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Washington's Imperial Attitude: We Talk About Countries Like We Own Them

It's the norm for U.S. civilian and military leaders to talk about what other countries "must do" -- but it's a radical and dangerous mindset.

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In fact, other reports indicate that Obama's national security team has been convening regular "crisis" meetings and having "nearly nonstop discussions" at the White House, not to mention issuing alarming and alarmist statements of all sorts about the devolving situation in Pakistan, the dangers to Islamabad, our fears for the Pakistani nuclear arsenal, and so on. In fact, Warren Strobel and Jonathan Landy of McClatchy news service quote "a senior U.S. intelligence official" (from among the legion of anonymous officials who populate our nation's capital) saying: "The situation in Pakistan has gone from bad to worse, and no one has any idea about how to reverse it. I don't think 'panic' is too strong a word to describe the mood here."

Now, if it were the economic meltdown, the Chrysler bankruptcy, the bank stress tests, the potential flu pandemic, or any number of close-to-home issues pressing in on the administration, perhaps this would make some sense. But everyday discussions of Pakistan?

You know, that offensive in the Lower Dir Valley. That's near the Buner District. You remember, right next to the Swat Valley and, in case you're still not completely keyed in, geographically speaking, close to the Malakand Division. I mean, if the Pakistani government were in crisis over the deteriorating situation in Fargo, North Dakota, we would consider it material for late night jokesters.

And yet, in the strange American world we inhabit, nobody finds these practically Cuban-Missile-Crisis-style, round-the-clock meetings the least bit strange, not after eight years of post-9/11 national security fears, not after living with worst-case scenarios in which jihadi atomic bombs regularly are imagined going off in American cities.

Keep in mind a certain irony here: We essentially know what those crisis meetings will result in. After all, the U.S. government has been embroiled with Pakistan for at least 40 years and for just that long, its top officials have regularly come to the same policy conclusions -- to support Pakistani military dictatorships or, in periods when civilian rule returns, pour yet more money (and support) into the Pakistani military. That military has long been a power unto itself in the country, a state within a state. And in moments like this, part of our weird extremism is that, having spent decades undermining Pakistani democracy, we bemoan its "fragility" in the face of threats and proceed to put even more of our hopes and dollars into its military. (As Strobel and Landy report, "Some U.S. officials say Pakistan's only hope, and Washington's, too, at this stage may be the country's army. That, another senior official acknowledged Wednesday, 'means another coup.'")

In the Bush years, this support added up to at least $10 billion, with next to no idea what the military was doing with it. Another $100 million went into making that country's nuclear-weapons program, about which there is now such panic, safer from theft or other intrusion, again with next to no idea of what was actually done with those dollars. And now the Obama administration is rushing to create a new Pakistan Counterinsurgency Capability Fund that will be controlled by General David Petraeus, head of U.S. Central Command. If Congress agrees -- and in this panic atmosphere, how could it not? -- there will be an initial rushed down payment of $400 million to train the Pakistani military, probably outside that country, in counterinsurgency warfare. ("The fund would be similar to those used to train and equip Iraqi and Afghan soldiers and police, Petraeus said.")

Doomsday Scenarios

Oh, and speaking of extremism, the ur-extreme statement of the last few weeks came from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and was treated like the most ho-hum news here. In congressional testimony, she insisted that the situation in Pakistan -- that Taliban thrust into Swat and the lower Dir Valley -- "poses a mortal threat to the security and safety of our country and the world."

 
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