Compounding things, the international community has moved ponderously, even lethargically, to aid the survivors. According to Pakistan's National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), Saudi Arabia has led all countries in providing aid, with about $112 million, followed by the United States with nearly $76 million, and then the United Kingdom's nearly $65 million. Pakistan's neighbor and regional rival, India, has offered very little, while Pakistan's all-weather friend, China, has ponied up a paltry $9 million thus far. The total sum, according to the NDMA, amounts to only $524.93 million. The magnitude of Pakistan's current crisis dwarfs Hurricane Katrina, and yet, the entire response of the international community thus far does not even reach 5 percent of the first spending bill passed by the Congress in the wake of Katrina.

Finally, and paradoxically, Pakistan's epic disaster has provided the United States with an enormous opportunity. Here the clichés contain a kernel of truth: The United States cannot succeed in Afghanistan without succeeding in Pakistan, and success in both countries must be political and economic, not simply military. The Islamist extremists understand this well in Pakistan and mean to fill the gap left by the government they despise. Why don't we?

Given the massive resources at our disposal next door and our logistics hub within Pakistan itself, the United States ought to step up without delay and simply lead. We have over 100,000 U.S. troops in neighboring Afghanistan, plus some 60,000 allied troops that belong to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) under U.S. General David Petraeus. President Barack Obama should immediately offer the Pakistani government as many of those troops as can be spared (say 10,000), plus helicopters, transport aircraft, medical teams, engineers—whatever Pakistan needs. We could move troops from Kabul to Islamabad within the space of a day. Next, we should summon the international community to provided aid for Pakistan. Elsewhere, I have called for increasing our aid one hundred-fold, to $7.6 billion, and we can use that funding to send American wheat, doctors, bulldozers, and civil engineers to Pakistan, all emblazoned with "provided by the United States" logos.

Such an epic disaster, and our part in cleaning it up, may speed long-needed reforms to Pakistan's political and economic system. Quietly but firmly and progressively, U.S. diplomats must prod Pakistan's elites, both civilian and military, to take the steps required to bring about institutional reform that, long after the floodwaters have receded, will leave the country more stable. In Islamabad, but more to the point in Washington, what is needed is the political courage to lead.

Larry Goodson is the author of Afghanistan's Endless War: State Failure, Regional Politics, and the Rise of the Taliban.