19 November 2007

Calling Crap Crap: Part 2, Pakistan

From the folks who brought you the Iraq War:

We do not intend to be fear mongers. Pakistan’s officer corps and ruling elites remain largely moderate and more interested in building a strong, modern state than in exporting terrorism or nuclear weapons to the highest bidder. But then again, Americans felt similarly about the shah’s regime in Iran until it was too late.

Moreover, Pakistan’s intelligence services contain enough sympathizers and supporters of the Afghan Taliban, and enough nationalists bent on seizing the disputed province of Kashmir from India, that there are grounds for real worries.

The most likely possible dangers are these: a complete collapse of Pakistani government rule that allows an extreme Islamist movement to fill the vacuum; a total loss of federal control over outlying provinces, which splinter along ethnic and tribal lines; or a struggle within the Pakistani military in which the minority sympathetic to the Taliban and Al Qaeda try to establish Pakistan as a state sponsor of terrorism.

Now I would be way, way out of my league to suggest that I know anything about Pakistan, but I do believe I can responsibly point to what sounds like crap to me and share that with my (small but loyal) band of readers.

"We do not intend to be fear mongers." This is completely disingenuous. Fear is exactly what Kagan and O'Hanlon mean to sow. That's how the architects of the Iraq War cowed a traumatized nation into happily supporting whatever the next thing was after capturing Osama, never mind that that mission is as yet incomplete.

In 2003 it was WMD, vials of white powder and the off-handed idea that, if Saddam didn't go, there'd be no telling what American target might next fall victim to (generally Islamic) terrorism. Now it's a fear of nuclear weapons falling into the wrong hands, fear of an "extreme Islamist movement" that would fill the power vacuum in a destabilized Pakistan, fear of Taliban and Al Qaeda sympathizers who would turn the country into a state sponsor of terror (as opposed to being merely a safe haven for terrorists), fear of a resurgent, post-Cold War Cold War, wherein "we are both safer, day to day, and in greater peril than before."

What? Don't worry, we're safe, but worry, because we're in more danger than ever? The American military industrial complex has been looking for a Cold War since the Cold War ended, and it's not enough to have opened up a 30 years' quagmire in Iraq, there's got to be an imminent threat beyond. And what does this mean: "But then again, Americans felt similarly about the shah’s regime in Iran until it was too late." Is this for real? Don't forget, we supported the shah until we didn't, just like we'll support Musharraf until we won't, and then we'll remind everybody how fragile and dangerous we've been saying Pakistan is all along? WTF?

I read this op-ed after reading Kevin Drum's post about the decision by the New York Times to run a story this Saturday on U.S. efforts over the past six years to protect Pakistan's nuclear weapons. The post itself is pretty unremarkable, but this exchange in the comments section between the author and a reader strikes me as extremely relevant:

The question is: why did the White House suddenly decide it wanted this information public? I figure it's because they were taking heat for not helping secure Pakistan's nukes and got tired of it. And as we all know, this administration feels that selectively leaking classified info is perfectly OK if it's politically useful to them.

I'm going to go out on a limb and take Kevin's line of thinking one step farther. I get the feeling, after reading the Kagan and O'Hanlon piece, that we'll hear more in the coming days and weeks about threats to the security of the Pakistani arsenal, and therefore threats to American security at home and abroad. Keep in mind the order of events, as we now know them, from 2003. The government had already decided to invade Iraq and topple Saddam. They just needed an appropriately alarming reason to get the mainstream establishment on board with the idea of going to war: to wit, WMDs. And if Americans thought that Iraq had anything to do with 9/11, so much the better.

As far as I can tell, this op-ed reeks of specifically vague, intentionally confusing, inflammatory rhetoric aimed to soften up the ground, as they say in Washington (they say it on the West Wing, anyway) for whatever decisions about the Middle East and South Asia that have already been cooked up. Now we read that the U.S. plans to arm Pakistani tribesman against Al Qaeda in an effort control the long border with Afghanistan, and it all starts to make sense to me. Well, it doesn't make sense, but I see a pattern emerging.

Let's assume the U.S. government has already been arming Pakistani tribesmen, and pretty soon it's going to be obvious that nobody has any idea where all that U.S. equipment has gone or who's using it against whom. Now we've got a real problem, because not only do a lot of different interests want to get their hands on some real and confirmed weapons of mass destruction, but we also can't say for sure that they won't use American military inventory to gain their objective. The U.S. may have
to do something, militarily, and the public isn't going to like it, seeing what a mess has been made already in Iraq.

I do not want to suggest that instability in Pakistan is not a terrific problem, and one that we have to consider against the backdrop of an increasingly messy Middle East. There are countless splinter groups, jihadists, and, I fear, a growing number of capable guerrilla armies (with great equipment!) drawn along sectarian lines, not to mention sovereign nations, that desperately want to get at what's cached in Pakistan's nuclear bunkers. I just want to encourage extreme care and thoughtfulness as we evaluate our news sources--and op-eds masquerading as news sources--and that as a nation we manage to learn from the lather whipped up in advance of the Iraq invasion in 2003. I do not know what the specific motivation is behind the Kagan/O'Hanlon op-ed, but it requires a healthy skepticism to discern the smoke from the fire, a skepticism I think it is incumbent upon us to read with today.