Walid Phares, a Senior Fellow with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a visiting scholar with the European Foundation for Democracy, and the author of The Confrontation: Winning the War against Future Jihad, offers a unique and much-needed perspective on the war between Russia and Georgia, and its larger implication. “South Ossetia: The perfect wrong war,” in The American Thinker, August 14:
The Kosovo factor
Since 1999, the outcome of the Western campaign in Kosovo brought about a parallel status quo to the one established in South Ossetia and in Abkhasia. In short, NATO had created an autonomous area for the ethnic Albanians inside a sovereign country, Serbia; while Russia and the CIS have insured autonomous status for South Ossetians and Abkhasians inside another sovereign state, Georgia.
From a Russian perspective the two cases were linked and would eventually be resolved via negotiations. From a Western perspective Kosovo was “unique” and was to be resolved differently, that is granted independence unilaterally. But as long as Russian-American relations especially under Presidents Bush and Putin were warm, the de facto enclaves in Kosovo and Ossetia lived in stability.
The challenge began when during winter 2008, the US and the European Union decided to unleash Kosovo’s separation despite Serbia’s opposition. In international jurisprudence, breaking away entities need validation by the country the partition is going to affect. In Canada for example, Quebec would always need the other provinces to agree on separation. Agreement of “both sides” is usually sought.
But in the case of Kosovo, for international political motivations, including a gesture to please the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) in the midst of a campaign to win hearts and minds, Washington and Brussels went ahead swiftly and endorsed Pristina’s declaration of separation from Belgrade. The Western powers argued that going back to Serbia was out of question for the Kosovars; therefore going forward was the only option, despite Serbian claims inside the province.
The underlying geopolitical reasoning was that no force including the Russians would be able to oppose the move. “They are too far” to intervene, assumed the diplomats. But Moscow made its intentions known the day of Kosovo’s declaration of independence.
The Russian statement was poorly covered in the international media. The release said the Russian Federation will recognize the efforts by South Ossetia and Abkhazia to secede from Georgia. It was a clear eye for an eye declaration, but it went unnoticed in the West. In an article titled “Be Wise on Kosovo,” published on December 13, 2007 in the American Thinker, I warned that a chain reaction may begin elsewhere. The confrontations taking place today in the Caucasus were triggered strategically in the Balkans few months before. Russia was ignored on the shores of the Mediterranean, it responded on the shores of the Black sea. To Moscow, Georgia’s allies are also “too far” when the enclaves would move to separation.
But meanwhile, a growing number of observers in the West are connecting the dots from the South Ossetia drama to much wider and strategic horizons. How to look at the Caucasus crisis is the question. Do we want to bring back the Cold war and the Russo-Western struggle? Do we want to drop the War on Terror and swim back to the pre 1990s years? Or do we want to win the global confrontation with the forthcoming Jihadi Caliphate?
At the end of the day, it is a question of choices, and mostly the democracies’ choice.
But for Russia to actively arm Iran and Syria, this is a feature of cold war, inconsistent with present the international consensus against Terrorism. The Tehran-Damascus “axis” is in an active campaign to support Jihadi terror forces in the region and armed groups involved in the killing of US and Coalition personnel. It would be the equivalent of having the US arming and providing technology to Wahabi Chechen Terrorists operating against Russian cities and military. Hence, while Americans are as anti-terrorist as Russia is when it comes to the al-Qaeda Salafi threat, Russians are still feeding anti-Western forces in the Middle East. Hence there is a difference between Russian discomfort with NATO growth around the CIS and US concerns about Russia’s protection of Iranian-Syrian efforts in the region. Moscow is backing a party at war with the US Coalition while Americans aren’t assisting parties at War with Russia.
So, if that is the case, what is the best strategic course of action that the US and NATO must follow to address this problem? Some advise Washington to press the encirclement of the Russian Federation and put pressure on its few allies in the Balkans, thinking that this would weaken the Kremlin resolve to fight back. I disagree. If Russia’s leadership has moved to counter US efforts in the Middle East the right response is not to escalate against the Russians in Kosovo and along their borders, including in Ossetia. For by pursuing such policy — while the US and its allies are engaged in massive confrontations against the Salafist movements and the Khomeinist power — the West will find itself over stretched on two world fronts, one of them at least is unnecessary: Russia.
To be crude: Liberal democracies have no interest in over-pressuring Russia in the course of strategic gaming while they are at full war with the Global Jihadists. Such a move will push the Russians away from converging with the West against the “common enemy.” Instead of consolidating a Western-Russian entente against both Salafists and Khomeinists, Russia and the US are confronting the Wahabis separately and in most cases unsuccessfully while the Russians have befriended the Khomeinists who are harassing the Americans. The Russo-American competition is not helping either side, but one other side does win: the Global Jihadists.
Jihadi Dual agenda
The world Salafists’ ultimate wish is to see the two infidel superpowers at odds with each other again; and that is happening. The combat-Jihadists want bloodshed both in Moscow and in Washington now and in the future. The long-term Wahabis likes the idea of an American demobilization against Jihadism and a re-mobilization against Russia. Ending the War on Terror and reigniting the Cold war is the ultimate fantasy of the oil producing fundamentalist powers.
On the other hand, the Iranian regime and its allies in Syria and Lebanon have clearly opted for privileged strategic relations with Russia as a way to counterbalance the US and its allies in the region. The flow of petro cash from Iranian oil revenues can ensure a good business and military relationship with Moscow. Some in the latter city — still recalling Cold War feelings — like the idea of client states (or so they think) counterbalancing American presence in the Middle East.
In the final analysis, the two main trees of Jihadism are playing West against East to ensure the weakening and ultimately the collapse of their grand foes. The Wahabis wants to bring Russia down via the establishment of several Wahabi emirates in its midst –from Chechnya to Central Asia. And the Khomeinists want the US out of the region so that they can establish their own dominance instead.
Moscow and Washington (and Brussels as well) should not be manipulated by oil fundamentalist powers against each other. The Cold War should not be brought back at the expense of winning the conflict against Jihadi Terrorism. In clear terms: no wars should be waged outside the international campaign against the terrorists, should it be an ethnic or economic one. These, including the current Caucasus conflict, are wrong wars as they would profit the global Jihadi forces, both political and military….
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