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Mess Thy Name is Mesopotamia & Role of India.


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Mess Thy Name is Mesopotamia & Role of India
It is the events during and post WW I that are responsible for most of the chaos and turmoil in West Asia today.
It took time for the self seeking colonists' action to bear fruit, but the fruit is bitterBut the different Arab states
created out of the Ottoman Empire with artificial boundaries have by now acquired well-established identities
and their peoples have developed a sense of nationhood and nationalism strong enough for them to be ready
to defend their countries’ sovereignty and territorial integrity. Nor is it necessary to go back to 1947-48, when
Israel was created in the Arab heartland, though this too has left scars and enmities that linger. Here again, the
Arab states have become realistic enough to accept the fact of Israel’s existence and are ready to do business
with it, but for the constraint of the long-festering Palestinian problem.
There are two dates that are appropriate for the purpose of analysing the current mess in Mesopotamia
2003 and 2011. The former was when the Bush administration launched its intervention in Iraq on false
pretences. In 2011, the civil war in Syria started when some of Syria’s neighbours and the West set the ouster of
the Assad regime as their highest and sole priority, although for different motives.
The neocons in Washington persuaded George W. Bush to intervene in Iraq, even at the cost of shifting
attention and resources away from Afghanistan, to implement their and Israel’s agenda of getting rid —
politically and physically of Saddam Hussein. Saddam’s execution was one thing, the dismantling of the entire
state apparatus, including the army, quite another. The operation ignited forces that caused the sectarian divide
to deepen there and across the region. Al-Qaeda, which had no presence in Iraq under Saddam’s rule,
established one that indulged in massive acts of terror and mayhem. The sectarian tension that had been lying
suppressed for centuries burst open; it led to the phenomenon known as the Islamic State (IS). A caliphate as
well as a caliph have been proclaimed, with territory, finances and an administration able to raise taxes. But it is
also a ruthless state determined to establish sharia rule and eliminate all opposition, Muslim and non-Muslim,
that stands in its way. The IS has the capability to fight conventional battles. Its military commander is reported
to be a former vice president of Saddam. The IS has spread from Iraq to Syria, obliterating national boundaries
and capturing large swathes of territory in both countries. All this can be traced directly to the American
intervention of 2003.
The Syrian civil war might have started as an offshoot of theArab Spring, but it soon morphed into a full-
blown conflict involving all the regional countries as well as extra-regional ones like the US. The initial spark,
perhaps lit by the events in Tunisia and Egypt in early 2011, was exploited to mobilise assorted groups in Syria
to get rid of the Assad regime, not so much because it was a ruthless government that had indulged in massive
violations of human rights but because of two other factors. The Arab neighbours all of whom were Sunni
sultans, emirs, etc wanted to eliminate the Shia minority regime in Damascus, whereas the West, influenced
by Israel, wanted to sever the Tehran-Damascus nexus that fed the Hezbollah in Lebanon. Washington wanted
to break this link because it would have clipped the political and diplomatic clout of Iran, which Israel regards as
an existential threat. These interests converged to produce the Syrian crisis.
The interventions of 2003 and 2011 have created a no-win situation for the stakeholders. To fight the IS in Syria
would need the cooperation of the Syrian government. Even many Western countries while willing to take
part in the bombing of the IS in Iraq since the Baghdad government has sought their help are reluctant to
participate in the operation in Syria, since it lacks legitimacy without UN Security Council authorisation. Having
made the ouster of the Assad regime the primary objective, the “international community” cannot ask for its
cooperation without losing face and credibility. The regime in Damascus is sitting pretty, since the weakening of
the IS only helps it. The battle for the Syrian village of Kobani, on the border with Turkey, has created a huge
domestic political problem for Turkey since the Kurds in Kobani are fighting for survival and want fellow Kurds in

