Obama’s right about Pakistan. But who would follow?

BARACK OBAMA was right to threaten to invade Pakistan in order to hit al-Qaida, quite literally, where it lives. And as long as we’re on this tack, remind me again why it is that we’re not at war with Iran.
    OK, OK, I know the reasons: Our military is overextended; the American people lack the appetite; the nutball factor is only an inch deep in Iran, and once you get past Ahmadinejad and the more radical mullahs the Iranian people aren’t so bad, but they’d get crazy quick if we attacked, and so forth.
    I can also come up with reasons not to invade Pakistan, or even to talk about invading Pakistan. We’ve heard them often enough. Pakistan is (and say this in reverent tones) a sovereign country; Pervez Musharraf is our “friend”; we need him helping us in the War on Terror; he is already politically weak and this could do him in; he could be replaced by Islamists sufficiently radical that they would actively support Osama bin Laden and friends, rather than merely fail to look aggressively enough to find them; fighting our way into, and seeking a needle in, the towering, rocky haystacks of that region is easier said than done, and on and on.
    But when you get down to it, it all boils down to the reason I mentioned in passing in the first instance — Americans lack the appetite. So with a long line of people vying to be our new commander in chief, it’s helpful when one of them breaks out of the mold of what we might want to hear, and spells out a real challenge before us.
    Most of us believe that the baddest bad guys in this War on Terror have been hiding in, and more relevantly operating from, the remote reaches of western Pakistan ever since they slipped through our fingers in 2001.
    The diplomatic and strategic delicacy that the Bush administration (contrary to its image) has demonstrated with regard to the generalissimo in Pakistan has been something to behold. Now we see this guy we have done so much, by our self-restraint, to build up on the verge of collapse. We could end up with the crazy clerics anyway, or at least a surrender to, or sharing of power with, Benazir Bhutto.
    But even if all the conditions were right abroad — even if the mountains were leveled and a new regime in Islamabad sent our Army an engraved invitation along with Mapquest directions to bin Laden’s cave — we’d still have the problem of American political shyness.
    Same deal with Iran. In the past week a senior U.S. general announced that elite Iranian troops are in Iraq training Shiite militias in how to better kill Americans — and Sunnis, of course.
    So it is that the United States is asking the United Nations to declare the Revolutionary Guard Corps — less a military outfit than a sort of government-sanctioned Mafia family, with huge legit covers in pumping oil, operating ports and manufacturing pharmaceuticals — a terrorist organization.
    What is the response of the Revolutionary Guards to all this? Well, they’re not exactly gluing halos to their turbans. The head of the Guard Corps promised that “America will receive a heavier punch from the guards in the future.”
    General Yahya Rahim Safavi was quoted in an Iranian newspaper as adding, “We will never remain silent in the face of US pressure and we will use our leverage against them.”
    And the United States is engaged in debate with other “civilized” nations over what names we will call these thugs. The world’s strongest nation — its one “indispensable nation,” to quote President Clinton’s secretary of state — ought to be able to work up a more muscular response than that. If we hadn’t gained a recent reputation for shyness, all we’d really have to do with those muscles is flex them.
    The one thing I liked about George W. Bush was that he was able to convince the world’s bad guys (and a lot of our friends, too, but you can’t have everything) that he was crazy enough to cross borders to go after them, if they gave him half an excuse. This worked, as long as the American people were behind him.
    If only the next president were able to project similar willingness to act, and be credible about it. A saber rattled by such a leader can put a stop to much dangerous nonsense in the world.
    But does the will exist in the American electorate? Not now, it doesn’t. When Obama said his tough piece, the nation sort of patted its charismatic prodigy on his head and explained that he was green and untested, and was bound to spout silly things now and then. (Rudy Giuliani, to his credit, said Obama was right. Others tut-tutted over the “rookie mistake.”)
    While we’re thinking about who’s going to lead the United States, maybe we’d better think about whether America will follow a leader who says what ought to be said — whether it’s on Iraq, Pakistan or Iran, or energy policy. Will we follow a president who tells us we should increase the price of gasoline rather than moaning about how “high” it is? How about a president who says we’re going to have to pay more for less in Social Security benefits in the future?
    Winning in Iraq and chasing down bin Laden are not necessarily either/or alternatives. This nation is large enough, rich enough and militarily savvy enough to field a much larger, more versatile force. Can you say “draft”? Well, actually, no — within the context of American politics with a presidential election coming up, you can’t. Not without being hooted down.
    That crowd of candidates is vying to lead a crippled giant. And the giant, sitting there fecklessly munching junk food and watching “reality” TV, can only blame himself for his condition.

