Thursday, September 11, 2008

Pentagon Finally Concedes Point on Pakistan

It very rarely happens, but it is refreshing and a (shameful) ego boost of sorts when the Pentagon finally admits publicly something you've been arguing in isolation for quite some time. This is just what has happened in regards to the US's Pakistan policy in Congressional testimony Wednesday by Robert Gates and Admiral Mike Mullen.

In mid-July I wrote:

The most glaring difficulty is that the Taliban stronghold they seek to root out is not in Afghanistan, but Pakistan. Thus, regardless of the number of troops stationed in Afghanistan, whether increased by 10 or 50 thousand, the same issue of Pakistani sovereignty exists. The Pakistani government has shown no willingness to allow NATO forces to conduct cross-border raids, so any suggestion that the Surge forces would do so would come as an affront to the wishes of our 'ally.'

Musharraf's hold on power grows weaker by the day, which has led to the Pakistanis remaining lax on raids in the FATA and NWP in order to avoid stoking a fire which might drive him from the seat of government. Allowing NATO to conduct itself in Pakistan with autonomy would surely be unpopular among the populace and put Musharraf in greater peril.

Musharraf is now out of the picture, but the US is no closer to forming a plan to deal with the Pakistani reality, and the Pakistanis are no closer to allowing the US operational freedom within FATA, explicitly warning the US on Wednesday to keep its troops out of Pakistan. On Wednesday, Mullen finally admitted what those of us with a foothold in reality have realized for some time now.

Mullen said he was "looking at a new, more comprehensive strategy for the region" that would cover both sides of the border, including Pakistan's tribal areas.

"These two nations are inextricably linked in a common insurgency that crosses the border between them," Mullen said.

"We can hunt down and kill extremists as they cross over the border from Pakistan ... but until we work more closely with the Pakistani government to eliminate the safe havens from which they operate, the enemy will only keep coming."

If admission is the first step toward a solution, the next step will be infinitely harder. The US must find a way to deal with the Pakistani aversion to US operations there, and failure to do so (which seems probable at this point) will only result in the continuation of an ineffectual Afghanistan policy no matter how many troops the current or future president deploys there.

As I've said many times before, the Pakistanis are not neutral observers in this instance, as their security service -- the ISI -- has armed, funded, and cultivated the extremists working out of the border region for many years.

The ISI has long associated itself with anti-American militants, whom they utilized to advance their shared aims on targets in Afghanistan and India. Now, the ISI is drunk with American funds and free to pursue those long-standing policies with even greater fervor, and the US as usual is surprised to find that not everyone who accepts funding is necessarily as dedicated to orthodoxy as we would like. To that end, the ISI is believed to have played a significant role in last month's bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul.

In his book, Descent Into Chaos, Ahmed Rashid even details an instance where the US was asked to pause offensive strikes to allow ISI agents to extricate themselves from Afghanistan where they were fighting alongside the Taliban. Though the president likes to deal solely in religious-style absolutes, the multi-faceted relationships in Pakistan prove yet again that this habit can only lead to folly, as the line between friend and foe is inexorably blurred in reality.

In August, I also insisted that the solution to Afghanistan was more economic than military, a suggestion that seemed at desperate odds with administrative policy, a voice in the wilderness. Consider Admiral Mullen a late invitee to the party:

The officials said the West should do more to help Afghans with new investments in roads and other infrastructure, education and crop assistance.

"These are the keys to success in Afghanistan," said Mullen. "We cannot kill our way to victory."

I refuse to believe that a solitary man in the Midwest had a fuller picture of the situation in Afghanistan than the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, leaving only the alternative that the administration has known the reality of the situation for a substantial period of time, but continued to maintain a facade until yesterday. Why, then, were they so adverse to expressing what many already understood?

Because in American foreign policy, reality has little bearing on the running narrative. What matters is not what is happening, but rather what the ruling class wants, or needs to happen. Suggesting that we "can't kill our way to victory" is surely the rational outlook on the situation, but it doesn't do anything to build and support the profit opportunities for the defense sector. What little money that was spent on reconstruction ended up in the hands of American contractors, though often they failed to fulfill their contractual obligations. Billions were given to companies like Bechtel and Halliburton to build schools and infrastructure with little to show for that investment.

Far from an investment in Afghanistan, the "reconstruction" money instead served as a form of socialized capitalism, where the American tax payers foot the bill for private profits, lending credence to the indication that George Bush is perhaps the biggest socialist in America. Running political narratives make that seem laughable on the surface, but a glance at the last eight years reveals a continuous flow of government money into private hands with little, if any, oversight or consequence. The Bush administration is not for lower government spending in the slightest, they merely differ on to whom tax money will be distributed, pushing that reality into the shadows of a rhetorical fantasy world which posits that they are against such spending.

Denying until Wednesday the reality of the situation in Pakistan is an integral part of that framework, which requires that platitudes and nonsensical euphemisms be given precedence over honest and objective assessment. While it is probably true that Admiral Mullen himself did not refrain from such observations to serve corporate needs, he understands very well the environment in which he works and who it is he serves.

Aside from the economic element, there remains the purely political element, even more accentuated in an election year. Republicans must maintain at all costs the specter of "winning" the war in Afghanistan. Whether US activities there constitute a war at all, or how precisely one could define "winning" or "victory" are unimportant. All that matters is that the traditional political theme concerning national defense be maintained. Republicans must be presented as safe, Democrats as a danger. Everything else fades in comparison.

That Republican rule has left us no safer, and the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan are both far from confirming even the vaguest notions of "victory" are immaterial to the argument. Indeed, all appeals to reality, reason, and logic constitute little, if any, of the domestic argument of foreign policy. To the extent that foreign policy is even broached, discussion of the topic always revolves around the typical roles, defined for ages despite all available evidence to the contrary, and no amount of empirical evidence will be allowed to interfere with the freight train that is a political fable taken for granted.

Denial of reality is simply part of Admiral Mullen's job, as integral a part as any other, for it is his task to put an apolitical face on a political view of the world. As we have seen in the case of Admiral Fox, deviation from the script can cost jobs, position, and prestige, but Mullen's testimony on Wednesday indicates that the facade, so meticulously maintained for seven years, is beginning to wear away, even if it will have minimal effect on the domestic political agenda.


Fumbling in the Dark, August 2
Surge II: Afghanistan, July 15

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1 comment:

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Pakistan is the most beautiful and the terrorist attack on this country,because they did not want peace in Pakistan.I think it is a main cause operation in triable area.