Statement Regarding NOAA Marine Operations Center – Pacific

August 4, 2009

“I am deeply disappointed by the announcement that NOAA plans to move its Seattle facility out of state when the current lease expires in 2011, and I am not ruling out launching a formal protest, depending upon a full review of the process and procedures that led to the decision.  Seattle has the home, history, people, available resources, and commitment to make it the logical choice for NOAA.”

Rep. McDermott Leads on Salmon Solutions and Planning Act

August 4, 2009

Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA) and Rep. Tom Petri (R-WI), joined by 23 other Members, introduced the Salmon Solutions and Planning Act just before Congress adjourned for the August district work period. 

“The extinction of several species of salmon is not theoretical,” Rep. McDermott said. “Within the next 10 years, several species of Snake River salmon are expected to disappear forever unless we act now to restore and protect salmon and steelhead across the Pacific Northwest.”

The bi-partisan legislation, H.R. 3503, calls for independent and comprehensive studies of the issues affecting salmon recovery efforts, including: scientific analysis of the impact of the removal of the four Lower Snake River dams on salmon protection and restoration; energy replacement alternatives should the four dams be removed; a transportation infrastructure study to determine improvements needed in rail or surface roads; and studying how to protect existing irrigated agricultural lands.

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Rep. McDermott Gives Floor Speech on Healthcare

July 30, 2009

Rep. McDermott speaking on the House floor Watch this floor speech

Rep. McDermott, gives a 5 minute speech on healthcare

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Rep. McDermott Introduces Legislation to Extend Unemployment Benefits

July 30, 2009

Beginning in September, hundreds of thousands of Americans will begin to exhaust their unemployment benefits every month unless Congress acts, and today Rep. Jim McDermott, chairman of the Income Security and Family Support Subcommittee, did just that.  McDermott, whose subcommittee oversees the nation’s UI system, introduced legislation today, H.R. 3404, to extend UI benefits.  It builds upon prior legislation by McDermott that was overwhelmingly passed on a bipartisan basis last year in response to the national economic crisis.

“Today there are at least five Americans looking for employment for every one available job and without extended benefits there will be a gaping hole in the economic lifeboat these Americans are in through no fault of their own; I don’t intend to let that happen,” Rep. McDermott said. 

The legislation will add an additional 13 weeks of UI benefits for workers in states where the overall unemployment rate on a three-month rolling average is at or above 9%; as of today, 20 states plus the U.S. Territory of Puerto Rico, would qualify.  In addition, the legislation would continue provisions in the Recovery Act that are now set to phase out at the end of the year, including provisions providing extended benefits and increasing the amount of the weekly UI check by $25. 

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A copy of the legislation is attached.

Rep. Jim McDermott participated in a news conference with House Democratic Leaders in support of health care reform

July 22, 2009

Rep. Jim McDermott participated in a news conference with House Democratic Leaders in support of health care reform

Rep. Jim McDermott participated in a news conference with House Democratic Leaders in support of health care reform on Tuesday, July 21, on Capitol Hill.  The news conference with Rep. McDermott, other Democratic leaders and primary care doctors and nurses, can be viewed on YouTube:

Rep. Jim McDermott and fellow Members of the House Progressive Caucus met recently with President Obama at the White House to discuss health care reform legislation.

Rep McDermott meets with President Obama about healthcare

Statement on ACES Legislation

  • News
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Rep. Jim McDermott helps launch Seattle’s new light rail system

July 18, 2009

Rep. Jim McDermott holds up a train ticket at the new light rail system ribbon cutting

Rep. Jim McDermott helps launch Seattle’s new light rail system at a ribbon cutting and first day of service on Saturday, July 18.  The congressman, who supported federal funding requests to help build the system, held up a train ticket to much applause and talked about light rail’s role in a greater emphasis on public transit in Puget Sound which is vital to the region’s future.


Rep. McDermott Sends Letter to Secretary Sebelius Urging Action on HIV Listing

June 24, 2009

Rep. McDermott Announces Healthcare Email and Draft Health Care Document

June 22, 2009

Rep. Jim McDermott today released a special email address so that constituents and others can directly send him and staff comments relating to health care reform.  The email address is:  [email protected]

In addition, McDermott, a senior Member of the House Ways and Means Committee, released a URL that will take people to the 900 page draft discussion document which represents the latest thinking by the three committees of jurisdiction in the U.S. House of Representatives:  Ways and  Means, Education and Labor, and Energy and Commerce.  The URL is:

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Ways and Means Members Discuss Health Reform with President Obama
Effort will reduce costs, protect current coverage and preserve choice to ensure affordable, quality care for all

June 9, 2009Rep. Jim McDermott, along with Members of the Ways and Means Committee, meets with the President at the White House on Tuesday, June 9 to discuss health care reform.

Rep. Jim McDermott, along with Members of the Ways and Means Committee, meets with the President at the White House on Tuesday, June 9 to discuss health care reform.

