By Claude Salhani - Trend:
"In politics there are no permanent enemies and no permanent friends, only permanent interests." Indeed, there is little in the world that is stranger or more bizarre than the world of geo-politics.
It's a world where anything and everything goes and is justified under a variety of labels pertaining to the country's national interest. It's a world where the words of Lord Palmerston, a former British prime minister, quoted above, explain much of what we are seeing today playing itself out in world of politics. Amid what is without a doubt a time of great transition in world politics with the planet still feeling the after effects of the collapse of communism that occurred in the 1990s and the great void it left behind.
There are a great many examples of countries demonstrating the "no permanent friends" doctrine. A good example is the trouble the United States went through to expel Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein from Kuwait. The formidable international coalition that President George Bush, pére, was able to put in place was done not so much to defend Kuwait, nor to punish Iraq, but rather to protect U.S. oil interests in the Middle East.
Today, Middle East politics is topsy-turvy with countries re-aligning their foreign policies in ways not seen before, as yesterday's enemies are suddenly friends or vice-versa.
Confused? Indeed, you are not the only one. To keep it simple, it basically boils down to this: my enemy's enemy is my friend.
Al-Qaida, some of us may recall, (while others are trying hard to forget), was created with the help of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency in order to help put down an attempt by the Soviet Union to occupy Afghanistan. So, the U.S. and al-Qaida started out as friends, became distant, and we know the rest of the story. Until now, that is.
Today, the Islamist group that carried out the worst terrorist attack in the history of the United States is supporting the same side in the Syrian civil war, or rather it might be more correct to say, they are opposing the same side. How did that go again? The enemy of my enemy.... Well, the U.S. and al-Qaida are not exactly friends and it's highly unlikely they ever will be, even if they end up fighting the same enemy.
And just to prove the old British politician right, if al-Qaida and the U.S. are technically on the same side in Syria, in neighboring Iraq they find themselves on opposing sides, with the U.S. supporting the Iraqi government and al-Qaida the other side.
But just a minute, want to drive home that thought about yesterday's friends and tomorrow's enemies, or the other way around? The U.S. and the Islamists may be supporting the same front in Syria, but in Iraq, the U.S. supports the legitimate government and military, as is ... are you ready for this? So is the Islamic Republic of Iran!
Remember them? The U.S. has had no official relations with the Iranians since a group of Iranian "students" took over the U.S. Embassy in Tehran during the 1979 revolution, holding 52 U.S. diplomats hostage for 444 days.
The Middle East has in recent history often been a turbulent place. However, in the past conflicts tended to be of short duration with interim peace, and conflicts were interrupted by long periods of stability. That, regretfully, no longer seems to be the case.
Today, the turmoil remains and the stability that interjected itself between times of conflict and that allowed people in this region to overcome the difficulties of political instability and open warfare is becoming something of a rarity.
What is becoming apparent however is that with the end of the Cold War, countries that previously played a major role in the region - Egypt, Syria and Iraq - are today pre-occupied by internal strife that is keeping them tied down in their home patch.
And those that have not experienced the humility of foreign occupation are looking over the castle walls to make sure no U.S. Marines are about to come calling, as the Saudis would have liked the U.S. to do in Syria.
While there is little doubt that a regime as brutal as the one in place in Damascus should not remain in power, what is questionable is whether Saudi Arabia's policy is a smart one and whether it can backfire and eventually spread the conflict from the Levant to the oil-rich Gulf region, a region that until now has been largely spared the type of violence seen in the Levant.
One certainty is that if the violence continues unchecked in Syria, it is only a matter of time before it spreads. The Middle East is on the verge of unprecedented turmoil with no end in sight. The frightening thought is what would happen to the global economy if the fires of the Levant reach the oil fields of the Gulf?
Claude Salhani is a journalist and political analyst specializing in the Middle East, Central Asia and terrorism. He is senior editor of the English service of the Trend Agency in Baku, Azerbaijan. Follow him on Twitter @claudesalhani.com
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