Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A New Resolve in Pakistan?

There may be a new resolve in Pakistan to beat back the Taliban. This resolve may bring a shimmer of hope to an otherwise dreary picture in the "crucible of Terror."

Very rare "Save Pakistan, Stop Taliban" protests popped up in Karachi recently. Most public opinion in the past has been relatively neutral towards the Taliban (though I frankly cannot imagine why--they have been killing Pakistanis for years), until the Taliban advance out of the Swat valley (and the undermining of the peace deal). Additionally, the media is starting to paint the Taliban in a bad light--something that has brought threats from the Taliban that there would be "dire consequences" for any media that report negatively on them (this is reminiscent of the "behead those who insult Islam" meme, at least to me). Such desperate attempts to intimidate are a sign that the Taliban are, in some ways, on the defensive.

The Pakistani army offensive into the northwest continues. But will the will remain? Can they pull troops from the Indian border, or will their obsession with their southern neighbor handicap them? The US is trying to encourage the new turning of tide, and is threatening sticks if the Pakistanis cannot deal. The US is now openly considering sustained operations in Swat valley, which would be a huge escalation (and would be breaking all sorts of international law, unless you question the actual sovereignty of Pakistan over the area [which is plausible, given a complete lack of administration, control, and now, effort]). In short, "Stop the Taliban, or we will."

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Swat Deal Going South

As Pakistani Taliban march (mostly unopposed) closer and closer to Pakistan's capital, Pakistani leadership is starting to get jittery. While not canceling the peace deal altogether, President Zardari has given the military a go-ahead to hit the Taliban hard and push them back. Fighting has broken out already; the Pakistani military is showing its training gives it a hard edge over the Taliban in conventional battles.

It's unclear what this particular operation is besides a knee-jerk reaction, and it--frankly--probably will not on its own be the beginning of an offensive into the northwestern frontier regions. But it may be a sign that opinion polls are starting to change. The closer the Taliban gets to the capital, the more it becomes clear to the Pakistani people that the Taliban are a threat to the security of everyone in the country and to the very existence of the Pakistani state as we know it. Until now, most Pakistanis thought that the problem would go away if the US pulled out, and that the Taliban did not have aspirations to conquer the region. It's becoming more clear that they do.

The Taliban have not held up their end of the Swat deal to lay down their arms and halt expansion. As discussed earlier, a deal with the Taliban had the strong potential to turn Swat valley into an untouchable safe haven from which to train, arm, organize, and then launch attacks elsewhere. And it looks like that's exactly what the Taliban are doing. But while breaking the Swat deal may have given the Taliban a tactical advantage, they may push the Pakistani people over a threshold of sufficient resolve to begin an all-out offensive. Such an offensive, which could be heavily funded, supported, and aided by the US, might have the potential to seriously rout Taliban leaders that have spent the past few years not having to deal with conventional warfare. More than likely, the Taliban have taken a path-of-least-resistance in the northwestern frontier regions, letting themselves operate more openly and conventionally in a region where they were not being bothered, and supporting their more guerrilla brethren in Afghanistan. If this is true, bringing to bear the might of the Pakistani army might leave them disorganized long enough for the US to be able to make an offensive in Afghanistan.

Should such a pincer maneuver work, the next step would require the hasty-but-effective deployment of indigenous local security forces loyal to the Pakistani and Afghani states. Such a task is easier said than done, but it is something that will be much easier done with a scattered and disorganized Taliban than a fully entrenched and offensive one.

Hopefully, Mr. Obama is ready to take advantage of the Swat deal going south. He needs to be able to propose a better alternative--and this alternative would include getting India to back off long enough for Pakistan to shift some troops to the north. But India is going to want attention dealt to the Kashmir region, as well, which is full of largely Pakistani Intelligence-supported insurgents and terrorists.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Bandaiding Won't Work in Somalia

The "Somali Government," which I shall now and for probably a long time refer to only with sneer quotes, has requested a big chunk of international funding to create a Navy. How quaint.

There are probably a lot of folks in the international community that would like to throw some money at this problem and be assured that it will go away. It won't. And anybody that thinks it will is a fool looking to throw money away.

