Geopolitical Notes From India
M D Nalapat
JUDGING by present indications, it would appear that President Donald J Trump has been placed on the defensive by serial cooked-up allegations of collusion with Vladimir Putin. The Washington Beltway is a forest of lobbies, each inhabited by lobbyists energetically working for whatever vested interest is willing to pay for their services. Those around Trump are not followers of Mahatma Gandhi, whose possessions consisted of a few dozen loincloths, three pairs of spectacles and some books. They relish the good life, which is presumably why they signed on to the tension-filled atmosphere inside Trump Towers in New York. Not just those around Trump but associates of Hillary Clinton as well operated with an implied “For Sale” sign affixed to their offices, but Robert Mueller seems in no mood to investigate any individual other than those close to the President.
If we were to believe the many US media outlets working on overdrive to get Trump impeached, the most important issue facing the US is the $ 500,000 payment made to legal counsel Michael Cohen by a company reported as having links to a US-sanctioned Russian billionaire. Given the tensions between the Atlantic Alliance and Russia, oligarchs from the latter are an endangered species, unless they create a firewall between their activities in Russia and the operations they conduct within the NATO bloc. Several have become hidden “agents of influence” of western intelligence agencies, giving information and conducting operations involving Russia on behalf of their hidden controllers. The recent poisoning through a nerve agent of a former Russian spy and his daughter was most likely carried out not by the Russian state but by a Russian oligarch eager to ingratiate himself with those seeking to portray Putin in a dark light.
The incident gave an excuse to the Theresa May government in London to expel several Russian diplomats, exactly as the gas attacks in Syria (which were immediately ascribed to the UN-recognized Syrian regime) opened the door to a rain of US,French and British missiles on Bashar Assad’s facilities. A lethal shower of projectiles that is expected to have the effect of persuading the GCC to spend yet more billions of dollars on armaments from France,the UK and the US that will get used only against tribespersons in Yemen and such other unfortunates, barring weapons that will go to those in the field active against groups and militias.
As a candidate for the office he now holds (and hopefully will for years to come), Donald J Trump adopted a sensible policy of seeking to keep the US out of regional conflicts and faultlines in the Middle East. However, the battering he is getting from the Washington Beltway is forcing the 45th US President into embracing several of the policies that he condemned on the 2016 campaign trail, including inserting the US more deeply and in a partisan way in the Iran-Saudi conflict that is reaching the danger point which threatens global security and financial stability. Iran and Saudi Arabia are at the centre of that battle, and the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia has opened a two-front war.
It is beyond the capacity of the Saudi establishment to prevail in both, and the needs of the 21st century mandate that Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman focus on the battle within Saudi Arabia against internal extremism rather than disperse the resources of his country in going to war in Yemen and in other locations. The only player in the cauldron of regional politics is Binyamin Netanyahu, who is clearly seeking to act as a catalyst to ensure a meltdown in the Middle East that would leave Israel as the only stable power in the region. And this in an era where increased production of shale oil by North America can take up any slack caused by disruptions in oil supplies by Iran, Saudi Arabia or other regional oil producing countries. Just as conclusions were aired about culpability almost as soon as information was released about the “chemical weapons attacks” in Syria, the Netanyahu government has claimed that the Quds Force in Iran was behind an ineffectual aiming of missiles from inside Syria on Israeli positions on the Golan Heights.
These could as well have been fired by anti-Assad fighters clustered near the Golan so as to generate a military response against Damascus, which is precisely what Israel has done. Wars are seldom created deliberately, unless those such as the 2003 attack on Iraq by Bush and Blair are taken into consideration. The reflexive pinning of blame on Teheran and Damascus by Washington and Jerusalem on any apparently hostile military activity from within Syria assumes that Bashar Assad is in control of the country the way he was before a well-resourced campaign to unseat him began in 2011. Such jumping to conclusions may lead to a situation in which a major conflict becomes inevitable. In such a contest, the casualties on the Syrian and Iranian side will be several times more than the harm suffered by their foes, but such punishment will unleash furies across the region that will take decades to play out, and which in the meantime could wreck the stability of several states. Netanyahu is taking a gamble that he can insulate his country from such a catastrophe, and in the short term he is probably right, although over time the impact of widespread turmoil will impact Israel as well, thereby creating more pain to a people that have undergone unimaginable miseries throughout much of their history.
The way in which the Washington Beltway is forcing President Trump into adopting Trump Contra policies through ceaseless efforts at driving him prematurely from office is generating the possibility of a Middle Eastern war in a situation where the Korean peninsula stands at high risk of a conflict, despite the anodyne headlines coming out of Washington, Seoul and Pyongyang. Countries such as China, Japan and India need to build pipelines that could bring oil from Russia to their refineries, as well as diversify sources, including tapping shale oil. The probability is high that the Middle East is tilting towards a debilitating meltdown engineered by those responsible for the spreading of extremist in ME, hence the need to lock in alternative sources of oil.
—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.