On the same day that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad delivered his litany of anti-American accusations to the U.N. General Assembly, the Senate Armed Services Committee questioned the newly appointed Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and the retiring Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen on Iraq and Afghanistan. The picture that emerged indicated clearly that the real threat stemmed not from the two countries themselves, but rather from their neighbors, Iran and Pakistan.
Recent weeks have seen a steady escalation of highly targeted violence in Afghanistan, including an attack on NATO headquarters and the U.S. embassy compound, both in Kabul, as well as the assassination of former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani during a meeting in his home with Taliban representatives who were there on the pretext of holding peaceful negotiations.
Additionally, an Afghan employee opened fire in an annex of the American embassy used by the CIA, killing one American and wounding another.
Admiral Mullen openly fingered Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Agency (ISI) for its culpability in arming the Taliban, who are largely behind the violence. For his part, Secretary Panetta tried to put a positive face on American inability to control the increasingly brazen guerilla attacks. "We judge this change in tactics to be a result of a shift in momentum in our favor and a sign of weakness in the insurgency."
Pakistani authorities quickly dismissed the charges, with Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani calling them a “propaganda blitz."
Iranian activities in southern Iraq, meanwhile, spiked significantly over the summer, according to Mullen, who pointed to regular shipments of Explosively Formed Penetrators (EFPs) and Improvised Rocket-Assisted Munitions (IRAMs) to two Shia militia groups operating in the region. “And the IRAMs are getting bigger and bigger,” he added, noting that Iran presents a “great downside potential for destabilizing particularly southern Iraq.”
“They have been warned about continuing it,” Mullen said, drawing a parallel with warnings given to the ISI- backed Haqqani network in Afghanistan. “If they keep killing our troops that would not be something we would just sit idly by and watch.”
Secretary Panetta added, “Iran needs to understand we are going to be around a while here, making very clear to them we are not simply going to ignore what Iran is doing in Iraq.”
But, in a dismal economy, when the direct impact of American involvement in this region is finally felt in people’s pocketbooks, voters are likely to quickly demand for an end to decades of military, political and fiscal folly.
Adding to Americans’ shrinking support are the thousands of American casualties, and the trillion dollars spent on combat and reconstruction efforts, neither of which have resulted in any meaningful signs of progress.
In addition, up to $60 billion has been lost to corruption according to a widely circulated Wartime Contracting Commission report, with billions more in misspent deals with private contractors and war profiteers who do the shoddiest of jobs for the most money. Such contractors include the notorious KBR, Inc., DynCorp International and Washington Group International, Inc., with monies trickling down to private individuals who enjoy $1,000-a-day-paychecks.
“My deep belief is that we should be rebuilding America, not Afghanistan or Iraq,” said committee member Sen. Joe Manchin III (D – W.V.) as the senate hearing neared its end. Voicing agreement with Admiral Mullen’s assertion that “debt is the greatest threat to our national security,” Manchin added that America can’t afford to cut programs at home and raise taxes while attempting to rebuild Afghanistan with a 10-year price tag of $485 billion.
“By the next decade,” Sen. Manchin said, “we will spend more on interest on our national debt than defense, education and energy combined." Describing the Afghan economy as being “entirely fueled by American tax dollars,” he drew attention to the coming partisan bickering over a mere $50 billion to rebuild America’s infrastructure.
For Pakistan, an American withdrawal would allow Islamabad to effectively take control of Afghanistan, putting the profits gained from the country’s rich mineral resources and opium trade toward its rivalry with India.
Iran would quickly move into southern Iraq, critical to its defense against an American invasion of Khuzestan Province, which borders Iraq and represents 90 per cent of Iran’s oil profits. Such an invasion, which has long been considered by Anglo-American interests, would split the province's sizeable Arab, Sunni population against Iran's Persian Shia majority.
Yet, should America dig in its heels, Washington would have little alternative to an invasion of Khuzestan, ostensibly aimed at halting Iranian incursions, and a broad takeover of the entire mountainous border region with Pakistan to stop the ISI and its irregular armies once and for all.
In that case, beyond the present collision course with Pakistan and Iran awaits the greater danger of an American clash with Russia and China, neither of which would easily tolerate such a bold expansionist strategy.
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