Somalia is in anarchy. Its government exists only by name--it has no influence. It was propped up briefly by the Ethiopians with the support of the West, but as soon as the Ethiopians left, Mogadishu was overrun by the Union of Islamic Courts, a group that the Ethiopians thought they had finished off a few years ago.Some work has been done to regain some bit of administrative control over some of Somalia by the Western-supported government, but to the south, Islamic militants reign. Puntland and Somaliland to the north are essentially autonomous. And the small swath of land administered by the Somali government is one that is highly unstable, highly variable, and full of citizens with very little national identification or loyalty.

Frankly, how can money create a competent Navy? It takes much more than steel, guns, and technology to get a Navy working in a way that can fight piracy. If a Navy is to fight an internal menace, then some internal control is necessary. Some internal intelligence is critical. And even if that is achieved, years of training are necessary to create well-trianed sailors that can competently hunt and destroy the pirates.

It might probably even be cheaper to send a UN-approved force to whack the Somali pirates in their dens, then to throw a bunch of money at a Somali Navy that will not exist for a very long time, if at all. Trying to outsource this problem is a fool's errand.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Summit of the Americas Shows the Value of Charisma

Obama's courting the hemisphere; "re-engaging," he calls it. Sometimes, I'm not entirely sure why we care whether Venezuela or Ecuador likes us, but the people of the United States want the world to love them. And if that's what they want, it's what Obama is delivering.

Obama made some pretty small concessions to Cuba recently. In essence, he's allowed direct relatives of people in Cuba to visit their relatives in Cuba without limit, and to send remittances without limit. The policy is shrewd--it keeps Cubans from immediately enjoying a vast cheapening of goods (cell phones are a serious luxury) that might bolster the Castro regime. The concessions stay in the theme of giving families the ability to support each other--and that's hard to argue with. But the concessions are a sign that more may be on the way, if Cuba is able to act. What the US wants out of Cuba is increased liberty, democracy, human rights, etc. I think the idea of taking down the Castro regime with economic sanctions has long gone out the window--hanging onto that goal is foolish. And with the Cold War long gone, the Castro regime no longer remains a threat in any way to the security of the United States or its allies. But we, as the Good Guys, would prefer if we could lever our economic and political power to bring greater freedom and human rights to the peoples of Cuba, and that's a fine thing.

Raul Castro has responded in his own way, by saying that he'd be willing to meet with Obama to discuss "everything." It's a fine first step. Sadly, putting sanctions back up after taking them down is politically costly, and it's tough to ensure that Castro will follow through with any promises towards democratization, human rights, or liberty.

At the Summit, Obama was met with a standing ovation by other world leaders. Even Chavez didn't say a single bad thing about Obama--Chavez specifically limited his criticisms of the United States to the past. Obama's mere presence has derailed a lot of criticism of the US, even though policy hasn't changed much. Part of it's the change in rhetoric--Obama has brought a lot of that. Some of it is progress on the Cuba front. But Obama talks pretty, apparently listens well, and is the kind of guy that you hope likes you after he meets you (the concept of not liking him after meeting him boggles most people outside the US).

In diplomacy, these traits can go surprisingly far. Bush was often aloof, and was apparently not a great listener--he'd show up with a policy and advocate for it, and was apparently not very good at pretending there was a dialogue. He didn't charm people. Obama does. And that fact alone may make the job of the United States a whole lot easier over the next 8 years.

But the standing ovation for Obama shows that world opinion is fickle. A simple changing of personalities in the White House can change responses in the streets from protests to parties. Has the US given up most of the world's grievances? Nope (but it has given up a few things, like stopped outsourcing interrogation to Eastern Europe). Iraq policy is essentially going how Mr. Bush would have planned it. Afghanistan policy is changing, but it's a re-trenching, not a pulling-out. The US is still backing Israel and pursuing a two-state solution. It's still in favor of expanding NATO, and of keeping tough sanctions on Iran and on North Korea, and even on Cuba. Obama's being careful not to give much away (beyond "first hit's free" tasters of policy change that whet the tongue for negotiation).

