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Originally published in the McGill Daily

“There is something in the soul that cries out for freedom,” Barack Obama said hours after Hosni Mubarak resigned. Those were the same words Martin Luther King Jr. spoke upon the birth of an independent Ghana. That was – like today – a time of great upheaval. The peoples of Africa had spent decades trying to liberate themselves from underneath the boots of Western empires. Then post-war Europe retreated, and they were finally free. Two decades later, another wave of euphoria swept the world. Eastern Europeans clamoured for freedom, tearing down the walls dividing the world between Marxism and liberalism.

It was then that Francis Fukuyama, a political scientist, famously proclaimed that history had ended. The end of history did not mean that the world would come to a grinding halt, but that the ideological struggle throughout human history to establish the best form of human government had ended. Western liberal democracy had triumphed. Today, few would argue against the claim that people have a universal right to freedom and that they should be governed by consent. Admittedly, the claim sounds generic, if not meaningless – but that is only a testament to how deeply liberal democratic discourse has crept into the political lexicon around the world.

The euphoria for liberal democracy, however, has subsided as illiberal democracy takes hold in places like Russia, Zimbabwe, and Iran. The states have crushed the rule of law and eroded basic human rights. Worse, democracy has seemingly failed to penetrate China and much of the Arab world, where autocrats cling to power with the help of brutal security forces. The greatest blow to liberal democracy came from its loudest proponent, President George W. Bush. His “freedom agenda” confused the laudable goal of promoting liberal democracy with that of invading – without provocation – sovereign states. As a result, democracy was sullied. It certainly didn’t help that although Fukuyama opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq, he had signed a letter in 1997 – along with architects of the war, including Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz – urging Bill Clinton to remove Saddam Hussein’s regime.

What then was to become of liberal democracy? Historian Robert Kagan, a fellow signatory to that infamous letter, informed us of “the return of history and the end of dreams” in a 2007 essay and 2008 book. He argued that liberal democracy would not, after all triumph. Autocracy and Islamism had replaced Marxism as the main ideological opponents to the liberal democratic order.

Then, Tunisia suddenly erupted. Tunisians came out into the streets in droves to oust a decades-old regime. Egyptians followed. Mubarak refused to budge, so they too would not budge from Tahrir (“Liberation”) Square. They defeated the Egyptian security state. Like fire, the spirit of liberation has spread across the Arab world: protesters are calling for democracy in Algeria, Bahrain, Jordan, and Yemen. In Libya, protesters are braving death to confront a brutal, maniacal dictator – and they’re succeeding.

Whether these movements ultimately overthrow the Arab world’s autocrats remains an open-ended question. An ancillary question is whether repressive, illiberal democracies-in-name will replace them. Detractors will likely point out that 84 per cent of Egyptians favour the death penalty for apostates – a sign that illiberal democracy will follow. Yet, 90 per cent of Egyptians also believe in freedom of religion. The contradictory responses reveal still unformed views about what their democracy will look like.

But whatever the outcome, what is clear is that – by risking their lives for the simple idea that people should govern themselves and be free – millions of souls across the Arab world have cried out for freedom. History may not yet have come to a halt, but the potent appeal of liberal democracy pushes it ever closer.

Washington, D.C. – In a major reversal of administration policy, the Pentagon announced today its intention to extend the Afghan mission to 3014, citing the date as a more realistic date for withdrawal. The announcement follows the conclusion of an extensive internal review ordered by President Obama earlier this year. Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell explained that the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO forces in 2014 would “be way too soon” and would jeopardize any hopes of stability in Afghanistan and the region.

The authors of the Pentagon report argued that a thousand year postponement would allow the Afghan National Army to build up sufficient capacity to defend itself and would be–perhaps–enough time for the Afghans to develop a stable political system. Andrew Exum, chairman of the review committee, said the committee considered the situation in Afghanistan analogous to that of 11th century England. The Norman Conquest of England, Exum said, offers an excellent example of how occupation can result in a prosperous democracy. “Look, it took approximately a thousand years–from the Battle of Hastings in 1066, to the Magna Carta in 1215, to the industrial revolution–for the parliamentary system to entrench itself in English political life,” said Exum. “It’s only fair we allow our Afghan allies that much time too,” he elaborated.

