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Power Plays
by Mathew Maavak
August 24, 2004

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Were you surprised at the turn of events these past few weeks?

Speculations over the imminent capture of High Value Targets (HVTs) sometime around the Democratic National Convention proved to be prophetic. Quite a number were bagged in what looked like a pan-global anti-terror coup. One of them was Qari Saifullah Akhtar, who was arrested in Dubai. He supposedly ran a terror camp near Kabul that once trained “3,500 men in combat skills, assassination and kidnapping.” That would mean a high number of “terrorists” still on the loose. Scores of operatives were nabbed in Pakistan and the United Kingdom, and once again the White House can claim to have thwarted another terror attack. There is a subtle utility about arrests conducted abroad, by independent allies. In the minds of casual observers, they can deflect, at first glance, any linkages with the November presidential polls in the United States, making it more of a genuine cooperative breakthrough than a political ploy. The fact is most of the intelligence in this latest sweep came from stale pre-9/11 data.

The arrests came two or three days later than predicted, and there was no avoiding this development for too long. John Kerry’s approval rating was rising during the convention and since he put up a better show than expected, remedial measures had to be taken.

The terror web spun by these detainees, the interchangeability of their roles and identities, their interwoven memberships at several terror organizations – all of which come in literal shibboleths - reflect the overload of plots, sub plots, hypothesis and conspiracy theories over 9/11. It will surely put off many who’d prefer a more simplified version spun by the mega media. Some reports were truly labyrinthine. Upon reading them, one would assume that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Osama Bin Laden and Ayman Al-Zawahiri, and a few others are playing musical chairs to claim the mastermind role for 9/11.

Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan, a 25-year-old Pakistani, was nabbed in a July 13 raid in Lahore. This Al Qaeda computer expert became turncoat by emailing many of his compatriots, leading to their capture, most notably that of Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a Tanzanian with a $25 million bounty on his head for his role in the 1998 bombings of US embassies in East Africa. Ask yourself whether others, who were captured earlier, didn’t use any email for communications, and why their comrades weren’t tracked down in a similar fashion.

The top gun himself, predictably, as the story goes, had stopped using electronic communications long back. He prefers to send and receive missives through human couriers. If that is the case, there must a standby Pony Express to tip him off, and a horse faster than the Lone Ranger’s Silver for him to ride into the sunset. With so many Al Qaeda operatives detained, this man still manages to avoid capture and agonizingly prolong the War on Terror. Logically, the hunter should move from the periphery to the center of the web. That’s where the spider is. It gets easier when many of those captured long back were not really from the periphery.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf called the arrests “unprecedented” and “90 pc successful.” In one report, this was taken to mean that an astounding 90pc of Al Qaeda militants had been captured (Reuters, Aug 10).

If true, that leaves out you know who, whose time must have been up. With the game nearing its glorious culmination, Khan’s name was leaked to the public, exposing his role as a double agent. It scuppered a golden opportunity to end this charade. Are we tempted to sense an end soon?

The “structurally defective” National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice had to weave another spin. The White House had to balance between the known knowns of public disclosure and the unknown unknowns of its repercussions. It finally decided that alerting bin Laden to the identity of this mole wasn’t a bad idea. The public will understand if he evades capture yet again, after this disclosure. The Pakistanis were furious, giving the impression that they were close to the quarry, if not for the leak.

With some bad guys on the lam, Bush and Co were justified in raising another big-time terror alert. By now, it is difficult to enumerate all of them, though fluctuating poll ratings would give historians a correlative clue 100 years from now. The alleged targets this time were the mega symbols of capitalism - the Citigroup Center, New York Stock Exchange, Prudential, International Monetary Fund and the World Bank buildings in Newark, New Jersey and Washington DC. The show of force around these landmarks may have melted a few capitalist hearts to heft in contributions into Bush's electoral war chest, something even multiple threats against nuclear power plants can’t do. (That can come later, when the chest is filled to the brim, a few days before elections). Think of the visual effect of this spectacle on common citizens. Hawk-eyed heavily armed guards ringing these buildings are indeed reassuring, especially at a time of depressing economic news.

According to an op-ed by William F. Buckley Jr, the arrests in Pakistan “delivered the plotters” and “saved the day”. The terrorists were targeting prime aortas of global capitalism. The US, according to Buckley, have already won one war in Afghanistan and are on the way of winning another in Iraq. He may be right. The leaders of these two sovereign states prefer US bodyguards to local ones, after those resounding shock and awe shows. He adds, “perhaps the day after tomorrow, we will locate Osama bin Laden and fire a fine retributory bullet to take him to his dream world.” Bin Laden is not the only dreamer. George W. Bush keeps raving about his divine mission. In between there are those like Buckley who somnambulate through the alleys of high journalism.

Here is another puzzling statement by Buckley: “Tehran is a threatening power center, and we need to face its gestating nuclear armory with strategic vision. But Iran does not want a showdown with the United States hanging on a bomb going off at Prudential headquarters in New Jersey.”

You can call this “pre-emptive spin.” The next time a bomb goes off, at an appropriate time, US soldiers will be battling their way to Teheran. Wasn’t Saddam blamed for 9/11?

Surging oil prices and a deteriorating US economy provided the other part of this drama.

