Skypecast: Foreign Policy into 2009 (Audio Content)

Scott and I discuss economics, the global political frame, and the future into 2009.  We begin by discussing a recent fairly grim post of mine (Happy New Year!!!) and then discuss potential creative ways out of the morass.

[Click the links below, pts1 & 2 for the audio.]

foreign-policy
foreign-policy2

Links:

Thomas Barnett post
My apocalyptic post
James Poulos’ Uncrackables
John Robbforeign-policy1

Scott’s post/embedding of the audio (if you have trouble on mine)

Some Apocalyptic Thoughts for Monday Afternoon

Warning:  This is some very disturbing analysis.  I hope I’m 100% wrong on this one.  I’ve also thought the scenario I outline below was possible for 2009 but through the end of October/early November, I thought it still somewhat remote.  I’m less confident and increasingly pesimisstic about the potential for this scenario to be very real, very much in play (more and more likely by the day it seems as of now with no wise leadership or counter-movements to help block the momentum).  So be warned.  I’m not in the business of fear-peddling or fear-hyping, but these are dark thoughts.  There are not the only ones within my brain, but I have been appalled (even fairly cynical me) by the responses across the board to this crisis and the sense that there is no Wizard behind the curtain.

I’m increasingly growing very disturbed by the way global events are proceeding.  A chain of potential explosions across the grid of the globe looks frighteningly more plausible by the day.  Meanwhile the US media is caught in wonderful tales of some pathetic Illinois Governor and a dude launching his foot wear. Here in Canada it’s about the potential of a coalition government.

All of which still assume a top-down model of power, a kind of view of the stability of large scale social organization that may all be swept away.  Reading the newspapers and frankly much of the blogosphere is becoming an increasingly useless exercise for me.  Particularly when it comes to political discussion:  left, right, libertarian, progressive, blah blah.  All of those discussions are assuming the continued existence in some form or other or our social-technological cultural foundations.

To me its increasingly as if reading the news in the ancient ziggurat/city-state culture a few months before Alexander the Great came conquering across Eurasian and installed the Hellenistic world and swept away the decaying, crumbling previous world era.  Like I said some apocalyptic thoughts.

The economic story would go like this:  the American consumer is dead and has been flogged to the breaking point of exhaustion.  Who then is going to buy all those Asian products?  Who can they sell their wares to?  The Asian economies contract leading them to stop buying the commodities across the Global South (esp. Latin America and Africa) that have led to that bubble (see the mass decrease in the price of oil recently).  Huge deflationary movements across the global simultaneously.  Much more rapidly and the fragility (i.e. non-redundancy) of the global platform system bleeds out.

As Niall Ferguson in his epic The War of the World, the great catacylsm and spasm of violence across the globe emanating from Europe during the 20th century (First War, Second War, Cold War) consisted of the inter-locking reality of the three “E”s:  empire, economics, and ethnicity.  Empire being the death of imperial systems.  See the decline of the US.  Also with all the talk of the coming Asian Century (rise of India/China), this could all be swept away by the economic meltdown.  The Asian Century that wasn’t in other words.  Still-born Asian Century.  The vacuum created by the implosion of economic and imperial systems, is filled by ethnic hatreds that flare up to the consternation and shock of many who assume a cosmopolitan order of peace and security (all fine when the economy and governance is roughly holding up).

The most likely early hot spots of ethnic hatred is the band of the Middle East (Lebanon, Iraq, Kurdistan, Iran, Syria???, through obviously Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India).  Other increased zones of violence would be Gap-status countires in the Western Hempishere (on smaller scale but still bloody).  Revived narco-fueled wars across Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, Ecuador, El Salvador, southern Mexico.  Other ranges of violence: The Horn of Africa (another Somalia implosion on the horizon) as well as violence across the middle band (Chad, Sudan, Nigeria, and potential flare ups again in Congo).

The massive de-leveraging must continue and the question is only whether the end of the fall (which has at least 9 months, probably 12 to 24 to maybe even 36-40 to go. who the hell knows at this point) will end us worse than the build up.  Exposed, exhausted, and de-legitimized.  The space of de-legitimization to be filled by ethno-nationalistic movements across the board.

