US: End of Middle East Dominance: What Dominance?

Previously suppressed states are exploiting the mess in Iraq and vying for supremacy.By Liam Bailey

With the Baker report suggesting America talks with its staunch adversaries Iran and Syria, and the public’s apparent support for Baker’s findings. It is beginning to look like Bush might finally be forced into –unthinkable for him– acts of history validated common sense. Since talking to Iran and Syria was first suggested by Blair after he gave evidence to the Baker Commission, analysts have been questioning the end of U.S domination in the Middle East.

The question should be: did the U.S ever dominate the Middle East? Sure, unconditionally supporting Israel ensured their influence in that conflict, IDF style. Bombing and shooting the Palestinians into agreement with the U.S’ –fad– peace plan at the time. Meanwhile the U.S exerted little or no influence in Israel’s often ill-advised and frequently illegal actions. Israel currently has little or no influence in Middle East affairs anyway. It couldn’t get by without U.S aid [PDF], let alone suppress the latest Palestinian Intifada.

There was a tradition of U.K and U.S influence in Iran’s monarchical rule after we imposed a suitable Shah. The current stand-off over Iran’s nuclear program, and its meddling in Iraq [PDF] show how much things have changed. Not only recently but since the Iranian revolution in 1979, the hostages taken in the U.S embassy during the revolution flipped the bird to U.S influence in Iran.

Iran currently showing disregard for U.S power is a facade to amplify its own strength and help their hegemonic aims.

Syrian diplomats have always adhered strictly to agreements reached with their U.S counterparts. But they have also been close to all-out war over the Israeli Lebanon conflict in 1983. The U.S, recognising that Syria plays a central role in the Middle East and in global Jihad, attempts to exert its influence. And turn the “rogue state” from a supporter of terrorism to a supporter of democracy and U.S hegemony. They have and probably will never succeed in that aim.

The U.S has enjoyed 70 years of good relations with Saudi Arabia’s monarchy, until 9/11 put a significant strain on the “special relationship”. Saudi Arabia’s condemnation of Israel during the Israel/Hezbollah conflict and rhetoric of going to war showed that the U.S doesn’t hold much influence over Saudi Arabia.

In Iraq’s case, we all know the current scenario. The U.S has as much influence in Iraq now as any of the rival militia factions. The same influence it has recently had over every other Middle East country, very little.

The U.S has had reasonable influence in Turkey since shortly after World War II, with the exception of the mid-late 70’s when Turkey invaded Cyprus. The U.S’ influence in Turkey crumbled in the build up to the Iraq war. Turkey refusing U.S forces entry to hit Iraq from the North, showed that –unlike Saudi Arabia– Turkey’s loyalty to their Iraqi Muslim brothers and sisters influenced their policy more than U.S relations. U.S aid [PDF] was cut-off 2003. Except a small military grant, which I presume was necessary for Turkey’s involvement in Afghanistan.

Relations fell apart in Mar. 2005, when the U.S ambassador to Turkey resigned after two years. Because Turkey’s government came out in support of their President’s decision to visit Syria in early April that year, despite the U.S warning against it. Also for ignoring the ambassador’s calls for Turkey to join an international coalition concerning Syria.

The U.S weighs its relationship with and influence of Egypt perhaps higher than any other Middle East country, because of its leadership role in the region. A role which was set when Egypt was actively fighting Israel and sought military aid from the Soviets. Several other Arab states shortly followed suit. U.S Israel relations improved after the 1979 peace treaty was signed with Israel. Since then the U.S has given billions of dollars [PDF] in military and financial aid to sustain Egypt’s moderate voice in Arab councils. Persuade less moderate regimes of the benefits of compromise and to maintain the Egypt-Israeli peace treaty.

The latter has been more successful than the other two by far. As the U.S failed to realize that the feelings of Egypt’s leaders toward Israel’s treatment of their Arab Palestinian brothers didn’t change overnight. More likely they realised they would be in a much better position to help the Palestinians in every way with a whole whack of U.S aid.

