Tom Hayden, Liberty Tree Board of Advisors
The US government is considering direct military intervention in the tribal areas of
Pakistan, risking an escalated conflict with Pashtun nationalism in the name of crushing
al Qaeda. An essay in last week's Washington Post, a front page story in today's New
York Times and reports from the Real News Network all confirm that a decision to
intervene is near. The Times confirms that as many as 50 American personnel, whether
special forces or CIA, already operate clandestinely inside the Pakistani border.
Democrats have called no hearings nor raised significant voices of opposition to the
unfolding plan. In New Hampshire last night, Sen. Barack Obama repeated his endorsement
of unilateral US military intervention in Pakistan if "actionable intelligence" exists.
His Democratic rivals did not dissent.
The consequences of the possible escalation are extremely unpredictable. The alleged
al-Qaeda militants are embedded in complex tribal networks in a remote mountainous area.
Military action could inflict severe casualties and damage to these traditional
communities and inflame anti-American sentiment across Muslim Pakistan. It might
accelerate the disintegration of the US-backed Musharraf dictatorship which currently
possesses nuclear weapons. Musharraf and the Pakistani military have steadfastly opposed
direct American intervention for the past five years.
Speculation is rife that US support for the ill-fated return of Benezir Bhutto to
Pakistan was based partly on an understanding that she would endorse and legitimize an
expanded US presence in her country. If neither the American embassy nor the Musharraf
regime could save her from death at a public event, it is unclear how successful American
special forces will be in the wilds of South Waziristan.
There is virtually no public discussion of the implications of American support for a
military dictatorship that imprisons Pakistani lawyers while harboring anti-US jihadists.
Instead of enforcing the existing Leahy Amendment  which bans military assistance
to human rights violators, the US has spent approximately $10 billion in five years
supporting the Musharraf regime, alienating a majority of Pakistanis, and lending
credence to the claims of Muslim extremists. Having contributed to, or at least failing
to have prevented Pakistan's fall into chaos, "senior officials" quoted by the Times
now are blaming al-Qaeda for plotting all along to achieve "the big prize, creating chaos
in Pakistan itself."
It is ironic that Democrats like Obama, whose campaign was built around questioning the
intelligence justifying the Iraq War would now be arguing for a preventive war in a
sovereign country if evidence gathered by intelligence sources is merely "actionable."
The further irony is that the "war on terrorism" is escalating without meaningful
discussion or dissent in the midst of the most open and democratic of American processes,
the presidential debates.
Congressional hearings and questioning by the presidential candidates might stall,
circumscribe or prevent the escalation. An alternative policy of reducing US military
assistance to Pakistan and demanding the full restoration of civil liberties there, while
seeking diplomatic de-escalation in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and Palestine is
being ignored in the march towards a wider quagmire.
TOM HAYDEN is the author of Ending the War in Iraq , and a member of the Liberty
Tree Foundation for the Democratic Revolution's Board of Advisers.