Iraq, the hurricanes off the Gulf of Mexico, continuing instability in oil rich West Africa, the Yukos crisis in Russia, China’s unquenchable thirst for oil and even an explosion at the Whiting, Indiana refinery – the third largest in the US - were threatening to send oil into the $50 dollar level within no time. Truce negotiations were initiated with rebel cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, while his Mehdi Army was battling US troops in the Najaf cemetery and the Imam Ali mosque (where some of the militants are holed up). It was a fine power play. While the cannon fodders fight, their leaders negotiate. Al-Sadr can be liquidated, or captured, after a little stability returns to the global oil supply.

There was a little surprise as well. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez became an unlikely savior when he won the recent referendum. Chavez announced, quite correctly, that his government was “the only one that guarantees oil stability.” Oil prices eased from its threat of breaching $47 per barrel on Monday.

Chavez, if he sticks to his social plans, is living on borrowed time. He has raised the elite’s wrath by redistributing land to Venezuela’s impoverished masses, and is attempting to create an economic model that balances equitability, profitability, mobility and freedom. Brute control is easier in stratified societies. To make things worse, Chavez wants to raise Venezuela’s share of its oil sales to 30 per cent instead of the current 16 percent to fund his social programs. (Oil giants get the lion’s share).

The transformation of Col Muammar Qadhafi from a terrorist Bedouin to a peaceable statesman now makes solid sense in retrospect. Libya sits on 35 billion barrels of oil reserves. It is of a variety that can be cheaply converted into gasoline and, due to its geography, shipping will come easy. The Americans are returning with a vengeance, with their drilling tools poised to bore into the Libyan soil, instead of the bombs of an unenlightened era.

Runaway oil prices and a slew of bad financial news can pave way for an economic model our transnational thieves would approve. If things get worse, the elite can negotiate a new social contract, extirpating many of the rights workers had fought for decades. After 9/11 there was a global erosion of freedom, embodied by the US Patriot Acts. While terror can be mentally consigned to the distant lands, and distant repercussions, ravaged peritoneal cells can make anyone think with his stomach, making compromises a necessity.

With fuel prices and the cost of commodities going up, it makes sense to get wired, to create a more service oriented economy. People who drive to the bank may find it more convenient and cost effective to conduct transactions online. Wired societies, with their broadband infrastructures already in place, are better poised to save costs in the days to come as opposed to manufacture-reliant societies. Getting wired, though, comes with a hidden cost. We get sucked into the Panopticon, ceding our privacy on top of our other social capitulations.

The dangers facing our world are getting more complex. US Treasury bills are being voraciously snapped up by Asian central banks, led by Beijing and Tokyo. These are causing concern ahead of the presidential elections. If these governments dump T-bills at one go, the effect can be catastrophic. Alan Greenspan isn’t very worried. It is for eventualities like this that US army bases are moving out of Germany into Eastern Europe, closer to future theatres of operations.

The power plays never cease.

Escalating violence in Iraq gives Bush a grand excuse to pin his troops there. To assuage an increasingly skeptical electorate, he will need to produce a few more HVTs, and possibly bin Laden himself, presumably a dead one, if he is not assured of victory. The known unknown is a terror strike on the scale of 9/11 that might help Bush at the hustings. Better yet, a foiled terror attempt of such magnitude. The public will be glad if no lives are lost this time due to another “structural defect.”

In November, Americans will be reminded of the pre-election Madrid bombings. There will be armed soldiers guarding installations, police manning checkpoints and fighters jets – that were missing on 9/11 - blazing through the skies. How convenient for the incumbent, even if they are necessary.

If Bush goes, we will still be the end losers. He can enjoy the comfortable confines of his dream world at Crawford Ranch; bequeathing us the mess he and his forerunners created. There will be future wars, lingering hatreds and greater instability due to the actions of this man. Many will still believe in his lies.

It happens all the time. Captains of the industry, when they know the game is up, deliver morale-boosting speeches before announcing their exit, flush with the expectations of prosperity elsewhere. They leave behind a battle of morsels among faces they will never remember.

Leaders are known to inspire a fight even after all hope is lost. I am reminded of Field Marshall Walther Model who realized the Third Reich’s devil pact a little too late. Faced with a possible court martial, subjugation by invading armies that were going to liberate Germany of its tyrants and gas chambers, and rape its womenfolk, he put a bullet into his head. But not before urging his soldiers to fight on. Some who did were the 12-year-old “Werewolves”.

Mein Ehre heisst Treue!

There is something about power. In its many manifestations, it’s a common human denominator that determines friendship, love, camaraderie, religion and ideology. When power shifts, so do values, convictions and morality. That’s the curse of the masses. You can throw them out, trample on them, restore them, and repeat this charade. Saddam knew this truth about Power and clung to it at all costs. He was rewarded with ostentatious shows of mass loyalty; there were smiles aplenty. You will find this prostitution of the soul everywhere, from a plush editorial to a decrepit office.

A long time back, in the same place where Iraqis and GIs are battling now, a king far greater than all our petty modern upstarts threw three men into a furnace for refusing to bow before his image. Everyone else did.

The three remained defiant, preferring death to compromise. And you know how the story of Nebuchadnezzar and Daniel’s friends ended, don’t you? Ever noticed those who impacted mankind’s course were history’s most defiant, right through danger and ridicule?

Mathew Maavak publishes an eclectic online journal called the Panoptic World ( He is a journalist based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. (C) Copyright 2004  Mathew Maavak.

Other Articles by Mathew Maavak

* Santa Claus is Coming to Town
* Quagmire of Blood, Oil, Sweat and Deceit
* Mission Creep: A Force for Global Stability