Middle East: The New Reality

Evgeny Kirsanov (Russia)

The inability of the US administration to conduct a coherent and understandable foreign policy is apparent in other areas than Pakistan. Pakistan currently is simply the most vivid illustration of that. The same processes are occurring in other parts of the Third World, especially where the Americans are starting to “make some efforts.” We won’t address the Middle East settlement here; a lot of lances have been broken in that jousting match, but it’s a striking example of an amateurish approach in a very delicate area.

The recent events involving attacks on British diplomats are only the tip of the iceberg of the disenchantment that Yemen’s leadership feels with Washington’s policies. Analysis of the situation tells us that the US State Department obviously lacks analysts with country-specific training. Recall that in September Obama’s State Department got $2 billion from Congress to reorganize Yemen’s military and transform it into an effective tool for fighting al-Qaeda. In fact, apart from al-Qaeda’s members, which it turns out could include most of the population, the State Department had in mind the fundamental truth that in the Orient “the man with the gun calls the shots.” But American analysts have taken Pakistan and Turkey as their model —that is, militaries with a rigid chain of command. That model lets you to deal exclusively with the top commanders without worrying much about the situation on the ground. In Yemen’s case, everything is upside down. The country’s armed forces are highly fragmented along tribal lines, and the loyalty of any given unit, which is usually made up of people from one locality, largely depends on the local tribal leadership. Incidentally, Riyadh understands that very well; Riyadh provides regular financial support to the tribal elites. It seems that Washington also understands that now. At least during the last visit by Deputy Secretary of State William Burns the Yemeni government received a clear message that Washington isn’t yet ready to invest money to reform Yemen’s armed forces. An asymmetric response in the form of an attack on a British embassy convoy, among other things, was a reminder to Washington that al-Qaeda isn’t napping. Put that way, we’re convinced that America’s “public enemy number one,” Anwar al-Awlaki, will also continue to upset US Senators with his Internet sermons for a long time to come.

As a matter of principle, people in the Orient don’t like a lot of flip-flopping. A promise is considered a promise there. A radical change of direction in less than a month’s time suggests there is no coherent strategy or one person in charge of all these processes. And in the Orient they’re very sensitive to weakness. For example, Pakistan with its open opposition to “big brother’s” dictates is currently getting a lot of attention from many regimes in the Middle East. If the Pakistani authorities insist on their vision of the fight against terrorism, that’ll produce a domino effect of defiance throughout the region.

Here’s another example of keen insight. The Pentagon has expressed concern about close relations between the staff and management of security firms working in Afghanistan and the Taliban, and it has demanded the practice be stopped immediately. That shows an obvious lack of understanding of local realities and the fact that without such connections (meaning large bribes) all of the employees of those firms will be wiped out within a couple of weeks. Instead of exploiting the situation to build trust with moderate Pashtuns and secure the position of Western companies in the market (the best guarantee against any trouble in the form of high-profile terrorist attacks), the Pentagon decided to play hardball.

Also on the agenda is Saudi Arabia, which is unlikely to sit quietly by as Washington displaces it from its decisive role in making decisions on Yemen. And those are the kinds of ideas coming out of the State Department, which is disenchanted with Riyadh’s waffling and ambiguous stance. If events continue along that course, any attempts by Washington to take away Saudi prerogatives will very quietly meet an “asymmetric response” in the form of renewed tribal clashes between the Hausa and the northern tribes. In that context, northern tribal leader Hussein Al-Ahmar, who recently received a solid cash advance from Riyadh, said a few days ago that the Hausa must simply be destroyed.

All of these incidents, which are beginning to look like a steady trend, only support our long-standing argument that the phenomenon called “al-Qaeda” isn’t something separate and independent. It’s just a tool the Eastern elites use to put themselves on a par with other world powers while at the same time allowing the most passionate of their people to let off steam. To talk in all seriousness about their right to make key decisions in the world and play on an equal footing with superpowers is actually why the movement was structured out of the disparate currents of public discontent. The resentment about the unjust distribution of national wealth that exists in most Third World countries, combined with the conventional ignorance and illiteracy of the majority of the population, has been very skillfully manipulated by the Oriental elites to achieve their own foreign-policy goals. Apart from Islam itself and poverty, the basis for recruiting jihadists is the heightened sense of national inferiority felt by the majority of the populace and the inherent awareness that a significant part of the world’s population doesn’t live according to the values prescribed by the Koran. They live better, and that raises doubts about the preeminence of their own social order, which is based on Sharia law. That’s the source of the strong reaction to the dictates of the United States or other developed nations; it’s also the source of the attempt to use jihad to become equals of those on top. The imams explain this state of affairs and the degradation of the Islamic world as being caused entirely by the machinations of the Zionists and leaders of Western countries, and this view is readily accepted by the overwhelming majority of the populace. That argument was successfully used for the first time during the Soviet presence in Afghanistan, and the second time during the American presence there. The same is true with regard to the Palestinian issue, in which the Palestinians themselves and their rights matter little; the main thing is to reach a settlement on terms that would make it possible to speak about the victory of the Islamic world over Western dictates. That’s why the Middle East settlement long ago evolved into a symbol of achieving religious self-sufficiency for the Muslim world.

It’s alarming that this trend is now emerging into the light of day and is no longer limited to insurgents and members of the underground (who can easily be disowned if necessary). We’re now hearing it from officials who increasingly share those protest frames of mind and say so openly. That is, the situation has changed radically since the 1990s, when that sort of thing would have been hard to imagine. It’s a logical consequence of the unipolar model of the world that emerged after the Cold War and the collapse of the USSR, which such “farsighted” politicians as Zbigniew Brzezinski declared a victory. As it turns out, he forgot to add the word “pyrrhic.”

Source: New Eastern Outlook

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