(Inter Press Service)
Whatever hopes the George W. Bush administration may have had for using its post-9/11 “war on terror” to impose a new Pax Americana on Eurasia—particularly in the unruly areas between the Caucasus and the Khyber Pass—appear to have gone up in flames (in some cases, literally) over the past two weeks.
Not only has Russia reasserted its influence in the most emphatic way possible by invading and occupying substantial parts of Georgia after Washington’s favorite Caucasian, President Mikheil Saakashvili, launched an ill-fated offensive against secessionist South Ossetians, but bloody attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan also underlined the seriousness of the Pashtun-dominated Taliban insurgencies in both countries and the threats they pose to their increasingly beleaguered and befuddled U.S.-backed governments.
And while U.S. negotiators appear to have made progress in hammering out details of a bilateral military agreement that will permit U.S. combat forces to remain in Iraq for at least another year and a half, signs that the Shia-dominated government of President Nouri al-Maliki may be preparing to move forcefully against the U.S.-backed, predominantly Sunni “Awakening” movement has raised the specter of renewed sectarian civil war.
Meanwhile, any hope of concluding a framework for a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority by the time Bush leaves office in less than five months appears to have vanished, while efforts at mobilizing greater international diplomatic and economic pressure on Iran to freeze its uranium enrichment program—the administration’s top priority before the Georgia crisis—have stalled indefinitely, overwhelmed by the tidal wave of bad news from its neighborhood.
”The list of foreign policy failures this week is breathtaking,” noted a statement released Friday by the National Security Network (NSN), a mainstream group of former high-ranking officials critical of the Bush administration’s more aggressive policies. And a prominent New York Times columnist, Paul Krugman, argued that the Russian move on Georgia, in particular, signaled ”the end of the Pax Americana—the era in which the United States more or less maintained a monopoly on the use of military force.”
Indeed, Russia’s intervention in what it used to call its “near abroad” was clearly the most spectacular of the fortnight’s developments, both because of its unprecedented use of overwhelming military force against a U.S. ally heavily promoted by Washington for membership in NATO and because of the geostrategic implications of its move for the increasingly troubled Atlantic alliance and U.S. hopes that Caspian and Central Asian energy resources could be safely transported to the West without transiting either Russia or Iran.
While Russia did not seize control of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline or approach the area proposed for the Nabucco pipeline further south, its intervention made it abundantly clear that it could have done so if it had wished, a message that is certain to reverberate across gas-hungry Europe. Indeed, investors now may prove considerably less enthusiastic about financing the Nabucco project than before, dealing yet another blow to Washington’s regional ambitions.
Russia’s move also raised new questions about its willingness to tolerate the continued use by the United States and other NATO countries of key air bases and other military facilities in the southern parts of the former Soviet Union, notably Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, over which Moscow maintains substantial influence.
As with Georgia, where the United States significantly escalated its military presence by sending, over Russian protests, 200 Special Forces troops in early 2002, Washington first acquired access to these bases under the pretext of its post-9/11 “global war on terrorism.” While clearly important to its subsequent operations in Afghanistan, they were also seen as key building blocks—or “lily pads”—in the construction of a permanent military infrastructure that could both contain a resurgent Russia or an emergent China and help establish U.S. hegemony over the energy resources of Central Asia and the Caspian region in what its architects hoped would be a “New American Century.”
As suggested by former Singaporean diplomat Kishore Mahbubani this week, Washington, and to some extent NATO behind it, “has intruded into the geopolitical spaces of other dormant countries. They are no longer dormant.”
Indeed, still badly bogged down in Iraq, where, despite the much-reduced level of sectarian violence, political reconciliation remains elusive, to say the least, the United States and its overly deferential NATO allies now face challenges in Afghanistan not entirely unfamiliar to the Soviets from 20 years ago.
“The news out of Afghanistan is truly alarming,” warned last Thursday’s lead editorial in the New York Times, which noted the killings of 10 French paratroopers near Kabul in an ambush earlier in the week—the single worst combat death toll for NATO forces in the war there—as well as the coordinated assault by suicide bombers on one of the biggest U.S. military bases there as indications of an increasingly dire situation. In the last three months, more U.S. soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan than in Iraq.
“Afghanistan badly needs reinforcements. Badly,” wrote retired Col. Pat Lang, a former top Middle East and South Asia expert at the Defense Intelligence Agency on his blog last week. “Afghanistan badly needs a serious infrastructure and economic development program. Badly.”
Of course, the Taliban’s resurgence has in no small part been due to the safe haven it has been provided next door in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, where Pakistan’s own Taliban, which hosts a rejuvenating al Qaeda, has not only tightened its hold on the region in recent months but also extended it into the North-West Frontier Province.
In mid-August it retaliated in spectacular fashion against airborne attacks on its forces by the U.S.-backed military in Bajaur close to the Khyber Pass—the most important supply route for NATO forces in Afghanistan—by carrying out suicide bombings at a heavily guarded munitions factory that killed nearly 70 people near Islamabad.
Analysts in Washington are especially worried that, having achieved the resignation of U.S.-backed President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, the new civilian government will likely tear itself apart over the presidential succession and the growing economic crisis and thus prove completely ineffective in dealing with Washington’s top priority—confronting and defeating the Taliban in a major counterinsurgency effort for which the army, long focused on the conventional threat posed by India, has shown no interest at all.
Indeed, the current leadership vacuum in Islamabad has greatly compounded concern in Washington that the Pakistan Army’s intelligence service, which Washington believes played a role in last month’s deadly Taliban attack on the Indian Embassy in Kabul, could broaden its anti-Indian efforts. This is especially so now that Indian Kashmir is once again “hotting up,” ensuring a sharp escalation in the two nuclear-armed countries’ decades-long rivalry and threatening in yet another way the post-Cold War Pax Americana.
Jim Lobe is the Washington bureau chief of the Inter Press Service and a contributor to PRA’s Right Web (http://www.rightweb.irc-online.org). His blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at www.ips.org/blog/jimlobe/.
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