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About Those Af-Pak Questions

To gaze in one’s own navel: I said earlier I’d be listening to Obama’s Af-Pak speech for answers to four questions, like this was Passover or something. So what about those answers?

1. Will Obama give an exit strategy, an endpoint — if not necessarily a date — for when the mission is accomplished?

Answer: No. Saying you’ll “disrupt, dismantle and defeat” al-Qaeda is about the furthest thing from an endpoint as could be. What does it mean?

2. Will Obama say how we’ll know if his strategy is working or failing, and if so, how will he report it to Congress?

Answer: There was a lot of talk of benchmarks for Af-Pak strategy in the speech, where none before have existed. Check out Matthew Yglesias for more on that. And while this is more a promise than a plan, here’s what Obama said:

Going forward, we will not blindly stay the course. Instead, we will set clear metrics to measure progress and hold ourselves accountable. We’ll consistently assess our efforts to train Afghan security forces and our progress in combating insurgents. We will measure the growth of Afghanistan’s economy, and its illicit narcotics production. And we will review whether we are using the right tools and tactics to make progress towards accomplishing our goals.

I’m unsure about what reporting requirements Congress will add, but maybe that’s in the Pakistan bills he mentioned.

3. Will Obama make an argument for why the mission is in the national interest, and worth the sacrifice?

Answer: Most definitely. Simply put, preventing future attacks on the U.S. requires an increased commitment in Af-Pak. There’s sort of too much to summarize easily, but here’s a good excerpt:

Al Qaeda and its allies — the terrorists who planned and supported the 9/11 attacks — are in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Multiple intelligence estimates have warned that al Qaeda is actively planning attacks on the United States homeland from its safe haven in Pakistan. And if the Afghan government falls to the Taliban — or allows al Qaeda to go unchallenged — that country will again be a base for terrorists who want to kill as many of our people as they possibly can.

4. Will Obama talk about what meaningful pressure he’ll put the Pakistani government to increase its counterinsurgency capability so the United States doesn’t invade western Pakistan, but will allow it to eliminate the safe havens for jihadists in the Pakistani tribal areas?

Answer: It’s a judgment call. He made a point of saying the aid he’s giving is “not a blank check.” And there were a few sentences about U.S. expectations of the Pakistanis:

Pakistan must demonstrate its commitment to rooting out al Qaeda and the violent extremists within its borders. And we will insist that action be taken — one way or another — when we have intelligence about high-level terrorist targets.

Still, nothing in that or in other sections of the speech placed an affirmative burden on Pakistan when it comes to bolstered aid. Maybe that’ll be in the forthcoming bills.

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