To explain the current mess in the world with a resurgent al-Qadea conducting conventional warfare operations and a new cold war, I need to start back in 1989, in Panama.
When the USA forced a regime change in Panama in 1989, things went rather smoothly, all things considered. Yes, there were the massive civilian casualties and destruction of property, but there simply doesn’t seem to be a way to avoid those things in any sort of regime change. No, the “smoothly” I use refers to the installation of a pro-US government and the maintenance of Panama as a pro-US client state. We had such a thing under Manuel Noriega until George H. W. Bush repented of his close association with that dictator. But when Noriega had to go, the USA found a ready ally among the Panamanian elites, and Panama persists in its orbit around the USA. All well and good for US interests.
A few years later, when GHW Bush repented of his close association with the dictator Saddam Hussein, he did not opt for a regime change in Iraq. He got the USA a massive base in Saudi Arabia and, later, Kuwait, but he did not support Kurdish or Marsh Arab uprisings against Saddam Hussein. The realpolitik of that decision made perfect sense to me at the time: in Panama, we had extensive contacts that would be loyal to US interests. In Iraq, we had none. Removing Hussein would, at best, give us the devil we did not know and, at worst, plunge the region into a violent conflict involving religious, tribal, and nationalistic factors. Beast though he was, Saddam Hussein kept order in the area.
There was Haiti, where Clinton returned Aristide to power in 1994. Aristide served until 1996, and was reelected in 2001. By 2004, though, he had to go, as he was making business difficult for US multinationals by trying to make them better corporate citizens. He was also making business difficult for drug dealers by arresting a good number of them. Anyone that knows anything about US foreign policy knows that the major US corporations drive that foreign policy and that drug dealers frequently pop up as intelligence assets. Mess with one, the US might lean on your country a bit. Mess with both, and you will not run your nation for much longer.
Which brings me next to Afghanistan: as long as the Taliban were making strides in negotiations with US over a pipeline traversing their country, the media here depicted them as harsh, but decent enough fellows that could bring much-needed order to a chaotic region. When the negotiations fell apart, the media reviled them as cruel vermin that had to be swept aside. 9/11 happened, and the already-underway plans for regime change in Afghanistan had a much more legitimate color. Hamid Karzai, it seems, is the man the US wants in charge there. Perhaps his ties with major oil companies and drug dealers helped in that respect. Accusations that Karzai engaged in election fraud or even power-sharing negotiations with the Taliban have not made him offensive enough to demand replacement in the eyes of US officials.
The point I want to make with all this is that the rest of the world is not Panama or Haiti to the USA. There are places where we don’t have someone ready, waiting in the wings to do our bidding. There are places where other nations have someone ready and waiting to take over, and still others that nobody has a man ready to go, that will dissolve into anarchy, should a strongman be removed.
Since 2001, the people in charge of US foreign policy, regardless of party or ideology, seem to be unaware of the situation described above. The Neocons under bush thought Saddam Hussein could be removed and a pro-US government installed. Years later, a pro-Iranian government came to the fore that gave oilfield concessions to Russia.
The US State Department tried to leverage the Arab Spring movements for its own benefit, preaching that Twitter and YouTube and Facebook would make the world more democratic and wonderful. Instead, Arab Spring toppled the US-backed dictator in Egypt and delivered a very US-hostile Muslim Brotherhood to power.
For some odd reason, the US then chose to back al-Qaeda forces in Libya when they rose against Qaddafi’s government. The US supported the same al-Qaeda forces when they went into Syria to topple Bashir al-Assad. Now that those same al-Qaeda forces are invading Iraq, the USA is not attacking them, but is instead insisting that the regime in Baghdad change. Whaaaaat?
al-Assad is a Shi’a, after a fashion. The rulers in Iraq are Shi’a. The Iranians are Shi’a. The al-Qaeda maniac murderers opposing those three are Sunni. The Qatari and Saudi factions that are backing the al-Qaeda forces are also Sunni. The USA is lining up with those forces. Let me specify that the USA is lining up with extremist Sunni factions that see no political solution for the establishment of an Islamic Caliphate. The more politically involved Muslim Brotherhood did not get USA backing. The highly violent al-Qaeda did.
Now that the USA attempted a regime change in Russia’s own back yard, it’s not any surprise that Russia will make common cause with the Shi’a. Now an age-old Islamic split takes on a new importance in the new cold war. The USA has somehow decided that it cannot ally with moderates in this case: it makes its cause common with ravenous, bloodthirsty war criminals. Russia is on the side of stability, even if it’s the stability of a harsh regime. Honestly, the Russian position makes more sense to me.
I know that the USA makes political hay off of supporting democracies around the world, but the fact remains that if we want reliable allies overseas, it often involves installing dictatorships to serve our ends. Corrupt, criminal, festering dictatorships. We like our Francos and our Somozas and our Marcoses, but if they get a little Mussolini on us and start to flex their muscles, we move to silence them. I don’t see how we’ll be well-served in the long run by violent Sunni extremist terrorists.
Neither do the Chinese. They have their own mess of violent Sunni terrorists to deal with, and they’re not about to provide material aid to their fellow-travelers. That gives them one more reason to side with Russia in the current geopolitical line-up. China also might need to use violence to preserve the integrity of its regime: Russia will not criticize that, while the USA will. That’s yet another reason for China to line up with Russia.
So it’s USA and Sunni extremists against Russia, China, and Shi’a governments. In a matter of time, I see the USA coming out the loser in this contest, reaping the whirlwind that it has sown in supporting the very entity that wants to see it destroyed.