The Princeton Project on National Security’s report, Forging a World of Liberty under Law, always struck me as a rather unsatisfying document. Others liked it. Matt Yglesias, for instance, wrote this about it:
Where liberals and realists have traditionally parted ways is how to try to take the perspectives of others into account. Rather than simply by doing less or by seeking ad hoc arrangements with other powers, liberals seek to defend liberal societies by embedding them within liberal institutions that can uphold a reasonably just world order and thereby preserve the peace. The concept, well captured by [Anne Marie] Slaughter and [John] Ikenberry’s slogan of aiming at a “world of liberty under law,” is an old and enduring one. The underlying logic of rule-governed reciprocity is, however, made all the more compelling by recent developments. It is precisely the fact that contemporary conditions make it reasonable for the United States to be concerned with what goes on inside the borders of other countries to an unprecedented degree that makes the notion of expressing that concern through stable, rule-based institutions so compelling. (emphasis mine)
What’s interesting is when you juxtapose this take with Yglesias’ thoughts on the international legal implications of the bin Laden killing, where he writes this:
International law is made by states, powerful states have a disproportionate role in shaping it, and powerful states have obvious reasons to not be super-interested in the due process of suspected international terrorists or the sensibilities of mid-sized countries… [O]ne of the main functions of the international institutional order is precisely to legitimate the use of deadly military force by western powers.
If what we’re after is a “world of liberty under law,” and the law is just written by powerful states to protect their own interests, then it sure seems like it’s game, set, and match for realism.
This is, of course, an old debate. Here’s Kenneth Waltz in 2000:
[Robert] Keohane and [Lisa]Martin, in their effort to refute [John] Mearsheimer’s trenchant criticism of institutional theory, in effect agree with him. Having claimed that his realism is “not well specified,” they note that “institutional theory conceptualizes institutions both as independent and dependent variables.” Dependent on what?—on “the realities of power and interest.” Institutions, it turns out, “make a significant difference in conjunction with power realities.” Yes! Liberal institutionalism, as Mearsheimer says, “is no longer a clear alternative to realism, but has, in fact, been swallowed up by it.” Indeed, it never was an alternative to realism. Institutionalist theory, as Keohane has stressed, has as its core structural realism, which Keohane and Nye sought “to broaden.” The institutional approach starts with structural theory, applies it to the origins and operations of institutions, and unsurprisingly ends with realist conclusions.
For more on this, see Richard Betts’ terrific review of John Ikenberry’s new book in the current issue of TNI.
Anyone under the illusion that Congress has any substantive role in foreign policy, especially when it comes to war, should read Thursday's NYT story documenting how the Obama administration intends to "comply with" (read "circumvent"), the War Powers Resolution. The law’s 60-day time limit for military operations that have not been formally endorsed by Congress ends on May 20th.
James Steinberg, the deputy secretary of state,…said the administration was examining the military’s "role and activities as we move through the next period of time" and would consult Congress about evaluating "what we think we can and can’t do."
The administration apparently has no intention of pulling out of the Libya campaign, and Mr. Steinberg said that Mr. Obama was committed "to act consistently with the War Powers Resolution." So the Obama legal team is now trying to come up with a plausible theory for why continued participation by the United States does not violate the law.
One concept being discussed is for the United States to halt the use of its Predator drones in attacking targets in Libya, and restrict them solely to a role gathering surveillance over targets.
By ending all strike missions for American forces, the argument then could be made that the United States was no longer directly engaged in hostilities in Libya, but only providing support to NATO allies.
Another idea is for the United States to order a complete—but temporary—halt to all of its efforts in the Libya mission. Some lawyers make the case that, after a complete pause, the United States could rejoin the mission with a new 60-day clock.
You might think that members of Congress would object to these sorts of shenanigans. To the untrained eye, it looks as though the White House is trying to pull one over on them. But there is reason to believe that members like it that way. It allows them to evade responsibility for the war, and leaves them free to praise or criticize it after the fact, depending upon how it all plays out.
The scope of the president’s authority to send U.S. forces into harm’s way without so much as a "by your leave" from the legislature is the subject of some scholarly debate. It shouldn’t be. The Founders’ intent that the legislature, not the executive branch, had the sole authority to declare war is clearly stated in the Constitution, in the supporting ratification debates, and in the comments of Madison and others after the fact.
