Syria: US plans for West Asia will impact India – Gautam Sen

Dr. Gautam SenAmerican policy in the Middle East may offer India some respite from the mighty Jihadi storm brewing within the country, incited by Wahhabi ideology, Pakistani succour to terrorism, and India’s own appalling votebank politics. But like the best laid plans of mice and men, much can go wrong and America’s ambitious attempts to reorder the Middle East radically may come to grief. The biggest known unknown, as one American war criminal once inelegantly voiced, is the reaction of the ordinary masses of the Middle East to events. They are not all fools and zealously ready to sacrifice their lives for political goals.” – Dr. Gautam Sen

Bashar Al-AssadThe pointed US threats in the last few days to the Bashar al-Assad regime about the dire consequences of using chemical weapons against rebels suggest it is preparing to intervene directly in the Syrian civil war. The likeliest scenario could be the use of chemicals by the Syrian rebels themselves, which will, helpfully, provide a supposed casus belli for an aerial assault by the US and NATO. It will be specifically aimed against the political and administrative personnel of the Assad regime itself as well as key military formations. Evidently, the US and its allies, who have been baying for blood as well as equipping and financing its shedding for months, are determined to administer the coup de grace to Assad. Instigating a chemical-use incident through its proxies within Syria cannot be difficult, with Saudi and Turkish incitement to facilitate it.

The Israelis have rather preferred Bashar al-Assad who, like his father Hafez, has usually been long on talk, but restrained in action. The Golan Heights, despite all the nationalist breast-beating of the regime about foreign occupation, has been tranquil. It rather recalls that the regime had once declined to seize it militarily when the opportunity presented itself. At the critical moment, Hafez al-Assad had diverted crack troops to Damascus, instead of the Golan Heights, fearing a possible threat to his own rule. The Syrian regime, surely not the nicest people in the world, had also looked on with cold-hearted indifference while the Palestinians were being brutally slaughtered at Tal Al-Zaatar in 1976. And one might recall the unsparing bloodbath in Homs in the 1980s as well. The Assad family has often had its hands full and Israel was less of a threat to the survival of the family and its Alawite clan, the principal goal, than other domestic sectarian and ethnic realities.

Benjamin NetanyahuThe Israelis are nevertheless risking the extant peaceful life to deliver a potentially severe blow to both Iran and Hezbollah, the latter dependent on Syrian support to flex its muscles on the Israeli-Lebanese border. Both of them are a bigger headache for Israel than preserving the welcome quietude it has hitherto enjoyed in the Golan Heights. It must surely be aware that a new Syrian regime, of any stripe, will be under popular pressure to end this discreet bonhomie. However, the Iranian threat is fundamental for Israel because a nuclear-armed Iran will match its conventional check on Arab ambitions with the kind of Pakistani threat that has stymied Indian freedom to act against Jihadi terror sponsored by it. But Israel and the US don’t really want to attack Iran militarily, unless the clerical regime was on the verge of collapse and a well-timed armed nudge delivered, with due precision, would ensure its disappearance. The cost of a full-scale military intervention would be high, the outcome uncertain and a future that does not guarantee Iran would not resume its quest for a nuclear deterrent. It is regime change that Israel and its allies have been attempting to provoke from a distance. And the unexpected resilience of the clergy is an understandable frustration though they have come very close to unseating them. The implied US argument over the Syrian adventure is that the path to Tehran lies through the ruins of Damascus and it is a contention not without merit.

