In the aftermath of the imposition of emergency in Pakistan, there’s a sense of acute anxiety about what’s happening there and its implications for U.S. security. Fears that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons could fall into extremists’ hands, that anti-U.S. sentiments could ramp up, that there could be a regime change that leaves fundamentalists in power, and that there could be other fallout of instability, are being fanned by the media.
The Bureau of the Census has issued a lengthy summary of “facts” about the nation’s 23.7 million veterans in time for Veteran’s Day. Considering that there are two significant ongoing armed conflicts involving U.S. forces, I expected that there would be some “facts” dealing with Iraq and Afghanistan.
Afghanistan’s president Hamid Karzai recently came out swinging at the West again, this time on the topic of opium eradication. Responding to the latest UN report showing an opium production increase of 17% in 2007, Karzai accused the international community of failing to implement a coherent counter-narcotics strategy in Afghanistan.
Opium production has indeed skyrocketed to record levels. Now nearly the world’s sole producer of the crop, Afghanistan puts more opium on the market than Colombia, Bolivia and Peru combined. The Afghan government has certainly failed to contain this problem. But Karzai is also right: the international community has been part of the problem.
According to the residents of Datta Khel, a town in Pakistan’s North Waziristan, three missiles streaked out of Afghanistan’s Pakitka Province and slammed into a Madrassa, or Islamic school, this past June. When the smoke cleared, the Asia Times reported, 30 people were dead.
Just over three weeks into the new regime of Gordon Brown, there is a new bounce and a sense of renewed optimism about these islands.
With primary election season in full swing, Democratic Party candidates have begun trying to distinguish themselves from each other and from the Republicans. The Iraq War has been one such dividing issue. Liberal groups like MoveOn.org praised both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama for “showing real leadership” because they “stood up and did the right thing” by voting against the recent Iraq/Afghanistan war-funding bill. The main fight in Congress over the bill was whether or not to include a timeline for troop withdrawal from Iraq.
One might think that given all the stresses and strains on the U.S. military caused by fighting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that the Defense Department would at least be doing its utmost to grasp the geostrategic realities of the day. But the Pentagon’s last Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), released on February 6, 2006 showed that American defense plans continue to fail engagements with reality. While the QDR was big on rhetoric, it was woefully short on action.
The Iraq War tore at the already frayed fabric of transatlantic security relations. Although European countries declared their solidarity with the United States after September 11, they were increasingly uncomfortable with Washington’s emphasis on unilateralist approaches to global problems. After President Bush took office in 2001, his administration upset many European leaders by refusing to sign the Kyoto Protocol on global warming, opposing the International Criminal Court, and killing the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. In October 2001, Washington was reluctant at first to use the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in the campaign to oust the Taliban in Afghanistan. While taken aback by U.S. reluctance, NATO leaders and Europeans generally approved of the U.S.-led operation.
The U.S. military lives by the rule: “Leave no soldier behind.” The Walter Reed Army Medical Center (WRAMC) seems to have operated according to a different principle: “Out of sight, out of mind.”