Elizabeth Gould and Paul Fitzgerald take a critical look at U.S. policy towards Afghanistan and Pakistan and discuss the fight for control of the border region between the Pashtuns and the Panjabis. They spoke at City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco.
by Paul Fitzgerald and Elizabeth Gould
The stakes are perhaps as high as they have ever been for the post-Cold War United States as Senator John Kerry wades through the Central Asian quagmire in Islamabad. Ironies abound. A war begun ten years ago by Skull and Bonesman George W. Bush requires another Skull and Bonesman to end it. It all seems so personal, not to mention private. Two members of the same secret society flanking the (war on terror) like a set of parentheses. But then, that’s why secret societies are secret.
An article in the London Times on Thursday September 20, 2001 titled Secret plans for 10-year war, by Michael Evans laid out the plan. “AMERICA and Britain are producing secret plans to launch a ten-year ‘war on terrorism’ – Operation Noble Eagle – involving a completely new military and diplomatic strategy to eliminate terrorist networks and cells around the world.”
The article goes on to report that the whole “long-term American approach,” was being driven by Vice President Richard Cheney and Secretary of State General Colin Powell in the mold of the war on drugs or poverty with special attention paid to “hearts and minds” and the sensitivities of Islamic fundamentalists in Pakistan.
Most Americans don’t know what goes on inside the secrets halls of Skull and Bones anymore than what kind of secret dealings led to their country being embroiled in the war on terror. But it’s safe to assume that after ten years the only thing the war on terror shares with the war on drugs or poverty, hearts or minds or the sensitivities of Islamic fundamentalists, is failure.
John Kerry has a big job ahead of him as he meets to discuss U.S. predator drone attacks, accusations that Pakistan harbors Islamist militants, the failure of Pakistan’s military to engage the Taliban and the killing of Osama bin Laden.
But the biggest job of all may be coming to grips with the growing list of conflicting interests that are hobbling American policy while rewriting the American narrative to reflect the unpleasant reality that the war on terror was only a stage in an evolving process leading to an endless escalation of war.
To the shock and awe of many both inside and outside the United States, instead of breaking with the national security policies of George W. Bush, the Obama administration has, in many cases only furthered programs and practices implemented by his predecessor. In fact it appears that President Obama has embraced the largely discredited 1992 program for America’s global dominance known as the Defense Planning Guidance crafted under another Bonesman, President George Herbert Walker Bush. It was assumed that following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States would rethink the need for war. Instead, the ‘92 Defense Planning Guidance set the stage for a whole new era of confrontation stating that “Our first objective is to prevent the reemergence of a new rival.”
The administration faces a rising coalition of regional rivals due to convene in Astana, Kazakhstan on June 15 under the banner of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). It also faces a self-imposed deadline for a troop withdrawal beginning this July, and the intensifying fear that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons will fall into terrorist hands.
Hints of a shockingly perverse response to a nuclear threat from political fanaticism or religious fundamentalism have been surfacing sporadically over the last few years. In January, 2008 the Guardian’s Ian Traynor reported on a “radical manifesto” for a pre-emptive nuclear attack put forward by NATO’s most senior military officers to “halt the ‘imminent’ spread of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction.” The manifesto called for the “first use” of nuclear weapons by NATO to prevent their potential use by terrorists or a rogue state.
California State Associate Professor of Political Science Cora Sol Goldstein’s August 2010 suggestion in Small Wars Journal that “the use of nuclear weapons is not yet justified,” hinted strongly that the time would soon come when they were. And Brookings Institute Senior Fellow Bruce Riedel’s comment in a February 2011 posting that if the U.S. had to fight a war with Pakistan to occupy it, it would be a “nuclear war,” suggested the option was already on the table.
The Hindu Kush has proved to be the ultimate crossroads for empires down through the millennia. Its graveyards and mountain passes overflow with the skulls and bones of invaders. Bonesmen have played an inordinate role in getting the United States to that crossroads. Let’s hope a Bonesman can get us through without triggering the end of the world.
Copyright © 2011 Gould & Fitzgerald All rights reserved
So Osama bin Laden is dead. The man who spawned the “war on terror,” launched a thousand drones and a new industry called Homeland Security has been shot in the head and killed by U.S. forces at his home in Abbottabad, north west Pakistan. Despite the loss of a U.S. helicopter due to mechanical failure, on the surface it appeared as neat and clean an operation as humanly possible. But nothing that has anything to do with Osama bin Laden, 9/11 and the war on terror can remotely be described as neat or clean and this operation is no exception.
So what was this all about? Why now and why kill the world’s most wanted criminal when capturing and putting him on trial would have proven to the world that in the end justice prevails and the U.S. rule of law triumphs?
The U.S. is at a critical turning point in its AfPak end game. U.S. allies in the Gulf region are under siege by radical Islamists. In Egypt the Muslim Brotherhood poses a major political threat. In Libya they’ve joined with Al Qaeda and are fighting to topple Kadafi. In Tunisia, Bahrain, and Syria the instability spreads.
On April 27 the Wall Street Journal reported that Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani had urged Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai to dump the United States and look to Pakistan and China for help in making peace with the Taliban and building a viable economy. Preceding that was the bombshell dropped only days before by the International Monetary Fund that predicted China’s economy would overcome the U.S. by 2016.
Everything is on the table for the U.S. in its AfPak war, the grand plan that began some thirty odd years ago with the Soviets trapped in their own Vietnam has come full circle but the cards are looking slim. The U.S. wants a long term agreement to stay in Afghanistan after 2014 and has been building bases as it did in Iraq for the long haul. The Russians and Iranians are opposed. They don’t want the U.S. military on their border indefinitely. So that’s China, Pakistan, Iran and Russia lobbying against U.S. interests. And what are those interests? If it’s geopolitical control of the region, how likely is it that China will loan the U.S. the money to make that happen? Not likely. But what about Saudi Arabia?
Osama bin Laden’s entire movement was originally about overthrowing the House of Saud. Al Qaeda is said to work with other Saudi dissident groups. There is a lot of pressure to initiate democratic reform in Saudi Arabia. In March one hundred Saudi intellectuals, activists and academics called on the leadership to launch major economic and political reforms. The Saudis didn’t need Al Qaeda’s poster boy, Osama bin Laden rousing up the opposition at such a critical moment.
The timing raises another question. According to U.S. government files released by Wikileaks U.S. government officials were warned that Pakistan’s security service, the ISI tipped off bin Laden whenever his trail got warm. Hillary Clinton voiced suspicions that Pakistan’s military knew where Al Qaeda’s hideouts were and did nothing to get at them. Did Pakistan finally cross the threshold where the United States could no longer pretend that Pakistan was a trusted ally, or did the timing coincide with a looming deadline that the administration could not ignore.
If President Obama ever needed a touchdown it was now. With polls at an all time low and the frustration of the birther debacle just behind him, bin Laden’s killing was a Hail Mary pass. But whether it will resolve anything in the muddle of policy confusion and a growing opposition to American presence in Central Asia is highly unlikely.
For now Washington will bask in the warm glow of triumphalism, just the way it did following the Soviet defeat in Afghanistan and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.
But just as George Bush’s landing on the flight deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln was intended to convey the false impression that the U.S. had actually achieved victory in Iraq, it should be warned to avoid the illusion of triumph, when the victory it seeks is further from its grasp than ever.
Copyright © 2011 Gould & Fitzgerald All rights reserved
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