Thursday, May 5, 2011

Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Death of bin Laden

If you’ve noticed a dearth of postings it’s because I’m busy with my day job. I’ll be posting more often once the frenetic pace abates a bit.

Now that OBL & Son are defunct, several items of a more important practical nature need to be reviewed. At the top of the list are Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The elimination of OBL is an opportunity for the US to declare victory in Afghanistan, saddle-up and move out. As I have always maintained, the surge advocated by General Petraeus and largely implemented by the US, was the wrong way to go. It has not been a success and since the original objective of the mission was to destroy al Qaida and take Afghanistan off the table as a safe base for jihadist training, the US and NATO have succeeded, it is time to leave. The mission was never to nation-build.

Furthermore, the mission to kill OBL deep inside Pakistan was undertaken by a small, elite team – not 35,000 or so boots on the ground. The justification for the surge appears to be based on the experience learned in Iraq. That was never a good idea considering the results in that ill-advised war. However, rather than indulging in the surge method of warfare (which always struck me as something you do when you’re on the ropes) or even COIN in Afghanistan the US should have focused on tracking and killing terrorists in Afghanistan with discrete and rapid missions, including from the air. That was V.P. Biden’s advice but because Petraeus was equivalent to Zeus by the Very Serious People in the Beltway, his advice absolutely had to be followed otherwise the world would end. So, the opportunity to agree with Karzai is sitting there like low hanging fruit. Pull out – and do it before the current target of 2014.

A rapid draw down in Afghanistan has a bag full of advantages, not the least of which is that it would save lives. And then there is the money. The budget deficit in the US would get some relief, particularly in combination with the withdrawal from Iraq. It would free-up the US military to actually pay attention to other areas of the world – or better yet – take a rest from patrolling the borders of the empire. It would swiftly cut short the messianic tinged nation-building endeavor into which the conflict has morphed. Not least, none of us would need to listen to the ungrateful whining of the corrupt Mayor of Kabul, Karzai.

Pakistan is a different issue. It is inconceivable that someone very high on the food chain in the Pakistan military or the ISI did not know that OBL was sipping Coke and Pepsi in a huge, multi-million dollar compound with 6 meter walls, close to the West Point of the country and the most fashionable golf course in the north - all 150 kilometers from the capital. How Pakistan is approached, however, will depend on the draw down in Afghanistan and what the US wants to accomplish in the region.

Pakistan is paranoid about India and Indian activities in Afghanistan. The generals see it as an encirclement campaign and will look to China and Iran for help. Pakistan is also beset by its local Taliban while opposing the Taliban in Afghanistan – for now. That may change as the US withdraws and Pakistan’s secret service decides the Afghan Taliban are useful. However, Iran loathes the Afghan Taliban for a variety of reasons – not the least of which is their particular brand of Islam. However, Pakistan’s military is still very reliant on US largess. Even as it becomes an economic and political basket case and becomes overall weaker compared to its heavy hitting neighbor India, the military will want their toys.

However, US foreign policy may be able to disenthrall itself regarding the perceived need to be nice to Pakistan and Afghanistan based on their fear mongering about al Qaeda. Given the swift insertion, action and withdrawal of a tightly organized team to kill OBL the US should wake up to the notion that it does not need Pakistan and Afghanistan as much as they led the US to believe – with significant help from the Republicans. The leverage this produces is huge. Back in the good old days (that’s a joke) when Kissinger and Nixon were around making trouble, Turkey’s generals were snubbing their collective noses at the US regarding missile deployment in Turkey. Kissinger, with considerable risk, basically said that the US clearly saw no reason to indulge the Turkish government if they did not want the help of the US. The same should be said of Pakistan and Afghanistan. What is more important in the region – India or Pakistan? In all of eastern and central Asia, does US foreign policy need to pander to the whims and blackmail of Islamabad, Kabul or, for that matter, Dushanbe and Bishkek?

The death of OBL, and the means of its accomplishment should provide US foreign policy with far more flexibility and allow it to focus on more important issues than the threats from some 3rd rate terrorists who have managed – again with the help of the Republicans – to get American citizens give up basic Constitutional liberties with every little radio and tape broadcast of meaningless threats. If anything, the al Qaeda central command (long gone and now decapitated) and all the little franchises have managed to show that many Americans are, quite simply, cowards and willing to give up all their democratic rights for security regardless of how remote the threat. As Benjamin Franklin said: They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.

So the killing of OBL opens up a range of opportunities for US foreign policy and withdrawal from Afghanistan will put Pakistan and Afghanistan on notice so they may adjust to a new world of interaction with their neighbors.

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