I can’t disagree with the Bush administration and bipartisan Congressional leaders that we should be seriously considering moving against the al Qaeda stronghold in the mountains of Pakistan. But why are we allowing the government to position this build-up of al Qaeda in Pakistan as a new development? We knew bin Laden fled across the Pakistani border back before we invaded Iraq! Asking why Bush didn’t pursue bin Laden into the mountains at Tora Bora in 2001 was a major point of John Kerry’s platform in the 2004 election.
It’s time for a little honesty here, just a little. Let’s admit that we bailed on the fight with al Qaeda when we invaded Iraq. We went into Iraq for other reasons, most of which have been exposed as fiction. While we have been mired in the extremely predicable quagmire of Iraq, we have allowed (not the Pakistanis) al Qaeda to rebuild. They are now entrenched in Pakistan, and are rising in influence in Afghanistan again. They know we are stuck in Iraq, and this has enabled them to metaphorically poke us with sharp sticks and run as we can’t reasonably mount any sort of military action against them while we are desperately trying to hold up the facade of an Iraqi government. We have created this situation. We are responsible for it.
To a degree, we are now faced with the classic addict’s dilemma. We can’t really start the recovery program until we admit we have a problem. And we have not done that. Instead, the resurgence of al Qaeda is being positioned as the dangerous resurgence of an enemy we have been battling for years, and who is apparently stronger and more resilient than we thought. Bullshit.
Let’s start by admitting that toppling Hussein was a dumb move. Yes, he was a tyrant and a heinous man. The world is rife with such rulers and we have not the resources or talent to replace these regimes with functioning democracies. We need to get over that fantasy.
We also need to learn from that mistake that we can’t risk destabilizing other governments in an effort to rout out terrorists. Specifically, if we take action in Pakistan, it should be swift, decisive, and measured en0ugh that the existing government continues to function and can remain vigilant against the terrorists after we’re done.
But is it too late for that? I don’t think so. First, we need to allow Iraq to achieve some sort governmental stability. Fascist tyrant, democracy, military junta, I just don’t care. It’s their problem. But that won’t happen if we just bail. But neither will it happen if we continue to prop up this faux democracy we’ve installed there. Given enough rope, I think a government of some form will coalesce there. Our job is only to prevent total chaos. Recognizing that some is unavoidable.
Then, we need to make it clear to Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, and everybody else that we will not tolerate the tacit much less explicit support of terrorism by any government. We will offer aid (military or otherwise) to help any government fight terrorists within their borders. And if they fail to keep terrorists in check, we will come in and do it for them. We will not topple their governments. We will strike hard and without mercy at any camps or enclaves not dealt with by those governments, and we will leave them to pick up the pieces. We will operate covertly and without shame to assure that no such terrorist havens are allowed to grow. This is an approach with both a carrot and a stick. The carrot is that we’ll help you do the job. But it is unacceptable that the job not be done. And in that case, we’ll employ the stick – with the goal of encouraging uncooperative governments to develop a taste for carrots.
In this way, we can hold our heads high and legitimately claim that we are protecting our national interest. This approach will be less expensive, cost fewer American lives, and be more effective. But it is arguably harsher. It will also result in civilian casualties. But let’s face it. The civilian casualty count now is pretty damn high. The only difference being that we would look more unabashedly calloused about the casualties with the carrot and stick strategy. The trouble is, I doubt we have the political stomach for this. Ironic, in that we were so hot to invade Iraq and flex our might there out of a misplaced sense of justice. But somewhere in the American psyche is this A-Team mentality that if the plan comes together, the bad guys all get their comeuppance, and nobody actually gets hurt. This was the “promise” of Iraq. We would go in, do a good thing, and come home. Nobody would get hurt. It’s time we accept that the days of the A-Team are over. This is Survivor island. It’s ugly, it’s cutthroat, and nice guys often finish last.