We don’t know how the world will settle down eventually but we know at least that what we really need is not to invite to ourselves troubles which are not ours
Few will disagree that the world has become less predictable than it was barely a couple of years ago. Even passive street walkers in London were rammed up on the footpath and knifed in public places last weekend. Several pedestrians were killed. Others are seriously injured, now undergoing treatment in hospitals.
Early this week, seven countries of the Gulf banned Qatar from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), and disrupted its economic activities by foreclosing its land and air access. They claimed it was helping out to fan terrorism. It is true that Qatar has for long been supportive of the ‘Muslim Brotherhood’ which Egypt and Saudi Arabia do not view favourably. Nothing says however that some among the accusers of Qatar may not themselves be doing the same over a long number of years, by supporting other global hate-spreading groups.
Reports state that Qatar had been looking to seek a solution to international terrorism – which has been playing havoc in so many places – by trying to foster a rapprochement between Iran and Saudi Arabia. That was unpalatable to Saudi Arabia and even to Israel, which considers Iran as its historical arch enemy. Recall that Israel was on the point of launching a third world war only a couple of years ago by dropping bombs on Iran’s nuclear development sites at the time the UN had commissioned the P5+1 (the UN Security Council’s five permanent members – the P5 – namely China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States; plus Germany) to rein in, under international surveillance, Iran’s ongoing nuclear bomb development project in hiding.
That has been done. But the Middle East bitter rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia could not brook bringing Iran, under its newly elected moderate president, out of the bad light in which it should be kept, it appears. This is stated to be the true reason for isolating Qatar and crippling its economy by the same token by its neighbouring countries. Seen from this angle, it looks like the culmination of an Arab family feud based on who backs who.
American Commercial Interests First
Having got into a contract with Saudi Arabia only a week and a half earlier to sell arms worth $110billion, American president Donald Trump hastened to condemn those who foster terrorism to show his alignment with the seven GCC members decision to block Qatar. His and the American arms suppliers’ and Israel’s interests are closely aligned with not inviting Iran to the negotiating table for peace, as Qatar would be advocating. His and his commercial allies’ perception is that war is the solution to the Iranian-Saudi conflict.
For the American president, war mongering is a better substitute for international diplomacy. His friends in Congress who are massively financially supported by interested corporate donations will appreciate. Worse, they will try to depict this stand as that of the country as a whole which, American opinion polls show, it is not.
Maybe Qatar, finding itself unable to move out of its land-locked position, would bow to the Saudi position and all will be the same as before among the GCC members. Even so, America, which has a key military base in Qatar, will not lose because Qatar, which depends on its international hub business, will not be able to take retaliatory action against America. Qatar Airways, for example, flies regularly to the US.
Plodding on with gaffes?
But what do we, Mauritius, have to do to take sides between Qatar and the remaining GCC countries in the present situation in the Middle East? We have no business to poke our nose into what are truly internal squabbles within a select club of family and friends. Yet, there are reports that one of our ministers would have voiced an opinion against Qatar in the seemingly temporary conflict it has with its immediate neighbours, all lying to the same side of the theocratic dividing line. There was nothing geopolitically pressing to make us take a stand in the matter. Quite the contrary.
Surely, we can’t carry on with the series of political gaffes committed during the past two years due to the hubris of political power. They command a price, sometimes an exceedingly high price. By all means, we have no business inviting into our midst power struggles and conflicts having no bearing with our immediate preoccupations. The Mauritius example, if correct, shows how certain parties in the world help to fan out the flames of hatred unnecessarily by taking sides when it would have been safer even to stay away from dousing them.
An unsettled global situation
These small squabbles hide from view a general global disorientation. What do we see at the global level? America seems to have lost its global leadership, as seen in President Trump’s stiff resistance at the last G7 meeting to the harmonisation European leaders wanted to have amongst them concerning the December 2015 Paris international climate deal.
This adds up to the way he weakened the spirit of solidarity by publicly berating allies for failing to hike up their defence expenditures. Trump’s domestic policies – helping damage the environment by ‘deregulation’, increasing military spending, budget cuts for health insurance for the poor, cuts to the programme of food for the poor, cuts to aids for the world’s poorest (official aid) and cuts in funding the UN, science and technology, slashing taxes on the richest – demonstrate “the culmination of a long-term process whereby powerful corporate lobbies have bought their way to power” (Jeffrey Sachs).
This has set countries like Japan and Europe – traditional allies of US in key global issues – rethinking whether the trans-Atlantic and trans-Pacific alliance still holds. Mrs Merkel openly urged Europeans to consolidate among themselves and not to continue relying on the UK and the US as allies. On the other hand, Europe is beset by Russian vindications under Vladimir Putin in the countries of Eastern Europe. Some observers saw Mr Trump executing Mr Putin’s agenda when he invited European countries to break up in Brexit-style just after his election.
As the grip of the US on its traditional friends grows weaker due to such inconsistencies, China will find grounds to assert itself more aggressively, starting with its immediate region and possibly working together with Putin to undermine all the liberal global values for which the West has stood so far. It has done so in the South China Sea. It is bridging the global leadership gap left behind by the US by its policies such as ‘One Belt, One Road’. Thus, all those who have held hands together with the US (including in Asia) will feel abandoned to themselves, rudderless in an agitated international ocean of uncertainty.
Seeing this chaotic state of international affairs, Mauritius would need to tread carefully, very carefully indeed. The more friends and potential allies it draws to itself in these rough international seas, the less vulnerable it will be to disputes to which it is not a party. We don’t know how the world will settle down eventually but we know at least that what we really need is not to invite to ourselves troubles which are not ours. We need to shine as a new star of hope and, maybe, we’ll have to re-invent the leadership for so doing.