Why US Clout in the Middle East is Gone (Hiro)

Dilip Hiro writes at Tomdispatch.com:

What if the sole superpower on the planet makes its will known — repeatedly — and finds that no one is listening?  Barely a decade ago, that would have seemed like a conundrum from some fantasy Earth in an alternate dimension.  Now, it is increasingly a plain description of political life on our globe, especially in the Greater Middle East.

In the future, the indecent haste with which Barack Obama sought cover under the umbrella unfurled by his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, in the Syrian chemical weapons crisis will be viewed as a watershed moment when it comes to America’s waning power in that region.  In the aptly named “arc of instability,” the lands from the Chinese border to northern Africa that President George W. Bush and his neocon acolytes dreamed of thoroughly pacifying, turmoil is on the rise. Ever fewer countries, allies, or enemies, are paying attention, much less kowtowing, to the once-formidable power of the world’s last superpower.  The list of defiant figures — from Egyptian generals to Saudi princes, Iraqi Shiite leaders to Israeli politicians — is lengthening.

The signs of this loss of clout have been legion in recent years.  In August 2011, for instance, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad ignored Obama’s unambiguous call for him “to step aside.” Nothing happened even after an unnamed senior administration official insisted, “We are certain Assad is on the way out.” As the saying goes, if wishes were horses, beggars would ride.

Similarly, in March 2010, Obama personally delivered a half-hour-long chewing out of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, a politician Washington installed in office, on the corruption and administrative ineptitude of his government.  It was coupled with a warning that, if he failed to act, a cut in U.S. aid would follow. Instead, the next month the Obama administration gave him the red carpet treatment on a visit to Washington with scarcely a whisper about the graft and ill-governance that continues to this day.

In May 2009, during his meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Obama demanded a halt to the expansion of Jewish settlements on the West Bank and in occupied East Jerusalem. In the tussle that followed, the sole superpower lost out and settlement expansion continued.

These are among the many examples of America’s slumping authority in the Greater Middle East, a process well underway even before Obama entered the Oval Office in January 2009.  It had, for years, been increasingly apparent that Washington’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, along with several lesser campaigns in the Global War on Terror, were doomed. In his inaugural address, Obama swore that the United States was now “ready to lead the world.” It was a prediction that would be proven disastrously wrong in the Greater Middle East.

Afghanistan and Pakistan

Invaded and occupied Afghanistan was to be the starting point for phase two in the triumphant singular supremacy of Uncle Sam.  The first phase had ended in December 1991 with the titanic collapse of its partner in a MAD — that is, mutually assured destruction — world, the Soviet Union.  A decade later, Washington was poised to banish assorted “terror” constellations from nearly 80 countries and to bring about regime change for the “Axis of Evil” (Iraq, Iran, and North Korea). Having defeated the “Evil Empire” of the Soviets, Washington couldn’t have felt more confident when it came to achieving this comparatively modest aim.

Priority was initially given to sometime ally and client state Pakistan, the main player in creating the Afghan Taliban in the 1990s. Much to the chagrin of policymakers in Washington, however, the rulers of Pakistan, military and civilian, turned out to be masters at squeezing the most out of the United States (which found itself inescapably dependent on their country to prosecute its Afghan war), while delivering the least in return.

Today, the crumbling economy of Pakistan is in such a dire state that its government can keep going only by receiving handouts from the U.S. and regular rollover loans from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Since the IMF arrangement is subject to Washington’s say-so, it seemed logical that the Obama administration could bend Islamabad to its diktats. Yet Pakistani leaders seldom let a chance pass to highlight American diplomatic impotence, if only to garner some respect from their own citizens, most of whom harbor an unfavorable view of the U.S.

A case in point has been the daredevil actions of Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, the founder-leader of the Lashkar-e Taiba (Army of the Pure, or LeT), listed as a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department and the United Nations following its involvement in the 2008 attacks in Mumbai, which killed 166 people, including six Americans. In April 2012, the State Department announced a $10 million reward for information leading to Saeed’s arrest and conviction. The bearded 62-year-old militant leader promptly called a press conference and declared, “I am here. America should give that reward money to me.”

