Lindsey “Dr. Strangelove” Graham & War with Pakistan

Sen. Lindsey Graham, a major proponent of the idea of a US perpetual war, now wants conflict with Pakistan. He told Fox News Sunday,

“The sovereign nation of Pakistan is engaging in hostile acts against the United States and our ally Afghanistan that must cease. I will leave it up to the experts, but if the experts believe that we need to elevate our response, they will have a lot of bipartisan support on Capitol Hill…”

The comment came after the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff accused the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence of backing the Haqqani Network, which in turn is accused of having attacked the US embassy in Kabul.

Aljazeera English reports:

Here are some problems with Graham’s startling suggestion.

The US does not have a prayer of succeeding in Afghanistan without a Pakistani partner. Pakistan is a complex place, and its civilian politicians have a different agenda than its conventional army, which in turn has a different agenda from the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). Even within the ISI, there appear to be secret rogue cells. Some ISI officers appear to be hooked up with the Haqqani Network and with terrorist organizations such as the Lashkar-i Tayyiba. But Pakistan has lost thousands of troops fighting the more militant Afghan and Pakistani-Pashtun fundamentalist groups, and it is not a task the US could take on by itself.

Pakistan is a nuclear state. The United States has never fought a major military engagement with a nuclear-armed country, and it would be unwise to begin now. Would you really want to take the risk that they might feel cornered and find a way to deliver a warhead against an American target? In the Cold War, the nuclear standoff was called ‘Mutual Assured Destruction’ (MAD). There is no reason to think that such considerations have lapsed or do not obtain when the US is facing a state with a smaller nuclear arsenal.

Pakistan is a close ally of China as well as trying to keep an alliance with the US. Graham’s sort of talk will have the effect of pushing Islamabad further into the arms of Beijing. China is unlikely to stand idly by as one of its major geopolitical assets in its contest with India is taken out by the United States. That is, US-Pakistan war would very likely become US-China war.

Pakistan has a regular army of 610,000 men, and can call up about 500,000 reserves if it needs to. Some 15,000 Taliban in Afghanistan have been pinning down tens of thousands of US troops, so what would happen if they faced over a million?

Pakistan’s population is at least 170 million. The US was defeated by an Iraqi insurgency in a small country of 25 million; imagine how a country 7 times more populous could tie it down.

Lindsey’s way of speaking shows how wars benefit hawks and beget more wars. He is reluctant to see the US withdraw from Iraq because, he says, Iraq might then fall into the hands of Iran. But Iraq was a bulwark against Iran in 2002 and was only made open to Iranian influence by the unprovoked US aggression against Baghdad in the first place.

So now Iraq has been devastated and made supine and the US has to be on a war footing with Iran in order to “protect” Iraq from the latter. But Iraq’s Shiite government likes Iran and doesn’t see it as a threat, so Graham would be “protecting” Iraq against the will of Iraqis. Moreover, Graham doesn’t seem to think he needs to ask the Iraqi parliament whether it will permit any US troops to remain in Iraq at all.

Graham keeps trying to find a pretext for the next war, dismayed at the prospect of the US slipping into peace. He had tried to get up a war against Iran, but hasn’t had any takers.

Just as Graham wants to keep a division in Iraq because of Iran, he wants permanent bases in Afghanistan. And now he is looking for a fight with Pakistan, representing himself as “protecting” the US-installed Afghan government from Islamabad. But most Pashtuns would choose Pakistan over Graham any day of the week.

Pakistan’s alliance with the US is a marriage of convenience. Pakistan wants to see some groups, such as the Old Taliban and the Hikmatyar Hizb-i Islami, much weakened. But cells within the Inter-Serices Intelligence appear determined to retain the Haqqani Network, based in North Waziristan, as a means of projecting authority into Afghanistan. That emphasis makes Pakistan both an ally to the US in fighting some Taliban, but makes it only a partial ally, since it has its own reasons to use some of those Taliban to project its own authority and prepare for the peace after the US leaves. This difficult kind of alliance is nothing new in US history. Abruptly turning on such a complex ally and starting yet another war is madness.