What this means is that Obama, if he is going to actually make the collective lives of the United States easier in the foreign policy realm, must use his charm and charisma to seek policy changes in other countries that are permanent (difficult to reverse), beneficial (directly making our lives cheaper/more prosperous/safer, etc), and tying (increasing "interdependence" in the world such that opposing powerhouse economies like the US leaves you behind). He must also make sure not to ignore traditional US allies, like Japan, South Korea, Israel, Britain, Poland, Australia. But he seems to be standing by them where they need it, so far. And he may have correctly identified that they need far less maintenance as allies than they have recently had. With essentially scarce diplomatic resources, Obama must balance between wooing and maintaining. But frankly, I think he's off to a good start. Let's see what he can do with it.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Obama Should Get Tough with DPRK

The DPRK kicked out American experts and IAEA inspectors this week, promising to restart its plutonium reactor after launching a missile into the Pacific. This is not a new pattern for the DPRK--for decades, they have played brinksmanship with the rest of the world, gotten concessions in exchange for promises, only to swiftly turn 180 on those promises and start jerking the rest of the world around for more handouts.

I am typically more in favour of negotiation than many of my realist friends, mostly because I think that most concerns by most countries are relatively reasonable. But modern deterrence usually hinges on threats that are low cost to the deterrer, including sanctions or whatnot; negotiations can happen with such deterrence hanging in the background. But deterrence of DPRK will require serious threat. The DPRK won't be swayed by anything sanctions-related, as it controls the media so thoroughly that the country's people will never be angry at the state. Trying to affect public opinion is useless. Kim must actually be scared into acting straight--both carrots and some seriously heavy sticks must be presented.

Some sanctions actually have a shot at disabling the missile and nuclear programs, which is a laudible goal. China may possibly block such attempts, it's unclear--but the audacity of DPRK's continuance of nuclear refining after hard-won treaties against it will even anger the Chinese, who arguably put the most work into the negotiations in 2006 to get the North Koreans to stop refining plutonium in the first place.

The US should be prepared, at this point, to begin considering stacking South Korea with masses of anti-artillery rockets, and bring an aircraft carrier/missile destroyer to bear on North Korea, threatening to simply destroy known refining and production facilities (some of these are underground, unfortunately). The anti-artillery rockets are vital just in case the North Koreans attempt to respond by bombarding Seoul with artillery, or threaten to--Seoul is close enough to the border for the threat to be entirely real. If the US can create a strong upper-hand in negotiations, the DPRK might be more willing to ply. The Chinese will object, but are unlikely to get too involved at this point in their growth phase. The last thing the Chinese want is to give the Americans a stronger impression that the Chinese are bent on propping up rogue states--their relationship with Iran, Sudan, and North Korea as it is gives China a relatively bad impression in the US.

What cannot happen is new rounds of negotiations similar to those in 2006. Such brinksmanship on the part of North Korea is costly and, frankly, dangerous, and it would be irresponsible to encourage such brinksmanship by rewarding it with new negotiations for handouts. The long-term solution, of course, is to try and leak free information into the DPRK to push for domestic regime change. The brainwashing by the DPRK government is so thorough that any external attempts to depose the regime will be met by massive backlash (and, of course, refugees), so any attempts to oust/depose/bankrupt the DPRK will probably not go over so well (both South Korea and China virulently oppose bankrupting the DPRK, as they would have to deal with millions of starving refugees all at once--not a great plan).

So, Mr. Obama--time to get tough. Let's see if you can do it.

EDIT: I've since been informed that, should a conflict with DPRK arise in which the DPRK was sufficiently more prepared than the US/ROK, ~0.5 Million shells would land in Seoul during the first hour of the conflict--there aren't enough Patriot or Aegis batteries in existence to deal with that. Surprise operations, including airpower, commandos, etc, would be required to disrupt DPRK operations enough that those artillery batteries could not be brought to bear until enough US planes were in their air to blot out the sun.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Captain Free, Pirates Dead

Just today, Captain Phillips of the Mearsk Alabama is free. Recall that he was captured by pirates (somewhat voluntarily, to protect his crew) on their way off the ship that the crew was taking control of.

During the past few days, US Navy vessels were actually towing the lifeboat with the Captain and 4 pirates on board. One pirate went onto a naval vessel to negotiate. Capt. Phillips, who was tied up due to having previously attempted to escape, probably noticed that there were snipers aboard the US Navy vessels, and dove into the water once more (again, tied up). A pirate freaked, and swung an AK in the Captain's direction. This was enough provocation for the Navy SEAL snipers, with a mandate directly from the US president, to open fire. All three pirates on the lifeboat were killed in seconds, and the fourth pirate was taken into custody. The SEALs then went to get him out of the water, and he's been flown to the USS Boxer to get medical attention and a good meal.

