Beltway Insider Talks About Pakistan, Drones

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Beltway Insider Talks About Pakistan, Drones

St. Mary's City, MD - 2/9/2013

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By Dick Myers

Bruce Riedel (c) with Dr. Joseph Urgo (l) and Michael Cain
Bruce Riedel (c) with Dr. Joseph Urgo (l) and Michael Cain

He was a foreign affairs advisor to three presidents, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Near East and South Asia and a veteran of 29 years at the Central Intelligence Agency. Bruce Riedel, now senior fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, brought his Beltway insider insights to St. Mary’s College for a lecture Thursday evening entitled “America, India and Pakistan to the Brink and Back: Avoiding Armageddon in Asia.” His newly published book is in fact titled “Avoiding Armageddon.”

Riedel’s lecture in St. Mary’s Hall was sponsored by the Patuxent Partnership and the Center for the Study of Democracy at St. Mary’s College. The center’s director, Michael Cain, introduced Riedel and acted as moderator for a question and answer session that followed the talk.

 Riedel started his talk with a day in time: July 4, 1999. The prime minister of Pakistan was in Washington that day, having invited himself to a meeting with the president. Riedel and President Bill Clinton were at the White House and walked across Pennsylvania Avenue to meet the prime minister at the Blair House amid the throngs packing the city for the fireworks displays.

Two months earlier Pakistan had seized strategic Indian territory. India had retaliated. Word was out that Pakistan was developing nuclear weapons. With Riedel at his side, Clinton told the Pakistani prime minister in no uncertain terms to back off. Riedel said Clinton asked the prime minister if he knew what he was doing and said he would have the future of the world on his conscience if he proceeded down the track his country was on. Pakistan backed off. Riedel said, “His decision to back down probably saved the world from nuclear war in 1999.”

He said our country and our presidents have been dealing with crises ever since. He said his book is about how the presidents managed those crises.

India and Pakistan are among two of the most important countries in the world, Riedel said. He said in 2030 India will be the largest country in the world, surpassing China. India has 68 cities with populations greater than one million, and is diverse and young, with 60 percent of the population under 30.

Regarding Pakistan, Riedel said, “Many people see it as a fading state but there are reasons to believe it is a rising power.” It is the world’s sixth largest country and growing. He painted a picture of Pakistan as a corrupt country run by a corrupt military. In the country, 45,000 people have died at the hands of terrorists since 2001. “We should recognize that the generals are not our friends,” he said

The tension between Pakistan and India, the world’s largest democracy, is great. India is the world’s largest importer of arms. Pakistan is seventh. Of that tension, Riedel said, “I think we are playing Russian roulette.” And he added, “There is no bright future for India if they are next to a feudal state.”

Since 2001, America has given $25 billion in aid to Pakistan, Riedel said. But the President didn’t trust them enough to tell them about the raid of Bib Laden’s compound.

Riedel doesn’t suggest a hands-off approach to Pakistan, instead saying, “The U.S. needs to be a cheerleader. The alternate will be another 4th of July (1999).” That cheerleading should be about encouraging democracy, he said.

The question-and-answer session brought some questions about the U.S. policy on drone strikes. Riedel is not a big fan of drones, saying they don’t achieve the mission of capturing terrorists and getting information from them.

The discussion came at the end of the same day in which CIA director nominee John Brennan was grilled by a Senate panel about the drone policy. According to the Washington Post, Brennan was challenged as to why the number of drone attacks has increased while the number of terrorists being captured has declined.

And Riedel is concerned about the targeting of American citizens in the strikes. He favors some type of a top-level panel to review proposed drone strikes. “There needs to be a certain degree of candor at what’s being done if not with the public then certainly with Congress,” he asserted.

Riedel said that the drone strikes are supposed to be secret but anyone can find on the internet, with a fair degree of accuracy, where those drone strikes have occurred. “This is the least covert war in the history of the world,” he said about the War on Terrorism.

In response to another question about Pakistan, Riedel said the U.S. needs to help build their economy. He said the policy towards the country should be: “Do no harm.”

One questioner expressed concern about Saudi Arabia being the home land for terrorists all over the world. Riedel said that the country was a strong U.S. ally and the real problem was individuals in the country and not their government. “I don’t think there is a real way to divorce Saudi Arabia right now,” he said

Although Riedel’s book is not yet available for purchase, some advance, signed copies were available for the audience after the lecture. Before the talk St. Mary’s College President Dr. Joseph Urgo and Patuxent Partnership Executive Director Bonnie Green welcomed the audience to the event.

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