Pepe Escobar, Inside China’s “New Normal”

 

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Pepe Escobar

 

Sometimes this planet changes right under your nose and you still don’t notice.  This sentence, buried in a New York Times piece on the Greek debt crisis, caught my attention the other day: “Greece, meanwhile, has suggested that it could turn to Russia or China for help if its talks on debt relief and a rollback of austerity measures break down.”  Russia is, of course, an unlikely bulwark, being on distinctly shaky economic grounds itself right now, but I’m not surprised by the thought — at least from Syriza, the lefty party now in power in Greece.  But China?  Not since tiny Albania joined the Chinese camp in the Cold War have we seen a sentence that in any way resembled that one.  And yet it certainly catches something of the changing face of our planet.  After all, as time goes by, the magnetic power of the Chinese economy is moving ever closer to Europe.  Just two years ago, the Chinese became the Middle East’s largest trading partner, leaving the European Union in second place and the United States in third.  By then, China was already Africa’s largest trading partner, having displaced the U.S. some years earlier.

This may not be making headlines here, but it’s no small thing.  The economic rise of China, especially in areas where the U.S. had committed so much in blood, sweat, and drones, should take anyone’s breath away.  Fortunately, TomDispatch’s peripatetic Eurasian correspondent Pepe Escobar (the man who invented the termPipelineistanfor the web of energy conduits that crisscross that vast continental area) arrives in the nick of time to offer us a view from Beijing of an economy still staggeringly on the rise and the plans of the Chinese leadership, from Asia to Europe, for knitting together what, if it happened, might indeed someday be seen as a new world economic order. Tom

Year of the Sheep, Century of the Dragon?
New Silk Roads and the Chinese Vision of a Brave New (Trade) World
By Pepe Escobar

BEIJING — Seen from the Chinese capital as the Year of the Sheep starts, the malaise affecting the West seems like a mirage in a galaxy far, far away. On the other hand, the China that surrounds you looks all too solid and nothing like the embattled nation you hear about in the Western media, with its falling industrial figures, its real estate bubble, and its looming environmental disasters. Prophecies of doom notwithstanding, as the dogs of austerity and war bark madly in the distance, the Chinese caravan passes by in what President Xi Jinping calls “new normal” mode.

“Slower” economic activity still means a staggeringly impressive annual growth rate of 7% in what is now the globe’s leading economy. Internally, an immensely complex economic restructuring is underway as consumption overtakes investment as the main driver of economic development. At 46.7% of the gross domestic product (GDP), the service economy has pulled ahead of manufacturing, which stands at 44%.

Geopolitically, Russia, India, and China have just sent a powerful message westward: they are busy fine-tuning a complex trilateral strategy for setting up a network of economic corridors the Chinese call “new silk roads” across Eurasia. Beijing is also organizing a maritime version of the same, modeled on the feats of Admiral Zheng He who, in the Ming dynasty, sailed the “western seas” seven times, commanding fleets of more than 200 vessels.

Meanwhile, Moscow and Beijing are at work planning a new high-speed rail remix of the fabled Trans-Siberian Railroad. And Beijing is committed to translating its growing strategic partnership with Russia into crucial financial and economic help, if a sanctions-besieged Moscow, facing a disastrous oil price war, asks for it.

To China’s south, Afghanistan, despite the 13-year American war still being fought there, is fast moving into its economic orbit, while a planned China-Myanmar oil pipeline is seen as a game-changing reconfiguration of the flow of Eurasian energy across what I’ve long called Pipelineistan.

And this is just part of the frenetic action shaping what the Beijing leadership defines as the New Silk Road Economic Belt and the Maritime Silk Road of the twenty-first century. We’re talking about a vision of creating a potentially mind-boggling infrastructure, much of it from scratch, that will connect China to Central Asia, the Middle East, and Western Europe. Such a development will include projects that range from upgrading the ancient silk road via Central Asia to developing a Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar economic corridor; a China-Pakistan corridor through Kashmir; and a new maritime silk road that will extend from southern China all the way, in reverse Marco Polo fashion, to Venice.

Don’t think of this as the twenty-first-century Chinese equivalent of America’s post-World War II Marshall Plan for Europe, but as something far more ambitious and potentially with a far vaster reach.

China as a Mega-City

If you are following this frenzy of economic planning from Beijing, you end up with a perspective not available in Europe or the U.S. Here, red-and-gold billboards promote President Xi Jinping’s much ballyhooed new tagline for the country and the century, “the Chinese Dream” (which brings to mind “the American Dream” of another era). No subway station is without them. They are a reminder of why 40,000 miles of brand new high-speed rail is considered so essential to the country’s future. After all, no less than 300 million Chinese have, in the last three decades, made a paradigm-breaking migration from the countryside to exploding urban areas in search of that dream.

Another 350 million are expected to be on the way, according to a McKinsey Global Institute study. From 1980 to 2010, China’s urban population grew by 400 million, leaving the country with at least 700 million urban dwellers. This figure is expected to hit one billion by 2030, which means tremendous stress on cities, infrastructure, resources, and the economy as a whole, as well as near-apocalyptic air pollution levels in some major cities.

Already 160 Chinese cities boast populations of more than one million. (Europe has only 35.) No less than 250 Chinese cities have tripled their GDP per capita since 1990, while disposable income per capita is up by 300%.

These days, China should be thought of not in terms of individual cities but urban clusters — groupings of cities with more than 60 million people. The Beijing-Tianjin area, for example, is actually a cluster of 28 cities. Shenzhen, the ultimate migrant megacity in the southern province of Guangdong, is now a key hub in a cluster as well. China, in fact, has more than 20 such clusters, each the size of a European country. Pretty soon, the main clusters will account for 80% of China’s GDP and 60% of its population. So the country’s high-speed rail frenzy and its head-spinning infrastructure projects — part of a $1.1 trillion investment in 300 public works — are all about managing those clusters.

Not surprisingly, this process is intimately linked to what in the West is considered a notorious “housing bubble,” which in 1998 couldn’t have even existed. Until then all housing was still owned by the state. Once liberalized, that housing market sent a surging Chinese middle class into paroxysms of investment. Yet with rare exceptions, middle-class Chinese can still afford their mortgages because both rural and urban incomes have also surged.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is, in fact, paying careful attention to this process, allowing farmers to lease or mortgage their land, among other things, and so finance their urban migration and new housing. Since we’re talking about hundreds of millions of people, however, there are bound to be distortions in the housing market, even the creation of whole disastrous ghost towns with associated eerie, empty malls.

The Chinese infrastructure frenzy is being financed by a pool of investments from central and local government sources, state-owned enterprises, and the private sector. The construction business, one of the country’s biggest employers, involves more than 100 million people, directly or indirectly. Real estate accounts for as much as 22% of total national investment in fixed assets and all of this is tied to the sale of consumer appliances, furnishings, and an annual turnover of 25% of China’s steel production, 70% of its cement, 70% of its plate glass, and 25% of its plastics.

So no wonder, on my recent stay in Beijing, businessmen kept assuring me that the ever-impending “popping” of the “housing bubble” is, in fact, a myth in a country where, for the average citizen, the ultimate investment is property. In addition, the vast urbanization drive ensures, as Premier Li Keqiang stressed at the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, a “long-term demand for housing.”

Markets, Markets, Markets

China is also modifying its manufacturing base, which increased by a multiple of 18 in the last three decades. The country still produces 80% of the world’s air conditioners, 90% of its personal computers, 75% of its solar panels, 70% of its cell phones, and 63% of its shoes. Manufacturing accounts for 44% of Chinese GDP, directly employing more than 130 million people. In addition, the country already accounts for 12.8% of global research and development, well ahead of England and most of Western Europe.

Yet the emphasis is now switching to a fast-growing domestic market, which will mean yet more major infrastructural investment, the need for an influx of further engineering talent, and a fast-developing supplier base. Globally, as China starts to face new challenges — rising labor costs, an increasingly complicated global supply chain, and market volatility — it is also making an aggressive push to move low-tech assembly to high-tech manufacturing. Already, the majority of Chinese exports are smartphones, engine systems, and cars (with planes on their way). In the process, a geographic shift in manufacturing is underway from the southern seaboard to Central and Western China. The city of Chengdu in the southwestern province of Sichuan, for instance, is now becoming a high-tech urban cluster as it expands around firms like Intel and HP.

So China is boldly attempting to upgrade in manufacturing terms, both internally and globally at the same time. In the past, Chinese companies have excelled in delivering the basics of life at cheap prices and acceptable quality levels. Now, many companies are fast upgrading their technology and moving up into second- and first-tier cities, while foreign firms, trying to lessen costs, are moving down to second- and third-tier cities. Meanwhile, globally, Chinese CEOs want their companies to become true multinationals in the next decade. The country already has 73 companies in the Fortune Global 500, leaving it in the number two spot behind the U.S.

In terms of Chinese advantages, keep in mind that the future of the global economy clearly lies in Asia with its record rise in middle-class incomes. In 2009, the Asia-Pacific region had just 18% of the world’s middle class; by 2030, according to the Development Center of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, that figure will rise to an astounding 66%. North America and Europe had 54% of the global middle class in 2009; in 2030, it will only be 21%.

