Saturday, September 27, 2008

Debate- Pakistan, Afghanistan

In the relatively boring presidential debate on Friday evening (9/26/08) that most objective observers would consider roughly a "draw," there were a few issues raised which give me the opportunity to demonstrate my bias- or, rather, incisive analysis.

One of these was Pakistan/Afghanistan. A question from Jim Lehrer about Afghanistan elicited these responses:

(McCain) Now, on this issue of aiding Pakistan, if you’re going to aim a gun at somebody, George Shultz, our great secretary of state, told me once, you’d better be prepared to pull the trigger.
I’m not prepared at this time to cut off aid to Pakistan. So I’m not prepared to threaten it, as Senator Obama apparently wants to do, as he has said that he would announce military strikes into Pakistan.... And I guarantee you I would not publicly state that I’m going to attack them.

(Obama) Nobody talked about attacking Pakistan. Here’s what I said.
And if John wants to disagree with this, he can let me know, that, if the United States has Al Qaida, bin Laden, top-level lieutenants in our sights, and Pakistan is unable or unwilling to act, then we should take them out.,,, And the problem, John, with the strategy that’s been pursued was that, for 10 years, we coddled Musharraf, we alienated the Pakistani population, because we were anti-democratic. We had a 20th-century mindset that basically said, “Well, you know, he may be a dictator, but he’s our dictator.”
And as a consequence, we lost legitimacy in Pakistan. We spent $10 billion. And in the meantime, they weren’t going after Al Qaida, and they are more powerful now than at any time since we began the war in Afghanistan.

There are a few points that ought to be made:

1) Al Qaida is more powerful now than at any time since we began the war in Afghanistan, as this New York Times article of 6/30/08 suggests;

2) Obama never said, even figuratively, that he would "aim a gun" at Pakistan, nor did he publicly state that he would "attack them." At most, the Democratic candidate said that he would attack Al Qaeda. Here is exactly what Obama has said:

(8/1/07) As President, I would make the hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. military aid to Pakistan conditional, and I would make our conditions clear: Pakistan must make substantial progress in closing down the training camps, evicting foreign fighters, and preventing the Taliban from using Pakistan as a staging area for attacks in Afghanistan. I understand that President Musharraf has his own challenges. But let me make this clear. There are terrorists holed up in those mountains who murdered 3,000 Americans. They are plotting to strike again. It was a terrible mistake to fail to act when we had a chance to take out an al Qaeda leadership meeting in 2005. If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won't act, we will.

(7/15/08) The greatest threat to that security lies in the tribal regions of Pakistan, where terrorists train and insurgents strike into Afghanistan. We cannot tolerate a terrorist sanctuary, and as President, I won't. We need a stronger and sustained partnership between Afghanistan, Pakistan and NATO to secure the border, to take out terrorist camps, and to crack down on cross-border insurgents. We need more troops, more helicopters, more satellites, more Predator drones in the Afghan border region. And we must make it clear that if Pakistan cannot or will not act, we will take out high-level terrorist targets like bin Laden if we have them in our sights.
Make no mistake: we can't succeed in Afghanistan or secure our homeland unless we change our Pakistan policy. We must expect more of the Pakistani government, but we must offer more than a blank check to a General who has lost the confidence of his people. It's time to strengthen stability by standing up for the aspirations of the Pakistani people. That's why I'm cosponsoring a bill with Joe Biden and Richard Lugar to triple non-military aid to the Pakistani people and to sustain it for a decade, while ensuring that the military assistance we do provide is used to take the fight to the Taliban and al Qaeda. We must move beyond a purely military alliance built on convenience, or face mounting popular opposition in a nuclear-armed nation at the nexus of terror and radical Islam.

3) The Associated Press reported on 8/2/07: "McCain said the situation in Pakistan is "very delicate," since the country's leader, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, is an American ally with a tenuous hold on power. The Arizona senator said a direct American attack on the country could cause a backlash that might topple Musharraf." 9/27/08: Al Qaeda apparently resurgent in the border area of Pakistan/Afghanistan and Musharraf, disgraced, is gone anyway, no longer army chief of staff or president. United States policy toward Pakistan was in fact shaped by the ethos of the foreign policy establishment "well, you know, he's a dictator, but he's our dictator."

The Repub nominee may have confused Pakistan with Afghanistan (about which he had been asked), inasmuch as Obama said also on 7/15/08 "I will send at least two additional combat brigades to Afghanistan, and use this commitment to seek greater contributions - with fewer restrictions - from NATO allies." Or McCain may intentionally have been misrepresenting Obama's policy toward Pakistan. Dishonesty or mental confusion- it's getting difficult to differentiate between the two with John McCain.

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