A “Routine” U.S. Coast Guard “Mission” in “the Gulf”
Just when I thought the news couldn’t get any stranger three weeks ago, I saw the following Associated Press (AP) headline on Yahoo News: “U.S. Coast Guard Fires on Iranian Boat in Gulf.”
The Coast Guard? My initial reaction was naïve. “What,” I thought, “is the Iranian Navy doing in the Gulf of Mexico?”
Then I caught myself, realizing that the “gulf” in the story had to be the Persian Gulf, more than 5000 miles from the eastern coast of the U.S.
Of course. On Wednesday, August 27, 2014, the AP reported, U.S. Coast Guard patrol boat Monomoy fired “in self-defense” on an Iranian dhow in the Persian Gulf.
A dhow is not a military vessel. “Dhows,” the AP reported, “are traditional wooden boats common to the region that are typically used for trade.”
The Pentagon claimed that someone on the dhow had aimed a weapon at the Monomoy while the Coast Guard ship was performing “a routine maritime mission” in “the Gulf”
The Persian Gulf, that is.
“Off the Coast of China, That is”
Imagine, if you will, the response in Washington and the U.S. media if a Russian or Chinese military vessel of any kind, much less a Russian or Chinese “coast guard” ship, were on “a routine maritime mission” off any U.S. coast. No shots would be required to spark a firestorm of U.S. rage at the affront to (U.S. of) “American sovereignty.”
I am reminded of something Noam Chomsky wrote two years ago, commenting on U.S. plans (subsequently carried out) to conduct major naval exercises just off China’s coast:
“There is …concern [in Washington] about the growing Chinese military threat. A recent Pentagon study warned that China’s military budget is approaching ‘one-fifth of what the Pentagon spent to operate and carry out the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,’ a fraction of the U.S. military budget…China’s expansion of military forces might ‘deny the ability of American warships to operate in international waters off its coast,’ the New York Times added.”
“Off the coast of China, that is; it has yet to be proposed that the U.S. should eliminate military forces that deny the Caribbean to Chinese warships. China’s lack of understanding of rules of international civility is illustrated further by its objections to plans for the advanced nuclear-powered aircraft carrier George Washington to join naval exercises a few miles off China’s coast, with alleged capacity to strike Beijing.”
“In contrast, the West understands that such U.S. operations are all undertaken to defend stability and its own security. The liberal New Republic expresses its concern that ‘China sent ten warships through international waters just off the Japanese island of Okinawa.’ That is indeed a provocation — unlike the fact, unmentioned, that Washington has converted the island into a major military base in defiance of vehement protests by the people of Okinawa. That is not a provocation, on the standard principle that we own the world” (emphasis added).
The hypocritical “double-standard” is self-evident. Beneath the contradiction lay the consistent single-standard U.S.-imperial maxim: “we own the world.”
Oil, Imperially Understood
What, you might ask, are U.S. military ships of any kind (much less “coast guard” cutters) doing in the Persian Gulf, nestled above the Indian Ocean? It’s about fossil fuels. The Persian Gulf basin is home to roughly two-thirds of the planet’s known petroleum reserves. The gulf borders six nations among the world’s top eleven oil producers – Saudi Arabia (#2), Iran (4), Iraq (7), United Arab Emirates (8), and Kuwait (11). The region’s status as the world’s energy heartland has long given the region utmost strategic significance to U.S. imperial planners. According to the 1980 U.S. Carter Doctrine, the regular and large-scale shipment of Persian Gulf oil is “a vital interest of the United States.” Arguing that this critical “national interest” was endangered by the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan (undertaken in December of 1979) and the Iranian Revolution, U.S. President Jimmy Carter told Congress that the U.S. would employ “any means necessary, including military force,” to keep Persian Gulf petroleum flowing.
But it’s about more than keeping the oil and gas coming to the U.S. Washington has long paid rapt attention to the Persian Gulf because of U.S. planners’ desire to control other rich nations. In 1945, as the U.S. was replacing the United Kingdom as the leading imperial power in the Middle East, the U.S. State Department noted that the region’s unmatched oil reserves were a “a stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in history.” That “prize” has long been understood by U.S. planners to be “a lever of ‘unilateral world domination,’” giving its master “veto power” over other industrial states and “funneling enormous wealth to the U.S. in numerous ways.” U.S. policymakers have long prized domination of Middle Eastern oil as a bargaining chip with more oil-dependent regions like Western Europe and East Asia, the leading challengers to U.S. economic power.
Owning the oil-rich Middle East is about owning the world. And that helps U.S. explain why Washington’s obsession with the region survives the United States’ claim to be approaching “national energy independence” (an admittedly meaningless phrase) and the nation’s emergence last June as (according to the International Energy Agency) “the world’s biggest producer of oil and natural gas liquids.”
When Carter proclaimed his doctrine, the U.S. had relatively few forces in around the Persian Gulf. By February 1998, however, seven years after the one-sided imperial slaughter of Iraqis known in U.S. History texts as “The First Persian Gulf War,” and seven years into U.S.-led “economic sanctions” that killed at least half a million Iraqi children, the Pentagon had installed 35,000 military personnel in the Persian Gulf region. U.S. soldiers, Marines, and airmen stood ready for action in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Diego Garcia, and Turkey. The deployment included more than 300 combat aircraft and 30 ships, including two giant aircraft carriers – the USS George Washington (with a crew of 5,500) and USS Independence (5,000).
