About a week ago I rejoindered to a point Christopher Hitchens made about Obama and Pakistan — "American liberals can’t quite face the fact that if their man does win in November, and if he has meant a single serious word he’s ever said, it means more war, and more bitter and protracted war at that" — too glibly. What I should have done was try to think through the conditions under which it makes sense to go after al-Qaeda in Pakistan, and to balance the risks and opportunities of different strategies of attack.

So I ended up writing an 1800-word reported thinkpiece about it for the Washington Independent. And I’ll be as candid as I can: I am probably too enthusiastic and incautious about attacking al-Qaeda in Pakistan, and I did not expect the sources I consulted for this piece — people with really deep experience in the region and without, for the most part, political overcoloration — to be as hesitant and as measured as they were. I also took pains to articulate Obama’s position as carefully as I should. Because make no mistake: it might be necessary to go after the al-Qaeda senior leadership in Pakistan unilaterally, but it’s not going to be pleasant if we do. This piece is offered in that spirit.

“This is really a damned if you do, damned if you don’t for us,” said one retired government official with extensive experience in South Asia, who declined to be named.

Different experts have different degrees of comfort with the prospect of increased U.S. military activity in the Pakistani tribal areas. “My personal opinion is that ground incursions of American forces in the tribal areas would have a massively counterproductive effect, undercutting any positive effect,” said one retired Army officer with experience in Afghanistan. “The qualifier is that all Americans would accept and support [such action] to get bin Laden and Zawahiri. That level, along with the Taliban — Mullah Omar — would be the exception.”

What do you guys think?

Spencer Ackerman

Spencer Ackerman

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