The title of this article is so simplistically black and white that at a wayward glance any laymen would probably consider it’s from a tweet by the President of the United States of America, Mr. Donald Trump. Yet, unfortunately, this unpretentious phrase defines the foreign policy of most countries engaging in diplomatic missions in the Middle East.
On 4th November 2017, the Lebanese Prime Minister, Mr. Saad Hariri while on a trip to Saudi Arabia abruptly resigned and gravely escalated rumours that Lebanon was going to be in a war with Saudi Arabia. Different theories erupted and a hypothesis was created that stated, Lebanon’s confessionalism was in danger. This hypothesis was brought into existence by the fact that due to Hezbollah’s (An ally of Iran) growing influence in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia was greatly “pissed off” (Lebanon’s confessionalism is a system in which the Lebanese President has to be a Maronite Christian, the Prime Minister a Sunni Muslim, the Speaker of the Parliament a Shia Muslim, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Deputy Speaker of the Parliament, an Eastern Orthodox.)
This intriguing bloodless tussle was another isolated incident that is a part of the ongoing Middle-East Cold War which narrowly avoided plunging into a civil war not unlike in Syria. This Middle East Cold War is a set of proxy wars that are set in the resource abundant Middle-East and preordained by the two most influential nations in that region, Iran and Saudi Arabia. To explain the above stated Lebanon incident; Saudi Arabia was not happy with the sway that Hezbollah which is an ally of Iran held over Lebanese politics. Hence to air their displeasure they took the only measure that is fit for an autocratic state. They undemocratically and undiplomatically tried to “detain” and “coerce” the leader of another state.
In the oil and natural gas rich region of the Middle-East, two countries hold key to all the civil wars, terrorist attacks and distrust prevalent in this scantily developed zone. Both of these countries are united in their following of a single religion, Islam and are divided over their different interpretations of a single religion, Islam.
The majority population in Iran is a follower of the Shia sect of Islam, while the majority population in Saudi Arabia is a follower of the Sunni sect of Islam. This being the foremost reason for their conflict is however not the only one. Both of these countries vie for influence in the Islamic nations of the Middle East, which in turn has led to proxy wars and civil wars being waged in the countries that have a sizable population of both the Sunnis and the Shias.
Even though a Middle-East country is embroiled at some point or the other in a civil war or plagued by a terrorist organisation at its borders, that is almost always, directly a result of the policies practised by these two countries, there is no reason that these conflicts should foray into global politics or become a part of the dinner table conversation in a nation thousands of kilometres away from these countries. In other words, Iran and Saudi Arabia, alone are not capable of indulging in proxy wars that can be unsettling to a wider part of the world.
For example, a civil war is ongoing in Yemen for nearly three years, and yet most people haven’t heard of Yemen yet alone the civil war. While, when a civil war commenced in Syria, which is a smaller state than Yemen in terms of both population and area, the news escalated to a comprehensive, global level. The Syrian Civil War was a global pandemic that raised universal concern for the Syrian and Iraqi people suffering in the war and affected all people who were even slightly interested in worldly affairs, whereas the innocents dying in Yemen are an anonymous, forlorn affair that is nobody’s business.
The reason for this peculiarity is the involvement of forces much larger than both Saudi Arabia and Iran and for the matter any other state embroiled in a civil war escalation. In the Syrian Civil War, the belligerent sides apart from the different local Syrian factions included both the United States of America and Russia (China through Russia as well). For control over the important geo-political region that Syria represents, both of these giants were willing to send in their dollars and their men. Clashing on the opposite sides of the spectrum, they used their allies Saudi Arabia and Iran, respectively to play their hand.
Thus, came the use of the term, “Good Muslim, Bad Muslim”
If we are to bring every discourse to the simplest conclusion or remove every diplomatic undertone to get a solid fact, we will arrive at the inference, that USA is an ally of Saudi Arabia and its satellite countries (mainly Gulf Corporation Council) that include prosperous nations like UAE and Kuwait, while Russia and to some extent China through Russia are allied with the nations of Iran and Syria (Bashar al-Assad is a Russian ally while the revolting faction in Syria are supported by the West). This term, “Good Muslim, Bad Muslim”, while may seem to some, mildly insulting and even derogatory, is no different from the American policy towards USSR and China in the 1970s. In the Nixon era, both USSR and China (PRC) were communist nations, but the policy employed by the Americans towards China was benevolent as compared to the cold treatment vetted out to the Soviets. Many argue that this was done to drive a rift between the two communist nations after the ties between them had gone sour. The term used at that time was, “Good Commies” to refer to the Chinese.
