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A Fork in the Road: Where the U.S. Goes From Here

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Posted on May 3, 2011
U.S. Air Force / Tech. Sgt. Efren Lopez

Soldiers sit inside an improvised shelter decorated with an American flag in Badula Qulp, Afghanistan.

By William Pfaff

Killing Osama bin Laden leaves the United States facing two doors that open two ways into the future. The choice made could determine the eventual place the U.S. occupies in contemporary history.

One door—less likely to be chosen, I fear—leads toward greater international and national security, and lessened conflict in the Middle East and Asia. Taking it, the U.S. government would make known that, having settled its account with the terrorist movement that attacked New York and Washington a decade ago, it now will remove American forces from Afghanistan, and from Iraq as well—as promised by Barack Obama during his presidential campaign in 2008.

Its quarrel with the Taliban in Afghanistan originated in the support it gave al-Qaida in 2001. That matter is now settled. The future of Afghanistan is now for the Afghan people themselves to determine, which eventually they will do, whatever the interference of foreigners.

The U.S. should declare that it wishes Afghanistan well, has no designs on its resources and looks forward to reciprocal relations of friendship with any Afghan government that can plausibly claim a national mandate, is at peace with its neighbors and wishes good relations with the U.S.

The U.S. would generously assist in the country’s reconstruction, after its many years of suffering and war. It would willingly participate in an international effort by Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and their Central Asian neighbors to find constructive permanent resolution to existing conflicts of interest and policy, and would in particular seek and support a just settlement of the violence that has been suffered by Kashmir.

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The other door—I fear, the one more likely to be entered—leads toward more conflict, by way of such sentiments as those expressed at the White House news conference Monday that dealt with the bin Laden operation. Reporters battered John O. Brennan, the president’s counterterrorism adviser, and other officials, with questions about Pakistan’s knowledge, or lack of knowledge, of Osama bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad, an army town near Islamabad harboring three regiments and a military academy. Is Pakistan ally or enemy? Pakistanis are asking the same question about the U.S.

No one who follows Asian affairs can be ignorant of the ambiguity in Pakistan’s position in the American war against the Taliban, al-Qaida’s supposed protectors inside Afghanistan but also clients of the Pakistan intelligence service. It is an inevitable ambiguity because Pakistan is caught between American demands for unconditional cooperation in the war against the Taliban, as well as its Pakistani tribal allies now under drone bombardment by the CIA in the northwest frontier territories, and the Pakistan Army’s long-standing complicity with at least a part of the Taliban. This is also motivated by America’s new ally, India, with its interest in maintaining a base for strategic intervention against Pakistan from Afghanistan, in the event of another conflict.

The Obama administration came to office with a belief that the real danger in the region was Pakistan, a nuclear-weapons nation seen as endangered from within by Islamic fanaticism. In the aftermath of Sunday night’s Osama bin Laden raid, there will be pressure in Washington to punish Pakistan for its links with the Taliban. There will quite possibly be efforts to find the opportunity, and complicit politicians, to stage a governmental coup in Islamabad.

Instead of leaving this central Asian imbroglio, about which Washington knows little and understands nothing, and in which Washington has few direct interests that go beyond the (unhappily growing) militarist and imperialist impulse to impose American control over geopolitically strategic regions—wherever they may be—the Obama administration is under pressure to stay and even deepen its involvement in the Islamic world.

Anatol Lieven, of King’s College London and the New America Foundation, one of the most experienced and intelligent Western experts on Pakistan, recently wrote that current efforts by the U.S. and NATO to make Pakistan conform to Western wishes could produce dire consequences for Pakistan going so far as to “destroy Pakistan as a state and produce a catastrophe that would reduce the problems in Afghanistan to insignificance by comparison. ...”

“To put it at its bluntest, most Pakistanis see our presence in Afghanistan as closely akin to that of the Soviets from 1979 to 1989, and resistance to us as closely akin to the resistance of those days, and equally legitimate. These feelings are held not just by Islamists but by those Pakistanis—the great majority of the population—who have no desire to see a Taliban-style regime in their country. ... It is this ethno-religious solidarity, more than continuing support by the Pakistani state, that is providing the Afghan Taliban with their bases inside Pakistan. This support from large elements of the Pakistani population will continue as long as Western soldiers are present in Afghanistan.”

