Nathaniel Manheru THE OTHER SIDE—
The other day a deeply disturbed friend murmured about “the uncertain times we are living in”. This was his reaction to the fast-paced events in the Middle East, escalated by the ominous military entry of Russia. And “ominous” is not judging the moral value of Russia’s entry, only reading the great potential there is for a widening, possibly nuclear, confrontation.
For the first time in history, we have NATO planes and Russian planes roaring in the same skies, throwing bombs in the same country purportedly against the same enemy, but asking each other bemusedly why both are in Syria, why they are bombing, and who they are bombing. The only thing which seems certain is the shared fear that a mishap involving both armies might just ripple into a major cosmic confrontation whose guaranteed outcome is mutual annihilation. Hence my friend’s deep, cosmic concern.
New moral cosmos
Well, sorry, far from being alarmed, I am actually amused at the turn of events in the Middle East. That is not to suggest I have no heart for the dead and dying, all of them Arabs, all of them humans. And no amount of labelling takes the inherent humanity in them at all. I empathise, the only contribution that I can give, one that gives nobility to the powerless. One cannot not have both raw power and the power of empathy.
But I firmly assert that it is not the times that are uncertain; it is the moral cosmos, the value universe which has become something of a perplexity. And a moral crisis of such global magnitude, in history, is always known to wrought a new order, known to presage a major reordering of the global system as we have known it. Only when verities are challenged, only when certainties of yesteryears become gnawing doubts of today, is man emboldened to draw up a new plan for a new home, planetary home.
The story of papacy
The end of papacy in world affairs, sorry in the western world, began as a meltdown of the dominant dogma propounded as Catholicism. The result came by way of antagonistic schisms which finally settled and coalesced into Protestantism, before breaking down again into rivalling sects within that whole protest dogma, a dogma whose key tenet was the rejection of church personages — right up to the Pope — as go-betweens in the interaction between man and his God.
Thereafter, the world that Rome had built crumbled, and with it, its hegemony. Rome ceased to be the centre of the western universe. Much worse, even though the English had upgraded the Anglican Church into the Church of the State, with the English King perched at the top, that breakaway movement would soon spawn other dogmas a strand of which fled the land of Albion aboard the Mayflower, to find a home in the so-called new world, nowadays the Americas.
Before long a new colony was made. Equally, before long, a new colony was lost and Britain, all along the largest world Empire, shrunk in great ignominy, only to recover after scrambling East in a compensatory jump. India became a British colony, the jewel redeeming an otherwise defiled and degraded British crown. In history, a major moral crisis has often preceded the demise of an existing order, has often heralded the rise of a new order founded on new belief premises.
Tragedy in the crib of civilisation
But there is a grimly amusing side to the tragedy playing out in the Middle East, a tragedy whose vortex is Syria. Maybe Syria together with Iraq. And a small reminder: we are focusing on a region which is the waist of the cradle of a segment of human civilisation, a river-rain civilisation like that of Africa’s Egypt.
Recall the Tigris and the Euphrates in history? So interesting that the storm and crack of the current global order has its eye in the cradle of human civilisation. Picture this. Way, way before, in fact soon after Gaddafi’s fall, Syria starts burning, and NATO countries enter the fray, firstly stealthily, later more openly. Uninvited by the sitting Assad government whose fall they seek anyway.
Uncovered by a resolution of the UN, something harder to get, what after a spectacularly fine mess in Libya. Russia watches from the sidelines, watches with seething anger as the west, again led by America, walks into the China-shop with hard hooves of a mighty bull. Beyond using its veto power in the Security Council, there isn’t much else Russia does — or so we thought — than supine moral protests and of course firing a shell or two from its base nearby. Of course Russia supports Assad, but covertly in the main.
Ukraine as a pad
The crisis in Ukraine happens, largely triggered by Ukraine’s wish to be the pad from which the west encircles Russia, all in the name of an expanding NATO. Russia retakes Crimea, to feeble protests founded on a belief that indeed Crimea is Russian in the beginning. Then the action shifts to east Ukraine, becoming clear a pro-NATO Ukraine, so close to Russia, is sufficient causa belli, the only difference being how the war is to be fought.
Russia chooses a proxy war and wages it to a tolerated stalemate. As I write, Putin has told the world he needs a mere two weeks to walk through Ukraine. But he won’t do it, although the mane of the Russian bear, already smoked by gunpowder in the Middle East, stands straight and taut, its punch no longer a matter of speculation. Things can’t be nice to the President of Ukraine, amidst a demonstration of such awesome pounding power.
Russia on the rebound
But there is another element to it. The mayhem in the Middle East, much of it partly sponsored by NATO through her dutiful Arab lackeys like Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Bahrain — collectively the Sunni spearhead — has started drawing fighters from Chechnya, Russia’s Chechnya, soldered by the crescent. And if the west can inspire, arm and command majahedeens against Syria, why won’t they do the same against Russia, using Chechens?
