Monday, July 16, 2007

Pakistani blowback

Well, it looks as if the blowback from the Pakistani government's raid on the Red Mosque is beginning, though it seems way too early to guess what the eventual outcome will be. On Sunday a fresh wave of bombings in the North West provinces, where Osama bin Laden is believed to be holed up, killed at least 44 people. The violence apparently marked the end of a 10-month truce between the government and tribal leaders in the region -- where no central government has ever really held sway. Maybe U.S. officials will be secretly glad, because many had expressed the opinion, in commentary surrounding the leak of a new National Intelligence Estimate last week, that the truce was a significant factor in al-Qaida being able to rebuild its leadership base in the area.

It may be that the Pakistani government, by appearing strong in the wake of the Red Mosque affair, will strengthen its faltering grip on the rest of the country. Or it may be that it will find it is biting off more than it can chew.

In this respect if is especially dismaying that the U.S. government seems to be approaching the problem the same way it seems to think it can solve every problem -- by throwing money around. The government plans to spend $750 million on "winning hearts and minds" in the region, by building hospitals, paying off tribal leaders and the like. However, as the NYT reports, "even before the plan has been fully carried out, documents and officials involved in the planning are warning of the dangers of distributing so much money in an area so hostile that oversight is impossible, even by Pakistan's own government." I suspect it will make a few people rich and just about everyone contemptuous of Uncle Sucker.

When will we get a government that sees its security mission as defending a tightly defined set of core interests rather than trying to fix every problem in the world and win "hearts and minds" when those hearts and minds don't affect the core security interests of the United States? For an elegant academic argument along these lines, I can't recommend "Isolationism Reconfigured," by the late Brown University professor Eric Nordlinger, highly enough.

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