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Politics & economics - June 17

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The Tripolar Chessboard
Putting Iran in Great Power Context

Michael T. Klare, Tom Dispatch
For months, the American press and policy-making elite have portrayed the crisis with Iran as a two-sided struggle between Washington and Tehran, with the European powers as well as Russia and China playing supporting roles. It is certainly true that George Bush and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are the leading protagonists in this drama, with each making inflammatory statements about the other in order to whip up public support at home. But an informed reading of recent international diplomacy surrounding the Iranian crisis suggests that another equally fierce -- and undoubtedly more important -- struggle is also taking place: a tripolar contest between the United States, Russia, and China for domination of the greater Persian Gulf/Caspian Sea region and its mammoth energy reserves.

...There's nothing new about the Bush administration's urge to rollback Russia and "contain" China. Such thinking was famously articulated in the "Defense Planning Guidance for 1994-99," written by then Undersecretary of Defense Paul D. Wolfowitz and leaked to the press in early 1992. "Our first objective is to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival, either on the territory of the former Soviet Union or elsewhere, that poses a threat on the order of that posed formerly by the Soviet Union," the document famously declared. This remains the principal aim of U.S. strategy today, but it has now been joined by another key objective: to ensure that the United States -- and no one else -- controls the energy supplies of the Persian Gulf and adjacent areas of Asia.

When first articulated in the "Carter Doctrine" of 1980, this precept was directed exclusively at the Gulf; now, under President Bush, it has been extended to the Caspian Sea basin as well -- a consequence of rising oil prices, fears of diminishing supplies, and the vast oil and natural gas deposits believed to be housed there. To assert U.S. influence in this region, once part of the Soviet Union, the White House has been setting up military bases, supplying arms, and conducting a sub-rosa war of influence with both Moscow and Beijing.
(16 June 2006)
Another of Michael Klare's analyses on oil and political affaris.


In Oil-Rich Angola, Cholera Preys Upon Poorest

Sharon LaFraniere, NY Times
Luanda's slums are now the center of one of the worst cholera epidemics to strike Africa in nearly a decade.
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In a nation whose multibillion-dollar oil boom should arguably make its people rich enough to drink Evian, the water that many in this capital depend on goes by a less fancy name: Bengo.

Most of Luanda's population growth is concentrated in slums, where mountains of rubbish are a common sight.

The Bengo River passes north of here, its waters dark with grit, its banks strewn with garbage.

Two dozen roaring pumping stations suck in 1.3 million gallons from the river each day, filling 450 tanker trucks that in turn supply 10,000 vendors across Luanda's endless slums. The vendors then fill the jerry cans and washtubs of the city's slum dwellers, who buy the water to drink and bathe in.

This is one reason, health experts here say, that Luanda's slums are now the center of one of the worst cholera epidemics to strike Africa in nearly a decade, an outbreak that has sickened 43,000 Angolans and killed more than 1,600 since it began in February.

But it is only one reason. Cholera typically spreads through contact with contaminated water or sewage, and in Luanda's slums, both are everywhere. Neighborhoods here are ringed by mountains of garbage, often soaked by rivulets of human waste. Only about half of slum dwellers have even an outdoor latrine.

...Angola is in the midst of a gusher in oil revenue, its hotels crammed with oil executives and its harbor filled with tankers carrying away the 1.4 million barrels of crude pumped here each day. The economy grew by 18 percent last year. The government racked up a budget surplus of more than $2 billion.

This year it is expected to take in $16.8 billion in revenue, well over twice the $7.5 billion it received in 2004. Next year, revenue is expected to rise by a third again, almost all because of oil.

Economists say the government simply has more money than it can spend.

Yet it seems powerless to address even the basic issues of clean water and sewers that would make such epidemics entirely preventable — a paradox that critics attribute to corruption, incompetence or the hangover of a 27-year civil war that flooded the capital with refugees, or all three.
(16 June 2006)


Saudi Arabia’s Growing List of New Friends

V. Balaji Venkatachalam, Arab News
...The expanding of Saudi relations to new geographic territories [such as China and India] was elicited by the Iraq issue, the unreservedly bad treatment of prisoners of war by the US in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, consequent growing Islamic jihadi attacks around the world and the growing resentment in the Muslim world against the West, the increasing death toll of Iraqi civilians in a war that doesn’t seem to end and, last but not the least, the political and economic embargo faced by the Palestinians.

Concerned over the increasing calls for protectionism in the US and the recent Dubai Ports imbroglio, Saudi Arabia isn’t sure how much longer it can count on the US as a favorable destination for its investments from oil revenue. Likewise, the recent call by President Bush to reduce America’s dependence on Middle Eastern oil in the coming decade explains the Kingdom’s new links with China and India as a logical progression after 9/11. American imports of Saudi oil have been falling since the invasion and occupation of Iraq. In his State of the Union Address in January 2006, Bush called for a need to minimize America’s dependence on oil from Saudi Arabia and the Middle East.

At the same time, Saudi Arabia is seeking new markets for its oil and new opportunities for its trading outfits, while China and India are on the prowl for new sources of oil and new customers for their accelerating industrial output. It was not without reason that the King Abdullah made a concerted effort to forge cooperation in energy sectors in both the countries during his visit. This in turn would have the long-term effect of putting into place a steady crude-supply chain, providing some measure of security to Saudi Arabia’s crude markets.

One of the strategic objectives of Saudi Arabia is to shift its economic focus from the developed West to the emerging economies of Asia, primarily in the interest of long-term market stability. King Abdullah’s visit is a major step in the process of a calibrated weakening of US-Saudi economic and political ties..

The author heads the research department in Forbes Arabia and the views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, Forbes Arabia or DIT Publishing.
(15 June 2006)


Quebec unveils carbon tax

RHÉAL SÉGUIN, Globe and Mail
Province hopes levy on oil and gas firms will put $1.2-billion toward its Kyoto goals
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QUEBEC — Quebec plans to adopt tough vehicle emissions standards and will become the first province to levy a "carbon tax" on oil and gas companies as part of an ambitious plan to fight global warming.

The tax will raise about $200-million a year over six years, provincial government officials said yesterday, and will finance a $1.2-billion Green Fund to make reductions in greenhouse gas emissions called for under the international Kyoto accord.

Environmental groups welcomed the measures, but a petroleum industry spokesman said the tax will be passed on to consumers.

Quebec Premier Jean Charest and Environment Minister Claude Béchard said that from 2006 to 2012, the province will tax oil and gas companies for hydrocarbon products sold in bulk to retailers -- non-renewable fossil fuels such as heavy oil, gas, natural gas and propane
(16 June 2006)

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