Capt. Phillips will probably get interviewed a number of times about the incident, but his behavior seems to indicate that he highly values not being a burden on his country/company/friends, not being a hostage that other people have to pay to bail out. Multiple times, he's put his life on the line to get away with minimal help, where sitting pretty would have had a much higher success rate of getting home.

His and his crew's behavior, along with the behavior and success of the US Navy, is likely to set a powerful precedent in the Horn of Africa. The US, 7 and a half years removed from 9/11, is still incredibly sensitive about hijacking, hostage-taking, and other acts perpetrated on its civilians by others. The US government, and the citizens under fire, will make life especially difficult for the individuals that are foolish enough to assault Americans. The response by all actors involved is impressive, both in execution and in manner. The US has just significantly raised the stakes for piracy in a world that once welcomed it through soft responses and an obsession with not stepping on toes.

Whether the US will take this incident and propel it to attack pirate sites in Somalia is somewhat unclear, but I think it's unlikely. I'm actually not sure what international waters treaties that the US has signed might say, but they probably don't involve land attacks, particularly since some form of sovereignty is largely assumed (and Somalia's sovereignty is mostly a joke). That said, if the US can plausibly project a strong likelihood of fatal failure to any pirates looking for vessels, then they'll start to deter pirates on the margins, which is a fine start.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Hijacking Update: Getting the Captain Back

Pentagon reports were a bit premature, and lacked a few key details about the hijacking. I think I've managed to piece most of them together.

When the crew overpowered the pirates and took one of them into custody, the pirates managed to take the captain of the vessel hostage. The crew tried to negotiate for the captain with the last pirate, but the trade never happened, and the other pirates escaped on a lifeboat. The USS Bainbridge, a missile destroyer, has arrived on scene with FBI hostage negotiators to seek his release. The Mearsk Alabama is on its way, under armed guard, to Kenya to deliver the aid supplies.

I'll try to keep you updated on the fate of the captain, as well as that of the pirates.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

American Crew Retakes Hijacked Ship

Within the last day the Mearsk Alabama, with a 20-person American crew, was hijacked off the coast of Somalia while carrying aid supplies from Denmark to Kenya. This marked the first time since 1800 that an American crew had been successfully taken by pirates. The hijacking was tough--the four pirates chased the vessel for 5 hours, and were repeatedly knocked away by powerful water hoses.

The shipping company had pirate insurance (this exists), and was ready to pay to get the ordeal over with. But they didn't get the time to negotiate.

The 20 American crewmen overpowered the four pirates, taking one into custody on the ship. Pentagon reports have confirmed that the ship is back under American control. Watching the story unfold, I was wondering whether the US Navy would try to bail the crew out, and it appeared that they had been asked to back off by the ship's owner, who was ready to pay up (or, alternatively, knew what his crew was capable of).

If word of the incident spreads, Somali pirates may come better-armed in the future, but they would then risk escalating the problem to the point that it becomes less costly to the rest of the world to simply hunt and kill the pirates, rather than patrol and pay ransoms.

But Americans don't react passively these days to being hijacked, and probably won't ever again. Somali pirates may be better about doing their homework on their target in the future.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Impact of the Gates Reshuffle

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates recently announced massive cuts in and reshuffling of US military budget priorities. The move has a whole lot of people in a huff, but exactly those thatyou'd expect: the defense industry, congress, and big wigs in the military. I'll first contest that absolutely no cut in military spending (save appropriations for wars abroad) will make any of these folks happy, so I have no problems with ignoring their opinions and getting straight to the facts. The industry's objections should be self-evident. Congress has a series of constituencies to answer to, very many of whom have an army base or a plant or something related in their home towns--just go look at the military bases all over the US; Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and General Dynamics (probably the 4 hardest hit, in order) have dozens of US offices/factories each, and dozens of suppliers, who have dozens of suppliers. And the military, like all bureaucratic departments, loves toys, loves money, and doesn't like being targeted. Anyway. That budget.