He continues to operate from a fortified compound in Lahore, the capital of Punjab. “I move about like an ordinary person — that’s my style,” he told the New York Times’s Declan Walsh in February. He addresses large rallies throughout the country and is a much sought-after guest on Pakistani TV. According to intelligence officials based in the country, the militants of his organization participate in attacks on NATO forces and Indian diplomatic facilities in Afghanistan.

In August, when Saeed led a widely publicized parade on the nation’s Independence Day, protected by local police, all that a spokeswoman at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad could helplessly say was: “We remain concerned about the movements and activities of this person. We encourage the government of Pakistan to enforce sanctions against this person.”

Far more worrisome for Washington was the critical role that the al Qaeda-affiliated Pakistani Taliban, also listed as a terrorist organization by the State Department, played in determining the outcome of the country’s general election in May. It threatened to attack the public rallies and candidates of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) because its membership was open to non-Muslims. This tied the party’s hands in a predominantly rural society where, in the absence of reliable opinion polls, the size and frequency of public rallies is considered a crucial indicator of party strength. The outcome: a landslide victory by the opposition Pakistan Muslim League led by Nawaz Sharif, which drastically reduced the strength of the PPP in the National Assembly. 

In mid-September, Prime Minister Sharif returned the favor by securing an all-party consensus in the National Assembly to negotiate peace with the Pakistani Taliban without conditions. Militant leaders then raised the stakes by insisting that his government first devise a policy to halt the ongoing U.S. drone campaign against them in the country’s tribal borderlands.

This compelled the Sharif government to announce that it would raise the issue of the American drone campaign at the United Nations General Assembly. Its move is likely to coincide with a report by Ben Emmerson, the UN special rapporteur on human rights and counterterrorism, on U.S. drone attacks in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Somalia to be presented to the General Assembly in October. Emmerson has already described Washington’s drone campaign as a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty.

In addition, ignoring Washington’s reported disapproval, Sharif’s government has started releasing Afghan Taliban prisoners — one of them “of high value” in the lexicon of the White House — from its jails to facilitate what it calls “reconciliation” in Afghanistan.  As yet, however, there is no sign that Mullah Muhammad Omar, the supreme leader of the Afghan Taliban (widely believed to be under surreptitious Pakistani protection), is ready to negotiate with the government of Karzai whom he regularly denounces as an American puppet. 

In early August, in his annual Eid al Fitr (Festival of Breaking the Fast) message, Omar was unmistakably hawkish. “As to the deceiving drama under the name of elections 2014, our pious people will not tire themselves out, nor will they participate in it,” he said. He then called for continued struggle against U.S.-led NATO troops and their Afghan allies, and urged Kabul’s security forces to direct their guns at foreign solders, government officials, and Afghans cooperating with the U.S.-led troops.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration has been pressuring Karzai to sign an agreement that, among other things, would allow the Pentagon to maintain a significant “footprint” in Afghanistan under the rubric of “training Afghan forces” after the withdrawal of U.S. and other NATO combat troops by December 2014.  So far, despite his dependence on Washington for his political survival, Karzai has been playing hardball.

In this, Washington is heading down a familiar path.  In Iraq, both the Bush and Obama administrations tried to reach an agreement with a government the U.S. had helped install to leave behind 10,000-20,000 military trainers and special operations troops. It failed when the pro-Tehran, Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki doggedly refused.

These days, despite the repeated U.S. complaints and requests, the Maliki government continues to allow Iranian arms to be sent overland and through its air space to the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad. In late August, during the Syrian chemical weapons crisis, Iraq even declared that it wouldn’t allow its airspace to be used for military strikes on Syria.

The Diminishing “Coalition of the Willing”

In a controversial New York Times op-ed on September 11th, Russian President Putin wrote of President Obama’s plan to launch a military strike against Damascus, “It is alarming that military intervention in internal conflicts has become commonplace for the United States… Millions around the world increasingly see America not as a model of democracy but as relying solely on brute force, cobbling coalitions together under the slogan, ‘you’re either with us or against us.’” 

