Belmont Club

Moving to a Break

US walks out of Pakistan supply route talks.

United States negotiators have quit talks in Pakistan after failing to reach a deal to reopen a supply route to NATO troops in Afghanistan. … Pentagon spokesman George Little said negotiations had been going on for about six weeks but said: “The decision was reached to bring the team home for a short period of time.”

US ‘losing patience’ with Pakistan. “United States defence secretary Leon Panetta says his country is reaching the limits of its patience with Pakistan because of the safe havens the country offers to insurgents in neighbouring Afghanistan.”

CIA gets nod to step up drone strikes in Pakistan. “The U.S., frustrated over Pakistan’s refusal to crack down on local militants who cross into Afghanistan, is approving strikes that it might have vetoed before.”

Tim Roemer, a former U.S. representative from Indiana, served as the U.S. ambassador to India from 2009 to June 2011, writes this in the Washington Post:

Security cooperation has never been better. The United States and India share unprecedented amounts of highly sensitive intelligence and have started a homeland security dialogue; the United States has joined in more combined defense exercises with India than with any other ally. Defense sales are at record levels. We also have historic new collaboration on nuclear nonproliferation issues.

But not all is sweetness and light. There are still powerful interests which are competing for primacy in the determination of policy. There’s the Iran track. “The third U.S.-India strategic dialogue gets under way in Washington this week as the Obama administration considers imposing sanctions on the South Asian nation for importing oil from Iran. The United States wants India to end its dependence on Iranian oil and train Afghan security forces as the U.S. seeks to deepen its relationship with a nation it considers a linchpin of its new defense strategy in the Asia-Pacific region.”

And there’s the Greenie track. “President Obama is quoted in a New Yorker column by hooked-in journalist Ryan Lizza as believing the most important issue to address in his second term would be climate change.

“Obama has an ambitious second-term agenda, which, at least in broad ways, his campaign is beginning to highlight. The President has said that the most important policy he could address in his second term is climate change (italics mine), one of the few issues that he thinks could fundamentally improve the world decades from now. He also is concerned with containing nuclear proliferation.”

Taken together the developments suggest that two poles are tugging at US policy. The first attractor is the obvious need to pivot away from Pakistan, the likely origin of the September 11 attacks. The second attractor is the deep seated need to include “green energy” and “zero nuclear weapons” into the policy mix. The administration is faced two breakout nations: Pakistan and Iran and is struggling to evolve a coherent policy to deal with both.

In retrospect the fatal moment for the administration came when the SEALs hit Osama bin Laden just a few hundred yards from the Pakistani military academy. From that point events unrolled with a fatal inevitability. The President was caught between his desire to boast — and gain political domestic points — while simultaneously trying to mollify the enemies. Nothing exemplified this conflict more than the poor Pakistani doctor who found Osama bin Laden. As Lee Smith put it:

To craft a story about a heroic president and his leading part in American history, the administration rolled out the red carpet for moviemakers like Hurt Locker director Kathryn Bigelow, and gorged the working press with details. It was this information that disclosed the role of a local doctor whose efforts on behalf of an American clandestine operation earned him a 33-year sentence in a Pakistani prison.

That physician is not the only casualty of the White House’s vanity. The administration boasted of a mole who had infiltrated Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and helped thwart an attack against the United States. The man was working for British and Saudi intelligence and details of his role not only damaged the ongoing operations of allied intelligence services, but also put the lives of the agent and others at risk.

Who knows how the information disclosed in the Times’s recent Stuxnet story may come back to harm our citizens and interests, or our ally Israel’s? But the message broadcast to friends, and potential friends, is clear enough. If you fail in your dangerous mission, you may die. If you succeed, you may earn a supporting role in the Obama reelection campaign.

The result was that he neither mollified the hostiles nor impressed the friendlies. Like a man who tries to have it both ways he is winding up having neither. Still he’s better off than the Pakistani doctor, whose attendance at the next Oscars is doubtful.

Historians may look back on this period as a time when nations drifted to war, not for reasons of policy, but to produce a Hollywood blockbuster. In 3D too. For now the Administration’s position is hemaphroditic, like a person in the middle of a sex change operation. But the force events will compel clarity simply because there will be no choice. Perhaps the only positive outcome of the debacle in Afghanistan and the Arab Spring is that it is forcing the US policy establishment to face the unpleasant truths, however much it would want to avert its eyes.

There is precious little room to kick the can any further down the road. The era of hard choices has begun.

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