The biggest-ticket blow is the F-22 Raptor. It's a beautiful aircraft, but at $138 million each, it's an absurdly expensive item. At $83 million, the uglier F-35 gets the job done at less than 2/3 the price. And while the F-35 isn't quite as "cutting edge" an air superiority fighter as the F-22, it's still better than anything else out there, and certainly better than anything the US is actually going to have to shoot at for the next 20 years, which is about the lifetime if most of these planes. The F-22 / F-35 dualism has been a bit like a VHS / Beta gimpfight, and it has been incredibly inefficient. If the Defense Department wants to pay the defense industry a few million bucks per year to keep the R+D departments coming up with new ideas, that's lovely, but paying top dollar for planes that are 95% redundant is like paying people to dig holes and fill them in again. And to be fair, Gates is accelerating the F-35 program to fill the replacement quotas for the Air Force--they'll get toys, just not the diversity they want. And yes, there will be fewer jobs, because the production lines will be vastly more efficient.

The next item that's getting whacked is the Boeing YAL-1 anti-missile laser. Another big-ticket project, which actually is relatively cheap compared to the above-listed items, still probably has very little practical application in the near future, and doesn't need much more in the way of development--just production. The point of the aircraft would be to shoot down theatre ballistic missiles (TBMs) or intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). Sounds lovely. But the YAL-1 would have to be circling over the launch sites of such missiles, with near-complete air superiority already established. The instances in which the US air force is going to be over a country, armed with serious ballistic missiles but no anti-air weapons, are vanishingly few. This did happen in the Gulf War, and it was a serious political issue that almost made the war a disaster--so the impulse to develop this technology is understandable. And it is cool. But it is a waste of money.

Gates is ending production of the C-17 Globemaster, which is a big ol' cargo plane. And a good one. But the primary rationale: We have enough. They have long lifespans, and we already have vastly more airlift capability than the rest of the world combined. This is nice for NATO missions, but Gates may be quietly telling the world: "Stop freeriding off American airpower. Buy your own." Will Europe respond? No idea. But I think it's sensible.

Additionally, the $87 billion ground portion of the Future Combat Systems revamp, which includes light combat vehicles, a logistics/utility vehicle, and a number of unmanned ground vehicles, is getting scaled back, though it's unclear to me by quite how much.

The final big-line item that is going down is ground based anti-ICBM missile defense. We've been testing it for 20 years against dummy missiles, and it has a pretty good track record. But 20 years ago, the Soviets were able to make decoy, evasion, chaff, E/M, and other technologies that could trick the interceptor. Trying to hit a missile with a missile is hard enough, especially in mid-flight/entry, when it is going stupidly quickly. But when it is ducking, weaving, deploying decoys, sending confusing E/M signals, sending chaff, etc, it's nearly impossible. I'm not even sure it would be feasible to build enough of these to make the probabilities work out if someone sent a few dozen nukes at us--we might get a few. But the probabilities start getting so vanishingly small that the tens of billions of dollars that the program still calls for are looking to not be worth it.

Now, the Gates budget is still over $500 billion. Most of the new money is going into anti-insurgent and anti-terror technologies that assist with tactical urban warfare knowledge, communication, troop protection, and other asymmetric-warfare issues (where Future Combat Systems-type stuff is mostly useless in these environments). This is, frankly, pretty smart. Projecting into the next 20 years, the likelihood of a war with China or Russia is absurdly small, where the likelihood of a war against militants/insurgents of some sort is much higher. US spending in the area will also enable the US to help other countries fighting their own counterinsurgencies, like Colombia, Lebanon, Israel, Iraq, Turkey, Pakistan and Afghanistan (which will be going on in some aspect for many years, like it or not), the Philippines, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia, and a whole host of others. A re-shifting of priorities is late in coming.

Change is hard. It has the potential to be tough on some American workers. But, frankly, it might actually be better to pay the laid-off workers to dig holes and fill them in again. The United States currently still has a mostly-Cold War budget, and needs to focus the wars it's fighting, and the ones it's going to fight in the next 20 years. If it doesn't win them, deter them, prevent them, or otherwise alleviate them, the problems for itself and its allies will be far greater than what the Russians can do in Ukraine, or the Chinese in Taiwan. The US Congress will probably frustrate the effort, but may say, "well, I guess we can just spend more." But the shifting of priorities--hopefully something Gates can concentrate on over the next 8 years--will put the US military in a much better position to be able to deal with the problems it's actually facing.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Heads Up: DPRK Launches its Rocket

North Korea did launch the "satellite" rocket less than half an hour ago, that is had been threatening to do.

