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Just say no to Pakistan's extortion

Our terrorist-supporting "ally" Pakistan has outdone itself again. 

Rather than pin a medal on the doctor who helped confirm bin Laden's identity, it has tossed him in jail on a 33-year treason sentence. Along with other extortionate acts against America, this speaks volumes about what this major recipient of U.S. foreign aid thinks it can get away with from Washington.

Pakistani doctor Shakil Afridi helped the CIA confirm the identity of the man they suspected was bin Laden, paving the way for U.S. Navy SEALs to kill him last May. Instead of apologizing for unwittingly (or wittingly) harboring the man responsible for incinerating 3,000 American civilians, Pakistan's government instead expressed outrage at the heroes who nailed the Al Qaeda leader. They rounded up Afridi and this week, convicted him of treason.

That wasn't the only slap at Washington. 

Earlier this week, at the NATO summit, Pakistan's prime minister refused to back away from an extortionate demand for payment to supply our fighting men and women in Afghanistan. Pakistan's government wants a $5,000 bribe for each truck or container that carries military goods to or from Afghanistan. The potential magnitude of this is stunning when one considers that it will take tens of thousands of container-loads to complete the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Worse still, this would be on top of an obscene amount of aid that has gone from American taxpayers to Pakistan. This for a government that recently has supported terrorists in their attacks on Americans, Afghans and Indians. More than $20 billion U.S. taxpayer dollars have gone to Islamabad since 9/11. This amount spiked in recent years, with annual aid hovering around $3 billion. Like so many bad ideas in Washington, the bribe hike had broad bipartisan support from our foreign policy establishment — including the top Democrat and Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Obama administration officials are not above paying a per-container bribe to Pakistan on top of this copious aid. For the privilege of fighting terrorists on Pakistan's borders, the U.S. is reportedly already willing to pay $500 per container, but is expected to settle at a higher number.

A Senate committee voted yesterday to slice just $33 million from aid to Pakistan—a million dollars for each year of Dr. Afridi's sentence. Other actions on Capitol Hill could reduce Pakistan's aid to "merely" a billion dollars per year.

Such largesse with money we don't have is hardly tough enough love for Pakistan. In our past, we would have had the honor and intelligence not to tolerate extortion of this nature.

Our schools teach American children about the "XYZ Affair" in our history. In that episode, France and its corrupt representative wanted outrageous bribes to restore diplomatic relations after the murderous French Revolution. Then-President Adams flatly refused and a congressman summed up the matter with the succinct phrase: "Millions for defense, sir, but not one cent for tribute!"

The point is that giving in to extortion from a reprehensible and adversarial government is wrong for reasons of principle, but also pragmatism. The practitioners of our foreign policy then knew what those of ours today do not: that acquiescing to extortion leads to more extortion and rewards the corrupt.

Today, there is a pragmatic alternative to indulging Pakistan's government. The U.S. can focus on supplying Afghanistan and ultimately removing our forces via Central Asia instead of Pakistan. This involves moving goods through a combination of the other "stans" and the Caspian Sea or Russia. The costs are higher, but they could be brought down if NATO commits a fraction of what it gives Islamabad and Kabul each year to improve rail and road transportation instead. 

This would also be better economically and politically for Afghanistan, orienting its economy and interests — and ultimately its future — away from Pakistan.  It would stymie Pakistan's imperialist adventure in Afghanistan -- the reason it supports terrorists and insurgents there.  

This sorry episode also raises the question of whom President Obama expects to cooperate with the U.S. if we do nothing to protect those who are our friends. It isn't clear if Dr. Afridi expected a reward for helping the U.S. identify bin Laden, but he presumably at least expected Washington to have his back if he was acted against.

Perhaps President Obama has been too busy congratulating himself for the bin Laden raid over the past year to consider protecting those who helped us. This would fit a pattern with his administration. For example, during Mr. Obama's tenure, WikiLeaks has compromised globally those cooperating with U.S. diplomats, soldiers and intelligence officers. Even after successive waves of disclosures, Mr. Obama and his aides have failed to act. It has been a year-and-a-half since Attorney General Holder said he was undertaking "significant" actions against WikiLeaks and that "we are doing everything that we can."

Apparently doing "everything" is actually doing nothing — both then and now. Like WikiLeaks, Pakistan seems never to be held to account for its misconduct by the Obama administration or the Washington foreign policy establishment.

Obama's message: Good luck Dr. Afridi, wherever you are.

Christian Whiton was a State Department senior advisor in the George W. Bush administration from 2003-09.  He is author of the new book, “Smart Power: Between Diplomacy and War” (Potomac Books).