Invade Pakistan?

The warlords of Washington don’t care about international public opinion, and that goes double for what Americans think. The politicians, the bureaucrats, the policy wonks, and the lobbyists (both foreign and domestic) could care less that the people of this country, and the world, have a very low opinion of their deadly antics: all the elites know or care about is that they have the power – and the will to use it. Do Americans overwhelmingly disapprove of the Iraq war? Well, isn’t that tough: they’ll just have to grin and bear it, because – guess what? – we know better.

An imperious hauteur that would do Marie Antoinette proud is the defining trait of the Washington elites in government, the major think tanks, and the "mainstream" (i.e., dying) media. Their defiance of the popular will in regard to the Iraq war is just one example: their insistence that we might very well have to fight yet another war is the latest display of their unbridled arrogance. So certain are these Washington know-it-alls that they have the political system effectively rigged and the media in their back pockets that they don’t even bother to disguise their eagerness to unleash the American military against a new enemy. Iran seems to be the Hitler du jour, with all the usual suspects clamoring for a strike at Tehran, and others pointing to Lebanon, Syria, and Somalia as new frontiers in the push to establish an American empire of the Middle East.

I wrote about this last Monday, in "Wars to Watch Out For," but neglected one important potential battlefield: Pakistan. The tag team of Frederick W. Kagan and Michael O’Hanlon didn’t forget, though. Their New York Times op-ed piece has brought the War Party’s latest project to the table where all the Very Serious People gather in solemn conclave: the invasion and pacification of Pakistan in the event the regime of Gen. Pervez Musharraf collapses under the weight of protest.

They state their premise at the very start: "As the government of Pakistan totters, we must face a fact: the United States simply could not stand by as a nuclear-armed Pakistan descended into the abyss." This is stated as an unassailable fact, an axiom that doesn’t need to be proved because it is self-evident. Except it isn’t. If the Musharraf regime folds under pressure, the general’s successor would not be Osama bin Laden, but Benazir Bhutto. However, the Kagan-O’Hanlon thesis does not take Bhutto or any other opposition party into account. We only hear about those sinister "sympathizers and supporters of the Afghan Taliban," not to mention "nationalists bent on seizing the disputed province of Kashmir from India. These "extremists" will – somehow – seize power and hand over nuclear weapons to al-Qaeda. As Kagan and O’Hanlon put it:

"The most likely possible dangers are these: a complete collapse of Pakistani government rule that allows an extreme Islamist movement to fill the vacuum; a total loss of federal control over outlying provinces, which splinter along ethnic and tribal lines; or a struggle within the Pakistani military in which the minority sympathetic to the Taliban and al-Qaeda try to establish Pakistan as a state sponsor of terrorism."

In less than two paragraphs, the enemy has gone from being evil "nationalists" who want to press Pakistan’s debatable claim to the Vale of Kashmir, and an allegedly pro-Taliban faction of the intelligence services, to the horrifying specter of al-Qaeda with nukes. No mention is made of Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party – which is the driving force behind the anti-Musharraf demonstrations, not the Islamists. In any case, al-Qaeda is not about to take power in Islamabad. Yeah, yeah, "that’s what they said about the shah of Iran," aver Kagan and O’Hanlon, but Khomeini was not al-Qaeda, either.

That’s the hallmark of the Kagan-O’Hanlon method, which is also the methodology of the neoconservatives, whose arguments they synopsize and sell to policymakers as products of the "bipartisan center": conflating wildly disparate elements and somehow always linking them all to al-Qaeda. That has been the modus operandi of the War Party from the very beginning of this increasingly ugly episode in American history. Iraq was said to be in cahoots with Osama. Then it was Iran, according to such impeccable sources as Michael Ledeen. As I’ve remarked before, they don’t even have to produce fresh war propaganda: all they have to do is substitute Pakistan or Iran where it used to say Iraq, and they have a pro-war talking point, good as new.

Another fatal flaw in the Kagan-O’Hanlon thesis: it is impossible to take seriously their claim that the U.S. government lacks "precise information about the location of all of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and materials." The Musharraf regime has been shaky for quite some time now: are we really supposed to believe that our Pakistani sock puppet didn’t hand us the keys to his nuclear safe as a precondition for our continued support? And old Mushie has been a good and faithful ally: his intelligence service has nabbed more real al-Qaeda types – including some of the top leadership – than the CIA and all the other Western intelligence agencies combined. In this matter, there’s no reason to believe Musharraf has refused to cooperate.

Okay, so the entire premise of their argument, and everything that lends it its hysterical urgency, is utterly false, but let’s deal with the implications – the unstated vastness of the project they’re suggesting.

What they don’t say, exactly, in their piece is what it would take to carry out the project they suggest, which is, in short, to keep order in a country with six times Iraq’s population, and potentially more volatile and hostile toward the prospect of a U.S.-led occupation. Kagan and O’Hanlon admit the difficulties involved, yet they still argue in favor of a preemptive strike:

"The task of stabilizing a collapsed Pakistan is beyond the means of the United States and its allies. Rule-of-thumb estimates suggest that a force of more than a million troops would be required for a country of this size. Thus, if we have any hope of success, we would have to act before a complete government collapse, and we would need the cooperation of moderate Pakistani forces."

Yet further on, we are offered "a second, broader option" – the first is establishing a nuclear "redoubt" guarded in perpetuity by American and Pakistani forces – that "would involve supporting the core of the Pakistani armed forces as they sought to hold the country together in the face of an ineffective government." In short, a military occupation similar to what we are attempting with such spectacular lack of success in Iraq. Hey, is it an accident that our boys Kagan and O’Hanlon were whooping it up for that stroke of pure genius, too?