With the breakdown of nation-state systems (orange and blue in Spiral colors), comes a mass re-reddifying both in memetic coloring and potentially in real blood, merged with increased technological capacity (global platform) plus increased cognitive flexibility and complexity however merged to earlier moral/social systems. Roving bands of pirates (e.g. Somalia), terrorists (e.g. Mumbai), criminal networks (coming here already to Vancouver in preparation for the 2010 Olympics, particularly the global sex slavery/human chattel trade) counteracted by potentially increased technocratic elites holding onto whatever power they can, as civil libertiese erode due to the inability to come up with a worldwide republican security theory, class lines harden in the post-industrial societies, the social contract of the 20th century continues to break down (ask Ford, GM, Chrysler) as the Nation-State gives way to the (increainsgly predatory?) Market State.

Ferguson forget a fourth E:  Environment.  As in environmental degradation/destruction as a potential accelerant to the fire of the other three.  Something along the lines of Diamond’s Collapse scenario.

The idea that an infrastructure stimulus will jump start the US economy out of this bog seems increasingly detached from reality for me.  At the pace things are moving, if the wave swells become large enough, it isn’t going to matter, as it could all be swept away by the mega-forces aligning at the moment.

Like I said, God how I hope I’m  completely wrong on this one.

Afghanistan Troop Number Calculations

Meditate on this:

[John] Nagl’s rule of thumb, the one found in the [US Army] counterinsurgency manual, calls for at least a 1-to-50 ratio of security forces to civilians in contested areas. Applied to Afghanistan, which has both a bigger population (32 million) and a larger land mass (647,500 square miles) than Iraq, that gets you to some large numbers fast. Right now, the United States and its allies have some 65,000 troops in Afghanistan, as compared to about 140,000 in Iraq. By Nagl’s ratio, Afghanistan’s population calls for more than 600,000 security forces. Even adjusting for the relative stability of large swaths of the country, the ideal number could still total around 300,000–more than a quadrupling of current troop levels. Eventually, Afghanistan’s national army could shoulder most of that burden. But, right now, those forces number a ragtag 60,000, a figure Nagl believes will need to at least double and maybe triple. Standing up a force of that size, as the example of Iraq has shown us, will take several years and consume billions of U.S. dollars.

And that’s just the Leviathan side of Barnett’s duo–this excludes the entire other army (on top of the 600,000) of engineers, aid workers, construction project leaders, humanitarian/conflict negotatiators, reconstruction crews, etc.  I have a hard time seeing how this happens.

Taliban(ds)

This excellent piece by Anand Gopal in the Asian Times on the Taliban is getting some play (rightly) in the b-sphere.

Gopal asks who are they (The Taliban):

The movement is a melange of nationalists, Islamists, and bandits that fall uneasily into three or four main factions. The factions themselves are made up of competing commanders with differing ideologies and strategies, who nonetheless agree on one essential goal: kicking out the foreigners.

Gopal tells us the harrowing reality that took over Afghanistan after the initial ejection of the 90s Taliban (Afghan Taliban 1.0):

Meanwhile, the country was being carved up by warlords and criminals. On the brand-new highway connecting Kabul to Kandahar and Herat, built with millions of Washington’s dollars, well-organized groups of bandits would regularly terrorize travelers. “[Once], 30, maybe 50 criminals, some in police uniforms, stopped our bus and shot [out] our windows,” Muhammadullah, the owner of a bus company that regularly uses the route, told me. “They searched our vehicle and stole everything from everyone.” Criminal syndicates, often with government connections, organized kidnapping sprees in urban centers like the former Taliban stronghold of Kandahar city. Often, those few who were caught would simply be released after the right palms were greased.

In Spiral Dynamics terms, this was the regression of the country from blue–imperial mythic, 90s Taliban system–to red warlordism, gangs, and criminality.

As a result, blue has to come back to keep the peace:

Onto this landscape of violence and criminality rode the Taliban again, promising law and order. The exiled leadership, based in Quetta, Pakistan, began reactivating its networks of fighters who had blended into the country’s villages. They resurrected relationships with Pashtun tribes. (The insurgents, historically a predominantly Pashtun movement, still have very little influence among other Afghan minority ethnic groups like the Tajiks and Hezaras.) With funds from wealthy Arab donors and training from the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the Pakistani intelligence apparatus, they were able to bring weapons and expertise into Pashtun villages.

