The View From Olympus: Another Strategic Blunder

Last week Washington committed another strategic blunder.  On Thursday, January 4, President Trump announced a cut-off of almost all military aid to Pakistan.  This was an unfortunate and unwise strategic decision that contradicts three basic realities. 

First, the action was driven by Pakistan’s continued support for the Taliban in Afghanistan.  This is a classic strategic error, putting a lesser goal before a more important one.  Pakistan is far more important strategically than Afghanistan.  Afghanistan is a strategic backwater.  Success or failure of our efforts there means little beyond the borders of that unhappy country (Al Qaeda long ago found better bases elsewhere).  Pakistan is highly important for the whole region.  It is a nuclear power.  It has one of the few competent Islamic state militaries.  The ultimate nightmare scenario is that the already weak Pakistani state disintegrates and 4GW elements grab the nukes.  Cutting off military aid to Pakistan moves us closer to that strategic disaster.

Second, Pakistan cannot do what we want and move against the Taliban so long as the Afghan government remains aligned with India.  As I wrote in an earlier column, we should long ago have given the Afghan government an ultimatum: either de-align with India and become a very loyal ally of Pakistan or we are pulling out.  The Trump administration is correct that Pakistan holds the keys to success in our endless and largely pointless Afghan war.  But the Afghan government holds the keys to Pakistan, in the form of its alignment with India – an alignment we have encouraged, in a strategic blunder so elementary it suggests the inmates are running the asylum.

Third, we cannot support our war in Afghanistan without using logistics lines, air and ground, that run through Pakistan.  Does no one in Washington have a map?  There is an alternate (longer and more expensive) logistics route through Russia, but the same ninnies who want to weaken Pakistan have also led the charge to alienate Russia.  Do we expect to support our forces in Afghanistan from space?  Action by Pakistan, Russia, or both that finally forced us to leave Afghanistan would probably be a favor to us, since we seem unable to face reality (we’ve lost) and get out on our own.  But our troops still need an exit, unless they want to do what the British army did and remain in Afghanistan forever.

The recurrent question is how our foreign policy establishment can be so inept.  It has nothing to do with political parties or who is in the White House, although some of us voted for President Trump in hope that he would not listen to the Establishment.  The problem is that the foreign policy Establishment as a whole acts as if it is made up entirely of children.  It does so because you cannot become a member of that Establishment unless you see the world through a child’s eyes.  Our planet is a playroom in Miss Millicent’s Academy for Especially Annoying Children and Washington’s job is to make sure all the children play nicely.  We are to accomplish that impossible task by forcing democracy, consumerism, and our garbage popular culture down everyone’s throat, using the U.S. military as our long-handled spoon.  When other countries and cultures spit the poisonous mixture back up, we call in the drones and the bombers.

The only solution is to send the whole foreign policy establishment packing.  Give them a big sucker, a beanie with a propeller on top, and a swift kick out the door, with a parting suggestion they go play in the cat’s favorite sandbox.

In their place we need the sort of people we had at the Cold War’s outset, realists like George Kennan and Dean Acheson.  If it were up to me, the Foreign Service exam would consist of one essay question:  Why should every diplomat worship at the feet of Prince Bismarck?  Eating fois gras to the sound of trumpets in heaven, I’m sure the old man is laughing.

Interested in what Fourth Generation war in America might look like?  Read Thomas Hobbes’ new future history, Victoria.