Tuesday, October 16, 2007

It's nothing personal, just business

There's been a lot happening in the region recently and I simply haven't had much time to comment on it. The recent visit of Putin to Iran is particularly interesting and I feel that things of vital importance have been happening which can't be ignored. One of the commentators on Joshua Landis' SyriaComment asked the question why the United States has not attacked yet if Iran is confirmed to be supporting insurgency in Iraq, thus killing US soldiers, pursuing nuclear technology and supporting both Syria and Hezbullah in the south. What further red lines must be crossed? A good question and I think there might be a number of factors we should consider:
Firstly we should not underestimate what happened last summer in Lebanon. A long chess game of reshaping the Middle East, starting with the Hariri assassination in 2005 was to have continued with the elimination of a vital partner of Iran and Syria. This did not work and Hezbullah in fact emerged much stronger than before and allegedly with little damage to it's capability.

In Iraq, the United States has lost. One of it's top generals has recently described Iraq as a nightmare with no end in sight and I don't know what more confirmation we'd need that things are not looking good for the Americans. The interesting thing is that many American analysts such as Patrick Lang continue to view the fighting in Iraq within the paradigm of "the War on Terror". I don't know if it's just me but I can't take that view seriously anymore, Al Qaeda does exist in Iraq but only because the Americans are there and it is certainly not the biggest thing they should worry about while there. In my opinion, the United States is not hesitant about leaving Iraq because it fears a vacuum which would lead to a "worse" situation, but rather we can see this as a fear that Iran will in fact takeover instead. The present strategy which had involved building up a Quisling Iraqi government has all but failed and that's precisely because, unlike the Iranians, the United States simply did not know how to network it's way through the myriad religious and ethnic groups and tribal systems. Instead it adopted the approach of attempting to "modernise" Iraq and viewed with disdain such existing power structures and networks. I don't think Iran with it's "Eastern" eye will have such a problem in accomodating such groups, it seems to have already managed to leash the worst of the "death squads" roaming there. It's interesting how the two largest Iraqi Shia militias had recently reached an accomodation of sorts and it looks more and more like there is a consolidation and reorganisation taking place. For me, it appears the United States is starting to look increasingly like the last drunk who won't leave the bar after closing time.

Another interesting development is how a newly confident Russia is emerging. Putin's arrival to Iran, the first since Stalin, comes, I feel, from an understanding which is emerging that things are changing in central Asia. Russia can be a big help for countries opposed to the United States and now that ideology is no longer a source of contention between the two, pragmatic cooperation is a much easier pill to swallow. A few months ago Russia had just completed a massive central Asian training exercise with it's southern neighbours, including China. Asia seems to be waking up and it doesn't like what the children have been doing to the house while it slept. The warning from Putin against any military activity near the Caspian is clearly directed against the United States and Iran's northern neighbours and signals that Moscow is now starting to take an interest in what happens further south.

In light of all these things, when one looks at the economic troubles of the United States and the disillusionment of it's people with their government, the position of those in Washington appears weak indeed. The elections are right around the corner and all candidates appear ready to be "firm" with Iran, ie. they won't rule out military action. The Middle East is now the prize being sought and America's politicians all know that if they are kicked out of the Middle East now, they won't be able to come back. In fact, energy which is vital for maintaining the growth and way of life of Western economies could very well be redirected elsewhere, an interesting scenario for nations that have been used to "ruling" the world for the past 200 years. Israel, the darling child of the West, remains the question. It is sitting right in the middle of the fault line and rather than being America's policeman in the region, appears to now be stuck in a predicament. It is mighty, but unable to defeat it's enemies. Chomping at the bit to prevent the inevitable, it's leash is held tightly by an America no longer confident in it's invincibility. It's interesting to see how much Israel is now willing to negotiate, part of Jerusalem, now that it recognises that something must be done before it is overwhelmed.

The Intifada brought us Oslo and the attempt to bring Arafat as Israel's policeman. When that failed they tried the second Intifada and to isolate Arafat. Later Israel tried to give away Gaza (a heavily dramatised event), to strengthen Muhammad Dahlan and other corrupted Fatah cronies and to strengthen "moderate" Palestinians. Hamas emerged which brought Iran demographically not only to Israel's north as with Hezbullah but also to the south. I'm not surprised they would be willing to place their ultimate chip, Jerusalem on the table as they prepare an all out assault on Gaza. There are increasingly less and less cards for them to play. Conventionally, they know that their little adventure over Syria last month cannot be replied to militarily, but it seems more and more like a bluff. What use is a mighty army if it cannot defend Israel against the inevitable? I think the "Iron Wall" rationale loses it's relevance once Israeli civilians begin to feel insecure in a country defined by might rather than right and this is what is causing the politicians and strategists in Tel Aviv to lose sleep at night. Frankly nothing the United States or Israel are doing now seems to be working and success for them is elusive.

The severing of American feelers into the region is undoubtedly a good thing, but it does cause a problem for human rights activists who have been hoping for democratic governance and less corruption. The events taking place internationally mean that existing elites opposed to the United States must make sure their rottweilers are well fed since these are necessary to ensure their survival. We've seen these crackdowns take place from Russia to Iran and Syria and even China had recently announced they will never adopt 'Western' style democracy. It appears the various regimes have concluded that the stakes are too high for anyone to attempt to rock the boat and this means that any internal dissent risks appearing as treason and activists as a fifth column. It is not an easy position to be in if not downright dangerous. Though what they are trying to do is admirable, personally I feel it's better to dig in and keep your head down for now. That is not cowardice but pragmatism.

Last night, and for the umpteenth time, I sat to watch the Godfather, a film I am particularly fond of. Each time I watch it, I find or learn something new in a film saturated with the politics of Macchiavelli. Each time I watch it, I feel uncomfortable because I see also the world of those who rule us: cruel, uncaring and brutish. In this world we pretend not to see and try to forget, nothing is personal, it's just business.

1 comment:

Amre El-Abyad said...

"supporting both Syria and Hezbullah in the south"

Well Hisbollah is part of the Islamic republic- they have to support it. As for Syria, Surely the Iranian alliance is providing Syrians with more maneunerability. However I assure that apart of verbal support Syrians will get nothing from Iran, except maybe for some tivial finacial support. What Syria really needs is to rearm itself and modernise its military organizations. In that regard Iran can'
t help. Simply because Iran's army is obsolete outdated and lacks experience in moden warfare. The suicidal atacks of khomeini was good only for calvarly duels in medival times. The astonishing and thourough Iraqi victory showed the huge chasm between the Irani rehetoric and reality.

However, Iran is only powerful because of the deep mess U.S created for itself in Iraq. Hadn't it been for Iran and its clients ( majority of shiites oppose both Iran and the U.S). U.S wouldn't have managed to stay for a single day in Iraq.

In Syria you need gulf money to rearm! you can srike a good deal like the one Egypt and Syria struck with gulf states in 1990