Indeed, Madison later asserted that "[i]n no part of the constitution is more wisdom to be found, than in the clause which confides the question of war or peace to the legislature, and not to the executive department."
A young member of Congress from Illinois, Abraham Lincoln, understood this point quite well. In a letter to his law partner Lincoln explained:
[The Constitutional] Convention understood [war] to be the most oppressive of all Kingly oppressions; and they resolved to so frame the Constitution that no one man should hold the power of bringing this oppression upon us.
Lincoln was complaining of President James K. Polk’s decision to invade Mexico, one of the earliest examples of executive overreach. In Polk’s defense, at least he professed that the war was intended to advance U.S. security interests. Polk’s claims were risible, but no one in the Obama administration has even attempted a plausible lie to justify the Libyan intervention on the grounds of U.S. national security.
But Obama, like Lincoln, appears to have undergone an Oval Office conversion with respect to the president’s power to wage war. As I wrote here a few weeks ago, Candidate Obama believed that the president could launch military operations only when the country was in danger of an actual or imminent attack. President Obama, it seems, believes something very different: that he can wage war pretty much whenever he chooses, wherever he chooses, though it would be handy to have a formal UN Security Council endorsement beforehand. To call the U.S. Congress an afterthought in this context would afford that body more influence than it actually has.
But I blame the Congress as much as I blame the president; many legislators, it seems, prefer to snipe at the president’s conduct of the war, or to complain of the costs, and have left room to criticize the decision to go to war itself, after the fact, if it goes poorly. Of course, if it succeeds, I predict that most can and will claim credit. That’s the beauty of not having to vote on something. You can be for it before you are against it without anyone making fun of you.
I focused on Congress’s abdication of its constitutional obligations when Ben Friedman and I spoke at a Cato Capitol Hill briefing. This article gave me new material to work into my talk. Our charge was to answer the question "Why Are We at War in Libya?" I’m quite sure that no one knows for certain, but my best guess is the simplest answer available: We are at war in Libya because Barack Obama chose to go to war there.
During his two-day visit to Kabul, India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai he supports peace efforts with the Taliban and that India is Afghanistan’s “neighbor and partner in development.”
A significant barrier to stabilizing Afghanistan has been Pakistan’s efforts to thwart India’s deepening involvement. Since 2001, New Delhi has given the government of Afghanistan more than $2 billion in humanitarian and development assistance, making it that country’s fifth-largest donor. The Indians are constructing everything from schools, wells, roads and other infrastructure to satellite transmitters and a new parliament building in Kabul. Paradoxically, such highly visible efforts could threaten the long-term viability of any government in Kabul that New Delhi supports.
While the United States has a long-term policy of engagement with India, this will likely make Pakistan less inclined to cooperate with the United States in the short-term. Thus, while many in Washington support an alliance of the world’s largest democracies, and it would certainly be mutually advantageous, few people have gamed out what that will mean in terms of more immediate interests.
The drawdown of U.S. forces from Afghanistan will start this July, with a complete withdrawal of “combat troops” by the end of 2014. The newly emerging conventional wisdom, however, is that Afghan security forces are not ready to take over responsibility, since serious efforts to strengthen those forces only really began in 2009. But rather than validate an open-ended mission to build national institutions in Afghanistan, looming problems in the hand off from foreign to indigenous forces epitomize the flawed process of state building.
The 285,000-strong Afghan army and police, under the authority of the Ministries of Defense and Interior, respectively, are expected to increase to a total of 305,000 by this October. However, numbers tell only part of the story.
In a new report entitled “No Time to Lose,” British charity Oxfam and three other NGOs warn that the army and police, collectively known as the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), account for a substantial portion of harm inflicted on Afghan civilians. “At least 10 percent of Afghan civilians killed in the conflict in 2010 were killed by their own security forces,” according to the report. Aside from casualties, violations of human rights, including sexual abuse of children, mistreatment of detainees, and cruelty inflicted on villagers by local police, who many Afghans consider criminal gangs, illustrate the full extent of the problem.
Even worse, while the justice systems function swimmingly for those with “political connections,” the vast majority of Afghans have little recourse to stop such abuses because, “There is no satisfactory mechanism by which an individual can lodge a complaint against the ANSF.”
