The Taliban, as expected, have managed to endear themselves to another benighted people:
Up to 500,000 terrified residents of Pakistan’s Swat valley have fled or else are desperately trying to leave as the military steps up an operation using fighter jets and helicopter gunships to “eliminate” Taliban fighters.
As the military intensified what may be its most determined operation to date against militant extremists, the UN said 200,000 people had already arrived in safe areas in the past few days while another 300,000 were on the move or were poised to leave.
The escalation of the operation came after Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Yousaf Gilani, made a public appeal for unity. In a televised address on Thursday evening, Mr Gilani said: “I appeal to the people of Pakistan to support the government and army at this crucial time. We pledge to eliminate the elements who have destroyed the peace and calm of the nation and wanted to take Pakistan hostage at gunpoint.”
This is pretty much the style of the Taliban, certainly nothing very different than what they did in Afghanistan.
However, there is a difference between Pakistan and Afghanistan, and that difference is nuclear weapons. Now most seem to think that the Pakistani army is strong enough to prevent a deterioration of the situation to the point that the Taliban would gain control over the nukes. But that makes a lot of assumptions which may or may not be warranted. It is important to remember that the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan and its eventual triumph there is irrefutably linked to support from Pakistan’s government, namely the ISI. Now it may be a stretch to believe the ISI would help the Taliban gain control of Pakistan, but it may not be to much to believe the organization may have mixed feelings about the present operations against the Taliban.
The Taliban needs to be destroyed as an effective organization. Like a type of cancer, the Taliban attacks the very religious core of countries. But only Islamic countries. Its extremist brand of Islam appeals to a certain element of Islamic countries and it is that portion of the population in which the Taliban embeds itself and attempts to exploit.
The very fact that Pakistan is treating the Swat valley takeover by the Taliban as an emergency in which drastic action must be taken to defeat them is an encouraging sign. Previously Pakistan’s government and army were content to give such opposition lip-service and some rather poor attempts to oust them from other territories. Now that the Taliban has all but declared war on the Pakistani nation, we may finally see a real and concerted effort by Pakistan to rid the region of the Taliban. In the end, the overreaching by the Taliban may end up being the best thing that could have happened. If Pakistan is successful in taking the Taliban out, the war in Afghanistan become much more winnable. The remaining Taliban based along the border may not enjoy the same safe-haven they’ve enjoyed for years.
However, should Pakistan fail in its attempt to destroy the Taliban, we may end up with two nations in jeopardy instead of one, and since one has nuclear weapons, we may have no choice but to intervene should it get to that point.
Gen. David Petraeus says it is put up or shut up time for Pakistan. They’ve let the Taliban establish itself within Pakistan’s Swat valley and they are now threatening other areas. We covered that in a post about the price of appeasement.
“The Pakistanis have run out of excuses” and are “finally getting serious” about combating the threat from Taliban and Al Qaeda extremists operating out of Northwest Pakistan, the general added.
But Petraeus also said wearily that “we’ve heard it all before” from the Pakistanis and he is looking to see concrete action by the government to destroy the Taliban in the next two weeks before determining the United States’ next course of action, which is presently set on propping up the Pakistani government and military with counterinsurgency training and foreign aid.
Earlier in the month the Talibs had advanced within 70 miles of the capital, Islamabad. So what about the nuclear weapons?
The officials who spoke with Petraeus, however, said he and they believe that even were Zardari’s government to fall, it was still conceivable that Kayani’s army could maintain control over the nuclear arsenal.
That is because the Pakistani arsenal is set up in such a way — with the weapons stockpile and activation mechanisms separated — so as to prevent easy access by invaders. Moreover, the Taliban is not believed at present to possess the sophisticated technical expertise necessary to exercise full “command and control” over a nuclear arsenal, and would probably require weeks if not months to develop it.
Oh wonderful – they don’t possess the knowledge now, but a few months, and the Taliban could be nuclear. And, of course, we know what organization would be a beneficiary of such a capability, don’t we?
Pakistan is suddenly a much more critical story than either Iraq or Afghanistan. So what is our plan?
As for the security of the Pakistani nuclear arsenal, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said last Saturday, in an interview with FOX News in Baghdad, that the U.S. believes the arsenal to be “safe” but only “given the current configuration of power in Pakistan.”
She described as “the unthinkable” a situation in which the the Zardari government were to be toppled by the Taliban, adding “then they would have the keys to the nuclear arsenal of Pakistan, and we can’t even contemplate that. We cannot let this go on any further…”
You know, say what you will about the last administration, but if they had said what Clinton said, I’d pretty well understand what they meant. But with this administration I have no idea what “we cannot let this go any further …” means.
