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Metz on Unruly Clients

Dr. Steve Metz of SSI takes on a theme of the “tail wagging the dog” in geopolitical relationships in World Affairs Journal:

Unruly Clients: The Trouble with Allies

When Congress approved a massive, five-year assistance package for Pakistan in the fall of 2009, much of it earmarked for strengthening the country’s military and security forces, Pakistani leaders reacted by immediately biting the hand that was trying to feed them. During a talk in Houston, former President Pervez Musharraf slammed the conditions in the bill, asserting that Pakistan knew better than the United States how to root out terrorists. General Ashfaq Kiyani, the Pakistani army chief, labeled the offer of support “insulting and unacceptable.” Members of the Pakistani parliament called the $7.5 billion appropriation “peanuts.” Some of this grumbling may have been for show, another example of Pakistan’s finely honed skill at extracting more and more money from the United States, but it also reflected a cynicism and sense of estrangement on the part of the Pakistani elites. And in this regard the episode highlights a central flaw in American security strategy: reliance on allies whose perceptions, priorities, values, and objectives tend to be quite different from our own.

….So where does all this leave U.S. strategy? Americans could soldier on, hoping for miracles and redefining expectations at each inevitable failure. Washington’s flawed allies will continue superficial reform, at least until they conclude that the political and personal costs of doing so outweigh the benefits. But husbanding of power rather than the decisive defeat of the extremists or the building of a stable, liberal system will always remain their goal. They will never fully share America’s view of the threat or the solution to it. Some, like Nuri Kamal al-Maliki in Iraq, may eventually reach a point where they can wield power without much American assistance. Recognizing that association with the United States erodes their legitimacy, leaders in this position will end or downgrade the U.S. alliance, pressuring violent extremists who pose a direct threat to them while ignoring or even cooperating with those who target only foreigners. Others like Karzai-and whoever rules Pakistan-will continue to minimize conflict with violent extremists who do not target them directly and reject reform that might undermine them or the elites who support them.

Read the whole thing here.

A similar argument to Metz’s analysis of 21st century strategic foreign policy was made in The Cold War: A New History by John Lewis Gaddis, who detailed the extreme headaches satellite leaders caused Khrushchev and Brezhnev, or American troubles with the Shah, Somoza and Ngo Dinh Diem during the Cold War. Patrons who become dependent upon clients are hostage to their pawn’s incompetence and perverse defiance of political realities. In that myopia, patrons lose sight of their own real interests.

Metz hits on that delicate point, regarding the diffuse character of Islamist extremism:

….Americans ought to stop hoping for miracles and find realistic and affordable methods of protecting their interests. Continued improvement in homeland security is part of this. There may even come a time when the United States must consider limiting access to the American homeland for individuals from regions and nations that give rise to violent extremism. 

If the United States cannot get effective and reliable security cooperation with various Muslim states like Yemen or Pakistan, a more cost-effective response than turning all of our own domestic procedures into “security theater” is to sharply circumscribe immigration and travel from those states to a level consistent with “best practice” counterintelligence norms until we garner the cooperation we require in clamping down on our enemies. There’s no shortage of applicants for visas from other backgrounds in Asia, Africa, Latin America and Europe who pose few if any risks to American society. This by no means would solve all our security problems but it will put a dent in the probability of another underpants bomber getting a plane ticket to visit.

8 Responses to “Metz on Unruly Clients”

  1. onparkstreet Says:

    Saw this at SWJ and thought, "um, yeah, what he said. What he said!"
    "Americans ought to stop hoping for miracles and find realistic and affordable methods of protecting their interests." I’d take it further (was this in the article and I missed it?) and consider aid to other governments, even non-authoritarian ones. I’m thinking of Africa, as one example, and the entire Western Aid regime to developing countries, but I’m a broken record on that subject. Intentions are not results and we in the US seem so caught up in the self-reflecting mirror of "good intentions." How beautiful we look to ourselves!
    Eh, blog brain-storming. Take it for what its worth and with a huge grain of salt.
    – Madhu

  2. Chicago Boyz » Blog Archive » The Self-Reflecting Mirror of Good Intentions Says:

    […] I used the above phrase in this comment at zenpundit on an entirely different subject. I’m pretty sure I made it up on the spot, but somehow, I […]

  3. The Self-Reflecting Mirror of Good Intentions « OnParkStreet Says:

    […] I used the above phrase in this comment at zenpundit on an entirely different subject. I’m pretty sure I made it up on the spot, but somehow, I always […]

  4. Chris Says:

    Well said, Zen.  And I like Madhu’s notion WRT to aid as well.  And it isn’t just that we seem to derive few benefits of that aid ourselves; it is that the recipients may not either (or are actively harmed, see Dambisa Moyo).

    For some reason, this makes me think of the Marshall Plan.  This is a strategic concept that we have really come to like–kill lots of people/blow up stuff + give away lots of money = staunch ally + trading partner.  We seem to forget that the Marshall Plan was a reaction to a particular strategic situation.  The men who created and implemented it were not warm and fuzzy either.  They weren’t the sort of guys who would yuk it up on The Daily Show.  They firebombed cities.  They ended up rebuilding them, but only because it advanced the national interest. 

    Well, I think the principal in "Billy Madison" would call that "rambling and incoherent," but I could stand for some hard eyed, and like Zen said, cost effective advancement of our strategic interests.

  5. zen Says:

    Hi Chris,
    The generation that made the high level decisions during and after WWII -Truman, Marshall, Ike, Acheson, Kennan etc. – were a cold-eyed, nonideological, and ruthlessly pragmatic lot. They went through two great depressions ( one as children and once as adults) and had parents who had vivid memories of Civil War slaughter. They themselves were tempered by the western Front in WWI. They knew exactly how bad things could be in life and harbored few illusions of any kind.
    The finest statesmen we have seen since the Founding Fathers.

  6. Larry Dunbar Says:

    "There’s no shortage of applicants for visas from other backgrounds in Asia, Africa, Latin America and Europe who pose few if any risks to American society."

    Targeting Muslims, eh? Now there is a thought. However, after almost 10 years of war I am just not sure of what stratgic value it has. We need to build nations, not tear them down, and going after one nation, of many countries, seems a little counter-productive at this point in time.

  7. Chris Says:


    I would say that the strategic value would be the reduction of the threat of terrorism.  That would the "end."  You listed a particular "way," namely, nation-building.  Zen listed another way, limiting personnel movement into the US from particular countries.  That brings us to "means."  I would argue that one of those courses of action is more consonant with the means we actually have available.

  8. zen Says:

    Hi Larry,
    Not targeting. Ratcheting down the flow to a level consistent with CI security clearance done by our own devices. Most of these countries are police states. They monitor radical mosques. They know who the troublemakers and wannabes are; if they did not, the regimes would be toppled inside of 6 months. Let them be more forthcoming with information when we are considering visa applications in Riyadh or Amman

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