Bill Totten's Weblog

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Barack Obama and Afghanistan

More of the Same, Packaged as Change

by Marc Herold

www.counterpunch.org (August 06 2008)


When asked in Berlin by CNN's Candy Crowley whether he believed the United States needed to apologize for anything over the past seven and a half years in terms of foreign policy, candidate Obama responded, "No, I don't believe in the US apologizing. As I said I think the war in Iraq was a mistake ..."

So what does our contemporary "charmer of change", Barack Obama, propose regarding Afghanistan?

In mid-December 2006, a charter member of the US defense intellectual establishment and enthusiast of precision bombing, Anthony Cordesman, fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, advanced a set of proposals which would allegedly allow the US to win the war in Afghanistan. The essence involves: far greater amounts of military and economic "aid'; the economic aid must be managed from the outside; the aid should focus upon projects like roads, water and to a lesser degree, schools and medical services; NATO allies especially slackers like France, Germany, Italy and Spain need to increase aid to Afghanistan; US military forces are too small "to do the job" because of competing demands from Iraq and, hence, again those same NATO allies must provide larger, stronger and better-equipped forces to engage in combat (without political constraints); and as in Iraq, emphasis needs to be upon proper training of Afghan army and police forces. Cordesman wants the US to furnish an additional $5.9 billion during the current fiscal year. In effect, Cordesman proposes nothing which has not long ago been suggested (even back in the days of Vietnam where the official clamor was for more "aid" and Vietnamizing the fighting).

Candidate Obama appears to have adopted wholesale what Cordesman was proposing about two year ago with one qualification: Obama recognizes that the US's traditional European NATO allies will not provide large numbers of additional fighting forces, hence Obama proposes rotating three divisions or about 10,000 US troops out of Iraq and into Afghanistan.

If we examine candidate Obama's most important prepared foreign policy speech to-date, that given on July 14 2008, we find the elements of what as president he might do in Afghanistan. He forthrightly casts his interest in Afghanistan purely in terms of "making America safer":

I will focus this strategy on five goals essential to making America safer: ending the war in Iraq responsibly; finishing the fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban; securing all nuclear weapons and materials from terrorists and rogue states; achieving true energy security; and rebuilding our alliances to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

In other words, Obama is committed to "finishing the fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban", translated as the fight against "Muslim extremism". Notwithstanding that this examplifies a worst case example of fallacious sunk-cost reasoning, George W Bush and candidate McCain would not disagree. He continues

Our troops and our NATO allies are performing heroically in Afghanistan, but I have argued for years that we lack the resources to finish the job because of our commitment to Iraq. That's what the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said earlier this month. And that's why, as President, I will make the fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban the top priority that it should be. This is a war that we have to win .... We need more troops, more helicopters, more satellites, and more Predator drones in the Afghan border region. And we must make it clear that if Pakistan cannot or will not act, we will take out high-level terrorist targets like bin Laden if we have them in our sights ... Make no mistake: we can't succeed in Afghanistan or secure our homeland unless we change our Pakistan policy. We must expect more of the Pakistani government, but we must offer more than a blank check to a General who has lost the confidence of his people.

Resources need to be focused upon Afghanistan because it "is the war we have to win". In July 2008, the International Herald Tribune called it "the war of necessity against Al Qaeda in Afghanistan". Why? Candidate Obama points to Taliban controlling parts of Afghanistan and Al Qaeda possessing an "expanding base in Pakistan". These are alleged to be spawning grounds of "another attack on our homeland". George W Bush and candidate McCain would concur in being in error.

Very solid reasons now exist why Al Qaeda is not interested in mounting Palestinian-style attacks in America. Any attack would have to be bigger than 9/11. As the ever-prescient Mike Scheuer writes,

Al-Qaeda does not want to fight the United States for any longer than is needed to drive it as far as possible out of the Middle East, and its doctrine for so doing has, in Osama bin Laden's formulation, three components: (a) bleed America to bankruptcy; (b) spread out US forces to the greatest extent possible; and (c) promote Vietnam-era-like domestic disunity. Based on this doctrine, al-Qaeda leaders have decided that attacks in the United States are only worthwhile if they have maximum and simultaneous impact in three areas: high and enduring economic costs, severe casualties, and lasting negative psychological impact.