In one village after another, they drove out the remaining minority of government sympathizers through intimidation and assassination. Then they won over the majority with promises of security and efficiency. The guerrillas implemented a harsh version of sharia law, cutting off the hands of thieves and shooting adulterers. They were brutal, but they were also incorruptible. Justice no longer went to the highest bidder. “There’s no crime any more, unlike before,” said Abdul Halim, who lives in a district under Taliban control.

Gopal goes on to indicate that the increasingly Pashtun nationalist Taliban are largely out of the al-Qaeda connection as they were in the 90s. There were always Taliban factions even back then, who had no time for AQ, but Mullah Omar (their leader) was close with bin Laden. That relationship may be breaking down and some elements of the Taliban, which is increasingly de-centralized and networked, are getting on with girls in schools and realize they can not go back to the 90s version of themselves.

That’s group #1. Group two is Hekmatyar Gulbuddin and his Hiz-i-Islami group. They are insurgents against the NATO occupation, but again not necessarily tied to AQ and really only interested in power back in Afghanistan. So 2 out of 4 at this point seem open to negotiations on a future Afghanistan that will involve them along side other parties. Though Gulbuddin is implicated in an attempt on President Karzai’s life. The Afghanistan situation, as always, is murky.

The last two groups however appear to have no such deals and have sanctuary-providing protections for al-Qaeda. This is the real conundrum as both are based in the Pakistani NWFP. Jaluludin Haqqani in North Waziristan and Beitullah Mehsud in the South.

With Haqqani:

Pakistan extends support to the Haqqanis on the understanding that the network will keep its holy war within Afghanistan’s borders. Such agreements are necessary because, in recent years, Pakistan’s longstanding policy of aiding Islamic militant groups has plunged the country into a devastating war within its own borders.

Even with Mehsud however the issue seems to be anger at the Pakistani government for attempting to take over the Frontier Provinces. In the recent Pakistani elections, the fundamentalist parties lost heavily in the NWFP regions. But it is unclear if those votes have any real influence as increasingly the Paksitani Taliban under Mehsud appear dedicated to re-installing a 90s like Afghanistan Taliban ghastly asylum state in Waziristan. Mehsud’s men publicly hang tribal chiefs of the old guard who do not accept their rule. There has been some talk of creating a Sons of Iraq like scenario with a tribal rebellion against the Pakistani Taliban, but so far that has gone to naught. The Pakistani Army is built for a war with India and not for counterinsurgency in the tribal regions. The two times they have gone up there in the last few years, they have lost and been sent packing. The blowback that has come out of those operations led to the murder of Bhutto, the recent bombing in Mumbai, the attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul, as well as the attack on the Marriott in Islamabad.

I have no idea how we deal with this issue. If the Pakistanis go in there, more blowback, they will likely break with the US completely go with China and Russia (which would love the delicious irony of profiting off Pashtun resistance to Americans in Afghanistan). If we continue the airstrikes, Pakistani sovereignty (whatever is left of it) gets further quashed, more blowback, and the civilian government which probably has about zero power currently has even less so and probably a full on military coup. If nothing is done then it festers and I can definitely see an al-Qaeda attack in the West getting launched from the new sanctuary.

For Afghanistan to recover it requires a deal with the Talban or at least the dominant factions. Gulbuddin may not go for that. Haqqani likely the same. Mehsud no dice. With the sanctuary open, insurgencies always win over time in Afghanistan (see Alexander the Great, The British, and The Soviets).

Afghanistan also requires a regional deal that ends the countries in the neighborhood to stop using it as a pawn to be carved up in their power play:  Iran, India, Pakistan, Russia.   Can’t see any evidence of that happening soon.

Which means we are back to where we started–how to prevent Al-Qaeda Central from launching another attack when they have sanctuary.  If the attempt to go into the sanctuary would cause regional collapse scenarios, hollowing out areas that al-Qaeda could then flee to if need be?

The most important reason to prevent such an attack (minus the obvious defense of innocent life) is that the US is still not ready to be resilient in the face of another attack (a la India recently or Great Britain before). The insane over-reaction that would occur, like after 9/11 but only that much worse, would be so destructive, particularly now.  Particularly when a Democrat is in the White House.  The worst attack in US history happens under a right-wing administration and they spend years blaming the left and kowtowing them into obedience.  I don’t even want to think how dastardly they would be if an attack happened when a Dem was president.  Goodbye free society and civil liberties.

