Do you know what "nemesis" means? A righteous infliction of retribution
manifested by an appropriate agent. Personified in this case by an horrible
c**t ... me. From Snatch (2000), a wonderful, funny, violent, cult film made by Guy
History has it that under "Pax Romana", the concept of violence by non-state
agents against Roman citizens within the empire's borders was removed, in
effect Roman citizens were free to walk
the length and breadth of the empire without fear of barbarian attacks. The
other side of the coin was that the barbarians had been quelled with the
greatest of violence and the scantest of regards for their rights.
Two thousand years later, Pax Americana as ushered in by the fall of the Soviet
Union has been further strengthened by US actions since the 9/11 terrorist
attacks. Alone among world powers, the United States has shown firm mettle in
dealing with threats against her citizens.
The scorecard for anyone looking to launch violence against the US was
particularly daunting: on the one side of the ledger, some 3,000 American lives
lost during 9/11 against which we count not just the thousands of armed
combatants lying dead around Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan but also various
leaders ranging from Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein to Muammar Gaddafi last
week. About the only terrorist who can still comfortably claim to have launched
a war against the US and lived is Taliban leader Mullah Omar deep inside
United States President Barack Obama announced on Friday that all US troops
would be withdrawn from Iraq by the Christmas holidays in late December.
Washington currently has less than 40,000 US troops in Iraq, down from an
all-time high of 170,000 in late 2007.
As projections of military power go, the post-9/11 period has been one of
success for the US. Whilst a number of anti-war and anti-right wing
commentators may lament the loss of life and limb - and worse, the loss of the
rule of law in the Middle East as the US pursued its retribution - the facts on
the ground could be considerably different.
The lasting images that anti-war commentators throw about the Iraq occupation
that began in 2003 - such as the Abu Ghraib prison atrocities - are actually
more likely to shame and scare fundamentalists and nationalists in the Middle
East than spark them into renewed action against the United States.
"That" picture showing a young, female US serviceperson holding a leash over a
naked, shivering and terrified Iraqi may well have a different psychological
effect on would-be combatants from the Middle East than the sense of shame
shown by the American media and its politicians (by and large).
Whether or not this actually proves to be the case depends on what the US does
next. And it is here that the other side of the ledger starts showing
weaknesses. There are two particular matters of concern for the US now -
firstly its own monetary constraints and secondly the lack of any real allies
in the Middle East.
The first issue has been dealt with by many commentators - including me in
A world without a benchmark (Asia Times Online, August 9) a few weeks
ago. This is a long-term issue that may well go to the heart of what the US can
and will do with its fortunes going forward.
The second issue is more intractable, to say the least. Popular revolts in the
Middle East have toppled the reserve of American client states with outright
regime changes in Egypt (the fulcrum of peace for Israel), the execution of
Gaddafi last week and lastly with the regime in Bahrain (where the US Navy is
based) appearing shaky. Of these, the execution of Gaddafi can be categorized
as a substantial victory for the US, as it deals two major strategic advantages
in one shot.
Firstly, there is ready access to sweet (low-sulfur) oil, and a viable hedge to
any regime change in Saudi Arabia and its sour (high-sulfur) oil.
The second major strategic advantage countering emerging Chinese power
projection in Africa. It was Chinese oil producers who were seen to be keen to
win contracts from Gaddafi even as his end game with the Europeans started
playing out. The victory in Libya offsets the losses of key Israeli allies in
Egypt and Turkey and puts the US in a position to treat the Mediterranean as
its own pond to play around with.
The other stories are not good for long-term interests - the US has no ability
to confront Egypt militarily, while in Bahrain it has depended on the Saudi
armed forces along with a large conscripted army of Pakistani military forces
to quell the Shi'ite rebellion. What if elements loyal to the Iranian
government launch an attack in Bahrain against the US and Saudi presence in the
form of a Shi'ite spring and a call for democracy?
A useful strategic option may have been to befriend Iran as I wrote a while ago
in The value of a
nuclear Iran (Asia Times Online, December 17, 2010.) That particular
boat has sailed though, and in my opinion, as the US appears to be preparing
for an opposite course of action, namely military engagement against Iran
prompted by recent revelations of an alleged Iranian plot to assassinate the
Saudi ambassador to the US.
While the notion of militarily containing Iran goes back to Pax Americana - ie,
the ability to punish all states that have sought to hurt American interests
and lives, the timing couldn't be worse, particularly if no dramatic action
ensues in Bahrain or elsewhere (ie, there is no terrorist attack on US
interests in Bahrain or elsewhere in the Middle East).
There is the ongoing weariness over war in the US to contend with. Secondly
there are very significant budgetary gaps in the US that render questionable
any ability to pay for the war. Lastly, there is the issue of Pakistan that
threatens to become an outright adversary of the US even sooner than the
Dealing with one, wobbly, religiously-infused, nuclear power is bad enough -
but dealing with two simultaneously may be out of the question. Even if the US
decides to attack Iran's nuclear facilities and other weapons of mass
destruction capabilities first, the risks are immense particularly in terms of
next steps by a Pakistani military growing increasingly wary of similar
containment efforts on its own favorite nuclear, biological, and chemical toys.
Europe is besides itself with grief over the impending implosion of its
economic experiment, the euro. That rules out the French and the Germans from
active involvement in Iran - they won't bother to come even if they could as
another matter. The Russians are unlikely to want the US to gain a presence on
their Caspian Sea borders, so cooperation on that front is ruled out too. China
has opposing strategic interests over Iran and therefore will not support the
US. If anything, it suits China just fine (as of now) to increase the stakes a
little bit in Pakistan and watch the Americans fester in their own impotent
It seems clear that elements of the Pakistani military in the form of the
Inter-Services Intelligence have played a part in deadly attacks on Americans
in Afghanistan - precisely the explosive story for which I suspect Asia Times
Online journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad was silenced for in May. Unable to
protect themselves in Afghanistan and using the "threat" of Iran as the reason
not to engage against Pakistan at the present time, the US is now seen to be
exiting its vantage point in Iraq.
While immediate assessment of the war in Iraq relates some of the points I made
above with respect to Pax Americana, the future view is much less bright.
Viewed strictly from that perspective, Pax Americana may now be ending at least
with respect to the US presence internationally.
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