In fact, all three of bin Laden's components have been realized - casualties, costs, and domestic disunity - all without a follow-up to the 9/11 attack.

And how will this victory over radical Islam be accomplished? Obama's recipe for success involves:

o Sending two to three combat brigades (each of 3-5,000 troops) to Afghanistan;
o Pressure NATO allies to follow suit;
o More use of drones, aircraft, et cetera ;
o Training Afghan "security" forces;
o Supporting an Afghan judiciary;
o Proposing an additional $1 billion in non-military assistance each year with safeguards to see no corruption and resources flowing to areas other than Kabul;
o Invest in alternative livelihoods to poppies;
o Pressure Pakistan to carry the fight into its tribal areas and reward it for so doing with military and non-military aid;
o Should Pakistan fail to act in the tribal areas, the United States under Obama would act unilaterally;

New? Change? President George W Bush and candidate McCain have long signed on to exactly these policies. Certainly both would also see Afghanistan primarily through the lens of "making America safer". George Bush Senior did just that during 1988-1990 when America was presumed safer once the Soviets were out of Afghanistan. Then, he cut and ran.

Candidate Obama adopts the Pentagon's military solution - defeating Al Qaeda and the Taliban - without paying much attention to either what gave rise to these groups or to the complexity of tribal society on the Afghan-Pakistan border. Even more importantly, he fails to acknowledge that the current bombing, night-time assaults upon villages, hooding and abducting suspects, kicking down doors and entering women's quarters, et cetera is forging an unlimited supply of recruits to the resistance. No, all we hear is "Our troops and our NATO allies are performing heroically in Afghanistan ..." The complete failure to improve life for those living in rural southern, eastern and northeastern Afghanistan alongside unbridled corruption, profligiate wealth and Afghanistan's current culture of official impunity further stokes the resistance. All we hear is a vague promise of $1 billion more aid per year.

As Patrick Buchanan points out candidate Obama has absolutely no exit strategy from Afghanistan, other than a presumed military victory. He utterly fails to understand the axoim of the guerrilla strategy: the guerrilla wins if he fails to lose. For the guerrilla it's not about winning pitched battles, it's about continuing the fight. The Taliban and associates have no difficulty with that: fighters from the Pashtun borderlands and monies from trhe Gulf States (and eslewhere).

Moreover, Buchanan continues

And, using the old ten-to-one ratio of regular troops needed to defeat guerrillas, if the Taliban can recruit 1,000 new fighters, they can see Obama's two-brigade bet, and raise him. Just as Uncle Ho raised LBJ again and again. What does President Obama do then? Send in 10,000 more?

The aim of shifting two to three US combat brigades to Afghanistan, greatly increasing the use of drones in order to unleash the fire power of Hellfire missiles or the "guided" bombs of B1-B's, letting US Special Forces and Navy Seals Teams loose to sow mayhem in the border regions on both sides of the Durand Line merely serves to continue the status-quo of death and destruction. Yet there are those like Ann Marlowe in the Wall Street Journal who believe that the military solution in Afghanistan is to employ special forces to deal with the "bad guys" infiltrating from Pakistan. For her, "defeating the enemy is best accomplished by highly trained fighters who travel light". Does Ms Marlowe who was thrice embedded with US occupation forces in Afghanistan recall the Green Berets in Vietnam or the Soviet Spetsnaz in Afghanistan?

For some four years, US Special Forces had free reign in the Afghan province of Kunar. With what effct? Kunar today is one of Afghanistan's most volatile provinces just as it was when the Soviets unleashed their elite Spetsnaz units there. Britain could not seal the border between the Irelands with 40,000 soldiers. The Soviets with 120,000 troops under a unified command structure and three times as many Afghan satrap soldiers could not quell the mujahideen resistance. Candidate Obama advocates a policy of escalation simply in order not to lose. In doing such, he follows in the footsteps of Gordon Brown's ambassador in Kabul who threatens "to stay for thirty years" in an endless campaign of despair from which withdrawal is perceived as politically impossible. Thirty years for what? A campaign to prop up an embattled, corrupt, unpopular puppet regime in Kabul, a task for which Britain and its NATO allies are terribly undermanned? No, but rather as Jenkins points out to keep NATO alive in Europe. NATO's agitated chief, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, certainly appears as a man fighting for his job. He should be as most Europeans see the Afghan conflict as wrong, immoral, America's war, all about oil, and probably lost. For them NATO was created to deter the Soviet Union, not to supply foot soldiers to America's wars in the Muslim world.

