Follow the money

Quod Est Veritas? What is truth? Pilate asked Jesus the most important question, but left before Jesus could answer. It was clear enough that he was not a political threat, and that was the only truth Pilate cared about. Painting by Nikolai Ge (1890)
Quod Est Veritas? What is truth? Pilate asked Jesus the most important question, but left before Jesus could answer. It was clear enough that he was not a threat to the Roman rule, and that was the only truth Pilate cared about. When Pilate later saw Jesus as a threat he was executed. Nothing new had happened, but the understanding of truth had changed. The same applies today. Painting by Nikolai Ge (1890)


Truth, it has been said, is the first casualty of war.

Hiram Johnson, US politician, is often attributed with an almost identical quote, but there is no recorded evidence that he ever said it. Philip Snowden used this particular phrase in 1916. The point is that there is a lot of truth in this statement. It was true in the past with WW II and the Vietnam War, and it is true today with the conflicts in Ukraine/Crimea, Iraq, Libya, Syria and the global war on terror.

This is why it is especially disturbing the way our governments are gaslighting the men and women they send to do their dirty work. The politicians frequently tell the soldiers that they have to risk their lives for democracy or to protect “our own way of life.” In the first Gulf War George Herbert Bush claimed that satellite photos showed large numbers of Iraqi troops on the Saudi Arabian border. It turned out that there wasn’t even a little truth in that statement. Read this article from LA Times for more details. I also recommend this article from the Christian Science Monitor.

The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward claimed that there were no lies behind the second Golf War. George Bush may have believed that their intelligence was accurate, but in spite of the unwavering certainty, no one has ever found any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. It seems strange today that anyone could declare war without solid proof. This debate about whether or not the Bush administration lied is a part of the ongoing information war, and if you convince people that you represent the truth, you are likely to win the war. There is no such thing as people without an agenda in government, and we have to consider the possibility that war happens because someone wants it, not necessarily because it will solve anything. Read about Bob Woodward in US News.

The problem when these things happen is that it is hard to know what to think when they later claim to have proof in another matter. The Arab Spring may not have been quite what it seemed at first. Take Libya for example. When the civil war broke out in 2011 the government supposedly committed a number of atrocities, which led  NATO to intervene and the International Criminal Court to issue an arrest warrant against Gaddafi, but who’s to say what version of the truth is the most accurate?

We didn’t get much information about this is in Norway, but the truth has been slowly getting out over the last four years. Parliament supported the government’s decision to take part in the bombing without asking any questions. There was no debate at all. The state channel (our PBS) recently broadcasted a documentary where two of the pilots were interviewed. They described some pretty disturbing scenes. Most of the missions had been so-called SCAR (strike coordination and Reconnaissance), which means that it was up to the pilot to pick targets at random. We are talking about an area about the size of Idaho. How could they possibly determine what a military target looked like in a country that didn’t have that much military infrastructure.  The Norwegian pilots described seeing people run away, while those that didn’t make it were lying on the ground dead.

The government defended Norway’s leading role in these attacks with statements like “for us it is about promoting profound values we believe in.” The problem is that we don’t know what the truth is and who is speaking it. We assumed the authorities were correct when they supported the rebels and thus bombed Gaddafi out of power, but who’s to say what version is the correct one?

It seems to me that this part of the world and the religion Islam is incompatible with democracy. I have a feeling you can’t have both, which means that we are going to fail every time we try to force our governance on them. We may do better just leaving them alone, and Libya could be the best example of that. Gaddafi may not have been the most likeable man in the world, and I’m pretty sure he was not at all focused on improving the well-being of humankind, but he seems to have done a pretty good job inside Libya.  When he came to power in the late 1960’s Libya was one of the poorest countries in Africa, but because of the oil it became the richest during his reign. It was even one of the richest countries in the world in the early 80’s. They did have some problems under Gaddafi too, such as high unemployment (higher among men than women) and water shortage, but their life expectancy is almost on European level. Libya is in shambles today and there are competing groups trying to govern the country. Incidentally, it is hard to know what to believe about Libya as well. There are a lot of positive articles about Gaddafi, but also a high numbers of debunkers.

