2008 June 14 Saturday
Will US Policy In Middle East Become More Realistic?

Rand Corporation analysts think the US and allies can not succeed in Afghanistan as long as the Taliban retain bases in Pakistan's wild frontier.

If Taliban sanctuary bases in Pakistan are not eliminated, the United States and its NATO allies will face crippling long-term consequences in their effort to stabilize and rebuild Afghanistan, according to a RAND Corporation study issued today.

The study, funded by the U.S. Department of Defense, finds that Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate and Frontier Corps have failed to root out Afghan insurgent groups based in Pakistan and, in some cases, individuals from these Pakistani organizations have provided direct assistance to such groups as the Taliban and Haqqani network.

“Every successful insurgency in Afghanistan since 1979 enjoyed safe haven in neighboring countries, and the current insurgency is no different,” said report author Seth Jones, a senior political scientist at RAND. “Right now, the Taliban and other groups are getting help from individuals within Pakistan's government, and until that ends, the region's long-term security is in jeopardy.”

The study, “Counterinsurgency in Afghanistan,” is the latest in a series examining insurgency and counterinsurgency, and details how the United States should improve its capabilities for future conflicts. The capstone report of the series, “War by Other Means,” was released in February by RAND, a non-profit research organization.

But one Rand analyst says we have too few US troops in Afghanistan (what with so many of them busy trying to spread Jeffersonian democracy in Iraq).

US officials are wrong to blame Pakistan for instability and violence in Afghanistan, says Christine Fair, a senior political analyst at RAND Corp., a public policy group in Washington. Pakistan's border region, known as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, will always be a sanctuary for terrorists that will want to target the US, she says, but to assign blame to Pakistan is to deny the real problem.

"It's become a bromide to externalize the failures in Afghanistan and blame them on Pakistan," says Ms. Fair. The US, she adds, must send a signal to Pakistan that it is serious about security by beefing up its own contribution of forces in Afghanistan. "It is a joke how few troops we have in Afghanistan," she says.

Still, how can the Taliban get wiped out in Pakistan when the Pakistani government makes secret deals to let Al Qaeda and the Taliban hang out in the area of Pakistan which the Pakistani government does not control?

A newspaper in Pakistan this week disclosed the leaked details of a secret agreement between the Pakistani government and certain tribes that allows Al Qaeda-linked militants to remain in North Waziristan, a strategically important region that borders Afghanistan. The move is the latest in a series of negotiations that Western officials worry will strengthen militants.

The agreement, between the government and leading Waziristan tribes, is the first known to directly address the issue of Al Qaeda. The document was signed in February and the Pakistani English-language Daily Times divulged the specifics on Sunday.

In a copy of the agreement made available to Daily Times, Al Qaeda-linked militants have been allowed to live in North Waziristan as long as they pledge to remain peaceful. However, a basic demand of the accord is that all foreigners leave the area. The agreement, inked between the government and the Utmanzai tribes on February 17 to fight Taliban-linked militancy through support from the local population, states that no parallel government of suspected Taliban militants would be tolerated. The Utmanzai tribes have also agreed that there would be no attacks on security personnel or government employees and no target killings would be initiated.

What about that democratic experiment in government that the US supports in Afghanistan with that high fashion chic leader Hamid Karzai? Euro and American elites are thinking that Hamid Karzai isn't up to ruling Afghanistan. My guess is that nobody (with the possible exception of an Islamic extremist) is up to ruling tribal, Islamic, and ignorant Afghanistan.

But there is a growing concern in Europe, the United Nations and even the Bush administration that Mr. Karzai, while well-spoken, colorful and often larger than life, is not up to addressing Afghanistan’s many troubles.

A senior State Department official questioned whether Mr. Karzai had the “trust and the backbone” for the job.

“Of course he’s a good guy, and therefore as long as he’s president we’ll support him,” said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the issue. “But there’s a lot of talk inside the administration saying maybe there’s a need for some tough love to push him to do the right thing.”

One European diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity under normal diplomatic rules, said, “We’ve got the standard administration problem of fascination with a flawed figure.” The diplomat likined the support for Mr. Karzai to American backing for President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan.

Will President Barack Obama share George W. Bush's love and affection for Hamid Karzai?

One senior Bush administration official said that Mr. Bush remained enamored of Mr. Karzai.

My hopes that Obama will set lower goals for US policy in the Middle East are tempered by at least two considerations. First off, Bush argues that to abandon the attempt to raise up Middle Easterners into democracy is racist. Well, this argument puts pressure on Obama to share this Bush delusion because it fits with Obama's whole left-leaning egalitarian post-racial theme. In Obama's world view the Afghanis and Iraqis must have the right stuff to make democracy work. Also, powerful interest groups want to see the US in the Middle East doing social engineering using the barrel of a gun.

Obama has one thing going for him if he wants to get realistic about the Middle East: He's half black and therefore much harder to label as racist. He's kinda like Nixon who could go to communist China because Nixon had such a strong anti-communist track record. Obama could make various excuses for why the US shouldn't pursue a democratization policy in the Middle East like "we can't impose our values" or "we can't dictate to other cultures how they should live their lives" and make his rhetoric anti-colonial in tone.