Most alarmingly, candidate Obama and others before him (including George W Bush) crudely conflate the Taliban with Al Qaeda when in fact, the two groups share very little and do not regard each other with high esteem. The Taliban and Al Qaeda represent two very different entities. The former comprise an ethno-national phenomenon rooted in space, appealing then and now to a loosely aligned movement, largely of Pashtun Afghans. The Taliban have profound roots in parts of Afghanistan. They form only part of the disparate resistance to the US/NATO occupation (other parts being nationalists, those seeking revenge for injury to family, those involved in poppy cultivation who perceive the West as threatening their livelihoods, those frustrated with Karzai's and the West's failed promises, unemployed men, et cetera). Al Qaeda, on the other hand, is a de-territorialized, stateless organization formed to wage violent jihad anywhere in the world against those deemed to be Islam's enemies. From a group spatially located in Afghanistan during the Taliban era, Al Qaeda has transformed itself into a decentralized, floating coalition of militant groups united in jihad. But for candidate Obama a simple undefined enemy exists: a unified Al Qaeda and Taliban who will be crushed by a few more brigades of occupation soldiers, Global Hawks in the skies and a billion dollars annually. Obama's informal adviser, Afghan scholar Barnett Rubin, has long been arguing that "the problem really is in neighboring Pakistan, where Taliban and Al Qaeda commanders lurk".

Encouraging cross border air and ground attacks raises the ire of the fiercely independent Pashtun tribals in the borderlands and further isolates a weak, post-Musharef regime in Islamabad bent on its own independent course of action. Moreover, Pakistan has lost thousands of its troops in fighting in the tribal lands under Musharef. The recent killing of eleven Pakistani frontier soldiers by US Hellfire misslies promises to be a harbinger of the future. The elected political leaders of Pakistan's borderlands virulently oppose Obama's unilaterialism, for example, the wily governor of the North-West Province, Owais Ghani, spoke out forcefully against Obama's hinting at US incursions.

Pahstun nationalism is far cry from Al Qaeda's world jihad. Indeed, a quite convincing case can be made that the best antidote to a resurgent Al Qaeda would be support for the Taliban. But such fine-tuning escapes candidate Obama and his entourage of former Clinton foreign policy advisers (for example, Susan Rice, Anthony Lake, et cetera) and of others adocating "nation-building". Change? George W Bush, John McCain and Barack Obama are united in advocating policies which cement an alliance between Al Qaeda and the Taliban. They all priviledge a military approach over a civilian one of negotiating.

On the "winning hearts and minds" dimension, candiate Obama promises an extra $ 1 million annually to be spent mostly outside Kabul. The record of US monies budgeted for Afghanistan is clear (See Table at http://www.counterpunch.org/herold08062008.html).

But how will such U.S funds be brought to a countryside largely controlled by a hostile resistance? Many parts of Afghanistan most desirous of improving everyday living are simply off-limits to non-governmental organizations, let alone the US Government. The US/NATO strategy of relying upon an ink blot of "aid" radiating out from two to three dozen heavily fortified PRT bases and scores of US forward operating bases is at best very limited. So in order to "secure" the countryside which will then be lavished with candidate Obama's annual largesse of an extra billion dollars, the US/NATO needs to either bomb or take ground casualties, expel the resistance, and especially hold territory. Building another well or a school has little meaning in the Pashtun code of honor (Pashtunwali), but the killing of a family member demands revenge be taken against the perpetrator. Simon Jenkins has stressed that American, Canadian, British, Dutch and even Estonian troops (those brave "new Europeans" forming part of the "coalition" of the bribed ) simply snatch and hold towns for a while but are unable to command local loyalty. "They cannot hope to garrison every settlement". Musa Qala retaken by the British with much fanfare is a typical case, a success which is a failure.

