Sovereignty Imposes Responsibility

Sovereignty, Washington has informed the world, comes with responsibilities. Sounds good so far, but I have yet to hear Washington enumerate the responsibilities that come with its own sovereignty. Presumably the list would include the responsibility to attack every bad guy it wants to attack anywhere on the planet regardless of the attitude of the local population and regardless of whether or not that guy has actually been proven, by any standard, to be “bad,” and regardless of whether or not that guy has directed his “bad” behavior at the U.S. Presumably, the responsibilities of U.S. sovereignty do not include attacking corporate criminals who despoil the earth or allied politicians who foment war. The list of responsibilities adherent to the sovereignty of other states is of course different.

U.S. drone attacks inside Pakistan returned with a vengence immediately following Islamabad’s agreement to allow the NATO supply trucks to start rolling into Afghanistan again and just before a meeting of the U.S. and Pakistani foreign ministers. Whatever the true attitude toward drone strikes in Islamabad, that constitutes an egregious public slap in the face by Washington. Now that strikes me as a curious way for Washington to thank Islamabad. But if the political elite ruling in Islamabad have ever demonstrated true sympathy for the poor marginalized people of Waziristan, it has escaped me, so an alternative interpretation offers itself:

Hypothesis: The ruling elite in Washington and the ruling elite in Islamabad both see themselves as having certain interests: keeping the lid on, remaining in power, satisfying the demands of those in their respective societies with influence.

Note that the above list says nothing about morality or patriotism; these are practical men and women, not philosophers.
To the degree that the above hypothesis may be accurate, it would follow that the two respective elite groups might concur that a few well-placed bombs will postpone serious problems until they, personally, have left office, at which point they will allow themselves the patriotic wish that their successors will do so well during their own turn at the helm. And so, the world keeps getting worse and worse.
But that is not all there is too it. In fact, there is some evidence that this short-sighted approach may fail even before the current batch of power-holders has its day.
Without citing, as reported, any “responsibilities” that may apply to U.S.sovereignty or to its claimed right unilaterally to attack people it dislikes inside other countries, the U.S.spokesperson responded to Pakistan’s ambassador that “Sovereignty has privileges but also comes with responsibilities.”
Even those defending the drone attacks as good tactics sometimes admit that they only serve to gain time for a more reasoned long-term political solution. Of that long-term political solution, only minimal evidence, such as small farmer training programs, is visible. As for the short-term military effectiveness of drone strikes, a February statistical analysis found them to be effective in reducing both the number and severity of Taliban attacks. Waziristan elders have recently accused the U.S. of destabilizing the region, Taliban control appears in the process of being consolidated, and the years of military intervention by Islamabad and Washington appear to have accomplished little, according to a 2011 report:

It is a Wild West where everyone is watching everyone else, a semi-autonomous region where, according to the country’s constitution, normal judicial and criminal laws don’t apply.There are no police here, no army and no courts.

With effective suppression of female voting in some portions of the border region, disruption of polio vaccinations, urban attacks, a wave of cross-border attacks by the Taliban into Afghanistan since NATO supply lines were reopened, and the tendency of the 80,000 Pakistani soldiers stationed there to hunker down in their quarters while the Taliban consolidates political control, the underlying socio-political situation appears, despite all the high-profile slaughter descending from the skies, to be moving in the Taliban’s favor.

U.S. – Pakistani Negotiations Missing the Key Issues

Washington and Islamabad are doing their respective societies a huge disservice by focusing in their bilateral negotiations on superficial issues such as transit fees for NATO military supplies rather than the core strategic disagreement on which the U.S.-Pakistani relationship is cracking apart. Collapse of the relationship is not inevitable: common ground exists, if the policy-makers can only open their minds to new ways of doing business.

Pakistani-U.S. relations are being sucked into a whirlpool of recriminations over relatively superficial issues, to the harm of both societies. Each side may speak of its own feelings; I will tell you as an American that Americans are angry. Pakistanis say, correctly, that Washington is behaving like a bully. Americans say that Pakistan is playing an immoral double game by working secretly with violent fundamentalists in order to gain influence over Afghanistan.

Each side needs to compromise, but to reach a compromise, each side needs to understand and address the concerns of the other. Pakistan must learn to live with India. Neither the U.S. nor Pakistan should see Afghanistan as a prospective colony. The Pakistani security services need to accept that provoking violent fundamentalism is a bad long-term bet: it scares the U.S. into extremist violence of its own, it harms Afghan society, and it undermines the hopes of all Pakistanis for security and democracy. If Islamabad wants Washington to listen, then Islamabad needs to make a crystal clear argument showing why its support for some radical Afghan factions will not lead to a terrorist attack on the U.S. mainland or a Pakistani-Indian war. That is the rock on which the U.S.-Pakistani alliance is foundering.

Collapse of the relationship is not inevitable: common ground exists, if the policy-makers can only open their minds to new ways of doing business. For Washington, the new way of doing business must be a willingness to move behind the self-defeating focus on military solutions to the radical Islamic political challenge. Frankly, given the problems in Muslim societies across the globe, a bit of political radicalism is the seasoning needed to cook a good political stew. (The same could be said for the U.S., but that is a very different story.) For Islamabad, the new way of doing business is an historic settlement with New Delhi that will free Pakistanis to move beyond the garrison state toward real democracy based on peace with its neighbors. This new approach must include accepting an independent Afghanistan as well as either allowing Waziristan to leave Pakistan or offering Waziristan and the rest of the border regions full participation in Pakistani society and the Pakistani political-economic system with all the implications for autonomy, tax benefits, security, justice, and respect for minority cultural concerns.