We’re known here at this blog for being adamant about denouncing plans which appease terrorists. It’s a absolute no-win situation for the appeaser. Pakistan is now in the middle of learning that hard lesson:
Pakistan’s strategy of trying to appease Taliban militants is showing signs of backfiring, as extremists move within 60 miles of the capital and threaten to spread their influence throughout the country.
Really? What a surprise. They caved to the Taliban demands and allowed them to impose Sharia law in the Swat valley in return for promises the Taliban would lay down their arms.
And, unsurprisingly, the Taliban have reneged on the promise. That, of course, has Hillary Clinton huffing and puffing at Pakistan:
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton warned Wednesday that Pakistan’s government is “basically abdicating to the Taliban” by agreeing to let them implement Islamic law in the Swat region last week. Instead of putting down their weapons, as the government had hoped, the insurgents have since moved fighters into the neighboring Buner region, local lawmaker Istiqbal Khan said.
Of course that’s precisely what appeasement buys with zealots. Absolutely nothing except an even weaker position for the appeasers.
Additionally, the Taliban have turned the Swat valley into a theocratic hell while the Pakistani government stands by and tut-tuts:
President Asif Ali Zardari has blamed the Taliban for a wave of assassinations in Swat in recent months, and he condemned a recent video that showed militants flogging a young woman they accused of having an improper relationship.
There is a glimmer of good news however. There seems to be a public backlash building among Pakistanis with even conservative members of the Pakistani parliament distancing themselves from the militants. However in the complicated world of Pakistani politics, that may end up meaning nothing in a real sense as the Taliban, who recognizes no authority and certainly no obligation to live up to any promises, relentlessly pushes to expand its hold on northern Pakistan.
Or so claims David Axelrod.
Apparently Fidel Castro didn’t get the memo:
…At the press conference, as well as in the final meetings of the Summit, Obama looked conceited.
It’s an interesting little diatribe from Casto, and most of it is the usual nonsense, but what it easily demonstrates is Axelrod is as clueless as I asserted a couple of days ago.
Castro saw through most of the Obama rhetoric and unlike a vast number of Americans, figured it out:
When the US President said, in answering to Jake [Tapper], that thousands of years had elapsed since 2004 until the present, he was superficial. Should we wait for so many years before his blockade is lifted? He did not invent it, but he embraced it just as much as the previous ten US presidents did.
That’s the Cuban version of “meet the old boss, same as the new boss …”.
And my favorite:
Leaders just pass through; peoples prevail. There would be no need to wait for thousands of years to pass by; only eight years will be enough so that a new US President — who will no doubt be less intelligent, promising and admired in the world than Barack Obama- riding on a better armored car, or on a more modern helicopter, or on a more sophisticated plane, occupies that inglorious position”
Yup – completely charmed and impressed by our new leader, no?
Castro picks up on and states what he saw – conceit and superficiality. My guess is he wasn’t the only Latin American leader who came away with that impression.
Gloria Borger, hardly a right-winger (and certainly an Obama supporter), takes Obama to task about his performance so far in the foreign policy arena:
This is not a column about whether the president should take pictures with — or shake the hands of — unstable foreign leaders who mostly call him names and rant about America.
Sometimes, it’s just unavoidable. A grimace instead of a smile on the face would be better, sure. But it’s not the end of America’s standing in the world, as some are suggesting.
But there is a problem, and it’s not about photo ops. It’s about finding the appropriate tonal response to leaders who say outrageous things about us and about our allies.
What she’s talking about are two recent incidents – one in which Obama was in attendance and the other occurred in the UN when Iran’s Amadinejad called for the destruction of Israel.
In both cases, Obama’s response was essentially a non-response.
Case in point: When Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad used the podium at the United Nations conference in Geneva on Monday to call Israel a “cruel and repressive racist regime,” we might have said something. The European delegates walked out of the conference (we declined to attend), but when asked about the brouhaha later, the State Department spokesman, sticking to the talking points, could only muster that “that type of rhetoric is not helpful and doesn’t help facilitate a constructive dialogue.”
A bit of a chuckle there for me. You know it’s gotten bad when even the Borgers of the world are criticizing the issuance of boilerplate rhetoric in response to what the rest of the West considers to be outrageous and inflammatory words. While not exactly a non-response, the administration comes as close to one as you can with its words.
But the second incident is even worse. Here Borger is talking about Newt Gingrich’s criticism of Obama and claiming he missed his real opportunity:
But the Summit of the Americas gave them an easy opportunity to decry the president’s weakness, not only after his handshake with Chavez but also when he sat quietly through Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega’s 50-minute anti-American rant.
He didn’t have to walk out, but he could have given a sharper critique of Ortega’s histrionics after the event. Instead, he decided to just give it the back of his hand, saying only that “it was 50 minutes long.”
Its funny, the administration will attack any domestic critic with the full power of its spin machine. And yet, the president sits through a 50 minute anti-American tirade (after one of his advisers declared anti-Americanism was no longer cool in the world) and has no reaction at all.
