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February 25, 2011

Our Ongoing Crisis In Civ-Mil Relations -- Al Franken Edition
Posted by David Shorr

I am taking the liberty of glomming onto adding to Michael's continuing series on civ-mil relations. His last installment takes a step back to keep the revelations from Rolling Stone's Michael Hastings in perspective -- mainly by highlighting more significant manipulations of the Afghanistan policy debate. I saw Sen. Al Franken mentioned as one of the high-level visitors whose buttons the Army's info operations specialists tried to push, which prompts me to recount relate an episode from the 2008 senate race.

During the campaign, the constant refrain on Iraq from then-incumbent Sen. Norm Coleman was that he took his cues from the commanders on the ground. In June 2008, Al decided to call Coleman out for getting backwards the vital question of who's actually in charge. In a conference call covered by the Minneapolis Star-Tribune's politics blog, Franken pointed out that "in our country … the generals on the ground execute policy to the best of their considerable ability." The ultimate deciders for questions of the nation's wars are, of course, the people's elected leaders. Civics book stuff, basically.

I'm sure Al is hardly alone in grasping the difference between, on the one hand, respect for the military advice of service members and appreciation for their dedication, and on the other, the sober responsibility for deciding what missions they will be given. This just seemed like a good moment to revisit the underlying principles of policy making. 

February 24, 2011

A No-Fly Zone for Libya?
Posted by Jacob Stokes

Malta-libya-4411598e4ac62a05 The world is looking for a proper response to the crisis in Libya. With limited leverage, what will stop Muammar Qaddafi from continuing to murder his own people?

John Kerry has led the way among elected officials in proposing specific responses. ICG has offered similiar recommendations. My fellow DAer Shadi Hamid has a piece over at Slate calling for NATO to "quickly move to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya, both to send a strong message to the regime and to prevent the use of helicopters and planes to bomb and strafe civilians." And Marc Lynch made similiar calls earlier in the week.

Before any action is taken, it's essential to think through implications. Mark Leon Goldberg over at UN Dispatch examines some of the potential limitations of a no-fly zone:

This is not to say there is no utility in trying to enforce one over Libya—as Marc Lynch says, it could be one of several demonstrations of the resolve of the international community (along with multilateral sanctions and, perhaps, a Security Council referral to the ICC.) But we should not delude ourselves into thinking that a no-fly zone is an effective humanitarian response to a mass slaughter event. It is a gesture. Not a response.

If stopping a slaughter is our top priority, then a more robust response is probably required. That means not just preventing airplanes and attack helicopters from flying over Libya, but defeating the Libyan military infrastructure that is perpetrating the violence. The word for that is war.

Fred Kaplan, also at Slate, asks some further instructive questions.

Presumably this zone would be enforced by U.S. or NATO combat planes. It's a feasible idea. The cease-fire at the end of the 1991 Gulf War imposed a no-fly zone over Iraq, and it was maintained for the entire 12 years until Saddam Hussein's ouster—through, and despite, many Iraqi attempts (all unsuccessful) to shoot down the planes.

But if any leaders sent air power over Libya, they would first have to calculate how far they'd be willing to go. Would they bomb Libya's airfields? If Qaddafi stopped strafing the crowds and sent tanks against them instead, would they bomb the tanks? And if that didn't halt the oppression, would they send in ground troops? (By any measure, this last step would probably be a very bad idea.)

Both Goldberg and Kaplan wonder whether a no-fly zone can be effective if the U.S. and/or NATO aren't ready to subsequently intervene with troops on the ground. This is not to say that a no-fly zone should be off the table. But as with all questions of intervention, answering "how does this end?" is a must.

A last note: The pilots who were going to defect may have all done so by now, and regime has probably gotten wise and started more vigorously loyalty-testing pilots. But if there are still pilots who want to defect -- taking valuable hardware with them -- what happens to them if there's a no-fly zone?

Our Ongoing Crisis In Civ-Mil Relations - PSYOP Edition
Posted by Michael Cohen

So the bombshell du jour about Afghanistan is a Rolling Stone article that alleges the US military is apparently using soldiers specializing in psychological operations to convince visiting US Senators and think tankers to support increase troop levels and funding for the war in Afghanistan

I guess I'm supposed to be outraged about this . . . but honestly I'm not. The notion that PSYOPs would be considered necessary to convince Congressmen and think tankers to support escalation in Afghanistan is one of the more darkly humorous things I've read in quite some time.