Some Americans protest that it is naive to relinquish drone attacks; the dangerously short-sighted mood in the U.S. is to label all Pakistanis as “the enemy.” I suspect the mood in Pakistan is a mirror-image tendency to see all Americans as “the enemy.” I reject these generalizations and instead see as truly naive the assumption that violence is the answer. The enemy is neither “Americans” nor “Pakistanis” but those who choose violence to resolve conflict. The key to a successful dialogue lies not in the details but in focusing on finding a positive-sum compromise that makes the U.S. feel safe, identifies a relatively inclusive political outcome for most if not all Afghan factions, and minimizes Pakistani-Indian proxy conflict in Afghanistan. 

At least, that’s the perspective of one American who finds himself equally frustrated with the negotiating positions of each side. I would be most interested in hearing Pakistani perspectives.

Do Drones Harm the U.S.?

Is state violence an effective counter to insurgent violence? A choice exists.
Taliban abuses make it easy for shallow thinkers to condone anti-extremist abuses – respond to an attack on aid workers or schoolgirls with a drone attack on a funeral, an eye for an eye, law of the jungle. But how do such tactical responses offer society a choice? Abuse from insurgents is countered by abuse from authorities, with the extremism of one justifying and stimulating extremism of the other. Ambitious leaders on both sides win, while society loses.
The important point for Americans struggling to figure out how to respond is that when our reactions promote the extremism we are fighting against, then it is not just Pakistani society that loses but American society as well. The whole world political and moral climate is degraded, promoting conditions that poison civil society, undermine democracy, and facilitate the rise of cowboys, fundamentalists, and general intolerance. Every abusive act further alienates and radicalizes innocent bystanders and thus further empowers the lovers of violence.
Even when it is determined that killing someone is required, it must be kept clearly in mind that the killing is not a goal but a means and should not be done if that means does not lead to the goal. The goal is a smoothly functioning civil society, and our common enemy is those who oppose the creation of such civil societies. A smoothly functioning civil society may not flow automatically from democracy, but democracy, physical and economic security for all citizens, and education together are pretty much the best foundation pillars to hold up a smoothly functioning civil society that mankind has yet been able to construct.
From this perspective, the common interest of American and Pakistani society [not, to be sure, of decision-makers who focus on strategic issues to the exclusion of all else and, for example, aid the Haqqani Network to gain influence in Afghanistan at India’s expense] is clear and the question flowing from that common interest is not a military one but a political one: “How do we create a functioning society?” Once that simple question is asked, it instantly becomes obvious how ridiculous it is to answer: “by remotely bombing groups of unidentified adult males or anyone who attends a funeral for anyone who was bombed.” Since the Taliban is not attacking the U.S., it is not clear that the U.S. should be doing anything at all, but if, upon contemplation, Americans decide that it is appropriate to make some effort to influence events in Pakistan, then the goal should be the positive one of helping Pakistani society to function better, precisely the outcome most beneficial to the long-term interests of the American public.
Now we have the basis for a useful conversation with Pakistani officials about day-to-day tactics. When the Taliban threatens to murder a social worker who “operates hundreds of ambulances and shelters for women, children and the destitute,”it is clear that Americans who want a vibrant, secure, and free civil society in the U.S. have common cause with Pakistanis struggling for the same goal in Pakistan. It should also be clear that drone attacks are at best an extremely poor and most likely a highly counterproductive route to that common goal.
Some Pakistanis understand this:

The Taliban are pursuing an ‘anti-state struggle’ and Pakistan must take this threat seriously before it causes an irreparable damage to the country, NWFP government’s Peace Envoy Afrasiab Khattak said on Tuesday. “They (Taliban) want to defeat the state and their success starts where the state fails.” [New Age Islam 9/20/2008.]

The problem is that those Pakistanis and Americans who understand their common interest have great difficulty holding a dialogue about how to pursue that common interest. The remark of the NWFP peace envoy, above, points to a way forward: focusing on U.S.-Pakistani cooperative actions to build an effect state. Effective police action followed by open trials under an honest court system will be an important long-term component of such an effort. Killing alleged enemies, much less killing unidentified people, will become more counter-productive the longer it occurs. The argument that the threat is immediate so we cannot wait for long-term solutions is clearly invalidated by the now obvious failure of violence to eliminate an insurgent threat that has been spreading for a decade in violence-ridden Pakistan.
This leaves concerned citizens and policy-makers in both the US and Pakistan with the following question:

Who are the potential Pakistani allies of Americans struggling to defeat violent extremists and what set of tactics might be accepted by each national group as in its own best interests?

A Supplementary Approach from the Afghan Theater
In the context of a primary focus on building civil society and extending the writ of effective, supportive governance in Pakistan, offering inclusion to Taliban personnel willing to renounce violence offers a supplementary approach:

Pursuing high-level reconciliation with the Taliban senior leadership as a unified, singular organization will fail to achieve the grand bargain that the U.S. and Afghans seek; that is, an agreement to renounce al-Qaeda, respect the Afghan constitution and cease insurgent operations targeting Afghan government officials and security forces. Recognizing that the Taliban is a diverse movement where significant internal divisions and mistrust abound, reconciliation efforts should instead be pursued as a means to divide and weaken the cohesion of the movement’s senior leadership cadre. However, before such efforts can achieve their desired intent, U.S. and Afghan forces must develop a sophisticated understanding of the differences among the factions and their leaders, and identify, encourage and protect those who want to reconcile. The purpose of these efforts is not only to support the primary aim of reconciliation, but also to fracture the Taliban operationally and thereby limit Pakistan’s leverage over the Afghan state.[Understand War 6/13/2012.]