Follow the money, and the value you get for that money, too. For instance, no less than 200,000 Chinese workers were involved in the production of the first iPhone, overseen by 8,700 Chinese industrial engineers. They were recruited in only two weeks. In the U.S., that process might have taken more than nine months. The Chinese manufacturing ecosystem is indeed fast, flexible, and smart — and it’s backed by an ever more impressive education system. Since 1998, the percentage of GDP dedicated to education has almost tripled; the number of colleges has doubled; and in only a decade, China has built the largest higher education system in the world.

Strengths and Weaknesses

China holds more than $15 trillion in bank deposits, which are growing by a whopping $2 trillion a year. Foreign exchange reserves are nearing $4 trillion. A definitive study of how this torrent of funds circulates within China among projects, companies, financial institutions, and the state still does not exist. No one really knows, for instance, how many loans the Agricultural Bank of China actually makes. High finance, state capitalism, and one-party rule all mix and meld in the realm of Chinese financial services where realpolitik meets real big money.

The big four state-owned banks — the Bank of China, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, the China Construction Bank, and the Agricultural Bank of China — have all evolved from government organizations into semi-corporate state-owned entities. They benefit handsomely both from legacy assets and government connections, or guanxi, and operate with a mix of commercial and government objectives in mind. They are the drivers to watch when it comes to the formidable process of reshaping the Chinese economic model.

As for China’s debt-to-GDP ratio, it’s not yet a big deal. In a list of 17 countries, it lies well below those of Japan and the U.S., according to Standard Chartered Bank, and unlike in the West, consumer credit is only a small fraction of total debt. True, the West exhibits a particular fascination with China’s shadow banking industry: wealth management products, underground finance, off-the-balance-sheet lending. But such operations only add up to around 28% of GDP, whereas, according to the International Monetary Fund, it’s a much higher percentage in the U.S.

China’s problems may turn out to come from non-economic areas where the Beijing leadership has proven far more prone to false moves. It is, for instance, on the offensive on three fronts, each of which may prove to have its own form of blowback: tightening ideological control over the country under the rubric of sidelining “Western values”; tightening control over online information and social media networks, including reinforcing “the Great Firewall of China” to police the Internet; and tightening further its control over restive ethnic minorities, especially over the Uighurs in the key western province of Xinjiang.

On two of these fronts — the “Western values” controversy and Internet control — the leadership in Beijing might reap far more benefits, especially among the vast numbers of younger, well educated, globally connected citizens, by promoting debate, but that’s not how the hyper-centralized Chinese Communist Party machinery works.

When it comes to those minorities in Xinjiang, the essential problem may not be with the new guiding principles of President Xi’s ethnic policy. According to Beijing-based analyst Gabriele Battaglia, Xi wants to manage ethnic conflict there by applying the “three Js”: jiaowang, jiaoliu, jiaorong (“inter-ethnic contact,” “exchange,” and “mixage”). Yet what adds up to a push from Beijing for Han/Uighur assimilation may mean little in practice when day-to-day policy in Xinjiang is conducted by unprepared Han cadres who tend to view most Uighurs as “terrorists.”

If Beijing botches the handling of its Far West, Xinjiang won’t, as expected, become the peaceful, stable, new hub of a crucial part of the silk-road strategy. Yet it is already considered an essential communication link in Xi’s vision of Eurasian integration, as well as a crucial conduit for the massive flow of energy supplies from Central Asia and Russia. The Central Asia-China pipeline, for instance, which brings natural gas from the Turkmen-Uzbek border through Uzbekistan and southern Kazakhstan, is already adding a fourth line to Xinjiang. And one of the two newly agreed upon Russia-China pipelines will also arrive in Xinjiang.

The Book of Xi

The extent and complexity of China’s myriad transformations barely filter into the American media. Stories in the U.S. tend to emphasize the country’s “shrinking” economy and nervousness about its future global role, the way it has “duped” the U.S. about its designs, and its nature as a military “threat” to Washington and the world.

The U.S. media has a China fever, which results in typically feverish reports that don’t take the pulse of the country or its leader. In the process, so much is missed. One prescription might be for them to read The Governance of China, a compilation of President Xi’s major speeches, talks, interviews, and correspondence. It’s already a three-million-copy bestseller in its Mandarin edition and offers a remarkably digestible vision of what Xi’s highly proclaimed “China Dream” will mean in the new Chinese century.

Xi Dada (“Xi Big Bang” as he’s nicknamed here) is no post-Mao deity. He’s more like a pop phenomenon and that’s hardly surprising. In this “to get rich is glorious” remix, you couldn’t launch the superhuman task of reshaping the Chinese model by being a cold-as-a-cucumber bureaucrat. Xi has instead struck a collective nerve by stressing that the country’s governance must be based on competence, not insider trading and Party corruption, and he’s cleverly packaged the transformation he has in mind as an American-style “dream.”

Behind the pop star clearly lies a man of substance that the Western media should come to grips with. You don’t, after all, manage such an economic success story by accident. It may be particularly important to take his measure since he’s taken the measure of Washington and the West and decided that China’s fate and fortune lie elsewhere.

As a result, last November he made official an earthshaking geopolitical shift. From now on, Beijing would stop treating the U.S. or the European Union as its main strategic priority and refocus instead on China’s Asian neighbors and fellow BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, and South Africa, with a special focus on Russia), also known here as the “major developing powers” (kuoda fazhanzhong de guojia). And just for the record, China does not consider itself a “developing country” anymore.

No wonder there’s been such a blitz of Chinese mega-deals and mega-dealings across Pipelineistan recently. Under Xi, Beijing is fast closing the gap on Washington in terms of intellectual and economic firepower and yet its global investment offensive has barely begun, new silk roads included.

Singapore’s former foreign minister George Yeo sees the newly emerging world order as a solar system with two suns, the United States and China. The Obama administration’s new National Security Strategy affirms that “the United States has been and will remain a Pacific power” and states that “while there will be competition, we reject the inevitability of confrontation” with Beijing. The “major developing powers,” intrigued as they are by China’s extraordinary infrastructural push, both internally and across those New Silk Roads, wonder whether a solar system with two suns might not be a non-starter. The question then is: Which “sun” will shine on Planet Earth?  Might this, in fact, be the century of the dragon?

Pepe Escobar is the roving correspondent for Asia Times, an analyst for RT and Sputnik, and a TomDispatch regular. His latest book is Empire of Chaos. Follow him on Facebook by clicking here.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me, and Tom Engelhardt’s latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Copyright 2015 Pepe Escobar

Russia, China mock divide and rule

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BLOOD & OIL

By Pepe Escobar

 

ROME and BEIJING — The Roman Empire did it. The British Empire copied it in style. The Empire of Chaos has always done it. They all do it. Divide et impera. Divide and rule — or divide and conquer. It’s nasty, brutish and effective. Not forever though, like diamonds, because empires do crumble.

A room with a view to the Pantheon may be a celebration of Venus — but also a glimpse on the works of Mars. I had been in Rome essentially for a symposium — Global WARning — organized by a very committed, talented group led by a former member of European Parliament, Giulietto Chiesa. Three days later, as the run on the rouble was unleashed, Chiesa was arrested and expelled from Estonia as persona non grata, yet another graphic illustration of the anti-Russia hysteria gripping the Baltic nations and the Orwellian grip NATO has on Europe’s weak links.[1] Dissent is simply not allowed.

At the symposium, held in a divinely frescoed former 15th century Dominican refectory now part of the Italian parliament’s library, Sergey Glazyev, on the phone from Moscow, gave a stark reading of Cold War 2.0. There’s no real “government” in Kiev; the US ambassador is in charge. An anti-Russia doctrine has been hatched in Washington to foment war in Europe — and European politicians are its collaborators. Washington wants a war in Europe because it is losing the competition with China.

Glazyev addressed the sanctions dementia: Russia is trying simultaneously to reorganize the politics of the International Monetary Fund, fight capital flight and minimize the effect of banks closing credit lines for many businessmen. Yet the end result of sanctions, he says, is that Europe will be the ultimate losers economically; bureaucracy in Europe has lost economic focus as American geopoliticians have taken over.

Only three days before the run on the rouble, I asked Rosneft’s Mikhail Leontyev (Press-Secretary — Director of the Information and Advertisement Department) about the growing rumors of the Russian government getting ready to apply currency controls. At the time, no one knew an attack on the rouble would be so swift, and conceived as a checkmate to destroy the Russian economy. After sublime espressos at the Tazza d’Oro, right by the Pantheon, Leontyev told me that currency controls were indeed a possibility. But not yet.

What he did emphasize was this was outright financial war, helped by a fifth column in the Russian establishment. The only equal component in this asymmetrical war was nuclear forces. And yet Russia would not surrender. Leontyev characterized Europe not as an historical subject but as an object: “The European project is an American project.” And “democracy” had become fiction.

The run on the rouble came and went like a devastating economic hurricane. Yet you don’t threat a checkmate against a skilled chess player unless your firepower is stronger than Jupiter’s lightning bolt. Moscow survived. Gazprom heeded the request of President Vladimir Putin and will sell its US dollar reserves on the domestic market. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier went on the record against the EU further “turning the screw” as in more counter-productive sanctions against Moscow. And at his annual press conference, Putin emphasized how Russia would weather the storm. Yet I was especially intrigued by what he did not say.[2]

As Mars took over, in a frenetic acceleration of history, I retreated to my Pantheon room trying to channel Seneca; from euthymia — interior serenity – to that state of imperturbability the Stoics defined as aponia. Still, it’s hard to cultivate euthymia when Cold War 2.0 rages.

