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The US and the Position of Number One Enemy

The US and the Position of Number One Enemy

Monday, 19 April, 2021 - 06:30
Ghassan Charbel
Ghassan Charbel is the editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper

Who was the United States’ number one enemy in the past two decades? Did the world’s only great power exaggerate some dangers that forced it to turn a blind eye to other more serious long-term ones? Has the US been so depleted by the wars of the current century that its appetite for leading the world diminished? Or has it realized that the burden of leading the world is too much for one country to shoulder, even if it were a far-reaching empire?


Asking about the future of the US is like asking about the future of the entire world. Whether you agree with its policies or not, its role remains important in various parts of the world.


For example, only America has the ability to intervene decisively or threaten to do so if China decides to reclaim Taiwan through very unfriendly means. Only America has the ability to threaten to establish a massive defensive barrier if the Russian czar chose to bring European capitals to yield through tanks, rather than cyberattacks.


This does not at all mean that the America of the current century will be the same as the one of the previous one. The world has changed and so have the rules of the game and bargaining chips. At the same time, the US still has a footing in every part of the world, whether militarily or through experts. It is present throughout the seas and oceans and in the skies, with a country’s permission or without it.


Who was the United States’ most dangerous enemy in the current century? Was it Mullah Omar, who established Taliban in Afghanistan – a group that belongs to days gone by and refuses to recognize international laws? Was it the regime established by Mullah Omar that provided Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda with a stronghold to attack the American empire, even in its own home? Was it Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the ISIS leader who appeared in Mosul and erased the borders between Syria and Iraq and established the so-called “caliphate”, spread terror and death and slit throats in front of cameras?


Who was the United States’ most dangerous enemy in the current century? Was it the leader of the Quds Force, General Qassem Soleimani, the most prominent graduates of the school that blew up the marine headquarters in Beirut and attacked various embassies? We must not forget the kidnaping of western hostages and their release through suspicious theatrics.


Was the number one enemy Soleimani, who fiercely and adeptly implemented the supreme leader’s order to prolong the American war in Iraq? The order was both Iranian and Syrian and sought to prolong the war and depletion of forces and prevent the establishment of a stable government in Baghdad that was allied to the West.


Was it Soleimani? He who prevent the establishment of a stable Lebanese government that would be friendly with the West after the assassination of Rafik Hariri. Or was it the Soleimani, who engineered “small armies” that he set up and pushed towards Syria to save the Assad regime? Was it the same Soleimani, who sponsored the Houthis’ transformation from a regular Yemeni group to an Iranian proxy whose purpose is to target Saudi territories as part of a comprehensive plan launched by Tehran against the region’s most significant countries?


Was it also true that Soleimani, whose killing was ordered by Trump, went so far as to consider a major coup that would transform Iran into a link between the Chinese and Russian powers in a hope that Tehran would act as their exclusive agent in the Middle East?


Let us recall what intelligence, diplomatic and media centers can do when they choose to exaggerate a case and turn it into a constant topic of public and closed-door discussions. At the beginning of the century, we witnessed an attempt to portray Saddam Hussein as the number one enemy and danger. The truth was that his regime was continuing to exist, but with clipped wings, under sanctions and without any connections to al-Qaeda. However, the disciplinary campaign, which began in Afghanistan, was seeking a second target and it set its sights on Iraq.


The first decade of the century provided the US with the opportunity to discipline the Saddam Hussein regime, but the adventure came at a hefty price. The second decade of the century provided NATO with the opportunity to discipline Moammar al-Gaddafi and now, we witness as the international will picks up the pieces of Libya. Gaddafi was also once portrayed as the number one enemy. Days will reveal that the “King of Kings of Africa” was sometimes harmful to his neighbors and world, a constant extreme danger to his own people, but never America’s most dangerous enemy.


During the first decade of the century, Vladimir Putin was not prepared to play the role of number one enemy. His primary concern was the renovation of Russia, its spirit and army. The Americans and West will discover during the subsequent decade that Putin was not an extension of Yeltsin. They will find out that he is different and on another mission. They found out that the Russian president – who brought generals, businessmen and the media to heel – has at the top of his agenda a Soviet article or rather the depletion of the West. Today, we are witnessing the West’s open disappointment with Putin that has been demonstrated by the summoning of his ambassadors or expulsion of his spies, as well as the condemnation of his amassing of forces near Ukraine and his various cyberattacks.


The Biden administration is not confronted today with an enemy like Mullah Omar, bin Laden, Baghdadi or Soleimani. It is clear that this administration is searching for a way to return to the nuclear deal with Iran, while ensuring that the security concerns of Israel and fears of the region are addressed. The current American administration, which is preparing to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan and Iraq, does not view Iran as the number one enemy. Despite the current clash with Putin’s behavior, it also does not view him as the number one enemy, especially since his country’s economy rivals Italy’s.


There is a growing belief that the US has been preoccupied over the past two decades with several enemies and that it has almost overlooked the rise of its real number one enemy: China.


The coronavirus crisis only deepened this belief. Experts say that China is advancing steadily to become the world’s top economy. They are also realizing that it has managed to inflict major damage on the western model and image. China has demonstrated that hundreds of millions of people can be extracted from poverty and that it can join successive technological revolutions without falling into the trap of western democracy or abandon the iron grip of its one party.


China has demonstrated that democracy is not a condition for progress and innovation. China is not Russia and it does not adopt Putin’s approach. It is definitely not Iran as it is surrounding the world with silk and loans, not rockets and drones. Khomeini’s heirs are not the number one enemy. Stalin’s heirs do not occupy this position either. Mao’s heirs deservedly take this spot.


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