Posted in Afghanistan, Al Qaeda, defense spending, Fundamentalism, India, Iraq, islam, Israel, Middle East, Muslims, Pakistan, Radical, South Asia, Taleban, Taliban, terrorism, U.S. Foreign Policy, tagged Afghanistan, America, Americans, defense spending, India, Iraq, islam, Israel, Middle East, Muslims, Radical, Saudi Arabia, terrorism, U.S. Foreign Policy on November 17, 2010 |
Leave a Comment »
I share Eugene Robinson’s well-articulated concern in his most recent Washington Post column. The numbers are stark: America’s share of total world defense spending is 46.5%. Second place goes to China at a meager 6.6%. In an age of withering economic hardship at home and growing deficits and debt, why do we continue to subsidize a global stability that many other nations quietly take advantage of, cutting deals for precious natural resources- in Iraq, in Afghanistan- while American soldiers die and extremists cite occupations to recruit for their attacks on American soil? Because, Eugene, as you well know, it’s a business. A profitable business with a powerful constituency of congressmen, corporations, and military brass who in the end don’t care as much about lives, treasure, and America’s global standing. Not when it comes to revenue, re-election, and the welfare of their own military families. This is why we continue to sell arms to Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, even though we know these two countries are largely responsible for the operational and ideological underpinnings of the jihadist movement that wants to destroy America. This is why we offer a Netanyahu government who we know has no intention of negotiating in good faith with its Palestinian counterparts the bribe of new fighter jets, even as our military leadership says our unconditional support for Israel leads directly to the loss of American lives.
Sadly, the prospect of someone else’s death cannot compete with the needs of the living. America’s defense spending is not a subsidy to the world as much as it’s a subsidy to the American economy and political system, much like other government programs such as unemployment insurance and Medicare that Mr. Robinson has advocated for in the past. The American enlisted soldier- largely low-income and with fewer educational and professional opportunities than higher income Americans- is the primary beneficiary, although, just like Medicare, corporations (insurance companies) and higher income individuals (doctors) also benefit. Pick a line item in the federal budget and it is easy to find a domestic constituency behind it with their hand out.
Of course, defense spending is different than any domestic program for many of the reasons Mr. Robinson articulates. Domestic programs usually don’t violently kill Americans and foreigners. They also don’t have such a direct, measurable effect on our international standing. In the foreign policy arena as with everything else, we must begin to learn how to do more with less. One obvious option is to convince other nations to do more so we can do less. So far, our record on this has been poor. Time after time- in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, to name only a few- our “partners” have gotten a free ride at our expense even while they undermine our goals to boot. There is no use hollering about their duplicity on opinion pages. Every nation has interests that are often at odds with ours even as we find ourselves on the same side of the battle. Pakistan has legitimate concerns about a larger, hostile India that will make it forever reluctant to entirely give up the extremist proxy groups like the Taliban and Lashkar i Taiba that it uses to prevent Indian encirclement. President Karzai has to think about the day when America will abandon its Afghan adventure, as it has done so precipitously in the past. Anti-American, pro-nationalist, pro-Pashtun statements keep local constituencies in his favor for when that day comes. Such are the complexities and paradoxes that make international relations a challenge. We are better off understanding them and working through them instead of against them.
Read Full Post »
Posted in Afghanistan, Al Qaeda, Fundamentalism, India, islam, Middle East, Muslims, Osama, Pakistan, Radical, South Asia, Taleban, Taliban, terrorism, U.S. Foreign Policy, tagged Afghanistan, Al Qaeda, India, islam, Middle East, Mumbai, Muslims, nuclear, Pakistan, Radical, Saudi Arabia, South Asia, Taliban, terrorism, U.S. Foreign Policy on May 5, 2010 |
Leave a Comment »
It’s too early to know all the facts in the failed Times Square car bomb, but its looks like at least one US citizen of Pakistani heritage was involved and that the plot emanated at least in part from South Asia. Coinciding with the recent conviction of the lone surviving Mumbai terrorist, also a Pakistani trained and equipped by a Pakistani terrorist group, one wonders if extremism has a more obvious global headquarters than the nuclear state where experts believe Osama Bin Laden and most of the top Al Qaeda leadership have found refuge. If it turns out to be true that the Pakistani Taliban are indeed involved, as they claim to be, in this latest chapter of the NYC terror saga, then there will undoubtedly be renewed calls for a refocusing of our counter-terror efforts on Pakistan.
