02 Jan Axis of the Sanctioned, Part 2*
Axis of the Sanctioned, Part 2
“The enemy of my enemy is my friend,” the catchphrase in the June 21st TLR, is attributed to a 4th Century B.C. Sanskrit treatise on statecraft. It has unfortunate important applications today as America’s enemies find comfort and security in building a united front, an Axis of the Sanctioned, to economically, militarily and diplomatically defeat America. They have a commonality of anti-American interests that – surprising to many – has been created and is being nurtured by the actions of the United States. There no longer is a question of whether America’s reign as global hegemon is being challenged. The question is whether America continues to have an appetite for hegemony and, if so, how much longer America can exercise any significant degree of global influence … should it desire to do so. Whether that appetite exists and whatever the timeframe, America’s abandonment of Pax Americana, which has fueled the anti-American Axis, has profound economic and security consequences for America … and for the world.
For the 70+ years following WWII, Pax Americana ensured global economic and political security stability … as well as the economic and military dominance pre-eminence of the U.S. To accomplish this feat – unparalleled since the Pax Romana of ancient Rome – America combined soft economic and diplomatic power with military force …, which it employed freely – for example, by militarily intervening in Chile, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Angola, Nicaragua, Lebanon, Grenada, Libya, Panama, El Salvador, Kuwait, Somalia, and Yugoslavia – all of which occurred, in some countries more than once, in the 30 years prior to 2000. America dictated the global economic, political and military rules under which the world was compelled to operate. Among a broad range of policies that benefited both America and its allies, Pax Americana meant globalization, free trade, a broad adoption of the Rule of Law, a consensus that democratic systems of government are superior to autocratic ones, and the widespread belief that capitalism is the optimal economic model. America was the prototype both for how foreign governments conducted themselves and for the aspirations of their citizens, the paradigm described by Ronald Reagan as a shining “city upon a hill,” a role model for the rest of the world. America’s leadership through its exercise of soft and hard power meant that other nations sought to align themselves with America. It was in their interest to be part of Pax Americana.
That time has passed.
America has been withdrawing, step by fateful step, from the international stage, from Pax Americana, and from the exercise of hard power. Its retreat has forged new friendships bonds among those who correctly view themselves as its enemies … as well as alienated those who previously viewed themselves as its friends.
America most certainly has enemies – Iran, Russia, Venezuela, North Korea, China, Syria and Cuba, among others. Each has found America to be a formidable economic foe and each is suffering under increasingly harsh American economic sanctions. America, however, has neither used nor meaningfully threatened to use military force against any. In fact, America has shown itself to be excellent at issuing idle threats and short on following-through. Weakness connotes vulnerability … and vulnerability invites aggression. To no one’s surprise, America’s enemies are on the offensive.
As TLR previously noted, the world’s perception of America’s commitment as an ally and power-broker on the world stage changed with President Obama’s failure to end Syria’s use of outlawed chemical weapons in 2012. Obama drew a red line in the Syrian sand and, after Russia’s Syrian ally crossed it, did nothing. At the time, John McCain caustically noted that the red line was “apparently written in disappearing ink.” That failure to act marked the beginning of the end of American global leadership. The Obama Administration’s international policy failures have been followed by a series of almost identical foreign policy failures by the Trump Administration. Mitt Romney noted that link in commenting on President Trump’s inactions with respect to Turkey’s military onslaught against the Kurds, America’s former allies: “[America] once abandoned a red line. Now we abandon an ally.”
That’s not America’s only recent foreign policy failure. America has shown itself to be impotent at preventing – or even dissuading – North Korea from developing and testing nuclear weapons and their delivery systems (and, despite the threats, North Korea has not “been met with fire and fury”), searingly unsuccessful in deposing the Maduro regime in Venezuela (Venezuela was not the “low-hanging fruit” on which the Trump Administration “could get a win and tout it as a major foreign policy victory”), unable to affect Cuban policy or actions, unable to thwart Iran’s expansionist efforts in Lebanon, Yemen, Syria, or Iraq and ineffective at achieving sought-after regime-change in Iran (Trump told a Cabinet meeting in July that he no longer was “looking for regime change [but] did want them out of Yemen” … where they remain), and a no-show in assisting former allies Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia in their ongoing wars military confrontations with Iran, Russia, Turkey and China – in the new “Great Middle East Game” now being played without American involvement. The decline of U.S. influence in the Middle East was expressed all too clearly in a December 26th tweet from President Trump: “Russia, Syria, and Iran are killing, or on their way to killing, thousands of innocent civilians in Idlib Province. Don’t do it!” But they are … and will continue to exercise their military might in the vacuum left by America’s withdrawal from the global arena.
