For Part 1 on Afghanistan, click here.
America may still be the greatest military power on the planet by far, but across the Greater Middle East the U.S. is being challenged, its standing subverted, its reputation diminished -- not only by its enemies, but, even more, by its supposed allies.
These supposedly partners often have totally different interests from America's, and act accordingly. They -- like Russia's President Putin -- have also apparently concluded they have little to fear from harsh U.S. reprisals.
Indeed, the new head of the Afghan Taliban, Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, owes his position, according to the New York Times, to his very tight relationship with Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency, as well as his generous payouts to other Taliban commanders.
Which explains why, while the U.S. has been using drones to knock off terrorists around the globe, Mullah Mansour has lived quite openly in a well-guarded suburb of Quetta, Pakistan, where he and other Taliban leaders enjoy a very comfortable living. He has also amassed a considerable fortune from the narcotics trade and may own a mobile phone company.
Yet, Pakistan has been receiving a billion dollars a year in mostly military aid from the U.S. since 2002. Much of that aid was in return for Islamabad's reluctant agreement after 9/11 to turn against the Afghan Taliban, who they had previously been supporting, along with al-Qaeda. (The U.S. of course had also originally backed Islamic radicals who ultimately drove the Soviets from Afghanistan, some of whom later morphed into al-Qaeda.)
For years American and Afghan officials have railed against the Pakistani's for their duplicity -- collecting billions for supposedly supporting the War of Terror, yet giving shelter to Osama bin Laden, and refusing to crack down on the remote Pakistani sanctuaries of the Afghan Taliban and their allies.
Though the U.S. has been quietly encouraging the possibility of negotiations with the Taliban in Afghanistan, the standard American line still is that the Taliban are ruthless terrorists who enabled al-Qaeda and must be destroyed.
But the Pakistanis lives in a tough, dangerous part of the world. As their ISI agency sees it the Taliban would be an ideal proxy for them to influence Afghanistan after the Americans depart, as everyone knows they will.
A few weeks ago, the U.S. government-pushed by an angry Congress -- reluctantly lowered the boom. Washington announced it was going to withhold $300 million in military aid if "Islamabad doesn't do more to crack down on militants targeting US and Afghan troops in Afghanistan."
Sounds tough -- but, even if the Pentagon refuses to certify that the Pakistanis have finally acted, Pakistan will still collect $800 million this year from its U.S. ally.
Meanwhile, the Taliban's new leader continues to operate out of his upscale digs in Quetta, Pakistan.
"But Quetta is not his only option," writes the New York Times. "Although he is on the United Nations no-fly list, Mullah Mansour has repeatedly taken flights in and out of Pakistan, according to a senior Afghan intelligence official. Often, his destination has been Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, where he has a house and several investments under different names, the official said."
When we last checked, the UAE were also supposedly allies of the United States. U.S. planes in fact fly out of Abu Dhabi to hit targets in Syria and Iraq.
Take a look at America's support of another supposed ally -- Saudi Arabia. For months now the U.S. has been quietly providing intelligence, munitions, and logistic support for the Saudi's incredibly brutal attacks against rebel forces in Yemen. The wanton destruction of densely populated urban areas has created a huge new refugee crisis in the poorest country in the region.
Unidentified American officials have quietly let it be known that they don't really agree with what the Saudi's are up to, particularly the Saudis' claim that they are really waging war against Iranian proxies in Yemen. But, while much of the rest of the world look on in horror -- and increasing condemnation -- not a public word out of Washington.
Apparently, feeling the need to appease the Saudis who are unhappy with the nuclear accord with Iran, U.S. officials are facilitating a despicable policy they themselves don't really believe in.
It's a similar story in Israel where there's been a new upsurge of violence and killings and talk of a Third Intifada. As Israeli journalist Gideon Levy writes in Haaretz,
"Even Mahatma Gandhi would understand the reasons for this outburst of Palestinian violence... As veteran Palestinian activist Hanan Ashrawi wrote recently, the Palestinians are the only people on earth required to guarantee the security of the occupier, while Israel is the only country that demands protection from its victims. And how can we respond?...
This could go on for many more years. Why? Because Israel is stronger than ever and the West is indifferent and letting it run wild as it never has."
While steadfastly protecting Israel with its Security Council vetoes, America has refused to publicly condemn the extremist policies of an Israeli government increasingly under the sway of the militant settlers.
Apparently, behind the scenes, Netanyahu has told those pushing for even more radical moves that he's been warned by Washington that the U.S. would no longer protect Israel in the Security Council if Israel continues to build new settlements.
But when questioned about this, a State Department spokesman refused to confirm the U.S. has finally taken a tough stand with Jerusalem. It's been years since an American President has dared to openly challenge the policies of the Jerusalem government, while Israel's Prime Minister regularly disparages President Obama, and continues the hoary mantra "We're friends of America, and we're the only reliable allies of America in the Middle East."
It's the same with Egypt. Earlier this year, President Obama restored more than $1.3 billion dollars of mostly military aid to Egypt -- ready to overlook the fact that Cairo is ruled by a corrupt, increasingly brutal and repressive military regime, which also regularly thumbs its nose at Washington.
Meanwhile, America's NATO partner, the Turks, have been shelling Kurdish forces in Syria, forces that have been in the forefront of the American-led battled against ISIS.
At the same time, it's also America's Saudi and Gulf allies -- as well as fabulously wealthy private Gulf citizens -- who have poured billions into backing ISIS and other jihadi groups in Syria, Iraq and throughout the region.
Iraq, of course, is another supposed ally where the U.S. lavished huge sums in treasure and lives. Last year, U.S. armed and trained Iraqi soldiers fled before a few thousand Sunni jihadis. They refused to fight for many of the same reasons that Afghan soldiers refused to fight for their own corrupt, dysfunctional government.
Ignoring Washington's protests, the Iraqis allowed Russian planes to transport military supplies to Syria across Iraqi airspace. America's Iraqi ally has also agreed to share intelligence with the Russians, Assad, and the Iranians, and allowed Russia missiles aimed at Syria to fly through their airspace.
No wonder Vladimir Putin felt he was able to challenge the U.S. in the Middle East.