Only days earlier, however, President Obama had failed to form a “coalition of the willing” on the Syrian issue at the G20 summit in St. Petersburg, managing to rally only 10 members. Those who opposed military strikes against Syria without a U.N. Security Council mandate included the five-strong BRICS powers — Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa — along with Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, and Argentina.

A week earlier, the British parliament defeated a motion to join a U.S.-led operation against Syria. With the British “poodle” slipping Washington’s leash — an unprecedented act in recent memory — Obama was lost.

In desperation, he turned to Congress, where, thousands of miles from the Greater Middle East, only a minority tuned in. Responding to the overwhelming sentiments of their constituents and opinion polls showing that remarkably few Americans believed an attack on Syria in national interest, the lawmakers started lining up to give Obama a resounding thumbs-down. It was only then, after an offhand remark by his Secretary of State John Kerry was taken up by Moscow, that Obama went on television and accepted the outlines of Putin’s proposed plan for Syria’s chemical weapons.

A Landmark Deal Underscores U.S. Decline

Undoubtedly, the Syrian deal struck in Geneva between Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov favored the Kremlin. It put any American attack firmly on the back burner. It brought the U.N. Security Council, earlier skirted by the Obama White House, center-stage as the primary agency to implement and supervise the deal. In the process, it underscored the continuing influence of Russia as a permanent member of the Council with a veto. Moscow also managed to spare the Assad regime the degradation of its military capabilities that would have resulted from the Pentagon’s strikes. In so doing, it enabled the Syrian leader to maintain the current battlefield superiority of his forces. Overall, the Syrian rebels and Washington were unmitigated losers.

Among other losers were Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Jordan. On the opposite side of the equation were Iran and the military rulers of Egypt, albeit for diametrically contrary reasons. For Tehran, a Syria governed by Assad, a member of the Alawi sub-sect within Shiite Islam, is a linchpin in the axis of resistance against Israel. For the generals in Cairo, the demon is the Muslim Brotherhood, whose Syrian branch is the foremost foe of Assad.

Having overthrown Muhammad Morsi, the first democratically elected ruler in Egypt’s long history, the generals are now busily attempting to eradicate the Brotherhood itself, the oldest political party in the region. Following their July 3rd coup, they were reassured when Obama, though perturbed by their actions, meticulously avoided using that word “coup,” which would have resulted in a suspension of aid as mandated by the U.S. Foreign Assistance Act.  In contrast, his administration did suspend aid to the African state of Mali in March 2012 when, in a bloodless coup, the military toppled democratically elected President Amadou Toure.

If Obama was having second thoughts on his Egyptian policy, “marathon phone calls” from Jerusalem evidently ensured that no significant action would be taken against the military junta.

Israel’s prime minister and foreign minister Benjamin Netanyahu, defense minister Moshe Yaalon, and national security adviser Yaakov Amidror engaged their American counterparts — Kerry, Chuck Hagel, and Susan Rice — in telephone conversations urging them not to freeze the $1.3 billion in military aid to the post-Morsi regime.

To the delight of the generals in Cairo, Israel’s lobbying continued unabated in Washington. Among others, Michael B. Oren, Israel’s ambassador in Washington, argued forcefully for an uninterrupted flow of U.S. aid. “Israel has been waging an almost desperate diplomatic battle in Washington,” wrote Alex Fishman, a leading Israeli columnist, in Yediot Aharonot on August 25. That was just 10 days after Egypt’s Interior Ministry troops had massacred nearly 1,000 Brotherhood supporters while clearing two protest sites in Cairo where pro-Morsi partisans had been staging peaceful open air sit-ins. Obama responded by saying, “Our traditional cooperation cannot continue as usual when civilians are being killed in the streets and rights are being rolled back.” But all he did was to cancel an upcoming annual joint military exercise with Egypt.

The evident impotence of Washington before yet another client state with an economy in freefall was highlighted by the revelation that since the ouster of Morsi, Secretary of Defense Hagel had 15 telephone conversations with Egyptian Defense Minister General Abdul Fattah el-Sisi, the coup leader, pleading with him to “change course” — but in vain — a repeat of Washington’s experience with Karzai, the Pakistani leaders, and Assad.

