When the cat's away, the mice kill each other

David Goldman:

Today’s “Spengler” essay at Asia Times Online evaluates the crackup of Western and South Asia as the United States builds down its influence in the region. An excerpt:

Iran has blamed the United States for Sunday’s suicide bombing in Sistan-Balochistan province in which six Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps commanders were killed, as well as 37 other people. In an indirect way, the charge is true. No one in Washington these days would dream of blowing up Iranian officials, to be sure. America’s abdication of its position as the world’s sole superpower, though, will make incidents of this sort routine.

No one in the region doubts that America eventually will leave Afghanistan the way it left Iraq – not the way it left Vietnam, because America had won the war on the ground in Vietnam, unlike Afghanistan, where it has won nothing. That will represent a triumph for the elements of Pakistan’s military who supported the Taliban from the beginning.

The hostage-taking at Pakistan’s military headquarters in Rawalpindi on October 10 and the bombing of police headquartersin Peshawar, the capital of North-West Frontier Province, comprise part of the pattern that includes Sunday’s bombings in the Iranian border town of Pisheen: the unifying element is a demonstration of Sunni power against an external enemy, namely Iran, as well as internal enemies.

The region is full of geopolitical mines. To be name some of them:

  • India can’t let the fundamentalist side of the Pakistani military take power without responding.
  • Iran can’t let Pakistan’s Sunnis crush the 20% Shi’ite minority.
  • Israel can’t allow for the possibility of Iran developing nuclear weapons.
  • Saudi Arabia can’t let Iran dominate Iraq.
  • Turkey can’t let Iraq’s Kurds form an independent state.
  • China can’t let Turkey agitate among the 100 million Muslim ethnic Turks within its borders.

I speculate that there may be a relationship between Obama’s weird mode of governance–running everything out of his vest pocket–and the crackup of American power. Obama’s own agenda may be far more aggressive than the institutional inertia of America’s military and national security establishment can tolerate. Perhaps he can trust no-one and for that reason must run everything himself. He may take quite literally the astonishing statement he made at the U.N.: “In an era when our destiny is shared, power is no longer a zero-sum game. No one nation can or should try to dominate another nation. No world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will succeed.”

I conclude,

The president, in this view, consciously sees himself as an outsider who has become the leader of an alien tribe, rather like Eugene O’Neill’s Brutus Jones or Kipling’s Peachy Carnahan – except that Obama leads the world’s only superpower rather than a primitive tribe. He demands personal control over the reins of power, for as an outsider he can trust no one – surely not David Axelrod or Rahm Emanuel. That may be why he has no real cabinet, but rather a set of “policy czars” who reported to him directly, including the special ambassadors George Mitchell, Dennis Ross and Richard Holbrooke.

Perhaps the cat isn’t away, but locked up in the cellar. As a result the mice will slaughter each other. Those who wish to reduce American power may get what they wish for, but they might not like it.

I had written this story last week as a humor column, by reference to DSM-IV. No-one got the joke, so I decided to write it as a straight piece instead.

[From When the cat’s away, the mice kill each other]