The country that arguably poses Barack Obama's biggest foreign policy challenge just got a little harder to deal with. I missed it at the time, but during his visit to Pakistan last week the normally circumspect Defense Secretary Robert Gates spoke carelessly in a way that has even further inflamed that country's intense, paranoid anti-Americanism. Gates was asked about recent reports that Xe, the private security contractor formerly known as Blackwater, has been operating in Pakistan on a U.S.
British PM Gordon Brown said today that this week's international conference on Afghanistan is likely to endorse an effort at some kind of reconciliation with the Taliban. Stories like this and this make me doubt it can happen beyond the level of rank-and-file mercenaries; we're not going to see Mullah Omar in the Karzai cabinet anytime soon. The biggest problem is that the Taliban rightly think that they have the upper hand at the moment, and thus don't have much incentive to trade guns for politics.
If you're the kind of person who reads this blog, you're probably already familiar with the churlish Republican practice of refusing to call the Democratic Party by its true name. Disiplined GOPers will instead refer to "the Democrat Party," or "the Democrat agenda." But yesterday on ABC 's "This Week," Republican Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina, whom Michelle Cottle recently profiled in TNR's pages, took this practice to a comically nonsensical extreme: DEMINT: We can't promote freedom and democracy by repressing free speech. That's not the way to do it.
With everyone riveted on health care and Scott Brown and "The Girl With the Curious Hand," little attention is being paid to looming disaster in Iraq, where the Shiite-dominated government is pulling a sectarian power play in advance of the country's national election in March.
Health care is still a disaster. But with Jon away, how about a little foreign policy to start the morning? This morning's topic is Pakistan's reliability as an ally against al Qaeda and the Taliban--a critical question when gauging our chances of success in Afghanistan. Yesterday Defense Scretary Robert Gates visited Pakistan, where he became the latest in a parade of U.S. officials to urge that country's army to step up its offensive against Afghan Taliban and al Qaeda elements now enjoying safe haven in Pakistan's northwestern tribal areas.
At the risk of seeing his blogging upstaged, Jon has graciously agreed to accept occasional guest posts from former contributors to the now-defunct Plank. The blogging instinct doesn't die overnight, after all (and nearly any blogger welcomes some added content). My contribution today is a quick observation about a reader email Ben Smith posted today defending Barack Obama's first term. But today, the president is being attacked as if he were a salesman who promised us that our problems would wash off in the morning. He never made such a promise.
In the wake of the failed bombing attempt by Nigerian Al Qaeda operative Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, airport security experts are wringing their hands over how to stop the next underwear bomber. X-ray machines don’t detect the type of explosive, known as PETN, that Abdulmutallab carried. Only a careful pat-down around Abdulmutallab’s crotch, where the explosive had been sewn into his undies, would have detected his deadly cargo. But Abdulmutallab’s al Qaeda handlers knew that pat-downs are rare and that social mores make highly intrusive, crotch-fondling searches almost unheard of.
The Los Angeles Times ran an important story yesterday about the Obama administration's Nuclear Posture Review, which evaluates U.S. policy towards the use of nuclear weapons. Apparently there's a debate inside the administration--one that is splitting the civilians from the generals--not just about the size of our nuclear stockpile but also how we conceive of possible first-strike and retaliatory policies.
Peter Baker's splashy new NYT magazine piece focuses in part on Obama's newly-visible counterterrorism chief: Most of those people, of course, were in the moderate camp inside the Bush administration, not the Cheney cadre, or like Brennan they present themselves as simply career professionals who followed orders or who even quietly dissented from the most extreme policies of the last eight years. “I was somebody who did oppose waterboarding,” Brennan told me. “I opposed different aspects of the enhanced interrogation program.
Good WSJ story on how al Qaeda operatives migrate away from U.S. military pressure, always finding the next safe haven: U.S. and allied-government officials have claimed significant progress against al Qaeda in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq recently.