November 8, 1999


In order to understand what is happening in Chechnya, let us construct a hypothetical but similar and entirely plausible scenario and see how it plays it out much closer to home. Instead of south of the Volga, switch the locale to south of the Rio Grande.


Let Chechnya be Mexico, whose notoriously porous southern border with the United States has increasingly become the scene of killings, kidnappings, robberies, and organized incursions by armed guerrilla bands led by a mysterious "commandante" who styles himself Pancho Villa II. The Mexican authorities are virtually powerless to stop them, as chaos reigns in Mexico City: different factions are fighting for control of the central government and a leftist insurgency is taking root in the hills. As the death toll of Americans begins to climb, there is a public outcry: in response, the U.S. government declares a state of emergency in the southern border states and brings in the National Guard and the Army. The plan is to plug the gaping hole through which terrorists and bandits have been pouring, but this provokes a nationalist backlash in Mexico. The President of Mexico, newly elected from the ruling PRI, denounces this latest example of "racist Yankee imperialism," and plays the nationalist card against both the US and his domestic leftist opponents. But the anti-U.S. militants are not willing to be so easily outdone at their own game: suddenly, a series of bombs go off in Washington, New York, and Los Angeles/ Hundreds are killed and wounded. A shadowy leftist-sounding group that nobody ever heard of claims responsibility for the horrendous deed. The cry goes up from the American people: on to Mexico City! The question of what we would do with Mexico City once we took it is a question that, in the heat of the war hysteria, a good number of Americans failed to ask themselves, – but by the time rationality set in, and cooler heads prevailed, it was already too late.


What does any of this have to do with the Russian invasion of poor little Chechnya? The answer is: plenty. Substitute Mexico for Chechnya and Russia for the US and the above scenario is the history of the Caucasus region since the fall of the Soviet Union. The recent terrorist attacks on a Moscow apartment building, as well as in two other cities, in which hundreds were killed, has sparked an entirely justified outrage that, in Russia, translates into support for what is popularly seen as a just war. As a retaliatory strike against the depredations of ordinary bandits, it has the character of a police action, at least ostensibly undertaken with the legitimate purpose of protecting life and property. Using NATO-esque means, the Russians mean to pursue nationalist ends – and this is the real root of the moral outrage in the West.


Emboldened by last Thursday's statement by British Prime Minister Tony Blair, US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer calling for an end to the war, the Chechens have lost no time in appealing to the US for "humanitarian" intervention. The make-believe President of Chechnya, Aslan Maskhadov, was quick to declare that "the Chechen people have huge hopes that the United States will use its authority to defend human rights." Huge hopes, indeed – for a chance to be the next Kosovo, a NATO-Russian battleground, with local factions acting as proxies for one side or the other. This is the motivation behind the growing chorus for US military intervention to save "poor little Chechnya."


The grim joke is that there is nothing to save: in reality there is no such country as Chechnya, only a region inhabited by a bewildering variety of clans and sub-clans, including many nomads whose traditional lifestyle tends to disregard such intangibles as national borders. "President" Maskhadov has no control over the activities of local military "commanders," whose incursions into Russian territory have caused havoc and led to plenty of civilian casualties. But these are the sort of civilian casualties the Western media would rather not report: instead, they are content to focus on the suffering of Chechen refugees, whose tales of atrocities are uncritically reported as fact.


Where have we heard all this before? In Kosovo, of course, and not all that long ago. Even as the moral outrage over the alleged "atrocities" committed by the Russians begins to build, the real story of how the NATO-crats lied, faked photographs, and manipulated a willing media is beginning to come out in some detail. While US government officials were bandying about figures as high as one million Kosovars killed as a result of a deliberate Serb policy of "genocide," with the Western media echo chamber faithfully repeating these numbers, it turns out that the number of civilians killed is closer to 3,000 or less.. As even apologists for the exaggerated claims, such as John Swain in the Sunday Times of London, admit, the NATO-crats lied in order to stoke up the war hysteria and prop up popular support for the war.


