Anton Goryunov writes from Cairo: As US Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta visits North Africa and the Middle East, stopping in Israel yesterday to discuss the civil war in Syria and Iran’s nuclear ambitions, among other things, the question that is hanging in the air, if you pardon the graphic imagery here, is this: who the hell advises the top guns in Washington about the state of things in the world?
Consider this: before arriving in Israel Mr Panetta said in an interview that President Bashar al-Assad needed ‘to get the hell out’ of Syria as quickly as possible, suggesting at the same time that the Syrian army should be allowed to stay put and provide security of chemical weapons and law and order generally. The US Secretary of Defence also said that it was important for America not to make the same mistake it made in Iraq where the armed forces and the police loyal to Saddam Hussein were disbanded and chaos erupted. In his valued opinion the military and the police and even the security forces could be maintained in Syria to – wait for it – provide the transition to a democratic form of government.
Now, let’s get this straight: Mr Panetta is obviously under the impression that the Syrian army that is currently battling the rebels, who are armed from abroad, would simply carry on regardless and all the insurgents would just lay down their arms and everyone would wait till democracy kicks in. How did that great plan materialise in the Pentagon? Because there must have been advisors there who have been briefing the top brass on the situation in Syria and they must have been saying all sorts of things about the civil war there. It would be great to know whether these experts told their bosses that the army and the security forces in Syria are mostly Alawi Shia, while the rebels are all Sunnis. And if one side prevails, the other side would not rest until it gets its own way. So the idea that al-Assad goes while his loyal forces become part of a reconciliation process leading to democracy is a bit – how can I put it mildly? – farfetched. Bonkers, if you want a serious academic opinion.
And with this in mind we had the Secretary of Defence Panetta visiting Israel, to discuss a possible military response to Iran getting the nuclear bomb. If we assume that Mr Panetta has such an amazing grip on realities in Syria, imagine what sort of ideas he can produce when it comes to Iran. They may well be bold and drastic ideas that would sound great in the offices of the Pentagon and in the memos of distinguished US military strategists but they may have nothing to do with things on the ground in Iran and the Middle East generally. And, most importantly, they would not help to boost the security of Israel which is finding itself surrounded by new regimes that seem to think that wiping it out is not such a bad idea after all. (Funny, isn’t it, how the US is always talking about its dedication to protect Israel while creating even more security problems for it?)
Mr Panetta is obviously not the only high ranking US official who is being fed some pretty wild ideas by his own people. Look at Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State and, disturbingly, a possible contender for the presidency in 2016, who travels around the planet under an obvious illusion that America is actually making all the right moves in all sorts of places. As if the likes of Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Pakistan and some other hot spots are not testimony to the failures of Mrs Clinton’s department.
And President Barack Obama is obviously getting some pretty fancy foreign policy advice as well, failing to understand that if America continues to inflame the situation across North Africa and the Middle East it just might happen that the next world war will originate there.
Bring back the Cold War days, I say, when at least it was clear that a Hot War was not a possibility, simply because the world was controlled by two nuclear superpowers and both knew that they would not survive a major conflict.