Saturday, August 24, 2013

Ποιος κυβερνά τη Μέση Ανατολή; Τα πράγματα δεν είναι όπως παλιά

Από την απονομή του βραβείου Νόμπελ Ειρήνης στον Ομπάμα πριν μερικά χρόνια (ευτυχώς που γίνονται και κάτι τέτοια και βλέπουμε ποιοι κυβερνάνε, και τι ακριβώς εννοούν όταν λένε "ειρήνη")

Η κρίση στη Συρία κλιμακώνεται - Η Ρωσία ήδη ανακοινώνει μέσω των ΜΜΕ της ότι "σκέφτεται να στείλει περισσότερα πλοία στην περιοχή". Θα υπάρξει πολύ παρασκήνιο στην υπόθεση, και θα δούμε τι ακριβώς θα δεχτεί η Ρωσία, και τι ανταλλάγματα θα δώσει  Αμερική (πιθανόν να αλλάξουν τον Ασάντ, αλλά...ποιον θα βάλουν, και τι συμφέροντα θα προωθεί αυτός ο άλλος;)

Πέρα όμως από αυτό, θα δούμε ένα άρθρο από τους Asia Times (εφημερίδα της Κίνας), που ασχολείται με τις εξελίξεις στην Αίγυπτο, και το πως η Αμερική χάνει τον έλεγχο όχι μόνο της χώρας, αλλά ολόκληρης της περιοχής, με τη Σαουδική Αραβία να απομακρύνεται:

As the administration of President Barack Obama continues wrestling with how to react to the military coup in Egypt and its bloody aftermath, officials and independent analysts are increasingly worried about the crisis's effect on US ties with Saudi Arabia.

The oil-rich kingdom's strong support for the coup is seen here as having encouraged Cairo's defense minister General Abdul Fattah al-Sisi to crack down on the Muslim Brotherhood and resist Western pressure to take a conciliatory approach that would be less likely to radicalize the Brotherhood's followers and push them into taking up arms. 

Along with the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait, Saudi Arabia did not just pledge immediately after the July 3 coup that ousted president Mohamed Morsi to provide a combined US$12 billion in financial assistance, but it has also promised to make up for any Western aid - including the $1.5 billion with which Washington supplies Cairo annually in mostly military assistance - that may be withheld as a result of the coup and the ongoing crackdown in which about 1,000 protesters are believed to have been killed to date.

Perhaps even more worrisome to some experts in Washington has been the exceptionally tough language directed against Washington's own condemnation of the coup by top Saudi officials, including King Abdullah, who declared last week that "[t]he kingdom stands ... against all those who try to interfere with its domestic affairs" and charged that criticism of the army crackdown amounted to helping the "terrorists". 

Bruce Riedel, a former top CIA Middle East analyst who has advised the Obama administration, called the comments "unprecedented" even if the king did not identify the United States by name.

Chas Freeman, a highly decorated retired foreign service officer who served as US ambassador to Riyadh during the Gulf War, agreed with that assessment.

"I cannot recall any statement as bluntly critical as that," he told IPS, adding that it marked the culmination of two decades of growing Saudi exasperation with US policy - from Washington's failure to restrain Israeli military adventures and the occupation of Palestinian territory to its empowering the Shia majority in Iraq after its 2003 invasion and its abandonment of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and its backing of democratic movements during the "Arab awakening".

"For most of the past seven decades, the Saudis have looked to Americans as their patrons to handle the strategic challenges of their region," Freeman said. "But now the al-Saud partnership with the United States has not only lost most of its charm and utility; it has from Riyadh's perspective become in almost all respects counterproductive." 

A number of analysts, including Freeman, have pointed to a July 31 meeting in Moscow between Russian President Vladimir Putin and the head of the Riyadh's national security council and intelligence service, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, as one potentially significant "straw in the wind" regarding the Saudi's changing calculations. 