Emergence of a Joint Russian-Chinese Strategic Vision

Washington clearly lacks the wisdom to manage a “war on drugs” or a “war on terror” or a “war for democracy” in a Muslim society. A more counter-productive effort in world affairs would be hard to find. But if Washington exits Afghanistan without leaving a process of effectively addressing the drug problem in place, then some very nasty scenarios that are hardly imagined today may become highly possible.

What one day is an entirely defensive effort to combat the international trade in illegal narcotics can another day seamlessly morph into an aggressive military alliance. Some today in the West may find it easy to sneer at the strategic military potential of the so-far timid and disunited Shanghai Cooperation Organization, but illegal narcotics are providing a strong rationale for SCO’s members to cooperate militarily, and there’s plenty of talk in Russian media about the drug threat, which is killing 100,000 Russians a year.
Consider the context:
  1. Afghanistan is NATO-occupied, so responsibility for the flood of illegal narcotics poisoning the societies of Russia and the rest of the SCO member states lies at NATO’s door;
  2. the Western campaign in Afghanistan is failing;
  3. U.S.-Pakistani relations are in trouble;
  4. Narcotics and terror not only are linked but are so portrayed in Russian media.
In this context, the long-term trend in Russian-Pakistani ties merits watching. Russian “drug tsar” Victor Ivanov recently lauded rising Russian-Pakistani anti-drug cooperation:

Антинаркотическое сотрудничество России и Пакистана активно развивается. Взаимодействие двух стран “перешло в доверительную фазу”. [Golos Rossii (Voice of Russia) 3/29/12.]

His claim that “mutual trust” has been established should focus Washington minds. Moscow has been encouraging Islamabad’s interest in joining the SCO for some time. Are Washington’s abuses of its special relationship with Islamabad making Russia’s more delicate approach seem attractive? It certainly will if rumors of Russian financial supportfor the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline that Washington so bitterly opposes come true.
Like Pakistan, Iran has observer status in the SCO, but Iran seems too hot to handle, given its current self-defeating policy of nuclear ambiguity. Given Washington’s own endlessly hardline stance, however, a slightly more sophisticated Iranian nuclear policy might open SCO’s door. What if SCO officially offered Iran one of the obvious potential nuclear deals that Washington so carefully evades, e.g., end to sanctions, financing of the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline, defensive ground-to-air missiles, full membership in SCO, and the explicit right to refine medical-grade uranium in return for the “permanent human monitoring” of Iran’s nuclear project that Larijani has already offered? The next Nobel Peace Prize might go to Putin, and the SCO might discover its strategic mission.
But there’s more. Even NATO member Turkey is glancing toward SCO. To the degree that SCO constitutes no more than a local effort to support global stability, everyone could join, but in the context of a need to replace a failing U.S. power center in Central Asia and in the context of a backward-looking Washington rejecting Ankara’s self-portrayal as leader of Mideast moderates, a SCO deal with Iran that takes the nuclear issue off center-stage might confer significant momentum to Ankara’s delicate winks in SCO’s direction.

В рамках ШОС, Турция будет стремиться к поддержке своей роли лидера региона Ближнего и Среднего Востока, опираясь на дружественные и родственные отношения с тюркскими и исламскими государствами. Россия поддержала заявку Турции на получение статуса партнера по диалогу в ШОС. []

If Washington continues tripping over its own feet, as it has now for 15 years, while Moscow and Beijing creep forward through the diplomatic bushes, it becomes easier and easier to imagine the SCO picking up some of the slack. Beijing and Moscow will have to find common strategic ground, but Washington’s continuing obsession with pleasing Israel’s extreme right will make that easy, especially if Iran can smooth the rough edges off its foreign policy. A SCO with a strategic vision plus the membership of both Pakistan and Iran would be an entirely different animal than it is today, a sleek bear sporting dragon wings. If the reversal of trends as the U.S. presence in Central Asia is replaced by a joint Russian and Chinese presence occurs in the context of a bungled U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan that leaves behind a virulent drug mafia, then SCO would have a legitimate strategic purpose: the flying bear might start breathing fire. Given that, how hard would it be for Russian and Chinese strategic thinkers to justify…well, a “war on terror,” and how easily might such a war come to generate the same horrors that the Bush-Cheney war did?
Further Reading:

Explaining Afghanistan

Is the U.S. really in Afghanistan to help the Afghanis? Is this a pipeline war rather than a “war on terror?”

Kathy Kelly from Voices for Creative Nonviolence has this to say:

…why is the United States in Afghanistan? I believe that the United States knows that it can’t go after China or Russia, but they want to be able to continue a cold war and have a leg up on China by being able to control the pricing and the flow of resources that would course through Afghanistan. And for this reason, the United States wants to secure its bases, its forward operating bases, its prisons, and what will become an even larger embassy than the one that was built in Baghdad. And meanwhile, the United States public is poorly informed. [Democracy Now 3/12/12.]

It’s not just about Russia and China. The “Iran factor” also looms large:

More than half of Pakistan’s manufacturers use natural gas to power their factories, and no other country relies as heavily on natural gas to fuel its cars, buses and trucks. About 21% of the country’s vehicles run on compressed natural gas.Yet Pakistan produces only 30% of the natural gas it needs. Neighboring Iran, meanwhile, has the world’s second-largest natural gas reserves, topped only by Russia. The proposed 1,300-mile pipeline would deliver to Pakistan more than 750 million cubic feet of gas per day from Iran’s South Pars gas field in the Persian Gulf.

