Battling the terrorists

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf must have been pleased by the civility of his recent Washington visit. The Bush administration silenced the largely pro-India federal bureaucracy so that America’s main anti-Osama bin Laden ally was not greeted with the usual chorus of condemnation over Pakistan’s Kashmir, nuclear and domestic political policies. Though the State Department’s Christina Rocca will soon be sent to bedevil Mr. Musharraf on his home turf, common sense prevailed during the visit.

President Bush correctly praised Pakistan’s contribution to the war against bin Laden and al Qaeda and avoided asking Mr. Musharraf: “What have you done for me lately?” Again, rare common sense. Mr. Musharraf has, to date: ordered his security services to help the CIA capture al Qaeda leaders in Pakistan; permitted an expanded U.S. presence in Pakistan; given the U.S. overflight rights; challenged the power and anti-Americanism of Pakistan’s religious parties; faced down criticism from Pakistan’s generals for helping the U.S. while Washington builds a “strategic partnership” with India; and — most astoundingly — risked civil war by sending Pakistan’s army into the country’s long autonomous tribal areas. Due to this record, Mr. Musharraf and his nation’s viability are a half-step ahead of the locomotive, as witnessed by two attempts on his life and rising internal sectarian violence.

When Washington’s common sense fades — as it will — voices will ask “Can’t Musharraf do more to help us?” The answer, of course, is yes, but only if he wants to accelerate Pakistan’s destabilization. The hard fact for U.S. officialdom is that Mr. Musharraf has done more to help the United States than anyone had a right to expect. Pakistan’s national interests are not remotely identical to America’s, and much of what Mr. Musharraf has done runs counter to his country’s interest. The destruction of the Taliban; efforts to help America capture bin Laden, the world’s most important Islamic leader; support for a secular, pro-India, pro-Russia government in Kabul; and the courting of civil war in Pakistan’s tribal-dominated provinces — none of these actions serve Pakistan’s national interests, nor, for that matter, Mr. Musharraf’s personal longevity.

So before Musharraf critics find their voices, it is worth recalling that America’s dependence on Pakistan is part necessity and part Cold-War leftover. Necessity because of geography — Pakistan abuts Afghanistan — and leftover because we are asking Pakistan and many other countries to do our dirty work. The Cold War era was pre-eminently one in which America and the Soviet Union had others do their dirty work: We backed the Contras, Moscow backed the brothers Ortega; we backed the South Vietnamese, Moscow, and Beijing backed the north; we supported Jonas Savimbi, the Afghan mujahideen and a collection of Cambodian groups, while Moscow backed their opponents. We committed money and political support, our surrogates contributed blood.

This arrangement suited the Cold War era because it kept nuclear swords sheathed. Today it is a recipe for disaster. The pressures and realities of the Cold War are gone, and with them the accepted parameters in which armed conflict occurs. Cursed with an abject fear of losing the lives of U.S. soldiers, Washington since 1988 has continued to depend on others to do our dirty work. First, Iraqi Shias and U.N. sanctions were to defeat Saddam after we failed to finish the first Gulf war (1991-2003); then the Saudis were going to capture bin Laden so we did not have to risk CIA officers (1998); and then Afghan warlords were going to capture bin Laden for us at Tora Bora (2001). Next, Hamid Karzai and the Northern Alliance were to win the war and install an Afghan democracy (2003-present); then Mr. Musharraf’s Pakistan was going to capture bin Laden for us (2001-2004); and, in the future, a rebuilt Iraqi army is to win the insurgency in Iraq (2003??).

Simply put, the thinking that expects others to do our dirty — and very bloody — work should have died with the fall of the Berlin Wall. If America is to win its worldwide battle with Islamist insurgents and terrorists, it will have to do its own dirty work whenever it has a chance to do so, even at the cost of heavier human casualties than we have suffered to date. This is not to say we do not need allies, for we surely do. What we need, however, is a consistently commonsense perspective that sees that no two nations have identical national interests; that no country will ever do all we want; and that to survive we must act with U.S. military and CIA assets whenever a chance arises, even if supporting intelligence is not perfect. This modus operandi will take a steady application of moral courage at a level unseen in Washington for 15 years.

In weighing the foregoing, readers might ask themselves two questions: 1) How can it be that Pakistan’s military has suffered far more casualties than U.S. forces in the war on bin Laden?; and 2) Whatever happened to the “Major 2004 Afghan Spring Offensive” that the Pentagon’s multi-starred general-bureaucrats leaked news of to the media back in January 2004? At least one answer to each question is that our governing elites are still desperate to find others to do our dirty work.

Michael Scheuer is a recently resigned senior CIA official, former chief of the bin Laden unit and author of “Imperial Hubris.”

Published: The Washington Times — Sunday, December 26, 2004

Author: Michael F. Scheuer

Michael F. Scheuer worked at the CIA as an intelligence officer for 22 years. He was the first chief of its Osama bin Laden unit, and helped create its rendition program, which he ran for 40 months. He is an American blogger, historian, foreign policy critic, and political analyst.