Friday, January 23, 2009

Obama's Orders in Pakistan Vindicate Bush

There has been much speculation in the past few years over seemingly foolish strategy in Pakistan against the Taliban by the Bush Regime. Alas, I have been a rather tough critic myself of a strategy that seemed at its core designed to irritate our alleged allies in the war on the Taliban.

US missiles flung into Pakistani territory do indeed kill Talibani soldiers, but it is highly unclear just how much of a battlefield tactical effect they might have. It seemed rather obvious to we political scientists that it was a long-term strategic blunder. Ultimately, cooperation by the Pakistanis would have been much more helpful (for, indeed, ground assaults by local troops supported by US Intelligence, airpower, and special forces was just how we drove the Taliban out of Afghanistan).

But Obama's decision to so quickly continue with the missile strikes is a bit of a shock to at least myself. This new President is one that promised a completely different approach--in particular, one that was much more friendly to our allies, and even to those that don't like us (like Iran). Obama's order of a missile strike in Pakistan that killed about 20 (hopefully Taliban) seems to be a direct contradiction of that.

This contradiction can be resolved one of a few ways, some of which are more plausible than others:
1) Obama's foreign policy will be just like Bush's, for all the bad reasons we believed Bush's was bad.
Unlikely. Even Obama can't get away with calling for change and then doing the exact same thing for four straight years. Additionally, the closing of Guantanamo (despite it truly making lives in the US Justice Department painful) shows a strong commitment to national image abroad.
2) Firing missiles into Pakistan is actually so overwhelmingly important for the battlefield that we are willing to pay the price diplomatically.
Possible, though it doesn't really seem to have kept the Taliban in check so far. Might be keeping them worried/hidden/suppressed, which would in particular be helpful if there were ground forces converging, which brings me to...
3) All of this is secretly coordinated with a somewhat-cooperative (yet still questionably competent) Pakistani Army.
Given both that airstrikes are not terribly effective in the absence of infantry, and that the President was able to decisively choose to attack after only two days in office, he likely has the cooperation from relatively authoritative persons in Pakistan, probably in the army. I will note, as well, the reluctance of the Pakistani government to make much of a fuss, even if they cannot openly admit cooperation.

If said cooperation is occurring, then the Pakistanis are likely planning a relatively major crackdown in the region. Why it didn't happen during the Bush regime is a bit of a wildcard in this interpretation, to be honest, but not one without some room for interpretation. The Pakistanis certainly could not afford to show any signs of working with Mr. Bush, but the government may be waiting to see how the wind blows in its country for Mr. Obama. Obama is bringing serious non-military aid to Pakistan soon, and it may make the environment ripe enough for open coordination with the Americans. For the meantime, Mr. Obama has free reign to soften the Talibani leadership a bit. And so he will.
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