Joining the greatest intellectuals of our time–including constitutional law expert Sarah Palin and Camus scholar Newt Gingrich–Sam Harris courageously opposes the construction of the infamous Ground Zero Mosque.

See, Harris isn’t like those pansy moderate Muslims who fail to “condemn extremists and try to seriously reform Islam.” He calls it like it is. Say thank you Muslims, he just saved Islam. Done and done.

Harris’ argument in opposition to the mosque is a simple one: Islam, as it currently exists, is objectionable. And “freedom-loving” Muslims haven’t done enough to change it. We can’t be sure what this Islamic cultural centre represents, because, well, we can’t trust what kind of Muslims these people are. Do they like freedom or do they hate it? Who knows? How can one trust the insidious claim that this mosque “seeks to actively promote engagement through a myriad of programs, by reinforcing similarities and addressing differences?” Like, do they mean reinforcing similarities by imposing Sharia law on Americans??

So, since Muslims haven’t done enough to change their religion and to encourage peaceful co-existence, we should deny them a tolerance-promoting mosque in Manhattan. Yeah, that’s really airtight logic: stop Muslims from building institutions that encourage reform because they haven’t encouraged reform!

Next, Harris proceeds to argue that true Islam is the vision advocated by al-Qaida and their ilk, not the mushy stuff moderates espouse.

The first thing that all honest students of Islam must admit is that it is not absolutely clear where members of al Qaeda, the Taliban, al-Shabab, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Hamas, and other Muslim terrorist groups have misconstrued their religious obligations. If they are “extremists” who have deformed an ancient faith into a death cult, they haven’t deformed it by much. When one reads the Koran and the hadith, and consults the opinions of Muslim jurists over the centuries, one discovers that killing apostates, treating women like livestock, and waging jihad—not merely as an inner, spiritual struggle but as holy war against infidels—are practices that are central to the faith.

This line of argument I call the Bible Test, famously discredited by Martin Sheen as President Jed Bartlet on The West Wing.

Bartlet asks a Bible-thumping radio “doctor” if it’s okay to sell his daughter into slavery or to kill his Chief of Staff for working on the Sabbath, as the Bible prescribes, exposing the absurdity of taking religious texts literally. Harris is like the doctor in this case. He employs the same kind of literalism that al-Qaida does, which begs the question: is Harris a member of al-Qaida?

Harris then pulls out the big rhetorical guns and makes a last-ditch attempt to convince us to stop the mosque. He argues that “the erection of a mosque upon the ashes of this atrocity will also be viewed by many millions of Muslims as a victory—and as a sign that the liberal values of the West are synonymous with decadence and cowardice.” In other words, the terrorists win if we build the mosque!

Yes, it’s undoubtedly a sign of cowardice to allow the free exercise of a faith with which you may not agree, but allow the free practice of. And it speaks to the decadence of a society if it does not judge people on the basis of their origins or their religious faith, but on their moral character and their adherence to law and liberty.

What are they smoking at The New Republic these days? Whatever it is, it’s potent enough to delude some of its writers to make up history.

In a blog post challenging Joe Klein’s newly professed aversion to preemptive and preventative war–that “we should never go to war unless we have been attacked or are under direct, immediate threat of attack”–Jon Chait cooks up a pretty significant fact. Chait argues that if we apply Klein’s rule to U.S. foreign policy, then the U.S. would have had to rule out humanitarian intervention in Bosnia, the Gulf War, the Korean War, and “going to war against Germany in World War II.” As in, if we applied Klein’s rule, the Nazis would win! See, isn’t that a scary thought?

