Saturday, October 31, 2009

Is The United States Gearing Up To Go Into Pakistan?

In 2007, Barack Obama attracted controversy during his campaign by declaring that if elected, he would be willing to go into Pakistan if there is "actionable intelligence about high-value targets" in the country, and if the Pakistani government "won't act" against them.

During her three-day visit to Pakistan this week, Hillary Clinton seemed to indicate that those two criteria may now have been fulfilled.

On actionable intelligence about high-value targets, Clinton seemed confident that Al Qaeda's leadership is present in Pakistan: "Al Qaeda has had safe haven in Pakistan since is just a fact that Al Qaeda had sought refuge in Pakistan after the US and our allies went after them because of the attack on 9/11...Our best information is that Al Qaeda leadership is somewhere in Pakistan."

On unwillingness to act, she suggested that Pakistani officials know where these terrorists are, but are hesitant to go after them: "I find it hard to believe that nobody in your government knows where they are and couldn't get them if they really wanted to. Maybe they're not gettable. I don't know."

Even while commending Pakistan's military efforts in Swat and South Waziristan, she said that it was "not sufficient".

Meanwhile, President Obama has been "dithering" (as Dick Cheney put it) on a decision about how many more troops to send to Afghanistan, if any.

He may be listening closely to his vice president. Newsweek's recent cover story on Joe Biden started off highlighting the veep's concerns about resources and strategy in the region: "So I have a question. Al Qaeda is almost all in Pakistan, and Pakistan has nuclear weapons. And yet for every dollar we're spending in Pakistan, we're spending $30 in Afghanistan. Does that make strategic sense?"

The question is a good one, and Biden's observations are shared by others, notably National Security Adviser Retd. Gen. James Jones, who said of Afghanistan earlier this month: "The Al Qaeda presence is very diminished. The maximum estimate is less than 100 operating in the country, no bases, no ability to launch attacks on either us or our allies."

On Friday, the White House stood behind Clinton's blunt comments, calling them "completely appropriate".

While it may be too early to tell whether Obama will follow through on his 2007 campaign pledge, it does seem like his administration is setting the stage.