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By George Friedman ~ Honorable Political Season Contributor
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is scheduled to meet with U.S. President Barack Obama on March 23. The meeting follows the explosion in U.S.-Israeli relations after Israel announced it was licensing construction of homes in East Jerusalem while U.S. Vice President Joe Biden was in Israel. The United States wants Israel to stop all construction of new Jewish settlements. The Israelis argue that East Jerusalem is not part of the occupied territories, and hence, the U.S. demand doesn’t apply there. The Americans are not parsing their demand so finely and regard the announcement — timed as it was — as a direct affront and challenge. Israel’s response is that it is a sovereign state and so must be permitted to do as it wishes. The implicit American response is that the United States is also a sovereign state and will respond as it wishes.
The polemics in this case are not the point. The issue is more fundamental: namely, the degree to which U.S. and Israeli relations converge and diverge. This is not a matter of friendship but, as in all things geopolitical, of national interest. It is difficult to discuss U.S. and Israeli interests objectively, as the relationship is clouded with endless rhetoric and simplistic formulations. It is thus difficult to know where to start, but two points of entry into this controversy come to mind.
The first is the idea that anti-Americanism in the Middle East has its roots in U.S. support for Israel, a point made by those in the United States and abroad who want the United States to distance itself from Israel. The second is that the United States has a special strategic relationship with Israel and a mutual dependency. Both statements have elements of truth, but neither is simply true — and both require much more substantial analysis. In analyzing them, we begin the process of trying to disentangle national interests from rhetoric.

Anti-Americanism in the Middle East

Begin with the claim that U.S. support for Israel generates anti-Americanism in the Arab and Islamic world. While such support undoubtedly contributes to the phenomenon, it hardly explains it. The fundamental problem with the theory is that Arab anti-Americanism predates significant U.S. support for Israel. Until 1967, the United States gave very little aid to Israel. What aid Washington gave was in the form of very limited loans to purchase agricultural products from the United States — a program that many countries in the world participated in. It was France, not the United States, which was the primary supplier of weapons to Israeli.
In 1956, Israel invaded the Sinai while Britain and France seized the Suez Canal, which the Egyptian government of Gamal Abdul Nasser had nationalized. The Eisenhower administration intervened — against Israel and on the side of Egypt. Under U.S. pressure, the British, French and Israelis were forced to withdraw. There were widespread charges that the Eisenhower administration was pro-Arab and anti-Israeli; certainly no one could argue that Eisenhower was significantly pro-Israel.
In spite of this, Nasser entered into a series of major agreements with the Soviet Union. Egypt effectively became a Soviet ally, the recipient of massive Soviet aid and a center of anti-American rhetoric. Whatever his reasons — and they had to do with U.S. unwillingness to give Egypt massive aid — Egypt’s anti-American attitude had nothing to do with the Israelis, save perhaps that the United States was not prepared to join Egypt in trying to destroy Israel.
Two major political events took place in 1963: left-wing political coups in Syria and Iraq that brought the Baathist Party to power in both countries. Note that this took place pre-1967, i.e., before the United States became closely aligned with Israel. Both regimes were pro-Soviet and anti-American, but neither could have been responding to U.S. support for Israel because there wasn’t much.
In 1964, Washington gave Cairo the first significant U.S. military aid in the form of Hawk missiles, but it gave those to other Arab countries, too, in response to the coups in Iraq and Syria. The United States feared the Soviets would base fighters in those two countries, so it began installing anti-air systems to try to block potential Soviet airstrikes on Saudi Arabia.
In 1967, France broke with Israel over the Arab-Israeli conflict that year. The United States began significant aid to Israel. In 1973, after the Syrian and Egyptian attack on Israel, the U.S. began massive assistance. In 1974 this amounted to about 25 percent of Israeli gross domestic product (GDP). The aid has continued at roughly the same level, but given the massive growth of the Israeli economy, it now amounts to about 2.5 percent of Israeli GDP.
The point here is that the United States was not actively involved in supporting Israel prior to 1967, yet anti-Americanism in the Arab world was rampant. The Arabs might have blamed the United States for Israel, but there was little empirical basis for this claim. Certainly, U.S. aid commenced in 1967 and surged in 1974, but the argument that eliminating support for Israel would cause anti-Americanism to decline must first explain the origins of anti-Americanism, which substantially predated American support for Israel. In fact, it is not clear that Arab anti-Americanism was greater after the initiation of major aid to Israel than before. Indeed, Egypt, the most important Arab country, shifted its position to a pro-American stance after the 1973 war in the face of U.S. aid.

Israel’s Importance to the United States

Let’s now consider the assumption that Israel is a critical U.S. asset. American grand strategy has always been derived from British grand strategy. The United States seeks to maintain regional balances of power in order to avoid the emergence of larger powers that can threaten U.S. interests. The Cold War was a massive exercise in the balance of power, pitting an American-sponsored worldwide alliance system against one formed by the Soviet Union. Since the end of the Cold War, the United States has acted a number of times against regional hegemons: Iraq in 1990-91, Serbia in 1999 and so on.
In the area called generally the Middle East, but which we prefer to think of as the area between the Mediterranean and the Hindu Kush, there are three intrinsic regional balances. One is the Arab-Israeli balance of power. The second is the Iran-Iraq balance. The third is the Indo-Pakistani balance of power. The American goal in each balance is not so much stability as it is the mutual neutralization of local powers by other local powers.
Two of the three regional balances of power are collapsed or in jeopardy. The 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq and the failure to quickly put a strong, anti-Iranian government in place in Baghdad, has led to the collapse of the central balance of power — with little hope of resurrection. The eastern balance of power between Pakistan and India is also in danger of toppling. The Afghan war has caused profound stresses in Pakistan, and there are scenarios in which we can imagine Pakistan’s power dramatically weakening or even cracking. It is unclear how this will evolve, but what is clear is that it is not in the interest of the United States because it would destroy the native balance of power with India. The United States does not want to see India as the unchallenged power in the subcontinent any more than it wants to see Pakistan in that position. The United States needs a strong Pakistan to balance India, and its problem now is how to manage the Afghan war — a side issue strategically — without undermining the strategic interest of the United States, an Indo-Pakistani balance of power.
The western balance of power, Israel and the surrounding states, is relatively stable. What is most important to the United States at this point is that this balance of power also not destabilize. In this sense, Israel is an important strategic asset. But in the broader picture, where the United States is dealing with the collapse of the central balance of power and with the destabilization of the eastern balance of power, Washington does not want or need the destabilization of the western balance — between the Israelis and Arabs — at this time. U.S. “bandwidth” is already stretched to the limit. Washington does not need another problem. Nor does it need instability in this region complicating things in the other regions.
Note that the United States is interested in maintaining the balance of power. This means that the U.S. interest is in a stable set of relations, with no one power becoming excessively powerful and therefore unmanageable by the United States. Israel is already the dominant power in the region, and the degree to which Syria, Jordan and Egypt contain Israel is limited. Israel is moving from the position of an American ally maintaining a balance of power to a regional hegemon in its own right operating outside the framework of American interests.
The United States above all wants to ensure continuity after Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak dies. It wants to ensure that the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan remains stable. And in its attempts to manage the situation in the center and east, it wants to ensure that nothing happens in the west to further complicate an already-enormously complex situation.
There is very little Israel can do to help the United States in the center and eastern balances. On the other hand, if the western balance of power were to collapse — due to anything from a collapse of the Egyptian regime to a new Israeli war with Hezbollah — the United States might find itself drawn into that conflict, while a new intifada in the Palestinian territories would not help matters either. It is unknown what effect this would have in the other balances of power, but the United States is operating at the limits of its power to try to manage these situations. Israel cannot help there, but it could hurt, for example by initiating an attack on Iran outside the framework of American planning. Therefore, the United States wants one thing from Israel now: for Israel to do nothing that could possibly destabilize the western balance of power or make America’s task more difficult in the other regions.
Israel sees the American preoccupation in these other regions, along with the current favorable alignment of forces in its region, as an opportunity both to consolidate and expand its power and to create new realities on the ground. One of these is building in East Jerusalem, or more precisely, using the moment to reshape the demographics and geography of its immediate region. The Israeli position is that it has rights in East Jerusalem that the United States cannot intrude on. The U.S. position is that it has interests in the broader region that are potentially weakened by this construction at this time.
Israel’s desire to do so is understandable, but it runs counter to American interests. The United States, given its overwhelming challenges, is neither interested in Israel’s desire to reshape its region, nor can it tolerate any more risk deriving from Israel’s actions. However small the risks might be, the United States is maxed out on risk. Therefore, Israel’s interests and that of the United States diverge. Israel sees an opportunity; the United States sees more risk.
The problem Israel has is that, in the long run, its relationship to the United States is its insurance policy. Netanyahu appears to be calculating that given the U.S. need for a western balance of power, whatever Israel does now will be allowed because in the end the United States needs Israel to maintain that balance of power. Therefore, he is probing aggressively. Netanyahu also has domestic political reasons for proceeding with this construction. For him, this construction is a prudent and necessary step.
Obama’s task is to convince Netanyahu that Israel has strategic value for the United States, but only in the context of broader U.S. interests in the region. If Israel becomes part of the American problem rather than the solution, the United States will seek other solutions. That is a hard case to make but not an impossible one. The balance of power is in the eastern Mediterranean, and there is another democracy the United States could turn to: Turkey — which is more than eager to fulfill that role and exploit Israeli tensions with the United States.
It may not be the most persuasive threat, but the fact is that Israel cannot afford any threat from the United States, such as an end to the intense U.S.-Israeli bilateral relationship. While this relationship might not be essential to Israel at the moment, it is one of the foundations of Israeli grand strategy in the long run. Just as the United States cannot afford any more instability in the region at the moment, so Israel cannot afford any threat, however remote, to its relationship with the United States.

