May 28, 2009

2.4 Million Little Problems

Within the mountainous terrain of Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province sprawls an estimated 2.4 million displaced Pakistanis, and every single one of them is connected to America. Special representative Richard Holbrooke has denied responsibility for Pakistan’s refugees crisis, but proving otherwise is an easy task.

Two paths lead to the same end and both coincide with widespread Pakistani opinion.

The long way began with the decision to minimize the war in Afghanistan; a full explanation for this decision may never be heard. There were signs of trepidation before Iraq, such as ambiguous strategic objectives, underestimation of initial troop requirements, and the controversial failure to capture Osama bin Laden at Tora Bora.

Under-resourced, confused, and on the defensive, America sank into Afghanistan after the invasion of Iraq. There would be no swift victory and the following eight years of stalemate slowly pushed the Taliban and al Qaeda into the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan. If America had concentrated its full power into Afghanistan and not gone witch hunting in Iraq, Pakistan would not be in its dire condition.

2.4 million refugees may not exist.

The shorter route to American culpability is the perceived notion that America ordered Pakistan’s military operations in Swat. Real or not, the widely disseminated rumor is an immediate propaganda loss for America. The timing of the operation has been questioned to death, coming as it did in the immediate aftermath of Pakistani president Asif Zardari’s visit to Washington.

America is being held partially accountable for two million IDP’, along with the Taliban for breaking its peace agreement and the law of Pakistan in general. Perhaps all would be well if Pakistan’s army was mopping up the Taliban and the refugees were secure, but this is not the case.

President Obama’s national security adviser, General James Jones, recently told the Atlantic Council, “We’re happy to see in Pakistan a new and comprehensive and so far impressively successful effort by the Pakistani army to react to its extremists... and have noted that they are also handling a growing refugee problem with great skill.”

Successful maybe, but only in a dream has Pakistan’s counterinsurgency been “impressively successful.” Though dead militants pile up, Pakistan’s deployment of heavy artillery and air support has begun taking its toll on civilian property and psyche.

The mood for military action, initially enthusiastic, has already eroded into second guessing. Though uniting against the Taliban, the Pakistani people are still angry that Pakistani citizens are caught in an imperialist game.

A thousand militants have been killed in two weeks, but Swat valley alone reportedly supports 4,000 militants. They’re headed into the mountains to prolong the battle, which will negatively impact its popularity as time drags on. Agencies surrounding Swat could hold 30,000 militants presumably laying defenses for the looming war.

Tales of refugee treatment haven’t been flattering either, according to the UN and Human Rights Watch. Conditions aren’t terrible - 90% are said to be living with relatives or friends. The remaining 10% in camps are loaded with symbolism though, and their insufficient care has multiplying effects in guerrilla warfare. If the state fails then the militants win.

Refugee numbers also fail to monitor those too poor to flee - those who will suffer most - and a sense of lawlessness persists in both Taliban and government territory. Pakistan’s operations appear rushed and the consequences miscalculated, which again points to American pressure.

America still has options if it wishes to change strategy. The first would be to distance itself from Pakistan’s leaders, as American fingerprints are on opposition figures, militant contacts, nuclear weapons and India. Pakistani officials and institutions have been undermined by the lopsided relationship. The Pakistani public wishes for stronger rulers, not to oppose America but to put Pakistan’s interests first.

Pakistan must be allowed to breathe.

A check is always welcome too, but without strings. America has pledged half of a total 540 million dollars in aid, but UN officials claim that only 16% has been received. And Pakistan needs a big check. Its operations require billions, not millions, to ultimately be successful. The Kerry-Lugar bill concerning Pakistan’s aid should be immediately shifted to the current refugee crisis and any future emergencies.

This is not misappropriation; the objective of the bill is to aid Pakistan in its fight against the militancy. In their guerrilla war, America and Pakistan stand to gain more ground in helping IDP's than funding bureaucratic programs and manufacturing weapons.

May 25, 2009

Mission Failure

Cries of condemnation once again burst from world leaders competing to outdo each other. The halls of the UN fill with disgust, outrage, confusion. No one can understand this rogue, this scum of international society that’s playing with our minds.

Poor, incompetent, stubborn North Korea continues to defy the world - and it drives the world crazy.

“North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile programs pose a grave threat to the peace and security of the world and I strongly condemn their reckless action,” President Obama said at the White House. “The United States and the international community must take action in response.”

Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff, one upped President Obama by telling CBS that North Korea’s nuclear weapons program “poses a grave threat to the United States.”

North Korea’s “reckless action” is certainly part of the problem, but President Obama’s statement conveniently left out an equal truth - the world has failed with North Korea. The UN, working through the IAEA, has discouraged many nuclear programs from developing, but if a state really wants nuclear weapons, chances are it will get them.

India, Pakistan, Israel, and North Korea have proved this and Iran may soon.

North Korea’s actions run deeper than nuclear weapons though, to the core of humanity. A certain pride is violated when North Korea defies the world, hubris that’s shattered when the controlled ignores the controller. Ego bubbles up and consumes the mind in self-righteousness.

Another type of pride is attacked by the failure of one’s ideas. No one enjoys when their ideas fail, especially when things go wrong despite the best intentions, and few sights hurt worse than your ideas, time, and labor crumbling before you. This feeling is welling up inside the UN and EU, in America and across Asia.

Javier Solana, the European Union's foreign policy chief, declared in unison with President Obama, “These irresponsible acts by North Korea warrant a firm response by the international community. The European Union will be in contact with its partners to discuss appropriate measures.”

Solana left out that a “firm response” didn’t deter North Korea from testing a satellite disguised as a missile. American Ambassador Susan Rice said from the UN, “What we heard today was swift, clear, unequivocal condemnation and opposition to what occurred.” The same condemnation when North Korea, only a month ago, expelled IAEA observers and restarted its nuclear program.

The same condemnation that failed to prevent the first nuclear test.

No statement was as utopian, and hence none more pitiable, than Ban Ki-Moon’s. The UN secretary general said he was “deeply disturbed” by North Korea’s actions and lamented, “They should have come to the dialogue table and resolved all the issues through peaceful means.”

Ban makes two errors. First, nuclear weapons used as deterrent are peaceful means, a fact that seems lost on the UN and America. North Korea is developing nuclear weapons because of a perceived American threat. It believes America is as much a threat as Admiral Mullen thinks North Korea is and it’s trying to ensure that America doesn’t pull another Iraq.

But the ultimate failure of the UN is the word should. Yes, North Korea should have resolved the nuclear issue at the dialogue table, but it didn’t. The UN isn’t supposed to be a think tank spouting ideological wishes; it’s supposed to be a real organization dealing in real solutions. At least it should be.