Mahmoud AhmadinejadRegime change in Iran is the most important contemporary strategic goal espoused by the US and its local ally, Israel. It would then make sense of the overthrow of the Baathists, which has, paradoxically, empowered Iraqi Shias sensitive to an Iranian clergy hostile to the West in general and Israel in particular. But the incumbent Iraqi government, emplaced at such high cost in treasure and lives, would be sympathetic to counsel from a new Iranian regime brought to power through US intercession. And both would surely be beholden to the US and the West for their political survival. This rearrangement of the Middle East and Persian chessboard has portentous significance for the world because it will allow the US to wield a resurgent, regional Shia coalition against the truculent Sunni Arabs, responsible for 9/11 and much turmoil across the world besides. And with the threat of worse to come, with one Sunni state, Pakistan, apt to wave its nuclear manhood at the drop of a hat, there is unfinished business for the US. It does not take kindly to being in a position of constantly reacting to events, initiated by countries of little consequence. In addition, it now has unexpected allies to possibly right this predicament once-and-for-all.

Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al SaudThe overthrow of regimes in Iraq and Libya also highlights a wily additional US venture that might be termed the “little Kuwait” syndrome. It entails, as it did with the original severing of Kuwait from Ottoman Iraq, the creation of small statelets, which are basically only oil fields, and turning them into full sovereign countries. The onset of this process is becoming visible in Kurdish Iraq and now Libya. Claimants to regional autonomy are poised to take control of oil fields in their area and are already entering into one-sided contracts with multinational oil majors. The deluded Saudis, who imagine they are playing a pivotal role remaking the world at present, while booking whole floors of the London Claridges hotel for a spot of sordid fun, are going to have a very nasty surprise once the Iranians became more manageable. The oil rich provinces in Saudi Arabia are dominated by Shia populations and removing them from Saudi control will be less demanding than relieving an ageing geisha of her silk purse! This will be the final pending payback for 9/11. It will also prevent any Chinese ‘smash and grab’ of oil resources in the way they are attempting in the South China Sea. These minor entities controlling much of Middle Eastern oil resources in the future, in largely Shia areas, will be beyond China’s manipulative reach and beholden to the US and its allies.

Shah Ismail IPolitical power has eluded Shias since the founder of Safavid Iran, Shah Ismail I, changed the sectarian loyalties of his Persian subjects by force in the early sixteenth century. He turned a Sunni population into Shias to ensure their political loyalty. But this was a brief interlude of Shia self-assertion, usually the historic privilege of Sunni potentates, which reached an apogee under his illustrious grandson, Shah Abbas. More to the point, the primordial grievance of the original betrayal of the Prophet’s descendants remains undimmed for Shias over the centuries. It is a phenomenon that modern sensibility cannot fully grasp, but held with equal ferocity by Shia nuclear scientists and uneducated Shia bazaaris, both displaying guileless certainty about supposed injustices that occurred thirteen hundred years ago.

This ineluctable truth of historic treachery and assassinations will cement a Shia alliance with the West against their sworn Sunni enemies for the foreseeable future. It is a vast underpinning of hatred which daily prompts the murder of innocent Shia women and children engaged in worship by the Sunni faithful in Pakistan and Iraq. Such divided loyalties and animosities will likely temporarily override Shia suspicions of the West and the fairness of the price paid for oil. This is the destiny American policymakers have discreetly arranged for the hapless Muslim faithful, stranded in the modern world of science and intrigue.

Mustafa Kemal AtaturkThe Islamist regime of Turkey, busy dismantling the secular legacy of its founder, Kemal Ataturk, has allowed over-confidence to overwhelm discretion. It threatens the European Union for denying it full membership while vying for leadership of the sectarian Islamic world in some sort of retaliatory pique. It apparently chooses not to remember the fate of a similarly deluded Ottoman Empire that crumbled and the religiosity that repeatedly curtailed reform, which might have salvaged the remnants of its imperial reach. But it has now turned against the two countries, Israel and Syria, though for different reasons, with which it previously enjoyed affable relations. It has jumped onto the American bandwagon against Syria with an opportunistic alacrity familiar in its recent history and that of the UK in relations with the US. But serious dangers portend for Turkey if US intervention leads to the establishment of more autonomous Kurdish authority in Iraq, where it is almost a reality, and then Syria. Were this to be followed by a resultant weakening of Iranian control over its own Kurdish population, Turkey might face a dilemma of greater severity than its Kurdish separatists have posed in the past. The price of one’s own duplicity might be its karmic retribution through the duplicity of a third-party only mindful of its own national interests.