A Russian Sukhoi Su-24 attack aircraft, and a Norwegian F-16, photographed by a Norwegian pilot during a Baltic Air Policing mission
A Russian Sukhoi Su-24 attack aircraft (same type that was shot down in Syria), and a Norwegian F-16, photographed by a Norwegian pilot during a Baltic Air Policing mission Photo: Forsvaret (Norwegian Armed Forces)

I was very surprised when I heard that Turkey had shot down a Russian plane on the Turkey-Syrian border. They weren’t exactly bosom buddies before this happened either, but NATO and Russia has had some sort of alliance in the fight against ISIL. So why did they attack a partner?

The truth is always elusive and we can’t take Turkey’s or NATO’s word for anything. When something dramatic happens I often find it useful to take a few steps back and look at what has happened before, something that could explain this. I found some things that could be relevant. Here are some things to ponder:

Turkey has been accused many times of buying oil from ISIL or turning a blind eye to the middlemen involved in this illegal business. This speech by David Cohen from the U.S. Department of Treasury suggests that it’s not a completely wild accusation:

So who, ultimately, is buying this oil? According to our information, as of last month, ISIL was selling oil at substantially discounted prices to a variety of middlemen, including some from Turkey, who then transported the oil to be resold. It also appears that some of the oil emanating from territory where ISIL operates has been sold to Kurds in Iraq, and then resold into Turkey.

Turkey apparently like playing with semantics because they ardently deny all allegations, and technically the government isn’t directly involved, but I find it hard to believe that they don’t know who and what passes the border. It is also interesting that the Turkish President is spending so much energy on fighting media, and if this story really is slander, asking for an aggravated life sentence seems a bit harsh. Perhaps it doesn’t make the president look entirely innocent? Read about it in the English-language Turkish paper Hürriyet Daily News.

Turkey may be holding a long grudge against Syria, one that could have fueled this war from the very beginning. South Pars/North Dome field is the world’s largest gas field according to this short article on Wikipedia, and it is shared between Qatar and Iran. They wanted to build a pipeline to Turkey, through Syria, but as Bashar al-Assad has close ties to Russia, he turned them down. When the gas reaches Turkey it could also supply Europe, which could explain a lot. Most of Europe support the US demand that Bashar al-Assad has to go. There is no way he can be a part of the solution, and it seems like this is not something they are remotely willing to negotiate.

Why would Europe want to buy their gas from Turkey and Qatar?

We are talking about a lot of money and undoubtedly Europe wants to become less dependent on Russia. The Russian state owned natural gas company Gazprom sells a lot of gas to Europe, and the way things stands at the moment Europe would be in trouble if Russia closed the pipeline. President Putin has in fact threatened to close the pipeline that goes through Ukraine because they have had problems paying. Read about it in the Independent. This could have been behind the revolt in Ukraine as well because one of the last things the ousted Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych did was to abandon a trade deal with the EU in favour of closer ties with Russia. Read an article in the Guardian.

The Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is in the way. Who do you think would gain the most if the regime was ousted? I’m not sure it would be the Syrian people. Norway may play a role in this game too because my government is a major natural gas exporter, and 31 % of the EU import comes from Norway. EU have asked whether it would be possible for Norway to take over the 38 % they import from Russia, but it isn’t. I suspect they all want to reduce Russia’s influence, and Norway is probably interested in a more moderate increase in export. I believe there are many countries that see the Qatar-Turkey pipeline as a good idea, and there’s only one man standing in their way.

Call me a cynic if you’d like, but I have my doubts about how much NATO really cares about they Syrians. They want stability in their own countries, but not necessarily in the Middle East.

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