As the saying goes, “no justice, no peace.” And, as I learned during a trip to Afghanistan last year, many Afghans, especially those living in rural subsistence areas, seek redress for communal disputes by turning to their local district mullah. He provides basic security and rudimentary justice and, more often than not, doubles as a Taliban operative. Because the national government is either profoundly incompetent or entirely absent in many areas, those classified as "insurgents” by U.S. forces pick up the slack and provide for the practical needs of local people.
Interestingly enough, support for the insurgency may thrive not in resource-starved provinces, but in areas where malevolent government authorities wield their powers with impunity. Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar once proclaimed, “If the police of a state consist of people who are immoral and irreligious…how can they protect the property, dignity, and honor of the people?”
If this weren’t enough, the ethnic composition of the ANSF may very well create the dynamics for a future civil war. In the Afghan National Army (ANA), Uzbek and Hazara officers are underrepresented, while Tajik officers are overrepresented. Pasthun representation in the officer corps is in line with its share of the population, but recruiting ground forces in Pashtun areas has been difficult, despite them making up roughly 40 percent of the population. This “lack of ethnic balance across the force,” according to a RAND report, remains an important personnel issue.
An American trainer helps to explain the problems composing an ethnically diverse and representative army:
The influence of ethnicity has profound implications for patronage, nepotism and other corruption. Moreover, ethnic divisions may be further complicated by fighting that took place between ethnic groups during the Soviet/Afghan and Civil Wars. During this period, killings along ethnic lines were commonplace. A mentor may never quite know how deep the mistrust and anger goes between different ethnic tribes, but it is clearly a factor in how Afghans interact with each other.
Many of these problems are not new. The International Crisis Group (ICG) warned in 2009 that the army ranks are rife with “ethnic and political factionalism.” And despite efforts to create a national force imbued with a unified “Afghanistan-first” mentality, “From the lower officers upward,” one retired military officer told the ICG, “it is not a national army. It is a political army. You have people working for different factions within the ministry of defense, so today what you have is an army that serves individuals not the nation.”
One expert I spoke to while in Afghanistan, who was one of the first Americans to help rebuild the country in 2001, offered this simple analogy: think back to the American Civil War. Few Confederate soldiers went to jail. Robert E. Lee went on to be a professor. Davis went to jail briefly, and was let out and wrote his memoirs. The moral of the story is that all the southern states were reintegrated. But imagine if Union soldiers went door-to-door to look for Confederate soldiers to bring them to jail. The Civil War would have never ended. But this is what is happening now in Afghanistan. Former elements of the Northern Alliance, mainly comprised of Tajiks, Hazara, Uzbeks, and Turkmens, are hunting former Taliban, mainly Pashtuns, in the south and exacting tribal and ethnic vendettas left over from the 1990s.
The starkest example of this was last year’s offensive in the southern village of Marjah. Despite the area being predominately Pashtun, Operation “Moshtarak”—Dari for “together”—was led by non-Pashtun Tajik and Hazara soldiers. Such problems pervade other incursions in the south.
This author, a staunch proponent of withdrawal, is under no illusions that as U.S. forces begin exiting Afghanistan, bloodshed will likely follow. But it’s important to proceed with our eyes open and learn the right lessons from our decade-long involvement. To a certain extent, Afghanistan’s amalgam of disparate tribal and ethnic groups—many of whom have historic grievances against one another—will always hamper stabilization. But rather than merely attributing Afghanistan’s impeding doom solely to the absence of functioning central government institutions, we should also consider how the process of building those national institutions will lead to increased violence and conflict.
There is a surge of speculation in the media both here and abroad about the impact of the “Arab Spring” on Turkey’s foreign policy. Some analysts and pundits contend that Ankara was not only caught off guard (like most of the world) by the onset of anti-regime demonstrations in Arab countries, but that the development has undermined the basic focus of the government’s approach to regional issues and foreign affairs generally. David Rosenberg, writing in the Jerusalem Post, argues that “the new Middle Eastern realities have caught Ankara flatfooted.” He adds that “the regional turmoil has upset Turkey’s new order” and notes that analysts believe that the unsettling events “may even cause it to turn again to the West.”
Such analyses contain a kernel of truth, but only a kernel. For the past several years, Turkish officials have strengthened their country’s ties to a number of neighboring regimes. Relations noticeably improved with such Arab states as Iraq, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and even long-time adversary Syria. Outside the Arab world, Ankara courted Iran to such an extent that speculation grew about a “Turkish-Iranian axis.” At the same time, Turkey’s foreign policy deviated more and more from the approach favored by its traditional NATO allies, especially the United States.
