Don't Try This At Home
Preemption Strikes Back
by Barry Lando
May 1, 2003
September 11 and the U.S. invasion of Iraq have drastically rewritten the rules of international politics. Neoconservatives are jubilant. But around the world, other leaders are drawing their own conclusions, conclusions which may come to haunt the United States.
No nation has watched with more interest than India, locked for the past 50 years in an intractable struggle with Pakistan over control of Kashmir. With tension mounting again between those two nuclear powers, President George W. Bush is sending Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage to the region.
His visit could be preceded by a presidential phone call to Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee, which could go something like this:
G.W. Bush: Good day, Mr. Prime Minister. I am calling to urge you to seek a peaceful solution to your conflict. We stand ready to help, but I have to say I disliked your foreign minister's latest remarks. Where does he get off saying a preemptive Indian strike against Pakistan would be more justified than our attack on Saddam?
P.M. Vajpayee: Mr. President, you've got your Perle and Cheney and Rumsfeld. Well, I've got my own hardliners trying to shape policy. But I fight for peace. I have just announced I'm ready to sit down with the Pakistanis. But there is no way we can discuss peace until they stop supporting terrorist attacks against our country.
G.W. Bush: Well, the Pakistanis also say they're ready to talk, and that they have stopped supporting terrorism.
P.M. Vajpayee: Another Pakistani lie! We estimate there are 3,000 Pakistani-backed terrorists in Kashmir. Militants in the Pakistani Army and intelligence services have supported them for years! Don't tell me your State Department and CIA don't know that.
G.W. Bush: We accept terrorism from no one. You can be sure Armitage will make that clear when he talks with President Musharaff.
P.M. Vajpayee: Your Mr. Armitage came here twice last year, and promised to halt Pakistan's support of terrorists. But they continue. Just recently terrorists backed by the Pakistanis walked into a village in Kashmir and slaughtered 24 of the 52 Hindus living there.
G.W. Bush: I sympathize, Mr. Prime Minister. But now is a time for restraint, for the common good.
P.M. Vajpayee: Mr. President, we understand that you support Musharaff. You needed his help in Afghanistan and Iraq. But what do you expect us to do? You, the most powerful leader on the globe, called Saddam Hussein a threat to your country. Yet you were never able to connect him to Al Qaeda, and you're still frantically looking for his weapons of mass destruction. But Pakistan has the bomb, and harbors more Al Qaeda and Taliban members than any other country. Talk about an axis of evil!
G.W. Bush: We are going to deal with that. Mark my word.
P.M. Vajpayee: And so will we, Mr. President. I am trying to calm the passions. But you have shown that a democracy must defend itself, even if it means acting in defiance of the world. I'm hearing that line every day now from our religious and nationalist extremists. And believe me, I have some real crusaders. If extremists had the same influence in my country that they do in yours, we'd have already bombed Pakistan.
G.W. Bush: That would be a disaster for all mankind.
P.M. Vajpayee: Frankly, Mr. President, you say you went into Iraq to bring democracy to that country. But in a recent newspaper poll here, 80 percent of the people said they don't believe that line. Most think you're after oil.
G.W. Bush: Well that's dead wrong. We are a great nation. We are not after conquest.
P.M. Vajpayee: Maybe so, Mr. President. But look at our situation: Pakistan has nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them. Extremists could take over any day. Just last week their foreign minister boasted that their missiles were better than ours.
G.W. Bush: I believe one of your ministers also said that India could wipe Pakistan right off the map. Be reasonable, Mr. Prime Minister. We're your most important source of foreign investment and trading partner. We don't want to twist arms, but several U.N. resolutions call for India to hold a plebiscite in Kashmir. You've refused to do that.
P.M. Vajpayee: Mr. President, you can't be serious. Sacrifice our nation's security because of some U.N. resolution? How many resolutions has Israel ignored while you say nothing?
G.W. Bush: Yes, well, we're talking to Sharon about that. Things are going to change there. We've got a road map.
P.M. Vajpayee: Put yourself in my shoes, Mr. President. India is a crazy patchwork of Hinduism and Islam. If we allowed Kashmir to break away because it's mostly Islamic, India could come apart at the seams. If I cave to Pakistani demands, I'll be gone the next day. Gandhi was assassinated. So were two of my predecessors. Our fanatics are like yours -- they don't fool around.
G.W. Bush: I am calling on you to be courageous, Mr. Prime Minister. This is a time for men of principle to take a stand.
P.M. Vajpayee: You know what some of my hardliners want me to do? Test our hydrogen bomb. Really send a signal -- and not just to Pakistan. Believe me, everyone gets uncomfortable these days when your hardliners talk about who's next on your hit list. In fact, from here it looks like it's Rumsfeld running your foreign policy.
G.W. Bush: Look, Mr. Prime Minister, you can be sure it's me calling the shots.
P.M. Vajpayee: Well, believe it or not, some of my aids think you'll come after us one day, maybe to support your ally Musharaff. Who knows? After all, we do have weapons of mass destruction, our congress passed a resolution protesting your attack on Iraq, your CIA says we helped Libya produce ballistic missiles....
G.W. Bush: Believe me, Mr. Prime Minister, that scenario is off the wall. We regard you as an ally in our war against terrorism.
P.M. Vajpayee: In that case, I'd like your help. We've been impressed by your tactics in Iraq. We're organizing several new Special Forces battalions, modeled after your own, and specially trained in cross-border operations.
G.W. Bush: You mean into Pakistani-controlled territory?
P.M. Vajpayee: Exactly. Maybe beyond.
G.W. Bush: That would set off Pakistan and others if they found out.
P.M. Vajpayee: Mr. President, you have shown us the way. We are not going to sit here and wait for them to come at us. As one of your CIA people said of Al Qaeda. "When we're through with them, they'll have flies walking across their eyeballs."
We'd like your Special Forces to give us some pointers. You're the best.
G.W. Bush: I'll talk to Rumsfeld about it.
P.M. Vajpayee: Thank you, Mr. President. And I will continue to work for peace. But summer is coming -- the mountain passes will be open again, and that may mean more terrorism and further escalation. But I promise you, if I am forced to go to war, I will make sure our military gives one-quarter of the slots reserved for embedded journalists to American reporters.
Barry Lando is a former CBS producer of 60 Minutes, and has also contributed to CBS News, Time magazine and Time-Life. This article first appeared in Tom Paine.com (www.tompaine.com).