Strife in 2019. Aura of war in 2020

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Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, shown at a 2009 clerical gathering, oversees an organization called Setad that has assets estimated at about $95 billion. REUTERS/Khamenei.ir/Handout

NEW YORK – If watching the drama ‘Messiah’ on Netflix seemed bizarrely surreal and pragmatic at the same time, knocking on, prying open and questioning rigid perceptions of faith, ideology and idea of societal disruption, the new decade has begun with a stunning assassination of a powerful Iranian military commander, ushering in suddenly an aura of an imminent, cataclysmic war involving nations across the globe, not just the Middle East.

In the aftermath of the assassination of Qasem Soleimani, all the strife and conundrums of the year gone by pales in comparison. And 2019 was not a year to be undermined in history by any means, in its share of dramatic developments, and hostile moments.

Across the globe, powerful nations had their adequate share of internal conflict, some ongoing – be it Brexit, civil disobedience and discontent in many parts of Europe, immigration woes in central and South America, impeachment of President Trump, war in Syria, and tough political moves by India and China, which saw protests from Delhi to Hong Kong. Not to mention huge uncertainties faced by nations because of trade wars, and ravages of climate change that wreaked havoc across the globe.

For most civilians, the tug of war between politicians and doubling down by nations on resolutions, were connected ultimately to the mundane aspect of how all this would affect their quality of life – hinged on how well the local economy was doing.

As the world is grappling with the fallout from the Soleimani assassination, with Iran promising bloody consequences, the year 2020 and the decade, becomes even more loaded politically, what with the Presidential elections heating up. The economy in the US too looks to be hit, at least, in the short term, with the prospect of oil and gas prices shooting up, across the world.

Amy Jaffer, writing for the Council on Foreign Relations, pointed out how Iran could disrupt the oil industry worldwide, as revenge for the Soleimani assassination, by attacking critical oil infrastructure in the Middle East.

‘A well-targeted strike can be crippling. The coordinated attacks on the Abqaiq crude processing center and the Khurais oil field last month disrupted the production of about 5.7 million barrels per day, or about 5 percent of the global supply. It was the largest such hit to oil production in history,” Jaffe wrote.

For PM Modi, the scenario of India being drawn to take sides in a hostile conflict in the Middle East, is another big headache, grappling as it is with a faltering economy struggling to come out of doldrums, growing domestic conflict involving its 200 million Muslim community, and weakening political mandate nationally with loss in several state elections. The last thing he wants is uncontrollable spiraling inflation, because of escalating crude oil prices.

A long-drawn out war between the US and Iran would be the nightmare Modi is likely having right now.

Ilan Goldenberg, writing last year for the Council on Foreign Relations, analyzed a debilitating war between the US and Iran, noting: “The war and its aftermath would likely cost hundreds of billions of dollars and hobble not just Trump but future U.S. presidents. Such a commitment would mean the end of the United States’ purported shift to great-power competition with Russia and China.’

For now, Modi’s popularity remains high, amongst his core base, with all his moves in 2019, especially those in Kashmir, to bring it fully into India’s fold, promise of building a gigantic Ram temple in Ayodhya, an end to the derogatory practice of Triple Talaq, and passing of the Citizenship Amendment Act for minority refugees fleeing from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, favored by those who voted him to power. But the challenges to his mandate is mounting. Iran could well pose the biggest challenge as yet.

Like Modi, Trump too remains unfazed by the impeachment proceedings by the Democrats, with the certainty of staying on in office till the November presidential elections, where he has, according to numerous polls, a better chance than he had in 2014, to stay on in the White House. His fundraising has zoomed too, with more money coming in after the impeachment trial in the House.

Both Modi and Trump have strived to project Indo-US camaraderie; initiated moves to take bilateral relationship to new heights.

However, If Iran takes center stage, in 2020, and for most of the decade, there is potential for more disruption between the US and India, than in further strengthening of ties.

Some recent foreign relations moves by India has angered Democrats, especially after External Affairs Minister Jayapal spurned Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal’s moves to meet him.

While negotiations with the Trump Administration have remained tough for India, a change in guard at the White House early next year, with Democrats in power, might prove to be even harder, for India.

Sebastien Roblin, writing in Forbes, this week, analyzed that the US-India relationship faces a tough time ahead, in the 2020s.

‘For two decades, strategic partnership between the U.S. and India has received bipartisan support from both Democrats and Republicans.  However, if India’s BJP party cements its tendency to play ball with just one of the U.S.’s two major political parties, support for the alliance may fluctuate depending on which party is in power,’ wrote Roblin.

(Sujeet Rajan is Executive Editor, Parikh Worldwide Media. Email him: sujeet@newsindiatimes.com Follow him on Twitter @SujeetRajan1)

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