Last week, Jeremy Scahill had a huge story detailing the secret operations being conducted in Pakistan by the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) and the private military outfit formerly known as Blackwater. The operations are primarily assassinations and kidnappings (“snatch and grabs”) of high-value targets. The agreement with Pakistan to allow for this to go on was allegedly done with the Pakistani government reserving the right to deny that they made any type of agreement at all.
Not surprisingly, this story is making things difficult for the Pakistani government. Pakistan’s interior minister has promised to resign if it’s true that Blackwater is operating there. Similar to Mexico, allowing for American troops to operate within the country is a major line that the public is reluctant to see crossed. Hillary Clinton got a taste of this when she last visited there.
Much of the illogic of what we’re doing in Pakistan echoes past failures in waging the drug war. In that “war”, we’ve tended to believe that we can just knock off a bunch of high-value targets and we win. This is how the drug war has been fought overseas for decades. We’ve even tolerated secret operations where American forces have become part of the drug trade in order to capture the head honcho, only to see the whole damn trade re-organize under a new head honcho. The lesson has been that you can’t eliminate the trade unless you deal with the underlying demand that drives the trade in the first place.
When it comes to terrorism, that underlying demand comes from anti-American sentiment. And in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, the enemies we’re fighting benefit from both that and drugs. The idea that we can defeat them by doing things that will increase anti-American sentiment (while doing nothing about the underlying demand for drugs) is dangerously foolish. Any time we take out a high-value target in a way that increases the level of radicalism among the Pakistanis, these organizations will simply re-organize under a new leader and continue the war. But that’s exactly what we’re doing, and it’s exactly what a number of people blindly accept as the ideal foreign policy move.
That’s why so many of these idiots are upset that Obama didn’t talk about “winning” or using the word “victory” in his speech at West Point. Obama, for his faults in this escalation, at least understands that Afghanistan is not a video game that you win after killing all the bad guys. There’s no such thing as “victory” in an occupation, just a long hard slog to improve stability. You “win” by convincing the people of that nation that your presence there is beneficial for them, or that your presence is temporary and that they will soon be autonomous again.
What becomes difficult for politicians in wars like this is that they genuinely fear being seen in conflict with those on the front lines in this war, regardless of its futility. The Obama Administration is no different, and their unwillingness to be seen as rejecting what the military wants is going to override everything else. That’s leading them down a dangerous path, both in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and his intent to continue this conflict without increasing anti-American sentiment will be a significant challenge. And nothing can undermine that challenge more than believing that we can fight it under the cover of darkness. Those days are over.