AVOIDING SLOW-MOTION ESCALATION IN AFGHANISTAN… Barack Obama’s appearance on Face The Nation provided the first opportunity to quiz him on his new policy for Afghanistan and Pakistan (Af-Pak, in the preferred foreign policy nomenclature. He categorically ruled out the kind of practices that would greatly expand the war, while simultaneously characterizing the mission of disrupting and dismantling Al Qaeda safe havens, most of which are in Pakistan.

As he carries out a retooled strategy in Afghanistan, President Barack Obama says he will consult with Pakistan’s leaders before pursuing terrorist hideouts in that country.

Obama said U.S. ally Pakistan needs to be more accountable, but ruled out deploying U.S. troops there. “Our plan does not change the recognition of Pakistan as a sovereign government,” the president told CBS’ “Face the Nation” in an interview broadcast Sunday.

One wonders if that sovereignty extends to the continued drone attacks on suspected Al Qaeda inside Pakistan, which under this construction Pakistan’s leaders must have knowledge of. What Obama appears to be saying is that he will offer tools to the Pakistanis in exchange for them carrying out the goal of helping the international community minimize the extremist threat inside their borders.

In addition, Obama rejected the premise pushed by those seeking a maximalist strategy that more troops always equals more stability.

OBAMA: What I will not do is to simply assume that more troops always result in an improved situation. […]

But just because we needed to ramp up from the greatly underresourced levels that we had doesn’t automatically mean that, if this strategy doesn’t work, that what’s needed is even more troops.

There may be a point of diminishing returns in terms of troop levels. We’ve got to also make sure that our civilian efforts, our diplomatic efforts and our development efforts are just as robustly encouraged.

I have to note that I find this Af-Pak strategy decidedly mixed. So much of it depends on the participation of the Pakistani government, and yet they have not been trustworthy to this point about going after militant elements in the tribal regions. Obama seems mindful of the dangers of mission creep and a slow escalation, and yet there’s no articulated exit strategy to deal with the possibility that the Afghan government is too corrupt and unpopular to sustain itself against a popular insurgency. I appreciate the more comprehensive civilian-military strategy that understands more troops will not complete the job by themselves, yet there has been an explosion of civilian population-inflaming airstrikes inside Pakistan, the very actions that necessitated additional troops in Afghanistan, according to some. Obama praised the work of the Afghan National Army today, calling them “effective fighters” with “great credibility,” and yet credible reports have shown the army to be ill-disciplined and addicted to drugs at rates of 75% or more. Afghanistan has been perilously neglected over the past 7 years, and this strategy may represent the best chance to turn around flagging fortunes. But the more you look at the intractable problems that exist in the region, the harder it is to find a vision of success.