Gaming DC: How America’s Clients Succeed at Getting off the Leash

Not so long ago only Israel would be allowed to defy US interests. Now it's a free for all

Robert Fisk over at The Independent makes an interesting point. He says Donald Trump’s victory in the US will be far less critical for the Middle East because it simply isn’t 1956 anymore. Nobody is paying much attention to Washington or especially the White House these days anyway:

Predictable claptrap is being uttered about Trump and the Middle East. How can the Muslim world deal with a man who is an Islamophobe? For that is indeed what Trump is. He is a disgrace to his country and to his people – who, heavens above, elected the chap.

But here’s a mollifying thought. US prestige in the region has fallen so low, the Arab world’s belief (and quite possibly the Israeli belief) in American power so shattered by Washington’s stupidity and ineptness, that I rather suspect little attention will be paid to Donald Trump.

I’m not quite sure when respect for American governance began to collapse. It was certainly at its height when Eisenhower told the British, French and Israelis to get out of the Suez Canal in 1956.

The US in 1956 and the present variant indeed could not be more different. America of the time ended the Suez War with a snap of its fingers. Along the way it also symbolically ended Great Britain’s status as independent great power. No one in the western camp — not even Great Britain with its UNSC veto, African colonial empire, world’s second navy and strong sympathies in Washington could have an independent foreign policy that did not require green light from Washington DC.

That first changed in 1967 when Israel fearing the repetition of America’s Suez ultimatum attacked USS Liberty and LBJ covered it up. Nonetheless, Israel remained an aberration. It was for decades the only US client that was free to do its own thing even at the expense of US goals and ambitions — and continue to be lavished with support.

How things have changed. After 2003 Saudi Arabia helped fund the Sunni resistance to US occupation of Iraq. After 2001 Pakistan funded, trained, advised and sheltered the Taleban contesting the US occupation of Afghanistan. Turkey has only recently cracked down on ISIS smuggling and fundraising and has helped arm al-Qaeda in Syria. Egypt now is looking to throw its support behind Bashar al-Assad whom the US has all but declared the new Hitler.

Regardless of this none of these states ever risked loosing US support or being cast out of the American order. NATO is still a NATO member, Egypt will continue to receive billions in military aid, and the Saudi war in Yemen will continue to be made possible by US logistics. At least half a dozen states in the American Empire now have the freedom to do whatever they like.

Certainly the lack of American power isn’t the reason. If anything the US is more powerful than ever. The reason is that this power is also more fragmented than ever. Between the Congress, CIA, NSA, the Pentagon, JSOC, State Department, White House, the media and a sea of lobbies, think-tanks and NGOs there are thousands of competing policies being thought up, proposed and implemented.

What is more all of these centers of power have ties to centers of power in foreign nations and are influenced by them. In fact, the entanglement between American and foreign centers of power is such that some foreign institutions are really an integral part of the tapestry of the American empire.

Saudi royal family, Egyptian military, Pakistani intelligence and Israeli and Turkish government are really non-native centers of power of the American empire. They aren’t American but that doesn’t matter. The Saudi court for example is far more able to influence when, where and whom the US military will be fighting than is for example the Department of Education or the state of Kansas.

This explains why Saudi princes or Pakistani spies can get away with helping to kill American soldiers. Or why the Turks can bomb the US-supplied Syrian Kurds. It isn’t that these actions are appreciated in Washington but neither are they seen as very different from instances when the operations of two US-based institutions are at cross purposes — which happens all the time.

The US constantly pursues opposing policies — a result of the fragmented nature of its immense power, so this is nothing new. For example in Egypt it both supported Mubarak with generous military aid packages and helped challenge him via the National Endowment for Democracy, and then again both backed and helped overthrow his successor Morsi.

Moreover, whenever a non-native power center of the American Empire is obstructing the goals of an American center it is almost always able to find US-based allies or else hire auxiliaries in the lobbies and think-tanks of Washington to argue its position. — so the American versus non-American aspect of the rivalry is diminished.

Bottom line, Fisk is right. Powers in the Middle East are paying less attention to the White House than ever before. The reason isn’t the waning of American power as such — but on the contrary the rise of ever more and ever more powerful centers of  power in Washington.

As Washington’s imperial institutions expand so do the inevitable differences between them, which foreigners who have been accepted into te tapestry of American order are increasingly learning how to game to give themselves a free hand. After all if the Presidency can’t reign in the CIA or the Department of Defense, why should it be expected it can reign in Pakistan or Turkey?