Whatever hopes the George W. Bush administration
may have had for using its post-9/11 "war on terror'' to impose a new Pax
Americana on Eurasia, and particularly in the unruly areas between the Caucasus
and the Khyber Pass, appear to have gone up in flames in some cases,
literally over the past two weeks.
Not only has Russia reasserted its influence in the most emphatic way possible
by invading and occupying substantial parts of Georgia after Washington's favorite
Caucasian, President Mikhail Saakashvili, launched an ill-fated offensive against
secessionist South Ossetians.
But bloody attacks in Afghanistan, and Pakistan, about 620 miles to the east
also underlined the seriousness of the Pashtun-dominated Taliban insurgencies
in both countries and the threats they pose to their increasingly beleaguered
and befuddled U.S.-backed governments.
And while U.S. negotiators appear to have made progress in hammering out details
of a bilateral military agreement that will permit U.S. combat forces to remain
in Iraq at least for another year and a half, signs that the Shi'a-dominated
government of President Nouri al-Maliki may be preparing to move forcefully
against the U.S.-backed, predominantly Sunni ''Awakening'' movement has raised
the specter of renewed sectarian civil war.
Meanwhile, any hope of concluding a framework for a peace agreement between
Israel and the Palestinian Authority by the time Bush leaves office less than
five months from now appears to have vanished, while efforts at mobilizing greater
international diplomatic and economic pressure on Iran to freeze its uranium
enrichment program the administration's top priority before the Georgia
crisis have stalled indefinitely, overwhelmed by the tidal wave of bad
news from its neighborhood.
''The list of foreign policy failures this week is breathtaking,'' noted a
statement released Friday by the National Security Network (NSN), a mainstream
group of former high-ranking officials critical of the Bush administration's
more-aggressive policies. And a prominent New York Times columnist, Paul
Krugman, argued that the Russian move on Georgia, in particular, signaled ''the
end of the Pax Americana the era in which the United States more or less
maintained a monopoly on the use of military force.''
Indeed, Russia's intervention in what it used to call its ''near abroad'' was
clearly the most spectacular of the fortnight's developments, both because of
its unprecedented use of overwhelming military force against a U.S. ally heavily
promoted by Washington for membership in NATO and because of the geo-strategic
implications of its move for the increasingly-troubled Atlantic alliance and
U.S. hopes that Caspian and Central Asian energy resources could be safely transported
to the West without transiting either Russia or Iran.
While Russia did not seize control of the Baku-Tbili-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline
or approach the area proposed for the Nabucco pipeline further south, its intervention
made it abundantly clear that it could have done so if it had wished, a message
that is certain to reverberate across gas-hungry Europe. Indeed, investors now
may prove considerably less enthusiastic about financing the Nabucco project
than before, dealing yet another blow to Washington's regional ambitions.
Russia's move also raised new questions about its willingness to tolerate the
continued use by the U.S. and other NATO countries of key air bases and other
military facilities in the southern part of the former Soviet Union, notably
Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, over which Moscow maintains substantial influence.
As with Georgia, where the U.S. significantly escalated its military presence
by sending over Russian protests 200 Special Forces troops in early 2002, Washington
first acquired access to these bases under the pretext of its post-9/11 ''global
war on terrorism''. But, while clearly important to its subsequent operations
on Afghanistan, they were also seen as key building blocks or ''lily
pads'' in the construction of a permanent military infrastructure that
could both contain a resurgent Russia or an emergent China and help establish
U.S. hegemony over the energy resources of Central Asia and the Caspian region
in what its architects hoped would be a ''New American Century.''
As suggested by former Singaporean diplomat Kishore Mahbubani this week, Washington
and, to some extent, NATO behind it, ''has intruded into the geopolitical spaces
of other dormant countries. They are no longer dormant...''
Indeed, still badly bogged down in Iraq where, despite the much-reduced level
of sectarian violence, political reconciliation remains elusive, to say the
least, the U.S. and its overly deferential NATO allies now face unprecedented
challenges in Afghanistan not entirely unfamiliar to the Soviets 20 years ago.
''The news out of Afghanistan is truly alarming,'' warned Thursday's lead editorial
in the New York Times, which noted the killings of 10 French paratroopers
near Kabul in an ambush earlier in the week the single worst combat death
toll for NATO forces in the war there as well as the coordinated assault
by suicide bombers on one of the biggest U.S. military bases there as indications
of an increasingly dire situation. In the last three months, more U.S. soldiers
have been killed in Afghanistan than in Iraq.
''Afghanistan badly needs reinforcements. Badly,'' wrote ret. Col. Pat Lang,
a former top Middle East and South Asia expert at the Defense Intelligence Agency
on his blog this week. ''Afghanistan badly needs a serious infrastructure and
economic development program. Badly.''
Of course, the Taliban's resurgence has in no small part been due to the safe
haven it has been provided next door in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas
(FATA) where Pakistan's own Taliban, which also hosts a rejuvenating al Qaeda,
has not only tightened its hold on the region in recent months but extended
it into the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP).
Last week, it retaliated in spectacular fashion to airborne attacks on its
forces by the U.S.-backed military in Bajaur close to the Khyber Pass
the most important supply route for NATO forces in Afghanistan by carrying
out suicide bombings at a heavily guarded munitions factory that killed nearly
70 people near Islamabad.
Analysts here are especially worried that, having achieved the resignation
last week of U.S.-backed former President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, the new civilian
government will likely tear itself apart over the succession and the growing
economic crisis and thus prove completely ineffective in dealing with Washington's
top priority confronting and defeating the Taliban in a major counter-insurgency
effort for which the army, long focused on the conventional threat posed by
India, has shown no interest at all.
Indeed, the current leadership vacuum in Islamabad has greatly compounded concern
here that the army's intelligence service ISI, which Washington believes played
a role in last month's deadly Taliban attack on the Indian Embassy in Kabul,
could broaden its anti-Indian efforts. This is especially so now that Indian
Kashmir is once again hotting up, ensuring a sharp escalation in the two nuclear-armed
countries' decades-long rivalry and threatening in yet another way the post-Cold
War Pax Americana.