Citing Emilio Perez Pujol, a Spanish forensic surgeon who has returned home from investigating alleged Serb war crimes in Kosovo on behalf of the International Tribunal, Swain acknowledges that Pujol's estimate could be a lot closer to the truth than the press releases dished out by NATO during the war: Pujol believes that as few as 2,500 civilians were killed. Sent to Kosovo as the head of a team of specialists, Pujol discovered that the search for mass graves was, as he puts it, "a semantic pirouette by the war propaganda machine, because we did not find one – not one – mass grave."


Working in the northern sector, the area where the Yugoslav assault began, Pujol's team could find no evidence of the mass graves announced by Christiane Amanpour on CNN – and cited by her husband, State Department spokesman James Rubin, as the "humanitarian" rationale for war – as fact. The closest they came was 97 bodies in a cemetery that exhibited "no signs of mutilation or torture, but rather death from shrapnel or bullets. I called my people together and said: 'We've finished here.' I informed my government and told them the real situation. We had found a total of 187 bodies, 97 in one place, eight in another, four in another and so on. Four or five had died from natural causes." He added: "A military action prejudices truth and I want to stress that trying to manipulate an international court does not benefit anyone."


But of course it does benefit someone, and that is the War Party. The history of atrocity-mongering and war propaganda is as old as war itself, and it is an art that has come to be practiced with some degree of skill in the modern era, as the Kosovo war demonstrated beyond all doubt. In an era of instantaneous communication and televised immediacy, media support is second only to air support as a military necessity – and is, at the very least, far more essential than congressional support. This is one of the great lessons of the Kosovo war and its aftermath: While Congress condemned the President's war policy, the media backed him up with endless loops of refugee footage, and hagiographic portraits of KLA "freedom fighters – and the latter clearly carried the day. This is why, when the Chechens show every sign of becoming the latest "humanitarian disaster," alarm bells ought to go off in the brains of every thinking person: that is the signal to turn on your skeptometer, plug in your bs-detector, and sniff the air for the familiar scent of lies emanating from the general direction of the "mainstream" media.


Just about the right degree of skepticism was exhibited by the response of the first deputy of Russia's general staff, Valery Manilov, who said: "To great misfortune, an entire series of statements by responsible Western leaders, including Albright, Blair, and others, are based on the so-called CNN effect. By their own admission, they formulate political positions on the basis of information that is not confirmed."


Be on your guard against the CNN Effect. We can see the effects of this pernicious syndrome in Kosovo and the former Yugoslavia. Before we turn the entire Caucasus region into a battlefield, and provoke Russia into a military confrontation, let us remember the lies of CNN and the complicity of the Western media in validating what turned out to be a gigantic hoax.


Let us be on guard, also, against taking sides in a battle where there don't seem to be any good guys. The Russians are no angels, but then neither are the various Chechen factions, including the Islamic fundamentalists who have infiltrated Chechnya from Afghanistan and even as far away as Jordan, and also the various local chieftains and "commanders" who owe nominal allegiance to a nonexistent national government, but act as independent warlords, battling each other as much as the Russians. The Russians have suffered an invasion of their province of Dagestan, which has been targeted by Islamic rebels for "liberation" – although the terrified Dagestanis show no sign of wanting to be "liberated" and desire only to be left in peace. Using bases in Chechnya, foreign fundamentalists have poured into Dagestan, killing, looting, and generally raising holy hell. The Russians, invoking their own version of the Monroe Doctrine, have moved to protect their southern border. The Chechnyan war is a strictly defensive measure that poses no danger to the national interests of the U.S. It does, however, pose a major danger to certain private interests – the kind that have plenty of clout in both major parties.


As I have discussed in this column before, the avid interest taken by Big Oil in what transpires in the Caucasus has been translated into official US government policy. As the Petroleum Economist [May 12, 1999] put it: "So important to US strategic interests has the Caspian become, that in July 1998, US President Bill Clinton created the Office of the Special Advisor to the President and the Secretary of State for Caspian Basin Energy Diplomacy. Ambassador Richard Morningstar was appointed to the office. As overseer of US policy in the region, he has strongly backed proposals to build a main exporting corridor for Caspian energy to the West." With the discovery of oil reserves in the Caspian Sea area that may rival or even dwarf the oil riches of the Arabian peninsula, the race to cash-in is underway, with American and British oil companies and their lobbyists in the lead. After much lobbying for government subsidies, loan guarantees, and contracts by the profiteers of the "Great Silk Road," and lots of squabbling over the exact route that the transshipment of Caspian oil would take, the first pipeline deal was finalized on the very day that Chechen President Maskhadov called on the Americans to assert their "authority" in the region. What a coincidence!