The UN’s headline on its website is A stronger UN for a better world, but it displays weakness to North Korea.

Perhaps the UN is inherently weak; if so then add one more vote for UN reform. The UN must decide whether to grow strong because empty threats are only emboldening North Korea. Don’t go back to the drawing board because the board is broken. A completely new approach to North Korea is needed. The currant strategy has failed.

North Korea is taking on the appearance of a bored, spoiled girl seeking attention. It knows how to get under the world’s skin and its nuclear program has become a game which the UN and the world are eagerly playing. North Korea has, in its own twisted way, learned how to control its controllers.

May 23, 2009


For all the talk of a moratorium on drones, the future is trending in the opposite direction. The MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper have flown into the nexus of reality. Their success and failure is real, but they enter the ideal realm when you try to stop them.

The unpopularity of drones in the tribal region of Pakistan has become irrelevant. The time to worry about consequences was a year ago, not after the damage is done, and the disproportionate ratio between militant and civilian casualties is a truism, not insight. Furthermore, no people, whether Pakistanis, Pashtuns, or anyone else, will ever feel more than lukewarm with drones bombing their land.

But outrage is not enough to ground drones in Pakistan, and there is evidence that they could expand their range. The debate over drones in warfare is infinite, though for practical reasons can be reduced to two fundamentals: the effects of robotic warfare in a specific location, in this case Pakistan, and the trajectory of the human species.

Humans have historically demonstrated a technological progression and through this view drones are evolutionary, possibly inevitable. Humans naturally manifest their image, actions, and ideals in other forms. Warfare has awaited robotics since the dawn of humanity because machines are meant for war. The Terminator resonates because it is logical.

And already half real.

It’s no secret that the Pentagon has researched robotic warfare for decades. Drones are primitive: a motor, glider, wires and missiles. Far more than drones lie in the R&D departments of various military manufacturers. Unmanned tanks will roam battlefields in the not so distant future as swarms of flying bots flush out enemies for their human controllers. This is just the start.

Humans are definitively progressing towards robotic warfare, not away. The Pentagon’s fleet of drones is growing, not shrinking. America is making them to use them. Predators and Reapers operate in more countries than Pakistan, but as a center of conflict, Pakistan is useful in understanding their future use.

The majority of drone attacks have occurred in North and South Waziristan. This isn’t the only battlefield but rather the first. Waziristan is the ideal region to claim that no Pakistani state exists to violate, being under the total control of Taleban leader Baitullah Mehsud and hostile to the Pakistan government. Drones are the only option for limited collateral damage and no military casualties.

But a shifting future is creating new opportunities. Increased collaboration between America and Pakistan is more than a positive sign for their relationship; it’s a clue that America wants to enlarge the battlefield. Though Pakistani cooperation is evident, America can act unilaterally in Waziristan. America doesn’t need Pakistan for Waziristan, but for Khyber, Kurram, Orakzai, Mohmand, Bajur, Upper Dir, Lower Dir, and Swat.

A broadening war looms in Pakistan’s tribal region. 40 drone attacks in two agencies are only the beginning as are Pakistan’s operations in Swat. In Britain’s Sunday Times, Pakistani president Asif Zardari claimed, “We're going to go into Waziristan, all these regions, with army operations. Swat is just the start. It's a larger war to fight.”

With Pakistan’s assistance, drones could follow wherever the Pakistani army leads.

America has neither an evolutionary or self-interested reason to call off the drones. The war is getting hotter and there will always be militant leaders to target. Drones aren’t isolated but part of an overarching strategy. The deaths of Taliban and al Qaeda commanders are softening the ground for America’s new deployments in Afghanistan.

Leaving aside the negative propaganda and psychological effects of drones, an obvious danger in guerilla war, America’s strategy makes sense. Picking off officers leaves the bodies of militants without their heads. American and Pakistani brigades can then smash what’s left of the Taliban and al Qaeda - theoretically an incoherent, rudderless ship. The problem is that Taliban commanders never end.

Healthy bodies of militants, still with their heads, operate in 20 agencies in the FATA and NWFP of Pakistan. Expect drone attacks to continue and don’t be surprised of an invasion.

May 22, 2009

Crash Landing

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent visit to Washington was unproductive, to be polite. The awkward press conference with President Obama suffered from a lack of eye contact, numerous American officials reprimanded Israel for its settlement expansion, and Netanyahu went out of his way to tell reporters, “I did not say two states for two peoples.”

But these speed bumps in the road map pale in comparison to Netanyahu’s homecoming, where he landed hard on Palestinian dreams.

“United Jerusalem is Israel's capital,” he told a state ceremony to mark the conquest of the city during the 1967 Six Day War. “Jerusalem was always ours and will always be ours. It will never again be partitioned and divided.”

Later at the Mercaz Harav yeshiva, the site of a massacre in 2008, Netanyahu told a ceremony to mark Jerusalem Day, “Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the Jewish people, a city reunified so as never again to be divided.”

Netanyahu knows how to send a message. His symbolism is overt, never discreet, and it’s easy to picture President Obama wincing as he listened to Netanyahu’s remarks.

The Palestinian response was swift and predictable. Lead negotiator Saeb Erekat warned, “Mr. Netanyahu, by saying that, he's saying the state of conflict will be eternal.”

Rafik Husseini, an aide to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, simply concluded, “Israeli occupation of east Jerusalem is illegal.”

Despite the endless complexities of the conflict, two states in the Holy Land depends on three variables: the recognition of Israel’s right to exist by Palestinian militants, the fate of four million Palestinian refugees, and the final status of Jerusalem. Hamas won’t recognize Israel for free and many refugees are likely stuck in their place, increasing the significance of Jerusalem to the peace process.

The world now knows Israel’s position, if it wasn’t already clear, and darker days seem destined. The Annapolis summit can’t be called a success when the parties are still arguing, two years later, over settlements. Such a distraction has left details like Jerusalem and refugees under-debated, though it’s hard to formulate a tool for an ever shifting land.

Hamas has decried its perceived illegality of President Abbas and is pressing for national elections, a prospect that has perturbed America. Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said in Gaza, “The formation of the government by Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas] in the West Bank will reinforce the political chaos, judicial and legislative, which he is carrying out over there in the West Bank.”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Al Jazeera in a rare interview, “You cannot expect either Fatah or the Israelis or Arabs who wish to see this matter resolved with a two-state solution to work with a group that does not believe in the outcome of these efforts.”

However, Salam Fayyad, the American-educated Palestinian prime minister, told reporters, “The main objective should be ending internal division.”

Is anyone on the same page? American and Israeli officials differ on Iran, settlements, and just about everything else except that Hamas is evil. Israelis and Palestinians both want two states but don’t agree on any of the core issues. Palestinian and American officials aren’t sure of each others positions and Palestinian politics may soon experience an upheaval.

