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Dasquié, too, notes the role of the oil industry in this conflict. "Most of the big names of the Bush administration have a political culture developed in Big OilCheney with Halliburton, Rice at Chevron," he says. "Donald Evans also came from a big oil company." This shift from the Clinton era took effect quickly. In March 2001, a personal representative of Supreme Leader Omar came to Washington. In his mission to the nation's capital, he was accompanied by Helms.
It should be noted here that the Taliban, through a policy of coercion, had stopped farmers from growing opium poppiesa major goal of both the Clinton and Bush drug wars. In certain quarters this was taken as a sign of their coming around to deal with the U.S. What nobody seemed to know, or at least appreciate at the time, was that bin Laden had put so much money into Afghanistan that he virtually owned the regime. "We must understand that Mullah Omar was a peasant and illiterate," says Brisard, "so the person giving substance to the religious message of the Taliban regime is Osama bin Laden. He is the person who brings life to and finances the Taliban economy."
The way the French writers see it, the most significant factor in Central Asia is not a revived cold war between Russia and the U.S. over influence in the former Soviet republics, but the rise of Iran. Here the irony is that the U.S. embraced Saudi Arabia as a counterbalance against the Shiites in Iran. Now the tables are turned. FBI investigations showed the connection between the Saudi clergy and the September terrorist attacks. Gradually the U.S. has begun to distance itself from the Saudis. And at the same time, it has begun to warm to Iran, whose help the U.S. suddenly needs.
"During the dark years of Taliban power, their principal opponent in western Afghanistan was Iran," Dasquié says. "It played a very important part in supporting the Afghan resistance." Indeed, it was Shiite Iran that financed dissidents against the Taliban. When the crisis started, the Swiss Embassy in Tehran organized meetings between American State Department officials and Iranian president Mohammed Khatami's government.
In the end, the authors say Al Qaeda was a special case in that it was set up to be a nexus for other fundamentalist networks. Through bin Laden, it provides the financing to attract such groups as the Egyptian Islamic Jihad and the Ramata I Islamya. "There are a lot of fundamentalist movements around the world, but no one like Al Qaeda, because it was meant to be a kind of central point, a crossroads, the focus of fundamentalist movements," says Dasquié. "But if tomorrow Al Qaeda disappears, many little movements can replace it. All that is necessary is to get the support and benediction of the Saudi clergy."
Additional reporting: Michael Ridley