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America vs. The World

The big trouble with dumb bastards is that they are too dumb to believe there is such a thing as being smart. — Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

Monday, August 07, 2006

While you weren't watching...

Note from Buck: We will have several guest bloggers while Mero is on his honeymoon. J-Flash, who has been providing intriguing comments as Adam since we began, brings a knowledge of world affairs that rivals Mero's.

The Middle East is understandably consuming the national and international attention. The media, diplomats, politicians and village idiots who are inclined to analyze world affairs are concerning themselves with stopping the fighting amongst Israel, Lebanon and Hezbollah.

So this news note, of course, slid by most eyes.

It's not the end of the world, but it's clear that relations between India and Pakistan — once warming pleasantly — are distinctly turning more hostile.

It's still not clear who was behind the July 11 bombings in Mumbai, but the general assumption is that some Pakistan-based militants are to blame. That has always been supported by reports that the attacks were rather sophisticated.

The Washington Post carried an intriguing op-ed a day after the attacks that does a pretty good job spelling out the ramifications for the region if Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI, a corrupt, ultra-clandestine version of the CIA) ends up being behind this. And more importantly, if this is enough to derail peace talks indefinitely.

Note Xenia Dormandy's comparison to Israel vs. Hamas/Hezbollah and Japan vs. North Korea.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz did the needful and condemned the attacks quickly, but that won't cover up for the continued violence that hasn't really been quelled since Musharraf made his power grab in 1999.

Evaluation of Musharraf depends on your perspective, and perhaps how cynical you are.

You could argue that Musharraf has never really been in control, a sort of puppet dictator who tried to be benevolent. Or maybe he is losing what grip he had, as extremist factions grow stronger in light of world politics (i.e. American action).

A middle ground assertion is that he has been aiming low — just for stability — and playing a shrewd, if dangerous political game: Mildly placating democratic, liberal forces while trying not to anger the right-wing clerical establishment.

Musharraf has meanwhile rooted many fundamentalists out of top army positions, but that may only be a cover for keeping his own power intact. He hasn't exactly ushered in democratic reform, and has decimated parliament. And the supposed referendum on his presidency was staged.

Meanwhile, ISI — believed to be mostly controlled by clerics — has long ignored the extremist training camps along the Afghan border, has probably helped shelter Osama bin Laden and has waged an incessant, guerrilla war with India.

To Musharraf's credit, he turned over Abdul Khan. But only after immense pressure, and that scandal shows the sordid state of Pakistan's nuclear program.

The list of Musharraf's failings and muted successes goes on. With the former greatly outweighing the latter.

Now, Pakistan is probably the most dangerous country in the region, if not the world. It teeters on the edge, making strides diplomatically with India (and showing some economic improvement) in the last four years. But more so than other countries, it could easily fall off the deep end.

I have a hard time really believing it would ever first-launch a nuclear weapon, even if clerics take control. But in an eerie Neo-Cold-War scenario, the domino cascade could start here.

In the days after the bombings last month, I gave 50/50 odds that India would once again let this slide and continue dialogue with Pakistan. But Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has had to contend with a right-wing BJP party that clamors for nationalism and would have war.

Since the Indo-Pak dialogue scheduled late last month was shelved, and there's now tit-for-tat retribution against diplomats, it appears one of Musharraf's and Singh's real successes has disintegrated.

The situation is not beyond salvation yet, but if both sides don't make a concerted effort to return to the table soon, look for rhetoric and violence to escalate. And a return to the tensions we saw in 2001 and 2002, when India and Pakistan were on the brink of war.

And that — for those of us who were earnestly watching — was much more frightening than anything al-Qaeda could conjure.


Anonymous P. Pirx said...

Aye, indeed, it is scary. The world right now eerily reminds this of the late 30s. The existing power structures, those established in the the wake of the last great war, are crumbling. Great holes in the walls, some beams are eaten with rot, many windows are broken. Forces which were long kept in check, are growing bolder upon noticing that trangressions, once unthinkable, go unpunished. And, while these development occurs, people with good intentions but poor understanding desperately keep clinging to the hope that the decaying structure may yet be kept whole if only a proper design for a wallpaper can be agreed upon.

Blogger Buck B. said...

