Side Effects

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As we observe the slow and increasingly certain disintegration of Pakistan, we should force ourselves to confront an uncomfortable fact: events in Pakistan are to a large degree side effects of our war in Afghanistan.

The January 12 Washington Times headline was "Pentagon spies al Qaeda in Pakistan," as if this were somehow news. It quotes the JCS Chairman, Admiral Michael Mullen, as saying:

There are concerns now about how much (al Qaeda) turned inward, literally, inside Pakistan…so (the Pentagon is) extremely, extremely concerned about that…

One can only respond, quelle surprise! Of course al Qaeda turned inward inside Pakistan. First, Pakistan is strategically a vastly more important prize than Afghanistan or Iraq could ever be. Second, when guerillas are put under pressure in one place, they go somewhere else. Third, we have allowed ourselves to be put in the position of fighting the Pashtun in Afghanistan, and there are lots of Pashtun in Pakistan. War with the Pashtun is war with the Pashtun, to whom borders drawn in London mean nothing.

Our attempt to contain the damage in Pakistan instead set the wreckage on fire. We forced our friendly local dictator, General/President Musharraf, to line up publicly with George Bush, to the point where his local nickname is "Busharraf." It is not intended as a compliment. Worse, we pressured him into sending the Pakistani Army into the Northwest Tribal Territories, where it has gotten its backside kicked at the same time that it has brought more tribesmen into the fight. Defeat plus destabilization plus de-legitimatization, most of it American inspired, has left Pakistan’s government teetering on the edge of disintegration, with a real danger that the disintegration could spread beyond the regime to the Pakistani state itself.

Not content with mere disaster, the Bush administration ("Blunders are Us") wants to put out the fire it set by pouring gasoline on it. A story in the January 6 Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that

President Bush’s senior national security advisors (Larry, Curly and Moe?) are debating whether to expand the authority of the CIA and the military to conduct far more aggressive covert operations in the tribal areas of Pakistan.

Pakistan has publicly said no, but that won’t stop the Bushies. If the tribesmen soon have American captives to display, what little is left of Musharraf’s legitimacy will be beheaded along with them.

Again, the point to remember is that most of this is a side effect of the war in Afghanistan. Why is this important? Because it reminds us that the ill effects of bad strategy tend to spread. The bad strategy is invading, occupying and attempting to transform countries whose culture is vastly different from our own. That is the essence of the neo-cons’ neo-Trotskyite vision of the world revolution, which the Bush administration has made its own. Nor is George W. Bush the neo-cons’ only dupe: the same poisonous nonsense flows in the speeches of most of the Presidential candidates, from Obama on the left to McCain (nominally) on the right. Only Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich have dared suggest we might serve ourselves better by minding our own business.

In statecraft as in war, side effects can prove fatal. If Pakistan collapses, turning into another stateless happy hunting ground for al Qaeda and numberless other Islamic 4GW organizations, our position in Afghanistan will quickly become unsustainable. Our grand strategic position in the whole Middle Eastern/Southwest Asian region will be reduced to a two-legged stool, not the most stable of platforms. Osama in his cave will be distinctly more comfortable than W. in the Oval Office.

How will the Bush administration respond to such a cascade of unfortunate events? By doing what it plans to do anyway: bomb Iran.

William Lind is an analyst based in Washington, DC.

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