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.
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."
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).
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!