Thursday, July 19, 2007
Christmas Gift Season?
If Pakistani forces cannot — or will not — eliminate the [al-Qaeda] sanctuary, President Bush must order targeted strikes or covert actions by American forces, as he has done several times in recent years. Such actions run the risk of further destabilizing Pakistan. Yet those risks must be weighed against the consequences of another large-scale attack on U.S. soil. "Direct intervention against the sanctuary in Afghanistan apparently must have seemed . . . disproportionate to the threat," the Sept. 11 commission noted. The United States must not repeat that tragic misjudgment.
This is a shameless dodge. "Targeted strikes" and "covert actions" are nice buzzwords, but they won't eliminate or even seriously dent al-Qaeda's sanctuaries in Pakistan and the Post knows it. Only continuous, large-scale strikes and troops on the ground have the slightest chance of doing that. If this is really what the Post supports, they should have the backbone to say so.
Not only would those "targeted strikes" and "covert actions" not achieve the goal of seriously hampering al-Qaeda's capacity to operate in the region, but as Blake Hounshell astutely notes, such tactics would actually prove a boon to al-Qaeda at a time when its image is slipping among the local population:
Which leads me to believe that the Bush administration will be ordering "targeted strikes" and "covert actions" in Pakistan shortly.
The Post is reacting to increasingly dire warnings coming from the U.S. intelligence community saying that al Qaeda has reconstituted itself in the federally administered tribal areas of Pakistan. But the benefits of direct U.S. action have to be weighed against the strategic costs. Right now, Pakistani President Musharraf has a mandate to go after extremists: The militants holed up in the Red Mosque called for an Islamic revolution, but the Pakistani public mostly cheered as Musharraf's security forces took them down.
This is why al Qaeda's Ayman al-Zawahiri has repeatedly urged his followers to concentrate on the jihad in Afghanistan and avoid attacks in Pakistan. Zawahiri, who watched his previous organization get destroyed in Egypt during the 1990s, likely understands that the escalating campaign of terrorist bombings in Pakistan will strengthen Musharraf's hand still further. But al Qaeda would enjoy a propaganda bonanza if the U.S. started seriously mucking around in the tribal areas. And then there's the small problem that even the United States likely doesn't have the ability to sneak into the tribal wilds of Pakistan with a compact strike force, kill the bad guys, and make a clean getaway without anyone noticing. This ain't the movies. Better to give the Pakistanis the time to do it themselves. [emphasis added by not praktike]