As the fallout from the killing of Osama Bin Laden continues, I’ve been following things in Pakistan. Their response was rather predictable — first, protests about the violation of their sovereignty; then, a flurry of denials (with Bin Laden where he was, it seems that they were either grossly incompetent or in cahoots with him, neither of which is a palatable alternative), and now a bit of kicking back at the US by exposing the identity of our CIA station chief in their country.
As Ace notes, this is the kind of shit that gets people killed.
As this has all unfolded, it seemed hauntingly familiar to me. No, not in severity or potential for death, but in general tone and theme. But I couldn’t place it until I heard one discussion on the radio on the matter.
Someone was discussing Pakistan’s near-legendary corruption,and the $25 million reward for Bin Laden. The argument was, why the hell wouldn’t one of those Pakistanis who knew Bin Laden was there turn him in for the money?
The answer was simple. We give Pakistan a couple of billion every year in foreign aid. A large part of that is based on their helping us in fighting the terrorists, including the hunt for Bin Laden — which Obama made Job One. When we got Bin Laden, there went one part of the immediacy of the fight. And if things start getting more stable, then the urgency of that aid could be threatened. And compared to a couple of billion every year, year in and year out, makes that one-shot $25 million look like chump change. Keeping Bin Laden alive and away from the US makes a hell of a lot of financial sense.
That’s when it clicked in my head. That kind of reasoning reminded me of listening to Howie Carr, the Boston columnist/talk show host/author/gadfly who seriously dislikes unions, especially public sector ones. One of his recurring themes is how big public projects never seem to get done on time, they drag on and on and on. And the refrain he attributes to the unions who collect their pay for the life of the project seems to describe Pakistan’s motive to a T:
“Don’t kill the job!”
That was why Pakistan might be inclined to hide and protect (possibly in protective custody) Bin Laden: the regular flow of cash from the US, partially earmarked to finding him.
And in that context, Pakistan’s retaliating by exposing our CIA station chief also fits in. Unions are known for playing hardball when it comes to putting their interests ahead of everything — even the good of their members, the safety of their members, or the survival of the employer.
No, I’m not calling unions terrorists, nor (even worse) am I saying that terrorists are just like unions. But I am saying that there are some interesting parallels between the two groups’ attitudes and beliefs and conduct. And that we just might be able to apply what we know about dealing with unions to working with Pakistan.
Pakistan is in a very powerful position. As long as we are invested in Afghanistan, we need Pakistan’s good will and cooperation to keep that mission tenable — the vast majority of our support goes through Pakistan. If they get too cranky with us, they can choke off that support and bring our Afghan operations to a crashing halt.
Further (and this one can never be underestimated), Pakistan is a nuclear power. They have nuclear weapons. Not a lot, and not very well designed or built, but nukes nonetheless — and those can make some very big messes should they be used.
On the other hand, Pakistan is riding its own tiger with regards to Islamists within its own borders. Those guys have pretty much taken over the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence service, and hold a great deal of sway in the country. And they really need the US’ aid — and good will — to stay afloat.
So they need us, and we need them. We don’t have to like each other, but we do need to recognize that reality.
The obvious solution is to appeal to their instincts for self-interest and self-preservation. Currently, the radicals have a more persuasive argument — piss off the US too much, and we aren’t likely to kill them. But the radicals will — and have been.
What we need to do is lift a notion from “The Godfather” — “keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.” We need to spell out to them, quietly, that we can screw them over far more thoroughly than the radicals can — just chat with Osama Bin Laden or Saddam Hussein. Oh, that’s right, you can’t — they’re dead. They crossed us, and we got them.
In the meantime, we understand that they need to assert their independence every now and then. We’re big boys, we can take the occasional kick or two. But pulling shit like putting the life of our CIA Station Chief at risk — that’s going a bit too far, and needs to be curtailed.
If that means we need to kick them back, such as Ace’s suggestion that we expose some of the dirty little secrets we have on some key figures in the Pakistani government, then we do so. Or some other ways that harms their government, but not in a fatal way — just enough to remind them who’s the big guy, and who’s the little guy.