Thursday, January 29, 2009

Big Power Mideast Rivalry: Hubris vs. Diplomacy

EXCERPT: Following a decade of neo-con provocation, Russia is returning to the game of competing for influence in the Mideast--but using diplomacy and economics while avoiding the wasteful employment of troops, not to mention the angry response that such behavior tends to generate. The result could be serious trouble for an overextended superpower America.

TEXT: According to retired Colonel Sam Gardiner, “Russia is on the path to make Iran a strategic partner, a counter to the United States in the regions of rivalry.” American geostrategists may feel troubled by this, but Washington’s “last superpower standing” hubris brought this situation about. Israel has long been America’s “land aircraft carrier” in the Mideast, but the egregious neo-con bias in favor of proponents of Greater Israel combined with the offensive military footprint constructed in Iraq and now being expanded in Afghanistan could only have been expected to provoke Moscow into attempting to shore up its rapidly eroding strategic position.


Global Gas Cartel

Iran’s Oil Minister Gholamhossein Nozari said he and Qatar's Energy Minister Abdullah al-Attiyah and Chief Executive Alexei Miller of Russian gas export monopoly Gazprom agreed to establish a high-ranking natural gas committee.

Unlike Nozari, Miller did not refer to a "gas OPEC" at a joint news conference but said the three sides had set up a "major gas troika" that would help implement joint projects.

Russia, Iran and Qatar are ranked the first, second and third biggest holders of natural gas reserves in the world and together boast more than half of the global total. -- source


Unfortunately for Washington, Moscow is moving with more skill, focusing on quiet agreements—both military and economic—designed to create a solid, long-term position in the Mideast. This approach contrasts sharply with the brash American combination of encouraging allied military action (e.g., Israel into Lebanon in 2006, Ethiopia into Somalia in 2007, Israeli into Gaza in 2008, Pakistan into Bajaur in 2008), sometimes brutal military attack by its own troops (e.g., Fallujah), public threats (“all options are on the table”, calling Iranian nuclear arms “unacceptable”), extreme bias in favor of Israeli extremists (defending not just Israeli security but Israeli expansion into the West Bank), and construction of an archipelago of new regional military bases that (whatever any agreements with Iraq or Afghanistan may say) certainly appear permanent.

Where Washington uses threats, Moscow uses quiet diplomacy. Where Washington pours offensive arms of stunning destructive power into Israel, Moscow provides defensive arms to Iran. Where Washington pressures countries to prevent bilateral economic agreements, Moscow focuses on signing economic agreements.

Moscow’s moves may add up to a serious challenge to American control of the Mideast, but each one is small and delicate and subtle enough so that it hardly constitutes much of a provocation to anyone. Washington’s visible and antagonistic moves, in contrast, provoke constant opposition. Over time, such in-your-face behavior already has proven costly to Washington. Examples include:

· the consolidation of Hezbollah’s position after Israel’s 2006 invasion of Lebanon

· the defeat of Ethiopia in Somalia

· the opposition of Moqtada al Sadr that has so troubled Washington in Iraq

· the Taliban successes in interrupting the flow of supplies through the Khyber Pass

· the slow collapse of central control in Pakistan

· and—of course—the rise in Iran’s regional prominence.

If Washington does not soon learn to play its cards more skillfully, the burden of its Mideast posture may become untenable.

Yes, Washington has more military muscle than Moscow, but Moscow is not finding it necessary to apply much military muscle (essentially, just a few defensive missiles). Yes, Washington has more money than Moscow, but Moscow is not dissipating its wealth on adventures in the Mideast; rather, Moscow is signing agreements that seem likely to earn it a solid, long-term payoff. The victory of a spendthrift superpower that is skilled at making enemies and lurches from short-term victory to short-term victory over a soft-stepping big power with a long-term strategy that maximizes bang for the ruble is not a foregone conclusion.


Russian business dealings with Iran:

  1. to export airliners to Iran
  2. possible coordination on global gas markets; also here
  3. air defense missile contract
  4. delivery of S-300 air defense system
  5. possible blackmarket missile technology transfer
  6. Tor M1 air defense system
  7. nuclear power generation
  8. transport helicopters
  9. MIG-29 engines
  10. nuclear technology, fuel, and training

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