The weakening of entrenched Arab regimes makes Ankara’s outreach program less certain and potentially far less valuable. And there are indications that officials are scrambling to adjust to the turbulence and reposition aspects of Turkey’s foreign policy. There are even a few hints that the Erdogan government may be flirting with making a policy pivot back toward its Western allies. Although Ankara initially opposed the NATO military operation against Muammar Gaddafi’s forces, recent statements have been far more critical of the Libyan dictator. Prime Minister Erdogan himself offered the harshest criticism during a May 3 news conference in Istanbul. Accusing Gaddafi of preferring “blood, tears and pressure against his own people,” Erdogan stated that he wished “the Libyan leader immediately withdraw from the administration and leave Libya for his own sake and the sake of his country’s future without leading to further destruction.”
There are also indications that the rapprochement with Iran has cooled in recent weeks. Tehran has not responded as Ankara wished to the diplomatic initiative that Turkey and Brazil offered last year that held some promise for a compromise on the nuclear issue. Instead, Iran took measures to defy the system of international sanctions (including the ban on arms sales) in ways that embarrassed Turkey and other countries that had advocated a milder policy toward the clerical regime.
Nevertheless, it is decidedly premature to talk about a comprehensive pivot of Turkey’s foreign policy back toward the West. Ankara’s more independent approach to international affairs goes beyond the Middle East and reflects important long-term strategic, political, and economic interests. The Arab Spring undoubtedly has altered some of the calculations in the foreign ministry, but it is more likely to produce modest tactical adjustments than a wholesale revamping of strategy. Those who see Turkey returning to Washington’s or NATO’s policy orbit are engaging in wishful thinking far more than a sober assessment of probable trends. Ankara will likely continue to be a difficult, frustrating power for the United States and its allies to deal with in the coming years.
Thursday on the Cato blog, I suggested that President Obama was not going to get many better opportunities to fundamentally change course in Afghanistan than the death of Osama bin Laden. His first interview after bin Laden’s demise was on “60 Minutes” with Steve Kroft, and the subject came up. The relevant bit is on this page, and perhaps the most important exchange is below:
KROFT: You seem to think that [bin Laden’s death] might hasten our withdrawal [from Afghanistan].
OBAMA: Well keep in mind what has happened on Sunday, I think, reconfirms that we can focus on al Qaeda, focus on the threats to our homeland, train Afghans, in a way that allows them to stabilize their country. But we don't need to have a perpetual footprint of the size that we have now.
By spring 2002, less than a year after the initial U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, President George W. Bush decided to pull most of America’s Special Operations Forces and CIA paramilitary operatives off the hunt for Osama bin Laden so they could be redeployed for a possible war in Iraq. I’ve written about this before, but I did not know the extent to which the war in Iraq contributed to our loss of bin Laden until I read this piece from the Washington Post:
The American campaign [in Afghanistan] was conducted primarily from the air. Despite the pleas from CIA operatives, U.S. officials were reluctant to send in ground troops to flush out bin Laden. They told officers on the ground in Afghanistan that Pakistani troops would help them, cutting off bin Laden if he tried to cross into their country.
First, why would the Bush administration rely on a foreign government to capture Osama bin Laden, only weeks after 9/11? Second, of all the foreign governments to rely on, why would it be Pakistan, the country that during the seven-year period leading up to 9/11 was actively funding, arming, and advising Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban regime that harbored Osama bin Laden? But it gets worse:
But in early December, over lunch at his palace in Islamabad, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf made it clear to U.S. officials that he did not want to commit troops unless the Americans would help transport them to the border by air. According to Wendy Chamberlin, then the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, Musharraf told her and Gen. Tommy R. Franks, commander of U.S. Central Command: “I’d put the troops in trucks, but that’ll take weeks. Could you give me air support?”
Franks would not comment for this article, but according to Chamberlin he was noncommittal about air support. Only later did she learn that the general was already “planning for Iraq,” she said. “Even if he could have helped out, he was already starting to have to reshuffle.”
Whatever one thinks about Musharraf, my problem lies primarily with Bush. The article explains:
A few months after Tora Bora, as part of the preparation for war in Iraq, the Bush administration pulled out many of the Special Operations and CIA forces that had been searching for bin Laden in Afghanistan, according to several U.S. officials who served at the time.
