W's Oil Warriors
George Szamuely
New York Press


The selection of Dick Cheney as George W.'s runningmate should have come as no surprise. Almost everyone around Dubya is dedicated to the worthy cause of fattening America's corporations. What is particularly interesting about Cheney is that if he does indeed become vice president, there is a real prospect of the United States blundering its way into war. Bush's Vulcans are as demented as Madeleine Albright when it comes to bullying the rest of the world. Unlike the Hideous Harridan, however, they are mostly interested in money.

Take Dick Cheney. In 1995, without any kind of a background in the oil industry, he was appointed chairman and CEO of Halliburton, the world's largest oil-field services company. As company president David J. Lesar explained: "Dick gives us a level of access that I doubt anyone else in the oil sector can duplicate." He sure did. In no time at all, he joined the chorus of Bush administration alumni rhapsodizing about the oil treasures of the Caspian Sea and singing the praises of Azerbaijan's obnoxious President Heydar Aliyev. Aliyev is the one who doles out the licenses to the oil companies.

Former Bush National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft collected $130,000 as a consultant to Pennzoil. Former Secretary of State James Baker's law firm represents the Azerbaijan International Operating Company (AIOC) – an $8 billion oil consortium consisting of the world's leading oil companies, including Pennzoil, Exxon and BP Amoco. Former White House Chief of Staff John Sununu's management consulting firm, JHS Associates, does business with the Azerbaijan government.

As I have written before, the supposed wealth underneath the Caspian is just the most recent fool's gold of American capitalism. Allegedly, there are up to 200 billion barrels of oil lying there – a $4 trillion bonanza for the petroleum industry. The Caspian, however, is landlocked. Building a 1000-mile pipeline from the Azerbaijani capital of Baku to the Turkish port of Ceyhan on the Mediterranean, which the Clinton administration has been urging for years, is an expensive undertaking – estimated to cost something like $4 billion.

As is usually the way with America's entrepreneurs, the last thing they want to do is take risks. Losses are for taxpayers, not shareholders. What the companies are after are U.S. government-backed loans and financial assistance. Unfortunately, Article 907 of the 1992 Freedom Support Act bars the U.S. government from offering economic assistance to Azerbaijan as long as it maintains its embargo against the Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh.

This is where Cheney and the other Bushies come in. They have tirelessly pleaded with Congress to repeal this provision. In the meantime, the "neoconservative" faction among Dubya's advisers has also gone oil-crazy. A few months ago, Paul Wolfowitz, the likely national security adviser in a Bush administration, seemed unable to control his enthusiasm as he introduced Heydar Aliyev to an audience. Wolfowitz is a man who has never come across a U.S. bombing that he thought was intense enough. Here was this super-Cold Warrior drooling that Aliyev "became a member of the Soviet Politburo in 1978, and was promoted to full membership in 1982 during the Andropov era. He was the only Azerbaijani leader ever to hold such a high position." Gosh! What a man! It turns out that this sinister Soviet apparatchik "is a good friend to America and a good friend to NATO. Section 970 [sic] of the Strategic Act prevents American aid to Azerbaijan. It will be a great test of diplomacy for our next president to remove that section from law." So we know what the first priority of a Bush administration will be: make sure that the oil industry is well looked after.

Many of George W.'s advisers – Dick Cheney, Richard Armitage, Richard Perle – are members of the U.S.-Azerbaijan Chamber of Commerce, whose business is to encourage U.S. investment there. And for good measure, another adviser, Dov Zakheim, is a board member of the U.S.-Azerbaijan Council. Perle is a fervent advocate of American military involvement on behalf of the oil industry in the Caspian. According to Perle, the United States must win the support of the Muslims of the region by taking a hard line with the Russians on Chechnya.

Dick Cheney's Halliburton has interests besides oil. Its subsidiary, Brown & Root Services, provides housing, food, transport and mail delivery to U.S. troops in the Balkans to the tune of $180 million per year. Former Secretary of State George Shultz is also advising Bush. Shultz's Bechtel is one of the largest international construction companies in the world. Currently, it is building a motorway connecting northwestern inland Croatia with its coastal southern regions. The road is to be a part of the Adriatic or southern highway running from Turkey through Greece, Albania, Montenegro to Croatia and Italy. Clearly somebody profited from the breakup of Yugoslavia. Recently, PSG International, jointly owned by Bechtel and GE Capital Structured Finance Group, signed an agreement with the government of Turkmenistan to build a $2.5 billion trans-Caspian pipeline that would extend from Turkmenistan to Turkey via the Caspian Sea, Azerbaijan and Georgia.

Read George Szamuely's Antiwar.com Exclusive Column

Archived Columns by George Szamuely from the New York Press

W's Oil Warriors

Rupert's Hillary

The Veep's No VIP

Hollow Mexico

Death of Innocents

NATO's Home Free

Poll Attacks

Israel's Powerful Friends

Defense Against What?

God Bless Rehnquist!

Long, Hillary Summer

Communicating Power

Law as Ordered

What Threat?

Peculiar Yet Brave

Closed to Debate

Arrogance of Power

Prison Love

Gore's Oil

Rough Justice

Race Race

Al the Coward

Intruder Alert

McCain's Money

Haider Seek

Out of Africa

Prosecute NATO

Villain or Victim?

Intervention, Immigration, and Internment

Home-Grown Terrorism

Who Benefits?

Laws of Return

Embassy Row

Selling Snake Oil

Chinese Puzzle

That Was No Lady, That Was the Times

The Red Tide Turning?

Pat & The Pod

United Fundamentalist States

Let Them All Have Nukes!

Liar, Liar

Gangster Nations

Puerto Rico Libre – and Good Riddance

Leave China Alone

A World Safe for Kleptocracy

Proud To Be Un-American

All articles reprinted with permission from the New York Press

Now, all this business of bombing countries so that Bechtel can then help reconstruct them, or sending in troops so that Brown & Root can make a few bucks equipping them, or expanding NATO so that Boeing – under challenge from Europe's Airbus – can maintain its profit margins, or pushing Russians out of their backyard so that BP Amoco and Pennzoil can collect handsome dividends, is likely to antagonize other countries, most notably Russia. A George W. administration, an unashamed front for the corporations, will give us the war Perle and Wolfowitz have been pining for.

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