In addition to the oil connections of Bush himself, there is National Security adviser Condoleeza Rice who was on Chevron’s board of directors from 1991 until joining the Bush team. She was in charge of public policy for the board of directors, which used her expertise in Russian issues to help Chevron navigate its way to investments in the Caspian Sea oil fields. In 1993 Chevron actually named an oil tanker after her.

And then there is Vice-President and former Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney. Cheney, representing the alliance of Big Oil money and the military-industrial complex, is perhaps the administration’s most important oil connection. He has been quoted as saying, "You've got to go where the oil is. I don't worry about it a lot."

From 1997 until he resigned in July 2000 to run with Bush, Cheney was CEO and chairman of Dallas-based Halliburton Company, the biggest oil-services company in the world and a major player in the global energy industry. Halliburton's global network of investments includes projects in politically volatile areas, some with savage human rights records. In a July 2000 article on, Justin Raimundo reports that under Cheney, Halliburton Company was one of the biggest direct beneficiaries of the war in Kosovo. Brown & Root, a Houston subsidiary of Halliburton, was awarded the engineering contract to house, feed, and otherwise amuse the US "peacekeepers" plonked down in the middle of that quagmire.

The nations where Halliburton did business under Cheney include oil-producers such as Nigeria, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Burma, Angola and Russia. During Cheney’s tenure, Halliburton built up operations in Nigeria despite the country’s pattern of human rights violations. As reported back in May 2001 in Multinational Monitor Magazine by Kenny Bruno and Jim Valette, shortly before the election, Dick Cheney admitted on the Larry King Live! show that Halliburton had done contract work in Burma. Cheney defended the project by saying that Halliburton had not broken the U.S. law imposing sanctions on Burma, which forbids new investments in the country. "You have to operate in some very difficult places and often times in countries that are governed in a manner that's not consistent with our principles here in the United States," Cheney told Larry King. "But the world's not made up only of democracies." Although he stepped down as CEO of Halliburton, he still owns shares of stock in the conglomerate. Cheney's business and policy interests come together in his support of a corporate coalition called USA*Engage. The mission of this coalition, with some 50 active companies and 600-plus total members, is to promote business "engagement" and prevent U.S. sanctions for human rights abuses or other kinds of violations.

Judging by our current foreign policy and the bombing campaign against Afghanistan, it would seem that even now, despite the September 11th attack and all the ensuing statements from the White House, the Bush administration still has an agenda that has more to do with making the world safe for oil production than with uprooting terrorism.

Why are we bombing Afghanistan? Osama bin Laden, the alleged mastermind of the attack, is hiding out in Afghanistan, but the U.S. government has as yet not produced convincing evidence that he was actually behind the strikes. Meanwhile, the evidence supporting Saudi Arabia’s connection to the September 11th attack is overwhelming. At least more than half of the hijackers were Saudi citizens. Osama bin Laden is a member of one of Saudi Arabia's richest families. Money from the Saudi elite has been used to sustain a terrorist network. In fact, when one peruses the list of directors of businesses and foundations cited by the U.S. government that allegedly supported Al Qaeda, it reads like a who's who of Saudi society. Additionally, the Saudi government has refused to cooperate fully with the U.S. in investigating these links or seizing terrorist assets.

Given those facts, one must ask why we are attacking Afghanistan while leaving Saudi Arabia untouched. You can accept at face value the administration’s statements about bringing the terrorists to justice, but a safer bet would be to follow the money. It works almost every time. In this case, the money leads to just one thing….oil. Saudi Arabia is the largest single supplier of crude oil to the United States and we want, and need, to keep that oil flowing. At the same time, Afghanistan lies along the route which makes the most political and economic sense for a proposed pipeline to exploit the vast oil reserves of the Caspian Sea basin.

In a 1998 speech to energy industry executives, Dick Cheney, then at Halliburton, is quoted as saying, “The current hot spots for major oil companies are the oil reserves in the Caspian Sea region. Former Soviet states Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan all are seeking to quickly develop their oil reserves, which languished during the years of Russian domination." The stakes in that region could be as much as 200 billion barrels of oil and natural gas, he told the crowd. “I cannot think of a time when we have had a region emerge as suddenly to become as strategically significant as the Caspian.” The Washington-based American Petroleum Institute, voice of the major U.S. oil companies, called the Caspian region, "the area of greatest resource potential outside of the Middle East." These oil reserves, estimated to be worth $4 trillion by U.S. News and World Report, may be large enough to offset Persian Gulf oil within the next 15 to 20 years. Turkmenistan on Afghanistan's northern border also has the world's third largest natural gas reserves.

U.S. oil companies have been negotiating with the post-Soviet republics of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan for access to the oil for years, but have been stymied by political instability in the region. Oil conglomerates were torn between two possible pipeline routes to Western markets: west through the war-torn Caucasus Mountains to Turkey, or south through war-torn Afghanistan to Pakistan and the Arabian Sea.

