Monday, November 30, 2009

Hitchens going off the deep end?

I know that a lot of people are going to say "you mean he hasn't already?", but I've always quite enjoyed Christopher Hitchens' writing. I won't say that I always agree with him, but there's usually something to appreciate in the way that Hitchens expresses himself, both in his technical execution and in the confidence with which he eviscerates his rhetorical foes.

But lately it seems like the politics are getting the better of him, that he's taken to a sort of Mark Steyn-esque ranting against anything and everything associated with Islam. You'll be unsurprised, then, to find that today's column in Slate is mostly about how dumb it is for the U.S. to be playing nice-nice with Pakistan while jilted India longingly awaits our well-deserved affections.

The visit of Prime Minister Singh should have been the occasion for a vigorous public debate on whether this growing tendency—the Pakistanization of U.S. policy in the region—is the wise or correct one.

India was supporting the Northern Alliance against the Taliban long before the events of 9/11, and it has been providing a great deal of reconstruction aid since the Taliban were removed. It has excellent sources of intelligence in the region and is itself a frequent target of the very same forces against which we are committed to fight.

Its national parliament, the multifariously pluralistic and democratic Lok Sabha, was the target of a massive car bomb attack in the fall of 2001, its large embassy in Kabul has been singled out for special attention from the Taliban/al-Qaida alliance, and of course we must never forget Mumbai. Nor ought we to forget that India's massive economic and military power on the subcontinent is accompanied by a system of regular elections, a free press, a secular constitution under which almost as many Muslims live as live in Pakistan, and a business class that extends all the way to Silicon Valley and uses the English language.

Of Pakistan, a state that has flirted with the word failure ever since its inception, it is not possible to speak in the same terms. Only with the greatest reluctance does it withdraw its troops from the front with India in Kashmir, the confrontation that is the main obsession of its overmighty and Punjabi-dominated officer corps. This same corps makes no secret of its second obsession, which is the attainment of a pro-Pakistani regime in Kabul. (This objective, too, is determined by the desire to acquire Afghanistan for the purpose of "strategic depth" in the fight with India.) The original Talibanization of Afghanistan was itself an official project of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, and the CIA has spent the last eight years admitting, or in some cases discovering, what everyone else already knew: that the Taliban still enjoy barely concealed support from the same highly placed Pakistani institutions.

The enormous subventions given to the Pakistani elite in the "war on terror" are thus partly a subsidy to the very forces we claim to be fighting and partly a bribe to make them at least pretend to stop. Meanwhile, Pakistan's press and the remnant of its education system are virtual machines for the mass production of anti-American and anti-Semitic propaganda aimed at persuading people that the real enemy is the democratic secular West. And on top of all this, the country's "national hero" A.Q. Khan for many years enjoyed state collaboration in the running of a nuclear black market that shared fissile materials with countries like Libya and North Korea. Yet the Obama administration, phrasing its strategy for the crisis, cannot get beyond the silly and limited abbreviation Af-Pak. By excluding India from the equation, the political and military planners impose a tunnel vision upon themselves and dishearten the country that should be our major ally in the region (for other purposes, too, such as forming a counterweight to the increasingly promiscuous power of China).

All of which is well and good, but so far as I can tell, sort of misses the point. For one thing, who cares that India supported the Northern Alliance? So too did Iran, and you won't see Hitchens clamoring for rapprochement with the "mullahcracy."

And what of Pakistani concern with Kashmir? Is not India similarly preoccupied?

(My favorite part is that latter bit when Hitchens criticizes the Obama administration for excluding India from the "Af-Pak" construction, apparently alienating and "dishearten[ing] the country that should be our major ally in the region." Except when they're not. Hitchens should know that India vociferously resisted inclusion in Dick Holbrooke's portfolio; there were even rumblings that he'd be declared persona non grata before visiting the country.)

