In the Arena

Obama’s Speech

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To answer Karen’s question below, I thought Obama’s counter-terrorism speech today was just right…and not just because he sent the correct signal to Pakistan. There were a half dozen other ideas in the speech about terrorism prevention and public diplomacy that were smart and creative, including the idea of creating joint military-diplomatic teams to do the nation-building and neighborhood-securing that is at the heart of our effort in places like Afghanistan.
I wrote a column about creating an elite corps to do this sort of thing several years ago. The military hated the idea–but it is time that we began to explore the notion of expanding “jointness” beyond the Pentagon definition (joint inter-service operations) to include other departments like State and Justice.

Obama’s idea of spending money to help countries create non-religious schools to counter the influence of the (Saudi-funded, let’s not forget) madrasas adds his voice to that of Senator Joe Biden, who has been trying to get this sort of legislation passed for years.

Finally, on Pakistan, what Obama is proposing is the precise opposite of what Bush has done. It is clear that not only is General Musharraf incapable of controlling his tribal areas, but also that there are elements of the Pakistani military and intelligence services that are actively Salafist and support the jihadis, quite possibly including the Al Qaeda leadership. Bush has chosen to do nothing about this. Which is remarkable: here’s the group most successful at attacking the U.S. homeland, that has rebuilt its infrastructure (according to the national intelligence estimate), the group that Bush had vowed to make “war” upon–and we are allowing it to fester, perhaps even to plan more attacks on our citizens?

If there was ever a vital national security interest of the United States, this is it. Indeed, the Iraq war was a criminally foolish diversion from this mission. It is a good thing that Senator Obama is willing to consider non-traditional military actions to remove it–and an even better thing that he knows that a far more supple array of non-kinetic actions will be necessary to restore our place in the world.