It's like trying to kill a fly with a howitzer. That one of the "targets" was John McCain makes me wonder if anyone in the US military actually knows who John McCain is.

But in general the very fact that US military personnel are trying to manipulate their civilian overseers - honestly, this is a bombshell?

Did everyone just forget about the ongoing manipulation that went on in the Summer and Fall of 2009 to convince President Obama to support escalation - the leaks to major newspapers, the strategic review utilizing well-placed DC thinkers, the public smackdown of civilian leaders by four-star general, the failure of our military leadership to provide civilian leaders with alternatives to a population-centric COIN strategy? Or how about the more recent attempts to whitewash the White House's December strategic review or plant news stories about how well things were going in Afghanistan and it was imperative that the June 2011 drawdown date be finessed in order to maintain "momentum" against the Taliban?

For two years now, since this President took office, the US military leadership has been lobbying and yes, manipulating their civilian bosses to support a population-centric COIN operation, higher troop levels and a steadfast commitment to stay the fight in Afghanistan. That civilian leadership has abdicated its responsibility on strategic decision-making to the military has only exacerbated the problem. But only a blind person would deny that this is what has been taking place.

The notion that this latest Rolling Stone story is even surprising is undoubtedly the most surprising thing about it.

February 23, 2011

The Coming Counterrevolution?
Posted by The Editors

Horace_Vernet-Barricade_rue_Soufflot This guest post by Scott Bates, vice-president and senior fellow for national security at the Center for National Policy. Bates was the first senior policy advisor for the U.S. House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee.

In 1848 popular revolution broke out in one European land after another, from the Netherlands to Serbia, Poland to Prussia. Monarchies tottered and the old social order appeared destined to the dustbin of history with the advent of new movements for an old continent: democracy and socialism.

Yet the “Spring of the Peoples” that dawned in Europe in 1848 was slowly reversed through a rolling counterrevolution that capitalized on the inability of revolutionary forces to quickly coalesce into governing majorities.  The passing of months and years without stability and clear direction allowed the former interests aligned with the status quo to counter attack against the revolutionaries of 1848. The masses that had supported democratic change in the revolution of 1848 became generally disillusioned fairly quickly and were not there to resist the counter attack of the old order. 

Historical determinism is only for the foolish brave, and Marxists. However the past can be a positive guide in reminding us that indeed the forces of change now unleashed in the Middle East are not automatically destined to neatly deliver democracy for all. As events continue to unfold, the United States should mobilize our democratic allies across the globe, and in particular in Europe, to be prepared to provide substantial and sustained long-term engagement and support to the positive forces of change now emerging in the Middle East. 

While the forces of democratic change unleashed in 1848 ultimately prevailed over absolutism in Europe, many decades of turmoil were to follow in getting to that place. The world can ill afford that kind of decades long conflict and chaos in the Middle East.

Congressional Moves to Get Out of Afghanistan Begin with a Whimper
Posted by Jacob Stokes

Ba-warfunding07__0502838252_part6 As the world and the Washington foreign policy community focused on unrest in the Middle East for the last couple of weeks, some members of Congress moved to stop funding the war in Afghanistan. On the House side, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) introduced a bill that would “end combat operations in Afghanistan and limit funding to the safe orderly withdrawal of U.S. troops and military contractors.”

On the Senate side, Sen. Barbara Boxer, introduced the “Safe and Responsible Redeployment of United States Combat Forces from Afghanistan Act of 2011.” Along with the bills, Reps. James McGovern (D-MA) and Walter Jones (R-NC) wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post titled, “The solution in Afghanistan: Get out.” (Rep. Jones is also a co-signer on the Lee bill. Full list here.)