A More Complicated Relationship

What is clear in all this is that the statement that Israel and the United States are strategic partners is not untrue, it is just vastly more complicated than it appears. Similarly, the claim that American support for Israel fuels anti-Americans is both a true and insufficient statement.
Netanyahu is betting on Congress and political pressures to restrain U.S. responses to Israel. One of the arguments of geopolitics is that political advantage is insufficient in the face of geopolitical necessity. Pressure on Congress from Israel in order to build houses in Jerusalem while the United States is dealing with crises in the region could easily backfire.
The fact is that while the argument that U.S. Israel policy caused anti-Americanism in the region may not be altogether true, the United States does not need any further challenges or stresses. Nations overwhelmed by challenges can behave in unpredictable ways. Netanyahu’s decision to confront the United States at this time on this issue creates an unpredictability that would seem excessive to Israel’s long term interests. Expecting the American political process to protect Israel from the consequences is not necessarily gauging the American mood at the moment.
The national interest of both countries is to maximize their freedom to maneuver. The Israelis have a temporary advantage because of American interests elsewhere in the region. But that creates a long-term threat. With two wars going on and two regional balances in shambles or tottering, the United States does not need a new crisis in the third. Israel has an interest in housing in East Jerusalem. The United States does not. This frames the conversation between Netanyahu and Obama. The rest is rhetoric.

“This report is republished with permission of STRATFOR

Suicide Blast Kills At Least 88 at Pakistan Volleyball Game | Asia | English

The horrific bombing in Pakistan once again has me shaking my head in a species of disbelief. This is an element of Islamic terrorism that I don’t understand. For all the railing against the US and Western “infidel” culture in general, Islamic terrorists kill far more Muslims far more regularly than they do Westerners.

I have a hard time understanding how Muslim publics around the world tolerate these rabid, murderous dogs. Just from a purely pragmatic, practical point of view, what bloody good is it to have terrorists who target you far more than they target the “infidels” they claim to be out to destroy?

I guess I do understand some of it. Though its easy to think otherwise, with the exception of groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, most of these terror movements are not really about taking down the West (the Far Enemy) as they are about taking down their local governments (the Near Enemy).  Its a measure of how repressive and dictatorial many middle eastern governments and societies are that their publics are apparently willing to stand for, tolerate, even sympathize with fundamentalist movements, though from where I sit, the cure seems worse than the disease.

But my God, if you’re willing to tolerate these movements, isn’t anyone interested in some form of quality control? Are there no rules?  Is nothing off limits? Islamic radicals kill other fellow Muslims in mosques, on city streets and anywhere else.  They kill children, including Muslim children; for crying out loud, that’s not enough for societies to call timeout on?  If you are gonna be in the terror business, using violence and murder for political ends, ought the rules be you gotta kill more of them than your own?  I mean, you know somebody should be tallying up the numbers and at year end, if your us vs. them ratio is off, you should get your terrorist card pulled, or a citation or something.

But the lopsided kill stats, the Muslim on Muslim murder ongoing throughout the world really sends a message about this conflict. Contrary to popular belief, it isn’t really a war with the West. The Muslim world is at war with itself.

By George Friedman ~ Honorary Political Season Contributor

U.S. President Barack Obama announced the broad structure of his Afghanistan strategy in a speech at West Point on Tuesday evening. The strategy had three core elements. First, he intends to maintain pressure on al Qaeda on the Afghan-Pakistani border and in other regions of the world. Second, he intends to blunt the Taliban offensive by sending an additional 30,000 American troops to Afghanistan, along with an unspecified number of NATO troops he hopes will join them. Third, he will use the space created by the counteroffensive against the Taliban and the resulting security in some regions of Afghanistan to train and build Afghan military forces and civilian structures to assume responsibility after the United States withdraws. Obama added that the U.S. withdrawal will begin in July 2011, but provided neither information on the magnitude of the withdrawal nor the date when the withdrawal would conclude. He made it clear that these will depend on the situation on the ground, adding that the U.S. commitment is finite.

In understanding this strategy, we must begin with an obvious but unstated point: The extra forces that will be deployed to Afghanistan are not expected to defeat the Taliban. Instead, their mission is to reverse the momentum of previous years and to create the circumstances under which an Afghan force can take over the mission. The U.S. presence is therefore a stopgap measure, not the ultimate solution.

The ultimate solution is training an Afghan force to engage the Taliban over the long haul, undermining support for the Taliban, and dealing with al Qaeda forces along the Pakistani border and in the rest of Afghanistan. If the United States withdraws all of its forces as Obama intends, the Afghan military would have to assume all of these missions. Therefore, we must consider the condition of the Afghan military to evaluate the strategy’s viability.