The threat that Washington might cut-off its military aid to Egypt was promptly countered by its long-standing ally in the region: Saudi Arabia. In a gesture of undisguised defiance of U.S. wishes, Saudi foreign minister Saud al Faisal pledged publicly that his country would fill any financial gaps left if the U.S. and the European Union withdrew aid to Cairo. With Riyadh’s budget surplus of $103 billion last year, his words carried weight.

Within a week of the coup in Cairo, the three oil-rich states of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates — each dependent on the Pentagon for its external security — poured $12 billion into the bankrupt Egyptian treasury. In this way, these autocratic monarchies encouraged the military junta to defy Washington’s pleas for a return to democracy.

Launching a blitz of jingoistic propaganda and pumping up Egyptian xenophobia, the generals have gone beyond thumbing their noses at Uncle Sam. They have even concocted wild theories about how Washington has colluded with the Muslim Brotherhood.  These are now being assiduously peddled through the state-controlled media and its compliant private sector counterpart.

In late August, for instance, the state-owned newspaper, Al Ahram, citing “security sources,” published a sensational front-page story by its editor-in-chief Abdel Nasser Salama. It claimed the authorities had foiled a plot involving U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson, Brotherhood leader Kharat El Shater (by then under arrest), “37 terrorists,” and 200 Gaza-based jihadists to infiltrate the Sinai Peninsula through clandestine tunnels between the two territories, and create chaos.  This was to be a preamble to isolating Upper Egypt and declaring it independent of Cairo. In response, Ambassador Patterson did no more than send a note of protest to Salama. Such stories have become grist for the Egyptian rumor mill and are transforming fantasies into facts in the popular psyche.

At the turn of the century, who could have imagined that barely a decade later an official mouthpiece for an emergent military dictator in Egypt, a client state of Uncle Sam for a quarter of a century, would have the audacity to malign Washington in this way while its generous aid package continued to flow in uninterrupted? If you need a marker for the waning of American power in the Greater Middle East, look no further.

Dilip Hiro, a TomDispatch regular, has written 34 books, including After Empire: The Birth of a Multipolar World. His latest book is A Comprehensive Dictionary of the Middle East (Interlink Publishing Group).

Copyright 2013 Dilip Hiro


Mirrored from Tomdispatch.com

20 Responses

  1. The “loss of clout,” whereby the United States achieved it primary foreign policy in goal in Syria without firing a shot, by creating a situation in which Syria’s major patron, and would-be competitor with the United States for superpower status, felt compelled to disarm its client state.

    The “indecency” here is the desperation in which authors like this feel compelled to spin this episode of an American defeat. If I had predicted two months ago that Russia would destroy Syria’s stockpile at America’s behest, Dilip Hiro would have laughed me off the face of the earth. Now, that outcome just hasta be a demonstration of American irrelevance.

    • Not so long ago, someone was shouting that the US should unilaterally be blasting SOMEthing in Syria to “retaliate” presumably on behalf of the honorable Great Nations of the World and all the Little People, because SOMEone had dared to breach the sacrosanct Norm Against The Use (Though Not Apparently The Sale Of Precursor Chemicals or Gas-Making Plants Or Continued Possession) of Chemical Weapons (not much mention of biological weapons at the time).

      How many RPMs can you spin that thing?

      • And immediately thereafter, that “someone” saw Syria and its patron agree to ditch their chemical arsenal entirely.

        Is it supposed to demonstrate a decline in American influence that the threat worked, and worked better than I dared imagine?

    • I assume that the author disagrees with you both about the US’ actual policy goal in Syria, and what the effects of the deal will be on Syrian military capability. Given that Washington, Moscow and Damascus are full of liars, it’s hard to say. If the nerve gas incident was due to a stupid local commander, Assad might be better off having his Sarin taken away as long as he retains his actually useful weapons.

      Remember that for Russia it’s all about gaining recognition that Syria is in its sphere of influence. Letting Putin dictate a deal performs exactly this. So do you really think the US accepts that other countries have legitimate spheres of influence where it cannot interfere without permission? That is the norm of great-power politics but it is alien to American thought across most of the political spectrum.

