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How can this be Obama's "smarter Pakistan policy"?

by Magnifico Thu Mar 19th, 2009 at 08:12:02 AM EST

Little more than a week ago, U.S. President Barack Obama said in an interview with the New York Times:

At the heart of a new Afghanistan policy is going to be a smarter Pakistan policy. As long as you've got safe havens in these border regions that the Pakistani government can't control or reach, in effective ways, we're going to continue to see vulnerability on the Afghan side of the border. And so it's very important for us to reach out to the Pakistani government, and work with them more effectively.

How then is expanding the war in Pakistan "smarter" policy? How is this reaching out? The NY Times is reporting on a trial balloon being floated by anonymous senior officials in the administration --

President Obama and his national security advisers are considering expanding the American covert war in Pakistan far beyond the unruly tribal areas to strike at a different center of Taliban power in Baluchistan, where top Taliban leaders are orchestrating attacks into southern Afghanistan.

front-paged by afew

While having given tacit approval for such attacks, publicly Pakistan has repeatedly protested U.S. missile strikes. Last November, for example, the Pakistani government made an official protest with U.S. ambassador Anne Patterson.

"These kinds of acts are counter-productive ... it adds to our problems," said Yousaf Raza Gilani, Pakistan's Prime Minister, at the time.

What kind of problems? For one, it provides an easy rallying point for Pakistani Islamists and their supporters to foment anti-U.S. and anti-Western protests.

Missile strikes do not only kill Taliban and al-Qaeda militants, but they also kill civilians. In many of the missile strikes, Pakistani civilians are also killed. Whether or not the Taliban and al-Qaeda are using the civilians as shields is not the point. Each dead civilian is one more reason for a friend or family member to fight back against the U.S.

Yesterday, the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict released a new report "Losing the People: The Costs and Consequences of Civilian Suffering in Afghanistan" (pdf) that found:

The international coalition in Afghanistan is losing public support, one fallen civilian at a time... A once welcoming picture of the population has turned into scenes of frequent, widespread and sometimes violent protests over civilian deaths and a perceived lack of concern by international forces...

Billions of dollars are spent to win, keep and rebuild Afghan communities, but it only takes seeing one family maltreated and ignored by military forces for a community to turn against the international effort.

"Civilian deaths from airstrikes act as a recruiting tool for the Taliban and risk fatally undermining the international effort to provide basic security to the people of Afghanistan," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch last September when the report, "'Troops in Contact': Airstrikes and Civilian Deaths in Afghanistan" (pdf), was released.

For obvious reasons, more militants creates more problems for the U.S. and NATO too. Both in the form militants that have put the Taliban in control of southern Afghanistan, but also makes military operations in Afghanistan more costly for the U.S. and NATO. The U.S.-led coalition largely relies on supply convoys through Pakistan. When locals are upset because of missile strikes, then militants have an easier time attacking supply depots and convoys in northwest Pakistan such as with this attack yesterday that destroyed 14 NATO trucks.

The Times reports that two high-level reports advocate "broadening the target area" in Pakistan, which so far has been limited to the tribal areas. Baluchistan is "a sprawling province that is under the authority of the central government" and borders southern Afghanistan where the Taliban is entrenched.

Reports by U.S. Gen. David Petraeus and U.S. Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute "have recommended expanding American operations outside the tribal areas if Pakistan cannot root out the strengthening insurgency." Some U.S. officials claim the extensive C.I.A. Predator and Reaper missile strikes have "forced some leaders of the Taliban and Al Qaeda to flee south toward Quetta" and suggest the attacks "in the tribal areas have been effective at killing 9 of Al Qaeda's top 20 leaders".

Many American intelligence officials say that several of the top Taliban commanders remain in hiding either in the sprawling Afghan refugee camps near Quetta or in some of the city's Afghan neighborhoods.

Missile strikes or American commando raids in the city of Quetta or the teeming Afghan settlements and refugee camps around the city and near the Afghan border would carry high risks of civilian casualties, American officials acknowledge.

"High risks of civilian casualties" is precisely what Obama should be avoiding in constructing "a smarter Pakistan policy".

Instead since the first days of his presidency, Obama has been actively pursuing a policy of U.S. missile strikes and now, according to the administration's latest trial balloon, the administration may seek to expand the use of missile strikes.

If this does become Obama's long-term strategy, then there is no chance for defeating the Taliban in Pakistan or Afghanistan. The U.S. and NATO may as well withdraw their troops now. Such a move would save Afghan and Pakistani lives, which actually may be a "smarter" strategy in comparison since less civilians killed are fewer militants recruited.

Cross-posted from Daily Kos.

by Magnifico on Wed Mar 18th, 2009 at 02:03:34 AM EST
The real mystery is this: We have previously identified the "enemy" as, in rough sequence, Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Iran, Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan, and now Pakistan. But who shall be next???

