Only hours before President Obama took off for Asia on Thursday, his national-security adviser landed in Pakistan on an unannounced trip to meet with senior Pakistani officials, a White House official said. Jim Jones is "going to continue the discussions that Secretary [of State Hillary] Clinton had" on her own recent visit, said the official, who would talk about the trip only on condition of anonymity. Jones plans to fly on to Asia afterward to join the president on his nine-day trip to Japan, Singapore, China, and South Korea.
The reason for Jones' visit remains unclear, but it is very likely related to Obama's strategic rethink of the war in neighboring Afghanistan (though Jones is not planning to visit there, the official said). The president is expected to announce a decision on how many additional troops he will send to Afghanistan at some point after his Asia trip concludes on Nov. 19. The administration's internal deliberations have been marred by open dissension about the U.S. presence in Afghanistan, leading to some speculation that Obama might want to send a message of strength and commitment by stopping in central Asia on his return.
Most recently it was reported that U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry's has questioned whether Gen. Stanley McChrystal's recommendation to add at least 40,000 troops is prudent as long as the government of President Hamid Karzai fails to reform. Clinton seemed to sympathize with that position on Thursday at a news conference in Manila, when she said she is concerned about Afghanistan's "corruption, lack of transparency, poor governance [and] absence of the rule of law." Eikenberry's own concerns go back to his days as U.S. commander on the ground in Afghanistan in 2006. In an interview with NEWSWEEK then, Eikenberry said he was leery of sending more troops, saying what was really needed were additional nation-building resources and a "political solution."