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The U.S.-Pakistan War In Pakistan

Tomorrow morning — sigh — President Obama is going to give a speech unveiling his approach to the Afghanistan war and to the — the– the Whatever You Call It in Pakistan. Judging by what we’ve seen so far — Marc Ambinder has a first-look-preview — there will be a lot of discussion of counterinsurgency measures used for the ultimate strategic aim of disrupting the safe havens for al-Qaeda, which is, you know, not in Afghanistan. What Obama probably *won’t *spend much time discussing is what military measures we’re taking in Pakistan, where the havens are located — or beyond them. According to a fantastic piece of reporting in The Wall Street Journal, the Pakistani government has decided that it ought to get something out of the controversial CIA drone strikes in its border regions, and that something is expanding their scope to hit domestic-minded insurgents.

Given that prospect, Noah Shachtman thinks he knows what to call the Whatever You Call It in Pakistan:

[I]sn’t America, for all intents and purposes, at war in Pakistan? Only in this war, it’s our flying robots doing most of the fighting?

Crossing a border to chase militants is one thing — an organic expansion of a pre-existing conflict. This feels like a different matter: a commitment to the Pakistanis to put down their internal rebellion. It’s certainly linked to the first conflict (the Pakistani Taliban and the Afghan Taliban have officially teamed up). But it’s not the same as the original fight — the one that started in Afghanistan.

That’s exactly right. And here’s where you feel like the frog who went for a leisurely dip in the warm stockpot bath and suddenly finds himself boiling. Nothing that’s being reported here is so qualitatively different than what’s gone before. Some of the drones have targeted al-Qaeda figures. Others have targeted Taliban figures that have ties to al-Qaeda figures. Still others have targeted Haqqani network figures that have ties to Taliban figures that have ties to al-Qaeda figures. Targeting anti-Pakistani guerillas who have ties to al-Qaeda figures is new, but not so new.

Now you reach a point where you may wonder if the administration would be willing to say, publicly, “We believe the drone strikes are necessary. We also believe that we need to use them to help our friends, the Pakistanis, kill militants who focus on destabilizing Pakistan and also contribute to strikes on us.” A debate could rightfully ensue as to whether there needs to be congressional approval — after all, it’s war, isn’t it, even if it respects Richard Holbrooke’s “no troops in Pakistan” declaration?

The American people are being asked to recommit in a major way to the Afghanistan war. It’s untenable to commit to a *Pakistan *war without their consent.

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