The Bush administration suddenly seems hell-bent on sending U.S. troops into Pakistan -- covertly if necessary. Democratic leaders had bettter get their heads straight on this issue, because a slide into an American war in Pakistan would be an almost unimaginable disaster for U.S. and global security.
The New York Times reported Sunday that the two top U.S. intelligence officials, director of national intelligence Mike McConnell and CIA director Michael V. Hayden, went to Islamabad earlier this month to "press" Pakistan's President Musharraf to let U.S. military forces join in the fight against al Qaeda and associated forces in his country.
What is particularly alarming about the story, however, is that despite Musharraf's rejection of the proposals for either a unilateral covert CIA missions or joint operations with the Pakistan army, the Bush White House is reportedly discussing authorization for the U.S. military and CIA authority to infiltrate U.S. troops into Pakistan covertly from Afghanistan.
Musharraf played footsie with the Taliban and al Qaeda for years after 9/11, but he is smart enough to understand that putting American troops into Pakistan would most likely make a bad situation even worse. In Davos last week, he said, "Please don't think that the US forces have some kind of magic wand and they'll come and lead to success.... They have their hands full in Afghanistan."
He was uttering an inconvenient truth for the Bush administration and the U.S. military. It has become increasingly clear in recent months that the U.S. and its NATO allies are not doing well at all in the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan. Ashley Tellis, who was an adviser to Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns, told Associated Press last week, "We haven't lost the war yet, but we could be on our way to doing so."
The Bush administration's suggestion that the U.S. troops are ready to rescue Pakistan from al Qaeda must seem like a very bad joke to Musharraf. In a survey of Pakistani opinion on the issue conducted by the University of Maryland's Program on International Public Attitudes (PIPA) in the wake of the Bhutto assassination, 80 percent of 900 respondents in 19 cities said no U.S. or other foreign troops should be allowed to enter Pakistan, and only 5 percent agreed they should be allowed to pursue al Qaeda.
While the administration continued to talk up its offer to send combat troops to Pakistan, the State Department's counter-terrorism chief, Lt. Gen. Dell L. Dailey, was admitting to reporters, "We don't have enough information about what's going on [in Pakistan]. Not on al Qaeda. Not on foreign fighters. Not on the Taliban."
The last time the U.S. military was sent into a Muslim country without having a clue about its ethno-sectarian politics, it succeeded in just two or three years of "counterinsurgency operations" in creating a strong al Qaeda movement in the Sunni provinces where none had existed before. Contrary to what every talking head in Washington has been saying about the surge, the only reason there was progress in bringing al Qaeda under control in the Sunni region of Iraq is that the U.S. military got off the backs of the non-al Qaeda Sunni resistance and let the Sunnis themselves -- most often the same ones who were considered the "enemy" in past years), take care of al Qaeda. As Gen. Petraeus admitted to ABC News last May, the Sunnis could "figure out who al Qaeda is a heck of a lot better than we can."
Not everyone in the administration thinks the U.S. troops to Pakistan option is a splendid idea. The Times reported earlier this month that "some" in the State Department have argued that American-led operations in Pakistan "could result in a tremendous backlash and ultimately do more harm than good." The intelligence community has saying for years that sending U.S. troops into an Islamic country has been a tremendous boost to the recruitment of new jihadists all over the Middle East and the rest of the Islamic world. The intelligence analysts know that bin Laden is salivating over the prospect of Americans fighting in Pakistan.
So let's recapitulate: the U.S. military managed to create an al Qaeda threat out of nothing in Iraq and was only able to reverse the mess by getting out of the way of the Sunnis; it has botched the fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan, and it doesn't really know enough about Pakistan to avoid repeating these past experiences in Pakistan. There is virtual unanimity among Pakistanis that they don't want U.S. troops there, and State Department officials and the intelligence community all believe it would make the situation much worse, not only in Pakistan but in the Muslim world.
It should be clear to anyone who is not high on the opiate of American triumphalism that the Bush administration's proposal for sending American troops to fight in Pakistan is utter madness. This perverse idea should be denounced as completely unacceptable by every Democratic candidate and the Democratic leadership of Congress before it can be translated into action.