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Yes, McCain Was Wrong On Pakistan

I think that all of them would agree that, while there were a lot of things wrong in Pakistan during the years leading up to the 1999 military takeover, Pakistan was not a failed state as we normally define such states. I am on record as stating publicly that, having come to Pakistan from Liberia a year before the takeover, I had a pretty good idea of what failed states look like, and it was not one. ~William Milam [1], Fmr. U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan

There may be a charitable explanation for McCain’s blunder.  Just as he doesn’t understand what cap-and-trade [2], counterinsurgency [3], strategy and tactics are, he also doesn’t know what a failed state is, and so he labels Pakistan c. 1999 a “failed state” because he doesn’t really understand the concept, but he’s heard people use that phrase to describe countries that suffer from instability.  If there was a coup, it must be a failed state!  Yeah, that’s it.  The less charitable, but more likely explanation [4] is that he has no idea [5] what was happening in Pakistan at 1999 or at any other time.  What I find strange about this is that it has taken several days for anyone else to notice how utterly wrong McCain was on Pakistan, when it was pretty readily apparent.  Actually, it’s not that strange–most observers apparently don’t know all that much about Pakistan, either, and so when McCain engages in an arrogant bluff and pretends to understand something that Obama allegedly doesn’t they can’t call his bluff.  I’m pretty sure this is how McCain has maintained his inflated reputation as some kind of national security expert: he expects that his audience and the journalists covering him know even less than he does, and so he can get away with saying all manner of ridiculous things.  Sometimes his statements get a little too ridiculous, and journalists are obliged to notice, as they did when he went on about Iran sponsoring Al Qaeda in Iraq, but for the most part they defer to him and treat his pronouncements as if they were serious and informed.  If you look closer, you’ll find that they’re usually neither.