Afghanistan vs. Vietnam

Obama went to great pains to distinguish Afghanistan from Vietnam, and there are indeed many differences. The core strategy adopted by Richard Nixon (not Lyndon Johnson) in Vietnam, called “Vietnamization,” saw U.S. forces working to blunt and disrupt the main North Vietnamese forces while the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) would be trained, motivated and deployed to replace U.S. forces to be systematically withdrawn from Vietnam. The equivalent of the Afghan surge was the U.S. attack on North Vietnamese Army (NVA) bases in Cambodia and offensives in northern South Vietnam designed to disrupt NVA command and control and logistics and forestall a major offensive by the NVA. Troops were in fact removed in parallel with the Cambodian offensives.

Nixon faced two points Obama now faces. First, the United States could not provide security for South Vietnam indefinitely. Second, the South Vietnamese would have to provide security for themselves. The role of the United States was to create the conditions under which the ARVN would become an effective fighting force; the impending U.S. withdrawal was intended to increase the pressure on the Vietnamese government to reform and on the ARVN to fight.

Many have argued that the core weakness of the strategy was that the ARVN was not motivated to fight. This was certainly true in some cases, but the idea that the South Vietnamese were generally sympathetic to the Communists is untrue. Some were, but many weren’t, as shown by the minimal refugee movement into NVA-held territory or into North Vietnam itself contrasted with the substantial refugee movement into U.S./ARVN-held territory and away from NVA forces. The patterns of refugee movement are, we think, highly indicative of true sentiment.

Certainly, there were mixed sentiments, but the failure of the ARVN was not primarily due to hostility or even lack of motivation. Instead, it was due to a problem that must be addressed and overcome if the Afghanistation war is to succeed. That problem is understanding the role that Communist sympathizers and agents played in the formation of the ARVN.

By the time the ARVN expanded — and for that matter from its very foundation — the North Vietnamese intelligence services had created a systematic program for inserting operatives and recruiting sympathizers at every level of the ARVN, from senior staff and command positions down to the squad level. The exploitation of these assets was not random nor merely intended to undermine moral. Instead, it provided the NVA with strategic, operational and tactical intelligence on ARVN operations, and when ARVN and U.S. forces operated together, on U.S. efforts as well.

In any insurgency, the key for insurgent victory is avoiding battles on the enemy’s terms and initiating combat only on the insurgents’ terms. The NVA was a light infantry force. The ARVN — and the U.S. Army on which it was modeled — was a much heavier, combined-arms force. In any encounter between the NVA and its enemies the NVA would lose unless the encounter was at the time and place of the NVA’s choosing. ARVN and U.S. forces had a tremendous advantage in firepower and sheer weight. But they had a significant weakness: The weight they bought to bear meant they were less agile. The NVA had a tremendous weakness. Caught by surprise, it would be defeated. And it had a great advantage: Its intelligence network inside the ARVN generally kept it from being surprised. It also revealed weakness in its enemies’ deployment, allowing it to initiate successful offensives.

All war is about intelligence, but nowhere is this truer than in counterinsurgency and guerrilla war, where invisibility to the enemy and maintaining the initiative in all engagements is key. Only clear intelligence on the enemy’s capability gives this initiative to an insurgent, and only denying intelligence to the enemy — or knowing what the enemy knows and intends — preserves the insurgent force.

The construction of an Afghan military is an obvious opportunity for Taliban operatives and sympathizers to be inserted into the force. As in Vietnam, such operatives and sympathizers are not readily distinguishable from loyal soldiers; ideology is not something easy to discern. With these operatives in place, the Taliban will know of and avoid Afghan army forces and will identify Afghan army weaknesses. Knowing that the Americans are withdrawing as the NVA did in Vietnam means the rational strategy of the Taliban is to reduce operational tempo, allow the withdrawal to proceed, and then take advantage of superior intelligence and the ability to disrupt the Afghan forces internally to launch the Taliban offensives.

The Western solution is not to prevent Taliban sympathizers from penetrating the Afghan army. Rather, the solution is penetrating the Taliban. In Vietnam, the United States used signals intelligence extensively. The NVA came to understand this and minimized radio communications, accepting inefficient central command and control in return for operational security. The solution to this problem lay in placing South Vietnamese into the NVA. There were many cases in which this worked, but on balance, the NVA had a huge advantage in the length of time it had spent penetrating the ARVN versus U.S. and ARVN counteractions. The intelligence war on the whole went to the North Vietnamese. The United States won almost all engagements, but the NVA made certain that it avoided most engagements until it was ready.

In the case of Afghanistan, the United States has far more sophisticated intelligence-gathering tools than it did in Vietnam. Nevertheless, the basic principle remains: An intelligence tool can be understood, taken into account and evaded. By contrast, deep penetration on multiple levels by human intelligence cannot be avoided.

Pakistan’s Role

Obama mentioned Pakistan’s critical role. Clearly, he understands the lessons of Vietnam regarding sanctuary, and so he made it clear that he expects Pakistan to engage and destroy Taliban forces on its territory and to deny Afghan Taliban supplies, replacements and refuge. He cited the Swat and South Waziristan offensives as examples of the Pakistanis’ growing effectiveness. While this is a significant piece of his strategy, the Pakistanis must play another role with regard to intelligence.

The heart of Obama’s strategy lies not in the surge, but rather in turning the war over to the Afghans. As in Vietnam, any simplistic model of loyalties doesn’t work. There are Afghans sufficiently motivated to form the core of an effective army. As in Vietnam, the problem is that this army will contain large numbers of Taliban sympathizers; there is no way to prevent this. The Taliban is not stupid: It has and will continue to move its people into as many key positions as possible.

The challenge lies in leveling the playing field by inserting operatives into the Taliban. Since the Afghan intelligence services are inherently insecure, they can’t carry out such missions. American personnel bring technical intelligence to bear, but that does not compensate for human intelligence. The only entity that could conceivably penetrate the Taliban and remain secure is the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). This would give the Americans and Afghans knowledge of Taliban plans and deployments. This would diminish the ability of the Taliban to evade attacks, and although penetrated as well, the Afghan army would enjoy a chance ARVN never had.

But only the ISI could do this, and thinking of the ISI as secure is hard to do from a historical point of view. The ISI worked closely with the Taliban during the Afghan civil war that brought it to power and afterwards, and the ISI had many Taliban sympathizers. The ISI underwent significant purging and restructuring to eliminate these elements over recent years, but no one knows how successful these efforts were.

The ISI remains the center of gravity of the entire problem. If the war is about creating an Afghan army, and if we accept that the Taliban will penetrate this army heavily no matter what, then the only counter is to penetrate the Taliban equally. Without that, Obama’s entire strategy fails as Nixon’s did.

In his talk, Obama quite properly avoided discussing the intelligence aspect of the war. He clearly cannot ignore the problem we have laid out, but neither can he simply count on the ISI. He does not need the entire ISI for this mission, however. He needs a carved out portion — compartmentalized and invisible to the greatest possible extent — to recruit and insert operatives into the Taliban and to create and manage communication networks so as to render the Taliban transparent. Given Taliban successes of late, it isn’t clear whether he has this intelligence capability. Either way, we would have to assume that some Pakistani solution to the Taliban intelligence issue has been discussed (and such a solution must be Pakistani for ethnic and linguistic reasons).

