FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Perils of Pakistan

President-elect Obama has committed himself to stepping up the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan. It is not an overstatement to say that he will risk his whole presidency, and perhaps even unwittingly put nuclear weapons in the hands of terrorists who might use them to attack the United States, if he leaps too far into neighboring Pakistan in pursuit of elusive victory.

The rub, as the Vietnam and Iraq wars showed us all, is unintended consequences. Our military leaders can, and almost certainly will, make a strong case to Obama that there is no way to defeat the Taliban and their allied tribes in Afghanistan without cleaning out their sanctuaries just over the Afghan border in Pakistan.

I can hear frustrated U.S. commanders on the ground in Afghanistan making the same kind of argument to Obama’s team tomorrow that I heard yesterday in Vietnam when I was a combat correspondent there.

I could empathize with this lament, for example, that I heard in 1968 from a 9th Division infantry battalion commander, whose mission was to rid his area — South Vietnam’s rice bowl, the Delta — of the stealthy Viet Cong guerrillas:
“I can have my kids chase the Viet Cong all day and all night. But whenever they catch up to a good number of them, they just run over the border into Cambodia where we can’t go. All I’m really doing down here is buying time with my kids’ lives for the diplomats to settle this thing.”

His was among the impressive military arguments I heard for either invading Cambodian border sanctuaries or getting the United States out of the otherwise unwinnable Vietnam War.

President Lyndon Johnson resisted invading Cambodia. He had concluded that this would only widen the war, infuriating an already skeptical Congress. Early on in Johnson’s presidency he confided to Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, but not the public, that he saw the war as a no-win. Secret tapes of Johnson’s conversations, since made public, document him saying this to McNamara on Feb. 26, 1965: “I don’t think anything is going to be as bad as losing, and I don’t see any way of winning.”

His successor, Richard Nixon, who took office in 1969 after the Vietnam War had ruined Johnson’s presidency, including his dream of building a Great Society, rushed into Cambodia where Johnson had feared to tread.

First, Nixon authorized, without telling the public, secret bombings of Cambodia, which had tried to stay neutral. Then on April 30, 1970, Nixon announced he had ordered the invasion of Cambodia with U.S. and South Vietnamese troops to “clean out” the enemy’s border sanctuaries.

Now think “Pakistan” to hear the same ring. Four days later — on May 4, 1970 — National Guardsmen killed four student anti-war protesters on the campus of Kent State in Ohio.

Those two events, coming right on top of each other, mobilized anti-war lawmakers in Congress to curb the president’s war-making powers and to cut off the money the South Vietnamese army needed to continue fighting the war after U.S. troops left the field under Nixon’s Vietnamization strategy.

The military defeat Johnson had feared all along, without saying so publicly, came in 1975 when Communist North Vietnam conquered capitalist South Vietnam.

Nixon’s invasion of Cambodia, even though his announced purpose was just to clean out the border sanctuaries, contributed to Cambodia’s political turmoil.

The invaders also failed to achieve the military objective of finding and destroying the Communist headquarters in Cambodia known as COSVN for Central Office for South Vietnam.

The Communist Khmer Rouge in the aftermath of the invasion toppled the pro-American leader of the country, Lon Nol, and wiped out the upper classes in a bloodbath that some reports estimated murdered 2 million Cambodians. Again, unintended consequences.

Fast forward to Pakistan today. President Asif Ali Zardari, husband of Benazir Bhutto, a Muslim moderate who was assassinated in December while campaigning in parliamentary elections, is already complaining about U. S. military strikes against alleged al Qaida and Taliban targets in Pakistan’s border regions.

An American-led ground invasion of Pakistan under the same “clean out” rationale Nixon used could cause such political turmoil that the bad guys might get their hands on one or more of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute estimates Pakistan has at least 60 nuclear weapons.

Imagine a worst case scenario of terrorists sneaking just one nuke into New York City and setting it off at lunch hour. Thousands of people could be incinerated, skyscrapers toppled and the air poisoned for years.

The Bush administration, Congress and the media have been rightly faulted for not worst-casing the American invasion of Iraq before it was ordered in 2003. History warns that those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

Obama needs to look long and hard at the worst unintended consequences of leaping into Pakistan. While he’s at it, the new president should consider what would happen if U. S. forces captured or killed Osama bin Laden. Osama’s deputies would feel compelled to retaliate against the United States in a spectacular way. Does Obama want another 9/11? Better to keep American fingerprints off the deed if it is done.

GEORGE C. WILSON is a veteran national security reporter.

 

 

 

 

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
August 17, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Daniel Wolff
The Aretha Dialogue
Nick Pemberton
Donald Trump and the Rise of Patriotism 
Joseph Natoli
First Amendment Rights and the Court of Popular Opinion
Andrew Levine
Midterms 2018: What’s There to Hope For?
Robert Hunziker
Hothouse Earth
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Running Out of Fools
Ajamu Baraka
Opposing Bipartisan Warmongering is Defending Human Rights of the Poor and Working Class
Paul Street
Corporate Media: the Enemy of the People
David Macaray
Trump and the Sex Tape
CJ Hopkins
Where Have All the Nazis Gone?
Daniel Falcone
The Future of NATO: an Interview With Richard Falk
Cesar Chelala
The Historic Responsibility of the Catholic Church
Ron Jacobs
The Barbarism of US Immigration Policy
Kenneth Surin
In Shanghai
William Camacaro - Frederick B. Mills
The Military Option Against Venezuela in the “Year of the Americas”
Nancy Kurshan
The Whole World Was Watching: Chicago ’68, Revisited
Robert Fantina
Yemeni and Palestinian Children
Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond
Orcas and Other-Than-Human Grief
Shoshana Fine – Thomas Lindemann
Migrants Deaths: European Democracies and the Right to Not Protect?
Paul Edwards
Totally Irrusianal
Thomas Knapp
Murphy’s Law: Big Tech Must Serve as Censorship Subcontractors
Mark Ashwill
More Demons Unleashed After Fulbright University Vietnam Official Drops Rhetorical Bombshells
Ralph Nader
Going Fundamental Eludes Congressional Progressives
Hans-Armin Ohlmann
My Longest Day: How World War II Ended for My Family
Matthew Funke
The Nordic Countries Aren’t Socialist
Daniel Warner
Tiger Woods, Donald Trump and Crime and Punishment
Dave Lindorff
Mainstream Media Hypocrisy on Display
Jeff Cohen
Democrats Gather in Chicago: Elite Party or Party of the People?
Victor Grossman
Stand Up With New Hope in Germany?
Christopher Brauchli
A Family Affair
Jill Richardson
Profiting From Poison
Patrick Bobilin
Moving the Margins
Alison Barros
Dear White American
Celia Bottger
If Ireland Can Reject Fossil Fuels, Your Town Can Too
Ian Scott Horst
Less Voting, More Revolution
Peter Certo
Trump Snubbed McCain, Then the Media Snubbed the Rest of Us
Dan Ritzman
Drilling ANWR: One of Our Last Links to the Wild World is in Danger
Brandon Do
The World and Palestine, Palestine and the World
Chris Wright
An Updated and Improved Marxism
Daryan Rezazad
Iran and the Doomsday Machine
Patrick Bond
Africa’s Pioneering Marxist Political Economist, Samir Amin (1931-2018)
Louis Proyect
Memoir From the Underground
Binoy Kampmark
Meaningless Titles and Liveable Cities: Melbourne Loses to Vienna
Andrew Stewart
Blackkklansman: Spike Lee Delivers a Masterpiece
Elizabeth Lennard
Alan Chadwick in the Budding Grove: Story Summary for a Documentary Film
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail