Neither McCain Nor Obama Understands Pakistan

If the past three debates have shown us anything, it's that there's a disturbingly shallow grasp of that powder keg known as Pakistan.

The question posed by audience member Katie Hamm at Tuesday's townhall debate seemed simple enough: "Should the United States respect Pakistani sovereignty and not pursue al-Qaeda terrorists who maintain bases there, or should we ignore their borders and pursue our enemies like we did in Cambodia during the Vietnam War?" It was loaded with anti-war nuance, but interestingly enough was clearly aimed at the Democrat, Barack Obama, instead of the Republican. "If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won't act, we will," Obama said on the stump more than a year ago, igniting a campaign season worth of sound-bite fodder.

And what a year it's been: the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, power struggle between the victorious opposition, no more Pervez in Pakistan, the election of Benazir's widower (who seems to enjoy spending more time macking on Sarah Palin than fighting terrorism) as president, and the suicide bombing of the Marriott in Islamabad just hours after Asif Ali Zardari made his first speech as president to the parliament on Sept. 20.

But back to Barack's debate answer:

Katie, it's a terrific question and we have a difficult situation in Pakistan. I believe that part of the reason we have a difficult situation is because we made a bad judgment going into Iraq in the first place when we hadn't finished the job of hunting down bin Laden and crushing al-Qaeda.

Did someone originally ask about sovereignty? That's called question avoidance. Does he still think that simply greater troop levels can conquer the rugged Khyber Pass, find every nook and cranny hideaway in the Hindu Kush, and battle every tribal militia and teed-off local called into action because they feel that the Crusaders Part Deux have arrived? If he's so opposed to the war in Iraq, and is drawing the anti-war vote, does he actually think that Afghanistan is any less of a quagmire?

But I do believe that we have to change our policies with Pakistan. We can't coddle, as we did, a dictator, give him billions of dollars and then he's making peace treaties with the Taliban and militants.

What I've said is we're going to encourage democracy in Pakistan, expand our nonmilitary aid to Pakistan so that they have more of a stake in working with us, but insisting that they go after these militants.