Monday, December 14, 2009

We seek no wider war

Via Kevin Drum, we learn that Predator-drone attacks are now vitally necessary inside large Pakistani cities:
The prospect of Predator aircraft strikes in Quetta, a sprawling city, signals a new U.S. resolve to decapitate the Taliban. But it also risks rupturing Washington's relationship with Islamabad.

The concern has created tension among Obama administration officials over whether unmanned aircraft strikes in a city of 850,000 are a realistic option. Proponents, including some military leaders, argue that attacking the Taliban in Quetta — or at least threatening to do so — is crucial to the success of the revised war strategy President Obama unveiled last week.
I've been gingerly supportive, or non-oppositional, of Predator attacks in remote areas where Pakistan effectively doesn't exercise sovereignty; but this is just nuts. Isn't it nuts? Explain to me how it's not nuts.

Sure, they want to scare Pakistan into policing Quetta. Fine. But if things have gotten to where (1) Pakistan won't apprehend Taliban/Qaeda members anywhere in its borders, and (2) we can't or won't send in our own ground-teams, presumably for fear of Pakistani interference ... well, isn't it time to declare war on Pakistan? Are they doing any less to "harbor" the Taliban and al-Qaeda than the Taliban did re: Qaeda? And we invaded Afghanistan, didn't we?

... Steve Coll had some relevant thoughts back in October testimony to Congress:
If the United States signals to Pakistan’s military command that it intends to abandon efforts to stabilize Afghanistan, or that it has set a short clock running on the project of Afghan stability, or that it intends to undertake its regional policy primarily through a strategic partnership with India, then it will only reinforce the beliefs of those in the Pakistani security establishment who argue that nursing the Taliban is in the country’s national interests. This in turn will exacerbate instability in Pakistan itself.

At the same time, if the United States undertakes a heavily militarized, increasingly unilateral policy in Afghanistan, without also adopting an aggressive political, reconciliation and regional diplomatic strategy that more effectively incorporates Pakistan into efforts to stabilize Afghanistan, then it will also reinforce the beliefs of those in the Pakistani security establishment that they need the Taliban as a hedge against the U.S. and India.

Between withdrawal signals and blind militarization there is a more sustainable strategy, one that I hope the Obama Administration is the in the process of defining. It would make clear that the Taliban will never be permitted to take power in Kabul or major cities. It would seek and enforce stability in Afghan population centers but emphasize politics over combat, urban stability over rural patrolling, Afghan solutions over Western ones, and it would incorporate Pakistan more directly into creative and persistent diplomatic efforts to stabilize Afghanistan and the region.

Such a sustained policy, combined with heavy new investments in Pakistan’s success, even beyond the commendable achievements of the Kerry-Lugar legislation, will provide the best chance that Pakistan’s army will, over time, continue to share power and accept strategic advice from Pakistani civilians, and eventually cast out the Taliban and similar groups as a hedge against the U.S. and India. That in turn is the best--arguably the only--path to a modernizing, politically plural, economically integrated South Asia.
That 3d paragraph strongly suggests that an "Afghanistan surge" needs to be focused on securing the cities, with Afghan troops handling the rural side, and more security than terrorist-hunting.

The problem remains that the Taliban grew with Pakistan supplying the Miracle-Gro, and even Coll's "middle option" is hopeful at best about the army's disowning its adopted children.

... This story, the NYT version of the LAT story above, dovetails with Coll, but the interesting question is whether more stories like this will find their way into the news, supporting a "get tough with Pakistan" approach:
Demands by the United States for Pakistan to crack down on the strongest Taliban warrior in Afghanistan, Siraj Haqqani, whose fighters pose the biggest threat to American forces, have been rebuffed by the Pakistani military, according to Pakistani military officials and diplomats.

The Obama administration wants Pakistan to turn on Mr. Haqqani, a longtime asset of Pakistan’s spy agency who uses the tribal area of North Waziristan as his sanctuary. But, the officials said, Pakistan views the entreaties as contrary to its interests in Afghanistan beyond the timetable of President Obama’s surge, which envisions drawing down American forces beginning in mid-2011. * * *

The demands have been accompanied by strong suggestions that if the Pakistanis cannot take care of the problem, including dismantling the Taliban leadership based in Quetta, Pakistan, then the Americans will by resorting to broader and more frequent drone strikes in Pakistan.


  1. Strafing/bombing a city of that size with an unmanned drone is insanity. If we know the location that precisely, it would seem that Pakistan could deal with the problem themselves.

  2. Thus the only rational explanation is that we don't trust them -- that we expect Pakistan would tip off the suspects rather than nab them.

    But if it's gotten that bad, then Pakistan is effectively harboring terrorists. The correct thing is not to threaten Pakistan with Predator strikes. It's to ask them whether they want the U.S. on their side or on India's side.

  3. Afghanistan was only half about going after terrorists. Sure, we were looking to stop Al Qaeda, I think Bush desperately wanted to give us a win so all the bloodthirsty cheering and backslapping would take everyone's mind off of just how vulnerable we had been proven to be. Afghanistan looked to be just that - a nail that we could pound with the hammer of our overwhelming military.

    But Pakistan isn't that. Plus, they're nuclear. These days our willingness to police the world, or go after terrorists, stops at facing someone who could actually hurt us back.

  4. Re: Afghanistan, I think one must distinguish what the American people thought it was -- trying to grab OBL & Co. -- vs. what Bush/Cheney evidently thought it was, i.e., Step One in the Remodeling of the "Middle East."

    As for Pakistan, I don't actually recommend war with 'em -- we need a much firmer swat on the nose with a rolled-up newspaper for that.

    More like, "if we're going to do Predator strikes in their cities, we may as well be at war with 'em; SO, don't do those."

  5. I think looking at Afghanistan as the first step of the Great Crusade is giving that crew too much credit. I really don't think they were planning that far ahead. They just felt the need to show that they were big and tough and that we could hit something back hard after 9/11, because doing otherwise would make them look weak.

    But I do understand your point re:Pakistan... I'm just on a cynical "Why A and not B?" kick this week regarding who we do and don't go to war with, based mostly on the obviously hollow excuses we come up with.