This is certainly part of what is needed as experts such as the Pakistani journalist Ahmad Rashid have been arguing for some time. But the problem with our South Asia counter-terror policy is not resources, but tactics and strategy. We spend $700 billion on war fighting a year (this does not include classified intelligence budgets). This dwarves anything our adversaries- nations or terrorist groups- can bring to bear. Less is often more, particularly in a long war where extremist groups feed off the sympathies of local populations that reel from a heavy-handed foreign presence. Too often our terror policies in the past have defeated themselves by focusing only on throwing resources at the symptoms of the disease, rather than tackling the root causes. This has to change unless we want to continue to play defense against a legion of suicide bombers.
While David Ignatius‘ assertion in today’s Washington Post is true – our counter-terror efforts have succeeded in severely degrading Al Qaeda top leadership – it is overshadowed by his ominous conclusion- jihadists are splintering, de-centralizing, and will be harder to target and liquidate. While drone attacks and military clearing operations should not be abandoned entirely as tools, anyone who has visited northern Pakistan knows that they are not a long term strategy. On the contrary, there is an accumulating cost to these tactics over time in the heavily tribal, retribution crazy culture of South Asia where blood revenge is a way of life. If a brother or cousin or uncle is killed, it does not matter if he was helping bad people or doing bad things. Honor demands a response. This is a never-ending spiral.
Read Full Post »
Posted in Afghanistan, Fundamentalism, India, Iran, Iraq, islam, Israel, Lebanon, Middle East, nuclear weapon, Pakistan, Radical, U.S. Foreign Policy, tagged Afghanistan, America, Americans, Diaspora, India, Iran, Iranians, Iraq, islam, Israel, Lebanon, Middle East, mullah, nuclear, Pakistan, Radical, Shia, U.S. Foreign Policy on March 15, 2010 |
2 Comments »
Iran’s cunning leadership has effectively divided the major powers of the world between those willing to engage with it and others who seek to contain or even obliterate it. Without unity and leadership among these various nations, the idea of outside actors influencing real change in Iranian behavior is dead on arrival. Iranians themselves are no more united on how they view Iran and its government. Even within families sitting down for a meal or a cup of amber Persian tea, casual banter often turns emotional and contentious. This is understandable. There are few nations in the world, let alone the stagnant Middle East, that have experienced not one, but two popular revolutions in the span of a century (1905 and 1979). Upheaval on this scale uproots lives and shatters families. With a proud people such as the Persians and their long history of empire and high culture, the fallout from loss becomes even more acute.
While most Iranians have no love for the current regime, they have widely varying opinions on how to change the system and what should replace it. Many Iranians, particularly the well-off of a certain age, embellish the old days under the Shah as a golden era when Iran was a model of sophistication and at peace with the world. Other Iranians are more critical of the past or see sinister players such as America or Israel sabotaging Iranian self-determination at every pivotal point. Getting Iranians, particularly Iranians living outside Iran, to come together is no easy task. But it could be the key to meaningful change in Iran.
