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Tomgram: Pepe Escobar, New Silk Roads and an Alternate Eurasian Century

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Original published at Tom Dispatch

From youtube.com/watch?v=97HlvtaWwik: The New Silk Road
The New Silk Road
(image by YouTube)
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During Iraq War II (2003-2011), I used to imagine that the Chinese leadership would gather weekly in the streets of the Forbidden City, singing and dancing to celebrate American idiocy. Year after year, when the U.S. might have faced off against a rising China, as its leaders had long had the urge to do, it was thoroughly distracted by its disastrous invasion and occupation of Iraq. I can't help but think that, with a bombing campaign revving up in Iraq and now Syria, the boots of 1,600 military personnel ever closer to the ground, and talk of more to come, with Iraq War III (2014-date unknown) predicted to go on for years, they are once again rejoicing. For all the talk in recent years about the Obama administration's military "pivot" to Asia, there can be no question that its latest Middle Eastern campaign will put a crimp on its Pacific "containment" planning.

In the meantime, the mood in China has clearly been changing as well. As Orville Schell wrote recently, after a contentious visit to Beijing by 90-year-old Jimmy Carter, the president who more than 30 years ago sponsored a full-scale American rapprochement with the new capitalist version of Communist China:

"In short, what used to be referred to as 'the West' now finds itself confronted by an increasingly intractable situation in which the power balance is changing, a fact that few have yet quite cared to acknowledge, much less to factor into new formulations for approaching China. We remain nostalgic for those quaint days when Chinese leaders still followed Deng [Xiaoping's] admonition to his people to 'hide our capacities and bide our time' (taoguang yanghui). What he meant in using this 'idiom' (chengyu) was not that China should be eternally restrained but that the time to manifest its global ambition had not yet come. Now that it is stronger, however, its leaders appear to believe that their time has at last come and they are no longer willing even to press the comforting notion of 'peaceful rise' (heping jueqi)."

At the moment, of course, the Chinese have their own internal problems, ranging from an economy that might be bubblicious to an Islamic separatist movement in the backlands of Xinjiang Province and the latest Occupy movement making waves in that modernistic Asian financial hub Hong Kong. Nonetheless, go to Beijing and the world looks like a different place. Pepe Escobar, TomDispatch's peripatetic wanderer on the Eurasian mainland, which he's dubbed Pipelineistan, has done just that. He's also visited other spots along the future "new Silk Roads" that China wants to establish all the way to Western Europe. He offers a vision of a different Eurasian world than the one reflected in news reports in this country. If you want to understand the planet we may actually be living on in the near future, it couldn't be more important to take it in. Tom

Can China and Russia Squeeze Washington Out of Eurasia?
The Future of a Beijing-Moscow-Berlin Alliance
By Pepe Escobar

A specter haunts the fast-aging "New American Century": the possibility of a future Beijing-Moscow-Berlin strategic trade and commercial alliance. Let's call it the BMB.

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Its likelihood is being seriously discussed at the highest levels in Beijing and Moscow, and viewed with interest in Berlin, New Delhi, and Tehran. But don't mention it inside Washington's Beltway or at NATO headquarters in Brussels. There, the star of the show today and tomorrow is the new Osama bin Laden: Caliph Ibrahim, aka Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the elusive, self-appointed beheading prophet of a new mini-state and movement that has provided an acronym feast -- ISIS/ISIL/IS -- for hysterics in Washington and elsewhere.

No matter how often Washington remixes its Global War on Terror, however, the tectonic plates of Eurasian geopolitics continue to shift, and they're not going to stop just because American elites refuse to accept that their historically brief "unipolar moment" is on the wane. For them, the closing of the era of "full spectrum dominance," as the Pentagon likes to call it, is inconceivable. After all, the necessity for the indispensable nation to control all space -- military, economic, cultural, cyber, and outer -- is little short of a religious doctrine. Exceptionalist missionaries don't do equality. At best, they do "coalitions of the willing" like the one crammed with "over 40 countries" assembled to fight ISIS/ISIL/IS and either applauding (and plotting) from the sidelines or sending the odd plane or two toward Iraq or Syria.

NATO, which unlike some of its members won't officially fight Jihadistan, remains a top-down outfit controlled by Washington. It's never fully bothered to take in the European Union (EU) or considered allowing Russia to "feel" European. As for the Caliph, he's just a minor diversion. A postmodern cynic might even contend that he was an emissary sent onto the global playing field by China and Russia to take the eye of the planet's hyperpower off the ball.

Divide and Isolate

So how does full spectrum dominance apply when two actual competitor powers, Russia and China, begin to make their presences felt? Washington's approach to each -- in Ukraine and in Asian waters -- might be thought of as divide and isolate.

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In order to keep the Pacific Ocean as a classic "American lake," the Obama administration has been "pivoting" back to Asia for several years now. This has involved only modest military moves, but an immodest attempt to pit Chinese nationalism against the Japanese variety, while strengthening alliances and relations across Southeast Asia with a focus on South China Sea energy disputes. At the same time, it has moved to lock a future trade agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), in place.

In Russia's western borderlands, the Obama administration has stoked the embers of regime change in Kiev into flames (fanned by local cheerleaders Poland and the Baltic nations) and into what clearly looked, to Vladimir Putin and Russia's leadership, like an existential threat to Moscow. Unlike the U.S., whose sphere of influence (and military bases) are global, Russia was not to retain any significant influence in its former near abroad, which, when it comes to Kiev, is not for most Russians, "abroad" at all.

For Moscow, it seemed as if Washington and its NATO allies were increasingly interested in imposing a new Iron Curtain on their country from the Baltic to the Black Sea, with Ukraine simply as the tip of the spear. In BMB terms, think of it as an attempt to isolate Russia and impose a new barrier to relations with Germany. The ultimate aim would be to split Eurasia, preventing future moves toward trade and commercial integration via a process not controlled through Washington.

From Beijing's point of view, the Ukraine crisis was a case of Washington crossing every imaginable red line to harass and isolate Russia. To its leaders, this looks like a concerted attempt to destabilize the region in ways favorable to American interests, supported by a full range of Washington's elite from neocons and Cold War "liberals" to humanitarian interventionists in the Susan Rice and Samantha Power mold. Of course, if you've been following the Ukraine crisis from Washington, such perspectives seem as alien as any those of any Martian. But the world looks different from the heart of Eurasia than it does from Washington -- especially from a rising China with its newly minted "Chinese dream" (Zhongguo meng).

As laid out by President Xi Jinping, that dream would include a future network of Chinese-organized new Silk Roads that would create the equivalent of a Trans-Asian Express for Eurasian commerce. So if Beijing, for instance, feels pressure from Washington and Tokyo on the naval front, part of its response is a two-pronged, trade-based advance across the Eurasian landmass, one prong via Siberia and the other through the Central Asian "stans."

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