Whose war is being prepared in Syria, a war that has already spun out of control Frankeinstinian style? Russia, rationally paranoid, sees a bigger game at work unfolding. It started with Chechen insurgency, took the state form of a short war with Georgia, then another State form of an Orange Revolution that deposed a friendly Government in Ukraine, and finally the form of a seemingly distant conflict in the Middle East. Barring the sanctions imposed by the West over Ukraine, Russia under Putin had been slowly rebuilding its capacity to resurrect old Soviet counterbalancing power.
I saw the awesome form which this resurrected power has assumed when Russia made a spectacular display of muscle using the pretext of commemorating 70 years of defeating Nazi Germany. In reality Russia was inaugurating its come-back to challenge America, recreating the old bipolar world thereby. In the near-abroad, its proxy fighters had given an Ukraine supported by the west a bloody nose — with military impunity. And because the containment mischief was brewing away in the Middle East, Russia would act in defence of threatened interest, much sooner rather than later.
But in the process also testing its new-found capacity to project itself across continents, and across seas. And for depth, the test would comprise air, sea and screen, with the threat of land, the only other sphere. We have seen Russian airpower on deadly display; we have seen her warships in action; we have seen Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister performing spectacularly in the screen — and in English, the lingua Franca of the west, forcing Obama to do a matching act, but only in American English. RT — Russia Today — has had a relaunch as the media correlative to Russia’s global relaunch, through this war in Syria.
You killed my terrorist
My focus is on global moral disintegration, itself a precursor to remaking the world anew. If a major confrontation between these two nuclear powers is ever to break out — and God forbid — it shall not be over Alsace and Lorraine, or Rhineland, both proverbial of annexation of a portion of an aggressed country’s territory. It shall be over a charge that “you killed my terrorist”. What a high moral horse to ride on en route to an Armageddon! Russia says it is bombing ISIS. America says no, you are bombing “good terrorists I created and armed against Assad”. So there are good terrorists?
Russia counters by pulling out reports which show America bombed exactly the same points Russia is now bombing, then telling the world it was hitting ISIS targets. Could it be that in the cauldron of Russia’s laser-guided bombs, America’s erstwhile ISIS targets transfigured to morph into “good terrorists”? And a Russian snort follows: America, tell us where ISIS is, and where good terrorists are! Of course America won’t oblige Russia’s self-fulfilling request.
America asks Russia to leave Syria before it inflames that country further. Russian asks at whose invitation and by what resolution is America and NATO in Syria, itself parading both an invitation from Assad and a UN resolution against ISIS. Anyway, why would Russia’s sorties be the only ones capable of inflaming Syria, and not NATO airstrikes? And as Iran’s Press TV has cynically asked, who is America bombing in Syria?
The day Turkish air was decapitated
Another amusing turn of events. In the fog of the airwar, a Russian bomber strays into Turkish airspace, presumably mortally decapitating Turkish air! What a great genocide, a tremendous crime against humanity! NATO’s Secretary General, one Jens Stoltenberg threatens a NATO war in defence of Turkey, a NATO member. For murdering air? More or less contemporaneously, US Air Force strikes an MSF hospital at Kunduz in Afghanistan, killing about 29 medical staff and patients who can’t run away, who are bed-ridden by ailments.
Another 34 cannot be found, to this day, a good week later. The UN hints at that as a war crime. NATO is quiet: there is only a collective defence pact, never a collective condemnation of outrages, of wanton killings of civilians. Murdering air can cause a war, a nuclear war.
Killing innocent civilians prostrated by ailments attracts no penalties. A brave world indeed. In the meantime the same US which wants Russia out, does not want Saudi Arabia out in Yemen, another cauldron. And like America, the Saudi Air Force struck a wedding feast, killing 51 civilians!
Not to be undone, the British, through their general, one Sir Adrian Bradshaw, hit out at the threat of “Russian expansionism”, calling it “an obvious existential threat to our whole being”! Britain, worrying about expansionism? By the last word belongs to Neil Clark, a commentator: the West is defending moderate terrorists who until Russian involvement have been nowhere but are now everywhere. The Russians, on the other hand, are bombing ISIS terrorists who have been everywhere but are now nowhere! If it is true that great nations often reflect great character and purpose, what is happening in the Middle East is the exact opposite, an announcement that the great age of the Dunciad is come.
Against such moral relativism, the world lacks common norms and standards by which to judge actions and situations objectively. War, not high moral cause, appear the rationale. War has become the therapy, the elixir to the global political leadership. Except it needs victory of the politician to enjoy the therapy. Who will win? It’s not clear, although the game in town is one of counting and comparing victims by identity of bombs, by the national colours on fighter crafts, never by human toll. What a new world! A brave one? Maybe.