Except…Nazi Germany did pose an “immediate threat of attack.” On December 11, 1941, Hitler declared war on the United States, citing the Tripartite defence treaty between Germany, Italy, and Japan. The United States only declared war after Germany’s declaration.

Now, there is a valid historical debate over whether President Franklin Roosevelt’s administration coaxed Nazi Germany into war by supporting the Allies (with programs such as the Lend-Lease Act), blatantly violating official neutrality, but there’s no question that it was Japan’s aggressions–followed by Germany’s threats–that led the United States into World War II.

In this morning’s Toronto Star, Liberal Party foreign policy critic Bob Rae has an op-ed calling for Canada’s continued engagement in Afghanistan–albeit at a political, not military, level. “Our political effort, with the needed appointment of a peace envoy to the region, should increase, and our aid should continue,” writes Rae.

Today, Dutch troops announced their formal departure after four years of combat in Afghanistan. And Canadian troops are scheduled to leave the country next year. After committing many of their young and billions in aid, NATO members are withdrawing, one country at a time. The largest troop contributor, the United States, is leaning towards the exit as well. According to the New York Times, President Obama seems committed to his “self-imposed” withdrawal deadline for July 2011.

So, it must be naturally asked, what does Canada do next in Afghanistan–the country’s largest foreign combat mission since the Korean War, and its largest recipient of bilateral foreign aid?

I admire Bob Rae greatly, both as a thinker and as a politician. And I respect him even more for broaching the morally contentious, politically divisive subject of a post-American/NATO Afghanistan. But his recommendations–that Canada appoint a peace envoy and increase aid–strike me as facile. Frankly, a post-American Afghanistan will be one of Pakistan’s making, with the Taliban back at the helm. The West’s ability to influence Afghan policies, which dwindles by the day, will be nil as soon as American troops part, leaving the free Taliban to impose their draconian laws once again.

Sending a peace envoy to a government that roundly despises you–and that will for years exploit NATO’s occupation for the purposes of propaganda–is rather naive. More naive is the suggestion that Canada not only continue giving aid to Afghanistan, but increase its aid. While humanitarian aid will always prove important in ill-governed Afghanistan, Rae imagines that our aid would “build schools to counter the madrassas, to allow women to take their place as equals.” It’s an admirable notion, but history tells us that the Taliban won’t allow these schools to stand and they won’t allow women to take their place as equals. Without a continued Western military presence–something I’m opposed to–we won’t be able to assure that any of our aid will reach the Afghan people, and we won’t be able to assure minority and women’s rights.

That sounds awfully tragic, but as Rae himself puts it, “real statecraft is understanding the limits of power and the real difficulties of exporting democracy.” Afghanistan is a crude lesson in learning that our power to control the destinies of those continents away from us, no matter how noble our intentions, are limited.

On a cold day in January 2009, in the tribal area of South Waziristan, Taliban and (possibly) Al-Qaida militants met to plot a response to a CIA drone attack on a senior Taliban commander. Huddled among them was “an older man and a very important person from ISI,” according to a field report from the U.S. Army’s Task Force Castle engineering group. That gentleman was a 72-year-old boisterous, mustached Hamid Gul, a retired Lieutenant General from the Pakistani army, who had served as the ISI’s head between 1987-1989.

In the West, Gul is cast as a dreary figure with “laser black eyes,” whose audacious pronouncements against the U.S.-led War on Terror and public support for the Taliban have led to attempts to label him an international terrorist. The attempt ultimately failed–due in part to scant definitive evidence, and in part to China’s interjection on Pakistan’s behalf. But, despite the looming threat to place him on a list of international terrorists, Gul continues to bluster in support of the Taliban.

“The Americans are defeated,” he told Al Jazeera English in an interview earlier this year. He went on, “[t]here is fatigue now…There is no way that the Americans can hold on to Afghanistan.” Gul should know: he helped orchestrate–with CIA funding and arms–the defeat of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan over two decades ago. It was during that time that he developed close relations with the mujahideen, who would later form the core of the Taliban, and with many of the Arab fighters, some of whom later joined extremist Islamist groups, including Al-Qaida.

