Playing Chicken With Nuclear Powers

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by Eric Margolis

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It’s awfully hard for the world’s greatest power to admit its high-tech military forces are being beaten in Afghanistan by a bunch of lightly-armed mountain tribesmen. But that’s what’s happening. Washington is blaming everyone else for the bloody fiasco in Afghanistan, the “Graveyard of Empires.” Right now, the chief whipping boy for US fury is Pakistan, still officially called a “ strategic US ally.”

Last week, outgoing US chief of staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, accused Pakistan’s intelligence agency, ISI, of being behind recent high profile attacks against US targets in Afghanistan staged by the Haqqani network, one of Taliban’s coalition fighting foreign occupation. The Pentagon accused the Haqqani network of being “a virtual arm” of ISI. Pakistan strongly denied US charges.

The US is reacting with blind rage rather than careful thought. The example of the Soviet 1989 defeat in Afghanistan increasingly haunts Washington.

Ironically, as I saw myself in the 1980’s, the US created the Haqqani network, arming and funding it these “freedom fighters.”

One of the US Senate’s dimmest members, influential Republican Lindsay Graham, threatens US attacks on Pakistan “to defend US troops” from “terrorism.”

That’s pretty rich. The US invades a country, brands any who resist as “terrorists,” then must invade Pakistan to “protect” its invading troops. Meanwhile, the US is paying bankrupt Pakistan $7.5 billion over five years to sustain the war in Afghanistan.

Ever since the days of George W. Bush, US policy in the Muslim world has been driven by a combination of imperial arrogance and profound ignorance.

When the US was preparing to invade Iraq in 2003, I had dinner with three of Bush’s most senior advisors. “Tell us about Iraq, Eric,” they asked. As I spoke of Kurds, Sunnis, assorted Shia, Yazdis, their eyes glazed over. “Just give us the bottom line,” snapped one Alpha Republican. “The bottom line,” I replied, “is don’t get involved in a messy country you don’t understand at all.”

Well, here we go again with Pakistan. Hardly any senior members of the Obama administration understand complex Pakistan.

But these bulls in South Asia’s china shop are ready to charge in, heedless of the facts. Threatening war against Pakistan, a nation of 180 million with a tough military is the height of folly. Pakistan controls most of the supply routes essential to US and NATO forces in Afghanistan. Most Pakistanis now consider the US a bigger enemy than old foe India.

Even crazier, Washington is making warlike threats against nuclear-armed Pakistan, a close ally of China, an important nuclear power. So far, Beijing has been cautious yet firm in its support of old ally, Pakistan.

But US attacks on Pakistan that go beyond the current raids by CIA drones could draw China into a confrontation with the US. China has quietly made clear it will not allow the US to tear apart Pakistan in order to grab Islamabad’s Chinese-aided nuclear arsenal.

More craziness. The US under both Bush and Barack Obama has been trying to get India militarily involved in Afghanistan. But the Indians were too clever to send combat troops into Afghanistan.

Washington then gave India a green light to pour intelligence agents and money into Afghanistan to support the anti-Taliban Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara minorities. The US has greatly aided the buildup of India’s nuclear arsenal – which has only two targets, Pakistan and China.

All this, of course, has set off alarm bells in Islamabad, which sees Afghanistan as its strategic back yard. Russia is also watching this drama with growing unease.

The strategic interests of Pakistan and the US are different, often in conflict. Yet the US “put a gun to our head,” in the words of a former ISI director (confirmed by former President Pervez Musharraf) and forced Pakistan to join the war against Taliban, a close Pakistani ally and strategic asset.

Why should Pakistan forsake its own strategic interests for those of the United States, whose confused, erratic foreign policy is largely run by domestic special interest groups?

A blow-up between Pakistan and its sometime American patron would be a calamity for all concerned. Expanding a war into the intersection of the interests of four nuclear-armed powers is the height of irresponsibility and manic behavior.

Eric Margolis [send him mail] is the author of War at the Top of the World and the new book, American Raj: Liberation or Domination?: Resolving the Conflict Between the West and the Muslim World. See his website.

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