No doubt the bills come from the left flank of both parties, and completely de-funding the war represents probably the most ham-handed approach to ending American involvement. But it’s still amazing that, as far as I can tell, the House bill was mentioned in only one article by the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Senate bill was mentioned only by what appears to be a community blogger for the San Jose Examiner – and nowhere else that comes up in a Google news search. The House bill was dropped in tandem with Huffington Post op-eds from several representatives (here, here and here), Afghanistan Study Group member Matthew Hoh and Brave New Films’ Robert Greenwald. But those seemed to get lost in the shuffle as well in terms of broader coverage. Same goes for the McGovern-Jones op-ed.

At first glance, it seems weird how little attention two bills and an op-ed in the Washington Post received, given the high cost of the war, budget-cutting fervor and the increasing perception among Americans that the mission isn’t going well. Numbers suggest that these bills should be – and ostensibly are – rather popular pieces of legislation. As the San Francisco Chronicle story explains, “A recent CBS News poll showed 72 percent of the public favors a faster withdrawal; while a Gallup/USA Today poll this month showed majorities of Democrats, independents and Republicans favoring a speedier pullout.” 

But upon closer look, aside from the fact that the Middle East is taking up most of the foreign-policy-following public’s attention, the reason for this lack of attention is clear: Afghanistan is not really a priority. As Jamie Fly notes, “In a late October 2010 poll done by the Pew Research Center, only 12 percent of respondents said that the war in Afghanistan was the first or second issue most important to their vote, and only 9 percent cited terrorism.” 

Given the low priority placed on the war by voters, lawmakers who want the legislative branch to bring an end to American involvement in Afghanistan will have to be louder than this.

February 21, 2011

Raymond Davis Worked for the CIA . . . So What?
Posted by Michael Cohen

So today we find out about Raymond Davis what many had suspected - that he was working for the CIA. However, even the details of his status remain highly opaque.

The New York Times is reporting that Davis "was part of a covert, CIA-led team of operatives conducting surveillance on militant groups deep inside the country;" the Wall Street Journal reports that Davis worked for the agency but "was not directly involved in spying operations." Finally Reuters is saying that Davis was a "protective officer" providing security to embassy officials and was not part of a CIA-team doing surveillance.

I'm not sure what to believe here - but to be honest it doesn't matter in regard to the issue of Davis's diplomatic immunity. If the Pakistani government accepted Davis's entry into the country with a diplomatic passport . . . then Davis has immunity. End of conversation.

That, in the nutshell, is the issue - and the focus on his occupation or agency affiliation is a distraction (and I would argue an intentional one).  Even today, when I was being yelled at by various Pakistani lawyers and journalists on Voice of America, there was one area of consensus - where Davis worked is irrelevant.

Don't believe me on this: as Pakistani columnist Raza Rumi argues,"We have missed the chance to demonstrate that we are a rule-based state, compliant with international law." 

But of course as we know the revelations of Davis's CIA ties will only serve to muddy the waters over his diplomatic status and give ammunition to those voices in Pakistan and elsewhere who want to use this incident as a means of making a larger political point.

Case in point, Glenn Greenwald's hyperbolic accusations today that the State Department has no credibilty "invoking lofty "rule-of-law" and diplomacy principles" because the "very same State Department that just got caught systematically violating that convention when WikiLeaks cables revealed that U.S. "diplomats" were ordered to spy on U.N. officials and officials in other countries."

The issue of diplomatic spying is a bit more complicated than Glenn would let on, but I'm surprised by the breezy dismissal of lofty rule of law claims on this issue. Is the fact that Pakistan has a legal responsibility to treat US diplomats by the letter of international law irrelevant? One would think not. Unless this is an invocation of the legal doctrine "two wrongs make a right."

And then there is this:

But what this highlights most of all is the extraordinary cost of occupying, interfering with and waging endless war in multiple countries around the world . . We relentlessly hear what a serious threat is posed to us by Terrorism, and gravely lament that Pakistan is such a hotbed for that activity and those who support it.  Yet -- as the people in that country hear every day -- we're occupying, bombing, droning, and otherwise trying to control what happens there. 

What happened in Lahore is part of an ongoing, continuous assault by American forces in that region.  They (but not we) hear routinely about the killing of their innocent civilians by Americans in their country.  

