The Closet Moderate: Voiced By Gilbert Gottfried

Monday, April 13, 2009

Voiced By Gilbert Gottfried

So, we have this problem in central asia that our foreign policy sexperts have taken to calling the AfPak muddle. The prevailing assumption is that this is the war we can't lose, because a defeat there will once again give the Taliban and OBL access to "safe havens" in the warlord-ized semi-state. The problem is that the consensus doesn't hold up in the face of the terror attacks we've experienced since 2001, nor with a thoughtful understanding of terrorist strategy. In many ways, in Afghanistan, we're fighting the next "last war."


In the aftermath of the US occupation of Afghanistan, terrorist/Taliban elements relocated across the border to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in Pakistan. I'm going to outsource the how-fucked-are-we backgrounding to Anatol Lieven. The underlying problem is this: cracking down on the deeply-rooted insurgency on the Pakistan side of the border is not in the interests of any powerful faction in Pakistan. The American presence in Afghanistan is deeply unpopular in Pakistan, and neither elected figures nor army recruiters can afford to appear to be placing American interests above the will of the people. The Pakistani ISI also has deep connections with players in the FATA which it is unlikely to alienate simply for a pittance. Finally, there is the issue that Pakistan's primary strategic orientation is, has been and will be towards India. The American shitshow in Afghanistan is at best a sideshow. Add to that the fact that Pakistan is a nuclear state and therefore immune to certain types of international bullying, and you have a situation that is, well, FUBAR. Unless we're willing to alienate India to win over the Pakistanis (unlikely), we probably won't be making much headway in re: Taliban/Al Qaida elements in Pakistan beyond UAV strikes. I don't think the political will is there for the sort of massive aid Lieven outlines, nor do I think Barack Obama can afford (financially or politically) to escalate our engagement to that level.

So, faced with a situation where there are not only no good options but quite possibly no options at all, it's time to re-evaluate the strategic premise motivating the conflict. We've sort of accepted the idea that these safe havens represent a threat to the US that can't be answered except with a massive nation-building project. But looking over the terrorist attacks of the past few years (London, Madrid, etc.) have been home grown. A far cry from the grizzled mujahideen plotting the death of the West around a campfire in Afghanistan, these attacks were coordinated over the internet, and planned in local safehouses.

That's not just because of our crackdown in the Middle East. In fact, it's a model that makes much more sense for terrorists of all stripes. It's far better to use assets in-country than to train them outside and try to smuggle them past immigration. Depending on the amount of coherency they want in their horrible, civilian-directed violence, that may work better for terrorist groups. The downside is that it doesn't actually effectively service any concrete political goals. One of the downsides of our policy of "freak the fuck out about everything all the time" during the Bush years is that made life easier for terrorists. A simple act of violence was inevitably placed in the context of some larger global struggle, when in fact it was often a response to regional grievances.

I'm not proposing that we ignore the threat posed by training camps. They're unquestionably a valuable resource for terrorists, but preventing their establishment with an interminable, costly nation-building effort (especially when that effort isn't actually addressing the problem) may not need to be the centerpiece our "overseas contingency operations." That, of course, ties into a much larger argument taking place in the US Military, between counterinsurgency (COIN) advocates and those who see the military in a more conventional light. I'll get into that in another post.

1 comment:

Silent Cal said...

This was way more interesting when I imagined it in Gilbert Gottfried's voice.

The problem between Afghanistan and Pakistan, as I see it, begins (as do most problems) with the British. The most fucked up parts of Pakistan border Afghanistan and resemble it in more ways than they resemble the rest of Pakistan. A southward adjustment of the Durand Line would resolve many of the region's problems, but the loss of territory would be impossible for Pakistan to swallow, unfortunately.