Toomas Alatalu, a historian and former MP who is now a member of the Social Democratic Party, says the scale of regional conflict in the Middle East and Africa makes Baltic concerns about Russia trivial.
It's a little funny when a defense minister from a small country goes and tries to dictate military and security policy terms to top US brass. It's especially odd in a situation where Estonia's situation vis-a-vis Russia remains unchanged, yet 4,000-5,000 kilometers to the south of us, an unprecedented war continues to rage in places that were silent just three years ago.
Those regional conflicts expanded to seven more countries last year. In other words, things have become bad, but not on the shores of the Baltic, but rather on the Mediterranean's southern and eastern littoral and deep inland. Leading EU powers take much of the responsibility for allowing this conflagration to flare up, as they have been operating on the basis of the wrong decisions, be it in tandem with the US or independently.
It's hard news to accept, but in the period following the most recent war in Gaza, relative peace reigned in the Middle East and North Africa from January 2009 to December 2010. Then a revolution erupted to Tunisia, Egypt and Bahrain. Civil wars in Libya, Syria and Yemen started, two of which continued into 2012, and the war in Syria is still raging today. Last year, the revolution in Egypt was turned back by force and a new phase of popular unrest started in Tunisia.
That's just part of the story. In 2013, or summer 2012, conflicts founded on religious hatred started in Mali, Algeria, Chad, Niger, Nigeria, Kenya, Somalia, the Central African Republic and South Sudan. Add the fact that new fighting started in Yemen, that the Syrian war spread to Lebanon and fueled the already ongoing civil war in Iraq, and the slate is a sad one: in 2010 there was no chatter of machine guns in the region, 2011 saw fighting in six countries, 2012 in five countries and in 2013, in a whopping 15 countries!
Consider also that Al Qaeda is behind most of the new hotspots, and that it is truly a global terrorist network, and it's logical to ask: how successful have the activities of the US and its allies been in crushing this organization, and is transforming more countries into battlefields really the way to go?
Last year's developments raise the question of who holds the initiative: the US, which is pulling out of Afghanistan this year, or brazen terrorist groups who have opened up additional fronts in countries home to both Muslems and Christians, both Arabs and black Africans? We know from history that such demographically complex countries were conceived in the minds of colonial gentlemen in London and Paris 110-130 years ago and the borders were decided in Europe.
It's clear in hindsight that while George W. Bush's decision to attack Afghanistan for refusing to surrender Bin Laden had some logic behind it, the unleashing of the second war, the one in Iraq, was a huge mistake from the point of view of the entire Muslim world.
After it came to office in January 2009, the Obama administration started rectifying Bush's errors, announcing a pullout in Iraq and drawdown in Afghanistan. As we know, Obama's Palestine plan failed in autumn 2010 due to a coalition between the American GOP, Israel and European powers. Ever since then, the US and European countries have marched to a different beat on the issue of the Islamic world. To put it more precisely, each has had its own agenda all through the Arab Spring era and they have only supported each other when the needs and interests happen to coincide.
A good example is the countries of the Sahara, where the whole problem started when the events in Libya were forced to come to a head. Paris, London and Rome needed a quick victory that would secure them oil production, and so the events elsewhere in the country were neglected. A large part of the mercenaries on the losing side simply moved south to pursue their calling in other countries. When the alarm was sounded on Mali, the US sent 100 troops to Niger to aid its ally. When the problem spread to the Central African Republic, France had to plead for aid and Estonia's courageous government had an opportunity to shine, by sending men. And it was duly announced shortly thereafter that the men would be used for reconnaissance. Yet half of the nation's 5 million people are already said to consist of refugees! Very interesting, as Paris recently announced that it could manage the CAR on its own.
The US government has acted just as selectively in Syria. There, too, developments were artificially forced to come to a fatal head - as most of the locals weren't against the regime, any outsider was accepted into rebel ranks and pretty soon it was discovered that a large number of them were the notorious Al Qaeda-ites. Unfortunately, European capitals turned a blind eye to this and continued to support mercenaries, even though there were no visible prospects of success.
When word came in that chemical weapons had been used, pressure mounted on the US government to call in the air force against the government forces. Fortunately, Obama remembered the bombing of Libya, which only succeeded in creating a country brimming with anarchy where the Al Qaeda killed the US ambassador on September 11, 2012 and where no change for the better has yet occurred. Even Estonia was cross over Obama's indecisiveness, yet today only a few talk about the fact that the Syrian government (and not the rebels) used chemical weapons.
But Obama set a course for achieving a political solution in Syria, and the quick removal of the nuclear conflict in Iran from the agenda was the main step in preparation for this. Paris and London opposed it, but the plan was pushed through by joint pressure from Washington and Moscow.
Today, we are seeing many fundamentally new developments occurring in Syria and Iraq. Muslims left to their own devices amidst vacillation from Western capitals have regrouped, one camp of rebels is fighting another and often this occurs in collusion with government forces. Iran, which has to this point been solely demonized, is for the second week in a row offering aid to an Iraqi Shiite-Sunni coalition that is trying to get the better of the largest Al Qaeda group. It should be recalled that in 2011, the international coalition also relied on Iranian aid to topple the Taliban in Afghanistan.
If we also add to this mix the bloody attacks in Volgograd, which were also linked to Al Qaeda followers, then asking for one US tank for Estonia is all very well and good and Cold War veterans will eat it up, but making a big announcement about it at a US think tank just shows an inability to really grasp what is happening in the world.
This is a translation of a piece originally published on uudised.err.ee.