Monday, October 17, 2011

US War with Pakistan: Only a Matter of Time?

The NYT's C. J. Chivers reports on how US forward bases in Afghanistan, along the border with Pakistan, are taking deadly fire (3 Afghan soldiers were killed by such fire several weeks ago) from just inside the Pakistan side of the border - and US officers on scene are convinced that the Pakistani military are either directly involved or else turning a blind eye.  And US soldiers, says Chivers, are "seething" and just want to be allowed to "do our job" - in other words, launch reprisals by firing into Pakistan.

If US officials give them the green light, it's only a matter of time before American fire kills Pakistani soldiers.  The Pakistani press long ago turned against the US presence in the region.  The country is ablaze with hatred of the US, for reasons (frankly, most of them legitimate) too many to catalog here.

But we're now in full election-campaign mode (the "silly season") back home.  Senators and congressmen will be vying with each other to bray the loudest about protecting "the troops," and what's Obama doing about it.  Obama, facing a tough re-election fight, will need to at least look as if he's doing something about it.  He'll talk tougher to his Pakistani interlocutors, and then he'll approve some kind of fire mission as a kind of shot over the bow of the Pakistani military leadership (who, of course, are really in charge of that country).

How all this ends up . . . .?  Well, don't forget that the last thing that Iran (which already feels embattled,surrounded, and picked on by the US) wants to see is the US hunkering down to take on yet another country with a common border with Iran.  And as a recent WaPo report noted, the Iranian government recently hosted (without much fanfare) a delegation from the Afghan Taliban, with whom it almost went to war only 10 years ago.

Finally, Pakistan has been trying for months to cultivate ties with China.  The Chinese have not exactly been rushing into that embrace, but they will not be reassured about American intentions in the region if the US decides to play hardball with the Pakistanis.

Idea for Mr. Obama: the US effort in Afghanistan is going nowhere.  Speed up the withdrawal, get US troops out of harm's way, quit antagonizing the people of Pakistan with what have become incessant drone strikes, and come to terms with the reality that the US presence in Afghanistan has become the premier reason why the entire region, including Pakistan, has become so unstable.  So, pack up, get out - ignore the advice of people like Bruce Riedel (who wants Obama to toughen up on Pakistan and adopt of policy of "containment") -  and, while you're at it,  ignore idiots like John McCain and Lindsey Graham who demand that you fight on to the last soldier, and penny.

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