At the risk of being more superficial than usual, with so much happening this week a brief review may be in order.
There have been developments, some interesting and some important, in arenas not often noted by those interested in national security. They are amusing at least to the extent that they would be difficult to make up:
--Prurience: David Letterman announces that there was an attempt to extort money from him by someone who knows of Letterman's hitherto secret liaisons with staffers.
--More prurience: Senator John Ensign, already having admitted to having an affair with a campaign aide, allegedly uses his influence to find a lobbying job for his lover's husband.
--Let's Celebrate Communism: The operators of the Empire State Building light its spire red and yellow to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the victory of Chinese communism.
--Ethics: President Obama travels on taxpayers' money to Copenhagen to lobby the IOC to select Chicago as the next venue for the Olympics. Shall we assume that absolutely none of Obama's friends or contributors will benefit financially if his hometown is selected?
Far less entertaining but more important were these developments:
--Afghanistan: With the cohesion of the administration in open disarray, the first meeting with the president on the strategy was held this week. The result was exactly what one would expect: a decision to study the problem further. The American objective to destroy the influence of al Qaeda and the Taliban is mutually exclusive of doing so at little or no cost, a dilemma whose insolubility is exacerbated by the Congress's reluctance to make costly and long-term national security commitments in an election year. Before returning from Copenhagen, Obama summoned General McChrystal for a brief meeting whose substance is liable to be leaked by those with axes to grind, but we know where McChrystal stands: in a speech in London, he rejected calls to reduce America's effort against enemy forces in Afghanistan. Many national security experts agree with him, while others agree with Joe Biden, but the procrastinated, disorganized and inexpert manner in which our strategy is being formed is distressing.
--Iran: Those of us old enough to remember American negotiations with Hanoi have an unsettling feeling of deja vu. The United States and Iran are beginning discussions about Iran's efforts to develop nuclear weapons, and the result will be further delays and inaction. Because we have an unfortunate history of coupling tough talk with an inability or refusal to act, the robust threats issuing from the White House this week mean nothing. Even as we are fulminating about Iran's prevarications and intransigence, Russia and China (see "Let's Celebrate Communism," above)---the two nations whose assistance we need to enforce sanctions---say, in effect, that Iran should be left to do what it wishes. This will not end well.
--Pakistan: The only bit of good news in the region is Pakistan's assertion that it will soon mount an offensive against Taliban control in South Waziristan. We have heard this all before, of course, but there is some evidence to indicate that Pakistan means business this time. The problem, however, is that merely killing Taliban is an impermanent solution to the lack of Pakistani sovereignty on the border with Afghanistan. As most students and practioners of unconventional war can attest, Pakistan will also have to make a long-term commitment to redressing the problems that permit Muslim revolutionaries to flourish there in the first place, and that is unlikely to happen. Still, any progress from a fair-weather ally is welcome.
No matter what is decided, options that are selected for our commanders in Southwest Asia are likely to stick with Mr. Obama through the mid-term election and into the national campaign in 2012. Like Lyndon Johnson, the possibility that the president will be perceived as having lost a war---whatever that is construed to mean---will contribute to his decision. The realists among us know that domestic politics are a major component of national security decision. The idealists wish that they weren't.