By Military analyst
msnbc.com
updated 7/23/2007 1:38:57 PM ET 2007-07-23T17:38:57
COMMENTARY

Most people have concluded that our mission in Iraq is not likely to end well. As we now know, the strategic underpinning was specious, the plan was incomplete, and the entire enterprise has been, and still is, under-resourced. On September 15th, General David Petraeus must report to Congress on the status of the American effort and, more importantly, the progress of the Iraqi government.

Last week’s National Intelligence Estimate contained some bright spots, but in many important respects it was dour and disappointing. On Thursday, Ambassador Crocker and the American military establishment in Iraq conversed with the Congress and reporters via a series of teleconferences, in an attempt to prepare everyone for September’s report, which will assert that things have become only marginally better.

This should come as no surprise, since a very short time will have elapsed between last week’s estimate and the decisive one on September 15th. And after four long years of a costly strategy that was inappropriate to the mission, it would be too much to expect quick results, even though we’re finally employing the right tactics in some areas. Most significantly, the majority of critical shortcomings will yield only to decisive Iraqi government action, but, as astonishing as it sounds, the Iraqi government will be on vacation in August.

No matter what Petraeus’s report says, one way or another we will reduce our presence in Iraq, but the violence is likely to increase. There is a civil war there, with Shi’a, Sunni and al-Qaeda killing each other for some real or imagined advantage, and this will not abate.

But Iraq is only one piece of the puzzle that is Southwest Asia, and it may not be the most strategically significant piece. With so much of our attention focused on Iraq, the increasing precariousness of President Musharraf’s rule of Pakistan, cause for much more worry, has largely evaded our attention.

The recent constitutional crisis, precipitated by Musharraf’s dismissal of Chief Justice Chaudhry, resulted in a chain of events that included street protests by lawyers, a deadly pitched battle between the army and militants in the Red Mosque, and a wave of suicide bombings.

On Friday, to widespread jubilation, the Supreme Court defied Musharraf and reinstated Chaudhry, but the damage has been done and weaknesses exposed, weaknesses that will serve as encouragement to those who want to see the back of Musharraf. He has many enemies, and not all of them are suicidal fundamentalists. There have been several attempts to assassinate him, and the next one may be successful. And in any case, he won’t rule Pakistan forever, and whoever (or whatever) replaces him is not likely to be enamored of either the United States or secular government. The prospect of an internally violent and unstable Pakistan ought to concern everyone.

All governments in the region are trying to cope with an increase in religiosity among their people. In some cases, like Turkey, a turn rightward is merely a proxy for strong but benign dissatisfaction with the government generally, and the structure of the regime is not likely to change. But in the rest of the Muslim countries in the Middle East, extremism is rampant because the governments are inefficient, despotic and corrupt, and change is likely to be violent, destabilizing and antithetical to American strategic interests. 

While we may find it strategically disastrous if, say, Syria’s Bashir al-Assad gets yanked out of office and is replaced with a revolutionary Muslim government, it is absolutely horrifying to consider what happens the day after a band of theocratic maniacs take control of Pakistan and its nuclear arsenal.

You can bet that India has thought about it, and we should, too.

Jack Jacobs is an MSNBC military analyst. He is a retired U.S. Army colonel. He earned the Medal of Honor for exceptional heroism on the battlefields of Vietnam and also holds three Bronze Stars and two Silver Stars.

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