During the Dec. 1 press conference, Mr. Obama said he had told Mr. Singh that “Americans stand with the people of India in this dark time. And I am confident that India’s great democracy is more resilient than killers who would tear it down.”
“I think the Obama approach was always putting the Indians off because it put them at the end of a chain,” said Mr. Cohen. “And the chain began with Afghanistan and then Pakistan and then only India, despite all the rhetoric about India being a great country, blah, blah, blah. They clearly did not see India as a major strategic player in Asia.”
That sort of skepticism, in turn, will make it that much more difficult for the Obama administration to round up support for a regional approach to solving Afghanistan by way of Kashmir.
“Obviously, the Obama regional framework in the next few weeks or months is on ice,” said Vanda Felbab-Brown, also of the Brookings Institution.
According to most of the experts interviewed for this article, Mr. Obama is receiving advice on the issue of Pakistan from Bruce Riedel, a former C.I.A. operative and a senior fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution.
Mr. Riedel did not return requests for an interview, but in remarks to the Council on Foreign Relations earlier this year, he said that he knew from experience, from when the United States backed the armed resistance to the Soviet Union in the 1980s, that it was impossible for insurgents to lose in Afghanistan as long as Pakistan provided a safe haven. Still, he said, “any American leader that was told that we had very good intelligence, at a certain point and a certain time, will act on that intelligence. And they should. But, you have to be sure it’s really, really good intelligence. And not a setup that someone is deliberately trying to put you in.”
He added, however, that “Predator strikes are not a long-term solution.”
(Another expert on the region reported to be advising Mr. Obama, Jonah Blank, a senior adviser to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also declined to comment during the course of the transition.)
Asked during the press conference in Chicago if India also had the right to pursue high-value targets inside Pakistan, Mr. Obama responded, “I think that sovereign nations obviously have a right to protect themselves. Beyond that, I don’t want to comment on the specific situation that’s taking place in South Asia right now.”
“Indian incursions have a fundamentally different quality to them than anything that we do,” said Mr. Markey. “Despite the fact that the Pakistanis really, really don’t like that we’re doing this, it’s not just a game.”
He added, “To kind of even signal a yellow light to Indian reprisals is a bad step. I don’t think that’s what Obama is doing. But I think that hawks in India will be looking for opportunities.”
In other words, after all the heady expectations built up for the prospective foreign policy super-team of Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton, they’re going to have to be extremely careful, first and foremost, to do no harm.
“Ninety-nine percent of the issues that face people who face international affairs are coping issues, not solving issues,” said Mr. Platt. “One percent you can solve every once in a while.”