Saturday, March 21, 2009

Barack's Iraq?

I read an interesting interview at Germany's Die Zeit. Yes, it's the weekend and, yes, I've made the pilgrimage to Watching America. Anyway, the interview was with Brahma Chellany, professor of strategic studies at the Center for Policy Research, New Delhi, India.

Professor Chellany had a number of interesting observations about the current state of Pakistan, which he designates as a "failed state," not so much because of the weak state of the current civilian government but because the real power in Pakistan has been the military, especially since Pervez Musharraf took over in a coup. The danger here, of course, is that Pakistan is also a nuclear state, something which must worry India and the rest of the region a great deal.

All of that is by way of setting the stage for the part of the interview I considered most interesting. At this point in history, the fate of Pakistan and Afghanistan appear to be intricately linked.

Brahma Chellaney (BC): President Asif Ali Zardari did well to avoid confrontation with the opposition and reinstate the judges fired by former dictator Pervez Musharraf. But the easing of political tension hasn’t removed the danger that Pakistan, a nuclear nation, might dissolve. Pakistan – as well as Afghanistan – is de facto a “failed state.” The boundaries between the governmental and non-governmental participants are extremely blurred. The president is really more a mayor of the capital city. The national borders between Pakistan and Afghanistan have virtually ceased to exist; it’s difficult to deal with both nations as though they were separate political entities. ... [Emphasis added]

After 9/11, George Bush decided to invade Afghanistan, and in the hysterical response to the terrorist attack, most Americans supported the move. Unfortunately, neither he nor the American public had been paying attention to history. Britain had failed in Afghanistan, and, much more recently, so had the Soviet Union. Ironically, because of the Cold War, US leaders decided to back the "insurgents" against the Russians and poured money, weapons, and intelligence resources into the mess, thereby empowering the very figures who would ultimately have a connection to those who attacked the United States on September 11, 2001. We backed the very same people that we are fighting today, and not very successfully.

Now part of the reason for that is that the Bush administration was far more interested in Iraq, probably because Iraq has oil and Afghanistan just has opium poppies. President Bush diluted our commitment in Afghanistan and poured it into Iraq with devastating consequences for both theaters. Today's Washington Post makes that clear. The debacle in Iraq was one of the major reasons for the repudiation of the Republican Party in the last election.

Recognizing that fact, Candidate Obama vowed to pull troops out of Iraq. Unfortunately, he intends to send them to Afghanistan, the "good war", fully ignoring all of the history of the region. Here's what Professor Chellaney noted in the Die Welt interview:

America is preparing to repeat the same mistakes that were made by Ronald Reagan when he opposed the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. That’s when the entire Afghanistan-Pakistan disaster began. Obama wants to train and arm new militias in every Afghan province although the country is already awash in armed militias. The militias armed and trained by Reagan, the so-called Mujahadin, became international terrorists. Besides that, Obama wants to cut a deal with the Taliban at the same time he’s hiding behind a troop surge. History again repeats itself. The Taliban was created by the Pakistani intelligence services with the support of the CIA. In October 2001, American policy did a complete turnabout and declared war on the Taliban. [Emphasis added]

So, what's a poor new incumbent to do? Certainly not keep repeating the same mistakes of previous administrations and expecting different results. While President Obama has shown significant signs of a dramatic and welcome change in foreign policy, he still feels compelled to show biceps when it comes to war making, in this case, in Afghanistan.

What he needs to do is spit out the bullet and bite down on contrition. Yes, we broke it and we own it, but we can't fix it without the assistance of the rest of the world, especially the countries in the region (India, Iran, and the Arab nations). India has already poured over $1 billion into Afghanistan in reconstruction aid. Our NATO allies would probably prefer equivalent monetary donations to military assistance. Diplomatic pressure on the war lords of Afghanistan and the military powers in Pakistan could be redoubled by the rest of the world without complaint.

Another "surge" is not the answer.

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