PAKISTAN….Perhaps unfortunately, the part of Barack Obama’s big foreign policy speech today that’s getting the most attention is his tough talk toward Pakistan:

The first step must be getting off the wrong battlefield in Iraq, and taking the fight to the terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan….I understand that President Musharraf has his own challenges. But let me make this clear. There are terrorists holed up in those mountains who murdered 3,000 Americans. They are plotting to strike again. It was a terrible mistake to fail to act when we had a chance to take out an al Qaeda leadership meeting in 2005. If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won’t act, we will.

I know I’m going to regret saying this, but I think John Podhoretz hits pretty close to the mark here:

This country is never — never — going to stage a major military action against Pakistan…..Every serious person knows the United States won’t invade Pakistan, even with Special Forces — since the reason we cancelled the proposed action against Al Qaeda in 2005 is that it was going to take many hundreds of American troops to do it. This isn’t 15 people dropping like ninjas in the darkness. It’s an invasion, with helicopters and supply lines and routes of ingress and escape. It would have had unforseen and unforeseeable consequences, but it would have been reasonable to assume the Pakistanis would have turned violently against the United States and hurtled toward Islamic fundamentalist control.

….Obama is using Pakistan to talk tough, in the full knowledge that he will never actually pull the trigger.

Obviously there may be occasions where a single cruise missile or a small covert ops mission can accomplish something. But generally speaking, it’s fanciful to think that these kind of operations are going to have any serious impact on a lawless, treacherous, famously uncontrollable area of over 10,000 square miles. It would take a serious ground and air presence to have even a chance of rooting out al-Qaeda in Pakistan’s FATA territories, and that’s simply not in the cards.

I understand the political imperative to sound tough, but on a substantive level there’s less here than meets the eye. Covert ops in the FATA territories are distinctly limited, and full-scale invasion is out of the question. The rest of Obama’s speech might have been less attention-grabbing than his Pakistan baiting, but it was also more important. The boring bits usually are.

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