31 Responses

  1. Starting a war, or, even contemplating starting one, Pakistan is sheer madness (though certainly in spirit with the mad times in the US right now).

    The problem is, or, my problem is, it is ALSO sheer madness to even dream the US can have a “Partner” in the Pak Govt. So….we do not have a “prayer” of success in Afghanistan. So why are we there?

  2. “China is unlikely to stand idly by as one of its major geopolitical assets in its contest with India is taken out by the United States. That is, US-Pakistan war would very likely become US-China war.”

    I suspect the Graham/Lieberman/McCain axis of warpigs have wet dreams over this very prospect…

  3. Why does every country have to be, in the mind of someone like Graham, either an ally or a target?

    Absolutely, we should move away from Pakistan, the worst ally in the history of geopolitics. They make the Saudis look like Churchill. They make the Israelis look like the Canadian staff at NORAD. I say it’s time to give India a big, sloppy public kiss.

    But to actually adopt a hostile posture towards Pakistan is nuts.

    • Eloquently put! The US, and the West generally, should be warmer in support of India as a natural counterweight to China, but to be belligerent towards Pakistan, with or without stronger ties to India, would be the policy of a complete fool.

  4. While Graham’s logic of permanent war is dangerous and misguided, Hitch’s indictment of Pakistan is ironclad.

  5. Don’t overlook the possibility that Graham’s “startling suggestion” is in fact a well-established minuet between the White House, State, and the loyal opposition, in this case, Republicans.

    It is not unusual for the White House and/or State to use cut outs in conveying “bad cop” narratives to adversaries, potential or current. For example, in the past, presidents have used senators to convey tough messages to China about currency manipulation, the Saudis about lack of cooperation with various criminal probes, the Japanese about import restrictions and the UN about budget mismanagement–all the while, the White House makes smiley-face.

    It’s win-win. Obama and/or Clinton delivers a message while a Schumer (the usual cut out for complaints about China) gets an assist from his trade union constituents or Graham gets to pose as hawk for his more hawkish South Carolina voters.

    • There are certainly plenty of examples of this from past presidencies, but Congressional Republicans have been loathe to cooperate in any way with this President, in any arena.

      More likely, this is Graham trying to score political points and actually being more hawkish than Obama.

  6. ‘I will leave it up to the experts…’ says Sen. Graham. That would be the ‘security’ experts, the CIA,the Pentagon etc. It appears that our elected officials have been ‘leaving it up to the experts’ for some time now. In fact I wonder if we don’t already have a military Junta ruling over us by ‘default’. I believe that our ‘security’ people have their own agenda and that they don’t always or even often report their operations to our elected officials who wouldn’t dare question ‘our brave heroes’ anyway. National Security by any other name would be called dictatorship. The man who was murdered by Team 6 in Abbotabad was not Osama Bin Laden, who was already dead 5 years, for instance and I am not sure Obama even suspects it. He is kept in the dark and wants it that way as do almost all our ‘representatives’. These ‘security’ people are always moving us towards war, despite how catastrophic it has been thus far.

  7. Professor Cole:

    Great job as usual. One more reason that will convince even a Republican against this war:

    The economy (Stupid). You cannot have your tax cuts and have three wars! To enter into conflict with Pakistan wil send the US economy into a further depression. End of story.
    Apparently this is the only way Average Americans can be reached (this is the argument that hits home with everyone except war mongers like Lindsey Graham et al), but its a winner.

    Good Luck, it looks like Obama is thinking Elections again instead of the USA long term interests…

  8. I just don’t understand how the US can be so stupid. I have no particular admiration for the Pakistan governments over the years. It seems to me the country was founded on the egotism of a vain, self-centered, lacking in a ounce of consideration, racist; Jinnah. And no country can rise above its origins without an overt expression of disassociation with that foundation. Which, given my information has not yet occurred. So a major revolution of consciousness needs to occur in Pakistan for it to change its current, and past, and move toward being a country in which all its citizens believe it is their right and responsibility to fulfill their individual destinies.

