When dealing with politics, and understanding the mechanism of ‘trial and error’, a political analyst needs to be cynical; more so, when politicians preach morality. There is nothing more dangerous than when politicians justify their interests with ethical standards, and nothing more worrying than when a major power imposes its ethical values on others.
The intention here is not condemnation, but rather reminding ourselves of American ‘pragmatic’ definition of politics as we studied it at the university; i.e., it is ‘the art of the possible’. That ‘possible’ may not always be ethical, and what is ethical or moral may be too costly to the extent of becoming an electoral liability.
A simple proof of this we see the history of the USA; specifically, its expansion westwards, as well its foreign relations during the ‘Cold War’ period.
Just watching the Smithsonian Channels impressive historical accounts on how present-day America was created and grew in size, gives a clear idea about unembellished political ‘pragmatism’.
The new American entity has expanded as a result of: defeating native American tribes and displacing them for economic reasons (despite treaties signed with them), importing slaves from Africa, wars with Mexico and other countries, or buying large territories such as the huge ‘Louisiana Purchase’ from France and Alaska from Russia.
Here, ‘ethical’ or ‘moral’ considerations do not fit with the ‘interest’ in building a super power that is today the world’s richest and most powerful. However, the USA is not the exception, since this is exactly the nature of most empires and how they were built.
Weren’t the old global empires - including Europe’s greatest and the Islamic Caliphates - multi-ethnic and multi-lingual mega-entities, created by one victorious group that was powerful enough to impose its culture and interests on the conquered nations and peoples?
Thus, our shock when we see ‘ugly’ deals, interventions and occupations carried out by major powers – the latest of which is the US military withdrawal from Afghanistan – may be justifiable on the individual and psychological level, but it has nothing to do with ‘the art of the possible’. The simple reason is that these major powers are not charitable organisations; and hence, in their conflicts and competitions they may use contradictory speeches, and flagrantly false expressions.
Otherwise, had it not been for conflicting interests between the two sides of the ‘propaganda’ wars, what would the differences between a ‘terrorist’ and a ‘freedom fighter, an ‘aggression’ and an ‘act of self-defense’ or a ‘liberated’ or ‘occupied’ territories, be???
The whole issue then, is one of national interests. What was shameful yesterday has become acceptable today, exactly like the changing considerations of the ‘Cold War’ era upon launching the ‘War on Terror’. This how backing military dictators of Latin America, east Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, and using them to quell and commit genocide against Leftist ‘liberation movements’, has now become an embarrassing memory.
At this point, let’s examine Washington’s decision to withdraw all its troops from Afghanistan by the end of next August. Initially, the US intervention in Afghanistan was part of Washington’s strategy to drag the USSR into a war of attrition against ‘political Islam’ in what was regarded as the ‘Afghan quagmire’
During that period, the USA, the UK, Pakistan and several Muslim and Arab countries not only backed, trained and supported the ‘Mujahedeen’, but also glorified in reports and books their leaders and heroic feats. However, as soon as the wounded Soviets withdrew, badly affected by the chaos and malaise in Moscow, Washington priorities radically changed, to the shock and dismay of the hard-line believers in exporting fundamentalist ‘Jihad’ throughout the world.
As we now recall, the most dangerous outcome of these hard-liners reaction was ‘Al Qaeda’ attacks on the USA on September 11th 2001, which led to the West’s re-examining its priorities in the Muslim and Arab worlds. We also recall here, that the 2001 attacks were exploited to attack and occupy Afghanistan, citing the links between ‘Taliban’ (the rising Islamic fighting force) and Al Qaeda. Then, in 2003, Iraq was attacked and occupied, had its old-established ‘Sunni domination’ ended, as Paul Bremer, the Head of the ‘Coalition Provisional Authority’ once boasted.
The natural outcome of the occupation of Iraq was handing it over to Iran’s Mullahs, although their connections with Al Qaeda were well-known, which is not the case with the ex-Baghdad regime as admitted by Paul Wolfowitz, the then US deputy Secretary of Defense.
As for Afghanistan, an all-out civil war followed and facilitated the job of ‘demonizing’ the Sunni side of ‘militant political Islam’; much to the benefit of Iran’s expansionist onslaught in Lebanon, then Syria and Yemen.
As this onslaught was taking place, the Arab world was shaken by the changes brought about by ‘the Arab Spring’ of 2011. These changes, which were later indirectly manipulated, and diverted away from their intended goals, were met in Barack Obama’s Washington with a dubious stance.
Furthermore, the way Obama handled the Syrian crisis and Iran’s nuclear ambitions, made it clear that Washington was not loath to ‘co-exist’ with, or even ‘partner’, Tehran at the expense of its old traditional allies in the Middle East. In fact, even though Donald Trump managed to suspend for four years Iran’s advancing hegemony, he did not break it. If anything, his wholehearted support of Israel’s extreme right, enhanced indeed Tehran’s ‘credibility’. Even then, Trump kept reiterating that American military presence in Syria was limited to fighting ISIS (Da’esh), as well as his intention to withdraw American troops from both Iraq and Afghanistan.
Well, now that the Obama team is back at the helm in the Joe Biden administration, Washington is resuming negotiations with Iran, co-operating with Russia in Syria, and accelerating troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Of course, what Washington decides is an American matter; whether it is about leaving Afghanistan under Taliban’s mercy, or cemening relations with Iran. However, analysts may be right when they ask about whether Biden has a real and coherent strategy in the Middle East.
Bringing down the Iranian regime is definitely out of the question, but is ‘changing its behavior’ a serious probability?
Moreover, if co-existing with ‘militant Sunni Islam’ - as represented by Taliban - is possible in Afghanistan, why is Washington so tough at opposing it in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon … all of which are now under Iranian domination?
Then, if Washington is willing to co-exist with a ‘strong Iran’, what does leaving the areas in the country’s eastern provinces, where lives a large Sunni Belushi minority, mean? Would this be an arena of future confrontations which may be used by Washington to remind Tehran of the limits set to its ever rising regional ambitions?
Despite, fake rhetoric, Iran remains a geo-strategic necessity for Washington in the very heart of the Muslim world; and in the geo-strategic calculations in west Asia, both Iran and Afghanistan may play a pivotal role in how Washington handles the Chinese and Russian challenges in the region.
So, Iran’s influence could grow and shrink as per Washington’s conditions, and all expressions such as ‘terrorism’, ‘extremism’, ‘democracy’ and’ human rights’ are always going to be temporary expressions reserved for political propaganda.