In other words, candidate Obama promises nothing other than what already is: more prolonged low-intensity conflict with endless death and destruction. If the US military escalation of the past two years is any indication, a further escalation as he proposes will simply lead to more dead Afghan civilians, a countryiside and towns racked with the deadly explosions of IED's and suicide bombers followed by the destruction unleashed by equally deadly close air support (CAS) strikes. A strong correlation exists during 2004-2007 between levels of US occupation soldiers in Afghanistan, tonnage of bombs dropped and numbers of dead and injured Afghans. Will the monetary value of dead Afghan remain about one-tenth that of an Alaskan sea otter? Will yet more CAS air strikes continue killing ten times more Afghan civilians per ton dropped than the numbers killed in Serbia in 1999? Why should an Obama future be different?

The candidate of change in Afghanistan? History has clearly shown it's easy to invade and conquer Afghanistan but it's terribly difficult to govern and exit honorably. Obama is no Mikhail Gorbachev who took Russia out of the Afghan fiasco when he realized what many Russian leaders had been too scared to admit in public - that Russia could not win the war and the cost of maintaining such a vast force in Afghanistan was crippling Russia's already weak economy. The cost of America's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan was $171 billion in FY2007 and an estimated $195 billion in FY2008.

Candidate Obama, his Clinton era advisers, and sadly all too many others fail to recognize a web of inter-connected, persistent constraints, or of given realties. One might label them as the "five cannots": US/NATO cannot send 400,000 combat troops to garrison Afghanistan's towns, hamlets and countryside (which is a pre-condition for reconstruction to win hearts and minds ); the US/NATO cannot impose a powerful central government upon Afghanistan ; the US/NATO cannot neutralize the very effective least-cost weapons of choice of the Afghan resistance (IED's and suicide bombers); the US/NATO cannot seal the Afghan-Pakistan border and hence will not eliminate the vital sanctuary so necessary to a guerrilla movement); and lastly, the Pakistan government has never been able to dominate its vast tribal borderlands and there is no reason to believe such will change. Those who choose not to understand these "five cannots" advocate change in a vacuum. A military impasse begets a political solution.

The perceived poison of a foreign occupation, the rampant corruption, the all-too-frequent desecration of Islam by the occupiers, the sheer folly of the US/NATO seeking to extend the writ of a central government to the Pashtun tribal regions , the spiraling count of civilian deaths has shifted the Afghan struggle towards a war of national liberation. Anatol Lieven of King's College (London) puts it aptly. Afghanistan is

Becoming a sort of surreal hunting estate, in which the US and NATO breed the very terrorists they then track down.

Candidates Obama and McCain promise more of the same carnage packaged as change.

_____

Marc Herold is an Associate Professor of Economic Development & Women's Studies at the University of New Hampshire. He can be reached at Marc.Herold@unh.edu .

Notes:

Robert Scheer, "Obama on the Brink", Truthdig.com (July 22 2008) at http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/20080722_obama_on_the_brink/

"Transcript of Interview on CNN" (July 25 2008) at http://thepage.time.com/transcript-of-obama-interview-on-cnn/

Anthony H Cordesman, "One War We Can Still Win", International Herald Tribune (December 13 2006) at http://www.iht.com/articles/2006/12/13/opinion/edcord.php

Speech is reproduced on The Huffington Post (July 29 2008) at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/07/15/obama-spokeswoman-hits-ba_n_112834.html

"Talking Sense on the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan", International Herald Tribune (July 17 2008) at http://www.iht.com/bin/printfriendly.php?id=14574298

Mike Scheuer, "Why Doesn't al-Qaeda Attack the US?" Antiwar.com (May 29 2008) at http://www.antiwar.com/scheuer/?articleid=12911

As pointed out by Tom Hayden, "Obama, Iraq and Afghanistan", The Nation (July 15 2008) at