Can the US manage to pull out of Iraq? Lots of factions oppose a US withdrawal.

Fearful that Iran might march west or at least incite the Shi'ites of Saudi Arabia and those in other Sunni states, the Saudis wish the US to stay in the region, indefinitely, as a guardian against Iran. Israel is also worried. It is not just the fear of an Iran with nuclear weapons; Israel also fears the expansion of Iranian influence in Lebanon, where Hezbollah is probably closer to Iran's Quds Force than ever. Iran has even gained influence with Hamas - a Sunni group - in Palestine. The Saudis and pro-Israel groups are exerting pressure on the US to maintain its troops in Iraq. Each of those groups wields considerable influence throughout Washington. Combined, their influence will be very difficult to overcome.

The US military will also oppose large-scale withdrawal. The generation of officers who learned hard lessons in Vietnam are almost all gone now, leaving successors who are only vaguely wary of foreign quagmires. The torch has been passed to a new generation that believes in one main lesson from Vietnam: future wars must be seen through. The military thinks it has turned a corner in Iraq and that General David Petraeus' troop "surge" is working well.

It will ally with like-minded members of the US Congress, conservative media and think-tanks to argue the stay-put message. If a Democratic president were somehow able to overcome opposition to withdrawal, he would bring bitter enmity between the generals and his party, which is already disliked for its lineage to the antiwar movement of the Vietnam years and for trimming defense budgets. Leaving Iraq - cutting and running, as it is often called - would poison civil-military relations as never before in the nation's history.

Considerable portions of the public will oppose withdrawal - and react viciously to anything perceived as defeat or cutting and running.

My guess is that the lobby for protecting Israel has the biggest influence for a continued US military presence in Iraq followed by (with considerable overlap) all the people who do not want to admit they were wrong to support the invasion in the first place.

Financial pressures will build for a withdrawal. On the downward slope after Peak Oil tax revenues will fall every year while many costs rise. The Iraq war will come to seem an unaffordable optional venture with little return on investment.

Update: Here's a story about Israeli-Palestinian relations that won't get discussed in the US Presidential election.

Footage obtained by the BBC shows four masked Jewish settlers assaulting an elderly Palestinian goat herder and his wife with baseball bats last week. Thamam al-Nawaja, a 58 year-old shepherd, had her arm and cheekbone broken and spent three days in a hospital. The attack was caught on a camera distributed to Palestinians as part of an Israeli human rights group's campaign to allow Palestinians -- many of whom are being pushed off their land by Jewish settlers -- to have video and photographic evidence of such assaults.

The Jewish settlers on the West Bank steal land from the Palestinians and the Israeli government and US government let them do it.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2008 June 14 01:31 PM  Foreign Policy US Middle East

tommy said at June 15, 2008 6:34 PM:
My hopes that Obama will set lower goals for US policy in the Middle East are tempered by at least two considerations. First off, Bush argues that to abandon the attempt to raise up Middle Easterners into democracy is racist. Well, this argument puts pressure on Obama to share this Bush delusion because it fits with Obama's whole left-leaning egalitarian post-racial theme. In Obama's world view the Afghanis and Iraqis must have the right stuff to make democracy work. Also, powerful interest groups want to see the US in the Middle East doing social engineering using the barrel of a gun.

For a long time, I've argued that leftists have effectively learned nothing from the Iraq debacle. For all the vitriol they direct against neocons, the delusion that democracy is universally desired, understood, and feasible remains a classic piece of tripe that neoconservatism received from its leftist roots. It goes along with the line of thought that accepts that cultures are infinitely malleable and that cultural differences are superficial barriers that are easily bridged. It's the same line of thought that doesn't see any problem with Third World immigration to the West.

The Left has only learned what it always wanted to learn from Iraq; namely, that America is imperialistic. They know that democracy isn't achievable by force of arms, but they still don't seem to doubt that Arabs are completely capable of democracy if only right-wing Westerners would leave Arabs alone or offer them more peaceful forms of assistance. It doesn't occur to them that Islam and tribalism are antithetical to true democratic government. They certainly never wonder whether attempting to bring democracy is, from a U.S. strategic perspective, even desirable in the region.

Ned said at June 16, 2008 6:07 PM:

I used to work with a guy named Mohammed, a lapsed Sunni Muslim from Pakistan who had served with the Paki army in the so-called tribal areas up near Afghanistan. I asked him what it was like up there. "Pretty wild," he said. "the army tries to keep the roads open and control for about 100 meters on either side of them. What happens outside that, they don't care about." If the indigenous Pakistani army is unwilling to police these areas, how does the US, with its allies and "friends" such as Karzai, ever expect to? Anyone who thinks that western powers are going to make any difference here should be required to view, "The Man Who Would be King" (starring Sean Connery and Michael Caine) and read about the exploits of Harry Flashman.

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