Reverse Swing?

Last month just on the eve of Christmas US President Donald Trump surprised the world when he suddenly announced that the US was pulling out its troops from Syria. He also expressed his desire to minimise US military presence in Afghanistan. While delivering holiday greetings to US soldiers at an air base west of Baghdad he defended his decision of immediate pull out in the face of adverse criticism at home, saying 'US cannot be world's policeman'. But he never explained who asked America to play the role of 'world cop'. Ever since the end of World War II and aggravation of Cold War in the forties, America, the lone super power that has benefited enormously from war, has been world's policeman. They have been maintaining hundreds of military bases across the world to dominate the planet earth.

For one thing American involvement in Syria has all along token. Syria is mainly the gamble of Nato, more precisely France and Britain. The US currently has some 2000 troops in Syria which are now gradually headed home. Washington has long been trying to get rid of Syria while fortifying its base in Iraq which US could use as a regional launching pad to carry out military operations against the ISIS in Syria. With the defeat of ISIS, Trump finds no reason to prolong American exercise in Syria as he would ask his client states, particularly Turkey to finish the unfinished agenda while allowing Saudi Arabia to invest in the war-ravaged country. In reality Trump doesn't want to invest money in Syrian war anymore.

The Syrian situation is simply bone-chilling, American withdrawal or no withdrawal. Syrians have no respite from being haunted by blood-letting and devastation. The people of Syria are the worst victims of a prolonged civil war backed by two major power blocs and the notorious jihadist outfit ISIS. Syrians have forgotten to live in peace—and peace being the most precious commodity in today's Syria the Syrian refugees have no reasons to celebrate the advent of 2019. Nearly 6 million Syrians and over 5 million internally displaced persons have nowhere to go in their own country. This is the price they are paying for a bloody civil war that looks endless. If war means destruction then the West and Russia and Iran backed Assad regime have bombed the country to stone age as they did it earlier in Iraq. Almost all major cities have been razed to the ground. Villages are at worst grave-yards. And refugee camps in Lebanon and Jordan and in Syria itself are living hells, rather apologies of 'shelters'.

Trump's policy is to engage their proxies and force them to finance the unjust war. The occasion has tempted both Turkey and Saudi Arabia to assert themselves as regional powers. In truth Turkey and Iran are racing to fill the vacuum caused by the Trump withdrawal. Saudi Arabia being a latecomer is promising huge investments for reconstruction. In the end Syrians may have to face a more complicated situation to deal with. Whether the Syrian economy will be rehabilitated through active participation of regional Arab powers is open to question.

No doubt Assad has fair chances to get rehabilitated because of strong Russian and Iranian support, after American withdrawal. But Syrians are unlikely to get back their land even if Trump's troops go home. The way Nato and Russian bombers have levelled Syrian villages and towns is beyond repair in the foreseeable future.

But Trump finds it difficult to deploy his regional allies in Afghanistan. Though his intention is to allow India to play mercenary role on his behalf, Pakistan stands in the way. Despite his policy to reduce American soldiers in Afghanistan, it will never be total withdrawal as it is the case in Syria, because American stakes in Afghan war is high due to Iran and China. Here the Uncle Sam is trying to make a deal with the Taliban while exploring possibilities of less investment without losing grip over Afghan economy and society.
The hawks in the American administration look divided over Trump's 'America first' policy. So US Defence Secretary James Mattis resigned in protest.

That American retreat in geopolitics, particularly in the Middle East theatre is a fact of life. The decline of American economy is all too apparent. What really matters is cost of war, both in terms of dollars and 'body bags'. May be Vietnam syndrome is back, albeit there is no serious anti-war demonstration in America. How far public sentiment will influence policy makers will be put to test when the new House votes to end the government shutdown without granting money for Trump's pet project of border wall with Mexico.

Right-wing political surge that was the order of the day even a decade ago is on the defensive in many countries. What is logical is limited revival of left as recent turmoil in France suggests. Economic slow-down may endanger most rightist forces in Europe.

Nearer home aggressive postures by the ultra-right Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) faces resistance from different quarters, paving the way for left revival. The BJP seems to have abandoned the idea of building Ram Temple at the disputed site bypassing the Apex Court, at least for the time being. With every passing day false promises that Modi makes quite often, deepen illegitimacy of Modi's dictatorial rule. More and more toilers are earning less than the minimum wage in most states. Peasants, workers and unemployed youth from across the country have begun to defy saffron authority by joining in protest marches in large numbers. Much depends on how the left seizes the opportunity as the eclipse of political right now appears to be a global phenomenon.


Vol. 51, No.28, Jan 13 - 19, 2019