So much has happened this year.
North Korea established itself as a nuclear state. Despite the harsh rhetoric from Washington, nothing in the nature of American military countermeasures took place. What did ensue was President Donald Trump’s surprising trip to Singapore to meet Kim Jong Un, the violent-prone North Korean dictator. Mr. Trump used the journey to tell the world that Kim Jong Un was a capable statesman.
President Trump’s display of anger over America’s trade deficit was another thing that happened. Mr. Trump, the leader of a country that for decades had championed free trade, initiated a trade war. In contradistinction, President Xi Jinping, China’s communist leader, pleaded for holding on to an unhampered exchange of goods and services.
What is still in progress and keeps America’s attention focused on itself is the unending saga of President Trump’s knowledge, or the opposite of it, whether Russia did interfere on his behalf in the 1916 presidential election.
Most of what has absorbed the public’s attention since Mr. Trump assumed the presidency, history’s relentless advance will, in time, blow away like so much dust. And most of us will have forgotten about them.
At the same time, intense political efforts have been in progress to redraw some of the longstanding political alignments in the Middle East, South Asia, and the Far East. Some of these efforts have now culminated in firm agreements.
These realignments are made to alter the future distribution of political, economic, and financial power on the global stage. If they succeed, their effect will negatively influence America’s place among the international community of nations.
After World War II, America, wanting to isolate Soviet Russia, entered into treaties that till very recently constituted integral features of the United States’ global security arrangements.
In the greater Middle East, America formed close relations with Turkey. As members of NATO, they shared intimate military and security arrangements. Turkish officers came to the U.S. for training. Turkey purchased the bulk of its military hardware from the United States.
In the Korean war, Turkish soldiers fought alongside their American allies. Today, the Turkish army is in Afghanistan, doing its duty beside other NATO forces.
In South Asia, the U.S. and Pakistan entertained friendly relations and maintained a mutually beneficial security and intelligence cooperation. Pakistan proved itself a loyal ally during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan by partnering with America in its large and expensive covert operation in support of the Afghan resistance.
All of the above has almost unnoticeably changed. Pakistan has left America’s embrace. India and the U.S. have signed “Comcasa,” an unprecedented defense pact that gives India access to U.S. encrypted military technology. In the greater Middle East, America has lost its best friend: Turkey.
What does all this mean for the U.S. in the larger context of global politics, economics, and security?
It’s a mixed bag. It does, however, reveal a measure of short-term and superficial strategizing on Washington’s part. A look of what took place in the examples stated above, does, I believe, confirm this tendency.
In South Asia, America has gained the support and friendship of democratic India. However, the anti-Chinese emphasis of the Indo-American military pact is gratuitous. It is in the interest of the United States to aim for friendly relations with China.
America’s military pact with India was expected to alienate Pakistan, pushing it further into China’s orbit. In view of the deep-seated hostility that exists between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, Pakistan’s move closer to China was probably inevitable.
Strangely, Pakistan’s leadership seems almost relieved that the relationship with the U.S. has been downgraded. The Pakistani government seems to find itself secure being a close ally of China’s. It also seems to be confident that China will help it out with money now that the United States has drastically cut its financial support to the Pakistani military.
What could be the cause of trouble is that Pakistan’s military has initiated discussions with the Iranian military leadership about a possible cooperation. On top of that, Islamabad has expressed support for Russia’s efforts to engage in Afghanistan’s complicated and long-running war.
Even North Korea’s Kim Jong Un got away with something. He won his shrewd gambit with President Trump and, in the bargain, appears to have firmed up his relation with Putin.
The greatest loss could prove to be the break of America’s relation with Turkey. Turkey has not yet left NATO and can still be considered an ally of the United States. However, the alliance that Turkey, Russia, and Iran have entered into does have ominous provisions for an ever widening field of cooperation between the three nations. In this context, they have agreed to trade with one another in their own currencies.
This could mean a direct blow to the American dollar’s position as the lead currency for international transactions. The volume of trade between these three countries is too small to strike the deathblow to the dollar’s predominance. However, should they succeed, and other likeminded countries decide to emulate them, that could lead to the demise of the dollar’s preeminence.
In that case, the U.S. would have to pay for some of its imports in other currencies what would lead to painful price escalations through the full range of consumer products.
The cooperation between these three countries goes further. Turkey recently announced that it was deliberating the purchase of the Russian Tu-160 supersonic, nuclear-capable bomber. If such an acquisition materializes, it could mean Turkey’s exit from NATO.
In contrast, the U.S. was effective when it faced the deadly confrontation with the Soviet Union. Washington had a detailed and fairly accurate idea of its enemy’s nature. It planned long-term and tenaciously held fast onto its basic strategy with timely tactical corrections.