I mean, besides Mexico and Libya.

by asdf on Wed Mar 18th, 2009 at 05:10:27 PM EST
Even I can see what a lousy policy Obama's is on Pakistan, and I wrote something along these lines back in September. Everybody in the foreign policy community thinks it's a bad policy, whose destabilizing effects have already become apparent: What might have been and Steve Coll's article from the Clinton's favorite foreign policy think tank.

So it's difficult to see what's driving Obama's policy here, unless it's campaign promises and domestic politics. Are the dems so afraid of being labeled ?soft-on-terror" in exactly the same way they were afraid of being "soft-on-communism" back in the 60's? If that's the case, it shows an extreme callousness toward other's lives, and an embrace of the lunatic method of making foreign policy to bolster your domestic political standing. Which is the absolute worst way to design foreign policy.

Excellent diary, thanks. Looks like a tidy bit of work went into it. At some point, I should put together all the reasons Obama's Pakistan policy sucks, hang it around his neck and post it on dkos. They need shaking up, and this needs to be aired more.

"It Can't Be Just About Us"
--Frank Schnittger, ETian Extraordinaire

by papicek (papi_cek_at_hotmail_dot_com) on Thu Mar 19th, 2009 at 12:25:47 AM EST
t shows an extreme callousness toward other's lives, and an embrace of the lunatic method of making foreign policy to bolster your domestic political standing
Echoes of Madelein Albright's "500,000 dead Iraqi civilians through sanctions is a price we're willing to pay to topple Saddam".

Who is abvising Obama on Afghanistan and Pakistan?

Most economists teach a theoretical framework that has been shown to be fundamentally useless. -- James K. Galbraith

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Mar 19th, 2009 at 05:07:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yeah, Albright...that American who "stands taller, sees farther" than anyone else in the world.

"It Can't Be Just About Us"
--Frank Schnittger, ETian Extraordinaire
by papicek (papi_cek_at_hotmail_dot_com) on Thu Mar 19th, 2009 at 09:53:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Holbrooke is the Special Envoy to the region, and he has brought in some of his own people, but the US ambassador is William Wood, appointed in 2007, and accurately reflecting BushCo's concern for Afghanistan, was someone with absolutely no Asian experience at the time. Obama has nominated Karl Elkenberry, of the US Army to be the next ambassador. Elkenberry served two tours in Afghanistan, the first being the US security coordinator, and second as US-Afghan military coordinator. On the military side, I don't know.

This doesn't fill me with hope.

"It Can't Be Just About Us"
--Frank Schnittger, ETian Extraordinaire

by papicek (papi_cek_at_hotmail_dot_com) on Thu Mar 19th, 2009 at 10:54:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm not sure two military tours qualifies one to be an ambassador.

I can swear there ain't no heaven but I pray there ain't no hell. _ Blood Sweat & Tears
by Gringo (stargazing camel at aoldotcom) on Thu Mar 19th, 2009 at 06:19:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I was once alarmed by the trend in diplomatic activity that the Pentagon has undertaken. I've waffled back and forth on this issue  few times, but this is one case I'd really like to know that someone with real expertise in the region was in the driver's seat.

I don't know the guy, but too many lives are at stake.

"It Can't Be Just About Us"
--Frank Schnittger, ETian Extraordinaire

by papicek (papi_cek_at_hotmail_dot_com) on Thu Mar 19th, 2009 at 07:57:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't mind the military being more "diplomatic", and it doesn't alarm me to have a former military officer as an ambassador or SecState, but I would hope that person's experience included more than commander of a combat unit. Career broadening does help one see more points of view and possibilities.  

I can swear there ain't no heaven but I pray there ain't no hell. _ Blood Sweat & Tears
by Gringo (stargazing camel at aoldotcom) on Thu Mar 19th, 2009 at 10:36:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
So the next thing to do is bomb Cambodia. Right?

(Sorry. I get time-shift lapses like this.)

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Mar 19th, 2009 at 02:54:08 AM EST
actually american foreign office and pentagon i think are still groping in the dark. they don't know what to do in afghansitan and pakistan how to proceed further and that's why they hesitate. so far bull in china shop (holbrooke) did not say anything worthy of reporting which is unusual for him but it's good indicator about lack of coherent policies. administration did not decide yet on many crucial issues, including russia (with which administration cautiously trying to find and test common ground). however i heard US plan to sponsor doubling of afghan army this year and handover security operations, that's encouraging sign.

there are so many hawks in washington (and not only in neocon circles but also in establishment, like in Foreign Affairs magazine and numerous thinktanks) who think that caution is a sign of weakness and they started lambasting administration. they miss old good days of bush junior when they thought america was omnipresent, mighty and powerful. Now US not only did not expel sufficient number of Russian or Chinese spies from Washington but even meekly downplayed Russian belligerent rhetorics and expulsion from Manas base.

