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Playing Pretend in Pakistan

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I suppose it's only reasonable to cut President Obama a little foreign policy slack. After eight years of diplomacy so inept it could offend a televangelist getting a lap dance in Vegas, there's something to be said for suave.

But, not to put too fine a point on it, diplomacy is pretending, and pretending is another word for lying. Lies are sometimes a necessary evil in diplomacy, but you need to know two things before you go down that path.

First, the truth will come out sooner or later, so whatever you're doing, it better be worth it, and second, the lie you tell can't do more damage to your cause than it prevents.

Our policy of playing pretend in Pakistan fails on both counts.

The roots of our problems with Pakistan didn't start with the Obama administration. They began long ago, before 9/11, when we conspired with Pakistan to arm a bunch of Mujahedeen who were fighting to push the Soviets out of Afghanistan, but didn't tell anyone about it.

If we had, we might be heroes in the Muslim world today, instead of the nation Pakistanis love to hate.

That's hindsight, and hindsight is history's way of calling you a fool. Which isn't so bad if it leads to foresight. But then we made the same mistake again.

After 9/11 America had a problem it could no longer ignore, and so did Pakistan. Our mutual interests converged on the subject of terrorism.

Pakistan grows terrorists like shower mold. Big splotches of that country are infested with Jihadists who want to kill Pakistan's fragile democracy and any civilians who get in their way. A couple years ago, militant tribes descended down the hills into the Swat Valley, displacing millions, murdering thousands, and burning Pakistan's only ski resort.

The situation was spiraling out of control; Pakistan desperately needed help and Uncle Sam was only too happy to oblige. The Jihadists were our enemies, too.

But there was a problem. America wasn't too popular in Pakistan. Pakistan's government couldn't be seen calling for the American cavalry; their people wouldn't stand for it.

So we made a deal with Pakistan, a deal based on lies. We'll play pretend. We'll send their military a billion dollars a year and pretend they use it to fight our mutual enemy. They'll send us targeting coordinates and pretend they didn't. We'll send Predator drones to those targets and pretend not to laugh in their faces when Pakistan's government pretends to act shocked, simply shocked, when the bombs fall.

Maybe that deal didn't look too bad when we bought it, but it stinks to high heaven now. The terrorists have killed upwards of 35,000 Pakistanis in recent years; we've picked off maybe a couple hundred terrorists. And every Predator that blows up a Jihadist scatters the seeds of hatred across the land. America is more hated in Pakistan than ever.

Things have only gotten worse since we killed Osama bin Laden, hiding in plain sight for six years while that government pretended not to know. We need to stop playing pretend in Pakistan.

There are two ways out of this box; the Obama administration needs to pick one.

We can simply stop. That would be my choice. No more Predators, no more targeted airstrikes, no military action at all. We'll just keep an eye on the terrorists and stop them if they try to come over here. But I'm afraid that's unlikely to happen until we stop playing pretend with Hamid Karzai and get out of Afghanistan.

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San Francisco based columnist, author, gym rat and novelist. My book, "The Confessions of a Catnip Junkie" is the best memoir ever written by a cat. Available on, or wherever fine literature is sold with no sales tax collected. For (more...)
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