You may remember "Afghanistan bananastan" from the 1972 film The Hot Rock, in which thief Robert Redford uses the phrase to put vault guards into a hypnotic trance. Today, a "Bananastan" is (largely by my decree) a South Asian equivalent of a South American Banana Republic. Don't confuse a Bananastan with a Bananaraq, which is a Southwest Asian Banana Republic, or with the Barbecue Republic, which is the United States.
Like a Banana Republic, Pakistan is rife with corruption and has been ruled of late by a puppet (albeit an often uncooperative puppet) of the Barbecue Republic who has run roughshod over his country's constitution and judicial system; which, come to think of it, makes the Bananastan a lot like the Barbecue Republic, too. In many ways, in fact, Pakistan objectifies all that has failed in American foreign policy, and in America itself, over the past seven years and change.
Worst Laid Plans
Preserving and spreading democracy has been the central aim of U.S. foreign policy since Woodrow Wilson was in office. The current administration has taken less than a decade to sabotage the efforts of generations.
Recent elections in the Middle East have transformed terrorist outfits like Hezbollah (Lebanon), Hamas (Palestine) and the Muslim Brotherhood (Egypt) into legitimate political parties. No one can readily predict how soon we'll manage to extract ourselves, if ever, from the quagmire all those purple fingers created in Iraq. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the latest Rovewellian reincarnation of Hitler who's president of the "single greatest challenge" to our security, was duly elected to office. And now, the peace loving people of our new top Bananastan have voted their tinhorn's political party out of power, and there's talk among the victors about impeaching the tinhorn. (Did I tell you the Bananastan looks a lot like the Barbecue Republic or what?)
The Bananastan also illustrates the haplessness of the Barbecue Republic's attempts at controlling nuclear weapons proliferation. Pakistan, not Iraq or Iran or even North Korea, is the country most likely to let a nuke creep into the hands of terrorists.
A year ago, Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell confessed that our Bananastan is the sanctuary of the tallest Arab ever wanted dead or alive by a U.S. president. Clear back in 2003, former Indian general and terrorism expert K.P.S. Gill said that not only was bin Laden holed up in Pakistan, but that members of Pakistani intelligence knew where he was. Dr. Ajai Sahni, another Indian authority on terrorism, said that the Pakistani army and intelligence service actively facilitated bin Laden's relocation from Afghanistan to Pakistan.
That could explain why the CIA opted to ask forgiveness rather than permission from the Pakistani government for its latest spy-fly-die mission against an al Qaeda operative in that country.
The Spy Who Snuffed Me
On January 29, the CIA killed al Qaeda Leader Abu Laith al-Libi in the Pakastini town of Mir Ali. A "knowledgeable Western official" told CNN that al Libi was "'not far below the importance of the top two al Qaeda leaders'—Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri." The story barely broke the radar horizon. Perhaps we've grown so inured to hearing about al Qaeda number two men meeting instant justice by now that when the target is "below the importance" of a number two, nobody could give a number two less.
As Joby Warrick and Robin Wright of the Washington Post tell the story, the CIA used a "variety of surveillance techniques" to track al Libi to the home of a local Taliban commander. A Predator drone aircraft was flown over the site. Two Hellfire missiles left the Predator and tore into the compound, destroying the main building and the gatehouse, and killing up to 13 inhabitants. Unnamed officials told the Post that the CIA conducted the strike without obtaining the Pakistani government's permission beforehand. Wright and Warrick say reaction to the strike from U.S. and Pakistani leaders has been "muted" because neither side is eager to call attention to an awkward situation.
But there's something a darn sight more awkward about this situation than whether or not the Pakistanis gave prior permission for the operation. Let's make something very clear: foreign governments don't order U.S. forces into combat. The U.S. government does that, and in theory, we have rules about who exactly in the U.S. government is authorized to do it.
A former intelligence officer involved with previous strikes in Pakistan said "In the past, it required getting approval from the highest levels." This time, the drone operators, situated half a world away at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada, released the missiles "On orders from CIA officials in McLean [Virginia]."
The "Standing Rules of Engagement for U.S. Forces" defines this and other sorts of offensive operations as acts of national defense, things normally approved of by, at minimum, the four-star officer in charge of the geographic area of responsibility. This strike occurred in Central Command, and it sounds like CENTCOM chief Admiral William Fallon got cut out of the loop.
We can plausibly speculate that the CIA acts as hit man on these missions in order to work around the military chain of command. One can even reasonably argue that the time critical nature of this kind of operation demands a streamlined chain of command. But this is not Spy vs. Spy shtick where we slip the evildoer a designer drug that makes his beard fall out. These are air strikes, overt military operations, something that Congress is supposed to have a say in.
The War Powers Resolution of 1973 allows a president to "introduce United States Armed Forces into hostilities" for a maximum of 90 days without a declaration of war or a "specific authorization for such use of United States Armed Forces" from Congress. Mr. Bush had an Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) from Congress to invade Iraq. He doesn't have one for Pakistan.
If we want to take an argument for the legality of the Pakistan strikes to the sublime level, we might say that the CIA does not, per se, constitute a "United States Armed Force," and therefore its actions aren't covered by the War Powers Resolution. But how, then, do we justify the Bananastan style shenanigans that have been going on in Somalia? There, we have conducted air strikes not just against al Qaeda "compounds," but against entire villages, and not just with CIA drones carrying a pair of relatively small missiles, but with U.S. Air Force AC-130 gun ships that can rip a town into smithereens in a lot less time than it takes a subsidiary of Halliburton to rebuild one. And there's no AUMF for Somalia either.
If we argue that the Somali strikes are sanctioned by the "blank check" permissions of the AUMF of September 18, 2001 that authorized Mr. Bush "to use all necessary and appropriate force" against anyone or anything that might have had a connection with 9/11 or might ever conceivably be involved with a terrorist plot against the U.S. , then we have a president who can initiate wars whenever and wherever he wants without approval from any other branch of government.
That, fellow citizens, is one of the top three characteristics of a Barbecue Republic. The other two are the executive's ability to a) disappear the Bill of Rights and b) place covert propaganda and disinformation in the domestic media without fear of censure or penalty.
Welcome to your Brave New World Order.
Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books, ISBN: 9781601640192) will be available April 1, 2008.
"…a witty, wacky, wildly outrageous novel that skewers just about anything you’d care to name, from military budgets to political machinations to America’s success as the self-appointed guardian of the world…a remarkably accomplished book, striking just the right balance between ridicule and insight." —Booklist