It's Cool To Be Non-Aligned A Blast From the Past: The Non-Aligned Movement

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by Eric Margolis

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This week's Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) conference in Tehran brought nostalgic memories of the Cold War and world-bestriding leaders like Nehru, Nasser, Castro, Nkrumah, and Sukarno. However, most of them were disasters for their nations, but they certainly were colorful and interesting.

In spite of intense efforts by the US and Israel to deter attendance at the Tehran meeting — backed by a wave of western media attacks on the conclave — over 150 nations and international bodies attended.

This big turnout marked a major failure by Washington to further tighten its siege of Iran. Of particular note was the presence of India's prime minister, Manmohan Singh. India refused to bow to US pressure to boycott the event and announced future energy, trade and transport deals with Tehran.

Iran plays a key role in India's plans to expand its influence over Afghanistan and Central Asia. India is building a new, strategic rail line linking the Iranian port of Chahbahar to western Afghanistan. Iran supplies over 11% of India's fast-growing demand for energy. Delhi increasingly worries about the security of its Mideast energy imports.

As I wrote a decade ago in my first book, War at the Top of the World, the US and India may one day become rivals for Mideast oil and gas resources — and, indeed, for control of the Gulf. India's refusal to go along with US policy further underlines the gradual shift to Asia of the world's center of strategic and economic gravity.

To Washington's further annoyance, Egypt's new president, Mohammed Morsi, shrugged off threats of a cut in US aid and flew to Tehran. Under the 30-year Mubarak dictatorship, Egypt had been a bulwark against Iran. But no more. The increasingly assertive, independent Morsi made clear that Egypt would follow its own foreign policy interests rather than those of the US and Israel, as in the past.

Morsi has surprised just about everyone. When he stumbled into power earlier this year he was regarded as a plodding nobody, selected by the all-powerful military to do its bidding and not make trouble. The Muslim Brotherhood leader, a former space engineer, threw off his cloak of humility and quickly proceeded to muzzle Egypt's bullying US-backed military, the key to US domination of Egypt for the past 40 years.

How Morsi pulled this off without facing a military coup remains a mystery. But he certainly had the backing of most Egyptians. It took Turkey's Islamist Lite government a decade to push the swaggering generals back to their barracks and bring real democracy.

The Egyptian leader stunned everyone by openly blasting the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad, calling for its replacement by an elected, democratic government. Egyptian intervention in the bloody Syrian conflict may help pave a way to a peaceful settlement. It could also rekindle ancient Egyptian-Syrian rivalry for leadership of the Arab world.

In spite of issuing dulcet banalities about Egypt's turn to democracy, Washington is extremely unhappy with Egypt's newly elected government. Egypt will no longer be a discreet defender and ally of Israel, as under Mubarak, but a rival power that genuinely demands a Palestinian state and sees no reason to confront Iran or other US foes.

The US is responding to Egypt's newfound independence by muttering about cuts to its annual $1.3 billion donations to Egypt's military and millions more in secret payments. However, the Saudis and Gulf Arabs are lending cash-strapped Cairo $3 billion and the US-run IMF another $4.8 billion in loans. Interestingly, President Morsi just visited China where he received pledges of aid.

In past years, most non-aligned conferences, whose objective was to find a middle way between the West and Soviet Empire, produced only hot air, often quite anti-American. As America's world power declines after the loss of two wars and deep recession, the NAM meeting in Tehran maybe a step, albeit small, towards moving away from today's unipolar world towards a more balanced, equitable international system.

Iran's supreme leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei loosed a Parthian Shaft at the summit's end. He called the United Nations Security Council outdated, unbalanced, and an instrument of the western powers. Khamenei called for a major reform of the world institution. Few delegates disagreed with him.

Eric Margolis [send him mail] is the author of War at the Top of the World and the new book, American Raj: Liberation or Domination?: Resolving the Conflict Between the West and the Muslim World. See his website.

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