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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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Umm... Okay, the situation is unnerving -- certainly for the Pakistanis, the large majority of whom have not the slightest love for the Taliban, have opted for democracy and against military dictatorship with a passion, and yet strongly oppose the destabilizing American air war in their borderlands. It could even result in the fall of the elected government or of democracy itself -- not exactly a rare event in the annals of recent Pakistani history. It's undoubtedly unnerving as well for the American military, intent on fighting a war in Afghanistan that has spilled disastrously across the open border. (As Pakistan expert Anatol Lieven wrote recently: "The danger to Pakistan is not of a Taliban revolution, but rather of creeping destabilization and terrorism, making any Pakistani help to the U.S. against the Afghan Taliban even less likely than it is at present.")

In other words, it's not a pretty picture. If you happen to live in the tribal borderlands, or Swat, or the Dir Valley, squeezed between the Taliban, the Pakistani Army, whose attacks cause great civilian harm, and those drones cruising overhead, you may be in trouble, if not in flight -- or you may simply support the Taliban, as most of the rest of Pakistan does not. If you happen to live in India, you might start working up a sweat over what the future holds on the other side of the border. But all of this is unlikely to be a "mortal threat" even to Islamabad, the Pakistani military, or that nuclear arsenal American national security managers spend so much time fretting about. It is certainly not a "mortal threat to the security and safety of our country."

So here's a little common sense. If Pakistan poses a mortal threat to you in New York, Toledo, or El Paso, well then, get in line. Believe me, it will be a long one and you'll be toward the back. Despite constant reports that lightly armed Taliban militants are only 60 miles from the "doorstep" of Islamabad, Pakistan's national capital, and increasing inside-the-Beltway invocations of Ayatollah Khomeini's 1979 revolution in Iran, you're unlikely to see a Taliban government in Islamabad anytime soon, or probably ever. As one unnamed expert commented recently in the insider Washington newsletter, the Nelson Report , "I find it troubling that we are hyping the 'security situation' in Pakistan. Pakistan is not being taken over, the FATA [Federally Administered Tribal Areas] is. This has been happening since 2004."

Mind you, when Vice President Joe Biden said something extreme about flu precautions -- don't take the subway! -- the media didn't hesitate to laugh him off stage. When Hillary Clinton said what should be considered the equivalent about Pakistan, everyone treated it as part of a sober national-security conversation.

Of course, when it comes to hysteria, nothing helps like a nuclear arsenal, and in recent weeks nuclear doomsday scenarios have broken out like a swine flu pandemic, even though a victorious Taliban regime in Islamabad with a nuclear arsenal would undoubtedly still find the difficulties of planting and detonating such devices in American cities close to insurmountable.

By the way, for all our kindly talk about how the poor Pakistanis just can't get it together democracy-wise, the U.S. has a terrible record when it comes not just to promoting democracy in that country, but to really giving much of a damn about its people. In fact, not to put too kindly a point on things, Washington has, over the past decades, done few favors for ordinary Pakistanis. Having played our version of the imperial Great Game first vis-à-vis the Soviets and, more recently, a bunch of jihadist warriors, we are now waging a most unpopular and destabilizing air war without mercy in parts of that country, and another deeply unpopular war just across its mountainous, porous border.

 
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