STRAIGHT TALK by Hafeez Khan
The main arterial road in Tehran is named after the renowned Persian poet Firdowsi. The author of “Shanameh”, one of the longest epic poem created by a single author. Known as “Book of Kings”, written a thousand years ago, it comprises nearly 50,000 couplets. It captures the history of Persian Empire, essence of Persian society, its people and their traits.
I remember visiting Tehran before the fall of the Shah. Iranians were friendly, well cultured, romantic, confident and fiercely proud nationalists. Walking the streets of Tehran was refreshing and reminded me of walks through Paris. Persians were never colonized. However their rulers in 20th century relied more heavily on colonial powers than its own people. It created a deep undercurrent of resentment against the West leading to the events of 1979.
Iran became a tightly squeezed pariah state. I marvel the Iranian people. They survived nearly four decades of isolation never giving up and kept their heads held high. They faced economic hardships and restrictions without wincing. They did not compromise or turn with a begging bowl. Iranians reaction to their weak rulers permitting exploitation of Iran’s resources was channeled against the West by Ayatollah Khomeini. Iranians have a long memory.
There were spontaneous demonstrations in Tehran against 9/11 twin towers attack. President Khatami (1997-2005) curbed the anti west sentiments. It was not until July 2015 that the ice broke with President Obama signing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Hope emerged for peaceful resolution of regional disputes.
But it did not last long. President Trump’s victory changed the course of history yet again. The inherent strength of American policy making developed over decades took a nose dive. I recollect visiting Washington with PM IK in the late nineties and meetings with think tanks and other forums. Discussions would be held with a horizon of a decade or multiple decades. Subject experts would opine and suggest policy options with global implications.
Under Trump the decision making became highly personalized. His urge to dominate overtook national interest. USA receded from being a global power with military might into a self-serving regional power. He pulled out of the Nuclear Deal and applied maximum squeeze on Iran. Iranian oil revenues dropped from 4 million barrels a day down to a dribble. The pragmatic Iranian rulers ran out of options.
China was watching this Iranian vulnerability patiently. It moved in strategically to capitalize on an opening that is mutually beneficial. America’s knee on Iran’s neck will be undone through this reported 400 billion dollar deal spanning 25 years. Investment parameters are wide ranging in Iran, and China gets oil at a discount. Trump’s aggression has pushed two of his biggest foes together!
It is a tremendous boost to the Belt and Road Initiative. Economic chokehold through sanctions will go for a six. India stands to be sidelined as an American surrogate. It was still reeling from the nose bleed in Ladakh, now being chucked out of Chabahar. It’s closest ally to the West is Israel. All transactions will be in RMB. What a blow to the almighty US dollar!
How did it all happen? USA’s influence now on the global scene is at its lowest since its heydays of the sixties. How could the mighty fall so quickly? America emerged as a super power after World War 1. President Woodrow Wilson used the term “New World Order” for the first time defining it as a “dramatic change in world political thought and balance of power”. League of Nations, the precursor to UN emerged from it.
World order was briefly referred in 1945 Malta Conference between President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill to circumvent the embarrassment of failure of League of Nations.
The latest “New World Order” was announced at the end of cold war on September 11, 1990 by Presidents Gorbachev and G.H.W Bush. It was touted as “the path to the elusive peace”. Unipolar status of USA was accepted stating “there is no substitute of American leadership”. This was put to test the 1st time in Gulf War of 1991. It emerged relatively unscathed.
Through Afghan and Iraq war this doctrine hemorrhaged heavily, finally falling apart in President Trumps first term. His position preferring “politics over science” and “personal gains over strategy” set the trajectory of events unfolding now. COVID-19 and George Floyd have severely exposed flaws in Trump’s brand of governance.
USA has the highest number of infections, hospitalizations and deaths. It is combating COVID as 50 countries not as 50 states due to lack of Federal policy or direction. The country is deeply polarized. Wearing a mask has turned into a red rag to a bull. With one of highest literacy rates Americans are showing a total disconnect between education and common sense!
Scientific models predict that there will be 250,000 deaths in US by November 2020 unless precautions are universally followed. President Trump siding with “Nay Sayers” will be the cause. It may lose him the November elections but he is too far down this road to pull back with some face saving!
In all this chaos China has put a stamp to its emergence as a global power. We are witnessing a “New World Order” unfold with two super powers. It sits well for Pakistan. The cruel suppression in Kashmir was demoralizing. It is compensated by Chinese presence in Ladakh close to the Indian main artery. The significance of CEPC in Belt and Road Initiative has increased manifolds. The new global balance of power should provide much needed comfort to Pakistan. We can see it unfolding through launching of Diamer Basha dam with more to follow!