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Analysis: America's foes circle wagons

By
CLAUDE SALHANI, UPI International Editor

WASHINGTON, Feb. 14 (UPI) -- America's enemies are circling their wagons, readying for what they perceive to be inevitable: a showdown with the United States.

Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was quoted by the New York Times as having told a large crowd of demonstrators: "I ask our dear people to prepare themselves for a great struggle. Fasten your seat belts and pull up your sleeves."

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Fearing a potential attack, Ahmadinejad, now more than ever, will push ahead with his country's desire to acquire nuclear weapons, feeling it would deter potential attacks against the Islamic republic. Last month Ahmadinejad flew to Damascus to confer with Syrian President Bashar Assad. Their discussions, no doubt, focused on mutual fears -- the likelihood of U.S. attacks.

Last week U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice criticized Syria and Iran, accusing Damascus and Tehran of being responsible for much of the violence in the region. Rice chided Iran and Syria, reproaching them of having gone "out of their way to inflame sentiments," and blamed them for using the anger that erupted in the Muslim community as a result of the publication of Danish cartoons "to their own purposes." Said Rice: "The world ought to call them on it."

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Rice's comments brought about a sharp retort from Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah, who told President Bush and Condoleezza Rice to "shut up."

It is highly unlikely that either Bush or Rice will heed Nasrallah's advice. While Bush and Rice continue to talk, so too, will Damascus and Tehran. As will Hamas and Tehran. As will Tehran and Hezbollah. As will Hamas and Baghdad. As will Damascus, Tehran, Baghdad, Hamas and Hezbollah all continue to talk.

What we are witnessing is the emergence of a new anti-American bloc coming together, grouping Syria, Iran, and groups under Iran's and Syria's influence.

Recent electoral victories by America's foes, as in the Palestinian territories, Iran and Iraq, has boosted opposition to U.S. policies in the Middle East. Not to mention, of course, anti-American sentiments closer to home, where socialist leaders have also made inroads at the polls. Venezuela elected Hugo Chavez, Bolivia Evo Morales, who has vowed to halt U.S.-backed coca-eradication programs; and the long-time thorn in Washington's side, Fidel Castro in Cuba.

"They are taking courage from the Hamas victory," wrote Joshua Landis in his highly informative blog, SyriaComment.com, alluding to Syria and Iran. As Landis pointed out, firebrand Iraqi Shiite cleric, Moqtada Sadr, met with Assad in Damascus. Sadr promised Syria that his militia, the Mehdi's Army, which has clashed with U.S. forces in Iraq in the past, would be placed at Syria's disposal in the event of an American attack.

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Upping the ante, Syria surprised world financial markets Monday when it announced that it would stop dealing in U.S. dollars, replacing them with the euro in all official institutions. "All the ministries and public companies must from now on adopt the euro instead of the dollar for paying back sums owed by state institutions to foreign parties," said a statement endorsed by Prime Minister Mohammed Naji Ottri, carried in the Syrian Ath-Thawra daily newspaper.

The move against the dollar is one of the first policy changes made by Ottri after Assad reshuffled his Cabinet Sunday. Elaph, a London-based Arabic language Internet website called the change "an unexpected move."

According to Elaph, "Dr. Dureid Dergham, chairman of the Commercial Bank of Syria, said that this procedure was crucial and necessary in light of the American threats on Syria."

Syrian government sources said this decision is an attempt "to keep the Syrian economy away from the mercy of the American dollar, especially since American laws stipulate that any conversion into dollars must go through the American banking system."

Could this be Damascus' way of fighting back after U.S. pressures mounted amid accusations that Syria was behind the murder of former Lebanese Premier Rafik Hariri and was aiding the insurgency in Iraq, charges which Syria rejects.

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The sixty-four thousand dollar question now is what will be the Bush administration's response? What shape is it likely to take? Will the world "call them on it," as Rice asked? More pertinent, what exactly can the U.S. do? The most realistic response is: not much.

Military intervention against Syria and/or Iran remains highly illogical. As is cutting funds to Hamas, which will only push the Palestinian group closer to Iran.

And if the uproar over the Danish cartoons were not bad enough, the chasm between the West and the Muslim world is only likely to take a turn for the worse with the emergence of new video footage showing British troops abusing Iraqi youths.

If one interprets the tealeaves, coffee grinds or tarot cards correctly -- or simply reads some of the posters carried by a group of Muslim demonstrators at a recent London protest -- with messages such as "Be prepared for the real Holocaust," and "Europe, you will pay. Your 9/11 is on its way," relations with the Muslim world are not likely to get better any time soon. Not as long as both sides continue to circle their wagons and talk across each other, rather than with one another.

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(Comments may be sent to Claude@upi.com.)

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