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Turkey to aid them, which Ankara has been unwilling to permit.
US President Barack Obama’s instinct to not get involved in this mess was right, but he has been pushed into it
under domestic and international pressure. He does not want to “put boots on the ground” but has already
done so, with about 2,000 US troops deployed in Iraq. Without a sizeable number of additional troops, over and
above the Iraqi forces, the IS cannot be defeated.
Addressing a thinktank conclave on October 16, Vice President of India Hamid Ansari, a formidable scholar of
West Asia, raised an intriguing question. He reminded the audience that the National Intelligence Council of the
US, in a report dated in 2004 and called “Mapping the Global Future 2014”, had projected four possible fictional
scenarios in West Asia, one of which was called “A New Caliphate”. Even Muslim societies did not use this term
in their discourse at the time. He wondered if this was extraordinary prescience or a desire to reignite an old
idea last dilated upon by Rashid Rida in 1923.
All this suggests that the turmoil in the region will continue. Its primary beneficiary has been Iran. Here again,
the West is in a dilemma. Iran’s cooperation is vital in combating the IS. Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which have
invested heavily in radical Syrian factions such as the Jabhat al-Nusra but have now been obliged to join the
American-led coalition against the IS, are thereby helping Iran as well as Assad. A fascinating but deadly cocktail
of sectarian and geopolitical tensions and rivalry!India has done well to refuse to be dragged into this messy
situation. But we should not shy away from lending political support. It would be most unwise for us to
continue to pretend that the rise of the IS holds no negative consequences for us. The IS may not conduct
operations on Indian soil but its ideology will certainly attract many a Muslim youth in India. We are no longer
able to claim, as we could a few years ago, that no Indian Muslim has fought in foreign jihads. Already, dozens, if
not hundreds, are fighting in Syria alongside al-Nusra and the IS. The unfurling of IS flags is a portent not to be
taken lightly. More than ever, it is essential to maintain communal harmony in the country.
India's actions are dictated by reality of economy. Oil plays a major role in its decisons regarding Middle East.
Oil is the dark magic beyond human comprehension: the evil-smelling, toxic sludge being pumped out from the
bowels of the earth in ever greater quantities was turning all it touched into gold. From his lavish office in
Caracas, Juan Pablo Perez Alfonso, founder of the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec),
had watched entire nations transfigured by the unimaginable wealth their oil had brought. And yet, that
afternoon in 1976, as he spoke to the scholar Terry Lynn Karl, Perez Alfonso seemed strangely pessimistic. “Ten
years from now,” he told her, “20 years from now, you will see, oil will bring us ruin.” “We are drowning, he
went on, “in the devil’s excrement.
Nearly 50 years from that day in Caracas, it is hard not to hail Perez Alfonso as a prophet. The devil’s excrement
brought untold wealth to West Asia-North Africa, but it also throttled education and industry, leaving the
world’s largest oil exporters poorer, relative to the world’s great economies, than they had been. It sustained
despotisms, paving the way for civil war and terrorism. Indeed, it opened the door to endless war: the United
States has fought in the region 14 times since 1980, in interventions to keep oil sources and shipping routes
In the coming decades, China and India are set to become the two largest importers of Persian Gulf oil. Their
economic growth and the lives of billions will depend on their access to reliable, affordable energy. The
withdrawal of the US from global oil markets is pushing down oil prices, which is great news for India’s
economy, and the reason Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been able to deregulate diesel. The bad news is
that since the US has less reason to commit its troops to securing oil-producing regions in the Persian Gulf, India
will have to start paying the bill in cash and blood.
Last summer, the world changed, without a single newspaper headline to herald the transformation: the US
replaced Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest oil producer. Industry studies make it clear that the boom in natural

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gas and oil production, enabled by new technologies like hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, will
increase the USs oil production by 50 per cent or more by 2050. In a recent study, the Brookings Institution
concluded it was “on track to become the dominant player in global energy markets”.
To understand just how significant this development is, one has to travel back five decades, when the Opec
cartel sent crude oil prices hurtling up: in 1970, it was under $20 at todays prices, but by 1979 it had already
touched the current levels of over $90. In addition to this blow to the global economy, there was a series of
geopolitical shocks: the revolution in Iran and the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan. All of these posed threats
to the Strait of Hormuz, through which Persian Gulf oil reached the world.
“Persian oil,” President Franklin D. Roosevelt said to a British diplomat in 1944, “is yours. We share the oil of
Iraq and Kuwait. As for Saudi Arabian oil, its ours.” In 1980, President Jimmy Carter laid down a thick red line to
protect the USs most vital interest. “Let our position be absolutely clear,” he said, “an attempt by any outside
force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United
States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.
In the course of the Iran-Iraq War, President Ronald Reagan used the US navy to escort oil tankers through the
Persian Gulf. In 1991, President George H.W. Bush had to send in the military to protect oil-rich Kuwait from
Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein’s troops. Libya, Lebanon, Kuwait, Somalia, Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan, Syria: the
list of interventions necessitated to protect the geopolitical order in West Asia-North Africa has been an ever-
growing one.
Hudson Institute scholar Arthur Herman, in a superb analysis written earlier this year, noted that “keeping the
region’s shipping lanes, including the Strait of Hormuz, open to tanker traffic costs the Pentagon, on average,
$50 billion a year a service that earns us the undying enmity of populations in that region”. Princeton
Universitys Roger Stern has estimated that the US’s oil mission cost it $6.8 trillion from 1976 to 2007. “On an
annual basis”, he noted, “the Persian Gulf mission now costs about as much as did the Cold War.
The US’s oil and gas boom will not erode its global power. It will be able to exercise power over both oil-
producing states and the global economy through market mechanisms releasing supplies to lower prices or
withholding them to send prices spiralling. Herman notes: “Iran saw its former stranglehold over Europe’s oil
supply collapse as the USs tumbling demand for imported oil allowed Europe to buy what it needed from other
sources, and at relatively low prices. This year, the Saudis will have to cut their production by 3 per cent to keep
prices and revenues up as US demand for Opec imports declines.
For India and China, though, there is an important lesson here: the US won’t need to send troops to their death
to secure its objectives. Through the decades since 1947, India, like China, had a free ride on the US-led order in
West Asia, which has ensured that the flow of oil remained free for all. In the future, though, it is far from clear
if that will be the case. China is already preparing for the first, expanding its naval presence in the Persian Gulf
and enhancing military-to-military cooperation with countries like Iran.
It isn’t that India’s foreign policy establishment is unaware of these challenges. A revolution in Saudi Arabia or
the disintegration of Iraq are prospects too real to be ignored, and their consequences for India’s energy
security too awful to be wished away. New Delhi’s acquisitions of large transports like the C-130, its planned
acquisition of large maritime troop carriers and its growing naval reach all suggest that there is a serious effort
at capacity-building. In 2009, then army chief General Deepak Kapoor had initiated a discussion between army
commanders on out-of-theatre deployment capacities and expeditionary warfare, sparking off serious joint
forces thinking on the issue.
Yet, there are considerable risks, which led former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to shy away from a military
role in West Asia and will likely nudge Modi to steer clear of joining the international coalition fighting the
Islamic State (IS). India fears, among other things, that its own Muslim citizens will be divided by the countrys

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