This essay was first published in the Palestine Chronicle 2011 03 27.
Deadly Embrace - Pakistan, America, and the Future of the Global Jihad. Bruce Riedel. Brookings Institute Press, Washington, D.C. 2011.
Given the nature of events reported in the regular media, this work is a timely and informative history about the U.S. - Pakistani relationship. It is written by Bruce Riedel, one of the players involved in the ongoing negotiations between the two countries as they balance the various needs and wants of an off balance nuclear armed Muslim country with the needs and wants of a country protecting the world from the terror of Islamic jihadis. At least that is the overall perspective of the work as should be expected from someone inside the Washington establishment, a former CIA officer, and now a political consultant, whose perspective is that narrowly seen by those steeped in the belief of U.S. infallibility and goodness of deed. To Riedel’s credit he admits the U.S. role as having had “a large hand in creating this monster…a fickle friend,” contributing “to its instability and radicalization” creating “fertile ground for global jihad. How and why this happened is the subject of this book.”
For the historical record, the book is well written and historically accurate although a good deal of information seems to have been held back that could have truly made the book interesting and challenging. It is a self censored work, with the author claiming as usual that the ideas expressed are entirely his own and not reflective of “the official positions or views of the [CIA] or any other office of the U.S. government” nor do they imply “that any branch of government has authenticated the information or endorsed the author’s view.” Further the material was vetted by the CIA “to prevent the disclosure of classified information.”
For all those disclaimers two thoughts rise. First, there is a lot of material and ideas that are not presented in this work. Secondly, when reading the book, it comes across as standard U.S. interpretative historical fare - that is, narrow focus, little context beyond the confines of the U.S.- Pakistani dialogue, and we, the U.S. are the victims of a global terror jihad, for some unspecified reasons other than the standard offerings of poverty and lack of democracy. The latter may well be true, but given the lack of context of the U.S. global reach and interests, and the double standards by which they operate in all regions (witness the application of the “no fly zone” in Libya to protect the ‘revolutionaries‘, when other regions - Bahrain, Yemen, Gaza, Lebanon receive none) the author’s reasoning is not sustainable.
If the reader can stay within the narrow focus of the Riedel, it is a good read, and supports the best rhetorical intentions of the U.S. towards Pakistan. But sure we made some mistakes, it’s not really our fault as we are only trying our best to protect ourselves in this desperate and inchoate land, the birthplace of 9/11 and global jihad, and we can correct our actions in order to help Pakistan achieve its goals. Along the way, many question marks appeared in the margins of the book where good opportunities for larger contextual information would have been very helpful and more truthful to the overall narrative. Most of the comments were smaller thoughts, left that way in order to avoid exploring them in their fuller context.
The first question mark concerns the Saudi’s support for the ISS-GID (Pakistani intelligence organizations), giving the disclaimer that CIA involvement was predated by the Saudi-Pakistani relationship. What is not mentioned is that Saudi Arabia is essentially a wholly owned fiefdom of the U.S., and while they may operate at times against the apparent wishes of the U.S., it is difficult to push them aside as operating independent of U.S. knowledge or interests. When the CIA did become involved it was, according to Riedel, “one of the most cost-effective programs ever run by the U.S. government.” This of course denies the huge cost in blowback terms and the costs to the tune of trillions of dollars that the U.S. has wasted on its military, intelligence, and security apparatus in fighting this relatively ephemeral enemy. The fuller context also being that U.S. actions, its imperial intentions for resource control, and diplomatic and political double standards, directly contributed to the creation and sustenance of the global jihad movement.
Other question marks highlight the use of terror as the underlying base for actions concerning Pakistan. There is no recognition of U.S. actions here or elsewhere in the world, either CIA actions, or overt military actions, or actions taken by puppets of the U.S. government in quelling indigenous democratic movements and supporting elites of any stripe who supported the U.S. agenda, of having any influence on the rise of ‘terror’ in the Middle East. There is no context of the U.S. history of imperial wars and the assumption of the imperial role from Great Britain after WW II. There is no context of U.S. interest in resources and their transportation routes in the region that further serve to isolate and contain Russian and Chinese influence in the region.