Even the drones that U.S. forces depended on to track movements of suspicious characters in the Afghan mountain passes were redeployed to be available for the Iraq war, Lt. Gen. John Vines told The Washington Post in 2006. Once, when Vines’s troops believed they were within half an hour of catching up to bin Laden, the general asked for drones to cover three possible escape routes. But only one drone was available — others had been moved to Iraq. The target got away.
That’s right folks! The Bush White House lost whatever opportunity it had to get bin Laden by diverting scarce resources to its war of choice in Iraq. of course, it should go without saying that even if America hadn’t gone into Iraq, it would’ve been difficult for Bush to have captured or killed bin Laden. But what really “grinds my gears” is to hear members of the Bush team claim credit for bin Laden’s recent demise—torture was “critically important”—while simultaneously ignoring their culpability for not helping to capture bin Laden when they had the chance.
Aside from the military, other vital resources were spread thin. Iraq diverted international funds, journalistic resources, public attention and criticism, and adequate Congressional oversight. Iraq also dealt a severe blow to NATO's unity of effort in Afghanistan. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that many European allies “have a problem with our involvement in Iraq and project that to Afghanistan.” Those forthright remarks were echoed by Dr. William Maley, Professor at Australian National University, and Mr. Daoud Yaqub, Research Scholar at Australian National University. “[T]o many observers in Europe," say Maley and Yaqub, "Iraq is a war of choice, and as a result Europe has no particular duty to shoulder a heavier burden in Afghanistan. The Afghan government and people are victims of this tension."
Thank you, Mr. Bush, Mr. Rumsfled, Ms. Rice, et al. for taking your eyes off the ball.
We should avoid drawing sweeping conclusions about our counterterrorism policies from Osama bin Laden’s death. We typically overgeneralize about important events. After the September 11 attacks, for example, even defense analysts tended to interpret al-Qaeda’s capability largely through the purview of that plot, rather than treating it as a particularly important data point in al-Qaeda’s history. The myopic take made al-Qaeda seem far more capable than it was. With that in mind, here are several things that bin Laden’s death either cannot tell us much about or will not tell us much about until more information surfaces.
1. The war in Afghanistan. There are many reasons we should draw down in Afghanistan, but the bin Laden raid offers little intellectual ammunition for either side of the war debate. The intelligence that led to Abbottabad came years ago, from prisoners outside Afghanistan and collection in Pakistan. The helicopters flew from a base in Afghanistan, but it didn’t take a decade of war and a massive ground force to get that. The fact that bin Laden was living in an area of Pakistan where the state was relatively strong does nothing to support the idea that we should fight wars trying to build authority in ungoverned regions lest terrorists gain haven there.
But just because Sunday’s events do not help pro-war arguments, it does not mean, logically, that they much help the other side, which is mine. The pro-war argument, flawed as it is, depends on other claims (i.e. terrorists will gain haven in Afghanistan if we draw down) that bin Laden’s death does not affect. That something is not an orange does little to tell you whether it’s a pear. Hopefully, however, bin Laden’s death may make it easier, politically to get out of Afghanistan.
2. Torture. Some intelligence used to find bin Laden came from prisoners, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, that were subject to coercive interrogation methods like waterboarding, but it remains unclear whether any of that useful intelligence came via waterboarding. Either way, we can learn little about the efficacy of that and other coercive interrogation methods from this experience. Only the most hackish arguments against torture pretend that it never produces useful intelligence. The real argument against torture’s efficacy is that non-coercive techniques work as well or better. Because you do not know what these guys would have said under standard interrogation—in scientific terms, you have no control—it is hard to draw valid inferences about how well coercion worked.
3. Defense spending. Hawks are already arguing that this raid would not have succeeded given a smaller defense budget. That is silly, obviously. The capability needed to conduct this raid would be intact after the deep defense cuts I favor, let alone the slowdown in defense spending growth that the president is pushing. The budgets of our intelligence agencies and special operations command together account for roughly fifteen percent of U.S. defense spending. Only a portion of that fraction concerns counterterrorism.
