Belmont Club

Waiting

A number of trends have made is possible to guess what the possible crisis points might occur in the next year and a half. The first trend is the growing problem of Pakistan.  An article in the New York Times describes the growing gap between the US and Pakistani strategies for fighting Islamic extremism in South Asia. For now the cracks can be papered over, but not for much longer. Briefly, Pakistan has wanted to be a dominant influence the pace and scope of US activity in Afghanistan and limit American response to militants operating in their country. The US can no longer play this game. Something may have to give.

Former Pakistani military officers voice irritation with the Americans daily on television, part of a mounting grievance in Pakistan that the alliance with the United States is too costly to bear.

“It is really beginning to irk and anger us,” said a security official familiar with the deliberations at the senior levels of the Pakistani leadership.

The core reason for Pakistan’s imperviousness is its scant faith in the Obama troop surge, and what Pakistan sees as the need to position itself for a regional realignment in Afghanistan once American forces begin to leave.

It considers Mr. Haqqani and his control of large areas of Afghan territory vital to Pakistan in the jostling for influence that will pit Pakistan, India, Russia, China and Iran against one another in the post-American Afghan arena, the Pakistani officials said.

This puts Pakistan’s interests on a major collision course with those of the US. Haqqani is one of the most potent enemies of the US in Afghanistan. Not fighting him is like not fighting the Wermacht in France and expecting to liberate it anyway. The contrasting views of Haqqani are illustrated by the NYT. In this case, the friend of my friend is the enemy of my friend. That is sure to put a strain on things.

For his part, Mr. Haqqani fights in Afghanistan, and is considered more of an asset than a threat by the Pakistanis. But he is the most potent force fighting the United States, American and Pakistani officials agree.

He has subcommanders threaded throughout eastern and southern Afghanistan. His fighters control Paktika, Paktia and Khost Provinces in Afghanistan, which lie close to North Waziristan. His men are also strong in Ghazni, Logar and Wardak Provinces, the officials said.

The US, for its part, has responded by threatening to widen the war with drones. The NYT mentions the threat, but gives scant details. AFP is more explicit. “Senior US officials are pushing to expand CIA drone strikes beyond Pakistan’s tribal region and into a major city in an attempt to pressure the Pakistani government to pursue Taliban leaders based in the city of Quetta, The Los Angeles Times reported late Sunday. The newspaper said the prospect of Predator aircraft strikes in Quetta signals a new US resolve to decapitate the Taliban. But it also risks rupturing Washington’s relationship with Islamabad.” That would be an understatement. It is one of the largest cities in Pakistan and site of major Pakistani military installations. AFP quotes the LA Times as saying:

“We are not a banana republic,” The Times quotes a senior Pakistani official as saying. If the United States follows through, the official said, “this might be the end of the road.”

The point of the NYT article, in case anyone has missed it, is that Pakistan is already looking beyond a US withdrawal, which is scheduled to begin in 18 months. The NYT article above said that Pakistan is already planning to use Haqqani to counter the influence of India after “America walks away”. “For that reason, Mr. Fatemi said, the Pakistani Army is ‘very reluctant’ to jettison Mr. Haqqani, Pakistan’s strong card in Afghanistan.” Haqqani will be a player long after Obama has moved on to another speech. Pakistan knows this and so does 60 Minutes. Steve Kroft pressed President Obama hard on this point:

KROFT: The West Point speech was greeted it was a great deal of confusion.

OBAMA: I disagree with that statement. …

KROFT: But it raised a lot of questions. Some people thought it was contradictory. That’s a fair criticism.

OBAMA: I don’t think it’s a fair criticism. The situation in Afghanistan is complex, and so people who are looking for simple black and white answers won’t get them. And the speech wasn’t designed to give those black and white answers. …

KROFT: Right.

OBAMA: There shouldn’t be anything confusing about that.

KROFT: Let me direct to you a couple of the questions that have been raised. People have asked, “Why are we gonna spend $30 million to send 30,000 troops halfway around the world? And then start bringing them back 18 months later?”

OBAMA: Well, as I’ve said, we’ve got a mission that is time-definite in order to accomplish a particular goal, which is to stand up Afghan security forces. And as I said, we did this in Iraq just two years ago. And General [David] Petraeus, who was involved in my consultations in designing this strategy, I think is the first to acknowledge that had it not been for those additional troops combined with effective political work inside of Iraq, we might have seen a much worse outcome in Iraq than the one that we’re gonna see.