The simple fact of the matter is that Pakistan is the key to a meaningful solution in Afghanistan, a fact that Hitchens well knows. But he'd rather daydream about the cataclysmic struggle between secular, multicultural good -- India and the West, in this instance -- and backwards, monotheistic evil -- here as Pakistan and the Taliban, obviously -- than deal with the real, tangible security threat as it presently exists. I'm a little put off by Hitchens seeming enthusiasm for the day when the with-us-or-against-us lines are drawn rather more boldly. It reminds me a bit of Reuel Marc Gerecht's pathetic justification for continued U.S. involvement in Afghanistan: because -- according to him -- if we leave, there will be a civil war, and we'll be forced to side with non-Pashtun Afghans (from afar) against the Pashtuns, and thus (obviously!) against the Pakistanis. Which would be bad because then the Pakistanis would stop helping us against al-Qaeda and other transnational terrorists. Of course, in order to follow this logical chain, you have to forget that Gerecht and Hitchens basically insist that Pakistan has nothing to offer us, anyway.

The absurdity of this position is summed up in Hitchens' closing:
But if the United States was to upgrade and cement an economic, military, and political alliance with the emerging giant in New Delhi, we could guarantee without any boasting that our presence in the area was enduring and unbudgeable. It would also be based more on mutual friendship and common values and less on the humiliating practice of bribery and cajolery. And the Pakistani elite would have to decide which was its true enemy: the Taliban/al-Qaida alliance or the Indo-American one.
Well, you're right about that. And how do you think that one is going to turn out for us? All of which is why it's difficult for me to conclude that Hitchens isn't just itching for the fight.

Let's make Pakistan pick sides! Who cares which one they take; at least if it's not us, we can fight 'em!

14 comments:

  1. I have problems with both Hitchen's article and some of your comments, Gulliver.

    1. One could say that U.S. policies have been 'Pakistanized' for some time now - essentially since the Cold War. This has continued with the support of Musharraf by Bush and now with Kerry-Lugar under the auspices of the Obama administration.

    2. I don't think India is 'similarly' preoccupied with Kashmir. That is too glib a phrase, Gulliver. Oh, it's an important issue all right, but the word 'similarly' is problematic. Kashmir is important, but not central, to India today, I'd argue. And Indian proxies are nothing like, er, Pakistani proxies, right?

    Any Indians lurking (since I'm American and not Indian) who'd like to add anything? What I mean is that Kashmir is not central to the Indian identity, today, in the way it has been in the past. The economy, and India's place on the world stage, occupies a much larger mental space, I'd argue.

    3. When you say Pakistan is 'key to a meaningful solution in Afghanistan', you are saying the exact same thing as Hitchens, aren't you? He just thinks the stick in the sticks-and-carrots approach should be different than that coming from this Administration.

    4. Small Wars Journal has a link to a Washington Post article by Karen DeYoung that states the Obama administration has a "new policy" toward Pakistan: "President Obama has offered Pakistan an expanded strategic partnership." This expanded partnership, going by the article excerpt, includes more aid and an offer to help "reduce tensions" between Pakistan and India.

    So, Pakistan is rewarded with more civilian and military aid (conditionalities aside, and who knows how well those can, or will, be monitored?) and a defacto siding with Pakistan on Kashmir? Defacto because the standard Indian line is 'butt out' and the standard Pakistani line is 'butt in.'

    The Obama administration, or progressive think tanks, may think it's a good idea to 'butt in', but that is effectively siding with one party over the other, you see? When one party doesn't want you overly involved, and the other party does, then, any public diplomacy begins by taking one side of the other. Hard to be a credible negotiator in that instance.

    5. We ARE making Pakistan pick sides, Gulliver, what do you think Kerry-Lugar and troops on the border and Gordon Brown scolding Pakistanis is all about? And us saying, 'hey, you can't keep any 'good' Taliban up your sleeve in your poxy wars.' What's Waziristan about, then, if not pushing Pakistan to 'pick sides'?

    Sorry, Gull, I think you're off-base with this one :)

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  2. 'Overly' should be 'overtly' in the above post.

    - Madhu

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  3. Oh, heck, I just reread that again and there are a million little errors. My personal favorite is 'poxy'....