The Holy Land is an airfield without a traffic controller.

As much the world wants to solve the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, it would be wrong to force a resolution on quarreling people and unstable ground. President Obama may want to cut the Gordian Knot of the 20th century, but he should satisfy himself with moving the process forward. If the focus is shifted from a grand solution to progress on individual details, he has a better chance of solving the whole equation.

Little can be done to immediately correct the problems facing Israelis and Palestinians. If they fundamentally disagree on Jerusalem or land exchanges, no amount of negotiating is likely to produce an accord. But with the political reality in disarray, the crisis still desperately needs a reboot. As much as the West will hate it, a new forum must be held that includes Hamas without preconditions.

That means sitting down Israel, all of the Palestinian factions, America, Egypt, Iran, and Saudi Arabia to the table - a table that might rest in Jerusalem - and grinding on the core issues. Impossible? Then planes will keep colliding.

May 21, 2009

Not Until the Fat Lady Sings

The world hasn’t rejoiced like it would for the defeat of al Qaeda, and rightfully so. The military demise of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam has been followed by the caution of knowing that, though the battle may be over, the war is not. Not until the fat lady sings.

In Sri Lanka, the fat lady hungers for human rights, including political rights and equal political representation, the linchpin to peace. In understanding the LTTE, consider it as a relative of the Taleban in Pakistan and the PKK in Turkey rather than al Qaeda.

The Taleban and PKK are akin to the LTTE because they, in a round about way, are fighting for political representation. Having been invaded multiple times, the Taleban and PKK want states to protect themselves and their followers. Al Qaeda is purely ideologically driven; it has no concern for achieving political representation in Pakistan or Afghanistan.

The military defeat of al Qaeda would end without political reverberation, as it doesn’t fight for anyone’s rights. The Taleban and PKK have transitioned to political movements though, and their defeat on the battlefield is unlikely to end the underlying political wars. If Pashtuns and Kurds are continually marginalized, instability will spawn new militant organizations.

The same goes for the LTTE and the Tamils. As much as the West hates its methods, the LTTE isn’t fighting out of ideological hatred like al Qaeda. It isn’t fighting just to fight and it doesn’t despise human civilization. The LTTE wanted a state to protect and represent the minority it claimed to fight for.

Luckily the Sri Lankan government has shown signs of understanding this problem. Its own methods for waging war against the LTTE are controversial and could foster distrust among Tamils, but at the very least the government is saying the right things.

“Our motherland has been completely liberated from separatist terrorism,” said President Mahinda Rajapaksa. “Our intention was to save the Tamil people from the cruel grip of the rebels. We all must now live as equals in this free country.”

A separate Tamil state on the Sri Lanka island was unrealistic; this unachievable goal was the LTTE’s ultimate downfall. It may have been as unrealistic for Tamils to achieve equal rights with the Sinhalese majority, but a Tamil state was always further away than political representation. Now that a Tamil state has been squashed, Sri Lanka must demonstrate that the alternate path is a viable one.

If the Tamils are denied an outlet for their political struggle, they’ll return to military means.

Whether Rajapaksa lives up to his proclamation remains to be seen, but his conciliatory tone is a necessary beginning. He’s also in danger though, for to default on his promise of power-sharing with the Tamils would guarantee the LTTE's regeneration. Rajapaksa is in the complex position of having to placate the victims of his victory. He must correct the conditions that gave rise to the battle or else the war will keep burning.

“We have to have a discussion among ourselves, among the political leaders who represent the communities, and come up with a new Sri Lankan identity,” said Sri Lanka's opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe. “If any other community feels that they are still being discriminated (against) then we are only leaving room for trouble in the future.”

That most Sri Lankan leaders understand this dilemma is good news for the country and the international community, but knowledge alone is insufficient. Any harassment against the Tamils will have an exaggerated effect now that the LTTE is dismantled. Having lost part of their protection, the Tamils are at the mercy of the Sri Lankan government. With no one to protect their interests, the government will take full blame if the Tamil’s rights are violated.

The Tamils must not be provoked because uprisings could easily spark. Sri Lankan Defense spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella claims, “They [Tamils] are now used to a certain type of lifestyle; they quarrel with each other, and we need a law and order situation to be maintained. We will perhaps need another 40,000-50,000 (troops).”

Surrounding 250,000 refugees with Sri Lankan troops may not be the best place to start. The Sri Lankan government must be meticulous in engaging the Tamil minority. Military battles come and go in guerrilla warfare, but the political war will never end unless equality prevails. Make that lady sing, Sri Lanka.

May 14, 2009

Captain Contradiction

Countless stories are sadly lost in a whirlwind 24 hour news cycle. Dick Cheney, Elizabeth Edwards, GM, Nancy Pelosi, and Carrie Prejean have drained the attention for other serious matters, like the firing of General David McKiernan. One would assume that firing the general of a deepening war costing hundreds of billions of dollars would be the major story for weeks, but relatively no energy has been expended on the subject.

McKiernan’s dismissal isn’t routine, even if it appears normal at first glance.

The war that McKiernan commanded is deteriorating and President Obama has formulated a new strategy for Afghanistan, so it seems logical to remove the man installed by former President Bush and replace him with Obama’s personal choice. But Obama had a small voice in the decision, which was made primarily by Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

Gates had grown tired of McKiernan long before he asked for his formal resignation on May 11th. A day after Gates broke the news, a senior Defense official told the Wall Street Journal, “Gates has been thinking about this since the transition. When you have guys of the caliber of McChrystal and Rodriguez on the bench and rested, you need to get them into the fight.”

Lieutenant general Stanley A. McChrystal, with perfect accolades for Afghanistan, could very well be more qualified than McKiernan. As commander of all special forces operations in Iraq, McChrystal was responsible for the capture of Saddam Hussein and the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the “Emir of Al Qaeda in the Country of Two Rivers.”

Beyond his achievements, McChrystal represents a shift in strategy from brawn to stealth. McKiernan, who was also unhappy with low troop levels in Iraq, constantly requested more troops for Afghanistan. Additional troops have been ruled out as a solution even as America deploys a fresh batch.

In contrast, McChrystal is regarded as a true student and adherent of counterinsurgency. Intelligence, the cornerstone of counterinsurgency, is his game and special operations are considered the future of asymmetric warfare.

But even if McChrystal is tailored for the Afghan battlefields, he doesn’t explain the regional catastrophe that he’s inheriting - and neither does McKiernan. When asked about his decision, Gates replied that he wanted “new leadership and fresh eyes,” a phrase he repeated under the pressure of wary reporters demanding specifics, all the while claiming that McKiernan hadn’t done anything wrong.