While Obama never directly answered Kroft’s questions he seems to have conveyed a clear impression to the Pakistanis from between the lines. They are under the distinct impression that America will soon begin vanishing from the scene in a “time-definite” way. The Washington Post drily notes that the additional troops will generate a huge logistical effort which will be abandoned by the planned withdrawal even as it gets into high gear.

President Obama’s decision to send more troops to Afghanistan will magnify one of the Pentagon’s biggest challenges: getting aviation and diesel fuel to U.S. air and ground forces there.

As the number of U.S. and coalition troops grows, the military is planning for thousands of additional tanker truck deliveries a month, big new storage facilities and dozens of contractors to navigate the landlocked country’s terrain, politics and perilous supply routes. And though Obama has vowed to start bringing U.S. forces home in 18 months, some of the fuel storage facilities will not be completed until then, according to the contract specifications issued by the Pentagon’s logistics planners.

Some day the US may have to destroy those fuel storage facilities if Haqqani uses them. To the phrase “we destroyed the village in order to save it” the more modern “we built the fuel storage facilities in order to destroy it” may take its place among the bon mots of war.  But that’s OK because Pakistani fixers would have been paid off by then to let the materials through to build them.

The U.S. military remains heavily dependent upon supplies traveling long, windy and dangerous roads in the south from Pakistan to Afghanistan. Along those mountainous routes, theft is common and cash payoffs to insurgents and tribal leaders are believed to be made frequently by truck drivers navigating the region. The Defense Department reported that in June 2008, 44 trucks and 220,000 gallons of fuel were lost because of attacks or other events, according to the GAO.

“This has become a business,” said Tommy Hakimi, chief executive of Mondo International, which arranges deliveries by 300 to 500 trucks a month. “The Taliban doesn’t have interest in taking the life of a driver. And instead of blowing trucks up, they take possession. It’s an asset. . . . Most of the time, they will sell it on the black market.”

So the first probable predictable crisis in the next 18 months will Afghanistan and Pakistan. But there’s a second: Iran. Iran has been found to be working on nuclear weapons triggers, according to the Times Online, the Iranians have been working on it since 2007, “four years after Iran was thought to have suspended its weapons program”. Far from averting a crisis with Iran by pledging to talk to Teheran without preconditions, avoiding a criticism of its brutal crackdown on dissidents and releasing Iranian personnel caught attacking Americans in Iraq, the crisis is coming along right on schedule. The triggers are probably being built so that they may someday be used or threatened to be used. That means trouble down the road.

Confidential intelligence documents obtained by The Times show that Iran is working on testing a key final component of a nuclear bomb.

The notes, from Iran’s most sensitive military nuclear project, describe a four-year plan to test a neutron initiator, the component of a nuclear bomb that triggers an explosion. Foreign intelligence agencies date them to early 2007, four years after Iran was thought to have suspended its weapons programme.

An Asian intelligence source last week confirmed to The Times that his country also believed that weapons work was being carried out as recently as 2007 — specifically, work on a neutron initiator.

The technical document describes the use of a neutron source, uranium deuteride, which independent experts confirm has no possible civilian or military use other than in a nuclear weapon. Uranium deuteride is the material used in Pakistan’s bomb, from where Iran obtained its blueprint.

The third crisis can roughly be described as political. In 18 months the Labour government will have been thrown out of Britain and the Tories will be carrying out a halfhearted but painful attempt to slash the entitlements which bankrupted the UK. By the end of a year and a half the administration is likely to have lost many seats in the legislature; not enough to give conservatives control but enough to make it hard for the liberals to govern by fiat. In addition, the unemployment situation in the US and other countries may still be bad or even worse than they are today. As Obama himself admitted, this will mean that his polling will continue to fall. He asks “where will we be 2 or 3 years from now?”

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The answer to Obama’s rhetorical question is that in two years America will probably be in crisis: one with international, political and economic dimensions. It will enter a period of intense challenge both internal and external. Even with available free energy to meet problems at a low state, it is still possible for leaders to prepare for the future with thorough planning and by making the right organizational connections today. Unfortunately, most politicians don’t shown any sign of doing that. They continue to act as if tomorrow will just be the same as today. More deals, more bimbos, more spin. But maybe this time, things won’t be the same.  It could be different. While nobody can forsee the future, 2010 is likely to be a year of peril and opportunity. The last chance, maybe, to prepare for 2011.


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