The Next Lost War

by David Glenn Cox

Never has Colin Powell’s Pottery Barn analogy been more apt than in

the next lost war, Pakistan. In our quest to strike down radical Islam,

we have done so like an angry housewife chasing a mouse with a broom,

and in the process done more damage with the broom than the mouse ever


I recently listened to Ray McGovern speak about Iraq, Iran,

Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the third rail of American foreign policy,

Israel. McGovern, a life long security analyst for the CIA, explained

with true emotion about the effects of the fabrication of intelligence

for the war in Iraq and what that did to the intelligence community as

a whole. 

Just as the legal community and civil libertarians decried the

fabricated legal theories of John Yoo, so too did the intelligence

community. Events such as the yellowcake incident, that were created

out of whole cloth, had the same effect as a second set of books would

have on an accountant. To a community trained in factual analysis, now

they had to wonder what is true. If I can’t trust your work, can you

trust mine? Are these figures real or false? Accurate or generated?

McGovern then used the example of the Pentagon Papers in comparison

to Afghanistan. In 1968 General Westmoreland asked Lyndon Johnson for

an additional 208,000 US troops. What the Pentagon Papers showed was

that Westmoreland was fudging on the numbers of North Vietnamese troop

strength by 100%. General McKrystal is asking for an additional 40,000

troops for Afghanistan, but where is the independent analysis? We have

only the military’s analysis, the rosy analysis, the cake walk

analysis, the flowers and candy analysis. 

We stormed into Afghanistan with too much faith in high tech

weaponry and too little understanding of our enemies, a tribal society

with cross-flowing allegiances, religious, tribal and political. The

money and arms that had flowed into Afghanistan to fight the Soviets in

the 1980s came through Pakistan. Those networks were still alive and

the Pakistani intelligence service is as much responsible for the

Taliban in Afghanistan as is Islam.

Since the Taliban are a product of the Pakistani ISI, it is only

logical to assume that once the bombs started fall in Afghanistan they

would return to the place of their birth, Pakistan. The Taliban was

created to rule Afghanistan, to protect and secure the border region of

Pakistan. The Russian invasion of Afghanistan was bad news for Pakistan

and likewise is the American invasion of Afghanistan. 

Pakistan is a country of crossroads. The product of a former British

colony, it has strong judicial roots and an educated middle class in

the cities. Outside of the cities it is more Islamic and the people are

poorer and loosely educated. There are three power bases in Pakistan:

the civilian government, the military, and the ISI, the Pakistani

intelligence service.

The civil government and the military are the public face of the

government, but the ISI is the power behind the throne. When General

Musharraf took over the government in a bloodless coup, he did so with

the acceptance of the military and the ISI. Civilian government be

damned; after all, how many troops did they have? When Benazir Bhutto

was murdered in her run for the Presidency, no one knew for sure if the

blame lay with the military or the ISI. But when Musharraf lost the

support of the military and the ISI, it was time for him to go. 

These groups in the tribal areas of Pakistan hold allegiances to

different parts of the Pakistani government and to different parts of

Pakistani politics. Some are the same groups set up by ISI to funnel

arms into Afghanistan; some are useful and in sway of the Pakistani

military. The tribes in the Punjab have been the eyes and ears in the

long running semi-cold war with India. These groups are funded and

supported by the three branches of the Pakistani government. They are

as their children. Can you imagine asking the US Army rangers to attack

a CIA listening post in Alaska? Or the Air Force to launch a drone

attack on a CIA training base?

We are storming in without understanding what it is that we are

breaking. We are eating a tiger, tail first. We haven’t gotten to the

part with meat and claws and teeth yet, and when we do it will be too

late. “You break it, you own it.” The recent attacks this week on the

Pakistani military headquarters makes clear what it is that we are

hitting with the broom as we swing for the mouse. 

Tribal groups once separated by politics and religion have united to

send a message to the capital. This was a shot across the bow by the

ISI; these groups in South Wazeristan and the Punjab are not so naive

to believe that the destruction of one won’t mean the crippling of the


We are picking at a splinter in a finger. The more we pick and

squeeze and push, the deeper the splinter becomes imbedded. The sorer

and more inflamed and infected the region becomes until it begins to

affect the whole hand. 

40,000 more troops? Where is the independent analysis? What will we

buy with those lives and that much treasure? A way home or just a way

further in? The militants and people we seek to destroy will evaporate

into the ether and move on to their next base of support and leave the

wreckage behind. Like Vietnam there is no military answer. The more we

bomb the more we turn the population against us and destabilize the

very governments which we are trying to defend.

Name your poison, extremists in the Pakistani hinterlands or a

destabilized Pakistan. There are extremists’ views in every country and

we depend on local governments to keep them in check. In many cases we

don’t understand the dynamics of the problem, the history of the

problem or the relationship between the people anymore than you could

expect Arab troops to understand the religious schism in Northern


If you ask a weatherman about the problem he’ll tell you about the

rain. If you ask a carpenter about the problem he’ll tell you how much

lumber he needs. If you ask a general about the problem he’ll tell you

how many troops he needs, but it doesn’t mean that he is right anymore

than the weatherman or the carpenter. We must understand the problem

first before we ask those who only know their specialty. You will never

kill the mouse with a broom; you must depend on the cat for that.

Pakistan is the cat and we must stop hitting it with the broom!

(photo from Brave New Films)

Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.