Their Mercy Fills the Khyber Hills

I'll admit from the outset that I'm not sure what the ideal policy towards Pakistan is. I am reasonably sure, however, that this is a terrible idea, and not simply because its authors are fountainheads of terrible ideas. Briefly, Michael … Read More

By / November 18, 2007

I'll admit from the outset that I'm not sure what the ideal policy towards Pakistan is. I am reasonably sure, however, that this is a terrible idea, and not simply because its authors are fountainheads of terrible ideas. Briefly, Michael O'Hanlon and Frederick Kagan are dismayed by the unrest in Pakistan and — surprisingly — urge us to consider pre-emptive military options. It's nice of them to concede that "[a]ll possible military initiatives…are daunting," that "unless we had precise information about the location of all of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and materials, we could not rely on bombing or using Special Forces to destroy them," and that "a million troops would be required [to pacify] a country of this size." Pity that they didn't leave it at that. Instead, they propose:

a Special Forces operation with the limited goal of preventing Pakistan’s nuclear materials and warheads from getting into the wrong hands. Given the degree to which Pakistani nationalists cherish these assets, it is unlikely the United States would get permission to destroy them. Somehow, American forces would have to team with Pakistanis to secure critical sites and possibly to move the material to a safer place.

I think I get it; despite the fact that we can't rely on special forces to destroy the Pakistani arsenal, we can secure and move it to a location where it's safer, presumably meaning the US will have control of it; what's more, the selfsame Pakistani nationalists who would prevent our special forces from destroying the Pakistani weapons would cooperate in a campaign to transfer them to American control; and we can do all this without intransigent elements in the Pakistani military and intelligence services noticing. How can we accomplish this? You mean you didn't see the answer in black and white in the O'Kaganlon op-ed? We can do it somehow. It's that kind of out-of-the-box strategic thinking what gets you a fellowship at AEI or Brookings. Got a policy objective that seems impossible to achieve? No problem, you can always do it somehow.

Believe it or not, the foregoing is the least hare-brained of O'Hanlon and Kagan's proposals. In fact, we're only halfway through the first, since we'd still need to figure out what to do with the nuclear weapons that the Pakistani military would have voluntarily turned over to American control. And on that score, O'Hanlon and Kagan present two options: "[T]he safest bet would be shipping the material to someplace like New Mexico" — because what could go wrong with a secret plan to essentially steal a major nuclear arsenal and transport it 8,000 miles? — or else we could "settle for establishing a remote redoubt within Pakistan, with the nuclear technology guarded by elite Pakistani forces backed up (and watched over) by crack international troops." And how could we ensure that the Pakistani forces guarding the secret, remote base whither the country's nuclear weapons have vanished, will a) successfully defend the weapons and b) operate in line with American interests? Why, they'll be "elite" forces, so nothing to worry about. But just in case, "crack international troops" will guard the guardians. It's literally foolproof.

Don't get O'Hanlon and Kagan wrong. They're not monomaniacs, and they believe in presenting an array of solutions for any policy challenge. So you don't think a limited, special forces campaign will work? How about an all-out invasion, or as O'Hanlon and Kagan think of it, a "broader option" that would see us "supporting the core of the Pakistani armed forces as they sought to hold the country together" with a "a sizable combat force — not only from the United States, but ideally also other Western powers and moderate Muslim nations." And this is just dumbfounding. I'm at a loss to think of a single country anywhere in the world that would be willing to contribute any troops, let alone a meaningful number, to an American-led invasion of Pakistan.

Do Kagan and O'Hanlon actually believe that there could be such a coalition? Do they actually believe any of what they've written? It's as if they believe the US military is capable of achieving absolutely anything, provided we describe their mission with the right adjectives. ("Elite," "crack," etc.) Talk about a Care Bear Stare — Kagan and O'Hanlon can remake south Asia without drawing upon the magical energy of the Will of the American People, just as long as they, personally, maintain a sufficiently steely will. They'll do it somehow.

Title reference here, for those wondering.

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