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Sign a Kill List One Day; Award Bob Dylan a Medal the Next Day by William Pfaff

Posted on Sunday, 10th June 2012 @ 07:41 PM by Text Size A | A | A

Paris, May 29, 2012 – “Counterinsurgency” is out. Drones,
assassination teams, targeted killings, and special forces are in. A
New York Times report on May 27 described the “existential debate”
going on inside the faculty at West Point, the national military
academy. Counterinsurgency doctrine from Vietnam — and the
Philippines “insurgency” of 1899-1902 — was refurbished by General
David Petraeus in the closing period of the Iraq war, and combined
with a sharp increase in troop strength (the “surge”) it was credited
with ending the war there by confirming the Nouri al-Maliki Shi’ite
government unsteadily in place.

After taking office as President, Barack Obama looked for a
comparable success in Afghanistan. After consultations in
Washington, and with Petraeus and the new commander of U.S. and
Allied forces in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, the
president authorized a new “surge,” patterned on what seemed to have
worked in Iraq. However he added an important clause: that the
American troop reinforcement would be withdrawn in eighteen months.
Hence his assurance to NATO officials in Chicago last week that U.S.
(and NATO) combat forces are on their way out.

The president has made a realistic assessment of what
by now seems obvious to nearly all. The Afghan war is not going to
be “won” by the U.S. His decision is to “Vietnamize” it. This does
not mean that the war against the Taliban will end. It possibly
means that while ground combat forces will be removed from
Afghanistan, air and special operations characterized by a “light
footprint” would continue to take place (with or without Afghan
government approval, or in disregard or defiance of the Afghan
authorities). A war is not over until it is over.

There could be two wars or quasi-wars rather than one, against the
Taliban in Afghanistan and against the radical Islamists in Pakistan
and their supporters. This implies continued intimidation and
material blackmail of the authorities in Islamabad, and presumably
enlargement of the campaign of assassination by means of drone
attacks already going on in Afghanistan and in the tribal territories
of Pakistan.

The administration’s goal has not changed. It continues to be
American strategic domination of Central Asia, now to be accomplished
by new forms of air, electronic, and economic surveillance,
persuasion and political control, as well as through targeted violence.

An important advisor to President Obama since the beginning of this
administration has been Bruce O. Riedel, for years a CIA officer
concerned with the region. Soon after Mr. Obama took office, Riedel
wrote in the Washington journal The National Interest [July-August
2009] that Pakistan, an advanced and politically sophisticated state
possessing nuclear weapons (and the industrial and technological base
making that possible) is a much greater threat to the United States
and its interests in the region than Afghanistan — an isolated,
backward state — has ever been, or could ever become.

Afghanistan is the doorway to nuclear Pakistan, which is presumed
capable of rallying the world’s Sunnites. Its government is
threatened by domestic extremists. According to Riedel (writing in
2009), under jihadist influence it could mount “an almost
unfathomable” threat, “potentially devastating…with consequences…
literally felt around the world.” What exactly this threat is, I do
not know, nor do I believe in it – any more than I believe that Iran
is somehow a global threat. But other people do believe these
things, and seem to have access to the White House.

There is in Washington foreign policy circles, and more important, in
Pentagon belief and emergent doctrine, a new conception of the
American position in the world, which minimizes the importance of
classical weapons and war, and also of the importance of allies and
the limits of national sovereignty. As articulated in the Pentagon,
it implies U.S. control of essential world resources, probably in
competition with China, and while conducting a war against Islamic
terrorism.

American strategic thinking has for eight decades developed in terms
of global ideological or military conflict – against Nazis, against
Communism. With Samuel Huntington’s wrong-headed but perniciously
influential statement that the next world war would take place
between civilizations, we stepped into a new dimension. Osama bin-
Ladin did his part in giving material form to this claim. Many
Americans now believe that the United States is engaged in a global
war of religion. This is apparent even in American local politics
and in popular political discourse and demagogy. Such sentiments can
be heard in Congress, the Pentagon, and, it would seem, even in the White
House, where a lawyer-president personally selects the persons to be assassinated, whoever and wherever they are, whatever the cause or absence of cause, indifferent to international law, the sovereignty of nations, due process, the Constitution of the United States, and common morality.

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