Jordan’s monarchy has perhaps the best relationship with the U.S. The U.S began providing Jordan with economic and military aid in 1951 and 1957 respectively. Relations were slightly soured by Jordan’s reluctance to participate in the first Iraq war to liberate Kuwait. Relations improved throughout the 1990’s as Jordan began to take a more favourable view of normalization of relations with Israel. Over the years the U.S has provided billions of dollars [PDF] in aid to Jordan. In return Jordan provided logistical support in the Afghanistan war, and, informally the same in the current Iraq war, although the monarchy was publicly opposed.

King Abdullah’s policies of normalization with Israel and alliance with the U.S cause much unrest from Jordan’s Islamic fundamentalist groups. Like the Jordan Muslim Brotherhood, an influential part of the political mainstream. It also causes unrest in parts of the Palestinian communities, and in prominent professional and trade organizations.

The Middle East and its rich oil reserves have always been at the fore-front of U.S policy. So much so that they have taken their eye off the ball elsewhere; allowing China to become the main influence in Asia and enter the fight for global supremacy. The North Korean nuke test is another example of the Bush administration taking their eye off the ball.

Given all this focus on their Middle East policy it is ludicrous that it has descended into such a farce.

Little wonder as it is largely the world’s most backward foreign policy. Unconditionally supporting a country surrounded by enemies –Israel–, while hoping to exert influence over its enemies. Is like a boxer’s coach shouting orders at the opposing fighter. Stupid. Previously however the U.S had tried to exert their influence over Israel’s enemies by diplomacy in the main. Bush Jnr coming in with his complete ignorance of foreign policy and its relation to even recent history, alongside his policy of never talking to your adversary. Combined with the backward policies above, are perhaps the main reasons for the current state of the Middle East.

Something else I find laughable however is Bush Snr, responsible for another reason for the current mess. Coming in now and telling his son what he needs to do in Iraq. If he had honoured his statements to the Iraq’s Shia and Kurdish populations, by ordering U.S forces to go on into Iraq and topple Saddam Hussein’s regime, in the first gulf war 1991. Embracing the uprising started by the Shia in the south and driving Iraqi forces into the Kurdish uprising in the North. Both of which were started because of Bush’s suggestion of support.

Saddam would undoubtedly have been easily defeated. As he was 2003, but the occupying U.S or U.S/U.N forces would have probably had the support of the Kurdish minority and Shia Majority. Giving the Sunni’s no choice but to join the new diplomatic efforts or be left out of Iraq’s democratic future. As oppose to miss-trust for Bush Jnr by Shia and Kurd’s after being lied to by his dad before him. And resentment because of the massacres his lies led them into.

I believe had Bush Snr done this Iraq would have been a stable democracy by now, certainly closer than has been for decades.

In closing, the U.S never really had much influence in Middle Eastern affairs. The little it did have from supplying heavy financial aid to needy countries in prominent positions. And U.S and Israel’s superior military force were sufficient to secure the things they really needed and manipulate affairs to ensure no-one else gained more control.

The Iraq war in 2003 showing that U.S military force was useless against sporadic Jihad’s guerrilla warfare. Accelerated the rate at which the little Middle East influence the U.S had is disappearing. All that remains is moderate influence in return for heavy aid to countries with even less influence –than the U.S– in Middle East affairs.

The rich and influential Middle East countries are exploiting the exposed weakness to secure their own hegemony.

It will be interesting to watch the changing political and military landscapes in the coming months. Especially if a serious U.S strategy shift in Iraq coincides with a policy shift in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

Liam Bailey is a writer from the UK, he runs the War Pages weblog and can be contacted by e-mail.

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Global Nuclear Arms Race

The consequences of Iran and North Korea’s nuclear programs are globally catastrophic.By Liam Bailey

Nov. 3 2006 will be remembered as the day the Middle East changed forever, six Arab states announced their intention to initiate programmes to master atomic technology. Morocco, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt, want to start civilian nuclear energy programs, Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates also showed interest. So many states, all predominantly Sunni Arab making simultaneous announcements of seeking nuclear power has prompted fears that their true intention could be to master the technology on the path to the first Arab atom bomb.

Despite these fears the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has consulted with all governments and will offer technical assistance in their development of nuclear power plants. The announcement was a complete reversal of Arab policy, which had previously been joint calls for nuclear disarmament throughout the Middle East, in other words the nuclear disarmament of Israel, the only Middle East state known to have a useable nuclear arsenal.