24 thoughts on “Obama’s right about Pakistan. But who would follow?

  1. bud

    Obama has a point. I’m not sure whether I agree with him or not. This is a very complicated issue. It’s complicated by the fact that our military forces are tied down in Iraq. And why are they tied down that way? We all know the answer to that one. A draft is not necessary given the huge population and vast resources of our nation when compared to that available to Al-Qaeda. If we use our resources efficiently there would be no need for a draft.
    As a side note: In Vietnam we had a draft that was largely avoided by the elite. Memories are long and that fact causes those of us in the middle and working classes a great deal of skepticism. Why should I sacrifice my son or daughter for a bad cause such as Vietnam or Iraq?
    The American people will respond when there is a legitimate threat. The threat from Saddam’s Iraq did not rise to the level where a properly informed American public would have considered it worthy of action. But they were told (falsely) that it was. Now, when faced with the ongoing prospect of a rising Al-Qaeda in Pakistan, the American people are skeptical. That is yet another cost to the misguided invasion of a non-threatening country (Iraq).
    Brad, your criticism of the American people in your last sentence is misplaced. Americans are willing to sacrifice, but only for a worthwhile cause.

  2. Karen McLeod

    I think the our country will follow someone they think they can trust. The problem with Mr. Bush is that a lot of people trusted him, and he turned out to be a liar (we will never know if he knew he was being manipulated, and believed what he wanted to believe, or if he was one of the original manipulators, but that’s beside the fact right now). Until given reason to believe otherwise, I personally tend to trust Obama now more that most. That could change. I’m not likely to vote for him, but I think I could trust McCain also, and not have the basic problems with him, even when I disagreed with him. Secondly, I’m not sure we need to go to war with Pakistan right now. I am sure that if we are to mend our ties with the rest of the world we need someone who can do some cross cultural negotiation. And someone who can respect another’s religious beliefs/culture. And who’s enough of a wonk to actually study the situation. We also need to rebuild our military, which Mr. Bush and Mr. Rumsfeld have ,er, used up. Perhaps then we can go where we need to go and do what needs to be done. My guess is, that if Bush had pushed to be allowed to go into Pakistan while we were in Afghanistan only, he could have garnered enough world opinion to have gotten his way. Now of course, so much of the world sees us as the invader, that many will not countenence any invasion.

  3. Brad Warthen

    I’m with you, Karen — I’d say when it comes to trust, I’d put Obama at the top of the list of Democrats, and McCain at the top of the GOP. I’d be interested to see whom others trust.
    Beyond that, I agree with almost everything else you say, except this ONE thing, that … I really shouldn’t say anything, because I ALWAYS get misunderstood, and what’s worse is that they cast me as pro-Bush, and that REALLY hurts, but it really bugs me, so I have to say something…
    When did Bush LIE? I can see all sorts of times when he was incompetent and failed to lead. But when did he lie? That statement, “Bush lied,” SEEMS to arise from a misconception that he DELIBERATELY misrepresented intelligence. I’ve never seen that position convincingly defended. And it’s important to nail this down, because it is profoundly dangerous to have large numbers of people going about saying a president lied in wartime, and therefore this statement needs to be challenged whenever it arises.
    Is this about conclusions based on intelligence? If so, I have to wonder that anyone could use such a simple, black-and-white word as “lie” when speaking of the extremely gray world of intelligence gathering and analysis. Everything I’ve ever read about the intelligence world, from LeCarre novels to the small nonfiction glimpses that we are able to get, seems to indicate that it is rare to find intelligence indicating “A” that is not accompanied by more or less convincing evidence that contradicts “A.”
    All of the dissenting views regarding, say, WMD, were precisely what I would expect to find in a situation as complicated as this one. If there weren’t contradictory intelligence and arguments over what the intel meant, it would have been odd, particularly given the very strange way Saddam had played his hand on the subject. But at some point, a person in a position to act upon intelligence must make a decision as to which versions of events he finds MORE persuasive. He then acts, or exhorts others to act, based upon the answer he has decided is most persuasive to him. If he later turns out to be wrong in that assessment, it by no means indicates that he LIED.