    - Madhu

    (What is this fascination in certain think tanks with grafting on an Israeli-Palestinian-like peace process to the India-Pakistan conflict? Much better to continue to work independently with each country, as we see fit, than to get dragged into all of that. We can twist arms behind the scenes. No need to paint a target on our back. In this I think Hitchens is wrong, too. We can work with both countries, as needed.)

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  4. And, finally, the Indian point of view is that if Pakistan dismantles its "military-jihadi" complex, then the "Kashmir" problem is finally at a point where they can negotiate. Yes, I know, but I think - and, it's likely my Indian heritage points me in this direction, but that doesn't make my analysis wrong - that the US is often made a fool in this part of the world. You just make the right noises, you get the cash, because, somehow, no matter what, the cash keeps flowing. How convenient.

    - Madhu

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  5. 1. One could say that U.S. policies have been 'Pakistanized' for some time now - essentially since the Cold War. This has continued with the support of Musharraf by Bush and now with Kerry-Lugar under the auspices of the Obama administration.

    I'd love to say that I believed wholeheartedly in India's peaceful intentions vis-a-vis Pakistan in the massive power imbalance that existed post-CW, when India had a nuke and Pakistan didn't. I'd love to.

    (Let's not forget, while we're talking about it, that India was decidedly pro-Soviet, along with Afghanistan, and it made a certain sense for the U.S. to cultivate good relations with Pakistan.)

    But that's not really the point, because the U.S. certainly didn't facilitate Pakistan's acquisition of a nuclear deterrent, and in fact punished that country severely for its pursuit of it. That's coming back to bite us in the ass now, with a giant black hole in the Pakistani senior officer corps of guys who had no exposure to U.S. professional military education.

    2. I don't think India is 'similarly' preoccupied with Kashmir. That is too glib a phrase, Gulliver. Oh, it's an important issue all right, but the word 'similarly' is problematic. Kashmir is important, but not central, to India today, I'd argue. And Indian proxies are nothing like, er, Pakistani proxies, right?

    Any Indians lurking (since I'm American and not Indian) who'd like to add anything? What I mean is that Kashmir is not central to the Indian identity, today, in the way it has been in the past. The economy, and India's place on the world stage, occupies a much larger mental space, I'd argue.


    I'm not Indian or Pakistani, and I think it's probably unfair to refer to a national obsession with anything. There are elements of the Pakistani security forces that are preoccupied with Pakistan, yes. But from what I hear, it's not nearly so sweeping as one might think (even among military officers).

    But really, who cares? Kashmir is a point of contention in the relationship. If it ceased to be important to either side, then the problem would go away. It hasn't. I couldn't give a damn if India is only 40% concerned and Pakistan 90%.

    3. When you say Pakistan is 'key to a meaningful solution in Afghanistan', you are saying the exact same thing as Hitchens, aren't you? He just thinks the stick in the sticks-and-carrots approach should be different than that coming from this Administration.

    No, I don't think I am. Hitchens' solution amounts to "Pakistan is no help, so we should muscle them with India." That's not really viewing Pakistan as "pivotal to a solution" but rather as an impediment to one. Undue pressure on that government is precisely what we are NOT interested in at this stage. Why play into Pakistani conspiracy theories and persecution fantasies by going back to a situation where we view that country solely as a tool?

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  6. 4. Small Wars Journal has a link to a Washington Post article by Karen DeYoung that states the Obama administration has a "new policy" toward Pakistan: "President Obama has offered Pakistan an expanded strategic partnership." This expanded partnership, going by the article excerpt, includes more aid and an offer to help "reduce tensions" between Pakistan and India.

    So, Pakistan is rewarded with more civilian and military aid (conditionalities aside, and who knows how well those can, or will, be monitored?) and a defacto siding with Pakistan on Kashmir? Defacto because the standard Indian line is 'butt out' and the standard Pakistani line is 'butt in.'

    The Obama administration, or progressive think tanks, may think it's a good idea to 'butt in', but that is effectively siding with one party over the other, you see? When one party doesn't want you overly involved, and the other party does, then, any public diplomacy begins by taking one side of the other. Hard to be a credible negotiator in that instance.


