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American Foreign Policy Has One Priority: No Nukes For Bad Guys

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There’s no such thing as a good nuke.

Militants attacked a Pakistani Nuclear base today, which is enough to give you a warm, cozy feeling inside, isn’t it? It’s also a very good reminder of the single most important goal of US foreign policy; stopping the bad guys from getting nukes. Next to that everything pales into insignificance.

Probably the number one priority is making sure that Pakistan’s militants don’t get a hand on them, probably as a result of an inside-job transfer of weaponry and the expertise needed to use them. If necessary, the US should have no hesitation about using Special Forces to make sure the bad guys don’t get the bomb. Pakistani sovereignty should be ignored in those circumstances.

Then there’s Iran, which has to be stopped at all costs from getting the bomb they so badly want. We need to make sure the Russians don’t trade their stuff either, or that it leeches out to the Chechens or other party-people looking for Armageddon. We need to cordon off North Korea and watch it like a hawk. We need to check ships of all nations with nuclear weapons or ambitions, and make all this priority number one for all US intelligence and military assets.

The United States is still the world’s policeman, still the ultimate guarantor of peace, and stopping nuclear proliferation is the centerpiece of how we preserve that peace.

Written by coolrebel

August 15, 2012 at 9:08 pm

Basking in Bin Laden’s Death Was a Big Mistake For Obama

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It’s becoming increasingly clear that making the killing of the Jihadist Porn King public was a big mistake. Thereisnoplan has been saying this since the attack, generating much mirth amongst friends and associates. But I stand by the notion. Obama screwed up.

If you remember, on the big night back in May, Obama made an unscheduled late night White House appearance to give us all the good news and earn a nice little approval bump in the process. Great theater. Great Politics. Sure, that poll bump has gone, but at least now nobody can accuse the President of not being decisive. He rolled the dice on the killing of UBL and won.

Unfortunately, basking in the glow of the biggest targeted assassination in history has one major strategic downside; as a result, the wheels are definitely coming off the crucial relationship with Pakistan. It needn’t have been so.

Obama was right to keep Pakistan out of the loop on the killing of UBL. They can’t be trusted. But he was dead wrong to make the attack public. By keeping it under wraps, even after losing that chopper during the attack, the info could have been controlled, we’d have earned the more willing support of Pakistan, prompted their army and intelligence services, who would have been eager to avoid the intense embarrassment of having UBL living down the road from the Pakistani Army West Point since 2005. Make no mistake, Pakistan would have been delighted to have the opportunity of covering it up themselves. Plus we’d have had a nice little sword of Damocles to hang over their heads. Play nice on our Afghanistan supply lines and keeping the lid on your militants or we expose the truth about where Bin Laden was watching videos of himself.

And if some enterprising foreign journalist had dug up the truth, the US and Pakistan could have called it yet another hoax. “There’s simply no way Pakistan would  have allowed Bin Laden to live peacefully so close to Islamabad”. And everyone would have believed them.  Add in the useful intelligence coup of having UBL dead without anyone knowing, and we’d have been able to essentially create our own ‘shadow’ UBL, with all the intelligence advantages a Trojan Horse would have given us in helping to misinform  and bring down dissipated and de-centralized Al Qaeda franchises.

And there’s another more important but related matter. Sustaining a manageable relationship with Pakistan is critical in one other crucial respect. They have nukes, and we need to keep tabs on them. That relationship has always been symbiotic at best, but since January it was getting increasingly strained. Making the UBL attack public may have killed the goose for good.

Why? Because Obama chose not to take the high road, and made a big song and dance about killing UBL, who was clearly a marginal figure, living, bizarrely enough for a super-terrorist, in retirement.  It was a case of pure revenge, a national blood-letting, totally understandable after the unforgettable outrage of 9/11, but nevertheless, a brief moment in time that resulted in limited political gains at home for the President, and more importantly a dangerously, and perhaps permanently toxic relationship with Pakistan. That compromises US withdrawal plans in Afghanistan at the worst possible time, and reinforces the power of those rogue elements of the Pakistani Army and ISI who nurture and coddle Pakistani Taliban and other militants for their own nefarious and overblown nationalistic purposes.

I’m sure people are still giggling at the idea that we should have kept the UBL killing under wraps, but in the light of the arrests of Pakistani Army officers and other intelligence assets the US used to set up the Abbottabad attack, perhaps one or two are changing their minds.