The choice before Washington is essentially the same one that has to be made in the Arab Middle East, where American support for tyrannical regimes now is discredited policy. Yet already there are American officials and experts working to identify and establish alliances with younger leaders who might provide the U.S. with a new crop of political protegees and clients to replace those leaders being ousted by the Arab Spring. The instincts of the American foreign policy class are intervention and control. These have consistently damaged the nation in the past and will, if indulged, continue to damage it.

The true interest of the U.S. is best served at home. Look around at the state of the nation!

Visit William Pfaff’s website for more on his latest book, “The Irony of Manifest Destiny: The Tragedy of America’s Foreign Policy” (Walker & Co., $25), at www.williampfaff.com.

© 2011 Tribune Media Services, Inc.


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By ardee, May 6, 2011 at 3:14 am Link to this comment

frecklefever, May 4 at 2:23 pm

Please stop shouting.

( the caps lock key is to your left, next to the ‘A’ key on all “Qwerty” keyboards. Turn the damn thing off please)

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Mike789's avatar

By Mike789, May 5, 2011 at 5:56 am Link to this comment

In the real world we should set realistic goals:

We focus on what the intel gleaned from the dispatching of OBL. First off, what plans were or still are in the making? Importantly, can any be countervailed?

What light does it shed on the relationship with Pakistan? Tie the findings to continued aid. They don’t like us, but they like the money and quite frankly it’s funny-money anyway.

Find the Egptian doctor. Further splinter AlQaida and confound their efforts.

Ultimately, gradually reduce our footprint in Afghan. and Iraq as befits the circumstances.

I believe we are trying to do all these things to the best of our ability. My hope is we are learning a lesson.

I did take a sip at the kool-aid server with Barry. This is not what I hoped for nor what I planned on, and I disdain some of our tactics. Nonetheless, I gotta think we go with the hand that was dealt and try to find constructive solutions.

The blind prophet Tiresias once advised Theseus when the hero asked how he should conduct his life. The prophet replied, “Keep going forward.”  Second guessing is a confounding enterprise.

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By frecklefever, May 4, 2011 at 2:23 pm Link to this comment

PEACE OR WAR…PEACE IS TAMING THE NOISE FEELING THE
SUNLIGHT…WAR IS THRILLING TO A DELUSION AND THE RESPONSE OF THE
ANGERED MALADJUSTED…DEFENSIVE WARS ARE JUSTIFIED BUT IF THE
WHOLE WORLD NEEDS TO BE SUBDUED TO BE SECURE…THEN
MEGALOMANIA IS THE BRAINS CONDITION OF THE ONE
DIMENSIONALS..EXCITEMENT IS THEIR DRUG…

Report this

By frecklefever, May 4, 2011 at 2:05 pm Link to this comment

THE CHOICE IS BETWEEN PEACE OR WAR….THOSE EMPTY OF LIFE WILL
CHOOSE WAR ...ITS THE ANGRY RESPONSE OF THE MALADJUSTED…PEACE IS
TAMING THE NOISE..ENJOYING QUIET SUNLIGHT…WAR IS THRILLING TO A
DELUSION…DEFENSIVE WARS ARE JUSTIFIED BUT IF THE WHOLE WORLD
HAS TO BE OCCUPIED TO DEFEND SECURITY..THEN MEGALOMANIA IS THE
DISEASE OCCUPYING THE BRAINS OF THE ONE
DIMENSIONALS…EXCITEMENT IS THEIR DRUG..

Report this

By ardee, May 4, 2011 at 12:41 pm Link to this comment

louiss123, May 3 at 8:35 pm Link to this comment


So who are you going to vote for?
Obama?
Romney?
Ron Paul?

Certainly none of the above.