Tell me, who’s job is it to defend the US if not his? Of course that’s not an easy thing to do if a president engaged in apologizing for the country at every foreign affairs opportunity, is it?
The more I hear from this crowd the more I come to believe they live in cloud cuckoo land:
Top White House adviser David Axelrod on Monday said that President Obama’s trips to Europe, Turkey and Latin America in the last three weeks have made anti-American sentiment uncool and “created a new receptivity” to U.S. interests.
“What’s happened is anti-Americanism isn’t cool anymore,” Mr. Axelrod said, speaking to an audience of a few hundred at a conference in Washington sponsored by the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.
“This president has not only engaged the leaders of the world, he’s engaged the people of the world,” Mr. Axelrod said, arguing that Mr. Obama’s approach to foreign policy has restored “a sense of humility” that “was missing” in the past.
So that’s what was missing. And it has paid such dividends so far – Europe rejected the two big Obama goals of his tour (increased governmental stimulus spending and increases in European combat troops to Afghanistan), but they feel much better about the fact that he “listened” while they said no. Heh … why engage in anti-Americanism when “no” suffices?
Axelrod’s statement is so pathetically naive that it is difficult to comprehend it being spoken by a senior adviser in a presidential administration. Bowing to kings and fist-bumping dictators doesn’t make anyone more receptive to the US – it simply identifies an easy mark. This crew has absolutely no grasp on foreign policy at all, especially when they seem to actually believe that one quick swing around the world has eliminated anti-Americanism and restored anything but a calculated understanding by each of those leaders Obama supposedly charmed as to how far he can push the US and get away with it.
Well, here’s one decision the Obama administration can be glad they made – boycotting this mess:
As Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called for the eradication of Israel in his address to the United Nations anti-racism conference which opened it week long event in Geneva on Monday, delegates walked out, hecklers wearing clown-wigs shouted ‘racist’ towards him and were escorted out by security personnel and his speech was continually interrupted.
But hey, let’s sit down and talk with this fool – it’ll make all the difference in the world.
The UN – your third-world debating club at work.
One of the things that seems peculiar to the left is the belief that diplomacy is the solution to everything. While I prefer that problems that are conducive to being solved by diplomacy receive the full diplomatic treatment, there are some problems, at least as they are defined, which don’t have a diplomatic solution.
That category would most likely include pirates in a failed state. That, however, is apparently not going to deter our new Secretary of State. Fresh from presenting a red “overcharge” “reset” button to the Russians and assuring the Chinese not to worry about us stressing those pesky human rights violations, Hillary Clinton has decided she’ll solve the Somali pirate problem – diplomatically.
“We need to bring 21st-century solutions to bear,” she said.
Her 21st solutions include:
Clinton said it may be possible to stop boat-building companies from doing business with the pirates.
Hmmm. Now I may be mistaken here but I was under the impression pirates were pretty well known for hijacking boats, not paying for them.
One element of her initiative, she said, is to “explore ways to track and freeze pirate assets.”
Again, I may be way off base here, but I was under the impression pirate ransom was paid in big, old, whopping bags of cash dropped on the deck of the ship from helicopters. I’m not sure how she plans on tracking, much less freezing that cash as I’m pretty sure the pirates most likely don’t seek out or use banks.
And her third 21st century solution? The good old 19th century meeting, talking and coordinating event:
The other element of the initiative include calling for immediate meetings of an international counterpiracy task force to expand naval coordination against pirates. She said federal agencies would meet Friday to review the problem and consider potential responses.
Yessiree, I feel all 21st century about these initiatives, if you define 21st century solutions as those which address problems they don’t seem to understand with “solutions” which don’t address them at all.
Oh wait, one more sure fire 21st century solution:
The administration plans to send an envoy to a Somali donors conference scheduled for next week in Brussels and will attempt to organize meetings with officials of Somalia’s transitional government as well as regional leaders in its semiautonomous Puntland.
Because that government and those regional leaders have been so successful in keeping piracy under control to this point.
So, let’s review – keep boat companies from doing business with pirates, track and freeze the pirate cash assets, talk amongst themselves and talk to powerless Somali leaders/government.
[HT: Scott Jacobs]
If you look at the big picture, you realize that the pirates off the Somali coast are more of a nuisance than a problem. Estimates are that 25,000 to 30,000 ships per year transit the Gulf of Aden (headed for the Suez Canal) or the east coast of Somalia. The bulk, of course, go through Suez. The successful hijackings over a multi-year period have been very low in comparison. In 2007, for instance, there were 12 successful hijackings.
