9 years ago
I wanted to put out some preliminary thoughts on current news – the assassination of former (and likely future) Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto – but to do this, I will neglect the sweeping, link-laden and highly sourced analyses that I try to provide. Instead, my thoughts will be in the ‘stream of consciousness’ style.
It is a sad day for the global war on terror, and the American left, always anxious to lay blame, hasn’t yet solidified its talking points. Peter Beinart believes that the U.S. administration is somehow to blame because we didn’t push President Pervez Musharraf far and fast enough towards democracy. Alan Colmes believes that the U.S. administration is somehow to blame because we pushed democracy on a country not ready for it. Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee inexplicably apologized for the incident, expressing “our sincere concern and apologies for what has happened in Pakistan.” Inexplicably, that is, unless along with the American left he also feels that the U.S. is somehow to blame for Islamic militancy in Pakistan.
I won’t engage in the omniscient blame game. But Ambassador Bolton’s concerns are salient when he takes the position that in encouraging Bhutto’s re-emergence on the political scene in Pakistan we “helped to precipitate” the unfortunate events of today, and further remarks that of utmost strategic interest is the safety of the nuclear weapons under Pakistan’s care. Bolton fails to see how any of this helps the strategic interests of the U.S.
Bolton is not part of the political left, and while I usually agree with him, I take issue with his characterization of these events. I too, am concerned about the strategic interests of the U.S., and more could have been done after the first assassination attempt on Bhutto’s life (the first day that she returned to Pakistan) to protect her and provide more security. Bhutto is said to have desired and requested this additional security (and in fact from the U.S. FBI and other assets), and Pakistan is said to have denied this request. If this fact had been known, then the U.S. administration shares a little of the blame for not pushing hard enough on Musharraf for this protection (and of course, Musharraf is primarily to blame).
However, Bolton is ignoring the long term strategic interests in having Bhutto involved in Pakistani politics. I have said before that “counterinsurgency in Pakistan begins in Afghanistan and along the Pakistan / Afghanistan border. Unless and until we devote the troops and effect the force projection to let the people in these AOs know that we are serious about the campaign, there will be no success.” I have advocated more troops in the Afghanistan campaign for the simple reason that not only must we win in Afghanistan, we have an unmitigated opportunity to kill Taliban and al Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan where we are not dealing with issues of sovereignty of Pakistan. In other words, we have the best of all possible worlds in the current campaign in Afghanistan (similar to the campaign in Iraq, although this is waning somewhat due to Iraqi sovereignty). We can fight international jihadists with the full approval of the administration and for the most part without the overhead of issues of national sovereignty.
This campaign, once shown to be successful, can then be expanded into Pakistan with the tacit approval of the Pakistani government (i.e., small incursions and concealed operations, expanded to larger operations if the need and approval were forthcoming). Here is where the administration of Pakistan is important. Musharraf is likely an American ally only to the extent that he believed Richard Armitage when it was said to him that the U.S. would enjoy his cooperation or Pakistan would be “bombed back to the stone age” (the words as reported by Musharraf himself). Bhutto, on the other hand, would have been a willing participant in the global war on religious militancy, and is said to have desired international assistance in the Pakistan counterinsurgency campaign: “If Bhutto returns to power this week, Gauhar predicts the U.S. will finally get what Musharraf has refused it: “She will allow NATO boots on the ground in our tribal areas and a chance to neuter our nuclear weapons.”
While Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is said to favor an addition of only 7500 troops to the Afghanistan campaign, hope springs eternal that strategic interests would be seriously evaluated around the globe (e.g., Germany and South Korea) and troop realignments would occur to support both the Iraq and Afghanistan counterinsurgency campaigns.
We must think long term, and Bhutto, because she was a clear thinker, was a long term ally of the United States. It is a sad day for the U.S. and the global war on terror. Only time will tell how serious this setback is. My sense is that it’s very serious.