By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
Authoritarian regimes throughout the world are pushing narratives that appear to gloat over and celebrate that chaos unfolding in the United States. On Monday, Iran’s media pushed stories that highlighted the “collapse,” while quoting Russian sources portraying that the US is flailing about as its world order comes crashing down.
The US became the world’s most powerful country, a global hegemonic superpower, after the Soviet Union and its client states fell apart in 1989. However, Russia, China, Iran and increasingly Turkey have all awaited the period when the world would become multi-polar again. They have sought to work more closely together, and they have sat frequently at global forums that the US does not attend.
To coordinate efforts against the US, these countries all have state media that is well funded, such as RT, TRT, Iran’s Tasnim and Fars News and numerous Chinese media outlets. The policies of these countries are to slowly undermine the US and wait for moments of US weakness to push their agendas.
The leadership in Turkey and Iran view their goal as undermining the US through a more religious lens linked with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Muslim Brotherhood that influences Tehran and Ankara respectively. Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan sought to capitalize on the recent riots in the US, claiming that America is part of an “unjust order” in the world.
Iran’s former president made similar comments about the declining US “order.” This is a reference to the concept of the “axis of resistance” in Iran, and the defeat of US “arrogance.” Ever since the Islamic Revolution in Iran of 1979, there had been a call for a third way between the US and Soviet Union in the 1980s that would bring about the defeat of Western systems and the rise of political Islam rooted in Tehran and then in Ankara.
Ankara is a nominal US ally, but it has drifted away and signed deals to acquire Russia’s S-400 anti-missile defense system. It seeks to partition Syria with Iran and Russia. Turkey and Iran coordinate in efforts against Israel and both support Hamas. They broadly work together against other US partners, such as Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE and Egypt.
Now the protests in the US and the COVID-19 crisis have made Washington appear to be declining rapidly. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that the US was now having to deal with its police misconduct and said the US compared unfavorably with Russia. “Thank God things that happen in America do not happen in [Russia],” he said, according to Russia’s TASS media.
Aleksey Pushkov, a senator in Russia’s parliament and an expert on foreign policy, argued on Twitter that the US is crumbling. He said that US withdrawals from Afghanistan and Syria, Turkey ordered the US to leave and attacked US Kurdish allies, was an example of American decline.
He also tweeted that the US crumbling due to COVID-19 and the inability of the US to help Europe or its allies at the peak of the pandemic. He said America has been on a “hysterical” tirade against China and now faces an internal schism and racial rebellion.
Iran was pleased with Pushkov’s words, writing an article about them at Tasnim as if to affirm the Iranian regime’s own view. Meanwhile, Iran’s IRGC said it was stronger than ever and that it was resisting the “pharaonic, dictatorial, terrorist United States.”
Turkey has mobilized all its state media propaganda resources against the US. TRT’s headlines are directed at bashing the US as part of a state-controlled effort run by Ankara. It has an opinion piece on its homepage about US corporations “looting” black communities, an obvious and ironic title designed to make it appear that it is US businesses looting people, as opposed to protesters doing the looting, thus making it seem like a normal form of resistance. Turkey supports the protests, but suppresses dissent at home – just like China, Iran and Russia. TRT highlights police brutality in the US even though it never critiques police brutality in Turkey.
The goal of Turkey, Iran, China and Russia during the current US crises is to use it to their advantage to press gains. Turkey has been flooding Libya with weapons and Syrian mercenaries during the crisis. China has pushed up against India in a border dispute. Iran is flexing its muscles at home and sending tankers to Venezuela. Russia has sent warplanes to Libya and Syria.
Meanwhile, all these countries want to leverage the economic crisis of the pandemic to their advantage. Turkey is designing a new fighter jet that Russia’s media heralds as a possible replacement for the F-16. Russia is pushing its defense systems, and Turkey wants to work with Iran, Malaysia and Pakistan to improve economic relations and expand its role in the Mediterranean.
Concern over the rise of these countries has led to other countries scrambling to counter-balance. Egypt, Greece, Cyprus, the UAE and France as seeking to counter Turkey’s growing role in the Mediterranean. Globally, US allies are concerned that the chaos in the US, where the US military is now being deployed, could represent a decline of US ability to concentrate abroad. That will mean all those that have been waiting for the US to reduce its footprint will be running to fill the vacuum.
Already, Russia and Iran are running toward Afghanistan, and Turkey and Russia are sponging up Libya. The race is on, the scramble to grab up properties as the US appears to teeter. From eastern Libya to Afghanistan to Asia and Africa, everywhere the US may appear weak, the adversaries are preparing. The big four – China, Russia, Turkey and Iran – are poised to exploit and emerge stronger. Where once George Bush Sr. spoke of a new world order, now these countries want to bury that US world order amid the chaos.