July 25, 2009

The Audacity of Propaganda

Generals rarely speak their mind on camera and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Michael Mullen is no exception. President Obama rode a pledge of transparency to office, but while his reversal on torture prosecution may come as a surprise, no one should have expected more details on foreign policy. Just more rhetoric.

Audacious has two definitions: showing a willingness to take bold risks, and an impudent lack of respect. Mullen’s latest interview to Al Jazeera fits the second definition.

His opening sentence on Afghanistan makes this clear enough, declaring, “We're not an occupation force and it's up to us to make sure that message is loud and clear.” Mullen would find few Muslims who believe Afghanistan isn’t an occupation. Many Americans and Europeans aren't sure either, but this is just the beginning of Mullen’s propaganda bombardment.

During her trip to India, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton claimed that al-Qaeda’s leadership is hiding in Pakistan’s tribal areas. Not relishing the extra attention, Pakistani officials countered before and after her visit that al-Qaeda’s leadership is in Afghanistan. Evidently this denial didn’t sit well with American military officials. Mullen re-countered that al-Qaeda is both in Pakistan and plotting attacks on America.

Asked why America won’t militarily invade Pakistan if he knows where al-Qaeda is, Mullen replied, “Because FATA is in Pakistan and Pakistan is a sovereign country and we don’t go into sovereign countries. And we don't go into sovereign countries unless we're invited in.”

This scripted answer from a man who visited Pakistan twelve times last year. Mullen implies that sovereignty is purely physical, and even then confusingly applied. Drone strikes don’t count, having been approved by Pakistan’s government. American special forces have also crossed into Pakistan, but since these occurrences are rare they must not count either.

Forget the physical though. Overblown panic on nuclear weapons, economic carrots to steer Pakistani leadership, and a continual flow of CIA officers are basic infringements of sovereignty. American popularity among Pakistanis remains low largely because of perceived interference. Though economic and psychological influence defines hegemony, Mullen ignored questions of political backlash.

Next came an especially shocking statement: “Indeed, we sometimes forget that there’s actually been well over a 1,000 Pakistani soldiers who’ve been lost in this fight.” Does "we" mean Americans? Mr. Mullen doesn’t speak for this author and hopefully isn’t referring to himself or anyone in the American government. Pakistani soldiers are dying so that Americans don’t have to, and forgetting would be callous and offensive.

Mullen then turned on Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the ISI, as he often does.

“I believe that in the long run the ISI has to change its strategic thrust which has been to foment chaotic activity in its border countries," he said, referring to India. “What I mean is that they have clearly focused on support historically of militant organizations both east and west. I mean that's been a focus of theirs in Kashmir historically as well as in FATA. And I think that fundamentally has to change.”

Never mind that America has used some of the same militant organizations, Mullen voiced not a word of concern about Indian rule in Kashmir. It’s surprising to hear an American official to speak the word Kashmir, so silent have they been. Instead of forcing the ISI out of Kashmir and off the Indian border, America should devote itself to resolving the conflict. Right now it's being covered up.

Mullen also issued confusing repetitions like, “I think the border represents a very, very complex environment and history.” Later on, “One of the things I have learned in my frequent visits to Pakistan over the last year is again that it is another extraordinarily complex relationship.” War in Afghanistan isn't complex, there's war because Afghanistan is complex. When told Afghanistan is a graveyard for foreign armies, Mullen replied that America must be aware of that fact.

Mr. Mullen seems to take pleasure in peculiar statements. A good general keeps silent so no fault can be found for doing so, but this advantage degrades into disadvantage. A general is as good as his results; failure in Afghanistan will turn secrecy into incompetence. Silence reveals itself to be a lack of strategy. Mullen refused to answer any questions about future troop deployments, insisting that the next 12 to 18 months will decide the war.

He didn't say what will happen if Afghanistan remains unstable, however he does believe, “the strategy that President Obama has laid out is exactly right.” As if it were his own.

The audacity of hope and propaganda collide.

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