Not Good: Pakistan Transport Afghan War Edition

From NyTimes:

More than 100 trucks loaded with supplies for American and allied forces in Afghanistan were destroyed Sunday by militants in Peshawar, a Pakistani city that serves as an important transit point for the Afghan war effort. It was the third major attack by Taliban militants on NATO supplies in Pakistan in less than a month, and served to expose the vulnerability of the route from the port of Karachi through Peshawar and over the border into Afghanistan. The United States relies on the route for an overwhelming proportion of its supplies for the war in Afghanistan.

Here’s the even scarier piece (my italics):

About 80 percent of supplies for the war in Afghanistan move from Karachi east through Pakistan and on to Afghanistan. Peshawar is the last staging point before the border about an hour’s journey, or 40 miles, away.

Mumbai Attacks as India’s 9/11? (Questionable Thesis and Partial Refutation)

3062423828_310cd05caa

[Image courtesy Flick-er Stuti via CC]

I have to say I find this notion that the Mumbai attacks are India’s 9/11 is somewhat very unnerving.  India has been experiencing terrorism, either by Hindutva far-right extremists as well as Kashmiri based Muslims for decades.  Decades.  They are hardly some Johnny-Come-Latelys to the terrorism game.  In fact, the situation I would argue is the complete opposite, where the US should be learning from India’s resilience in its decades long struggle to maintain democracy–the world’s largest–in the face of terrorism.  Not the India should be learning from the US in its post 9/11 guise.  See Juan Cole on that point.

So the first link up there is from Greg Sheridan at the Australian.  It’s a rather fetid imagination piece which not only wants to link Pakistan in but also al-Qaeda to the attacks.

Sheridan writes:

They [Mumbai attacks] represent, too, a probably definitive merger of internal Indian conflicts with the global war on terror. They also represent a formal notice of combat to the American president-elect, Barack Obama. The implications for the US of these attacks are in fact enormous.

First off the Global War on Terror is really at this point The Southeast/Southwestern Asian Crisis.  Pakistan, India, Afghanistan.  India’s embassy in Afghanistan was bombed most likely from groups from the NWFP of Pakistan.  So if Sheridan wants to make the link between the so-called (and badly named and theorized and fought) Global War on Terror and India, that already happened with that embassy bombing.

It might in fact be the complete reverse, with al-Qaeda Central being subsumed into what are essentially local/regional fights:  Kashmir, the Taliban Pashtun resistance against the Indian-backed Northern Alliance in Kabul, and the rise of the Pakistani Taliban.  All of course with the inter-relation of a NATO mission in Afghanistan and US predator drones bombing targets, both civilian and terrorist in territory that is supposedly under Pakistani sovereignty but which practically is self-governed.

The problem (as Cole notes) with all these views on whether Pakistan was behind the attacks or not is that we still think in terms of states as opposed to state-less or trans-national guerrilla networks.  Sheridan’s piece assumes al-Qaeda is a state-like entity.  Which in a certain way it is actually is which is why it has become increasingly less effective.  It’s message gets amplified and decentralized groups can pick up on those issues and run with them however they like, but that’s not the same assuming operational coordination.

And if even there is training, these groups are fluid and individuals within the groups can bleed over into another and they can form, disform, or reform basically at the drop of a hat.  Any possible combination of connections is really possible.

But one point I would strongly disagree with of Sheridan’s is that the attacks on Westerners is hallmark al-Qaeda.  Except that al-Qaeda’s MO has not been to take hostages.  There were no suicide bombers in this attack (al-Qaeda’s real hallmark if it has one).

Ultimately al-Qaeda supposed political objectives have failed.  It frankly has none and is ultimately nihilistic.  It’s attempt to plant the (false) flag of al-Qaeda around the world, suck the US in, and then bleed them dry by aligning with local grievances in an attempt to globalize them has been effective through the stupidity of Bush in invading Iraq and perhaps Obama tripling down in Afghanistan.

The problem then immediately is the state-relation to all of this.  Even if al-Qaeda was in charge of this operation or coordinated with some group in the NWFP, do we invade Pakistan?  Does India?  When the government of Pakistan clearly is not supportive of these attacks, however much some rogue elements within the government/Army and/or ISI might be in favor of them?

