Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Obama: Unreality on Pakistan

Senator Barack Obama has delivered his major address on coping with global terrorism today at the Woodrow Wilson Center.

Several of his paragraphs touch on the U.S. relationship with Pakistan. The Senator had this to say:

“As President, I would make the hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. military aid to Pakistan conditional, and I would make our conditions clear: Pakistan must make substantial progress in closing down the training camps, evicting foreign fighters, and preventing the Taliban from using Pakistan as a staging area for attacks in Afghanistan.
“I understand that President Musharraf 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 won’t act, we will.

”And Pakistan needs more than F-16s to combat extremism. As the Pakistani government increases investment in secular education to counter radical madrasas, my Administration will increase America’s commitment. We must help Pakistan invest in the provinces along the Afghan border, so that the extremists’ program of hate is met with one of hope. And we must not turn a blind eye to elections that are neither free nor fair – our goal is not simply an ally in Pakistan, it is a democratic ally.”

This is the Washington consensus on Pakistan. Musharraf can do more. He should democratize. He should go after Al-Qaeda and related elements with greater vigor.

Many of these people apparently didn’t read Anatol Lieven’s essay on Pakistan in the summer 2006 issue which was deliberately titled, “A Difficult Country.” Anatol, of course, is not writing about an abstract Pakistan but a country with which he is extremely familiar.

Let’s first get to the question about “dealing with the terrorists.” Anatol wrote:

“On January 13, [2006], a U.S. missile strike on the Pakistani village of Damadola, intended to kill Al-Qaeda's deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, missed its target but killed at least 17 other people, probably including Al-Qaeda members but certainly including local women and children. If it had succeeded, this would have been a notable coup in the struggle against Al-Qaeda. Instead, this violation of Pakistani territory has humiliated the administration of President Pervez Musharraf and compromised his government's assistance to the United States.

“The Damadola incident illustrates a central dilemma in the War on Terror. It seems not only necessary but also just that the United States should retain the right to strike against acknowledged terrorists in those areas of the world where states cannot or will not take action.

“There are, however, two central problems with this approach.

“First, most of the countries where large-scale terrorist activity is occurring are like Pakistan, where governments do control the greater part of their territory--just not all of it. They are not failed or even failing states, but functioning states suffering from certain weaknesses. Moreover, while their governments are allied with Washington, their populations are largely unfriendly to the United States.

“The second, even more obvious point is that the United States and its allies cannot in fact invade and control such territories themselves. In the case of Pakistan, the United States will never have any choice but to work with and through a Pakistani government--almost any Pakistani government--if it wishes to exert any wider control over the fight against terrorism and extremism in Pakistan. This is especially true of the indirectly administered tribal areas that border Afghanistan.

And what about democracy? He posed this question:

“… to argue that if formal democracy were to be reintroduced in Pakistan tomorrow it would be radically different and better, one must be able to present credible evidence that something fundamental about Pakistan has changed radically for the better since the 1990s. …

“Lack of political progress in recent decades has been generally attributed in the West, and by Pakistani liberals, to the military's repeated seizures of power. There is an element of truth to this, but it is also true that those interventions have usually occurred because the civilian political order has already broken down. …

“The nature of Pakistani society, and the weakness of real democratic development, is shown above all by the lack of real, modern, mass political parties. Without such parties, democracy is bound to be more or less a sham or facade for oligarchic rule--just as it has been in so much of Latin America. In Pakistan the only true national political parties are those of some of the Islamists. The parties routinely described in the Western media as "democratic" are in fact congeries of landlords, clan chieftains and urban bosses vowing more-or-less temporary allegiance to some national leader …”

Pakistan is an excellent example of a foreign policy problem where we are not dealing with a good choice and a bad choice, but between a series of bad choices. And many of the problems Pakistan faces are not subject to or under Washington's control to fix, no matter what he or anyone else is "preapared to do" as President.

Seems like it just follows the Peter Beinart essay in Time which is also all about what the US should do with Pakistan. Same view that hey we in Washington know what to do and what works best.

Could you imagine trying to have US forces in the tribal areas? What are they thinking.
It's sad that American candidates feel the need to look tough and strong. I'll go get bin Laden!

Republicans all had to posture on Iran and Guantanamo Bay; now Obama needs to counteract the bad press that he said he'd talk to dictators to use diplomacy by showing he'll be a cowboy too.
Of course, no other country has this right of crossing another's borders to go after terrorists, except I guess Israel.
ABC News headline: Obama Talks Tough on Terror.
Can you imagine some other world leader lecturing US about its problems and what we need to do to fix them? That would go over real well here.
Anyone know whether O'Hanlon and Pollack are advising Obama?
If a nuclear weapon destroyed an American city and was traced to al-Qaida in Pakistan, things would change exactly as they did with regard to al-Qaida in Afghanistan before and after 9/11. The cost of tolerating terrorist camps in Pakistan vs. the cost of destabilizing Pakistan to take them out is perceived to favor tolerating safe havens for al-Qaida in Waziristan right now. If the cost of tolerance goes sharply up, the balance will shift.
But what would happen if a major U.S. city was destroyed by a nuclear weapon and was traced to an al-Qaida cell operating in Europe?

There is another question. Do we have confidence that Pakistan would move to intervene in the tribal areas to forestall a nuclear plot to prevent the reaction David describes? I think they would. I don't think that they are prepared to risk the major disruptions that would cause for going after al-Qaida for smaller acts of terrorism (e.g. 7/7 bombings or support for insurgency in Iraq).
Nik, think Obama on Pakistan failed Raj Menon's challenge in the Boston Globe from a few days back, when he wrote:

"But the only plausible outcomes for Pakistan in its present state are bad, terrible, and uncertain ones. If anyone has a plan for a better result, it's a good time to present it."
I don't understand Democrats who want us out of Iraq so we can go to places like Pakistan and Darfur. These are going to be easier?
David--on a separate note, we are going to start a debate in the magazine, starting with John Mueller in the upcoming issue--who argues that the nuclear terrorism threat is vastly overblown, both in terms of the ability of groups to build such weapons or for them to acquire them.

I agree that the nuclear terrorist threat may be exaggerated. My point is simply that perceptions of what is realistic with regard to U.S. action toward Pakistan are relative to the threat we perceive to exist from terrorist sanctuaries in that country. I'll be interested to read the nuclear debate in the next issue.
Anonymous 9:34,

If an al-Qaida cell in Europe detonated a nuclear weapon in an American city, we would retaliate against the country that supplied the nuke, if the country could be identified. If the origin of the weapon could not be determined, I think we would demand (and get) more effective controls on nuclear weapons in the countries whose arsenals we believe to be at risk.
What would you do if the source of nuclear material cannot be dtermined?
In the last sentence of my previous post, in addressing the possibility that the origin of the weapon could not be determined, I meant to include the source of the nuclear material as well as the weapon containing it. Sorry not to be more clear. The U.S. should in this case demand effective controls in all of the countries where fissile material is known to be produced.
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