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. 

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