Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Unstable Regimes

Reexamination of our Cold War relationships with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan is long overdue. Counterbalances to Marxist and Soviet-backed regimes are out of date and our alliances with those nations no longer serve a rational purpose in many ways.

Our nation’s opposition to Iran and a practical desire to fight terrorism have drawn us into supporting unstable nations that are vulnerable to collapse. Pakistan is a mess of a country (locked in a feud with India from birth – like Jacob and Esau grappling in the womb) that is beset by institutional, infrastructural, and political failures. Pakistan faces overwhelming challenges in its future. Only about 60% of the population is literate and millions of children are not enrolled in school. What kind of future do those children have in our modern world if they are not receiving any substantial education? Of course, if a nation cannot guarantee security for its people it cannot begin to educate them either. If the United States supports the nation of Pakistan, it should come with severe pressure to reform the country. But they are an important source of information and a sometime friend in the War on Terror. Bordering Afghanistan is also a mark in their favor as we pursue a never-ending conflict in that nation. Our nation has decided to support Pakistan in pursuit of immediate interests without thought for the longterm consequences of supporting that tortured country in the way we currently do.

Saudi Arabia is another tricky nation with whom we should be more enemy than friend. During the Cold War it made a lot of sense for the United States to support the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as a bulwark against Soviet-backed states in the region. Since the region is so integral to the oil economy it was a key part of American Cold War strategy to not allow the Soviet Union to dominate that area. After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War the United States has lost its reason to be in a strong alliance with Saudi Arabia.

The Kingdom is a repressive absolute monarchy. Homosexuality, women’s rights, and political opposition are forbidden. Besides their socially and politically regressive policies, which are anathema to the liberal west, they are the wellspring of the radical Muslim theology that inflames terrorists around the world. Wahabism, as the totalitarian version of Islam is generally known, is funded, supported, and globally disseminated by the government of Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia supports this idea because it is anti-democracy and therefore bolsters the authority of the government of Saudi Arabia. In a bid to strengthen their own existence in their own country, the government of Saudi Arabia exports an idea that helps to radicalize young Muslims all over the world. For this reason alone we should not support Saudi Arabia. If the national security of the country is truly threatened chiefly by terrorism, then one of our chief allies outside of the English-speaking nations of the world is one of our greatest enemies.

Donald Trump’s emerging policy of strengthening an anti-Iranian alliance muddies the clear water through which we should see Saudi Arabia. Since those two nations are the key rivals in the Middle East over politics and oil, the United States has chosen the side of Saudi Arabia. A house divided against itself cannot stand, and the United States cannot ally with and fight the same nations at the same time.

An entire re-imagining of who our allies are and why, what we give them, and what we should demand of them in return for support is necessary. The careening foreign policy of the United States since the beginning of the new millennium has not brought any stability to the government’s positions in the Muslim world and elsewhere.

After 9/11 the United States under the George W. Bush Administration invaded Afghanistan and then Iraq. Because of the invasion of Afghanistan, and the lack of clear and achievable goals there, the US was forced to try to work closely with Pakistan, another nation that is beset by terrorism that it spawned itself. By invading Iraq and overthrowing the bulwark against Iranian hegemony in the Euphrates Valley, the United States invited greater power and adventurism on the part of the Iranian government. Lacking the manpower and will to fight Iran as well as the other two wars the government was involved in, we settled for supporting an anti-Iranian alliance and got involved with sectarian politics. Along with these actions a security apparatus, focused on fighting terrorism, was founded in the United States and significant tenets of US foreign policy were based around this apparatus. Then, in a jerking reversal, the Obama administration tried to disengage from the region directly and withdraw from the ugly alliances and wars which it found itself in. In a series of half-measures the United States bumbled away from the messes we made while changing nothing significantly in the security apparatus, in our system of alliances, or in the facts on the ground in the contested nations. Now, in another stunning reversal, the Trump administration is pursuing a doggedly anti-Iranian strategy, for which the conditions would not exist if it were not for the invasion of Iraq. The US has therefore, entangled itself with nations with whom it has few common interests, allowed avowed enemies to gain power, and then doubled-down on those entanglements to fight the enemies whom we allowed to become powerful. Containment this is not.

Propaganda when Nobody is Looking

America and NATO’s war in Afghanistan has continued for almost 17 years now, and hardly anyone is paying any attention. There was much fuss and excitement over the dropping of the so-called “MOAB” on an Islamic State camp on April 13th of this year. Apparently it takes the dropping of a massive bomb to get the citizens of our country to pay attention. What has gone generally unnoticed is the generally poor showing of Afghan National forces and the remaining NATO troops against the resurgent Taliban.

In the much contested Helmand province, the center of many bloody fights over the last decade and a half, the Taliban recently seized the city of Sangin. After withdrawing from the town center the press office of the NATO mission tried to claim that the town wasn’t lost, but that the town center was moved. This is a lie. It would be an injustice to call it “spin” or up-to-date information. This kind of blatant lie should alarm those nations which have a stake in fighting in Afghanistan.

They can only get away with this because no one is paying attention in the first place. But what does it say when the military lies to the public to cover a loss? Questioning American participation in wars is an old habit, generally of the political left, but when those in charge of making life and death decisions for American soldiers begin to actively lie to the public about what is going on everyone should begin to question their nation’s participation in that war. “What’s the point of being there at this point anyway?” There are many reasons, but these have not been deemed important enough to tell the American public in any sort of serious, visible, or coherent way.

NATO and the government of Afghanistan need to make a deal with the Taliban, that is clear. Fighting an unpopular, ignored, and limited war will never lead to any kind of measurable success.

I met an Afghan man and we discussed life under the Taliban. He told me that the Taliban was popular because they were more likely to be honest and just than the secular government. “You cannot bribe the Taliban,” he told me. Dishonesty and a lack of justice, aided and abetted by NATO, are what makes the Taliban attractive and powerful, even if they are brutal totalitarians. For that reason, NATO should find a way out instead of trying to increase the number of soldiers fighting there. Lies cannot win wars alone, and if the war cannot be won by soldiers either, then it should not be fought.