WASHINGTON - Whatever hopes the George W. Bush administration mayhave had for using its post-9/11 “war on terror” to impose a new PaxAmericana on Eurasia, and particularly in the unruly areas between theCaucasus and the Khyber Pass, appear to have gone up in flames — insome cases, literally — over the past two weeks.
Not only has Russia reasserted its influence in the most emphatic waypossible by invading and occupying substantial parts of Georgia afterWashington’s favourite Caucasian, President Mikhail Saakashvili,launched an ill-fated offensive against secessionist SouthOssetians.But bloody attacks in Afghanistan, and Pakistan, about 1,000kms to the east also underlined the seriousness of thePashtun-dominated Taliban insurgencies in both countries and thethreats they pose to their increasingly beleaguered and befuddledU.S.-backed governments.
And while U.S. negotiators appear to have made progress in hammeringout details of a bilateral military agreement that will permit U.S.combat forces to remain in Iraq at least for another year and a half,signs that the Shi’a-dominated government of President Nouri al-Malikimay be preparing to move forcefully against the U.S.-backed,predominantly Sunni ”Awakening” movement has raised the spectre ofrenewed sectarian civil war.
Meanwhile, any hope of concluding a framework for a peace agreementbetween Israel and the Palestinian Authority by the time Bush leavesoffice less than five months from now appears to have vanished, whileefforts at mobilising greater international diplomatic and economicpressure on Iran to freeze its uranium enrichment programme — theadministration’s top priority before the Georgia crisis — have stalledindefinitely, overwhelmed by the tidal wave of bad news from itsneighbourhood.
”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 ofthe Bush administration’s more-aggressive policies. And a prominent NewYork Times columnist, Paul Krugman, argued that the Russian move onGeorgia, in particular, signaled ”the end of the Pax Americana — theera in which the United States more or less maintained a monopoly onthe use of military force.”
Indeed, Russia’s intervention in what it used to call its ”nearabroad” was clearly the most spectacular of the fortnight’sdevelopments, both because of its unprecedented use of overwhelmingmilitary force against a U.S. ally heavily promoted by Washington formembership in NATO and because of the geo-strategic implications of itsmove for the increasingly-troubled Atlantic alliance and U.S. hopesthat Caspian and Central Asian energy resources could be safelytransported to the West without transiting either Russia or Iran.
While Russia did not seize control of the Baku-Tbili-Ceyhan (BTC)pipeline or approach the area proposed for the Nabucco pipeline furthersouth, its intervention made it abundantly clear that it could havedone so if it had wished, a message that is certain to reverberateacross gas-hungry Europe. Indeed, investors now may prove considerablyless 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 totolerate the continued use by the U.S. and other NATO countries of keyair bases and other military facilities in the southern part of theformer Soviet Union, notably Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, over whichMoscow maintains substantial influence.
As with Georgia, where the U.S. significantly escalated its militarypresence by sending over Russian protests 200 Special Forces troops inearly 2002, Washington first acquired access to these bases under thepretext of its post-9/11 ”global war on terrorism”. But, while clearlyimportant to its subsequent operations on Afghanistan, they were alsoseen as key building blocks — or ”lily pads” — in the construction of apermanent military infrastructure that could both contain a resurgentRussia or an emergent China and help establish U.S. hegemony over theenergy resources of Central Asia and the Caspian region in what itsarchitects hoped would be a ”New American Century.”
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As suggested by former Singaporean diplomat Kishore Mahbubani thisweek, Washington and, to some extent, NATO behind it, ”has intrudedinto the geopolitical spaces of other dormant countries. They are nolonger dormant…”
Indeed, still badly bogged down in Iraq where, despite themuch-reduced level of sectarian violence, political reconciliationremains elusive, to say the least, the U.S. and its overly deferentialNATO allies now face unprecedented challenges in Afghanistan notentirely unfamiliar to the Soviets 20 years ago.
”The news out of Afghanistan is truly alarming,” warned Thursday’slead editorial in the New York Times, which noted the killings of 10French paratroopers near Kabul in an ambush earlier in the week — thesingle worst combat death toll for NATO forces in the war there — aswell as the coordinated assault by suicide bombers on one of thebiggest U.S. military bases there as indications of an increasinglydire situation. In the last three months, more U.S. soldiers have beenkilled in Afghanistan than in Iraq.
”Afghanistan badly needs reinforcements. Badly,” wrote ret. Col. PatLang, a former top Middle East and South Asia expert at the DefenceIntelligence Agency on his blog this week. ”Afghanistan badly needs aserious infrastructure and economic development programme. Badly.”
Of course, the Taliban’s resurgence has in no small part been due tothe safe haven it has been provided next door in the FederallyAdministered Tribal Areas (FATA) where Pakistan’s own Taliban, whichalso hosts a rejuvenating al Qaeda, has not only tightened its hold onthe region in recent months but extended it into the North-WestFrontier Province (NWFP).
Last week, it retaliated in spectacular fashion to airborne attackson its forces by the U.S.-backed military in Bajaur close to the KhyberPass — the most important supply route for NATO forces in Afghanistan —by carrying out suicide bombings at a heavily guarded munitions factorythat killed nearly 70 people near Islamabad.
Analysts here are especially worried that, having achieved theresignation last week of U.S.-backed former President Gen. PervezMusharraf, the new civilian government will likely tear itself apartover the succession and the growing economic crisis and thus provecompletely ineffective in dealing with Washington’s top priority —confronting and defeating the Taliban in a major counter-insurgencyeffort for which the army, long focused on the conventional threatposed by India, has shown no interest at all.
Indeed, the current leadership vacuum in Islamabad has greatlycompounded concern here that the army’s intelligence service ISI, whichWashington believes played a role in last month’s deadly Taliban attackon 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-ColdWar Pax Americana.