Pakistan is becoming a staple of US presidential debates and the hypothetical questions may soon become a reality..
Rick Perry stumbled in a debate when he was asked how he would react if woken up at 3 AM and told that Pakistan had lost control over its nuclear arsenal.
During the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama was attacked by both his primary election rival Hillary Clinton and by his Republican opponent John McCain for openly stating that the US would take unilateral action on Pakistani territory if Islamic terrorists were holed up there:
I understand that President Musharraf [Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's president in 2008] has his own challenges. But let me make this clear: There are terrorists holed up in those mountains who murdered 3,000 Americans. They are plotting to strike again. It was a terrible mistake to fail to act when we had a chance to take out an al Qaeda leadership meeting in 2005. If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf will not act, we will.
Obama's opponents called this irresponsible and made it look as if Obama was ready to bomb Pakistan.
Obama backers were happy to replay the debate in the afterglow of Osama bin Laden's liquidation. Obama as president had backed up what he had promised as a candidate by taking action on Pakistani soil when the Pakistani government could not or would not take action.
The United States is currently facing a similar situation with the Haqqani network. This is a group that combines Islamic fundamentalism with the Mafia-style tactics of fundraising by extortion and front companies. It operates on the invisible border between Afghanistan and Pakistan and maintains close ties with the Taliban.
The outgoing US chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, called the network a "veritable arm" of Pakistani military intelligence, the ISI (Inter-service Intelligence).
Mullen accused Pakistan of providing support for the attack on the US Embassy in Kabul on September 13.
Pakistan has been effectively told to go after the network or the US will do the job.
US electronic monitoring devices intercepted calls between the network and high-level operatives of Inter-service Intelligence. Pakistani generals issued denials backed by the politicians.
As for Pakistani military action, the Pakistani generals claim that their forces are too stretched out fighting Taliban and that a campaign against the network would also cause a huge amount of civilian casualties.
The United States believes that the Pakistani denials are false and that the ties between Pakistan and the Haqqanis are designed to ensure that Pakistan has an ally in Afghanistan after the Americans leave.
After the Pakistani army made it clear to the Americans that it will not commit troops to fighting the network, Pakistan's civilian parties have met to discuss the crisis.
Interviewed on "Fox News Sunday", Republican Senator Lindsey Graham recommended keeping "all options on the table" in dealing with Pakistan. Graham hinted at a military response: "I will leave it up to the experts, but if the experts believe that we need to elevate our response, they will have a lot of bipartisan support on Capitol Hill,"
Pakistan's neighbor India is watching the drama unfold with a sense of vindication. India has been making the same accusations against Pakistan for years and was always told to exercise restraint.
In Pakistan opinions are divided. Some Pakistanis regard the United States as a power in decline that can be easily supplanted by China. More liberal Pakistanis argue that a country that harbors terrorist militias will have a pariah status.
Support for the Islamic militants does not provide strategic depth but acts quite the reverse. The terrorist practices encouraged by Pakistan seep back into the country and take a toll in lives while steering Islam in an extremist direction.
China is also no substitute for the United States, particularly when a mediator between Pakistan and a more powerful India is required.