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Progressive Caucus Selects Members for Health Care Reform Leadership Team

Reps. Jim McDermott, Donna Edwards, Jerrold Nadler, and Sheila Jackson-Lee
Will Work With Speaker, Others to Help Craft Health Care Legislation

Rep. McDermott speaking on the House floor Watch this floor speech

Rep. McDermott, Rep. Lee, and Rep. Ellison speak on the House floor about healthcare. Click here for the full transript.

May 21, 2009

The 80-Member Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) last night selected four of its Members to represent the CPC with House Leadership and help draft comprehensive health care reform legislation.  They have recommended U.S. Representatives Dr. Jim McDermott (D-WA), Donna Edwards (D-MD), Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), and Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX). 

The action came a few hours after the CPC met with the Speaker and Majority Leader of the House and key Committee Chairmen to underscore the need for health care legislation to include a robust public option provision.  The importance of that provision was underscored in a follow-up letter sent to the Speaker today, which said in part: “…we look forward to working together in coming days and weeks to ensure that a robust public option that we can all be proud to support is included in the bill ultimately enacted and sent to President Obama for his signature.”

A Real Health Care Solution

Rep. McDermott speaking on the House floor Watch this floor speech

March 10, 2009

Mr. Speaker:

For the first time in at least 15 years we have a real chance to solve America’s health care crisis.  The stars are aligning in ways not seen before.

The American people want a solution; American businesses need a solution to stay competitive and retain their best employees; segments of the health care industry itself, such as doctors, want a solution; and the President and Congress have begun a national dialogue. 

Yet, despite all these positive signs, we must not make the mistake of believing a solution is at hand, or that one will come easily.  As a nation we stand at a crossroads: either sweeping reform or sweeping this crisis under the rug yet again. 

We have to translate this national dialogue into legislation that makes access to affordable health care coverage what it must be in a free and Democratic society – a right and not a privilege. 

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Three Cups of Tea

Rep. McDermott speaking on the House floor Watch this floor speech

Mr. Speaker:

I’ve just returned from an official congressional delegation trip to Iraq and Afghanistan.  There is a lot to reflect on after a trip like this, especially the wisdom in a book entitled Three Cups of Tea.

It relates to our military involvement – and misjudgments- first in Iraq and potentially now in Afghanistan.

Before I go any further, let me say that we cannot do enough to recognize and honor our soldiers, and their bravery, dedication and love of country. 

For a few brief moments, we got a taste of what you endure every day. Every Member on the Codel was equipped with body armor and flack jackets, and you quickly realize the dangers and stress our soldiers endure every day.  

We owe them our gratitude, our support when they return and the confidence in knowing that our government will only place them in harm’s way as a last resort. 

We failed that responsibility in Iraq and many are asking whether we may fail again in Afghanistan.

We are the most powerful nation on earth but our bullets and bombs cannot penetrate the corridors of history. 

And the book, Three Cups of Tea, provides a powerful reminder that we must silence the guns if we are to hear the voices of truth coming from history.

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HR 2, Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act

January 14, 2009

Rep. McDermott speaking on the House floor Watch this floor speech

Mr. Chairman, I rise in strong support for the CHIP reauthorization legislation and thank Speaker Pelosi for her leadership in bringing this bill to the floor. HR 2 clearly says that change has arrived for our country and our children.

Instead of the veto pen that was used last year by the outgoing president to deny health care to children, our new president will sign this legislation and in so doing begin to write a new chapter in America’s commitment to our children and our future.

HR 2 is a real down payment on our efforts to ensure universal access to affordable health care for all Americans. It builds on successful models that have expanded access to millions of children nation wide. Health care should be a right not a privilege for the rich in America.

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September 26, 2008 – Privatizing Social Security
September 23, 2008 The Bad Old Days
September 16, 2008 Free Enterprise is Not Free Anymore



Jim’s Speeches

Rep. McDermott Home Visitation Bill Incorporated into Historic Health Care Legislation

July 17, 2009

The historic health care reform legislation that was voted out of the House Ways and Means Committee early this morning includes Rep. Jim McDermott’s Early Support for Families Act that he introduced along with Rep. Danny Davis earlier this year.  The bill is now Section 1904 of H.R. 3200, the America’s Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009.

The provision would provide $1.8 billion over ten years for grants to States, tribes and territories to establish or expand voluntarily home visitation programs for pregnant women and for families with pre-school children. 

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Chairman Rangel’s Health Care Mark Includes Domestic Partner Benefits Bill

July 17, 2009

Rep. Jim McDermott announced this evening that House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel included McDermott’s domestic partners legislation (Tax Equity for Health Plan Beneficiaries Act, HR 2625), as a provision in the chairman’s mark of health care legislation before the full committee today and tonight.

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Rep. McDermott Introduces Legislation to Correct Injustice Against Philippine Community in Seattle

June 25, 2009

Rep. Jim McDermott today introduced the Justice for Wards Cove Workers Act, HR 3038, to correct an injustice against Philippine workers at a Seattle fish processing plant over a quarter century ago. 

