Wise words from Steve Coll:
On television shows and in the movies, we romanticize covert action of this kind as bold and daring, but military history suggests that it is usually of very limited strategic value. It is usually most effective, as it was during the Second World War, when it serves as a kind of extension or multiplier of a successful overt policy. This may have been the case, too, with the covert action arm of the “surge,” which Bob Woodward has highlighted in his recent book. But covert action fails, as at the Bay of Pigs, when frustrated and desperate Presidents seize on secret war as a substitute for a successful declared or open policy that also involves diplomacy, economic measures, and so forth. The problem with covert U.S. raids in the Pakistani tribal territories today is not that they are unjustifiedthe Taliban and Al Qaeda are vicious adversaries, and they pose what the national-security lawyers call a “clear and present danger” to the United States and to Pakistan. The problem is that in the attenuating months of the Bush Administration, covert policy has dominated U.S. policy, and often controlled itand it obviously isn’t working.
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