Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Steve Coll on the Problem of Pakistan

AP reported yesterday that Pakistani soldiers and tribesman shot down a suspected U.S. military drone close to the Afghan border Tuesday night. The United States challenged the account. "We're not aware of any drones being down," said a senior U.S. official, who speaking on condition of anonymity because of the diplomatic sensitivity of disputing a U.S. ally in the war against terrorist groups. Is it just me or are things getting dicey there? Seven years and this one is still out there. I'm not a rocket scientist but something is not working people.

Steve Coll recently wrote about the problem of Pakistan for the New Yorker. Brief excerpt below, read the entire text here:

"It is easy to see the need for a comprehensive, even radical rethinking of U.S. aid to Pakistan, which has been heavily militarized and patently ineffective at advancing the country’s stability. But exactly how that aid should be restructured and rethought is a very complicated problem, in part because it so difficult to address the short-term threat of terrorism emanating from within Pakistan at a time when counterterrorism policy and its sponsor, the United States, are deeply unpopular—so unpopular that some Pakistani legislators, rather than recommitting to a joint counterterrorism campaign, would prefer to declare war on the United States. Some suggest that the United States simply get out of the way or accept its impotency. It would be wonderful if we could learn to conduct foreign policy in a more Hippocratic style, but in any event, here the stakes are too high for passivity. The Taliban and Al Qaeda are not widely popular either, at least, and with attacks like the one on the Marriott, striking at civilians and at the country’s economic stability, they risk overplaying their hand and creating opportunities for the government to move against them more forcefully [...]

On television shows and in the movies, we romanticize covert action of this kind as bold and daring, but military history suggests that it is usually of very limited strategic value. It is usually most effective, as it was during the Second World War, when it serves as a kind of extension or multiplier of a successful overt policy. This may have been the case, too, with the covert action arm of the “surge,” which Bob Woodward has highlighted in his recent book. But covert action fails, as at the Bay of Pigs, when frustrated and desperate Presidents seize on secret war as a substitute for a successful declared or open policy that also involves diplomacy, economic measures, and so forth. The problem with covert U.S. raids in the Pakistani tribal territories today is not that they are unjustified—the Taliban and Al Qaeda are vicious adversaries, and they pose what the national-security lawyers call a “clear and present danger” to the United States and to Pakistan. The problem is that in the attenuating months of the Bush Administration, covert policy has dominated U.S. policy, and often controlled it—and it obviously isn’t working.

Ay caramba! Is this the end result of the underfunding of our foreign affairs agency (the organization that used to be called our primary foreign policy arm), or did somebody just checked the wrong box?

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