Shadow Government

Holding our tongues on Pakistan

By Christian Brose Amid the many articles in today’s papers on the Obama administration’s growing concern about events in Pakistan, this part of the story in the Washington Post jumped out at me: The day after the Buner reports surfaced, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton infuriated the Pakistani government by telling Congress it was ...

By Christian Brose

Amid the many articles in today’s papers on the Obama administration’s growing concern about events in Pakistan, this part of the story in the Washington Post jumped out at me:

The day after the Buner reports surfaced, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton infuriated the Pakistani government by telling Congress it was "abdicating to the Taliban and to the extremists" and that the situation posed a "mortal threat" to the world.

"Absolutely, they’re getting irritated," a senior U.S. official said of the Pakistanis. Clinton, he said, "knows she went too far" in her unscripted testimony. "But on the other hand," he said, "it was that kind of statement that helped wake up the Pakistanis."

I really hope the administration doesn’t believe this. At the time of Clinton’s statement, the Taliban was taking and occupying territory 60 miles north of Islamabad. Something tells me Pakistan’s leaders were wide awake to the problem they had on their hands, and they didn’t need anyone, least of all the secretary of state, to point it out for them. For the U.S. government, criticizing Pakistan publicly is the rhetorical equivalent of drone warfare: It can be helpful if done competently, quietly, and sparingly; disastrous and self-defeating if not.

All of this reminds me of the administration’s accurate but deeply unhelpful criticisms of Karzai back in January and February. At the time, it behooved us to hold our tongues, because we might be stuck with Karzai for several more years. Now it’s looking increasingly clear that this will in fact be the case. The administration should keep this in mind as it talks about Pakistan today. No matter how inadequate and frustrating Pakistan’s civilian leadership may be, let’s air on the side of saying nothing publicly rather than saying something that might undermine them — for if we are not still stuck with these guys in a few years time, we will have far bigger problems.

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