Jon Stewart took it on himself to express outrage that the United States gave $6.6 billion in aid to Pakistan from 2002 to 2008, and pledged another $7.5 billion over the next five years, even as Pakistan itself financed, trained, and colluded with the Taliban to undermine American interests in Afghanistan, as was highlighted this week by WikiLeaks.
Mr. Stewart, who on Tuesday hosted Newsweek international editor Fareed Zakaria on The Daily Show, showed a series of television clips with analysts downplaying the WikiLeaks reports as "nothing new," "the substance is not new," and "the content is nothing new."
Stewart, for one, thought it was something new.
“We give them billions of dollars of aid!” he said. “Pakistan is funneling that money to the Taliban? One of the chief financial contributors to our enemy is us? We have ostensibly put a hit out on ourselves. This is insanity.”
He then turned to Mr. Zakaria with a series of questions that underscored the differences in reaction this past week between those who were outraged over the content of the WikiLeaks reports, and those who were nonplussed.
'I'm shocked, shocked!'
Right away, Zakaria poured cold water on Stewart's outrage.
“This is very different from something like the Pentagon Papers,” Zakaria says. “The Pentagon Papers revealed that the United States had been behind the coup in 1963 that overthrew [South Vietnam President Ngô Đình] Diệm. It revealed that even before the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, Lyndon Johnson had decided to escalate the war. At the end of the day, what you learn is that the Taliban has used a few heat-seeking missiles. OK. They haven't actually shot down many American aircraft. But they're using heat-seeking missiles.
“The big deal is the one you pointed out, the Pakistan story,” he continues. "It is a little bit like that line in Casablanca: I'm shocked, shocked that Pakistan is involved in a double game here.”
(In the 1942 film, Captain Renault says “I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!” even as he collects his own gambling winnings.)
“The issue for me is the nonchalance,” replies Stewart. “The nonchalance of reading in bureaucratic detail the abject horror and existential sort of trap that we find ourselves in in Afghanistan. It's that idea of, yes, you're right, we're never going to get out of there and we're trapped.”
'We already tried not funding Pakistan'
Zakaria: “It's the central dilemma of the Afghanistan strategy, which is you have the neighboring country providing safe havens. But not just providing safe havens, where the military of the country is actually actively assisting.”
Stewart: “And the United States government actively funding them."
Zakaria: “But we tried not funding them, this was in the '80s and '90s, and they turned even closer to the jihadis. When you have a country as screwed up as Pakistan, I don't know what the answer is. If you isolate them and punish them, they move toward the jihadis. If you give them money, they move toward the jihadis.”
Stewart: “Can I throw something out there? You may tell me I'm wrong, I'm not an analyst: Space station. They talk on a space station. Russia and the United States never got along. Then we went to space together, spent a little time, and were like, 'You know what? You dudes are alright.' “
'A fools errand'?
Stewart later calls the US effort in Afghanistan foolish.
“They don't like us,” he says. “This idea of winning the hearts and minds of people that view us as invaders, and not just us, anyone who crosses that border as invaders, is a fools errand.”
Zakaria: “This is not entirely true. This is a fashionable view. But actually the polling done in Afghanistan shows that the Taliban is very unpopular by-and-large. The US troops, foreign forces, are pretty popular. The problem is more this element where they terrorize villages, they terrorize people.”
Stewart: “I understand that. But the idea is that if we win hearts and minds, that turns the tide of the war. ... You're never going to get 100 percent.”
Zakaria: “You know, this is the third-worst country in the world. It's been ravaged by 30 years of civil war.”
Stewart: “Why can't we attack nicer places, is what I'm saying. When are we going to bomb Monaco?”
Given that WikiLeaks has now coordinated the largest leak of classified documents in US history, Stewart asks Zakaria what might seem an obvious question: “90,000 documents have been leaked from the army," he says. "Do you think at this point they will change their password?”
“Part of the what's going on here is government produces so many more documents," Zakaria replies. "You pointed out that this is not Top Secret, this was Secret. The Top Secret clearance in America is held by 850,000 people. That's Top Secret. So Secret is probably everybody but you.”
View the full video here.