Thursday, December 08, 2011

Pakistan without tears

Above: RT Gen. Hamid Gul: US attack on Pakistan will turn region into inferno

Uploaded by RussiaToday on Dec 4, 2011
Last month's attack by a NATO aircraft on Pakistani region that killed 24 soldiers has infuriated Islamabad. RT spoke to Hamid Gul, the country's former head of intelligence, about consequences the incident may have for US-Pakistani relations.

via Reality Zone.

Slate: "Defense Department overrules plan to offer a formal apology for last weekend's fatal NATO airstrikes"
(Evidently the title, per the url was originally "Pakistan: NATO soldiers attacked our troops")

Pakistan won’t be getting an official "I’m Sorry" from President Obama anytime soon, the New York Times reports.

According to the paper, the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, Cameron Munter, had urged the White House to have the president issue a formal video statement apologizing for this past weekend’s NATO airstrikes that killed two dozen Pakistani soldiers. But senior officials within the Defense Department overruled the idea, saying that the remorse shown by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other senior officials was enough for now until a full investigation into the international incident is complete.

The Times explains the possible political calculus behind the decision: "Some administration aides also worried that if Mr. Obama were to overrule the military and apologize to Pakistan, such a step could become fodder for his Republican opponents in the presidential campaign, according to several officials who declined to be named because they were not authorized to speak publicly."

CNN: Obama expresses 'condolences' to Pakistan's president (And yes, those are CNN's quotation marks.)

When is an apology not an apology? On many, many occasions, and certainly when it needs to sound different to different sets of ears. I've noted before that US media coverage of foreign policy doings often seem designed to misdirect the casual viewer/reader/mindless consumer of news/whatever. As you likely know, Pakistan is the only majority Muslim country that does have nuclear weapons, and their people are generally pretty unhappy with that government for its apparent servitude to the US and NATO, even under normal circumstances, i.e., even before the NATO airstrike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers last month. But "the narrative", as people call these things nowadays, is mostly fixated on Iran and their more imaginary nukes, and that narrative is designed to agitate those casual news gobblers about how worrisome the Iranian threat is, even if it has never actually been demonstrated to exist.

But the news regarding Pakistan never seems calculated to worry Americans about the fragility of Pakistan's government, or US-Pakistani relations, nukes or no nukes. I am not clear why this is so, although I note it parallels the apparent lack of concern our state department has about antagonizing Pakistan. The NY Times article alluded to above suggests that Obama wanted to apologize to Pakistan, but was overruled by the defense department, so he didn't, or he just "kinda" apologized.

The effect is pretty bizarre, on many levels. We don't actually know that the Pentagon objected. That may also be an excuse, Obama's hand supposedly being forced, much as the advising offered by Summers and Geithner was used as an excuse to placate critics of BHO's dealings with the banks and the HAMP program and so forth. BHO had no problem standing up to McChrystal when the latter's Rolling Stone interview annoyed the narcissist-in-chief, so the idea that his hands are tied is risible. (Well, assuming he never ordered a deliberate attack on the Pakistani soldiers. If that were the case, I guess he'd have to worry about the Joint Chiefs turning him in to the Hague, although I find it hard to believe he'd really be that concerned. )

But on another level there's the brazenness of acknowledging that the upcoming election is more important than the Pakistani soldiers who were killed, which actually seems calculated to worsen relations with Pakistan. The acknowledgment is only via unnamed sources in an NYT article, so not many people here will pay attention to it, but it may carry more weight over there. I can't help but think about how top officials in our government have so much pomp and apparatus to protect them from seeming like careless blunderers or fiendish goons. The reporters covering the state department, and "administration officials" and all these people and things that mediate our perception, to prevent us from regarding them as cold-bloded jerks or idiots.

I can't help but think of Terry Jones, the Florida preacher with the wild looking mustache who burned the Koran, and how his behavior was actually pretty similar. He had the excuse of seeming a fool and not knowing any better, at least in some people's eyes. But the president and state department, et al are supposed to know better, right?

I'm also reminded of the incident in the summer of 1988, when the US Navy shot down a civilian Iranian airliner over Iranian territorial waters, killing all 290 people on board, including 66 children. The Navy said that the radar profile of the Airbus looked like that of an F-14 Tomcat fighter, a considerably smaller airplane, which the Iranian Air Force also operated, having purchased some in the 1970s when the Shah was in power. Eventually our government paid a settlement of a bit over 61 million dollars to Iran for the families of the passengers, albeit without an apology or acknowledging responsibility.