This is a complete distraction from the matter at hand. As any observer of the US drone war in Pakistan is well aware it is being carried out with the full knowledge, support and acquiesence of the Pakistani government. Indeed many of those being killed by US drones are enemies of the Pakistani government as much as they are enemies of the United States. Like this guy.

And to argue that the United States is trying to control what is happening in Pakistan would surely seem like a cruel joke indeed to US officials who have watched helplessly as Pakistan continues to support Afghan Taliban insurgents and provide sanctuary to jihadist terrorist groups. Moreover, the argument that the US is "routinely" killing Pakistani civilians is contradicted not only by recent reports that civilians casualties have dropped significantly but also work by Christine Fair, among others, that shows such casualty figures are greatly inflated by Pakistan. Finally, it needs to be stated that if the Times story is to be believed . . . the Pakistani government was well aware of Davis's CIA affiliation.

I take a back seat to no man or woman when it comes to my consistent criticism of the US government in regard to the war in Afghanistan and just earlier this year I wrote that the US needs to be more solicitous of Pakistani interests in Afghanistan.

But that notwithstanding if Davis has diplomatic immunity and was accepted by Pakistan under a diplomatic passport then he should be released immediately. On this point the United States stands on very firm legal and diplomatic ground - a point that all voices in this debate should be acknowledging.

If the Pakistani believe he was a CIA agent or engaged in covert activities than they should declare him persona non grata and kick him out of the country. But to continue holding him in a Lahore prison is a violation of basic diplomatic and legal norms. (That a Lahore provincial court determined the matter needs three weeks of investigation is a complete dodge; since the question of Davis's status is an issue to be resolved not by a provincial court only by the Pakistan Foreign Ministry. This is classic buck-passing.)

Whatever one thinks of the US war in Afghanistan or the US relationship with Pakistan the simple fact is that treaty obligations are treaty obligations and the rule of law is the rule of law; and in this case it would appear that the United States has the facts on its side. (Here is another Pakistani lawyer/writer making the same argument).

Discussions about where Davis worked, his background, the US drone war in NW Pakistan and revelations from the Wikileaks documents are certainly matters of public import and should be discussed openly. But in the context of the Davis incident, they should be seen for what they are - a purposeful dodge from the issues of this case. 

How's That Strategic Partnership With Pakistan Working Out?
Posted by Michael Cohen

Greg Miller in the Washington Post has a really interesting article about the success, or lack thereof, of the US drone war in Pakistan:

CIA drone attacks in Pakistan killed at least 581 militants last year, according to independent estimates. The number of those militants noteworthy enough to appear on a U.S. list of most-wanted terrorists: two.

Despite a major escalation in the number of unmanned Predator strikes being carried out under the Obama administration, data from government and independent sources indicate that the number of high-ranking militants being killed as a result has either slipped or barely increased.

According to New America Foundation, 94% of those killed in drone attacks, which cost more than $1 million each, are low-level militants. This makes the US war on terrorism the most expensive game of whack-a-mole ever invented.

But this sort of report begs a question; if the drone war is not bringing us any significant benefit in taking out top AQ leaders - and is being used instead to kill Pakistan Taliban or Afghan Taliban militants - what exactly is it worth to us?  How is it furthering the US national interest?

Keep in mind, in order to maintain this drone war we provide significant assistance to Pakistan of several billion dollars a year; we look the other way at Pakistani support for Afghan Taliban insurgents; we watch with frustration as the Pakistan government thumbs it's nose at the United States with the recent Ray Davis scandal; we barely raise a public stink over the fact that the man who killed 3,000 Americans has been living in Pakistan for about 9 years . . and what are we getting in return? 

Supposedly one item was the ability to fly drone aircraft in Pakistan's tribal areas - and now we discover that even that isn't much bringing the United States much gain. If you think about it the only thing we're getting out of this relationship - of tangible benefit - is the Pakistanis allowing us to use their country as a transit point for bringing materials into Afghanistan. So what we have here is a dysfunctional relationship with Pakistan that harms the US national interest but is maintained, in some measure, to allow us to continue fighting a war in Afghanistan that is tangential from US national interests.

Ladies and Gentlemen, your 2011 United States Foreign Policy!