Every war has its center of gravity, and Obama has made clear that the center of gravity of this war will be the Afghan military’s ability to replace the Americans in a very few years. If that is the center of gravity, and if maintaining security against Taliban penetration is impossible, then the single most important enabler to Obama’s strategy would seem to be the ability to make the Taliban transparent.

Therefore, Pakistan is important not only as the Cambodia of this war, the place where insurgents go to regroup and resupply, but also as a key element of the solution to the intelligence war. It is all about Pakistan. And that makes Obama’s plan difficult to execute. It is far easier to write these words than to execute a plan based on them. But to the extent Obama is serious about the Afghan army taking over, he and his team have had to think about how to do this.

“This report is republished with permission of STRATFOR

“Radical Islam has overplayed its hand again, creating popular resentment escalating to political backlash. We’re the ones winning this struggle across the board, and not only should Obama ignore the offer of a truce as we press forward in Afghanistan and Pakistan (it would only allow Asia to step in for the oil money) — he should make explicitly clear to Al Qaeda that we’ll never acquiesce to their desire for civilizational apartheid between the West and the Arab world, even as isolationists and defeatists on our side would just as soon erect a fence around the whole Islamic world to let them fight it out amongst themselves. Why? Because the penetrating embrace of globalization is doing the truly profound damage to Al Qaeda, and we are globalization’s bodyguard.”

The Obama administration’s 3 a.m. moment could be upon us at any hour. Nightwatch reports that Chinese fishing vessels operating near the Northern Limit Line (NLL) are leaving the Yellow Sea area northwest of Seoul. The number of boats operating in the area has decreased from 280 to 140. This is a strong indicator that naval clashes are possible and that other violent events from N. Korea can be expected.

Meanwhile, in Pakistan, attacks by Taliban forces on government targets and civilians in Pakistan’s major cities are a potent message to the government and the population that the Taliban can strike with impunity anywhere. The Pakistani army appears to have lost the initiative. After beginning a vigorous offensive against the Taliban that seemed to set them back on their heels, the bombings make it clear that the Taliban are regaining the offensive against government forces. As the attacks continue, its quite likely that the government will lose popular support for resisting the Taliban. The likelihood that the Taliban may successfully destabilize Pakistan and pose a real threat of nuclear weaponry falling into the hands of terrorists and the necessity of US action to insure that does not happen.

Obama’s 3 am moment is upon us.

By George Friedman~Honorary Political Season Contributor

After U.S. airstrikes killed scores of civilians in western Afghanistan this past week, White House National Security Adviser Gen. James L. Jones said the United States would continue with the airstrikes and would not tie the hands of U.S. generals fighting in Afghanistan. At the same time, U.S. Central Command chief Gen. David Petraeus has cautioned against using tactics that undermine strategic U.S. goals in Afghanistan — raising the question of what exactly are the U.S. strategic goals in Afghanistan. A debate inside the U.S. camp has emerged over this very question, the outcome of which is likely to determine the future of the region.

On one side are President Barack Obama, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and a substantial amount of the U.S. Army leadership. On the other side are Petraeus — the architect of U.S. strategy in Iraq after 2006 — and his staff and supporters. An Army general — even one with four stars — is unlikely to overcome a president and a defense secretary; even the five-star Gen. Douglas MacArthur couldn’t pull that off. But the Afghan debate is important, and it provides us with a sense of future U.S. strategy in the region.

Petraeus and U.S. Strategy in Iraq

Petraeus took over effective command of coalition forces in Iraq in 2006. Two things framed his strategy. One was the Republican defeat in the 2006 midterm congressional elections, which many saw as a referendum on the Iraq war. The second was the report by the Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan group of elder statesmen (including Gates) that recommended some fundamental changes in how the war was fought.

The expectation in November 2006 was that as U.S. President George W. Bush’s strategy had been repudiated, his only option was to begin withdrawing troops. Even if Bush didn’t begin this process, it was expected that his successor in two years certainly would have to do so. The situation was out of control, and U.S. forces did not seem able to assert control. The goals of the 2003 invasion, which were to create a pro-American regime in Baghdad, redefine the political order of Iraq and use Iraq as a base of operations against hostile regimes in the region, were unattainable. It did not seem possible to create any coherent regime in Baghdad at all, given that a complex civil war was under way that the United States did not seem able to contain.

Most important, groups in Iraq believed that the United States would be leaving. Therefore, political alliance with the United States made no sense, as U.S. guarantees would be made moot by withdrawal. The expectation of an American withdrawal sapped U.S. political influence, while the breadth of the civil war and its complexity exhausted the U.S. Army. Defeat had been psychologically locked in.

Bush’s decision to launch a surge of forces in Iraq was less a military event than a psychological one. Militarily, the quantity of forces to be inserted — some 30,000 on top of a force of 120,000 — did not change the basic metrics of war in a country of about 29 million. Moreover, the insertion of additional troops was far from a surge; they trickled in over many months. Psychologically, however, it was stunning. Rather than commence withdrawals as so many expected, the United States was actually increasing its forces. The issue was not whether the United States could defeat all of the insurgents and militias; that was not possible. The issue was that because the United States was not leaving, the United States was not irrelevant. If the United States was not irrelevant, then at least some American guarantees could have meaning. And that made the United States a political actor in Iraq.

Petraeus combined the redeployment of some troops with an active political program. At the heart of this program was reaching out to the Sunni insurgents, who had been among the most violent opponents of the United States during 2003-2006. The Sunni insurgents represented the traditional leadership of the mainstream Sunni tribes, clans and villages. The U.S. policy of stripping the Sunnis of all power in 2003 and apparently leaving a vacuum to be filled by the Shia had left the Sunnis in a desperate situation, and they had moved to resistance as guerrillas.

The Sunnis actually were trapped by three forces. First, there were the Americans, always pressing on the Sunnis even if they could not crush them. Second, there were the militias of the Shia, a group that the Sunni Saddam Hussein had repressed and that now was suspicious of all Sunnis. Third, there were the jihadists, a foreign legion of Sunni fighters drawn to Iraq under the banner of al Qaeda. In many ways, the jihadists posed the greatest threat to the mainstream Sunnis, since they wanted to seize leadership of the Sunni communities and radicalize them.

U.S. policy under former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had been unbending hostility to the Sunni insurgency. The policy under Gates and Petraeus after 2006 — and it must be understood that they developed this strategy jointly — was to offer the Sunnis a way out of their three-pronged trap. Because the United States would be staying in Iraq, it could offer the Sunnis protection against both the jihadists and the Shia. And because the surge convinced the Sunnis that the United States was not going to withdraw, they took the deal. Petraeus’ great achievement was presiding over the U.S.-Sunni negotiations and eventual understanding, and then using that to pressure the Shiite militias with the implicit threat of a U.S.-Sunni entente. The Shia subsequently and painfully shifted their position to accepting a coalition government, the mainstream Sunnis helped break the back of the jihadists and the civil war subsided, allowing the United States to stage a withdrawal under much more favorable circumstances.