Explored in Thomas H Johnson and M Chris Mason, "No Sign until the Burst of Fire. Understanding the Pakistan-Afghanistan Frontier", International Security 32, 4 (Spring 2008): 41-77

Patrick Buchanan, "Obama's War", Antiwar.com (July 29 2008) at http://antiwar.com/pat/

Ann Marlowe, "Afghanistan Doesn't Need a Surge", Wall Street Journal (July 22 2008) at http://online.wsj.com/public/article_print/SB121668659664272147.html

Hayden (2008), op cit

Simon Jenkins, "A Bad Attack of Beau Geste Syndrome at Our Expense", The Guardian (July 05 2006) at http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2006/jul/05/comment.afghanistan

Eric Margolis, "Why Europeans are not Eager to Die in Afghanistan", LewRockwell.com (February 13 2008) at http://www.lewrockwell.com/margolis/margolis100.html

Well argued in Mark Levine, "Obama and the Taliban", Huffington Post (July 25 2008) at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mark-levine/obama-and-the-taliban_b_114900.html

James Gordon Meek, "Afghanistan Experts Say John McCain and Barack Obama are Clueless", New York Daily News (July 19 2008)

Simon Jenkins, "Stop Killing the Talkiban - They Offer the Best Hope of Beating Al Qaeda", The Times (June 22 2008) at http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/simon_jenkins/article4187504.ece

As argued in Juan Cole, "Obama is Saying the Wrong Things About Afghanistan", Salon.org (July 23 2008) at http://www.salon.com/opinion/feature/2008/07/23/obama/

An excellent discussion of Pashtunwali may be found in Hamida Ghafour, "Why NATO Misreads the Afghan Rulebook", Globe and Mail (May 05 2007)

Paul Gilfeather, "Coalition of the Bribed, Bullied & Blind", The Mirror (March 22 2003) at http://www.commondreams.org/cgi-bin/print.cgi?file=/views03/0323-07.htm

Jenkins, op cit

Sean Rayment, "In Afghanistan even our Successes are Failures", The Telegraph (August 03 2008) at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/opinion/main.jhtml?xml=/opinion/2008/08/03/do0306.xml

Belasco (2008), op cit: 18

Occupation forces Commander McNeill has said himself that according to the current counterterrorism doctrine, it would take 400,000 troops to pacify Afghanistan in the long term (from Ulrich Fichtner, "Why NATO Troops Can't Deliver Peace in Afghanistan", Der Spiegel (May 29 2008) at http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,druck-556304,00.html

The umbrella organization ACBAR (Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief) reported 463 insurgent attacks during May and 569 in June 2008. Nineteen aid workers have been killed this year. The result has been greatly scaled back aid and relief efforts ("Record Afghan Unrest Hampering Aid NGOs", Agence France Presse (August 01 2008) at http://afp.google.com/article/ALeqM5h9LKPSwMVEzC25r7wQ4-XuOkz4sw%20).

See Johnson and Mason (2008), op cit

As Gerard Chaliand, veteran geo-strategist of so-called asymmetrical wars, put it recently, "victory is impossible in Afghanistan ... Today one must try to negotiate", because the Taliban control much of the local power in the south and east of the country (Immanuel Wallerstein, "Afghanistan: Shoals Ahead for President Obama", Middle East Online (August 01 2008)).

Johnson and Mason (2008), op cit: 54

Anatol Lieven, "The Dream of Afghan Democracy is Dead", The Financial Times (June 11 2008) at http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/f25de8f4-37b1-11dd-aabb-0000779fd2ac.html


http://www.counterpunch.org/herold08062008.html


Bill Totten http://www.ashisuto.co.jp/english/index.html

1 Comments:

  • An Escalation of the War in Afghanistan and Pakistan is a Very Bad Policy.

    Conservatives and liberals can argue the merits of the surge in Iraq, or the need to deal with terrorism now rather than later. I want to focus on something else: the impact of the perspective of 1.5 billion Muslims around the world. I’m not implying that it is somehow homogeneous, just relevant; more relevant than my opinion at least.

