Belmont Club

Lemons and Hard Bargains

McClatchy Newspapers says the State Department  provided a certification that Pakistan was assisting with the campaign against terrorism only two days before it found Osama Bin Laden in the heart of that country.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who signed the March 18 certification, acknowledged Thursday that the U.S.-Pakistan alliance was on shaky ground but signaled no change in the administration’s policy toward the country.

“It is not always an easy relationship. You know that,” Clinton said in Rome. “But on the other hand, it is a productive one for both our countries and we are going to continue to cooperate between our governments, our militaries, our law-enforcement agencies, but most importantly, between the American and Pakistani people.”

The U.S., however, has a long history of not strictly holding Pakistan and other countries to conditions that Congress sets for aid. As a result, Pakistani officials have come to consider their cooperation so indispensible that Washington will do all that it can to stretch the requirements and overlook flagrant transgressions, some experts said.

“It essentially will always be a political decision, and we won’t let such requirements get in the way,” said former State Department intelligence analyst Marvin Weinbaum, an expert at the Middle East Institute.

But in the way of what?

US relationship with Pakistan has been described as complicated. That may mean that the two countries can be simultaneously at war and at peace with each other, depending on the time and place. Just yesterday, UAVs killed 13 “militants”, including foreigners, in North Waziristan. The targets were believed to be a “top al Qaeda leaders as well as terrorists from numerous Pakistani and Central Asian terror groups.”

Pakistan is a busy place. The target area, “Datta Khel is a known hub of Taliban, Haqqani Network, and al Qaeda activity. While Bahadar administers the region, the Haqqani Network, al Qaeda, and allied Central Asian jihadi groups are also based in the area. The Lashkar al Zil, al Qaeda’s Shadow Army, is known to have a command center in Datta Khel.” It is no secret that parts of Pakistan are to all intents and purposes, the enemy. Admiral Mike Mullen put it this way. “The ISI has a long-standing relationship with the Haqqani network. That doesn’t mean everybody in the ISI. But it’s there. Haqqani is supporting, funding, training fighters that are killing Americans and killing coalition partners. And I have a sacred obligation to do all I can to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

Well a lot more could happen. The Times of India quotes Wikileaks as saying that as recently as 2009, “Pakistan’s powerful army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani does not support President Asif Ali Zardari’s ‘no-first-use’ nuclear policy”. In that view, Pakistan reserves the rights to strike first, possibly against India.

“Although he has remained silent on the subject, Kayani does not support Zardari’s statement last year to the Indian press that Pakistan would adopt a ‘no first use’ policy on nuclear weapons.

“Despite increasing financial constraints, we believe that the military is proceeding with an expansion of both its growing strategic weapons and missiles,” cables sent by the then US ambassador to Pakistan Anne Patterson prior to Kayani’s Washington visit between February 20-27, 2009, said. …

The major US concern has not been that an Islamic militant could steal an entire weapon but rather the chance someone working in government of Pakistan’s facilities could gradually smuggle enough fissile material out to eventually make a weapon and the vulnerability of weapons in transit, according to the recently released cables.

Those concerns may be on the rise again, especially about first strikes of another sort. Eli Lake at the Washington Times reports that analysts are sifting from material captured from the Bin Laden raid to see whether he had contacts within the Pakistani nuclear establishment.

According to three U.S. intelligence officials, the race is on to identify what President Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan, has called bin Laden’s “support system” inside Pakistan. These sources sought anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to reporters.

“My concern now is that we cannot exclude the possibility that officers in the Pakistani military and the intelligence service were helping to harbor or aware of the location of bin Laden,” said Olli Heinonen, who served as the deputy director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) from 2005 to 2010.

“What is to say they would not help al Qaeda or other terrorist groups to gain access to sensitive nuclear materials such as highly enriched uranium and plutonium?”

What is to say that Pakistan might not use American taxpayer money to attack America? Well not the certification. Certifications don’t do that, they are designed to get cooperation.  But toward what? Well there we go again.

The US is in a tight embrace with many of the most dangerous countries in the world. But whether it is the embrace of love or the a death grapple, or perhaps both, is hard to say. This pattern of selective engagement/conflict is also evident in Western policy toward Syria. The WSJ says, “European Union ambassadors agreed Friday that the bloc should extend sanctions against 13 Syrian officials, not including Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, EU officials said.” This is similar to US policy, which targets some members of the Syrian ruling elite, but not Assad himself.

