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Hullabaloo


Sunday, January 27, 2008

 
White Flag

by digby


clammyc over at Dkos discusses this mindblowing article in today's Boston Globe about what's going on in Afghanistan and Pakistan. As he wryly observes, it's not as exciting as watching Tweety and Blitzer slobber and squeal over every nuance of the candidates' canned talking points, but it is actually important. The article says:


Sometime in mid-December, as the winter winds howled across the snow-dusted hills of Pakistan's inhospitable border regions, 40 men representing Taliban groups all across Pakistan's northwest frontier came together to unify under a single banner and to choose a leader.

The banner was Tehrik-e- Taliban Pakistan, or the Taliban Movement of Pakistan, with a fighting force estimated at up to 40,000. And the leader was Baitullah Mehsud, the man Pakistan accuses of assassinating former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.

The move is an attempt to present a united front against the Pakistani Army, which has been fighting insurgents along the border with Afghanistan. It is also the latest sign of the rise of Mehsud, considered the deadliest of the Taliban mullahs or clerics in northwest Pakistan.


That's excellent news. Meanwhile, the Man Called Petraeus is doing another round of PR on television this morning explaining that troops are going to be in Iraq for years, although we know things are going very well because Iraqis "are shouldering more and more and more of the security burdens. And I think the most clear indicator of that, the clearest indicator, is the fact that their losses are about approaching three times our losses." Man, what a "metric."

clammyc points out, however, that even some in Cheneyland are getting a teensy bitconcerned:

And right on cue - only five years after neglecting Afghanistan and Pakistan as well as the Taliban and the real al Qaeda, the Bush administration is starting to realize that "shit" and "fan" have been on a collision course for quite some time:

In a shift with profound implications, the Bush administration is attempting to re-energize its terrorism-fighting war efforts in Afghanistan, the original target of a post-Sept. 11 offensive. The U.S. also is refocusing on Pakistan, where a regenerating al-Qaida is posing fresh threats.

There is growing recognition that the United States risks further setbacks, if not deepening conflict or even defeat, in Afghanistan, and that success in that country hinges on stopping Pakistan from descending into disorder.

Privately, some senior U.S. military commanders say Pakistan's tribal areas are at the center of the fight against Islamic extremism; more so than Iraq, or even Afghanistan. These areas border on eastern Afghanistan and provide haven for al-Qaida and Taliban fighters to regroup, rearm and reorganize.


No kidding. (I know. It's enough to make your head explode, isn't it?)

Back in the day when we were all writing about Afghanistan and the Taliban that was common knowledge, conventional wisdom. John Kerry made a big deal in 2004 about Tora Bora and the wild absurdity of pulling the focus away from al Qaeda. People may have thought that was a political ploy but it wasn't. Iraq was a massive distraction and waste of time and money right in the middle of a damned serious problem with Islamic fundamentalism. There's a reason why Jim Webb called it the greatest strategic blunder in modern memory all the way back in '04. It was.

It's possible that this reconstituted Taliban are just a bunch of losers sitting in the mountains with big dreams. But if they actually did assassinated Bhutto (with the help of the Pakistan security services, which is likely) this is no joke. Pakistan is the most unstable nuclear armed country we've ever seen and the potential for catastrophe is actually quite real. The fact that we have the entire US military bogged down in a useless occupation, while the Republican candidates are running around muttering incoherently about staying there for a thousand years or waving the white flag of surrender to al Qaeda in Iraq is further testament to how delusional the GOP remains on this subject.

clammy continues:

[T]his month alone has seen major attacks and violence in Pakistan (other than the obvious being the Bhutto assassination), and there has been concern about NATO troops being defeated by the Taliban in Afghanistan for almost a year now.

On top of this, I was in Canada less than two weeks ago, and there were a number of stories each day about their troops being killed in Afghanistan. And in today’s Winnipeg Sun, there is this stark assessment:

So far, most NATO countries have been deaf to Canada's cries for help in the deadly Kandahar region where Manley says our troops are waging a losing battle without reinforcements.

---snip---

The U.S. recently said it would deploy 3,200 more marines to Afghanistan on a temporary basis -- seven months in and out.

I’ll point out that the US is being so generous with their "renewed refocus" on Afghanistan that we are only sending 3,200 marines to Afghanistan on a temporary basis, haven’t come up with any kind of big picture strategy to deal with the mess that was made by ignoring the Taliban and al Qaeda for 5 years since cutting and running from Afghanistan.

There are so many lethal landmines the Bush administration has left laying around that it's hard to know where to take the first step. From the economy to Iraq to the environment to energy to the engorged new police state to terrorism, everything is in so much worse shape than it was before they took office that it's hard to know what to do first. But when it comes to national security, it doesn't seem to be any more obvious than this. Afghanistan and Pakistan are dangerous and unstable and one hopes that a new administration will be prepared to deal with it being even more dangerous and unstable than it is today. The Bush administration is highly to leave this mess even worse than it is today.


I can't help but be reminded of this once again:

The roots of the crisis go back to the blind bargain Washington made after 9/11 with the regime that had heretofore been the Taliban's main patron: ignoring Musharraf's despotism in return for his promises to crack down on al-Qaeda and cut the Taliban loose. Today, despite $10 billion in U.S. aid to Pakistan since 2001, that bargain is in tatters; the Taliban is resurgent in Afghanistan, and al-Qaeda's senior leadership has set up another haven inside Pakistan's chaotic border regions.

The problem is exacerbated by a dramatic drop-off in U.S. expertise on Pakistan. Retired American officials say that, for the first time in U.S. history, nobody with serious Pakistan experience is working in the South Asia bureau of the State Department, on State's policy planning staff, on the National Security Council staff or even in Vice President Cheney's office. Anne W. Patterson, the new U.S. ambassador to Islamabad, is an expert on Latin American "drugs and thugs"; Richard A. Boucher, the assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs, is a former department spokesman who served three tours in Hong Kong and China but never was posted in South Asia. "They know nothing of Pakistan," a former senior U.S. diplomat said.

Current and past U.S. officials tell me that Pakistan policy is essentially being run from Cheney's office. The vice president, they say, is close to Musharraf and refuses to brook any U.S. criticism of him. This all fits; in recent months, I'm told, Pakistani opposition politicians visiting Washington have been ushered in to meet Cheney's aides, rather than taken to the State Department.


That's the Bush/Cheney legacy: whatever they touched turned to shit. And they did it all with the enthusiastic encouragement of nearly the entire political and media establishment.


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