Happy new year to all my global friends and contacts!
2013 has been an okay year for the United States, in terms of its foreign policy in the Middle East and in the Asia-Pacific.
The post-Arab Spring Middle East is characterized by a palpable loss of US influence. Our Gulf allies are upset with us for not bombing Syria and for agreeing to sign an interim nuclear agreement with Iran. Israel is equally unhappy about the US-Iran evolving rapprochement and the US Congress very much shares Netanyahu’s war fetish.
There may also be a fledgling realignment in West Asia and the Levant. The Gulf sheikhdoms seem to be getting closer to Israel, at least in terms of their paranoia and hatred of Iran, and in terms of destroying the Assad regime of Syria.
Iran, on the contrary, is busy saving its presence and influence in the Levant by prolonging the duration of the murderous Assad regime. In this tug-and-pull, the advantage is currently in favor of Iran and Russia–two chief backers of Assad.
The US can’t afford to be audacious in the Levant because the Islamist fighters–both Sunni and Shia–love to hate us, and we cannot trust them enough to arm them. In the meantime, the Iranian militias and al-Qaida-affiliated groups are having a field day in terms of killing pro-Assad forces and killing each other. We might be witnessing the repeat of the Afghan war of the 1980s with a palpably different twist. This time, the Saudis and the Qataris are supporting the self-styled Jihadist groups, while the United States, by not condemning the Saudi/Qatari involvement in Syria, is a tacit supporter of it. Bottom line: the notion of Jihad is once again operating as a tool for bringing about regime change.
Egypt has become the new Algeria of the 21st Century, with the tin-horn dictators of that country mindlessly suppressing everyone and every group that opposes their highly illegitimate (and now murderous) rule, especially the Muslim Brotherhood. The military coup brought about an end of democracy for quite awhile. However, the Obama administration continues to deal with the new pharaohs of Egypt with kid gloves, only because they are abiding by the Camp David Agreements.
In 2014, we need to keep our eyes on the Arabian Peninsula, largely because Yemen remains a ticking time bomb and a quintessential failed state. As such, its problems cannot be resolved by Obama’s ongoing “drone diplomacy.”
In the coming year, we also need to keep a close watch on North Africa, specifically Libya and Tunisia. One never knows when Algeria is going to explode. The long-standing tyrannical rule of the military has to end sometime, and when that end comes, it promises to be quite bloody.
Pakistan and Afghanistan are also heading toward instability and crisis. A report issued by the National Intelligence Estimate predicted the reversion of Afghanistan to the Taliban, regardless of whether the US forces stay in that country or not. This enhances the strategic position of Pakistan as a potential kingmaker or power broker of Afghanistan. However, Pakistan’s major problem also remains reaching some sort of rapprochement with its own Taliban. I am dumbfounded as to why Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif wants to negotiate with the Taliban, when the Taliban don’t regard his government and the constitution of Pakistan as legitimate.
My chief explanation is that the Sharif government’s handling of this issue is a classic example of its incompetence in dealing with intricate issues of domestic politics. Given the past miserable record of the Taliban reaching “agreements” with the Pakistan military and then systematically violating them becomes an excellent example of how worthless an endeavor it really is to try to reach another agreement with them. My own recommendation is that the government of Pakistan initiates a policy of fight, fight, fight, and then talk. The Taliban must cry “uncle” as a result of a sweeping military operation before any modicum of negotiation is considered. However, I predict that it is not likely to happen until another major violent incident occurs causing much violence and mayhem. Only then, will the government be ready to adopt a “kick ass” policy toward the Taliban.
In the meantime, India is chugging along. It is about to hold another general election in which its highly incompetent government, led by the Congress party, will receive a major shellacking. Unfortunately for the Muslims of India, a fascist candidate of the Hindu nationalist party, Narendra Modi, is likely to become that country’s prime minister. Modi was accused of playing a major role in the massacre of Muslims during his tenure as chief minister of Gujarat. I can only imagine Modi on the world stage as an elected representative of the world’s largest democracy. In reality, he should be arrested and tried by the International Criminal Court where other genocidal former leaders await trial. India deserves a much better prime minister than a man of Modi’s ill-repute.
A few words about Obama’s Asia Pivot strategy. Two or more years after its announcement, my sense is that it is more a bumper sticker statement than a strategy. The United States has not come to fully realize that its days of superpowerdom are about to become history. The reason is more than just its economic decline. Now, we are living in an era of confluence of social revolutions. Social media–in the form of the Internet, Facebook, Twitter, etc.–has created an era where no one power will exercise much influence anywhere. The more I think about it, the more convinced I become that no superpower can replace the United States. But hear me out. I am not saying that the US (to quote Bill Clinton) remains an indispensable nation; but, because of such a role–if it really existed–has become of a victim of the escalating power of the information revolution and its incessant creation of all sorts of social movements throughout the globe. So, President Xi Jinping, I hope you are not getting overly confident about your country’s “rise” to believe that you will alter the current shape of balance of power in East Asia. You have many surprises–and a lot of them are unpleasant–waiting for you in your region alone.
East Asia will remain a region where China’s neighbor will continue to insist that the United States play a highly visible role, which the United States–without altering its public rhetoric–will not be able to do. One of the main reasons for such potential is the fact that the Arab world, North and West Africa, the Horn, along with the Arabian Peninsula and South Asia, will continue to drain the US military and economic capital.
So, my readers, please put on your seatbelts, for you are in for an interesting but bumpy ride.