      As to whether the US really wants a peaceful settlement in Syria, it’s out of our hands because Saudi Arabia has already committed to its crazy jihadi proxies – unless we stand up to Saudi Arabia. If we’re too financially beholden to them to do that, then we really are weak.

      On the other hand, I wish the peaceniks celebrating our defeat would consider the consequences of being able to nerve-gas one’s own citizens with such limited penalties; or of illiberal places like Russia and Saudi Arabia being a force in the world. How do these fans of peace feel about gay rights?

      • If we pretend the chemical warfare crisis and the American response wasn’t really about chemical warfare, then we can also pretend that solving the chemical warfare problem without firing a shot isn’t really a success. OK, but why would we do that? Obama spent 2-1/2 years opposing military involvement in Syria, and only prepared to use force after the sarin attack.

        Syria has been recognized as a Russian client state since the Cold War. Russia’s longstanding policy of arming Syria with both chemical and conventional weapons, and using the Tarsus naval base, already established that Syria was in the Russian sphere of influence. It’s not like disarming them of the weapons they gave to them breaks new ground in terms of recognizing their influence. It’s not as though Putin agreed to disarm, say, Mexico of chemical weapons, but a long-time client state.

        I think you grossly over-estimate the scope of those who do not recognize other powers’ spheres of influence. Most of the American political scene thought John McCain was crazy for wanting to interfere in Georgia. The US is constantly asking China very politely to intercede with North Korea. European powers such as France are recognized as having such spheres in Africa.

        As to whether the US really wants a peaceful settlement in Syria…

        This comment, and the assertion I was responding to, are not about a settlement to the Syrian Civil War, but about the chemical warfare crisis. Note that the United States was not contemplating military action before the August 21st gas attack, and has returned to that position since the deal was struck. They really are two different issues, generating two different policies.

        • I think that it would have been extremely difficult to carry out our threat to destroy the chemical weapons by force without having an impact on the war or the nature of a peaceful settlement, and thus tying ourselves wholeheartedly to whatever nasty regime the rebels will try to install. You may think that’s not how it works, but the world is cynical and conspiracy-minded. Yes, we are therefore better off for not having to carry it out.

          I agree that rulers must not be allowed to nerve-gas their citizens with impunity, but we didn’t punish Suharto in 1966 when the Indonesian Army oversaw the murder of a half million people to secure his anti-“Communist” coup; we backed him. We did that just on suspicion that the old government was turning Communist. We have just as much reason to suspect that murderous jihadis rich in Saudi cash will win out in Syria, so why not judge Assad by the same standard we judged Suharto? I just want to know what the real rules are.

    • What is so ironic is that in March of 1949, Syria had a popularly-elected Sunni president that was overthrown by the Syrian military with the inspiration and assistance of CIA officers Miles Copeland and Stephen Meade.

      The current Assad regime can be traced to the group that had been involved in that initial coup. Hafez Assad was with the Baathist officers who took power in a 1963 coup and he eventually rose from Air Force commander to defense minister, losing the Golan Heights in 1967 and routed by Jordan in siding with Black September militants in 1970.

      Hafez Assad assumed the Syrian presidency in the early 1970s and ruled until his death in 2000 and was succeeded by Dr. Bashaar Assad, his son.

  2. In the process, it underscored the continuing influence of Russia as a permanent member of the Council with a veto. Moscow also managed to spare the Assad regime the degradation of its military capabilities that would have resulted from the Pentagon’s strikes. In so doing, it enabled the Syrian leader to maintain the current battlefield superiority of his forces. Overall, the Syrian rebels and Washington were unmitigated losers.

    Because Syrian military capability was degraded less than America was threatening, that make Assad a winner and the US a clear loser.

    Uh huh. More losses like this, please.