Written by coolrebel

June 16, 2011 at 12:59 am

Obama Starts 2012 Campaign With a Bang

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I am looking good

Having essentially capitulated to the GOP / Corporate agenda on health care, financial reform and the nation’s debt “crisis”, Obama is now ‘rising above’ the fray with a savvy opening salvo in the 2012 campaign. It was a good ‘un too. Assassinating Bin Laden has bumped him up a dozen approval points in 48 hours, and put any GOP contenders on the defensive.  They can’t accuse him of being a wuss anymore.

Remove your weakness. That is what good politics is all about.

If only Obama had used more (now demonstrably popular) muscularity to do something useful when he had control of both Houses of Congress, like insist on a public option, cripple the Wall Street succubus when it was down, or raise taxes on the wealthy when he had the chance. Because that would have been ‘change’.  Sadly, instead he prefered to do things the old fashioned, unreconstructed, neo-conservative way, with a big, fat, meaningless statement that makes him look like the tough guy that everyone thinks he isn’t. Putting a bullet in the bad guy’s head is nothing if it’s not Bushlike business as usual.  Wrapping himself in the flag with a completely gratuitous visit to Ground Zero is pure Bush. It’s “Mission Accomplished” all over again, with the slight, but all important difference, that the mission – a far simpler mission – actually was accomplished.

Karl Rove must be proud. This comes right from his playbook.

Maybe Obama plans to use his new-found strength to actually be a Democrat, but not many expect it. He’s chosen his presidential path, and it’s all about unity and ‘coming together’ and bipartisanship. It always escapes Thereisnoplan how one can ‘come together’ and ‘find common ground’ with a pack of unhinged hyenas like today’s GOP, but that’s another story.

Killing Bin Laden was a ‘victory’ of little strategic significance, and although making it public sure had multo propaganda value at home, in security terms doing so was in many ways rash. As targeted assassinations go it was an anomaly. Most of them (usually conducted by Israel) are not broadcast by the perpetrators, who deny all knowledge of their handiwork. That could and should have been the case here.  And because of the sensitivity of where Osama was holed up, it would have stayed that way. The Pakistanis would have been hugely grateful to the US for not embarrassing their military and intelligence services. And on their side the US would have been able to extract far more from the Pakistanis, merely by threatening to make the truth of the circumstances of the attack known if Islamabad didn’t tow the line. In that respect we could have advanced our security cause in this most sensitive of regions far more by keeping the killing quiet. Not only that, but we would have had a window to act on the information we captured in the compound before Al Qaeda operatives were aware USL was dead and went to ground. Finally, we could even have created a shadow Bin Laden, inserting our own missives to operatives, helping us sow further confusion and distrust.

Not broadcasting the attack would also have had other major benefits. The public announcement of the attack is almost certain to fire up far more lone wolves that otherwise both Stateside and in Europe, who could easily channel intact Al Qaeda franchises to develop home grown plots like the failed attack in Times Square last year. Let’s hope that the stash of hard drives in Bin Laden’s study will cut off that possibility, but it’s unlikely they can close every avenue when most don’t even exist yet. And finally, Obama could have announced the killing of Bin Laden when it was more politically useful, ie, closer to the next presidential election – justifying keeping it secret because it protected the US people, and advanced our national security agenda. He would also have looked sober, selfless, and effective for doing so.

But short term political considerations came first. Keeping the killing quiet would have denied Obama his eleven point bump.

The National Security Council no doubt kept their mouth shut when Obama announced his ‘victory’ in his dramatic late night announcement. I’m sure more than a few of their number knew that it was politically motivated move dressed up as a transparent public duty that would open us to more terror,  just so the boss could look good in time for the new campaign season. But to suggest POTUS keep the whole thing under wraps to protect Americans would have implied that he was endangering them for his own political ends. Clearly, Obama was aware that the political gains of the public announcement could be jeopardized by releasing the photos of a dead Bin Laden post head-shot.  Even he knew the politics of his shoot first strategy had limits.

