How the West Lost the Hearts and Minds of the People, of the People of the Middle East
Russia has now officially entered into its first overseas war, since its former days of the Soviet Union and its foray into Afghanistan in December 1979 to February 1989.
Insurgent groups ("the Mujahedeen") who received aid from several Western countries and several Muslim countries, fought against the Soviet Army and allied Afghan forces. Therefore, this became, to a large extent, a “proxy war,” of America v’s the Soviet Union. It was a long, bloody and drawn-out battle of wits and pure survival tactics, for the Soviet Army boys, against the Mujahedeen; lasting ten, long years.
Very often, the results of their gruella/partisan attacks were swift, surprising and, therefore, quite devastating. Their primary goal, however, was to wear down the moral of the Soviet soldier, because they realised that they could never take on (and win) over the might of the Soviet Army in a conventional battle.
The Mujahedeen consisted of mainly of young, local people, who knew their area well – the topography, the terrain, as well as all the best places from which to launch their surprise attacks and then retreat and hide, from any revenge strikes, with relative ease.
Between 850,000–1.5 million civilians were killed and millions of Afghans fled the country as refugees, mostly to Pakistan and Iran. It was a bitter battle, with the Soviet Army finally leaving Afghanistan in the winter of 1989. More or less with its tail between its legs – rather like the way in which the American army was forced to finally quit Vietnam.
As it was, for the American Army in Vietnam, so it was for the Soviet Army in Afghanistan. They were largely unloved and seen as “invaders,” rather than that of a neighbouring country, with far superior military might and know how; of trying to restore any degree of governable stability to Afghanistan – albeit they were there at the invitation of the then Afghan government.
The war was considered to be a big part of the Cold War and due to its length it has sometimes been referred to as the "Soviet Union's Vietnam War" or the "Bear Trap" by the Western media, and is thought to be a contributing factor to the eventual fall of the Soviet Union.
Since that time, the world has witnessed the collapse of the Soviet Union, the tearing down of the Berlin Wall, the reunification of Germany and, ultimately the complete opening up, to the Western world, of a reborn country, called Russia: together the declared independence of its former satellite states. And, for a short period of time, after that...the world had enjoyed a relatively, albeit short-lived, peaceful period – filled with new hopes and aspirations for the immediate future.
The Dawn of a New Era
It was an exciting era – the dawning of a new era and many NATO officers were left wondering if they would still be in their jobs. For the very existence and of the need for NATO, as it was, was now being called into question. The old enemy, which was the Soviet Union had all but now disappeared. It was gone. It was history.
Suddenly the Soviet Union of old, was now being seen as the place where Western businesspersons and companies should be rushing to, which was, indeed, the case. It was the new, open and very accessible market – ripe for the taking. For the successful entrepreneur…there would be rich pickings to be had – together with a very nice life-style, in the big cities, such as Moscow and St. Petersburg and cities beyond the Urals.
However, there for others, there would also be bitter disputes, with their Russian partners and, even, acute losses. Many ex-pats, went back home, with their fingers burnt – usually blaming everyone but themselves.
It was also during this period, the large, multi-nationals quickly moved in, for example: Procter & Gamble, Nestle, United Technologies, Deutsche Bank AG, General Motors, Intel, McDonalds, Danone, and Unilever, with McDonalds being among the very first - opening a store in Russia in 1990, at the tail end of the Soviet era.
Enter Mr. Putin
With Boris Yeltzin clearly in not good health, he appointed Vladimir Putin to take over the running of the country on 31st December 1999 and I remember celebrating the arrival of the New Year – 2000, with my Russian friends, when we all heard the shock news, while standing in their kitchen.
We all looked at each other…who hell was Mr. Putin? No one had ever really heard of him. Not even Russian people had really heard too much about him.
The country, at that time, was an economic mess, heavily in debt and it was still groping its way out of the ruble crisis of August 1998, which saw people’s bank accounts frozen – to try to stem the run on the banks and the ruble had been devalued.
Vladimir Putin set about restoring some faith back into Russia. It was an uphill task. The Russian people were demoralised and in deep distrust of the government, but he was making inroads and he eventually levelled the income tax, which people paid, to a flat-rate 13%...one of the lowest in the world. People started to pay their taxes. Fortunately for Mr. Putin…the price of a barrel of crude oil, was also on the rise – recovering from an all-time low.
The UK Treats Mr. Putin to a State Visit
On June 24th 2003, Mr. Putin and his (then) wife Lyudmila were treated to all the pomp and ceremony afforded by the British government and Monarchy to a State Visit. On the eve of the visit, Mr Blair said new oil and gas deals signed by UK companies would soon make the country Russia's biggest foreign investor.
BBC diplomatic correspondent Mike Wooldridge says British officials seem confident that the very public differences between Mr Blair and Mr Putin over the Iraq war will not affect the atmosphere of the state visit. Russian officials also say the two countries' views of how to handle Iraq have been converging.