In the early 1970s Philippine workers at Ward’s Cove filed suit against their employer alleging discrimination.  In the end, the Supreme Court ruled against the workers, which led directly to the enactment by Congress of HR 1, the Civil Rights Act of 1991.  However, subsequent action by the Senate exempted these workers from the protections afforded by the Civil Rights Act.  To date, these are the only workers who have been denied these protections.  McDermott’s legislation would extend the protection of the Civil Rights Act of 1991 to the Seattle Philippine workers.

“When a few Seattle residents of Philippine decent are singled out from protection by the Civil Rights Act of 1991, every American is at risk,” Rep. McDermott said.  “Either civil rights apply to every
American or they may not apply to any American.” 

The legislation, which is attached, would remove the exemption and extend to the workers the protections of the Civil Rights Act of 1991.

McDermott Amendment Would Identify Conflict Zone Mines

June 25, 2009

Rep. Jim McDermott today introduced and the House passed his amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act of 2010 to address the mining of Coltan (columbite), a rare mineral used in virtually every cell phone, from conflict areas in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, DRC.

“We know that profits from these conflicts mines are fueling war and terrible human rights abuses in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC),” McDermott said, “and I believe if we can identify, and publicize, where these mines are, companies that need this mineral to produce cell phones will purchase the resource from other sources.”

A copy of McDermott’s amendment is attached.

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Rep. McDermott Introduces Poverty Measure Legislation

June 17, 2009

Rep. Jim McDermott, chairman of the Income Security and Family Support Subcommittee, introduced legislation today that would update the way poverty is measured in the United States for the first time in half a century.

A copy of the legislation and an overview of its provisions are attached.

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House Passes Protecting Incentives for the Adoption of Children with Special Needs Act Chairman McDermott Manages Debate

April 29, 2009

“The bipartisan bill eliminates a restriction that was inadvertently placed in the adoption incentive program by the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2009.”

Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA), Income Security and Family Support Subcommittee Chairman, managed House floor responsibility today for the passage of S. 735, the Protecting Incentives for the Adoption of Children with Special Needs Act of 2009.

The bill, which passed today in the House on the Suspension Calendar, removes a restriction that was mistakenly added in the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2009 that would have reduced the amount of funding received by States that are able to increase the number of children adopted out of foster care.

Mr. McDermott’s remarks:

Mr. Speaker, last fall Congress passed bipartisan legislation that provided broad improvements to our nation’s child welfare system. 
The legislation, the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act, won unanimous approval in both the House and the Senate last fall and was signed into law a short time later. 

The landmark legislation represented the most significant reform in the child welfare system in over a decade. 

  Read More

Amendment to Credit Cardholder’s Bill of Rights that Would Cap Credit Card Interest Rates At 18 Percent

April 28, 2009

Washington, DC — Congressman Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), Congressman Peter Welch (D-VT), Congressman John Tierney (D-MA), and Congressman Jim McDermott (D-WA) today announced that they will offer an amendment to the Credit Cardholder’s Bill of Rights bill in the House this week that would cap interest rates on all credit cards at 18 percent.  The House members will take their amendment to the House Rules Committee on Wednesday for procedural approval.  They then intend to bring their amendment to the House floor for debate and a vote on Thursday when the chamber is expected to take up the Credit Cardholder’s Bill of Rights and any relevant amendments.

"In the midst of such great economic peril, more and more Americans are being forced to use credit cards to pay for groceries, health care, gas, and other necessities.  Credit card companies are exploiting the dire economic situation by increasing rates to exorbitant levels, which further compounds the financial woes of many Americans and drives them deeper into debt where they become even more beholden to the credit card companies and their abusive practices," Hinchey said. "Enough is enough when it comes to skyrocketing credit card rates.  This amendment will help end the credit card trap and provide Americans with the comfort of knowing their credit card rates won’t soar to eye-popping levels while still providing credit card companies with large enough margins to enjoy a profit."

  Read More

Rep. McDermott Introduces Breakthrough Legislation on Climate Change

March 24, 2009

Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA) today introduced The Clean Environment and Stable Energy Market Act of 2009, which offers a practical and pragmatic solution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere, and will reduce emissions by 80% by the middle of the century. The breakthrough proposed by the senior Member of the House Ways and Means Committee is for America to pursue a course of action that does not create a new problem in its wake.

Under McDermott’s bill, HR 1683, producers of products and resources that emit greenhouse gases would be required to purchase a Federal Emission Permit. The permits would be available in an increasingly limited supply and the price for a permit would be established by the Secretary of the Treasury and periodically calibrated to ensure that demand for the permits does not exceed an annual, national allocation.  Simply put, McDermott’s legislation would reduce greenhouse gas emissions and avoid creation of a carbon derivatives market that could turn a potential energy solution into energy market chaos.

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A copy of the legislation is attached. 


