“The United States is not trying to poach Russia’s allies in Central Asia,” said US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice on Oct. 5 during a visit to Kazakhstan. Washington was not trying to take allies away from Russia – nor did she recognize a special Russian “sphere of influence” in the region. “We don’t see any of this as a zero-sum game,” she said.
The importance of this comment was that it was the closest Washington has come to admitting it was pulling out of the contest with Moscow spawned by the Georgian conflict three months ago.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources report that America’s fadeout from the Caucasian and Central Asia affects its presence in other contentious world regions like the Persian Gulf, the Middle East, Afghanistan and Pakistan. In ordinary times, diminished American activity would be attributed to the twilight of one presidency in the interim before the vibrancy of a new White House tenant.
But this time, global financial mayhem has left the world groping in the dark for a clue to illuminate tomorrow.
The next US president will face new and unpredictable situations that cut deep into America’s political, military and strategic standing. He will have to learn to steer the new interaction between economic policies and external relations and conflicts.
To gain lost strategic ground even in part, the US will first have to recover its economic equilibrium, upset by two unforeseen manifestations:
Economic globalism and the electronic-digital revolution have morphed from cornucopias of progress and prosperity to conduits for disseminating crises with equal efficiency.
And, secondly, continents and nations are going their own way, addressing their troubles and seeking cures without reference to the United States.
French president Nicolas Sarkozy, for instance, avoided mentioning America in speech after speech the week long as self-appointed defender of Europe from the insidious financial blight.
British premier Gordon Brown pointed an accusatory finger at Washington and New York as the guilty parties in the crisis.
Incoming US president may find two wars waiting for him
Moscow, which has not for a moment halted its military provocations of Washington, is coming round to the conviction that state regulation of market forces, abandoned when the Soviet empire collapsed in the early 1990s, is the right way, compared with the American free market culture which has brought the world to catastrophe.
Beijing, just three months after flaunting its admission to the worldwide global village during its successful Olympic event, is now congratulating itself on applying the brakes to market freedoms and refraining from expanding the Western financial enclaves of Hong Kong and Shanghai.
The most violent reactions have come from the Muslim world.
In the Arab Middle East, there is frank talk of the need to break away from the American economy and establishing an international Islamic financial system.
Iran’s leaders gloat over the Western economic meltdown as indicating the end of capitalism, the failure of liberal democracy and divine punishment, marking the superiority of the Islamic republic's political model.
Jihadist groups, from al Qaeda to Hizballah and Hamas, see Allah’s long arm behind the “American meltdown.”
They pray for the crisis to reach a point where American legions in Iraq, the Gulf, the Middle East and Afghanistan are cut off from their country and have no money to buy food and fuel.
The mood prevailing in radical Muslim circles is particularly dangerous because they are prone to taking advantage of infidel weaknesses and working themselves up to large-scale terrorism, wars or revolutions against pro-Western governments.
The incoming US president may find two major confrontations waiting for him next January:
One possibility is an Israel-Iran war, which DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military experts estimate, may or may not be kicked off by an Israeli strike against Iran’s nuclear installations. The blaze may start, for instance, in volatile Lebanon, for which two Arab rivals are competing (see the separate article in this issue), and spread out to other parts of the Middle East, bringing Iran and Hizballah into the fray against Israel.
An Israeli-Iranian war might eventuate as the result rather than the cause of the conflict – and it will not be short.
Pakistan too is increasingly threatened by a spillover of the Afghan War.
The longer US troops remain in Afghanistan, the greater the danger of their being sucked into a Pakistan war which could be longer and more costly than the conflict in Iraq.