The U.S. has touted an alternative pipeline project that would transport natural gas from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan and into Pakistan and India. But with Afghanistan mired in a 10-year-old war with Taliban insurgents, experts in Pakistan doubt that pipeline will ever be built. [LA Times 3/8/12.]

Islamabad now officially supports both pipelines, i.e., “We will work with Iran; Washington, if you want to build us a second pipeline, go for it!”
Endless slaughter of civilians for an oil pipeline that will surely get built, since it only will go a few hundred miles in some of the world’s most mountainous terrain, where the locals love us more every day. Or, Washington could cut a deal with Iran, supporting its desire to strengthen economic ties with a U.S. ally that desperately needs a reliable source of energy. But no. That would be too logical. Instead, let’s anger both Iran and Pakistan simultaneously and, to protect our still non-existent pipeline, launch another Afghan surge!

Lost in a Sandstorm: Washington Tours the Muslim World

Both Tehran and Islamabad are striding undeterred down paths of foreign policy independence despite the obvious frustration of Washington decision-makers. Yet one is an “ally,” the other an “enemy,” and U.S. policy toward the two accordingly very different. That said, each seems adept at manipulating, not to mention resisting, Washington. Would the U.S. be better off changing course?

Among the various international challenges to Washington’s foreign policy goals, two loom large: the insistence of both Pakistan and Iran on following paths that place huge obstacles in Washington’s path. All sides can probably agree that the aggressively expansionist course desired by the Washington elite will, for better or worse, remain seriously impaired as long as these two independent-minded Islamic powers insist on doing what they want regardless of Washington’s desires. And while Washington’s power elite may be deeply in denial about the options it has, that it has a problem with both Iran and Pakistan it clearly recognizes and readily admits.
Resolving that problem, however, seems beyond Washington’s grasp, in part because it is already employing the two obvious alternative approaches – total hostility toward one and alliance with the other. Washington’s policy toward Tehran amounts to open economic warfare, winking at if not engaging in a campaign of covert terrorism, and the threat of an outright and unprovoked military attack. This long-standing policy is demonstrably failing. Tehran may or may not in the end offer some nuclear concession but shows no signs of playing by Washington rules. Pakistan, in contrast, gets billions in U.S. aid and a pass for its highly active nuclear weapons program, despite arguably doing fully as much to undermine Washington’s war in Afghanistan as Tehran ever did to undermine Washington’s war in IraqFollowing Tehran’s playbook from beginning to end, Islamabad appears to be right on schedule to assert its dominance over Afghanistan at least as thoroughly as Tehran has asserted its dominance over Iraq. If both hostility and amity fail to induce real cooperation, is there a third alternative, or is Washington doomed to seeing two second-rate (to be polite) powers endlessly stymie its ambitions?
The U.S. remains today deep in the midst of what has already been a lost decade in economic terms. In strategic terms, the story is equally pathetic. Iraq went from being hostile but not dangerous under Saddam to moving very much into Iran’s orbit, courtesy of the neo-cons; Afghanistan is about to deliver another defeat to the U.S.; Somalia is at least as much of a problem for the U.S. as during “Black Hawk Down” days; Israel is proving to be an increasingly dangerous “ally,” with increasingly severe problems of its own and no thought more original than Indian reservations or apartheid as a solution to the Palestinian issue; Hezbollah is riding high in Lebanon; Egypt can hardly be considered an ally any longer; Turkey has moved from client to chastising and increasingly distant friend; and Iran, which cooperated with the Bush Administration to replace the Taliban regime in late 2001, is being washed toward ever greater nuclear capability by the current of American hostility. Globally, Russia and China seem confident and unworried by endless American self-defeating belligerence. The U.S. is both poorer and less effective than it was in the year 2000, while its “Muslim problem”—its inability to figure out a way of adjusting to rising Muslim demands for respect and fairness and understanding from the U.S.-centric global political system—has changed but hardly diminished at all.
But if the U.S. is treading water, the Islamic world certainly is not. The barbarism of al Qua’ida may not be over, but it seems passé, while the Arab Spring—which promotes many “American values”—may end up presenting a greater challenge to American domination. Iran, Pakistan, and Turkey are all moving to enhance their strategic positions at U.S. expense, and it would be surprising if Egypt were not fairly soon to follow their lead.
After a lost political and economic decade, the U.S. seems paranoid, confused, and bereft of any new ideas except for those that are patently idiotic. Clearly, Washington must get its act together. But if both utter hostility (toward Iran, not to mention Palestinians and Hezbollah) and cooperation (toward Pakistan, not to mention Egypt and Turkey) have failed, what can Washington do to devise an effective policy toward the Muslim world?

How to Attack an Ally

Shortly before the United States ended a two-month pause in missile strikes on militants in Pakistan last month, senior U.S. officials telephoned their Pakistani counterparts and told them Washington would be resuming its covert drone program despite mounting objections in Islamabad….
The strike that followed on Jan. 10, when U.S. aircraft fired missiles at a home in the North Waziristan tribal area, was the first such attack since U.S. aircraft, in a mishap that plunged bilateral ties into a tailspin, killed 24 Pakistani soldiers along remote border with Afghanistan. [Reuters 2/22/12.]

Pakistan’s military has agreed to the resumption of the United States’ drone strikes….

Even though upwards of 30 people have been killed in the new wave of strikes, there have been no protest from the Pakistan Army or politicians… [The Hindu 2/25/12.]

