Monday, November 09, 2009

Juntas in Wonderland

A pair of recent stories by Pakistani journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad suggested that Hillary Clinton had cut a big league dope deal with Pakistan’s military and intelligence services to negotiate with the Taliban and give the U.S. a face-saving path to exit Afghanistan. The story was difficult to believe, except for the fact that it made so much sense.

Getting out of Afghanistan is in our national interest. It is not a threat to us and al-Qaeda beat feet out of there a long time ago. We’re reasonably sure that what little is left of Osama bin Laden’s crowd is roaming around in Pakistan, and the real power in Pakistan is the military and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). So why not strike at the heart of the problem with the real center of gravity in the region?

According to Shahzad, Pakistani army chief of staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kyani and the director general of ISI, Lieutenant General Ahmad Shuja Pasha, snagged Hillary into a corner during her recent trip to Pakistan and told her what’s what. As Shahzad tells it, that led to the US telling Hamid Karzai rival Abdullah Abdullah to go dangle himself and convincing the Indians to remove its troops from Kashmir so the Pakistanis could focus their efforts against the Taliban in SWAT Valley.

That all sounds remarkable until you take a look at a new story in The New Yorker by Seymour Hersh, who says that “current and former officials said in interviews in Washington and Pakistan that [Obama’s] Administration has been negotiating highly sensitive understandings with the Pakistani military.” Curiouser and curiouser, cried Alice.

The $7.5 billion aid package we’re throwing Pakistan’s way is seen, according to Hersh, “as strengthening [Pakistani President] Zardari at the expense of the military.”

One has to pause: we are currently experiencing a velvet coup ourselves. Gen. Stan McChrystal’s recent media campaign to force President Barack Obama into escalating the war in Afghanistan illustrates how subservient our civilian government is to the military it supposedly controls.

If Shahzad’s story is in the ballpark of truth, as Hersh’s story suggests that it is, we may be seeing the dawn of a new age of realism in American foreign policy, one that’s been a long time in coming.

It’s high time that the United States quits believing it can dictate political behavior to the rest of the world. We got spoiled by World War II, became deluded into thinking we could control the world through sheer military might. The events subsequent to the fall of the Berlin Wall, and especially after 9/11, should have taught us otherwise, though the neoconservative cabal will never admit that. The truth is that our military dominance, unmatched and unprecedented in human history, is next to worthless in terms of accomplishing our aims. Our airport security employees contribute more to national security than the hundreds of thousands of troops we have put in harm’s way overseas. That’s a harsh comment, I know, but it’s the truth. Our reckless foreign misadventures have been a counterproductive, sinful waste of national blood and treasure. Nobody wants our candy bars or soccer balls. They want us to leave them alone.

Our counterinsurgency doctrine is a sham. It’s based on the principle of bribing people not to shoot us with the guns we give them. We’d be better off if we (a) didn’t give them guns in the first place and (b) weren’t there to get shot at in the first place so (c) we wouldn’t need to bother to bribe them not to shoot at us with the guns we gave the if we weren’t there in the first place and didn’t give them any guns.

Hersh reports that there is a “very close” relationship between Mullen and his Pakistani counterpart Kayani. Hersh’s piece mostly addresses Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal and how next to impossible it would be for evildoers to take it over and launch multi-megaton rocket whoppers at anybody. I’m pretty sure nobody really thinks that could happen. What’s important in the Hersh piece is what he has to say about the Pakistani military’s role in the power hierarchy.

“Some military men who know Pakistan well believe that, whatever the officer corps’s personal views, the Pakistan Army remains reliable.” Hersh wrote. “They cannot be described as pro-American, but this doesn’t mean they don’t know which side their bread is buttered on. Brian Cloughley, who served six years as Australia’s defense attaché to Pakistan and is now a contributor to Janes Sentinel, told me, ‘The chance of mutiny is slim.’”

Yet it appears we’re putting our chips on Pakistan’s military, and not its government, and it seems that the Pakistanis know what we’re looking for. A “senior Pakistani official” with “close ties to Zardari” told Hersh the Pakistan’s nuclear weapons “are less of a problem for the Obama Administration than finding a respectable way out of Afghanistan.”

A respectable way out of Afghanistan will be difficult to navigate, as a military mutiny has, for all practical purposes, already occurred in America. “King David” Petraeus’s Long War mob, which includes Gen. Ray Odierno, Mullen and McChrystal, and to a lesser extent, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who is more of a bureaucratic twit than militaristic fanatic, has put a full court media press on Obama to bump up the bet on their Afghanistan adventure.

Obama needs a way to gracefully bow out of his position that Afghanistan is a “war of necessity.” It’s nothing of the sort, of course. Few of our wars have been necessary. At this point in our national evolution, no war is necessary. We are the champions. We can stop fighting—if we can only put a muzzle on our military.

Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes at Pen and Sword. Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books), a lampoon on America's rise to global dominance, is on sale now.


  1. Anonymous7:04 PM

    "The truth is that our military dominance, unmatched and unprecedented in human history, is next to worthless in terms of accomplishing our aims."

    Militarism, in the long run, has always proven the proverb that "those who live by the sword, die by the sword".

    It must be old testament lest the christian right pick up on it.

    Truth is that US militarists now control 5% of GDP, not enough in most of their minds.

    Militarism was a growth industry under Reagan and borrowing allowed the percent of GDP to rise without immediately tearing the US economy apart.

    Bush II was not that lucky, the rise in the militarists' share of GDP after 9/11 caused the US to balloon real estate prices with negligible interest rates so that folks with declining incomes, brought about by the waste of national resources on militarism, could feel they were living the dream.

    Truth is the militarists want the wars and won't let a reasonable policy which does not make miliarism the sire of a growth industry.


  2. I'm still not clear on the exact nature of the hold these guys have on Obama, or why it constitutes a "military mutiny." Why can't he just tell these guys, "You're fired!", the way Donald Trump does on that stupid TV show? I mean, just call up McChrystal (and definitely do it over the phone, it's more humiliating that way) and say, "I'm not satisfied with your performance and am replacing you with someone more suitable. Please clean out your desk and wait for security to escort you from the building."

    Does something "bad" happen if Obama does that? Do tanks start rolling down Pennsylvania Avenue? Maybe I just don't understand politics, but it seems like a no-brainer. What's the downside to cleaning house this way? That they'll go on FOX and bitch about Obama's policies? They're going to do that anyway.

  3. I agree with you 100%. It is long past time that America STOP running around the world trying to "remake it" in our image.
    Why in hell would any country want to be like us? We are flat broke. We have "off shored" all our decent jobs. We have a national debt that cannot be paid off in generations. We have a joke as health care.
    Why would any sane country want to have that?
    Many of the Americans I talk to daily don't want it.
    I think your solution is the best one. Fire every officer in every branch of the military from the rank of colonel and higher. Today, not a minute longer on the job for any of them.

  4. thanks again to all for the great discussion.

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