The decision to make public a presidential order in July authorising US strikes inside Pakistan without seeking the approval of the Pakistani government ends a long debate within, and on the periphery of, the Bush administration.
Senator Barack Obama tried to outflank Hilary Clinton in the Democratic primaries campaign by supporting a policy of US strikes into Pakistan. Senator John McCain and his vice- presidential candidate Sarah Palin have now echoed this view and so it has become, by consensus, official US policy.
Its effects on Pakistan could be catastrophic, creating a severe crisis within the army and in the country at large.
The overwhelming majority of Pakistanis are opposed to the US presence in the region, viewing it as the most serious threat to peace. Why has the US decided to destabilise a crucial ally?
Within Pakistan, some analysts argue that this is a carefully coordinated move to weaken the Pakistani state further by creating a crisis that extends way beyond the badlands on the frontier with Afghanistan. Its ultimate aim, they claim, would be the extraction of the Pakistani military's nuclear fangs.
If this were the case, it would imply that Washington was indeed determined to break up the Pakistani state, since the country would very simply not survive such a disaster.
In my view, the expansion of the war relates far more to the Bush administration's disastrous occupation in Afghanistan. It is hardly a secret that the regime of President Hamid Karzai is becoming more isolated every day, as Taliban guerrillas move ever closer to Kabul.
When in doubt, escalate the war is an old imperial motto. The strikes against Pakistan represent a desperate bid to salvage a war that has gone badly wrong.
It is true that those resisting the NATO occupation cross the Pakistan-Afghan border with ease. However, the US has often engaged in quiet negotiations with them.
US intelligence experts regularly check into the Serena Hotel in Swat to discuss possibilities with Mullah Fazlullah, a local pro-Taliban leader.
The same is true inside Afghanistan.
After the 2001 US invasion of Afghanistan, a whole layer of the Taliban's middle-level leadership crossed into Pakistan. By 2003, their guerrilla factions were starting to harass the occupying forces in Afghanistan and, during 2004, they began to be joined by a new generation of local recruits, by no means all jihadists, who were being radicalised by the occupation.
In the world of the Western media, the Taliban has been entirely conflated with al-Qaeda. However, most of their supporters are driven by quite local concerns. If NATO and the US left Afghanistan, their political evolution would most likely parallel that of Pakistan's domesticated Islamists.
The neo-Taliban now control at least twenty Afghan districts. It is hardly a secret that many officials in these zones are closet supporters of the guerrilla fighters. They have won significant support in southern towns.
Elsewhere, mullahs who initially supported Karzai's allies are now railing against the foreigners and his government. For the first time, calls for jihad against the occupation are even being heard in the non-Pashtun northeast border provinces of Takhar and Badakhshan.
The neo-Taliban have said that they will not join any government until "the foreigners" leave, which raises the question of the strategic aims of the US.
Is it the case, as NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer suggested earlier this year, that the war in Afghanistan has little to do with spreading good governance or even destroying the remnants of al-Qaeda?
Is it part of a master plan, as outlined by a strategist in NATO Review in 2005, to expand the focus of NATO from the Euro-Atlantic zone, because "in the 21st century NATO must become an alliance ... designed to project systemic stability beyond its borders"?
As that strategist went on to write: "The centre of gravity of power on this planet is moving inexorably eastward. As it does, the nature of power itself is changing ... as yet the rapid change therein is neither stable nor embedded in stable institutions.
"Until this is achieved, it is the strategic responsibility of Europeans and North Americans, and the institutions they have built, to lead the way ..."
Such a strategy implies a permanent military presence on the borders of both China and Iran. Given that this is unacceptable to most Pakistanis and Afghans, it will only create a state of permanent mayhem in the region, resulting in ever more violence and terror ... further stretching an already over-extended empire.
Globalisers often speak as though US hegemony and the spread of capitalism were the same thing. This was certainly the case during the Cold War, but the twin aims of yesteryear now stand in something closer to an inverse relationship.
The very spread of capitalism that is gradually eroding US hegemony. Russia's triumph in Georgia was a dramatic signal of this fact.
The US push into the Greater Middle East in recent years, designed to demonstrate Washington's primacy over the Eurasian powers, has descended into remarkable chaos, necessitating support from the very powers it was meant to put on notice.
Pakistan's new, indirectly elected President Asif Zardari, Pakistani "godfather" of the first order, indicated his support for US strategy by inviting Karzai to attend his inauguration — the only foreign leader to do so.
Twinning himself with a discredited satrap in Kabul may have impressed some in Washington, but it only further decreased support in his own country.
The key in Pakistan, as always, is the army. If the already heightened US raids inside the country continue to escalate, the much-vaunted unity of the military high command might come under real strain.
At a meeting of corps commanders on September 12, Pakistani chief of staff general Ashfaq Kayani received unanimous support for his relatively mild public denunciation of the recent US strikes inside Pakistan, stating that sovereignty would be defended "at all cost".
Saying this, however, is different from doing so in practice. This is the heart of the contradiction. Perhaps the attacks will cease on November 4. Perhaps pigs (with or without lipstick) will fly.
What is really required is a US/NATO — who have failed abysmally — exit strategy from Afghanistan, which should entail a regional solution involving Pakistan, Iran, India, and Russia. These four states could guarantee a national government and massive social reconstruction in that country.
[Abridged from http://www.tomdispatch.com.]