Last Monday our President kicked off the public phase of his administration’s effort to modify the behavior of Pakistan with his “go to” tool of state power… the tweet.
“The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!”
I'm of two minds. Either he's trying to bully Pakistan into doing more against the Taliban and Haqqani Network or he's trying to force them into closing off our access to Afghanistan so we have no choice but to leave. The first possibility is a forlorn hope. The second would be diabolically clever.
Let’s examine the first option. It is consistent with USG policy since 9/11. At that time the Bush administration issued Pakistan an ultimatum. You either assist us in Afghanistan or we will destroy you. Although our objectives in Afghanistan have shifted over the last sixteen years, our nagging complaint that Pakistan is not doing enough to help us has remained constant. I’m sure the Pentagon and Borgists the world over are hoping that Trump’s blustering and bullying style will intimidate Pakistan into submission and, thus, ensuring our ultimate victory in Afghanistan… whatever that entails.
I don’t see any chance of this working. Yes the money is good, but the constant abuse emanating from Washington has been wearing on leadership in Islamabad and on the Pakistani street. They’re sick of it. Imran Khan, who will probably be the next prime minister in Islamabad, has called for Pakistan to walk away from the US and forge an alliance with China, Russia and Iran. China is certainly willing to take up the slack. They won’t be as generous as the US has been, but the aid will come without the condescending lectures. Russia may be interested. Iran may also be interested just to get us and our coalition out of their backyard.
How serious is Washington about playing chicken with Islamabad? When Rand Paul suggested that the money would be better spent on US infrastructure, Trump tweeted, “Good idea Rand!” That will be a popular idea for all Americans outside of the Borg. If this idea, and bill, gains traction, it will be hard to walk back. Although Mattis has said he is not worried about Pakistani threats of closing the roads into Afghanistan, he is worried about the closing of Pakistani airspace. That would put our forces and the Afghan army we’re still trying to create in a serious bind. Although our footprint and logistical requirements are smaller than they were years ago, the Afghan army we are creating is highly dependent on a continuous flow of Western military materiel. We no longer have the Manas Air Base as we did when we temporarily lost access to our LOCs in Pakistan in 2010. And, ironically, Russia may not be as willing to bail us out this time. I get the feeling we are trying to play chicken with a bridge abutment.
The other possibility is that Trump truly is diabolically clever and is executing a grand con on the Borg. He may be deliberately steering our current Afghan policy into that bridge abutment so that we are forced to withdraw from the area. He may not be a very stable genius, but he is a first class bullshit artist and skilled con man. That’s what it would take to pull something like this off.
Frankly I don’t care if this is due to a diabolical cleverness or an act worthy of Jubilation T. Cornpone. If it results in the US leaving Afghanistan, I’m all for it.