    Taking the war on terror back to Afghanistan (and most likely Pakistan) is bad for a number of reasons: the perspective of the international Muslim community; the fact that a military solution has not worked thus far, so why keep kicking a dead horse (especially when it has the potential to trample you); the delicate balance of power in the immediate theatre and in the broader region; the likely negative reaction of other states; and last but not least, its potential impact on the price and availability of oil.

    Pakistan’s reaction to the Bush Doctrine has been somewhat mixed. Musharraf was caught in the middle between pleasing the U.S. to ensure continued military and economic support, and the preferences of his constituents who resent the U.S. presence there. The region is already very unstable because of this tension between the US applying pressure from the outside and the internal desire of the populace to rid themselves of the unwanted American presence.

    We can say the exact same thing about Afghanistan, Karzai is in a very similar position as Musharraf was. In 2006, Karzai had to start rearming the warlords to maintain order. Similarly, in September 2006, Pakistan was forced to recognize the Islamic Emirate of Waziristan - a loose group of Waziristani chieftains, closely associated with the Taliban, who now serve as the de facto security force in charge of North and South Waziristan.

    If Senator Obama becomes president, and refocuses the war on terror in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the best we can hope for is another five to six years of what we’ve seen in Iraq. But this best-case scenario is very unlikely.

    In addition to a multiple-front war, we would be dealing, not with a fallen state as with Iraq, but with two established states. This could possibly work in our favor as long as they continue to remain on our side. But as already mentioned, the tension is high, and there is a very delicate balance keeping Karzai in power. What if Karzai falls to a coup or assassination? And now with Musharraf stepping down, what happens if Musharraf’s successor plays to the popular demands of the people? We could find ourselves fighting the armies of the sovereign states of Afghanistan and Pakistan, in addition to insurgent forces there. If we consider the history of this region, we realize that this is not as far-fetched as it might sound on the face of it.

    As we all know, the Taliban was comprised of Sunni Islamists and Pashtun nationalists (mostly from southern Afghanistan and western Pakistan). The Taliban initially enjoyed support from the U.S., Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates in the early 1980s to fight the Soviets. By 1996, the Taliban had gained control of most of Afghanistan, but its relationship with the U.S. and most of the rest of the world became strained. Most of the international community supported the Taliban’s rival, the Afghan Northern Alliance.

    Still, even after the U.S. began to distance itself from the Taliban in late 1997, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates continued to officially recognize the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Even after 9/11 when Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates officially stopped recognizing the Taliban, Pakistan continued to support it. The Taliban in turn, had tremendous influence in Pakistani politics, especially among lobby groups- as it virtually controlled areas such as the Pashtun Belt (Southeast Afghanistan, and Northwest Pakistan) and Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

    Going back to the perception of the international Muslim community … When the U.S. demanded that the Taliban turn Bin Laden over, it initially offered to turn Bin Laden over to Pakistan to be tried by an international tribunal operating according to Sharia law. But Pakistan was urged by the U.S. to refuse. Again, prior to the beginning of U.S. air strikes against Afghanistan, the Taliban offered to try Bin Laden according to Islamic law, but the U.S. refused. After the U.S. began air strikes, the Taliban offered to hand Bin Laden over to a neutral state to be tried under Islamic law, but the U.S. again refused. This is important because in the eyes of the greater international community, the war in Afghanistan was justified (at least initially). But in the eyes of the international Muslim community, especially given the Taliban’s offer to turn over Bin Laden, it was an unnecessary war. This, combined with the preemptive war in Iraq, has led many Muslims to equate the war on terror with a war on Islam. Senator Obama’s plan to escalate the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan will only serve to reinforce that impression.

    Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, an Islamic political party in Pakistan, won elections in two out of four provinces in 2003, and became the third largest political party in the Pakistani parliament – with substantial support from urban areas (not just border regions). This speaks to the tremendous influence Islamic groups enjoy in Pakistan.