This was a much better outcome than most would have thought possible in 2006. It was, however, an outcome that fell far short of American strategic goals of 2003. The current government in Baghdad is far from pro-American and is unlikely to be an ally of the United States; keeping it from becoming an Iranian tool would be the best outcome for the United States at this point. The United States certainly is not about to reshape Iraqi society, and Iraq is not likely to be a long-term base for U.S. offensive operations in the region.

Gates and Petraeus produced what was likely the best possible outcome under the circumstances. They created the framework for a U.S. withdrawal in a context other than a chaotic civil war, they created a coalition government, and they appear to have blocked Iranian influence in Iraq. But these achievements remain uncertain. The civil war could resume. The coalition government might collapse. The Iranians might become the dominant force in Baghdad. But these unknowns are enormously better than the outcomes expected in 2006. At the same time, snatching uncertainty from the jaws of defeat is not the same as victory.

Afghanistan and Lessons from Iraq

Petraeus is arguing that the strategy pursued in Iraq should be used as a blueprint in Afghanistan, and it appears that Obama and Gates have raised a number of important questions in response. Is the Iraqi solution really so desirable? If it is desirable, can it be replicated in Afghanistan? What level of U.S. commitment would be required in Afghanistan, and what would this cost in terms of vulnerabilities elsewhere in the world? And finally, what exactly is the U.S. goal in Afghanistan?

In Iraq, Gates and Petraeus sought to create a coalition government that, regardless of its nature, would facilitate a U.S. withdrawal. Obama and Gates have stated that the goal in Afghanistan is the defeat of al Qaeda and the denial of bases for the group in Afghanistan. This is a very different strategic goal than in Iraq, because this goal does not require a coalition government or a reconciliation of political elements. Rather, it requires an agreement with one entity: the Taliban. If the Taliban agree to block al Qaeda operations in Afghanistan, the United States will have achieved its goal. Therefore, the challenge in Afghanistan is using U.S. power to give the Taliban what they want — a return to power — in exchange for a settlement on the al Qaeda question.

In Iraq, the Shia, Sunnis and Kurds all held genuine political and military power. In Afghanistan, the Americans and the Taliban have this power, though many other players have derivative power from the United States. Afghan President Hamid Karzai is not Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki; where al-Maliki had his own substantial political base, Karzai is someone the Americans invented to become a focus for power in the future. But the future has not come. The complexities of Iraq made a coalition government possible there, but in many ways, Afghanistan is both simpler and more complex. The country has a multiplicity of groups, but in the end only one insurgency that counts.

Petraeus argues that the U.S. strategic goal — blocking al Qaeda in Afghanistan — cannot be achieved simply through an agreement with the Taliban. In this view, the Taliban are not nearly as divided as some argue, and therefore their factions cannot be played against each other. Moreover, the Taliban cannot be trusted to keep their word even if they give it, which is not likely.

From Petraeus’ view, Gates and Obama are creating the situation that existed in pre-surge Iraq. Rather than stunning Afghanistan psychologically with the idea that the United States is staying, thereby causing all the parties to reconsider their positions, Obama and Gates have done the opposite. They have made it clear that Washington has placed severe limits on its willingness to invest in Afghanistan, and made it appear that the United States is overly eager to make a deal with the one group that does not need a deal: the Taliban.

Gates and Obama have pointed out that there is a factor in Afghanistan for which there was no parallel in Iraq — namely, Pakistan. While Iran was a factor in the Iraqi civil war, the Taliban are as much a Pakistani phenomenon as an Afghan one, and the Pakistanis are neither willing nor able to deny the Taliban sanctuary and lines of supply. So long as Pakistan is in the condition it is in — and Pakistan likely will stay that way for a long time — the Taliban have time on their side and no reason to split, and are likely to negotiate only on their terms.

There is also a military fear. Petraeus brought U.S. troops closer to the population in Iraq, and he is doing this in Afghanistan as well. U.S. forces in Afghanistan are deployed in firebases. These relatively isolated positions are vulnerable to massed Taliban forces. U.S. airpower can destroy these concentrations, so long as they are detected in time and attacked before they close in on the firebases. Ominously for the United States, the Taliban do not seem to have committed anywhere near the majority of their forces to the campaign.

This military concern is combined with real questions about the endgame. Gates and Obama are not convinced that the endgame in Iraq, perhaps the best outcome that was possible there, is actually all that desirable for Afghanistan. In Afghanistan, this outcome would leave the Taliban in power in the end. No amount of U.S. troops could match the Taliban’s superior intelligence capability, their knowledge of the countryside and their willingness to take casualties in pursuing their ends, and every Afghan security force would be filled with Taliban agents.

And there is a deeper issue yet that Gates has referred to: the Russian experience in Afghanistan. The Petraeus camp is vehement that there is no parallel between the Russian and American experience; in this view, the Russians tried to crush the insurgents, while the Americans are trying to win them over and end the insurgency by convincing the Taliban’s supporters and reaching a political accommodation with their leaders. Obama and Gates are less sanguine about the distinction — such distinctions were made in Vietnam in response to the question of why the United States would fare better in Southeast Asia than the French did. From the Obama and Gates point of view, a political settlement would call for either a constellation of forces in Afghanistan favoring some accommodation with the Americans, or sufficient American power to compel accommodation. But it is not clear to Obama and Gates that either could exist in Afghanistan.

Ultimately, Petraeus is charging that Obama and Gates are missing the chance to repeat what was done in Iraq, while Obama and Gates are afraid Petraeus is confusing success in Iraq with a universal counterinsurgency model. To put it differently, they feel that while Petraeus benefited from fortuitous circumstances in Iraq, he quickly could find himself hopelessly bogged down in Afghanistan. The Pentagon on May 11 announced that U.S. commander in Afghanistan Gen. David McKiernan would be replaced, less than a year after he took over, with Lt. Gen. Stan McChrystal. McKiernan’s removal could pave the way for a broader reshuffling of Afghan strategy by the Obama administration.

The most important issues concern the extent to which Obama wants to stake his presidency on Petraeus’ vision in Afghanistan, and how important Afghanistan is to U.S. grand strategy. Petraeus has conceded that al Qaeda is in Pakistan. Getting the group out of Pakistan requires surgical strikes. Occupation and regime change in Pakistan are way beyond American abilities. The question of what the United States expects to win in Afghanistan — assuming it can win anything there — remains.

In the end, there is never a debate between U.S. presidents and generals. Even MacArthur discovered that. It is becoming clear that Obama is not going to bet all in Afghanistan, and that he sees Afghanistan as not worth the fight. Petraeus is a soldier in a fight, and he wants to win. But in the end, as Clausewitz said, war is an extension of politics by other means. As such, generals tend to not get their way.

The open source warfare occurring in Pakistan appears likely to present President Barak Obama with his greatest foreign policy challenge to date. How events in Pakistan play out may prove to be the set of events that defines what his leadership means when it comes to the defense of America’s security interests.

Taliban fighters now appear to have hit on a formula and an offering that will co-opt other sources of support to the Taliban cause. The Pakistani government which had recently made a deal with the Taliban ceding control of the Swat Valley to the insurgents, appears to be experiencing buyer’s remorse on that deal after the invasion of neighboring Buner and is now pounding Taliban positions with helicopter gunships.