Well, that's the problem Pirx. The world right now is maybe more complicated than it's ever been, and calls for complicated solutions. But the people currently in charge of the U.S. government prefer to view everything in black and white, and think we can solve all our problems with simplistic solutions.

As nice as it is to think that military might and intimidation can cut through the Gordian Knot of word politics, it just doesn't work that way. As both the United States and Israel are finding out right now as part of their respective military adventures.

I don't claim to have all the answers. Bush and his neoconservative buddies do. And that's the problem, especially since there's been no evidence so far that they're right.

Anonymous P. Pirx said...

I could take your response, change just a few words in it (names of countries and the like) and it'll be virtually identical to what "progressive minded" people were writing in the late 30s. And we know how it ended. The world was comlicated then too, it is only in hindsight that everything appears simple. And yes, not everything is black and white but there are situations where you've to identify the black and white and take a stand, or pay the consequences.

And, while while military might is not the answer to all, or even most problems, there are, again, cases where nothing but an application of force will do. The scourges of the 30s (and I say "scourges" since it was not a single entity or movement but multiple ones, united in their mindset but autonomous otherwise) were not eradicated by discussions and resolutions, prayers and candlelight vigils. No, this feat was achieved by an application of violence on a scale which said scourges could not match. This may be unpleasant to contemplate, for the post modern PC generation raised on the mantra of "violence never solves anything", but it is a historical fact, nevertheless.

Blogger Buck B. said...

Oh come on, Pirx. Don't be such a pussy. At least this guy has the balls to come out and say what he really means. If you want us to declare jihad against the Muslim world, why don't you be a man and just say so?

Anonymous P. Pirx said...

Hmm, is it supposed to imply that I don't say what I mean? I don't know what course in mind reading you took, but you should ask for a refund:-)

As for "declaring Jihad" and the like, we're in war, not with the whole Muslim world but but with the Islamist movement(s) and they already declared this war long time ago. Thinking that this can be nullified by simply refusing to acknowledge it is, shall we say, touching. The world ain't no sandbox and you can't say "I'm not playing this game, I'm going home".

Blogger Buck B. said...

I completely agree, we're at war with the Islamist movement. And that's why the comparisons to World War II don't work. There, we had a clearly defined goals and clearly defined enemies. Invade Germany, remove the Reich. Attack Japan, depose the emperor. We knew the names, address, birthdays, and favorite aunts of the enemy leadership, and even their underlings conveniently wore uniforms so that we could identify them in our gun-sights.

I was totally gung-ho about Afghanistan. I'd been wanting some Taliban ass-kicking ever since they dynamited those statues, so them giving aid and comfort to the organization that attacked us Sept. 11 was all the excuse needed to rain fire and death upon them.

But what does overwhelming military might do for you after you've taken out the only one of your enemies that sits out in the open? Declaring war on al-Queda does about as much good as me taking on Chicago's meter maids. Shit, we can't even tell Sunni from Shiite, how are we supposed to tell terrorists from Akbar the shopkeeper?

We need the help of other nations and people to first identify the bad guys so that we can kill them, and then to prevent new ones than forming. Because I don't know about you, but I would like to actually get rid of these fuckers rather than than just playing terrorist whack-a-mole for the few decades, killing a bunch of guys just so their nephews and neighbors can pop up 15 years later to smuggle a bomb into Baltimore. When we kill Muslims, it only makes more terrorists. When we have other Muslims kill them for us, everyone wins.

You know what the alternative is? Fuck it, 'kill 'em all. There's certainly a lot of people on the right who seem to be advocating that, and that's the impression I get from you. If we aren't going to secure the help of good Muslims to defeat the bad Muslims, the only other other alternative is to kill all the Muslims.

I have absolutely no problem with violence. Honestly, the fact that the United States has the most powerful and efficient military the world has ever seen gives me a hard-on. If you love America, that can't possibly be a bad thing (the military, not the hard-on).

I don't have a problem with violence, I have a problem with substituting the judicious and intelligent use of violence with pointless bombing campaigns. Bush and the neoconservatives want to apply a 1940's expression of military might to situations that call for a combination of spycraft, diplomacy, economic pressure and, yes, the occasional air-strike or commando raid.

More on this soon.

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