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Obama’s Alternate Universe
Posted on Jan 8, 2010
By Scott Ritter
The inability or unwillingness of American policymakers to accurately define the problems confronting the United States in Iraq/Iran and Afghanistan/Pakistan prevents any meaningful solution to these issues.
The heart of the problems facing the United States in the Middle East lies not in actions taking place in Baghdad or Tehran but rather in Gaza and Tel Aviv. The continued refusal of the United States to address the issue of Palestine and the Palestinians in a manner that reflects the reality of the situation on the ground, rather than the situation that exists inside Washington, as manipulated and interpreted by Israeli interests, means that the tension and unrest this issue generates will never be resolved. The conflicts with Iraq and Iran are, in many ways, simply symptoms of a larger disease represented by the failure of the United States to formulate a sound and realistic policy regarding Palestine. So long as American politicians find themselves constrained by a pro-Israeli lobby that refuses to permit the inclusion of either the concept or reality of Palestine into the lexicon of American foreign policy considerations (beyond simplistic “dual-state” and other demeaning and dishonest formulations), then there can and will be no long-term solution to any other modern Middle Eastern problem. Solving the Palestine-Israel problem wouldn’t by and of itself resolve all outstanding issues. But it would create the foundation of regional stability and rationality upon which all other solutions could be constructed.
In a similar fashion, the United States must stop factoring al-Qaida and a nebulous “war on terror” into the problem it faces in Afghanistan and Pakistan today. As is the case in the Middle East, the problems faced by America in Central Asia are manifested not so much by what is (improperly) acknowledged—i.e., al-Qaida, the Taliban and a “war on terror”—but rather by that which is not. As the instability of Afghanistan pushes the United States deeper and deeper into the quagmire of Pakistan, it becomes clearer by the day that the key to any future American exit from the region runs not through Kabul, but rather Islamabad. As such, the problem faced by the United States cannot be defined as it currently is, in terms of Swat, Waziristan, Baluchistan and other remote areas of Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan, but rather a region which American politicians are loath to utter publicly: Kashmir.
The increasing radicalization of Pakistan is not derived from what has been transpiring in its Pashtun regions, or those of Afghanistan, but rather from the cancerous tumor that remains from the messy divorce of India and Pakistan in 1948. Kashmir is the source of Pakistani-Indian enmity, and is the primary reason that each of those two nations has developed a nuclear arsenal aimed at the other’s heartland.
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Reducing the influence of radical Islam in Pakistan will never come as a result of any manifestation of American “Af-Pak” policy, but rather through American leadership in recognizing the reality of the unresolved Kashmir situation, and the necessity of resolving this problem in a manner that recognizes Pakistan’s legitimate concerns. However, similar to what Israel does in handling the issue of Palestine, India has been able to leverage its economic and regional influence in a manner that prevents American policymakers from engaging on the issue of Kashmir. Without such an engagement there can never be a resolution of the problems faced by America in Pakistan today.
As America enters 2010, one does not require a crystal ball to forecast that issues pertaining to Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and the “war on terror” will dominate the headlines throughout the year. And here’s one thing that is less clear but every bit as certain: So long as President Obama fails to recognize that there is no “war on terror” for America to fight, and that the problems in the Middle East and Central Asia cannot be resolved without recognizing the paramount roles of Palestine and Kashmir, respectively, then not only will there be no solution to America’s problems but these problems will only get progressively worse, creating the conditions for the formulation of a series of new “solutions,” none of which will address the problems they are designed to resolve.
Sadly, if this prediction comes true, 2010 will be a very bad year for the American people, and the world as a whole, simply because those who can make a difference are operating in an alternative policy universe governed by the self-serving interests of those who use politically induced fear as a mechanism of placating a public oblivious to the fact that they are sleepwalking ever closer to a demise of their own making. For this we have no one to blame but ourselves.
Scott Ritter was a U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq from 1991 to 1998. He is the author of “Target Iran” (Nation Books, 2007).
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