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The Next Lost War

By       Message David Glenn Cox     Permalink
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Never has Colin Powell's Pottery Barn analogy been more apt than in the next lost war, Pakistan. In our quest to strike down radical Islam, we have done so like an angry housewife chasing a mouse with a broom, and in the process done more damage with the broom than the mouse ever could.

I recently listened to Ray McGovern speak about Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the third rail of American foreign policy, Israel. McGovern, a life long security analyst for the CIA, explained with true emotion about the effects of the fabrication of intelligence for the war in Iraq and what that did to the intelligence community as a whole.

Just as the legal community and civil libertarians decried the fabricated legal theories of John Yoo, so too did the intelligence community. Events such as the yellowcake incident, that were created out of whole cloth, had the same effect as a second set of books would have on an accountant. To a community trained in factual analysis, now they had to wonder what is true. If I can't trust your work, can you trust mine? Are these figures real or false? Accurate or generated?

McGovern then used the example of the Pentagon Papers in comparison to Afghanistan. In 1968 General Westmoreland asked Lyndon Johnson for an additional 208,000 US troops. What the Pentagon Papers showed was that Westmoreland was fudging on the numbers of North Vietnamese troop strength by 100%. General McKrystal is asking for an additional 40,000 troops for Afghanistan, but where is the independent analysis? We have only the military's analysis, the rosy analysis, the cake walk analysis, the flowers and candy analysis.

We stormed into Afghanistan with too much faith in high tech weaponry and too little understanding of our enemies, a tribal society with cross-flowing allegiances, religious, tribal and political. The money and arms that had flowed into Afghanistan to fight the Soviets in the 1980s came through Pakistan. Those networks were still alive and the Pakistani intelligence service is as much responsible for the Taliban in Afghanistan as is Islam.

Since the Taliban are a product of the Pakistani ISI, it is only logical to assume that once the bombs started to fall in Afghanistan the Taliban would return to the place of their birth, Pakistan. The Taliban was created to rule Afghanistan, to protect and secure the border region of Pakistan. The Russian invasion of Afghanistan was bad news for Pakistan and likewise is the American invasion of Afghanistan.

Pakistan is a country of crossroads. The product of a former British colony, it has strong judicial roots and an educated middle class in the cities. Outside of the cities it is more Islamic and the people are poorer and loosely educated. There are three power bases in Pakistan: the civilian government, the military, and the ISI, the Pakistani intelligence service.

The civil government and the military are the public face of the government, but the ISI is the power behind the throne. When General Musharraf took over the government in a bloodless coup, he did so with the acceptance of the military and the ISI. Civilian government be damned; after all, how many troops did they have? When Benazir Bhutto was murdered in her run for the Presidency, no one knew for sure if the blame lay with the military or the ISI. But when Musharraf lost the support of the military and the ISI, it was time for him to go.

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These groups in the tribal areas of Pakistan hold allegiances to different parts of the Pakistani government and to different parts of Pakistani politics. Some are the same groups set up by ISI to funnel arms into Afghanistan; some are useful and in sway of the Pakistani military. The tribes in the Punjab have been the eyes and ears in the long running semi-cold war with India. These groups are funded and supported by the three branches of the Pakistani government. They are as their children. Can you imagine asking the US Army rangers to attack a CIA listening post in Alaska? Or the Air Force to launch a drone attack on a CIA training base?

We are storming in without understanding what it is that we are breaking. We are eating a tiger, tail first. We haven't gotten to the part with meat and claws and teeth yet, and when we do it will be too late. "You break it, you own it." The recent attacks this week on the Pakistani military headquarters makes clear what it is that we are hitting with the broom as we swing for the mouse.

Tribal groups once separated by politics and religion have united to send a message to the capital. This was a shot across the bow by the ISI; these groups in South Wazeristan and the Punjab are not so naive to believe that the destruction of one won't mean the crippling of the other.

We are picking at a splinter in a finger. The more we pick and squeeze and push, the deeper the splinter becomes imbedded. The sorer and more inflamed and infected the region becomes until it begins to affect the whole hand.

40,000 more troops? Where is the independent analysis? What will we buy with those lives and that much treasure? A way home or just a way further in? The militants and people we seek to destroy will evaporate into the ether and move on to their next base of support and leave the wreckage behind. Like Vietnam there is no military answer. The more we bomb the more we turn the population against us and destabilize the very governments which we are trying to defend.

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Name your poison, extremists in the Pakistani hinterlands or a destabilized Pakistan. There are extremists' views in every country and we depend on local governments to keep them in check. In many cases we don't understand the dynamics of the problem, the history of the problem or the relationship between the people anymore than you could expect Arab troops to understand the religious schism in Northern Ireland.

If you ask a weatherman about the problem he'll tell you about the rain. If you ask a carpenter about the problem he'll tell you how much lumber he needs. If you ask a general about the problem he'll tell you how many troops he needs, but it doesn't mean that he is right anymore than the weatherman or the carpenter. We must understand the problem first before we ask those who only know their specialty. You will never kill the mouse with a broom; you must depend on the cat for that. Pakistan is the cat and we must stop hitting it with the broom!


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