How does this lead anywhere other than to what was pretty obvious from the beginning, but never done by Bush with his war metaphor/paradigm for this construct.  Namely increased nation-nation intelligence coordination and the creation of decentralized intelligence (counter-terrorism) groups by the nations affected by terrorism?

The question from the beginning has been about creating a legal paradigm resilient and flexible yet with enough standards to protect the rule of law (civil rights, democracy, etc) in the age of terror.  Something like what apparently the PM of India is calling for today.

This is light years more important than creating some League of Democracies or getting all the countries together into war mode who have had their own 9/11s against some worldwide united terrorist front (which doesn’t exist).

Rather 1. Create the New Legal Paradigm and 2. Crush the Cell(s)

Skypecast: Integral Politics (Audio Content)


integral-politics-pt1

Click the link above for a discussion of integral politics between Scott and I–the first in what we are hoping will be a series.  We had a technical glitch or two (per our usual) but is I believe worth the listen [I’m of course biased on this subject :)]

A whole mess ‘o links for those interested:


Ken Wilber:  (Basic Summary of his Model).  Video Introduction to Politics through his Philosophical Lens.
Ha Joon Chang (The Economic Developmental Piece):  Here and here.
Thomas Barnett (The Brief):  Here, here, here, and here.  Barnett’s map here:

Spiral Dynamics:  Here and Pt. 1 of an 8 part series of shorts that show each level of development (all 8 are on youtube).

PBS Frontline: The War Briefing

Sneak peak of documentary here:

The full video is available from the Frontline Website.  A must watch in my book.  Interesting to note that many of the experts on the interviews are made up of the new left/center-left security outfits (e.g. CNAS) who are going to make up a lot of the mid level positions in an Obama administration.  Also a bunch of COIN guys (Nagl, Kilcullen).

There is so much to comment on, but the section (towards the middle) on Pakistan is the key portion in my book.  The prior colonials have never been able to hold Afghanistan (Alexander the Great, British, Soviets) because they could not deal with the tribal Pashtuns lands in FATA.  That sanctuary allows an on-going insurgency.  This to me is exactly the same and I’m not sure I see a way around that fact.

I’m not as concerned as some of the interviewers (e.g. Colin Kahl) that Pakistan is teetering on the edge of total collapse.  They are facing some serious threats–both financial and military.  But I don’t get the sense that the Pakistani Taliban want to overrun the Pakistani state.  They just want to be left to rule themselves I think.  They have launched a series of attacks on the Pakistani state and civilian population in response to periodic incursions by the Pakistani military into the tribal areas.

As Robert Kaplan notes, the Pakistani army is not built for such fighting–it is built for a conventional state war against India.  When Hussein Haqqani comes out at the end and says that the new Pakistani government of Zardari and Gilani sees the Pakistani Taliban (as did Bhutto) as an existential threat, that position is one of those elites and not necessarily of the Army, nor the ISI, nor perhaps the bullk of the population who I sense are anti-Taliban in the sense that they obviously don’t want to be ruled by the Taliban but not in favor of what they see as the US War on Terror.  The airstrikes into Pakistani territory don’t help in this regard.

The COIN Doctrine of winning hearts and minds is a particularly tough one, and I’m pessimistic that it can ever work at all. But certainly after the initial opportunity has been missed 6 years too late in the Afghanistan context and 3 years too late in Iraq when the surge came into existence.

The best it seems it can do at this point, in my opinion, is not make it all out civil war when one leaves.  But the state will be for a long time to come dysfunctional if not essentially hollowed out.

Eventually the Afghan Taliban are going to be part of the Afghanistan government.  There will have to be an amnesty, allowing them to join the National Army, etc.  But the Afghan Taliban are not centralized and controlled by Mullah Omar any longer.  Moreover, with the loss of the Taliban police state, the Taliban have now had to join up with criminal gangs, poppy growers, narco-traders, etc.  So even some attempt as Petraeus wants to do to separate the reconcilables from the unreconilables, which I agree is as smart a policy as can be done (and could do some objective good), with the fragmenting of these groups, such a policy as in Iraq post-surge may just be more a recognition of the basically failed state status/fragmentation of the country and work to undermine whatever state power is left (again as in Iraq with the Awakening Councils).