Iran Air 655 was shot down when Reagan was president, and the US paid a settlement in the mid 1990s during the Clinton administration, so it's reasonable to see a good bit of continuity in policy here, just as the George W. Bush administration started threatening Iran in 2002 with the notorious Axis of Evil speech, and this sabre-rattling has continued under Obama.

When I recently read up about Iran Air's fateful Flight 655, I found out that in March of 1989 Sharon Rogers, the wife of the USS Vincennes's captain, had her minivan firebombed in San Diego[1](It was registered in Captain Rogers's name.), but later the FBI ruled out the possibility that it was a terrorist reprisal. I've occasionally wondered over the years if the Lockerbie bombing in December 1988 was reprisal for the downing of Flight 655, and not in fact the work of Libya-affiliated terrorists. But then it was pinned on Libya, which was functional: Americans might be less likely to regard US government indifference to the deaths of Middle Easterners at our hands as responsible for tangible blow back, and less likely to seriously question our government's policies.

Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the Libyan who was convicted by the UK for the Lockerbie bombing, has always maintained his innocence[2] throughout the years, through his trial and prison sentence, which ended in 2009 when he was released early because of his deteriorating health. (Although the US is now trying to extradite him so he may go back to jail.[3] ) Incidentally the Jim Swires that al-Megrahi refers to in the video at the Telegraph article(below) was the father of one of the passengers who died at Lockerbie, and he also questions the official version.

At any rate, the "narrative" of unrepentance evidently has to continue in Pakistan. I linked to a snippet on CNN of Fareed Zakaria recently discussing the recent agressive rhetoric directed towards Iran. He also has an Op-Ed in Time discussing the attack on the Pakistani soldiers, "Friends without benefits" which bewails the inconvenience Pakistan's relationship with the US has caused--- to the US!

You wouldn't have thought anti-Americanism in Pakistan could get any worse, but last week NATO attacked a Pakistani army post, killing 24 Pakistani soldiers. Even before this episode, for which NATO expressed deep regret, it would be difficult to find a country on the planet that was more anti-American than Pakistan. In a Pew survey this year, only 12% of Pakistanis expressed a favorable view of the United States. Populist rage and official duplicity have built up even though Washington has lavished Islamabad with aid totaling $20 billion over the last decade.

Why the 'populist rage'? Why aren't the people more grateful for all the bombs and assorted weapons we offer their government? He goes on to compare the relationship between the US and Pakistan to that of a shopkeeper to the mafia:

The second argument is the one given by businesses when they pay off the Mafia: ‘We need to keep these guys as allies, or else they will become enemies.’ The problem with this protection racket is that it isn’t working. Admiral Mike Mullen finally said publicly what insiders have said privately for years: Pakistan’s army, despite getting over a quarter of its budget from Washington, funds and arms the most deadly terrorist group in South Asia.

Does Zakaria actually believe this rubbish? Does it really need to be pointed out that the US is by far the stronger party, and hardly comparable to a reluctant merchant humoring crime bosses leaning on him? He know US forces have been killing Pakistani civilians for years, and our relationship with them makes their position more precarious, as ordinary Pakistanis intensely resent our periodically killing their people in raids on alleged al-Qaeda camps, our insisting that they should be grateful and "see it our way" notwithstanding. Zakaria even says:

The Pakistani military holds to its worldview out of an ideological conviction that combines 19th century realpolitik with politicized Islam. But it also has a strong bureaucratic interest in regional friction. After all, with a win-win scenario in which peace with India results in prosperity for the region, why would Pakistan need a vast military that sucks up almost a quarter of the federal budget? The country’s military would end up looking like India’s— noninfluential, nonpolitical and well­ contained within the larger society
The Pakistani military doesn't have to be saintly for the "strong bureaucratic interest in regional friction" argument to also apply to the Pentagon. In fact it's a pretty telling phrase, and sounds like a recurring theme of US foreign policy.

I don't believe that Americans are naturally more cruel, or naturally smarter, or naturally stupider, etc., when compared to people from Iceland, India, Pakistan and so forth. But our elites certainly have a culture of cruelty, and it seems you can't be part of that elite unless you support and continually reinforce that cruelty.

[1] New York Times, Blast Wrecks Van of Skipper Who Downed Iran Jet
Published: March 11, 1989

[2] Telegraph(UK) Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi: 'truth will soon emerge' [video and text] 03 Oct 2011

[3] Daily Mail(UK), U.S. bid to extradite Lockerbie bomber raises prospect of David and Goliath battle between Washington and Scottish local council, 25 November 2011


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