All eyes are fixed these days on Afghanistan to see how many troops are being deployed at what places in that country and how many more NATO troops will be deployed and where. In Washington, the U.S. Forces Commander, General Stanley McChrystal, and U.S. Ambassador to that country, Karl Eikenberry, are assuring the legislators that they are indeed singing from the same sheet of music. But two developments, one of which is stealthy–in the sense that its real intention may not be quite apparent–are taking place in Pakistan. Together, implications of these developments for Pakistan, maybe even for Afghanistan, promise to be momentous.
If the United States is the declining hegemon, then who will replace it? Are we entering an era when another global hegemon will replace the U.S., or will we witness the emergence of power blocs? There are two schools of thought in the West on this issue. The first school of thought suggests that the alternative is the emerging alliance of autocracies–China, Russia, and the oil states–that will challenge the hegemony of the lone superpower. American neocons, who represent the second school of thought, suggest an alliance of democracies is evolving as a countervailing force to the aforementioned bloc. These debates are interesting and thought provoking. But how relevant are they in reflecting the emerging global realignment of power?
The confluence of the waning months of the Bush presidency–when the lameduck factor is looming large– the continued insistence of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that the U.S. set a timetable of withdrawing from Iraq, the Russian invasion of Georgia, and the forced resignation of General Pervez Musharraf–President Bush’s favorite strongman in Pakistan–are creating a new buzz globally. That buzz can be highlighted along the lines that “Washington is forced to watch other powers shape events,” that a superpower is reborn (in reference to Russian military action against on Georgia), that a new world order is emerging, and that America’s decline will not easily be reversed.
In the presidential debates between the presumptive nominee of the Democratic Party, Barack Obama, and that of the Republican Party, John McCain, the Middle East and South Asia stand out prominently. The four issues of discussion are: America’s continued presence in Iraq, relations with Israel, dealing with Iran, and the future modalities of American actions in Afghanistan and Pakistan. However, regarding the Middle East more than about South Asia, American presidential candidates are required to wear a straitjacket that prevents them from taking bold actions once they win the presidency. However, as in the context of every rule, there are exceptions in this one also. Former President Jimmy Carter was an exception, for he succeeded in getting out of that straitjacket as President and presided over the conclusion of the Camp David Agreements in 1979. No American President since was able to take off that straitjacket and accomplish a similar outcome, even though President Bill Clinton tried toward the end of his second term.
One of the hottest topics of discussion in the United States strategic community is that the neo-conservatives have launched a campaign of “redemption”. For now, the person most active is Douglas Feith, who served as under secretary of defense for policy under former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
Feith has written a book, War and Decision: Inside the Pentagon at the Dawn of the War on Terrorism, and is using the opportunity of its promotion to push the neo-con line. He even appeared on Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show , one of the US’s most popular shows that specializes in spoofing daily news.