The area of ocean in which these events take place cover approximately a million square miles. Here’s a great map (pdf) which shows the areas and the incidents through 2007. Obviously the pirates can pick and choose where to strike while the navies of the world can only react and hope they are close enough to prevent the hijacking. That was demonstrated quite clearly in the latest hijacking of the US ship in which Capt. Phillips was taken hostage. It took hours for the USS Bainbridge to arrive on scene and the rescue was only effected because the skiffs the pirates had used had been destroyed and they were forced to use a lifeboat.
20 countries are now concentrating naval assets within the area, most concentrated in the Gulf of Aden. A coalition of nations commanded by a US admiral constitute Task Force 151 which is strictly an anti-piracy task force. TF 151 operates in the Gulf. China and Russia have also committed naval assets to the task but do so outside TF 151. They coordinate with the TF but only escort their country’s flagged ships.
With the amount of traffic which transits the area, it is obvious that no navy has the assets to escort all of the ships.
But there is a tool through which the TF can coordinate its efforts and ensure those ships which are most likely to be attacked have a safe passage. One of those tools is a website. There vessels transiting the area can register their vessel and alert the TF of their time of arrival in the area in which hijacking is most likely. There are also tips for the masters of vessels transiting the area, maritime intelligence reports and alerts.
Obviously with that number of ships transiting the area, some are more susceptable to attack than others. What type of ship are the pirates looking for? According to Admiral Terry McKnight, (pdf) the TF 151 commander, they’re looking for ships traveling under 15 knots and with a low freeboard with aids boarding. As Adm. McKnight says, those sorts of ships seem to scream “pirate, me, pirate me”. If the TF knows ships which fit this template are going to be transiting the region, they can arrange to group them with other ships, track their movement and arrange for that movement at a time when the pirates are less likely to be out hunting.
The pirates have also adapted their tactics, especially off the eastern shore in the Indian Ocean. As shipping has moved further and further off shore to avoid the skiffs employed to board them, the pirates began using “mother ships”. Those are larger ships which carry a number of skiffs and 10 to 20 pirates. This enabled the pirates to go further and further off shore to attack shipping.
As you’ll note on the map linked above, there are three major areas on the eastern shore (to include Mogadishu) where the pirates seem to be concentrated, one on the tip of the Horn of Africa and one on the north shore of Somalia on the Gulf of Aden. Admiral McKnight said that “99.99 percent” of the pirates they’ve run across have been exclusively Somali.
The question, however, is would a land-based military mission which attacked these centers of piracy successfully end the attempted hijackings?
In my opinion, probably not. To date the risk to reward has been so low that there is a seemingly endless supply of would-be pirates. And, as long as shipping companies are willing to pay the ransom when one of their ships is hijacked, it will, in relative terms, remain a fairly low-risk way of making huge sums of money. Shipping companies know the numbers and recognize that the real chance of hijacking is very low, relatively speaking, and seem to prefer to pay off the hijackers if their ship ends up hijacked. And, of course, they’re all insured, so that is also part of the equation.
While we may clean out the nests of pirates for a short time if we mount a military operation, I find it hard to believe that others won’t step in, adapt to the new reality (perhaps by moving their base of operations frequently) and again head out into the Gulf or Indian Ocean in search of easy prey.
Punitive military operations may be satisfying in some way but in reality I would think their effect would be a very short term one. Just like war against insurgents, war against the pirates will see a constant adaptation by the pirates to any tactics the military might use. But this isn’t a military problem – it is a failed state problem. The problems ashore – a failed government, abject poverty, and few choices for gainful and legal employment – are what must be solved if we hope to see piracy in that area defeated. Until they are solved, there will be plenty of eager replacements for whatever casualties we might inflict on the current pirates, and the attacks on shipping will continue.
Meanwhile, what can be done to make attacks on the high seas less likely? Well the obvious way is to arm the merchantmen. But for various and sundry reasons, most shipping companies don’t want to do that. They range from liability concerns, to concerns about essentially untrained crewman with weapons to concerns about gun laws in the various countries the ships go. We know there aren’t enough naval ships to escort each merchant ship, so options are limited. Some merchantmen have armed their ships with high-pressure water cannons which have succesfully thwarted a few pirate attacks.
What I expect to see offered soon, perhaps by Blackwater, now known as Xe, is rent-a-gun teams. For those that want them, a team is air-lifted to the ship as it enters the pirate zone and taken back off by air as they successfully exit the zone. I’m sure there are some legal and liability concerns there as well, but it may be one of those times when showing up at the rail and pointing a few automatic weapons at a very vulnerable skiff below you would be enough to disuade the would be pirates from attempting to board.
Food for thought.
You want pithy, here’s pithy – from Gerald Warner of the UK Telegraph, speaking of the recent European foreign policy tour by President Obama:
President Barack Obama has recently completed the most successful foreign policy tour since Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow.
And that’s the opening line. Couldn’t help it – deep belly laugh in reaction to it. As you’ll discover, Warner is not an Obama fan. RTWT.
[HT: Scott Jacobs]