Beware The Ides Of March
Soothsayer's warning before Julius Caesar was assassinated in
By Mathew Maavak
-- -- If Julius - regarded as one of the greatest Caesars - couldn’t
take note, the leader of the current superpower should. This March,
his actions may spark off a conflict from which the world might
There is no superstition needed for the coming month, as too many
converging forces are spiraling out of hand to tip the world into a
precipice burning in peak oil.
History was created on Jan 1 when Russia abruptly cut off gas
supplies to Europe for a day; a brutal reminder that the stakes in
the current game can be raised dramatically at will. It caught the
world by surprise, converted millions into news addicts and brought
about the realization that we are living on borrowed time, in an era
of strained energy resources.
Unless saner elements among the Bush administration prevail, the
next neocon project might involve playing Alexander the Great vs.
Persia. That ancient conquest took the Greeks right to the doors of
India, and history is repeating itself, except that it may have run
out of cycles by March, or culminate in a pact for a strategic
future in New Delhi.
In March, IAEA director Mohamed ElBaradei may summit the results
of his findings on Iran's nuclear program to the UN Security
Council. The United States will be pressing for sanctions, and it is
still unclear which way China or Russia may vote, though absention
is the most likely outcome. Either way, the neocons are already
prodding President George W. Bush along a unilateral path to
Undoubtedly, Iran's continued uranium enrichment program is a
destabilizing factor in the Middle East. It is not just Israel - the
only nuclear armed nation in the region- which may feel threatened.
The entry of a nuclear Iran would shift colossal power back to the
Persians, and in the long-run, enable it to control oil supplies in
The Iranians may feel justified in having nukes in a hostile
terrain; a feeling further amplified by the egregious policies of
successive US administrations. When there was time to engage, or
even congage (contain + engage), it preferred to concircle (contain
+ encircle) Tehran with sanctions. Instead of lending moral support
to the nascent democratic aspirations of Iranian youths - which
would have immensely benefited Washington - sanctions eventually
brought about Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the hardliner president who is
saber-rattling the Middle East of today.
Time for a regime change?
Unfortunately, the message is still not sinking in that Iran is
not Cuba. The Bay of Pigs is not the Straits of Hormuz. There, on an
island called Abu Musa, the Iranians have already deployed
sophisticated anti-ship missiles and artillery shells, trained on a
tiny gateway through which half of our global oil flows. In other
words, the Iranians can turn this vital oil route into a fiery
inferno and precipitate global economic pandemonium, should the US
embark on a unilateral action.
The Iranians can achieve this in many ways, even if its nuke
facilities are blasted to smithereens. Think of a few submerged oil
tankers blocking oil traffic to the rest of the world? There will be
no room for environmental cries here; they will drowned out by the
shrills of the global economy, choked right at the straits.
Tehran may call this a "military blunder," which, incidentally is
the title of a History Channel program on the controversial shooting
down of an Iran Air Airbus A300 on July 3, 1988, by the USS
Vincennes, exactly at the same spot. Close to 300 people died.
If controversy still dogs that incident today, another mission creep
in the middle east would flame justifications for any sort of
Iran's military retaliation would only need to disrupt oil
supply, not winning battles per se. It has other arsenals at
its disposal to achieve this target. In this game of brinkmanship,
tit for tat verbal provocations between Washington (and Tel Aviv)
and Tehran is enough to rattle stock market nerves, and major
industries are undoubtedly lobbying the White House right now to go
easy with the rhetoric. Only in this era of Peak Oil can verbal
threats be used so effectively as a weapon.
Tehran will have unusual allies in this case - the global
economy, major oil companies, financial institutions, Russia, China,
etc. In fact, the list stretches to anyone who stands to lose a job
or faces starvation after it gets "Mission Accomplished." And there
are tens of millions who might in an oil gutted world, all within
two or three months from the start of hostilities. What happens
after that could turn out to be a very bad nightmare.
Any sort of liberating, counter-terrorism or manufactured mission
will be both Pyrrhic and pyric, any way you look at it. China,
which, sources a significant amount of oil from Iran might be
tempted to flex its own muscles, the same way Imperial Japan raced
to the Dutch East Indies for oil when Pearl Harbor was still smoking
in ruins. Beijing doesn't have much of a strategic petroleum reserve
but it does have ample nuclear deterrent. In fact, Beijing will not
need a deep incursion southwards. Seizing Taiwan would do. Taipeh
has long-term oil contracts with certain Southeast Asian nations,
where they are mainly traded at a pittance compared to current
prices. Beijing will, of course, dispatch its navy to secure those
The Russians, on the other hand, may resort to an en passant
on its chessboard of energy geopolitics and catch many by surprise.
If the conditions are right, there is a possibility here of
Washington losing Japan and South Korea - due to is proximity to the
Siberian fields - to Moscow's orbit.
The ides of March are ominous. Military options will be grossly
Geopolitically, surgical strikes by US bombers or warships are a
ready-made gooey mess for the Persian Gulf, as they may have to
operate out of Arab soil or waters. The Iranians need only retaliate
against two or three major oil installations, besides sinking enough
tonnage to make the Straits of Hormuz perilous to navigation.
