Mac frustrated

 

 

McCain’s foreign policy frustration

 
By JOE KLEIN
TIME, 23 July

 
 
“I HAD the courage and the judgment to say that I would rather lose a political campaign than lose a war,” John McCain said during a Rochester, New Hampshire town meeting on July 22. “It seems to me that Senator Obama would rather lose a war in order to win a political campaign.” It was a remarkable statement, as intemperate a personal attack as I’ve ever heard a major-party candidate make in a presidential campaign, the sort of thing that no potential President of the United States should ever be caught saying. (A prudent candidate has aides sling that sort of mud.) It was also inevitable.
 
You could see McCain’s frustration building as Barack Obama traipsed elegantly through the Middle East while the pillars of McCain’s bellicose regional policy crumbled in his wake. It wasn’t only that the Iraqi government seemed to take Obama’s side in the debate over when U.S. forces should leave (sooner rather than later). McCain was being undermined in Washington as well, by his old pal George W. Bush, who seemed to take Obama’s side in the debate about whether to talk to Iran. Bush sent a ranking U.S. diplomat to negotiate with the Iranians on nuclear issues – and also let it be known that a U.S. Interests Section could soon be established in Tehran, the first U.S. diplomatic presence on Iranian soil since the 1979 hostage crisis.
 
In the end, both Obama and McCain seemed to have a piece of the truth about Iraq, but Obama’s truth was larger and more strategic. Obama had been right about the war in the first place. It was a disastrous idea, a phenomenal waste of lives and American credibility that diverted focus from our real enemy, al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan. And Obama was right about the war now: the progress in Iraq was enabling a quicker withdrawal – a plan already hinted at by Bush. And Obama was right about the future: the Iraqis don’t want long-term U.S. bases on their territory, a McCain keystone and the source of his infamous comment about staying in Iraq for 100 years. McCain’s piece of the truth was tactical: he was right about the surge and right about the brilliance of David Petraeus’ battle plan, which had helped quiet down Iraq. McCain was justifiably infuriated that Obama wouldn’t acknowledge that success – indeed, Obama seemed to understand that he was pushing McCain’s buttons, hoping perhaps to elicit McCain’s Vesuvian temper, and in Rochester the eruption occurred.
 
McCain’s greatest claim to the presidency – his overseas expertise – now seems squandered. He has appeared brittle and inflexible, slow to adapt to changes on the ground, slow to grasp the full implications not only of the improving situation in Iraq but also of the worsening situation in Afghanistan and especially Pakistan. Some will say this behavior raises questions about his age. I’ll leave those to gerontologists. A more obvious explanation is that McCain has straitjacketed himself in an ideology focused more on enemies (real and imagined) than on opportunities. “It is impossible to ignore the many striking parallels between [McCain] and the so-called neoconservatives (many of whom are vocal and visible supporters of his candidacy),” writes the Democratic diplomat Richard Holbrooke in a forthcoming issue of Foreign Affairs. “I don’t know if John has become a neocon,” says a longtime friend of the Senator’s, “but he sure has surrounded himself with them.”
 
Neoconservatism in foreign policy is best described as unilateral bellicosity cloaked in the utopian rhetoric of freedom and democracy. McCain hasn’t always sided with the neocons – he opposed torture, wants to close down Guantánamo – but his pugnacity seems a natural fit with theirs. He has been militant on Iran, though even there his statements have been tactical rather than strategic: his tactic is not to talk to the bad guys.
 
The strategic question here is whether to go for regime change or diplomatic engagement. McCain hasn’t said he was for regime change, but he has rattled sabers noisily, joked about bomb-bomb-bombing Iran and surrounded himself with, and been funded by, Jewish neoconservatives who believe Iran is a threat to Israel’s existence. He has also taken a rather exotic line on Russia, which he wants to drum out of the G-8 organization of major industrial powers (a foolish proposal, since none of the other G-8 members would abide by it). His notion of a “League of Democracies” seems a transparent attempt to draw a with-us-or-against-us line in the sand against Russia and China. But that’s the point: McCain would place a higher priority on finding new enemies than on cultivating new friends.
 
The sudden collapse of McCain’s Middle East policy is a stunning event, although McCain’s regional stridency raised questions from the start. This is a long campaign – with, I fearlessly predict, at least one major Obama downdraft to come – but John McCain seems panicked, and in deep trouble now.

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One thought on “Mac frustrated

  1. The really disappointing aspect of Obama is that he was supposed to be the peace candidate. But everything that he appeared to stand for- multiculturalism, religious toleration, peace, diplomacy- all are overshadowed by this foolish idea of moving the war to Pakistan.

