It’s unquestionably premature to conclude that Pakistan may displace Iran as the most urgent foreign-policy challenge likely to be faced by the Bush administration next year, but it’s beginning to look like a distinct possibility. For evidence, see column in the Sunday New York Times by Tom Friedman in which he somewhat offhandedly asserts, “After Iraq and Pakistan, the most vexing foreign policy issues that will face the next president will be how to handle Iran,” and, more strikingly, a second Times column co-authored by neo-conservative Fred Kagan and liberal interventionist Michael O’Hanlon, entitled “Pakistan’s Collapse, Our Problem” — the latest example of the growing partnership between the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and the Brookings Institution. “We do not intend to be fear mongers,” according to the two authors who then proceed to argue that Washington needs to focus right now on how best to intervene militarily in the Muslim world’s second-most-populous nation to secure its nuclear stockpile if and when things get out of hand there. Their optimal goal is to get those weapons to New Mexico, but, if that proves impossible [for, say, political reasons], then the U.S. should “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.”
The article itself is mind-blowing in the various scenarios it depicts; sending in, for example, “a sizable combat force — not only from the United States, but ideally also other Western powers and moderate Muslim nations” — in support of “the core of the Pakistan armed forces as they sought to hold the country together in the face of ineffective government, seceding border regions and Al Qaeda and Taliban assassination attempts against the leadership”. But the fact that Kagan is widely viewed as an architect of the “Surge” in Iraq (and hence close to the White House); and that O’Hanlon, a former Clinton national-security aide, is regarded as representative of an important sector within the Democratic Party means that the article and its various scenarios are likely to be taken quite seriously in the Muslim world, most especially in Pakistan itself. And, please note, there’s no talk of the importance of democracy here; it’s all about making sure those nukes are placed in reliable (preferably our) hands. The assumption is that the “moderate” core of the Pakistani military will be the key to success and, despite any nationalist feelings it may harbor, is prepared to fully cooperate with a major foreign military intervention to ensure foreign control of its most important weapons.
I’m no Pakistan specialist; nor do I have any reason to believe that Kagan (whose expertise is German military history) and O’Hanlon are particularly learned on the subject; their operating assumptions appear highly questionable to me. But I have no doubt that their musings are indeed an indication of what is speeding to the top of the administration’s national-security agenda. Moreover, compared to the concerns they express about the fate of Pakistan’s nuclear stockpile and the lengths to which Washington should be prepared to go to secure it, the threats posed by Iran over the next year or so seem awfully tame. Now, with Musharraf appearing to have rejected the appeals of both Bush last week and Negroponte over the weekend, and the political impasse between the civilian opposition and the military under Musharraf having hardened considerably in just the past few days, a serious crisis of the kind envisaged by Mssrs. Kagan and O’Hanlon is looming ever larger. Under such circumstances, the notion that the U.S. would attack Iran seems considerably less credible, at least from Tehran’s point of view.
Incidentally, for an interesting analysis of the relationship between U.S. military intervention, the regional rise in “Islamic nationalism,” and how it plays out in Pakistan, particularly from the point of view of the Pakistani military, I strongly recommend an article by the former vice chair of the CIA’s National Intelligence Council and an expert on the region, Graham Fuller published November 8 by New Perspectives Quarterly. Fuller currently teaches at Simon Fraser University in beautiful Vancouver, B.C.