Obviously McKiernan had done something wrong. He was deemed too conventional for Afghanistan while McChrystal, with his special operations expertise, appears to be the perfect fit. There is no inconsistency here, but Gates also recently admitted that Afghanistan cannot succeed without the help of Pakistan, and that Afghanistan’s crumbling is a result of Pakistan’s internal meltdown.

Who is in charge of America’s strategy in Pakistan? Not David McKiernan.

Who decided that drone attacks which kill Pakistani civilians would continue despite their unpopularity? Who decided to make enemies by slandering Pakistan’s military? Who decided to publicly flog Pakistani president Asif Zardari and weaken his credibility at home by coloring him as an American puppet? Who decided to try and buy control of Pakistan’s military by dangling economic assistance? Who is preoccupied with Pakistan’s nuclear weapons? Who is accused of violating Pakistan’s sovereignty? Who is increasing anti-American sentiment in Pakistan?

Not David McKiernan. Instead, these decisions and consequences seem to emanate from the Pentagon, in particular the trio of Robert Gates, Joint Chief of Staff Mike Mullen, and CENTCOM commander David Petraeus. “New leadership and fresh eyes” they are not, and yet no firings are in their futures.

McKiernan has received an unacceptably low level of media attention in America and his firing has gone unquestioned. But in Pakistan, the move has been perceived as an admission of failure as well as scapegoating. Indeed, McKiernan has the feel of a coach fired because of poor management in the front office. McKiernan may have been at the top of Afghanistan, but when viewed as part of South Asia, he drops significantly behind the many policy makers America has deployed.

Gates admitted that Afghanistan is worsening because of Pakistan, but Pakistan didn’t become what it is because of McKiernan. What success will McChrystal have in Afghanistan if the same decision makers keep making poor choices in Pakistan? Using Gates’ logic, America needs more “fresh eyes” than just McChrystal's.

The singular firing of McKiernan thus reeks of contradiction.

May 10, 2009

Nuclear Football

Almost no good news is coming out of Pakistan, whatever the perspective is.

From America, Pakistan appears to be burning to the ground, on the verge of becoming an Islamic caliphate, ready to spill its nuclear content to al Qaeda. From Pakistan, American concerns are over-hyped to justify extensive foreign interference, be it orders to a democratic government, conditional economic aid, or military incursion. Neighboring Afghanistan and India anxiously monitor Pakistan’s status, hoping to siphon blame off themselves.

Yet in spite of these daunting challenges and threats, a more potent standoff exists. With alarm for Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal rising by the day, the idea that America is seeking to remove Pakistan’s stockpile is proportionately gaining traction. This theory is now being labeled in Pakistan as the real end game for America.

Both states predictably deny such a possibility, but the history of Pakistan’s nuclear program is well documented. America opposed the program from the start, using it as an excuse to cut off aid after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. Nuclear exchanges between China and Pakistan have agitated the Pentagon. It’s also common knowledge that America knows the locations of Pakistan’s weapons facilities, implying that America could swoop warheads out as a last resort.

Exacerbating the situation are reports that American and Pakistani military officials have discussed exit strategies for securing and transporting nuclear weapons and for discarding loose material in America. Such measures are precautionary and proper for military contingency, but Pakistan is a guerrilla war and suffers politically as a result of these rumors.

Conflict over Pakistan's nuclear weapons runs deeper still. Active Indian lobbing has affected the process of American aid bills to Pakistan; India is perceived as trying to take advantage of America’s distrust for Pakistan. This suspicion was created specifically by America’s demand for access to rogue nuclear proliferator Dr. Khan, President Obama’s sudden silence on Kashmir, and tacit acceptance for India’s nuclear program.

Speculation that America wants to “de-fang Pakistan’s nuclear option,” as one Dawn columnist put it, is destructive to both countries and becoming widespread.

In Pakistan, the thought that it can’t be trusted with nuclear weapons while India can be is disrespectful and denigrating. Nuclear weapons are a national interest, not limited to a particular group. Few Pakistanis would agree to give up nuclear weapons and so the threat of losing them effects every spectrum of society: those in poverty, the middle class, the intelligentsia, the elite, the government, and the army.

There is no advantage in making them all feel insecure.

President Obama has repeatedly complained that Pakistan’s government is failing to deliver basic services to its people, leading to a lack of public support. Obama is highly concerned, as he should be in guerrilla warfare, about negative sentiment affecting Pakistani’s ability to fight the Taliban. Why then isn’t he as concerned with the political effects of his own administration?

Contrary to American news organizations, Obama’s plans have been derided in Pakistan even though he enjoyed high popularity upon assuming office. His “AfPak” strategy was generally panned, the term “AfPak” itself has drawn criticism, and editorials in the press have expressed surprise that he’s done the impossible - making the Pakistani people feel sorry for president Asif Zardari by jerking him around in public.

Obama also appears to have lost Nawaz Sharif, who told reporters, “I have no intention to come into power with the support of the US.”

But these problems pale in comparison to the roughshod wrestling over Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, and the rumors damage to America’s credibility. America appears self-serving in combating the Taliban and al Qaeda, but their existential threat to Pakistan has managed to temper anger over America’s meddling. Pakistan has come to view the war as its own in addition to America’s.

The theory of neutralizing Pakistan’s nuclear weapons enjoys no such protection. It's reverse terrorism, spreading fear to force Pakistan into combating the Taliban. It's imperialist behavior, a naked power grab, a blatant weakening of Pakistan, a victory for its rival India, having little to do with al Qaeda. America opposed the weapons long before al Qaeda was a threat and may oppose them even if al Qaeda is defeated and the Taliban is expunged from the tribal areas.

This issue goes beyond nuclear weapons in terrorist’s hands. Reality may be otherwise, but America is perceived as fundamentally opposing Pakistan’s nuclear program, which will win not one heart or mind.

May 7, 2009

The Dead Can't Hear

This story doesn’t begin well and probably won’t end well either. The bodies of at least 100 Afghan civilians, many of them women, children, and the elderly, are feared to be buried beneath a pile of rubble. According to similar events in the past, the damage probably isn't as bad as Afghan officials claim, but most likely worse than America will admit.

Immediately after the bombing in the Bala Baluk district, Azizabad was on the tip of Afghanistan’s tongue. Azizabad, a village in Shindand district of Herat province, was bombed in a NATO operation on August 22, 2008. Afghan officials initially estimated 70 civilian deaths; America’s estimate was zero, with 30 militants dead.

This evaluation soon changed to three civilian casualties and 25 militants. A month later America admitted to 30 civilian deaths, still too many in a guerrilla war. Afghan officials put the toll at 90.

