Tuesday, February 16, 2010

You Can’t Win Them All

Since at least Christmas, members of the Republican Party have been advancing a theme that President Barack Obama is Soft on Terrorism. Initially, President Obama was Soft on Terrorism because he did exactly the same thing President Bush had done in the same situation—namely, Mirandizing the Underwear Bomber. In the last week, though, the President has been ridiculed for being Soft on Terrorism by being more aggressive than President Bush.

Last week, as addressed here, Marc Thiessen published a piece in Foreign Policy questioning the Obama administration’s use of targeted killing. Thiessen feigned concern—and his concern was echoed by Karen DeYoung in the Washington Post—that the United States was killing so many members of Al Qaeda, the Afghan or Pakistani Taliban that US national security was being harmed. The use of Predator drones was indicative of a President unwilling to do what is necessary to secure America and unable to men and women in harm’s way. Utter nonsense, of course; this President has been more aggressive than his predecessor in disrupting militants in Pakistan. And, like his predecessor, he has extended US force into lawless portions of Somalia—why, Ms. Young, is it that a helicopter attack on a militant last year is indicative of his being Soft on Terrorism when President Bush’s use of an AC-130 gunship on a militant in 2006 was not?

But now, a fortuitous answer to these critics comes from Karachi, Pakistan:
The [Afghan] Taliban’s top military commander was captured several days ago in Karachi, Pakistan, in a secret joint operation by Pakistani and American intelligence forces, according to American government officials.
Unsurprisingly, this indicates that the President is aggressively continuing the United States’ campaign against the Afghan Taliban. It also indicates that, when the balance of target value and risk is right, he is willing to order the capture of that target. Further, and perhaps most importantly, it may indicate that Pakistan is willing to cooperate with the United States in its campaign against the Afghan Taliban—until now, Pakistan has seemingly been loathe to assist in the anti-Afghan Taliban campaign, preferring to take on what it sees as a greater threat: the Pakistani Taliban.

UPDATE: Two commanders of the Afghan Taliban have confirmed that the Taliban's top military commander, Mullah Baradar, has been captured. These two commanders claim that he was captured in the Marja area of Afghanistan--where the NATO offensive is taking place--rather than in Pakistan. It seems to me that what's important here is the confirmation of Mullah Baradar's capture. Given the Afghan Taliban's consistent claims that its leadership is in Afghanistan, not Pakistan, it is likely these commanders are trying to stave off the demoralizing impact of having to admit its leadership is not in Afghanistan.

UPDATE II: The New York Times reports this morning that Mullah Baradar was not the target of the raid in which he was captured. This, of course, throws cold water on the notion advanced above that his capture is evidence of risk-reward balancing for the employment of particular tactics in the Pakistan theatre. That said, the New York Times also reports that the Pakistani-led raid was instigated at American request, based on American intelligence. Thus, the most important aspect of Baradar's capture, the cooperation between the US and Pakistan against the Afghan Taliban, is preserved. As Kennedy notes above, it just feels smarter.

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