We don’t get any real numbers, or a hint as to what they’re really proposing, unless we go here and look at their contribution to a volume put out by the Stanley Foundation, an outfit apparently devoted to teasing out and promoting a suitably "bipartisan" foreign policy consensus. According to the Stanley Foundation folks, we need to "bridge the divide" between Left and Right and come up with a rationale for war that we can all get behind.

In "The Case for Larger Ground Forces," Kagan and O’Hanlon develop various scenarios that would require a rapid increase in our ground forces of 100,000 or more, including one in which Pakistan collapses into Islamo-anarchy – think of it as a second cousin of "Islamo-fascism" – and control of the country’s nukes is up for grabs: "Stabilizing a country of this size," they aver, "could easily require several times as many troops as the Iraq mission—a figure of up to one million is easy to imagine."

Quite a different take than "beyond the means of the United States and its allies." The campaign would start with an infusion of "50,000 to 100,000 ground forces—although this is almost the best of all the worst-case scenarios." None of this, mind you, is presented in terms of being "beyond our means." Quite the contrary:

"Since no U.S. government could simply decide to restrict its exposure in Pakistan if the international community proved unwilling or unable to provide numerous forces, or if the Pakistani collapse were deeper than outlined here, the United States might be compelled to produce significantly more forces to fend off the prospect of a nuclear al-Qaeda."

According to this version of the Kagan-O’Hanlon case for invading Pakistan, it doesn’t matter if we don’t have the means; we’ll just have to find them, that’s all. And if that means a draft – as it most certainly would – then so be it. An army of 1 million, a great many of them conscripts, sent to occupy a vast and volatile country: this is the Iraq disaster multiplied by ten thousand, a jump into a bottomless abyss from which there could be no extrication but exhaustion or outright defeat. It is the foreign policy of a lemming, intent on plunging to destruction on account of some hardwired signal in its tiny brain. What signal, I wonder, is buzzing in the brains of this pair of lunatics that is causing them to advocate the suicide of a nation – while simultaneously provoking such near-universal obloquy that none are left to attend the funeral of Uncle Sam.

I had to laugh out loud at the offhand contention, in the Times piece, that it wouldn’t "be strategically prudent to withdraw our forces from an improving situation in Iraq to cope with a deteriorating one in Pakistan." Oh, of course not: these guys are never in favor of ratcheting down our presence. Some sort of "surge" is always required before we can achieve the glorious victory that’s always right around the corner. Never a lighter footprint, much less – horror of horrors! – no footprint at all.

The key flaw in the Kagan-O’Hanlon argument for a preemptive attack on Pakistan is that we have imperfect knowledge of Pakistan’s current crisis and therefore cannot know when to strike, and timing, in this case, is crucial. A premature move could lead to the consequence we fear most: radical Islamists wielding nukes. Just as in Iraq, where al-Qaeda never had a foothold and now does, the chances that an invasion or some kind of military strike at Pakistan would benefit rather than defeat al-Qaeda are more than even. Once again, interventionism leads to the exact opposite of its intended result: the principle of "blowback," as Chalmers Johnson explains it in his classic book of that title, will operate here to deadly effect.

When will they ever learn?

No, I’m not talking about the American people, who are viscerally opposed to any further conquests by our would-be Napoleons and would sooner exile the whole lot of neocons and their fellow "liberal" interventionists to Elba than have to endure a bigger, wider, bloodier war.

I’m talking about the policy wonks like Kagan and O’Hanlon, from AEI and the Brookings Institution respectively. As Matt Yglesias pointed out in a recent post on think tanks, these outfits are, if not exempt from the laws of the market, then sufficiently cushioned – by large donors to nonprofits and "for-profit nonprofits" like the Weekly Standard – that they operate in the sort of intellectual and moral vacuum that allows Kagan and O’Hanlon to propose what would probably be the single most destructive war in American history. This would prove to be true, not only in the devastation of Pakistan and Pakistanis, but also in terms of the damage it would do to our society and the American polity. You think we’re "divided" now? Wait until we have a draft to carry out the orders of Generals Kagan and O’Hanlon.

Inside-the-Beltway outfits like the Stanley Foundation are so concerned about "bridging the divide" between Right and Left, but they seem indifferent or even hostile to the idea of bridging the huge gap between the elites and the American people. Their idea is to forge a united front of both liberal and conservative opinion-makers to head off a popular rebellion against our crazed foreign policy. That may have worked, for a time: however, if we are ever so foolish as to actually take up the Kagan-O’Hanlon plan for endless war, then the time is coming when the same old song-and-dance of the elites will provoke anger rather than resignation on the part of the public – and then, watch out.

Yes, these guys can operate in their own little hothouse, courtesy of the War Party’s fat-cat financiers, who give millions to these pro-war, interventionist nonprofits. is another sort of nonprofit, the kind that gets an average donation of $50 and is very much dependent on and responsive to market forces – that is, the forces that govern the marketplace of ideas. We can’t afford to get everything wrong, like the neocons and their pet "liberals" did in the run-up to the Iraq war, because our reputation for accuracy is our only asset. We can’t afford to throw government propaganda disguised as "news" to our readers, because we’ll get called on it, right away, and we depend on our readers for our very survival.

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Look, this is the most difficult fundraiser in memory, and there have been some really hairy ones. I don’t want to get all panicky on you just before Thanksgiving, but I can tell you that in the offices of it won’t be a very happy holiday season if we have to start closing down or significantly reducing our operations. There’s so much out there that’s dangerous, and so few who are calling the politicians and their enablers in the media on it, that a world without almost seems inconceivable. Are we really so uncaring about our own fate? Do we really want to repeat the experience of the past few years, only this time magnified to the nth degree?

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Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].