In response to March testimony by Gen. David Petraeus, the New York Times published a muddled editorial: “We still believe that the United States has a strategic interest in Afghanistan. We also know that Americans’ patience with this war has all but run out.” [New York Times, March, 16, 2011]
Neither the Times nor any mainstream media organs--including the liberal favorite, MSNBC--have been willing to advocate ending the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The reasons are never given, but may simply lie in an unexamined fear of opposing a war in which 150,000 American troops are risking their lives. What else could be the reason? A majority of Americans, including 86 percent of Democratic voters, want to “speed up the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.” [Gallup Poll, February 2, 2011] We are living amidst a dangerous democratic deficit when none of the editorialists of a supposedly free media are willing to share the views of a majority.
Early on in his administration, President Obama appeared determined on an exit strategy from Iraq. For a time it appeared that he would meet the party’s progressives halfway by promising a significant withdrawal announcement this July. “We need to be hardheaded about an exit strategy,” he was quoted as saying in Bob Woodward’s Obama’s Wars, “I can’t lose the whole Democratic Party.” But he has. Even the Democratic National Committee [DNC] recently passed a resolution calling for a faster withdrawal than anything the president has planned. There was no dissent at the DNC meeting.
And yet there was the Pentagon’s Michele Flournoy on March 15, testifying before the Senate that the U.S. plans to continue joint counterterrorism [secret operations] beyond the 2014 goal which the President has chosen for the end of combat. Flournoy was backed by Gen. David Petraeus, who compared the American mission to killing poisonous snakes a neighbor’s backyard. [New York Times, March 16, 2011] The testimony, despite being under oath, took on an Alice-In-Wonderland flavor, as Flournoy said that Obama has been “very clear” that there be no permanent bases--unless they are jointly agreed with the Afghans. Petraeus said the U.S. would be “providing enablers”, which apparently sounded less lethal than counterterrorism units and advisers.
Meanwhile, the crisis in Pakistan only deepens, with the Islamabad government calling for sharp reductions in drone strikes, CIA officers and Special Forces operatives. Under Obama the drone attacks have nearly quadrupled, and are “immensely unpopular” with Pakistani public opinion. The legal basis for the U.S. intervention is ambiguous at best, but until recently both sides have agreed to keep the matter secret. Since the January capture and release of a CIA officer, Raymond Davis, who shot and killed two Pakistanis while he was undercover, relations between the two countries have continued to sour.
A political solution, however awkward, still remains possible. It would include a cease-fire in place, with the Taliban and other insurgents dominating territory where they already are undefeated; a transitional power-sharing arrangement in Kabul; talks between all parties aimed at internationally-supervised elections; a peacekeeping force from non-aligned nations; and the continued provision of aid based on respect for human dignity, including the rights of women; and a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. and ISAF forces. A new Afghan election will be held in 2014 to replace Ahmed Karzai, which means the peace process could be implemented over the three year period, instead of a prolonged battle to the death.
As for Pakistan, the imperial assumption of U.S. policy is that the West knows best, not a formula which satisfies public opinion. On the ground, the Pakistan government and armed forces want to concentrate on containing or defeating the Pakistan Taliban in North Waziristan, while the U.S. wants to employ drones in carrying the fight more deeply into other regions of Pakistan. The American war would be a classified one, depending on permission to deploy hundreds of CIA agents with tens of thousands of paramilitaries recruited and trained by the U.S., a likely formula for deepening civil war. Already there are over 300 CIA operatives inside Pakistan, and 3,000 personnel in Counterterrorism Pursuit Teams [CTPT] carrying out cross-border operations into Pakistan. [Woodward, p. 367]
The U.S. taxpayer has fronted $19.5 billion, mainly in direct overt military aid and reimbursements, to Pakistan since FY 2002, on top of some $11 billion for the Musharraf dictatorship during the Bush era. [Kronstadt, K. Alan. "Direct Overt U.S. Aid and Military Reimbursements to Pakistan, FY202-FY2011," Congressional Research Service]
Strategically, the U.S. is siding with Hindu India in its volatile conflict with Muslim Pakistan over Kashmir. While Pakistan supports the [Pashtun] Taliban as a proxy in Afghanistan, India has sided with the Northern Alliance warlords, spending money on political candidates and legislators, funding the new parliament building in Kabul, constructing roads near the Pakistan border, and consulates in Jalalabad, Kandahar and Heart. [Jones, Seth. “Counterinsurgency in Afghanistan," RAND, 2008]
The Pashtun are the largest minority in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, and constitute the havens for insurgency. Though depicted in the media as a conflict between the U.S. and terrorism, the reality on the ground is that the the U.S. is taking sides in two civil wars which also are proxy wars between two regional powers, Pakistan and India. By attacking sanctuaries in Afghanistan, the U.S. has driven the Taliban into sanctuaries in Pakistan; because of those attacks, Al Qaeda has arisen in North Africa and Islamic communities in Western Europe. As long as the enemy is defined simply as “poisonous snakes” and American troops are the exterminators, the so-called deficit “hawks” in Congress will keep sending funds to Gen. Petraeus.
Without a new paradigm that replaces the Long War on Terror, these secret teams of American exterminators will be chasing them through the neighbors’ backyards, and the media and Congress will fear to end the folly. If there is a successful terrorist attack on the U.S. originating from Pakistan, according to the Woodward book, the U.S. will launch retribution attacks on 150 sites inside Pakistan. [Woodward, p. 365]
“We are living on borrowed time,” a U.S. national security official said, summing up the situation in Pakistan. [Woodward, p. 364]. That was two years ago, and there is no plan to stop the borrowing.