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Bush and A Reversal of Alliances

Commentary By James B. Chapin
UPI National Political Analyst

NEW YORK, May 30 (UPI) -- George Bush's trip overseas is the latest indication of the great "reversal of alliances" that is beginning to happen in the 21st century.

The term "reversal of alliances," of course, is usually applied to the sudden shift in the 1750s when the two rival Houses of Bourbon and Hapsburg, France and Austria, made up their differences, while England and Prussia became new-found friends. That shift led to the Seven Year's War, which confirmed Prussia as a major power, while establishing British supremacy over France in India and North America.

In those pre-democratic days of monarchical foreign policy, it required only a few people to accomplish such a shift. And, in many nations in recent years, that is still the case. The Chinese decision to break with the Soviet Union, and, later, to ally with the United States against the U.S.S.R., required the assent of only a few people at the very top.

For the United States, of course, such decisions are longer and slower. The demarche to China took many years, and even with the "help" of Stalin, the decision to turn against the U.S.S.R. and to ally with the defeated nations of World War II, Germany and Japan, took nearly three years.

But, if we compare the entire Cold War period to the "balance-of-power" politics of 18th-century Europe, we can see many resemblances.

It is often observed that the relationship of the United States to the Eurasian continent is similar to that which England had to Europe. Just as the British were determined to keep any single land power or combination of powers from dominating Europe, so the United States has had the same goal in Eurasia.

If one breaks Eurasia into six zones of power: Western Europe, Russia, the Muslim World, India, China and Japan, one can see the pattern of the Cold War simply. Japan was always in the American sphere of influence, and, by 1948, so was Western Europe. The Russians gained China in 1949, and an independent India soon became, diplomatically at least, an ally of the Soviet Union. For some three decades the Cold War in the Muslim world pitted American allies -- generally monarchies founded after World War I -- against Russian allies -- generally revolutionary military dictatorships dating to the 1950s.

In the 1970s this pattern broke down. The most important of the Muslim military dictatorships, Egypt, changed sides, and so did China.

Ironically, most Americans thought that the 70s were a time of disaster for American diplomacy, but in fact, American defeat in Vietnam and minor Communist gains in Africa and Latin America could hardly make up for these large-scale disasters for the Soviet Union.

In 1979, Iran left the American alliance, and the Soviets plunged into Afghanistan. In retrospect, 1979 turned out to be the turning point for the world left and for the Cold War. The destruction of the left in both Afghanistan and Iran, the revival of conservative Islamic religion financed by a Wahabi Saudi regime terrorized by revolutionary Iran, and directed, with American help, against the Russians in Afghanistan, and the victory of Margaret Thatcher in Britain and the collapse of the Kennedy campaign in America laid the groundwork for the end of the Soviet Union.

Soviet policy had managed, by the 1980s, to leave the U.S.S.R. with a tepid friendship with India, and the active opposition of just about every other major force in Eurasia. Put this together with economic collapse at home, and the Cold War came to an end.

The decade that followed had an odd character. Like Sydney Smith's pudding, it seemed to have no theme.

But there were themes underneath, just not obvious ones.

One of the most important themes was the "Silver Blaze" theme of what failed to happen, the dog that didn't bark in the night, the economic collapse of Japan. It's easy to forget that the United States was obsessed with a sense of its own failure and of Japan's success, just a decade ago.

The "disappearance' of Japan was a necessary, if not sufficient, condition of America's development into a "hyperpower."

Meanwhile, the triumphant "Cold Warriors" of America didn't have much in mind except a rather vague continuation of Cold War attachments. Most neo-conservative commentators, for example, still saw Russia and its old allies as foes.

Evidences of this sort of thinking continue even in the present administration -- John Bolton's recent list of six nations, for example, includes two remaining Communist nations (North Korea and Cuba), the Iranian revolutionary regime (although it is clearly in its Thermidorian phase), and three of the old Soviet allies from the Arab military regimes of the 1950s (Iraq, Syria, and Libya).

So far from being an exciting new list, this is the butt-ends of an old one.

Bush came to power criticizing Clinton for being too accommodating to Russia and China, too involved in the Middle East, and too concerned about "nation-building." It is, of course, a cliche that he has exceeded Clinton in all these respects.

What makes the present reversal of alliances hard to accomplish is that America's greatest foes in Eurasia are the new allies with which we won the Cold War -- China and Islam.

And, if Islam and China are likely foes, then Russia and India are likely allies. In fact, they are more trustworthy allies than Europe is.

The "world opinion" which is held to be against America turns out, upon inspection, to be Muslim and European opinion, with occasional contributions from the Chinese.

There are substantial interests in the United States with close ties to China and the Moslem world, and these interests have influence in the American political system, just as pro-Soviet interests had influence in the 1945 political system of the United States. The Truman administration took care of that, something which the Bush administration seems unlikely to do itself.

But reality is reality -- despite the fact that Pakistan is necessary for the war in Afghanistan, and that Pakistan is more in the right on Kashmir than is India, the reality of implacable Indian opposition to Muslim terror remains. India is more friendly to American interests now than it has been at any time in its history.

Similarly, no matter the desire to "finish off the Cold War" by transferring all the Warsaw Pact nations into NATO, the reality that Putin is a more reliable ally than Chirac is forcing the United States into a close relationship with Russia.

So expect the new Eurasian power line-up to look like this: with the United States, India and Russia, against the United States, most of the Muslim world, China; out of the loop, Japan; and sulking noisily on the sidelines, torn between Muslim voters and rioters, American culture and power, and their own sense that they ought to matter more than they do: Europe.

The "reversal of alliances" is happening in slow-motion, but it's hard to see how it can be stopped, as long as the majority of Muslims define themselves as hostile to the United States.

Copyright 2002 by United Press International


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