The Middle East & Central Asia - How Will They Fit In Under An American Proconsul?
*** Meanwhile, The Number Of Arab States Flying Aid To Iraq, Both With And Without UN Approval, Is Steadily Increasing
*** Col. Qadhafi Makes His First Visit To Jordan In 17 Years & Will Go On To Syria And Saudi Arabia
NICOSIA - Like Pax Romana during the high period of the Roman Empire, the US is moving slowly but steadily to impose a Pax Americana throughout the world. In the Middle East and Central Asia, the influence of Pax Americana already covers most countries in varying degrees - usually through security arrangements and aid mechanisms which safeguard extensive business interests. Those falling outside the sphere of Pax Americana used to be called "rogue" states, but recently they have been designated as "states of concern". This has been mainly to allow greater flexibility for the US in dealing with such countries, on the one hand, and to entice them to come under the shade of Pax Americana on the other.
According to several regional experts consulted by APS, the question of how to fit in with the concept of Pax Americana will become increasingly important for allies of the US in the Middle East and Central Asia. This is partly because there will be domestic players, for example Islamic extremists, who will not accept the idea of Pax Americana. Depending on the overall situation in the Middle East and Central Asia, the importance of the domestic factor will fluctuate, affected by developments related to the Arab-Israeli peace process and/or by the situation in Afghanistan, among other things.
The difficulties of fitting in will become more acute as US influence becomes more obvious, the experts say. Already, American dealings with the region have an imperial touch. Even relatively low-ranking US officials who visit have immediate access to the leaders of countries in the region, while the opinions of American ambassadors and their staff are often solicited even for domestic affairs. Most noticeable, however, is the emergence of the powerful American regional commanders-in-chief (CINC) as important geo-political figures. They are known as "CINCs" and the territories under their control are referred to as "sinkdoms" (see details).
The four regional commands of the US armed forces are the European Command (NATO and parts of Africa), the Central Command (the Middle East and Central Asia), the Southern Command (for South and Central America) and the Pacific Command (East & most of South Asia). These commands were expanded in the mid-1980s with the commanders put in charge of operations involving the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines. Since then they have developed into mammoth institutions, with huge budgets, and massive firepower at their disposal - turning the commanding officers into modern-day versions of the Roman empire's Proconsuls.
The Central Command was led until recently by US Marine Corps Gen. Anthony Zinni, who played a key role in various US policy formulations for his military theatre, which covers 25 countries. He has been replaced by Gen. Tommy Franks. As the "Proconsul" in the region, Franks will be a "soldier-diplomat" who is in a position to uniquely combine military pressure and diplomacy. While US allies in the region generally welcome the CINC with the pomp and ceremony usually reserved for a head of state or a high ministerial official, they are well aware of the domestic and regional implications of having an American officer appearing to directly influence their foreign or domestic policy.
So far, the experts point out, the CINCs in the region have been relatively careful not to appear intrusive or imperial, in keeping with the easy-going approach of the Democratic Clinton administration. Things may not stay that way for a number of reasons. Firstly, the outcome of the presidential election in the US remains uncertain - despite the lead for Al Gore in the opinion polls. Republican administrations generally tend to have a more robust or aggressive approach towards regional problems, and George Bush Jr.'s foreign policy advisors have already said they would like to oust the rulers of rogue states.
Secondly, the situation in the Middle East and Central Asia is becoming fluid because: (a) the peace process between the Arabs and Israel appears on the verge of collapse over the question of Jerusalem, with the latest upsurge of violence in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Israel indicating that the worst may be yet to come; (b) there is a growing penetration of Islamic militancy throughout Central Asia, spreading out of the hub of Islamic militancy in the Afghanistan/Pakistan zone; (c) Iraq is becoming increasingly bold in its efforts to get the embargo removed or to cause its collapse, with Russia, France and several Arab countries already testing to see how far they can go in challenging the sanctions regime. In such an environment, the experts believe it will neither be easy nor advisable for the allies of the US to appear to be too close to the US position.
Thus, the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) states and Egypt have been among the harshest critics of the Israeli crackdown on Palestinian rioters in the West Bank and Gaza. These countries, together with Jordan, have been among the quickest to provide humanitarian aid to the injured. They are well aware that public sentiment is very much against the US, which blocked moves towards a UN resolution condemning the Israeli action. While the moderate Arab states do not oppose the tough stance of the US against Iraq in private, in public they are sympathetic towards the "suffering of the Iraqi people".
Yet, according to the experts, what all this points out is that - no matter what public opinion is in the Arab World - most of its rulers are not going to detach themselves from the influence of Pax Americana because they themselves benefit from it. As such, the role of the Proconsuls can only increase in the coming years.
The Power Of The Proconsuls: According to a serialised report in 'The Washington Post' starting on Sept. 28, the CINCs have amassed tremendous power in their hands since the mid-1980s. They have become virtually semi-autonomous centres of American power, with the commanding officers having more military power at their disposal than many of the countries in their regions. The report says that three of the CINCs "have staffs as large as the executive office of the president". It adds that "more people, about 1,100, work at the smallest CINC headquarters, the US Southern Command, than the total assigned to the Americas at the State, Commerce, Treasury and Agriculture departments, the Pentagon's Joint Staff and the office of the secretary of defense".
In addition, the CINCs control their own aircraft, can call up a fleet of helicopters, and often travel with an entourage approaching 35. They spend $50 million a year on four foreign study institutes for U.S. and foreign officials. Another $20 million a year goes for conferences that include non-military topics such as environmental degradation, medical care, mine clearance, piracy, drug trafficking and policing. Each operates a huge intelligence centre staffed 24 hours a day. Indeed, some regional leaders prefer to deal with the CINC than with the US State Department or the Washington administration officials.
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|Publication:||APS Diplomat News Service|
|Date:||Oct 9, 2000|
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