Rep. McDermott Introduces Universal Health Care Legislation
Single Payer – Individual Choice

February 12, 2009

Re-affirming his commitment to providing every American with access to affordable health care coverage, Rep. Jim McDermott today introduced HR 1200, the American Health Security Act.  McDermott’s legislation would ensure that every American receives a minimum set of basic health benefits, publically funded but privately delivered and managed. 

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Full Text for HR 1200

America Economic Recovery Legislation Includes $45 Billion From Rep. McDermott’s Subcommittee
January 16, 2009

Earlier this afternoon, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles B. Rangel (D-NY) introduced H.R. 598, legislation including components of the economic recovery bill under the Jurisdiction of the Ways and Means Committee.  Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA), chairman of the Income Security and Family Support Subcommittee joined Chairman Rangel as an original co-sponsor of this crucial legislation.

“This recovery package will help restore confidence for American families and businesses and grow the economy so that we can recover from the current downturn,” said Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles B. Rangel (D-NY).   “We will provide relief directly to families who are hurting, helping those who have lost their jobs and their health care to rebuild and recover their lives.  We have also crafted a targeted package of benefits to businesses large and small to jumpstart investments in new technology and new jobs to help our economy turn around.”

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Rep. McDermott Introduces Unemployment Insurance Reform and Stimulus Initiative

January 8, 2009

“Today, millions of hard-working Americans who lost their job during this economic crisis face a second crisis when they try to obtain their unemployment insurance compensation and discover that they do not qualify because the system that was created in the economic reality of 1935 is unable to match the needs of the labor market of the 21st century,” Rep. McDermott said.

McDermott explained that 1935’s America relied largely on full-time, male workers, yet America’s 21st Century economy relies upon millions of part-time workers, which are disproportionately women.

McDermott said: “Low-wage and part-time workers often fall through the cracks of the UI system, and the impact is particularly hard on families that rely on the income of a low-wage worker or a mother’s part-time job.  Low-wage and part-time workers, who contribute to the unemployment insurance system, are a larger portion of the workforce than they used to be, yet they are half as likely to qualify for unemployment benefits as other workers.”

The Unemployment Insurance Modernization Act would make $7 billion available from the federal Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund to state governments in exchange for modest reforms to their unemployment insurance programs.  These reforms would enable more low-wage and part-time workers to qualify for the unemployment insurance compensation they earned.  The unemployment insurance program is a joint, federal-state program that is administered by state governments.

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Jim’s Bills
Official Letters
Jim’s Subcommittee
Ways and Means Committee
How Jim voted this week

Informed Sources


Asia Times

May 14, 2009


Pipelineistan goes Af-Pak

By Pepe Escobar


As United States President Barack Obama heads into his second 100 days in office, let’s head for the big picture ourselves, the ultimate global plot line, the tumultuous rush towards a new, polycentric world order. In its first 100 days, the Obama presidency introduced us to a brand new acronym, OCO – for Overseas Contingency Operations – formerly known as GWOT (as in "global war on terror").

Use either name, or anything else you want, and what you’re really talking about is what’s happening on the immense energy battlefield that extends from Iran to the Pacific Ocean. It’s there that the liquid war for the control of Eurasia takes place.

Yep, it all comes down to black gold and "blue gold" (natural gas), hydrocarbon wealth beyond compare, and so it’s time to trek back

to that ever-flowing wonderland – Pipelineistan. It’s time to dust off the acronyms, especially the SCO or Shanghai Cooperative Organization, the Asian response to NATO, and learn a few new ones like IPI and TAPI. Above all, it’s time to check out the most recent moves on the giant chessboard of Eurasia, where Washington wants to be a crucial, if not dominant, player.

We’ve already seen Pipelineistan wars in Kosovo and Georgia, and we’ve followed Washington’s favorite pipeline, the BTC, which was supposed to tilt the flow of energy westward, sending oil coursing past both Iran and Russia. Things didn’t quite turn out that way, but we’ve got to move on, the New Great Game never stops. Now, it’s time to grasp just what the Asian Energy Security Grid is all about, visit a surreal natural gas republic, and understand why that Grid is so deeply implicated in the Af-Pak war.

Every time I’ve visited Iran, energy analysts stress the total "interdependence of Asia and Persian Gulf geo-ecopolitics". What they mean is the ultimate importance to various great and regional powers of Asian integration via a sprawling mass of energy pipelines that will someday, somehow, link the Persian Gulf, Central Asia, South Asia, Russia and China. The major Iranian card in the Asian integration game is the gigantic South Pars natural gas field (which Iran shares with Qatar). It is estimated to hold at least 9% of the world’s proven natural gas reserves.

As much as Washington may live in perpetual denial, Russia and Iran together control roughly 20% of the world’s oil reserves and nearly 50% of its gas reserves. Think about that for a moment. It’s little wonder that, for the leadership of both countries as well as China’s, the idea of Asian integration, of the Grid, is sacrosanct.

