If Franz Kafka covered the Pentagon for the Washington Post, he couldn’t have done better than yesterday’s backgrounder by Greg Miller and Karen DeYoung, titled, “Adm. Mullen’s words on Pakistan come under scrutiny.” Unnamed Obama administration officials told the newspaper that “Adm. Mike Mullen’s assertion last week that an anti-American insurgent group in Afghanistan is a ‘veritable arm’ of Pakistan’s spy service was overstated and contributed to overheated reactions in Pakistan and misperceptions in Washington.” But the officials didn’t want to be quoted publicly so as not to be seen challenging the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs.
A serving officer tells the truth in public about Pakistani spooks plotting with jihadi fanatics to attack a U.S. embassy and murder Americans? And the State Department types lurk in the shadows complaining that he’s exaggerating? It must be that the Kingdom’s coming, or the Year of Jubilo. The fact that the striped pants set doesn’t have the temerity to refute, or let alone rein in, the estimable Admiral Mullen after he exposed Pakistani collaboration tells a great deal about the mood of the American people.
Judging from the questions thrown at me on radio talk shows during the past week, Americans have no patience for putative allies who conspire behind our backs to murder American personnel. They want to know: Why do we put up with this sort of murderous betrayal from Islamabad?
Why, for that matter, have we let Iran get away with the murder-by-proxy of American soldiers in Iraq? The answer in both cases is that our commitment to stability in the region compels us to pretend that inherently unstable, murderous, and dangerous regimes are pillars of public order who must be appeased and protected. That is the fundamental flaw in American foreign policy, and it infected the Bush Freedom Agenda from the beginning.
Why didn’t we deal with the murderous mullahs of Tehran years ago when it became evident that they intended to acquire nuclear weapons? With characteristic candor, Mike Mullen explained why in a March 6, 2009, interview with Charlie Rose: “What I worry about in terms of an attack on Iran is, in addition to the immediate effect, the effect of the attack, it’s the unintended consequences. It’s the further destabilization in the region. It’s how they would respond. We have lots of Americans who live in that region who are under the threat envelope right now [because of the] capability that Iran has across the Gulf. So, I worry about their responses and I worry about it escalating in ways that we couldn’t predict.”
I complained at the time, “A rough translation of Mullen’s remarks into civilian political language is that the quixotic notion of building democracy in the Middle East led the United States into an Iranian trap.” Iran could (and still can) act as a spoiler in Iraq and make shambles of our trillion-dollar investment in Iraqi democracy. The Bush administration held back from hitting Iran because, as Mike Mullen explained, our nation-building exercise made American warriors into targets and hostages.
As the nameless U.S. diplomats told the Washington Post yesterday, “The administration has long sought to pressure Pakistan, but to do so in a nuanced way that does not sever the U.S. relationship with a country that American officials see as crucial to winning the war in Afghanistan and maintaining long-term stability in the region.” The Pakistanis, in short, continue to murder Americans with impunity by threatening us with their own failure. It’s the geopolitical equivalent of the scene in Blazing Saddles in which the black sheriff intimidates a lynch mob by holding a gun to his own head and threatening to shoot himself.
We are not going to get “long-term stability in the region” or anywhere in the Muslim world, for that matter. There are too many reputations and foundation grants at stake in the Republican world to have a sensible debate about the failings of the Bush Freedom Agenda. In the lead up to an election year, some of my fellow neoconservatives think it treasonable to talk about the failings of our own side. But the fact is that we got our arm stuck in the Iraqi tar baby while Iran built up its terror capabilities and advanced its nuclear weapons program. We should have done what Daniel Pipes proposed in 2003: install a strongman, and leave. If the strongman didn’t work out, invade again, install a new one, and leave again.
It is a howling disgrace that the United States of America permits a fourth-rate power like Pakistan to collude with terrorists to attack an American embassy. The American people will never understand or accept such a thing.
We should have allied with India from the outset to sort out the Afghani problem by encircling Pakistan. Now that the Chinese have moved into the situation with their customary opportunism, the equation is considerable tougher to solve — but not impossible. China views Pakistan with profound ambivalence, particularly because Pakistan allows Chinese Muslim terrorists to operate on their common border.
I wrote Why Civilizations Die (and Why Islam is Dying, Too) to destroy the illusion that stability in the Muslim world is an achievable goal. The Muslim world has entered a civilizational tailspin, visible in the convulsive failure perversely called “the Arab Spring,” and the apocalyptic pessimism that has taken hold of Iran — and, seemingly, Turkey. An abyss of instability yawns from Libya to Afghanistan. We cannot bring stability, let along democracy, to this part of the world. At best we can insulate ourselves from the consequences.
The first thing to do is to ensure that state sponsors of terrorism tremble in fear of the consequences of taking American lives. Let them worry about instability. And let their paranoid imaginations run wild concerning what we might to do them.