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IRAN OR SYRIA? - It's time to show the world that the lion is not yet in its winter

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By Ashok Mitra
  • Published 26.03.12
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The spectacle of an American army staff sergeant firing from his 9 mm pistol and M-4 rifle and killing in cold blood nearly a score of innocent by-standers, including children, in an Afghanistan village is an eerie metaphor. It, many will say, telescopes what the United States of America has been up to in west Asia and north Africa.

The American soldier had gone off his hinges. Psychologists explain that berserk gunmen indulging in shooting sprees suffer from an insecurity complex. They build their own system of logic; they feel vulnerable, they think they could be under attack at any moment from any quarter, they have the right to kill in self-defence; since they have firearms at their disposal, why not make use of these arms to overpower the enemies trying to sneak in on them, shoot, shoot, shoot, kill, kill, kill.

Stray cynics love to suggest that the US, too, is a mental case. It is now a most formidable imperial power — in fact, the only imperial power around. It has not escaped the fate that is the inheritance of an imperial power, it too is a victim of insecurity complex. The imperial power imagines conspiracy against it in every nook and corner. The conspirators must be crushed. The armed might the imperial power has accumulated is surely not for the sake of mere accumulation. It deserves to be used to subdue effectively the enemy or enemies lying in wait, the imperial power would then be able to breathe normally.

Besides, are there not enough underlying reasons for the US to feel insecure? Consider, for instance, the uncertainty over oil supplies. The Americans are great guzzlers of fuel. The requirements of an affluent economic system apart, given their global responsibilities, they can hardly depend solely on domestic output. The Lefties have somehow managed to capture the commanding heights of power in Latin America, rendering quite a bit iffy the regular availability of the most crucial source of energy from that part of the world. The North Sea oil strike has been lovely while it has lasted. But flow from that region has increasingly taken the shape of an asymptote.

The US has to survive, its people expect to survive with prosperity. Such a state of existence presupposes unending supply of fuel, which only West Asia and North Africa can assure. It follows that all the Arab countries in the area swimming in oil have to be brought under the control of the US. That is the only way the imperial power could be made to feel safe. If the US is safe, the world too is safe. This impeccable logic must not have any challengers. If any of the West Asian or North African regimes contests the proposition, it is endangering global peace and security and needs to be taught the appropriate lesson.

Ever since the 1990s, the US has been continuously engaged in educational enterprises of this nature, Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi president, was indulging in some hankypanky in Kuwait. He was severely dealt with, first by Ronald Reagan, then by Papa Bush. Nonetheless, he dared to persist in his disobedience. Meanwhile graver things began to happen. The al- Qaida arrived on the scene. Imperial America rose in fury at Osama Bin Laden’s astounding audacity in demolishing the Twin Towers and damaging the Pentagon. Osama was yet beyond reach. Never mind, the American nation roared in approval as Bush the Junior ordered the destruction of Iraq and the capture and decapitation of Saddam as retribution for the unpardonable crime committed by the Arabs.

There was also the parallel case of Afghanistan. A quarter of a century ago, the US had propped up the Taliban as a strategic device to eject the Soviet intruders from that land. What perfidy, the fundamentalist group soon turned against their benefactors. Bush the Junior decided to invade and run over Afghanistan as well. A stooge administration was duly installed in Kabul. But, just as Iraq is refusing to return to tranquillity, the Taliban are also proving to be difficult to get rid of in Afghanistan and, worse, have gone on to infiltrate into the heartland of neighbouring Pakistan, till now one of the safest citadels of the US. Anti-Americanism is threatening to turn into a fashion.

This is presidential election year in the US. The American people demand some extra performance from the incumbent administration in every election year. On some occasions the administration delivers; on other occasions, it fails. The year 2008 coincided with the outbreak of the sub-prime crisis, growth in both income and employment dipped, disenchantment was widespread with the Republican presidency, the clamour to get the boys back from the graveyard of Iraq rose to fever pitch. The Democrats cashed in on the opportunity, Barack Obama created history by being the first coloured person to enter the White House.

It is a different story this year. The great imperial power is suddenly feeling more vulnerable than usual. The economic crisis at home has eased, income and employment are both looking up, even if marginally. But the story is somewhat else with external affairs. Afghanistan is causing mounting worries. What do you know, Pakistan is also daring to deviate from toeing the straight American line. Clouding the picture further, Iran is on the verge of acquiring nuclear capability. Quite a few countries have developed subversive tendencies and are dilly-dallying in complying with the American firman to sever economic relations, including trade relations, with Iran. Before the situation gets completely out of hand, it is perhaps time to show the world that the lion is not yet in its winter.

On the issue of managing the domestic economy, Obama has more or less capitulated to Republican bulldozing and is unable to claim separate credit for whatever turnaround has taken place. Mitt Romney, the prospective Republican candidate, is very much on the offensive. The hemmed-in Democratic president, seeking re-election, is under pressure. Should the sample polls continue to be unfavourable, he might be tempted to take the plunge and do something spectacular in the international sphere to re-capture mass support.

Nothing would be more welcome to Israel and the eastern seaboard Jewish lobby, which fills the coffers of the Democratic Party, if, say, Obama opts for a sudden strike against Iran. There are, however, several imponderables. It is difficult to gauge in advance the extent of ground support a US expedition might evoke from within Iran. The much greater predicament would be the enormous global outrage such an expedition is bound to cause.

The other possibility is Syria. Bashar al-Assad’s oppressive regime is increasingly losing control, there is widespread violence all over the country every day, international reaction would be much more mute if the Americans do a Libya in Syria. There are, however, risks here too. The Russians are reported to have helped Assad build a strong defence network. To launch an offensive against Syria without gauging the strength of likely resistance would be fool-hardy. There is also the other problem. Unlike in Libya, where the local rebels had established themselves in a sizeable segment of the country, thereby facilitating the landing of Nato troops, the insurgents in Syria have failed to prepare a beachhead for the US army units to avail themselves of.

The period between now and the Tuesday following the first Monday in coming November, when the Americans go to the polls, is going to be crucial. Mitt Romney’s father had tried, some forty years ago, to be president. He failed. The son is determined not to fail. He will, during the next few weeks keep launching assault after assault against the Democrats. Obama, Romney will thunder, has diminished the United States. Obama may strain to prove to the contrary. If the Gallup and other polls look more and more disheartening, he could well be advised to embark on a military initiative of some kind to clinch the point that no Democratic president was ever a pussyfoot.

But should the target be Syria, or should it be Iran? Should it be I or S? It almost seems like the title of an Agatha Christie mystery story. The US president, some will keep hoping, would be unable to make up his mind between I and S and, like the maniac of a bus driver who could not decide whether to run you over from the right or the left, proved to be the safest driver in town, would yet save the world from another conflagration. Whether that would advance or hurt the prospect of his re-election is a different, conceivably a less important, matter.