If it ever gets built, a major node on that Grid will surely be the prospective US$7.6 billion Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) pipeline, also known as the "peace pipeline". After years of wrangling, a nearly miraculous agreement for its construction was initialed in 2008. At least in this rare case, both Pakistan and India stood shoulder to shoulder in rejecting relentless pressure from the Bush administration to scotch the deal.

It couldn’t be otherwise. Pakistan, after all, is an energy-poor, desperate customer of the Grid. One year ago, in a speech at Beijing’s Tsinghua University, then-president Pervez Musharraf did everything but drop to his knees and beg China to dump money into pipelines linking the Persian Gulf and Pakistan with China’s far west. If this were to happen, it might help transform Pakistan from a near-failed state into a mighty "energy corridor" to the Middle East. If you think of a pipeline as an umbilical cord, it goes without saying that IPI, far more than any form of US aid (or outright interference), would go the extra mile in stabilizing the Pak half of Obama’s Af-Pak theater of operations, and even possibly relieve it of its India obsession.

If Pakistan’s fate is in question, Iran’s is another matter. Though currently only holding "observer" status in the SCO, sooner or later it will inevitably become a full member and so enjoy NATO-style, an-attack-on-one-of-us-is-an-attack-on-all-of-us protection. Imagine, then, the cataclysmic consequences of an Israeli preemptive strike (backed by Washington or not) on Iran’s nuclear facilities. The SCO will tackle this knotty issue at its next summit in June, in Yekaterinburg, Russia.

Iran’s relations with both Russia and China are swell – and will remain so no matter who is elected the new Iranian president next month. China desperately needs Iranian oil and gas, has already clinched a $100 billion gas "deal of the century" with the Iranians and has loads of weapons and cheap consumer goods to sell. No less close to Iran, Russia wants to sell them even more weapons, as well as nuclear energy technology.

And then, moving ever eastward on the great Grid, there’s Turkmenistan, lodged deep in Central Asia, which, unlike Iran, you may never have heard a thing about. Let’s correct that now.

Gurbanguly is the man

Alas, the sun-king of Turkmenistan, the wily, wacky Saparmurat "Turkmenbashi" Nyazov, "the father of all Turkmen" (descendants of a formidable race of nomadic horseback warriors who used to attack Silk Road caravans) is now dead. But far from forgotten.

The Chinese were huge fans of the Turkmenbashi. And the joy was mutual. One key reason the Central Asians love to do business with China is that the Middle Kingdom, unlike both Russia and the United States, carries little modern imperial baggage. And of course, China will never carp about human rights or foment a color-coded revolution of any sort.

The Chinese are already moving to successfully lobby the new Turkmen president, the spectacularly named Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, to speed up the construction of the Mother of All Pipelines. This Turkmen-Kazakh-China Pipelineistan corridor from eastern Turkmenistan to China’s Guangdong province will be the longest and most expensive pipeline in the world, 7,000 kilometers of steel pipe at a staggering cost of $26 billion. When China signed the agreement to build it in 2007, they made sure to add a clever little geopolitical kicker. The agreement explicitly states that "Chinese interests" will not be "threatened from [Turkmenistan’s] territory by third parties”. In translation: no Pentagon bases allowed in that country.

China’s deft energy diplomacy game plan in the former Soviet republics of Central Asia is a pure winner. In the case of Turkmenistan, lucrative deals are offered and partnerships with Russia are encouraged to boost Turkmen gas production. There are to be no Russian-Chinese antagonisms, as befits the main partners in the SCO, because the Asian Energy Security Grid story is really and truly about them.

By the way, elsewhere on the Grid, those two countries recently agreed to extend the East Siberian-Pacific Ocean oil pipeline to China by the end of 2010. After all, energy-ravenous China badly needs not just Turkmen gas, but Russia’s liquefied natural gas (LNG).

With energy prices low and the global economy melting down, times are sure to be tough for the Kremlin through at least 2010, but this won’t derail its push to forge a Central Asian energy club within the SCO. Think of all this as essentially an energy entente cordiale with China. Russian Deputy Industry and Energy Minister Ivan Materov has been among those insistently swearing that this will not someday lead to a "gas OPEC [the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries]" within the SCO. It remains to be seen how the Obama national security team decides to counteract the successful Russian strategy of undermining by all possible means a US-promoted East-West Caspian Sea energy corridor, while solidifying a Russian-controlled Pipelineistan stretching from Kazakhstan to Greece that will monopolize the flow of energy to Western Europe.

The real Afghan war

In the ever-shifting New Great Game in Eurasia, a key question – why Afghanistan matters – is simply not part of the discussion in the United States. (Hint: It has nothing to do with the liberation of Afghan women.) In part, this is because the idea that energy and Afghanistan might have anything in common is verboten.

And yet, rest assured, nothing of significance takes place in Eurasia without an energy angle. In the case of Afghanistan, keep in mind that Central and South Asia have been considered by American strategists as crucial places to plant the flag; and once the Soviet Union collapsed, control of the energy-rich former Soviet republics in the region was quickly seen as essential to future US global power. It would be there, as they imagined it, that the US Empire of Bases would intersect crucially with Pipelineistan in a way that would leave both Russia and China on the defensive.

Think of Afghanistan, then, as an overlooked subplot in the ongoing Liquid War. After all, an overarching goal of US foreign policy since president Richard Nixon’s era in the early 1970s has been to split Russia and China. The leadership of the SCO has been focused on this since the US Congress passed the Silk Road Strategy Act five days before beginning the bombing of Serbia in March 1999. That act clearly identified American geostrategic interests from the Black Sea to western China with building a mosaic of American protectorates in Central Asia and militarizing the Eurasian energy corridor.

Afghanistan, as it happens, sits conveniently at the crossroads of any new Silk Road linking the Caucasus to western China, and four nuclear powers (China, Russia, Pakistan and India) lurk in the vicinity. "Losing" Afghanistan and its key network of US military bases would, from the Pentagon’s point of view, be a disaster, and though it may be a secondary matter in the New Great Game of the moment, it’s worth remembering that the country itself is a lot more than the towering mountains of the Hindu Kush and immense deserts: it’s believed to be rich in unexplored deposits of natural gas, petroleum, coal, copper, chrome, talc, barites, sulfur, lead, zinc and iron ore, as well as precious and semiprecious stones.

And there’s something highly toxic to be added to this already lethal mix: don’t forget the narco-dollar angle – the fact that the global heroin cartels that feast on Afghanistan only work with US dollars, not euros. For the SCO, the top security threat in Afghanistan isn’t the Taliban, but the drug business. Russia’s anti-drug czar Viktor Ivanov routinely blasts the disaster that passes for a US/NATO anti-drug war there, stressing that Afghan heroin now kills 30,000 Russians annually, twice as many as were killed during the decade-long US-supported anti-Soviet Afghan jihad of the 1980s.

And then, of course, there are those competing pipelines that, if ever built, either would or wouldn’t exclude Iran and Russia from the action to their south. In April 2008, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India actually signed an agreement to build a long-dreamt-about $7.6 billion (and counting) pipeline, whose acronym TAPI combines the first letters of their names and would also someday deliver natural gas from Turkmenistan to Pakistan and India without the involvement of either Iran or Russia. It would cut right through the heart of Western Afghanistan, in Herat, and head south across lightly populated Nimruz and Helmand provinces, where the Taliban, various Pashtun guerrillas and assorted highway robbers now merrily run rings around US and NATO forces and where – surprise! – the US is now building in Dasht-e-Margo ("the Desert of Death") a new mega-base to host President Obama’s surge troops.

TAPI’s rival is the already mentioned IPI, also theoretically underway and widely derided by Heritage Foundation types in the US, who regularly launch blasts of angry prose at the nefarious idea of India and Pakistan importi gas from "evil" Iran. Theoretically, TAPI’s construction will start in 2010 and the gas would begin flowing by 2015. (Don’t hold your breath.) Embattled Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who can hardly secure a few square blocks of central Kabul, even with the help of international forces, nonetheless offered assurances last year that he would not only rid his country of millions of land mines along TAPI’s route but somehow get rid of the Taliban in the bargain.

Should there be investors (nursed by Afghan opium dreams) delirious enough to sink their money into such a pipeline – and that’s a monumental if – Afghanistan would collect only $160 million a year in transit fees, a mere bagatelle even if it does represent a big chunk of the embattled Karzai’s current annual revenue. Count on one thing though, if it ever happened, the Taliban and assorted warlords/highway robbers would be sure to get a cut of the action.


A Clinton-Bush-Obama great game

TAPI’s roller-coaster history actually begins in the mid-1990s, the Clinton era, when the Taliban were dined (but not wined) by the California-based energy company Unocal and the Clinton machine. In 1995, Unocal first came up with the pipeline idea, even then a product of Washington’s fatal urge to bypass both Iran and Russia. Next, Unocal talked to the Turkmenbashi, then to the Taliban, and so launched a classic New Great Game gambit that has yet to end and without which you can’t understand the Afghan war Obama has inherited.

A Taliban delegation, thanks to Unocal, enjoyed Houston’s hospitality in early 1997 and then Washington’s in December of that year. When it came to energy negotiations, the Taliban’s leadership was anything but medieval. They were tough bargainers, also cannily courting the Argentinean private oil company Bridas, which had secured the right to explore and exploit oil reserves in eastern Turkmenistan.

 In August 1997, financially unstable Bridas sold 60% of its stock to Amoco, which merged the next year with British Petroleum. A key Amoco consultant happened to be that ubiquitous Eurasian player, former national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, while another such luminary, Henry Kissinger, just happened to be a consultant for Unocal. BP-Amoco, already developing the Baku-Tblisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline, now became the major player in what had already been dubbed the Trans-Afghan Pipeline or TAP. Inevitably, Unocal and BP-Amoco went to war and let the lawyers settle things in a Texas court, where, in October 1998 as the Clinton years drew to an end, BP-Amoco seemed to emerge with the upper hand.