The situation on the ground in Pakistan is an urgent one that inspires nightmare scenarios of the Taliban gaining access to nuclear weapons by force or by co-opting sympathetic elements in the Pak military and intelligence services into helping them obtain them. President Obama met today with the president of Pakistan, President Asif Ali Zardari and Harmid Karzai of Afghanistan and pledged additional troops to Afghanistan and increased development aid to Pakistan.

Neither of these announcements is reassuring to the Season at this point. Both initiatives still appear to be action in need of a strategy. Sending additional troops to Afghanistan increases the availability of forces to take and hold territory, but this is not Iraq. The US and multinational forces may hold the cities, but not the country side and indeed cannot pacify all of the country. The administration thinks of it to some degree as a nation building exercise, but we would argue that after denying Afghanistan as a training ground for terrorists is done, there is not much reason to stay. Providing aid to Pakistan to improve development and opportunity for its people is a sound long term solution, perhaps even of some use in the short term, but will not result in the kinds of changes that will earn the wholesale confidence of the people and most certainly will not stem the advance of the Taliban in the short term.

The other element of the Pakistan appproach so far appears to be a return to heavy reliance on the Pak military to address the Taliban threat. After a series of peace deals, the most recent ceding the Swat Valley, the army appears ready to fight back against the existential threat. However, there is plenty of room to be skeptical. Relying largely on the military to combat a religious extremist insurgency in a country where the military has a history of collaboration with jihadi extremists, and violation of constitutional norms and corruption, is doomed to fail.

Obama’s pledges of support to Karzai and Zardari and his calm assurances that he is satisfied that Pakistan’s nukes are secure are not enough to allay the fears of the public or policymakers, with supporters like Dick Lugar calling on the President to take strong action to combat the threat to Pakistans’ nuclear weapons.

The President in many ways is confronted with lose lose propositions all around and any confidence the American public has that the situation is under control regarding Pakistan’s nukes is trusting to the Presidents pronouncements that he is satisfied that the nukes won’t fall into the wrong hands. Since the President can’t know that first hand, he’s clearly relying on intelligence reports and the military’s assessment of military contacts to reach that determination. However, we’ve already experienced one intelligence failure when it comes to WMD, in Iraq, an adventure we are still trying to extricate ourselves from. So it begs the question, can we rely on our intelligence estimates now? And if there is an uncertainty, how will Obama address it? The unstable, corrupt and weak government in Pakistan is largely to blame for this mess. It does such a poor job of meeting the needs of its people that the siren call of Sharia Law sounds attractive by comparison. Were Pakistan to fall to the Taliban, we may find ourselves heartily glad that we laid groundwork with India for greater coordination. In a Taliban controlled Pakistan, India becomes the best game in town.

Pakistan: this is Obama’s 3 am moment.

The terror attack in Mumbai and its aftermath has been and will continue to be a major story in the news for at least another week or two. In a world where we have grown accustomed to the presence of the terror threat, as we did with the nuclear threat, it is becoming easier to be unshaken by these incidents. Particularly so here in America, as we enjoy the attack free security of the post 911 years. The Bush administration, with all its faults, has spared us the anguish of a second 911 thus far.

So comes Mumbai and we observe the scale of this chaos and terror, multiple murders purposley visited upon the innocent in what is likely to prove an attempt to goad India into confrontation with Pakistan and destabilize it. As terrible as it all is, it seems easy to turn from our tv sets and in the turning, wipe the horror from the minds eye.

But I found my righteous outrage and sadness at this evil , and my wonder rekindled afresh upon hearing the story of Sandra Samuel, one of many stories beginning to emerge from the three day hell the terrorists created. Sandra, an Indian nanny, and two-year-old Moshe Holtzberg, her charge, were the only ones to make it out of the Chabad House alive after gunmen stormed the house, killing the Chabad House directors Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife, Rivka, parents of Moshe, and four others.

In the midst of that tragedy I thank God for Sandra who retained enough presence of mind and courage to leave her place of relative safety in the Chabad house even as the gunmen were searching and killing room to room. She unlocked her door and dared the gunmen to stop her, ran upstairs to find the Holtzbergs shot dead, lying on the ground with their son crying over them. She picked up the boy and ran out, past the gunmen and fled with him to safety.

As parents, faced with imminent death, if there is a chance to save the children, that becomes paramount. My wife and I have a clear understanding that in any situation where our children can be saved only by sacrificing one or both of us, the children are to be saved. As a parent, I know that the Holtzbergs would have wanted their son to survive and would have been profoundly grateful for Sandra’s devotion and courage, risking her life to save their son. A regular woman braved murder and terror everywhere around her, to save the life of a child not her own. Surrounded by evil killers and with a chance to flee to safety on her own, she chose to walk into the danger for Moshe. His mother was murdered and Sandra stepped into the breach to save him. I’m very humbled by the immense courage and love that act required.


The AP: The cries of little Moshe wounded hearts…”Mommy, mommy, mommy!” he wailed, clutching a toy basketball while squirming in the arms of mourners at the synagogue.

Look at his face. Consider his anguish. Still fresh in his barely comprehending mind the terrible memories of mommy and daddy killed before his eyes. I don’t have adequate words for the sadness I feel at the breaking of a baby’s heart in this way.

Nieither do I have adequate words for the outrage, horror and revulsion I feel towards the people who did it. There is a special place in Hell reserved for those responsible for the look on this child’s face.

Mumbai is a reminder that the terrorists are willing to commit nearly any outrage to advance their goal to create a world full of chaos and the cries of a thousand Moshe’s which they can dominate. They can be given no quarter.

George Friedman ~ Honorary Political Season Contributor

Last Wednesday evening, a group of Islamist operatives carried out a complex terror operation in the Indian city of Mumbai. The attack was not complex because of the weapons used or its size, but in the apparent training, multiple methods of approaching the city and excellent operational security and discipline in the final phases of the operation, when the last remaining attackers held out in the Taj Mahal hotel for several days. The operational goal of the attack clearly was to cause as many casualties as possible, particularly among Jews and well-to-do guests of five-star hotels. But attacks on various other targets, from railroad stations to hospitals, indicate that the more general purpose was to spread terror in a major Indian city.

While it is not clear precisely who carried out the Mumbai attack, two separate units apparently were involved. One group, possibly consisting of Indian Muslims, was established in Mumbai ahead of the attacks. The second group appears to have just arrived. It traveled via ship from Karachi, Pakistan, later hijacked a small Indian vessel to get past Indian coastal patrols, and ultimately landed near Mumbai.

Extensive preparations apparently had been made, including surveillance of the targets. So while the precise number of attackers remains unclear, the attack clearly was well-planned and well-executed.

Evidence and logic suggest that radical Pakistani Islamists carried out the attack. These groups have a highly complex and deliberately amorphous structure. Rather than being centrally controlled, ad hoc teams are created with links to one or more groups. Conceivably, they might have lacked links to any group, but this is hard to believe. Too much planning and training were involved in this attack for it to have been conceived by a bunch of guys in a garage. While precisely which radical Pakistani Islamist group or groups were involved is unknown, the Mumbai attack appears to have originated in Pakistan. It could have been linked to al Qaeda prime or its various franchises and/or to Kashmiri insurgents.

