US at A Crossroads

The basic feature of US foreign policy during the Cold War was inclusiveness — a willingness to embrace any country that opposed communism, whatever its type of government. The US contested the Soviet system and held the line militarily, and its consistent and comprehensive approach eventually led to the Soviet Union’s implosion. After the Cold War, came the “war on terror” during which the United States has not been as inclusive as it was in its war against communism. Aside from those in the “coalition of the willing,” even most European countries have distanced themselves from Washington. Iraq also has exposed the weaknesses in American policymaking. All these factors have brought the US at a crossroads.

Washington officials have recently announced that the United States is going to increase its military presence in Iraq. At the same time, a number of US troops have been deployed in Iraqi Kurdistan. Simultaneously, the White House is applying a lot of pressure on Iran in the negotiations on the issue of Iranian nuclear programme. The US is trying to extract as many concessions from the Iranians as it possibly can, including the reduction in support that Tehran has been, and is still, providing to Damascus. Yet, Washington refuses to decrease the tension around the situation in eastern Ukraine, claiming that Russia had been sending military equipment and troops there.

Europeans have found themselves in a position similar to Iran, since the US officials have been twisting their arms in order to make them adopt a new package of anti-Russia sanctions. Therefore, it’s no coincidence that Russia and China have taken a number of major steps to increase their efforts in the fields of energy and economic cooperation. The question then arises as to what is the ultimate goal of the US foreign policy — Ukraine, the Middle East or China? Should the Washington think tanks be presented with such a question, one would definitely hear an answer that the Obama administration can handle a number of different matters simultaneously. However, should you persist, the outcome of your inquiry can prove to be rather peculiar.

It’s a general belief in Washington now that if choosing between the two recent crises — in the Middle East and Ukraine — the Middle Eastern one is by far the most important to American interests. There are a number of indicators to prove this statement:

Firstly, the Middle East is now torn apart by a full-scale war, especially in Iraq and Syria, and the US is carrying out air strikes against the positions of IS militants in these two countries on a daily basis.

Secondly, under the US national security doctrine the protection of the US population at home and overseas is imperative and Washington believes that the jihadists present by far a more pressing threat to US citizens than Russia.

Finally, Washington think tanks believe that the regional structure of the Middle East is now going down in flames, and it will take several decades to build a new one, while the European structure has been “slightly shaken” by the events in Ukraine.

Moreover, American politicians, lawmakers and analysts believe that the United States, while focusing on Russia and the Ukraine crisis, is not paying enough attention to Iraq, Syria and Iran. Therefore, Obama administration is being accused that its obsession with Ukraine had allowed IS militants to establish control over large parts of Iraq and Syria.

However, for those concerned with Vladimir Putin’s actions aimed at restoring Russian influence in the post-Soviet space, the Middle East looks more like a dangerous distraction. Supporters of this approach fear that the US may once again be drawn into the “war on terror” in the Middle East, while the main security threat to US interests is growing in Europe. This position is based on the premise that the US has not fully realized how serious are the actual challenges that are associated with the strengthening of Russia. The supporters of this approach are sure that the return of the Crimea along with a de facto secession of the southeast territories from Ukraine is just the beginning of redistribution of the world at the expense of the United States. Moreover, they are convinced that Russia will become a threat to the rest of Ukraine, and even the Baltic states.

The fact that Washington dismisses the possibility of its direct military involvement in the Ukraine crisis makes it pretend that it is not as tense as it could be, but in fact it is indirectly raising the stakes in the game called “the creation of a new world order.” The worst case scenario, which is being discussed behind closed doors in the White House, is the alleged possibility of Moscow putting its tactical nuclear weapons to actual use. This, of course, would be the biggest crisis in the field of international security since the Cuban Missile Crisis, and it would be by far graver and more dangerous than the next phase of war in Iraq that has been going on for 35 years now.

Naturally, the vast majority of sensible and sane politicians and experts in the US don’t believe in the nuclear scenario, although many of them still fear that Moscow will start a full-scale conventional assault in Ukraine or provoke a “rebellion” of the Russian-speaking population in the Baltic States that are Nato members. Should Russia invade the Baltic States and should Nato fail to react, they argue, Moscow will show the world that the Western military alliance is in fact a “paper tiger.”

This part of the US political elite hopes that the ever increasing pressure on the Russian economy will hold Putin back from escalating the Ukrainian conflict though their opponents are convinced that the economic crisis may instead push Russia to take a number of unpredictable steps by switching to “brute force” scenario.

Against this background Obama flew to the APEC summit in China. For supporters of the American ‘pivot’ to Asia, the ever growing Chinese influence is the main challenge in the long run. A handful of think tanks are convinced that while the US will try to deal with the two above-mentioned crises, China will be able to establish control over East Asia and the Asia Pacific region, which is slowly being transformed into a major centre of the world economy. These think tanks insist that the Obama administration must take steps to prevent China from growing stronger in military, political and economic terms. Russia’s turn to China in search for a new major energy market can only make China stronger if Russia provides it with gas and modern weapons. Americans are increasingly nervous about the formation of a new alliance in Asia — between China and Russia. These think tanks, apparently, are closer to the actual understanding of the processes that affect the formation of a new world order.

Time will tell how well the Obama administration sets the US strategic priorities right, since it seems to be a turning point in the process of creation  of a new world order, and it will be too late to change anything once the bets are made. It looks like the major challenge the United States is facing today is China, not Russia or the Middle East. The rapid rise of China is truly a significant development, though it may look deceptively long term from the outside, therefore one may get the impression that it is not leading to a possibility of an immediate conflict between China and the United States.

The collapsing states in the Middle East and the possible spread of terrorism are the threats that the US should, one way or the other, deal with now. The first occupation of Iraq and the consequent actions of Washington have unleashed a chain of colour revolutions that led to the events that cannot be controlled anymore. The supporters of the US in the region — Riyadh and Doha which assisted the White House in its plan of redrawing the regional map — are now facing the threat of an imminent collapse due to the rise of radical jihadists.

Not Iran only will benefit from this course of events; China and, to some extent, Russia, will benefit too. But it’s imperative for the US now to find a balanced approach to China, Russia and the Middle East, since a failure to achieve this goal would not only endanger the international peace, but would also affect the very survival of the United States as a superpower and America will have to settle for a role of a regional power only, with no real influence whatsoever over the situation in Europe and Asia. It seems that this will be the most likely scenario since the recent actions of Barack Obama are showing that he has realized his miscalculations and now he’s desperately trying to get out of trouble he has created himself.

Courtesy: New Eastern Outlook

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