Along with Washington’s massacre and murder of Iraqis and the United States’ long and transparently petro-imperial history of arming, funding, and otherwise supporting brutal and absolutist Middle East regimes and the racist anti-Arab/anti-Muslim occupation and apartheid state of Israel, this U.S. military presence in close proximity to Muslim holy sites helped explain the al Qaeda attacks of September 2001. Like earlier al-Qaeda actions, 9/11 was clearly and explicitly directed at Washington’s provocative imperial foothold in the region. It was a classic case of what CIA analysts had already identified forty-seven years before as imperial “blowback.”
The jetliner attacks were used by Washington as a pretext for the launching of a long and deadly U.S. jihad on the Muslim world. Washington’s brazen post-9/11 attempt to create an American caliphate in the Middle East included the arch-criminal U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, an action that was among other things an attempt to extend U.S. global hegemony by deepening Washington’s grip on the global oil spigot.
The madness continues. An unlucky thirteen years later, the U.S. has assembled a massive force of eight ships and more than 100 aircraft in the Persian Gulf for an air campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Iraq, itself a form of post-9/11 blowback. Obama addressed the nation last week, announcing his intention to bomb, missile- and drone-assault both Iraq and Syria to “degrade and ultimately destroy” ISIS.
Our Head-Choppers (Good) and Theirs (Bad)
The President is undertaking his escalation with majority support from a U.S. public nudged out of its opposition to further war by videos showing ISIS beheading two U.S. journalists somewhere in the Middle East. It matters not that Washington threatened the parents of one of the killed journalists (James Foley) with prosecution if they tried to raise money to purchase his life. It matters not that one of Washington’s key allies in the war on ISIS – Saudi Arabia (possibly the most reactionary government on Earth) – is a nation where execution by public beheading is a frequently carried out state policy.
The Obama administration claimed that the killing of Foley (a killing whose possible prevention the administration obstructed) was ISIS’s first “terrorist attack against our country.” The claim might seem odd since the murder took place thousands of miles away from U.S. soil, but the world must always be reminded that Uncle Sam owns it.
Yes, it’s true: that Washington’s “good friend” Saudi Arabia severs heads with impunity; that Washington’s ally Israel recurrently blows hundreds of Palestinian children to bits with self-righteous gusto; and that Washington’s terrorist attacks on the Middle East have killed, maimed, and displaced millions across the region. But so what? As George H.W. Bush proclaimed in the wake of the U.S. “turkey shoot” called Operation Desert Storm, “What we say goes.” There can be troubling questions for the world’s leading Mafia don.
As usual, it is largely about petroleum, As the incisive U.S. Left commentator Glen Ford notes, ISIS threatens to “consume the kings, Emirs and Sultans the U.S. depends on to keep the Empire’s oil safe” The U.S. prefers to dominate the region through proxies (including Saudi Arabia, the Arab Emirates, and Israel) and divide-and-rule. “The problem is,” Ford notes, “the Pentagon’s proxies are evaporating, in flight, or – in the case of Arab Iraq – growing ever more dependent on Iran and (who would have predicted it?) Russia, which is assisting in reconstituting the Iraqi air force.”
A Dangerous Illusion
“But,” you might still ask, returning to my opening incident, “the Coast Guard?” It turns out the U.S. Coast Guard (USGC) is more than a “U.S. coast guard.” According to the USCG’s mission statement three weeks ago: “For over two centuries the U.S. Coast Guard has safeguarded our Nation’s maritime interests in the heartland, in the ports, at sea, and around the globe” (emphasis added). (Follow this link for a detailed history of the USCG’s involvement in the “first Persian Gulf War.”)
It makes sense when you think about it. The United States is the first nation in the world to be literally born as empire – a self-described “infant empire” and “empire of liberty” from the very beginning. Emerging after WWII as world history’s first truly global superpower and emboldened by the collapse of the Soviet deterrent in the early 1990s, its imperial planners see the Black Sea (where U.S. warships currently provoke nuclear Russia), the South China Sea, the Persian Gulf and…name the international water as all part of the U.S. coast at the end of the day.
That’s how it is when you think you own the world. Perhaps the U.S. Coast Guard should join with NASA to take up positions in outer space.
Such global chutzpah is not without risk. As the late U.S. historian and foreign policy critic Gabriel Kolko reminded us more than once, Washington planners’ conceited belief that they can neatly manage the world’s affairs in U.S. and world interests from the banks of the Potomac has always been a great and dangerous illusion, with disastrous consequences at home and abroad. “What we say goes” is a lethal fantasy, full of hazard for (United States-of-) Americans themselves. Those who think and act like they possess the planet must always be on the watch for those eager to give them their comeuppance. Meanwhile Mother Earth is giving Homo sapiens no small just deserts for its U.S.-led petro-capitalist over-exploitation of her fossil fuels, so concentrated in the Middle East: an epic deterioration in the quality of life and the species’ life chances in coming years.