November 20, 2009

Learning Circle

The ceremony went off on schedule, but without celebration. Hamid Karzai’s inauguration ended before it began when news broke of his mining minister, Mohammad Ibrahim Adel, accepting a 30$ million bribe for awarding a 3$ billion contract to state-run Metallurgical Corporation of China.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in attendance for Karzai’s oath, ignored the reports. Today was for the future of Afghanistan she said, as an eerie parallel descended on the scene.

While America awaits President Obama’s strategy for Afghanistan, we’re told that additional deliberation increases the odds of success. This theory presumes the White House hit a stiff learning curve and, after initial struggle, will come to understand the intricacies of Afghan warfare. Behavior from Washington suggest Obama and his staff haven’t reached that point.

As US officials scrambled to keep their message on track in Kabul, so too have they ignored the improbability of changing Karzai when America’s only leverage is more troops. The goal of a legitimate government is gone.

Dr. Abdullah rejected Karzai’s offer to join, vowing, “I have no intention of taking part in Karzai’s government.” Ashraf Ghani, the other presidential candidate, is just as cool on joining.

Clinton had shuttled from Pakistan to Israel to Asia and back to Afghanistan, but it was in Pakistan where she rolled out a personal message, one of friendship mixed with impatience. She came to preach America's propaganda, using the word with unusual frequency for a US official.

Her message of clarifying disinformation and protecting America’s image apparently didn’t travel far.

At a recent event at the Tel Aviv University's Institute for National Security Studies, former CIA analyst and Obama’s “AfPak” chief Bruce Riedel warned that America is unprepared for war against Iran. America, he says, cannot fight simultaneously in Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan when Iran could strike both theaters in addition to Israel.

A valid point, but such sound advise blanketed his real “nightmare scenario,” a jihadi sweep to power and a violent coup in Pakistan, which he says poses a threat to America and Israel.

“Pakistan, next-door to Afghanistan, is being destabilized,” he told the audience. “Pakistan is the fastest growing nuclear arms state in the world, and has more terrorists per square kilometer than any other country. A jihadist Pakistan will be the largest terrorist state that has ever been set up, and will dwarf Libya, Iraq, Syria and Iran."

Pakistan would be a patron state sponsor of terrorism. Hamas would find a lucrative Sunni sponsor... That is the nightmare outcome.”

This speech is a nightmare for US diplomats responsible for America’s image in Pakistan. American and Indian intelligence believe the most realistic threat of a coup comes from rogue, high-ranking ISI officers influenced by radical clerics. Riedel, already disliked in Pakistan, opted for the stereotypical extremist tidal wive that will never come.

But throwing in support for Hamas is a whole new rumor sure to infuriate Pakistan, who believes Israel is insincere about a two-state solution. It doesn't help that Riedel delivered his message on Pakistan to Israelis, not Americans or Pakistanis. This scare tactic is the most blatant yet deployed.

Riedel wasn’t finished trashing America’s image in Pakistan. Days later he confirmed that Mullah Omar had recently been spotted in Karachi. US officials raised a controversy last month by including Quetta as a terrorist haven in the Kerry-Lugar bill and demanding Pakistan take action on the "Quetta Shura." If not, America would.

"Some sources claim the ISI decided to move him further from the battlefield to keep him safe,” Riedel said.

American-Pakistani relations have suffered their latest blow, whether the allegations are true or not. Nadeem Kiani, a spokesman for the Pakistani Embassy in Washington, told reporters by phone, “People who are making these accusations have their own agendas.”

An anonymous Pakistani official told the Washington Times, “To shift the blame on Pakistan and the security forces because Afghanistan is becoming more of a problem is not going to be helpful but have a demoralizing effect on the situation both here and there.”

Clinton wonders why anti-American propaganda in Pakistan is so virulent. Give the media powder and it will make bombs.

Crippled as perception is, reality offers no respite. "We're losing... It's getting worse in Afghanistan," Riedel admitted, a feeling circulating around Washington and Pakistan. “Every soldier sent to Afghanistan costs the US a million dollars a year. Thirty thousand soldiers cost $30 billion. Extremely large resources are involved. America is broke."

And yet, “Additional troops are a necessity if we want to stop losing. President Obama has ruled that [a withdrawal] out. I think correctly.”

This paradox - going broke fighting a protracted war - breeds another another. American officials, from President Obama on down, don’t want to leave Afghanistan in the near future. Now Pakistan, having bled and sacrificed, wants a say in the decision.

It’s safe to say Pakistanis want America out of Afghanistan more than Americans do. Just as displeased over Obama’s lengthy review, Pakistan is working towards the opposite outcome. Pakistan isn't the real problem, as US officials claim, but Afghanistan. Americans want Obama to take his time before going in. Pakistanis want him to take his time on an exit strategy.

If he chooses escalation, President Obama mustn’t just explain what he’s learning - he must demonstrate an understanding. America can't afford to keep going in circles.

1 comment:

  1. Telling the powerful in Afghanistan not be corrupt is like telling a used car salesman to be honest. In my view, we should have saved our carbon credits to jetset to places where we can actually have influence.

    Prospect of a war with Iran? I didn't know that we were even talking about this. To a large extent, Iran is a deterable threat because even given our military's current obligations, the preservation of the Khameini regime is their tantamount goal. Iran hasn't yet crossed the line over which the international community would seriously respond. Given that, their rebellious actions don't even begin to approach the said line as their aim is to remain in power. I have faith the the right coalitions are in place to make this happen if need be.

    Next, Pakistans arsenal are only secondary and tertiary threats to America and Israel, respectively. India would have the most to fear. Even given this, many indicies point to a deterable Pakistan, too. I would be willing to suggest that even rogue ISI wouldn't commit suicide. Ideological? Yes. Suicidal? Probably not. Besides, the popularity of the military in Pakistan would point to a scenario wherein in the event of another military takeover, that is carried out in a way that moreso demonstrates military superiority in governance of Pakistan, as in the past than about brazen agendas of worldwide jihad.

    I agree with your most general premise here that America is stuck in something of a feedback loop.

    I am more skeptical though that the decision we are awaiting is the actual decision. In my view, it will be a political groundwork upon which we can withdraw most expediently while saving as much face as possible for as little immediate commitment as possible.

    P.S. - You guys are absolute juggernauts. You produce analysis far faster than I can consume it. It's great stuff all around though. Keep it coming.