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?