An Obama Pakistan Vow Returns
There’s talk about how Iran’s apparent rejection of President Obama’s outreach represents the end of a 2008 campaign goal. And it’s not exactly wrong, though it may be premature. But in today’s Washington Post, it’s clear that another, darker campaign vow is returning, this time about Pakistan.
Beginning in 2007, candidate Obama suggested that his administration might take unilateral action against extremists in Pakistan if the Pakistani government proved to be intransigent. It brought him reproach from then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), now his secretary of state, and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), still the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee. And over the past year, as the Pakistanis have, with U.S. pressure and guidance and support, launched military offensives first to drive the Pakistani Taliban out of the Swat Valley and then to extirpate it in south Waziristan, the vow has faded. But it’s apparently returned.
A recent letter from Obama to his Pakistani counterpart, Asif Ali Zardari — whose position is rather tenuous at the moment as he faces a restive military — outlined a series of carrots in the event of accelerated action against the extremists, including “enhanced development and trade assistance; improved intelligence collaboration and a more secure and upgraded military equipment pipeline; more public praise and less public criticism of Pakistan; and an initiative to build greater regional cooperation among Pakistan, India and Afghanistan.” And then the stick, shown by national security adviser Jim Jones:
Jones, a retired Marine Corps general, was more precise in conversations with top Pakistani government and military leaders, U.S. and foreign officials said, stating that certain things have to happen in Pakistan to ensure Afghanistan’s security. If Pakistan cannot deliver, he warned, the United States may be impelled to use any means at its disposal to rout insurgents based along Pakistan’s western and southern borders with Afghanistan.
That’s a modified version of the vow, but there it is. Officials on the campaign stressed that it was a last resort, and a very conditional one. And it’s a questionable thing to reiterate after the Pakistani military has done more to go after al-Qaeda and its affiliates in 2009 than it did in the previous eight years. But with Obama planning to outline the ultimate end of the Afghanistan war on Tuesday night, perhaps it means something rather specific: if you won’t bring us the head of Osama bin Laden, we’ll get it ourselves.