You might be surprised at some of the numbers when it comes to the Iranian diaspora. Estimated at 3 million strong worldwide, the largest concentration is in the United States, with over a million. Other large communities exist in the United Arab Emirates, Canada, Germany, the UK and Sweden, to name a few. Even a sizable community of 48,000 Persian Jews live in Israel. The Iranian diaspora is one of the most educated, professionally successful groups in the world, worth an astounding $1.3 trillion by one estimate. This is what happens when violent revolution forces the business elite and professional classes of a large, resource rich economy into exile. In America and Europe in particular, Iranians have penetrated their adopted societies at every level of industry, academics and government. While they are content to remain and contribute to their new homes, most Iranians continue to have a strong emotional and cultural connection to their homeland.
This begs the question- why aren’t we doing more to harness this group to agitate for positive change within Iran? They have the resources, the connections, and the motivation to make an impact. They want to see their country restored, to see it prosper again and become an integral member of the international community. They want the same freedoms for Iranians inside Iran that they themselves have enjoyed in the societies they have become a part of.
Read Full Post »
Posted in Afghanistan, Al Qaeda, democracy, Fundamentalism, India, islam, Israel, Middle East, Muslims, Pakistan, Radical, South Asia, Taleban, Taliban, terrorism, U.S. Foreign Policy, tagged Afghanistan, Al Qaeda, India, islam, Middle East, Muslims, nuclear, Pakistan, South Asia, terrorism, U.S. Foreign Policy on January 18, 2010 |
1 Comment »
One wonders exactly where Pakistani President Asif Zardari was when he first wrote the above headline for his Washington Post Op-Ed that appeared in the print edition this past Friday. (The Post subsequently changed the headline in the on-line version. Hmmm…). Perhaps Zardari was in his villa in Dubai or his chalet in Switzerland. Maybe he was looking out the window of a penthouse apartment overlooking London. It’s hard to imagine he was in Pakistan. At least, not the Pakistan that has teetered between financial insolvency, jihadist implosion, and nuclear exchange for much of its 50 year existence. Crumbling schools, abject poverty and deteriorating infrastructure. Where are these realities accommodated within the “Greatness” of Zardari’s imagination? With this disgusting level of denial, one wonders if Zardari has spent even a day of his life in the real Pakistan. For those of us who count many kind, hardworking Pakistanis as our friends, Zardari’s ridiculous title and self-serving words are the height of insult.
Of course, we are talking about a president who is flailing to remain relevant in a political system that increasingly sees him as the symbol of everything that is wrong with Pakistan. He will say anything to rehabilitate his image, and if he doesn’t have a domestic audience the next best thing is to reach out for a little love from Pakistan’s primary super-power patron, the United States. Talking about lofty goals and grand partnerships abroad is a time-tested politician’s strategy to deflect attention from mismanagement and greed at home. But there is too much sordid history here for even an accomplished swindler like Zardari to overcome. Long before callously maneuvering himself into the President’s office in the wake of his wife Benazir Bhutto’s assassination, Zardari was known even within his own party as the guy who would trim gravy off the top of any government decision. Hence his well-deserved nickname during his late wife’s last administration in the 1990s- “Mr. 10%.”
Should we blame the system or the individual? Those of us who have lived and worked in Pakistan are confident of one thing- long after Zardari is gone corruption will remain a potent force in Pakistani society. It scares away legitimate investment and opportunity. It contributes to instability, violent crime and terrorism. It enables the more authoritarian figures peppered throughout Pakistan’s volatile history to act with the full sympathy of the population. For all of the Pakistani military’s issues, it is still regarded as the cleanest, most effective institution in the country. When there is no viable civilian alternative, as Zardari so aptly demonstrates, the tilt is inevitably toward the generals.
Read Full Post »
Posted in Afghanistan, Al Qaeda, Fundamentalism, India, Iran, islam, Israel, Middle East, Muslims, Osama, Pakistan, Radical, South Asia, U.S. Foreign Policy, tagged Al Qaeda, India, Iran, islam, Israel, Middle East, Mumbai, Muslims, Pakistan, Palestinians, Radical, South Asia, terrorism, U.S. Foreign Policy on December 16, 2009 |
Leave a Comment »
Richard Cohen’s “Programmed to Kill” in yesterday’s Washington Post seemed programmed to spread nothing but fear. After candidly admitting to his readers that it is sometimes hard not to strike an alarmist tone when writing about terrorism, he proceeded to describe the Mumbai terrorists as terminator-like machines who will not be stopped before they obliterate the known world. Not satisfied with this heavy dose of science fiction, he throws in allusions to the Holocaust to get his audience really emotional about the situation.