  4. Karen McLeod

    Sorry, Brad. I should have put “lied” in quotations. I thought my following parenthetical statement explained it, but obviously it did not. As far as I can determine, and I could be very wrong, Mr. Bush cannot see beyond what he wants to see. He is ‘inly’ blind. (Is my spelling off yet again?). I suspect that he has been manipulated by people vastly smarter (although not necessarily wiser) than he. Maybe the word is crafty; I don’t know. I do think that he is unable to sympathize, much less empathize with anyone who is not in his own small circle. I am certain he has not a clue about large cultural differences and how one bridges them.

  5. Paul Patterson

    Bush did not lie. I can imagine what your porfiles would reveal in this real world.
    OBama and McCain trustworthy… Pitiful thinking. Both fools… OBama is a racist charlatan. What is funny is that the Soviet Communists would have spit on him for trying to be like them.
    Brad has it right.. The American people or the large majority have no stomach for what is needed to be done. If they had with the huge population the military recruters would be having to be very selective in who they accepted for induction.
    Semper Fidelis

  6. Brad Warthen

    OK, I can’t bring myself to agree with Paul’s assessment of Obama and McCain — not by a long shot — but he has hit, intentionally or not, on an essential truth about a draft.
    Many believe the draft worked in WWII because it took EVERYBODY. No. It was a success because it was SELECTIVE (hence Selective Service). It was a two-stage thing. Pretty much every young man was eligible, but the draft was able to choose the strongest, smartest, healthiest among them, to the extent that we fielded what may have been the highest-quality army of conscripts in world history.
    The problem with Vietnam was that too many healthy, smart young men had the option of keeping THEMSELVES out of the pool. They did a preselection that diminished the pool from which the Selective Service could choose. So we ended up with a less-qualified (because the draftees were chosen from a less inclusive pool) force of poorly motivated conscripts. For professional soldiers, that’s a nightmare army to try to command. So, remembering Vietnam, the military brass wants nothing to do with a draft. But if they’d had experience with the WWII draft, I think they’d see it differently. One thing to worry about there: Is the America of the early 40s a prerequisite to having a successful draft such as the one we had then?

  7. Sam Gilman

    I think there are two reasons Obama said he would go into Pakistan after al Qaeda under the right circumstances. First, there would be considerable legitimacy to such a move, a country would be pursuing an enemy that had attacked it. Pakistan wouldn’t have a lot of standing to complain. And they wouldn’t complain, they’re not sheltering al Qaeda. Musharraf might not be in a position to invite us in, but he would be glad to stand by and not do anything to stop us.
    The other reason is, I understand, that it wouldn’t be as big a deal as everybody thinks. The fundamentalists control a few enclaves in Pakistan, they’re not a big force in the country, and they don’t have enough support to bring down Musharraf. So we could go into Pakistan, clean out the al Qaeda operatives we were after with a little pro forma verbal opposition from Musharraf, without causing a big uproar.
    The Iran question is a different one. The reason we don’t attack Iran is, first, because they’re not an enemy of ours, and if we could just lose this cartoon image Bush is trying to paint, we could be allies with them like we should be. No one hates al Qaeda worse than Iran.
    But the administration wants a war with Iran for some reason, and therefore has been falsely claiming for months that Iran is training and arming Iraqi insurgents. They’re lying, the same way Bush lied about Iraq.
    The other reason that the American people won’t support a war with Iran is that it would be perhaps the worst catastrophe that America has faced in its history, worse maybe than World War II, as experienced by Americans anyway.
    Why don’t Americans support a war for which there is no reason, and which would cause untold hardship and misery, and represent a calamity the like of which few now living have ever seen?
    I guess one way to put it is that Americans lack the will. Yeah, there are a lot of pointless and catastrophic activities I don’t engage in because I lack the will do do them. I was driving down the street the other day, and I stopped because a train was coming. I didn’t drive onto the tracks and stop, even though I could have – the car engine was running, I was capable of depressing the gas pedal, but I didn’t drive out in front of the train because I lacked the will.
    I never saw that as being a bad thing, though.

