Friday, June 25

To Kyle in Oz, and a few words about U.S. foreign policy today

Dear Kyle:
I have suspended the comment section, at least temporarily. So I'll reply here to your thoughtful speculations abut why the U.S. has over many years gone easy on Pakistan's regime and your conclusion:
" ... The only answer that seems even close, and it is quite unsatisfactory, is this: That any attempt to defang the Pak system would lead to the collapse of Pakistan itself. The 'Grand Strategy' here is simple: A collapse of Pakistan would lead to the Indians being strategically unencumbered.

The only strategically unencumbered great powers in recent history are Great Britain and its successor, the US. There is no Japan or Korea or Taiwan anywhere in India's sphere that could act as a balancer were Pakistan to collapse."
Many months ago an Indian reader insisted that I was wrong when I wrote that the U.S. had originally made Pakistan a client state in order to contain the Soviets. He pointed to Sir Olaf Caroe's 1951 Wells of Power to shore his argument that the real objective of Washington in supporting Pakistan was to contain India, not the Soviet Union.

The problem with that argument is that by the time Caroe tried to peddle his book in Washington (where reportedly he got much less of a hearing than he claimed), the U.S. had already made Pakistan a client state and with the express objective of containing the Soviet Union.

Yes, Washington did not like Delhi's attempt to stay non-aligned during the Cold War, which is why they indulged and even supported Pakistan's machinations against India. But it is looking at things from the vantage point of today to assume that throughout the Cold War Washington's defense establishment considered containment of India to be an issue.

Besides, India was doing an excellent job of containing itself without any help from the USA. And you only have to read a few of Rajeev Srinivasan's acid comments about Delhi's current foreign policy to consider that India is still doing a good job of containing itself. Rajeev (and other Indians, such as the former Career Diplomat M.K. Bhadrakumar) have decried Delhi's habit of sitting like a stump on a log while Beijing and Islamabad run rings around them.

However, you're correct in assuming that Washington in this era does not want to see Pakistan's government collapse. The Pentagon is very concerned about Pakistan's nuclear arsenal, and the ISAF has enough trouble, as it is, getting supplies trucked through the county to Afghanistan without the society going up in flames.

Beyond that, I venture you're being too rational if you perceive a grand strategy at work. There are so many grand strategies in Washington they tend to cancel each other out, which is how the Obama administration managed to drive Hamid Karzai insane.

So while it might be that there is one faction or group of lobbyists pushing to contain India for strategic reasons, you may trust other lobbyists are arguing that this is a stupid idea.

It comes down to which lobbies can shout the loudest before another lobby out-shouts them. The resulting melee was sent up in Daniel Drezner's dissertation on how Washington's three major schools of foreign policy would deal with a threat from flesh-eating zombies. (The Night of the Living Wonks.)

In all seriousness if you want to grasp Washington's thinking on foreign policy, listen to John Batchelor's hilarious June 23 interview with Drezner about how Washington would manage a threat from the undead.

(The interview starts around the halfway mark in the podcast; you can also read John's blog post on the interview for an introduction.)

If you say at the end, 'Then the actual approach to zombies would be to confuse them so much they'd return to Hell rather deal another day with the U.S. Department of State' -- on paper, yes. But here we come to a snag. I maintain there is a fourth school of American foreign relations, and that this one has had remarkable focus and staying power.

I'll take up a discussion of the fourth school when and if my mood improves. In the meantime, and as an introduction to the fourth school, here is my reply (originally posted yesterday at Zenpundit's comment section) to an Indian American who wondered aloud if the poor treatment India receives from Washington is due to prejudice against India's "funny brown people."
...After 26/11 it became harder for Atlanticists to argue that Pakistan needed to remain a U.S. client state in case the Kremlin made contact with a Klingon battleship. But Atlanticists are quite set in their view of the world. ...

If it’s any comfort the 'Get Russia' crowd does not give a fig about the funny white people of the United States, either.

I doubt you’re ready to believe me but I tell you again that the studious blindness in Washington about Pakistan is propped up by the enduring influence of the Get Russia crowd inside the Beltway.

The crowd is comprised of Atlanticists — who believe European NATO countries are the Middle Kingdom — plus lumpenproletariat such as oil barons, bankers, and Russian oligarchs who don’t care about NATO and just want to run Russia again.

(An American Atlanticist is someone who can name every major city in Romania but can’t find Mexico City or Pittsburgh on a map.)

The big obstacle the U.S. military has to overcome in dealing with Pakistan’s regime is the delusion that officers in the Pakistani military are ‘guys just like us.’ No they’re not; they’re just skilled at mirroring back to the American Sahib how he likes to see himself. The skill was honed and passed down during centuries of dealing with the British Sahib.

The American military, intelligence, and diplomatic establishments also don’t understand how the caste system works in Pakistan and how it impacts the military class. They understand nothing about the Pakistanis.

When one doesn’t understand other peoples while fighting a war, one needs to fall back on common sense – on what one can do – and not try to refashion the other in one’s image. If Petraeus and his advisors can understand that much, and learn about the relevance of Pakistan’s proxy war in Kashmir to the Taliban in Afghanistan, they’ll be able to throw together a better plan for Afghanistan.
I gave that advice hours before I'd seen the New York Times and Washington Post reports that plunged me into a vile mood and prompted today's earlier post (The Last American Helicopter out of Kabul). After studying the reports I realized my advice had come eight years too late.

In closing: policy by its very nature is something that doesn't shift and change with every breeze. That explains why my last analysis of U.S. foreign policy, in 2008, ended with the recommendation "Run for your lives."

The incoherence in America's foreign relations cannot be laid at Barack Obama's doorstep; that foreign policy utterly collapsed within a year of his becoming U.S. President only completed a process that began decades earlier. In fact, Obama's approach to decision-making, which is based soley on his reelection campaign strategy for 2012, is the most coherence official Washington has seen in years.

The United States has simply arrived at the limits of representative democracy in the era of globalization. America's founders never intended representative government to mean that thousands of competing interests would be representing themselves inside the political establishment. But that's where American government stands today.

Thank you again for your comments.

Best regards,