This morning I heard Secretary of State Hillary Clinton telling the BBC World Service that the reason she’s pushing Pakistan so hard on cleaning out Taliban areas is that the Taliban continue to be in league with al-Qaeda—that they form “a syndicate of terror.”
Factually, this is wrong, of course, and is even uncomfortably reminiscent of George W. Bush’s groundless linking of Saddamism to al-Qaeda. But religiously it is even wrong-er. Because what the Secretary does not see at all, apparently, is what all Pakistanis see as we up the ante and use ever-more-lethal drone attacks to “take out” alleged bad guys. What they see is that we constitute our very own syndicate of terror within their national borders. In her brilliant reporting for the New Yorker, Jane Mayer continues to document why everyday Pakistanis and Afghanis would see it this way. They don’t see us rescuing them; they see us ruining them, both through our slaughter of so many innocents and also through our utter obliviousness to their folkways and traditions.
This is why Matthew Hoh resigned his State Department position: he saw the disastrous confluence of moral blindness and military hubris in our current approach to the region.
But let us even suppose that Clinton is correct in her assertion of a hand-and-glove relationship between Taliban and al-Qaeda forces. Even then, would what we are doing there under the rubric of counterterrorism make any sense at all? No, it would make even less sense, because nothing is more certain to cement just such an unholy relationship than bellicose U.S. insistence that there can be no middle ground: that a given tribal leader, say, needs to be totally for us or else we will treat him as totally against us.
And note that it is always about “us.”
That is the other thing that rightly inflames the locals. We are still seeking to avenge a trauma that took place eight years ago in Lower Manhattan, and we appear willing to inflict any amount of trauma on any number of others in order to work out our own issues.
Yes, Af-Pak continues to be a stew of strategic confusion for policymakers. But at the root of it is a still-worse moral confusion about means and ends and a tragic absence of accurate self-perception.