Continuing my screaming and yelling about our current plan in Afghanistan, I wanted to draw your attention to a line that seemed to go unnoticed a few weeks back when President Obama unveiled his new strategy. (Did it go unnoticed or was I just not paying close enough attention? Hmm.) Tucked into the third paragraph of the “White Paper for InteragencyPolicy Group’s Report on U.S. Policy Towards Afghanistan and Pakistan,” is the sentence:
“The threat that Al-Qaeda poses to the United States and to our allies in Pakistan–including the possibility of extremists obtaining fissile material–is all too real.”
Italics mine. So, to justify our vigorous decades-long commitment to “Af/Pak,” the Obama administration raised the spectre of nuclear terrorism. A justification, of course, that we’ve heard before, specifically about those WMD’s that were supposed to have been in Iraq. The fear of getting nuked in Cleveland was famously encapsulated in former SecState Rice’s quote, “We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.”
President Obama didn’t mention this “fissile material” in his speech, no imagery of potential mushroom clouds. Which seems odd to me, because it sounds like it would be an important point to make–we have to be in Afghanistan and Pakistan because the terrorists are (possibly!) getting ready to nuke us.
Whatever the reasons Obama had for omitting the fissile, it strikes me that yet again we’re basing our decision to send tens of thousands of more troops to a country(ies) to protect us from Jack Bauer-like fantasy scenarios. And, yes, I know Pakistan has a nuclear program, and that AQ Khan was selling the stuff. But are our soldiers in Afghanistan (where almost all of them are going to be) supposed to be looking for fissile materials in the Hindu Kush? Are there Al Qaeda secret weapons labs, dug in C.O.B.R.A-like, along the Afghanistan/Pakistan border? Or is the worry that if Pakistan gets even more unstable, they might start giving nukes to Al Qaeda? I guess that’s it, just like Iraq was going to give nukes to Osama, too. It seems clear, though, that our very presence in Afghanistan has had a tremendously destabilizing effect on the region–suicide attacks in Pakistan have skyrocketed over the past three years, coinciding with our creeping presence along the border regions. And again, if this threat is real, and not just bullshit, is the best way to deal with the spread of nuclear material in Pakistan to send 60,000 plus well armed American dudes to build $500,000 per kilometer roads in the country next door?
Am I missing something here? Please tell me if I am.
Anyway, the point I guess I’m trying to make is that when it comes to our policy in Afghanistan, we’re actuallyhearing the same kinds of arguments that brought us to Iraq, and have kept us in Iraq. But they’re being presented in a much more subtle way. No mushroom clouds, yet.