Every modern president dreads yet hopes for war. It’s the one chance he has for immortality but also for ignominy. But that’s what makes them run for president in the first place, right? The chance to roll the dice on history.
Bush II made clear well in advance that Iraq would be his war and when 9/11 gave him a tangentially related excuse, he went for it. Clinton used the fig leaf of “humanitarian intervention” to help tear apart Yugoslavia.
Barack Obama thinks Afghanistan will be his war. He argues it is part of the global “war on terror” – with our enemy allegedly coordinating an attack on our interests “across 80 countries” he told us the other night in front of those oh-so-martial looking columns. So perhaps if there is success in Afghanistan he will move on to Indonesia.
But as always seems to be the case, Obama misstates the nature of the Afghan conflict and, if he really believes there is a war on terror, misunderstands the shape of global conflict today. That suggests a potential disaster awaits him on the Afghan-Pakistan border. This article from Counterpunch helps unpack some of the complexity. It is worth a close read.
But it misses one critical contour: the Taliban/Al Qaeda problem is really a problem related to geo-politics – the Pakistan-India conflict for a start – not simply the ethnic complexities of rival tribal groups. It is not the case as Professor Herold contends that the “Pakistan government has never been able to dominate its vital tribal borderlands.”
It is that the Pakistanis do not want or need to – they count on these tribal lands as a means to keep Afghanistan unstable and thus denying the U.S. a means to box Pakistan in against fellow nuclear power India. And, by the way, who gave Pakistan the nuke? China and North Korea and China continues to back Pakistan, as the US backs India.
The CIA recently confronted the Pakistani regime over continued Taliban influence in its security service. The New York Times wrote in their piece on the story:
The ISI has for decades maintained contacts with various militant groups in the tribal areas and elsewhere, both for gathering intelligence and as proxies to exert influence on neighboring India and Afghanistan.
Thus, the Afghani “war on terror” is about the global nuclear terror – and we all know who started that nightmare.
But to have his war a US president must also be able to sell it to the American public and a “war on terror” is much more marketable than a “long occupation of an ethnically complex region we must control in order to maintain the balance of nuclear terror on a global scale.”