Pakistan

PAKISTAN….There are all sorts of terrorism-related issues to be worried about, but if al-Qaeda is at the top of your list then that means that Pakistan is also at the top of your list. Here’s what Barack Obama had to say about Pakistan in his big national security speech today:

The greatest threat to [the shared security of Afghanistan and the United States] lies in the tribal regions of Pakistan, where terrorists train and insurgents strike into Afghanistan. We cannot tolerate a terrorist sanctuary, and as President, I won’t. We need a stronger and sustained partnership between Afghanistan, Pakistan and NATO to secure the border, to take out terrorist camps, and to crack down on cross-border insurgents. We need more troops, more helicopters, more satellites, more Predator drones in the Afghan border region. And we must make it clear that if Pakistan cannot or will not act, we will take out high-level terrorist targets like bin Laden if we have them in our sights.

Make no mistake: we can’t succeed in Afghanistan or secure our homeland unless we change our Pakistan policy. We must expect more of the Pakistani government, but we must offer more than a blank check to a General who has lost the confidence of his people. It’s time to strengthen stability by standing up for the aspirations of the Pakistani people. That’s why I’m cosponsoring a bill with Joe Biden and Richard Lugar to triple non-military aid to the Pakistani people and to sustain it for a decade, while ensuring that the military assistance we do provide is used to take the fight to the Taliban and al Qaeda. We must move beyond a purely military alliance built on convenience, or face mounting popular opposition in a nuclear-armed nation at the nexus of terror and radical Islam.

“We need more troops, more helicopters, more satellites, more Predator drones in the Afghan border region.” This is where the rubber hits the road, and it really ought to be a key campaign issue. But it probably won’t be, for the same reason that Medicare usually takes a back seat to Social Security in arguments over entitlement growth: It’s too hard. It’s relatively easy to talk about Iraq (let’s leave vs. let’s stay) or even Afghanistan (more troops vs. lots more troops), but al-Qaeda is in Pakistan right now and nobody has a good answer about what we should do about that. The Bush administration has bobbled back and forth over the past seven years, accomplishing little, and frankly, liberal analysts haven’t done much better.

Not that I really blame them. I sure don’t know what to do. I’m not convinced that more helicopters and more predator drones are going to help much — though I’m open to argument on this score — but I’m also not convinced that tripling non-military aid to Pakistan is going to make a big difference either.

In any case, when we talk about Afghanistan we’re really mostly talking about Pakistan — and that means that Pakistan really deserves more than an occasional brief mention from the two candidates. It’s the biggest, most intractable problem we face in the region, and we don’t know what to do about it.