Conspiracy is going mainstream. On the morning of January 8 Paula Zahn of CNN went into wide-eyed mode as she parleyed with Richard Butler, former head of the UN inspection team in Iraq, latterly part of the wipe-out-Saddam lobby and now on the CNN payroll. They were discussing the hot book of the hour, ”Bin Laden, la verite interdite” (”Bin Laden, the forbidden truth”), by Jean-Charles Brisard and Guillaume Dasquie. It’s just appeared in Paris.
ZAHN: Start off with what your understanding is of what is in this book — the most explosive charge.
BUTLER: The most explosive charge, Paula, is that the Bush administration — the present one, just shortly after assuming office slowed down FBI investigations of al Qaeda and terrorism in Afghanistan in order to do a deal with the Taliban on oil — an oil pipeline across Afghanistan.
ZAHN: And this book points out that the FBI’s deputy director, John O’Neill, actually resigned because he felt the U.S. administration was obstructing…
BUTLER: A proper…
ZAHN: … the prosecution of terrorism.
And that’s only the tip of the iceberg. From the American Patriot Friends Network, through BuzzFlash (which seems to have an umbilical cord to the Democratic National Committee) to ultra-left sites there’s a menu of conspiracy charges that would sate the most indefatigable gourmand. To cite a by-no-means complete list, we have the charges noted above; we also have foreknowledge by the Bush administration of the 9/11 attacks, with a deliberate decision to do nothing to thwart the onslaughts.
What else? We have the accusation that members of the US intelligence community, posibly in league with Bush-related business operatives, used their advance knowledge of the attacks to invest large sums in “put options”, gambling on the likelihood that the stock value of United Airlines and American Airlines would plummet in the wake of the suicide attacks.
Don’t stop there! The internet boils with accusations that US fighter planes were ordered to stand down on September 11, although there was a possibility these planes could have intercepted and downed the suicide planes.
Then there’s the role of oil. Quite properly, Americans always relish charges that Big Oil is up to no good, and this appetite is being assiduously catered to. There are plenty of columns imparting the news that the war in Afghanistan is “all about oil”. From this premise flow torrents of speculation of the sort made by the two Frenchman cited above.
The trouble with many conspiracy theories is that they strain excessively to avoid the obvious. Namely:
Both under Bush’s and Clinton’s presidencies the US has been eager since the fall of the Soviet Union to find some way to assist the hopes of US oil companies and pipeline companies to exploit the oil resources of the Asian republics, most notably reserves in western Kazakhstan. Similarly consistent has been the US’s desire not to have oil from Kazakhstan pass through Russia. Until US-Iranian relations are restored that has left the option of a pipeline from Kazakhstan westward through Azerbaijan to Cheyhan on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey or a pipeline south through Afghanistan to a Pakistani port.
In tandem with these hopes to ship out Kazakh oil has been the desire to get a regime in Afghanistan sufficiently stable to allow Unocal to build its line, and sufficiently deferential to the US to arrest or at least boot out Osama bin Laden. US relations with the Saudis were as always predicated on the paramount necessity of ensuring the stability of the regime without burdening it with unpalatable demands. If history is any guide a lot of this diplomacy was doubtless clumsily done, in alternations between proffers of carrots and threats of the stick.
But does this mean that the US went to war in Afghanistan “for oil”? Surely not. If stability was the goal, then war was a foolish option. Indeed, both the Clintonoids and the Bushies saw the strongmen of the Taliban as the best hope. The Bush regime hastened into war because America had sustained the greatest massacre on its soil since Pearl Harbor, and Bush and his advisers faced the political imperative of finding an enemy at top speed on which to exact dramatic vengeance.
This isn’t to say there weren’t hawks inside the Bush administration who were lobbying for plans to overthrow the Taliban in early summer, plans of which the Taliban became aware, possibly conniving at the September 11 attacks in consequence.
As for all those mad theories about permitting the September 11 attacks to occur, or about remote control planes: they seem to add up to the notion that America’s foes are too incompetent to mount operations unaided by US agencies, or that agencies aren’t vast, bumbling bureaucracies quite capable of ignoring or discounting warnings of an attack.
But there is considerable wheat among the chaff. It’s true that someone gambled on those put options, that the profits from that gamble have remained uncollected and that “Buzzy” Krongard is an interesting character who did go from the post of vice-chairman of Banker’s Trust/A.B.Brown (now owned by DeutscheBank) which handled many of the put option bets, to the CIA of which he is now executive director.
It is true that the CIA ushered bin Laden into Afghanistan and it is true that the CIA was complicit in Afghanistan’s emergence in the 1980s as the West’s leading supplier of opium and morphine, just as the Agency helped construct the cave redoubts of Tora Bora. The US taxpayers underwrote that construction, just as they’re underwriting the destruction.
That’s not conspiracy-mongering. That’s true.