According to Obama, drones had “not caused a huge number of civilian casualties”….since America began drone strikes, at least 385 civilians had been executed in US-led attacks. Of those statistics, the Bureau added that around half of the dead were children under the age of 18.[RT 1/31/12.]

Up to 2,000 tribesmen gathered in Miranshah bazaar shouting “Death to America” and “Stop drone attacks in Pakistan” at the rally organized by Pakistan’s largest Islamic party, Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam (JUI)….

The crowd demanded an immediate end to drone attacks and compensation for those who lost relatives or property….
 [The Daily Star 2/23/12.]


One clue to how to devise effective policy comes from looking for possible similarities between the strikingly divergent U.S. behavior toward its Iranian adversary and its Pakistani ally. Once the question is asked, the answer is obvious: both threats and actual force lie at the core of U.S. policy toward a Muslim adversary and a Muslim ally. The similarity is hardly subtle: U.S. drones violate Iranian national territory and bomb Pakistani villages. In addition, the U.S. has been busy constructing military bases in neighboring countries that both Iran and Pakistan consider important to their own national security. Danger Room reported in December, just after the CIA was kicked out of a Pakistani drone base for slaughtering Pakistani soldiers, that “Afghanistan is going to be the new major hub for the drone war.” The ironic fact that the Pakistani action followed by days Iran’s capture of a U.S. drone trespassing over Iran only underscores the similarity in U.S. treatment of the two states: not only are both states at the pointed end of the U.S. spear but the U.S. is aggressively expanding military installations designed for offensive action throughout the region in neighboring countries. Even as the U.S. military campaign inside Afghanistan winds down, the number of U.S. military bases there is exploding. From an already enormous 400 in 2010, it has now reached 450, according to a statement by an International Security Assistance Force representative. A U.S. Air Force officer has also stated that the key airbase at Bagram is being further developed in line with a “long-term” vision. Shindand Airbase, near Herat, is less than 75 miles from the Iranian border and is used for “surveillance missions over Iran.”
In sum, Washington relies heavily upon force to get what it wants both from Muslim adversaries and Muslim allies, despite—at least in the cases of Iran and Pakistan—failing to achieve its goals with either. This suggests at least two tactical insights: 1) force can easily be counterproductive regardless of how much power one has to defeat the enemy on the battlefield, and 2) one should move delicately and coordinate exhaustively with countries whose cooperation is sought when intruding militarily into third countries that border those countries. Every country will see military moves in the territory of its neighbors as affecting its own interests. From this, one can derive the following rules regarding the design of effective tactics for dealing with the Muslim world:

Rule 1. Cooperation is more effective than force.Rule 2. When moving into a new neighborhood, talk to your new neighbors.

Another clue to how Washington might devise a more effective policy toward the Muslim world can be detected by broadening the analysis from Iran and Pakistan to include other major problem states from Washington’s perspective—e.g., Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, and Lebanon. Peering beneath the variation in conditions and U.S. tactics toward each state, one broad similarity in fundamental U.S. approach is apparent: in every case, Washington set its sights singlemindedly on achieving its own goals, with little regard for the perceptions, needs, or legitimate concerns of the other state. In short, Washington viewed relations with all these states as a simple zero-sum game, essentially not even bothering to ask whether or not a positive-sum outcome might be possible. Of course, creating a bigger pie is likely to take longer than gobbling up the whole small pie that now exists, but the record of the past 15 years is that gobbling up the small Iraqi or Lebanese or Somali or Afghan pie will cause a very bad case of indigestion.
The result, after an extraordinarily dangerous and expensive decade-long disaster that shows no signs of ending, has been a series of defeats for the U.S., that add up to a significant weakening of U.S. national security. The details vary widely, of course: the invasion of Iraq was enormously profitable for a long list of war-profiteering U.S. corporations, and Lebanon is unique for the smooth manner in which Hezbollah has exploited U.S./Israeli hostility to transform itself from an anti-Israeli national liberation movement into the most powerful and modern political party in the national administration. That said, the primary impacts of U.S. policy toward each country to date appear to have been the destruction of the national society, the alienation of that society from the U.S., the defeat of Washington’s policies, and the provocation of on-going social conflict. Israel’s domination of the region has not been assured, Washington’s superpower status has not been solidified, terrorist groups have not been eliminated, Islamic activists have neither been persuaded to accept the U.S.-centric global political system nor eliminated from Mideast politics, and free access to the national economies for American corporations has not been obtained, stable middle classes have not been empowered, Mideast allies have not been convinced that “Washington knows best,” other world powers have not been kept out of the region, control over Mideast oil has not been achieved, and a solid foundation for a new American empire has certainly not been constructed. It is hard to think of a single goal of any major Washington faction over the past 15 years related to the Muslim world on which significant progress has been made.
It seems that Washington is pursuing goals that simply cannot be achieved, and this suggests that a wiser course would be to seek positive-sum steps forward, i.e., incremental agreements that benefit “us” without further antagonizing “them,” or, to put it in different words, to view the other side not as an adversary but as a partner. After all, even at the height of the Cold War, the Soviet Union was a partner in avoiding nuclear war. Even the Democrats and Republicans agree on some things (politicians from both parties drive on the right). Positive-sum policy is endlessly fungible: there is always room for a deal on one issue regardless of whether or not one insists on fighting over something else. This suggests a third rule, related not to tactics but fundamental strategy:

Rule 3. Seek benefit, not victory.

