Weekend reading about … foreign affairs

Here are IMO some of the best but under-recognized articles about the great events of 2009.

  1. Pakistan spiraling into deeper turmoil and violence, U.S. intelligence report finds“, McClatchy Newspapers, 14 October 2008 — Perhaps the #1 underestimated foreign policy danger.
  2. ‘Grim’ Afghanistan Report To Be Kept Secret by US“, ABC News, 23 September 2008 — “‘No Plans to Declassify’ New National Intelligence Estimate for White House”
  3. The Surge That Failed — Afghanistan under the Bombs“, Anand Gopal, posted TomDispatch, 9 October 2008
  4. Use It or Lose It? How to Manage an Imperial Decline“, Aziz Huq, posted at TomDispatch, 16 October 2008

Also of interest, but not excerpted here:  “Can Pakistan Stay Afloat?“, Fasih Ahmed, Newsweek (web only), 10 October 2008 — “Already reeling from suicide bombers and an angry public, the Zardari government is now dealing with an economy in freefall.”

Excerpts

1.  Pakistan spiraling into deeper turmoil and violence, U.S. intelligence report finds“, McClatchy Newspapers, 14 October 2008 — Excerpt:

A growing al-Qaida-backed insurgency, combined with the Pakistani army’s reluctance to launch an all-out crackdown, political infighting and energy and food shortages are plunging America’s key ally in the war on terror deeper into turmoil and violence, says a soon-to-be completed U.S. intelligence assessment.

A U.S. official who participated in drafting the top secret National Intelligence Estimate said it portrays the situation in Pakistan as “very bad.” Another official called the draft “very bleak,” and said it describes Pakistan as being “on the edge.”  The first official summarized the estimate’s conclusions about the state of Pakistan as: “no money, no energy, no government.”

Six U.S. officials who helped draft or are aware of the document’s findings confirmed them to McClatchy Newspapers on the condition of anonymity because NIEs are top secret and are restricted to the president, senior officials and members of Congress. An NIE’s conclusions reflect the consensus of all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies.

The NIE on Pakistan, along with others being prepared on Afghanistan and Iraq, will underpin a “strategic assessment” of the situation that Army Gen. David Petraeus, who is about to take command of all U.S. forces in the region, has requested. The aim of the assessment – seven years after the U.S. sent troops into Afghanistan – is to determine whether a U.S. presence in the region can be effective and if so what U.S. strategy should be.  The findings also are intended to support the Bush administration’s effort to recommend the resources the next president will need for Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan at a time the economic crisis is straining the Treasury and inflating the federal budget deficit.

… Together, the three NIEs suggest that without significant and swift progress on all three fronts – which they suggest is uncertain at best – the U.S. could find itself facing a growing threat from al-Qaida and other Islamic extremist groups, said one of the officials.

2. ‘Grim’ Afghanistan Report To Be Kept Secret by US“, ABC News, 23 September 2008 — “‘No Plans to Declassify’ New National Intelligence Estimate for White House.”  Excerpt:

The finished secret NIE would be sent to the White House and other policy makers.  Mike McConnell, the director of National Intelligence, has made it his policy that such key judgments “should not be declassified”, although several have recently, including a report on Iran’s nuclear ambitions. “That does not portend that this is going to become a standard practice,” McConnell said it a guidance memo last year.

3. The Surge That Failed — Afghanistan under the Bombs“, Anand Gopal, posted TomDispatch, 9 October 2008 — Excerpt:

When, decades from now, historians compile the record of this Afghan war, they will date the Afghan version of the surge — the now trendy injection of large numbers of troops to resuscitate a flagging war effort — to sometime in early 2007. Then, a growing insurgency was causing visible problems for U.S. and NATO forces in certain pockets in the southern parts of the country, long a Taliban stronghold. In response, military planners dramatically beefed up the international presence, raising the number of troops over the following 18 months by 20,000, a 45% jump.

During this period, however, the violence also jumped — by 50%. This shouldn’t be surprising. More troops meant more targets for Taliban fighters and suicide bombers. In response, the international forces retaliated with massive aerial bombing campaigns and large-scale house raids. The number of civilians killed in the process skyrocketed. In the fifteen months of this surge, more civilians have been killed than in the previous four years combined.

During the same period, the country descended into a state of utter dereliction — no jobs, very little reconstruction, and ever less security. In turn, the rising civilian death toll and the decaying economy proved a profitable recipe for the Taliban, who recruited significant numbers of new fighters. They also won the sympathy of Afghans who saw them as the lesser of two evils. Once confined to the deep Afghan south, today the insurgents operate openly right at the doorstep of Kabul, the capital.

This last surge, little noted by the media, failed miserably, but Washington is now planning another one, even as Afghanistan slips away. More boots on the ground, though, will do little to address the real causes of this country’s unfolding tragedy.

4. Use It or Lose It? How to Manage an Imperial Decline“, Aziz Huq, posted at TomDispatch, 16 October 2008 — Excerpt:

Do empires end with a bang, a whimper, or the sibilant hiss of financial deflation?

We may be about to find out. Right now, in the midst of the financial whirlwind, it’s been hard in the United States to see much past the moment. Yet the ongoing economic meltdown has raised a range of non-financial issues of great importance for our future. Uncertainty and anxiety about the prospects for global financial markets — given the present liquidity crunch — have left little space for serious consideration of issues of American global power and influence.

So let’s start with the economic meltdown at hand — but not end there — and try to offer a modest initial assessment of how the crumbling U.S. economy might change America’s global stance.

… The United States today stands in a position somewhat reminiscent of imperial Great Britain after the Second World War: its currency no longer the pillar of global financial stability, its armies and navies no longer capable of enforcing its policy desires, and its reputation battered by formally successful but functionally catastrophic military conflicts. … As was true in the Britain of those years, so today, even as the U.S. position in the world undergoes a radical diminishment, the extent to which this is being grasped by a policymaking establishment in Washington unused to dealing with uncertainty remains unclear.

In foreign policy terms, the overextended nature of British imperial power only struck home in 1956, nine years after the world war ended … {the Suez Crisis}

Afterword

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