Tuesday, October 5

Pundita explains reality to Rachel Maddow and the Pakistanis to Gen. Petraeus, Part 1

MSNBC TV talk show host Rachael Maddow has expressed alarm that the U.S. theater of war is 'expanding' into Pakistan and so she's analogizing Pakistan to Cambodia; this on the misinformed theory that the Afghan War can be likened to the Vietnam War.

Ms Maddow, as with every American news-talk personality from every part of the political spectrum, knows nothing about South Asia and cares even less. And what she understands about the war on terror could fit in a teaspoon; again, she has plenty of company among America's commentators.

So the only reason I'm taking up your time and mine to mention her comments is that John Batchelor has also gotten on the Cambodia kick. And while John's reasons for alarm are far more complex than Ms Maddow's, he too is concerned about signs that disagreements between Rawalpindi and Washington are escalating into an open armed conflict that will result in a declared war between Pakistan and the USA.

Because The Washington Post is a conduit for the State Department's views, and because there's little daylight between State and Obama, I'd say an editorial in today's WaPo suggests that the Obama administration is still hanging tough on Pakistan -- and that the pressure on Rawalpindi is set to increase.

Before John and Ms Maddow burst into tears, the editorial correctly points out that the Obama administration has plenty of cards to play without sending the Marines into Pakistan. The problem is the Obama administration (and its predecessors during the past half century) understand only slightly more about the Pakistanis than Ms Maddow, which is to say almost nothing at all -- a failing shared by military advisors to General Petraeus and his predecessors in Afghanistan and going back to the dawn of the Pakistan state.

Thus, I have sympathy for Ms Maddow's alarm, and John's. It could happen that crossed signals will go unheeded in Washington, and that it finally tires of trying to talk their idea of reason to Rawalpindi. Then we could see the very situation that would cause Ms Maddow to scream bloody murder.

The tragedy is that Washington has not found a Pakistan expert of the caliber of Stephen Cohen, the brilliant Russia expert who knows the Russians like the back of his hand.

There is Pundita blog; I've been told by several Indian readers who're very knowledgeable about Pakistan that they learned things about Pakistanis from my writings that even they never knew before.

There's no American, no Westerner, writing about Pakistanis who knows them the way I do. That explains why, with all the harsh things I've written about Pakistan, I've never received as much as one letter of protest from a Pakistani, even though this blog is read in Pakistan. They are silent because they know I really know them.

However, an anonymous blogger's opinion cannot hold water with the U.S. defense and diplomatic establishments, or congressional committees, no matter how many newspaper reports and scholarly papers I might link to on this blog. That's the way things are in Washington; they demand credentials.

Yet there is not one single academic in the entire United States of America who will present credentials, and who is sufficiently knowledeable about Pakistan to give intelligent advice about how Washington should deal with Rawalpindi or its civilian counterpart. Not one.

If you believed me, you might be shocked at the dearth of reliable advisors on Pakistan. I've asked my readers several times to study Nils Gilman's Mandarins of the Future: Modernization Theory in Cold War America. The history details how a small group of American academics who found favor in official Washington sowed havoc on a horrific scale because they understood nothing about peoples in parts of the world they were trying to modernize. Nothing. They understood nothing.

These lunatics were replaced by economists such as Jeffrey Sachs, who understood even less than nothing about peoples in parts of the world that Washington felt could be helped by Thatcherite Economic Shock Therapy. And thus, the economists gave capitalism such a bad name that several countries that had been traumatized by the therapy took a sharp turn to the Left.

These lunatics were replaced in Washington by COINistas -- a group of military advisors who somehow found in the Malay and Vietnam counterinsurgencies guidance for how the U.S. should proceed in Afghanistan, and who knew nothing about the Pakistanis.

And here we are today.

The really bad news is that despite his academic credentials it was more than a decade before Washington would listen to Dr Cohen's advice about Russia. By then it was too late to avoid misunderstandings that dearly cost the USA and several other countries.

All the above is one way of saying that the current search for a new American grand strategy is a joke. Washington defense policymakers are the only people on Earth who whap themselves on the back of the head then yelp, 'Who hit me?' So before strategy must come the ability to chew and walk.

The cards that President Obama is holding should have been played at least as early as 2002. Instead, the Bush administration struck a bargain with Pakistan's military because it didn't want to open up a full-scale theater of war on three fronts. This, despite the fact that within weeks of the 9/11 attacks U.S. intelligence had clear indications that Pakistan's military had been involved in the planning for the attacks.

As Bob Woodward's newly-published book on Obama's wartime decisions indicates, officials in the outgoing Bush administration warned him that Rawalpindi had stabbed them in the back. (Obama might have been warned even earlier, which could explain his fiery remark about bombing Pakistan.)

There are several reasons why the Bush administration was reluctant to get tough with Pakistan and why Congress supported the reluctance -- reasons that spilled over into Obama's administration. But the attempt on Washington's part to avoid reality
(which was mirrored in European capitals) took a severe hit in the wake of the terrorist massacre of civilians in Mumbai, India.

Through a convergence of incredible flukes (or what the religiously-inclined would call Deus ex Machina), it quickly came to light that the Pakistan military and their fig-leaf intelligence branch, the ISI, was the master planner behind the Mumbai terrorist attacks. It was then that Washington and it's allies in NATO had consider the possibility that Pakistan's military, in the manner of a serial killer who becomes overconfident, was using terrorist outfits it controlled to get its way with Afghanistan. This included the stark warning to the United States and India to roll back India's influence in Afghanistan.

The warning was a smashing success -- to such an extent that just the threat of a Mumbai-style attack on the City of London, in the run-up to a London Summit on Afghanistan, was enough to make India's representative at the summit a pariah.