Numerous implications deserving careful meditation would follow from the adaptation of these three rules. Focusing just on the crucial third rule, potential steps come under two basic areas: coordination and  cooperation. In the realm of coordination, Washington should be quietly coordinating its aircraft carrier tours of the Persian Gulf with Tehran, explaining to them the reasons and what would persuade Washington to halt the provocative visits. Washington should also be informing all Afghanistan’s neighbors of its military base plans and inviting both feedback and offers of a deal with any who take exception to make it clear that U.S. military moves were thoughtfully designed to induce limited behavioral shifts rather than as open-ended campaigns of aggression. 

More positively, Washington should not just explain its military initiatives but also seek opportunities for real cooperation. Working jointly with Iran to combat the illegal narcotics trade by the Taliban is one obvious positive-sum topic. A much more ambitious step would be the promotion of a Persian Gulf mutual security regime in which the U.S. would offer to oppose any offensive air attacks across the Persian Gulf in return for some package of Iranian steps toward nuclear transparency. Even more directly focusing on the core nuclear issue, the U.S. could promote technical nuclear talks designed to clarify the distinction between Iranian refinement of medical-grade and military-grade uranium, with teeth on the Iranian side and substantive military and political concessions on the U.S. side, including acknowledgement of Israeli responsibility for itself moving toward a policy of nuclear transparency. Regarding Pakistan, putting the safety of Pakistani civilians ahead of the killing of suspected enemy fighters by scandalously inaccurate drone bombers is another potential positive-sum stance: the U.S. could improve its public image and make a powerful argument that greater effort by Islamabad to arrest suspects (to be followed by U.S. pledges to respect its own standards of justice) would constitute the expected trade-off for a more carefully coordinated drone policy. The U.S. could thus simultaneously promote cooperation, seize the moral high ground, and strengthen respect for American values. The more such positive-sum steps Washington proposes, the stronger factions in Iran and Pakistan favoring cooperation with the U.S. will become.

Washington’s tactics and strategy for Mideast victory have failed to achieve the desired goals. Two tactical shifts—avoiding force and paying attention to the national security concerns of third parties—would make Washington’s policy toward the Muslim world less counterproductive, but for a real breakthrough in U.S. relations with the Muslim world, Washington must take the hard strategic step of replacing hubris with humility and must accept attainable benefit as a more rational goal than illusive victory.

Is Putin Eyeing Pakistan?

Might Putin, looking to burnish his place in history, be tempted to seize an enticing opportunity to pull Pakistan into the Russian orbit?

Put yourself, for a moment, in Putin’s shoes. Does he look, as he rides bareback (I refer to him, not the horse) in one of his photo-ops, like the kind of man who wants to lead his country from its former superpower status into obscurity? We can safely assume that Putin and national security team are inspecting the world on a daily basis, searching for strategic opportunities, and they do not need me to inform them that one they and their Moscow predecessors have been glancing at for generations is now fairly begging to be seized.

Pakistan desperately needs friends, allies, and economic partners. Pakistan needs a pipeline to import Iranian gas but evidently cannot pay for that pipeline, and Iran certainly does not have much extra cash at the moment, given U.S. economic warfare against it. Putin could give Pakistan a much desired full membership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, improving Islamabad’s negotiating position vis-a-vis an increasingly angry Washington; help fund the pipeline, thus consolidating an emerging Russian-Iranian-Pakistani relationship and simultaneously doing New Delhi, which also wants Iranian gas, a favor. Earning points from Islamabad and New Delhi simultaneously is not an easy thing to do. This much alone make a deal with Islamabad enticing. But there is much more.

Imagine, and I am just guessing that Putin has easily enough imagination to see all this in an instant, that rising Russian-Pakistani economic ties lead to security ties, perhaps including Russian investment in Pakistan’s Baluchi port of Gwadar–Pakistan’s first deep water port–alongside on-going Chinese investment there. It really is not all that hard to see the day when a modest Russian pipeline investment could transform into a Russian strategic presence on the Indian Ocean. Neatly leapfrogging the Afghan quagmire that first trapped the Russians themselves and helped bring down the old Soviet Union and has now trapped the last superpower standing, Russia could suddenly become Pakistan’s new friend just at the moment when heavy-handed American insistence on using drones to attack Pakistani border villages makes Lady Pakistan vulnerable to Russian courting.

For Putin, of course, this is not about romance but cold strategic calculation, the lure of achieving a Russian dream that goes back to Catherine, and–for the former KGB officer–surely a bit of payback for the old Russian defeat in Afghanistan.

Pakistan to Support Iran if Israel Attacks

Islamabad has sent Washington a crystal clear warning that continuing to move in lockstep with Likudniks toward war on Iran could lead to an Iranian-Pakistan defensive alliance.

Pakistan’s High Commissioner to Britain Wajid Shamsul Hasan gave an interview to The Sun, a British newspaper, on 2/7/12 in which he both announced that Pakistan would support Iran if it were attacked by the West and warned against continuing Western drone attacks on Pakistan. Ignore this implicit linkage at your peril.
A Pakistani-Iranian military alliance against U.S. influence in Central Asia would constitute a major strategic defeat for the American Superpower, consolidating a geographic continuous region of 250 million people with nuclear arms, perceived common grievances against the U.S., and compatible economic interests (Pakistan needs Iranian gas). Both Iraq and Afghanistan would most likely “lean to the Pakistani-Iranian side,” resulting in a population equal to that of the U.S. In the aftermath of an attack on Iran, an angry Turkey might not be far behind, and the impact on Pakistan’s Saudi ally would be hard to predict. Intentionally provoking such a scenario would, for U.S. decision-makers, rival the late Roman Empire’s decision to attempt the conquest of Germany. This defeat would be far more serious than the collapsed occupation of Iraq, the rise of Hezbollah to power in Lebanon, the alienation of Egypt, and the looming defeat in Afghanistan combined. Beijing and Moscow would have trouble hiding their derisive laughter. Now this possibility is no longer just the vision of Pakistani academics; now it is official: Islamabad has warned us. And Washington is risking this huge strategic defeat to mollify an extremist faction in Israel that cannot  obtain the support or even the public silence of its own national security officials.

