Thursday, September 17, 2009

Obama's predictable surprise

The big news this morning is that it appears that the Obama administration has scrapped the plans for the deployment of a ABM system in Europe. Finally. This is somewhat of a surprise, although the Russians were heavily hinting that this might happen already a week ago, but this is also something we should have expected.

The first thing to keep in mind here is that this anti-ballistic system made no sense whatsoever. None. First, the argument that this system was designed to protect Europe from Iranian missiles is a quasi-official joke. Not only does Iran not have any missiles of that range, but Iran has no motive to attack Europe. Even if the Iranians had such missiles, as they might sometime in the future, it is simply unthinkable to imagine a scenario in which the Iranians would start shooting missiles at Europe as in any future conflict the Iranians would have their hands full in the Middle-East. Oh, and Iran *already* has very good ballistic missiles capable of reaching any country or city in the Middle-East.

Second, the Russians did come up with a very effective military response to the planned US deployment. By a combination of short and long range missiles, including the powerful Iskander-M theatre ballistic missile, the Russians could simply eliminate this system in less than 30min. Alternatively, they could engage GRU Spetsnaz forces who, we should remember, were created during the Cold War precisely with the task of destroying NATO missile systems in Europe.

So why were the Russians so angry about this plan if it represented no military threat for Russia? Because it represented a very real political threat, an arrogant provocation of truly continental proportions. Nevermind that this missile system was militarily useless, it gave the East Europeans, in particular the Poles, a (false) sense of "being an important part of NATO" and it encouraged the Europeans to thumb their noses at Russia. Furthermore, by re-igniting an arms race in Europe it created exactly the kind of tensions which the US Empire always fosters to then justify various "defensive responses" for the "sake of stability".

Needless to say, this kind of hubris is typical of the kind of sick Russophobic obsession which is the trademark of the Bush Neocons. The Obama Neocons - yes, they are also Neocons - clearly came to realize that this grand pissing contest with Russia was not something the USA could afford at this moment in time.

The American about face on this issue leaves the snivelling Poles (alongside a good chunk of the Czech political elites) looking really stupid. They put so much hopes (and in the case of the Czechs, so much political capital) into this grand scheme, that they now look like the irrelevant idiots that they are. Of course the Obama administration took this decision without consulting its East European puppets. While the Poles and, to a somewhat lesser degree, the Czechs are useful for the US Empire to do such things as being members of various "coalitions of the willing" - as a figleaf for US imperialism - they really don't matter in the grand scheme of things. Besides, what are they going to do about it anyway? It's not like they can cuddle up to the Russians, or anyone else for that matter.

At the end of the Cold War, Eastern European countries missed a truly historical opportunity to become sovereign, independent countries. Instead, they sheepishly ran away from their former masters straight into the hands of a new, equally cynical, masters (I would even argue that the GDR was getting more respect from the old USSR than what Poland gets from the USA today). Now they have to pay the price of their own lack of dignity. I can't say that I feel sorry for them.

The thing which worries me now are the rumors that some kind of deal was made between Russia and the USA over Iran. I think that some caution needs to be used here.

Some observers noted that Russia had allowed US supplies to transit through Russia on the way to Afghanistan and they concluded that Russia had "caved in" to US pressure. I disagree. Russia has a fundamental interest in not allowing a complete military defeat of the USA in Afghanistan. Why? Because as long as the US and the Taliban are fighting each other, the Talibans and the rest of the Wahabi/Deobandi crazies are not busy trying to export their model to Tadjikistan, Uzbekistan and the rest of the region. The Russians - and the Iranians for that matter - understand Afghanistan very well, and they fully realize that nothing could be worse for them than a return to power of the Pashtun crazies. The decision to allow US/NATO to resupply through Russia was, I strongly believe, the correct one. However, to help the Empire in Afghanistan and to help it in Iran are dramatically different propositions.