    Neither country has a right to say "come and be involved, but don't talk to me about this issue!" India can't say "give us nuclear technology without making us sign onto the NPT, sign an end-use agreement with us so as to authorize proliferation of your most sensitive military hardware, plan for economic and strategic alliance with us into the future, but don't tell us how to deal with our unstable, nuclear-armed neighbor!" That's just not how this thing is gonna work.

    Considering the disparity in size and power, why should not Pakistan be afraid of India? Because we think of India as sane and centrist while Pakistan is insane and extremist? Fair enough, but we can't expect them to share our view.

    Being an honest broker doesn't mean accepting each country's claims at face value, but it also means that appeals to things like shared language and culture can't be given undue influence in the strategic calculus. (Perhaps we'll recognize this from Israel-Palestine.)

    5. We ARE making Pakistan pick sides, Gulliver, what do you think Kerry-Lugar and troops on the border and Gordon Brown scolding Pakistanis is all about? And us saying, 'hey, you can't keep any 'good' Taliban up your sleeve in your poxy wars.' What's Waziristan about, then, if not pushing Pakistan to 'pick sides'?

    Yes, we're asking them to pick sides: us -- you know, the guys who are giving you tens of billions of dollars and advanced military equipment -- or the guys who offer you "strategic depth" and other nebulous benefits in a conflict with India. We're not saying "come over to the good guys, like us and India, and leave those criminal terrorists behind!" It's a bit of a different story.

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  7. (What is this fascination in certain think tanks with grafting on an Israeli-Palestinian-like peace process to the India-Pakistan conflict? Much better to continue to work independently with each country, as we see fit, than to get dragged into all of that. We can twist arms behind the scenes. No need to paint a target on our back. In this I think Hitchens is wrong, too. We can work with both countries, as needed.)

    I completely disagree. The problem with this is that the India-Pakistan conflict is the elephant in the room in our bilateral relationship with Pakistan, because it's a security-based relationship. Our relationship with India is much broader, and Pakistan constitutes a much smaller threat to India than vice-versa, so the IN-PK thing doesn't have to be first priority. But how can we expect Pakistan to behave in ways that it believes to be counterproductive to its interests, or even suicidal? We'd never expect the same of India, or of any ally. So we need to deal with the issue comprehensively so as to be able to provide some assurances, or to hopefully calm tensions. Guaranteeing that we'll stick around long enough in Afghanistan to prevent India from gaining a foothold against Pakistan -- however ludicrous that idea may seem to us -- is part of the deal. It's the grown-up business of statecraft. We can't always pick good guys and bad guys.

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  8. And, finally, the Indian point of view is that if Pakistan dismantles its "military-jihadi" complex, then the "Kashmir" problem is finally at a point where they can negotiate. Yes, I know, but I think - and, it's likely my Indian heritage points me in this direction, but that doesn't make my analysis wrong - that the US is often made a fool in this part of the world. You just make the right noises, you get the cash, because, somehow, no matter what, the cash keeps flowing. How convenient.


    It shouldn't surprise you much when I say that we're made a fool in a lot of parts of the world; it's just part of the deal when you're the guy with the deepest pockets and the least understanding of the internal dynamics of the conflict.

    It's fine for India to say "things would be a lot easier if you guys just stopped blowing us up, or supporting the guys who do." And I agree, it would. But why in the world would Pakistan do such a thing when they imagine the "military-jihadi complex" to serve their interests?

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  9. Yeah, sorry, we are never going to agree on this one. Can you not see that negotiating behind the scenes is different from making the Kashmir conflict central to our negotiations with both countries? The elephant in the room doesn't have to become *our* elephant. India already thinks we tilt too much toward Pakistan. So? Please explain to me how we are going to make India 'understand' their best interests anymore than we are going to make Pakistan 'understand' their best interests in the way we in the US define them?

