The Empire's (provisional) scorecard: one win, two losses
The past couple of days have seen several very important developments for the future of the Empire: the Russian elections, the Venezuelan referendum, and the publication of the NIE. Because an Administration can only deal with a finite number of simultaneous crises, these seemingly unrelated events are probably very much linked to each other in the minds of the Neocons and they are likely to influence Imperial policies in Lebanon and Kosovo.
The first of these events, Putin's overwhelming victory in the Russian elections was really never in doubt and the only option left to the US Administration was to pressure the OSCE not to send observers and then announce that the elections were not 'free and fair'.
Once the results came in, however, even that desperate attempt to discredit the victory of Putin's party "United Russia" achieved nothing.
Not only did Putin's "United Russia" get more than 64% of all the votes, but the next three parties are all generally supportive of Putin's policies. As one Russian politician put it yesterday, now all the parties in the Duma are proponents of a 'strong Russia'. Amazingly, not a single pro-Western political party achieved the required number of votes to have even one representative in the Duma.
The results of this election show that all the efforts of the West since 1991 at dismembering, weakening and submitting Russia to the will of the West have now completely failed. It is now obvious that in Russia, just as in Iraq, "mission accomplished" was announced way too soon, the 'Cold War' was declared won by the West (or even by Ronald Reagan, no less) and Western capitalism was declared a historical inevitability. To everybody'ssurprize, it took Russia less than a decade to completely negate all these predictions.
The main impact of this new Russia will be primarily felt in the so-called 'near abroad' (the former republics of the USSR) where an oil rich Russia, awash with money, and with a functioning state apparatus will be able to extend its influence far more effectively than the overextended, politically discredited and financially crippled Empire which will have very little to offer, besides empty words of support, to the leaders of the countries neighboring Russia (the problems of Mr Saakashvili in Georgia are just one example of what could happen elsewhere).
The second event is the defeat of Hugo Chavez in Sunday's referendum. Many observers believe that Chavez' reforms went too far and covered too many controversial issue. While probably true, Chavez' defeat still would not have been possible without a rejuvenated and re-energized opposition which managed to shed its image as CIA-backed putchistas and which skillfully planted the slogan "yes to Chavez, no to the reform" meaning that one could still support Chavez while opposing his policies.
Chavez gracefully accepted his defeat, hinting at the fact that 'this time' it did not work, and thereby proved his 'democratic credentials', for which many of his opponents had to, reluctantly, praise him. Still, the main effect of this referendum was to re-legitimize the CIA controlled opposition which will now 'smell blood' and deepen its campaign to get rid of Chavez. All this is a huge, and rather unexpected, success for Washington. Not only did the Empire succeed in putting Bolivian President Evo Morales on the defensive, but even the comparatively formidable Hugo Chavez has now lost a crucial battle in which he had invested a lot of political capital. Unless the anti-Imperial forces in Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, Nicaragua and the rest of Latin America realize that all their achievements are not threatened and take action to defend them (primarily by strengthening their economies) American money will now pour into the 'opposition' and Venezuela and the rest of Latin America will undoubtedly enter a period of instability and crises.
The third important event which took place in the past days is the long awaited publication of the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran (full public text here format). Packaged in quite a few caveats the bottom line of the 2007 NIE is simple: Iran does not have a nuclear weapons program and the 2005 NIE was wrong.
It is really no wonder that the Office of the VP battled the release of this document for over a year and a half: its conclusions are absolutely devastating for the Neocon case to attack Iran. It appears that the uncertainty about the 2008 election and the many scandals surrounding the decision to go to war with Iraq have finally given the US intelligence community the resolve not to be used again in a propaganda campaign aimed at starting yet another war. It is a safe guess to say that this NIE is the result of a number of agencies resolutely opposing a war with Iran because of the consequences which such an aggression would inevitably result in. Weakened by the departure of key Neocons, such as Rumsfeld or Wolfowitz, the War Party simply does not appear to have the bureaucratic weight to impose its will on the JCS, DIA, CIA and the rest of the military and intelligence community. This is, undoubtedly, very bad news for the Neocons and good news for the rest of the world.
The Empire strikes back?
What will the Neocons do next? Well, let's look at their options:
Russia is now firmly outside Washington's sphere of influence. Simply put, the Empire has precious little left to pressure Moscow with. Even the usual verbiage about human rights violations in Chechnia has now become useless as Moscow's stooge thug in the Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov, succeeded in delivering a 99% participation in the vote and over 99% of these votes cast for Putin's "United Russia". Sure, some European politicians will continue to bemoan Russian policies in Chechnia, but all in all this entire issue is now off the table. Likewise, Garry Kasparov and others can complain that this election was the worst on in Russian history, but with what amounts to a 80-90% support for Putin's policies nobody will pay attention to that kind of talk anymore. CIA money for anti-Putin propaganda will dry up to a minimal 'capability sustaining' trickle. This battle is over, at leas for the time being.
