17/07/2007 - 22:00

Gulf oil connection obvious

17/07/2007 - 22:00


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The worst feature of Australia’s media is use of the gotcha ploy, resorted to so often on Canberra’s slow-news days.

The worst feature of Australia’s media is use of the gotcha ploy, resorted to so often on Canberra’s slow-news days.

The term, gotcha, is the kindergarten yard pronunciation of ‘got’ and ‘you’ and was commonly used in games of tiggy tiggy touch wood we played as young children.

If someone ‘gotcha’ before you touched wood – a tree, floorboards or any other piece of timber in a kindergarten yard – you were automatically what we called “hee”, so you had to try to tag someone before they touched wood.

A silly game, perhaps, but it helped pass the lunch and play breaks.

What’s far sillier is that adult journalists still play gotcha in their ongoing efforts to fill space between advertisements in their newspapers, and a few seconds in their TV or radio news slots.

The most recent case came this month when Defence Minister Brendan Nelson was interviewed about Australia’s relatively modest military contribution to besieged Iraq.

More or less in passing, Dr Nelson stated the rather obvious fact that our contribution was worthwhile and should remain since, among other things, the Gulf region was a major oil producer.

It would be disadvantageous if it were ever controlled by a power unfriendly to large oil consuming nations like Australia, he said.

Well, if Dr Nelson never knew the media played gotcha, he does now.

He also now knows that, when discussing Iraq, never utter the word ‘oil’ since it will invariably result in journalists writing and broadcasting gotcha stories about our Iraq involvement.

Not only did Labor’s self-proclaimed geo-strategic whiz kid, Kevin Rudd, begin jumping up and down like a tiggy tiggy touch wood player, but a cohort of journalists and radio shock jocks joined in.

Having not heard the Nelson interview, State Scene wondered what he said that was so earth shattering.

Thankfully, I heard a brief segment replayed soon after.

What he said wasn’t shocking, horrible or surprising, but rather something I’d always thought was self-evident.

Namely, that if an Islamist force – be it Al-Qaeda, the Iranian Republic, or anyone else with similar jihadist obsessions – hateful of the West gained control of Iraq, Kuwait, the Gulf States and Saudi Arabia, the taps could be turned off.

Worse still, not quite turned off, just markedly turned down, so oil just trickled onto the world market, to ensure prices three or four times the current $US70-per-barrel with the West never knowing if the taps would be turned right off and permanently.

What then?

Surely our gotcha writers wouldn’t start screaming for the Americans to belatedly send in the Marines, since we’d be paying, say, $500-plus per barrel for Libyan, Venezuelan and Nigerian oil; that is around $10-plus per litre, if you could get it.

It’s important to realise that things are currently delicately poised across the Middle East; more delicately than most understand.

Iran wants to project itself ideologically and strategically as far as the eastern Mediterranean, via new ally, Syria.

Iran has longstanding links with southern Lebanon’s Hezbollah, plus Hamas in the Gaza Strip, and may seek to team-up with the increasingly powerful Islamist forces inside Turkey, encourage strikes on Israel, and penetration of the Balkans.

After that, who knows? Perhaps moves to create the long-heralded and openly anti-Western global caliphate that would operate under strict sharia law.

Dr Nelson’s warning is quite correct. Is unilateral withdrawal from a region where many Muslims want Western influence to remain the answer?

The problem with gotcha politicians, journalists and shock jocks is they read no history.

For them, historical precedence is something that happened the day before yesterday, or featured on the previous evening’s news.

Unfortunately, the world is much harsher.

It’s perhaps worth reminding them that Britain’s Royal Navy had dominated the waters of the Middle East since well before World War I, thereby ensuring this region never fell under the sway of another power or pirates, slave traders or other inhumane and troublesome vagabonds.

The various traditional sheikhs and others there may not have loved Whitehall, which directed the Royal Navy’s peacekeeping work, but for them it was Pax Britannica and they appreciated it, just as they now appreciate Pax Americana.

All this changed after 1967 when Britain’s Harold Wilson-led government announced the Royal Navy was withdrawing from what it called East of Suez.

A long era of relative stability in this crucial oil producing region was thus about to end.

Slowly, and quite reluctantly, America geared up to move in, in case someone hostile to the West’s best interests sought to replace Pax Britannica.

The first major step, the passing of the baton, came with Washington gaining access to the Diego Garcia archipelago, south of India, to construct a strategically located base.

Little happened until 1979 – the year of Iran’s Khomeiniist revolution – when Moscow unexpectedly invaded Afghanistan.

The West’s immediate fear was that if Moscow consolidated in Kabul, as it had in its five Central Asian republics  – Kazakhstan, Tadzhikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan – in the 1920s, the dominoes after Afghanistan would be Pakistan and Iran, both with Arabian Sea ports that could easily be used to threaten to bottle-up the Persian Gulf’s oilfields and loading facilities.

Soviet naval presence in those ports was rightly seen as untenable – just as if today’s Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States fell under the control of a single Islamist regime or political entity, which is precisely Dr Nelson’s point.

That, more than anything, prompted president Ronald Reagan to help finance and arm Afghan mujahideen to combat the Red Army – a brave move that resulted in removal of the Soviet threat to the Persian Gulf by the early 1990s.

Also helping bankroll the mujahideen were Saudi Arabia and several fanatical Saudi privateers, like Osama bin Laden, who even recruited combatants worldwide.

State Scene realises President George H Bush said, in 1991, that he’d have moved with Arab and other allies to dislodge Saddam Hussein from Kuwait – which was tapping the huge Rumaila and Burqan oil fields – even if it only produced broccoli.

All that this silly comment shows is that the fear of uttering the word oil, which so excites our gotcha journalists and Mr Rudd, dates back to at least 1991.

Hussein’s occupation of Kuwait, as well as being an untenable threat to Western interests, threatened adjacent Arab states, including Ba’athist Syria, to Iraq’s west.

Kuwait under occupation understandably horrified Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, all major oil exporters.

They feared that the genocidal Hussein would next attack them to become the world’s major oil supplier – and thus price setter – something they’d earlier feared with Soviet penetration into Afghanistan.

It’s in the oil consuming nations’ interests that no single power – be it a Soviet Union, a regional dictator like Hussein, or an ideological entity like Al-Qaeda – ever gains regional hegemony.

That’s why hundreds of millions of American dollars were expended assisting the mujahideen to cripple the Red Army when it was well north of the Persian Gulf.

That’s also why Washington, and Bob Hawke-led Australia, joined the 1991 coalition to expel Hussein’s forces from Kuwait.

However, others may well still seek to fill any void and would find it so much easier to do so if the American-led Coalition of the Willing’s military presence didn’t exist in the Persian Gulf.

Hussein’s ejection from Kuwait was followed by: 12 years of American and British air reconnaissance over Iraq; United Nations inspections; and clandestine goings on by various Western-based Iraqi opposition groups with seemingly credible contacts in Baghdad.

The information provided by these opponents of the Iraqi regime convinced all Western intelligence agencies that Hussein retained the wherewithal to again threaten this region and thus its major oil facilities.

The present consensus is that these were erroneous assessments.

But irrespective of that, the fact is that what Dr Nelson said, which so excited Mr Rudd and Canberra’s media gotcha brigade, this region’s oil reserves, so necessary to the industrialised West, are still not immune to being threatened.

Those denying this are being either disingenuous or don’t know their history.


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