I’m certain that no collusion exists between the two nuclear powers, and they haven’t surreptitiously joined forces to blow up the world. But one can be forgiven for getting that impression.
Ever since the first Iraq war, America has been plunging headlong into every conflict going, or starting them if there weren’t any on offer. The pretexts for their involvement varied: protection of oppressed minorities, elimination of weapons of mass destruction, restoring order, preventing genocide – above all, making sure that democracy reigns everywhere, including countries where it’s not schoolchildren but adulterers who get stoned.
Now even though the intellectual level of America’s foreign-policy crowd can make one reassess Mike Tyson’s mental power, even they can’t seriously believe their own slogans. Surely they must see that every regime they’ve ever conspired to unseat, from Diem’s onwards, has been replaced by something much worse.
The removal of the Shah of Iran, in which they, as a minimum, acquiesced, ought to have tipped them off. The Shah could under no circumstances be compared to Archangel Gabriel or even to Mother Teresa. He was undeniably a nasty bit of work, but two things he wasn’t: a) an Islamist, b) a threat to world peace. Just as undeniably, the regime that replaced him was, and still is, both.
America is like an octogenarian, to whom anyone under 50 looks the same age. Either you’re a Jeffersonian democrat or you’re evil, and no gradations of wickedness are supposed to exist. But they do: Pahlevi is better than Khomeini, Mubarak is better than the Brotherhood, and even the indisputably evil Saddam, Gaddafi and Assad are better than the crazed Islamist regimes that have replaced them already or will do so soon.
It’s as if America had undertaken to mobilise the forces of Islam under the green banner of jihad. Thus her exercise in laser-guided democracy over Yugoslavia created a Muslim republic, Kosovo, smack in the middle of what historically has been Europe’s most troublesome region. America’s invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan has set up a triumph of Taliban fanatics who hate the West and are doctrinally committed to annihilating the West’s sole ally in the region. Her air support for the ‘Arab Spring’ may yet lead to a nuclear winter, what with the secular regimes in North Africa returning to the ethos so eloquently enunciated by Nasser.
And yet, with frankly idiotic obduracy, America is now pressing ahead in Syria, supporting the Islamist rebels morally and assuring them of her laser-guided democratic backup should this become necessary. If those responsible for the US foreign policy actually believe in the wisdom of their actions, they are fools. If they don’t, they are knaves. Can’t think of a third possibility.
And where is Russia while all this is going on? Same place it has been for a century: trying to fish in troubled waters, playing – if you’ll forgive the mixed metaphor – both ends against the middle. The Russians’ perennial assumption is that what’s bad for the West is good for them, and vice versa.
Thus, while supporting the 1990 UN sanctions against Iraq following its invasion of Kuwait, the government of the West’s best friend Gorbachev was egging Hussein on, assuring him of unwavering support. That triggered off Hussein’s brazen adventure and America’s predictable reaction. The Russians wanted the Americans to get bogged down in the region, and American democracy fiends were only too happy to oblige. Now, 22 years later, they’re still there.
The same trick worked in Serbia. While publicly rebuking Milosevic for his violence, privately Yeltsyn encouraged him, hoping that the US would get mired in a protracted guerrilla war with born-again Chetniks. However, as the Americans are technologically more advanced than the Nazis were, that particular hope was frustrated. Yet after the US pitched in with a couple of laser-guided democratic raids, the Russians got their second-best wish: a deeply criminalised Muslim republic was created in the Balkans, and the situation there can now be destabilised at the drop of a bomb.
All this explains Putin’s continuing support of Assad. The real reasons for the Russian veto in the UN Security Council has little to do with their naval base in Syria, or the billions in the on-going armament contracts with Assad’s regime. What they are after is another major pool of troubled waters, for neither Syria nor Iraq can possible remain whole without America’s direct involvement.
Both countries are artificial, and relatively recent, concoctions made up of disparate tribal, religious and ethnic groups. Violent break-ups, possibly setting the whole region aflame, are extremely likely, as is America’s further involvement for generations to come. US troops may be going home, but two American carrier groups in the Gulf can unleash hell, otherwise known as laser-guided democracy, at a moment’s notice.
In the same vein, Putin’s Russia is arming Ahmadinejad’s Iran, as it had armed Assad’s Syria. Sooner or later, either the Israelis or the Americans, or most likely both, will have to take out Iran’s nuclear capability. But Russia’s air-to-ground missile systems are already in place to make sure there will a cost attached. Nor is it impossible to imagine that, should the attack happen after Iran has produced a nuclear warhead, such a warhead could be launched at Israel, Enemy Number 1 of any Islamist regime.
You’ll remember that, when the Americans attacked Iraq in 1990, Saddam’s first response was to launch missile attacks on Israeli cities. Mercifully, all he had at his disposal was the Scud (SS1 in Soviet nomenclature), designed by von Braun’s Germans for the Russians in the late 1940s. Iran, on the other hand, is armed with several thousand short- and medium-range mobile missiles. In particular, the Shahab-3/3B with a range of up to 2,100 kilometres is seen by experts as a serious strategic threat.
Add to this Assad’s formidable arsenal of chemical weapons likely to end up in the hands of Hezbollah within days, and the situation could not be much more fraught with disaster. The handle is being turned, the jaws of the vise are about to close. Let’s hope we don’t get caught in the middle.