    Moving the war on terror to Pakistan could have disastrous consequences on both the political stability in the region, and in the broader balance of power. Scholars such as Richard Betts accurately point out that beyond Iran or North Korea, “Pakistan may harbor the greatest potential danger of all.” With the current instability in Pakistan, Betts points to the danger that a pro-Taliban government would pose in a nuclear Pakistan. This is no minor point to be made. While the Shi’a in Iran are highly unlikely to proliferate WMD to their Sunni enemies, the Pakistanis harbor no such enmity toward Sunni terrorist organizations. Should a pro-Taliban or other similar type of government come to power in Pakistan, Al-Qaeda’s chances of gaining access to nuclear weapons would dramatically increase overnight.
    There are, of course, two sides to every argument; and this argument is no exception. On the one hand, some insist that American forces are needed in order to maintain political stability and to prevent such a government from rising to power. On the other hand, there are those who believe that a deliberate attack against Pakistan’s state sovereignty will only further enrage its radical population, and serve to radicalize its moderates. I offer the following in support of this latter argument:
    Pakistan has approximately 160 million people; better than half of the population of the entire Arab world. Pakistan also has some of the deepest underlying ethnic fissures in the region, which could lead to long-term disintegration of the state if exacerbated. Even with an impressive growth in GDP (second only to China in all of Asia), it could be decades before wide-spread poverty is alleviated and a stable middle class is established in Pakistan.
    Furthermore, the absence of a deeply embedded democratic system in Pakistan presents perhaps the greatest danger to stability. In this country, upon which the facade of democracy has been thrust by outside forces and the current regime came to power by coup, the army fulfills the role of “referee within the political boxing ring.” However, this referee demonstrates a “strong personal interest in the outcome of many of the fights and a strong tendency to make up the rules as he goes along.” The Pakistani army “also has a long record of either joining in the fight on one side or the other, or clubbing both boxers to the ground and taking the prize himself” (Lieven, 2006:43).
    Pakistan’s army is also unusually large. Thathiah Ravi (2006:119, 121) observes that the army has “outgrown its watchdog role to become the master of this nation state.” Ravi attributes America’s less than dependable alliance with Pakistan to the nature of its army. “Occasionally, it perceives the Pakistan Army as an inescapable ally and at other times as a threat to regional peace and [a] non-proliferation regime.” According to Ravi, India and Afghanistan blame the conflict in Kashmir and the Durand line on the Pakistan Army, accusing it of “inciting, abetting and encouraging terrorism from its soil.” Ravi also blames the “flagrant violations in nuclear proliferation by Pakistan, both as an originator and as a conduit for China and North Korea” on the Pakistan Army, because of its support for terrorists.
    The point to be made is that the stability of Pakistan depends upon maintaining the delicate balance of power both within the state of Pakistan, and in the broader region. Pakistan is not an island, it has alliances and enemies. Moving American troops into Pakistan will no doubt not only serve to radicalize its population and fuel the popular call for Jihad, it could also spark a proxy war with China that could have long-lasting economic repercussions. Focusing on the more immediate impact American troops would have on the Pakistani population; let’s consider a few past encounters:
    On January 13, 2006, the United States launched a missile strike on the village of Damadola, Pakistan. Rather than kill the targeted Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda’s deputy leader, the strike instead slaughtered 17 locals. This only served to further weaken the Musharraf government and further destabilize the entire area. In a nuclear state like Pakistan, this was not only unfortunate, it was outright stupid.
    On October 30, 2006, the Pakistani military, under pressure from the US, attacked a madrassah in the Northwest Frontier province in Pakistan. Immediately following the attack, local residents, convinced that the US military was behind the attack, burned American flags and effigies of President Bush, and shouted “Death to America!” Outraged over an attack on school children, the local residents viewed the attack as an assault against Islam.
    On November 7, 2006, a suicide bomber retaliated. Further outrage ensued when President Bush extended his condolences to the families of the victims of the suicide attack, and President Musharraf did the same, adding that terrorism will be eliminated “with an iron hand.” The point to be driven home is that the attack on the madrassah was kept as quiet as possible, while the suicide bombing was publicized as a tragedy, and one more reason to maintain the war on terror.
    Last year trouble escalated when the Pakistani government laid siege to the Red Mosque and more than 100 people were killed. “Even before his soldiers had overrun the Lal Masjid … the retaliations began.” Suicide attacks originating from both Afghan Taliban and Pakistani tribal militants targeted military convoys and a police recruiting center. Guerrilla attacks that demonstrated a shocking degree of organization and speed-not to mention strategic cunning revealed that they were orchestrated by none other than al-Qaeda’s number two man, Ayman Al-Zawahiri; a fact confirmed by Pakistani and Taliban officials. One such attack occurred on July 15, 2007, when a suicide bomber killed 24 Pakistani troops and injured some 30 others in the village of Daznaray (20 miles to the north of Miran Shah, in North Waziristan). Musharraf ordered thousands of troops into the region to attempt to restore order. But radical groups swore to retaliate against the government for its siege of the mosque and its cooperation with the United States.
    A July 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) concludes that “al Qaeda is resurgent in Pakistan- and more centrally organized than it has been at any time since 9/11.” The NIE reports that al-Qaeda now enjoys sanctuary in Bajaur and North Waziristan, from which they operate “a complex command, control, training and recruitment base” with an “intact hierarchy of top leadership and operational lieutenants.”
    In September 2006 Musharraf signed a peace deal with Pashtun tribal elders in North Waziristan. The deal gave pro-Taliban militants full control of security in the area. Al Qaeda provides funding, training and ideological inspiration, while Afghan Taliban and Pakistani Tribal leaders supply the manpower. These forces are so strong that last year Musharraf sent well over 100,000 trained Pakistani soldiers against them, but they were not able to prevail against them.
    The question remains, what does America do when Pakistan no longer has a Musharraf to bridge the gap? While Musharraf claims that President Bush has assured him of Pakistan’s sovereignty, Senator Obama obviously has no intention of honoring such an assurance. As it is, the Pakistanis do just enough to avoid jeopardizing U.S. support. Musharraf, who is caught between Pakistan’s dependence on American aid and loyalty to the Pakistani people, denies being George Bush’s hand-puppet. Musharraf insists that he is “200 percent certain” that the United States will not unilaterally decide to attack terrorists on Pakistani soil. What happens when we begin to do just that?

    In 2002 Musharraf was reported to have told a British official that his “great concern is that one day the United States is going to desert me. They always desert their friends.” Musharraf has more reason now to skeptical of his American allies than ever.

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