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Thursday, February 15, 2024

US-Iran standoff has further exposed limitations of US Power?

Author, a Harvard educated lawyer, explains how events since 9/11 and repeated use of military muscle is reducing American power. Washington is pushing itself into wars that it cannot handle decisively. China and Russia are emerging as rival centres of power. American century is fast coming to an end and this latest US-Iran conflict has further exposed limitations of US power.

Opinion |

Ongoing Iran and the United States saga has been a revealing insight into contemporary world politics. It has exposed the latent interests of international powers in this region and sounded the gong for the coming of a new Great Game in our neighborhood. And perhaps most importantly, Iran’s retaliation in response to the martyrdom of Gen Soleimani has called the United States’ bluff of military might, and its stomach for another protracted war in the Middle East.

Let us try to unpack these issues, one at a time.

The defeat of the Soviet forces in Afghanistan during the 1980s, followed by the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1991 and the resulting collapse of the Soviet Union in December of that year, ushered in the age of a unipolar world. For the first time, since the collapse of the Roman Empire, the world had was ‘dominated’ by a single country: in this case the United States. This extraordinary turn of events ushered in a decade of uninterrupted prosperity for the United States, during the 1990s. Their military power was unchallenged. Their economic reach was unimpeded. And their political capital seemed inexhaustible.

Free Trade Agreements, and trade tariff restrictions were used to garner support. And when enough ostensible support had been gathered, the invasion of Iraq was planned

History bears testament that any time one nation has enjoyed dominance over its peers, it has also simultaneously fallen prey to its own devices. And the United States was no different.

At the turn of the century, in the wake of 9/11, the United States decided to flex its unipolar muscle. Operation ‘Enduring Freedom’ was launched on 7th October 2001, and the United States invaded a defenseless Afghanistan, under the banner of ‘War against Terror’.

The invasion was a piece of cake. The power mismatch could not be starker. On the one hand, it was the greatest technological military empire that the world had ever seen; on the other were people with sticks and stones (literally). The United States was arrogant. It was boorish. It threatened ‘shock and awe’. And it delivered without any real impediments.

The unipolar world was at play. And no one – even long-term allies of Afghanistan, e.g. Pakistan – could stand in the way or resist the inevitability of United States’ military campaign. Winning the battle for the invasion was easy. Winning the war of Afghanistan has proven to be an impossible task over the past two decades. (But the U.S. did not know that at the start).

Read more: Gen. Qasem Soleimani: Master of Covert Operations

At the heels of Afghan invasion, the United States got surer of its military prowess. Toppling Afghanistan was no more than a video-game for United States military. What else can it do? Where else can it go?

Drunk on the intoxication of its own power, members of the Bush administration devised a more pervasive plan. A New World Order. A recreating of the Middle East to suit the interests of the United States. Every tool, at the disposal of the United States, will be used in this pursuit. The global media machine (CNN, Fox, etc.). International bodies of political power (e.g. UN and UNSC). Using such unipolar global power status, the United States first created a fake excuse: Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. The global media machine turned a blind eye to the facts on the ground, and used its influence to drum up war hysteria. Next, the United States’ influence in global political entities was used to create a false sense of international coalition. Free Trade Agreements, and trade tariff restrictions were used to garner support. And when enough ostensible support had been gathered, the invasion of Iraq was planned.

Once again, the invaded country could not punch back. Following decades of sanctions, Iraq had no ability to fight the United States military machine. It was always going to be a walk in the park. To the extent that, with 24 hours of launching the invasion in March of 2003, Donald Rumsfeld (the then U.S. Secretary of Defense) announced ‘complete air superiority’ over the Iraqi airspace.

The invasion was simple. Winning the war in Iraq remains an elusive (unachievable?) goal.

Iran was not going to simply fold over. Like Afghanistan. Or Iraq. It was going to punch back. And suddenly, the bully (read: United States) was in the line of fire

In the years that followed, the United States began to realize the limits of its military power. The myth of a unipolar world had started to crumble, as China grew out from the shadows, and a resurgent Russia gathered strength under the leadership of Vladimir Putin. Friends and foes, living under the erstwhile unipolar world, had other international options to look towards. And as a result, in the following decade, the regime changes, desired by the U.S., could not be properly effectuated in Syria, Lebanon, and large parts of the gulf empires.

But even as the edifice of United States’ unipolar political power dwindled, the myth of its military might remained intact. And based on this idea of “biggest and by far the BEST in the World” military empire (quoting President Trump), the United States decided to tempt Iran into a military battle.

Manner? First, it was to stir the possibility of military conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran, following attack and the Aramco attack. And when that did not work, the United States decided to directly attack Iran, through the unprovoked martyrdom of General Qasem Soleimani.

Read more: ‘Act of war’: Pompeo openly accuses Iran of Saudi Oil Attack

Policy thinkers, within the deep State establishment at Pentagon and Langley, had underestimated Iran’s response. In particular, the United States had entirely misread the sentiment of the people in the Middle East, and the respect (read: devotion) that the Shia crescent had for General Soleimani. And most importantly, the United States had miscalculated Iran’s resolve and ability to respond.

For the first time, since dilution of the unipolar world, United States feared military retaliation. Unlike Afghanistan (which did not have modern military equipment to retaliate) or Iraq (which had feeble and decaying military power), Iran is not a push-over. It has a functional military force and a reasonable regional footprint. Of course, Iran’s military might does not match that of the United States, but it certainly has a spine. And enough resolve to defend its own frontiers.

As soon as Iran resolved to retaliate to the drone strike, the United States’ bluff had been called. Iran was not going to simply fold over. Like Afghanistan. Or Iraq. It was going to punch back. And suddenly, the bully (read: United States) was in the line of fire.

This is a lesson worth remembering in the years to come. We now live in the post-neocon world.

Almost immediately, the tone of the United States President, and that of its international media machine, changed. What was going to happen? Why did Trump attack General Soleimani? Can we fight another war? What happened to the promise of bringing troops back? All of these, and more, were questions arising out of fear of retaliation. It was typical bully behavior. You are macho till the victim is defenseless. As soon the victim grows a spine and decides to punch back, the bully was going to retract from its position and make a run for it.

In the days that followed, Secretary Pompeo called all international stakeholders and urged them to convince Iran that the United States did not want any escalation. That it did not want war. That it was willing to negotiate. Unconditionally, almost. And once Putin paid a visit to Bashar Al Assad in Syria, putting Russia’s weight and power behind Iran-sympathetic forces in the region, the United States entirely retreated from its policy of chest-thumping.

The bully’s bluff had been called. And, like all bullies, the bravado was fizzled out. In its place, all that is left is a broken aspiration of global dominance.

Read more: Dr. Moeed Yusuf plans “inclusive” national security policy for Pakistan

Everyone watching – especially in the region – now knows: the United States does not have the stomach for another war. And the unipolar world has now crumbled.

This is a lesson worth remembering in the years to come. We now live in the post-neocon world.

Saad Rasool is a lawyer based in Lahore. He has an LL.M. in Constitutional Law from Harvard Law School. He can be reached at saad@post.harvard.edu, or Twitter: @Ch_SaadRasool. This article originally appeared at The Nation and has been republished with the author’s permission. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.