    This strong influence is fueled by the fact that the Pashtun tribal group is over 40 million strong. The Taliban continues to receive many of its members from this group today. In fact, the Pakistani army suffered humiliating defeat at the hand of these so-called “insurgents.” Finally, in September 2006, Pakistan was forced to officially recognize the Islamic Emirate of Waziristan. Many saw the Pakistani government’s acknowledgment of the Islamic Emirate of Waziristan as not only a military necessity, but also a political one as well – a concession in response to the growing internal pressure on the Musharraf administration from the people of Pakistan who resent the U.S. presence and involvement in the region.

    Just consider the many, many public protests against the Pakistani government’s compliance with the United States. For instance, on January 13, 2006, the United States launched a missile strike on the village of Damadola, Pakistan. Rather than kill the targeted Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda’s deputy leader, the strike instead slaughtered 17 locals. This only served to further weaken the Musharraf government and further destabilize the entire area.

    On October 30, 2006, the Pakistani military, under pressure from the U.S., attacked a madrasah in the Northwest Frontier province in Pakistan. Immediately following the attack, local residents, convinced the U.S. military was behind the attack, burned American flags and effigies of President Bush, and shouted “Death to America!” Outraged over an attack on school children, the local residents viewed the attack as an assault against Islam. On November 7, 2006, a suicide bomber retaliated. Further outrage ensued when President Bush extended his condolences to the families of the victims of the suicide attack, and President Musharraf did the same, without ever offering their condolences to the families of the slaughtered children.

    Last year troubles escalated surrounding the Pakistani government’s siege of the Red Mosque where more than 100 people were killed. Even before Musharraf’s soldiers took the Lal Masjid the retaliations began. Suicide attacks originating from both Afghan Taliban and Pakistani tribal militants targeted military convoys and a police recruiting center.

    There are countless more examples; too many to mention in detail. Likewise in Afghanistan; April 30, 2007 for example, when hundreds of Afghans protested US soldiers killing Afghan civilians. Why can’t the powers that be recognize that we’ve been in Afghanistan for nearly seven years, and in Iraq for over five; a military approach is not working. If we must focus the war on terror in Afghanistan and Pakistan, let’s focus on winning the hearts and minds of the beautiful people of these countries, rather than filling their hearts with bitterness and hatred toward us. With their support, we can offer them the financial and technical assistance that they need to rebuild their infrastructure, their agriculture and their economy. With their support, we can offer them the needed resources to rebuild their human capital and start attracting foreign direct investment. But without their support, we cannot possibly have any positive influence in this region at all; our only influence will be that of brute force, bribery of corrupt officials, and outright coercion. It will be a long, hard, costly and bloody endeavor, and the people of these countries will continue to suffer.

    Let’s not forget that Pakistan has nuclear weapons. Let’s not also forget that this is a highly Muslim-concentrated area, the Islamic concept of duty to come to the aid of fellow Muslims would no doubt ensure a huge influx of jihadists in this type of a scenario. Why on earth would we want to intentionally provoke a situation that would not only radicalize existing moderates in the region, but could also potentially cause the influx of a concentration of radical jihadists from elsewhere into an already unstable region (that has nuclear weapons no less)? We would be begging for a nuclear proliferation problem.

    We like to assume that we would have the upper hand in such a scenario. But we have been in Afghanistan since October of 2001. And we have yet to assume the upper hand. The fight in Afghanistan has the potential to become much more difficult than it already is. Nor would it be unheard of to expect other major powers to back these radical jihadists with economic and military assistance in much the same way that the US backed the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union. Beyond the fact that roughly 1/5 of the world’s population is Muslim (approximately 1.5 billion people- 85% Sunni, 15% Shia, Ibadiyyas, Ahmadis and Druze), we have to remember that Muslims are the majority in 57 states (out of 195). Most of these have Sunni majorities, which gives them added political power.

    China has traditionally backed Pakistan. What would China do if the US were to find itself at war with Pakistan?

    India has tremendous economic and security interests in the region. Let’s not forget that while India has been in nearly continual conflict with Pakistan, primarily over the Kashmir issue, it has the second largest Muslim population in the world next to Indonesia. What happens if India were to side with the U.S. in a potential conflict with Pakistan? It will have a very difficult task justifying that position with its very large Muslim population. A U.S.-Indian alliance could also spark more terrorist attacks in the Kashmir region; it could also create added tension to the already tenuous relationship between India and Iran, which has a long history of support for Pakistan. Or, if radicals gained control of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, a nuclear attack against India could spark a nuclear altercation between the two nuclear powers. Or, what if radicals then gained control of India’s nuclear arsenal?

    On the other hand, what happens if India for some reason (either via a coup or due to Muslims gaining the upper hand in the long-running Hindu-Muslim conflict) were to side with Pakistan against the United States? It seems unlikely now, but not completely unrealistic considering the on-again, off-again relationship between the U.S. and every country in that region. We constantly flip-flop in our foreign policy. An attack on Pakistani soil would be a perfect example of this type of wishy-washy foreign policy, as the Bush administration guaranteed Musharraf that the U.S. would never do such a thing (as much as Karzai wants us to). Speaking of Karzai, what if he is ousted and we find ourselves at war with Afghanistan. What would India do then, given its friendship with Afghanistan?

    Also consider the U.S. position on Kashmir, which has a predominantly Muslim population. Pakistan wants a plebiscite, as called for in a 1949 UN resolution, to essentially allow the people to decide which state the region should belong to. India refuses a plebiscite, claiming Kashmir and Jammu as an integral part of India. The U.S. is arming both sides through billions in aid to Pakistan and selective proliferation to India, but insists Pakistan stem terrorist activities flowing from inside its borders, and at the same time discourages India from attacking Pakistan. Yet an escalation of war in the area could backfire badly.

    Beyond all that we still have to consider a slew of other states such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Russia – not to mention the central Asian states - all of which have economic and/or political and security interests in the region. How will they react to an escalation of the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan?

    Finally, what would such a scenario do to oil prices and availability? I’m 100% in favor of America developing alternative energy sources, but again that’s my opinion, and the oil conglomerates have not been listening to me. Unfortunately, the facts are that the oil lobby is a very powerful entity. Even more to the point, our country could not ween itself off of oil overnight, even if it wanted to. We have to consider what such an escalation would do to oil prices, and the overall availability of oil.

    The oil embargo of 1974 (in support of Egypt and Syria in the Yom Kippur war against Israel), in retaliation against the U.S. for its support of Israel had devastating economic and political consequences on the U.S. and much of Europe. Also, the more recent boycott of Danish products across the Muslim world, in retaliation for the 2005 cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, demonstrates the ability of the international Muslim community to act collectively.

    Escalating the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan would also demonstrate the fickle and hypocritical nature of America’s foreign policy. We supported the Taliban when it served our interests (to oppose the Soviets in Afghanistan) in spite of clear human rights abuses. But now we condemn the Taliban (and much of the Muslim world) over the very same human rights abuses (against women … etc.), while we also continue to ignore similar or same human rights abuses in China, Saudi Arabia, Israel … etc., when it’s convenient for us to do so. We did the same thing with Saddam Hussein; arming him in spite of clear and egregious human rights abuses when he was our ally, and condemning the same actions when he wasn’t.

    The U.S. practices selective proliferation with India, and selective sovereignty with those it chooses (today Pakistan, tomorrow someone other than Pakistan), while at the same time violating the sovereignty of other states- depending on its whim at the time.

    The United States government insisted that the Taliban turn over Bin Laden, but the United States itself has refused on several occasions to return foreign nationals (being held on death row in America) to their state of domicile because the U.S. wanted them to face execution, and the home state did not uphold the death penalty. We also continue to refuse to acknowledge the ICC because we don’t want American military personnel tried in an international court. How is that so different from the Taliban wanting Bin Laden tried in an Islamic court?

    Rather than blindly accepting that America holds some God-given moral superiority over the rest of the planet, we need to realize that everywhere, humanity has a God-given right to live, love and prosper. Our children have the right to grow up in an environment free of air strikes and constant assault from an external enemy. They have the right to attend schools without fear of being maimed and killed inside of them. And they have the right to be children, instead of orphans. No state has the right to take that away from your children, or from mine. Imagine now that Senator Obama is planning to escalate the war on terror where you live.

    By Blogger John Maszka, at 2:58 AM, September 02, 2008  

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