Rogelio, May 3 at 4:08 pm Link to this comment


Unfortunately for the Muslim world, American foreign policy is in a constant state of change with each new admistration;

I doubt this is true. If you believe this then you should have no problem citing the distinction between the Shrub’s adminstration and that of Obama’s…..

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By MeHere, May 4, 2011 at 9:38 am Link to this comment

Ah, the anxiety over who to vote for….

For now, it doesn’t matter a whole lot.  But voting for a candidate that won’t win is
a good thing, just to make a statement of deep dissatisfaction and help build up a
worthwhile party.

When the people are ready for change, the leaders will emerge.

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basho's avatar

By basho, May 3, 2011 at 11:33 pm Link to this comment

“Look around at the state of the nation!”

your masters did look and found that it can’t be fixed.

the only thing left is war and war and war and ... .

it’s over.

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By louiss123, May 3, 2011 at 8:35 pm Link to this comment

So who are you going to vote for?
Obama?
Romney?
Ron Paul?
Who is the pro-peace candidate?

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By MeHere, May 3, 2011 at 5:20 pm Link to this comment

Will it be door # 1 or door #2?  It all depends on whether the price is right. 

“The American foreign policy class,” as Pfaff calls it, will have the instincts to
know which door to pick. And the rest of Americans will probably cheer and
wave flags. As for the Afghans, Pakistanis, and neighbors, who has the time to
think about that?  A supremacist power doesn’t concern itself with such details.

And when it comes to the “state of the nation” ....Mr. Pfaff, how many things
you think we can accomplish in 10 years?  Since 2002, we’ve managed to cause
well over 10,000 US military deaths, bring about a deep economic crisis that
has left a high number of people without homes and unemployed, and we have
now killed Osama bin Laden. It’s been a lot of work.

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By Rogelio, May 3, 2011 at 4:08 pm Link to this comment

Unfortunately for the Muslim world, American foreign policy is in a constant state of change with each new admistration; whether it is every 4 or 8 years. Therein, lies the dilema for our nation, as well the Muslim world.

As we all know, we foolishly we into Iraq, and President Obama inherited the mess. Moreover, whether to engage in a “conflict” is also affected by elections.

More importantly, we need to rebuild our credibility in the world. Nations, like Pakistan, kiss our ass for money, not because they agree with our policies.

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By gerard, May 3, 2011 at 3:58 pm Link to this comment

Hear, hear!  “The instincts of the American foreign policy class are intervention and control. These have consistently damaged the nation in the past and will, if indulged, continue to damage it.”

The bald truth of this statement is clearly illustrated over and over in the infamous cables released by WikiLeaks. And it is precisely these foreign-policy-class instincts (for bribery, secrecy, power plays, ignorance and misjudgments)
that those who want to imprison Assange and Manning
are working to maintain. The only way they can do it
is if blunders and stupidity can be kept secret.

This is a great period of opportunity.  If the human race can play fair with each other and with their earthly environment, we have a chance to survive in spite of our bloody and thoughtless past.You know as well as I do what it will take.

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By ardee, May 3, 2011 at 3:46 pm Link to this comment

Resolving conflicts,a nice phrase for ceasing the murdering of thousands of innocents. Resolving conflicts, a way to avoid noting that our foreign policy and our looting of resources is responsible for the conflict to begin with.

We the people are not as bloodthirsty as the Arab world believes, I firmly believe. We are simply far too passive in allowing bloodletting and butchery to ensure profits for our corporations.

I recall that bin Laden first requested US troops out of his homeland, and that prior to any acts of “terrorism”. The reasons we have troops in so many nations, and at such great cost to the taxpayer, especially in a time when the effects of unregulated capitalism become too burdensome to bear, seems rather cloudy today.

We blundered into Afghanistan and then Iraq with no clue as to the politics of the region, no idea about the tribal loyalties, as we usually do in fact. We succeeded in becoming the best recruiting tool AlQaeda and the Taliban could desire…nice work Bush.

Of course conflict will continue, and will for as long as we have boots on the ground. There really is only one choice, get out, pay reparations, rebuild that which we destroyed and thus, with gainful employment again possible, making a wage and feeding ones children will trump waging war.

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