As key policymakers abroad survey the attempts to reverse the self-inflicted crumbling of the world's largest economy, they have reached startling conclusions that are out of sync with President Obama's foreign-policy objectives.
Their observations include the following: Pakistan: There is no military solution in Afghanistan, confided a top-ranking national security official in Islamabad. The war will have to end with a political solution for a coalition government, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. This should include "moderate" Taliban fighters, along with major Pashtun tribal leaders, and President Hamid Karzai's "successor."
And security forces can barely cope with Taliban insurgents in the Swat valley, in Pakistan proper, let alone with Taliban's safe havens in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), he said. This makes the Afghan war unwinnable. The more U.S. pilotless Predators bomb FATA targets, the more Taliban jihadis cause mayhem inside Pakistan, one of the world's eight nuclear powers.
The Afghan war is inflaming Pakistani public opinion. The creation of a modern state in Afghanistan is mission impossible. Pakistan, therefore, would feel more secure with a reformed Taliban in charge in Kabul, one that would renounce all ties with al-Qaida, as well as the more pernicious aspects of the medieval theocracy that banned the education of girls. Further military operations should be designed to put pressure on the Taliban to compromise and to eradicate its al-Qaida allies. U.S. forces in Afghanistan will double to 60,000 by summer — at a cost of $70 billion a year — bringing the total of allied forces to just fewer than 100,000, for a mountainous country the size of France. NATO: The three allied countries whose parliaments have authorized their troops in Afghanistan to be in harm's way against Taliban fighters — Britain, Canada, and the Netherlands — want out by the end of 2011. U.S. military commanders believe the British "will stay with us even if it takes several more years."
London insiders are less sanguine. Lord West of Spithead, former first sea lord and now Prime Minister Gordon Brown's security minister, dropped a bombshell last week by declaring publicly that Britain's intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan had fueled global radicalism against Britain. Foreign Secretary David Miliband, for his part, urged that we all drop the term "war on terror," which he said is deceptive and misleading. Other NATO members: The alliance's head man, the Netherlands’ Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, who will step down at NATO's 60th anniversary summit in April, is urging the 26 member nations to contribute more troops to Afghanistan. So far, no takers.
Those with sizable numbers of troops on the ground are hamstrung by caveats against fighting — notably, Germany, France, Spain, Italy — and governments skeptical that a narco-state, where corruption from top to bottom is a world record, can be reformed. NATO defense ministers authorized their troops in Afghanistan to undertake "aggressive" counter-narcotics missions against the Taliban's chief source of revenue. There was no follow-through as national parliaments objected. Afghan National Army and Police: Underfunded and years behind schedule in their ability to replace western forces with any credibility. Middle East: Israel's leading newspaper, Ha'aretz, has published the equivalent of the Pentagon papers of Vietnam War fame, information the Israeli state had been hiding for years on the covert expansion of settlements in the West Bank. These were clearly designed to make a Palestinian state in the occupied territories impossible.
After reading the voluminous secret file, U.S. mediator George Mitchell may well conclude the end game of a Palestinian state is unattainable. Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Ha'aretz reported, "steadfastly refused to release the report" as "publication could endanger state security and harm Israel's foreign relations."
An analysis of the data "reveals that in the vast majority of settlements — 75 percent — construction, sometimes on a large scale without the appropriate permits or contrary to the permits that were issued. In 30 major settlements extensive construction of buildings and infrastructure (roads, schools, synagogues, yeshivas and even police stations) has been carried out on private lands belonging to Palestinian West Bank residents."
The database, Ha'aretz reported, does not conform to Israel's official position on the Foreign Ministry Web site, which states: "Israel's actions relating to the use and allocation of land under its administration are all taken with strict regard to the rules and norms of international law. Israel does not requisition private land for the establishment of settlements."
It just takes it, Ha'aretz says.
About 290,000 Jews now live in 120 official settlements and dozens of outposts established throughout the West Bank during the past 41 years, according to Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics.
That's up 50,000 settlers in the West Bank since the Israeli police forcibly removed Gaza’s 8,500 in 2005 to make room for a Palestinian authority and where elections were then held that sealed Hamas' victory over Fatah.
In realpolitik, Israel's leaders clearly have no intention of pulling 100,000 settlers out of what are now known to be illegal settlements, where Palestinian land was seized arbitrarily, to make a Palestinian state possible. As far as anyone can peer over the geopolitical horizon, President Obama's two principal foreign policy initiatives — a win in Afghanistan for a democratic government, and a final peace treaty between Israel and a Palestinian state — are will-o'-the-wisp.
Newsweek's cover story this week is headlined: "Afghanistan: Obama's Vietnam."
A more promising avenue holds the key to regional stability. Engaging Iran secretly at the highest level, much the way Henry Kissinger opened the way to Beijing's Forbidden City for President Nixon, would seem to be a more profitable avenue for George Mitchell's diplomatic dexterity. Iran's influence in the Middle East — Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza, the Maliki government in Baghdad, diplomatic clout in Oman, Qatar, Dubai — is not negligible.
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