Archive for July, 2011

Originally published in The Rutland Herald and The Barre Times Argus

Over the weekend of July 10-11, it was announced that the United States would suspend, and in some cases cancel, nearly $800 million in military aid to Pakistan. This would amount to almost half of the $2 billion slated for the country’s armed forces.

Let’s get one thing straight right away.  It doesn’t matter what we think of Pakistan, India or Afghanistan.  What matters is  tht we understand regional reality and how that affects our goals there. In that context, we might profitably examine whether or not Afghan/Pakistan realities, in effect, make our goals illusory.

It is difficult to understand precisely what could have rationally motivated the Obama administration to implement this policy. Absent any logical underpinnings, it may well be the result of our anger that we are not getting our way with Pakistan when it comes to what we see as their uncooperative operations on their own territory against that part of the Taliban that resides on their side of the border with Afghanistan.

We are late-comers to the complex realities of the Middle East and South Asia.  Our policies, such as they are, would appear to be based in the domestic political needs of the Bush and Obama administrations, rather than on facts on the ground. More than that, we are deeply involved there for reasons that difficult to understand.  While we all understand our invasion of Afghanistan in the aftermath of 9/11, our 2003 invasion of Iraq and our subsequent re-invasion of Afghanistan are far less comprehensible.

Whatever the current facts and prospects, and none of those are any more clear under Obama than they were under Bush, one thing is absolutely clear and critical.  Pakistan sees India as an existential threat.  Those two countries have fought wars in 1947, 1965, 1971 and 1999, as well as significant skirmishes in 1984, 1985, 1987 and 1995, and have almost come to blows on numerous other occasions.

Despite the wishes of Muslims prior to the 1947 partition of colonial India, for a clean line of demarcation between themselves and the other religious groups, that did not happen.

Roughly 50% of the Muslim population of colonial British India remained in what is today India. Since 1947, interfaith violence between Muslims and Hindus and Sikhs has resulted in something between a half million and a million casualties.

Since partition, Pakistan has focused narrowly on what it sees as the existential threat from India. As a result, Afghanistan has become extremely important to the Pakistanis.  They are culturally, religiously, linguistically and ethnically inseparable.

Pakistan sees the Taliban as one way to apply pressure on India.  For that reason, Pakistan military intelligence (the ISI) has long subsidized the Taliban and its activities as a counterbalance to India’s influence in the disputed Kashmir region.

it has been clearly stated by virtually every US official from President Obama to General Petraeus that we cannot “win” in Afghanistan as long as the Taliban has a safe haven in Pakistan. The Pakistanis, for their own national reasons, are unwilling to eliminate that safe haven and we must remember that and as long as all our major military supply routes for Afghanistan cross Pakistan territory, we might wish to better consider their sensitivities.

So, the issue cannot be simply that we are displeased with the reluctance of the Pakistan government to undertake activities that it believes are directly threatening to its national interests vis a vis India.  There has to be something more than that, either a total lack of understanding among US policy makers of the realities in Southeast Asia, or some sort of convoluted belief that denying Pakistan our support will somehow make it easier for us to withdraw from Afghanistan.

And it may be just that! For this thumb in the eye of Pakistan, following on the heels of their open displeasure with our unilateral drone assassinations and our killing of bin Laden without their coordination and on their territory, will certainly change the balance in Afghanistan.

If we thought for a moment, as some American dreamers did, that we had any sort of chance for any kind of “win” in Afghanistan, we have just measurably raised the odds against successfully achieving our own goals by further humiliating the Pakistan military establishment, government and people.

Go figure!

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[Originally published in the Rutland Herald and the Barre Times-Argus]

One of the primary purposes of any foreign intelligence organization like the CIA is that it provide to policymakers the best and most accurate information and analyses. In the language of the trade it’s called “speaking truth to power,” a statement that correctly implies that not all makers of foreign policy welcome the information provided to them by the intelligence community.

It is a simple fact of life that much of our foreign policy evolves as a result of domestic political needs rather than the intelligence and analyses that reflect the facts on the ground where the policy is to be implemented.

An excellent example of the perils involved in foreign policy formulation can be seen in the efforts of the Bush White House to influence the production of intelligence analysis during the run-up to the American invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Former CIA officers have reported that Vice President Dick Cheney made numerous visits to CIA headquarters to ensure that a crucial National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on weapons of mass destruction was alarmist enough to scare Congress into authorizing the Iraq invasion.

At the same time, an Office of Special Plans was set up in the Pentagon by Paul Wolfowitz and headed by Douglas Feith to “relook” or re-examine the raw intelligence that had led to the unhelpful conclusions that the White House found “inaccurate” and unsupportive. Its purpose was to find “overlooked” raw intelligence that would support the White House’s planned Iraq invasion.

It also has been reported that George Tenet, the CIA director at the time, finally told his analysts that if they wished to have any influence on Bush White House foreign policy, they would have to modify their analyses.

This can happen during foreign policy formulation. If the foreign policy authors have already decided on the policy they want to pursue and that policy is not supported by the available intelligence and analyses, it can lead to attempts to subvert the intelligence system.

The appointment of Gen. David Petraeus as director of the CIA raises some interesting issues. In his March 2011 testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee he said, “As a bottom line up front, it is ISAF’s assessment that the momentum achieved by the Taliban in Afghanistan since 2005 has been arrested in much of the country and reversed in a number of important areas. However, while the security progress achieved over the past year is significant, it is also fragile and reversible. Moreover, it is clear that much difficult work lies ahead with our Afghan partners to solidify and expand our gains in the face of the expected Taliban spring offensive.”

Petraeus is an intelligent, ambitious, educated military officer. He enjoyed unprecedented success with the “surge” in Iraq, even though there were other critical elements over which he had no control that heavily contributed to the surge’s success.

However, while the general was speaking of the progress made in Afghanistan, the Los Angeles Times was saying that the analysts of 16 intelligence agencies in Washington (in an NIE) “contend that large swaths of Afghanistan are still at risk of falling to the Taliban” and that Pakistan’s intelligence services continue to train, support and manipulate Taliban groups in Afghanistan.

And this while we are dealing with a totally dysfunctional President Karzai and Afghan realities and history that have defied foreign manipulation and exploitation for centuries.

It was subsequently reported that the 2011 NIEs on Afghanistan and Pakistan said that the fight was not winnable without Pakistani engagement against Taliban militants on its side of the border. Our military commanders have challenged this conclusion.

The question here is not who is right or wrong about Afghanistan. The question is whether or not any individual, despite an exemplary character and record, is capable of changing roles from that of head cheerleader for Americans who favor our continued involvement in the Afghan war to director of the organization that up until now has been reluctant to be optimistic, given the realities that exist in Afghanistan and Pakistan, about our prospects for any kind of success in that region.

Given the current demands on our national purse — our aging population, our current economic fragility, our infrastructural disintegration, our failing educational system and the expense of the largest military establishment in the history of the world, it is inordinately important that the new CIA director be able to accept the analyses of his organization and pass them on to the White House.

He must speak truth to power.

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