Belmont Club

All Tied Together

Wired says there is a substantial war in Pakistan in all but name. At least one of the drone strikes was aimed at disrupting attacks planned for Western Europe. The targets might have included well known landmarks like the Eiffel Tower.

A sharply escalated campaign of CIA drone strikes in Pakistan is aimed in part at al-Qaeda units suspected of planning terrorist attacks on targets in Europe, a threat that U.S. officials described as “credible but not specific” enough to allow authorities to anticipate precisely where or when a strike might occur.

However, the Associated Press reported that the Eiffel Tower had been briefly evacuated, suggesting that some of the targets of the attack were high profile sites. These events underscored how much of the “war in Afghanistan” really takes place outside it. That is politically inconvenient for an administration which is conducting but one foreign war — in Afghanistan — and very reluctantly at that.

In the Beltway, it’s considered bad form to refer to the Pakistan “war.” The term is too loaded with geopolitical baggage, and raises too many questions about who should be overseeing the conflict at home. But when NATO helicopters kill more than four dozen in Pakistan in a single day; when the CIA-led drone campaign hits 20 targets in 23 days; when thousands of U.S.-trained Afghans cross the border to fight insurgents on Pakistani soil; when American troops ferry aid to Pakistan’s flood victims; when the U.S. Air Force flies surveillance sorties over Pakistan; when American security contractors operate on Pakistani turf; and when U.S. Special Operations forces school Islamabad’s army in counterinsurgency (and sometimes lose troops to firefights in the process), what else should we name this multi-pronged military campaign? What other term would possibly apply?

Nor was Europe the only target of the plots being hatched.  The Wall Street Journal said US investigators are looking into whether the “Mumbai-style” strikes being planned in Pakistan were also aimed at the US. “Intelligence collected primarily points to potential threats targeting European countries, including the U.K., France and Germany, U.S. officials said. But after a spate of thwarted or botched plots against the U.S. this year, investigators are looking hard at any potential connection across the Atlantic.”

That would be even more inconvenient, because it would imply that no matter how complete a victory is won in “Afghanistan” it will not obviate the threat to further attacks in the West. It certainly won’t if the attacks are being planned in Pakistan. So, while the “Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper said earlier this year that the heightened pace of drone attacks ‘shows how absurd the American hardliners’ accusation is that he [Obama] is soft on terror'” it also shows that Obama’s strategy of ‘ending the war where it began’ is a sound bite without substance. The war is not “in Afghanistan” in any localizable sense.  Its strategic roots are elsewhere. If the link between drone strikes in Pakistan and European threats is solid, it underscores the global and interconnected nature of the threat even more. Then Europe, far from “doing America a favor” by supporting its overseas wars in NATO solidarity is actually being defended by the American military effort by providing a forward defense against terror without burdening the European taxpayer.

But neither the “war in Pakistan” nor the faults in Obama’s strategy, nor even the European reliance on American forward defense are likely to get much play. The same old memes highlighting the search for Osama Bin Laden, bringing the troops home and the moral superiority of pacific Europe will be trotted out. The narratives won’t exactly be true but in politics, that is not a requirement.