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Short Fuses Atop Powder Kegs
Washington's Wars and Occupations:
Month in Review #82
February 29, 2012
By Alicia Garza, War Times/Tiempo de Guerras
The post-9/11 Neocon dream of Washington running the entire Middle East is crumbling before their eyes. But lunatic as it seems, Republican presidential hopefuls are beating the drums for still another Middle East war.
Afghan "allies" are shooting NATO troops every other day and the U.S. war in Afghanistan is falling apart. In The End in Afghanistan? Tom Engelhardt and Nick Turse report that "American officials are talking about not panicking (which indicates that panic is indeed in the air)."
Evidence piles up weekly that the war against Iraq was not only a human disaster for the Iraqi people, but an embarrassing failure for the U.S. Plans for "the largest Embassy" in the world in Baghdad have to be cut in half, and the Iraqi government is closer politically to Iran than to the U.S.
But on the campaign trail here, the foreign policy discussion is dominated by Republicans attempting to whip the American public into a frenzy over Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons (which U.S. intelligence says Iran has not even decided to build!) and pledging 1,000% support for Israeli settlements and threats to attack Iran.
So at the end of this shortest month of the year the world is on an increasingly short fuse. The danger of war against Iran is front and center. But there is also the tense standoff on the Korean peninsula and upped threats for of military intervention in Syria where the powderkeg mix of a brutal regime, a divided population, sectarian tensions and Western and Israeli ambitions could engulf the whole region. And background to it all is the slow motion military redeployment toward strategic positions in the Pacific to keep China under surveillance and encircled to counter what Washington regards as the main threat to its power in the 21st century.
BRINGING IT ON: U.S. BUILD-UP IN THE PACIFIC
As analyzed in previous War Timescolumns, China’s continued ascent has been of great concern not only to the U.S. but to other countries that are skittish at what they consider China’s aggressive stance. Since 2009, China has surpassed the U.S. as Africa’s most important trading partner, making massive investments in Africa’s infrastructure. It has a growing military and has been increasingly assertive in staking claim to valuable disputed territories such as the energy rich South China Sea. This rise has Washington on guard, and putting the pieces in place to make sure U.S. supremacy is secure against the only power that Washington believes could become a global "peer competitor."
Underneath is the U.S. elite's growing awareness of declining U.S. economic and political power. China’s continued ascent as an economic and military power alongside increasing tensions in the Pacific region between the Koreas has had the US quietly increasing its maritime presence and troop deployment in the region.
One result is Washington's move back into the Philippines. This marks a shift from recent policy in that country, which has rejected the U.S. military from its shores for the last 15 years (even though the U.S. military continues to train troops there allegedly to fight al-Qaeda-linked forces). However, with China adopting a more aggressive stance in the region, the U.S. is finding many Pacific leaders receptive to the idea of a larger U.S, military presence. Thus Reuters reports that "U.S. and Philippine officials are discussing the expansion of military cooperation" as part of a U.S. "'pivot' toward economically dynamic Asia." Similar agreements have been reached or are being negotiated with Australia, Japan, and Singapore.
Meanwhile, tensions between North and South Korea are mounting, where the powderkeg is especially explosive because there are nuclear weapons on both sides. The death of Kim Jong-il late last year was thought to perhaps usher in a new era between the two countries; however, North Korea recently began aggressive military exercises again, with orders coming from Kim Jong-un to retaliate against South Korea if provoked. And South Korea is cracking down on advocates of peace and demilitarization, especially those supporting the grassroots resistance of Gangjeong villagers to the naval base on Jeju Island.
Increasing geo-political tensions in the Pacific region have spurred the demand for drones, weapons of mass destruction that are generally used for combat and surveillance. Interest in purchasing drones is increasing from India, Japan, Korea, Singapore and Australia. As the demand increases, new companies are flourishing, spurring stiff competition with established industry giants. Suddenly, more and more governments are looking to get their hands on weapons that allow them to keep an eye on their neighbors and engage in destructive combat if necessary - creating a dangerous cycle in which everyone is gearing up for the potential of war.
DANGER: HIGHLY FLAMMABLE
While dangerous militarization grows in the Pacific region, shifting political dynamics in the Middle East create tremendous volatility. The U.S.’s failed strategy in Iraq is now quickly and visibly being repeated in Afghanistan, as anti-US sentiment spreads like wildfire throughout the country. And the threat of an attack on Iran looms over the region like a dark cloud, with Israel working in tandem with U.S. conservatives to encourage pre-emptive strikes based on exaggerated or made-up reports that has or is actively building nuclear weapons.
