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From September 11 to the Russian Leader

From September 11 to the Russian Leader

Monday, 10 September, 2018 - 08:00
Ghassan Charbel
Ghassan Charbel is the editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper
Time is a fast-running thief. Suddenly events become far and surrounded with fog. But the world today cannot but remember the attacks of September 11, 2001, which shook international relations, uprooted regimes and left many people dead. It was an incredible day in the life of America and the world. It was an expensive day in the Middle East that gave birth to Al-Qaeda and later ISIS.

On that day, it did not occur to Saddam Hussein that he would later join the list of victims. Moammar al-Gaddafi was confident of his non-involvement, as he had abandoned the game of harassing American imperialism. King Abdullah II was flying over the Atlantic on his way to the United States. He soon realized that the day would be a turning point in America’s relations with the world. Ali Abdullah Saleh did not believe the initial reports and then realized what had happened. When he saw the first plane hit the tower, Massoud Barzani thought the television was showing an ordinary movie, but the second plane pushed him to follow the news.

At that time, the name of the Iranian president was Mohammad Khatami and talk of the “Iranian crescent” was not yet on the table. Pervez Musharraf had to prepare Pakistan to deal with the approaching earthquake. The name of the Lebanese President was Emile Lahoud. And the name of the prime minister was Rafik al-Hariri. Samir Geagea was in prison and Michel Aoun was in exile. Bashar al-Assad was celebrating his first year of tenure and had not visited Iran.

The US empire punished those who targeted the symbols of its success and prestige and expanded the circle of chastisement. The body of Osama bin Laden was lost in the ocean. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi made the disaster and disappeared after losing his “state” and strongholds. But what’s strange is that idea of targeting the World Trade Center by a civilian plane was not made by bin Laden.

Notorious Venezuelan terrorist, Carlos, followed that day’s developments from his French prison. “I cannot describe that wonderful feeling of satisfaction.” In a letter he sent to those who imprisoned him, he said: “In the spring of 1991, after the air attacks that caused enormous destruction in Iraq, I attended an exciting meeting of cadres of anti-imperialist organizations of various sects and ideologies, in which spontaneous and unofficial statements were made on the need to respond with bombings in the United States. Shaheed Murtaza Bhutto, the secretary general of the Pakistani Zulfikar organization, put forward the idea of hitting the World Trade Center in New York by plane, and not only focusing on the obvious targets in Washington.”

The September 11 attacks were intended to ignite the lines of confrontation between the West and the Muslim world and create an unprecedented rift in US-Saudi relations. The purpose was also to trap the US military into a war in the rugged terrain in Afghanistan. Bin Laden had a dream of seeing the US military withdraw from Afghanistan with great losses, as what happened with the Soviet Red Army. But bin Laden certainly underestimated the strength of the American military machine and the extent to which the world rejected terrorism.

Since the day of the attacks and to this date, the Middle East has lived a series of storms that have torn up maps and countries, shook balances and changed features: the war on Al-Qaeda; the invasion of Iraq and the fall of the wall that was preventing the flow of Iranian cinders in the region; the outbreak of the "Arab Spring" and the emergence of ISIS; the open Syrian wound, which also involved regional and international battles over a lake of blood.

Bin Laden’s planes did not succeed in toppling the international scene and its balances. Baghdadi were unable to take hold long enough to tear down the maps.

The great change will come from a different place and another dictionary and by a young intelligence officer who came out of the Soviet rubble. It is most likely that Boris Yeltsin did not know he was sending to the West an explosive belt.

On September 8, 1999, during a telephone conversation with President Bill Clinton about who would win the presidential election in Russia, Yeltsin replied that it would be Vladimir Putin. “I finally found him. He is the right person. I have studied his resume. He is democratic and understands well the West. I saw that he was a strong and solid man, who was well-informed about the various subjects under his administration,” he said. “At the same time, he has a comprehensive and strong vision, and he is a very social figure. He can secure good relations and communicate with various personalities. I’m sure you’ll see him as a very qualified partner.”

When the September 11 attacks took place, the Kremlin was ruled by Putin, who took office on the first day of this century. The man was catching his breath and trying to overcome the storms of disintegration from the Russian Federation and the winds of the scattering Red Army.

Western leaders had imagined that the new Russian president would accept the single superpower-world, only renovate the Russia state and announce the dream of belonging to the “common European house”.

Putin, however, had not forgiven the US for toppling the Soviet Union without firing a single bullet and for ignoring Yeltsin’s demands not to provoke Russia by sending NATO’s weapons to the vicinity of its borders. The man was deeply suspicious that the various revolutions were being plotted by the CIA. He first had to complete the stage of subjugating the generals, businessmen and the media so that the outside world would not have information about his house. This is what happened.

When his preparations were done, he used the Syrian war to launch a major coup. He annexed Crimea and reminded Ukraine of the importance of geography. He intervened military in Syria, tamed the Turkish position and reined in the Iranian stubbornness. He made himself a necessity for all the players.

At the recent Tehran summit with Erdogan and Rouhani, Putin seemed confident that Idlib would face the same fate of the other “de-escalation” zones. He went beyond his position of president and took on that of a leader, who did not feel compelled to pay heed to Erdogan in front of the microphones.

The world has changed. The September 11 attacks have become part of a distant past. We live today in the era of the Russian leader.

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