Show me your imperturbable missile

Russia could always deploy an economic “nuclear” option, declaring a moratorium on its foreign debt. Then, if Western banks seized Russian assets, Moscow could seize every Western investment in Russia. In any event, the Pentagon and NATO’s aim of a shooting war in the European theater would not happen; unless Washington was foolish enough to start it.

Still, that remains a serious possibility, with the Empire of Chaos accusing Russia of violating the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) even as it prepares to force Europe in 2015 to accept the deployment of US nuclear cruise missiles.

Russia could outmaneuver Western financial markets by cutting them off from its wealth of oil and natural gas. The markets would inevitably collapse — uncontrolled chaos for the Empire of Chaos (or “controlled chaos,” in Putin’s own words). Imagine the crumbling of the quadrillion-plus of derivatives. It would take years for the “West” to replace Russian oil and natural gas, but the EU’s economy would be instantly devastated.

Just this lightning-bolt Western attack on the rouble — and oil prices — using the crushing power of Wall Street firms had already shaken European banks exposed to Russia to the core; their credit default swaps soared. Imagine those banks collapsing in a Lehman Brothers-style house of cards if Russia decided to default — thus unleashing a chain reaction. Think about a non-nuclear MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) — in fact warless. Still, Russia is self-sufficient in all kinds of energy, mineral wealth and agriculture. Europe isn’t. This could become the lethal result of war by sanctions.

Essentially, the Empire of Chaos is bluffing, using Europe as pawns. The Empire of Chaos is as lousy at chess as it is at history. What it excels in is in upping the ante to force Russia to back down. Russia won’t back down.

Darkness dawns at the break of chaos

Paraphrasing Bob Dylan in When I Paint My Masterpiece, I left Rome and landed in Beijing. Today’s Marco Polos travel Air China; in 10 years, they will be zooming up in reverse, taking high-speed rail from Shanghai to Berlin.[3]

From a room in imperial Rome to a room in a peaceful hutong — a lateral reminiscence of imperial China. In Rome, the barbarians swarm inside the gates, softly pillaging the crumbs of such a rich heritage, and that includes the local Mafia. In Beijing, the barbarians are kept under strict surveillance; of course there’s a Panopticon element to it, essential to assure internal social peace. The leadership of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) — ever since the earth-shattering reforms by the Little Helmsman Deng Xiaoping — is perfectly conscious that its Mandate of Heaven is directly conditioned by the perfect fine-tuning of nationalism and what we could term “neoliberalism with Chinese characteristics.”

In a different vein of the “soft beds of the East” seducing Marcus Aurelius, the silky splendors of chic Beijing offer a glimpse of an extremely self-assured emerging power. After all, Europe is nothing but a catalogue of multiple sclerosis and Japan is under its sixth recession in 20 years.

To top it off, in 2014 President Xi Jinping has deployed unprecedented diplomatic/geostrategic frenzy — ultimately tied to the long-term project of slowly but surely keeping on erasing US supremacy in Asia and rearranging the global chessboard. What Xi said in Shanghai in May encapsulates the project; “It’s time for Asians to manage the affairs of Asia.” At the APEC meeting in November, he doubled down, promoting an “Asia-Pacific dream.”

Meanwhile, frenzy is the norm. Apart from the two monster, US$725 billion gas deals — Power of Siberia and Altai pipeline — and a recent New Silk Road-related offensive in Eastern Europe,[4] virtually no one in the West remembers that in September Chinese Prime Minister Li Keiqiang signed no fewer than 38 trade deals with the Russians, including a swap deal and a fiscal deal, which imply total economic interplay.

A case can be made that the geopolitical shift towards Russia-China integration is arguably the greatest strategic maneuver of the last 100 years. Xi’s ultimate master plan is unambiguous: a Russia-China-Germany trade/commerce alliance. German business/industry wants it badly, although German politicians still haven’t got the message. Xi — and Putin — are building a new economic reality on the Eurasian ground, crammed with crucial political, economic and strategic ramifications.

Of course, this will be an extremely rocky road. It has not leaked to Western corporate media yet, but independent-minded academics in Europe (yes, they do exist, almost like a secret society) are increasingly alarmed there is no alternative model to the chaotic, entropic hardcore neoliberalism/casino capitalism racket promoted by the Masters of the Universe.

Even if Eurasian integration prevails in the long run, and Wall Street becomes a sort of local stock exchange, the Chinese and the emerging multipolar world still seem to be locked into the existing neoliberal model.

And yet, as much as Lao Tzu, already an octogenarian, gave the young Confucius an intellectual slap on the face, the “West” could do with a wake-up call. Divide et impera? It’s not working. And it’s bound to fail miserably.

As it stands, what we do know is that 2015 will be a hair-raising year in myriad aspects. Because from Europe to Asia, from the ruins of the Roman empire to the re-emerging Middle Kingdom, we all still remain under the sign of a fearful, dangerous, rampantly irrational Empire of Chaos.

How Russia and Germany may save Europe from war – By Pepe Escobar

 

Are the US, NATO and Russia on a mad spiral leading to war in Europe? Is it inevitable? Far from it. The US-propelled vassal Petro Poroshenko, currently starring in the oligarch dance in Ukraine this week advanced the proposition that Ukrainians in the near future, after his “reforms”, will be asked to vote on whether to join NATO. Let’s be serious here. Some of you may be familiar with the concept of “shatter belt” - territories and peoples that historically have been squeezed between the Germanic Eagle and the Russian Bear. As we stand, the whole shatter belt – apart from Ukraine and Belarus – has become NATO members. Were Ukraine to become a NATO member in – albeit remote – future, the shatter belt buffer zone would disappear. This means NATO – essentially the US – planted right on Russia’s western border. Washington has just announced that it will be pre-positioning more military vehicles in Europe, to be used in exercises or “potential military operations.” This is perfectly in tune with the relentless US “think tank-land” spin that NATO and the US will be “forced” to balance their commitment to security in Eastern Europe against potential Russian “aggression.” As Ukraine, the Baltic States and Poland persist in compounded hysteria about such “aggression,” the option of a post-MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) US-Russia nuclear war is now – casually - back on the discussion table. At least there’s a countercurrent; strands of informed Americans are wondering why the US should be paying for Europe’s defense when European GDP is larger than the US’s.

The air defense missile system “Patriot” (AFP Photo/Bernd Wustneck/Germany Out)

 

November 28, 2014

Are the US, NATO and Russia on a mad spiral leading to war in Europe? Is it inevitable? Far from it.

The US-propelled vassal Petro Poroshenko, currently starring in the oligarch dance in Ukraine this week advanced the proposition that Ukrainians in the near future, after his “reforms”, will be asked to vote on whether to join NATO.
Let’s be serious here. Some of you may be familiar with the concept of “shatter belt” – territories and peoples that historically have been squeezed between the Germanic Eagle and the Russian Bear.
As we stand, the whole shatter belt – apart from Ukraine and Belarus – has become NATO members. Were Ukraine to become a NATO member in – albeit remote – future, the shatter belt buffer zone would disappear. This means NATO – essentially the US – planted right on Russia’s western border.
Washington has just announced that it will be pre-positioning more military vehicles in Europe, to be used in exercises or “potential military operations.” This is perfectly in tune with the relentless US “think tank-land” spin that NATO and the US will be “forced” to balance their commitment to security in Eastern Europe against potential Russian “aggression.”
As Ukraine, the Baltic States and Poland persist in compounded hysteria about such “aggression,” the option of a post-MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) US-Russia nuclear war is now – casually – back on the discussion table. At least there’s a countercurrent; strands of informed Americans are wondering why the US should be paying for Europe’s defense when European GDP is larger than the US’s.

Iskander high-precision missile system in place during military exercises. (RIA Novosti/Alexei Danichev)

Iskander high-precision missile system in place during military exercises. (RIA Novosti/Alexei Danichev)

 Wanna play war, boy?

Now for the “threat” of nuclear war in Europe – bogus or otherwise. It’s pointless to compare the US and Russia strategic nuclear capabilities based on numbers, but not on quality.

Take the compounded GDP of US, Germany, France and England and compare it to Russia; it’s a victory by a landslide. Then examine the strategic nuclear scenario, and it’s a totally different story. GDP alone does not “win” anything.

Washington/Wall Street elites are now deep into nuclear war paranoia. A few studiesat least hint at the obvious; glaring US strategic weakness.

Consider some of the basics:

– Russian ICBMs armed with MIRVs travel at about 18 Mach; that is way faster than anything in the US arsenal. And basically they are unbeatable.

– The S-400 and S-500 double trouble; Moscow has agreed to sell the S-400 surface-to-air missile system to China; the bottom line is this will make Beijing impermeable to US air power, ICBMs and cruise missiles. Russia, for its part, is already focusing on the state of the art S-500 – which essentially makes the Patriot anti-missile system look like a V-2 from WWII.

– The Russian Iskander missile travels at Mach 7 – with a range of 400km, carrying a 700kg warhead of several varieties, and with a circular error probability of around five meters. Translation: an ultimate lethal weapon against airfields or logistic infrastructure. The Iskander can reach targets deep inside Europe.