Mr Blair and Mr Putin both attended the opening of a Russia-UK energy conference, which marked the agreement of some major UK investments by BP and Shell in the Russian energy sector. The BP deal was worth $6.75bn and they set up an oil company, TNK-BP, that became Russia's third largest.
Shell was part of a consortium investing $10bn in the oil industry in Sakhalin, in the Russian Far East. The BBC went on to say, “Mr Putin's arrival on time at Heathrow airport was in itself an improvement on the last state visit by a Russian leader, when the yacht carrying Tsar Alexander II and his party ran aground off the Dutch coast.”
George Bush Jnr on Mr. Putin
For those people on the inside track of George Bush’s inner-circle of family and friends, he liked to give such people nick-names and Mr. Putin was no exception. George Bush Jnr genuinely liked Vladimir Putin: with the British press often describing him as, “The steely-faced son of the KGB and now the President of Russia.” Bush even had a nick-name for himself, “Dubya,” while Mr. Putin affectionately became, “Pootie-Poot.”
The BBC’s Paul Reynold’s, at the time, described it thus, “It is an improbable relationship. On the one hand, there is the chirpy Texan, and on the other, the stern apparatchik. One cannot imagine that dinner table talk is a bundle of fun.”
In June 2001, Mr Bush surprised the world by declaring, after a meeting with Mr Putin in Slovenia: “I looked the man in the eye. I was able to get a sense of his soul.” According to the BBC’s Paul Reynolds, that rang rather true.
George Bush did like to look people in the eye and was known to have a habit of pausing between sentences (which were usually more lucid in private than in public), cocking his head and waiting for a response.
How Quickly Times
Change Fast forward to today, and it is remarkable how times have changed since then and, moreover, how quickly. Mr. Putin has since been vilified and demonised, by the West and in particular by President Obama, who seems to have developed a very personal and even vain, distain and a very contemptuous dislike of the man.
This vanity has, I suggest, prevented him from engaging in any meaningful dialogue, since the start of the first Russia v’s US crisis point, over Ukraine and then Russia’s unexpected and rapid annexation of Crimea – effectively all but torpedoing the US-Russia relationship completely; previously enjoyed by his predecessor George Bush Jnr.
The US, EU, Australia, Canada and the UK have cried foul over the annexation of Crimea, with some commentators calling it an “invasion” and the referendum "illegal" under international rules and the US admiration started baying for immediate sanctions to be imposed against Russia and certain Russian citizens – closely affiliated to Mr. Putin.
The Mess, which is today’s Middle East
Without shadow of a doubt, the mess, which is the Middle East today, surely has to be as a direct (or indirect) result of the war, which was raged in full fury, against Saddam Hussain in Iraq, during Operation Shock and Awe and then our bombing of Libya.
There was no post-war planning of any in-depth substance, thinking or meaning and Donald Rumsfield, who was then the US’s Secretary of Defence, once famously said, on the topic of post war Iraq, “We don't do nation-building.”
In a very long opinion piece, written by General Sir Mike Jackson and published in the UK’s Daily Telegraph on 3rd September 2003, he condemned the “War on Terror,” in the strongest possible terms: calling the US’s approach to dealing with Iraq – post war.
“That kind of dismissal on principle is nonsensical - and operationally detrimental, because the overall success of the operation will depend upon reconstruction,” he wrote. “In Iraq, the Americans had the naïve idea that the people would be so happy to be liberated that nothing else mattered; that once they had pushed over the statue of Saddam, democracy would flourish overnight. It's a very ideological approach, and one which is intellectually bankrupt. This difference in doctrine between us and the Americans would be a recurrent difficulty in the years ahead.”
Isil and Syria The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil), also known as simply Islamic State, began life as an Iraqi franchise of al-Qaeda, a relatively minor force confined to fighting British and US troops in the areas around Baghdad.
This came about directly as a lack of post-war planning for Iraq; after the toppling of Saddam Husain and the power struggles between the different, tribal clans, which Saddam had kept under control, from spilling out into open warfare.
ISIS then took advantage of the chaos caused by Syria's ongoing civil war, to expand beyond Iraq's borders and recruit vast numbers of Syrian rebels. Originally funded by wealthy donors, the group is now thought to derive significant income from captured oil fields in northern Iraq and Syria. IS fighters also reportedly stole £256 million in cash and a large amount of gold bullion from Mosul's central bank during its takeover of the city, and reportedly smuggled £21m of antiquities from the Syria.
As well as funds IS, is now in possession of a large amount of US military equipment, donated to the Iraqi army as the US pulled out of Iraq and seized by IS as it captured territory from Iraqi forces.
Obama Flip, Flop’s, over Isil and Syria, while Mr. Putin acts Decisively
While many people have now accused Mr. Putin of his engaging, militarily, with the Syrian crisis – against Isil, being used as diversion tactic – diverting the world’s attention away from the Ukrainian crisis, clearly something with a little more oomph, had to be done – rather than just the few hapless air and drone strikes, being meted out by the US, in Syria – uninvited by the Syrian government and from Syrian airspace and in assisting the so-called “Moderate Terrorists.”
