Thursday, May 10, 2007

War Weariness Grows In Washington, Afghanistan

Just in the last 24 hours, there have been strong indications that weariness with the never ending wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is growing in Washington, with blunt talk by 11 Republican Congressional moderates to President Bush at a White House meeting, and a call by the upper house of the Afghanistan parliament for a ceasefire in that country and negotiations with the Taliban.

It's not really that new. Doyle McManus had an article not long ago in the L.A. Times saying that if progress in the Iraq war is not discernible by September, Republican support for the President's position will sharply erode.

As the 2008 elections approach, it is plain that the Republicans in Congress are fearful of a debacle at the polls next year, much worse than in 2006, when the Republicans lost control of Congress, unless there is a change in the Iraq situation far beyond the glimmerings of light seen recently in Anbar province.

The talk yesterday at the White House put the President on notice that he has diminishing time to show a turn in Iraq, or more Republicans in Congress, beyond the minuscule member so far, will start drifting to the anti-war Democrats. It is not inconceivable, as McManus and Times Washington columnist Ron Brownstein have been reporting, that a veto-proof majority could be assembled in Congress against the President's position of carrying on the war, at least on the same basis it is now.

Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, where the war is in its sixth year of direct American involvement, the government of Hamid Karzai is showing signs of wanting to see whether the Taliban could not be brought to some settlement. Karzai is not naive, and probably his condition would be that in exchange for Taliban participation in the government, there would have to be a guarantee against terror being exported from Afghanistan, as it was on Sept. 11, 2001.

But already, with more repressive laws restricting a free press, and mounting protests against American and NATO bombing efforts that often kill civilians, it is evident that the Afghan situation is in flux, and that efforts for sharp reform in Islamic traditions in that country have not been successful.

There could be some war weariness as well on the Taliban side. Some of the same trends that have developed in Anbar province, where tribes have taken on Al Qaeda, can possibly be seen in the Waziristan border sections of Pakistan, where tribes have grown tired of Arab and other foreign fighters affiliated with Al Qaeda. In the Pakistan border areas, hundreds of Uzbek and other foreign terrorists have been killed in clashes with these tribes in recent weeks, and the Pakistani army has become more active in abetting such tribal efforts.

However, these developments are countered by increasing unrest in Pakistan, where the government of the military dictator Pervez Musharaff is under great pressure, not only from the Taliban but from forces determined to restore democracy to Pakistan. In an article in the Washington Post, Ahmed Rashid, the Pakistani journalist who wrote the first book on the Taliban before the Sept. 11
terror attacks, now writes he thinks Musharaff's rule is coming to an end. On Saturday, May 12, it was reported that 33 persons had been killed in sweeping riots in Karachi centering around an aborted visit to the city of a chief justice ousted by Musharaff.

Any fall of the government in Pakistan could easily jeopardize peace over a much larger area, since Pakistan is a nuclear state and just who might come to control the nuclear weapons is uncertain. It could be a nightmare for the West, at a time when Washington has grown impatient with Musharaff for failing to do more against the Taliban, and the British are charging that terrorists in Britain are being trained in Pakistan.

The situation, clearly, is fluid. Certainly if Al Qaeda perceives that America is just about fed up with the war, it will increase suicide bombings and other attacks in Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq in hopes of chasing U.S. forces and turning the situation throughout the Middle East to its advantage. If the Taliban is growing war weary, there is no sign Al Qaeda is. And if Pakistan becomes more fully embroiled in conflict, it may well be not peace but war that gains the upper hand in the whole region.

Vice President Cheney's visit to the Middle East this week, including to Iraq, may represent a recognition by the Bush Administration that forces pushing it to change Iraq war policy have grown more powerful. That is why, Cheney has apparently been warning the feeble and highly sectarian government of Nouri Al-Maliki, that time is running out for it to take steps to abandon the sectarianism. However, the Cheney warnings may not be effective, and they may come too late. Maliki seems more interested in Shia dominance in Iraq than progress against the Al Qaeda insurgency or steps to placate less militant Sunnis.

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The L.A. Times again succumbs to excessive and distasteful advertising this morning, allowing the Macy's inferior department stores to buy wrap around pages obscuring the Times' metro and sports sections. Most readers will, I believe, join me in throwing away these wrap-arounds as a first step toward reading the paper. But that is not enough. Macy's and any other advertiser that buys wrap arounds should be boycotted, and Times publisher David Hiller should be informed that such stupidity will not help the paper's reputation, or its circulation.

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