Plumb Lines

April 24, 2009

What We Should Pay Attention To

Filed under: Uncategorized — David Schaengold @ 8:46 am

The argument that we should forget that the government of the United States tortured I find absurd. While I think something like a Truth Commission is more important than prosecuting those responsible, I’d prefer we did both. However, there is a developing news story that should nonetheless be much, much more to the forefront of everyone’s mind. The famed army of Pakistan, if you haven’t heard, is more or less looking the other way while the Taliban are engaged in a terrifying Drang Nach Osten and are now the effective civil government of a territory closer to Islamabad than Philadelphia is to New York. While it seems unlikely that the Taliban could actually take Islamabad by force of arms, the unwillingness of the army to mount even a token resistance is a very bad sign indeed, as is the Pakistani ambassador’s assurance that the Margalla Hills are sure to pose an insuperable obstacle to any encroachment on the capital. The Pakistani Army is more or less our only tool to project power into the region, as sending in actual American troops would be massively destabilizing.

As ambivalent as I feel about the Obama administration, I am happy this is happening under his watch. Perhaps I am merely the victim of liberal media brainwashing, but I feel confident that someone at the State department is feeling appropriately anxious about this, the CIA is drawing up contingency plans, etc. Under Bush, I might have wondered if anyone in the administration had even read the New York Times article, or had heard of the Baluchs, eg, who might have something to say should things go sour in the Punjab.

David Schaengold



  1. […] pm I’m glad to see that Yglesias is taking up the Pakistan question, as if responding to my plea that this is probably the most important thing worthy of public comment going on in the world right […]

    Pingback by Paying Attention to Pakistan, part II « Plumb Lines — April 24, 2009 @ 1:41 pm

  2. It’s hard to understand how the truth could be so frightening to so many. Freddie found this great Eco quote:

    Under torture you say not only what the inquisitor wants, but also what you imagine might please him, because a bond is established between you and him… These things I know, Ubertino; I also have belonged to those groups of men who believe that they can produce the truth with white-hot iron. Well, let me tell you, the white heat of truth comes from another flame.”

    This is lovely, I think. The white heat of truth comes from another flame…

    Comment by E.D. Kain — April 24, 2009 @ 1:48 pm

  3. I really like what James Fallows said about the necessity of full disclosure:

    “For as annoyed as foreigners may get with America and Americans, there have been two saving graces in the world’s opinions of our country. One has been its permeability. Anywhere you go, someone has an uncle or cousin in America. The other, less openly stated, has been a belief that at some point there are rules in America. Long periods may pass when the rules are ignored. Big boys may bend the rules in their favor. Some offenses are never made right. And so on. But in the end, the American system is supposed to recognize injustice and respond — including with public accountability for even the mightiest figures. It has this in common with the British and some other systems — which is what Gandhi relied on in knowing he could “shame” the Brits. For all the increases in liberty within China over the last generation, this is a striking difference with the world’s currently-rising power. No one expects China’s current leadership to conduct a “truth commission” about the Cultural Revolution or Tiananmen. But people finally expect America to apply its own rules, even against its own people.”

    Comment by David Schaengold — April 24, 2009 @ 2:08 pm

  4. If you’re interested to figure out what’s happening in Pakistan, check out Fredrik Barth’s “Political Leadership among Swat Pathans”. It was written 50 years ago but remains highly relevant. In any event, recent developments make it clearer than ever that the Taleban are more closely identifiable with Pashtun culture than with fundamentalist Islam. Hopefully the Pakistani government understands this; American leadership probably never will!

    Comment by T.S. Beers — April 25, 2009 @ 4:59 am

  5. Looks like someone took “Afghanistan and the Great Powers” with the esteemed Michael Barry. Great class, greater book, and the greatest Pequod copy packets ever put together. All seven volumes. I wish all policy makers had to take that course.

    Comment by Michael E. van Landingham — April 25, 2009 @ 5:10 am

  6. All of Barry’s students read Barth but I don’t think many appreciate it fully. I certainly didn’t, at least until my first visit to Kabul.

    Comment by T.S. Beers — April 25, 2009 @ 2:29 pm

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