Whatever the new terror landscape looks like, The President has given himself a significant – if not decisive – leg-up on victory next November.  Or to put it another way, the economic ‘recovery myth’ can now be a little less robust and provable to still insure him victory.  Thereisnoplan’s obvious cynicism is only tempered the fact that despite his being a spineless, ideologically suspect lackey of Wall Street, we still need the guy to win. Because without his at least sensible veto pen in the Oval Office, and with GOP control of both houses of Congress likely, the Republican know-nothing knuckledraggers would without any resistance dismantle the American Social Contract beyond redemption, leaving our nation permanently hobbled and on its irredeemable path to private luxury-public squalor third world status.

The truth, though, is that the cupcakes the GOP were looking at to topple Barack, (perhaps with the exception of baggage-laden Gingrich) never really did stand much of a chance of taking the White House in ’12, unless Mr. No Mistakes made one. And if there’s one thing he doesn’t do it’s that.  Sure Obama rolled the dice a little on being sure Osama was at home when the SEALS came a-calling, but although the uber-terrorist might have been catching a flick the multiplex down the road or something, it was a pretty sure thing he was cooped up at home in the West Point meets Beverly Hills of Pakistan as he had been for the last five years.

So the political gambit played out. Osama bin Laden’s death could breathe new life into a dying organization that few economically hobbled Americans were really thinking about at all. In the face of the “Arab Spring”,  Al Qaeda was looking a little long in the tooth, and needed a shot in the arm. The President duly delivered it with a kill-shot to the head, whipping us up into a frenzy, just like the previous occupant of his office had done so cynically and so frequently.

Finally, Obama’s reversion to being more of the same reaches its logical conclusion.

Written by coolrebel

May 4, 2011 at 2:24 am

Egypt: Another Pakistan in the Making?

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As Cairo explodes, it’s worth looking more closely at Pakistan for one potential trajectory that Egypt could take. Pakistan is deeply unstable, an impoverished nation torn asunder by clashes between militancy, the middle class, the army and a ruling elite.

The similarities between the two nations is quite striking.

Both Egypt and Pakistan…

…were born out of British colonial rule.

…are intensely religious states.

…have an educated elite with limited political power.

…have spent decades surpressing and appeasing their Islamic militants.

…share a border with a militarily powerful state with whom they have an uneasy peace.

…are seen as strategic lynchpins in the worldwide fight against Islamism.

…are dominated by their armies, which are the source of political power in the country.

…have limited natural resources and rely greatly on aid (Egypt’s tourism gives it the edge)

…have profound levels of poverty that no government can fix in anything like an acceptable period of time.

…have or will have weak civilian governments.

Does all this mean that Egypt will become as unstable as Pakistan?

Hopefully not, but it’s very, very possible. The one – very big – positive is the absence of nuclear weapons in the equation.

The most likely outcome in Egypt is profound instability as the major power players clash and maneuver. The Muslim Brotherhood, worryingly quiet so far, is almost certain to assert itself soon, and the Army, straddling its role as guardian of the status quo and icon of Egyptian popular nationalism, will have no choice at some point but to pick one over the other.

Finally, the West is playing a delicate game of ignoring the 800 pound gorilla in the room – which is Islamism. They want ‘democratic’ change in Egypt, but they don’t want ‘freedom’ to open the door to Islamic rule as it did in Algeria and Gaza. These two examples have no serious strategic implications for world stability. An Islamic state on Israel’s doorstep is quite another story.

The only difference between Egypt and Pakistan is this. Pakistan, the fortunes and future of which keep US strategic planners up at night, is frequently democratic. Egypt is quite profoundly not.

For Washington, no matter what they say, or even what they’d like to believe, the cold hard truth about democracy is this. In many under-developed nations, particularly Muslim countries, it’s rarely in the interests of the United States.

Written by coolrebel

January 30, 2011 at 10:03 am

Obama In India. A Little More Finesse Please.

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Okay, so maybe it wasn’t the move of the century to ditch our wounded republic for a far flung developing nation that’s trying to put us away. And maybe the idea of going to India to jinny up jobs for America seems a bit of an “uhh?” to use a technical term, considering they’re outsource central, but this apparently dry-as-a-bone trade visit could have been made just a little more exciting with just a tad more thought.

India has long regarded the US as it’s natural trading (and not just outsourcing ally). After all, we speak the same language, well most of the people who we’d want to do business with anyway, and we’re both democracies, even if India has a far larger ‘demos’ to deal with.