    However, given that, it is truly insane for the US government to fight a war that is stupid, and based on significant misinformation that was fabricated by Georgie boy and his crew, and act as if it can decide what must occur, and just issue an order to Pakistan to bow down and follow suit.

    I am 64 years old, and when I was a young man I read a book called “The Ugly American” which describes such actions back then. All of which eventually failed. And here we are some 40 years later still acting like fools. When oh when will the American people wake up and elect an government that is rational and oriented to stimulating the world to act in accord with the principles on which our country was founded. It would make the world a much better place.

  9. It would be interesting to see a compilation of all of the public threats such as this one, of an attack against other countries, that have been issued by prominent American political figures over the last twenty years.

  10. Thanks for sharing this important issue. As a reaction to this situation I understand General Mullen’s concerns and frustrations over his having to deal militarily with a nation like Pakistan, with such diverse internal factions.

    Having said that, I think this points to President Obama’s very weak civilian leadership. When a military official speaks out in the political arena against allies it is time for quick and decisive action to shut him up. Harry Truman was faced with the same challenge from Gen. Douglas MacArthur. He fired the loudmouth. MacArthur had valid military concerns but simply couldn’t keep his mouth shut.

    Mr. Obama needs to learn from history if he is to be seen as a leader. So far I think he’s done a poor job in his management role.

      • Mullen was not only saying what everybody in DC knows to be hard fact, but has spent the last couple of years going to Pakistan every couple of months to quietly try to get Pakistan to change the facts.

        He’s been patient and persistent and he’s been unable to get anywhere with Pakistan.

        Thomas Cole’s comparison of Mullen to MacArthur is extremely ill-considered,

  11. I apologize – my comment was directed primarily at the interesting video embedded in the article. While having little to do with Warlord Graham’s idiotic and inflammatory remarks I hope my comment will make sense and is pertinent if you watch the video!

  12. The analysis, as usual, is excellent and informative, and one hopes will draw attention away from the smoke ‘n mirrors deployed so vigorously by our Kleptocracy.

    The structure does highlight one of my pet gripes, the reification fallacy. “The sovereign nation of Pakistan” (or just “‘Pakistan’ does this, and wants that, and is the enemy of something or other”) is a very obscuring shorthand, as the above makes clear, for 170 million people divided into tribal and bureaucratic and socioeconomic sets that appear always to be in flux. The very model of “Byzantine.” Just like Notagainistan, and Iran, and Israel, and why does it seem that the shorthand for Our Country, “America” or “the United States,” has kind of disappeared from public discourse into twitter-sized “US?”

    The reification/hypostatisation tic just plays to the kind of idiocy that sees the world as just a big game of RISK!, that rewards SOBs like Graham and Netanyahoo and those kinds of tax-revenue-dispensing folks with semi- or massively-obsequious visits from Joint Chieftains and other Big Names, making it seem for all the world like there really are Grown.Ups. in control of everything, or at least ready with a violent, expensive response.

    A couple of questions from the student side of the classroom: Dare I ask what is meant by “a prayer of succeeding in Afghanistan”? With or without a “Pakistani partner”? Have you maybe gotten a feel, from your own experience, of the “rogue cells” within our Sacred Republic? Is the best my grandchildren can expect a long slow march into oblivion, the outcome of that complex game you describe so well, these polygamous “marriages of convenience” with “partial partners”?

    These “difficult alliances” may be nothing new in “US” history. But is it obnoxious and uppity to ask if “the US” will even HAVE a history, if the Great Game keeps getting played by rules that hardly worked before nuclear weapons, let alone the other stuff that’s coming down the pike? If there is any way to derail, or at least slow or stop the Juggernaut? Or, as I at least suspect, is this the best “we” can do,, and “we” have to just hope that a few people at fortuitous nodes in the complexity will keep The Worst Thing from happening, somehow?