(Surely, it was a coincidence – don't you think? I mean, if it wasn't, then all those conspiracy theorists may have something on the ball – but, no, that couldn't possibly be right. Could it?)


From Baku, the capital city of Azerbaijan, to Ceyhan, a Turkish port on the Mediterranean, the pipeline is supposed to go through the territory of Georgia – a route fraught with danger and ominous implications for the entire region. For Georgia is torn by armed strife between the central government in Tbilisi, where the ex-Soviet Foreign Minister Shevardnadze clings to the Presidency, and at least two separatist insurgencies backed by elements within the Russian military. As the darling of Western liberals, and a favorite of the media, Shevardnadze has long been angling for Western support against his domestic opponents: with the construction of the pipeline, he may have planted the tripwire that will ensure Western military aid to his precarious regime.


And so all the elements for a major confrontation between nuclear-armed Russia and the US are being put in place: not only the "humanitarian" aspect of the coming war with Russia, but also the developing "national security" rationale. With billions of dollars invested in the area, including untold millions in US government subsidies, the building of the pipeline has suddenly become a matter of "the national interest" instead of just certain private interests.


Big Oil has its champions in both parties, but Dubya Is certainly that interest group's Great White Hope for the White House. He has solid links to the powerful and wealthy Azerbaijan lobby in Washington, which has been unusually visible and active. As Robert C. Butler put it in a piece posted on "It is clear that if George W. Bush, son of the former president and today governor of Texas, is nominated by the Republican Party and elected, then the international energy consortia will have a new friend in the White House and Azerbaijan will profit from the situation. Many of the advisors whom Bush has chosen for his campaign have in the past been either active advocates of close ties with Azerbaijan or have voted against maintaining Section 907 restrictions on US assistance to the country."


An international consortium made up of the biggest players, including Amoco, British Petroleum, Chevron, Exxon, Mobil and Unocal have led the lobbying effort that could draw the US deeply into an area of the world that may turn out to be the biggest quagmire of them all – and the most dangerous. Among the members of the Bush inner circle who are personally profiting from the Caspian gambit of the big oil companies are James Baker, Brent Scowcroft, Dick Cheney and John Sununu. On the Democratic side of the aisle, Caspian lobbyists include Lloyd Bentsen, former Treasury Secretary under President Clinton, and Zbigniew Brzezinski, former National Security Adviser under President Carter. The Brit contingent consists of Tim Eggar, former British Energy Minister and Malcolm Rifkind, former British Foreign Minister under the Conservatives. Don't look now, but the fix is already in.


As Christopher Hitchins wrote in an excellent article on the power and influence of the Azerbaijan lobby, in 1997: "It didn't take long for the lobby to start posting some impressive returns. Undersecretary of State Strobe Talbott, the point man on these matters, presented the administration's considered view last July. Speaking loftily about history, Talbott recalled the 'Great Game' of imperial manipulation that, 'fueled and lubricated by oil,' had mutilated the Caucasus in the 19th century. No more, he said, would this be the dynamic. Then, almost quickly enough to escape notice, he called for the immediate repeal of the relevant sections of the 1992 Freedom Support Act."


The Act forbids US foreign aid to tyrannical one-party states such as the one run by Azerbaijan's strongman Heydar Aliyev. The absolute ruler of oil-rich Azerbaijan is an ex-Communist and resident KGB officer in the region who seized power after the breakup of the Soviet Union: Aliyev has become the mini-Stalin of central Asia, with a one-party state and a cult of personality that goes beyond the parodic. As the central Asian version of the Emir of Kuwait, Aliyev is not exactly an inspiration to the worldwide U.S.-led movement for "democracy" Strobe Talbott and Madeleine Albright are always invoking.


