February 08, 2011

U.S. Policy in Mubarak's Egypt: Harder Than It Looks

Veteran Washington Post intelligence reporter Walter Pincus goes wading through the Wikileaks cables and discovers something that lends support to a post I wrote last week:

Among additional State Department cables released over the past week and a half by the anti-secrecy Web site WikiLeaks, the handful from Cairo show that U.S. diplomats for years have been aware of Mubarak's views and Egypt's problems. They also show the limited impact that U.S. diplomacy can have on a country when its leader, even a close ally, refuses to deal with what Washington perceives as legitimate failures of its government.

In short, it was relatively easy to predict the trainwreck on the horizon. It was difficult, by contrast, to use what leverage the United States had over Egypt to avert the disaster.

In another article in today's paper, meanwhile, Pincus* talks about what ISAF sees as the logical Taliban strategy this spring:

When Taliban leaders return from Pakistan this spring to begin their annual offensive in Afghanistan, a senior U.S. commander believes they will undertake a major assassination campaign against local and tribal Afghan leaders and others who in recent months have begun cooperating with government officials and participating in the peace process.

The reason: While Taliban leaders have used the winter to withdraw to Pakistan to rearm and retrain their forces, U.S. and coalition forces have destroyed hidden support bases, carried out Special Forces raids on those Taliban leaders remaining in Afghanistan and deployed 110,000 more troops than there were last year, 70,000 of them Afghans.

Ahmed Hashim once coined the phrase "infrastructural takedown" to describe when insurgents do this. Ahmed was thinking, originally, of the Irish Republican Army from 1919 to 1921 and the way in which it went after British civil servants: mailmen, clerks, police -- anyone who enabled British rule. Ahmed started thinking hard about it once he started finding Tim Pat Coogan's books on Sunni insurgents in Iraq.

*Pincus is, what, 78 now? Can anyone over there in the Post's newsroom keep up with that guy? (Fun fact: Pincus finished law school a few years back, graduating at the age of 68.)