Mindlessly Expanding Militarism: The U.S. in Pakistan and Afghanistan

(Spencer Ackerman’s response to this piece can be read on his personal blog)

Wired.com national security reporter Spencer Ackerman recently penned a highly emotional and incendiary piece on his personal blog regarding Pakistani support of militants opposing the U.S. in Afghanistan and describing what in his view should be the consequence for these actions. The piece is significant not only because Ackerman is ostensibly a serious journalist whose opinion carries weight and is widely read, but because it provides a good example of how militarism can be endlessly self-justifying when viewed as a cause unto itself. Here’s an excerpt of his analysis:

It’s time for the U.S. to stop issuing idle threats about how Pakistan must take on the Haqqanis OR ELSE. Cut off all aid until the Pakistanis stop helping any insurgent networks and shut the safe havens down. Pull the drones from Shamsi to Jalalabad and fucking bombs-away. Let the Chinese move into Khyber-Pakhtunkwa and announce a brand new relationship with the subcontinent’s real superpower, India. Watch that shit concentrate the Pakistani imagination.

In effect Ackerman recommends launching full scale war with Pakistan, a nuclear-armed country of over 180 million people, in response to its support for the Haqqani Network and others involved in launching cross-border attacks against U.S. troops operating in Afghanistan, thus launching an exponentially more serious war with Pakistan in order to continue fighting the war in Afghanistan. This is an extremely serious decision to take, and one that is popular with an increasing number of armchair foreign policy experts and war correspondents. Going to war with Pakistan would undoubtedly have far more significant consequences than any previous war fought by the U.S. in the past few decades. In stark contrast to Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam (the last 3 major wars the U.S. has fought), Pakistan actually maintains some capacity to meaningfully react to a U.S. attack. While its military capabilities are of course not sufficient to win a war against the U.S, they are certainly enough to cause serious harm to U.S. interests around the world, including at home. Especially when considered in tandem with its massive and well-funded intelligence agency, going to war with Pakistan is an action which has the real potential to destabilize the entire planet; a war between the 3rd and 6th largest countries in the world, both armed with nuclear weapons.

What exactly would make such a course of action necessary? The U.S. is involved in a full blown war in Afghanistan for reasons today which are increasingly unclear. High ranking U.S. officials in the defense and intelligence establishments have made known their belief that there are only “a few hundred” Al Qaeda members in total between Afghanistan and Pakistan combined, yet there are hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops stationed in Afghanistan, most of whom fighting for reasons which have only tangential, if any, connection to “fighting terror”. This is apparently insufficient overkill for Ackerman and others who want to expand the war to Pakistan so that the U.S. can continue at all costs to prop up the corrupt and ineffectual regime of Hamid Karzai in Kabul. Little reflection is done about why the U.S. needs to sacrifice global stability to continue pursuing this path against the wishes of those who actually live in this region, or why regional actors are reacting the way they are to their continued presence there.

Far from being needlessly provocative, a dispassionate analysis would show that there are in fact extremely compelling reasons for Pakistan to continue to support the Afghan Taliban, Haqqani Network et al; a better question might be what good reason is there not to? The U.S. is planning their exit strategy from Afghanistan, however Pakistan will never be able to “exit” from the region and as such has to live with whatever government is in power in Kabul and with whatever non-state actors are operating on its territory and beyond. The Pakistani military could go to war with the Haqqani Network, further destabilizing its own country in order to continue to assist with a deeply unpopular U.S. war which is widely viewed as a pointless and nihilistic exercise, or they can simply continue operating as they have been and wait out the clock until the U.S. inevitably leaves. Over 32,000 Pakistanis have lost their lives as a result of the War on Terror and the civil war triggered by U.S. escalation in Afghanistan; but despite this enormous sacrifice U.S-Pakistani relations are worse than they have ever been. Ackerman points out that Pakistan has been the beneficiary of huge sums of U.S. largesse, failing to acknowledge that both the economic and human costs of continuing what is now a war of choice have hugely outweighed any monetary remuneration which has been provided to the Pakistani government. From the perspective of the average Pakistani zitizen their country has already been grievously destabilized by an unwelcome and largely needless war across the border, not to mention regular extra-judicial bombings and murders carried out by Americans on Pakistani soil, so what possible reason is there to further tear apart the country as a parting gift to the U.S. on its way out of the door?