4. Bin Laden’s leadership of al-Qaeda. The Washington Times insists that finding communication equipment among bin Laden’s effects shows that he was actually running not only al-Qaeda central but also its affiliates. They offer little evidence for that conclusion. The fact that bin Laden communicated does not mean that he commanded. There is little reason to suppose that he could control the far flung and disparate entities that use the name al-Qaeda, whatever his intent. The National Journal, meanwhile, makes similar assumptions about bin Laden’s operational control in reporting that American authorities expect “a treasure trove of intelligence” to come from bin Laden’s hideout, in the form of thumb drives, hard drives and papers. Even if bin Laden was still capable of providing substantial intelligence on his associates, it is unlikely that he left it sitting around to be gathered. As Paul Pillar noted in public remarks Tuesday, a guy that survived for over a decade while being hunted by various enemies probably knows enough to regularly destroy documents and files. Maybe he got sloppy, but certainly we should not expect to quickly roll up much of the remaining al-Qaeda central leadership based on this event.
5. Pakistan’s relationship with al-Qaeda. Prior to bin Laden’s death we knew that Pakistan was not as dedicated to hunting al-Qaeda as it could have been. It was reasonable to guess that elements of its security and intelligence apparatus either tolerated (if only by looking the other way) or actively supported al-Qaeda members. Today the same is true. That bin Laden was living under the nose of the Pakistani military does not show that he was its official guest. And if bin Laden had the help of some Pakistani intelligence or military personnel, it does not follow that many higher-ups were complicit. Pakistan is a factionalized society with weak civilian control of security agencies. It is hard to know who knows what about what or where lies the line between active complicity and unwillingness to look for things one is not eager to find. To be clear, I am not arguing that no Pakistani official is guilty of harboring bin Laden. The point is rather than no new degree of guilt has become obvious since Sunday. Like number four, this issue should be become clearer as more information comes to light.
Image by Brian Kusler
Ralph Waldo Emerson observed that “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” While that is true, it’s important to note that Emerson spoke only about a foolish consistency. He was not offering a brief in favor of cynical, pervasive inconsistency. U.S. foreign policy officials over the decades seem incapable of grasping that crucial distinction.
The latest example is the contrast between Washington’s strident condemnation of government crackdowns on pro-democracy demonstrators in such places as Syria, Iran, and Libya, and the tepid, perfunctory criticism of such crackdowns by pro-U.S. regimes in Yemen, Iraq, and Bahrain. Populations throughout the Muslim world are noticing that double standard and are drawing their own, rather unfavorable conclusions.
But the recent manifestation of U.S. foreign policy hypocrisy is nothing new. Throughout the Cold War, Washington purported to stand for freedom, democracy, human rights, and noninterference in the internal affairs of other societies. And U.S. officials justifiably excoriated communist regimes for violating all of those standards. At the same time, though, the United States helped stage coups and took other measures to destabilize governments (even democratic governments) that were deemed insufficiently supportive of Washington’s regional or global objectives.
A series of U.S. administrations also forged close ties with some of the most corrupt and brutal rulers on the planet—from the Shah of Iran, to Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos, to Zaire’s Mobutu Sese Seko. Even worse, U.S. leaders publicly lavished praise on those bloody tyrants as though they were legitimate “free world” figures.
Specific features of U.S. policy have repeatedly reflected that same hypocrisy. The Clinton administration expressed horror at the violence in Bosnia and Kosovo following the breakup of Yugoslavia, exaggerating the civilian toll and making over-the-top comparisons to the Holocaust. Eventually, the United States led military interventions to suppress the fighting and impose order. Yet while the bloodshed in the Balkans was taking place, far, far greater numbers of civilians were dying in internecine struggles in places such as Sierra Leone and Liberia, with scarcely a shrug from the administration.
Washington’s reaction to incidents of “ethnic cleansing” depended heavily on who was doing the deed. U.S. officials could scarcely contain their outrage when Serb forces used those tactics. Yet the U.S. government did little more than “tut-tut” two decades earlier when its NATO ally, Turkey, invaded Cyprus, occupied nearly forty percent of the country, expelled the Greek Cypriot inhabitants, set up a puppet government, and proceeded to bring in tens of thousands of settlers from the Turkish mainland. Indeed, Washington still countenances Turkey’s ongoing occupation and ethnic cleansing.
Even Washington’s reaction to the fighting and ethnic cleansing within the former Yugoslavia exhibited the same double standard. A glaring example was the response to Operation Storm, the military offensive that the Croatian government launched in August 1995 against rebel Serb forces in the Krajina region of Croatia. That operation ultimately led to the flight or expulsion of some 200,000 Serb inhabitants—in some cases involving families that had lived in the region for centuries.
