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January 12, 2010

Conservatives Can't Tell Afghanistan from Pakistan
Posted by Patrick Barry

Over the last few weeks, conservatives have exhibited a gap in their understanding of foreign policy so massive it's hard to imagine how it could get worse.  But apparently it did.  Last week, it was arguing that using the word terrorism more would keep Americans safe. Now, it's confusing Afghanistan and Pakistan. Today, Jim Hoft at First Things uses a flashy video setting Martha Coakley's debate statement that al Qaeda is no longer in Afghanistan against footage of CIA bomber Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi, to attack Coakley for being weak on terrorism.  Of course, one glance at the video reveals a BUNCH of really big problems with this accusation. Take a look:

See that guy to al-Balawi's right? That's Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud. You know where he's based? Pakistan.  Where do you think the video was probably filmed then? I'd bet on Pakistan. Why might Mehsud be interested in attacking a drone base in Afghanistan? Perhaps it's because those drones have been targeting extremists now congregating across Afghanistan's border in PAKISTAN.   Don't believe me? Al-Balawi even says as much in the video.  ABC News:

In the 1 1/2 minute video, the bomber said he attacked the CIA to avenge the death of Baitullah Mehsud, the longtime leader of the Pakistani Taliban who was killed in August..

..."We will never forget the blood of our emir Baitullah Mehsud," said al-Balawi.

So let's get this straight, Conservatives are using footage taken in Pakistan, of a Jordanian suicide bomber collaborating with a group based in Pakistan, to attack a CIA base responsible for sending drones into Pakistan, in reprisal for the killing of an insurgent leader also based in Pakistan, in order to criticize Martha Coakley for saying the 9-11 terrorists are no longer in Afghanistan?   It's pretty clear who doesn't get the big picture here.

Update: Apparently Hoft also cut out the crucial part of Coakley's remarks where she said Al Qaeda had shifted operations to "Yemen and Pakistan," going on to call for the U.S. to "focus our efforts on where Al Qaeda is."  There are a lot of seasoned counteterrorism hands who think even the Obama administration has not sufficiently dealt with that complexity. Seems like Coakley meets their standard, just not the fantastical one set by certain conservatives.


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In both Afghanistan and Pakistan, the difficulties are deeply rooted and intractable, the leverage of outsiders is inherently limited, and one can't pronounce with confidence about either the viability or the effects of different policies.

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