  8. bud

    Good heavens Brad, what more proof do you need that the president is a bald-faced liar. Of course Bush and his minions lied us into war. That’s right, LIED. He said things that he knew were not true. That’s a LIE. He had plenty of evidence that Saddam was not a serious military threat to the U.S. And still he pushed the case for war. Why do you think he launched his invasion while the inspectors were still in Iraq? The evidence was pouring in that Saddam really didn’t have WMD. He had to get them out and the only real option he had was to launch a war. Form the Washington Monthly:
    16 Words.
    In making the case for a U.S. invasion of Iraq, President Bush stated in early 2003, “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.” Yet the CIA had itself previously warned top White House officials and British intelligence that the reports of an Iraqi attempt to buy uranium from African countries were almost certainly untrue, and no nuclear program nor weapons of mass destruction have yet been found in Iraq. Score = 4.5

  9. Herb Brasher

    Personally, Brad, I think that the future belongs to Asia, as Nixon, for all his racist tendencies, rightly foresaw. I saw the partisan sides recently when a good (57 year old) friend and Vietnam vet was asked to run for the Oregon state legislature. He had 24 hours to decide, and could not, in that time frame, evaluate some of the current legislation and issues on the table in Oregon, and also could not commit himself not to ever raise taxes. Well, that was it–he was rejected, and replaced with a 21-year old who said all the things the party faithful wanted to hear. I am despairing of us thinking about issues and ever coming to a consensus again on what we ought to do. I would guess that we will continue to polarize around every issue, and that the preparedness to sacrifice on the part of individuals for the good of the whole will be increasingly difficult.
    Maybe I am too pessimistic about this country, but I don’t see the leadership arising that will be needed. Therefore Asia will lead. Where, remains to be seen, but I believe that Asia will lead. 1940 is gone forever, and I see it that way, I believe, without romanticizing the past or overlooking the struggles that past generations of leaders also had.
    But I still have a tiny ray of hope that a new generation will surprise me, and overtake ours.

  10. Brad Warthen

    Ah, now, bud — to quote one of the most irritating lines in political history — “there you go again.”
    You say, “He said things that he knew were not true,” but you don’t back it up.
    Sorry, but the president having intel reports and advice that counters some of the OTHER intel reports and advice he’s getting does not qualify. That’s pretty much always going to be the case. If you consider only unanimous intel to be actionable, then we might as well dismantle the whole apparatus and save the money (especially on the satellites).
    Which brings us to Sam, who seems to have missed the previous discussion. Sam takes it to another level, by saying that NOW the bastards are lying about Iran (you know, the way we all KNOW they lied about Iraq). Back up and chill.
    But that’s not what interested me about Sam’s comments. What struck me was his belief that BUSH is “trying to paint” a “cartoon image” of Ahmadinejad. Say what? I thought it was Ahmadinejad himself who was doing the Looney Tunes self portrait, with just about every statement he makes.
    Have you READ any of this guy’s statements? Yosemite Sam’s got nothing on him, boy.

  11. bud

    Brad, you suggest that the intelligence may have been mixed in regard to the WMD and the uranium. Maybe that’s true. But that is not sufficient to make the president’s 16 words truthful. Here’s the key part of this sentence which makes this a LIE:
    “The British government has LEARNED … ”
    When you say you LEARN something you have sufficient evidence to show it to be true. Maybe the British government BELIEVED that to be the case. Maybe the president also BELIEVED Saddam had sought the Uranium. But there was abundent counter-evidence to suggest the British had not in fact accumulated sufficient evidence to LEARN something. Hence the president’s statement that the British had in fact LEARNED what the president claimed is false. Given that the president had at his disposal sufficient evidence to raise doubts about the veracity of this statement indicates the president intentionally stated something that was false. Making a statement that is knowingly false is the definition of a lie. Therefore the 16 words statement was a lie. Case closed. The president lied us into war during his 2002 SOU address.

