You owe it to yourself to read Stephen Walt on Af-Pak. For all the valuable discussion of the issue in terms of counterinsurgency doctrine – and if you haven’t been reading Tara McKelvey and Spencer Ackerman on that issue, you should be – the question of why we’re devoting so much effort to combating the Taliban and al-Qaeda has largely been absent from the debate. Yet, even as the State Department abandons the phrase “war on terror”, the fact remains that our entire South Asia policy has been devoted to fighting just such a war, against a menace that’s largely illusory. I’ll let Walt explain:
What we need, in fact, is a political elite (and a responsible media) that will help Americans keep the terrorism problem in perspective. Terrorism is a tactic that various groups have used throughout history, and it will remain with us for the foreseeable future. Dramatic incidents like the recent Mumbai attacks are going to happen again, no matter how hard we try to prevent them, and that includes the possibility of attacks on American soil. But if we can keep suicidal extremists from obtaining nuclear weapons, they will not be able to threaten our way of life in any meaningful way.
None of this is to say that we should ignore al Qaeda or any other terrorist group that is bent on attacking the United States, or that we should not sometimes act assertively to protect Americans at home and abroad. But the threat from al Qaeda does not justify increasing our military presence in Afghanistan, and certainly does not justify major military operations in Pakistan.