– And then there’s the Sukhoi T-50 PAK FA.

NATO clowns dreaming of a war on Russia would have to come up with an ironclad system to knock out these Iskanders. They don’t have any. Additionally, they would have to face the S-400s, which the Russians can deploy all over the spectrum.

Think of a hefty batch of S-400s positioned at the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad; that would turn NATO air operations deep inside Europe into an absolutely horrendous nightmare. On top of it, good ol’ NATO fighter jets cost a fortune. Imagine the effect of hundreds of destroyed fighter jets on an EU already financially devastated and austerity-plagued to death.

As if this was not enough, no one knows the exact extent of NATO’s strategic capabilities. Brussels is not talking. Extra-officially, these capabilities are not exactly a marvel. And Russian intelligence knows it.

Still assuming those NATO clowns would insist on playing war, Moscow has already made it very clear Russia would use their awesome arsenal of 5,000-plus tactical nuclear weapons – and whatever else it takes – to defend the nation against a NATO conventional attack. Moreover, a few thousand S-400 and S-500 systems are enough to block a US nuclear attack.

None of this hair-raising Apocalypse Now scenario is even taking into account the Russia-China alliance – the major, game-changing Eurasian story of the 2010s.

 

S 400 "Triumf" air defense missile systems (RIA Novosti/Alexey Kudenko)

S 400 “Triumf” air defense missile systems (RIA Novosti/Alexey Kudenko)

 

Just in case the “pivoting to Asia” gang starts harboring funny ideas about the Middle Kingdom as well, China is massively investing in bouncing lasers off satellites; satellite-hitting missiles; silent submarines that surface beside US aircraft carriers without detection; and a made in China anti-missile missile that can hit a reentering satellite moving faster than any ICBM.

In a nutshell; Beijing knows the US surface fleet is obsolete – and undefendable. And needless to add, all of these Chinese modernizing developments are proceeding way faster than anything in the US.

A modest proposal

The spin in the US has been relentless; Russia is expanding towards a 21st century empire.

Here, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov explains in detail how this is undiluted rubbish. What has actually happened is that Moscow deftly called the Brzezinski-inspired bluff in Ukraine – with all its overtones. No wonder the Empire of Chaos is furious.

And yet there is a solution to defuse the current, hysterical rush to war logic. Here I have examined in some detail how Washington is playing Russian roulette. Now it’s time to advance a modest proposal – as it has been discussed by a few concerned analysts from the US, Europe and Asia.

Essentially, it’s very simple. It’s up to Germany. And it’s all about undoing Stalin.

Stalin, at the outset of WWII, took East Prussia from Germany and moved the eastern part of Poland into Ukraine. Eastern Ukraine was originally from Russia; it is part of Russia and was given by Lenin to Ukraine.

So let’s have East Prussia returned to Germany; the eastern part of Poland returned to Poland; and eastern Ukraine as well as Crimea – which Khrushchev gave to Ukraine – returned to Russia.

Everyone get its share. No more Stalin. No more arbitrary borders. That’s what the Chinese would define as a “triple win” situation. Of course the Empire of Chaos would fight it to death; there would be no more chaos manipulated to justify a crusade against bogus Russian “aggression”.

The ball is in Germany’s court. Now it’s up to East Prussians to present the facts to Angela Merkel. Let’s see if she’s able to get the message.

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The Caliph fit to join OPEC – By Pepe Escobar

ASIA TIMES

THE ROVING EYE
The Caliph fit to join OPEC
By Pepe Escobar

 

Islamic State leader Caliph Ibrahim – aka Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi – never ceases to amaze us – and most of all his powerful petrodollar-stuffed backers. The Caliph is for all practical purposes now an oil major worth of membership of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). His takfiri/mercenary goons – in theory – have for some time been extracting, refining, shipping and/or smuggling and clinching juicy deals involving vast quantities of oil, reaping profits of roughly US$2 million a day.

The Caliph’s oil prices are to die (be beheaded?) for; after all, he’s implementing the same low-price strategy concocted by the people he wants to dethrone in Mecca, the House of Saud. The caliphate’s GDP across “Syraq” has only one way to go: up.

And oh, the irony Top customers for The Caliph’s cheap oil happen to be “Sultan” Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Earthly paradise, aka Turkey – a North Atlantic Treaty Organization ally – and that King “Playstation” Abdullah II ibn al-Hussein’s domain impersonating a country, aka Jordan.

Meanwhile, the awesome, immensely sophisticated military apparatus/intel agency acronym fest deployed by “free” US/NATO somehow is simply unable to register/intercept this racket.

Not surprising, when they somehow had not previously registered/intercepted The Caliph’s goons taking over large swaths of “Syraq” this summer with their cross-desert version of rolling thunder – that gleaming white Toyota promo ad.

As for the Empire of Chaos “solution” to intercept The Caliph’s oil profits, the only decision so far has been to bomb oil pipelines that belong to the Syrian Arab Republic, that is, ultimately, the Syrian people.

Never underestimate the capacity of US President Barack Obama’s “Don’t Do Stupid Stuff” foreign policy doctrine to soar towards unreachable stupidity heights.

Yo sheikh, talk to the hand
Then there’s that fateful Secretary of State John Kerry/House of Saud capo hand-kissing fest that took place in Riyadh last month.

In this masterful piece, William Engdahl goes no-holds-barred on the supposed Saudi-US cheap oil/bomb Bashar al-Assad/undermine Russia deal. Yet there may not have been a direct deal; more like Washington and Riyadh working in tandem towards common objectives: regime change in Syria in the long term, and undermining both Iran and Russia in the short term.

As for that crucial Pipelineistan gambit central to the Syrian riddle – a gas pipeline running from Qatar to regime-changed Syria, instead of Iran-Iraq-Syria – that’s not exactly a Saudi, but a rival Qatari priority.

What Kerry did give was the Master’s Voice seal of approval to the Saudi strategy of low oil prices, thinking short-term about US oil consumers at the pump, and medium-term on putting pressure on the revenues of both Iran and Russia. Yet he obviously played down the blow to the US shale gas industry.

The Saudis, for their part, have other key considerations, not least how to recover their market share across Asia – where their biggest customers are located. They are losing market share because of discounted crude sold by both Iran and Iraq. Thus, both must be “punished”, on top of the House of Saud’s pathological aversion to all things Shi’ite.

As for the big picture in Syria, Obama’s capo for dealing with The Caliph, General John Allen, laid down the law to Saudi newspaper Asharq Al-Awasat. He said, “[T]here is not going to be a military solution here [in Syria]”. And he also said, “The intent is not to create a field force to liberate Damascus.”

Short translation: those old goons of the previously “winning against Assad” Free Syrian Army (FSA) are now six feet under. And the new FSA goons to be trained in – of all places – Saudi Arabia are not exactly being regarded as holy saviors. For all practical purposes, the medium-term scenario spells out more US bombing (of infrastructure belonging to the Syrian nation); no regime change in Damascus; and The Caliph steadily consolidating his wins.

And finally, the Hollywood factor
Imagine if shabby “historical” al-Qaeda had these ultra-slick PR skills. Bearded has-beens with old Kalashnikovs in Afghan caves is so passe. The Caliph not only smuggles tens of thousands of barrels of oil a day undetected, but he also deploys a British hostage turned foreign correspondent (and who may have converted to the Salafi version of Islam) reporting from a hollowed out Kobani about to be totally captured by a bunch of takfiris and mercenaries (they certainly are not mujahideen).

One’s gotta marvel at the production values. The Caliph’s special report opens with drone footage of Kobani. Is it an American drone? Was it captured in Iraq? Is it an Israeli drone? Turkish? Brit? The “mujahideen” certainly are not on Lockheed Martin’s speed dial – yet.

Meanwhile, on the ground, only now has Ankara allowed roughly 200 peshmergas from Iraqi Kurdistan – whose slippery leaders do business with Turkey – to cross the border to, in theory, help Kobani. No soldiers, weapons or supplies are allowed for the Kurdish PKK/PYD forces which have been actually defending Kobani all along. Sultan Erdogan’s endless procrastination will be judged by any independent investigation as the key element in allowing the possible fall of Kobani.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu once again has laid down the “conditions” for his country to help with the – so far spectacularly innocuous – US campaign against The Caliph; the possible liberators of Kobani must only be Iraqi peshmergas, and remaining FSA goons, not “terrorists” (as in PKK/PYD).

In the end, Kobani – precisely on the border between southeast Anatolia and northern Syria – is highly strategic. The situation on the ground is dire. There may be a little over 1,000 residents left, barricaded in their houses. Protecting them, a little over 2,000 Syrian Kurd fighters, including the female Ishtar brigade. Only 200 peshmergas coming from Iraqi Kurdistan are not going to make a huge difference against a few thousand heavily weaponized caliph goons deploying as many as 20 tanks. It does not look good, even though, unlike in the Caliph-approved Brit hostage report, the fake “mujahideen” are not in total control.

The Caliph, anyway, is bound to remain on a roll. Absolutely none of the above would be remotely possible without US/Western overt/covert complicity, proving once and for all that The Caliph is the ultimate gift that keeps on giving in the eternal GWOT (Global War On Terra). How come the Dick Cheney regime never thought about that?