Now of course, India would say all that wouldn’t they.  They want our business and they really hate the Chinese our go-to cheap labor source, with whom there’s been a simmering cold war for a very long time.

But even with their self-serving instincts aside, India maybe they have a point. Because China really is a pure economic adversary, and an increased trading alliance with India would definitely help to push that point home. In short, if we want to show China who’s boss, and we really should, cuddling up with New Delhi wouldn’t be a bad way to go. It might make the Chinese just a little more honest when it comes to their currency manipulation, and their foot-dragging on doing the dirty work of building a consumer economy to rebalance world trade. Perhaps they’d even stop choking the plane with their one-a-week diet of new coal fired power plants. At the same time, they could hardly accuse us of attacking ‘them’ directly, and instead would be forced to respond to our overtures for a stronger trading partnership with India, by making things easier for US companies in China. Of course, we could start to leverage that triangulation by demanding better working practices from the Indians and Chinese as well as a better deal for US goods in both countries, and other diplomatic goodies too. We are still a superpower, you know.

One of the reasons we’re skittish about building up India is because of its neighbor Pakistan. We’re worried that Pakistan might be less forthright about battling the local Taliban. But we needn’t worry. Their attempts to put the kibosh on militants have not been stellar and they need money. Who trades with Pakistan?  For Washington, better trading relations between Islamabad and New Delhi should of course be part of the deal. After all, there’s nothing like a healthily profitable partnership to soothe a nuclear standoff. And more bilateral trade between the two sub-continental rivals could also boost Pakistan’s economy too, with the possible pleasing side-effects of making people a little richer, a little happier, and perhaps a little less likely to support the militants.

Perhaps all this is going on in the background during the President’s trip to India.

But I sincerely doubt it.

Written by coolrebel

November 7, 2010 at 1:56 pm

Making Plans for Pakistan.

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Nothing in Foreign Policy is simple, but problems don’t get any thornier than what do about Pakistan.

One of the most perplexing elements of the discussion surrounding the current hand-wringing over what to do in Afghanistan is how little Pakistan is mentioned as ‘the reason’ for our Afghan policy. This despite the coining of a racy new phrase to describe US policy in that arena “Af-Pak” (mainly for use on Twitter) as well as clarion calls from lots of Foreign Policy Wonks (FPWs) that Pakistan is where the action is.

So why is this? Why is Pakistan the nexus of US foreign policy in the region?

There’s really only one reason for this.  Pakistan has nukes, and the word around Washington is that those nukes are less than secure.

Sure, the rise of the Pakistani Taliban is a deeply unsettling development for the US. But a little perspective is useful here. They are not a threat to the US homeland unless they get access to a usable nuclear weapon. But if they do, they represent probably the single most dangerous threat that the world has faced in this short and already violent century.

The Taliban’s success in sequestering power in Pakistan is a product of many factors, but despite being medieval thugs, we, America are seen in a lesser light. The truth is that body politic in Pakistan is a strange and unpredictable beast indeed. Most Pakistanis distrust the militants almost as much as they hate America or India, while their government stumbles on, loathed, despised and ineffective. It’s hard to for America to make national security judgments when Pakistani society seems to be in constant state of an odd mix of utter and post-colonial good sense.

Meanwhile, the real power broker in Pakistan, the Army, is itself weak.  The Taliban absorb the body blows of their brutal campaigns to quell the insurgency, and attack the heart of the Army establishment at will. The US has tried – rightly – to build a strong relationship with the Pakistani army but the results have and will continue to be disappointing. Distrust reins supreme.

So what’s a superpower to do?  The answer is not too much.

Containment.

Nation building is out. They quite simply don’t want our help. Don’t trust it. Fierce nationalism undermines our ability to buy them the old fashioned way.  The best we can hope for in Pakistan in the short term is to keep a lid on the place and try to make sure it doesn’t blow up in our faces. Keeping the remnants of Al Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban on the defensive so they can’t export their special brand of fun to the rest of the world is something we can achieve and be proud of

But more important than the export of conventional terror, is nuclear control. We have to recognize that if the Taliban and insurgents get close to control of a nuclear weapon, all bets are off and we have to deal with that, our way.  The word is that the hijackig of a Pakistani nuke might be an inside job, with militants from inside the army staging the heist. That’s quite simply a no-no for us.  So it’s vital that the US establishes and maintains cast-iron intelligence assets in the Pakistani army, and throughout the government, as well as in the hot-spot regions to monitor every hint of that and be prepared to act fast if a threat solidifies.