The ongoing outrage coming from Neo-conservatives portrays Obama as being “soft on terrorism,” despite the fact that under the Obama administration, sanctions against Iran are been the strictest that they’ve been. As the U.S. becomes increasingly de-stabilized by an ongoing recession and the effects of over-extension in the Middle East - and as popular movements like Occupy rise up to fight back - the Republicans up the volume on fear-mongering and the need for the U.S. to "Remain Number One" at any cost.
So far the Obama administration's policy has been to tighten pressure on Iran via sanctions but try to avoid a military conflict that U.S. realists see as a potential disaster for their own interests. But the administration's constant pledges of "100% support" for Israel combined with its electoral calculations about both the "Jewish vote" and need to "appear strong" could result in an about-face. With the unraveling of the U.S. position in Afghanistan, an Obama campaign that hoped to run on "victory in Iraq, success against Al-Qaeda and achievement-leading-to-withdrawal-(someday) from Afghanistan sees its plans in tatters. With it increasingly obvious that Afghans do not want foreign troops there, and a majority of U.S. people now telling pollsters that the war there "is not worth it," the sensible course would be to get out and fast. But when have the leaders of empires been sensible? History tells us that in moments like these, there is great danger of re-escalation in Afghanistan - or an attack on Iran to "show strength."
And the arguments from hawks for escalation are already being marshaled. Despite claiming victory in Iraq, it is clearer than ever that the U.S. did not achieve its goal of a pro-Western regime and that Washington spent eight years, billions of dollars, thousands of U.S. lives and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives on a war that was both wrong and lost. And now the same anti-U.S. outrage that eventually forced the U.S. out of Iraq is boiling over throughout Afghanistan. The trigger was the burning of the Qu’ran in a trash dump outside of the largest U.S. military base in Afghanistan. But beneath that are the murderous night raids, the civilians killed by U.S. bombs, the daily humiliations of foreign occupation. It is, as Engelhardt and Turse write, "an explosion a decade in coming."
The U.S. elite - Obama administration included - fears that the Afghan outrage will only fuel further anti-American sentiment in a region forever transformed by the ongoing Arab Spring. (The Qu’ran burning and response has already been front-page news throughout the Islamic world.) This makes it difficult to achieve their objective of stabilizing the area and minimizing the damage done by ten years of over-stretch and lost wars. They are scrambling.
One place they see opportunity is Syria. Since that country's outbreak of the Arab Spring a year ago, the regime's brutal repression has killed several thousand protestors; reports vary with pro-dissident forces on the ground estimating up to 7,500 deaths. But overlaid on, and perhaps increasingly intertwined with, the popular protest are the ambitious of the Western powers and pro-Western regimes like Saudi Arabia. This month Obama released a statement intimating that the international community needed to become involved in order to halt the killing of civilians and noted that the al-Assad regime had to come to an end. Washington pressed for a UN resolution that might have authorized foreign intervention; Russia and China vetoed citing what had happened in Libya, where a mission authorized as humanitarian saving of lives turned into an operation for regime change. The U.S., Israel and Saudi Arabia want to install in Damascus a government that, unlike the current regime, is not allied with Iran or a supporter of Hezbollah in Lebanon. The threat of U.S. intervention is increasing. (Most of the left has taken a position of solidarity with the anti-dictatorship movement while opposing all foreign intervention.) How the situation will play out, what will allow the Syrian people to determine their own destiny, whether or not Syria will become another bead in the thread of disastrous U.S. interventions- all this remains to be seen.
WILL THE POWDERKEGS EXPLODE?
Events this month on the war and peace front could supply the script for a Horror Movie Award Show. The award for the “Most Dangerous Developing Situation” goes to Israel's threat to attack Iran, with Washington winning "Best Supporting Role for Another Illegal War." The “Longest Running Conflict with the Shortest Fuse" Award goes to the standoff on the Korean Peninsula; Washington gets a "Supporting' if not "Producing and Directing" nod there too.
Both situations win the “Scariest Sub-plot” award, since while all war is destructive, there are no wars quite as destructive as those that involve nuclear weapons. With political relationships and the balance of forces shifting quite dramatically in both the Middle East and in the Pacific, this awards show ends with a cliffhanger: Will antiwar movements in the U.S. and around the world be able to organize and mobilize sufficient strength to win a "Stopped the Descent Into Madness" Award by helping resolve these conflicts in the interests of peace as opposed to ongoing, endless war?