High Commissioner Hasan warned that “patience is definitely reaching exhaustion levels,” called drone attacks “war crimes,” and noted that Pakistan has the ability to “take punitive actions” to stop the drone attacks, which Pakistan estimates has killed over 500 civilians, including 60 children.
The Commissioner also warned that:

Pakistan would be left with no option but to support Iran if Israel attacks it. We would not like Israel to attack any country, irrespective of whether it’s Iran or any nuclear country. We wouldn’t like to be seen as part of Israel‘s campaign against any country. If Israel attacks Iran, it will have an impact on Pakistan as well. We will have to safeguard our own interests. We also have a Shia population in Pakistan who will not take it lying down.

Given the extreme vulnerability of Pakistan to U.S. pressure, Washington should take the blunt warning of a Pakistani shift from an alliance with the U.S. to Pakistani support for Iran if attacked by Israel or the U.S. very seriously.
More to the point even than the individual points made by the Pakistani envoy to Great Britain were the combination of these points in a single interview because they show how Pakistan sees itself in the same light as Iran: under Western attack. For a Pakistani official to make such a connection officially in English to a Western media outlet puts Washington clearly on notice that if Washington is “in lockstep,” to use Obama’s astoundingly irresponsible and unpatriotic word for the degree to which he intends to kowtow, with the Israeli war party, then the price will be to put nuclear Pakistan on the side of Iran. The more hostile Washington’s attitude toward either Iran or Pakistan, the more likely will be a defensive Iranian-Pakistani alliance. Now the real threat to U.S. national security being posed by Washington’s blind coddling of the Israeli war party begins to show itself.

Pakistan Contemplates Iranian Triumph Over U.S.

With the U.S. allegedly already in the midst of a covert war against Iran (most recently suggested by the violation of Iranian airspace by the now-famous captured drone), a Pakistani report illustrates a significant degree of sympathy for Iran. The potential for a Pakistani-Iranian entente rises with every passing day in the face of U.S. intransigence toward both.

In a very serious analytical piece about the implications of Iran’s shoot-down of a U.S. drone that violated Iranian airspace that appeared in Pakistan’s Nation [ Babak Dehghanpisheh, 12/11/11], you can almost hear the gloating. The title says it: “Iran Hits the Jackpot.” It must be easy for Pakistanis to feel some kinship with Iranians these days, with both countries’ airspace being violated by the U.S. military. The author reports that “Russian and Chinese officials have already asked to inspect the drone” and explains how the technology may flow into the hands of others, including Hezbollah. One can hardly help but wonder why the author did not mention the possibility of this technology now getting into Taliban hands as well; with a state of war between the Taliban and the Pakistani regime still in existence despite talk of talks, that may perhaps best be left clearly implied but unstated. The broader point about the leveling process of the U.S. high-tech weapons getting into enemy hands once those weapons are used is the real message, and the author reviews the many precedents illustrating the ability of Iranians and Hezbollah to manipulate such advanced technology to their benefit.

American readers should note the absence in this Pakistani review of any sense of “backwardness” on the part of the various Central Asian or Mideastern adversaries of the U.S. An American military secret, once revealed, can be made use of. The locals can fight back against the empire not just in their own ways but also using the empire’s supposedly unique techniques. Washington is changing how the whole world goes to war and is doing so much faster than it can itself figure out whether or not the ultimate benefit will be to the U.S. or to its adversaries.

Two years ago the U.S. rather shortsightedly took the opportunity to shoot down an Iranian drone over Iraq [Wired Danger Room 3/12/09], evidently without troubling itself to consider how U.S. occupiers might justify firing on an Iranian aircraft that was over Iraq rather than the U.S. Now Iran has paid the U.S. back, but the advantage goes very much to Iran’s benefit – in terms of the flow of valuable technology and the propaganda value. The domestic political position of Iranian hardliners has also surely been solidified; their argument that the world needs to be governed in a new way greatly strengthened.

