Afghanistan Is Obama’s Gordian Knot

September 29, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By William Pfaff

2011-09-28T055836Z_1463891316_GM1E79S131I01_RTRMADP_3_AFGHANISTAN

U.S. soldiers from Charlie Battery, 321st Field Artillery Regiment fire a 155MM M777 howitzer at a Taliban enemy position from Forward Operating Base (FOB) Bostic, in Kunar province, eastern Afghanistan September 28, 2011.   

REUTERS/Erik De Castro

Useful advice can be found in the past. Gordius, King of Phrygia (in modern Turkey), tied an intricate knot, ever since called the Gordian knot. An oracle told Alexander the Great that whoever could untie it would master Asia.

Alexander drew his sword and slashed the knot. He then conquered the lands between Persia and Afghanistan, pushing on as far as the Punjab.

There his exhausted troops rebelled, and his retreat from Asia began.

The oracle should have known that the mastery of Asia ultimately belongs to Asians.

Barack Obama has promised a withdrawal of many or most American troops  from Afghanistan in the months to come. He has not promised the departure of the enormous State Department and mercenary force of state-builders and democracy-creators and defenders already there.

This, at least, is the plan—a bad and dangerous one that can be relied upon to fail because it refuses to face reality.

The Gordian knot by which this American project is bound is the simultaneous conflict and collaboration of the United States and nuclear Pakistan, certain to end in a wounded American withdrawal, if only because Pakistan lives, and has lived since antiquity, in this particular place in Central Asia, and the United States lives in a different world—geographically, psychically and morally—having arrived in Central Asia yesterday, and being destined to leave tomorrow.

The Gordian knot may be described as follows: The United States and Pakistan are formally allies. They are both at war in Afghanistan, the United States officially, to defeat (or come to a settlement that cannot be interpreted as a “defeat”) the Taliban, radical Muslim nationalist and fundamentalist fighters, and members of the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan, the Pashtuns, who live on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan frontier. The Taliban are held responsible by Washington for collaboration with al-Qaida (or what is left of it) against America-in-Asia. At the same time, Washington is held responsible by the Taliban for invading and attempting to control their country, which they want to control themselves.

The United States and Pakistan are actually enemies, with opposed national interests. The Pakistani army clandestinely supports the Taliban, and has done so for many years, so that Afghanistan can eventually be ruled by their clients. Pakistan’s leaders look upon Afghanistan as furnishing strategic depth to their army in case of war with India—their great enemy since the partition of British India in 1947. The United States, in recent years, has been cultivating close relations and nuclear cooperation with India.

The United States and Pakistan are even close to declaring their enmity. The New York Times and The International Herald Tribune reported as much on September 27. There have been repeated Pakistani attacks on U.S. troops, “incidents” considered to be retaliation for American drone attacks inside Pakistan. The drones have targeted individuals and assets thought to be linked to the Taliban or enemies of the CIA.

Civilians have also been killed. The American command says civilians killed in drone attacks are accidental victims. The target selection system for the drones reportedly functions on visual- and radio-surveillance of suspected sites, which identifies everyone connected with these sites, including innocents. The drones are reputed to be considerably less accurate and discriminating than advertised.
The Haqqani network, another target, once part of the Northern Alliance in the war against the Russians, is currently described by some Americans as a group of criminals exploited by Pakistani army intelligence. The Haqqani have been accused of responsibility for the September 13 assault on the U.S. Embassy inside its fortified compound in Kabul. Last Sunday, there was also an attack, fatal to one victim, on Americans inside the CIA annex to the Embassy, by “an Afghan employee” of the CIA.

What is all of this accomplishing for the American taxpayers who are paying millions to finance both Afghan and Pakistani governments, while supporting their own expeditionary force, plus the Afghan army, and part of the NATO force which is inconclusively warring with the Taliban?

What American or Western interests are served in this Gordian entanglement of conflicting interests and useless casualties?

Obama has not dared to challenge the Pentagon because it holds him hostage politically due to his lack of military service. The military will not break off the war because they will not accept “defeat,” and they are driven by a confused geo-strategic notion of America’s need to dominate global energy resources for the future. Even a Republican president could find himself in Obama’s position, for which Republican politician has served in combat?