In my opinion the trigger for the Arab announcement was Iran firing “dozens” of long range missiles Nov. 2, including the Shahab 3, capable of carrying warheads of 1400 cluster bomblets anywhere within 1000 miles and the Shahab 2 with a shorter range but just as deadly. The Iranian missile tests came in response to the Oct 31 U.S led Naval exercises in the Persian gulf, in which 25 nations practised an operation to intercept and search a ship thought to be carrying weapons of mass destruction 20 miles from Iranian territorial waters. Despite what is becoming a significant U.S naval presence in the region, only one U.S coastguard vessel had an active role in the exercise; making the U.S Naval build-up seem somewhat suspicious.

One of the six Arab states announcing an intention to go nuclear: United Arab Emirates was involved in the exercise as an observer, all six are part of the Arab League, and all among the League’s ten richest states. Bahrain, Qatar and Kuwait the other three Arab states involved in the exercise are also members of the Arab League, which has a long running rivalry with Iran.

With the exception of Iraq and Bahrain, the Arab League is made up of predominantly Sunni countries, many Sunni Arab countries in the Middle East are thought to be suspicious of Iran’s nuclear program, so you could say such an announcement from the countries rich enough to go nuclear was to be expected. In my opinion Iran’s firing of long-range missiles in response to an exercise involving Arab League countries was the trigger for six of the richest Arab League states to take a step towards mastering nuclear technology. What they will use this technology for and the reactions to their intended use remain to be seen.

So while Iranian missile tests threaten to provoke a nuclear arms race across the Middle East Pyongyang’s nuclear test Oct. 9 caused and is still causing reverberations throughout Asia. The test, which could have killed thousands in North Korea and neighbouring countries if in going wrong radioactive material was spewed across the region at the mercy of wind speed and direction. The test didn’t go wrong but the consequences look to be just as dire.

In the days and weeks before Kim Jong Il’s irrational act some hard-line Japanese conservatives such as former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone were quietly stating the need to develop nuclear weapons in the face of nuclear sabre-rattling by North Korea. Although his comments caused controversy among the Japanese political community, according to the Korea Times a large number of strongly nationalistic Japanese politicians supported his views. The successful test Oct. 9 added further validity to their cause and in the following weeks their case has been further strengthened by main-stream and prominent ministers like Foreign Minister Taro Aso showing his support for the controversial stance, saying Oct. 18 that it may be time for Japan to start discussions about nuclear armament.

Japan possesses enough Plutonium to make thousands of nuclear bombs and given its economic, academic and technological strength it is widely thought that they could develop nuclear weapons within months of starting such a program. Shinzo Abe’s assurances that Japan will neither have, make nor allow the import of nuclear weapons in Japan have done little to reassure their understandably anxious neighbours. Whether reflective of a genuine change in Japan’s stance on nuclear armament or not Foreign Minister Taro Aso adding credibility to former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone’s comments prompted a similar debate in South Korea. The day after Taro Aso’s remarks, former leader and presidential candidate for South Korea’s opposition GNP party Lee Hoechang questioned whether South Korea should reconsider nuclear armament in the face of Japan’s changing attitude and the recent actions of Kim Jong Il, saying during a lecture: South Korea will need to develop its own nuclear weapon when Pyongyang’s possession of a nuclear weapon becomes an accomplished fact and Japan starts moving for nuclearization.

A nuclear domino effect in Asia, long feared by the west and a main reason for preventing a nuclear armed North Korea threatens to become a reality. If Japan does move towards nuclear armament, likely pushing South Korea to follow suit, not only will it lessen the chance of denuclearisation in Pyongyang, no doubt it will prompt Kim Jong Il to further augment his nuclear prowess, possibly with another test. These actions could then become a catalyst for China, Russia and other regional powers to do the same; triggering a catastrophic arms race, which given the current tensions between the west, China and Russia over Iran’s fledgling nuclear program, could quickly spread around the world.

Depending on the Arab League intentions and the restraint of the Japanese and South Korean governments; two already unstable regions could well enter into a nuclear arms race. A race that would make both regions much more unstable, possibly drawing in other regions and undoubtedly bringing the world one step closer to its second use of the world’s deadliest weapons; something I hoped I wouldn’t see in my lifetime.

