Friday, November 08, 2013

When You Blunder Into a Civil War, You Had Better Pick a Side.

America's half-century plus intervention in the Muslim world seems to be unraveling.  They've made a mess of things in Iran, in Iraq, in Afghanistan and Pakistan, in Syria and Libya, and now in Egypt.  Even the Saudis aren't particularly fond of the Americans any more.

America was never prepared to deal with the great religious divide, Sunni versus Shiite, that plagues the Middle East/South Asia region.  In toppling Saddam it seemed to believe it could fill the void with a modern, secular government.  The Shia majority scotched that notion quickly enough while the Sunni minority ensnarled American forces in an insurgency.  Years later, as America was finally expelled, its nemesis, Iran, remained the real beneficiary of America's war.

The U.S. much prefers Sunni Islam to the Iranian-dominated Shiite faith.   But America prefers its Sunni allies in the robes of a Sheik or the uniform of a general.   The U.S. likes its Sunni leaders just strong enough to suppress Salafism or Wahhabism without unduly threatening Israel.   This the Saudi royal family has done largely by treating their Islamists like remittance men, paying them to play jihad elsewhere.  Osama bin Laden, anyone?   The United States has been quite content to allow the Gulf States to rather brutally suppress their Shiite populations.

As America stumbled and blundered its way through the Muslim world, Russia and China moved into the wings waiting to exploit any power vacuum that emerged.   America's juggling act became that much harder.  The pro-democracy movement presents yet another complication.   Feudalism/modernism; Shia/Sunni; autocracy/democracy;  Russia, China and the shifting global balance of power; America in decline with its people as fed up with being in the Muslim world as many Muslims are to have them there; the strategic pivot to Asia-Pacific.   What is an atrophied superpower to do?

What's next?   Well that would by Syria, Egypt and the House of Saud.   America has been stymied to find an answer to the Syrian civil war.   The American people will not tolerate another U.S. ground war in the region but that is exactly what the Saudis want demand.  The Saudis have been threatening to shop elsewhere for outside muscle, unwilling to use their own considerable and modern forces and thereby risk sparking a greater regional war along religious lines.

In Egypt, the U.S. was against Morsi before they were for him.  They were for the generals (Mubarak) before they were against them.  Washington has recently cut off billions of dollars in military aid to Cairo, aiming to pressure the generals into restoring democratic rule.  This, it seems, may be a seminal moment in the lengthy history of America's involvement in the Middle East.

Word is getting out that a Middle Eastern benefactor has stepped into the breach with enough cash to allow Egypt to cut a 4-billion dollar arms deal with Russia.

The report comes on the eve of a visit to Egypt by a Russian military delegation led by Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. A source in the Russian Defense Ministry told RIA Novosti on Thursday that the delegation would visit Serbia and Egypt on November 12-15.

The source said the Russian delegation would include the first deputy director of the Federal Service on Military-Technical Cooperation, Andrei Boitsov, and officials from state-arms exporter Rosoboronexport.

The visit has been preempted by a bout of shuttle diplomacy between Moscow and Cairo with exchanges of unofficial visits and behind-closed-doors discussions in the past few weeks.
Rumors about Egypt turning toward Russia for military assistance to meet its security needs have been circulating in the media since last week and intensified around a recent visit to Egypt by US Secretary of State John Kerry, which has been widely considered an attempt to mend weakening bilateral ties and prevent potential military deals with Russia.

Sources cited by Donia Al-Watan said Kerry had offered Egypt to restore all elements of the military aid, worth 1.5 billion annually, and "bring bilateral relations to the previous level," but Egyptian Defense Minister Abdel Fattah el-Sisi rejected all US proposals.

For Moscow, the renewal of military ties with Egypt could signify a return in force to the Middle East while US diplomacy is failing all over the region.

The Soviet Union and Egypt enjoyed close ties during the 1960s and early 1970s, when the Arab country was led by Abdel Nasser. But within years after the death of Nasser, the new president Anwar Sadat started reorienting the country toward the West and expelled about 20,000 Russian military advisers stationed in Egypt in July 1972. Bilateral relations have since never warmed up to the previous friendship level.

Has America overplayed its hand in the Middle East?   Could it really be told to cash in its chips and leave the table?


Anonymous said...

Why pick a side? Much more profitable to sell weapons to both sides.

And those profits keep rolling in as long as the fighting continues.

The Mound of Sound said...

Well, as Russia learned when Nasser's rule ended, you can very quickly get cut out of that market.

Richard said...

Great post.

The U.S. has definitely overplayed it's hand and is quickly losing it's control and influence in the Middle East.

Of course I never thought they would succeed, The global conquest for resources and the game of destabilization game they play to maintain their hand was doomed to fail from the beginning just as all empires eventually fail.

As the U.S. appears weaker, their dollar carries less and less influence while China and Russia are stocking real assets, like gold. A challenge to U.S. hegemony is in the cards, of this I have no doubt.

Purple library guy said...

Isn't that just typical. The Americans finally pressure for democracy somewhere (faute de mieux), and it turns out it's at the moment when their pressure ceases to matter.
I'm rooting for the Americans to get cut out, Egypt to start reorienting away from both the US and Israel, and then the generals to get overthrown anyway by the actual people of Egypt.

The Mound of Sound said...

@ Richard - American hegemony is in decline but that's not a bad thing for anyone, America included, if it can get that global-sized chip off its shoulder.

@ PLG - I'm not sure we'll see a stable Egypt in our lifetimes. That country is beset by so many destabilizing forces. For reasons I can't grasp it's enduring massive population growth. The upstream countries want a bigger share of the Nile waters just when Egypt can least afford to be more generous. Egypt is facing chronic food insecurity and youth unrest pegged to inequality. How does any country rebound from those forces?

The failure to use Egyptian forces to quickly depose Gadhaffi has allowed Islamism to sweep into North Africa. What happens if one or more subsidiaries of al Qaeda join forces with the Muslim Brotherhood and the disaffected youth population?

Anonymous said...

Well you know those poor people they just don't profess the right pick a side?

The Mound of Sound said...

@ Anon. What exactly is your point?

Richard said...

I completely agree, Mound!

Anonymous said...

America is playing the hand exactly as it has always played the hand.

Keep them weak, if they get too strong, its better to foment internal revolt, and come in later as the "savior" of whatever group is conveniently anointed as the chosen.

BL (Funny how the only legitimate body - the world court - is exactly the one the US fears the most)

The Mound of Sound said...

Anon, America is staying true to form, more or less, but it's also coming up empty-handed, again and again. All the King's horses and all the King's men simply aren't delivering the sort of results justifying the cost. Unfortunately America is locked into a form of militarism that defies reform/change.