Archive for the ‘Pakistan’ category

Pandora’s Dilemma

August 26, 2014

In August 1990, some say, the US lead coalition opened Pandora’s box a bit. The first gulf war, operation Desert Storm, was ostensibly to stop Saddam Hussein’s aggression against neighboring Kuwait. The fact that Kuwait was oil rich and that Hussein’s Iraq was already suspect to American neo-conservatives, were thought to have had greater influence on American policy than Iraq’s violation of International law.

Pandora’s box was jolted ajar a second time following 9/11. American lead troops ousted the Afghanistan “Taliban al Qaeda friendly” government and then allowed their mission of hot pursuit to morph into nation building.

But the box became fully open when the US invaded and occupied Iraq for the second time in 2003. “Mission Accomplish” which boasted of Saddam Hussein’s capture (and subsequent execution) was clearly the beginning of the Middle East unraveling.

US involvement in the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, Muammar Gadaffi, and most recently attempted unseating of Bashar al Assad all displayed clearly that the US had not learned from Iraq or Afghanistan.

This week, senior Administration officials are breathlessly describing potential military operations aimed in one way or another trying to close Pandora’s box. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs said yesterday that the US military were preparing contingency plans should a Afghan political deadlock prevent a “status of forces” agreement being signed before the US troop departure date.

It should be fully expected that Taliban forces will attempt to retake the Afghan government (by force, if necessary) once US forces leave. It should be fully expected that the Taliban, like the extremists in Iraq, will commit horrific slaughters under the name of Allah in order to retake the government. Hmmm.

So, when American political leaders speak of taking the war to ISIS, or keeping a sufficient residual force in Afghanistan to counter the Taliban, their motivation is probably to prevent wholesale slaughter. A humanitarian motivation one might say. Hmmm.

As the Middle East proverb goes, “if you steal one of my chickens, I will steal two of yours”. Consequently, intervening within Middle East (Afghanistan and Pakistan too) affairs can only lead to an escalation in violence.

The wisest course of action, although not pretty, will be to withdraw and allow the locals to work out a governance solution.

Oh, I bet the more insightful policy makers wish the US had not opened Pandora’s box in the first place and wonder what the Middle East might be like today?

Headlines of Nonsense

January 3, 2010

Maybe the first Sunday of 2010 is just a slow news day. That is a generous excuse for a headline that read “Calling it ‘war’, Obama links al-Qaeda to plot”. I hope our memories have not forgotten what former President George W Bush did with his pronouncement of the “War on Terror”. Not only is it impossible to fight terror, it is even more dangerously a license to steal.

Thoroughly investigating the background of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab and who supplied him with training and explosives makes perfect sense. Depending upon the findings, some type of countermeasures will be appropriate. The idea of being at war is like chasing the wind. It is everywhere and it is nowhere. I worry when I hear a sane person such as President Obama using this clearly nonsensical language.

Partial mitigation might be that he was trying to outflank former Vice President Cheney and the rest of the chicken hawks who revel in this type of language. I would argue, however, that it is the likes of Cheney who should be a signal to do just the opposite of what they would recommend. In his 8 years, arguably as the de facto President, Cheney’s policies were one disaster after another.

President Obama needs to remember that our actions to thwart Islamic extremists must be done in what is America’s national interests and what we can afford. We are not the world’s policemen. These extremists have hardly a pot to pee in, so why do we send several hundred thousand Americans (military and contractors) including all the refinements of what Americans enjoy each day to fight this illusive enemy. It is the modern day equivalent to the British “red coats” who stood in rows while American revolutionaries hid behind trees.

Good Signs

December 3, 2009

The President’s Afghan deployment announcement has elicited some long needed critical views on the use of military power. During the initial stages of the Afghan conflict, the images of 9/11 and the thought that a military incursion could wipe out al Qaeda was in most people’s minds. Soon our attention was diverted to Iraq where the argument fell along the lines of “the commander in chief cannot be wrong” to “the commander in chief is lying”. Through out most of the Iraq invasion and occupation, arguments raged around “whether it was a mistake to be there” rather than “what exactly is the reason we are there and does military force have a chance of achieving it”?