  12. Brad Warthen

    bud, go back and read the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the yellowcake. Mind you, this is after-the-fact, with plenty of second-guessing time. Or, if you want to save time, here’s a Wikipedia reference, or you can read the Washington Post story on the subject, from which I quote:

         Wilson last year launched a public firestorm with his accusations that the administration had manipulated intelligence to build a case for war. He has said that his trip to Niger should have laid to rest any notion that Iraq sought uranium there and has said his findings were ignored by the White House.
        Wilson’s assertions — both about what he found in Niger and what the Bush administration did with the information — were undermined yesterday in a bipartisan Senate intelligence committee report.
        The panel found that Wilson’s report, rather than debunking intelligence about purported uranium sales to Iraq, as he has said, bolstered the case for most intelligence analysts. And contrary to Wilson’s assertions and even the government’s previous statements, the CIA did not tell the White House it had qualms about the reliability of the Africa intelligence that made its way into 16 fateful words in President Bush’s January 2003 State of the Union address….

    The intelligence realm is a house of mirrors.

  13. bud

    Here’s another excerpt from the Post story Brad cited:
    Yesterday’s report said that whether Iraq sought to buy lightly enriched “yellowcake” uranium from Niger is one of the few bits of prewar intelligence that remains an open question.
    AN OPEN QUESTION. That does not rise to the level of LEARNED. We’ve learned much since the Post story. We know beyond any doubt that Saddam had no active nuclear weapons programs. That would suggest no need for yellow cake uranium. The very fact that Wilson raised this issue, even if others suggest his report bolsters the uranium claim, lends credence to the fact that the British did not in fact LEARN that Saddam was seeking the yellow cake.
    The problem you’re having Brad is that you are trying to argue that there was evidence to support the claim that Saddam had sought the Uranium yellow cake. This evidence is flimsy at best and falls far short of the high standard of LEARNING something. The fact that we didn’t find the nuclear program is damning evidence that this claim was not LEARNED by the British.
    All I have to do to show the 16 words as a lie are to show that (1) there was reasonable doubt about the claim. Wilson’s concerns alone establish this doubt. And (2) show that the president was given evidence that there was reasonable doubt. This is clearly the case given the concerns of many in the intelligence community, evidence that was communicated to the president. Simply because the CIA claims the Wilson report bolstered the claim does not come close to proving this was LEARNED.
    Clearly the president lied to get us into war. This lie was very critical to gaining public support needed for the war effort. When the public started to LEARN that his words were in fact false and that Saddam posed no particular threat they begain to stop their support for the occupation.
    So there is good reason for people to dislike the president. It’s not a blind hatred of the president that has caused them to want to end the occupation. Instead, it’s hatred of the occupation itself, and the false reasons for the war that resulted in this occupation, that have led to dislike, and distrust of the president. That is not a failing of the American people as you suggest, rather it is a failure of leadership.

  14. bud

    There’s plenty on the subject of whether Bush misled us into war. Here are a few more tidbits that clearly raise doubt about the president’s truthfulness to the American people regarding Saddam’s nuclear program:
    “We have to date found no evidence that Iraq has revived its nuclear weapon program since the elimination of the program in the 1990’s,” Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the agency, told the United Nations Security Council.
    Evidence on Iraq challenged
    “A key piece of evidence in the Bush administration’s case against Iraq is being challenged in a report by independent experts who question whether thousands of high-strength aluminum tubes recently sought by Iraq were intended for a secret nuclear weapons program….
    IAEA Says It Has No Evidence of Prohibited Iraqi Nuclear Activities
    International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Mohamed ElBaradei said his agency has made a preliminary assessment of Iraq’s declaration concerning nuclear related materials and so far has found “no evidence of prohibited activities.”
    Needless to say there is an overwhelming case against the president’s truthfulness in his 2003 SOU address. But what to do now? Since the case for war was all a lie to start with this renders the whole operation invalid. Suppose we had declared war on Peru after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. If after 6 months we determined that in fact the Peruvians had not done what Roosevelt had claimed, wouldn’t that be a necessary and sufficient condition to end the war against Peru?
    The same logic applies to Iraq. Since the justification for war was phony the whole rationale for staying is also false. Let’s set a timetable for withdrawal. Senator Warner is now poised to come on board. By my count we’re only about 8 votes away from being able to pass a veto proof resolution to do the right thing. With the election cycle fast approaching I can see the light at the end of the tunnel for this stay-the-course quagmire to finally come to and end.

