Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Clydesdale plan for Pakistan

I want a pony whenever I dream of the absurd, but today Kagan and Hanlon in the New York Times takes this absurdity to a post-ironic hyper absurdity by asking for a Clydesdale instead of a pony in their description of the problems that are occurring in Pakistan and some proposed plans for massively increased intervention. This op-ed is an amazing example of argument by absurdity:
the United States simply could not stand by as a nuclear-armed Pakistan descended into the abyss. Nor would it be strategically prudent to withdraw our forces from an improving situation in Iraq to cope with a deteriorating one in Pakistan. We need to think — now — about our feasible military options in Pakistan, should it really come to that.
By now, the consensus in Washington is starting to meet up with a global consensus. Not every problem can or more importantly should be resolved by military force. Diplomacy, strategic engagement, economic engagement, targeted technical assistance and occassionally doing nothing are all viable options. Throw in the most recent round of reporting suggests that the tactical alliances of conviences, local action against even more annoying/threatening foreigners by Sunni Arabs, a tactical ceasefire by the Mahdi Army still is not producing any progress towards a national political settlement in Iraq, and progress in a strategic sense is a farce.
The most likely possible dangers are these: a complete collapse of Pakistani government rule that allows an extreme Islamist movement to fill the vacuum; a total loss of federal control over outlying provinces, which splinter along ethnic and tribal lines; or a struggle within the Pakistani military in which the minority sympathetic to the Taliban and Al Qaeda try to establish Pakistan as a state sponsor of terrorism.
The Islamists are about as popular in Pakistan as Browsn fans are in Pittsburgh. An overwhelming supermajority of the Pakistani population believes that radical religioun is a threat to Pakistan, and the popular base of political support is very narrow. A decent amount of the ISI historical support of the Taliban was and still is the support of a regional power of a controllable proxy against any competing Indian-allied/favored proxy groups in Afghanistan.

Yes, there is reason to worry about Waziristan, but even there the Islamic theocrats are more subgroup nationalists who are very distrustful of outsiders combined being bought out by the people with money.
The most likely possible dangers are these: a complete collapse of Pakistani government rule that allows an extreme Islamist movement to fill the vacuum; a total loss of federal control over outlying provinces, which splinter along ethnic and tribal lines; or a struggle within the Pakistani military in which the minority sympathetic to the Taliban and Al Qaeda try to establish Pakistan as a state sponsor of terrorism.
No, this represents old school state based thinking. Right now the threat to the United States is the failure of states, and zones of anarchy/non-governmental organizations. A fragmentation of Pakistan during the intermediate term is a greater threat than another series of coups seeking to maintain the machinery of the Pakistani state as there are plenty of deterrable points of pressure, and competing interest groups that can be used to constrain option space.
The task of stabilizing a collapsed Pakistan is beyond the means of the United States and its allies. Rule-of-thumb estimates suggest that a force of more than a million troops would be required for a country of this size.
Actually, taking a slighlty more pessimistic estimate that there would be some counterinsurgency operations instead of peace monitoring, the estimate using US Army doctrine of 20 to 25 counterinsurgents per 1,000 population would a force of up to 3.75 million counterinsurgents if we were to assume a fragmentation of the state, deveolution of primary loyalties, and a continuation of ethnic and sectarian conflicts that are currently ongoing (Baluchistan for instance).
Thus, if we have any hope of success, we would have to act before a complete government collapse, and we would need the cooperation of moderate Pakistani forces.
Wait, I'm confused, they seem to be advocating something sensible here --- pre-crisis planning. This is discordant with the rest of the OP-ED.
Given the degree to which Pakistani nationalists cherish these assets, it is unlikely the United States would get permission to destroy them. Somehow, American forces would have to team with Pakistanis to secure critical sites and possibly to move the material to a safer place.

For the United States, the safest bet would be shipping the material to someplace like New Mexico; but even pro-American Pakistanis would be unlikely to cooperate. More likely, we would have to settle for establishing a remote redoubt within Pakistan, with the nuclear technology guarded by elite Pakistani forces backed up (and watched over) by crack international troops. It is realistic to think that such a mission might be undertaken within days of a decision to act. The price for rapid action and secrecy, however, would probably be a very small international coalition.
Okay, back to the rest of the argument by absurdity --- we will strengthen internal nationalist claims of legitimacy by removing one of their most symbolic items of national capacity and power by co-opting significnat sections of a major national institution (the Army) and humiliating that same institution by showing that they are explicitly a puppet of an unpopular foreign power.
A second, broader option would involve supporting the core of the Pakistani armed forces as they sought to hold the country together in the face of an ineffective government, seceding border regions and Al Qaeda and Taliban assassination attempts against the leadership. This would require a sizable combat force — not only from the United States, but ideally also other Western powers and moderate Muslim nations.

Even if we were not so committed in Iraq and Afghanistan, Western powers would need months to get the troops there. Fortunately, given the longstanding effectiveness of Pakistan’s security forces, any process of state decline probably would be gradual, giving us the time to act.

So, if we got a large number of troops into the country, what would they do? The most likely directive would be to help Pakistan’s military and security forces hold the country’s center — primarily the region around the capital, Islamabad, and the populous areas like Punjab Province to its south.
Anyone paying attention to the US Army and Marines deployment patterns know that the US has nothing available. The remaining strategic reserve was committed to Iraq and the 'surge.' This introduction of five additional somewhat fresh brigades and the accelerated exhaustion of another fifteen brigades due to tour extensions means that there is no flexibility in the US Army unless the entire National Guard is federalized and another couple hundred billion dollars per year are spent on the imperial mission

Then throw in the fact that there are not multiple nations with multiple available corps that want to act in concert with the United States as evidenced by the problems of finding a couple of extra battalions for Afghanistan from NATO, and the total political diseaster of asking for Indian troops for Pakistan. That would guarantee massive guerrilla warfare and probably outright conventional combat by Pakistani units.

And finally, again, disregard the humiliation inflicted upon a proud institution, the Pakistani Army by the seizure of nukes and the explict display of distrust, why would the Pakistani Army maintain its unity of command and purpose that is aligned with US interests?
But they might need help if splinter forces or radical Islamists took control of parts of the country containing crucial nuclear materials. The task of retaking any such regions and reclaiming custody of any nuclear weapons would be a priority for our troops.

If a holding operation in the nation’s center was successful, we would probably then seek to establish order in the parts of Pakistan where extremists operate. Beyond propping up the state, this would benefit American efforts in Afghanistan by depriving terrorists of the sanctuaries they have long enjoyed in Pakistan’s tribal and frontier regions.
Bombing Cambodia was such a good idea, let's try that plan again. External sanctuaries for the Taliban, AQ, and Pashtun nationalists operating in Afghanistan are useful, but at least for the Taliban and the Pashtun nationalists, the pre-exisiting grievance of being kicked out of power, and subordinated to Tajik and other minority groups would still prompt resistance.

I am impressed, this is an amazing piece of snark that made it on the New York Times op-ed page....

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