With Afghanistan we have a very clear connection with 9/11 and the open operation of Islamic extremists whose views of the world are totally incompatible with non-extremists. Yet the proper question is whether infusing 30,000 more troops is a wise and necessary step.

President Obama raised the question of affordability in his speech. At long last someone has spoken that any war costs money. Money that could (and probably should) go for other purposes. So, are we spending our money wisely?

In order to better consider this notion, we must question the fundamental assumption that chasing al Qaeda (or the Taliban) in Afghanistan (or Pakistan) will eliminate Islamic extremists. Many people are now coming forward with the idea that Islamic extremists are like a uncontrolled virus that can spread where ever it wants.

Islam is like all other religions in that at its core it is a business. If those who study and teach its theology did not profit from this activity, I assure you they would not do this line of work.  Some Islamic teachers have found extremism as a good business.  The “al Qaeda” brand of Islam  is particularly valuable and attracts a lot of volunteers (who work for food, clothing, and hope) and a lot of money (from sources who in tern have other “get even” agendas).

Think about Afghanistan and Pakistan. Where does the Taliban get its weapons and money to buy munitions, food, and other supplies?

The most opposite views to President Obama’s decision say there should be no war on terror. Rather we should call al Qaeda and any other Islamic extremists what they are. Common thugs and criminals. It follows directly form this assumption that control of this menace is an International and local police effort, joined in a coordinated manner. Like pirates, Islamic extremists need to be seen as incompatible with modern society and prevented form accessing any parts. That means no travel, no trade, no financial connections. When these groups renounce their extremist behavior, a different approach should be offered.

Role Reversals

October 1, 2009

The great Afghanistan policy debate underway in Washington shines a light on what inadequate or faulty policy decisions can mean when they mature. In this case, 8 years have been essentially wasted along with hundreds of billions of dollars. The US, as part of a NATO force, invaded Afghanistan and toppled the Taliban government in order to root out al Qaeda. So far, so good. Unfortunately that was as far as it went and where it stopped.

The Bush Administration set the policy objective of pursuing al Qaeda and Taliban insurgents with one hand and helped set up a new central Afghan government with the other, both on a shoe string. That was a lot to do, yet early into the Afghan effort, Bush and Cheney decided to invade and occupy Iraq, and that was not necessary.  In the country where terrorists thrived,  poppies grew and government bribes were collected as a matter of daily business in Afghanistan, and life went on. Is there a question why the situation today is so fragile?

The US military command has now come forward with a policy of sorts. Focus on protecting the population or risk losing control of Afghanistan. Presumably protection includes eradicating poppy fields and ending the widespread graft and corruption too. This policy proposal raises all sorts of questions.

  • Why should the Military be recommending a policy that seems so obvious and so much the normal product of the State Department?
  • Why should we expect the US to succeed in Afghanistan when no outside force has before, including the Russians and the colonial English?
  • How can the US support an indeterminate effort while facing a $10 trillion deficit over the next 10 years?
  • Why should the US care about Afghan’s future government and most importantly, why is this America’s problem anyways?

Poppies, unbridled extremism, and regional instability are all sure to follow an American withdrawal. But aren’t these, all nation’s problems?

Graham Says Stay

September 28, 2009

Senator Lindsay Graham, in an interview over the weekend, sternly advised President Obama that the US must not only stay in Afghanistan but must insure that the Taliban does not win. He told anyone who had been sleeping for the last 8 years that if US forces left Afghanistan, the Taliban would surely return to power. Graham said this with his most sincere and serious face.

The irony of this situation is that Senator Graham is correct and you are struck by the notion of where he has been for the last 8 years. Like almost all Republican “advice” for President Obama, there is plenty of help on what not to do but little insight on what to do. There is no amount of troops that can change the ultimate outcome until there is a stable and capable Afghan central government.  This is true now, and it has been true for the past 8 years.