However, the Western media can always be counted on to overlook that, just as they whitewashed the KLA – another Islamic "ally" in what is taking on all the characteristics of a US-Islamic jihad against Eastern Orthodoxy. First Serbia, and now Russia – in both instances the US is acting as the catalyst of a civilizational war that pits Christians against Muslims. What is the basis of this alliance budding alliance? It's very simple: money.


With the signing of the pipeline agreement scheduled for later this month in Istanbul, the alliance of Aliyev and Shevardnadze with Turkey and the OSCE, backed up by the US, is solidified – and here we enter into dangerous territory. The recent assault on the Armenian parliament and the assassination of several government officials, adds an ominous aspect to the developing crisis: with Armenia and Azerbaijan locked in eternal combat over the Nagorno-Karabakh question, the ire of Armenian separatists is bound to be taken out on the pipeline. Yet, the West is pledged to defend its investment. This will be done, at first , by Western proxies, such as the Georgians and the Azeris, and then perhaps by NATO troops – Shevardnadze has already added his country to the list of NATO applicants. Now that's what I call real NATO expansion – clear into the plains of central Asia!


Please do not misunderstand: Russian imperialism is very far from being a benevolent force. Not only that, but this war will be Russia's undoing. The Russian troops are young conscripts, ill-fed, ill-trained, and ill-inclined to fight. The Chechens, on the other hand, are highly motivated: they are fighting for their lives on their own territory. The Russians can take Grozny, but they can never hold it. The last Russian war to regain Chechnya ended in defeat, and that is likely to be the ultimate result of this latest misadventure – which seems, perversely, to be a bizarre attempt to avenge the "honor" of the Russian military, at least in part, and which will wind up achieving the exact opposite. With the question "who lost Chechnya?" feeding Russian nationalism and giving credence to all sorts of exotic and uniquely Russian conspiracy theories, the potential for trouble is endless – and Western intervention, even if only rhetorical, can only make a bad situation worse.


The smart thing to do would be to let the Russian generals lose Chechnya on their own, without any help from the West or its regional proxies. But too much is at stake – too much money – for such a laissez-faire approach to prevail. As in the Balkans, the soil of the Caucasus is rich with the blood of ancient ethnic and religious feuds, Add to this volatile mix the promise of great wealth, and the two necessary factors for war – hate and greed – are present in great abundance. Factor in the reality of a nuclear-armed Russia, and the growing Sino-Russian rapprochement, and what we are seeing in Chechnya (and in the Western response) makes war almost inevitable.


Unless all those alleged "isolationists" of the Republican Party step forward and stop the show – and I wouldn't count on it, looking at the resumes of top Bush advisors – the Caucasus is the next item on the interventionist agenda. With a controlling interest in both parties, the Caspian oil lobby rules. No matter who wins the White House (excepting Pat Buchanan), it won't be long before US troops are in Baku – guarding the pipeline from attack by Armenian rebels under the pretext of a "humanitarian" rescue of refugees.


The CNN Effect is powerful, and its hypnotic qualities are well-known. Yet it can be overcome by a kind of mental discipline, in which the willing suspension of disbelief is, itself, suspended, and everything is examined with extreme skepticism. That is what we have done from the beginning, on this site, when we questioned the charge of "genocide" leveled at the Serbs – and this is what we will continue to do. Our method is to question the conventional wisdom, challenge the ceaseless propaganda of the War Party, and expose the special interests that stand to profit – in dollars and in political power – from the interventionist policy of perpetual war for perpetual peace. From Chechnya to Kosovo to East Timor and beyond, we aim at bringing you the truth from the world's battlefields, unclouded by the prism of the "CNN Effect" – no matter how contrary to the received wisdom it may be.

Check out Justin Raimondo's article, “China and the New Cold War”

“Behind the Headlines” appears Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, with special editions as events warrant.

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Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of He is also the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement (with an Introduction by Patrick J. Buchanan), (1993), and Into the Bosnian Quagmire: The Case Against U.S. Intervention in the Balkans (1996). He is an Adjunct Scholar with the Ludwig von Mises Institute, in Auburn, Alabama, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Libertarian Studies, and writes frequently for Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is the author of An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (forthcoming from Prometheus Books).

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