Biden, according to Woodward, broached this topic at a strategy meeting in the fall of 2009, saying, "We can't lose sight of Pakistan and stability there. The way I understand this, Afghanistan is a means to accomplish our top mission, which is to kill al Qaeda and secure Pakistan's nukes." Of course, Biden is not suggesting that the United States would take Pakistan's nukes, but rather that it would ensure that there isn't an overthrow of the Pakistani government by terrorist groups, but his words are still likely to be interpreted as the ultimate proof of what this whole fuss -- 9/11, the war on terror, the reorientation of the Afghan campaign, and the covert war in Pakistan -- has all been about. For the ordinary Pakistani, there is no better or more comforting explanation for the three years of nonstop suicide bombings and violence that Pakistan has been plunged into.
But what might be most offensive to Pakistanis may be the sense among U.S. officials, as conveyed by Woodward, that Pakistanis are not taking the militant threat seriously. Pakistanis are keenly aware of the 30-year-old monster of extremists and radicals that their governments and military have cultivated in the name of national security. The terrorists of the TTP and other al Qaeda affiliates that have wreaked so much destruction -- causing more than 30,000 deaths since 2001 in Pakistan -- are deeply unpopular.
But these enemies are, at least, domestic and familiar. The public knows full well that the monster of extremism is an intergenerational challenge, one that will require careful and assiduous attention. Anti-American hatred, on the other hand, is fueled by a simpler narrative. There is no ideological commitment or religious fervor that fuels the Pakistani public's anti-Americanism. Nor is there a particularly civilizational flavor to it. Pakistani anti-Americanism comes from a sustained narrative in which Pakistan is the undignified and humiliated recipient of U.S. financial support -- provided at the expense of Pakistani blood. This may not be reflective of the intentions of Obama's war, but it is reflective of the outcome of this war on main street in Pakistan. And perception is reality.
One of the most telling accounts in the book is of Husain Haqqani, the Pakistani ambassador to the United States, trying to explain to members of the Obama administration how to engage with Pakistan. After trying a number of analogies, the unflappable Haqqani finally just lays it out plainly, "Give us a little bit of respect. Don't humiliate us publicly."
The public humiliation of being the subject of Obama's war, without being able to publicly acknowledge its myriad dimensions, is a pressure that is crushing Pakistan's fragile democracy and hurting wider U.S. goals. If one of the objectives of Obama's war was to stabilize and secure Pakistan, then, by that measure, the war is not doing well at all. The surge has been a massive failure, notwithstanding the achievements of the clandestine war and the drone strikes.
That perfectly captures the American conundrum in Pakistan. The things that have the most value for the Obama administration -- using covert actions and drone strikes to take out known al Qaeda members -- provoke the most disquiet in Pakistan. Pakistanis will not come away from reading Obama's Wars with any confidence in the warm sincerity of Hillary Clinton's multiple visits to the country to build bridges and spur the U.S. public diplomacy machine. Instead, the suspicious instincts of Pakistanis will be vindicated. The irony could not be richer. No U.S. administration has ever invested so much effort and time in trying to understand and accommodate Pakistan's complex realities into its own calculus. Woodward's book confirms what this outpouring of U.S. interest and attention is all about: It is about fear.