Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Weighing the Risks

In a July 19 editorial, the Washington Post stated that

If Pakistani forces cannot -- or will not -- eliminate the [al Qaeda] sanctuary, President Bush must order targeted strikes or covert actions by American forces, as he has done several times in recent years. Such actions run the risk of further destabilizing Pakistan. Yet those risks must be weighed against the consequences of another large-scale attack on U.S. soil. "Direct intervention against the sanctuary in Afghanistan apparently must have seemed . . . disproportionate to the threat," the Sept. 11 commission noted. The United States must not repeat that tragic misjudgment.

The Post is here apparently proposing what Bill Kristol proposed recently: get rid of the AQ sanctuaries in Pakistan with air raids and special operations. The Post argues that we have to weigh the risk of destabilizing Pakistan against the consequences of another large-scale attack on U.S. soil. What are the chances that U.S. intervention in Pakistan will lead to Islamic militants capturing the government and getting control of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons? If that happened, would that consequence outweigh for the United States the harm of another attack on the scale of 9-11? The Post must think the chances of destabilizing Pakistan are not great. Many experts might concur, believing that the military will rule Pakistan and will not let the militants take over. Does this sound like what was said about Iran under the Shah? But Iran and Pakistan are different. True, so are Afghanistan under the Taliban and Pakistan today, although the Post editorial bases its argument on conclusions drawn by the 9-11 commission about Afghanistan under the Taliban. What is the likelihood that the sanctuaries could be destroyed by air raids and special operations? If these measures fail, will we not get an even worse outcome, the sanctuaries in place and Pakistan destabilized? Would a better strategy than air and ground raids be a long-term effort to manipulate tribal conflict in the area where we think AQ has sanctuaries? This might be both more effective and, because more low key than raids, less likely to destabilize Pakistan. Could the U. S. government do this without Pakistani assistance? My guess is that it could not. We probably don’t have the ability to do in Pakistan what we did in Afghanistan after 9-11, even if we had the will. Would the Pakistanis assist us?

Discussions - 2 Comments

Would which Pakistanis assist us? All of your questions, for me, come down to one question to which I certainly do not have an answer. Do we understand the political situation in Pakistan well enough to be able to intelligently assess the risks of such an intervention?


The US military is so good at military operations when there is a clearly identifiable target that can be efficiently blown up. If, IF this is a situation where direct military action will defeat AQ, then this is a very good idea. Yet that has not been enough of an answer in the area to serve in either Iraq or Afghanistan, has it? Hitting these places militarily seems like digging a dandelion - the root divides and you get five smaller versions of the same plant spread over the area. Do we understand Pakistan well enough to know that there are enough Pakistanis who want to see AQ dug out of Pakistan that this will not feel like an attack on their sovereign state? If that is the perception, then a dozen insurgencies bloom and we are in another "God help us!" of a mess.

American political will in this matter relates to this; Americans have no sense that we can win anything in the Middle East in any way that redounds satisfactorily to us. If we cannot win in a way and a time that we can see and assess, we do not want any part of the Middle East. We have no sense that U.S. intelligence in the this matter, in more than one sense of the word, is good enough to meet the need in the situation.

Pakistan's nuclear capabilities direct all sides of this question. We do not even need to destabilize Pakistan enough for the government to be overthrown by Al Qaida for it to be a threat--- just a little destabilization might be enough for the government and military to be caught off-guard as terrorists make off with nuclear materials and weapons.

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