Pakistanis wonder when Obama will make up his mind, too

The editorial board at the Washington Post appears to have lost some patience with Barack Obama and his slow pace at deciding what to do about Afghanistan — and they’re not alone.  While Pakistan prepares for a military offensive in South Waziristan, their diplomats tell the Post that they’re going to look mighty foolish if they stick their necks out and America decides to punt across the border.  They have no illusions that a return to power for the Taliban in Afghanistan will end the unrest in Pakistan. Instead, it will increase its momentum:

ONE OF the ideas the Obama administration is considering in response to the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan reportedly is called “Pakistan First.” Championed by Vice President Biden, the idea is to focus U.S. efforts on attacking al-Qaeda targets in Pakistan’s tribal areas with drones or Special Forces, while backing the government’s efforts to pacify and develop the lawless areas where al-Qaeda and the Taliban are based. The battle against the Taliban in Afghanistan, meanwhile, would be put on the back burner.

“Pakistan First” would excuse President Obama from having to anger his political base by dispatching the additional U.S. troops that his military commanders say are needed to stop the Taliban’s resurgence in Afghanistan. It would nominally focus U.S. efforts on a nuclear-armed country that is of far greater strategic importance.

Funny, then, that Pakistan’s civilian government doesn’t think much of the idea. In a meeting with Post editors and reporters Tuesday, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said without reservation that Taliban advances in Afghanistan were a mortal threat to his country. “We see Mullah Omar,” the leader of the Afghan Taliban, “as a serious threat. If the likes of Mullah Omar take over in Afghanistan, it will have serious implications for Pakistan,” Mr. Qureshi said. “They have a larger agenda, and the first to be impacted by that agenda is Pakistan. . . . Whether they do it in Pakistan or whether they do it in Afghanistan, it will have implications on Pakistan and it will have implications on the region.”

Like a couple of senior European leaders who visited Washington last week, Mr. Qureshi expressed a diplomatic version of dismay at President Obama’s public wavering on fighting the Taliban. “If that is going to happen, why have we stuck our necks out?” he asked. “Why did Benazir die?” Benazir Bhutto, the former leader of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party, was assassinated after she campaigned in favor of a decisive move by Pakistan to take on the Taliban movement — something the government and army declined to do until this year. Elements of the military or its intelligence service may still quietly support some Taliban groups; if the United States appears to retreat, those forces will be strengthened — at the expense of the pro-Western civilian government.

In accordance with Joe Biden’s track record on military strategy, Obama should continue to closely consult with his VP — and then proceed to do the opposite of whatever Biden recommends.  This is the same man who demanded for years that George Bush carve Iraq into three separate states, a sentiment pointedly not shared by the Iraqis.  For a military strategist, Biden makes a decent VP, as long as he sticks to state funerals and undisclosed locations.

As anyone with a lick of sense can figure for themselves, a strategy that focuses on one sector of the theater while ignoring another will result in enemy gains in the ignored sector.  The problems of the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan are linked, especially because the border is porous and not terribly accepted by the Pashtun who primarily comprise the Taliban.  What Biden suggests is Whack-a-Mole while only hitting one hole.

To his credit, Obama doesn’t seem to be falling for the “Pakistan First” strategy, but Kevin McCullough worries about his immature grasp of the world in making this decision, among others:

In Afghanistan, President Obama has deliberated for over a month about about whether to expand our footprint there by no more than 40,000 troops. While the military commanders he put in place to do the job beg him for more troops 43 more soldiers have died. Mr. Obama met with General McChrystal for less than an hour on Air Force One when he was in Copenhagen (but for only the second time since commissioning McChrystal to the theater), while Vice President Biden continues to whisper in his ear that things in the region are not working. In President Obama’s utopia he wishes that war did not exist, but he has yet to realize that the threat from not dealing with it could be the worst scenario of all.

On Iran, President Obama has issued a stern assessment of the rogue nation’s nuclear ambitions. In President Obama’s utopia, stern words should be enough. They should cause a reasonable world leader to be so concerned that they will pick up the phone and iron out the differences by the afternoon. Yet even after the IAEA’s meetings on Iran, even after the president issued another stern deadline, the administration has begun to backtrack. In President Obama’s utopia, the United States is not superior to other nations. That’s why we are powerless when we try to suggest what they should do. In fact, in President Obama’s utopia, if we simply give up our weapons he believes the bad guys will give up theirs.

We should get a better sense of this when Obama finally makes a decision on Afghanistan.  On Iran, sadly, Kevin is absolutely correct.