One would think that this action constituted ethnic cleansing at least as much as anything Serb forces had done in Bosnia, but the United States viewed matters differently. Washington supported Zagreb’s offensive, with President Clinton admitting in his memoirs that he “rooted” for the Croatian action. No where in that book does he mention the unfortunate fate of Serb civilians in the region. And it appears that the U.S. government did more than root. There are indications that it assisted the offensive by providing intelligence information to the Croatian military.
Critical statements about Operation Storm were noticeable by their absence. Referring to Operation Storm and a similar subsequent offensive by Muslim and Croat forces in Bosnia, an anonymous State Department official contended that those actions were beneficial because “they cleaned up the map.” According to the U.S. double standard, only Serbs engaged in distasteful ethnic cleansing. Whenever other ethnic groups in the former Yugoslavia did so, it was merely map cleaning.
No nation can be entirely consistent in its foreign policy. There will always be cases in which double standards cannot be avoided—or at least avoided without major damage to vital national interests. But policymakers should not casually engage in hypocrisy. That kind of behavior undermines credibility and creates needless enemies among foreign populations.
Washington has been far too promiscuous in its use of foreign policy double standards over the decades, and it has paid a high price for such cynicism. Unfortunately, it appears that the Obama administration may be going down the same path once again in its hypocritical, very selective, reaction to examples of the Arab Awakening.
No one is certain how Osama bin Laden’s death will affect the future of U.S.-Pakistan relations. We will likely have a better grasp once more details about the operation come to light. For now at least, it appears that the circumstances surrounding bin Laden’s demise exemplify a troubling feature of the U.S.-Pakistan partnership, and one that we’ve known for some time: Washington and Islamabad are enemies disguised as friends.
America’s former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice once observed:
America’s al-Qaeda policy wasn’t working because our Afghanistan policy wasn’t working. And our Afghanistan policy wasn’t working because our Pakistan policy wasn’t working . . . al-Qaeda was both client of and patron to the Taliban, which in turn was supported by Pakistan. Those relationships provided al-Qaeda with a powerful umbrella of protection, and we had to sever them.
This problem more or less persists. Still, the United States and Pakistan cooperate jointly on counterterrorism. Although the efficacy and depth of that cooperation is up for dispute, it seems bilateral cooperation has been more successful in that area of the relationship than another: America’s endeavor to erect a U.S.-backed and India-friendly client regime in Kabul.
Pakistan will never cede Afghanistan to Indian influence. It’s an open secret that elements of Pakistan’s Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) meet regularly with insurgent commanders to orchestrate the scope and tempo of the Afghan insurgency. Indeed, a report last year by the London School of Economics suggested that the ISI not only funds Taliban fighters in Afghanistan, but is officially represented on the militant movement's leadership council. What is debatable is the extent to which the ISI functions independently of the civilian government.
Just last week, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said, “Wrong propaganda is being floated about intelligence agencies through newspapers. I want to tell them that the intelligence agencies are under the Pakistan government.” It has long been believed that Pakistan’s civilian political leaders have limited say over policy articulation. That argument, however, is not synonymous with the contention that civilian leaders operate under the direction of ISI. It seems highly improbable that bin Laden would be living in an urban area 35 miles north of Islamabad with the knowledge of only Pakistani intelligence and military units. Perhaps bin Laden went undetected by the civilians, but if not, what kind of support system do other militants enjoy inside Pakistan? Does that bring U.S. foreign aid under Kerry-Lugar into question? Are the civilians using plausible deniability by pointing to the power of the ISI?
Pakistani officials and President Asif Ali Zardari expressed amazement about bin Laden’s whereabouts within their country, even though in his statement on Sunday night President Obama said, “Pakistan helped lead us to bin Laden and the compound where he was hiding.” Obama’s chief counterterrorism advisor, John Brennan, does not believe, for now, that the Pakistani government knew of bin Laden’s locations. But he does think it is entirely possible an official(s) within the “Pakistani establishment” knew of his location and provided cover.
The divergence in official claims and the very fact that individuals within Pakistan’s establishment may have harbored Osama bin Laden brings the most pressing issues in the U.S.-Pakistan relationship to the forefront. We knew about the assistance to specific insurgents, but now it is entirely possible Pakistan was hiding our worst enemy.