David Frum and the Winds of War

Shocker: noted neocon makes the case for invading Pakistan

by , May 11, 2011

It may be unseemly for a pundit to highlight his own predictive powers, especially in the first sentence of a column, but propriety has never been much of a constraining factor for me, so here goes:

No sooner had I written that the High Mucka-Mucks of the “Kochtopus” would jump on the bandwagon of the Gary Johnson campaign, then there was David Boaz, looking particularly smug, singing Johnson’s praises (and making catty remarks about Ron Paul’s age) on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s Freedom Watch less than twenty-four hours later.

Okay, so you don’t have to be Nostradamus reincarnated to have imagined the oily evasive Boaz would sidle up to the oily evasive Johnson: like attracts like and all that. But how about my prediction that the neocons War Party, bored with Afghanistan and eager to find fresh killing fields, would soon be focusing on Pakistan as the New Enemy in our eternal “war on terrorism”?

No sooner had my last column been posted, then CNN posted David Frum’s latest screed, in which the former speechwriter for George W. Bush asked: “Has our mission in Afghanistan become obsolete?”

Frum, who authored the “axis of evil” phraseology that set the tone for the Bush presidency, isn’t having second thoughts about the interventionist foreign policy he’s always championed: no, he’s just wondering if, as he puts it, “The world’s most important terrorist safe haven is visibly not Afghanistan, but instead next-door Pakistan.”

According to Frum, “Because the U.S. presence in Afghanistan requires cooperation from Pakistan, the Afghanistan mission perversely inhibits the United States from taking more decisive action against Pakistan’s harboring of terrorism.” The US has got it “upside down,” he says: Pakistan is the real Enemy. He then goes into a laundry list of aggressive actions he would like us to engage in, including US military action to “disable” Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.

This last is particularly crazy, even for a dyed-in-the-wool neocon like Frum: does this born again “moderate” Republican really want to start a war – bound to go nuclear – with Pakistan? He just can’t understand why the Obama administration doesn’t do its duty and risk turning Central Asia into a radioactive wasteland:

“Instead, even now – even now! – we’re told that Pakistan is just too important to permit the U.S. to act on its stated doctrine – articulated by George W. Bush’s administration and not repudiated by Obama’s: ‘Those who harbor terrorists will be treated as terrorists themselves.’ So long as we remain in Afghanistan, that statement remains true. The question is, shouldn’t we be taking now the steps to render the statement less true?"

“The less committed we are to Afghanistan, the more independent we are of Pakistan. The more independent we are of Pakistan, the more leverage we have over Pakistan. The more leverage we have over Pakistan, the more clout we have to shut down Pakistan’s long, vicious, and now not credibly deniable state support for terrorism.”

What’s not credible is an assertion – that the Pakistani authorities sheltered and collaborated with bin Laden – offered without evidence. This many of us learned in the run up to the invasion of Iraq (alas, some only in retrospect). However, neocons don’t need evidence: indeed, they disdain it, and Frum offers none to back up his rationale for war. We are simply supposed to accept that, because bin Laden was found in Abbottabad – described in the American media as a “garrison city” supposedly impregnable to infiltration – the Pakistani authorities must have known his whereabouts.

The details of “Operation Geronimo” underscore why this is nonsense: after all, the US succeeded in setting up a clandestine “safe house” in Abbottabad not far from bin Laden’s lair. If the CIA could do it, why not al-Qaeda – which, after all, has shown itself to be at least the equal of our spooks when it comes to pulling off clandestine operations? I’m assuming the safe house was unknown to the Pakistanis, but, on second thought, maybe not …

The President has told us that no one outside a very small circle in the White House and the Pentagon had prior knowledge of bin Laden’s takedown, and absent any evidence to the contrary, we have to take him at his word. On the other hand, there is some circumstantial evidence the Pakistanis might have seen this coming, because, as the Guardian reports:

“The US and Pakistan struck a secret deal almost a decade ago permitting a US operation against Osama bin Laden on Pakistani soil similar to last week’s raid that killed the al-Qaeda leader, the Guardian has learned. The deal was struck between the military leader General Pervez Musharraf and President George Bush after Bin Laden escaped US forces in the mountains of Tora Bora in late 2001, according to serving and retired Pakistani and US officials. Under its terms, Pakistan would allow US forces to conduct a unilateral raid inside Pakistan in search of Bin Laden, his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and the al-Qaeda No3. Afterwards, both sides agreed, Pakistan would vociferously protest the incursion.”

The Guardian goes on to cite “a former senior administration official,” who tells us:

“’There was an agreement between Bush and Musharraf that if we knew where Osama was, we were going to come and get him,” said a former senior US official with knowledge of counterterrorism operations. ‘The Pakistanis would put up a hue and cry, but they wouldn’t stop us.’”

If, as Frum claims, the Pakistanis are a “state sponsor of terrorism” fronting for al-Qaeda, then why would they make this agreement – which was renewed by the post-Musharraf government?

Indeed, Islamabad is making plenty of noise about the raid, but this is just for public consumption in Pakistan: the agreed-upon scenario is playing itself out according to plan.

While Frum was a mere White House speechwriter in the Bush years, in no position to be in on the administration’s secret pacts, he could conceivably have learned of the pact in leak-prone Washington, where the neocons had no compunctions about divulging secrets if it served their political ends. I wouldn’t be too surprised if Frum knew about this all along, and is taking the opportunity to target Pakistan anyway, secure in the knowledge that Islamabad could never acknowledge their agreement with Washington. He’s that kind of person.

Aside from that, however, the secret agreement certainly undermines the whole premise of Frum’s argument that Pakistan is now the main enemy of the United States. The outrageousness of this line of argument is apparent when we note that Pakistan has captured far more top al-Qaeda operatives than the intelligence services of the US and all other Western nations combined.

Under General Pervez Musharraf, and continuing under the present government, the Pakistanis have been doing our dirty work in the region ever since 9/11. They have faithfully executed policies dictated to them by Washington – albeit often a little resentful at being required to do most of the heavy lifting – and how are they being rewarded? With slander, not only from the politically irrelevant Frum, but out of the mouths of anonymous administration officials who whisper their calumnies in the dark.

If you’re the leader of a country that has been a good and faithful ally of the US, the lesson to be learned from all this is clear: watch your back. Hosni Mubarak learned this too late, as did Manuel Noriega and Ngo Dinh Diem.

Now that bin Laden is dead, and the vast intelligence cache scooped up by the raiders effectively dismantles al-Qaeda as an effective international fighting force, the US government is desperately scrambling to find a replacement – a new bogeyman who will scare the American people into going along with the War Party’s plans.

Frum is not alone in nominating Pakistan for the job: the Obama-ites and the liberal “mainstream” are divided between those who say, sure, the Pakistanis are a bunch of treacherous towel-heads, but we can’t afford to nuke them just yet, and those who want to go after them in some way. Which way it will go remains to be seen: however, that David Frum is among the first to call for Pakistani blood is hardly surprising. The man is a veritable weather vane riding the winds of war, picking up the slightest breeze blowing in the direction of a potential battlefield.

Like vultures circling road-kill, the neocons’ mere presence in the vicinity is enough to tell us where the next carnage will occur. You don’t need to be a prophet to find these things out: you just have to know how to read the signs.

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