Austin Bay

This is why some seek military operational changes that will promote economic development and political stability. The term "surge" gets used, though in hushed tones, for a number of Democrats deplored Bush's Iraqi "surge" and guaranteed it wouldn't work. Eliminating terrorist base areas in Pakistan is viewed as a potential "game changer."

During the campaign, Obama advocated an offensive strike at al-Qaida and Taliban enclaves inside Pakistan -- with or without Pakistan's permission. Cooler heads suggested such boldness (particularly if executed without Pakistani cooperation) would politically damage Pakistan's fragile central government and perhaps destroy it. Collapse in Islamabad would seed chaos from Kashmir to Baluchistan -- a "wicked" game changer.

The Pakistanis may eventually decide it is in their national interest, and in the interest of regional stability, to destroy al-Qaida's sanctuaries. The radicals threaten Pakistan, and more Pakistanis know it, which improves America's chances for a "diplomatic" elimination of the bases. The Mumbai, India, massacre by Islamist terrorists brought Pakistan to the brink of war with India -- a nuclear war. The Islamist takeover of Pakistan's Swat Valley and the subsequent destruction of the area seem to have backfired politically -- 11th century tribal values don't promote economic growth.

Eliminating the enclaves will definitely help -- but that does not "solve" Afghanistan.

Other options stalking Capitol Hill include leaving Afghanistan after crafting a "deal" that denies the use of its territory to terrorists who wish to attack the United States. Conceivably, this "surviving guarantor" might not be the current central government but could be a vast tribal confederation that includes the Taliban.

How does this come about? The "Sunni Awakening" in Iraq "delinked" Sunni Arab tribes from al-Qaida. The "Pushtun" Taliban have tribal interests "Arab" (foreign) al-Qaida ideologues don't share. "Delinking" the Taliban and al-Qaida would be a huge political victory, but what keeps a Taliban government from reneging once the United States withdraws?

The Bush administration came to Washington highly suspicious of "nation-building" but left convinced America was in a long war for the terms of modernity. Nation-building was a difficult, "wicked" choice -- slow, tedious, incremental and dirty -- but the best choice for the long term if you really want change.

Austin Bay

Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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