Sunday, December 20, 2009

Afghanistan: The Obama Administration's Trust in Pakistan is Going to Get Americans KIlled

By Barry Rubin

Prediction: One day some enterprising author or former intelligence officer is going to write a best-selling book about the hunt for Usama bin Ladin. Readers will be horrified to find how the Pakistani government and military sabotaged the effort to catch or kill the al-Qaida leadership.

Meanwhile, reading Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s December 10 interview with al-Jazira, it's striking how much she speaks in a totally American psychological and political context. Perhaps it is always like that with U.S. governments. But an administration claiming to be multi-cultural, open to the world, seeing the other side’s viewpoint, and criticizing its predecessors for insensitivity, still sounds like a bunch of naive Americans who don’t quite seem to grasp what other parts of the world are like.

What better example than Afghanistan and Pakistan, countries as different from the United States as you’re going to get. She states:

“We’ve admired the way Pakistan has pulled together to go after those elements of the Taliban that are directly threatening them. And I think that the people of Pakistan are so unified now in support of this military action”

Consider this bizarrely self-subverting first sentence. Isn’t it great, she says, that Pakistan is fighting those Taliban types who are trying to take over the country and kill them. Well, of course they are! Is it hard to understand that they don't want to be murdered and overthrown?

[A digression: What's truly amazing is that other people don't seem to notice stuff like this nowadays. The media keeps missing the essential points, whether it be in Clinton's reaction to Israel's construction freeze which set out a new U.S. policy or in her statement during the Spanish foreign minister's visit when she signalled the start of the sanctions' campaign.]

But the problem, of course, is that Pakistan isn’t going after those elements of the Taliban that are not "directly threatening" them. In fact, as most recently attested by a freed New York Times reporter who the Taliban had been holding hostage, Pakistani intelligence is helping the Taliban and other terrorists who want to kill Americans or Indians!

It is remarkable that the secretary of state can put the issue in such a backwards manner. Tens of thousands of American soldiers are about to be risked in Afghanistan, depending on Pakistan to guard the back door and stop terrorists who want to kill them. But in fact Pakistan will do the minimum possible, thus placing those troops and their mission at risk. Meanwhile, the administration sending them there is pretending the problem doesn’t even exist.

With all due respect, the idea of Pakistanis as “unified” and ready to be “pulled together” sounds like a rather out-of-touch way to describe an incredibly divided nation full of anti-Americanism, packed with many thousand radical Islamists, mired in corruption, hovering on the verge of anarchy, and where armed factions shoot at each other daily.

It is a country whose government just one year ago sponsored a massive terrorist attack on Mumbai and got away with it at no cost whatsoever, not even any international criticism!

As for Afghanistan, all the atmospherics make people miss the point that the administration sounds strikingly like that of the Bush presidency. After all, they both claim to be able to take another country, create a democratic system there, help build a responsible government, and ensure there's a strong military that will be able to defeat the terrorist forces.

The irony is that Bush had by far the better situation. First, Iraq is far more promising raw material than Afghanistan.. Second, Bush was willing to tough it out when things looked bad; Obama has already announced a short-term time limit publicly.* Third, Bush could depend on his main local allies--Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Turkey--to oppose the enemy while Obama can't rely on Pakistan for anything in that regard.

If George W. Bush erred in seeing parts of the world as being ready for democracy when they definitely were not, Barack Obama, and the administration for which he sets the tone, seems to think of itself as a community organizer pulling together those who really do want to play nice. Even at the Copenhagen summit such tactics led to the diplomatic equivalent of a barroom brawl.

In public at least--and whatever differently they think in private doesn't manifest itself in their policy--this administration seems to believe in a fantasy Pakistan packaged like some slightly exotic version of a Hollywood film set or some idealized American image of everyone pitching in to raise money in order to save the farm.

This is the kind of thing people make fun of today when they describe how innocent Americans once thought about a country named Vietnam.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books  To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.

*Yes, I know that he also said he would take into account conditions at the time of the deadline but he also implied he will pull out regardless and Obama doesn't seem like the type to fight a war against tough odds and domestic criticism, does he?

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