It’s not that they don’t work. They do — spectacularly so, albeit with a terrorist/civilian kill ratio that would have the UN demanding war-crimes tribunals were these Israeli drones instead of American ones. All the more reason for The One to think carefully about prosecuting Bush-era officials for waterboarding. “Torture” defendants today, Predator-operator defendants tomorrow.

No, the reason they might scale back is because the government’s so close to the brink now that the next strike could actually be more dangerous to them than to AQ. Thus it came to be that the same guy who, during the campaign, tried to build hawkish cred by insisting he’d attack whether Musharraf liked it or not is suddenly ready to let Pakistan take the lead.

“I have no doubt there is a change of mood,” said a Washington source. “The administration recognises that the political challenges are so immense for Pakistan’s government that the US has to re-evaluate what it has regarded as an otherwise successful programme.”…

Steve Coll, president of the New America Foundation, said the administration was “acknowledging that there is an interaction between the attacks and political instability and are re-evaluating the costs and benefits of these attacks”.

He said the Obama administration decided to intensify the attacks in the hope they would reach the top of al-Qaeda quickly.

He added: “My sense is they were looking at their watches trying to finish the job but they have run out of time.”

The One’s not going to deny himself the glory of scalping Bin Laden or Zawahiri if he has a chance, but the mid-level operational guys may suddenly have a reprieve. There’s an interesting contrast with the torture calculus here: Opponents of harsh interrogation refuse to balance the morality of inflicting suffering on one to possibly avoid the suffering of many, but in the case of drone strikes, the suffering of many seems to be the cold, hard, bottom line. If blasting terrorists and civilians in their vicinity from 20,000 feet makes America safer, let’s do it; if not blasting terrorists and civilians from 20,000 feet makes America safer by taking some heat off a wobbly, nuclear-armed government, then let’s do that. A strange game.

Incidentally, David Obey’s given Obama a loose deadline of one year to turn Afghanistan around before they start cutting funds for the war. I’ll be surprised if the anti-war movement waits even that long. Is that why The One didn’t respond to Iranian aircraft attacking Iraqi villages, incidentally — because he can’t be “distracted” from the real war right now? Or was that more a case of politely looking the other way in the interests of “dialogue”?