  15. Brad Warthen

    bud, I’m going to try again to make my position on this clear to you (and if one still needs proof that even the clearest intelligence can be interpreted many ways, look at the cockeyed “dialogue” between bud and me the last two years):
    There are PLENTY of good reasons not to like this president. There is AMPLE cause to condemn his leadership, or lack thereof. Plenty and ample without claiming he lied, which just ain’t so. Sorry.
    And it’s best not to deploy the “invading Peru after Pearl Harbor” as a way to make your point. It reminds us that THAT president’s antiwar, isolationist critics complained loudly about his desire to go to war with Hitler. And what happened after Pearl Harbor? Within two days, we were at war with Germany (Hitler helped with that), which Roosevelt rightly wanted to fight.
    And which of the two enemies did we decide intentionally to defeat first, and did just that? (Hint: It wasn’t the one that attacked Pearl Harbor.)
    Roosevelt did it right. But I just want to make sure you remember how Roosevelt did it.

  16. Brad Warthen

    It just occurred to me that perhaps “Bush Lied” is the line of demarcation.
    On the one hand are those of us who are ticked off at the president for all the many things he has bungled — especially the war — and furious at him for all his failures and bad policies here at home. We are anxious to have someone smart and trustworthy take the reins.
    On the other hand are those who HATE him. For those folks, the unprovable assertion that he LIED is an article of faith. It’s their password, by which they know each other. It is holy writ, and they really don’t like being opposed on this point.

  17. Herb Brasher

    In other words, more partisan politics. So, while we dilly, Asia will grow stronger. It may take awhile, but Asia will probably take over world leadership.

  18. Ready to Hurl

    Oh, yes, Brad if you can’t see that Bush lied then you surely loved President Clinton’s parsing of what “alone” meant.
    The difference between “lying” and misleading through clever rhetoric is simple semantics– which the wingnuts decried in the case of Clinton’s consensual sex but can’t see in the case of fraudulently invading a country who wasn’t a threat to us.

  19. Karen McLeod

    I still think Mr. Bush believes what he wants to believe and does not allow the facts to confuse him.

  20. Brad Warthen

    OK, folks, here’s another textbook case of why people whose political vocabulary is formed by 24/7 TV “news” and blogs can’t communicate:
    bud brings up Pearl Harbor, saying how outlandish it would have been for us to invade some country other than the one that attacked us.
    I point out the problem with that — namely, that we made invading and defeating a country other than the one that attacked us our national priority back then. Not that there’s anything wrong with that — it was the right thing to do.
    Seeing a reference to WWII, and blaming it on ME, RTH grabs one of the standard-issue, pre-fab, bumper-sticker size rejoinders used by the anti-war side (and in this virtual world, we’re only allowed TWO sides, you know) — namely “THERE’S NO COMPARISON BETWEEN WWII AND NOW!” (corollary: “But Vietnam is OK!”) — and fires it at me, along with some standard boilerplate about how hopeless I am, yadda-yadda.
    What’s hopeless is the state of political discourse in this republic.
    RTH, if you’re not going to hit what you shoot at anyway, at least TRY to shoot at the actual culprit — in this case, bud.

  21. bud

    bud brings up Pearl Harbor, saying how outlandish it would have been for us to invade some country other than the one that attacked us.
    This really is juvenile to even respond to this nonsense. I think I’ve been clear all along that comparisons between WW 2 and our invasion of Iraq are utterly invalid. So I made what I thought was clearly a ridiculous analogy to make a point. Peru was no threat to us in 1941. Iraq was not threat to us in 2003. Neither threatened us in any way. Roosevelt had the common sense to recognize who the threats were in 1941: Imperial Japan who attacked us and Nazi Germany who honored their treaty obligations with the Japanese by declaring war on us. Peru did not belong to the Axis nations. Iraq did not harbor Al-Qaeda. Even if they did that does not justify us continuing to occupy a soveriegn nation when that occupation is clearly making us less secure.

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