Obama, McCain Both Flail on Pakistan Policy

Arif Rafiq at Pakistan Policy Blog explains why you’d need to take the best parts of Obama’s approach, the best parts of McCain’s approach, then improve them both significantly, before you’d have a viable Pakistan policy. Very good analysis worth reading. Rafiq makes the point that both candidates continue to emphasize a Musharraf-centric rhetoric that was perhaps relevant during the winter primary campaign, but ignores the ways in which Pakistan’s situation has dramatically changed over the past nine months.

The major problem with Obama’s Pakistan policy is his insistence on unilateral strikes against high-value al-Qaida targets within Pakistani territory. As Blake Hounshell says, the politics of what amounts to the Bush administration’s approach makes sense, but as policy, it’s misguided. Indeed, even the Bush administration seems to be coming to terms with that (via Friday Lunch Club), largely due to the changes in Pakistan’s domestic political situation (see above).

Nevertheless, McCain’s targeting of Obama on the issue amounts to political opportunism, as he essentially articulated the same policy in this interview with Defense News last October. (I’ve flagged this before, but I think it deserves more traction than it’s gotten.):

Q: Does the U.S. have any options with regard to al-Qaida and reputed al-Qaida strongholds in the federally unregulated areas in Pakistan? Other than what seems to be sort of a status quo of waiting for them to come over the border, the Pakistani Army occasionally launching a strike to — well, it’s hard to say for what end because they don’t seem to be sustained efforts. What are the U.S. options there?

McCain: I think they’re very difficult options. I think that if we knew of al-Qaida — more specifically Taliban, it’s mainly Taliban that are operating in these places — that we have to do what’s necessary. We don’t have to advertise it. We don’t have to embarrass or humiliate the Pakistani government. . .

. . .These are all very tough calls, and in summary I think that what happens in Waziristan will be dictated by events in Islamabad, but I also think that we, where necessary, without in any way embarrassing our friends, can have a lot of options.

Q: So if you were president and you knew that bin Laden were over there, you had a target spotting, you could nail him, you’d go get him?

McCain: Sure. Sure. We have to, and I’m sure that after the initial flurry, that whoever our friends are, wherever he is, would be relieved because, as I mentioned to you before, he’s still very effective in the world, very, very effective.

The essential difference is McCain’s suggestion that we can pull the trigger discreetly, so as not to “embarrass” our friends. I’m not sure how announcing that position in a published interview qualifies as discreet, but given the lack of attention his remarks have gotten, maybe I’m wrong.

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