Afghanistan-Pakistan: Finding the middle way
Presidents of the United States get all kinds of advice from all kinds of people – some wanting U.S. foreign and military policy to succeed, some wanting it to fail. During the recent presidential campaign, Barack H. Obama’s advice to President George W. Bush was to cut and run out of Iraq as fast as possible and surge American forces into Afghanistan as quickly as possible and even launch attacks against the Taliban and al-Qaeda inside the territory of our Pakistani ally. Check the record. That’s what he said on several occasions.
But now, BHO is faced with reality. The troop surge ordered by President Bush when the pundits of the Sinistra Media said it would not work has worked. Recently Iraqi Sunnis and Shiites cooperated to hold a violence-free election. Of course, the election drew only grudging attention from the Sinistra Media; however, the facts are undeniable: The seeds of representative government have been planted in Iraq and, to borrow from Thomas Jefferson, they have been watered with the blood of a tyrant and his two sons – and, unfortunately, many of our own.
But that’s the Government 101 part. The realpolitik (as the Germans like to say) is that Iraq no longer has the political will or the military means to attack Saudi Arabia or Iran. The geopolitical fact, to borrow from the founder of geopolitics, Sir Halford John Mackinder, is that smack dab in the “heartland” of Middle East oil country is a huge nation-state that cannot attack its neighbors, yet it is strong enough (while backed by the U.S) that its neighbors dare not attack it.
History, of course, is fickle. The status quo is always subject to change. But, for now, it can be said that the March 20, 2003, invasion of Iraq has resulted in a “win,” albeit costly.
The Afghanistan-Pakistan Front is much more problematic. Yet that is where BHO is pledged to fight against the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Forget Osama bin Laden. One of the failures of the Bush Administration was trying to kill Osama bin Laden who has probably been dead for a long time and whose remains are probably hidden somewhere in the wilds of Afghanistan or Pakistan.
Now, those who want to give free advice to BHO on what to do about Afghanistan-Pakistan face a dilemma. How do you tell the President, without seeming disloyal or unpatriotic, that a “win” along the Afghanistan-Pakistan Front must be defined in the narrowest of terms? Unlike the defeat of Japan in 1945, neither the Taliban nor al-Qaeda will sit down on the deck of the battleship U.S.S. Missouri to sign an unconditional surrender document.
Everyone knows that modern politicians spend enormous sums collecting polling data. Maybe BHO should ask the American people how they would define “victory” in the Afghanistan-Pakistan theatre of operations. One could hazard a guess that Americans would define “victory” as an Afghanistan that is no longer a launching pad for violent acts against the United States and a Pakistan (the only Muslim nation we know for sure has nuclear weapons) that does not nuke its neighbors or provide a base for terrorism against the United States. Based on that narrow definition of “victory,” we might, just might, pull the Afghanistan-Pakistan rabbit out of the proverbial hat just as our armed forces have done in Iraq.
Meanwhile, BHO will be under enormous pressure from the Left to cut and run from Afghanistan and Pakistan. He will be under pressure from the Right to add more forces and to turn the Afghanistan-Pakistan border into a free-fire zone. BHO would be wise to reject the extremes. The Greek Epicureans (known mostly, and wrongly, for: eat, drink and be merry) were mostly about the avoidance of pain, to find “the middle way.” That will be the foreign/military policy challenge for BHO -- to find the middle way.
William Hamilton is a syndicated columnist and featured commentator for USA Today. Dr. studied at Harvard’s JFK School of Government and was an assistant professor of history and political science at Nebraska Wesleyan University.
©2009. William Hamilton.