Letting loose a tiny armada of floating mines is another effective
answer. Employing a dirty nuke may make life rather inhospitable for
inhabitants and oil firms in this region.
As for "covert" strikes, any unusual activity on Iraqi soil will
be noted and passed on to the Iranians before it is time for
take-off. Battle-weary Iraqis know enough of warfare and logistics.
Turkey is a good lunching pad, if it relishes a Shabab-3 or two in
return, and so would Israel. The Central Asian nations are unlikely
to be a party to this charade, especially after the Russians have
reasserted a level of leverage there.
But the Persian menu also includes the proposed Iranian Oil
Bourse, which, is slated to begin operations in March. Oil can be
purchased and sold here in euros, just like in a stock exchange. It
is a monopoly up till now enjoyed by New York's NYMEX and London's
International Petroleum Exchange (IPE), both effectively owned and
operated by the same cartel, and both denominated in dollars.
Put it simply, the privilege of printing greenbacks so that other
nations can buy its oil in dollars is in jeopardy. Financially,
printing more dollars so that it can be exchanged for euros wouldn't
work either. Oil has been pegged to the dollar for decades. Oil
gives value to the dollar; without it the dollar doesn't have the
same fundamental strengths as the Swiss Franc. Some claim Saddam
Hussein became unpardonable and beyond redemption when he insisted
on euros for Iraqi oil sales. He got the currency wrong from October
2000 and a handsome profit till his Weapon for Messing up the Dollar
- the more realistic WMD - landed him Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The Iranians so far have not indicated whether they have come up
with an oil marker - a euro-denominated oil pricing standard - like
the dollar denominated West Texas Intermediate crude (WTI), Norway
Brent crude, and the UAE Dubai crude. That can wait till the Iranian
New Year on March 20, where oil markers, missiles, nukes and euros
can be unveiled amidst fireworks. The New Year is commonly referred
to as Norouz, the festival of spring. It is the day of the
That soothsayer, if he were still around, may chuck equinoxes and
ides in favor of more modern terms like a Spring Offensive.
Guess where Bush is heading to in March? To India. Forget about
an overstretched US Army; this problem cannot be tackled militarily
unless our world population is comfortable with a looming $100-$300
Maybe, just maybe, there is a realistic long-term foreign policy
option on the cards, in case Iran maintains its nuclear posture.
Militarily, the game is effectively lost, and a visit to New Delhi
may have profound significance if the State and Defense departments
get their act right. India - the one-time democratic nemesis - is
now being seen as the only long-term reliable ally between Tel Aviv
and Tokyo. At least by more sensible foreign policy and defense
If Bush plays games there, the United States would find itself
totally isolated. It would be quite retarded to court New Delhi when
hostilities are commenced. The Indians had enough of Jihad jamborees
and wouldn't want to be seen as Washington's comrade in arms when
the first salvoes are fired in the Persian Gulf.
If Bush ever goes to India in March, there are plenty of
soothsayers around who can point to a new celestial axis, linking
Washington, Brussels, Tel Aviv, New Delhi, Tokyo and Canberra. There
are enough sympathetic nations in between. It's a viable pact in the
long run and these are democracies who share a level of empathy with
Washington. Again, the world has changed so much that there is only
scope here for genuine partnerships, not Big Brother games.
The current hypocrisy of engaging highly repressive regimes like
Saudi Arabia will have to be jettisoned and so do witless sanctions
or threats of force against Venezuela and Cuba.
There is no "freedom" credibility in these double standards and
that's why the United States continues to be seen as a rogue
superpower. Molly-coddling a nation that allegedly produced 15 of
the 19 Sept 11 hijackers and which continues to be a font of Al
Qaeda funding while ostracizing Cuba and Venezuela reeks of tyranny
instead of "freedom." The United States is not the only nation that
has crudely pandered to power at the expense of freedom abroad, but
it can realistically take a new path now. There is not much choice,
when options are seen through the prism of peak oil and energy
geopolitics. In the meantime, Washington will have to reign in both
Israel and Hamas in search of a viable, long-term solution in the
There are nations where rapprochement will be rewarded with
friendship and even democracy - where it is missing - down the lane.
You can never get that out of Riyadh and the White House should take
note that democracy is more practiced in Tehran than much of
the Middle East. The two exceptions are Lebanon and Israel.
Confronting Iran militarily would really look bad. It will also
rally Persians of all political persuasions into a fiercely
nationalist reprisal and that will not die down too easily.
Make no mistake about that.
A rationale US foreign policy still looks like a busted,
smoldering pipe dream. Till March, however, there is yet a little of
hope of lighting Havana cigars instead of a global bonfire.
But that would involve tightening the belt, strengthening the
fundamentals of the dollar and engaging genuine democracies and
non-hostile regimes in the long run. So far, that's been an anathema
to successive US administrations but if a new start is imperative,
it is now.
If the neocons prevail in casting their war spell on Bush, the
ides of March will surely herald a global scourge.
Mathew Maavak is currently a visiting fellow at Jakarta's
Centre for Strategic and International Studies.
Jakarta, Feb 7, 2006
Copyright @ Mathew Maavak 2006
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