Somehow spectacular attacks like the ones in Azizabad and Bala Baluk keep happening, with limited civilian deaths occurring in between. It’s a mystery that no explanation or excuse can satisfy. Why do these incidents keep happening? Did America forget that it’s fighting a guerrilla war? It’s actions suggest such a conclusion.

After the Azizabad incident, the Pentagon began reviewing its policy of commenting on such attacks. Before the review, no comment was a standard reaction. It didn’t take much thinking for Defense Secretary Robert Gates to realize the foolishness of this policy during a guerrilla war, and he vowed to immediately express regret and launch an investigation after future blunders.

But why did it take 7 years to change policy? The question is rhetorical, for it’s unconscionable to take so long. American officials have claimed for years that every measure is taken to prevent civilian casualties. Evidently, more than every measure is needed.

Actions and words are the heart of civilian casualties in Afghanistan. The action implies a lack of care, the words a lack of understanding. Actions speak louder than words - President Obama said so himself - so what is the point of apologizing after killing upwards of 100 civilians? Save the apologies, stop the bombs.

Apologizing, or “deeply, deeply” regretting, feels like the right thing to do, especially when compared to the alternative of not apologizing. Saying anything, except for denial, is better than silence. “I’m sorry” needs to be said after incidents like Bala Baluk because there is no choice, but this need doesn’t translate into a positive effect.

Afghanistan is a guerilla war and actions speak louder than words, which are more often propaganda. There is no saving face after American bombs kill dozens of civilians, and massive repercussions for killing 100 or more. Never-mind the gathering Taliban, who aren’t an explanation for civilian deaths. Blaming the Taliban reveals ignorance of counterinsurgency, where the occupying army must assume risk and protect the population at all costs.

Saying “I’m sorry” is like adding one to negative 100. The hole is still deep, and thus dark, confusing, and depressing.
Obama has told the American people that he understands counterinsurgency, that he understands Afghanistan is a mixture of military and political warfare. The bombing in Bala Baluk technically isn’t his fault because he didn’t order the strike - a special ops force did - but this leads to a separate problem: once again military tactics trumped political reality.

Should military units unilaterally call in air-strikes that will potentially damage political relations between states? It’s unrealistic and infeasible that Obama will sign off on every air-strike in Afghanistan, but the consequence is playing out in every headline of every Arab news outlet in the world.

On the day of the highly publicized trilateral summit between Afghanistan, Pakistan and America, the headlines are dominated by civilian deaths. A conversation meant to center around Pakistan has been redirected in the worst way possible.

That civilians are dying by the dozens under American bombs, eight years after the war began, is bad enough. To think an apology or any expression of regret will minimize the damage is delusion. For this to happen on the eve of the White House’s summit with Afghan and Pakistani delegations is inexcusable.

This combination suggests that even after eight years, America understands guerilla warfare less than it likes to believe, an ill omen for the future.

May 5, 2009

Political Chairs

Nawaz Sharif come on down! You are the next contestant on Pakistan is Wrong. Though shunned in the past, you now have every quality needed to save Pakistan. Let’s start the bidding!

Pakistani politics have become a game-show, or better yet a game of musical chairs, with politicians and strategy rotating to the beat of outsiders. But Pakistan is not a game and shouldn’t be treated so shortsightedly.

American officials claim that Sharif isn’t being pursued at the expense of president Asif Zardari, but rather to enlist him in the battle against the Taliban. Sharif, who's own term as prime minister was cut short by Musharraf, has been tainted by connections to Islamic radicals, but now these connections are in demand. Only a year ago he was marginalized in favor of Benazir Bhutto. He was useless.

The past is forgotten now that he’s useful.

America has long based its Pakistani policy on self interest, starting with the support of several generals, Ayub Khan and Zia-Ul-Haq, in the 1960’s and 80’s. They ruled by force and disdained democracy, but each obtained billions of dollars in American aid in exchange for their support against the Soviet Union. This support was famously challenged by Benazir Bhutto, who warned that America was “creating a frankenstein.”

The pro-American Bhutto became prime minister in 1988, but American-Pakistani relations had cooled by 1990. Pakistan, without Russia to ally against, had little use to an America already shifting its attention to the Persian Gulf. America cut off aid to Pakistan over disagreement with its nuclear program.

In a New Yorker article published in 1993, Seymour M. Hersh quotes an American official: “The Paks understood us better than we understood ourselves. They knew that once the Soviets were whipped in Afghanistan we wouldn’t need them anymore. Would we unilaterally defend Pakistan? Never. Our relationship with Pakistan was to counter the Soviet-Indian relationship. The Pakistanis knew that time was limited. And that’s why they went balls out on the nuclear program. Benazir never had a chance.”

War is the music and chairs stand for use. The game is played while the war drum beats and ends when individual use expires. Then the chair is pulled out from underneath.

America came crawling back to Pakistan after 9/11. General Pervez Musharraf had his uses, stifling democracy but taking modest action against the Taliban and al Qaida. He evaporated when his usage dried up. In came Asif Zardari, benefiting indirectly from American support for Bhutto and directly from his perceived use to fight the Taliban.

Now in hot water, boiling away his utility, Zardari’s future has entered the Twilight Zone. No one is sure where America stands with him; murkiness has circulated rumors that America is seeking to bolster Sharif. Once again use is the decider. Officials credit their interest in the ex-prime minister to “working with the opposition,” but American aid has always gone to those in charge of Pakistan.

“We do of course want to have a close relationship with Nawaz Sharif and his brother,” special ambassador Richard Holbrooke said. “We have not distanced ourselves from President Zardari. We have the highest strategic interests in supporting this government.”

Holbrooke insists that Sharif isn’t viewed as a replacement for Zardari or prime minister Yousaf Gilani. No, Sharif has only one thing America wants - use - which the latest New York Times article on Sharif almost comically outlined.

One European official said, “We need people who have influence over the militancy in Pakistan to calm it down. Who’s got influence? The army, yes. And Nawaz, yes.”

A Pakistani official illuminated Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ recent plea to Saudi Arabia, which he claims has wide influence in Pakistan. Pakistan or Sharif? Said the Pakistan official, “The Americans have no leverage over Sharif, only the Saudis have leverage over Sharif.”

“The idea here is to tie Sharif’s popularity to things we think need to be done,” admitted a Defense Department official, “like dealing with the militancy.”

A senior White House official repeated, “The [Pakistani] president’s popularity is in the low double digits. Nawaz Sharif is at 83 percent. They need to band together against the militants.”

What the officials failed to mention is that Sharif’s popularity is attributed to his independence, Islamic tolerance and populism. If Sharif were to ally with Zardari because of American pressure, he risks losing the exact popularity that America wishes to exploit. At that point the game will end for Sharif.

So why should he play?

