Defusing the Foreign Policy Time-Bomb

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by S.J. Masty: New
Year Rhymes for a NewDepression



You munch popcorn
while, up on the silver screen, James Bond has 16 seconds in which
to defuse the fiendish thermonuclear device. Does he clip the blue
wire or the red wire? A mistake will destroy the planet.

In a comedy
film, 007 would walk around to the back and unplug it, but this
isn't a comedy. Neither is American foreign policy. Yes, it has
gone frightfully wrong, yes it is now unaffordable, yes it is in
the worst interest of American people, the US economy and maybe
much of the world. But the order of reform is all-important. Clip
the wrong wire first and it's not a happy ending.

The objective,
one presumes, looks like Switzerland without the cuckoo-clocks.
The closest that the Swiss ever come to meddling in other countries
is its admirable International Committee of the Red Cross, staffed
by valiant youth who run hospitals in other peoples' war-zones,
and who monitor human rights and then negotiate quietly with the
perpetrators, maintaining access and dialogue by avoiding publicity.

the Swiss just do business by minding their own business. Their
government issues no daily announcements about the private affairs
of nearly every nation on earth, they do not keep troops in half
of the nations on the planet, nor do they launch wars to solve other
countries' ancient, intractable problems.

It works. Nobody
crashes jetliners into Swiss skyscrapers. Everybody uses their banks
and eats their chocolate. This is the foreign policy that General
Washington recommended to Americans, one fully ignored by big government
and its profiteering contractors against which another general-turned-president,
Eisenhower, warned convincingly.

Now America's
economic meltdown presents a rare opportunity to reconsider the
financial and other costs of global meddling.

Even today,
about two-thirds of the British worry that they were lied into war
in Iraq by their political masters, and that innocents perished
at their hands regardless of whether Saddam was a stinker who deserved
his comeuppance. This concern for foreign lives has never turned
up in American polls, where respondents seem only to care about
American lives lost and American money spent.

This is telling,
and upsetting, but if all Americans care about is American lives
and American money, the historically small loss of American lives
in Afghanistan – made disproportionately important emotionally and
politically through the relatively new technology of global broadcast
media – and most importantly the withering cost of empire, open
a door to dramatic change and America's re-engagement with the world
on more of a Swiss model.

But James Bond,
recast as an American, still must choose which wire to cut.

It is finally
becoming clear that Pakistan is in a state of undeclared war against
Afghanistan, America and NATO. The London School of Economics recently
published a scholarly paper stating that three generals from Pakistan's
version of the CIA sit on the ruling board of the Taliban. When
the Haqqani group of Taliban met secretly with Afghan President
Hamid Karzai recently, they were accompanied by high-ranking minders
from the Pakistan military. Pakistan runs the show or something
very like it.

In his 2007
book Descent
into Chaos
, veteran Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid described
how Pakistan's military consider the subjugation/colonization of
Afghanistan to be of paramount national interest alongside Kashmir.
America's leaders, faced with a nuclear-armed and volatile Pakistan,
believed that once the radical Islamists — organized, trained and
run by Pakistan — turned on their hosts and began blowing up Pakistani
civilians, the Pak government would have a change of heart. It didn't.

Instead, Pakistan
sends its own young soldiers to the Afghan-Pak border to die fighting
Taliban whom it also controls, buying time until NATO gets tired
and waddles off home. Meanwhile, America pumps weapons and cash
into Pakistan, whose proxies blow up Afghan civilians and slaughter
American servicemen and women.

At stake for
Pakistan is, initially, control of Afghanistan's vast mineral riches
and unfettered trade access to Central Asia. The latter is now limited
because Pakistan thwarts reciprocal Afghan trade to India, fearing
that Indian goods will move north and compete favorably with their

In the longer
term, the arrogant Pakistani generals, whose country never won a
war, seem to believe that their Taliban proxies will spread their
empire across Central Asia, even deep into Russia itself. There
have been enough middling attempts by Pakistanis to destabilize
countries, from Afghanistan's northern neighbors to even Mongolia,
to make this theory at least plausible and Pakistan's 1980s dictator,
General Zia-ul-Haq, longed openly for a borderless, non-Arab, Islamist
empire stretching from Pakistan to Turkey.

But armed servants
often become the masters. The elite Janissaries of Ottoman Turkey
grew sufficiently powerful to choose the sultan. So, too, with Rome's
Praetorian Guard. If history is a guide, the Pakistani scheme may
lead to radical, Islamist forces battering at the gates of Kazakhstan,
China's Sinkiang, India and elsewhere, and in full or partial control
of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal.

Moreover, the
hoary tale of how Afghans never suffer an occupation for long is
a falsehood. The Alexandrine Greek occupation lasted hundreds of
years, chiefly because the Hellenes intermarried with local leaders
and their people. Later, the brutal White Huns occupied it for centuries,
as did the gentle, trade-minded Kushans before them. The great Pushtoon
poet, Khushal Khan Khattack, wrote bitterly of how the Pushtoon
tribes betrayed one another and gave up their freedom, bought into
the service of Aurangzeb and his 17th-century Moghul
empire based in Delhi.

We Westerners
always think that we are the star of the movie and ignore the experiences
of others — Afghans can and have been divided and conquered for
centuries at a time. Yes, the British and the Soviets failed and
the American invasion may fail too, but that does not mean that
the Pakistanis may not succeed, at least for long enough to create
a vast, radical and perhaps very dangerous empire grown beyond their
control, with America as its major enemy and target.

If America
withdraws now, from Afghanistan and the region, has it clipped the
wrong wire? Has it permitted a large, hostile and perhaps nuclear-armed
enemy to form without addressing why radical Islamists are hostile
to America in the first place?

It may make
more sense for America to first solve the underlying problems. Then,
while a vast Islamist empire may be unpleasant for its subjects,
it would have no more reason to attack America than to attack Switzerland.

The objections
are simple and even the Islamists state them with candor.

America has
propped up the ghastly regime of Egypt's Hosni Mubarrak for 30 years,
and his domestic enemies are less the radical Muslim Brotherhood
than the Egyptian middle classes who long for democracy and reform.
The Muslim Brotherhood tries to capitalize on public resentment
and the Egyptian government hypes the Islamist threat to keep the
US tax dollars flowing. America so meddles and pays around the world.

The ultimately
self-destructive unfairness of Israeli governments, in what looks
to much of the world suspiciously like the slow-motion, under-the-radar,
ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, has made America a target that
US generals recognize even in public. Whether Jew or Gentile, many
Americans now openly question the wisdom of American Government
support for this process, or if that overstates it, the reluctant
or begrudging acquiescence of the US Establishment out of fear of
domestic political retribution.

Stop these
and America moves out of the cross-hairs of Islamist radicals that
it increasingly lacks the popular support, political fortitude,
skill and definitely the cash to overcome. Apply the principle consistently
and globally, and America may become as rich and safe as Switzerland.

The debate
is already underway. Next, the domestic political ramifications
of going broke, inflation, joblessness, closing schools, laying
off teachers, shutting public parks and so on may tip the balance
and set America back on the path that its first president intended.

But America
must clip the right wire first and stop meddling.

1, 2010

S.J. Masty
[send him mail] lives
in London and Kabul.

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