As an English language teacher – a teacher of English as a Foreign Language…I actually do have a real problem with that type of new terminology/political double-speak. What, or who is exactly, a “Moderate Terrorist?”
How could I ever, effectively explain the answer to that, to one to my students, who might, one fine day, ask me exactly that question?
On the topic of the terminology, “Moderate Terrorists,” Mr. Putin recently had this to say, speaking about the situation in the Middle East at the Valdai discussion forum, Putin said “Why play with words dividing terrorists into moderate and not moderate. What’s the difference?” None. A whole “snarl” of terrorist groups act in the region.
It has never been a secret that Russia has supported the Syrian government, ever since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011, but in order to understand why that is – one only has to look at the deep historical ties, between Russia and Syria: going back many years to 1893, when a consular office, of the Russian Empire was first established there. During the Cold War, Syria served as an ally to the Soviet Union, against the will of the Western powers and their bonds became strong.
That aside – it is clear that Isil could not be allowed to go on – unchecked and unfettered, killing and butchering innocent people, without a powerful strike back and whatever the rights and wrongs of the actions of Bashar Hafez al-Assad…action needed to be taken quickly and the continued tenure of Bashar Hafez al-Assad’s presidency dealt with later.
Thus Mr. Putin had made a “now or never, time to bite the bullet” decision to physically intervene and, moreover, at the express request of Russia’s old ally – the Syrian government. Thus, Russia’s action’s in Syria are in complete accordance with current, international laws.
Donald Trump on Obama and Putin
American, presidential candidate, Republican, Donald Trump has publicly slated Obama’s seemingly half-hearted attempts in dealing with Isil, time and time again, of late. CNN reported Trump as saying, in response to Obama’s sending in less than 50 Special Operations men into Syria as, “A half-measure.”
“I think we have a president who just doesn't know what he's doing,” “You either do it or you don't do it. Fifty people. He puts 50 people.” “You either do it or you don't do it.”
Moscow is “bombing the hell out of ISIS” because President Putin wants to prevent terrorism spilling into Russia, said US presidential candidate Donald Trump, criticizing failed US Middle Eastern policies that have already turned Iraq and Libya into a total mess.
“It is not even a contest!” Donald Trump said in response to an NBC News presenter’s question about whether it had been better when Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi were in power.
“Iraq is a disaster… Libya is not even a country,” he explained. “You can make the case, if you look at Libya, look at what we did there – it’s a mess. If you look at Saddam Hussein with Iraq, look what we did there – it's a mess.”
Trump said that Washington is “destroying our country” by wasting too much money on Middle Eastern policies that do not seem to work: “We have spent $2 trillion in Iraq, probably a trillion in Afghanistan…”
At one point the interviewer mentioned that Russian airstrikes could be “hitting people we’ve trained,” but Trump interrupted him by stating: “We are talking about people we don’t even know!”
“The rebel group we have no idea … I was talking to a general two days ago, he said: ‘We have no idea who these people are.’ We are training people; we don’t know who they are. We are giving them billions of dollars to fight Assad,” Trump said.
Trump stressed that he has nothing against the Russian anti-terrorist operation in Syria.
“I like that Putin is bombing the hell out of ISIS,” Trump said, adding that he believes that the target of the airstrikes is indeed “going to be ISIS.”
How the Best of the West have Let the People of the Middle East Down
The Western powers, miserably failed the people of the Middle East, by allowing Isil to get started and grow into the monster it has become in the first instance. Our respective governments had created the ideal breeding conditions, for this to happen: by having no cohesive, nor well-thought-out action plan – post invasion of Iraq and the eventual toppling of Saddam Hussain.
In that respect, I suggest, we let the people down – not just of Syria, but of the entire Middle East and even Afghanistan. In a nutshell, the West’s folly of the rush to war – a “War on Terror,” planned without proper exit strategies and adequate post-war planning, has given rise to this perfect storm of the biblical proportions, we are now witnessing on our TV screens.
Conclusion, why the US and Russia Really Do Need to be Talking to Each Other.
The fact of the matter is and whoever is at fault for the rise of Isil – Isil; is a ruthless and bloodthirsty, monster, which needs to be stopped dead in its tracks…literally.
Ideally Russia and America really do need to be having this conversation – for there is, after all, a common enemy here: which should unite all the Western powers into putting their heads together – casting their differences aside, at least for the time being, and to work out a definitive plan of action – together.
For that to happen, however, maybe Mr. Barak Obama needs to cast aside his vanity and pride and be prepared to sit down at the table, with Mr. Putin and his team? Which has already been proposed by Mr. Putin.
Logically-speaking…if Donald Trump is prepared to do it. Then so too, should Barak Obama; as president of the United States of America be prepared to. Now…that really would be a “change,” and the “Time for Change” is right now.