Under newly elected president George W Bush, however, Unocal snuck back into the game and, as early as January 2001, was cozying up to the Taliban yet again, this time supported by a star-studded governmental cast of characters, including undersecretary of state Richard Armitage, himself a former Unocal lobbyist. The Taliban were duly invited back to Washington in March 2001 via Rahmatullah Hashimi, a top aide to "The Shadow," the movement’s leader Mullah Omar.

Negotiations eventually broke down because of those pesky transit fees the Taliban demanded. Beware the Empire’s fury. At a Group of Eight summit meeting in Genoa in July 2001, Western diplomats indicated that the Bush administration had decided to take the Taliban down before year’s end. (Pakistani diplomats in Islamabad would later confirm this to me.) The attacks of September 11, 2001 just slightly accelerated the schedule. Nicknamed "the kebab seller" in Kabul, Hamid Karzai, a former Central Intelligence Agency asset and Unocal representative, who had entertained visiting Taliban members at barbecues in Houston, was soon forced down Afghan throats as the country’s new leader.

Among the first fruits of defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s bombing and invasion of Afghanistan in the fall of 2001 was the signing by Karzai, Pakistani president Musharraf and Turkmenistan’s president Saparmyrat Nyazov of an agreement committing themselves to build TAP, formally launching a Pipelineistan extension from Central to South Asia with brand USA stamped all over it.

Russian President Vladimir Putin did nothing – until September 2006, that is, when he delivered his counterpunch with panache. That’s when Russian energy behemoth Gazprom agreed to buy Nyazov’s natural gas at the 40% mark-up the dictator demanded. In return, the Russians received priceless gifts (and the Bush administration a pricey kick in the face). Nyazov turned over control of Turkmenistan’s entire gas surplus to the Russian company through 2009, indicated a preference for letting Russia explore the country’s new gas fields and stated that Turkmenistan was bowing out of any US-backed Trans-Caspian pipeline project. (And while he was at it, Putin also cornered much of the gas exports of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan as well.)

Thus, almost five years later, with occupied Afghanistan in increasingly deadly chaos, TAP seemed dead-on-arrival. The (invisible) star of what would later turn into Obama’s "good" war was already a corpse.

But here’s the beauty of Pipelineistan: like zombies, dead deals always seem to return and so the game goes on forever.

Just when Russia thought it had Turkmenistan locked in …


A Turkmen bash

They don’t call Turkmenistan a "gas republic" for nothing. I’ve crossed it from the Uzbek border to a Caspian Sea port named – what else – Turkmenbashi where you can purchase one kilo of fresh Beluga for $100 and a camel for $200. That’s where the gigantic gas fields are, and it’s obvious that most have not been fully explored. When, in October 2008, the British consultancy firm GCA confirmed that the Yolotan-Osman gas fields in southwest Turkmenistan were among the world’s four largest, holding up to a staggering 14 trillion cubic meters of natural gas, Turkmenistan promptly grabbed second place in the global gas reserves sweepstakes, way ahead of Iran and only 20% below Russia. With that news, the earth shook seismically across Pipelineistan.

Just before he died in December 2006, the flamboyant Turkmenbashi boasted that his country held enough reserves to export 150 billion cubic meters of gas annually for the next 250 years. Given his notorious megalomania, nobody took him seriously. So in March 2008, our man Gurbanguly ordered a GCA audit to dispel any doubts. After all, in pure Asian Energy Security Grid mode, Turkmenistan had already signed contracts to supply Russia with about 50 billion cubic meters annually, China with 40 billion cubic meters and Iran with eight billion cubic meters.

And yet, none of this turns out to be quite as monumental or settled as it may look. In fact, Turkmenistan and Russia may be playing the energy equivalent of Russian roulette. After all, virtually all of Turkmenistani gas exports flow north through an old, crumbling Soviet system of pipelines, largely built in the 1960s. Add to this a Turkmeni knack for raising the stakes non-stop at a time when Gazprom has little choice but to put up with it: without Turkmen gas, it simply can’t export all it needs to Europe, the source of 70% of Gazprom’s profits.

Worse yet, according to a Gazprom source quoted in the Russian business daily Kommersant, the stark fact is that the company only thought it controlled all of Turkmenistan’s gas exports; the newly discovered gas mega-fields turn out not to be part of the deal. As my Asia Times Online colleague, former ambassador MK Bhadrakumar put the matter, Gazprom’s mistake "is proving to be a misconception of Himalayan proportions".

In fact, it’s as if the New Great Gamesters had just discovered another Everest. This year, Obama’s national security strategists lost no time unleashing a no-holds-barred diplomatic campaign to court Turkmenistan. The goal? To accelerate possible ways for all that new Turkmeni gas to flow through the right pipes, and create quite a different energy map and future. Apart from TAPI, another key objective is to make the prospective $5.8 billion Turkey-to-Austria Nabucco pipeline become viable and thus, of course, trump the Russians. In that way, a key long-term US strategic objective would be fulfilled: Austria, Italy and Greece, as well as the Balkan and various Central European countries, would be at least partially pulled from Gazprom’s orbit. (Await my next "postcard" from Pipelineistan for more on this.)



