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May 12, 2009

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nato

"If we walked out of Afghanistan/Pakistan tomorrow, I doubt there would be any adverse consequences for the United States. I can foresee a lot of possible harms from us staying, including Pakistan being destabilized and radicalized to the point of becoming the next Iran."

I don't think leaving Pakistan alone will stabilize it. The people we're fighting in Afghanistan are famously the same that are destabilizing the Pakistani government and fomenting trouble with India over the Kashmir. Also, Pakistan has nuclear weapons.

I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that nuclear war on the subcontinent would be an adverse consequence.

Anyway, to prevent Al Qaeda's return in the foreseeable future involves establishing a democratic, minimally-liberal Afghan state with control over its territory while helping Pakistan to maintain the same. There are many similarities with our involvement in Columbia

Nathan Smith

re: "I don't think leaving Pakistan alone will stabilize it."

But I'm not convinced that our operations in Pakistan will stabilize it either. It seems rather more likely that they are destabilizing it.

re: "I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that nuclear war on the subcontinent would be an adverse consequence."

Is that what we're trying to prevent, then? That would be a worthy cause. But I'd have to hear the case that it's a threat and that we're doing something to make a difference.

nato

It's been the major worry ever since '98, escalating along with increasing political instability. A nuclear armed failed state is kind of a bad thing, and Pakistan has been at or near the top of the list for a while now. It's the sort of thing that the PotUS can't really say without putting even more pressure on the credibility of the states in question, but it's also basically a public fact.

Nathan Smith

First, if al Qaeda is just a pretext and the real goal is to prevent Islamists from taking over Pakistan and its nukes, and if Obama has to engage in empty talk about al Qaeda because he can't admit that the real issue is control of Pakistan's nukes, that's pretty disturbing. I can imagine the argument why it's necessary and I'm not sure how I would answer it, but it is profoundly antithetical to democracy. The Bush administration's public case for the Iraq war was, I think, somewhat different than the real case, particularly when we were trying to get UN approval, and this was for good diplomatic reasons but still a bit at odds with democracy. But there was a large overlap, and the focus of fundamental values of democracy promotion tended to expand that overlap. This would be a case where America is fighting a major war for goals that the president more or less completely neglects to reveal to the public.

Second, I am not convinced-- and I will certainly admit to being rather ignorant about the whole affair so that there could be obvious facts or arguments I don't know about-- that our operations there are making a nuclear-armed Islamist Pakistan less likely, particularly in the medium one. When you say "it's also basically a public fact," what public fact are you talking about? That Pakistan is nuclear and that the US is worried about who might get control of its nukes? Well, yes. But isn't it more than possible that for the US to fight the war on terror on Pakistani soil will tend to outrage the Pakistanis and either empower current forms of anti-American Islamist enthusiasm there, or else inspire new forms? Maybe the Pakistanis won't be attracted to the Taliban or al Qaeda anytime soon-- there are ethnic reasons for that, among other things-- but surely it's naive to think that's the only form Islamist radicalism could take or even that those are the most dangerous forms of it in the long run.

Of course, there are objections from a purely liberal internationalist perspective to our collaborating with a corrupt leader like Zardari, while conducting operations across the border into Pakistan that the Pakistanis haven't authorized. These liberal internationalist concerns could fuse with Islamist agendas.

I don't know much about this, but as far as I know the Pakistanis have not regarded our operations on their soil very favorably to date. Couldn't we at least wait for the Pakistani government to invite us before we interfere? Surely they would do that if there were a real threat of the government and its nukes falling into the hands of the Taliban / al Qaeda?

nato

The fact in question is that Pakistan is considered to be at high risk for becoming a failed state. Pakistani instability and Takfiri organizations(with the prime example being Al Qaeda) aren't readily separated. In fact, that's one reason why concern about it is so great: those who take over after a fall of government are more likely there than perhaps anywhere else to be true believers who really welcome a nuclear exchange.

"Couldn't we at least wait for the Pakistani government to invite us before we interfere? Surely they would do that if there were a real threat of the government and its nukes falling into the hands of the Taliban / al Qaeda?"

Consider: if the Pakistani government asked for direct US military support, would it do so publicly?

Nathan Smith

If the situation is that a desperate Pakistani government is privately begging for our help against al Qaeda, while publicly expressing indignation at our violations of their sovereignty, it sounds like a sucker's game for us. If Pakistan's supposedly democratic government can't request our help publicly for fear of alienating public opinion, that shows how crazily unpopular we are, and complying with the secret request is surely only going to make us still more unpopular.

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