The Afghan Taliban at the end of the day and even a Pakistani Taliban that is not seeking to overthrow the Pakistani government are not threats to US national security.  The potential of failed/hollowed out states wherein trans-national terrorists can hang out, train, and launch attacks is.  [Not an existential threat unless we overreact to another terrorist attack like we did the first one–but a legitimate threat nonetheless].

But I’m not sure how those two get separated.  There are rumors like Mullah Omar will split with al-Qaeda (h/t Attackerman), but others could pick up the slack (Jalalludin Haqqani, Beitullah Mehsud in North and South Waziristan respectively).

What is clear is that as long as there are foreign troops in Afghanistan there will be a jihad.  As long as the Pashtuns (and their new Pashtun-reps the Taliban) are not part of the government, then the jihad will also be against the Afghan Army.  As well as on the other side, the Pakistani state/army/civilians.

The tribal lands are the hardest nut to crack.

Joe Klein on Obama

Interesting tidbit from Joe Klein’s new piece in Time on Obama.

The Obama/Petraeus relationship I find fascinating.  [I still think they might be running against each other president, but that for ’12].

When Obama went to Iraq in the summer, he met with “King David” (as he is affectionately known) and the General gave him his vaunted Power Point Presentation that almost single-handedly sold the Surge and undid Baker-Hamilton.  Obama responds by saying that he appreciates Petraeus’ position and understands that this is his job (he’s the Commander of Forces in Iraq after all), but that Obama’s job was overall strategy.

Klein:

A “spirited” conversation ensued, one person who was in the room told me. “It wasn’t a perfunctory recitation of talking points. They were arguing their respective positions, in a respectful way.” The other two Senators — Chuck Hagel and Jack Reed — told Petraeus they agreed with Obama. According to both Obama and Petraeus, the meeting — which lasted twice as long as the usual congressional briefing — ended agreeably. Petraeus said he understood that Obama’s perspective was, necessarily, going to be more strategic. Obama said that the timetable obviously would have to be flexible. But the Senator from Illinois had laid down his marker: if elected President, he would be in charge. Unlike George W. Bush, who had given Petraeus complete authority over the war — an unprecedented abdication of presidential responsibility (and unlike John McCain, whose hero worship of Petraeus bordered on the unseemly) — Obama would insist on a rigorous chain of command.

Petraeus as already mentioned before on the site, has an interesting relationship vis a vis civilian authority, particularly given Bush gave him carte blanche.  The General’s recent strategic re-assessments of the entire region in his Command (Middle East and Central/Southwestern Asia) are an attempt some think to do a similiar move with the larger theater as he did with Iraq.  Except the Power Points to be coming out–that he gave his talk at the Heritage Foundation last week is of course a piece of evidence in this regard.  [Recall that during the Surge discussions, Petraeus was interviewed by Hugh Hewitt.]

However in this case, it might be less combative than Iraq:

Actually, Obama and Petraeus seem to be thinking along similar lines with regard to Afghanistan. I mentioned that Petraeus had recently given a speech at the conservative Heritage Foundation in which he raised the possibility of negotiating with the Taliban. “You know, I think this is one useful lesson that is applicable from Iraq,” Obama said without hesitation. “The Sunni awakening changed the dynamic in Iraq fundamentally,” he said, referring to the Petraeus-led effort to turn the Sunni tribes away from the more radical elements of the insurgency. “Whether there are those same opportunities in Afghanistan I think should be explored,” he said. In fact, senior U.S. military officials have told me that there is a possibility of splitting Pashtun tribes away from the Taliban in the south of Afghanistan. “But we have to do it through the Karzai government,” a senior officer told me, referring to the fact that the Army had acted independently of the Maliki government in creating the Anbar Awakening. “That is one lesson we’ve learned from Iraq.”

Obviously Hamid Karzai already wants to (and has met with) the Taliban so there is no Maliki scenario in Afghanistan. Iraq’s history is a minority ruling over a majority who pined for power–and another group that wanted out (Kurds).  Afghanistan’s history is a series of minority groups who trade places in rule (with the Pashtuns typically dominant) but have a way of dealing with each other that is completely different than Iraq.  i.e. Any group knows they may lose power and the others may come in–the Northern Alliance cut deals with the Taliban/Al-Qaeda and vice versa even while fighting each other–because they know how they treat the other while in power will go a long way to determining how they are tretaed when the others grab the reins.