President Obama hopefully will take his time in making any decision on troop strength and couple it with an exit strategy. The military can delay (even for a very long time) the outcome but they can not change what is inevitable.

The path forward in Afghanistan is not very clear and it would be much more helpful for Senator Graham to cease partisan politics and offer to be supportive of the President’s decision. For 8 years, Graham’s party ran the White House and the Department of Defense and presided over a slow rot of the Afghan central government. It is time for a comprehensive plan with bi-partisan support.

A Year Later

September 26, 2009

The current discussions swirling around whether the US should increase its Afghanistan military presence, stand pat, or reduce troop strength is in itself a refreshing example of good governance. It is an important strategic and foreign policy decision.

On one side of Afghanistan is Iran. They are experiencing internal difficulties within their ruling faction.   At the same time they are apparently moving forward to join the nuclear club. Iran could become an unstable, missile possessing, nuclear threat in the Middle East.  How would the US deal with that threat if it had 200,000 troops tied down in Afghanistan?

On the other side of Afghanistan is Pakistan. This large, relatively poor country is struggling with two external threats. India with its larger Army and nuclear weapons, and the presence of the ugly religious intolerance of Hinduism and Islam, put India and Pakistan on the knife edge poised for instant battle. Pakistan, however, must also contend with Taliban and other frontier tribes on its northwestern boarders who operate across the Afghan-Pakistan boarder. Pakistan has nuclear weapons and means to deliver them.  What would the US do if the Taliban somehow destabilized the Pakistan Government?

So you have to ask, “what is the reason, again, why the US is in Afghanistan and poised to commit so many troops”?

With the Bush Administration, there was little debate about our presence in Afghanistan. Vice President, Dick Cheney, decided we should be there and Presidential Advisor, Karl Rove added his support because the war provided excellent nation security spin for political purposes. With the Obama Administration, the nature of the Administration debate is different. Vice President Joe Biden is counseling against adding more troops. He is cautioning President Obama that more troops is about nation building and to do that you must have a partner in the Afghan Government. Biden’s concern is whether the Karzai Government is credible and strong enough to be that partner.

President Obama seems confident enough to not be hurried into a premature decision. He is wisely delaying any decision and instead domestically focusing on health care and the economy, and overseas through Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, building alliances and understanding among key foreign countries.

What a difference a year can make!


September 22, 2009

President Obama is looking at a very difficult decision over whether to increase American military strength in Afghanistan knowing full well he will be going alone in terms of NATO Country participation. With the lessons of Vietnam still fresh in Americans’ memories, following that path into a quagmire is not very attractive. But Afghanistan is not Vietnam, for better or worse.

Last evening I heard former Afghan President Pervez Musharraf speak. It appears he is new to the speakers’ circuit because he seemed to really care about the content of his speech and anticipated well the general lack of knowledge his audience might have about Pakistan and Afghanistan. His bottom line was that America must increase troop strength if there is to be any chance of controlling extremism.

Musharraf pointed out that it was not killing insurgents that would lead to success but rather the establishment of a stable Afghan Government that could return the four major tribal groups (Pashtun, Tajik, Hazara, and Uzbek) to joint cooperation, and that would be critical to controlling extremists in Afghanistan and Pakistran. At times Musharraf almost sounded like longing for the olden times of the Afghan Kings.

Musharraf seemed confident that the Taliban would not overthrow the Pakistani Government, now or ever. Listening between the lines he was suggesting that keeping the Taliban boxed into the boarder region between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and in essence letting them waste away there, was the best strategy.

It is, however, the other side of the equation that plays to very limited American strength, Nation Building. With a country like Afghanistan with so many ethnic groups and such a long history of tribal rule, how can one imagine a modern state to emerge in a short time? But Musharraf’s warning was very clear. Abandon Afghanistan at your own peril.

So will it be Afgh-gone-istan or Afghanis-stay. My bet is President Obama will decide to stay but my wish is for the US to leave unless fully supported by most of the G-20.