On Distractions

I think Kevin Drum's being too kind to Fred Kagan here (and really "too kind" is not a difficult bar to pass when you're talking about Kagan), in semi-endorsing Kagan's argument that Iraq can't be a distraction from the "real" war on terrorism in Pakistan and Afghanistan because nobody wants to mount a huge invasion of Pakistan. That's true as far as it goes, but it doesn't really go all that far. For one thing, the "Afghanistan" side of "Pakistan and Afghanistan" is a place where there's a role for an increased U.S. troop presence, both directly and as a signifier to our NATO allies that we're actually taking this seriously and they ought to take it seriously, too.

But beyond that, the large American deployment in Iraq involves more than just the 100+ soldiers who are there -- consider our foreign language, diplomatic, and human intelligence resources. All of those things are in shorter supply than are soldiers per se, and all could be useful in Pakistan without any talk of an invasion. And perhaps most of all there's the question of high-level attention. From the President on down, there are a lot of busy people in the military, diplomatic, and intelligence chains of command and at the top level of the interagency process and having them make Iraq their own top priority, and a top priority on the agenda of every international meeting has real costs.

So, yes, it's true that I don't have a brilliant off-the-shelf "let's eliminate al-Qaeda in Pakistan in twelve easy steps" scheme, but it's still the case that everything we try to do there is made more difficult by the scope of our commitments in Iraq.