In an article by Laura Flanders published October 18th on she states, “Until it was put on hold in 1998, Unocal, which spearheaded the Afghan project was to have built a 1,005-mile oil pipeline and a companion 918-mile natural gas pipeline, in addition to a tanker loading terminal in Pakistan's Arabian Sea port of Gwadan. The company projected annual revenues of $2 billion, or enough to recover the cost of the project in five years. As reported by journalist Jan Goodwin, Unocal opened offices in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Pakistan and Turkmenistan and got every faction of the Afghan Northern Alliance to sign on. Even former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger got on board to help sell the project in the region.”

The London Telegraph reported in 1996 that "oil industry insiders say the dream of securing a pipeline across Afghanistan is the main reason why Pakistan, a close political ally of America's, has been so supportive of the Taliban, and why America has quietly acquiesced in the Taliban’s conquest of Afghanistan".

Flanders continues, “Backing the Caspian plan is none other than Vice-President Dick Cheney, who, as CEO of Halliburton was successful in winning contracts from Caspian Sea states to be part of any future development. In 1994, Cheney helped to broker a deal between the oil company Chevron and the state of Kazakhstan when he sat on the Oil Advisory Board of that former Soviet state.”

The U.S. Government Energy Information fact sheet on Afghanistan dated December 2000 says, "Afghanistan's significance from an energy standpoint stems from its geographic position as a potential transit route for oil and gas exports from Central Asia to the Arabian Sea. This potential includes proposed multi-billion dollar oil and gas export lines through Afghanistan."

A prerequisite for an oil pipeline across Afghanistan is a stable, U.S. friendly regime - something the country currently lacks. Presumably, the administration is hoping that the bombing will help to alter that situation. So, as much as we might like to believe otherwise, and as much as we might expect more from our leaders at a time like this, we seem to be faced with the shocking scenario of an implicit U.S. attempt to control the government of Afghanistan to insure oil and natural gas pipelines through that country. The horrific events of September 11th may have been little more to this administration than a convenient excuse for overthrowing the Taliban and replacing them with a stable and grateful pro-western government. In other words, while many things may have changed since September 11th, apparently our oil-driven foreign policy has not. On that front, it would appear to be business as usual.


Along with the war our country is waging on Afghanistan, the U.S. government is waging another war on our civil liberties. This war was already underway before September 11th. The Bush administration had in preparation legislation designed to intimidate and silence its political opponents. Opportunistically, they have used the September 11th tragedy to ram their bill through Congress. Twin bills, based on a draft submitted by Attorney-General John Ashcroft, have already reached the House-Senate conference committee. The Senate version is known as the Uniting and Strengthening America Act while the House version is known as the Patriot Act.

In an article published October 19th on, Marty Jezer writes, “The two houses of Congress are now negotiating the details of an anti-terrorism bill that would severely compromise the Bill of Rights, especially the first amendment rights of free speech, petition, and public assembly, and the forth amendment right against unreasonable searches and seizures…..The most dangerous part of the bill is Section 803 of the Senate version which creates a new crime, that of "domestic terrorism." Domestic terrorism is defined vaguely as to include the intention to "intimidate or coerce a civilian population" and to "influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion." Any political demonstration can be deemed coercive and intimidating, as can speech or writing. A demonstrator (or an undercover police agent) who throws a rock or damages property (already illegal under existing law) could provide the government with the pretext to charge demonstrators with an act of terrorism. Moreover, any person who provides assistance to the demonstrators would also be liable for prosecution as a terrorist. The provisions regarding "domestic terrorism" are not meant to protect the country from real terrorists. They are, instead, an intimidating and coercive threat to free speech and public assembly.”

This is very frightening news for environmental activists. It means that not only will we be forced to endure the results of our government’s seriously flawed environmental policies, but we may also be effectively silenced from speaking out on the environmental threats we all face. It is especially frightening as all indications are that the Bush administration will use the new “war on terrorism” as a further pretext for looting our natural resources. It does not take much foresight to see that such a broad “anti-terrorism” bill will be used by the government to quash anti-globalization demonstrations, old-growth logging protests, or dissent on any other environmental issue if the dissension could be interpreted to be against the “national security” interests of the country. Activists lobbying against oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, oil we need for “national security”, could find themselves in a very scary place.

Whatever the dangers from global warming and other environmental problems, it is at the heart of the oil industry’s interests for the world to remain dependent on oil production. At a time when we should be devoting our efforts to weaning ourselves from our dependence on fossil fuels, we find ourselves engaged in yet another war for oil. The policies driven by our thirst for oil played a large role in causing the September 11th attack, and we are still charging blindly down the same road. If and when we successfully secure the Caspian Basin oil it will mean more disastrous oil spills, more acid rain damage to our beleaguered forests, more smog and respiratory disease in our cities, more surface and groundwater contamination, and more global warming. Isn’t it time to pour billions of dollars into the development of alternative energy rather than into the purchase of more Tomahawk cruise missiles? Isn’t it time to stop letting oil drive our foreign policy?