The worst part of the book is the purely conjectural chapter on the possible future of Pakistan. The fear of course is of a “jihadist Pakistan [emerging] through some combination of violence and intimidation.” The latter of course is something the U.S. is not familiar with. While recognizing that this “nightmare scenario is…neither imminent nor inevitable,” it receives all the commentary. This supports the works general tenor of creating the fear of terror and the ‘why do they hate us’ mentality that keeps the U.S. imperial war machine so well oiled. Yes, a nuclear armed state would create some problems, but so far the most militarized nuclear states of the world, the god-fearing states of the U.S., Israel, Britain, and France, and the non-god-fearing states of Russia (not so much anymore) and North Korea, have yet to act as Riedel assumes the jihadis would naturally react. The usual domino effect comes into the author’s reasoning as well, but dominos, as seen in the current Arab street protests, have a way of not falling when enough military-political support is given or manoeuvred into place by the elites in conjunction with the U.S.
The final chapter is on ways to help Pakistan. This is to be done on the “American policy toward Pakistan [being] built on the principle of unwavering support for democracy, even if the United States is averse to some policies of Islamabad’s democratic governments.” This of course is what the U.S. has done in the West Bank and Gaza after the electoral victory of Hamas, and is of course the route they are taking within Saudi Arabia and their relationships with the Gulf Coast states and their democracy movements. Another aspect to assist the Pakistan people is that “The drones are needed to thwart terrorism.” Right, guided missiles from pilot less aircraft, guided by some desk jockey in Utah, storming down on Pakistani villages, are going to bring democracy to Pakistan. Why, we could do away with elections in every country if this is the answer - which to the U.S. military it may well be - obey us, do as we say, or we slowly but surely destroy your country’s infrastructure in the name of democracy.
Added to this is the superiority of air power, as the “key to a successful counterinsurgency is the ability to rapidly deploy soldiers and equipment to hot spots…helicopters and lots of them. That is how the United States has fought insurgents for decades.” A little bit too much truth here perhaps? Is he talking Vietnam? Nicaragua? Iraq? Afghanistan? Somalia? Philippines? Rwanda? Palestine?
The problem with Kashmir has its own peculiar solutions, where the U.S. should act to promote a solution, done not in a “formal public initiative” as “discretion and privacy are essential.” Oh great, more of that open democracy for solving problems, the powers that be would certainly not want to reveal their true intentions and goals for the region. What is not mentioned is Kashmir as an actual independent state, an obvious solution, at least for the Kashmiris.
In sum then, the same old same old military solutions for ‘democracy’. This demonstrates only the lack of original thinking on the part of Riedel and his adherence to the U.S. rhetoric of ‘we the victim’ promoting democracy against ‘them the jihadis’. Riedel’s final statement is that the “Pakistanis and Americans…transform what has long been a deadly embrace into a union of minds with a common purpose: to defeat the jihad monster.” All well and good, but a much broader discussion of how that ‘monster’ was created, who created it, and what and who sustains it is required before an intelligent and workable answer can be achieved. U.S. militarism subjugating the Pakistani state to its direction will not be the way to go. Until the U.S. is able to recognize its own complicity in the current terror wars caused by its double standards and imperial greed for control and containment of the regions wealth and markets, not much will be accomplished against the terror threats.
This should also be recognized in the recent peaceful demonstrations across much of the Arab world. The demonstrators were not jihadi terrorists but the everyday citizens of the countries where they lived. They are apparently successful in Tunisia and Egypt, although the extent of realizable democracy may quickly be subverted by corporate and military interests. Elsewhere, the true interests of democracy appear to be succumbing to the more particular interests of the elites and powerful.