His sympathy, and that of many of his ISI colleagues, for the Taliban stems from the years they spent in the rugged terrain of Afghanistan together, helping the Taliban create their Islamic Emirate, and at the same time, helping Pakistan gain “strategic depth”–which is Pakistani military lexicon for a friendly government in Afghanistan that would, during a war with India, allow Pakistan to regroup on Afghan soil.

The loquacious and hardened former ISI chief is to be found on nightly Pakistani political talk shows, decrying the government’s acquiescence to CIA drone strikes on Pakistani soil or its support for the U.S. war in Afghanistan. He is no stranger to foreign media either. Just after the Wikileaks story broke, accusing the ISI of “[guiding] the Afghan insurgency with a hidden hand,” Gul jumped to the agency’s support. He denied ever meeting with the Taliban, and termed as “flawed” the intelligence briefs suggesting that Pakistan’s ISI was working against NATO and the U.S. in Afghanistan. To the BBC, he dismissed Wikileaks as “pure fiction which is being sold as intelligence.”

It is hard to believe that, on the one hand, Gul and the ISI sympathize with the Taliban and its goals, but, on the other, that they provide it no material support–even harder to believe, when considering that Pakistan’s intelligence apparatus is extremely active in the region and abroad. The ISI’s support for the Taliban is an open secret in Pakistan. When pushed on the topic of ISI-Taliban links, some well-informed Pakistanis will wryly admit it, and will follow up with a “so what?”, articulating the same argument put forth by Gul: the Americans will tire of war, and Pakistan will be left to deal with the mess. Isn’t it better, they say, that Pakistan hedge its bets now and support a pro-Pakistan Taliban insurgency?

Even in Washington and other Western capitals, the Wikileaks revelations–that the ISI provides support to the Taliban–are not treated as revelations at all. One blogger described the allegations akin to discovering that LeBron James was going to play for the Miami Heat. (He will, it’s old news.) Twitter was awash with sarcastic comments too, including one by the Washington Post‘s twitter handle, which purposefully placed quotation marks around the word “revelations.” Former State Department speechwriter, Michael Cohen, notes that the White House shrugged at the news as well: “National Security Advisor Jim Jones congratulates the Pakistani military for going after Taliban forces that killed hundreds of Pakistani civilians, but fails to mention the protection provided by Pakistan for the insurgent forces that are killing Afghan civilians and, of course, US troops.” Jones’ apparent mental trapeze act–flipping what should be grounds for condemnation into a statement congratulating Pakistan’s military–is evidence of Washington’s willful blind-eye to, even acceptance of, the ISI’s activities in Afghanistan. The revelations should have at least elicited a sharp rebuke, a statement that Pakistan should shape up–but it didn’t.

That it didn’t is perhaps indicative of an emerging consensus that an active military mission in Afghanistan will no longer serve the interests of the U.S. and NATO. Already, Britain, the Netherlands, and Canada have announced their intention to withdraw, sooner rather than later, from Afghanistan. And the Atlantic‘s Andrew Sullivan, a conservative, is now calling the war in Afghanistan, “The Unwinnable War.” The hawkish American commentator Ann Coulter—notable for her desire to “invade their [Muslim] countries, kill their leaders, and convert them to Christianity“—agreed with GOP Chairman Michael Steele’s assessment that the war in Afghanistan may prove difficult to win. Over 1000 casualties, $300 billion, and nine years later, Americans of all stripes are bound to ask if the war is still worth it.