Containment.

And what of our presence in Afghanistan?  It’s vital. Not so much to secure a better future for the Afghans (which is just not possible right now), but to provide a jumping off point for our forces in case an attack on militants in Pakistan becomes necessary. We must continue to garrison Baghram AFB, and have a Rapid Deployment strike force of at least 2 brigades ready when necessary. We must also boost our Special Forces presence to keep the Afghan Taliban on the defensive – particularly where it hurts them most – in the wallet. America maintains strategic garrisons in many a distrusting or hostile nation (the most famous of which is Cuba), and the Afghan government – like them or not – are going to be quite amenable to a military force that will protect them from the none-too-pleasant fate met by past Afghan leaders.

Containment.

Containment sounds kind of dull. But Pakistan is too thorny a problem to leave alone, and too much of a potential quagmire to jump into feet first.  Containment is a time-honored US strategy that’s used when there are just too many dead ends for anything else to work.  And unlike the Afghan troop surge and the Counter-Insurgency strategy, containment is not a “perfect world” scenario where everything has to go right for the concept to work. Life just isn’t like that.

Containment.

America is still living in the shadow of Bush’s disastrous nation-building dreams. But remember where all that exporting democracy stuff came from. It was only when we didn’t find WMD in Iraq that talk of Democracy became a la mode. It should be put back into the box of bad ideas from whence it came.

Let’s try and be a little less ambitious this time.

Written by coolrebel

November 11, 2009 at 5:30 am

Talk To the Taliban – Obama’s Divide and Rule Strategy

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time to talk to the taliban. (eye patches are optional)
Talk To Taliban. Eye patch optional.

Talking to moderate elements of the Taliban in order to undermine its unity is a great second prong of attack – to be combined with a more money-driven attack on Taliban control of Afghan opium. Obama was wise to caution that the complexities of Afghan tribal culture made the mapping of such talks much harder than even in Iraq. There are a number of interesting points embedded in the concept and Obama’s response.

Firstly, the Taliban rose to prominence precisely because they were able to bridge tribal divisions. Clearly they are suscepible to a divide and rule strategy, but we have to get a far better of idea of how to create it. Asking Americans on the ground to accurately understand and act on the landscape of highly complex tribal rivalries might be asking a little too much. And then there’s the question of the time it will take to build this system, and whether picking off local Taliban leaders piecemeal approach is the best way (after all, from then on they will have to be protected).  The best means may be to short-circuit that with standard procedure bribery. After all, the Sons of Iraq turned on the more extreme (Al Qaeda) elements of the Sunni insurgency because they were paid to do so.

Secondly, assuming we’re successful, and we are able to fragment the Taliban, we face the same quandary we’re looking at in Iraq. What will happen when we leave? Afghan tribal relationships are extremely fluid. Alliances change all the time, so without the focus that US ability to influence events with money and troops will bring, things might simply revert to where they are now once we’re gone.

Third, if the Taliban is stymied, reconstruction has to begin.  The only solution to the quandary above may be to make a major (and private) multi-year commitment to continue our intervention in Afghanistan, because a drastic reduction of Taliban power can only be sustained if there’s such a noticeable improvement in Afghan economic and social fortunes that going back to Taliban rule would be seen as bad news to most Aghans. Afghanistan has been a basket case for centuries, so bringing discernible improvement to its people – outside Kabul is likely to take many years.

Fourthly, none of the above means anything without tackling the opium problem in a non-violent way. Only by paying opium farmers to verifiably switch to other crops and protect them from Taliban retaliation (our only serious military role apart from stopping remain opium smuggling) can we reduce Taliban payroll – which is, for the most part, what earns the loyalty of their dirt-poor recruits.

Finally, Pakistan’s recent deal with the Pakistani Taliban in the Swat Valley is a problem for our dealings with the Afghan Taliban. We need to recalibrate our policy in Pakistan to develop stronger ties with the Pakistani Army, to build support for the civilian government, and to isolate the ISI in an effort to get that and other of Islamabad’s militant friendly decsions reversed.

We can make progress in Afghanistan. The issue is whether it can be sustained.

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Written by coolrebel

March 7, 2009 at 7:29 am