I can only imagine a noble self-sacrifice by a president, to save his country and people. Who will seize Alexander’s sword and slash the knot, ordering American troops, ships, spies, mercenaries, diplomats, aid workers and democracy promoters all home?

The United States since the Cold War has stubbornly resisted the principle that people must be responsible for themselves. The Afghans must settle their own national destiny. Pakistan and India know their own interests and must be responsible for them. An American president is accountable to the American people.

Visit William Pfaff’s website for more on his latest book, “The Irony of Manifest Destiny: The Tragedy of America’s Foreign Policy” (Walker & Co., $25), at www.williampfaff.com.

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Al-Qaeda Using U.S. to Accomplish Goals — and U.S. Is Playing Along

January 7, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

William Pfaff, Chicago Tribune

PARIS — It is not widely understood that the policy objective of Al Qaeda is not to attack the Western countries, which in itself accomplishes nothing. Bringing down a Western airliner or blowing up a building in the United States or Britain is of no interest in itself, since the Islamic radical does no good by simply killing unbelievers. The ultimate purpose of Al Qaeda is to bring about an upheaval in the Islamic world in which Islam can be rescued from corrupted governments and degenerate practices.

When Gordon Brown or Barack Obama say that Western soldiers have to fight terrorists abroad so that they will not have to fight them in their own hometowns, they’re being silly, as such sophisticated men ought to know.

Why should Al Qaeda or the Taliban wish to fight in Peoria, Illinois, or a garden suburb of London? There are no recruits to be made there, and nothing to be gained in the real battle that the Muslim extremists are waging: to radicalize the Muslim world, and to rescue their co-religionists from heretical beliefs and Western practices.

The real reason for attacking Westerners in the West, or in airplanes on the way there, is to provoke the Western governments to send more Western soldiers to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere in the Muslim world to attack Muslim jihadists on the Islamists’ own ground, where the latter have tactical and human advantages that Western soldiers can never overcome.

Instead, attack by Western soldiers and the building of Western military bases on the soil of Muslim countries radicalizes and scandalizes ordinary people, and undermines the governments of those countries that choose to align themselves with the invaders — thereby, in the eyes of Islamic true believers, revealing themselves as traitors to orthodox Muslim belief.

The United States and the NATO countries are playing Al Qaeda’s game with every planeload of troops they dispatch to the Arab world and to Central Asia.

A headline in the Paris press says: “The CIA and U.S Special Forces lend a powerful hand to the government of Yemen.” The front-page headline in Tuesday’s International Herald Tribune says: “Yemen corruption blunts Qaeda fight.” This report explains that the Yemeni president’s government “is filled with members of his family and . . . wants to ensure that his son, Ahmed, 38, succeeds him.” The story goes on to say that “the economy has collapsed, with oil revenues down and oil and water running out.” This is the American-allied regime.

At the end of last year, we read about allegations of corruption in Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s own family, and the results of a national election were challenged as falsified. The president of Afghanistan has just ordered the nation’s parliament back from vacation in order to vote on his new cabinet nominees. These are to take the place of 17 of his 24 previous cabinet appointments, all rejected by parliament. Mr. Karzai is, of course, the man the United States put in place in Kabul to bring democracy to Afghanistan, so as to save it from the Taliban and al-Qaida.

No American who witnessed the waltz of U.S. senators with the health industry’s lobbyists during the ongoing effort to legislate health reform in the U.S. is in a position to be condescending about foreign corruption. If the United States has an occupying army that put in place, or sustains, the Afghan, Pakistani or Yemen government, then the ordinary citizen in those countries will see Americans and NATO as sources of their nation’s corruption, and perhaps the main one.

Moreover, the Taliban and al-Qaida are not fighting against corrupt governments in order to reform them. They want to destabilize and eventually destroy all of them so as to clear a political space in which 40 million Pashtuns and their fellow Sunni Arabs can create a new political dispensation of true believers, while the West declines.

That is fantasy, but it is a fantasy in which the United States and NATO are unwittingly playing leading roles.

(Visit William Pfaff’s Web site at www.williampfaff.com.)