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

(Copyright 2014 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)

Do the Trans-Siberian shuffle -By Pepe Escobar

ASIA TIMES ONLINE

THE ROVING EYE
Do the Trans-Siberian shuffle
By Pepe Escobar

Published October 18, 2014

A specter haunts the elites of the Empire of Chaos; the new Russia-China strategic partnership. It’s manifesting itself in myriad ways – energy deals, investment deals, a closer political alliance inside the G-20, the BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a concerted effort to progressively bypass the petrodollar. I have described this long process as essential to the birth of the Eurasian century.

From a Washington/Wall Street point of view, it was so much easier in those long gone, unipolar, “end of history” days. China was still tiptoeing on the banks of the river of capital accumulation, and Russia was down if not out.

So allow me a flashback to the early 1990s. I had been on the road in Asia for months, from all points Southeast Asia to India, Nepal, the Himalayas and the eastern Chinese seaboard. Then I finally hit Beijing – waiting in the bitter winter of early 1992 to take the Trans-Siberian to Moscow. I was barely aware of the collapse of the Soviet Union – not exactly a news item in the Himalayas. I was also fortunate enough to be in southern China just a few days after Deng Xiaoping made his famous tour – whose key consequence was to catapult the dragon to dizzying development heights. A look back to those heady times may have the merit of illuminating our present.

All aboard the night train
It’s 8:32 pm in Beijing Railway Station, and the Trans-Manchurian Train 19 to Moscow is about to depart. It’s minus 9 degrees Celsius. A bunch of Romanian crazies are trying to load more than 20 huge, vaguely green bundles stuffed with Made-in-China gear into one of the carriages. The Russian comptroller spouts out a “Nyet”. Romanian chicks immerse in Transylvanic hysteria. Then a stash of George Washingtons changes hands at the final whistle, just in time for PLA soldiers and lady sweepers sporting the ubiquitous red armband with the words “Serve The People” to impassibly observe the happy ending.

A cacophony of Russians, Poles, Romanians, Czechs and Mongols has deployed dozens of bags, bundles and sacks to totally overload the train corridors. 300 kg of shoes. 500 kg of jackets. 200 kg of T-shirts. Thousands of beauty cream pots that will be all the rage from Bucharest to Cracow. A “bed” on the train is a concavity over one of the bundles. That will be story for six days, across over 9,000 snowy kilometers in the former USSR, now Russia, from East to West.

At the comptroller’s compartment, more bags – whose content will be sold in the streets of Moscow. With so many George Washingtons in sight, the success of her bazaar is guaranteed – what with multiple stops on the way and an unregulated “free” market in every platform. The whole of Eastern Europe is loaded with stuff and dying to make a quick buck.

In the Chinese stretch of the journey, nothing happens, unlike the 1930s, when Japan occupied Manchuria, installed puppet Pu Yi on the throne and was ready to take over Asia. The Terminator action starts in Zabaikalsk, at the Russian-China border – after we cross a huge Arc of Triumph in cement, complete with Leninist motto and not-yet-destroyed hammer and sickle. Customs – on both sides – is absolutely deserted.

The train changes configuration to adapt to the new tracks. Yet all sights are set on the new dining car; exit Chinese, which only offered a miserable pork with soya sauce; enter Russian, crammed with goulash, soup, salami, frozen fish, black caviar, champagne from Crimea, coffee, eggs, even cheese – everything on the black market paid with US dollars.

With the border behind us, it’s go-go bazaar time. Everyone freaks out, because we instantly move from Beijing time to Moscow time. Sunrise is at 1 in the morning. The black market is running at $1 = 110 roubles, the rouble in free fall as we cut through the sublime snowy infinite desert of the Siberian tundra, where each spectacular sunrise under a slight Arctic fog is an epiphany celebrated with more Crimea champagne.

Occasionally we spot reindeers or even huskies. The taiga – coveted by Japan, Korea and the US – is enveloped in snow. Beyond lay the ghosts of the 20 million corpses in Stalin’s gulags, the hunters of the rare Amu tiger (fewer than 200 left) and the sinister Norilsk complex; 2 million tons a year of sulphuric acid and other heavy metals dumped in the atmosphere – the reason for that Arctic fog.

The train stops stretch for 15 and even 20 minutes, reaching a nadir in Novosibirsk and Perm, which previously housed a notorious gulag. At every stop, hordes of Russians in Genghis Khan mode attack the train with little plastic bags. The best deal in the Trans-Siberian is anoraks and leather jackets. Jao, from Beijing, sells 50 in three days, at up to US$50 each; she paid $20 each in the Beijing hutongs. The Russians buy everything in sight and sell roubles – now plunging to 160 to the US dollar – as well as vodka, beer, salami, champagne and local $1 Pepsi bottles.

The whole of Eastern Europe has taken over Train 19. Post-Ceausescu Romanians are the most exuberant – from former boxers to hookers to a seedy gangster in a tracksuit boasting about his two hours with a Russian doll for $10 (the going rate is $20). There’s an Albanian contingent, young Polish students, shirtless Mongol nomads feverishly counting their profits, babushkas bored to death and even a loquacious Chinese dandy.

The Russian carriages, once elegant, are a mess: foul air, dense cigarette smoke, drenched in sweat, toilets crammed with sacks, and “Kapitan”, the only waiter, trying to make a quick buck selling Soviet paraphernalia. I find it the ideal setting to devour almost 1,000 pages of Norman Mailer’s Harlot’s Ghost, a history of the CIA.

Blame it on glasnost
Train 19 is not only a bazaar but also a multinational Agora. Young Russians elaborate how the almost genius perversity of the Soviet system led it to boost to the limit all the problems of modern industrial societies – offering nearly none of its benefits. Eastern Europeans volunteer that it was not the Cold War that finished off “real socialism”; it was the invasion of the capitalist economy combined with the inefficiency and “stupidity” (copyright by a Polish undergraduate) of the socialist economy.

Russians say that glasnost finished off authority and perestroika finished off the economy – and there was nothing to replace either. End result: physics graduates selling caviar tins in a moving train for survival. Everyone praises Gorbachev but essentially condemn him to a short historical footnote. In the train, I heard arguments that would be reproduced years later in countless US academic studies.

All the Trans-Siberian navigators exhibit a solidarity not to be found at the United Nations; they exchange currencies, swap addresses, lend money and the indispensable calculators, help to load and unload the loot, accept bundles in their compartment, offer their places for half an hour for those who only have the corridor to sleep, and crack jokes about the small Bank of China yuan bills. They are all ardent defenders of this unheard of form of direct democracy that is synonym with the end of the Cold War.

Amid the casino lurks the most improbable character: Lulu, a diminutive Bangladeshi, always attached to a Samsonite, dabbling in Allah-only-knows mysterious activities, passport filled with dodgy visas, Saudi Arabian included. Chinese and Russians treat him like an allergic Pekingese. Train chow is predictably unbearable for this strict Muslim, who wakes us all up everyday at 5 am with his prayers – Rashid Muhammad spends six days literally on bread and water.

Skolka? That’s the Trans-Manchurian bazaar motto, a preview of Moscow. Pink Floyd launched the legendary Dark Side of the Moon at the height of the Brejnev era; Moscow suburbs look like the ghostly, dark side of the moon. Stalin’s lunatic legacy is alleviated only by a solitary kiosk selling flowers, fruit or sweet Georgia brandy.

We arrive as zombies – and only a few hours late – at Yaroslavlsky Vakzal, one of nine Moscow train stations, where a deluge of Volga taxis fight for the precious Chinese cargo. Those moving on to Eastern Europe without a reservation are doomed: seats for Warsaw and Berlin are only available in 40 days.

In Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Shanghai and Beijing, I had witnessed the spectacular success of post-Tiananmen Chinese “market socialism”, where the economy was the locomotive and politics was dispatched to the bottom end of the train. Nothing more astonishing than the contrast with Moscow, where politics was the locomotive.

I’m housed by Dmitri, an odontology student, three metro stops from the Kremlin, paying $6 a day, a small fortune; he and his girlfriend precariously subdivide the two-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment with a whole family, dog included, besides the occasional Western visitors, who sleep in the master bedroom. This is considered an upper middle-class lifestyle.

At the beautiful metro stations, it’s the return of the Trans-Siberian bazaar; on sale are political or porno samizdats, second-hand clothes, bottles of every possible liquid. Only when I reach Red Square doI see the light; at the Himalayas and China, my time-zone was still on Gorbachev. What’s now at the top of the Kremlin is a Russian flag – as well as in the center of Dzerzhinsky square, in front of the KGB. As a perfect idiot, I aim for the statue of Felix Dzerzhinsky, the former head of the Soviet secret police, only to be warned by a student that it had been torn down weeks ago. Gorbachev is now a vodka brand. And I can’t get inside the KGB building.

The whole city is converted into a giant Turkish bazaar. After Boris Yeltsin liberated the sidewalks, everyone wants to exercise this privatizatsiya thing. Until 1990, nobody knew what a checkbook or a credit card was, and $1 was equivalent to 1 rouble. There are absolutely astonishing street markets on Prospekt Marka and Gorki street, everyone silently in line exhibiting their wares; a broken doll, a solitary shoe, dusty champagne bottles, perfume, instant coffee, sardine tins, an empty beer bottle.

The streets are filled with all the stuff brought by the Trans-Siberian navigators, but the supermarkets are empty. There’s very little milk or meat, but lots of canned fish and interminable lines to buy nothing – with potential consumers resigned to play chess.

