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Patrick Lawrence: 21st Century Order

As a piece of the new world order that is under construction, Putin’s trip to Tehran last week was of singular importance.
Railway station constructed in 2013 in Kazandzhik, Turkmenistan, an important crossroad of the Trans-Caspian Railway and North-South Transnational Railway. (Balkan Wiki, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons)

By Patrick Lawrence / Consortium News

At last we were able to read, last week, a New York Times story that concerned the Russians but not the brutal Russians. However, if we are not reading about the brutal Russians and their brutal military and their brutal attacks on civilians in Ukraine, we are obliged to read about the lonesome Russians, the pariah Russians, the Russians the world has forsaken. We are never going to read about ordinary, just plain Russians in the Times or in the rest of the mainstream press as it apes the Times. This we must accept.

Vladimir Putin traveled to Tehran last Tuesday for a summit with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader. This was an unusual occasion: The Russian president has not been much for foreign travel since the Covid–19 pandemic erupted; it was his second state visit outside the Russian Federation since Russia intervened in Ukraine last February.

And it is a big deal, deserving of our attention. It marks another step, a considerable one, in the construction of the diplomatic, political, and economic infrastructure that will — I don’t consider this a daring prediction — define the 21st century. We witness the new world order many of us anticipate as it is being built.

The new world order many of us anticipate, if you have not noticed, ranks high among the great unsayables in American discourse and among American media. No, we’re still stuck on our “rules-based international order,” which is clunky code for the hegemony America defends. It is hopelessly passé at this point but remains lethally destructive.

Apart from significant signals that Moscow and Tehran are committed to deepening ties, the centerpiece of the occasion was a simultaneous memorandum of understanding signed by the National Iranian Oil Company and Gazprom. In an agreement worth $40 billion, the Russian energy supplier is to assist on the technology side as Iran develops two gas fields and six oil fields. Further out, this is part of a long-in-the-making project that will connect Russia, Iran, and India by sea, road, rail, and, eventually, a very significant Iran–to–India oil pipeline.

One giant step for Russia and Iran, let’s say, and one even more giant step for the non–West as it advances toward parity with the West.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, meeting with Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Ebrahim Raisi in Tehran, July 19. (Mehr News Agency, CC BY 4.0, Wikimedia Commons)

But never mind all that. When Putin traveled to Tehran it was to find solace in “a fellow outcast,” The New York Times misinformed us in its July 19 report. Iran and Russia are “two isolated, sanctions-stricken countries whose main connection is their active opposition to the United States, its allies and its domination of the multilateral world order,” we read in the paper’s second-day story.  

You simply cannot beat the Times for reductionist rubbish when a major development does not match America’s fictions. The task is to keep its readers’ heads buried so far into the sand they have no hope of pulling them out.

I can’t, anyway.

A Second Summit

Apart from the Putin–Khamenei talks and the Gazprom–NIOC surprise, Putin attended a second summit, this one with Ebrahim Raisi, the Iranian president, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Tehran and Moscow share a common interest in bringing order to Syria now that Damascus, with Russian and Iranian help, has reasserted sovereignty except in areas of the north where the Islamist militias of ISIS and its offshoots remain active and where the U.S. continues to steal Syrian oil as part of an illegal occupation.

As reported, the intent of the three-way was to dissuade the perfidious Turkish leader from launching another offensive against the Kurdish population in areas near the Syrian frontier with Turkey. There’s no indication at this time as to how successful Putin and Raisi were in their talks with Erdogan, a tinpot main-chancer whose word and a quarter will get you a cup of coffee, as we used to say.

I love some of the problems the Times’ Steven Erlanger identified when analyzing the Russian–Iranian demarche, and there must be problems if an event of this magnitude is to be properly misunderstood. “Russia does not share Iran’s enmity toward Israel and does not want Tehran to develop a nuclear weapon,” Mr. Erlanger tells us.

Last time I checked, Tehran wants a settlement with Tel Aviv that guarantees its security; the enmity runs in the other direction. Tehran, as a matter of its religious principles, does not want to build a nuclear weapon — as it has made clear too many times to count.

Here is a good one:

“Russia and Iran are also competing to sell their sanctioned and discounted oil to China and other countries. Though the quality of the crude is different in both countries, it is difficult to imagine them forming some sort of cartel to sell sanctioned oil, Mr. Shapiro [a former State Department bureaucrat] said.”

Who said anything about some sort of cartel, other than Mr. Shapiro? But it must be said, who can imagine two oil-producing nations getting along when they both market internationally — especially when they are not selling the same product? I think I understand.   

The best in this crop of silly assertions is Erlanger’s analysis of the main fault line in the Tehran–Moscow relationship. It does not rest on “shared values and democracy.” Uh-oh. It is “transactional” and rests on converging interests. “But transactional relations do not make for lasting alliances or disguise the strains within them,” writes our Steve [as if the U.S. is not transactional in its international dealings].