Going to get interesting, that’s for sure.

Follow up Afghan/Pakistan (Rubin and Rashid Essay)

(H/t China Matters), comes the Foreign Affairs piece written by Barnett Rubin and Ahmed Rashid on how to change strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan, entitled From Great Game to Grand Bargain.

Readers of this blog will know of my longstanding admiration for both men and their work.  Rubin is the English-speaking world expert on Afghanistan and Rashid is the expert on Pakistan par excellence.  With that said, I’m curious (maybe questioning) one central premise of their essay:

Such an initiative would have two elements. It would seek a political solution with as much of the Afghan and Pakistani insurgencies as possible, offering political inclusion, the integration of Pakistan’s indirectly ruled Federally Administered Tribal Areas (fata) into the mainstream political and administrative institutions of Pakistan, and an end to hostile action by international troops in return for cooperation against al Qaeda. And it would include a major diplomatic and development initiative addressing the vast array of regional and global issues that have become intertwined with the crisis—and that serve to stimulate, intensify, and prolong conflict in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

That is my emphasis in the quotation.  Everything prior to the bold and italics, I’m on board with–but I highlighted that last element for a reason.  Is that point realistic?  My question is:  for those  who have the power to hand over AQ–and we mean the real leadership of AQ not some low level thugs–would they have any incentive to do so?  Or for those who don’t have the power as of now to get them but would presumably have the incentive to do so, could they make such a raid?  Realistically?

Obviously asking such a question is heading into the territory of this underworld, so I have no clue on that one, but I’m skeptical at first blush.  I can imagine a scenario whereby one of these different insurgency groups could maybe put a hit out on a Zawahiri–maybe.  But catch them and hand them over to NATO? Seems unlikely I gotta say.

And on the latter point of the regional effort:

Securing Afghanistan and its region will require an international presence for many years, but only a regional diplomatic initiative that creates a consensus to place stabilizing Afghanistan ahead of other objectives could make a long-term international deployment possible.

Again I certainly agree with the goal, but again am wondering about its feasibility?  I completely agree with Rubin and Rashid that the Great Power game in Afghanistan is carving the country up and only leaves in a globalized world to fragmentation, spillover of violence, into neighboring regions.  That however is a rational pov.  The Great Game however is predicated on an essentially irrational view by my pov.   But the mutual suspicions and conspiracy theories among the ruling elites of the region run sky high (Pakistanis fearing encircling, Iran fearing a returned Taliban/attack from its East)–as the authors themselves  highlight.

This however is absolutely dead on:

More fundamentally, the concept of “pressuring”Pakistan is flawed. No state can be successfully pressured into acts it considers suicidal.

Further the authors correctly note just giving them aid without addressing the central fear from the Pakistani viewpoint is “big hat no cattle.”  But how would one address this scenario?  I mean India and Iran and Russia have a vested interest in a non-Taliban/non-Pakistani aligned state in the region.  [Again how is the momentum of the Great Power Game to be undone?].

iow, With the possible question of whether AQ can be de-linked from the Taliban, this theory is quite logical in thinking.  But logic tends to work for those who can afford it.  Or at least logic from a modern state-based theory of governance.  I just don’t sense that the actors in the region are working out of a position that is irrational from our view (relative to a future-oriented outlook with an emphasis on stability over the long haul), but is rational from the point of view of elites (particularly the Pakistani military) whose continued hold on power rests on the perpetuation of the Great Power Game in Afghanistan.  In which they are acting in their own rational self-interest already.

As the authors note:

There is no more a political solution in Afghanistan alone than there is a military solution in Afghanistan alone. Unless the decisionmakers in Pakistan decide to make stabilizing the Afghan government a higher priority than countering the Indian threat, the insurgency conducted from bases in Pakistan will continue.

This is 100% correct; I’m just pessimistic that Pakistan will ever make such a radical re-calculation.  Like Iraq, I think the inability to create a state in the wake of the destruction of a totalitarian regime has led events to overtake the ability to create another one.  While again I think the outline Rubin and Rashid provide is a legitimate policy option–and much improved over the Bush position–it is quite a projection and really leaves open the fundamental question of realistic chance of success.  There seems to be no real alternative, so this will have to be given a try.  I’m just not particularly hopeful I have to say.