With regards to Iran, Russia has a fundamental interest in *not* allowing the US Empire to prevail. For all their differences, Russia and Iran are objective allies, key allies I would even say. Furthermore, there is no doubt in my mind that the Russians fully know and understand that the Iranians are not hiding some secret nuclear program right under the nose of IAEA inspectors - that kind of nonsense is only good for propaganda purposes. The real issue in Iran is that the Islamic Revolution is clearly succeeding in turning Iran into a modern, technologically sophisticated, and politically independent country and *that* is the real threat to the USA and Isarel. The USraelians simply cannot accept that a nation which stood in defiance for their diktats for now three decades would succeeded and prosper. So the real purpose of this entire hysteria over Iran is to put enough pressure on Iran to force it to drop on its knees and accept a massive surrender of its national sovereignty. If the USraelian Empire achieves this goal it will be able to send its Borg-like message to the rest of the world: " resistance is futile - you shall be assimilated". And that is precisely what Russia - and the rest of the SCO countries - cannot afford to let happen. You can either have a Borg-like dominion or a multi-polar world, but you cannot have it both ways.

Do the Russians understand that? Oh yes, I am quite sure they do. However, understanding is one thing, but acting on this understanding is quite another.

The folks ruling Russia today and not idealists by any means and they are quite capable of back-stabbing Iran, or anyone else for that matter, if that brings them some kind of advantage. Not only that, but there is also a real danger that the Russians will allow the USraelians to bring on more pressure on Iran just in order to force Iran into becoming a more compliant ally. I think that this would be a grievous mistake, but I would not put it past Medvedev and his team.

My hope is, of course, that Russia will make no concessions on the Iran matter at all. Or if there is some kind of quid pro quo in this business, then at least it is not a major one. For example, the Russians could decided to shelve/delay the much announced plans to sell the S-300PMU missiles to Iran. That would be rather annoying to Iran, and that would make the USA and Israel very happy. But that would not, I believe, fundamentally alter the equation of a USraelien strike on Iran. Yes, S-300PMU missiles are awesome, but only as part of a modern and integrated air-defense system (which Iran currently lacks). Besides, the best strategy for Iran is not to shoot down Israeli or US planes, but not to present a lucrative set of targets to the enemy. Hezbollah utterly defeated the Israeli Air Force in 2006 without firing a single air-defense missile during the entire war!

All in all, I am cautiously (and uncharacteristically) optimistic in this case. I don't believe that the Russians bargained away anything significant. We will know pretty soon as all sorts of negotiations are scheduled for the month of October, both at the UN and bilaterally between the USA and Iran.

The main problem is, of course, that Israel is run by a clique of total crazies and that the Israeli public opinion is solidly behind them. I still fully expect an Israeli attack on Iran, and I expect the AIPAC-controlled White House, Congress and US corporate media, to fully support Israel. In fact, the Israel Lobby probably sees the various negotiations in October as a pious excuse ("see - we did try to talk to them and resolve our differences peacefully, but the Mullahs would not listen") before striking out at Iran. But if the decision of attacking Iran has already been made, as I believe that it has, then there is nothing Russia could do to really prevent it in the first place. The one thing Russia will *never* do is allow for a UNSC Resolution authorizing the use of force under Chapter 7 against Iran. Neither will China, for that matter. And since that is just about the only thing which the USraelians would really need from Russia - what could Medvedev have bargained away anyway other than some "good will" on the issue of Afghanistan?

And let's not forget one very important thing here: Iran also offered a "grand bargain" to the USA which reportedly even included some major concession on the Iranian support for Hezbollah in Lebanon. And Iran is - objectively - shall we say "working not against" the USA in Iraq, at least on a tactical level (strategically, I think that Iran is brilliantly outmaneuvering the USA in Iraq, using it to keep down the Baathists and the Sunni crazies, and securing the grip of the Shia majority on power, before giving Uncle Sam the boot). So it's not like the Russian stance is much different from the Iranian one: both governments are willing to talk and, yes, to negotiate with the USraelian Empire. Talking and negotiating, by the way, does absolutely *not* mean surrendering. All this really proves is that pragmatic politics is the subtle art of the possible and that grandstanding is not the best way to achieve anything.

I believe that the US decision to scrap the plans for a missile defense in Europe is not as much a reflection of some concessions made by the Russians as it a reflection of the reality on the ground: the USraelians simply don't have the means to constantly confront every country out there, much less so a powerful one like Russia. That the White House has finally understood this just shows that the Obama Neocons are somewhat more pragmatic and less ideological than the Dubya Neocons.

The Saker