Getting It Wrong -- Again
For example, on July 11th, Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) declared on the floor of the Senate that “The Iranian government, by its actions, has all but declared war on us and our allies in the Middle East. America now has a solemn responsibility to utilize the instruments of our national power to convince Tehran [identified as a state sponsor of terrorism] to change its behavior.” Lieberman’s stance against Iran – he would bomb anything and everything in the country that moved and much that did not – is as blinkered and fanatical as the Qud force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.
A week later, the president’s Homeland Security advisor, Frances Fragos Townsend, held a press briefing on the unclassified findings of a Homeland Security National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that, inter alia, described the status of counter-terror actions undertaken by allies in countries other than Iraq and Afghanistan. This naturally opened the way to examining Pakistan’s contribution to the anti-Taliban, anti-al-Qaeda effort in Islamabad’s federally administered tribal areas (FATA) that run along the Afghan-Pakistan border where a renewed al-Qaeda has re-established (according to the U.S.) a safe haven. One exchange was particularly revealing
QUESTION: For the citizen watching this and hearing that in Pakistan there is a safe haven, why should that American citizen not say, “Well, why don’t we go into Pakistan and deal with it that way?”
TOWNSEND: There’s no question, the president’s made perfectly clear, if we had actionable targets anywhere in the world, putting aside whether it was Pakistan or anyplace else, we would pursue the targets.
A few minutes later Townsend seemed to back off a bit – but only a bit – on the prospect of clandestine U.S. unilateral action, saying: “If there are actionable terrorism targets, we work against them with our allies. There are no options off the table in actionable intelligence terrorism targets.”
The following Sunday, July 22nd, Townsend appeared on Fox News as a guest of Chris Wallace. The interview included this exchange:
TOWNSEND: First and foremost, we’re working with our Pakistani allies to deny [al-Qaeda] the safe haven. But let's remember that the federally administrated tribal area is an area of Pakistan that’s never seen the writ of the Pakistani government. It’s never extended that far.
President Musharraf has got over 80,000 Pakistani military troops in the FATA and working with us they’ve sustained hundreds of casualties in this fight. We’re working with them, but the president [Bush] has been clear. Job number one is to protect the American people, and there are no options that are off the table.
WALLACE: Well, you say that no options are off the table. Have we, in fact, acted on those options?
TOWNSEND: Well, for obvious reasons, I’m not going to detail for you things that are classified and how we behave along with our Pakistani allies. I will say to you there are no options off the table.
The official response from Islamabad was measured but steely: “We do not want our efforts to be undermined by any ill-conceived action.” The unofficial response was captured in newspaper editorials that warned it is “in their [the U.S.] own interest and in the interest of Pakistan’s battle with the Taliban” for U.S. troops to “keep themselves out of” Pakistan.
The rule seems to be that there are no rules except what the White House wants to push. On Tuesday, before some 300 Air Force personnel at Charleston, SC, Bush voiced “al-Qaeda” 95 times as if it were an evil spell Osama bin Laden had cast over the U.S., one that only Bush could lift, thereby rescuing democracy both at home and abroad. As for other nations’ sovereignty, the tone running through all the statements and speeches is that it might be respected (tolerated), but not uniformly. That would depend on different criteria such as what the Pentagon thinks it might get away with – e.g., an armed Predator missile launched from Afghanistan against a target in Pakistan.
Now such strikes could also be carried out by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). In some Washington circles this would be seen as the re-emergence of the operational capability best suited for removing bin Laden and his closest advisors. And unlike the regular U.S. military, the CIA worked with the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate in the 1980 to supply and fund the Afghan resistance to the Soviet occupation.
Today, Pakistan is a new ballgame and there are new rules that Washington, although it cannot make them, still can affect how the strictures are applied. Both the Pakistanis and the Americans are operating in an unstable environment. Musharraf’s hold on power is shaky, witness the stand-off at the Red Mosque in Islamabad. The loyalty of the ISI must be of concern given their past ties to the Taliban. Most importantly, today Pakistan is a nuclear weapons state.
No matter how the pieces get arranged, outside of the Iraq war, Pakistan is the lynch-pin in the renewed effort to curtail al-Qaeda and Taliban activities. And as the U.S. has botched Iraq so thoroughly, Washington should curb its rhetoric and get down to the job of helping rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan. That’s our “job one” in that part of the world.