Obsessed with competition against Russia in Syria, the US disregards real problems in the Middle East - souring relations with Iran and Saudi Arabia moving towards collapse
This post first appeared on Russia Insider
In the first half of this month, the American political consciousness radically shifted, as with the Eurasia/Eastasia switcheroo from Orwell's 1984. At almost unimaginable speed, Russia beat out the Caliphate to once again top America's list of bad guys. In fact, compared to Russia's evil ambitions, the Caliphate is no longer even a threat. It hardly exists!
Who would have thought?
In June 2014, when it seemingly came out of nowhere to take Mosul, the second city of Iraq, the Caliphate was portrayed in American media as a national emergency—that is, for America, not just Iraq.
Most Americans had never even heard of ISIL, ISIS, IS, or whatever is the name du jour. (I call it the Caliphate, a name that won't change despite any number of silly acronym changes.)
Then all of a sudden, overnight, it was all we heard about.
Defense Secretary Hagel spoke of it as an unprecedented, emergency threat, sort of like communism but worse. A few months later, speaking to the UN, President Obama said it was right up there with Russia and Ebola as a fundamental danger to humanity. CNN's notorious war cheerleader, Wolf Blitzer, spoke of almost nothing else for months. And excitable policemen on the border claimed that it was coming up from Mexico, much like that old lady calling in to report Japanese warships on the Mississippi in 1941.
Uncle Sam flew in the neighborhood of 20,000 sorties against the Caliphate, killing (by some accounts) 1/2 of a terrorist per sortie. Not bad, right? And yet the Caliphate grew and grew and grew, from 20,000 to as many as 70,000 foot soldiers, reaching even into central Syria to do battle with the ancient Palmyrene kingdom, or the Roman empire if you prefer. Its mile-long convoys of shiny white Toyota pickups cruising through open desert were evidently fitted with stealth technology to evade American satellites and drones.
But now that Russia has dared intrude on the latest American regime change adventure, none of this matters. What matters is that Russia has made America look weak. Russia is flying over another country without America's permission. Russia is disrespecting America by going its own way and choosing its own targets, rather than kissing the ring and joining Uncle Sam's "coalition" (which is 90% Uncle Sam, as always.)
Russia is even making deals with our failed colony of Iraq behind our backs, spitting on the graves of 4493 Americans who died in Gulf War II for absolutely nothing. All of this licentiousness on Moscow's part is shocking, repulsive, and—judging by news coverage—far more of a threat to world peace and stability than the Caliphate ever was.
Looking at American "news", op-eds, and online comments/talkbacks, it really seems as if the Caliphate does not exist, or at least is not so important, after all. Now it's all Putin, Putin, Putin, Iran, Assad, Putin, Putin, Putin. American news media is once again the 24/7 Putin channel. Americans have returned to the certainty and comfort of hating their old foe. The Caliphate is so 2014.
So the questions come to mind: Was the Caliphate ever really a threat? Was defeating it really a priority? Or was it blown out of proportion, then purposefully left to simmer as a way to keep the pressure on Iran, to keep Iran pinned down in Iraq, to cut it down to size in the broader context of the nuclear negotiations as well as the proxy war in Yemen, not to mention Syria itself? I think at this point, we all know the answers.
But Russia is now only half of Obama's problems. Remember, there was this magical deal with Iran, which was going to prevent a U.S.-Iran war, koombayah you see, and now the Iranians turn around, with the deal in their pocket (or so they think), and call our president a punk by sending thousands of their toughest five-o'-clock-shadows against American proxies in Syria, if Reutersis to be believed.
So there is NO WAY now that Obama can lift U.S. sanctions on Iran. Hardly anyone is speaking of this yet, but the nuclear deal is broken and frozen before it ever got off the ground. The State Department won't admit it, but they will have to slow-roll this thing into oblivion. It was all a waste of perfectly good hot air to begin with.
Meanwhile, America's greatest democratic ally, Saudi Arabia, is beginning to crack. The kingdom has only just started burning through its currency reserves in earnest, but already some unnamed prince is circulating letters calling for a palace coup, if you believe the Guardian. (Granted, the Saudis have thousands of princes, so the story may be overblown.)
Moreover, Riyadh is fighting its first real war in 100 years, pitting its overpriced, U.S.-imitation army against a bunch of tribal guerillas, and that's not going well at all. It is also said to be cracking down on minority Shi'a unrest through measures such as crucifixion (very democratic, that.) With the general trend of disintegration sweeping the region, you don't have to be a prophet to see this country falling apart completely within 4-5 years if oil prices stay depressed as in the late 1980s.
But that's hardly on the American radar now. I don't hear my countrymen talking about it in the least. Probably it will come as an overnight surprise, much like the Caliphate's conquest of Mosul. Then maybe Putin will again be out of the news for a few months. One can hope!
This post first appeared on Russia Insider
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