And that fatigue and aversion to prolonged conflict in distant lands is something Hamid Gul and his ilk in the ISI understood far better than American politicians did. They grasped, early on in the war, that America would once again leave—as it abandoned them after the Soviet-Afghan war, and then later slapped a series of sanctions on the country. Whether their prescience is owed to sophisticated analysis or to mere ideological bias, in retrospect, they made the better bet. They knew better than the Bush administration that a diverse, rugged Afghanistan would not become the paragon of democracy the neocons imagined. They knew, also, that public support in America would wane, noting that the cost and the deaths of American lives was too cumbersome.

A war that was once touted as a just war–the right war, unlike Iraq–is today openly called a “morally ambiguous” one. And as the war grows unpopular by the day, questions arise about the United States’ commitment to Afghanistan. Will the Obama administration withdraw on schedule, and by doing so, cede ground to Pakistan and the Taliban? Or will it continue the fight, and risk alienating an already fatigued public?

Foreign Policy‘s David Rothkopf beat me to it with his latest blog post, “A Tea Party Made in Heaven,” which argues that if Tea Baggers want no taxes, unhindered gun rights, and theocratic government, then Pakistan should be their next stop.

I couldn’t agree more. One of the first things I told my brother upon arriving in Karachi–as I remarked at the complete chaos, manifested in the way people drive–was that Pakistan is such a libertarian society. You can do pretty much anything you want, and not just on the roads.

You can tote your AK-47 around in public.

You also apparently don’t have to pay taxes, according to the New York Times‘ Sabrina Tavernise. She reports that out of a population of 170 million (and I’d venture to say that the population is probably 180 million) less than 2 percent actually bother paying taxes. And there’s no doubt that most of the 2 percent aren’t even fully declaring their income.

In her insightful book, “Breaking the Curfew: A Political Journey through Pakistan,” Emma Duncan recounts that a study by the IMF revealed that there wasn’t anything wrong with Pakistan’s tax collecting system. It was, after all, established by the British Raj. The problem was that–much like the Tea Baggers–Pakistanis simply didn’t want to pay taxes. Of course, the reluctance of Pakistanis to not pay taxes does have some merit. Their government for the past 60 years has been anything but representative, and, as the American colonists said, “no tax without representation.”

Pakistan is the Tea Bagger’s paradise for yet another reason: it’s a state whose laws are inspired by a “divine” book. Just as Sarah Palin imagines that the Founding Fathers based the United States Constitution on the Bible and the Ten Commandments, Pakistan’s leaders think their country’s laws should be based on God’s other book, the Koran. And like Palin, Pakistanis don’t know jack squat about the actual secular roots of the country’s founding. Jinnah famously said: “You are free; you are free to go to your temples… You may belong to any religion or caste or creed — that has nothing to do with the business of the state”–now that’s a pretty unambiguous declaration of secularism. Period.

And Tea Baggers also happen to share the same socially conservative values as Pakistanis: homophobia, pro-life, virginity, and a whole gamut of stupid values. So yeah, Palin et al., come to Pakistan. I’ll show you around.

The Daily Beast’s Peter Beinart has a new book out that’s receiving a lot of attention. “The Icarus Syndrome,” which is a history of 20th century America–and subtitled, A History of American Hubris–identifies three periods of hubris in American foreign policy, from Wilson’s stillborn peace in Paris, the blunder in Vietnam, and finally to the Iraqi quagmire. His thesis is a simple one: that America’s “hubris,” or delusion, led it to commit grave errors abroad. The praise for the book lies not in his facile conclusion, but in his synthesis and eloquence, according to The Economist.

An excerpt from the book can be found on The Daily Beast’s website. Here’s a gem:

In different ways, all these presidents understood that in foreign policy, as in life, there are things you may fervently desire but cannot afford. And in foreign policy, the recognition that resources are limited, and precious, is even more important since you are not merely spending other people’s money; you are spilling other people’s blood.

As the “epistemic closure” debate–about whether there has been a closing of the conservative mind–rages in the blogosphere, I found Jonah Goldberg’s (of Liberal Fascism fame, ew) critique of young bloggers particularly jarring, though inadequate.

