Islam as a Potential US Foreign Policy Tool in its Coming Existential Struggle with China?

[Note:This article was originally written and submitted in early 2016 for publication to several reputed newspapers and magazines but was rejected primarily for allegedly being too anti-Muslim and anti-Chinese.]

China, not radical Islam or Russia, constitutes the existential threat to the United States of America in the twenty-first century. Former President Barak Obama was vilified by all colors of the political spectrum when he declared in 2014 that, in terms of potential material threat to US core national interests, Islamic terrorist groupings like the now-defunct Wahhabi ISIL were ‘JV’ players compared that presented by the awakened, rising giant panda of the east. China is rapidly becoming the world’s economic superpower, and it’s just a matter of a decade or two before matching, or even replacing the US as the sole global military and nuclear superpower. China’s potential threat will further have augmented by two critical factors. Firstly, the numerically large and economically and technologically powerful Chinese communities in the US and Canada. Secondly, China, not the US, will ultimately be the beneficiary of the likely normalization between the two Koreas that would inevitably lead to, like in the German case, the collapse of the bankrupted regime in North Korean and the reintegration of the latter into South Korea, creating another regional nuclear and economic power. In times of serious conflict, the new united Korea would side with China, not the US, especially if Japan, America’s ally, is involved. Thus, America’s national interests vis-vis-China would best be served by maintaining, not altering, the status quo in the Korean peninsula, unrestricted re-militarization of Japan, cementing ties with India, re-recognizing Taiwan as an independent, sovereign nation-state, as well as actively supporting the people of Hong Kong in the quest to statehood. One more powerful, non-state, ideological weapon remains in America’s arsenal in its coming survival struggle with China: Islam.

Since, at least, the onset of WWI, Islam has had served the West’s strategic interests in the Muslim world in general and the Middle East in particular. Despite, and in large part  because of , the current wave of Islamic radicalism and its terroristic manifestations, Islam, as a religion and political ideology, will probably continue to play the same alternating role of friend and foe, in the 21st century.

In the role of a friend, Islam had been instrumental in facilitating British and French colonization of the Muslim world, and Muslims soldiers constituted the bulk of their troops during WWI, wrestling Egypt, Syria, Mesopotamia, holy Arabia and holy Palestine from the defeated Muslim caliphate of the Ottoman Empire. Islam was the best bulwark against the emerging anti-colonialist, secular ideologies that motivated subsequent nationalistic, independence movements in the Muslim countries. In the post-WWII Cold War, Islam, with its anti-atheistic and pro-capitalistic themes, formed the major component of the Eisenhower Doctrine that had effectively contained pro-Soviet Communism and other secular, socialistic and nationalistic ideologies perceived as anti-Western. In the 1950s Shiite Islam was instrumental in the success of the Anglo-American Ajax plot in Iran to overthrow the left-leaning, socialistic  Mosaddiq government, and restoration of the avowedly pro-Western Shah. Although the 1979 Shiite Islamic revolution in Iran had substantially reduced American influence inside the country, the US and its Western allies viewed the new revolutionary, theocratic regime in Tehran as an ideological iron curtain against Soviet potential incursion into the warm waters of the oil-rich fields of the Persian Gulf, especially coming to power as it did, soon after the USSR invasion of Afghanistan to bolster the ruling Communist regime there. No wonder, therefore, that, in 1985, it was the intelligence provided by the British and US governments that helped Khomeini government to thwart an imminent pro-Communist planned coup against the theocratic order. The real and perceived threat of Shiite Khomeinism in Iran to Western interests and pro-Western regimes in the region had been countered-balanced by the effective utilization of its ideological rival, Sunni Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia, already engaged in America’s proxy war against the USSR in Soviet-occupied Afghanistan.(see an article at

With the collapse of the Soviet Union in mid-1980s and the end of the Cold War, disappeared ‘the enemy’ that had provided for the better part of the 20th century, the rationalization for Western powers to assert their intervention and presence in the Middle East. Islam, accommodating as ever, had stepped in to fill in the gap, this time in the role of the foe, vacated by discredited Communism. It’s in this context that Islam, embodied first in Khomeinism in the 1980s and 1990s, and Wahhabism thereafter should be seen. The subsequent events emanating from the 9/11 spectacular attacks and the US military invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq have had led Shiite Islam, perceived hereto as anti-Western, to emerge as the only viable ideology to counter the emerging threat of the once pro-Western Sunni Islam. Long oppressed and marginalized minority sect, the Islamic Revolution of Iran has had enshrined Shiism and Shiites as a powerful regional religious and political force to be reckoned with. The current violent proxy wars between Shiite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia in the region have further sharpened and solidified irreversibly the fundamental theological differences between the two main streams of Islam, so much so that one may argue forcefully that Shiism and Sunnism have if they ever had been, ceased to be considered as the two main rival sects of one religion called Islam. Rather, they have now evolved into two separate, independent religions, more like Judaism and Christianity rather than Catholicism and Protestantism, running on two parallel historical and theological lines that, Kiplingly speaking, had and will never meet.