More important than the question of the exact group that carried out the attack, however, is the attackers’ strategic end. There is a tendency to regard terror attacks as ends in themselves, carried out simply for the sake of spreading terror. In the highly politicized atmosphere of Pakistan’s radical Islamist factions, however, terror frequently has a more sophisticated and strategic purpose. Whoever invested the time and took the risk in organizing this attack had a reason to do so. Let’s work backward to that reason by examining the logical outcomes following this attack.

An End to New Delhi’s Restraint

The most striking aspect of the Mumbai attack is the challenge it presents to the Indian government — a challenge almost impossible for New Delhi to ignore. A December 2001 Islamist attack on the Indian parliament triggered an intense confrontation between India and Pakistan. Since then, New Delhi has not responded in a dramatic fashion to numerous Islamist attacks against India that were traceable to Pakistan. The Mumbai attack, by contrast, aimed to force a response from New Delhi by being so grievous that any Indian government showing only a muted reaction to it would fall.

India’s restrained response to Islamist attacks (even those originating in Pakistan) in recent years has come about because New Delhi has understood that, for a host of reasons, Islamabad has been unable to control radical Pakistani Islamist groups. India did not want war with Pakistan; it felt it had more important issues to deal with. New Delhi therefore accepted Islamabad’s assurances that Pakistan would do its best to curb terror attacks, and after suitable posturing, allowed tensions originating from Islamist attacks to pass.

This time, however, the attackers struck in such a way that New Delhi couldn’t allow the incident to pass. As one might expect, public opinion in India is shifting from stunned to furious. India’s Congress party-led government is politically weak and nearing the end of its life span. It lacks the political power to ignore the attack, even if it were inclined to do so. If it ignored the attack, it would fall, and a more intensely nationalist government would take its place. It is therefore very difficult to imagine circumstances under which the Indians could respond to this attack in the same manner they have to recent Islamist attacks.

What the Indians actually will do is not clear. In 2001-2002, New Delhi responded to the attack on the Indian parliament by moving forces close to the Pakistani border and the Line of Control that separates Indian- and Pakistani-controlled Kashmir, engaging in artillery duels along the front, and bringing its nuclear forces to a high level of alert. The Pakistanis made a similar response. Whether India ever actually intended to attack Pakistan remains unclear, but either way, New Delhi created an intense crisis in Pakistan.

The U.S. and the Indo-Pakistani Crisis

The United States used this crisis for its own ends. Having just completed the first phase of its campaign in Afghanistan, Washington was intensely pressuring Pakistan’s then-Musharraf government to expand cooperation with the United States; purge its intelligence organization, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), of radical Islamists; and crack down on al Qaeda and the Taliban in the Afghan-Pakistani border region. Former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf had been reluctant to cooperate with Washington, as doing so inevitably would spark a massive domestic backlash against his government.

The crisis with India produced an opening for the United States. Eager to get India to stand down from the crisis, the Pakistanis looked to the Americans to mediate. And the price for U.S. mediation was increased cooperation from Pakistan with the United States. The Indians, not eager for war, backed down from the crisis after guarantees that Islamabad would impose stronger controls on Islamist groups in Kashmir.

In 2001-2002, the Indo-Pakistani crisis played into American hands. In 2008, the new Indo-Pakistani crisis might play differently. The United States recently has demanded increased Pakistani cooperation along the Afghan border. Meanwhile, President-elect Barack Obama has stated his intention to focus on Afghanistan and pressure the Pakistanis.

Therefore, one of Islamabad’s first responses to the new Indo-Pakistani crisis was to announce that if the Indians increased their forces along Pakistan’s eastern border, Pakistan would be forced to withdraw 100,000 troops from its western border with Afghanistan. In other words, threats from India would cause Pakistan to dramatically reduce its cooperation with the United States in the Afghan war. The Indian foreign minister is flying to the United States to meet with Obama; obviously, this matter will be discussed among others.

We expect the United States to pressure India not to create a crisis, in order to avoid this outcome. As we have said, the problem is that it is unclear whether politically the Indians can afford restraint. At the very least, New Delhi must demand that the Pakistani government take steps to make the ISI and Pakistan’s other internal security apparatus more effective. Even if the Indians concede that there was no ISI involvement in the attack, they will argue that the ISI is incapable of stopping such attacks. They will demand a purge and reform of the ISI as a sign of Pakistani commitment. Barring that, New Delhi will move troops to the Indo-Pakistani frontier to intimidate Pakistan and placate Indian public opinion.

Dilemmas for Islamabad, New Delhi and Washington

At that point, Islamabad will have a serious problem. The Pakistani government is even weaker than the Indian government. Pakistan’s civilian regime does not control the Pakistani military, and therefore does not control the ISI. The civilians can’t decide to transform Pakistani security, and the military is not inclined to make this transformation. (Pakistan’s military has had ample opportunity to do so if it wished.)

Pakistan faces the challenge, just one among many, that its civilian and even military leadership lack the ability to reach deep into the ISI and security services to transform them. In some ways, these agencies operate under their own rules. Add to this the reality that the ISI and security forces — even if they are acting more assertively, as Islamabad claims — are demonstrably incapable of controlling radical Islamists in Pakistan. If they were capable, the attack on Mumbai would have been thwarted in Pakistan. The simple reality is that in Pakistan’s case, the will to make this transformation does not seem to be present, and even if it were, the ability to suppress terror attacks isn’t there.

The United States might well want to limit New Delhi’s response. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is on her way to India to discuss just this. But the politics of India’s situation make it unlikely that the Indians can do anything more than listen. It is more than simply a political issue for New Delhi; the Indians have no reason to believe that the Mumbai operation was one of a kind. Further operations like the Mumbai attack might well be planned. Unless the Pakistanis shift their posture inside Pakistan, India has no way of knowing whether other such attacks can be stymied. The Indians will be sympathetic to Washington’s plight in Afghanistan and the need to keep Pakistani troops at the Afghan border. But New Delhi will need something that the Americans — and in fact the Pakistanis — can’t deliver: a guarantee that there will be no more attacks like this one.

The Indian government cannot chance inaction. It probably would fall if it did. Moreover, in the event of inactivity and another attack, Indian public opinion probably will swing to an uncontrollable extreme. If an attack takes place but India has moved toward crisis posture with Pakistan, at least no one can argue that the Indian government remained passive in the face of threats to national security. Therefore, India is likely to refuse American requests for restraint.

It is possible that New Delhi will make a radical proposal to Rice, however. Given that the Pakistani government is incapable of exercising control in its own country, and given that Pakistan now represents a threat to both U.S. and Indian national security, the Indians might suggest a joint operation with the Americans against Pakistan.

What that joint operation might entail is uncertain, but regardless, this is something that Rice would reject out of hand and that Obama would reject in January 2009. Pakistan has a huge population and nuclear weapons, and the last thing Bush or Obama wants is to practice nation-building in Pakistan. The Indians, of course, will anticipate this response. The truth is that New Delhi itself does not want to engage deep in Pakistan to strike at militant training camps and other Islamist sites. That would be a nightmare. But if Rice shows up with a request for Indian restraint and no concrete proposal — or willingness to entertain a proposal — for solving the Pakistani problem, India will be able to refuse on the grounds that the Americans are asking India to absorb a risk (more Mumbai-style attacks) without the United States’ willingness to share in the risk.

