Adult Supervision From Moscow and Beijing?
Originally posted in La Vanguardia, 11 February 2012
(republished with the permission of the author)
Has it come to this? Are Moscow and Beijing now providing adult supervision over Western-generated crises in the Middle East?
Those of us over forty had long been socialized into viewing Moscow and Beijing as constituting a Deadly Duo in our global geopolitical struggle against communism. Yet today we are confronted with the spectacle of Russia and China now providing the necessary caution and prudence to prevent yet another Western rush into disastrous war in the Middle East. Most recently both Beijing and Moscow have made clear their lack of support for increasingly draconian Western or even UN-sponsored sanctions against Iran or Syria. And they more firmly oppose military intervention.
Few analysts believe that yet another western military adventure, this time against Iran – and its alleged hand-maiden Syria – would bring anything but graver threats to Middle Eastern stability, oil supplies, global geopolitics and the global economy. It could open up regional warfare and sow the seeds of an even longer bout of Muslim world hostility against the West that brought us 9/11. Even professional voices in Israel such as former chief of Mossad Meir Dagan warn that an Israeli attack on Iran “is the stupidest thing I have ever heard.” A handful of sober voices in Israel and a minority in the West concur.
Of course nobody is comfortable with the idea of a nuclear Iran. Who was comfortable with a nuclear North Korea, or a nuclear Soviet Union under Stalin or a nuclear China under Mao? But a nuclear Iran is coming, like it or not, and American unmitigated hostility to Iran‹particularly based on Tehran’s long-standing affront to the US-mandated Middle East order‹only worsens the problem. This is not a turning point in history; the world will come to live with it, as have Russia and China. Washington may even have to make the effort to actually get along with Iran. Syria? Certainly an unpleasant regime and bloodily repressing its citizens. But so are many other regimes,
including former or present US friends. But we target Syria because of Iran.
Times have shifted mightily over the last decade when George W. Bush could demand compliance with a Manichean division of the world into “those who are with us or those against us.” But, after watching the debacle of American defeats, and the exacerbation of already serious problems in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Palestine, much of the world seems to have reached a decision that – guess what? – they are not with us. Not against us, mind you, but willing to do what it takes to block America’s ongoing obsessive and erratic actions which maintain the flames of war across the Muslim world and threaten its vital energy lines. They say ‘no’ to ongoing American schemes designed to satisfy the (misconstrued) interests of the US and Israel. To them it is simply irresponsible to maintain this already dangerous and distraught region on a high boil, in a permanent state of war jitters and confrontationalism. Many others in the region like Turkey and India concur. And so Russia and China seem to be the only two global powers capable of shutting down this march towards permanent war and games of chicken in the Persian Gulf.
Europe, alas seems to have abandoned a role of adult supervision over misguided US policies–especially Britain and France in their sad roles as wannabe global powers. Europe’s own policies towards the Middle East seem to be driven by diverse unfruitful and ineffective impulses: residual nostalgia for imperial power projection, an inchoate fear of Muslim migrants, and a loss of faith in their own societies that breeds a kind of worried neo-fascist response. But even then, most Europeans know that the US gambit is a losing one‹and one that they can’t even afford. They know NATO is not the future of world governance.
But can we speak of Russia and China as uniquely wise and balanced? Of course not. They are driven by their own calculations and interests. But they do not perceive war in the region as one of their interests. Nor do they find a reassuring record in western stewardship over global geopolitics in the last century. (Not that their own past brutal bouts with communism speak well for the vision of their own societies either.) But they seem to have concluded that war is not the answer to most of the region’s problems. And they cannot look on sanguinely as US continues to compulsively roll the dice of unending sanctions or war. They have also concluded that a world with multiple power centers stands a better chance of vetoing geopolitical adventurism exercised by slipping great powers.
Perhaps one day it will be Russian and Chinese interventionism that requires global balancing and veto. But not today.
Graham E Fuller is former vice-chair of the National Intelligence Council at CIA. His latest book is A World without Islam, Little Brown 2011.