According to a Reuters report, Bandar, who served as Riyadh's ambassador to Washington for more than two decades, offered to buy up to $15 billion in Russian arms and to coordinate energy policy - specifically to prevent Qatar from exporting its natural gas to Europe at Moscow's expense - in exchange for Russia dropping or substantially reducing Moscow's support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

While Putin, under whom Moscow's relations with Washington appear to have a hit a post-Cold War low recently, was non-committal, Bandar left Moscow encouraged by the possibilities for greater strategic co-operation, according to press reports that drew worried comments from some here.

"[T]he United States is apparently standing on the sidelines - despite being Riyadh's close diplomatic partner for decades, principally in the hitherto successful policy of blocking Russia's influence in the Middle East," wrote Simon Henderson, an analyst at the pro-Israel Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

"It would be optimistic to believe that the Moscow meeting will significantly reduce Russian support for the Assad regime," he noted. "But meanwhile Putin will have pried open a gap between Riyadh and Washington."

"It is clear that Russia and Saudi Arabia prefer stability in Egypt, and both are betting on the Egyptian military prevailing in the current standoff, and are already acting on that assumption," according to an op-ed that laid out the two countries' common interests throughout the Middle East and was published Sunday by Alarabiya.net, the news channel majority-owned by the Saudi Middle East Broadcasting Center.

Some observers argue that Russia and Saudi Arabia have a shared interest in containing Iran; reducing Turkish influence; co-operating on energy issues; and bolstering autocratic regimes, including Egypt's, at the expense of popular Islamist parties, notably the Brotherhood and its affiliates, across the region.

"There's a certain logic to all that, but it's too early to say whether such an understanding can be reached," said Freeman, who noted that Bandar "wrote the book on outreach to former ideological and geo-strategic enemies", including China, and that his visit to Moscow "looks like classic Saudi breakout diplomacy".
Από την ίδια εφημερίδα διαβάζουμε και μία ακόμα πολύ καλή ανάλυση - την αναδημοσιεύω χωρίς σχόλια (νομίζω ότι περιττεύουν):

World learns to manage without the US
The giant sucking sound you here, I said on August 15 on CNBC's The Kudlow Report, is the implosion of America's influence in the Middle East. Vladimir Putin's August 17 offer of Russian military assistance to the Egyptian army after US President Barack Obama cancelled joint exercises with the Egyptians denotes a post-Cold-War low point in America's standing. Along with Russia, Saudi Arabia and China are collaborating to contain the damage left by American blundering. They have being doing this quietly for more than a year.

The pipe-dream has popped of Egyptian democracy led by a Muslim Brotherhood weaned from its wicked past, but official Washington has not woken up. Egypt was on the verge of starvation when military pushed out Mohammed Morsi. Most of the Egyptian poor had been living on nothing but state-subsidized bread for months, and even bread supplies were at risk. The military brought in US$12 billion of aid from the Gulf States, enough to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. That's the reality. It's the one thing that Russia, Saudi Arabia and Israel agree about. 

Russia and Saudi Arabia might be the unlikeliest of partners, but they have a profound common interest in containing jihadist radicalism in general and the Muslim Brotherhood in particular. Both countries backed Egypt's military unequivocally. Russia Today reported August 7 that "Saudi Arabia has reportedly offered to buy arms worth up to $15 billion from Russia, and provided a raft of economic and political concessions to the Kremlin - all in a bid to weaken Moscow's endorsement of Syrian President Bashar Assad."

No such thing will happen, to be sure. But the Russians and Saudis probably will collaborate to prune the Syrian opposition of fanatics who threaten the Saudi regime as well as Russian security interests in the Caucasus. Chechnyan fighters - along with jihadists from around the world - are active in Syria, which has become a petrie dish for Islamic radicalism on par with Afghanistan during the 1970s.

The Saudis, meanwhile, have installed Chinese missiles aimed at Iran (σ.σ. να σημειωθεί ότι οι υραυλοι αυτοί σημαδεύουν όχι μόνο το Ιράν, αλλά και το Ισραήλ, όπως είχε αποκαλύψει η Telegraph και είχαμε αναδημοσιεύσει και εμείς).

