THE PLANK OCTOBER 29, 2009
“Al-Qaeda has had safe haven in Pakistan since 2002,” Clinton told a group of editors in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore. “I find it hard to believe that nobody in your government knows where they are and couldn’t get them if they really wanted to. Maybe that’s the case; maybe they’re not gettable. I don’t know.”
That seems like a pretty obvious statement of fact, but I'm surprised Clinton made it in public given the Pakistanis' sensitivities. After all, this is a country where the announcement of a $7.5 billion U.S. aid package actually set off anti-American protests. I thought this bit from George Packer's Holbrooke profile nicely captured the dilemma facing American officials in dealing with their Pakistani counterparts:
Shuja Nawaz said, “Richard Holbrooke can be a tough negotiator in a closed-door session with the Pakistanis and get a lot done. But if you do it in public the doors close.” Just before Holbrooke travelled to Pakistan in April, he and Mike Mullen publicly alluded to ties between Pakistani intelligence and the Afghan Taliban, and the generals reacted with extreme displeasure. Nawaz pronounced it “probably the worst-ever visit by an American team,” adding, “It was a complete disaster.” Since then, Holbrooke has been more careful, and some people in Kabul fear that he is in danger of becoming the latest American official to fall for Pakistani assurances. Saad Mohseni, the founder of Afghanistan’s largest media group, and a friend of Holbrooke’s, said, “I think he overestimates what he can do with the Pakistanis. The Pakistanis have played hardball with the best, and Holbrooke’s got his match there.”
Did Clinton decide it's time for American officials to say the same thing in public that they've been saying behind closed doors? Or was this a slip-up on her part--and have more doors just closed?