Here is the crux of Ackerman’s anguished argument, its time to give Pakistan a reason to want to continue going along with U.S. policy by threatening it with full-blown war. Never mind that it cannot be articulated why propping up Hamid Karzai is more important than not launching a third world war; since Pakistan has displayed the utterly surprising decision to protect its interests in the region against the American pet-project in Kabul it is time to sacrifice global stability and shove the U.S. empire further towards the brink in order to protect the integrity of its elective military operations. Many Pakistani actions have been deeply provocative towards the U.S, but they are arguably far less provocative (and far less significant) than what U.S. actions in Central Asia have wrought for Pakistan.

Pakistan has very predictably pursued actions which are at cross-purposes with the U.S. mission in the region because their interests as a foreign power and local one inevitably conflict. When fighting war for its own sake, this would naturally mean that the U.S. war should now expand to Pakistan. When viewed in the context of the foreign policy priority maintaining of U.S. security, this is an insane and possibly suicidal course of action. None of this is to say U.S. policy vis-à-vis Pakistan has not been a dismal failure over the past several years and should not be changed. America is under no compunction to continue funding parties whose interests run counter to its own, though it will be ultimately forced to as long as it continues fighting its war in Afghanistan. Those who see foreign policy primarily as a vehicle for warfare would be well served to realize that there is a lot of space between, “giving you billions of dollars” and “fighting you to the death”. Perhaps Ackerman and others would like explore that space for policy prescriptions before demanding the U.S. engage in another war, the consequences of which would dwarf anything occurring in the world today.


6 Responses to Mindlessly Expanding Militarism: The U.S. in Pakistan and Afghanistan

  1. Naelok says:

    Thanks for posting this. It’s nice to hear a voice of reason when even the good journalists are starting to talk about mindlessly bombing all of a sudden.

  2. Will says:

    Um did you read his post or only snippets? Ackerman is a great not good national-security journalist who let his emotions drive a post, I’ll agree with you there, but he actually is arguing for a REDUCTION of the war in Afghanistan, not an escalation. Furthermore, he calls for a withdrawal of US forces down to a C-T force and a real-politik stance vs Pakistan: ie you dont want to be our ally in fact and not just word(you know that actively plotting to kill American soldiers thing), then fine live without our support. Go to the Chinese and watch as they use heavy artillery and a massive military presence to do the brutal things we wont in Pashtun areas. Oh yeah and watch as we form a for real alliance with your worst enemy that has real geo-political benefits for the US. Its a break up of an abusive relationship, not a murder-suicide. I may not agree with everything he says, and you made some interesting critique, but you’re also willfully misstating his argument. Thats shitty journalism in service of a point of view, exactly what you accuse him of doing.

  3. mazmhussain says:

    I really question if you read the original post and not just the rebuttal where he basically walked back everything he said.


    Nowhere in that article did he talk about drawing down in AFG, the entire article was focused on Pakistan. You also miss the point that the civil war in Pakistan is being driven by the war in Afghanistan. China (very wisely) has no interest in occupying Kabul or fighting the Taliban, so what need would there be to call them in to fight Taliban elements in Pakistan? I think you’ve missed the point!

  4. will says:

    I have read both, but perhaps I did make the mistake of reacting to the totality of Ackerman’s position on the war as opposed to just what he said in the original post. An error on my part to have made that clear. However in no way did he walk back what he said, merely clarified it in reaction to criticism. You saying he did is a bit like declaring “Mission Accomplished” while combat is still occurring. As for your contention that the civil war in Pakistan is solely the result of us presence accross the border, it is laughable. The war in Afghanistan is a clear driver of Pakistan internal conflict but far from the only one or even the most important one IMHO. Its the straw that broke the camels back. Blame the army’s interference in govt, Gen Zia, total failure by the state to control the use of violence or its own territory in the tribal areas, Pakistan’s policies towards India and the results of such at home. Chickens coming back to the roost are never pretty.

  5. mazmhussain says:

    I agree with that, there definitely is an aspect of PAKMIL and the ISI reaping what they have sown in regards to supporting terrorist groups who have now turned against them. Afghanistan was the match that ignited the country but they had been soaking it in gasoline through their patronage of these groups. It was shortsighted, stupid policy and it was bad for both Afghans and Pakistanis. Still think Ackerman did kind of downplay (or at least greatly tempered) what he said in the first article, but I don’t believe that in a reasoned analysis he would decide war is the best option to the current predicament.

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