North Korea Goes Nuclear!

By Liam Bailey

October 9 2006 became the day threatening talk turned into drastic action when North Korea announced: “The field of scientific research in the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) successfully conducted an underground nuclear test under secure conditions on October 9, 2006, at a stirring time when all the people of the country are making a great leap forward in the building of a great, prosperous, powerful socialist nation.” Adding: “It has been confirmed that there was no such danger as radioactive emission in the course of the nuclear test as it was carried out under scientific consideration and careful calculation.” and: “It marks a historic event as it greatly encouraged and pleased the KPA (Korean Peoples Army) and people that have wished to have powerful self-reliant defence capability.”

Although Japan is yet to independently confirm the nuclear test, South Korea has reported a Seismic tremor of 3.58 on the Richter scale believed to have been caused by the explosion, this was confirmed by the USGS (United States Geological survey), who reported a Seismic event 4.2 on the Richter scale in North Korea at approximately ground level. China, perhaps N Korea’s closest ally has confirmed the nuclear test in its open condemnation of what they called a “brazen” nuclear test. The Australian PM has also announced Seismic confirmation of the test although he didn’t state which country the data had come from.

Although this is worrying for all countries in the world and especially all countries in the immediate vicinity, currently N Korea don’t have the capabilities to launch their nuclear weapons, their recent test firing of a long-range missile was a dramatic failure. According to Russian military experts in a recent interview in the daily Telegraph the N Korean nuclear bomb is 10ft long and weighs some 4 tons making it too large to fit on any missile currently in Kim Jong Il’s arsenal. However, according to the same experts the N Korea nuclear bomb is a 20 Kiloton yield, the same as the bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan during World War 2 and would kill everything within a 5-mile square; or somewhere in the region of 200,000 people if detonated in a populated area such as Tokyo or Seoul.

Despite N Korea’s apparent inability to currently launch their newly tested weapon, the consequences of the test could be dire for N Korea and surrounding neighbours, Japan’s conservative Sankei Shimbun newspaper reported before the test that if N Korea were to conduct its test above ground radioactive fallout — known as the ‘ash of death’ — would fly to the northern half of Japan, parts of South Korea and Russia and a vast eastern area of China within 54 hours. If the S Korean report, quoting intelligence officials is true and the North Korean nuclear test was conducted in a horizontal tunnel, dug into a 360 metre (1200 feet) mountain northwest of the Musudanri missile base in Hwadaeri the possibility of such dire consequences becomes even more real. Although there have been no reports of radioactive fallout thus far, it is still far too early to be certain what the consequences might be.

If radioactive fallout does occur it will almost certainly increase the political fallout surrounding the N Korea test as worst affected after N Korea would be allies of the communist state, Russia, China and S Korea, who has recently adopted a more conciliatory tone toward its neighbour and long running enemy. Along with rival Japan, who have recently began attempts to repair relations with China, their leaders Shinzo Abe and Hu Jintao gave a joint warning to Kim Jong Il before the test yesterday, therein tightening the diplomatic noose around Kim Jong Il’s neck in the event of any repercussions surrounding the nuclear test. Shinzo Abe arriving in South Korea the day of the test prompting reports that Kim Jong Il’s actions were timed to coincide with the diplomatic envoy.

Ash of death or not the political fallout from Kim Jong Il’s sudden, drastic action will reverberate around the EU, U.S and Asia, I’m sure for days and weeks if not months ahead. China wield the biggest power over Kim Jong Il on their role of provider for the badly impoverished country since U.S led economic sanctions began to take hold. The question is will Bush stay on the path of diplomacy and in accordance with the UN or alone impose further economic sanctions, affecting worst the already impoverished population of N Korea, and therefore continue the precedent of military inaction against newly nuclear hostile states, set by India and Pakistan. Or will Bush again seek to override the UN and take some kind of drastic military action against the “rogue state”. Recent U.S rhetoric like “not living with a nuclear armed N Korea” alongside their recent unwillingness to abandon diplomacy over Iran’s nuclear programme, despite Tehrans outright defiance of the UN’s six party coalition, throw Bush’s previous unpredictability into the mix and its anyone’s guess.