Abu Muqawama retains its autonomy and the views and beliefs expressed within the blog do not reflect those of CNAS. Abu Muqawama retains the right to delete comments that include words that incite violence; are predatory, hateful, or intended to intimidate or harass; or degrade people on the basis of gender, race, class, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, or disability. In summary, don't be a jerk.
America’s past and emergent counterterrorism strategies frequently raise
concerns about unilateralism, the multilateral and cooperative aspects remain
relatively low in visibility. Actual or merely perceived unilateral acts, such
as JSOC direct action raids and drone strikes capture much of America’s
attention, while the role of host governments, proxies, and third parties of
all kinds retains a relative background role. In reality, the inclusion of a
wide variety of consenting foreign actors, ranging from militias to militaries,
play a supporting and prerequisite role that is as troubling as it is vital.
Take, for example, the cases of drone strikes in Pakistan. As the infamous Drunken Predator Drone explains in this excellent post, the covert and lightly-publicized quid pro quo between Washington and Islamabad over American counterterrorism efforts in South and Central Asia complicates the policies of both. Noting the wide ranging problems within Pakistan, he notes:
The Pakistani political class is much happier to instead see the nation’s outrage, ink and airtime dedicated to a safer topic. Like sovereignty violations.
And by cooperating with our counterterrorism efforts (including drone strikes,) the influential Pakistani military gets access to some of the choicest American defense hardware...
As has been obvious for 10 years, U.S. counterterrorism assistance represents a golden opportunity for Pakistan’s armed forces to gear up for war with India. Ending drone strikes would derail a $4.3-billion gravy train. And that’s far from the only American aid in the mix; development groups receive billions of dollars for education, shelter and basic nutrition in Pakistan. (Of course, many Pakistanis have no idea. American markings are often removed from aid shipments out of fear that they will become targets for militants.)
The elected, legitimate government of Pakistan has weighed costs and benefits, and made a clear decision. Granting permission (however grudging or tacit it may be) for drone strikes represents a better option than risking a strategic break with America.
from being a simple trampling of Pakistan’s will, the U.S. and Pakistan play a
delicate - and relatively obscure - game which buys permission for America’s
counterterrorism initiatives while bolstering some of the core objectives of
the Pakistani deep state. Unfortunately, for too long American policymakers and
publics have assumed American aid will engender a more comprehensive confluence
of moral values, political principles, and strategic interests between them.
Rather than simply presenting tactical and pragmatic ways to mitigate U.S.
coercive potential, cash in on its immense political-military resources, and
use them to advance prior objectives, America has for too long relied on a
notion that America could strongly influence or control a country’s political
will without actually exerting control.
The political benefits of such an indirect approach are as apparent in the American public arena as they are in Pakistan. While the consequences of dysfunctional clientelism are made more and more apparent with each insider attack in Afghanistan, where America’s force posture puts conventional boots on the ground and lives on the line, the clandestine assets in Pakistan elicit no such public attention or outcry because they create no similar degree of risk. Yet this basic crack in the policy assumptions of clientelism-enabled counterterrorism remains. C. Christine Fair has outlined a plausible way forward: acknowledging the two countries will sometimes have irreconcilable aims and mitigating the negative effects accordingly. But Pakistan is hardly the only country where we see the same problems.
In Yemen, the elite units which received U.S. military aid were redirected to regime preservation rather than counterterrorism. But aid to the Yemeni regime was the cost of political acquiescence to U.S. strikes, helping to foster a Yemeni deep state (even if Saleh is gone) with interests that may tolerate anti-American radicalization, so long as its existence and internal power remains secure.
While U.S. aid has had varying degrees of success in making military forces more organizationally cohesive, operational proficient, and generally professional, it has faltered when it comes to changing the policy objectives that guide the militaries and the regimes they serve themselves. Just as many rightly call for more scrutiny of the consequences of drone strikes, they are just the latest privilege the U.S. has purchased from regimes and militaries in exchange for enhancing their military power and political longevity. Distressingly, many alternatives proposed to drone strikes fail to solve this deeper problem. An effective capture program nearing the scale of the drone program would require similar, if not greater U.S. concessions to local regimes, while a policy of promoting partnership, training, and advisory roles for the U.S. necessitates capacity building for regimes even if their intentions remain in many respects malignant towards U.S. interests.
Complicating this matter, few of the local regimes where the U.S. wages its counterterrorism campaigns (and assists in the counterinsurgency campaigns of others) have Huntingtonian security forces. The evolution of the “deep state” in many of our former Third World partners gave security forces and their partners and proxies a political, social, and economic role alien to the Weberian ideal or the misleading state/non-state typology. Given the known and possible radicalizing and destabilizing roles of harsh imprisonment regimes, brutal local security forces, and the political machinations of rentier states and their proxy forces, devising a policy that tackles the essential principal-agent problem in current U.S. counterterrorism operations is as essential a task as finding alternatives to the strategies such as targeted killing themselves. Even if the targeted killing strategy were to give way, the dangerous game that enabled it may yet persist.