Of course I'm being overly flippant: there obviously is an argument to be made that if the United States wasn't using drones in Pakistan it would enable al Qaeda to regenerate and began plotting and training for terrorist attacks against the United States. As a deterrent effect alone, the drones are a key element in degrading al Qaeda's capabilities. But if that's the case why are we spending so much energy and time killing low-level militants? I understand why we for a brief time ramped up the drone attacks; but why are we continuing to do so? Shouldn't the drone be focused largely on killing the top operatives and not wasting our time with small potatoes?

The Post quotes defenders of the drones program saying that "empirical evidence suggests that the ramped-up targeting of lesser-known militants has helped to keep the United States safe."

Not only does that seem very hard to believe (after all AQ was only successful on 9/11 because they had the money and masterminds to plot major attacks; the presence of low-level operatives was less vital) but it also seems to ignore the fact that there is a price to be paid for waging these attacks.

Already we've seen blowback from them, not only in the form of the attempted Times Square bombing last summer, but also in negatively affecting US relations with Pakistan (and most certainly US public opinion in Pakistan). One can imagine that the Raymond Davis incident would not be happening if not for the fact that the US was firing drones into NW Pakistan.

But here's the bottom line: the rationale for escalation in Afghanistan was that we had to fight al Qaeda. Part of that rationale rested on the idea that by being in Afghanistan we could more effectively wage the drone war in Pakistan. 

Now it turns out the drone war is barely even killing top al Qaeda lieutenants; we hear from Administration officials that AQAP in Yemen is actually a greater national security threat to the United States; and we have repeated examples that Pakistan has virtually no interest in being an effective US partner in the fight against jihadist terror groups and is actively fanning the flames of US hatred, in part because of a drone war that isn't really achieving its stated purpose.

Other than that the war in Afghanistan seems to be going swimmingly.

February 18, 2011

Jaw Jaw Is Better than Wish Wish
Posted by Eric Martin

Ahmad Shuja has recently undertaken to hold an "e-jirga," whereby Shuja asks various Afghan professionals and students for their opinions on the wisdom of negotiating/reconciling with the Taliban.  The early responses are worth reading, and one hopes that more such discussion will be forthcoming, as a negotiation/reconciliation strategy is at least worth pursuing if nothing else but to gain a glimpse at what an eventual peace agreement would look like in order to assess the wisdom of continuing with the current strategy, or opting for an alternative.

Of the three responses thus far posted, two can be characterized as opposed to such outreach, while one offers a qualified, and caveatted endorsement. The objections are entirely understandable, with appeals to human rights concerns and demands for justice for atrocities committed by Taliban forces when they held power (and since).

Indeed, one of the difficulties that policymakers face in trying to unwind this conflict is that the uncompromising position seems the more morally satisfying one: it is far more inspiring to talk of creating a peaceful, democratic, Afghanistan whose government is relatively free of corruption and which recognizes and respects the rights of its citizens. Who wants to argue for the inclusion of the Taliban, a group whose brutality, especially toward women, is well documented.

However noble such a mission might be, though, the past decade has taught us that such a transformation might be beyond our ability as an outside power, and might prove elusive still to the Afghan people given the myriad competing factions pushing divergent agendas - including many within Karzai's government whose own human rights records mirror those of the Taliban.

Our policy in Afghanistan must be guided first and foremost by what is achievable given real-world resource constraints, and the reality of the various Afghan players, not what would be the most morally and ethically appealing in an ideal world.  Along those lines, this passages from Abdulhadi Hairan's response is telling:

So instead of wasting time [with negotiation] and pushing the country into deeper chaos, the government must think about something different, mainly containing election fraud, which President Karzai can start from himself, fighting corruption, which he can start from members of his own family and his top officials, and bringing war criminals to justice most of whom are his aides and close allies. The international community must do something to stop Pakistan’s support for terrorism.

There is little doubt that if the Afghan government, and international community, could achieve all of those things, there would be less need to negotiate with the Taliban. But that is an enormous, loaded, weighty "if."

Hairan calls on Karzai to, first, take action against his own past electoral fraud (or not repeat such fraud in the future?), a prospect whose odds approach zero.  Next, Karzai is expected to take legal action, including imposing criminal sanctions, against members of his own family and the close allies upon whom he relies to maintain power, all in an effort to fight corruption and punish war crimes. 

