For months officials in Pakistan have been demanding an end to CIA drone strikes in the country, and the brokering of a new relationship that would make them equal partners in the pursuit of terrorist groups.
Now they have an unlikely ally in their demands: the former director of U.S. intelligence agencies, Dennis C. Blair.
Speaking at a conference in Aspen, Colo., this week, Blair said the Obama administration should suspend the drone campaign, and resume firing missiles only in cases when there is agreement from Pakistan.
“We should offer to the Pakistanis to put two hands on the trigger,” Blair said, arguing that unilateral attacks have undermined American standing abroad and badly damaged the U.S. relationship with Pakistan.
Blair’s prescription comes at a time when many senior U.S. intelligence officials credit the sustained drone campaign, as well as the killing of Osama bin Laden, with bringing al-Qaeda to the brink of collapse.
But Blair said his view is based in part on a belief that the United States is at a turning point in the fight against al-Qaeda and like-minded groups.
The drone strikes and other counter-terror measures have effectively stripped al-Qaeda and its affiliates of their ability to execute out large-scale plots.
But “by having that [drone] campaign dominate our overall relationship…we are following a policy that cannot take us from that second layer of small attacks down to no attacks,” Blair said. Only deeper cooperation with Pakistan and other countries can do that, he said.
Blair didn’t say whether he had advocated such a position while still serving as Director of National Intelligence, before he was abruptly fired by President Obama last year.
Blair also offered a sobering bit of intelligence budget math. Given the swollen state of intelligence spending, and the relatively small membership of al-Qaeda and other groups, Blair said the United States is spending $20 billion a year to go after an enemy that has about 4,000 people in its ranks.