    Please explain to me how India's stance on Kashmir is 'suicidal', or 'homicidal' to Pakistan? If there was a plebiscite held tommorrow, what exactly about Pakistan's governance would change? Would they immediately dismantle their proxies? Could they even do it if they wanted to? Would their economy improve, or the military give up its special powers?

    I'm surprised by your naivete. We are being gamed. I'm not saying I agree with Hitchens, that takes it too far, but we are absolutely being gamed. We'll see where the money goes. I bet our conditionalites won't prevent it from ending up where-ever it ends up.


    - Madhu

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  10. Oh, and really, really finally on this one: we don't have to give India anything in terms of nuclear deals. I'm not saying the US should be more pro-India or pro-Pakistan, although, we are going to trade a lot with India in the future and we will have an important relationship, regardless (we are moving in the same directions), I'm saying the decoupling of the relationship is more beneficial to American interests than coupling them, ala Af-Pak. To re-couple them just makes us hostage to the special pleading of both countries.

    - Madhu

    PS: Where is Anan/Anand when you need him? :)

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  11. I lied about the finally part: apologies about the naivete comment. That was uncalled for on my part.


    SORRY!!!


    - Madhu

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  12. Can you not see that negotiating behind the scenes is different from making the Kashmir conflict central to our negotiations with both countries?

    I don't think anyone is suggesting we make Kashmir central. I think we're hoping for exactly the opposite: that through engagement with both countries there might come a time where they don't view Kashmir as central, either. Maybe that will never happen, but isn't it worth trying?

    Please explain to me how we are going to make India 'understand' their best interests anymore than we are going to make Pakistan 'understand' their best interests in the way we in the US define them?

    I don't think I've suggested that either country can be "made to understand" its own interests, but rather that by developing a more comprehensive relationship across a range of issues -- including regional security -- we can demonstrate a legitimate concern for the interests of others and play a more constructive role.

    Please explain to me how India's stance on Kashmir is 'suicidal', or 'homicidal' to Pakistan?

    Again, you misunderstand me here. We have to look at Pakistan's security concerns through Pakistan's eyes, not ours or India's. So when we ask them to move forces off their eastern frontier to go to COIN in the NWFP, they think "jesus, our shared border with our hated enemy is undefended." That, in their minds, is suicidal.

    We'll see where the money goes. I bet our conditionalites won't prevent it from ending up where-ever it ends up.

    I can guaran-damn-tee it won't, at least not completely. But tell me what other leverage we have? We can 1) throw money at them and try to assuage their security concerns; 2) throw money at them and say "we don't care what you're worried about, you're taking our money and you'll do as we say;" or 3) keep our powder dry, our money in our pockets, and consider as we have been, in which case we can fully expect that Pakistan will continue to behave in precisely the same way as it always has.

    we don't have to give India anything in terms of nuclear deals.

    But of course, we already have.

    I'm not saying the US should be more pro-India or pro-Pakistan, although, we are going to trade a lot with India in the future and we will have an important relationship, regardless (we are moving in the same directions), I'm saying the decoupling of the relationship is more beneficial to American interests than coupling them, ala Af-Pak. To re-couple them just makes us hostage to the special pleading of both countries.

    I very much agree with you that we'll have an expansive relationship with India in the future, and that that partnership will be a lot bigger than the security concerns we now face w/r/t Pakistan. But here's the reality: Pakistan will never go away for India. And for them to be a major player on the global scene, there can't be tension with an unstable, politically and socially extreme neighbor. That has to get tamped down somehow. May as well start now.

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  13. If it were as simple as just picking a side, then I'd pick India. It isn't though, and because of our involvement in Afghanistan, and Pakistan's nuclear weapons, we have to deal in some respect with the Pakistanis.

    That said, I'm sort of with Hitchens here. Maybe he's guilty of oversimplifying things, but I'd rather make a long term bet on India than Pakistan.

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  14. Keith -- If it were as simple as just picking a side, then I'd pick India.

    Sure, who wouldn't?

    I'd rather make a long term bet on India than Pakistan.

    Again, sure, I agree. But we can't just make a "long term bet," GTFO, and come back to see how it turns out.

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