Setting the Stage for a New Indo-Pakistani Confrontation

That will set the stage for another Indo-Pakistani confrontation. India will push forces forward all along the Indo-Pakistani frontier, move its nuclear forces to an alert level, begin shelling Pakistan, and perhaps — given the seriousness of the situation — attack short distances into Pakistan and even carry out airstrikes deep in Pakistan. India will demand greater transparency for New Delhi in Pakistani intelligence operations. The Indians will not want to occupy Pakistan; they will want to occupy Pakistan’s security apparatus.

Naturally, the Pakistanis will refuse that. There is no way they can give India, their main adversary, insight into Pakistani intelligence operations. But without that access, India has no reason to trust Pakistan. This will leave the Indians in an odd position: They will be in a near-war posture, but will have made no demands of Pakistan that Islamabad can reasonably deliver and that would benefit India. In one sense, India will be gesturing. In another sense, India will be trapped by making a gesture on which Pakistan cannot deliver. The situation thus could get out of hand.

In the meantime, the Pakistanis certainly will withdraw forces from western Pakistan and deploy them in eastern Pakistan. That will mean that one leg of the Petraeus and Obama plans would collapse. Washington’s expectation of greater Pakistani cooperation along the Afghan border will disappear along with the troops. This will free the Taliban from whatever limits the Pakistani army had placed on it. The Taliban’s ability to fight would increase, while the motivation for any of the Taliban to enter talks — as Afghan President Hamid Karzai has suggested — would decline. U.S. forces, already stretched to the limit, would face an increasingly difficult situation, while pressure on al Qaeda in the tribal areas would decrease.

Now, step back and consider the situation the Mumbai attackers have created. First, the Indian government faces an internal political crisis driving it toward a confrontation it didn’t plan on. Second, the minimum Pakistani response to a renewed Indo-Pakistani crisis will be withdrawing forces from western Pakistan, thereby strengthening the Taliban and securing al Qaeda. Third, sufficient pressure on Pakistan’s civilian government could cause it to collapse, opening the door to a military-Islamist government — or it could see Pakistan collapse into chaos, giving Islamists security in various regions and an opportunity to reshape Pakistan. Finally, the United States’ situation in Afghanistan has now become enormously more complex.

By staging an attack the Indian government can’t ignore, the Mumbai attackers have set in motion an existential crisis for Pakistan. The reality of Pakistan cannot be transformed, trapped as the country is between the United States and India. Almost every evolution from this point forward benefits Islamists. Strategically, the attack on Mumbai was a precise blow struck to achieve uncertain but favorable political outcomes for the Islamists.

Rice’s trip to India now becomes the crucial next step. She wants Indian restraint. She does not want the western Pakistani border to collapse. But she cannot guarantee what India must have: assurance of no further terror attacks on India originating in Pakistan. Without that, India must do something. No Indian government could survive without some kind of action. So it is up to Rice, in one of her last acts as secretary of state, to come up with a miraculous solution to head off a final, catastrophic crisis for the Bush administration — and a defining first crisis for the new Obama administration. Former U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld once said that the enemy gets a vote. The Islamists cast their ballot in Mumbai.

PAL PILLAI/AFP/Getty Images

A fire in the dome of the Taj Hotel in Mumbai on Nov. 26

Stratfor.Com Red Alert
If the Nov. 26 attacks in Mumbai were carried out by Islamist militants as it appears, the Indian government will have little choice, politically speaking, but to blame them on Pakistan. That will in turn spark a crisis between the two nuclear rivals that will draw the United States into the fray.

Analysis

At this point the situation on the ground in Mumbai remains unclear following the militant attacks of Nov. 26. But in order to understand the geopolitical significance of what is going on, it is necessary to begin looking beyond this event at what will follow. Though the situation is still in motion, the likely consequences of the attack are less murky.

We will begin by assuming that the attackers are Islamist militant groups operating in India, possibly with some level of outside support from Pakistan. We can also see quite clearly that this was a carefully planned, well-executed attack.

Given this, the Indian government has two choices. First, it can simply say that the perpetrators are a domestic group. In that case, it will be held accountable for a failure of enormous proportions in security and law enforcement. It will be charged with being unable to protect the public. On the other hand, it can link the attack to an outside power: Pakistan. In that case it can hold a nation-state responsible for the attack, and can use the crisis atmosphere to strengthen the government’s internal position by invoking nationalism. Politically this is a much preferable outcome for the Indian government, and so it is the most likely course of action. This is not to say that there are no outside powers involved — simply that, regardless of the ground truth, the Indian government will claim there were.

That, in turn, will plunge India and Pakistan into the worst crisis they have had since 2002. If the Pakistanis are understood to be responsible for the attack, then the Indians must hold them responsible, and that means they will have to take action in retaliation — otherwise, the Indian government’s domestic credibility will plunge. The shape of the crisis, then, will consist of demands that the Pakistanis take immediate steps to suppress Islamist radicals across the board, but particularly in Kashmir. New Delhi will demand that this action be immediate and public. This demand will come parallel to U.S. demands for the same actions, and threats by incoming U.S. President Barack Obama to force greater cooperation from Pakistan.

If that happens, Pakistan will find itself in a nutcracker. On the one side, the Indians will be threatening action — deliberately vague but menacing — along with the Americans. This will be even more intense if it turns out, as currently seems likely, that Americans and Europeans were being held hostage (or worse) in the two hotels that were attacked. If the attacks are traced to Pakistan, American demands will escalate well in advance of inauguration day.

There is a precedent for this. In 2002 there was an attack on the Indian parliament in Mumbai by Islamist militants linked to Pakistan. A near-nuclear confrontation took place between India and Pakistan, in which the United States brokered a stand-down in return for intensified Pakistani pressure on the Islamists. The crisis helped redefine the Pakistani position on Islamist radicals in Pakistan.

In the current iteration, the demands will be even more intense. The Indians and Americans will have a joint interest in forcing the Pakistani government to act decisively and immediately. The Pakistani government has warned that such pressure could destabilize Pakistan. The Indians will not be in a position to moderate their position, and the Americans will see the situation as an opportunity to extract major concessions. Thus the crisis will directly intersect U.S. and NATO operations in Afghanistan.

It is not clear the degree to which the Pakistani government can control the situation. But the Indians will have no choice but to be assertive, and the United States will move along the same line. Whether it is the current government in India that reacts, or one that succeeds doesn’t matter. Either way, India is under enormous pressure to respond. Therefore the events point to a serious crisis not simply between Pakistan and India, but within Pakistan as well, with the government caught between foreign powers and domestic realities. Given the circumstances, massive destabilization is possible — never a good thing with a nuclear power.

This is thinking far ahead of the curve, and is based on an assumption of the truth of something we don’t know for certain yet, which is that the attackers were Muslims and that the Pakistanis will not be able to demonstrate categorically that they weren’t involved. Since we suspect they were Muslims, and since we doubt the Pakistanis can be categorical and convincing enough to thwart Indian demands, we suspect that we will be deep into a crisis within the next few days, very shortly after the situation on the ground clarifies itself.