The traditional predominant role of Sunni Islam in the Muslim region has now been seriously challenged by the advent of a kindred, albeit, opposed faith. This led to a radical shift in the shape, formation, and direction of the emerging new regional political and military alliances in the volatile Middle East. 

Since 2006, marking American withdrawal from Iraq, both the US-led western powers and their rivals, Russia and China, have had pursued a common deliberate policy of utilizing Shiite Islam to combat and contain Sunni Islamic radicalism embodied in radical groups like Wahhabi DAESH (ISIL)  to protect their respective interests in the region as well as national security back home. Russia and China are motivated by domestic security factors as well. Both countries have large Muslim minorities who, unlike their Western counterparts, are part of the indigenous population. The majority of those Muslims are of the non-salafist Sunni brand of Islam, with a significant percentage of Shiites, and both are susceptible to being weaponized doctrinally with either Sunni Wahhabism or Shiite Khomeniesim by rival global powers, like the US, to undermine the internal cohesion in Russia and China.

It may sound odd at first, but modern-day China, with its present political borders and capital, Beijing, is a Muslim invention, founded by Mogul emperor, Kublai Khan. South and south-western parts of China are populated by no less than 150 millions of non-Chinese Turkic ethnic Sunni Muslims. One example is the restless Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, once the independent nation-state of East Turkestan before it was invaded and annexed by Communist(read atheist) China in 1946. This Region has at present been turned into one Nazi-like mega concentration camp where its population is subjected to a systematic ‘rehabilitation’ program involving de-Islamization and physical extermination, in short, ethnic/sectarian cleansing.  China is hemmed by a great wall of Islamdom extending from the western frontiers of China, composed of former Soviet, ethnically Turkic and Persian Muslim republics, to its southern borders in Muslim Pakistan and India(the latter, with a large Muslim population of nearly 300 million).

To the radical Sunni Muslims of the Middle East, the existential threat comes almost exclusively from Shiite Muslims and the reverse is equally true, and that’s how each defines their respective relationships with the outside world, especially the West. It’s from this perspective, that the US and its Western allies, as well as their rivals, Russia and China, have sought to manipulate the two rival Islamic religions to serve their respective strategic economic and security objectives at the regional and international levels.

A case in point is the current trend of US policy in the volatile Middle East. While still maintaining the strategic alliance with Wahhabi-Sunni Saudi Arabia, the US government has also maintained a strong military and political ties with the strongly pro-Iran Iraqi government and is moving slowly but steadily into normalizing relations with Shiite Iran itself as embodied in the nuclear deal, despite being suspended at present by the Trump administration. Playing one rival ideology and its sponsor against the other has enabled the  US to continue maintaining and protecting its strategic interests in the region. What remains to be seen in the future, is whether the US will also seek to play either or both Islamic faiths, alternately, to bolster and protect the more critical aspects of American national security in Europe vis-à-vis Russia and east Asia vis-à-vis China. Shiite Iran-backed Western hostage-taking and killing, suicide bombings of US-Western installations in 1980s and 1990s in Lebanon and Saudi Arabia in one hand, and Sunni-Wahhabi-perpetrated 9/11 and ISIL on the other, both show that the threat of Islamic radicalism to Western interests and security is real and serious but it is not, and can not be, existential to the United States the way China is at present. It is the 9/11, after all, that had provided the US government with the perfectly legal and moral rationale, with the consent of the international community, to conquer and occupy Iraq in 2003 with the financial support of Sunni Saudi Arabia, before handing it over on a silver plate to Shiite Iran in 2006. More importantly, it had facilitated the rapid passage through Congress of the ironically called the Patriot Act that has seriously stained America’s distinct and most cherished values of freedom and liberty, paving the way toward the road to totalitarianism as glaringly exhibited in the election of the populist Donald Trump and the Senate’s dismal failure to remove him from office after being impeached by the House of Representatives.

In conclusion, it’s China first and foremost, not patsy Islam or even Russia, that does and will continue to constitute the existential threat to the United States and what it stands for in the twentieth century. It remains to be seen when, and if, the US government would recognize and appreciate this fact and move to enshrine this terminal threat in a new doctrine to be incorporated as a fundamental component of US future foreign and defense policy concerning its emerging, mortal rival flanking America’s Pacific shores. Such an appreciation and cognizance of this fact, however, is unlikely to come from the sitting president Trump, a former colorful businessman, who tends to regard himself as the CEO of a country turned into a profit-seeking mega-company called America Inc., selling arms and hiring out its military forces as armed mercenaries to the highest bidder. 

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