So I think it's premature to judge what direction will take american foreign policy in the region. so far it was on autopilot.

by FarEasterner on Thu Mar 19th, 2009 at 06:15:00 AM EST
they aren't idiots, or at least they're not supposed to be idiots. Why they hadn't been working on Afghanistan's 28% literacy rate and the yearly $800 per capita is beyond me.

That being said, WaPo reported that the US civilian effort was being beefed up as well. A step in the right direction, and perhaps an untenable move if more Predator strikes were planned.

"It Can't Be Just About Us"
--Frank Schnittger, ETian Extraordinaire

by papicek (papi_cek_at_hotmail_dot_com) on Thu Mar 19th, 2009 at 10:10:16 AM EST
[ Parent ]
can you clarify whom you count as "not idiots"?

there are so many idiots in washington, leftover of the bush era so it's really difficult to find few sensible ones.

take a look at the leading diplomatic magazine Foreign Affairs:

Peter Feaver on Zakaria's shameless PR piece New American Foreign Policy

I found Fareed Zakaria's latest apologia on behalf of President Obama even more underwhelming than Chris Brose did. Fareed is a very important mainstream foreign policy pundit, so when he criticizes the mainstream, my interest is piqued. As a professor...
..I was disappointed to find that Fareed stuck to hackneyed critiques of the Bush foreign policy -- a critique that was so cartoonish..
Undeniably, the Bush administration made mistakes in foreign policy -- mistakes of policy development, mistakes of policy execution, and mistakes of personnel and process. But President Bush got a lot of things right, a lot more than the conventional wisdom Fareed celebrates in this piece admits.


Christian Brose criticizes Zakaria harshly: "I can't say I'm much impressed. He's usually a smart writer, but he makes assumptions in this piece that are far more reflective of the so-called "Washington establishment" he aims to criticize, and it's worth picking at it for those reasons. Here's his main point:

"The problem with American foreign policy goes beyond George Bush. It includes a Washington establishment that has gotten comfortable with the exercise of American hegemony and treats compromise as treason and negotiations as appeasement. Other countries can have no legitimate interests of their own -- Russian demands are by definition unacceptable. The only way to deal with countries is by issuing a series of maximalist demands. This is not foreign policy; it's imperial policy. And it isn't likely to work in today's world."

I'm all for a serious discussion of diplomacy, but unfortunately this isn't it. Is negotiating akin to appeasement? No, not inherently, but as with everything, the devil's in the details. Diplomacy is not just a synonym for talking. It is the balancing of incentives and disincentives to elicit changes in another party's behavior...

and so on in the same way.

Unfortunately these neocons' way of thinking is very similar to what common man in US or Canada thinks:

Comment of Jon Savard on article about Russia and Afghanistan:

"It is regrettable we can't simply dismiss Russia's government, and ship Putin and Medvedev to Georgia to stand trial. As long as governments that support evil have enough military power that they can't simply be ignored or pushed out of the way, we will continue to live with the threat of war.

The people of Poland and Hungary and the Czech Republic and Slovakia, as well as the Baltic nations, having only recently emerged from Communist tyranny, do not want Russia to think that it has any rights to interfere with their policies, and their efforts to ensure that never again will Russia have the opportunity to deprive them of their full independence."

Because majority of American population was brainwashed, conditioned to think this way this is exactly why American foreign policy under Bush administration failed and will fail under Obama if he will not change Americans' mindset. I don't know how long Obama's administration can play this comedy downplaying Russian threats.

by FarEasterner on Thu Mar 19th, 2009 at 11:50:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think, unlike the Republicans and other such critics, that Obama deserves more than two months of groping to establish his game plans, given the absolute mess that was inherited from the Bush administration.  Time will tell whether he will fix it or make things worse, but right now he needs just a little patience.  Transition from one administration to another is usually chaotic, especially after 8 years, but reestablishing a semblance of order in government and policy following an administration that tried its best to finish off the domestic economy while creating havoc and engendering hate abroad requires a special measure of discipline and wisdom. I am not sure anyone is quite up to that task but lets give Obama a decent chance before exiling him to Bush territory.

I can swear there ain't no heaven but I pray there ain't no hell. _ Blood Sweat & Tears
by Gringo (stargazing camel at aoldotcom) on Thu Mar 19th, 2009 at 06:38:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Oh, he's no Bush, and I don't think anybody is writing him off as just a third Bush term.

The problem is that not being Bush is not quite enough... We wouldn't like a third Clinton term either...

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Fri Mar 20th, 2009 at 09:16:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]
If we trash the economy enough do we really still need the pipeline?
by Lasthorseman on Thu Mar 19th, 2009 at 09:28:41 AM EST

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