Republican and Democrat administrations suffer from the same syndrome. They tend not to remember what they shouldn't forget. This ends up in the national security field with someone's boss hissing at an adviser, "Why didn't you remind me about that?" Theoretically there are contingency plans for all possibilities -- and there usually are. The trouble is that the studies are usually buried away in the files of the worker bees at State or the Pentagon.
Among several areas Pakistan's political volatility stands out. While President Pervez Musharaff has cooperated closely with the United States in efforts to track down al Qaeda leaders, certain elements of Pakistan's intelligence service has continued to covertly assist the Taliban.
Washington has had to live with this fact, as indeed has Musharaff. In spite of his efforts to control his intelligence agency, the political balance in Pakistan remains so precarious that Pres. Musharaff has no realistic alternative other than to soldier on.
Washington is committed to the Pakistani president, but it cannot be forgotten that if Musharaff is assassinated, or otherwise removed from influence, there is no "Plan B." The U.S. needs Pakistan's help and cannot afford al Qaeda having an unchallenged support and supply base there. It is an essential element in the war on terrorism. A great deal hangs on Musharaff's longevity.
Assassination is, of course, a danger for every world leader, but even more so in the inflamed Middle East. Power changes through this method are the reason why there is chaos in Lebanon today. But it is not necessary to assassinate a leader to seriously alter the political scene. Israel is a good example.
The illness of Ariel Sharon took a steady and experienced hand from the helm of that state. It is generally conceded that Sharon would not have re-invaded Lebanon as a result of the Hezbollah provocation. The Olmert government's knee-jerk reaction has resulted in a serious political and military setback for Israel. Some say that the combination of events came "out of left field." That's just not true. Washington and other interested parties simply never put the correct weight on the calculation that Israel's security would be tied to one man's health.
In Cuba's case the potential for radical change is even greater and should not be overlooked. An orderly transition to Castro's brother, Raul, as interim leader is in process until a new comandante can be chosen, communist style, from the younger ranks of Fidel's revolutionary party. For the moment there seems to be an acceptance of this peaceful bridge to a new government.
While it may not fit in with the current Cuban propaganda line, it is fully possible that a serious division may occur among the Castro brothers' former aides. The potential therefore exists that a coup may be attempted and the military divided. Stability in Cuba cannot be considered as given. A bloody civil war is possible. It's happened before. The United States cannot afford to be unprepared for that possibility.
Perhaps the most dangerous area of the world to take for granted is North Korea. The problem is that the reportedly bizarre manner and interests of N. Korea's leader, Kim Jong Il, dominate media commentary. The American public is ill served in terms of understanding the essence of one of the most disciplined and self-sacrificing countries the world has known in modern times.
It is clear that North Korea has a workable indigenous nuclear and related technological ability. It has a large, well-equipped and dedicated army closely drawn up along the border with its democratic Korean neighbor in the south. At the same time, however, we know very little about the inner political workings of the backward-looking Stalinist government of Pyongyang.
We do know from past experience in similar situations during the Cold War that even such controlled and hard-line totalitarian governments have competing internal factions. Planning, therefore, based solely on the inevitability of Kim Jong Il peacefully remaining in power dangerously lacks recognition of the alternatives. More important, it is folly to assume reasoned judgment will rule Pyongyang's future actions in regard to its improving nuclear weapon and missile capability.
What is the answer to all these scenarios? Well, it resides in that age-old problem of government: bottom-up information transfer, essentially the same thing the 9/11 Commission and all the other similar commissions have suggested over the years. When we're thinking about the next administration, we might just ask the question, "Who will best handle the need to consider and plan for all the alternatives?" Daunting, isn't it?
Then there is Iran and...
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