Archive for the ‘U.S. Politics’ Category

h1

Romney’s Big Bird Problem

October 11, 2012
How to Save Money in today's Economy - Romney Style

Saving America’s Economy – Romney Style

Who didn’t chuckle when Romney said Big Bird at last weeks presidential debate? Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Tea Partier; no matter who you are, summoning an image of Big Bird makes you happy.  He’s yellow, feathery, rides a unicycle, sings and lives in a nest on Sesame Street. Baby Boomers raised their kids on him and we loved it. Kids still love him. Understandably then Romney’s spending cuts that threaten Big Bird’s livelihood have been met with alarm. The Obama camp promptly pounced on the opportunity to exploit Romney’s gaff with an ad this week.

And amidst all this Big Bird hoopla, I can’t help but wonder if European and Asian democracies are snickering at our squabbling politicians at the heels of an election. But then I realized, Big Bird commands this much political attention because he is a symbol of the American childhood experience. And when Romney so bluntly made axing him a pillar of his economic policy, it demonstrated his unintentional, but apparent lack of empathy for the public.

Most people may not have a problem with an argument to cut government subsidies to certain programs, but by specifying Big Bird, Romney just confirmed aloofness to the average American experience. Any politician may have made an argument for cuts to public spending but might not have singled out Big Bird and the very host who was moderating that debate. Romney however seems so convinced that his success in business necessarily will translate to all realms of politics that he seems to forget that what matters most to him (dollars and cents), is not what matters most to all Americans, all the time.

Even in this difficult economy, people may want more than a detached businessman in office, and justifiably so. Someone who sees public broadcasting as nothing more than a dollar figure that can be cut does not understand the cultural value it holds. An unadulterated business person without nuances to see the limitations of free market capitalism and rational actor model just does not seem like a good pick in an economy suffering a financial meltdown as a result of insufficiently checked private markets. And Romney’s Big Bird comment epitomized this imbalanced approach to not just economics, but America.

By extension, I think the reason women have had such a hard time with Romney is not just because of his right wing stance on hot button political issues including abortion and contraception, but because this lack of empathy is unnerving. Beyond a business man with aggressive economic success, I don’t know what this man stands for. It’s unnerving because according to classic economic and rational actor theory, maximizing profit are ideal objectives. So when Romney talks about cutting spending, it doesn’t matter how many American families actually feel  about public broadcasting, it doesn’t matter if Big Bird has come to symbolize a child’s happy, healthy world of learning and imagination. Rather, Romney’s gaff is a sincere commitment to the bottom line; dollars and cents. It’s a gaff because it inadvertently revealed a lack of empathy and economic arrogance.

Mitt Romney's Idea of Economic Reform

Mitt Romney’s Idea of Economic Reform

His Big Bird comment reminds me that a leader of this country needs to be more than just an accomplished professional, but also an empathetic person. It is still a unipolar world and the American President has a tremendous responsibility to this country and beyond. I think Americans are more nuanced than Mitt Romney, and no matter how much spin and politicking takes place from here on out, I hope we realize that this country represents more than a dollar figure.

Advertisements
h1

Would Imran Khan call Ron Paul to Bat?

January 9, 2012
American Congressman Ron Paul

Ron Paul speaks during the Republican Leadership Conference: 2011

Is it just me, or are seemingly incessant GOP debates the past few months allowing President Obama’s lack of public exposure to seem more and more like solid leadership? The Republican lineups simplistic, square and reactionary focus on “Anti-Obama” rhetoric especially on foreign policy has highlighted a resoundingly hawkish stance on Iran with little attention to our current engagements in Afghanistan and Pakistan. And while it may be expedient amongst a certain political base to try and one-up each other in aggressive foreign policy talk, only Ron Paul challenges the party line on Americas role in the world.

When it comes to Pakistan, compared to Democrats Republicans have a consistent history of preferring to work closely with the military establishment in Islamabad. While there is a level of bipartisanship post 9/11, (case in point is Obama’s continuation of Bush era drone use with little debate), Republicans have through the Cold War and beyond preferred dealing with the military establishment rather than focusing on democratic, or liberal institution building. Which is not necessarily an entirely erroneous  policy; part of the rationale is that state building is expensive in blood, toil, time and treasure and rarely feasible. Further, there are an endless number of constraints and uncertainties that profoundly hinder institution, or democratic state building in a place like Pakistan, rendering Republican policies simply pragmatic.

Which brings us to current policy: the bipartisan endorsed “Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act” (S. 1707)  enacted in 2009 has yet to bear tangible fruit. Granted the aforementioned that institution building is time exhaustive, the fact remains that Pakistan has deteriorated politically, in the realm of security and economically. And having watched everyone from Gov. Romney, Sen. Santorun, Gov. Perry, Rep. Bachmann and yes even the soft spoken Gov. Huntsman, reiterates hawkish foreign policy while refusing to acknowledge a need for meaningful improvement. In the Republican camp only Rep. Ron Paul’s extreme calls for an isolationist posture offer some semblance of change. And because his prescriptions have yet to be tried, the utility of his ideas have yet to be tested. And now may be a time to consider his stance since they call for exactly what the Pakistani public wants right now.