Similarly the term used here, “Good Muslim” is used to refer to the Saudi Arabians and their allies. The treatment adorned on the Iranians is no different from that shown to USSR and its allies; hence the term, “Bad Muslim”.
Despite the fact, that USA and Iran do not see eye to eye currently, it will come as a shock to many when they learn that Iran was the closest American ally in Asia before 1979. Back in the late 1950s onwards, it was expected that Iran would enjoy the same first world status that most European nations enjoy today, because at that time, it was one of the most developed nation in Asia. With the support from the most powerful nation in the world, the rulers of Iran had created a country that was free from all religious restrictions that are prevalent in most Muslim majority nations. Women living in Iran had the same rights as men and enjoyed no constraints on the way they dressed or behaved. But this short utopia was not going to last because this rule itself was built on a farce.
The ruler of Iran from 1953 to 1979, who enjoyed close relations with the West was the Shah of Iran. He was brought to power in a coup organized by the Americans and the British. Before 1953, Iran was governed by a democratic body, elected by the people while the Shah was a titular head. This democratic body which was established by a third party that consisted of the Allied leaders of USSR, USA and the UK, decided in 1951 to nationalise its petroleum industry which was needed to ensure that the people of Iran possessed the profits that were wrought from the resources mined from Iran. However, the imperialistic outlook of the Americans and the British was to be challenged by this revolutionary step. The nationalisation of all petroleum resources meant that the profits being earned by the British and indirectly the Americans were going to disappear. Thus, to protect its interests they organised a coup against the democratic government of Iran and recognised the monarchical and autocratic rule of the Shah.
Thus commenced a great hatred for the Americans and the West within the minds of the Iranians. A hatred which was going to turn into a revolution within 30 years and which would still be ubiquitous in 2018. The Shah was overthrown in 1979 in a violent revolution that endeavoured to wipe out all Western influence whether good or bad from its lands. The relation between Iran and USA which were at their height once are today, lukewarm at best.
The Iran coup and later the Iranian revolution are now regarded as the first example of Western interfering, in a largely peaceful and economically sustainable nation, which led to turmoil and violence and later plagued the nation with chaos. More examples in the form of Libya, Iraq and Syria appear where the nation-state was stable both economically and socially before the West organised a coup or invented a reason to invade so that it could fulfil its contemptable and petty desires that more or less included the craving of cheap oil. These actions led by the USA in collusion with its allies in the NATO were done on the pretext of “Good Muslim, Bad Muslim”. The Western conspirators in almost all cases invented an account in which they labelled the country whose domestic policies were not in line with Western interests as “Bad Muslims” and enlisted the help of a nation that was willing to align with their interest and called them the “Good Muslims”.
This strategy while filled the Western coffers and enhanced their interest, at the same time destroyed the livelihood of millions of people whose country was destroyed by foreign actions. More or less all the nations suffering Western interference plummeted into civil wars or a feudal state like structure, from which they are unlikely to escape in the near future. While this action devastated lives and nations, it also did another irreparable damage. It pushed the nations which fear an Iran or Syria like interference from the West into the arms of another growing superpower, China. Although, it is not a terrible thing to align with nations that meet one’s interests, in this case it could spell misfortune. American hegemony was at worst not an appalling thing for most of the nations. Even though it caused irreversible damage in some countries, the democratic values espoused by the American people are a brilliant inspiration for the modern world. However, the prolonged interference by the West into another nation’s affair would mean most nations would turn from the United States and would look for other options that would be China or China through Russia. The system of governance practised by both China and Russia is based on an authoritative system that moves to crush all dissent and impose a system that curtails all forms of personal freedom that a democratic system ensures. This is not a pleasant thought for the people who enjoy even the slightest freedom in their life and dream of a life that safeguards their personal liberty.
This American approach towards the Middle-East, of drawing a line in its treatment of different nations based on their susceptibility to Western policies has only wedged a divide in the trouble-rife region. While this dogma was at best debatable in the cold war era, it should be completely eschewed in this peaceful era. The policy of sanctions and unfair treatment that USA currently employs against Iran is a blatant attack on America’s credibility to act as a responsible superpower. This does not inspire confidence in the American hegemony and directly sends country like Iran into the influence of China and Russia, which do not stimulate the same confidence that a democratic superpower like USA does.
In the article, it has been repeatedly mentioned China through Russia. It is done to highlight the fact that China like Russia does not actively send its troops into war torn nations. However, it is China that is responsible for sponsoring Russian effort in the recent civil wars, because Russian economy is too weak to support war efforts in a foreign nation. It is also speculated that China through its public sector companies own a share in a large number of Russian state-owned firms.