The US conducted another series of drone strikes inside Pakistan today, but they may be the last — if Pakistan’s Ali Zardari gets his way.  Bridget Johnson reports at The Hill that Pakistan has sent Richard Holbrooke home empty-handed after President Obama sent him to meet with Zardari about the $7.5 billion in aid Obama promised.  Obama wanted guarantees on how the money would get spent, but instead, Holbrooke got ultimatums:

U.S. envoys met with Pakistani leaders on Tuesday to ensure that the $7.5 billion that President Obama plans to send their way over the next five years will be used to achieve common goals in the fight against extremism.

But according to a Pakistani newspaper, regional envoy Richard Holbrooke and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen came up empty handed and received a “rude shock” when a proposal for joint operations against Al-Qaeda and Taliban forces in the volatile tribal regions was rejected.

Dawn newspaper reported that Pakistan also asked the U.S. to turn over the unmanned drone missions over the territory to them, saying that the drone strikes were fueling extremism.

And The Independent published an interview with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari on Wednesday in which he said Pakistan would go after high-value targets on their own if the U.S. would hand over its drone technology and intelligence.

That certainly puts a crimp in Obama’s plans to go after al-Qaeda targets in Pakistan.  It also demonstrates why George Bush spoke carefully about efforts in Pakistan, although in this case, it wasn’t Obama who let the cat out of the bag about drone operations originating in Pakistan rather than Afghanistan.  That honor belongs to Dianne Feinstein, whose public comments blew Pakistan’s plausible deniability and put added pressure on Zardari to act.

Pakistan’s demands follow a series of diplomatic setbacks for Obama on his European tour.  NATO won’t commit any new combat troops, leaving the Americans alone in bolstering front-line fighters.  Russia won’t discuss Iran and its nuclear weapons programs, but got Obama to hit reverse on missile-defense systems anyway.  The world has taken Obama’s measure, and found him wanting.

Will Obama cave on this demand?  Pakistan has no intention of angering tribal leaders by continuing the drone strikes; they admit as much when they claim that the strikes stoke extremism.  If Obama retreats on that front, it will leave the western frontier of Pakistan a free zone for terrorists and their leaders.  We certainly don’t want to give Pakistan our drone technology, as that would create real problems with India, who has a reasonable worry that Islamabad might use drone to target them rather than radical Islamist terrorists in NWFP and Waziristan.

These international tests just keep piling up, don’t they?  Joe Biden, it turns out, was an optimist.