Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A Case For Going it Alone

As the nation celebrates the elimination of Osama bin Laden we are learning new details of the circumstances leading up to his death.  Much of what we now know is troubling.
Over the years we have been led to believe that bin Laden was hiding out in the caves of the Hindu Kush; constantly on the move, never staying in the same place for a day or two for fear of capture.  Now we learn that for the past six years he has been living comfortably in a million dollar complex, an hours’ drive from the Pakistani capital city of Islamabad.  Let us put this development in its proper prospective.
Bin Laden has spent the last six years in the relatively well to do city of Abbottabad.  Abbottabad is the home of the Pakistani military training school.  It is a garrison city.  Virtually all of the homes in this town are occupied by current or retired military personnel.  The military is everywhere.  Think West Point. 
The compound itself is a massive walled facility.  Twelve to eighteen foot walls, topped with barb wire enclose the main building.  It sticks out like a sore thumb among the relatively modest surrounding homes.  Think gated Bel Air estate in the middle of Yonkers.
It is hard to believe that bin Laden managed to live undetected in this environment without outside support.  And to think that the Pakistani government and its vaunted internal security forces were unaware of bin Laden’s whereabouts strains credibility.  Perhaps the government helped bin Laden to remain hidden.  Perhaps they knew where he was but turned a blind eye for political reasons.  Or perhaps they were just too incompetent to locate a 6’7” terrorist hiding in plain sight.  Regardless, these new developments shed a very harsh light on our supposed partner.
The events surrounding bin Laden’s death and the apparent involvement of the Pakistani government in his ability to avoid detection raise new questions about our policy in the Middle East. 
Over the past decade we have given the Pakistani government over 20 billion in aid.  In exchange they were supposed to stop the flow of arms and terrorist personnel from crossing their borders into Afghanistan.  They were supposed to help us stabilize the region.  They were supposed to help us bring bin Laden to justice. So far they are 0-3.  The Pakistani’s are such unreliable partners that the US chose not to inform the Pakistani government about the bin Laden operation until it was completed.  How do you have a partnership with someone you don’t trust? 
The same can be said of our "partners" in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Afghan President Karzai routinely threatens to join the Taliban if the US doesn’t meet his demands.  And Iraqi Prime Minister al-Malaki is often seen being buddy buddy with the leadership in Iran.  With partners like these who needs enemies?
The circumstances surrounding the death of Osama bin Laden should bring with it a re-evaluation of our Middle East policy.  We have paid the Pakistani’s $20 billion dollars over the past decade and have received little in return.  We spend $110 billion per year in Afghanistan with no tangible benefit.  The unrest in Libya, Syria, Yemen and Tunisia threatens to drain our coffers even more. 
We are no longer the land of plenty.  We are broke.  We cannot afford to pour billions upon billions into governments we don’t trust who are merely using us to line their pockets.  Their loyalty will last only until a better offer comes along. 
Sometimes going it alone is the best option.  That was certainly the case in the elimination of the world’s most wanted man.
It is time to rethink our Middle East policy.  If our government is determined to dole out $2 billion per year in aid then better to send it to Des Moines, Iowa; or Milwaukee, Wisconsin;  or Topeka, Kansas  than Islamabad, Pakistan.         


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