Translation: The Biden regime is hell bent on replacing politics and history in international relations with ideology and an authoritarians-vs.-democrats binary that is supposed to define all of humanity. I have to set aside my usual decorum here. Horseshit. History, politics and interests are the proper determinants in state-to-state relations. Ideology, even when referred to as “values,” has no place in them.

Stevie, you’re no Jack Kennedy.

Coherence of the Non–West

In the increasing coherence of the non–West, there were a few days last year that I have never got out of my head. They occurred after the Biden regime’s first significant encounter with the Chinese. You remember: the disastrous talks in Anchorage, Alaska, March 2021.

The Chinese side was looking expectantly for a new start with the Americans, the beginning of a serious relationship based on mutual respect, parity, and none other than common interests. Antony Blinken, our secretary of guitar strumming and state, instead gave them canned ideological lectures about democracy, human rights and the rules-based international order. It was a disaster.

As soon as Wang Yi, the Chinese foreign minister, returned to Beijing, Sergei Lavrov, the Russian FM, flew to the Chinese capital for talks. As soon as those talks finished, Wang flew to Tehran and concluded a 25–year, $400 billion agreement with the Islamic Republic — tech transfer, infrastructure development, oil sales, and so on — that had been years in gestation.

March 27, 2021: Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, center, and then Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on right, signing 25-year Iran–China cooperation program. (Tasnim News Agency, CC BY 4.0, Wikimedia Commons)

There you have it, the dynamic of the non–West’s coalescence. It is not anti–American or anti–anybody, as the Western press insists it is. The powers involved have, imagine this, too many common interests to bother with adversarial enmity and, indeed, would rather the Americans and their allies cut out the ideological antagonism and join in the effort to build a world order worthy of the term. Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping made this explicitly clear in that remarkable joint declaration they made public on the eve of the Beijing Olympics last winter.

What happened in Anchorage, what made it so key a moment, is that the Chinese simply gave up trying to work with the Americans: You can’t get any sense out of them, Beijing concluded. This, parenthetically, is exactly what the Russians concluded 11 months later when they intervened in Ukraine.

The construction of infrastructure to serve a 21st century world order has been under way for some time. China’s Belt and Road Initiative is a big part of it. Then you have bilateral relations improving here and there: China’s recent economic agreements with Cuba, China’s with Iran, Iran’s with Venezuela, China’s with Venezuela, India’s with Russia, and so on. These multiply as we speak.

All these desperate outcasts. They seem to be everywhere, lolling around feeling forlorn.

The Russia–Iran development is another piece of this but seems to me singularly important. It signals that sanctions, which do not work in any case, will eventually fail completely and that Iran is more than gradually coming in from the cold.  

On the diplomatic side, the Islamic Republic has just become part of a three-sided bloc with Russia and China. This follows by a year its admission as a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a Eurasian partnership China started in 2001. Tehran’s application to join the BRICS — Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — is pending, as is Argentina’s.  

When Hossein Amir–Abdollahian, Iran’s foreign minister, visited New Delhi earlier this summer it signaled what The Diplomat is calling a reset in relations. His Indian counterpart, along with Prime Minister Nahendra Modi, were effusive in their celebrations of the relationship afterward.

In the nuts-and-bolts line, Iran recently agreed with Azerbaijan, its northern neighbor — this is another memo of understanding — to build an elaborate corridor establishing rail, road, communications and energy links. Now this gets interesting. Coming atop the Gazprom deal, the project with Azerbaijan brings Iran closer to a direct transport link with Russia.

Now dolly out. This deal comes just as a new rail link between Russia and India opens, via Iran. This is part of something called the International North–South Transport Corridor (INSTC), which Moscow, Tehran and New Delhi set in motion at the turn of the century. No, in all likelihood you have read nothing of this.

Here is the part that most interests me. As the INSTC develops, it may follow naturally that India and Iran can revisit a project that was iced many years ago. In the early years of this century, the two sides proposed a gas pipeline linking Iranian fields to Indian ports. The U.S., eager to make the Islamic Republic the outcast Steve Erlanger wants us to think it is, vigorously opposed the project and it was dropped.

Reports now suggest the pipeline project, which makes eminent economic sense, is under study once again. Nothing definite is yet agreed, but it tells us that in time Western markets, long key to the West’s coercive power, will no longer be the only markets. And I like the poetic justice: You can slow us down but you cannot stop us.

This same can be said of the non–West’s ever more evident gathering of forces, interests, and cooperative arrangements. Who, I have to ask, is leading the world forward in a sensible, constructive direction? And who is retarding this process with all its might, the only thing it has left?

Patrick Lawrence
Patrick Lawrence

Patrick Lawrence, a correspondent abroad for many years, chiefly for the International Herald Tribune, is a media critic, essayist, author and lecturer. His most recent book is Time No Longer: Americans After the American Century. His web site is Patrick Lawrence. Support his work via his Patreon siteHis Twitter account, @thefloutist, has been permanently censored without explanation.

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