The biggest hit in town is the new McDonald’s on Pushkin square – one of the busiest in the world, selling full meals for 50 cents by cashiers sporting an Eva Herzigova smile. In front of the MacD, a paper Gorbie poses for tourists, and a crowd sells caviar tins for $5 and champagne for $3. At the GUM department store, there is not much except a few Sony and Honda showrooms and a new Dior window.

The recent past does not let go; it’s impossible to call Europe. It’s impossible to send a fax from the Post Office. It’s impossible to make a train reservation. It’s impossible to make a plane reservation – at least on the Aeroflot shop in Lubyanka; only at the cavernous Intourist Hotel.

At the lugubrious ground floor of the Mockba Hotel, deaf and dumb characters straight out of an Ionesco play crowd the corridors while a beer black-market does brisk business in front of the hotel bar. A glass of champagne goes for 50 cents. At the hall of the legendary Metropol – the 1899 Grand Dame favored by Trotsky – a dry martini is a steep $7,70. The Metropol is the new Wall Street; Danes, Italians, Americans and Chinese discuss all deals this side of a Brave New World downing Heinekens at $5 a pop.

On Armed Forces Day, a Sunday, there’s a communist demonstration, repressed with tact, boasting large numbers of old ladies carrying flowers and flags. For their part, Moscow punks with anarchist flags protest against the Armed Forces. A pre-historic Volga takes me to Sheremetyevo as if I was running from a 1950s Cold War B-movie set. The Volga gurgles, stops, cools off, runs, gurgles, stops again, cools off; a metaphor of the new Russia, and I almost miss Aeroflot SU 576 back to Paris.

Nothing will ever be the (unipolar) same
Those were the days. That McDonald’s – symbol of unipolar, “end of history”, Pax Americana – has been recently shut down. It’s harder and harder for the Empire of Chaos to rule the world alone while McDonald’s serves burgers. Across Pushkin square, the fashionable Cafe Pouchkine now serves the best of Russian haute cuisine.

And still, both Russia and China are seen as pariahs by the unipolar, imperial elite. It’s as if we were still frozen in those early1990s days. Russia and China may have changed almost beyond recognition – but for the Empire of Chaos the priorities are to tear Russia apart, starting with Ukraine, and “pivot to Asia” via an anti-China military/economic axis in the Western Pacific.

Meanwhile, the Trans-Siberian will soon be linked with the Chinese-driven New Silk Roads. And then one day in the early 2020s this will all be a high-speed rail network, linking Eurasia in a flash. And nothing will ever be the (unipolar) same. Except for the back-to-Russia Crimean champagne.

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

 

(Copyright 2014 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)

A Caliph in a wilderness of mirrors – By Pepe Escobar

THE ROVING EYE
A Caliph in a wilderness of mirrors
By Pepe Escobar

I’m aiming at you, lover
Cause killing you is killing myself

Orson Welles (director), The Lady from Shanghai,1947

 
 
He’s invincible. He beheads. He smuggles. He conquers. He’s the ultimate jack-of-all-trades. No Tomahawk or Hellfire can touch him. He always gets what he wants; in Kobani; in Anbar province; with the House of Saud (which he wants to replace) trying to make Putin (who he wants to behead) suffer because of low oil prices.

If this was a remake of Orson Welles’s noir classic The Lady from Shanghai, in the mirror sequence the lawyer (American?) and the femme fatale (Shi’ite?) would also get killed; but The Caliph of the Islamic State would survive as a larger than life Welles, free to roam, plunder and “give my love to the sunrise” – as in a Brave Caliphate World shining in “Syraq” over the ashes of the Sykes-Picot agreement.

If this was a remake of Orson Welles’s noir classic The Lady from Shanghai, in the mirror sequence the lawyer (American?) and the femme fatale (Shi’ite?) would also get killed; but The Caliph
of Islamic State would survive as a larger than life Welles, free to roam, plunder and “give my love to the sunrise” – as in a Brave Caliphate World shining in “Syraq” over the ashes of the Sykes-Picot agreement.

He’s winning big in Iraq’s Anbar province. The Caliph’s goons are now closing in on – of all places – Abu Ghraib; Dubya, Dick and Rummy’s former Torture Central. They are at a mere 12 kilometers away from Baghdad International. A shoulder-launched surface-to-air missile (or MANPAD) away from downing a passenger jet. Certainly not an Emirates flight – after all these are trusted sponsors.

Hit, in Anbar province, is now Caliph territory. The police forces and the province’s operational command have lost almost complete control of Ramadi. The Caliph now controls the crucial axis formed by Hit, Ramadi, Fallujah; Highway 1 between Baghdad and the Jordanian border; and Highway 12 between Baghdad and the Syrian border.

The Caliph’s goons are no less than taking over the whole, notorious Baghdad belt, the previous “triangle of death” in those hardcore days of American occupation circa 2004. Message to Donald Rumsfeld: remember your “remnants”? They’re back. And they’re in charge.

Both Ramadi and Fallujah have been reduced to an accumulation of bombed-out schools, hospitals, homes, mosques and bridges. Residential streets are virtually deserted. According to the United Nations, there are a least 360,803 internally displaced persons in Anbar, as well as 115,000 others in areas under The Caliph’s control. At least 63% of the 1.6 million people living in the province are classified as “in need” – with hair-raising minimal access to water, food and health care, and receiving little to absolutely zero humanitarian support from that fiction, the “international community.” US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power is not screaming her lungs out for R2P (“responsibility to protect”).

How could the Pentagon’s spectacular Full Spectrum Dominance possibly not see any of this happening? Of course they see it. But they don’t give a damn. The Pentagon occasionally uses AH-64 Apache helicopters to attack some of The Caliph’s goons in Ramadi and Hit. But Apaches can be easily hit with MANPADS. They are stationed at Baghdad International and their only mission is to protect the airport. Who cares about local, civilian “collateral damage”?

Married to the Mob
In Kobani, the former third-biggest town in Syrian Kurdistan, in the far northeast, The Caliph also wins big. Another biblical exodus has reached 300,000 refugees – and counting, with over 180,000 headed to Turkey.

The Caliph counts on indirect help from The Sultan (or alternate Caliph), aka Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan. Tehran is – rightfully – furious, as it sees the “West” – and Turkey – betraying the Kurds all over again. It’s no secret Sultan Erdogan is doing nothing because he wants to screw the guerrillas of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Syrian-Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD); let them die instead of repelling The Caliph and then be strong enough to threaten Turkish domination of those huge, essentially Kurdish patches of Anatolia. Thus the only thing Sultan Erdogan does support is aimless bombing by the Pentagon cum coalition of the clueless-cowards.

Anybody who believes the US Central Command’s spin that House of Saud and United Arab Emirates fighter jets conduct “bombing raids” on the outskirts of Kobani gets a one-way ticket to Oz. Imagine these clowns being able to deploy precision-guided bombs or trained laser spotters. To start with, the Pentagon has zero local intel – as in zero operatives able to paint lasers on targets. Thus the “coalition” can barely hit the odd tank (out of 25 around Kobani) or Humvee out of 2,000 crammed in a valley for almost two weeks now.

But the “coalition” certainly is able – miraculously! – to hit Syrian state infrastructure, as in energy installations. In June, the official Pentagon excuse was, “We don’t have any drone assets in Iraq.” Now there’s no excuse for drones which can read a “Smoking Kills!” warning in a packet of Marlboros not hitting The Caliph’s assets in Kobani – or in Anbar province for that matter. So it’s down to a mix of incompetence and neglect. It was so much easier to hit Pashtun wedding parties in the Waziristans. Especially because no one was paying attention.

Erdogan’s own goons, meanwhile, have instituted a curfew on all major towns and cities in southeast Anatolia, and are even gunning down peaceful Kurdish protesters. Fifteen million Kurds in Anatolia cannot be wrong; Erdogan wants Kobani to fall. Ankara remains for all practical purposes the top logistical hub for The Caliph’s goons. The Sultan is using The Caliph as a proxy army to smash the Kurds.

Terminal evidence has been offered by the leader of the Kurdish PYD, Salih Muslim, meeting Turkish military intel and asking for help. Conditions: abandon any hope of self-determination for Syrian Kurds; give up all your self-governing towns and regions; and watch as we install a Turkish “buffer”/no-fly zone inside Syrian territory.

Don’t expect the Obama “Don’t Do Stupid Stuff/We Have No Strategy” administration to sentence, “Erdogan must go”. Besides, the pathetic club of National Security Advisor Susan Rice and her deputy Ben Rhodes has no clue about what’s goin’ on.

To the Green Zone!
Tehran, for its part, has clearly identified Erdogan’s nasty game. The Sultan knows monster B1-B bombers flying over Kobani are absolutely useless – while The Caliph’s goons deploy massive car bombs and keep advancing. “Boots on the ground” will be needed. Enter NATO asset Turkey. But with one condition: regime change in Damascus, or at least a prelude, via that “buffer”/no-fly zone over Syria.

The Big Picture remains the same. Sultan Erdogan and the House of Saud want regime change in Damascus (Erdogan dreams of a Sunni puppet as a vassal of Ankara; the Saudis want their own Wahhabi schemer). Israel merrily agrees. And if that comes with a bonus – attacking the new Iraqi government, still supported by Iran, in the American-made Green Zone – even better. The lowdown: “Don’t Do Stupid Stuff” translates as the Gulf Cooperation Council, Turkey and Israel using Washington to advance their quite explicit agenda.