The real indicator of how much the Empire has been weakened will be the issue of Kosovo. Russia categorically opposes any solution which does not have Serbia's approval. The Serbs, backed by international law and UN resolutions, consider Kosovo as an integral part of Serbia. The recent elections in Kosovo, which were not recognized by Belgrade, gave a majority to the former KLA field commanders who promised to declare independence regardless of what anybody else thinks. Washington is, I suppose, unlikely to recognize Kosovo as an independent state de jure, but de facto it will probably try to seek a Taiwan like solution.
Russia is unlikely to accept such a state of affairs and unless the Empire quietly offers Russia some major concessions elsewhere (think anti-ballistic missiles in Europe). An independent Kosovo would also set a precedent for South Ossetia, the Dniestr Republic, Abkhazia and, possibly, even the Republika Srpska in Bosnia, Eastern Ukraine or the Crimean Peninsula. Russia will not officially condone or support any such separatist movements (the KGB has a saying "the ears should not be sticking out"), but quietly it can give a go-ahead and support these regions.
Knowing the rabid russophobia of the Neocons, I am fairly confident that, acting out of spite, they will ignore Russia's objections over Kosovo and go ahead with their support for the KLA. That, policy, in turn will be duly noted by Russia and as a consequence US-Russian relations will further sour.
What can the Neocons do about Iran? I think that the 2007 NIE's importance goes way beyond the issue of debunking the Iranian military nuclear program nonsense. What this really shows is that the military and intelligence establishment has quietly slipped out of the Neocon's control and this, if true, is definitely a very positive development. Clearly, the old "Anglo" guard has succeeded in partially pushing back the "crazies", at least for a while. This conflict is far from over and the Anglos only won one battle, but the writing might well be on the wall for the Neocons who are likely to respond in the the areas which they still totally control: Congress, the Republican and Democratic parties and the corporate media.
Will that be enough to still get their way and have a war with Iran? Possibly. After all, a war can be started by, say, an Israeli bombing raid or by some other carefully staged event: remember the Gulf of Tonkin incident, Markale market bombing in Sarajevo, the Racak 'massacre' in Kosovo, or killing the American Marine officer Lt. Robert Paz in Panama, all if which conveniently happened right when the Empire needed a pretext to attack? It will be far more difficult for those opposed to a war inside the US to openly refuse to salute and attack Iran if such a provocation is carefully staged and executed.
One one hand, the Neocons can still count on the abject subservience of Congress and the US political elites and that just might be enough to trigger and crisis and prevail (they could even be forgiven for thinking that this might be the best, if not only, chance for them to remain in power). On the other hand, if that NIE is just the tip of a larger bureaucratic iceberg this might indicate that the tide is turning and that a strategic decision has been made in the military and intelligence establishment to back down from a confrontation with Iran.
Iran, however, cannot be taken out of the larger Middle-East context and the current political crises in Afghanistan, Iraq and, in particular, in Lebanon are all linked to the Empire's policies towards Iran. At this stage it is unlikely that Washington will reverse its 'redirection' from fighting the Sunnis to supporting them against the Shia. So while a the 'big war' option might have been put on the back burner, the 'creeping war' against Iran which has already been going on for a long while will only intensify. I expect that the Empire will redouble its covert military, economic and political efforts to undermine and destabilize Iran (including supporting further terrorist attacks inside Iran). Not only will such an expansion of anti-Shia policies help to push the Middle-East further into chaos, but it might even yield a pious pretext to attack Iran after all.
It appears that the Empire is further weakening and it is loosing ground in some key issues, but it is far from over and it can still viciously lash out at its opponents. The days of 'fighting everybody at the same time' are probably over, but the Empire is still deeply enmeshed in alliances with highly unstable and dangerous countries like Israel, Turkey, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan and many others which might force it to intervene militarily. Furthermore, while the Empire suffer a defeat in Australia, it also can find comfort in the fact that in Great Britain and, even more so, in France bona fide Neocons are firmly in power. So while one can rejoice at some of the recent setbacks suffered by the Neocons it would be foolish now start hoping for a rapid collapse of the Empire. The recent events did not mark the beginning of the end. Only a war with Iran would truly mark the beginning of a general collapse of the Empire and my guess is that, regardless of the recent setbacks suffered by the Neocons, this war will occur before the 2008 election.