MSNBC argues the sanctions are more about messaging than effects. “Senior Syrian officials whose assets have been frozen under new U.S. sanctions have none in the United States, and the EU, considering an arms embargo, does not sell weapons to Syria.”  This may be in pursuit of another favorite administration strategy: to open the door for Assad into a room farther from Teheran. Syria’s ally, Iran, is in the middle of a power crisis between the supreme leader, Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Khamenei ordered the reinstatement of a the intelligence minister and Ahmadinejad refused.

Although Khamenei is not constitutionally allowed to intervene in cabinet appointments, an unwritten law requires all officials to always abide by the supreme leader without showing any opposition.

Clerics close to Khamenei have launched a campaign to highlight his role in Iranian politics, saying that to disobey him is equal to apostasy, as he is “God’s representative on earth”.

“Iran’s elite revolutionary guards, who played an important role in securing Ahmadinejad a second term in Iran’s 2009 “rigged” elections, have distanced themselves from Ahmadinejad in recent months,” so the thinking may be that now is the time to walk everyone to the Grand Bargain table. From the Iran to North Africa the entire region is in turmoil. According to the AP, the Internet is alive with jihadi chatter calling for revenge for the death of Osama. But it is mostly small scale stuff. Terrorism’s patrons are momentarily busy, fighting for political survival against opponents at home. This may have caused some to lose heart. “One of the most senior Saudi Arabian Islamist extremists has surrendered to local authorities, becoming the first known such figure to give himself up following the death of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.”

From one point of view, the diplomats may believe that now is not the time to topple regimes. Now is the time to make deals.

The locomotive of Wahabism, Saudi Arabia, is now turning its attentions to threats that are closer to home. Reuters reports, “the world’s No. 1 oil exporter faces the twin challenges of creating jobs for a young population at a time of unrest in the Arab world, and pursuing economic reforms with a royal succession looming.” The KSA may have a lot of oil, but it is not enough to pay for the rising expectations of the its unemployed young men. The Financial Times argues that Osama Bin Laden and his generation have been bypassed by a newer generation of militants who see the opportunity to seize home governments instead of having to fight Quixotic battles abroad.

Does this mean that the Jihad is dying down? Or does it mean the world is entering into a new phase, one in which militants in the Middle East or Southwest Asia no longer feel the need to go abroad to seek power? The West’s diplomats are going to be found with a foot in each camp. They mean to extrat something, having in mind Benjamin Disraeli’s dictum: “we have no permanent friends. We have no permanent enemies. We just have permanent interests.”

And as for those parties the diplomats help their reply may be similar to the one the Austrian Chancellor Schwarzenberg gave when asked how he would thank Russia for its assistance to Hapsburgs in Hungary. “We will astonish the world by our ingratitude.”  The double-cross is a time honored device in the polished world of diplomacy. We can only hope that the State Department gets its money’s worth of something from Pakistan. Whether that is purchased affection, feigned friendship or a prelude to a sharper knife than might otherwise be used, is hard to say, except by those who drive the bargain.  A bargain for what? Now there we go again.

There was a man named Jabez Stone, lived at Cross Corners, New Hampshire. He wasn’t a bad man to start with, but he was an unlucky man. If he planted corn, he got borers; if he planted potatoes, he got blight. He had good enough land, but it didn’t prosper him; he had a decent wife and children, but the more children he had, the less there was to feed them. If stones cropped up in his neighbor’s field, boulders boiled up in his; if he had a horse with the spavins, he’d trade it for one with the staggers and give something extra. There’s some folks bound to be like that, apparently. But one day Jabez Stone got sick of the whole business.

He’d been plowing that morning and he’d just broke the plowshare on a rock that he could have sworn hadn’t been there yesterday. And, as he stood looking at the plowshare, the off horse began to cough–that ropy kind of cough that means sickness and horse doctors. There were two children down with the measles, his wife was ailing, and he had a whitlow on his thumb. It was about the last straw for Jabez Stone. “I vow,” he said, and he looked around him kind of desperate–“I vow it’s enough to make a man want to sell his soul to the devil And I would, too, for two cents!”

Then he felt a kind of queerness come over him at having said what he’d said; though, naturally, being a New Hampshireman, he wouldn’t take it back. But, all the same, when it got to be evening and, as far as he could see, no notice had been taken, he felt relieved in his mind, for he was a religious man. But notice is always taken, sooner or later, just like the Good Book says. And, sure enough, next day, about supper time, a soft-spoken, dark-dressed stranger drove up in a handsome buggy and asked for Jabez Stone.

“We have no permanent friends. We have no permanent enemies. We just have permanent interests.”


“No Way In” print edition at Amazon
Tip Jar or Subscribe for $5