Yonha, ROK's news agency, said that it might have actually been carrying a satellite, although it veered eastward so quickly that it was almost certainly not headed for space.

The Taepodong 2 rocket, which could hit Western US if carrying close to nothing (and of the N. Koreans could ever figure out how to use the damn thing), splashed into the Pacific Ocean after crossing Japanese airspace, as is usual.

Japan was ready to shoot it down, and was on high alert to do so. It had threatened multiple times to shoot it down, but for some reason didn't. They may have lost a beat due to trying to be conservative--two false alarms earlier in the week embarrassed the defense ministry. I'm a bit disappointed, to be honest. Shooting the rocket down would have been a clear sign that the Japan-ROK-US bloc was not going to tolerate such brinkmanship anymore. Alas.

Obama's Got Some Diplomatic Magic

It's a big week in diplomacy for the United States, particularly in Europe.

NATO and the G20 both met for some big conferences. Obama was at both.

As much as perennial protests hit G20, Obama seems to have wooed Europe's civil governments with his visit. Obama seems to have gotten some accord in the G20--not quite as much action as he was hoping for, but Sarkozy and Merkel are now likely to at least spend a bit less time railing on Obama's economic policies, and more time trying to come to a mutually beneficial solution.

Obama also held a town meeting in France, taking questions of a bunch of French and German folks, and to "listen." Apparently, they loved him.

At NATO, Obama hailed a "new chapter" in US-European relations. In a showing of support for the US, NATO handed over 5000 troops to Afghanistan to beef up security before elections. They're temporary, but it's more help than the US got in a long time, and it's the first showing in years that Afghanistan is a NATO war, not a US war with reluctant taggers-along. Additionally, Obama managed to convince Turkey to allow the Danish Prime Minster Rasmussen to head NATO (Turkey was worried because Rasmussen was involved with the Danish cartoonist's Mohammed-terrorist snafu, and NATO works on full consensus).

The US and Russia seem to be thawing a bit, which is bringing a sigh of relief to NATO. Apparently Medvedev and Obama are "comrades" now, after Obama showed up and said that Russia has "legitimate" interest in, and grievances with, NATO. Comrade Obama's clearly trying to soothe Russian frustration and try to integrate them into the European community, in hopes that they can be a part of the norm-centered Western order, rather than resorting to realpolitik. Medvedev responded with remarks that the Russians had no intentions of trying to bust NATO, and that they look forward to continuing to work together in regional security. In a sign of new cooperation, Comrades Obama and Medvedev agreed to push for extensive bilateral nuclear disarmament. If it can be pulled off, it will be a great trust-building measure, that will make the next 8 years (where Medvedev and Obama will both likely be still working together) possibly go a bit smoother. Such disarmament will save taxpayers a good few bucks, though I'm somewhat worried about Obama's hope to "rid the world of nuclear arms." I'm much more comfortable with the Russians and Americans being able to leverage nukes on rogue states than not. More importantly, having a second-strike capability is critical to keeping countries like Iran and North Korea from doing anything too drastic if they get themselves extensive arsenals. Comrade Obama may have even defused the Eastern European missile shield snafu by pledging to work together with Russia to create a missile shield to protect Russia and Europe from missiles coming from elsewhere (probably Iran, North Korea). I see no particular reason why the NATO-side of the system couldn't also shoot down potential Russian missiles.

Finally, thumbs up seem to be coming from Afghanistan and Pakistan on Obama's new strategy for Operation Enduring Freedom. In response to an earlier post of mine: it's possible that Obama and/or the media were portraying an overly-simplistic version of the strategy. In particular, if the Afghan government approves of the strategy, then it's not one that's going to leave the Taliban in charge, which means that most of the problems I cited are naught, which is frankly great news. Maybe he'll pull it off. Pakistan's even starting a symbolically and strategically very important joint operation with the US to hunt and kill Taliban leader Baitullah Meshud, who is apparently likely to become serious trouble in the near future. If such joint operations can slowly be increased, then NATO and the Pakistani army may be able to surround and squeeze the Pashtuni region and levy sufficient pressure on the Taliban to get them to the negotiating table.

It seems everyone across the pond is gaga for Obama. Maybe we can just all get along. But over the next few months, I'll at least be scrutinizing the president for real policy results.