The new Cold War and Mideast

THERE is little doubt that Russia's incursion into Georgia has set off a chain reaction the repercussions of which will be felt beyond the Caucasus, as far away as the Middle East and possibly farther.

By Claude Salhani (View from Washington)

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Published: Fri 29 Aug 2008, 10:54 PM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 11:11 AM

Russia's forceful response to Georgia's grossly miscalculated military and political gaffe in trying to settle disputes and quell desires of independence in the two autonomous republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia will have for effect the redistribution of power relations in a complicated political game throughout the Caucasus and beyond.

Russia's response to Georgia's formidable gaffe was disproportional and the balance of power between the two countries incomparable (Russia's armed forces: 641,000; Georgia: 26,900). And this was not incidental to the issue at hand: With the invasion of Georgia, Russia has made a clear and declarative statement of her renewed power.

The outcome of this sordid affair is yet to be determined, and to be sure, historians will probably look back at this Russo-Georgian War as the turning point in post-Cold War East-West relations.

However, where and how all this will end is far from clear at this moment. What is clear, just over a week after Russian troops entered Georgia, is that an era of extended détente between former-Soviet Russia and the West — one which came about with the end of the Cold War, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the demise of communism in Eastern Europe — appears to be over and a new era is begun.

What will this new era bring? What alliances will be born (or re- born)? What others will fail? It is still too early to tell. What is clear, however, is that Russia has unleashed a political tsunami that will alter the political landscape. And historians may also likely note that a rare opportunity had presented itself during those few years of lessened tensions between the United States and Russia — an opportunity that was foolishly wasted.

Instead of trying to engage the Russians in pushing through resolutions to long-standing disputes that threatened world stability, such as the Middle East conflict, the West, particularly the United States under the leadership of President George W. Bush, chose instead to alienate Moscow.

And when historians look back and analyse the conflict, they will likely discover that some of the blame for a coming re-alignment of certain countries in the Levant with Russia can be attributed to the misguided policies adopted by the Bush administration in regard to both Russia and two countries in the Middle East. Namely, Syria and Iran.

Regarding Russia, the Bush administration failed to engage the Russians on an equal footing as partners for peace, opting instead to aggravate Moscow by moving ahead with controversial projects such as the missile and radar system the United States is installing in the Czech Republic and Poland — both former Warsaw Pact countries. And in addition, rankling Moscow by inviting two former Soviet states, Georgia and Ukraine, to join Nato — an action perceived by Moscow as outright defiance. The Russians regard the deployment of US missiles in Eastern Europe as targeting them, even though the US has insisted that the missiles are defensive, and meant to deter future threats emanating from other sources — read here Iran.

Russian offers to participate in the missile defence project and to install them in a former Central Asian Soviet republic, such as Azerbaijan, were summarily dismissed by Washington as inadequate and with facilities that are too antiquated.

Combine the aggravation Bush has provided Russia with one of his Middle East policies, ignoring — and in fact demonising — two central figures and key players in the region, Syria and Iran. These two lines of foreign policy, espoused and acted upon during the greater part of his eight years in the White House, can only precipitate Damascus and Teheran to turn towards Moscow for political, military and moral support.

The uni-polar policy enjoyed by the US during the last eight years while Bush was in the White House will likely be replaced once again by a bi-polar system of power, with the Russians picking up where the Soviets left off; albeit with far less deterrent force than the Soviets once commanded.

Of course, we will never know for certain, but Russia's support in helping resolve the Arab-Israeli dispute, had it been sought, might have introduced an era of stability in the turbulent Middle East. Instead, the Bush doctrine will be remembered as one that left the country locked in two wars in the Muslim world, as well as a world wide militarism called the US war on terror, all fomenting anti-US sentiments in much of the Arab and Muslim world.

If that isn't bad enough, Bush's policies leave behind the development of a new and resurgent type of cold war. As a result of this emerging new Cold war era, new and potentially disadvantageous alliances against US national interests may begin to develop in the Middle East — where Russia's newly found status as a power to be reckoned with will once again emerge.

Claude Salhani is editor of the Middle East Times and a political analyst in Washington

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