Sultan Erdogan, as a Mob boss, does seem to have learned a thing or two from watching Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas. He’s extracting the maximum pound of flesh from the bewildered “Don’t do Stupid Stuff” team. The Sultan is boldly aiming at Turkish boots on the ground gloriously invading Syria in NATO “humanitarian intervention” mode. And all this sold as NATO offering “protection” to a member-nation. NATO’s new secretary-general, former Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, has just been to Ankara. Saudi Arabia has already “voted” out loud for the “buffer”/no-fly zone. Same for General Francois Hollande, that pitiful excuse for President of France.

Once again, it’s Tehran to the rescue. The Foreign Ministry has duly announced Iran is ready to liberate Kobani from The Caliph’s goons (and they can do it) if Bashar Al-Assad says the word. Now that’s how you work the chessboard; NATO is left with zero excuses to mount an invasion of Syria, whatever Mob Boss Erdogan comes up with.

Operation Hands Off My Toyota
The Caliph also wins big in the “bleeding the Pentagon” department. A single US “strike” against his goons – involving F-15s, F-16s or F-22s – costs up to US$500,000. The Pentagon has just revealed it has spent no less than $1.1 billion against The Caliph since June.

What for? Virtually all the assets being destroyed by American bombing are made in the USA, deployed to the Iraqi army and then duly captured during The Caliph’s offensive. So here we have the Empire of Chaos spending a fortune from the US Treasury to smash tanks, Humvees and other gear already paid for by American taxpayers. No wonder taxpayers are fuming. Thus Operation Hands off My Toyota.

Additionally, the Pentagon does not have a clue on how to build its Obama-designed proxy “rebel” force to fight The Caliph (with no US soldiers or marines; only fanatic Wahhabis and assorted mercenaries).

To start with, they have no clue who the hell qualifies as a “moderate rebel”. The rabble must be “vetted” – and then sent to, of all places, Saudi Arabia for training. There the guy in charge will be – who else – a Special Ops honcho, Major General Michael Nagata. Even under the most optimistic scenario, the Pentagon won’t have its proxy “moderate rebel” army on the ground in Syria before the summer of 2015.

Hefty bottles of Chateau Margaux can be bet that all this prime US weaponized know how will ultimately end up captured by The Caliph’s goons. Same applies to reliable “rebel” intel on the ground.

But the real Dadaist masterpiece is that first these “rebels” will be politely asked by the Pentagon to forget about getting rid of Assad to fight The Caliph. At least for a while. Re-enter Stoltenberg, the new NATO head: “Next year, at the ministerial meeting, we will take decisions regarding the so-called spearhead but, even before it is established, NATO has a strong army after all. We can deploy it wherever we want to.” OK, tough guy; why not “Syraq”?

If this all sounds like a plot straight out of hit series Blacklist, that’s because it is. Why not get Red (James Spader) to fight The Caliph? And then again, what if Red is The Caliph? He pretends to fight himself – and he wins, handsomely. Back to Welles’ The Lady from Shanghai: “Killing you is killing myself”. Yet nobody could possibly want The Caliph dead when he’s such a smashing, undisputed box-office success.

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

(Copyright 2014 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)

Can China and Russia Squeeze Washington Out of Eurasia? By Pepe Escobar

 

The Future of a Beijing-Moscow-Berlin Alliance
By Pepe Escobar

PepeEscobar_AT

 

 

A specter haunts the fast-aging “New American Century”: the possibility of a future Beijing-Moscow-Berlin strategic trade and commercial alliance. Let’s call it the BMB.

Its likelihood is being seriously discussed at the highest levels in Beijing and Moscow, and viewed with interest in Berlin, New Delhi, and Tehran. But don’t mention it inside Washington’s Beltway or at NATO headquarters in Brussels. There, the star of the show today and tomorrow is the new Osama bin Laden: Caliph Ibrahim, aka Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the elusive, self-appointed beheading prophet of a new mini-state and movement that has provided an acronym feast — ISIS/ISIL/IS — for hysterics in Washington and elsewhere.

No matter how often Washington remixes its Global War on Terror, however, the tectonic plates of Eurasian geopolitics continue to shift, and they’re not going to stop just because American elites refuse to accept that their historically brief “unipolar moment” is on the wane. For them, the closing of the era of “full spectrum dominance,” as the Pentagon likes to call it, is inconceivable. After all, the necessity for the indispensable nation to control all space — military, economic, cultural, cyber, and outer — is little short of a religious doctrine. Exceptionalist missionaries don’t do equality. At best, they do “coalitions of the willing” like the one crammed with “over 40 countries” assembled to fight ISIS/ISIL/IS and either applauding (and plotting) from the sidelines or sending the odd plane or two toward Iraq or Syria.

NATO, which unlike some of its members won’t officially fight Jihadistan, remains a top-down outfit controlled by Washington. It’s never fully bothered to take in the European Union (EU) or considered allowing Russia to “feel” European. As for the Caliph, he’s just a minor diversion. A postmodern cynic might even contend that he was an emissary sent onto the global playing field by China and Russia to take the eye of the planet’s hyperpower off the ball.

Divide and Isolate

So how does full spectrum dominance apply when two actual competitor powers, Russia and China, begin to make their presences felt? Washington’s approach to each — in Ukraine and in Asian waters — might be thought of as divide and isolate.

In order to keep the Pacific Ocean as a classic “American lake,” the Obama administration has been “pivoting” back to Asia for several years now. This has involved only modest military moves, but an immodest attempt to pit Chinese nationalism against the Japanese variety, while strengthening alliances and relations across Southeast Asia with a focus on South China Sea energy disputes. At the same time, it has moved to lock a future trade agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), in place.

In Russia’s western borderlands, the Obama administration has stoked the embers of regime change in Kiev into flames (fanned by local cheerleaders Poland and the Baltic nations) and into what clearly looked, to Vladimir Putin and Russia’s leadership, like an existential threat to Moscow. Unlike the U.S., whose sphere of influence (and military bases) are global, Russia was not to retain any significant influence in its former near abroad, which, when it comes to Kiev, is not for most Russians, “abroad” at all.

For Moscow, it seemed as if Washington and its NATO allies were increasingly interested in imposing a new Iron Curtain on their country from the Baltic to the Black Sea, with Ukraine simply as the tip of the spear. In BMB terms, think of it as an attempt to isolate Russia and impose a new barrier to relations with Germany. The ultimate aim would be to split Eurasia, preventing future moves toward trade and commercial integration via a process not controlled through Washington.

From Beijing’s point of view, the Ukraine crisis was a case of Washington crossing every imaginable red line to harass and isolate Russia. To its leaders, this looks like a concerted attempt to destabilize the region in ways favorable to American interests, supported by a full range of Washington’s elite from neocons and Cold War “liberals” to humanitarian interventionists in the Susan Rice and Samantha Power mold. Of course, if you’ve been following the Ukraine crisis from Washington, such perspectives seem as alien as any those of any Martian. But the world looks different from the heart of Eurasia than it does from Washington — especially from a rising China with its newly minted “Chinese dream” (Zhongguo meng).

As laid out by President Xi Jinping, that dream would include a future network of Chinese-organized new Silk Roads that would create the equivalent of a Trans-Asian Express for Eurasian commerce. So if Beijing, for instance, feels pressure from Washington and Tokyo on the naval front, part of its response is a two-pronged, trade-based advance across the Eurasian landmass, one prong via Siberia and the other through the Central Asian “stans.”

In this sense, though you wouldn’t know it if you only followed the American media or “debates” in Washington, we’re potentially entering a new world. Once upon a time not so long ago, Beijing’s leadership was flirting with the idea of rewriting the geopolitical/economic game side by side with the U.S., while Putin’s Moscow hinted at the possibility of someday joining NATO. No longer. Today, the part of the West that both countries are interested in is a possible future Germany no longer dominated by American power and Washington’s wishes.

shadowgovengelhardtMoscow has, in fact, been involved in no less than half a century of strategic dialogue with Berlin that has included industrial cooperation and increasing energy interdependence. In many quarters of the Global South this has been noted and Germany is starting to be viewed as “the sixth BRICS” power (after Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa).

In the midst of global crises ranging from Syria to Ukraine, Berlin’s geostrategic interests seem to be slowly diverging from Washington’s. German industrialists, in particular, appear eager to pursue unlimited commercial deals with Russia and China. These might set their country on a path to global power unlimited by the EU’s borders and, in the long term, signal the end of the era in which Germany, however politely dealt with, was essentially an American satellite.

It will be a long and winding road. The Bundestag, Germany’s parliament, is still addicted to a strong Atlanticist agenda and a preemptive obedience to Washington. There are still tens of thousands of American soldiers on German soil. Yet, for the first time, German chancellor Angela Merkel has been hesitating when it comes to imposing ever-heavier sanctions on Russia over the situation in Ukraine, because no fewer than 300,000 German jobs depend on relations with that country. Industrial leaders and the financial establishment have already sounded the alarm, fearing such sanctions would be totally counterproductive.

