Arab Revolutions and US Recourse to Cold War Strategies

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Mahsa Mah-Pishanian
Ph.D. Candidate and Expert on Middle East Issues

The saga of the ongoing political events in the Middle East following the Arab revolutions has entered a new phase during recent months as a result of the escalation of the civil war in Syria and the changing power structure in Egypt. As a result, not only the existing ideological rivalries between Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Republic of Iran have been intensified, but a model of irregular ethnic tendencies has also dominated the conflicts in the Middle East. In the meantime, the decline in the legitimacy of measures taken by the United States in the region has been accelerated. In the meantime, apart from widespread distrust of the Arab countries toward the United States, their willingness to adopt more pragmatic foreign policies which would suit their own national and regional interests, has emerged as a major threat to the United States’ regional interests. Also, ambiguities surrounding the future outlook of the regional system in the Middle East and political instabilities in countries like Syria and Egypt have been also among major security threats currently posed to the interests of the United States.

In addition, such international players as Russia have found their regional influence and power in the Middle East in decline since the beginning of the sweeping wave of the Arab revolutions. As a result, they have been making efforts within the framework of the soft power balance strategy to counteract the US hegemony. This issue was quite clear in the latest meeting of the Group of Eight (G8) Industrialized Nations in Northern Ireland where they had different viewpoints on how to deal with the ongoing crisis in Syria.

For this reason, the White House officials are currently incapable of getting all influential regional and international players in line with their goals in order to resolve the ongoing political, security, and military crises in Syria and Egypt. Therefore, they have no choice, but to make renewed recourse to conflicting and passive strategies of the “political war” which they practiced during the Cold War. According to George Kennan, one of the main architects of the United States foreign policy during the Cold War era, political war consists of taking advantage of all the methods of short-term war in order to achieve a country’s national goals. According to his definition, the political war can be waged within framework of such covert and overt operations as the creation of political coalitions, offering economic aid (Marshall Plan), white propaganda, clandestine support for the foreign opposition, black psychological war, and even supporting underground resistance forces against hostile states. Henry Kissinger, a former US Secretary of State, believed that the United States can rely on promoting political war under complicated conditions where the chances for the success of military or diplomatic strategies are low.

According to various definitions of the political war, the main goal of such a war is to dominate the minds, hearts, and mindset of the people in a hostile country by taking advantage of soft power capacities. In such a war, this goal is usually achieved through the application of asymmetric and indirect strategies of civil disobedience in order to erode or, at least, reduce the power, influence, legitimacy, authority and ideology of the government among the people. Two very important tactics of civil disobedience, that is, propaganda and sabotage can be used along with such methods as stoking general strikes and demonstrations, in order to face the legitimacy and authority of the government with basic challenges.

At any rate, the fall of the former Soviet Union caused the political and security officials of the United States to lose interest in the American tradition of inciting political war in hostile countries. The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, in the United States, once more reminded the United States security, political and military officials of the high importance of covert and overt operations which are part of such wars. However, due to the absence of accurate political strategies and planning, the United States preferred to focus on military operations in order to counteract terrorism. This measure, however, not only led to further spread of insecurity in the two countries of Afghanistan and Iraq, but also dealt a drastic blow to the legitimacy of the United States in the world.

In the wake of the Arab revolutions, security and military officials of the United States made renewed recourse to the strategies of the political war in order to manage regional crises and made it a top priority on their agenda. Such a war is currently being waged by the United States around three main axes of: 1. preventing further growth of Islamism in the region; 2. preventing any further increase in Iran's influence and impact on regional developments; and 3. marginalizing Russia and preventing it from having much effect on the political developments in the Middle East. This is why the United States policies adopted for the management of crises in various countries including Syria, Egypt and Bahrain – and before them in Yemen – have been widely oscillating. The US policies toward crises in these countries covered a wide spectrum from implied, but belated, support for [the former Egyptian dictator] Hosni Mubarak, to pledging increased military and financial aid to the new Egyptian government; and from sending arms to the militants in Syria to closing its eyes on the savage suppression of people in Bahrain and emphasis on public diplomacy.

To achieve its first goal, that is, to prevent further growth of Islamist tendencies in the region, the United States did its utmost to undermine and even eliminate the role of the Islamist forces in the newly emerging power structures. The post-revolution political developments in Tunisia and Egypt increased the United States concern about the spread of Islamism. In the meantime, the case of Egypt clearly proves that the Americans spared no effort, at first, to prevent the Islamist forces from gaining power in the North African country. However, since the Americans failed to achieve that goal, they apparently chose to work with the government of Mohamed Morsi. Behind the scenes, they took major steps and practically made a great majority of the Egyptian people skeptical about the ability of Morsi and the Islamist figures for running the country’s affairs. At the present time, they [Americans] are trying to ride the tide of political developments in Egypt while pretending to be totally impartial. Of course, they are practically supporting the agents of the coup d’état. The same scenario is being repeated in Tunisia, where a great population is pouring into the streets holding large demonstrations in a bid to expel the Islamist elements from the government. Dragging the Islamist government of Turkey into the vortex of the Syria crisis before withdrawing the US support for Ankara’s involvement in the Arab country should be also construed along the same lines.

Making efforts to prevent a genuine revolution in Bahrain while sparing nothing to support the foreign-backed terrorists in Syria, where there is no doubt about them being foreign mercenaries, has been another strategy used by the United States in order to achieve its second goal, that is, to counter the expanding influence of Iran in the region. The media censorship enforced on the ongoing developments in Bahrain, closing their eyes to blatant violations of human rights in the Persian Gulf country, claiming that the intervention by Iran is the main cause of Bahrain uprising, and making efforts to topple the Syrian President Bashar Assad in order to disrupt the regional chain of anti-Israel resistance were important tactics used by Washington in this regard. In fact, mounting pressure on Hamas in order to adopt incorrect positions on the Arab revolutions and putting the military wing of the Lebanese resistance movement, Hezbollah, on the European Union’s blacklist of terrorist groups – which was done quite recently – can be also justified on the same basis.

Marginalizing the government of Russia by preventing Moscow from having any influence on the political developments in the Middle East is also the third pillar of the United States strategy in the region. Washington is trying to achieve this goal by toppling the government of Syria. During the Cold War era, Syria was a major base for the former Soviet Union in the Middle East. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the government of Russia maintained its presence in the Arab country though at a lower level. So far, the support accorded by Russia and Iran to Assad’s government has been the main reason why, unlike Libya, the United States has not resorted to military action against Damascus yet.

In conclusion, ongoing conflicts over such issues as identity, power, and sovereignty in countries like Egypt, Syria and Bahrain, which have also developed into ethnic, tribal, and sectarian dimensions, can be considered the most important outcome of the United States political war in the Middle East. Perhaps this war would not be able to guarantee the United States’ interests in the short-term but in the long-term it could be to the benefit of Washington and weaken the regional powers in the face of Israel.

Key Words: Arab Revolutions, US, Cold War Strategies, Israel, Syria, Egypt, Islamism, Iran, Russia, Mahsa Mah-Pishanian

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