  13. When I hear Graham tell me about “our ally Afghanistan,” I think of the Bourbons having forgotten nothing and learned nothing.

    Our ally Afghanistan… who’d blow up all 100,000 US troops in a second if they had a chance.

  14. Lindsey “Dr. Strangelove” Graham

    “The sovereign nation of Pakistan is engaging in hostile acts against the United States and our ally Afghanistan that must cease. I will leave it up to the experts, but if the experts believe that we need to elevate our response, they will have a lot of bipartisan support on Capitol Hill…”

    What Lindsey Graham is saying is that Afghanistan is an ally, but Pakistan is just a sovereign state. He did not use word ally for Pakistan. It is Pakistan whose military personnel have been died much more on this war of terror than other countries.

    China has replied at two different occasions to Americans with similar opinion as of “Dr. Strange Love” about Pakistan.

    1. Pakistan is our Israel
    2. Attack on Pakistan will be construed an attack on China.

    Third point Professor Cole has pointed out that Pakistan is a nuclear power.
    In the light of these facts, Mr. Graham’s rhetoric is no more than just rhetoric.

  15. Juan, you could have greatly edited this post down to simply “The US does not have a prayer of succeeding in Afghanistan…madness.” That says it all. Everything in between is neither here no there.

  16. And to think that only last year people were saying Sen. Lindsay was gay! What better way to prove your hetero manliness and devout Christianity than to call for yet another war? A war that would be fought by others of course…

  17. This is a great stuff, my dear friend! I very much enjoy reading all your comments!

  18. “Abruptly turning on such a complex ally and starting yet another war is madness.”

    Yes it is, but the Graham genre it trying to protect our doctrine of limited sovereignty – we can do whatever we want, to whomever we want, whenever we want. The doctrine must be reinforced occasionally with military violence, which to Graham is merely a mechanical process, devoid of any emotion.

    Unfortunately Graham’s views, mad as they are, are quite acceptable to a large segment of our population, and Congress. And that means that President Obama will never take forceful stand against the madness.

    • Dear Professor Cole and Sherm

      Graham keeps trying to find a pretext for the next war, dismayed at the prospect of the US slipping into peace. He had tried to get up a war against Iran, but hasn’t had any takers.

      link to haaretz.com

      The French chappies seem to think Sen Graham is about to get his wish. God help us all!

  19. A senior Pentagon official is quoted in the WaPo today:

    “Adm. Mike Mullen’s assertion last week … was overstated…. it’s not in their [Pakistan's] interest to inflame us in a way that an attack on a [U.S.] compound would do.”

    link to washingtonpost.com

    Pakistan’s nationalist media has been working in hyper-drive since Mullen made the allegations. I hope sanity prevails…

    • The US military has been biting its tongue for years, this is just one incident among many that’s been hushed up link to nytimes.com

      Unnamed “senior Pentagon official” = Anonymous Coward

  20. Interesting that the first commenter cited Thucydides. I was thinking of the Roman emperor (was it Augustus? probably someone later) who could do nothing but bemoan the loss of his best legions in the forests of Germany. That’d be about the result here. The only way to defeat Pakistan would be to obliterate it–which might involve the incineration of some of our cities too, but hey!

    • the easiest way to defeat Pakistan is to stop sending it money and other aid and wait a couple of years for the next coup. (or facilitate one) and make a deal with the new government.

      but, of course, none of that will be necessary. Pakistan isn’t going to more than grumble ( and look for cash and weapons to brandish along the border with India) when we start blowing up the Haqqani installations.

  21. Indeed there are many different factions in the ruling circles in pakistan and Sen Graham is correct to suggest that we should consider many options (as long we have) in order to try to influence actions in Pakistan that we desire.

    I would think that the military actions he’s suggesting are drone strikes against some of the terrorists that receive safe haven in Pakistan and that he’s not advocating attacking the “official” armed forces of Pakistan.

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