May 3, 2009

Exorcising Nixon's Ghost

Sooner or later America must confront the endless allegations of torture that keep surfacing. President Obama’s initial release of CIA interrogation memos is merely the beginning of a treacherous road fraught with pitfalls - and he knows it. But President Obama must peer deeper into the void.

This controversy goes far beyond torture.

Gerald Ford’s pardon of Richard Nixon has a direct influence on today’s outrage. Nixon’s pardon set a horrible modern precedent for every future president. American history is full of alleged abuses of executive power and the debate over pardons has blazed since America’s founding. Nevertheless, Nixon was a prime example if not the supreme signal that future presidents are above the law.

His escape proved that presidents would legally protect each other. He proved that in the highly recycled federal government, former presidential officials could later cover each other like when George H.W. Bush pardoned those accused in Ronald Reagan's
Iran Contra scandal. It’s a fair guess that George Bush had Nixon in mind when expanding executive power and now, apparently for political reasons, Obama is covering George Bush.

How torture is defined is its own argument. Whether interrogators committed acts of torture is another as is whether federal or international law was broken. However, the final question is who authorized the use of torture, even in defense of the country, and what America will do with them if found guilty of
breaking the law. Is the law ignored, bent, broken, or affirmed?

President Obama has a problem. Unlike Nixon’s crimes, which were hidden until the later stages of investigation, it is widely assumed that authorization came from Bush or
Dick Cheney. This immediate pressure is the likely reason why Obama doesn’t seem eager to punish those responsible.

Nixon’s scandal, “is an American tragedy in which we all have played a part,” Ford told the nation in 1974. “It could go on and on and on, or someone must write the end to it. I have concluded that only I can do that, and if I can, I must.”

President Obama’s remarks were too similar when he said, “We have been through a dark and painful chapter in our history. But at a time of great challenges and disturbing disunity, nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past.”

Actually a great deal could be gained by investigating the past, with even more to lose if that past is ignored. This is not to say that Bush or Cheney are certainly guilty of authorizing torture, though the assumption that they did is indisputable. Someone at the highest level signed the order and whoever they are needs to be held accountable.

Add to this wiretapping, missing WMD's, and whatever else limply trails the Bush administration, and an investigation is required to preserve America's future. “For as in absolute governments the king is law,” wrote
Thomas Paine, “so in free countries the law ought to be king; and there ought to be no other.”

President Obama understandably doesn’t want to go down this road. With so many problems - the pile is becoming a heap - a Nixon-like circus would be a monstrous distraction and extremely painful. But timing is not an excuse. There is no good or bad time to uphold the law, only the right time, which is all the time.

America is facing a crisis beyond torture, a test to the core of the state. To stay at skin level, afraid of what lies beneath, guarantees future abuses of power. The job of presidents isn't to be friends with each other but to guard the law universally. Justice should be amplified, rather than reduced, when dealing with presidents instead of common people because only presidents have the power to control each other.

Ford’s pardon of Nixon, though he believed it to be the right choice, was immediately controversial and ultimately destructive to the future of America, culminating with the Bush administration. President Obama has a chance to set the right precedent, which he should know something about as a constitutional lawyer. America is at a pivotal moment and it needs its laws upheld to the highest office. Now is not the time for hugs and a blind eye.

May 2, 2009

Step Into the Light

Two weeks. Two weeks for the government of Pakistan to get its act together. Two weeks before the state collapses. Two weeks until American intervention. Or two weeks until nothing?

What exactly is going on in the White House and Pentagon? Obviously it’s not the American people's place to know - national security and everything - but any light would be greatly appreciated.

According to a Fox News report, CENTCOM commander General David Petraeus supposedly told Obama officials, “The Pakistanis have run out of excuses,” and that the next two weeks are, “critical to determining whether the Pakistani government will survive.”

Then it rained denial. State Department spokesman Robert Woods told reporters, “I don’t know where this two-week timeframe came from.” When pressed he repeated, “I’m not aware of any two-week timeline.”

The Fox News report could be inaccurate or blatantly false. Fox News may have its reasons for driving a wedge between Obama and the Pakistani government, or increasing the climate of fear in America.

But Mr. Woods’ statement rings hollow. He knows, or should have known, where the rumor of “this two-week timeframe came from” - from Fox News and General Petraeus - yet Petraeus wasn’t mentioned in the State Department briefing. If the rumor is untrue, it’s logical to think that Mr. Woods would site the false report and assure General Petraeus said no such thing.

Instead Mr. Woods meandered about how the Taliban is ruthless and must be stopped, how hard this will be, that there’s no time limit to fighting a war, and that it will take “a hundred and ten percent effort.” Obvious statements that avoided the reporter’s question.

In contrast, Pakistan’s American ambassador Husain Haqqani gave a thorough explanation. Haqqani said he spoke to General Petraeus and was told by him that nothing was said about a two week deadline. Haqqani also questioned the validity of Fox News, saying, “Even if he had given any such statement, it would have been covered by the world media and not by only Fox News.”

Mr. Woods should have given ambassador Haqqani’s statement. Haqqani said President Obama would clarify the issue, something he can’t do soon enough. Confusion between the American and Pakistani governments, and their peoples, runs deeper than the latest rumor mill.

Earlier in the week, Obama lamented Pakistan’s inability to, “deliver basic services for the majority of the people.” Whether a majority of Pakistanis lack “schools, healthcare, rule of law, a judicial system” is debatable. Obama may have been speaking about the tribal areas, not Pakistan as a whole.

This ambiguity is why his comments were interpreted by some Pakistanis as an insult to Pakistani President Asif Zardari, and criticized by those who think Pakistan isn’t comparable to Afghanistan. Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Gilani indirectly responded by saying his government has held power for a year, whereas America supported General Musharraf for over 8 years.

The naked message is that Pakistan deserves more time to correct its internal crisis before the thought of foreign intrusion is entertained. Security is deteriorating, but considering the chatter from Washington, real or rumor, and the American media blitz, it’s easy to imagine that Pakistan is feeling unjustly rushed, manipulated, and slandered.

Nor is Pakistan the only one who underestimated Taliban expansion. Only two months after Obama released his new Afghan strategy, the White Paper, a senior administration official admitted to The New York Times, “We’re no longer looking at how Pakistan could help Afghanistan. We’re looking at what we could do to help Pakistan get through [the Taliban emergency].”

Stones, meet glass house.

Icing the cake is speculation that the White House considers the Pakistani army to be more competent than the Zardari government. The Pakistani people do not need to hear this, especially with Musharraf on a come back tour proclaiming Pakistan needs him. Obama will likely play good cop, bad cop when Zardari visits the White House next week.

