Sunday, June 29, 2008

The NYT's story on al Qaeda in Pakistan 

Drudge has been warning for several hours that Bush is angry about an imminent New York Times story about the frustrating hunt for Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda Central in Pakistan. Well, the story has just gone up, and I am not sure what the sturm und drang would be about. Yes, it contains the usual unsubstantiated allegations about the various American agencies having been "distracted" by Iraq, but that is old hat. If there is news in the story, it is that the administration has been arguing internally for months about whether or not Bush should sign a covert order to send Special Operations forces into Pakistan -- the idea, essentially, is to invade Pakistan -- to catch or kill bin Laden. The tone of the article is that we really ought to have done so a long time ago, which is a departure from the Times' usual view that sovereignty is sacrosanct unless the United Nations says otherwise. Anything is possible, I suppose, if hammering George Bush is the result.

In any case, there are a couple of criticisms that might be noticed even by non-experts (and I am certainly one of those). First, there is the obvious point that Pakistan, an Islamic country armed with nuclear weapons that it might use or "lose," has essentially given al Qaeda de facto sanctuary within its borders. Touchy situation, that. It is possible to read the "infighting" described in the article as robust debate about the best way to handle that rather explosive turd in the punchbowl. Is this not the very internal contention that Bush critics claim he did not brook in the early years of his administration? Not only that, but the world is going to great lengths to tie down countries who pursue terrorists across national borders, at least if they are the United States or Israel. Indeed, one might argue that the Bush administration can at this point be forgiven for being careful about violations of sovereignty given the rather unprecedented legalism that much of the world applies to interstate actions with which we or the Israelis concern ourselves.

Second, one might also wonder what a corresponding article written from al Qaeda's point of view would look like. If the United States was "distracted" by Iraq, what about bin Laden? He declared it the central front in the war and vowed to drive the United States out, but he has not achieved that or been able to pull off a mass casualty attack outside the Arab Middle East since Madrid and London. Has al Qaeda also been "distracted" by Iraq? Almost certainly, even if the allegations in the Times article are also true.

The basic danger is that al Qaeda has, supposedly, reconstituted training camps in Pakistan. They are smaller than the operations given sanctuary by the Taliban before September 11, but still thought to produce terrorists capable of striking Western targets. Since Pakistan cannot apparently track and kill the terrorists on its own and is not willing to allow the United States to do it, al Qaeda will continue to enjoy protection under Pakistan's nuclear umbrella until some American president decides that a visible and prolonged offense to Pakistan's sovereignty is worth the benefit.


By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Jun 30, 04:41:00 AM:

I don't think there's an answer to this one. And to be fair, that's the same situation Bush found himself in after 911.

For all the massive support he had back then, even he could do little better than play footsie with Pakistan for the same reasons and problems as now.

The Govt of Pakistan then and now was no bloodthirsty regime but one that slipped back and forth between democracy and dictatorship with a huge and volatile population and a military perpetually on the brink of something. Pissing off those entities and 167 million people with some major escalation doesn't seem to bright to me.. at least not until the Pakistanis themselves get pissed off with their own hillsmen.

The more I think about the current situation there, the better I feel about the strategy of going into Iraq.


By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Jun 30, 09:16:00 AM:

I agree with Tigerhawk and JC, as temping as it might be to take Obama's advice and invade Pakistan, we have to be very careful, as they are a Muslim country armed with nuclear weapons. All of the people who want to treat "terrorists" like
"criminals" should now see the folly of their position.
Drawing so many Al Queda jihadis into Iraq to be killed sure seems like a better idea than the Berkeley crowd has come up with. "Run Away" is a tag line to a funny movie, not a viable option for fighting terrorism.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Jun 30, 09:36:00 AM:

It's strange that we now find ourselves in a similar position as the late Soviet Union in the '80's; raiding into Pakistan to reduce partisan activity in Afganistan.

The difference is, of course, that the Russkis were killing Afgans wholesale, while uh, NATO, uh, is trying to rebuild a nation that has had 25 years of civil war (largely started by Ivan).

That worked so well for the Russkis, why shouldn't it work for us? Maybe the
Pakis will invite the Chinese in on their side, then we get the Indians involved, and Hey Presto! WWIII!


By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Jun 30, 10:35:00 AM:

I am appalled at your disregard for our constitution. We must first indict bin Laden and make an extradition request. Then Pakistan will send a cop into the mountains, where bin Laden will be arrested and sent to New York to face prosecution.  

By Blogger Unknown, at Mon Jun 30, 10:51:00 AM:

The really hysterical proposition in the NYT article is that a head-on battle with al Qaeda, the Iraq war, is treated somehow as a distraction.

How could one possibly define the forces who have opposed us as something other than al Qaeda? They self-identify themselves as such, the indigenous population regards them as such, al Qaeda leadership calls them such, but the Times calls them something else entirely! What ever happened to the "reality based" opponents of American policy?  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Jun 30, 01:16:00 PM:

Plenty of British Pakistanis taking suspicious trips to Pakistan these days. Sadly, British politics is so PC these days, and they are so afraid of being called "racist", that they do not investigate any of them.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Jun 30, 03:59:00 PM:

I for one am not worried about those camps even if as the NYT says they are prepared to arrange attacks here. Squabling will come to a quick stop and international borders will not be an obstacle if we are attacked here again. The camps will simply cease to exist, wether Pakistan likes it or not. I for one would not waste a single American life with special forces operations, other than preparing the battle space for complete destruction. I also dont think we would at that point worry too much about killing their tribal supporters. That is if we have the balls to do the right thing.

But Alas, Obama will probably be president and we will all have to sing Cumbaya with our enemies. Im looking forward to seeing how the times spins that one.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Jun 30, 04:42:00 PM:

I well remember the arguments against going into Afghanistan after 9/11. So excuse me if I am somewhat less than persuaded by all the hand-wringing now that we did not pursue that campaign vigorously enough. The argument now given by much the same people that we should simply ignore Pakistani sovereignty and invade is snigger-worthy.

But let's take this doctrine and run with it, okay? Let's say that no matter where bin Laden is we should go get him. (Let's just assume he's still among the living.) Pakistan? No problem, right? Other than the logistical and operational difficulties that will inevitably lead to U.S. and collateral Pakistani casualties, we can assume the likes of the Times editorial staff will be fully supportive.

But what if bin Laden is not in Pakistan but rather in Iran? Does that present a problem? And why, exactly, would that be?  

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