  3. There have been substantial advances and positive occurrences for Western interests that this article ignores:

    (A)France, Britain and the the U.S. have installed a viable democracy in Libya that ousted a major sponsor on international terrorism and perpetrator of internal repression;

    (B)Obama and Morsi helped defuse the November of 2012 Gaza/Israel conflict;

    (C)the U.S. has maintained its naval installation in Haifa, Israel;

    (D)Obama and Iran’s new leader have initiated positive communications;

    (E)the U.S. has eradicated much of the al-Qaeda leadership since 2001 and degraded its terror capabilities;

    (F)the fact that Syrian government chemical weapons stockpiles are now subject to intrnational controls and America is not deploying militarily to Syria is something most Americans can applaud;

    (G)there are peace negotiations ongoing betweeen Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

  4. This article, together with your earlier one, “Is Iran out of the war queue?”, have set me thinking. Have Kerry and Obama acted smarter than people have given them credit for? There have been reports that Kerry’s supposed gaffe was a bit more orchestrated than it appears. Kerry in effect said, “We’ll hold our hand (is that a poker term?) if Syria gives up its chemical arsenal.” Meanwhile, Putin sez to Assad, “If you don’t want to end up either in jail in Holland, or swinging from a lamp-post in Damascus, you’d better get rid of those things fast.”

    Obama’s real enemies are the neo-con hawks at home and the die-hard nationalists currently running Israel. It reminds me of the old joke about the newly elected British MP looking across the House of Commons chamber and saying, “It’s great to be face to face with my enemies at last.” Only to be told by his more experienced neighbour, “No. Those sitting opposite you are your opponents; your enemies are sitting behind you.”

    Obama has made two – admittedly tentative – deals with his opponents and comprehensively outflanked his enemies (I’d love to be a fly on the wall when Bibi makes his customary visit to tell the POTUS what to do in a few days’ time.)

  5. While all those Americans who want the empire dismantled are dancing in the streets, they should consider that this did not happen because ordinary Americans are against our hegemonic privileges, but because they felt the country CURRENTLY too weak to defend it.

    Blowback can clobber leftists and libertarians too, you know. Recall “Who Lost China?” and how the resulting witchhunt did more damage to the liberties of ordinary Americans than anything Mao ever did.

    The peace movement celebrates these humiliations of America because it has nothing else, because it failed to educate the American people to reject the self-centered pride that hegemony brought and look for a more sustainable global role. Having America repeatedly knocked down while its people still feel they are the Master Race is a formula that sounds very familiar in the original German.

    This is not surprising since the movement lacks the respect of its fellow citizens (in both directions) and doesn’t care what will replace US power. Neo-isolationism is NOT sustainable, nor is the libertarian agenda to destroy government to create a power vacuum that “peaceful” multinational corporations will fill. There are no other democratic great-power states to share power with, only varying degrees of authoritarianism, backing awful stooges like Syria and North Korea. So when US power really runs empty, ordinary citizens will be worked into a frenzy at the sight of all of these states freely exercising their power on their neighbors and their internal enemies as has been the norm throughout civilized history.

    We, the American people, need to be educated on what George Kennan felt ordinary people could never be educated on: the realities of multipolar power and spheres of influence. Great-power democracies have instead relied on closed bureaucratic castes shielded by blind patriotism, or since 1945, simply dumping their sovereign rights on the US military umbrella and ceasing to be great powers. The peace movement was so orgasmic over the US having no power at all that there is no middle ground in the national dialogue that would prepare our citizens for the truth: we will have power but not enough to make us happy.

    Someone, grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change,

    The courage to change the things we can,

    And wisdom to know the difference.

  6. I actually love this American country. Particularly the version of it I learned about in civics and US History classes and Boy Scouts and even 1966-stage Army indoctrination, and stuff like that. I personally have about zero use for the Current Rulers and their apologists and troubadors.

    Hiro has laid out a bunch of instances where all that Bully Power in the World does not avail those Rulers one little whit in their desire to Make Things Go Their Way and Make Everyone Else Say “Uncle-Sam.” Joe picks an “impeachment” example that appears by happenstance to have “come out” in a way that actually seems to be for the greater good, albeit in spite of all the worst that active management and actual Force Placement by our Muscularists could do. And Joe applies a rather huge angular momentum to the picture. “Y’See? That was our goal all along!”

    You know, there are times when it’s ok to acknowledge that Bidness as Usual is just Idiotic Stupid, and it might be better, if at all possible, to recast the bureaucratic processes that attract and select and promote the people and dogmas that get advanced through the ranks to High Policy and Force Projection positions, people e.g. like Tapper and Petraeus and McChrystal and Kissinger and so forth.