Recep Tayyip ErdoganIndia would also be affected adversely in the short run because a sharp rise in fuel prices owing to conflict in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf will impact negatively on growth. Indeed it will pose a serious dilemma for the Indian government because it no longer has the financial resources to subsidize the price of fuel, which so many Indians have come to regard as some sort of birthright! In addition, unrest in the Middle East exposes India’s Achilles heel by underlining its real status as a poor, undeveloped nation that finances its balance of payments deficits by massively exporting labour to work in conditions that are shamefully scandalous. They also underline the desperate circumstances within India that drive so many into the arms of agents, vicious Middle Eastern employers and their governments, who all regard them as subhuman. Thus, a double whammy could be in prospect if the situation in the Middle East was to become dire for any length of time, which is possible. An Indian budgetary crisis will then combine with a balance of payments one. It will create an unprecedented situation for India that had apparently been relegated to the past once it begun traversing the path to sustained growth in the mid-90s, although that too has seemed doubtful lately. And how will India finance the 2G Pharaonic lifestyles to which its politicians and many bureaucrats have become accustomed?

Muhammad bin Abdul WahabYet, there is a silver lining if India can survive the immediate setbacks arising from Middle Eastern turmoil. The destruction of Sunni Arab financial power and its ideological fount in Saudi Arabia will bring respite from the insidious Wahhabi villainy that has been poisoning the serenity of Indian Muslims. Its retreat will likely curtail the funding of terror that originates in Saudi Arabia and the repulsive adjacent statelets of the Gulf, who will have their conceited wings smartly clipped. The ending of Wahhabi ideological incitement to truculence, mayhem and terror, that now routinely disrupts life in major Indian cities, including Hyderabad, Kolkata, Chennai and Mumbai, will impose a check on the resources available for mischief. In addition, there will be an impact on the self-confidence of Pakistan that stems from a bizarre belief in the timeless supremacy of its founding ideology and its alleged superiority to all other alternatives, despite the accumulating diabolical evidence to the contrary that is consigning the country to the flames of barbarity and oblivion. The end of Saudi funding and absence of Wahhabi incitement will indeed benefit Pakistan, by allowing it to dimly perceive the harsh reality of its modest place in the scheme of things. Perhaps it will then also behave with appropriate realism in its relations with India.

Putin & Obama: No agreement on SyriaAmerican policy in the Middle East may offer India some respite from the mighty Jihadi storm brewing within the country, incited by Wahhabi ideology, Pakistani succour to terrorism, and India’s own appalling votebank politics. But like the best laid plans of mice and men, much can go wrong and America’s ambitious attempts to reorder the Middle East radically may come to grief. The biggest known unknown, as one American war criminal once inelegantly voiced, is the reaction of the ordinary masses of the Middle East to events. They are not all fools and zealously ready to sacrifice their lives for political goals. But they are also easily distracted by unfathomable concerns of scriptural verity and dress codes for women, as the ongoing Egyptian revolution is demonstrating right now. They may revolt and force pliant regimes to sing a different tune, even if they were brought to power by US and Western imperial designs. The immediate Iranian reaction to the overthrow of Assad’s Alawite Shia regime is also relevant though they may suspect a trap inviting them to intervene. The Hezbollah have stronger cause to join the fray to protect their Syrian lifeline and both Assad and the Iranians may wish to spread the violence to Lebanon to complicate the situation for the US. It is not clear what Russia can do in the event of the aerial bombardment of Syria by NATO, short of having their own troops man anti-aircraft missiles and batteries in Syria. However, they are likely to baulk at the option. Much bloodshed and drama are now promised in the Middle East and India needs to watch and wait, doing little and hoping for much. – Newsinsight, 10 December 2012

» Dr. Gautam Sen taught international political economy at the London School of Economics and Political Science for more than two decades.

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