Monday, 28 November 2011

Has Obama's next war already begun?

The story around the ‘accidental’ attack on a Pakistani border post emits a foul smell not just because two dozen theoretically allied troops were killed, possibly in their sleep but because it has the markings of a deliberate massacre.

The NATO command’s quick promise to launch a ‘thorough investigation’ is reminiscent of Kissinger’s similar vow once he ‘learned’ of the secret and illegal bombing of Cambodia, which in fact he and Nixon had ordered. While mistakes certainly can and do happen in war, the timing of this one immediately prompts a question, Is the U.S. at war in Pakistan or at war with Pakistan? Is all the breathless wanking about Iran just saber-rattling while the next front has already been opened?

The tone of comments from Washington about the state of affairs in that country has been increasingly belligerent. In September a top U.S. general said the so-called Haqqani network, responsible for many deadly attacks in Afghanistan, ‘acts as a veritable arm’ of the Pakistani intelligence service, and Obama’s spokesman didn’t contradict him. Hillary Clinton said during her October visit to Pakistan that the country had to shut down the ‘safe havens’ being used by this group in the border region, using language described as ‘unusually harsh’.

The usual anonymous State Department sources added that Clinton also had threatened that the U.S. would ‘act unilaterally’ against elements like the Haqqani network on the Afghan-Pakistan border. Did anyone assume such unilateral action included firing on the supposed allies’ own soldiers?

Clinton’s ringing statement of principles should win a prize for modernist irony with phrases like, ‘No one who targets innocent civilians of any nationality should be tolerated or protected’. The dozens of Afghan children wiped out in drone attacks should be grateful that they were not officially ‘targeted’ by the videogame drone runners at CIA headquarters. But lookout kids, Hillary’s patience has worn thin, said the commentariat, no doubt after the U.S. Embassy was besieged by the Taliban forces in downtown Kabul for nearly 24 hours. That would be annoying if you’d spent ten years and a trillion or so dollars ‘pacifying’ the place. But ignominious failure has not generated any enthusiasm for a wind-down of this endless and, with bin Laden dead, pointless war.

All these martial phrases recall the notorious threat reportedly issued by Bush-era official Richard Armitage just after 9/11, that the U.S. would gladly ‘bomb [Pakistan] back to the Stone Age’ if cooperation in the hunt for bin Laden were not immediately forthcoming. He denies it, but that’s less important than the constant citing of the apocryphal quote, which has the same intimidating effect. In any case, the message was pretty clear: do our bidding vis-à-vis Haqqani or else. Was two dozen soldiers bombed in their barracks the ‘or else’ part?

All this is nothing new. Obama distinguished himself during the 2008 campaign by taking a more warlike stance toward Pakistan even than hawkish Hillary, and his administration was barely a week in office when the drone attacks started up on Pakistani territory, an early sign of the Bush-Obama continuity on war.

Obama’s people always say that the Pakistani objections to the drone attacks are pro forma and understood by both sides as not to be taken seriously. That’s a convenient explanation. Another one is that Pakistan is too weak to do anything about it. India is more and more the U.S. favorite in the region—Obama visited Delhi in 2010 and snubbed Islamabad by not stopping by for tea—and the Chinese, Pakistan’s historical ally, don’t want trouble. Pakistan gets a billion and half dollars of aid annually from the U.S. and nowhere else to go for it.

Jeremy Scahill, who writes on military issues, says this about how Obama is ‘radically expanding’ the U.S. war in Afghanistan deeply into Pakistan’.

‘Whether it is through US military trainers (that’s what they were called in Vietnam too), drone attacks or commando raids inside the country, the U.S. is militarily entrenched in Pakistan. It makes Obama’s comment that “[W]e have no intention of sending U.S. troops into Pakistan” simply unbelievable’.

‘For a sense of how significant U.S. operations are and will continue to be for years and years to come, just look at the U.S. plan to build an almost $1 billion massive U.S. “embassy” in Islamabad, which is reportedly modeled after the imperial city they call a U.S. embassy in Baghdad. As we know very clearly from Iraq, such a complex will result in an immediate surge in the deployment of U.S. soldiers, mercenaries and other contractors’.

But there’s a big problem with this relentless expansion of the Afghan war into a country of 175 million increasingly hostile people. Although the U.S. can inflict a lot of pain, the long-term goals enunciated by Obama and Clinton may be impossible although we shouldn’t count on their uniformed advisors ever to admit it. In an era of non-stop budget slashing, we’ve already spent the farm on pacifying Afghanistan and succeeded in antagonizing 20 million people while propping up a corrupt nutcase president and his heroin-trafficking brother. Al-Qaeda and other like entities can be crushed, but new ones can also emerge. Does Obama plan for an even larger—and vastly more expensive—permanent occupation of Pakistan? Is that why our Social Security checks have to be slashed?

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