In response to my skepticism about President Obama’s justification for the surge of troops in Afghanistan, Heather Hurlburt explained on Bloggingheads that the U.S. needs to stabilize the Afghanistan-Pakistan border not only to keep extremists in Pakistan out of Afghanistan, but (more important) to keep extremists in Afghanistan out of Pakistan. If the Pakistani regime comes crashing down, then nuclear weapons might be sold or given to Al Qaeda, which might then use them against the United States. Does this sound familiar? Sounds like the latest version of the one percent doctrine to me. Just as the Bush administration claimed it had to invade Iraq in order to prevent Saddam Hussein from handing over nukes to Al Qaeda, the Obama administration says it has to expand the war in Afghanistan in order to prevent Pakistan from handing over nukes to Al Qaeda. Okay, 5 percent for Obama, 1 percent for Bush. Reread the speech: the frequent reference to Pakistan, starting with the title of the speech, lends plausibility to Heather’s theory.
In his willingness to use military force to counter remote but potentially significant threats, Obama does not seem so different from his predecessors. What about his emphasis on multilateralism, which Heather makes much of? In fact, no one really supports America’s war in Afghanistan/Pakistan. Not the European governments, whose token forces are deeply resented by European publics. Not the frequently forgotten rest of the world—places like China, Russia, and India. For all his eloquence, Obama is constrained by events, and reaches for the same tool that American presidents have used for decades—military force, with other nations if possible, but without them if necessary.