The Soviet Union had its hands full with fighting the Afghan resistance, when Ronald Reagan became president. He did two things that arguably broke the back of Soviet Russia: He began a large covert operation in support of the Afghan resistance and forced an arms race upon the Soviet state.
With its comparatively small economy and outdated production facilities, the Soviet Union failed to keep up with President Reagan’s arms race. The almost decade-long war in Afghanistan broke the communist state’s political will to continue the fight.
The Soviet Union disintegrated into several independent nation states. The world awoke from the long nightmare of the Cold War. Washington adopted a self-righteous and arrogant attitude.
The collapse of the Soviet Union was too sudden. Many American policymakers didn’t view it in the context of the historic repetition of the rise and fall of empires. Some even equated it to divine providence. The grandiosity of this conviction tempted American policymakers to look at the world differently and to engage in shortsighted and often useless policies.
American officials began neglecting the poverty-stricken Third World. They concentrated America’s resources on the former communist countries of Central and Eastern Europe and the states that had been newly formed after seceding from the freshly created Russian Federation.
There was nothing wrong with helping those countries’ privatization effort. American officials were right in maintaining that American resources would be more effectively put to use in countries where industrial economies existed, people were educated and had had the experience of working in industrial settings.
They were also correct in claiming U.S. resources would be less successful in the Third World, where no functioning industrial economies existed, a large percentage of the population was illiterate, and workers lacked experience working in factories.
Nevertheless, U.S. officials were dead wrong in turning their backs on the Third World where a majority of the planets inhabitants live. Afghanistan is probably the most calamitous example of the U.S.’s miscalculation.
When the Red Army left Afghanistan and the communist regime in Kabul collapsed, the United States washed its hands off that country.
At that time, Afghanistan had been in a war for over ten years. About a third of its people had fled the country. From a population of around 20 million about 1.2 to 1.5 million had been killed. The country was in ruins, broken physically, economically, and financially.
Left on their own, the resistance leaders morphed into rapacious warlords and started an exceptionally violent and destructive civil war.
The Taliban entered the scene. It stopped the killing, raping, and steeling of the resistance commanders. It forced its version of Islam upon the people, taking the country back into the darkest middle ages.
Angry with Osama bin Laden’s anti-American rhetoric, Washington pressed the Sudanese government to expel him from its country, where he had settled after the fighting in Afghanistan had ended. Osama chartered a plane and landed in Jalalabad, Afghanistan.
The Afghans liked him. He filled their empty coffers with his Saudi-billionaire dad’s petro dollars. And we know what happened then. After being absent from the scene for a decade, the tragedy of 9/11 compelled Washington to invade Afghanistan.
The mistake of abandoning Afghanistan, a country which had fought the last proxy-battle of the Cold War and paid an unimaginably high price for doing so, had forced the United States back to that country where the U.S. is still fighting the longest war in its history, a war that has destroyed about 2,400 American lives and cost American taxpayers about $1 trillion.
China’s economy is anticipated to overtake in size the U.S.’s in the early 2020s. Such a powerful economy will deliver China the financial means to close the gap between the two country’s military forces. China seems destined to be the other superpower. It is in the interest of both to establish a measure of trust between them, avoiding the trauma of another Cold War.
Trusting relations between them could also unravel the North Korean dilemma of a rogue state possessing nuclear bombs.
But the greatest danger to America’s interest emanates from the alliance between Russia, Turkey, and Iran. There is not much the U.S. can do about Putin’s ambitions to recreate the Soviet Union’s glory days of being a feared superpower. In this, he has the backing of his people who were psychologically and materially hurt when Soviet Russia collapsed.
Despite Russia’s small economy, Putin has found the money, mainly from the sale of natural gas to Europe, to invest in new weapons. As displayed in Syria, he has successfully rebuilt and modernized his military forces. With Turkey on his side, he will feel free to pressure former European communist states to abandon their pro-Western leanings or agree to make compromises that could lead to weakening the NATO alliance.
Having refused to assimilate its own Kurds into the Turkish mainstream, Turkey considered America’s arming and training Syrian Kurds along the Syrian-Turkish border a threat to the integrity of its territory. Furthermore, the Turkish political leadership did not expect Washington, its greatest ally and benefactor, to begin a trade war with it. Angered by President Trumps’ actions, Erdogan turned away from the U.S.
Turkey’s potential loss to NATO will weaken American influence in the Middle East and the Islamic world. Turkey’s alliance with Russia will strengthen Putin’s sway in that part of the world.
At this moment of flux among and within a large number of nations, U.S. foreign policy seems to be concentrated on scattered and short-term issues, lacking a long-term and globally-oriented strategy.
If Washington wishes to slow down, or even halt, America’s present slide in its prevalent status among the international community, it must rethink how it deals with the rest of the world.
Nasir Shansab has maintained homes, business interests and dual citizenship in both the United States and Afghanistan for the past three decades.
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