H/T to The History News Network for linking to Tom Engelhardt's article about How Not to Make Friends in the Greater Middle East. Englehardt is the author of The End of Victory Culture, and he sees validation for his thesis in the U.S. experience with AfPak and Iraq:
According to Thom Shanker of the New York Times, the U.S. military has gathered biometric data—“digital scans of eyes, photographs of the face, and fingerprints”—on 2.2 million Iraqis and 1.5 million Afghans, with an emphasis on men of an age to become insurgents, and has saved all of it in the Automated Biometric Information System, a vast computerized database. Imagine: we’re talking about one of every 14 Iraqis and one of every 20 Afghans. Who says America’s a can’t-do nation?
The Pentagon is pouring an estimated $3.5 billion into its biometric programs (2007 through 2015). And though it’s been a couple of rough weeks when it comes to money in Washington, at least no one can claim that taxpayer dollars have been ill-spent on this project. Give the Pentagon just another five to 10 years in Iraq and Afghanistan and the biometric endeavor of a lifetime should be complete. Then Washington will be able to identify any Iraqi or Afghan on the planet by eye-scan alone.
Be proud, America!
TSB Note: Not so fast! The Pentagon's biometric enrollers would be working against an uphill birth rate of 37.83 births per 1,000 population for Afghans - the 17th highest in the world - and 28.81 births per 1,000 for Iraqis. So it would take them longer than five to ten years. Actually, they would never be finished.
And consider that feat a bright spot of American accomplishment (and not the only one either) in a couple of weeks of can’t-do news from the Greater Middle East. After all, despite those biometric scans, an assassin managed to gun down Our Man in Kandahar (OMK), Ahmed Wali Karzai, the Afghan president’s half-brother, in his own residence. He was the warlord the U.S. military buddied up with as U.S. troops were surging south in 2009 and who helped bring American-style “progress” to the Taliban heartland.
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And then when security couldn’t have been tighter, at a service in a Kandahar mosque where hundreds (including top government officials from the region) had gathered to pay their respects to the dead capo, a suicide bomber wearing a turban-bomb somehow slipped inside and blew himself up, killing among others the chief of the Kandahar Province religious council.
In other words, even though the U.S. military tried to flood the zone in southern Afghanistan, its claims of progress and improved security are already giving way to a nowhere-to-hide Taliban world.
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Biometrics aside, there were some other startling numbers out of the Greater Middle East recently. As it happened, some non-military types were also looking into eyes, not for retinal patterns, but patterns of thought. Pollsters from IBOPE Zogby International checked out 4,000 sets of eyes in six Middle Eastern countries— Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Morocco—at least five of which qualify as U.S. allies, and in none of which has the U.S. bombed, invaded, or carried out a night raid in recent memory.
And still, favorable opinion about the United States had plunged dismally since the early, heady days of the Obama presidency. In many cases, the numbers are now below those registered in the last year of the Bush era (and you can imagine what they were). Only 5% of post-Arab-Spring Egyptians, for instance, claimed to have a “favorable view” of the United States, and across the six countries, only 10% of respondents “described themselves as having a favorable view of Obama.”
This spring, Pew pollsters found similarly plunging favorability ratings in the Greater Middle East. More recently, they asked Pakistanis about the CIA drone strikes in that country’s tribal borderlands and came up with a polling near-impossibility: 97% of Pakistanis looked upon them negatively!
Consider that another remarkable American accomplishment of the Obama era—creating such unity of opinion in an otherwise fractious land!
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Nor is it just in popularity terms that Washington has been racking up mind-boggling numbers in the no-friends business. In a study it just released, the "Costs of War Project” project at Brown University found that Washington’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will, in the end, eat $3.2 trillion to $4 trillion in taxpayer money—and that’s without adding in the air war in Libya (perhaps a chump-change billion dollars), the Global War on Terror (in places like Yemen and Somalia where, as Jeremy Scahill reports in the Nation magazine, the CIA is running quite a covert operation from a walled compound in the confines of Mogadishu’s international airport), our continuing frenzy of base building and ally supporting in the Persian Gulf area, military aid to the region, and so on.
In other words, not making friends in the Greater Middle East turns out to be a spectacularly budget-busting undertaking—and so an accomplishment in its own right.
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[In Pakistan, a] farcical ballet followed [OBL's killing] between the Pakistani military, its intelligence services, its civilian government and the Obama administration. The Pakistanis promptly ordered 120 U.S. special operations forces training the paramilitary Frontier Corps in those tribal areas out of the country. It refused to issue visas for U.S. “equipment technicians” and arrested five men who had aided the CIA in tracking down bin Laden. Washington responded with the usual “stern warnings,” accused the Pakistanis of tipping off al-Qaeda bomb-makers in those borderlands before they could be caught, and held back equipment meant for the Frontier Corps. Congress began to balk on the Pakistani aid package.
The Pakistanis, in turn, threatened to halt CIA drone flights from the biggest of the three airbases the Agency borrows in that country ... It also held back $800 million in military aid—not enough to truly matter, but just enough to further tick off the Pakistanis.
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Think of the Washington-Islamabad relationship, wrapped in the disaster of the Afghan War, as a classic can’t-live-with-‘em-or-without-‘em marriage made in hell. Or, if you prefer, think of it, now so many decades and two Afghan wars old, as a kind of Gordian knot.
In 333 BC, with a single swift stroke of his sword, Alexander the Great famously solved the problem of a knot on an ox cart in Gordium (in modern Turkey) that no one could untie. He sliced it open, so the story goes, in what has always been considered an ingenious response to an otherwise insoluble problem.
America’s Gordian knot in Pakistan, as in Afghanistan and the Greater Middle East, is beyond untying. Hold back that $800 million, send in the drones, cajole, plead, threaten, issue stern warnings, train, equip, bribe, kill. None of it does the trick. None of it will. Alexander would have known what to do. Washington is clueless.
Thought about a certain way, this might be the ultimate American accomplishment of the present moment.