We don’t need any more reckless emotion in this war against extremism. This is exactly what Bin Laden and his ilk are counting on from the Judeo-Christian world. An emotional response that leads to an escalation on both sides, a war of civilizations. We need to be better than this. And our thought leaders in particular need to be more responsible when they write.
There is no doubt that the Mumbai attackers behaved like automatons, mercilessly killing anyone in their path with little hesitation or remorse. But there were also other, more subtle clues to their behavior that suggest a more complex set of issues underlying the problem of extremism in South Asia (and indeed the world). Any comprehensive solution to the problem needs to address these issues. Cohen himself alludes to this when he says that the lone terrorist who survived was not an Islamic fanatic, but rather a poor Pakistani peasant sold to the terrorists by his father and then brainwashed. Unfortunately, he doesn’t spend any more time delving into this important ingredient of global terrorism, preferring to retreat into base hyperbole about the Holocaust and killer machines.
Read Full Post »
Posted in 9/11, Afghanistan, Al Qaeda, Fundamentalism, India, islam, Middle East, Muslims, Osama, Pakistan, Radical, South Asia, Taleban, Taliban, U.S. Foreign Policy, Uncategorized, tagged Afghanistan, Al Qaeda, India, islam, Islamabad, Israel, Middle East, Pakistan, Palestinians, Radical, South Asia, Taliban, terrorism, U.S. Foreign Policy on November 30, 2009 |
3 Comments »
All eyes are on the U.S strategic relationship with India as the one year anniversary of the Mumbai terrorist attacks has come and gone and the White House has hosted its first state dinner with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Fareed Zakaria argues persuasively in the Washington Post that India is the prize that should be cultivated in South Asia- it is the perfect counterweight to a rising China, its anti-terror policy aligns naturally with ours, and, unlike most of the failed states that litter this part of the world, it is the largest liberal democracy in the world, growing faster than any nation except China. Mr. Zakaria understandably worries that an Obama administration consumed by the dire situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan will lose site of this pivotal relationship next door.
Unfortunately, India is also part of the problem. With the media frenzy surrounding Prime Minister Singh’s visit, a tiny piece of news back in his home country was little noticed, but perhaps best personifies the complex intricacies of the South Asia geo-strategic puzzle. After 17 years of deliberation, an Indian government inquiry into the 1992 storming of a mosque by Hindu mobs which led to the worst Hindu-Muslim riots since partition (2,000 dead, who knows how many raped and maimed) has implicated senior political figures. Both a former prime minister and the current leader of the main Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) were among the officials who whipped up support among Hindu zealots to destroy Babri mosque in northern India, claiming it was the original birthplace of the Hindu warrior god Ram and thus could not be devoted to a Muslim infidel faith.
Seventeen years! How would Americans have reacted if the 9/11 commission had taken that long? India has always been conflicted about its Muslim minority, since over one million people died on both sides when India and Pakistan formally split in 1947. Many Muslims have prospered in the new, global India, that is for sure. But many more, like most of the victims of the Babri Mosque violence, continue to be disproportionately poor and discriminated against by larger Hindu society. This oppression has been well documented, from blockbuster movies like Slumdog Millionaire to copious works of fiction and non-fiction alike. The fact that it took the Indian authorities so long to look into the root causes of the Babri episode is by itself telling enough about the government’s attitude, sending a loud and clear message to India’s Muslims: we don’t care enough to give you swift justice. This dynamic is part of the larger context through which we can best understand how to calibrate our relationship with India, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Read Full Post »