A really rough stretch for Pax Americana
By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON - Whatever hopes the George W Bush administration may have had for
using its post-September 11, 2001, "war on terror" to impose a new Pax
Americana on Eurasia, and particularly in the unruly areas between the Caucasus
and the Khyber Pass, they 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.
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 US-backed governments.
And while US negotiators appear to have made progress in hammering out details
of a bilateral military agreement that will permit US combat forces to remain
in Iraq at least for another year and a half, signs that the Shi'ite-dominated
government of President Nuri al-Maliki may be preparing to move forcefully
against the US-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 less than
five months from now 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 on Friday by the National Security Network (NSN), a
mainstream group of former high-ranking officials critical of the Bush
administration's more-aggressive policies. 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 US ally heavily
promoted by Washington for membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization
(NATO) and because of the geo-strategic implications of its move for the
increasingly-troubled Atlantic alliance and US 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-Tbili-Ceyhan (BTC) 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
Russia's move also raised new questions about its willingness to tolerate the
continued use by the US and other NATO countries of key air bases and other
military facilities in the southern part of the former Soviet Union, notably
Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, over which Moscow maintains substantial influence.
As with Georgia, where the US 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''. But, while clearly important to its
subsequent operations on 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 US hegemony over the energy resources of Central Asia and
the Caspian region in what its architects hoped would be a ''New American
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 US and its overly deferential NATO allies now face unprecedented
challenges in Afghanistan not entirely unfamiliar to the Soviets 20 years ago.
''The news out of Afghanistan is truly alarming,'' warned 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 US military bases there as
indications of an increasingly dire situation. In the past three months, more
US soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan than in Iraq.
''Afghanistan badly needs reinforcements. Badly,'' wrote retired Colonel Pat
Lang, a former top Middle East and South Asia expert at the Defense
Intelligence Agency on his blog this 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
(FATA) where Pakistan's own Taliban, which also hosts a rejuvenating al-Qaeda,
has not only tightened its hold on the region in recent months but extended it
into the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP).
Last week, it retaliated in spectacular fashion to airborne attacks on its
forces by the US-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
Analysts here are especially worried that, having achieved the resignation last
week of US-backed former president General Pervez Musharraf, the new civilian
government will likely tear itself apart over the 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
counter-insurgency 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 here that the army's intelligence service, ISI, 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 heating 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's blog on US foreign policy, and particularly the
neo-conservative influence in the Bush administration, can be read at http://www.ips.org/blog/jimlobe/.