Stop, Look, Listen

Before we jump into the abyss

by , November 11, 2009

We hear daily reports that President Obama has made this or that decision about how many more troops to send to the Afghan front; the numbers vary. This Reuters report headlines "four options" the president is considering, but then names only three: sending 15,000, 30,000, or 40,000. Is the fourth option getting the heck out of that hellhole, before we destabilize the entire region?

No way, no how. The numbers may change, but what doesn’t vary is the fact that this is quite obviously a political and not a military decision: it’s all about what’s happening in Washington, and not about what’s occurring on the ground in Afghanistan and environs. And the Washington political culture, which sees government action as the cure-all for society’s ills, is not about to take inaction as the cure for anything. We must "do something" – even if it means playing right into al-Qaeda’s hands.

America’s leaders never knew what hit them on 9/11, and they still don’t. The U.S. response was to launch a conventional war against nation-states – Afghanistan, then Iraq – when neither of these constituted the real enemy.

Now we are inching into Pakistan, which is rapidly being destabilized by our efforts. Seymour Hersh’s latest report from that country draws a dark portrait of a nation on the brink, with President Asif Ali "10 Percent" Zardari sitting atop a volcano – one that could erupt in a nuclear-powered explosion that sets the world aflame.

With the Pakistani military and civilian establishment seething with resentment at the imperiousness of their American patrons and overlords, and the corruption of an entire society feeding into a fundamentalist backlash, the whole country seems ready to come apart at the seams – and this, ironically, is the latest rationale for massive U.S. intervention.

It doesn’t seem to matter that our intervention caused the initial disruption – more action on the part of Washington is always the answer to every problem. The harder we press the Pakistanis, the more they resent us and the closer we come to pushing them into a religious-nationalist reaction and the possibility of a military coup – a coup, I might add, in which the resulting government would be no more favorable to our efforts in Afghanistan and elsewhere than, say, the former regime of Mullah Omar. Pakistani military officers in the know urge us to negotiate with the Taliban, but Washington is deaf to their pleas. Even now, according to Hersh, we are making arrangements to seize Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal in the event it’s in danger of falling into Islamist hands.

Our continuing and deepening alliance with India – the only country not a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty with which we’re engaged in nuclear commerce – rightly troubles Islamabad. Indeed, it is their main concern, quite apart from the growing Islamist insurgency within their own borders. Pakistan and India have fought two wars over the disputed region of Kashmir – yet another legacy of British imperialism we must now bear the brunt of – and U.S. actions have done nothing to tamp down the growing tensions. Kashmir, which is overwhelmingly Muslim and pro-Pakistani, is no more a part of India than is South Dakota; despite that, we treat New Delhi’s claim on a par with Islamabad’s – yet another reason for the Pakistanis to resent their "Big Uncle" in Washington.

We can’t withdraw from Afghanistan, say the warbots, because that will leave nuclear-armed Pakistan easy prey for Osama bin Laden and his confreres. This argument is nonsensical in several respects, the most obvious being its circularity: our deepening involvement has fueled the recent surge in support for the Pakistani Taliban insurgents, whose attacks on government installations (including the central military headquarters) have underscored the essential weakness of the current regime. More U.S. interference cannot strengthen the government’s position, only weaken it – yet we barrel ahead, oblivious to the quicksand in which we and our allies are sinking.

The frantic behind-the-scenes machinations to secure Pakistan’s nukes have the disturbing aura of a self-fulfilling nightmare: the more we assert our presence and advertise our primacy, the more likely it is that the whole delicate fabric will come apart in our hands.

Bin Laden’s boys don’t need a "safe haven" to launch attacks on the U.S.: 9/11, and, more recently, the Ft. Hood massacre, taught us that. But we refuse to learn. We’re still fighting this war the old way, and we don’t even see the enemy. Oh, we rail against bin Laden and are supposedly still trying to capture him, yet all our mighty efforts are aimed at proxies: the Taliban, their Pakistani allies, and states that allegedly "harbor" terrorists. What’s needed is the kind of precision that only superior intelligence-gathering capabilities can provide us with. Instead, we go wading into southern Afghanistan and the tribal areas of Pakistan armed with a blunderbuss, when what we really need is a well-sharpened stiletto.

The president is taking a long time to make his decision about what course to follow in Afghanistan, and I, for one, am glad of it. The White House realizes the vastness of the stakes and is understandably reluctant to rush right in without at least preparing its political allies for a most unpromising fight. Nevertheless, the only option that makes any sense – ending the "Af-Pak" misadventure before it gets out of hand and shifting to an intelligence-based covert offensive – is not on the table.

Before we jump into an abyss from which there is no extrication, we need to stop, look, and listen: stop the war, look at the damage we have already done to the societies we’ve invaded, and listen to what our enemies are saying before we undertake to engage them in battle.

Bin Laden has said more than once [.pdf] that he intends to draw us deeper and deeper into hostile territory, where, bankrupt and besieged, we’ll be caught flat-footed as al-Qaeda strikes once again deep within our own territory. Mocking us, the destroyer of the twin towers has observed that he has only to hang a scarecrow in some distant field and label it "al-Qaeda," and the Americans come running with their armies of occupation. In the meantime, however, as he put it in another message,

"As for the delay in carrying out similar operations in America, this was not due to failure to breach your security measures. Operations are under preparation, and you will see them on your own ground once they are finished, God willing."

Our government’s actions aren’t protecting us; instead, we are endangered as never before. Rather than defeating the enemy, our foreign policy has only empowered him. That is the record since 9/11, and if we don’t stop, look, and listen, we are headed for catastrophe sooner rather than later.

NOTES IN THE MARGIN

Well, our new, more subtle approach to fundraising seemed to work for a while. On the first day we garnered around $6,000 in contributions, the best we’ve done in quite a while. The second day, however, wasn’t so great – about half that, roughly. So it looks like I’m going to have to throw subtlety to the winds – it never was my shtick, anyway – and start up with my usual hectoring.

Okay, look: the comprehensive daily coverage of international affairs provided on this Web site doesn’t come free. Oh, I know, you don’t have to pay to get our content – you’re most definitely not dealing with Rupert Murdoch here. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have costs. Everyone does. Those costs aren’t all that great. $70,000 per quarter is peanuts when we’re talking about running an organization that reaches a million-plus readers every month. Talk about efficiency: we’re reaching more readers per dollar than the evil Murdoch and his minions could ever conceive of in their wildest dreams. And we’re doing it with no organizational or institutional support: we have no big donors, there’s no highfalutin’ think-tank behind us, and we’re not beholden to any political party or faction. Here you get the facts, without the spin, about what is going on in the world and how it affects you.

Whatever contribution you make, it’s a small price to pay for the truth about U.S. foreign policy, so please let us go back to the subtle approach. It’s so much less intrusive than our traditional table-banging method. You know we deserve your support – and now is the time to give it. Contribute today!

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