    There really are some existential human threats, but so far no one has come up with an Obviously Plausible Calculus that shows “more nuclear or conventional weapons, more studied camouflage on yet another billion-dollars-a-career-boosting-replacement set of BDUs (link to en.wikipedia.org), more Navy ships, more intrusive peeping-tom-ism, more promotion of corporate greed and futility, more skulduggery, more 13,000-MPH Bomb Delivery Craft or autonomous or nanotech war toys, will “defeat” global climate change or co-opt religious fundamentalism, either here or there. Let alone defeat IEDs or “succeed” or “win” in 4th Gen warfare. link to en.wikipedia.org

    Though the Players are pretty good at gaming the wealth-collection machinery of that country I once read about into dumping untold and unaudited common wealth into fewer and nastier pockets…

    But short term “wisdom,” of course, would be to suck up to the Rulers and bail out all you can, while the “gravy trickle” is still set on “10,000-year FLOOD”…

    • that appears by happenstance

      Appears to whom? To you?

      JT. having spent a month pushing your crackpot theory, a little humility might be in order.

  7. The point about Saudi Arabia going in defiance of the US and funding the coup in Egypt may also be the reason why the US is now repairing ties with Iran.
    If the Saudi’s are going to challenge the US so openly then the US is going to realign itself with forces that share some of its values and let the dictators be.
    Saudi Arabia is funding dictatorships and violence all around the Middle East to save the Royal family because they would be overthrown in no time if the US did not support them.
    Change is coming to the middle east and hopefully the Royal family will be gone sooner rather than later.

    • I agree. We put the Saud family in a terrible spot long ago, by tying them to us while we were tying ourselves to Israel. But I can’t weep for them being put into an impossible situation given that they have no business being absolute monarchs in the 21st century. They have no ideological basis for allegiance to the US. We made veiled threats to invade their oil fields in 1973. They tried to secretly buy nuclear-capable IRBMs from China in the mid-1980s.

      But if we cut them loose, we may have to suffer hard times as the depth of Saudi penetration into the US economy and debt is revealed by their withdrawal. Let’s get ready.

  8. As opposed to a decade ago when France and Germany lined up with the US to invade Iraq, only to be called off when Saddam stepped down? Or when Karzai saluted smartly whenever GWB issued a command and even said, “No, no gratuities accepted?” Or when Iran and North Korea wouldn’t dare to risk US censure?

    What world is this again?

  9. Let me make it clear, I agree with the general proposition that American influence is less than it was in, say, 1998. I’ve noted any number of times that being a superpower ain’t what it used to be.

    I’m just saying that the outcome of the Syrian chemical warfare episode is a really terrible case to point to if you want to make that point. It actually shows the opposite.

  10. I suspect that what happened to Obama in this case was kind of a slapstick version of the very good luck that John F. Kennedy had in the Cuban Missile Crisis.

    Recall that the US helped start that mess by (a) putting nuclear IRBMs in Turkey and (b) trying to overthrow Castro. Kennedy never acknowledged that the Soviets had the same right to put missiles in Cuba, while they assumed that they did. Thus a crisis. And once the fear of being exposed as cowardly set in, it appeared neither side could back down.

    Then Kennedy got ahold of a Soviet statement, half conciliatory and half warlike, and chose to believe that the former represented Krushchev’s true intent. Between calling a blockade a “quarantine” and ignoring the parts of the Soviet statement he disliked, he changed the tenor of the war of words. He also removed the (obsolete) missiles from Turkey, de facto recognizing the Soviets had equal rights in that matter, yet wasn’t punished for it by the US media.

    Now was that JFK being sloppy and then sneaking his way out of a mess, or was that JFK thinking outside the box? American mythology chose the latter interpretation.

    • By installing missiles in Cuba, the USSR had the bargaining leverage to get the IRBMs already in Turkey removed – thus the Soviets were essentially coming out ahead by placing missiles in Cuba in the first place.

      It was a Cuban farmer – not U.S. satellite imagery – that first discovered the Soviet missile silos. He reported to his contact at Operation Mongoose. This was the CIA’s greatest accomplishment in Cuba.

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