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Munter winced when, the last questioner asked him how the U.S. "could possibly persuade people [Pakistanis] to work with us," as drones continue to take their toll. This drew an eloquent filibuster on subjects unrelated to drones.
Munter waxed eloquent on the deep reservoir of good will that America enjoys among Pakistanis; how "95 percent of Pakistanis care deeply about the U.S."; the reasons behind the close military relationship we enjoy; etc., etc.
The questioner asked again, "What about the drones?" Munter swallowed hard and, referred to "Title 50" (of the U.S. Code governing intelligence), and said, "This is an issue that I can't talk a lot about because of the way this works in our government." At that point he seemed to revert to standard talking points:
"When you travel in the country and talk with people who are not part of the elite, I never ever ever ever ever got a question about the drones. ... It's not a deep issue in Pakistan. It's an important one, but not a deep one. That said, among the elites it's a very important issue, and elites matter.
"I'd like to see us be able to talk about drones, to have an honest back and forth about what our policy is, but at this point we're not able to do that."
So here's the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan bemoaning, in a far too gentle, non-threatening way, the lack of honest discussion of drones that are attacking the country in which he is the President's senior representative. Remarkable. You see, that's "the way this works in our government."
Maybe Munter will be less tongue-tied today on his first day or retirement. But his speech at Carnegie just days before he left government provides scant hope that he will step out of the ethos of Establishment Washington to expose the immoral and counterproductive policy of drone attacks, rather than filibuster and obfuscate.
And that is a huge part of the problem. With the important exception of the three courageous Foreign Service officers who loudly quit right before the U.S. attack on Iraq, those with direct experience with the shortcomings of U.S. policy rarely let the rest of us in on their conclusions -- no matter how important the issue.
And so it falls to activists like the ones assembled by Code Pink to get below the State Department talking points and, unfettered by career -- or end-of-career -- inhibitions, give us honest answers to questions on key issues like the drones. Let's hope against hope that their findings get appropriate play in U.S. media.