That Old Magic

In the years immediately after the Second World War, American prestige was so great that it covered many of its actions with "that old magic" -- the aura of invincibility and power that made it hard for foreign governments to question it. That magic has worn thin.

Pakistan has decided to jail a doctor who helped find Osama Bin Laden. "Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is acknowledging publicly for the first time that a Pakistani doctor provided key information to the U.S. in advance of the successful Navy SEAL assault on Osama bin Laden's compound last May.

Panetta told CBS's "60 Minutes," in an interview to be broadcast on Sunday, that Shakil Afridi helped provide intelligence for the raid on bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Afridi ran a vaccination program for the CIA to collect DNA and verify bin Laden's presence in the compound.

He has since been charged by Pakistan with treason. Panetta said he is "very concerned" for the doctor.

The Guardian adds that "Pakistan's official commission investigating Bin Laden's presence in the country last year recommended that Afridi be tried for treason."

The military, which will decide what ultimately happens to Afridi, was furious that the CIA was recruiting Pakistani citizens for clandestine operations inside the country, and officials point out privately that it is a crime to work for a foreign intelligence agency.

But it is not a crime, apparently, to harbor Osama Bin Laden while pretending to be a good friend and ally of the United States and receiving billions of dollars in taxpayer aid from it. Secretary Panetta wonders why the infamous terrorist leader's presence mere yards from the national military academy never aroused so much as a curious look from Pakistani authorities.

The US defence secretary, who was in charge of the CIA at the time of the Bin Laden raid, also said that while there was no actual evidence of Pakistani complicity in the al-Qaida leader's presence in Pakistan, suspicions must have been raised about his hideout.

"I personally have always felt that somebody must have had some sense of what – what was happening at this compound. Don't forget, this compound had 18ft walls … It was the largest compound in the area," said Panetta.

"So you would have thought that somebody would have asked the question: 'What the hell's going on there?'"

It's a good question, but not one which the Pakistanis are likely to answer. They are outraged, positively livid, at the suggestion that Pakistani honor is anything less than perfect and have decided to charge America higher rates for the privilege of letting them supply Afghanistan over their roads and ports as punishment for doubting their integrity.

In other news, a Chinese newspaper called for economic sanctions on the Philippines in retaliation for that country's decision to strengthen its military ties with the United States. The Global Times wrote:

China should use its "leverage to cut economic activities" between the Philippines and other Southeast Asian countries and consider "cooling down" business links with its smaller neighbour, according to the editorial published in the Chinese and English versions of the newspaper.

"It should show China's neighbouring areas that balancing China by siding with the US is not a good choice," it said.

"Well-measured sanctions against the Philippines will make it ponder the choice of losing a friend such as China and being a vain partner with the US."

The Chinese newspaper is harping on the well known fact that America never abandons a friend in need. The steadfast support that US politicians have shown for persons and groups that have cast their lot with America is one of the factors that lead freedom loving people all over the world to trust Washington. It's support for the Pakistani government, for example, is touching.

Meanwhile, "the American Embassy in Cairo on Sunday took the highly unusual step of sheltering U.S. citizens employed by ­nongovernmental organizations amid fears that they could be detained as part of a crackdown on pro-democracy groups, according to U.S. officials and a former NGO official." This, in a country allied to the United States and whose revolution was endorsed "from behind" by President Barack Obama. Like Secretary Panetta said, "what the hell's going on here?"

The move comes a week after Sam LaHood, director of the International Republican Institute’s program in Egypt, was barred from boarding an international flight in Cairo. LaHood is the son of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. Several other NGO workers later learned that they had also been barred from leaving the country.

What's going on is that America's enemies -- not just the major ones like China, but the tinpot ones too, like the strongmen of Egypt and Pakistan -- are taking special delight in demonstrating the impotence of an impotent administration. The Administration has demonstrated an peculiar boldness for punishing the law abiding while toadying to the defiant, something which is being interpreted by strongmen in other other countries as the bluster of a blowhard that has no stomach for confronting anyone who will push back.

Of course that's not true, but it sure looks like it.


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