Mounting Israeli air bombardment of military installations deep inside Syria and Syrian retaliation last week has brought West Asia closest to full-scale war since the Gulf Wars and invasion of Iraq. Closer to home, in The Maldives, the besieged government of President Abdulla Yameen declared Emergency rule and arrested the chief justice after the Supreme Court annulled cases against political rivals and ordered detainees released.

On a more optimistic note, even as joint Korean teams participated in the on-going Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, North Korea invited South Korea’s President for a state visit to Pyongyang.

And where was the ‘leader of the free world’, the USA, in all this? Certainly not in any active role, America’s political leaders as well as its civil society being preoccupied with an domestic political crisis that seems to be far worse than the Watergate scandal. And America, being the prim society it is as well as more prone to media hyperbole than most affluent nations, the severity of the political crisis is partly diluted by excitement over new political sex scandals!

The furore in Washington over counter-spy probes in the Russia conspiracy was equalled last week by the scandal over the rapid resignations of not one but two White House staffers over allegations of sexual misconduct. The Intelligence Committee of the US House of Representatives last week fell into disarray when the majority Republican Committee members released, through the White House, a ‘report’ that accused the FBI being biased in its probe into the suspected conspiracy between the Trump presidential election campaign and Russia to influence the election. The Intelligence Committee, which is supposed to be a Congressional committee that should work collectively and arrive at a collective finding on any matter, is supposed to pursue its probe into the Trump-Russia conspiracy suspicions and compile a fully-fledged Committee report to Congress. This is similar in function to the many parliamentary oversight committees in our Parliament and in many national legislatures the world over, being a very typical mechanism in modern, democratic, governance.

Instead, in a patently obvious manoeuvre to undermine the public credibility of the FBI criminal probe into a political scandal potentially the most serious in recent US history, the Republican Committee members, who are in a majority, formulated their own partisan ‘report’ rather than wait for the completion of the Committee’s own probe into the matter. This exclusive Republican ‘report’ only focused on FBI surveillance procedures, and on the basis of questioning some of the agency’s investigative methods, attempts to cast doubts on the Russia investigation as a whole.

Much of the US political establishment and intelligentsia seems infuriated by this amateurish manoeuvre by American legislators that more undermines the working of an crucial security agency of the federal state than credibly blocks the Russia probe. Both the Federal Bureau of Investigation as well as the US Department of Justice – both headed by Administration appointees – took the unprecedented step of issuing public statements against the move by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (Republican) to issue this ‘report’. The FBI and DOJ both strenuously objected to the report on the ground that by exposing FBI surveillance procedure details, the report would undermine the efficacy of the agency, the US’ premier counter-espionage force.

When the Democratic Congressmen in the House Intelligent Committee countered by compiling their own one-sided report on the same subject of FBI surveillance procedures, the White House delayed its release arguing that it needed editing to avoid the release of damaging institutional information.

Thus, a key congressional committee that is supposed to probe into the alarming aspects of the Russia subversion – such a possible conspiracy between the Russians and the Trump election campaign – is now sharply divided and bogged down in debate over partisan arguments over a minor, secondary aspect of the scandal. Most US analysts would that the Republicans have successfully created an artificial ‘issue’ that was able to distract opposition Democrat energies into responding to this non-issue. Meanwhile, due to new deadlock over two partisan reports on an artificial procedural issue, the congressional intelligence probe on Russia is at a standstill.

No matter, Washington was also entertained last week by the newest scandals of sexual misconduct of White House or Donald Trump-associated bureaucrats.

White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter, a Republican appointee and close associate of White House chief of staff General (Retd) John Kelly, resigned last week after his two ex-wives publicly accused him of domestic violence. The resignation of this key Trump bureaucrat may have been less controversial if the White House had not attempted to downplay the accusations and Porter’s immediate superior Gen, Kelly had not chosen to first defend Porter and affirm his ‘integrity’ and ‘honour’.

The controversy became worse when it turned out that the security services had earlier detected this sexual misconduct issue and, having refused full security clearance for Porter, had also drawn the attention of the White House authorities to this problem. Opposition politicians and critics are now asking why the White House had continued to keep Porter for a whole year in this sensitive post with the full security clearance – a lapse unprecedented.

Given the furore over the blatant security lapses over Porter, little attention was paid to the resignation on Friday of senior Trump speech-writer David Sorenson after his ex-wife aired accusations of domestic violence during their marriage.

Washington remains pre-occupied with all this domestic scandal on scandal while some parts of the world burn or are bombed or starved and, other parts celebrate peace-building and sports. In none of the hotspots and international dealings mentioned at the beginning of this week’s column was the United States involved, playing its claimed role of ‘leader of the free world’.

This a telling sign of the continued, gradual decline of the world’s sole, remaining, super-power.

And, as America continues its retreat, other, lesser, powers are rushing to fill the vacuum or are reluctantly compelled to play roles even though they harboured no geo-political ambitions or, had the required capacities.

In The Maldives last week President Abdullah Yameen whose political faction had earlier deposed pro-democracy President Mohameed Nasheed was first shocked by the unanimous ruling by the Madlives Supreme Court that the charges against Nasheed were untenable, and that the detention of many Nasheed associates, democracy activists and opposition legislators was invalid.

Under public attack by the Maldivian opposition alliance led by Nasheed from their base in Colombo, the Yameen regime last Tuesday declared a state of Emergency and sent troops to surround the Supreme Court and arrest the Chief Justice and a second judge of the court. The relevant government agencies were ordered to disregard the court rulings.

Within days, the remainder of the Supreme Court met and ruled to rescind its earlier unanimous ruling that annulled the cases against opposition politicians and released detainees. This sudden reversal by a country’s supreme judicial body is probably unprecedented in modern times anywhere.

In response, as it were, to exiled former President Nasheed’s call (while the opposition leader was in Colombo) to India to intervene to save Maldivian democracy, the Male regime on Friday sent ministerial emissaries to China, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan to explain the crisis in The Maldives and seek their help. This move by Male is a clear slap in regional power India’s face.

Delhi, after all is trying to offset China’s growing influence in that strategically important Indian Ocean archipelago. Given this move by Male, it is doubtful whether Delhi is likely to respond overtly and immediately to Nasheed’s appeal. At the same time, while Beijing may assert it presence in the Indian Ocean region by making a comment on the Maldives crisis, China cannot do much more, Also, Beijing may have learnt a lesson in Sri Lanka of the danger of putting all its eggs in one (Rajapaksa) basket.

And Beijing will keep in mind that it was Nasheed, when first elected, who made first overtures to China.