This is, at bottom, what’s so uniquely strange about the U.S.-Pakistan relationship: It consists largely of efforts to finesse the fundamental and apparently unalterable fact that the enemy of one side is the ally of the other. This leads the United States to conduct unilateral operations such as the one Davis was carrying out, and it leads Pakistan’s leaders to gin up public opinion against an American presence that it cannot really do without. For the U.S. side, the stakes are only getting higher because Pakistan’s repeated intransigence has given the Afghan Taliban a sanctuary that virtually ensures the failure of the current massive counterinsurgency effort in Afghanistan. What we may be seeing, in other words, is not simply another episode in a stale drama, but the growing difficulty of finessing the underlying problem.

A divorce would be satisfying; but Pakistan needs U.S. aid, equipment, and training, and Washington is too afraid of what Pakistan might become to let it go. Christine Fair, a Pakistan expert at Georgetown University, is convinced that Islamabad has the upper hand in the confrontation and thus notes that U.S. officials will swallow their ire and make real concessions on drones and perhaps also on the presence of special operations forces. “We’re in it for the kids,” as she puts it waggishly.