Department of False Friends: Pakistan

Dr. Shakil Afridi, with weird objects near his head

Remember when Pakistan was like, “Bro, we have no idea where Osama Bin Laden is. That guy’s a dick!” and then it turned out he was in Pakistani Arlington, Virginia? And remember when we shot him in the eye and dumped his body in the ocean, and Pakistan was like “that’s what we wanted to do! But it is absolutely unacceptable that you came into our house.” Far be it from me to criticize a military junta while it makes the delicate transition to theocracy, but I worry that Pakistan might not be our real friend. Evidence: This morning, a tribal court in Khyber convicted Shakil Afridi—the Pakistani doctor who helped the CIA locate Bin Laden—of high treason, sentencing him to 33 years in prison.

It also fined him $3,500, which amortizes out to like eight dollars a month. That’s kind of funny until you consider that maybe the one man in Pakistan who worked in good faith with the CIA will now spend the rest of his life in jail, and American intelligence will have to work with the second friendliest man in Pakistan, President Asif Ali Zardari. President Asif Ali Zardari is a jerk. Earlier this week, he flew to Chicago in the hope that President Obama had forgotten about his refusal to reopen supply routes to Afghanistan. That did not work. Our valuable ally continues to imprison our business contacts and refuse to let us drive army trucks through their country toward our other valuable ally, who also hates us, and US foreign policy continues to resemble the unattended birthday party of a rich fat kid.

Now seems like a good time to assess what we have gotten for our money in the War on Terror. On the minus side, we have the 6,000 people killed on September 11, 2001, plus the 1,890 US casualties in Afghanistan since then. So far we have spent $530 billion on exploding and then reassembling that country, and what have we gotten in return? We definitely shot Osama Bin Laden in the face. Some, but not all, of the Taliban have been driven out of Afghanistan, and we are tactically obliged to pretend that we haven’t seen the neighbors throwing garbage over the fence.

It’s almost as if declaring war on a concept and launching two decade-long invasions and restructuring the federal government was a stupid way to respond to a single terrorist attack. September 11 was very bad, as anyone who sort of remembers watching it on TV will tell you. I submit, however, that the last ten years of American policy in the Middle East have been much worse—and not just in some namby-pamby “human decency” way, either. I mean in the way where we spend billions of dollars, humiliate ourselves before the bush-league theocrats of semifunctional states, and amputate a generation of military volunteers.

Maybe it was worth it to shoot that Osama Bin Laden. He’s dead and the United States continues to have monster truck rallies and Kim Kardashian, so maybe technically we won. Maybe, though, we totally lost. Maybe Osama Bin Laden punked us, and the damage he inflicted in one morning was multiplied by the next ten years of stubborn overreaction. Maybe it is a coincidence that America’s much talked-about decline has coincided with our global plan to make everyone sorry for messing with us. Or maybe we spent a trillion dollars on false friends and fixing countries that are as broken as when we found them, and we have no one to blame but ourselves.

Combat! blog is free. Why not share it?
Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on Reddit


  1. “bush league” or “Bush league” theocrats? Get it? GET IT?

    If you believe John Kerry (though, why should you?), we could have gotten Bin Laden a lot earlier had we not gotten distracted by the shiny Iraqi object.

  2. “It’s almost as if declaring war on a concept and launching two decade-long invasions and restructuring the federal government was a stupid way to respond to a single terrorist attack.

    I was pretty much cheering along the whole post, but on this point I feel obligated to remind everyone that none of us work in foreign policy or intelligence.

    Our concepts about how national security work predominantly come from movies and blog posts, which is to say, the same sources informing red staters who supported the “war on terror.” The hoi polloi’s predictions on how post-2001 efforts to combat terrorism would turn out never had anything to do with analysis or understanding of combat, diplomacy, terrorism. People’s predictions were simply a way of expressing their patriotism or lack thereof, their trust or distrust of government, their global awareness or lack thereof. Essentially, post-2001 predictions were just Rorschach tests for everyone to express their attitudes. I would also say a backward-looking assessment of the outcomes operates the same thing. It’s not about analysis, its about affirming one’s attitudes. “I told you military expenditures were a waste of money!” “I told you people would still hate America! I told you war wasn’t glorious or heroic, amputees!” We knew all these things!

    But do we know these things? I like to think I know what’s going on, but how the fuck do any of us know what kind of outcomes you have when you deploy an expeditionary force into an Iraq or Afghanistan and try to maintain order while you knock bad guys off a list? I feel like people are being intellectually dishonest when they argue “of course that was going to turn out badly!” As if terrorists always behave one way. As if force is somehow always ineffective. Somehow these ubiquitous truths elude the people whose phDs and 40 hour workweeks are about being an expert in these matters, but easily make their way into the loudest couch policy experts.

    Am I being too fair to American foreign policy to assume it is in the hands of people with more expertise than any of us? I too feel like I know how to fight terrorism best, but can’t help but recognize I’m full of shit. This compels me to extend the benefit of the doubt that people with security clearances and data not from the internet may have, indeed, made the best decisions for the post-2001. But that is as unfalsifiable a hypothesis as “look at how bad everything turned out.”

Leave a Comment.