October 13, 2012

The Persistent Dangers of Double Games

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.

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

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.

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.

Yemen, the elite units which received U.S. military aid were redirected to regime preservation rather than
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.

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.

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.