The boundary of national security is a constant battle. The American people can’t expect explicit details on foreign policy, but a legitimate argument can be made that they should know more than they do now. They need to know what the White House and Pentagon are candidly thinking about their strategy in Pakistan, because the effects will be felt by America as a whole.

Mixed messages are harming how Pakistan is treated. There is no advantage to keeping the American people in the dark or in confusing the Pakistani government and its people.

May 1, 2009

N.K. State of Mind

After watching North Korea break off negotiations with the world, restart its nuclear program and expel UN monitors, everyone is wondering what comes next. Cameras and microscopes will minutely analyze every option available to America, China, Russia, Japan and South Korea.

As a result, North Korea’s mental state has gone relatively unexamined.

The North Korea leadership is easy to write off as irrational or delusional. The plight of the people, who have suffered multiple famines and live in the dark, has been ignored in pursuit of rigid ideology and nuclear weapons. Paradoxically, the state is being sacrificed for military dominance.

However, as insane as North Korea’s behavior appears, it has logical roots that stretch back 100 years. North Korea cannot be viewed strictly in an American context. North Korea was the battleground of many states and countless events influence its relationship with America.

Japanese occupation of the Korean peninusla, which had been united for 1500 years, began in 1910 and ended after World War 2. During Japanese rule, Korean culture was suppressed at all levels. Koreans were forbidden to speak Korean, forced to learn Japanese and the Shinto religion, barred from voting and conscripted into the Japanese army. Korean history was deleted by burning records and books, while temples were destroyed.

Korean nationalism was born from this occupation.

As soon as World War 2 ended the Korean peninsula was divided against itself. Korea was in shock but given no time to recover, instead thrown into the vast ideological struggle between East and West. Dominated by the Soviet Union and China, America offered no diplomatic recognition when North Korean Prime Minister Kim Il-sung declared the Democratic People's Republic of Korea in 1948.

The Korean war began soon after and was carried out with devastating effects. Besides the long-term political, economic, social and psychological consequences, the war resulted in America deploying nuclear missiles at North Korea for the next 40 years.

Perceiving multiple threats, Kim II-sung began his own nuclear program in the late 1950’s. The Soviet Union became equal to the American specter when, in the eyes of North Korean officials, it abandoned Cuba after the missile crisis. Beginning to trust no one, Kim II-sung delivered a speech in 1965 outlining the fundamentals of Juche, the new state ideology centered on self-sufficiency - particularly “self-defense in national defense.”

Kim II-sung wanted his own nukes at any cost, and the fall of the Soviet Union intensified his nuclear quest. Fear is both irrational and rational.

Distrust was pounded into North Korea over the next two decades. Having lost its Soviet aid, it approached America bilaterally to ease economic sanctions and normalize relations. North Korea signed an agreed framework in 1994 to freeze its nuclear program in exchange for light-water thermal reactors built by 2003. A Republican congress, sworn in months later, opposed the agreement. Construction started late and never finished.

Kim II-sung eventually gave way to his son, Kim Jong-II, who reverently continued chasing his father’s dream of deterrent. Their fear of America was confirmed in 2002 when President Bush included the “outpost of tyranny” in the “axis of evil,” and Vice President Cheney stated, “We don’t negotiate with evil, we defeat evil.”

North Korea may have never halted its nuclear program and America has other valid reasons for distrusting it: nuclear proliferation, arms exportation, drug running, counterfeiting and hostile threats. But Kim Jong II distrusts America for some of the same reasons.

In a way North Korea is like a drug addict in need of rehab - desperate but rational. Initially innocent, a hard life led to escape. Nuclear weapons became the answer to every problem. Family members failed to understand him and couldn’t agree on what to do. Some wanted hard punishment, others thought that would push him away.

Conflicting messages confused him and drove him over the edge.

Ice World

The numbers are in: 6,432 civilians dead, 13,946 wounded in the last three months. The UN report on Sri Lanka is shocking. A war that has killed 70,000 people has tacked on another 6,000 under the nose of the international community.

In a world of constant threats, the small island nation hasn’t flown under the radar; it has been completely ignored. Sri Lanka is out of the geopolitical orbit. Compared to hot spots like Palestine, Georgia, Kashmir and Somalia, Sri Lanka’s war is an inconvenience, a distraction from the Middle East and Africa.

American officials can be forgiven for having higher priorities, as can the world. Ignorance of Sri Lanka stems from the island itself - it has negligible influence beyond its borders, with no real connection to the rest of the world. Whether the Tamils overrun the island or the government crushes them all, the world will remain unchanged.

The world is dominated by self-interest. It cannot be denied in the individual or in the state. There is nothing wrong with self-interest because it appears to be as natural as water and fire. Without people caring about themselves, often above anything else, the world may not be able to function.

Humans need to be self-interested, which is why the world is often biased.

As much can be learned from what is spotlighted as from what isn’t. When Hezbollah and Israel went to war in July 2006, the world flew into an outrage, defending both sides with polarizing vigor. The war started on July 12th and by July 16th, America was fully engaged with the internationally community until the ceasefire. American officials constantly visited the region.

War in South Ossetia broke out August 8th, 2008; White House officials called for a ceasefire that day. Five days later, President Bush, with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates at his side, denounced Russian escalation. Soon after the war ended, Rice gave a press conference in Tbilisi with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili.

Both these events took the global media by storm as journalists flocked to the battlefields. Then, invaded by YouTube and Twitter, the war in Gaza took war reporting to a new level despite a media ban. The swiftness of information was matched by international fury; the UN called for a ceasefire on December 28th, 2008, one day after Operation Cast Lead was launched. Worldwide protests became routine and turned violent.

Meanwhile, war in Sri Lanka had been waged for months with no fanfare. If the UN is close to accurate, civilian deaths outweigh those in Lebanon, Gaza, and Georgia combined, with room for Pakistan’s estimated 2,155 civilian casualties in 2008. Kashmir recorded only 89 political victims last year.

Sri Lanka’s war is internal instead of international, but this difference is superficial. Two states aren’t involved, but two ethnicities at war is something the world gets involved with, or at least thinks it should.

The UN has dipped its hands into Sri Lanka, just not as deep as other conflicts. The UN Security Council has made several calls for a ceasefire, but only after months of fighting. When the Sri Lankan army began attacking Kilinochchi, the Tamil Tiger’s capital, on November 23rd, 2008, the UN and America had no immediate reaction.

America decided not to take a lead role in resolving the conflict, calling for the Tamil Tigers to lay down their arms on January 2nd, 2009. The State Department didn’t rushed to Colombo and President Obama has deferred to officials for comment. In February, the conflict still escalating, America released a joint statement with the EU calling for a ceasefire. The war continued unabated.

Media coverage and world reaction has been correspondingly weak. Somali pirates saw more face time than Sri Lankans ever will. Aside from isolated protests in states with large Tamil diaspora, like Britain, the war has passed by without incident. That is, until the death toll was released and shamed the world. Sri Lanka is finally news.

But the hour has passed. Minimal response has proven that Sri Lanka means the nothing. No terrorist threat to America or world peace will emerge from Sri Lanka. No narcotics trade threatens the fabric of American or European society. No resources are at stake and no allies will be lost. No ideological struggle exists between East and West. Besides the piling corpses, there is no reason to care about Sri Lanka.

Reality can freeze the heart, but truth isn’t supposed to be hot or cold, right or wrong. It is simply supposed to be.

In the Deep End

Now that the hostage situation off the Somali coast has ended, America must begin a frank, lengthy debate on the solution to piracy. Recent events cannot give irregular weight to the decision. As relieving as Richard Phillips’s safety is, a nation should never go to war over one man.

Somalia, the most failed state on Earth, is too dangerous to dive in.

Of all the options, doing nothing is the least palatable. America has rejected the idea and the international community cannot idly stand by as a major waterway is threatened. Piracy was an American problem for a day, but it is the world’s problem in the long-term.

Since non-action is unacceptable, naval patrol is the next phase. Criticized for his silence, President Obama made himself, “very clear that we are resolved to halt the rise of piracy in that region and to achieve that goal, we're going to have to continue to work with our partners to prevent future attacks.”

However, the Navy has admitted that little can be done to end piracy so long as Somalia continues to drown. SEAL operations can succeed in individual situations, but they cannot end a social phenomena. Drones could take out pirates across the sea, but they’ll keep coming. An increase in warships could also weaken American security where they were redeployed from.

America has come to realize that naval action alone is a short step above doing nothing. For this reason, some officials in the government, as well as conservatives like John Bolton, have been advocating a land approach; the UN has authorized a similar plan. Herein lies the double bind.

America and the world now understand that Somalia’s troubles at sea are bred on land. As with ants or wasps, taking out the hive instead of the individual is common sense. If piracy is to be ended for good, land operations are necessary - military as well as economic and social action.

Except Somalia is a hostile place for Americans. Memories of 1993 are not pleasant. Several analysts on cable news have claimed that Black-hawk Down is a thing of the past, that current American technology is far more sophisticated. But false information led to the inadvertent killings of Somali tribal elders, fanning flames of extremism months before the battle of Mogadishu. Civilians in Afghanistan have recently died from similar flawed intelligence.

Somalia is a land where enemies are made quickly, easily, and numerously. Even if American soldiers were to come proclaiming peace and assistance, the flag they bear on their shoulders would become a target. It took less than 24 hours for Al-Shabaab, the main militant group in Somalia, to fire retaliatory mortars at Congressman Don Payne’s plane. Several other “pirate chiefs” have also declared revenge on America.

Any military action in Somalia may be considered a declaration of war. Whether Predators, special operations, military advisers or Army soldiers, all options come with high political risk. It’s tempting to view Somalia in a vacuum because the problem needs fixing, but political ramifications likely outweigh military obstacles. Somalia is a ming vase.

Worse still, America lacks comprehensive knowledge of the ground, the players and their connection to piracy. Officials have acknowledged that since the phenomena is relatively new, much work remains in connecting the dots between warlords, militants, “terrorists,” and pirates. In the recent Harper's magazine, Ken Silverstein’s quotes a former CIA official who complained that America has, “limited, ineffective intelligence operations... no presence at all in Somalia.”

One of the most ancient rules of war: don’t go to war with incomplete information of the enemy. Iraq is vivid proof.

Piracy demands a real response, but America must be vigilant of escalating the conflict beyond its control. Though American military power appears necessary, it could fuel the conflict instead. With two ongoing wars, America can’t afford to wade too deep into Somalia.

Dinner and a Drone

It was a night for the ages. World leaders gathered in London to debate the global economic crisis, but not before praising each other, swapping gossip and exchanging gifts with the Queen. In traditionalist England, it was dinner and a show as usual. Only the real show was in the tribal belt of Pakistan, which belied the pomp of humility and royalty being presented.

As pictures of President Obama and wife Michelle, basking in the light of a thousand cameras, were beamed world wide, another report was creeping into the Pakistani media. A pair of drone missiles had just struck a village in the Orakzai agency far from the usual targets in Waziristan. As the night went on and the story was distributed throughout the Pakistani media and eventually to Western new-sites, it become apparent that the drone strike corresponded to London’s festivities.

In his most vivid demonstration of soft and hard power, Obama had dinner with foreign dignitaries and bombed a compound of Baitullah Mehsud.

Mehsud had threatened the White House and the drone attack was a direct response; one of his commanders was targeted but he had left the house shortly before the missiles arrived. At least 10 low level militants were killed in his place, while the Pakistani media also reported the deaths of two women and three children.

President Obama isn’t the one pressing the button but he is the one authorizing these drone attacks, meaning that innocent blood is now spilled on his hands. Drones are an endless argument, loaded with questions as to who should be killed, why and where. But lost in the technical and political argument is something deeper - our humanity.

Konrad Lorenz is considered a founder of ethology - the study of animal behavior - which includes humans. In his landmark 1966 book On Aggression, Lorenz delved into the subconscious link between aggression and animals and its connection to resources. But Lorenz was a philosopher as much as a scientist and like many others during his time, his experience of World War 2 led to doubts in the human species.

Widespread fire bombing on all sides led Lorenz to investigate what drives a human to kill another human and what stops them. He theorized that newly invented long-range weapons, which put the killer far from the killed, were the cause of much devastation. The killing inhibition in humans - the fear of blood and the sight of terror in another’s eye - was suppressed when the killer didn’t witness the damage they caused, both physically and emotionally.

Lorenz concluded that the only way people could kill each other so easily and so numerously was to be far away from the target. Concerning “modern remote-control weapons”, Lorenz stated that, “The man who presses the releasing button is so completely screened against seeing, hearing or otherwise emotionally realizing the consequences of his action, that he can commit it with impunity.”

Al Qaeda and the Taliban want Americans dead so Americans should want them dead, at least that’s the logic. But how long will this take? Until we become them? Until we can kill with equal cold-bloodiness? The location and targets of drone attacks, their political implications and security ramifications are only the surface of debate. Using machines to kill so humans don’t have to is a deep philosophical issue that deserves more attention than it's receiving.

The human species is at yet another military crossroads, stocked with futuristic weapons that may further threaten its humanity. Lorenz marveled, “Only thus can it be explained that perfectly good-natured men, who would not even smack a naughty child, proved to be perfectly able to release rockets... the fact that it is good, normal men who did this, is as eerie as any fiendish atrocity in war.”

And the only way to explain dinner and a drone.