Ahmadinejad Calls for New Global Political Order

2011: Most nations of the world are unhappy with the current international circumstances. And despite the general longing and aspiration to promote peace, progress, and fraternity, wars, mass-murder, widespread poverty, and socioeconomic and political crises continue to infringe upon the rights and sovereignty of nations, leaving behind irreparable damage worldwide.
Approximately, three billion people of the world live on less than 2.5 dollars a day, and over a billion people live without having even one sufficient meal on a daily basis. Forty-percent of the poorest world populations only share five percent of the global income, while twenty percent of the richest people share seventy-five percent of the total global income.
More than twenty thousand innocent and destitute children die every day in the world because of poverty. In the United States, eighty percent of financial resources are controlled by ten percent of its population, while only twenty percent of these resources belong to the ninety percent of the population.
What are the causes and reasons behind these inequalities?…
The rulers of the global management circles divide the social life from ethics and spirituality while claiming the situation is the outcome of the pursuit of the path of divine prophets or the vulnerability of nations or the ill performance of a few groups or individuals. They claim that only their views and approaches can save the human society….
Who provoked and encouraged Saddam Hussein to invade and impose an eight-year war on Iran, and who assisted and equipped him to deploy chemical weapons against our cities and our people?
Who used the mysterious September 11 incident as a pretext to attack Afghanistan and Iraq , killing, injuring, and displacing millions in two countries with the ultimate goal of bringing into its domination the Middle East and its oil resources?…
Who dominates the policy-making establishments of the world economy?
Who are responsible for the world economic recession, and are imposing the consequences on America, Europe and the world in general?
Which governments are always ready to drop thousands of bombs on other countries, but ponder and hesitate to provide aid to famine-stricken people in Somalia or in other places?…
Efforts must be made with a firm resolve and through collective cooperation to map out a new plan, on the basis of principles and the very foundation of universal human values such as Monotheism, justice, freedom, love and the quest for happiness.
The idea of creation of the United Nations remains a great and historical achievement of mankind. Its importance must be appreciated and its capacities must be used to the extent possible for our noble goals.
We should not allow this organization which is the reflection of the collective will and shared aspiration of the community of nations, to deviate from its main course and play into the hands of the world powers.
Conducive ground must be prepared to ensure collective participation and involvement of nations in an effort to promote lasting peace and security.
Shared and collective management of the world must be achieved in its true sense, and based on the underlying principles enshrined in the international law. Justice must serve as the criterion and the basis for all international decisions and actions. [International Business Times 9/22/11.]

2008: He accused the United States of oppressing Iraqis with six years of occupation, saying Americans were “still seeking to solidify their position in the political geography of the region and to dominate oil resources.”[CNN 9/22/11.]

2007: Ahmadinejad invited “all independent, justice-seeking and peace-loving nations” to join Iran in a “coalition for peace.” [CNN 9/22/11.]


The more blatant the discriminatory behavior of the U.S. (e.g., asserting the right to violate the borders of other states at will), the more attractive Ahmadinejad’s message becomes in the eyes of all global observers.

If Iran can make such a clarion call for global justice, why not Pakistan? If Iran can hit back at U.S. violations of international law with legitimate force, why not Pakistan? In the context of Pakistan already beefing up its air defense capabilities for the precise purpose of stopping U.S. aerial attacks inside Pakistan (unless permitted by Pakistan), if Iran can do this, might Pakistani generals be tempted to chat with the Iranians about how they did it? If Iran can say this, might Pakistani politicians be tempted to make similar calls for global justice?

Indeed, they already are:

Pakistan should develop relations with Iran and China on permanent basis, former information minister and MNA Syed Sumsam Bukhari urged the government and linked resolution of problems to preservation of national dignity.
“Developing warm relations with Iran and China is need of the hour,” he told party workers and media persons. [The Nation 12/11/11.]

Washington’s outdated two-party Cold War mentality is undermining U.S. national security step-by-step every day as it offers a policy of intransigence toward antagonists and friends alike. If Washington cannot learn how to be sympathetic toward the views and needs of others, then it must at least learn to compromise. Insistence on victory always and everywhere at the expense of others is too difficult and too expensive; it is a policy designed to fail.

U.S.-Pakistan: Sliding Down a Slippery Slope

Dynamics may generate behavior at multiple levels, so the short-term dynamics do not necessarily forecast long-term trends, but still, the daily course of events in U.S.-Pakistani relations suddenly seem noteworthy.

First, consider that at precisely the moment of greatest public irritation in Pakistan with the long-standing U.S. practice of causing heavy collateral damage, we are hearing about talks between the Pakistani government and the Taliban. The context, i.e., that in this instance the collateral damage was the deaths of Pakistani soldiers, is also important, because while the Pakistani army itself is guilty of widespread collateral damage to Pakistani civilians, it is not likely to accept easily the friendly-fire deaths of soldiers at the hands of Americans, thus pushing the military and the public onto common anti-American ground. Now, in that ominous context (for Washington global manipulators), the Taliban and the regime suddenly seem to be finding their own common ground.

In the past, anti-American feeling might arise, but in general the Pakistani army knew which side its bread was buttered on. Washington decision-makers should realize, however, that a strong argument for Pakistani regime compromise with the Taliban exists: Islamabad is after all correct that the core conflict in Pakistan between the government and the Taliban really is not very closely related to Washington’s battle with al Qua’ida. Rather, it is about local autonomy and is a culture war rather than a conflict for global power. In the broad context of rising Pakistani democracy, the regime has every reason to search for positive-sum solutions to this local culture war, which has become a severely negative-sum conflict for Pakistan. One issue on which most Pakistanis, Talibani or not, can presumably agree is the desirability of diminishing U.S. military activity in and above Pakistani territory.

These considerations lead to the second interesting development. After the U.S. strike on the Pakistani army position, Islamabad halted the flow of trucks delivering military supplies to U.S./N.A.T.O. forces in Afghanistan, resulting in the trucks piling up in a parking lot. That parking lot was just attacked. The Pakistani regime puts the trucks in parking, where they are vulnerable to the Taliban: this sounds like a neat way of working toward that joint goal noted in the previous paragraph, though no evidence of actual collusion is yet apparent.

All this of course raises the question of how judicious Washington’s response to this delicate situation will be. One initial indication is provided by a very important Spencer Ackerman report in Danger Room revealing U.S. plans to allow mercenaries to run air missions across the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. The report deserves close reading. Giving local control to contractors in it, in the end, for the money and beyond the range of Congressional oversight and U.S. law speaks for itself.

The point here is not to read too much into a few events but simply to caution that incidental short-term dynamics can have a way of turning into long-term trends if not treated with sufficient seriousness and sensitivity.