Again, expecting Karzai to undertake a process by which he undercuts his own power base is to misconstrue human nature in fundamental ways. Further, Hairan does not suggest where Karzai will be able to look for allies to replace those sacked and imprisoned, nor how Karzai will curry favor with a new set of prospective allies without the ability to dole out patronage goodies in a process that many would describe, with some level of accuracy, as corrupt.  

Lastly, Hairan appeals to the international community to "do something" to stop Pakistan's support for the Taliban.  Unfortunately, Pakistan has, rightly or wrongly, gauged that its vital interests are served by supporting the Taliban and opposing the consolidation of gains made by India in Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban.

It is not clear what the international community could do, under what rubric, and incurring what costs, in order to change Pakistan's behavior, but what is clear is that the United States has been thus far unable to garner Pakistan's cooperation along these lines. The prospects for a change of course do not rate high, thus it is no surprise that the mechanism by which the international community is supposed to compel Pakistan to act directly against its perceived vital interests remains unidentified.

Hairan is almost certainly correct when he states that there would be little need to talk to the Taliban were corruption and electoral fraud eradicated, the justice system invigorated, criminals (including in Karzai's coterie) punished and Pakistan's support for the Taliban ended. However, given that such goals are almost certainly unattainable in any reasonable time period, for any reasonable price tag, there is little choice but to at least pursue what can be achieved through negotiation and reconciliation. 

February 17, 2011

More On Raymond Davis
Posted by Michael Cohen

So there is a rather interesting article on the Raymond Davis controversy that quotes a number of Congressmen and Senators saying it would be a terrible idea to use US aid to Pakistan as a tool for winning Davis's release.

And generally I agree with this sentiment - but to be sure it's not as if aid is providing much of any leverage with the Pakistani government otherwise. Still, this quote from Lindsay Graham was sort of priceless:

Senator Lindsey Graham, the top Republican on Leahy's subcommittee, strongly warned against any roll back to assistance to Pakistan, citing the need for help in the war in Afghanistan and the hunt for suspected terrorists.

"Our relationship's got to be bigger than this," Graham said.

"This is a friction point, this is a troubling matter, it doesn't play well in Afghanistan. We can't throw this agent over, I don't know all the details, but we cannot define the relationship based on one incident because it is too important at a time when we're making progress in Afghanistan," he said.

This is sort of a prefect encapsulation of the dysfunction at the heart of the US-Pakistan relationship - and the failure of US policymakers to recognize it as such. First of all, we're not really making progress in Afghanistan, but that notwithstanding if we were making progress it wouldn't be because of Pakistan . . it would be despite it. Perhaps Senator Graham has some unique insight into US-Pakistan relations, but it sure does seem as though Pakistan is actively supporting and giving sanctuary to the Afghan Taliban insurgents that are killing US soldiers and have repeatedly rejected US demands/inducements to turn against their nominal allies.

And a good part of the reason for this dysfunction is that we are not only trying to convince the Pakistan to do something they don't want to do but we are overestimating our own leverage and influence with Islamabad (hint: it's marginal at best).

As I wrote a few weeks ago in World Politics Review, there might actually be a better way:

It is small wonder that, despite years of American cajoling and demands that Pakistan break ties with the Afghan Taliban, the Pakistanis refuse to do so. Why should they? There is no incentive for them to take the steps that the U.S. wants them to, especially since they can be fairly confident that the United States will not cut off aid to Pakistan anytime soon. After all, considering how many NATO supply trucks wind their way across the Pakistani border to Afghanistan, the U.S. needs Pakistan just as much as Pakistan needs the U.S. And since the Pakistanis are no doubt aware that at some point in the near future the United States and NATO will leave Afghanistan, they have even less reason to be compliant with U.S. demands.

