AMERICA’S WAR ON TERROR – Part I: The War Re-Tilts World Balance

A week after US warplanes begin pounding Kabul and Kahandar, debkafile‘s strategic experts offer a preliminary evaluationof its outcome:
While in purely military terms, the US Afghanistan campaign has achieved very little (See Part II of this analysis below), in geopolitical terms, the United States has set off a multi-dimensional shift in the political, military and economic face of the world. Contemporary history may fall into the two periods of: Before and After September 11, 2001.
This transformation is in its early stages. As it evolves, it will almost certainly stimulate major military counteractions and tip some of the affected countries into political upheaval. More than one existing regime may collapse, making way for new, unfamiliar forces to rise in their stead.
Round one of America’s war on terror, if it went to anyone, did not go to the United States. Round two may have already begun, with the US, Europe and the Middle East already braced for a fresh terrorist onslaught, including bio-terrorism, that may prove as vicious as the September 11 suicide hijackings in New York and Washington.
At the same time, the shift of geopolitical tectonic plates, which began before September 11, has accelerated since. Washington will now move much faster to shake the sands of the Persian Gulf, the Arabian Peninsula and the Middle East, off its strategic boots. Those regions, previously reduced to second and third-rate assets, will drop further down the scale. The Bush administration has set its sights firmly now on the former Soviet Muslim republics of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgistan, Tadjikistan and Azerbaijan in Central Asia, plus to a limited degree Caucasian Georgia. Middle East oil resources will have to take a back seat to the oil wealth of Central Asia and the developing fields of Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico.
The key to this geopolitical upheaval was unlocked by the long-distance handshake that closed a long telephone conversation between US President W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin on September 23.
This pivotal exchange enabled the bulk of US military might, including tactical nuclear weapons, to be deployed at this moment, for the first time ever, in Central Asia. This dramatic shift is comparable in its global impact to the advance of Alexander the Great in the same direction more than two thousand three hundred years ago. Before marching on Central Asia preparatory to conquering India, he took care to bring down the Persian Empire, thereby covering his rear.
One of the differences between then and now is that George Bush, while following the great general’s direction, has omitted dealing in advance with the adversaries to the rear of his offensive – Iran, Iraq and Syria. Instead, he has left them to stage two of his campaign. Another difference is that, while Alexander lacked a strong strategic reserve to the rear of his advance force, the US enjoys strong strategic and logistic support fromTurkey and Israel.
As the war on terror unfolds, debkafile ‘s military experts expect to see the collaboration between the Turkish and Israel armies come increasingly to the fore, including Israel’s nuclear backing. This collaboration has been intensively drilled for five years with discreet American participation. Whether openly or not, the US effort will lean more and more on this behind-the-stage prop in the coming stages of the war.
How the Americans proceed in their new strategic enterprise depends, in the view of debkafile‘s military experts, on four as yet unknown factors:
A. The durability of the Bush-Putin pact and the degree of Russian support extended to Bush.
Like Bush, Putin has decided to sideline the European element in orientating his global policy. The Russian president made this clear to European leaders when he visited NATO Headquarters in Brussels last week. He dropped his objections to expanding the Western Alliance to the former Soviet Bloc countries of East Europe, which he had formerly deemed an existential threat to Russia, because like Bush he has turned his face to the East.
Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze hung a large question mark over the robustness of the Putin-Bush understanding during his visit to the White House on October 6. He suggested that the top army command and various ex-KGB elements in the Russian secret service – especially the Yasenevo-based First Directorate – were toying with a plan to rework that understanding into a sword of revenge for the downfall of the Soviet empire, prefaced by its debacle in Afghanistan during the eighties. This would be done by trapping American forces in a hopeless imbroglio in Afghanistan, and might even entail a coup against Putin.
B. The durability of the Central Asian regimes, who have opened the door to American forces. Their rulers are fickle, ruthless dictators, who live on a razor’s edge between dissident forces and Islamic radicals, some funded by Bin Laden and both fighting to unseat them.
These rulers change allies faster than their hats. The Americans could well wake up one morning to find themselves pushed out of the bases and facilities granted them. Turkey has been assigned the role of standing by to deal with that eventuality.
C. But the most important X element in the new equation is China. The latest American and Russian military moves in the Indian subcontinent and Central Asia are giving Chinese rulers the jitters. Before September 11, Beijing counted heavily on a fairly stable political and military alliance with Moscow covering Central Asia, the Balkans and the Middle East. China faced the US directly across a limited front in the Far East and Taiwan. Overnight, the Chinese find themselves catapulted into a vastly new setup. By lining up with the Americans, the Russians have left China eyeball to eyeball with the United States on three fronts: the Afghan-Pakistan sector, which until now belonged to China’s political and military sphere of influence, theFar East and Central Asia.
Up until September 11, Beijing shilly-shallied on arrangements for cooperating with Moscow to stem Islamic terrorism in Central Asia, although that menace was spilling, with Osama Bin Laden’s help, over into the northwest Chinese province of Xinjiang, making its Muslim Uigar population restive. However, after September 11, the rulers of Beijing, while formally decrying the terror attacks inside America, changed their tune. They began trickling Muslim Chinese fighters into Afghanistan to support the Taliban, followed by a massive military buildup along its borders with Afghanistan and the Central Asian republics.
That force is reported by debkafile‘s Chinese sources as having been placed on full war alert since the end of the first week of October.
Feeling American-Russian breath hot on its neck, Beijing on Friday, October 12, made a conciliatory gesture towards Taiwan, hoping to draw the island away from its closeness to the Americans. For the first time, China opened its airspace to Taiwani air traffic, even though its aircraft are armed with the latest US technology. This gesture is a powerful indicator of the changing winds considering that only seven months ago, the Chinese deliberately shot down a US spy-plane for venturing too near, not even inside, its airspace.
These developments do not mean that Chinese-American or Chinese-Russian military clashes are about to erupt, but the rifts are discernible and may widen in the long term. In evident concern, President Bush is prepared to cut four days out of his war on terror next week, in order to spend time in China.
On October 20, he lands in Shanghai to attend the conference of AIPAC, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation body set up to promote trade and investment in the region. Both Putin and Chinese President Jiang Zemin will be present. To make sure of a tete-a-tete with the Chinese leader, Bush will go onto Beijing on October 22 and stay over till the morrow. His goal will be to defuse some of the tensions building up between the two nations since American embarked on its war on terror.
His success in this depends less on what he says and more on what America does next.

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