By Intelligence Operative Jay Holmes*
As we approach 2013, several Middle Eastern and Central Asian countries seem to be undergoing changes, but there is no consensus on what those changes will mean. While a few are hopeful, many give cause for concern.
Barack Obama and Hamid Karzai
Image by Pete Souza for Executive Office of the President of the United States
Let’s first look to the north. In Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai and his Obama Echo continue to assure the world that “things are improving” in Afghanistan. If by “things” he is referring to his and his brothers’ foreign bank accounts, then he’s telling the truth. If he is talking about “things” in reference to those unfortunate 35.3 million Afghans who don’t share in the Karzai family profits, then “things” are not so good.
For starters, 1.6 million Afghans remain in refugee camps in Pakistan. Another 430,000 continue to live in makeshift huts and UN-supplied tents in refugee camps inside of Afghanistan. Apparently, those two million folks have not heard Karzai’s glowing reports about the improved security in the areas that the Taliban forced them to abandon, or they simply enjoy living in tents and not receiving the millions of dollars of aid that the US taxpayers are sending them.
The Afghan Peace Commission this week announced that Pakistan has agreed to cooperate in a peace plan. To put that in Western terms, that would be like the US Congress agreeing to term limits. Don’t hold your breath. Pakistan doesn’t even cooperate with Pakistan on peace initiatives so how would they cooperate with Afghanistan? If that peace commission gets something more than the usual comical Pakistani lip service out of Islamabad, they will deserve the Nobel Peace Prize.
According to the White House, US Forces will all be gone from Afghanistan by the end of 2014 . . . Oh, wait a sec. This just in from Pennsylvania Avenue . . . We might have to keep “about ten thousand troops” in Afghanistan after 2014 in a support role.
Let me translate that to reality. “About ten thousand troops” generally means around 16,000 troops. The White House is admitting that without around 16,000 crack US troops in Afghanistan to prop up the bogus Karzai government, a few thousand Taliban will ride their donkeys and mopeds into Kabul and take over the place. Let’s hope that 16,000 troops will be enough.
But why have any troops there at all? What’s in it for us? Regional stability perhaps? We don’t live in that region, and our oil fix doesn’t come from Afghanistan.
There are, in fact, some rare metals there that we could use but we’re not taking those. Karzai sold those to China. China is already increasing copper production at an Afghan copper mine and exploring for oil in the Amu Darya basin. And if there’s no oil there? No problem. There are enough natural gas reserves in Afghanistan to keep China happy for a decade or more. So again, why are we there? Why not let China bring “stability” to their neighbor?
Some would argue that the US wants to deny al-Qaeda a base of operations by forcing them out of Afghanistan. Let’s put that in perspective. Al-Qaeda being kicked out of Afghanistan and having to move to Africa, Pakistan, and the Gulf is like inmates being kicked out of Sing-Sing and having to move to Malibu. Al-Qaeda is hardly complaining. In any event, if al-Qaeda sets up a serious infrastructure in Afghanistan again, we can bomb them more easily there than we can bomb them in Pakistan. Pakistan is our “friend,” after all.
Others would argue that if the US “abandons” our “friends” in Afghanistan, that country might return to heroin production. (Insert gasps of shocked disbelief.) Forget it. Heroin production is so high right now in Afghanistan that Afghanis are currently stockpiling surpluses.
So let me see if I have the Obama Plan right. “About ten thousand” (around 16,000) US troops will remain indefinitely in Afghanistan to ensure that Afghanistan remains stable enough to export energy and metals to Communist China.
Yes, Virginia, there is indeed a Santa Claus, and he evidently loves China.
US Marines patrolling poppy fields in Helmand Province, image from Department of Defense
Now for the situations in the rest of the Middle East and Central Asia . . .
To the east, we still see the Pakistani government exhibiting the same lack of loyalty to the Pakistani people and nation that has plagued Pakistan since their independence. Every day, Pakistani leaders must wonder who their secret police and intelligence services might be serving, and whether they, themselves, will be the next targets of “unfortunate Pakistani accidents.” In the meantime, the education system and economy remain in a shambles that would almost make General Motors look like a viable economic enterprise. Okay, I exaggerate. GM isn’t that good, but you get my point.
Pakistan’s neighbor, Iran enjoys the regional upheaval and is using the distraction to press on with their atomic bomb program. Even the UN, try though it stridently might, isn’t fooled by Iran’s intentions, but the international buck passing continues.
Everyone outside of Iran urgently wants the US to step in and stop Iran’s bomb program. Just as urgently, those countries can’t wait for the US to step in so they can all rise up and sing a chorus of righteous indignation against “American war mongering.” If nothing else, it would be amusing to hear the predictable staff at NPR criticize their favorite president.
In the Gulf Region, recent Kuwaiti elections had dismally low participation levels, and a rebellion is slowly fomenting there.
Dubai, Bahrain and Qatar all appear to be fragile. All are employing increased police violence and rigged courts to keep their rulers in power.
The United Arab Emirates is looking less united than ever.
Although Yemen remains in a state of social and political upheaval, the Yemeni people have thus far successfully resisted attempted al-Qaeda takeovers.
To the west, Syria has grown tired of the Assad family gang, but it is unable to present an attractive alternative to the Westerners who might facilitate their revolutionary efforts.
Lebanon remains in the state of chaos that it has endured for forty years.
In Israel, we saw the Israeli Defense Force bomb Gaza, mobilize reserves, and move tanks to the Gaza border. Then, they suddenly halted their operations in exchange for a cease-fire agreement with Hamas. It took less than a day for Hamas to violate that agreement, and to no sane person’s surprise, Iran continues to ship missiles to Hamas.
While Egyptians managed to scare their old despot Mubarak off of his throne, they have yet to form a representative government. Educated Egyptians are watching the turmoil in Cairo and wondering if their country might be tumbling backwards into a Dark Age where civil rights and freedom are suppressed by a handful of self-proclaimed Islamic clerics.
We do have positive news out of Libya. Although Libyans have not yet formed strong, functioning governmental institutions, they have thus far avoided having their nation hijacked by Iran or any of the various al-Qaeda start up gangs that currently plague Islamic nations. Our respect and continued hope that the Libyans will succeed in making their nation a peaceful, viable, and productive home for their people.
In our next foreign policy article, we will look at more of the less absurd and/or depressing prospects in the Middle East and Central Asia. Any questions?
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*‘Jay Holmes’, is an intelligence veteran of the Cold War and remains an anonymous member of the intelligence community. His writing partner, Piper Bayard, is the public face of their partnership.
© 2012 Jay Holmes. All content on this page is protected by copyright. If you would like to use any part of this, please contact us at the above links to request permission.
Just when is Obama going to bomb Iran’s nuclear sites?
He has to go sooner rather than later, once they get ’em underground they’ll be harder to crack.
Hi Brendan. Great question. Based on publicly available information I am not able to venture a meaningful guess about if and when we might attack Iran’s atomic weapons program. Contingencies have been available since prior to Obama taking office. Those contingencies are updated and modified daily by specialists in all the US military branches and the defense department.
Operational decisions would be closely guarded and not shared with dusty old spooks like myself.
I thought it was just to increase the poppy production?
Hi Heather. I suppose that is no more outrageous as the excuses that politicians feed us.
Oh, such interesting questions you bring up… Would’ve loved to see how those would’ve been answered in the debates. 😡
Yea. I know.
Okay, there’s no raw materials to be had and those that are there are spoken for by China. We’re sending troops into a basically worthless country. We don’t need a listening post to keep tabs on the Soviets and al-Qaeda has moved on to spread their brand of terrorism to other places. Were you trying to get the point across with the Marine guarding a poppy field that the drug trade is being supported by the US and all the drug laws that we have are a travesty. Wow, if only someone would tell Barack that it would be a great idea to cut our losses and get out of Dodge. Or, maybe they know that and something we’re not supposed to know is going on.
Hi Tomwisk. All credit for photos goes to Piper. I am too busy (spelled l-a-z-y) to handle the photos.
My best guess is that Obama and his cohorts are hanging on to an illusion of “nation building”.
Having Karzai’s pathetic government collapse after we leave would be a very loud repudiation of Obama’s handling of Afghanistan. I suppose that makes it hard to let go.
All so familiar.
You think those indecision making positions would have learned something from previous “police actions” and humanitarian missions.
But hey – if we actually managed to bring all our soldiers home – where would they find jobs? (It’s in their own best interests to keep them in military missions, right?)
If we stopped sending huge piles of money to those who laugh behind our backs after cashing the check – and those who hate us in any case…maybe we could fix bridges, schools, areas devastated by fires or storms – and probably even give those who have the desire and grades a free college education?
“If we stopped sending huge piles of money to those who laugh behind our backs after cashing the check – and those who hate us in any case…maybe we could fix bridges, schools, areas devastated by fires or storms – and probably even give those who have the desire and grades a free college education?
BINGO! we gave a winner!
BINGO ? That was way more than a BINGO, I think. That was several BINGOs. There is much to be done at home to include infrastructure, rebuilding the east coast, single payor medical care, education, employment – to name a few.
I can see why are are lots of reasons not to leave US troops in Afghanistan. So what actually is the reason it’s being done? There must be *some* reason, even id it’s a reason people disagree with.
Hi Richard. The Obama administration gives vague answers like “helping our allies”, “stabilizing the region” and “helping the Afghan people”.
It’s the sunk cost fallacy. “Well, I’ve already put so much money into this [old junker, dilapidated house, foreign country] that if I stopped now it’d be wasted!” Don’t get me wrong though–I do feel for the Afghani people, but I don’t know that we should be maintaining our own people in another place where we really aren’t wanted with no clear benefit to ourselves. I don’t necessarily blame the Obama administration on the whole for this, as this has been symptomatic of our foreign policy for decades now. They have their share of the blame, but it’s a recent instance of a larger problem. We really do like to meddle…it makes share holders in the military/industrial complex a lot of money. *shrugs*
Oh and some of the most scathing criticisms of the Obama administration I’ve seen have been on PBS and NPR (admittedly I’m not a regular listener/watcher, but I prefer them to most other news outlets). Those of us on the Left (I don’t really like labels per se but in the modern political climate I’m considered liberal, mostly because as a practicing Buddhist I have compassion for my fellow human beings. This wouldn’t change regardless of the shifting political spectrum) don’t like all Obama has done. A socialist, ultra liberal he is not (I know a card carrying socialist–they don’t claim him, even if they did endorse him as “eh, close enough”). I tell people that if he’d run twenty years ago (and been white, because back then a black man wouldn’t have stood a chance), he could have run on a moderate Republican ticket and won. Oh politics, you so crazy, haha
Hi Andrew. It seems that you have formulated some political ideas based on your experiences and beliefs. Congratulations on being in an elite minority. Please do all you can to recruit others to that practice. ” Oh politics, you so crazy, haha” Agreed. I consider myself to be neither left nor right. I prefer pragmatic solutions with ethical considerations of both short and long term impacts. I have never cared if a bill, law, or policy is “liberal” or “conservative”. These labels along with “socialism” and “republicanism” are in practice more about voter recruitment than about any policy philosophies. They have become the product of “getting into power” while the function of “using power to govern” has become a minor byproduct of elections.
The alternative would be dictatorships or something like a Chinese communist oligarchy so I continue to believe that it’s best that we reduce our national gullibility index in an attempt to improve our democracy.
“These labels along with “socialism” and “republicanism” are in practice more about voter recruitment than about any policy philosophies. They have become the product of “getting into power” while the function of “using power to govern” has become a minor byproduct of elections.”
Politics should be pragmatic. The art of the possible, not polemics.
Please stand for office, you’ve got my vote.
Thank you for the compliment Brendan. Bless you as well.
Whenever a man says he’s a pragmatist, I peg him as a man without a moral center. That’s the way of the smoke-filled rooms. (Remind me to tell you about caucusing in 2008. Ha!)
I’m going to shut up now.
Thanks for the article about Afghanistan, Holmes. In the words of an Afghan woman, a friend of mine, “There is nothing for me in Afghanistan. Bomb it. Keep bombing it.”
Of course, if she and her family had liked Afghanistan, they probably never would have moved to Houston.
Intel only lets you know what they want you to know…..
Hi Carla. Keep in mind that “intel” is not a cohesive group with a single agenda. The intelligence community is vast with many personality types from analysts and researchers to field operatives. Many of its members, like Holmes, have no political affiliations and have served through decades of changing administrations. Some other members are purely political and change with the political flavor of the day. There is no cohesive “they.” While Holmes certainly never reveals any classified information, he is dedicated to providing unvarnished facts with no other agenda than promoting an informed population. Thank you for stopping by.