China’s Silk Road Banquet

China’s new geopolitical power play in Eurasia has few parallels in modern history. The days when the “Little Helmsman” Deng Xiaoping insisted that the country “keep a low profile” on the global stage are long gone. Of course, there are disagreements and conflicting strategies when it comes to managing the country’s hot spots: Taiwan, Hong Kong, Tibet, Xinjiang, the South China Sea, competitors India and Japan, and problematic allies like North Korea and Pakistan. And popular unrest in some Beijing-dominated “peripheries” is growing to incendiary levels.

The country’s number one priority remains domestic and focused on carrying out President Xi’s economic reforms, while increasing “transparency” and fighting corruption within the ruling Communist Party. A distant second is the question of how to progressively hedge against the Pentagon’s “pivot” plans in the region — via the build-up of a blue-water navy, nuclear submarines, and a technologically advanced air force — without getting so assertive as to freak out Washington’s “China threat”-minded establishment.

Meanwhile, with the U.S. Navy controlling global sea lanes for the foreseeable future, planning for those new Silk Roads across Eurasia is proceeding apace. The end result should prove a triumph of integrated infrastructure — roads, high-speed rail, pipelines, ports — that will connect China to Western Europe and the Mediterranean Sea, the old Roman imperial Mare Nostrum, in every imaginable way.

In a reverse Marco Polo-style journey, remixed for the Google world, one key Silk Road branch will go from the former imperial capital Xian to Urumqi in Xinjiang Province, then through Central Asia, Iran, Iraq, and Turkey’s Anatolia, ending in Venice. Another will be a maritime Silk Road starting from Fujian province and going through the Malacca strait, the Indian Ocean, Nairobi in Kenya, and finally all the way to the Mediterranean via the Suez canal. Taken together, it’s what Beijing refers to as the Silk Road Economic Belt.

China’s strategy is to create a network of interconnections among no less than five key regions: Russia (the key bridge between Asia and Europe), the Central Asian “stans,” Southwest Asia (with major roles for Iran, Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey), the Caucasus, and Eastern Europe (including Belarus, Moldova, and depending upon its stability, Ukraine). And don’t forget Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India, which could be thought of as Silk Road plus.

Silk Road plus would involve connecting the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar economic corridor to the China-Pakistan economic corridor, and could offer Beijing privileged access to the Indian Ocean. Once again, a total package — roads, high-speed rail, pipelines, and fiber optic networks — would link the region to China.

Xi himself put the India-China connection in a neat package of images in an op-ed he published in the Hindu prior to his recent visit to New Delhi. “The combination of the ‘world’s factory’ and the ‘world’s back office,’” he wrote, “will produce the most competitive production base and the most attractive consumer market.”

The central node of China’s elaborate planning for the Eurasian future is Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang Province and the site of the largest commercial fair in Central Asia, the China-Eurasia Fair. Since 2000, one of Beijing’s top priorities has been to urbanize that largely desert but oil-rich province and industrialize it, whatever it takes. And what it takes, as Beijing sees it, is the hardcore Sinicization of the region — with its corollary, the suppression of any possibility of ethnic Uighur dissent.  People’s Liberation Army General Li Yazhou has, in these terms, described Central Asia as “the most subtle slice of cake donated by the sky to modern China.”

Most of China’s vision of a new Eurasia tied to Beijing by every form of transport and communication was vividly detailed in “Marching Westwards: The Rebalancing of China’s Geostrategy,” a landmark 2012 essay published by scholar Wang Jisi of the Center of International and Strategic Studies at Beijing University. As a response to such a future set of Eurasian connections, the best the Obama administration has come up with is a version of naval containment from the Indian Ocean to the South China Sea, while sharpening conflicts with and strategic alliances around China from Japan to India. (NATO is, of course, left with the task of containing Russia in Eastern Europe.)

An Iron Curtain vs. Silk Roads

The $400 billion “gas deal of the century,” signed by Putin and the Chinese president last May, laid the groundwork for the building of the Power of Siberia pipeline, already under construction in Yakutsk.  It will bring a flood of Russian natural gas onto the Chinese market.  It clearly represents just the beginning of a turbocharged, energy-based strategic alliance between the two countries. Meanwhile, German businessmen and industrialists have been noting another emerging reality: as much as the final market for made-in-China products traveling on future new Silk Roads will be Europe, the reverse also applies. In one possible commercial future, China is slated to become Germany’s top trading partner by 2018, surging ahead of both the U.S. and France.

A potential barrier to such developments, welcomed in Washington, is Cold War 2.0, which is already tearing not NATO, but the EU apart. In the EU of this moment, the anti-Russian camp includes Great Britain, Sweden, Poland, Romania, and the Baltic nations. Italy and Hungary, on the other hand, can be counted in the pro-Russian camp, while a still unpredictable Germany is the key to whether the future will hold a new Iron Curtain or “Go East” mindset.  For this, Ukraine remains the key.  If it is successfully Finlandized (with significant autonomy for its regions), as Moscow has been proposing — a suggestion that is anathema to Washington — the Go-East path will remain open. If not, a BMB future will be a dicier proposition.

It should be noted that another vision of the Eurasian economic future is also on the horizon.  Washington is attempting to impose a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) on Europe and a similar Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) on Asia.  Both favor globalizing American corporations and their aim is visibly to impede the ascent of the BRICS economies and the rise of other emerging markets, while solidifying American global economic hegemony.

Two stark facts, carefully noted in Moscow, Beijing, and Berlin, suggest the hardcore geopolitics behind these two “commercial” pacts. The TPP excludes China and the TTIP excludes Russia. They represent, that is, the barely disguised sinews of a future trade/monetary war.  On my own recent travels, I have had quality agricultural producers in Spain, Italy, and France repeatedly tell me that TTIP is nothing but an economic version of NATO, the military alliance that China’s Xi Jinping calls, perhaps wishfully, an “obsolete structure.”

There is significant resistance to the TTIP among many EU nations (especially in the Club Med countries of southern Europe), as there is against the TPP among Asian nations (especially Japan and Malaysia).  It is this that gives the Chinese and the Russians hope for their new Silk Roads and a new style of trade across the Eurasian heartland backed by a Russian-supported Eurasian Union. To this, key figures in German business and industrial circles, for whom relations with Russia remain essential, are paying close attention.

After all, Berlin has not shown overwhelming concern for the rest of the crisis-ridden EU (three recessions in five years). Via a much-despised troika — the European Central Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the European Commission — Berlin is, for all practical purposes, already at the helm of Europe, thriving, and looking east for more.

Three months ago, German chancellor Angela Merkel visited Beijing. Hardly featured in the news was the political acceleration of a potentially groundbreaking project: an uninterrupted high-speed rail connection between Beijing and Berlin. When finally built, it will prove a transportation and trade magnet for dozens of nations along its route from Asia to Europe. Passing through Moscow, it could become the ultimate Silk Road integrator for Europe and perhaps the ultimate nightmare for Washington.

“Losing” Russia

In a blaze of media attention, the recent NATO summit in Wales yielded only a modest “rapid reaction force” for deployment in any future Ukraine-like situations. Meanwhile, the expanding Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a possible Asian counterpart to NATO, met in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. In Washington and Western Europe essentially no one noticed.  They should have. There, China, Russia, and four Central Asian “stans” agreed to add an impressive set of new members: India, Pakistan, and Iran.  The implications could be far-reaching. After all, India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi is now on the brink of its own version of Silk Road mania. Behind it lies the possibility of a “Chindia” economic rapprochement, which could change the Eurasian geopolitical map. At the same time, Iran is also being woven into the “Chindia” fold.

So the SCO is slowly but surely shaping up as the most important international organization in AsiaIt’s already clear that one of its key long-term objectives will be to stop trading in U.S. dollars, while advancing the use of the petroyuan and petroruble in the energy trade. The U.S., of course, will never be welcomed into the organization.

All of this lies in the future, however.  In the present, the Kremlin keeps signaling that it once again wants to start talking with Washington, while Beijing has never wanted to stop. Yet the Obama administration remains myopically embedded in its own version of a zero-sum game, relying on its technological and military might to maintain an advantageous position in EurasiaBeijing, however, has access to markets and loads of cash, while Moscow has loads of energy. Triangular cooperation between Washington, Beijing, and Moscow would undoubtedly be — as the Chinese would say — a win-win-win game, but don’t hold your breath.

Instead, expect China and Russia to deepen their strategic partnership, while pulling in other Eurasian regional powers. Beijing has bet the farm that the U.S./NATO confrontation with Russia over Ukraine will leave Vladimir Putin turning east. At the same time, Moscow is carefully calibrating what its ongoing reorientation toward such an economic powerhouse will mean. Someday, it’s possible that voices of sanity in Washington will be wondering aloud how the U.S. “lost” Russia to China.

In the meantime, think of China as a magnet for a new world order in a future Eurasian century.  The same integration process Russia is facing, for instance, seems increasingly to apply to India and other Eurasian nations, and possibly sooner or later to a neutral Germany as well. In the endgame of such a process, the U.S. might find itself progressively squeezed out of Eurasia, with the BMB emerging as a game-changer. Place your bets soon.  They’ll be called in by 2025.

Pepe Escobar is the roving correspondent for Asia Times/Hong Kong, an analyst for RT, and a TomDispatch regular. His new book, Empire of Chaos, will be published in November by Nimble Books. Follow him on Facebook