So what would be a better approach? It begins with recognizing that, to be effective, U.S. policy in Afghanistan must work in concert with and not in opposition to Pakistan's interests. Instead of seeking to marginalize or even eliminate the Taliban in Afghanistan, the United States and NATO should adopt a political strategy that ensures that the Taliban -- and in turn Pakistan -- have a political voice in Afghanistan's future. This is not necessarily an ideal solution, but it's certainly a more realistic one. Adopting such an approach, might also pay dividends for the U.S. in getting Islamabad to devote resources to taking on jihadist groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Haqqani network and, of course, remnants of al-Qaida. Continuing the current strategy will only ensure that U.S. and Pakistani policymakers will remain at loggerheads, and that progress in Afghanistan will remain uncertain.

What the Raymond Davis Incident Says About the US-Pakistan "Strategic Partnership"
Posted by Michael Cohen

For more than a year and a half supporters of the war in Afghanistan have steadily peddled the argument that one of the reasons that the US must stay militarily engaged in the region (and especially in Afghanistan) is to support Pakistan, particularly in its fight against radical extremists. The Obama Administration has even hailed a new strategic partnership with Islamabad. 

But the latest twist in the Raymond Davis saga should throw some mighty cold water on that notion.

For those who haven't followed the Davis story closely he is a US diplomat who was arrested several weeks ago for shooting two Pakistanis, allegedly in self-defense. Here's the problem, Davis is a member of the US embassy's technical and administrative staff, which means that he has fairly absolute diplomatic immunity and should be released from prison.

Yet, this hasn't stopped Pakistan from charging Davis with murder and detaining him and just yesterday the provincial court that has jurisdiction over the case has said it will be holding Davis for another three weeks until the issue of his immunity is resolved.

Let's put aside for a second that this case seems to represent a fairly clear cut violation of international law. Pakistan is one of America's largest foreign aid recipients and one of our supposedly most important allies in the region; just this week the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee John Kerry traveled to Islamabad to try and resolve the issue - and was rebuffed; and the Obama Administration has steadily escalated the issue even threatening a downgrade in US-Pakistan relations in order to resolve the dispute.

Yet, Pakistan still refuses to release Davis. Indeed the announcement, even after Kerry's visit, that the matter will need another three weeks of consideration is a huge diplomatic slap in the face to the United States and especially this Administration.

Now I understand that the Pakistan government has some issues with anti-US attitudes in the country (clearly through some fault of their own) . . . and I know that Pakistan allows NATO supply trucks to transit the country and it allows US military drones to attack suspected al Qaeda terrorists (as well as those Pakistan Taliban groups that threaten the Pakistani state). But shall we catalog for a moment all the ways in which Pakistan is not just a lousy ally, but is actually undermining US interests.

1) Is home to Osama bin Laden and other top al Qaeda lieutenants (and has been for 9 years) and has made little effort to deal with the issue.

2) Is home to terrorist training camps like one where the Times Square bomber was trained - and also has made little effort to deal with that issue.

3) Is actively supporting an insurgent group in Afghanistan that is killing US soldiers on a regular basis.

4) Provides safe haven to that same insurgency and even after repeated US demands/requests/inducements has offered no indication they are willing end its support for these groups.

5) Has created a diplomatic incident with the United States over the arrest of a protected US diplomat.

Does this sound like the behavior of a country that is interested in a strategic partnership with the United States?

Now granted I understand that it can be a long and drawn-out process of improving relations, but after 9 years shouldn't it be obvious that the United States has made virtually no progress in turning Pakistan into a true strategic ally of the United States. If Islamabad feels little compunction about openly violating international law and US diplomatic demands does anyone really believe they will suddenly turn around and be of assistance against the Taliban or even jihadist groups that threaten America?

Pakistan will support the US only insofar as it bolsters Pakistani national interests - and as we've seen repeatedly the Pakistan government is either too weak to be a strategic partner of the US or is simply not interested. Or even worse, they understand that no matter what they do; no matter how many sharp sticks they put in the eye of the United States there will be little to no consequences because we need Pakistan a lot more than they need us. How many more pieces of evidence do we need before it becomes abundantly clear that Pakistan is not interested in doing anything to help the US that would even slighly undermine Pakistan's own interests? 

If the Davis incident shows us anything it is a reminder of how little leverage we have with Pakistan, what little ability we have to shape Pakistan's behavior and how tenuous US-Pakistani relations remain. At what point will US policymakers wake up to that reality and respond accordingly?

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