There are unverifiable reports that Saudi Arabia already has deployed nuclear weapons sourced from Pakistan. The veracity of the reports is of small relevance; if the Saudis do not have such weapons now, they will acquire them if and when Iran succeeds in building nuclear weapons. What seems clear is that Riyadh is relying not on Washington but on Beijing for the capacity to deliver nuclear weapons. China has a profound interest in Saudi security. It is the largest importer of Saudi oil. America might wean itself of dependence on imported oil some time during the next decade, but China will need the Persian Gulf for the indefinite future.  

A Russian-Chinese-Saudi condominium of interests has been in preparation for more than a year. On July 30, 2012, I wrote (for the Gatestone Institute):
The fact is that the Muslim Brotherhood and its various offshoots represent a threat to everyone in the region:
The Saudi monarchy fears that the Brotherhood will overthrow it (not an idle threat, since the Brotherhood doesn't look like a bad choice for Saudis who aren't one of the few thousand beneficiaries of the royal family's largesse;
The Russians fear that Islamic radicalism will get out of control in the Caucasus and perhaps elsewhere as Russia evolves into a Muslim-majority country;
The Chinese fear the Uyghurs, a Turkic Muslim people who comprise half the population of China's western Xinjiang province.

But the Obama administration (and establishment Republicans like John McCain) insist that America must support democratically elected Islamist governments. That is deeply misguided. The Muslim Brotherhood is about as democratic as the Nazi Party, which also won a plebiscite confirming Adolf Hitler as leader of Germany. Tribal countries with high illiteracy rates are not a benchmark for democratic decision-making ... As long as the United States declares its support for the humbug of Muslim democracy in Egypt and Syria, the rest of the world will treat us as hapless lunatics and go about the business of securing their own interests without us.
The Turks, to be sure, will complain about the fate of their friends in the Muslim Brotherhood, but there is little they can do. The Saudis finance most of their enormous current account deficit, and the Russians provide most of their energy.

Apart from the Egyptian events, American analysts have misread the world picture thoroughly.

On the American right, the consensus view for years held that Russia would implode economically and demographically. Russia's total fertility rate, though, has risen from a calamitously low point of less than 1.2 live births per female in 1990 to about 1.7 in 2012, midway between Europe's 1.5 and America's 1.9. There is insufficient evidence to evaluate the trend, but it suggests that it is misguided to write Russia off for the time being. Not long ago, I heard the Russian chess champion and democracy advocate Gary Kasparov tell a Republican audience that Russia would go bankrupt if oil fell below $80 a barrel - an arithmetically nonsensical argument, but one the audience wanted to hear. Like it or not, Russia won't go away.

American analysts view Russia's problems with Muslims in the Caucasus with a degree of Schadenfreude. During the 1980s the Reagan administration supported jihadists in Afghanistan against the Russians because the Soviet Union was the greater evil. Today's Russia is no friend of the United States, to be sure, but Islamist terrorism is today's greater evil, and the United States would be well advised to follow the Saudi example and make common cause with Russia against Islamism.

In the case of China, the consensus has been that the Chinese economy would slow sharply this year, causing political problems. China's June trade data suggest quite the opposite: a surge in imports (including a 26% year-on-year increase in iron ore and a 20% increase in oil) indicate that China is still growing comfortably in excess of 7% a year. China's transition from an export model driven by cheap labor to a high-value-added manufacturing and service economy remains an enormous challenge, perhaps the biggest challenge in economic history, but there is no evidence to date that China is failing. Like it or not, China will continue to set the pace for world economic growth.

America, if it chose to exercise its power and cultivate its innate capabilities, still is capable of overshadowing the contenders. But it has not chosen to do so, and the reins have slipped out of Washington's hands. Americans will hear about important developments in the future if and when other countries choose to make them public.