One of Iran’s goals has been to cement its alliances with Russia and China as well as to enhance its relationships with the EU, India, Lebanon and Turkey – the enemy of my enemy indeed is my friend! The secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council pointedly said “The U.S. has destabilized the international security system with unilateralism and extraterritorial sanctions. If a broad spectrum of countries decide to stand against the illegal blackmailing and bullying by the U.S., we can make the U.S. retreat.” China’s Foreign Minister cautioned that the U.S. risked opening a “Pandora’s box” in its campaign against Iran. Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister warned “For quite a while, we have been witnessing the United States’ continuous attempts to increase political, psychological, economic and military pressure on Iran. [S]uch actions are rather provocative and cannot be considered as anything other than a deliberate policy to instigate a war.”
The Axis is growing in confidence … and in its actions. Russia and China began joint military maneuvers in September 2018, marking the first time Russia had invited a country outside of its former Soviet allies to participate in its annual military exercises. Russia and China are now besties – “President Putin is my best friend,” Chinese leader Xi Jinping gushed said at a news conference in June. Their collaborations against America are growing. Also growing is the participation of other countries in their Axis. In December 2019, Russia, China and Iran launched joint naval exercises in the Gulf of Oman in a direct challenge to U.S. influence in the Middle East. The goal of the Axis is clear: “The most important achievement of these drills … is this message that the Islamic Republic of Iran cannot be isolated. These exercises show that relations between Iran, Russia and China have reached a new high level while this trend will continue in the coming years.” The enemy of my enemy is my friend.
Few can doubt that this is only a beginning. That message is being reinforced by Russia’s overt military and economic support of allies in Turkey, Libya, Syria, Lebanon, Cuba and Venezuela, and by China’s growing economic alliance with Russia. The 1,800 mile Power of Siberia pipeline began delivering Russian natural gas to China in December. The Wall Street Journal described the pipeline as “a physical bond strengthening a new era of cooperation between two world powers that have separately challenged the U.S.” The goal, it stated, is to create an alternative to the U.S.-led global order – an Axis of the Sanctioned. In June, China’s Huawei Technology Co. entered into an agreement with Russia’s mobile operator to develop Russia’s 5G network despite U.S. sanctions against Huawei (which thus far have been spectacularly unsuccessful). The payment system for economic initiatives between China and Russia is designed to undermine the US Dollar through swap arrangements, strengthening the Chinese Yuan by building a trading network, initially with other members of the Axis.
America’s friends have not been excluded from its mercantilist “America First” policies. In addition to sanctioning its enemies, America has imposed tariffs not only on China, but also on its former allies, Turkey, the EU, India, Brazil, Argentina, South Korea, Canada and Mexico. It has threatened to increase and broaden those tariffs as part of its strategy of deconstructing multilateral trade agreements and substituting bilateral ones. The combination of unilateral sanctions, tariffs, military threats, threatened currency wars and aggressive rhetoric from the U.S. President have sent the unambiguous message that the commonality of Western interests has ended, that there are no limits to the use by America of economic weapons – but that America has no appetite for military warfare –, and that a country is either on “America’s side” or it will be treated as on “the other side.” The message is clear that America values economic compliance – its mercantilist interests – over all others. As a consequence, America’s economic and military umbrellas are being pulled back home. Former allies are now required to fend for themselves. They not only will be responsible for their own economic stability – which America henceforth will challenge –, but also for their military security (French President Macron has said that Europe needs to prepare to defend itself alone). Countries that relied on America now must find alternatives … and they are proceeding to do so. They are establishing new alliances, some – of necessity – with America’s enemies.
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates which, along with Israel, were once America’s closest friends in the Middle East, are among those that have decided to befriend the Axis hedging their bets. In the wake of the Trump Administration’s multiple failures to take military action against their common enemies after Iranian, Turkish, Yemeni, and Syrian attacks provocations, Israel’s Prime Minister, Saudi Arabia’s leader and the UAE’s ruler have forged closer ties with Russia and China. The UAE’s Prince Mohammed bin Zayed has even said that “I think of Russia as my second home.” Turkey has gone further, rejecting its alliance with America – and the lucrative contracts that went with it – and embracing Russian arms deals and military assistance. Perplexingly, Turkey nevertheless remains a NATO member.
It may be that the U.S. has the political, economic and military strength to take on and conquer all of its enemies without further alienating its former friends. Whether or not it achieves the economic victories it seeks, America’s actions have created and continue to nurture the Axis of the Sanctioned. That Axis will do its best to defeat the U.S. and its initiatives, undercut the US Dollar as the world’s Reserve Currency, and reduce the economic, military and diplomatic power and influence of the U.S.
Finally (from a good friend)
What is Celibacy?
Celibacy can be a choice in life,
Or a condition imposed by circumstances.
While attending a Marriage Weekend, Frank and his wife, Ann, listened to the instructor declare: “It is essential that husbands and wives know the things that are important to each other.”
He first addressed the men.
“Can you name and describe your wife’s favorite flower?”
Frank leaned over, tenderly touched Ann’s arm and whispered,
“Gold Medal-All-Purpose, isn’t it?”
And thus began Frank’s life of celibacy.
*┬® Copyright 2020 by William Natbony. All rights reserved.