The blunt reality was that while the economies of India, the United States, and Canada might absorb one or more Mumbai-style attacks, small EU countries couldn't. So the Obama administration continued to placate the West European members of the ISAF. This included fresh attempts to bribe Pakistan into better behavior and instructing Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke and General Stanley McChrystal to fawn over Pakistan's military leadership.

The attempts ran into a roadblock when Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai became alarmed that the fawning meant that NATO was going to hand off Afghanistan to Pakistan's military then cut out of the country.

Caught between the devil and the deep blue sea, Obama strove to assure Karzai that the USA would not leave Afghanistan high and dry. Then came Faisal Shahzad's attempted bombing in New York's Times Square.

There were features of the attempt that led some bomb experts to note that the placement of the bomb in the car meant it would have failed even if it had been properly detonated.

If those experts were correct that meant Shahzad was the world's stupidest bomber or that the contraption hadn't been set up to explode. That raised speculation that the bombing attempt had been meant as a threat.

As we know real terrorists don't set bombs just to threaten. So, given the career history and connections of Shahzad's father, eyes turned again to Rawalpindi. Thus, SecState Hillary Clinton's strange public warning that she sincerely hoped for Pakistan's sake that there was not a successful terrorist attempt on U.S. soil.

The threat soon dredged up a video of Shahzad and TTP leader Hakimullah Mehsud hugging, as a way of pinning blame on the TTP for the Times Square bombing attempt. But this only served to make Pakistan watchers wonder if the TTP had been duped or co-opted by the ISI.

Then, little more than a month after the Times Square bombing attempt, an article in Rolling Stone magazine revealed that once again fate had stepped into the Afghan War -- this time, in the form of a weather pattern that kept volcanic ash hanging over European airports for days.

Little more than a month after the Times Square bombing attempt the Rolling Stone profile of General McChrystal had him turning in his resignation and thus, a man with a large legacy to protect took over the reins at ISAF.

This raised alarms in Rawalpindi that the USA would not hand them Kabul. The vise tightened on President Obama when former Northern Alliance members began muttering about civil war if Rawalpindi's puppets were installed in Kabul.

Then came intelligence reports about planned Mumbai-style attacks in West European capitals -- attacks that were being prepared in Pakistan.

That's when Europe's NATO leaders finally confronted the truth about their dealings with Pakistan's military, which is that it's unwise to treat a tiger like an overgrown house cat. And so we return to The Washington Post editorial of today. I'll leave things here and pick up again tomorrow.
Regarding my contention that there are no academics willing to talk openly about Pakistan who are well-informed enough to give sound advice to Washington: A reader sent a quote from Mosharraf Zaidi's 10/4 opinion piece (Reading Woodward in Karachi) with the words, "I didn't believe you until I saw this."
Before 9/11, Pakistan's hot and cold relationship with the United States was the object of obsession for three generations of Pakistani foreign-policy analysts, but there were hardly a dozen serious Pakistan scholars in the United States. The imbalance was for good reason. America was a massive ATM for corrupt and lazy Pakistani governments -- especially military dictatorships.
Yes, and scholarship on Pakistan's history doesn't automatically equate to an understanding of Pakistanis.

As long as I'm updating I'll mention another eyebrow-raising feature about the Times Square Bomber. According to what he told U.S. interrogators after his arrest, he traveled to Pakistan from the USA on July 3, 2009, went to "militant-occupied tribal regions of Pakistan and stayed there from July 7 to July 22. While in Pakistan, he said he trained at a terrorist training camp in what was believed to be Waziristan, according to law enforcement officials." (Wikipedia) The ease and swiftness with which he was able to hook up with a genuine training camp might not be unprecedented for a Muslim with U.S. citizenship but's unusual enough to be striking. Many Muslims go to Pakistan to join a terrorist outfit but if they come from a Western country, and have taken out citizenship in the country, they're put through a lengthy examination period and often rejected out of concern they're spies.

There are some aspects of Faisal's background that might have made him an exception to the rule but there's still a red flag on that issue. One reader suggested he was a dupe. Yes; I think that would have been the case if the bomb set-up wasn't supposed to work. I find it unlikely from what I've read about him that Faisal would have knowingly planted a dud. But given his fast training, ignorance about bomb-making prior to the training, and consistently poor marks in school subjects that require an orderly thought process and attention to detail, he would have made the perfect patsy.

Part 2 of this essay: Stay out of the bazaar ...


Isaac said...

Decent panel, to include Husain Haqqani, on CSPAN now (from Monday), from the US Institute of Peace, discussing flood relief efforts. Funnily, I've heard, "I'm not an expert on Pakistan..." quite a few times. Fortunately, the discussion hasn't been limited to NGOs and flood waters 'rescinding' - it's 'receding', Mr. Martin!

Anonymous said...

It is quite frustrating to watch Maddow these days. I would have failed her in college. She refuses to do her homework.

Anonymous said...

I would have flunked these two clowns. They refuse to do their homework. They believe their blind rhetoric is actually impressive.

makku said...

I am an Indian You are extraordinarily generous when you write about India.Thank you!

Pundita said...

Makku - Thank you but I am not being generous to India; I'm calling it as I see it. Regarding the comment you sent in response to the "Bazaar" post -- I'm holding off publishing it because I want to make a reply and right now I don't have the time. But in brief, if the CIA understood Pakistan I wouldn't have to spend time explaining it, now would I? They don't understand; the same goes for the State Department, which made such a horrific miscalculation about Pakistan, in advice they gave to President Bill Clinton, that the United States is still paying for it. Washington is famously ignorant about South Asian matters. That has to change.