From NRO:

Let me offer a counter theory. When I first came to Washington, I hung around in very similar circles of young eager-beavers. I may not have been as smart as many of them, but I was just as determined to get my articles published and make my mark. We had many gripe sessions conversations about how hard it was to break-in at places like NR, the Weekly Standard, the Wall Street Journal etc. But, because Al Gore hadn’t gotten around to inventing the internet yet, there was no place for me to vent these complaints in print, never mind work them up into a meta-narrative about the decrepit state of conservatism.

That’s not the case for today’s 20-somethings who have the luxury of translating their frustration with “the business” into long cri de coeur blog posts and essays that tend to bounce off one another for reinforcement. Instead of late night griping at the Toledo Lounge, the way we did things in the 1990s, the conversation has gone public. Indeed, so public that it has become something of an intellectual grievance culture all its own.

And here’s Conor Friedersdorf ripping apart Jonah.

General Ashfaq Kayani, Chief of the Pakistani Army, and a delegation of Pakistani ministers are in Washington, D.C. this week to begin a “strategic dialogue” with the U.S. Although he holds no civilian office, Kayani is the head of Pakistan’s strongest political institution, its military, and so has the credibility to negotiate on the behalf of the Government of Pakistan. The president, Asif Ali Zardari, has been sidelined, and Pakistan’s foreign policy is now blatantly in military hands. The Pakistani delegation brought with it a 56-page document–a wish list that includes demands for new and cool helicopters, drones, and U.S. financial assistance. Considering the fact that Pakistan has spent so much blood and treasure in the fight against the Taliban along its Afghan border, the aid and weaponry are in many respects overdue. Yes, the country has received billions since 9/11, but what is currently at stake–peace and stability in Afghanistan–has required Islamabad to alter its strategic orientation, which was primarily focused on its eastern neighbour, India. And for this, Washington should be grateful and generous.

But Pakistan has more than money on its mind: it is seeking recognition as a legitimate nuclear power and a civilian nuclear energy deal on par with the deal the Bush administration gave to India in 2008. Some have argued that Pakistan deserves such a deal. That suggestion is, however, irresponsible and ignores fundamental realities in Pakistan.

There are three main concerns about the prospects of such a deal. Firstly, as the Washington trip this week demonstrates, Pakistan’s civilian government has little to no control over the country’s defence and foreign policies. It was the country’s chief general who headed the Pakistani delegation, not its President. Pakistan’s political system is also notoriously unstable, swinging from democracy to dictatorship at a whim. Entrusting Pakistan with a nuclear deal would hand over precious fuel and technology to an unstable government, where the possibility of an unfriendly Islamist government coming to power is always plausible.

Secondly, Pakistan’s nuclear program makes no distinction between the military and the civilian sector. The military reigns supreme and manages the country’s nuclear energy needs. A civilian nuclear agreement would be one only in name. A nuclear deal for Pakistan would mean handing over fuel and technology to the Pakistani military, which would obviously divert away resources towards its nuclear weapons program. Some suggest that oversight over Pakistan’s nuclear facilities would allay such concerns. India famously refused American oversight over its nuclear facilities, and Pakistan–far more paranoid of American regional ambitions–would outright deny any access to its facilities.

Pakistan’s record of nuclear proliferation offers the most convincing argument against any attempts to recognize the country’s legitimacy as a nuclear power. Abdul Qadeer Khan, the former head of Pakistan’s nuclear program, admittedly transferred nuclear weapons technology to Iran, Libya, and North Korea. And he did so with few repercussions: he faced no trial and continues to reside in Islamabad, albeit under house arrest.

Pakistan’s political instability, its military’s enmeshment with the country’s politics and civilian institutions, and its record of nuclear proliferation should disqualify it from receiving recognition as a nuclear power and any assistance from the U.S. The Obama administration would be right to scoff at Pakistan’s suggestions that it deserves to be legitimate nuclear power.

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