by Zafar Bangash (Opinion, Crescent International Vol. 42, No. 9, Dhu al-Hijjah, 1434)
The limits of US power have been shown by events, particularly the ongoing tragedy in Syria. The world’s principal troublemakers, the Saudis and the Zionists, are most upset since their nefarious agendas no longer work.
The last three months have witnessed seismic changes in global affairs. It started with false allegations against the government of Bashar al-Asad in Syria accusing it of using chemical weapons against civilians in Ghouta. US President Barack Obama had declared the use of such weapons — by the Syrian government, but not the rebels — as a “red line.” The Saudi intelligence chief, Bandar bin Sultan hatched the Ghouta plot. He was so sure that Obama would attack Syria that the Saudis asked Washington for a list of targets to be hit in Syria. Instead, the Americans told the Saudis that they would not even be able to protect their oil fields in the Eastern province much less succeed in attacking Syria.
Something else had also happened behind the scenes. Both Russia and Islamic Iran, through their own channels, had communicated to the Americans that should Obama make the mistake of attacking Syria, all bets are off. An Iranian commander announced that the US should think carefully whether the world could afford even one day without oil once the Strait of Hormuz were closed. The message got through to Obama and a scramble for a face-saving formula began. Russia came to Obama’s rescue and saved the US from another disastrous war.
This was soon followed by groundbreaking contacts between Iran and representatives of the P5+1 countries that include the US. There was also a separate meeting between Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and US Secretary of State John Kerry at the UN. While the Americans were keen for Obama to have a “chance meeting” with Iran’s President Hassan Rohani, the Iranians turned it down. Instead, Obama scrambled to contact Dr. Rohani on his UN ambassador’s cell phone as the Iranian president was on his way to the airport.
Why was Obama so keen to contact Dr. Rohani when his predecessor had dubbed Iran as part of the “axis of evil”? Unlike his predecessor, Obama is no dunce. He understands that the era of gunboat (or cruise missile) diplomacy is over. Besides, the US is gripped by deep economic, social and political problems. Over the last few weeks the world has not only witnessed the shut down of the US government, equally important — although less publicized — was the sacking of senior generals in command of US nuclear weapons. This points to serious problems within the US military and, therefore, governance in the US. Revelations about massive surveillance by the National Security Agency of US citizens as well as foreign leaders indicates other troubling aspects.
Put simply, the US is in a free fall. Its military might no longer scares others into obeying its diktats. With the humiliating experience of Afghanistan and Iraq still fresh and its debilitating impact all too evident, the US cannot afford any more military adventures. Naturally, this has disappointed America’s allies, especially the illegitimate regimes in the Arabia Peninsula (Saudi Arabia) and Occupied Palestine (Zionist Israel). Both have made their displeasure known and are clinging ever tighter to each other. This has also exposed the Saudi regime as the enemy of Muslims. Zionist Israel was always known as the enemy.
This brings us to the future of the Muslim East (aka the Middle East) and the emerging global order. There are two competing narratives. One posits that the US has lost the power to impose its will on others. The other holds that sectarian madness has gripped the region and will surely tear it apart. There are elements of truth in both.
We have already briefly reviewed the first hypothesis; the second needs analyzing. Sectarianism is a Saudi specialty but it is largely artificial. The overwhelming majority of Muslims do not want sectarian warfare even if the Saudis have managed to arouse the base instincts of some misguided Muslims. The overwhelming majority of Muslims do not subscribe to such hate-filled ideology. This is evident even in Pakistan where sectarianism has been used to deadly effect. People are recoiling in horror against its excesses. With it, revulsion of the Saudis has also increased despite its pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into madrasahs to poison people’s minds.
The Saudis and the Zionists, in addition to the Americans, will be most severely affected by US decline. The Zionist-Wahhabi fitnah needs must be laid to rest so that the world can begin to order its affairs on the basis of fairness and justice. We cannot discount more mischief from the Zionist-Wahhabi duo but this is likely to prove the last gasps of two dying ideologies.
Zafar Bangash is Director of the Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought