Be Ahead of the Pack

Here’s a tip on how to sound smart on foreign policy.

When your friends are talking about the Iraq War, shake your head and look very somber. “The real problem,” you inform them, “is Iran. That’s the next battlefield.”

Okay, people have been talking about Iran for several years now. And, according to Seymour Hersh, not only are we already conducting a low-intensity war over there, the Democrats last year approved a no-longer-secret escalation of those activities. So you have to be prepared to deal with their smug, oh-yes-we-know-all-about-that look. “But while everyone is looking at Iran,” you say, after shaking your head again and looking even more somber. “The real problem is Afghanistan. That’s the problem that everyone is missing.”

But suppose they’re already talking about Afghanistan, because maybe not everyone is missing this problem after two consecutive months of casualty figures worse than Iraq and the attack this week that left nine U.S. soldiers dead. If reference to Afghanistan doesn’t get them, then you should stroke your chin and say very quietly, “The real problem is Pakistan. That’s the real mess.”

By this point, the Sunday morning news programs should be calling for your expert commentary. But let’s say that you have well-read friends and they’re already talking about Pakistan. And didn’t President Bush acknowledge that Pakistan, not Iraq or Afghanistan, would be the biggest challenge for his successor? So now you have to switch gears and fall back on your last gambit. It’s time to try outrage. “The real problem,” you inform them, “are not the rogue operations out there in Pakistan or Afghanistan. The problem is here: in Dickistan. It’s Dick Cheney’s office. That’s the lawless province causing all the havoc.”

But let’s go back to the real world for a moment and the issue of Pakistan. There’s much talk these days about the Taliban and al-Qaeda and other militant organizations plotting all sorts of mayhem in Pakistan’s version of the Wild West: the areas that border Afghanistan. U.S. officials are concerned that the new civilian government in Pakistan is so eager to cut a deal with these militants that it’s willing to look the other way at their cross-border operations in Afghanistan. And the Pakistani government is none too pleased about the cross-border operations conducted by the U.S. military, including the air strike last month that killed 11 Pakistani soldiers.

Surely the Pakistanis themselves are concerned about the resurgent Taliban, the elusive bin Laden, and the potential of frontier chaos spreading throughout the country.

Not so, says FPIF columnist Zia Mian. “When asked who was most responsible for violence in Pakistan today,” he writes about a recent poll in Pakistan’s American Problem, “over 50% of Pakistanis blame the United States. About 10% blame respectively India and the Pakistan army (and ISI). The Pakistani Taliban was blamed by less than 5%.”

Indeed, while extremist violence is certainly a problem in Pakistan, it isn’t a central preoccupation, reports FPIF contributor Fouad Pervez. “On my recent trip to Pakistan, every conversation veered toward one of four issues. These topics also fill most news broadcasts and top the headlines in every newspaper. Pakistanis talk about these issues on the streets, in the markets, and at the masjids,” he writes in The Real Crisis in Pakistan. “These issues – the economy, the electricity load sharing, the water shortage, and the political instability – cut across social class, gender, and geography. Hardly anyone talks about extremism. You might catch a mention of extremist actions in the last few minutes of a news broadcast – if you have electricity to watch the news, that is.”

The policy implications of this anti-Americanism and this proliferation of economic challenges are so clear that even the TV instapundits should figure out what the real problem is. U.S. military policy has been counterproductive. We are creating more militants than we are “neutralizing” – in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. We need to shift over from the hypermilitary approach to an economic development model, and quick. But that’s going to require a major, immediate, cessation of operations in that most dangerous province of all: the rogue fiefdom of Dickistan.

Ballots, Cows, and Nukes

The situation in Zimbabwe remains murky. Negotiations between the Mugabe government and the opposition are ongoing, Russia and China refuse to back UN sanctions against the ruling elite, and a new report from South Africa’s Human Sciences Research Council describes a worsening situation on the road toward civil war.

FPIF contributor Briggs Bomba takes a step back to look at this conflict between change by ballot and change by bullet. “The world’s attention has been riveted in 2008 by election crises in Africa, first Kenya and now Zimbabwe,” he writes in Ballots vs. Bullets in Kenya and Zimbabwe. “In both cases, challenges remain in converting electoral victory to political power. Can a victorious opposition come to power in the face of an obstinate incumbent? This question is particularly relevant when the incumbent regime controls the coercive apparatus of the state and the opposition only has the ballot in its corner. In the battle of the ballot vs. the bullet, can there ever be a fair match?”

South Koreans are still wrought up about imports of U.S. beef. FPIF contributor Gavan McCormack connects the protests in Seoul to the larger food crisis in the world. “Beef consumption is not a fundamental human right but the privilege of a tiny elite,” he writes in Mad Cows, Mad People. “Each kilo of meat they consume is the equivalent of around eight kilos of grain, and requires a substantial volume of precious water to produce. Naturally, Koreans (or any people) may indulge a passion for beef eating by allocating their own land, water, and labor to it, but they can have no claim upon the global economy to such an entitlement. And if the global beef market is dominated by a country whose agriculture is so structured that dead animals are recycled as pellets of food for living ones, the very principles of free trade itself must be reconsidered – as the Koreans are doing.”

Finally, FPIF contributor Robert Alvarez debunks the notion that we can boost the nuclear energy sector and recycle the used fuel to produce even more energy. Just consider the plutonium problem. “Of the 370 metric tons of plutonium extracted from power reactor spent fuel over the past several decades, about one third has been used,” he writes in Nuclear Recycling Fails the Test. “Currently, about 200 tons of plutonium sits at reprocessing plants around the world – equivalent to the amount in some 30,000 nuclear weapons in global arsenals.”