Gurbanguly is proving an even more riotous player than the Turkmenbashi. A year ago he said he was going to hedge his bets, that he was willing to export the bulk of the eight trillion cubic meters of gas reserves he now claims for his country to virtually anyone. Washington was – and remains – ecstatic. At an international conference last month in Ashgabat ("the city of love"), the Las Vegas of Central Asia, Gurbanguly told a hall packed with Americans, Europeans and Russians that "diversification of energy flows and inclusion of new countries into the geography of export routes can help the global economy gain stability”.

Inevitably, behind closed doors, the TAPI maze came up and TAPI executives once again began discussing pricing and transit fees. Of course, hard as that may be to settle, it’s the easy part of the deal. After all, there’s that Everest of Afghan security to climb, and someone still has to confirm that Turkmenistan’s gas reserves are really as fabulous as claimed.

Imperceptible jiggles in Pipelineistan’s tectonic plates can shake half the world. Take, for example, an obscure March report in the Balochistan Times: a little noticed pipeline supplying gas to parts of Sindh province in Pakistan, including Karachi, was blown up. It got next to no media attention, but all across Eurasia and in Washington those analyzing the comparative advantages of TAPI vs IPI had to wonder just how risky it might be for India to buy future Iranian gas via increasingly volatile Balochistan.

And then in early April came another mysterious pipeline explosion, this one in Turkmenistan, compromising exports to Russia. The Turkmenis promptly blamed the Russians (and TAPI advocates cheered), but nothing in Afghanistan itself could have left them cheering very loudly. Right now, Dick Cheney’s master plan to get those blue rivers of Turkmeni gas flowing southwards via a future TAPI as part of a US grand strategy for a "Greater Central Asia" lies in tatters.

Still, Brzezinski might disagree, and as he commands Obama’s attention, he may try to convince the new president that the world needs a $7.6 billion-plus, 1,600-km steel serpent winding through a horribly dangerous war zone. That’s certainly the gist of what Brzezinski said immediately after the 2008 Russia-Georgia war, stressing once again that "the construction of a pipeline from Central Asia via Afghanistan to the south … will maximally expand world society’s access to the Central Asian energy market."


Washington or Beijing?

Still, give credit where it’s due. For the time being, our man Gurbanguly may have snatched the leading role in the New Great Game in this part of Eurasia. He’s already signed a groundbreaking gas agreement with RWE from Germany and sent the Russians scrambling.

If, one of these days, the Turkmenistani leader opts for TAPI as well, it will open Washington to an ultimate historical irony. After so much death and destruction, Washington would undoubtedly have to sit down once again with – yes – the Taliban! And we’d be back to July 2001 and those pesky pipeline transit fees.

As it stands at the moment, however, Russia still dominates Pipelineistan, ensuring Central Asian gas flows across Russia’s network and not through the Trans-Caspian networks privileged by the US and the European Union. This virtually guarantees Russia’s crucial geopolitical status as the top gas supplier to Europe and a crucial supplier to Asia as well.

Meanwhile, in "transit corridor" Pakistan, where Predator drones soaring over Pashtun tribal villages monopolize the headlines, the shady New Great Game slouches in under-the-radar mode toward the immense, under-populated southern Pakistani province of Balochistan. The future of the epic IPI vs TAPI battle may hinge on a single, magic word: Gwadar.

Essentially a fishing village, Gwadar is an Arabian Sea port in that province. The port was built by China. In Washington’s dream scenario, Gwadar becomes the new Dubai of South Asia. This implies the success of TAPI. For its part, China badly needs Gwadar as a node for yet another long pipeline to be built to western China. And where would the gas flowing in that line come from? Iran, of course.

Whoever "wins," if Gwadar really becomes part of the Liquid War, Pakistan will finally become a key transit corridor for either Iranian gas from the monster South Pars field heading for China, or a great deal of the Caspian gas from Turkmenistan heading Europe-wards. To make the scenario even more locally mouth-watering, Pakistan would then be a pivotal place for both NATO and the SCO (in which it is already an official "observer").

Now that’s as classic as the New Great Game in Eurasia can get. There’s NATO vs the SCO. With either IPI or TAPI, Turkmenistan wins. With either IPI or TAPI, Russia loses. With either IPI or TAPI, Pakistan wins. With TAPI, Iran loses. With IPI, Afghanistan loses. In the end, however, as in any game of high stakes Pipelineistan poker, it all comes down to the top two global players. Ladies and gentlemen, place your bets: will the winner be Washington or Beijing?

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


He may be reached at [email protected].


(Copyright 2009 Pepe Escobar.) (Used by permission Tomdispatch)




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