Referring to our policies to Pakistan as nothing short of “Bombs for Bribes” Ron Paul acknowledges the nobility, yet inherent futility in calling for democratic institutions in places of strategic engagement. He understands that we are already engaged in “130 countries” with “700 bases around the world” and in this speech against the Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act, he bluntly explains:

the way we treat our fellow countries around the world is we tell them what to do and if they do it, we give them money. If they don’t we bomb them. Under this condition we are doing both. We are currently dropping bombs in Pakistan and innocent people get killed. If you want to promote our good values and democratic processes, you can’t antagonize the people”

He goes on to suggest dialogue and trade as alternatives to current policy. And although his statement is simplistic and was made in 2009, it highlights Ron Paul’s isolationist, more economically focused prescriptions on foreign policy that seek to reduce our military footprint abroad based on pragmatic constraints, like military and fiscal overstretch. And these calls seem more reasonable than before, especially when it comes to Pakistan and the fact that our aid has yet to yield satisfactory results. So while the Obama administration continues engagement and GOP candidates refuse to acknowledge much concern over current policy to Pakistan, can Ron Paul really be the only alternative available?

Someone once considered completely out of left, excuse me, right field, could be the reminder we need to moderate our engagement with countries of interest. Because what is interesting is that current rhetoric in Pakistan is very much in line with Ron Paul’s ideas. Ron Paul isn’t touting conspiracy theories, nor does he echo far left foreign policy thinkers like Noam Chomsky. Rather, his past statements on our engagement in Pakistan as “inadvertently causing chaos” and “violating security and sovereignty” are exactly what the average Pakistani seems to feel and hears about in their mainstream TV, and print media. Takeaway for us means, it’s a perception the is realistic; perhaps more so than current policy reflects.

In fact, legendary cricket star turned politician Imran Khan’s recent surge in popularity is in large part due to his highly critical foreign policy rhetoric that vociferously calls for D.C. to adopt a more isolationist stance so Pakistan might reclaim lost autonomy. Imran Khan steadily built support for his party on the continued observation that America’s “War on Terror” has intensified insecurity and his subsequent promises to curtail American involvement is a first step in alleviating Pakistan’s problems.

He underscores Ron Paul’s sentiment that perceptions urgently matter in a climate where American intervention is increasingly received hostilely.  Both politicians insistence on winnings hearts and minds renders Ron Paul’s foreign policy prescriptions worthy of consideration. Imran Khan’s recent ascendency and Governor Paul’s gradually increasing support marks a convergence in shifting to a direction of a less militarized approach to Pakistan. Two men once considered out of the realm of politician viability now increasingly resonate in their respective publics; policymakers ought to take note.

 

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED @ THE FOREIGN POLICY ASSOCIATION

h1

America the Resilient

May 2, 2011
President Obama & CIA Director Leon Panetta
President Obama & CIA Director Leon Panetta

9/11 changed the face of US hegemony and after 10 years of what began as a sweeping War on Terror, that face changes again tonight as America prevails proud, resilient and rejuvenated. President Obama’s address confirms Osama bin Laden has been killed and his body is in U.S. custody.

Special forces brought bin Laden to justice and our President thanked those who served us in the military, in counterterrorism and intelligence officials who had been watching the compound and gathering actionable intelligence that ultimately took out enemy number one in a firefight.

It’s a proud day for America, but questions already abound regarding relations with Pakistan: “Osama bin Laden was not in a cave, he was in a city in Pakistan” as one analyst on ABC news reported which had Christian Amanpour then raise the question “whose been protecting him?”

But before entirely implicating Pakistan for harboring the worlds most wanted man, it’s important to recall Obama’s increased intelligence operations in Pakistan since he took office. As the war shifted to Pakistan, so did ISI CIA collaborative operations. With closer collaboration came butting of heads where U.S. intelligence speculated if Pakistani intelligence was doing enough and such rifts peaked last week when Admiral Mike Mullen voiced harsh criticism of the ISI.

But the President’s comments and ongoing reporting indicates that today’s victory that comes after 10 long years of war, struggle and sacrifice, was a joint operation with Pakistan on the ground. GEO News in Pakistan confirms most of the information we’re hearing here, save some reporting that 1 American helicopter was shot down. Nonetheless, Peter Bergen on CNN says Elite Black Ops and Paramilitary CIA who were the likely heroes, operated with cooperation of the Pakistani government. Yet this success does not negate or allow us to ignore the concern of who, or at worst, what elements of the Pakistani government knew of Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts.

Today prompts us to reassess and revamp relations with Pakistan, who once again has proven itself as an effective ally at wartime. This victory is an opportunity to foster a fresh relationship that can be something more than transactional and more transparent. Skepticism of one another in both states is beyond a misalignment of interests, it’s a misalignment ofconceptions of one another. Perceptions matter and it is no secret that anti Americanism can be formidable fuel to our enemies abroad. U.S. Intelligence amidst constant rhetoric of “Blowback” is redeemed today; the Intelligence agencies are heroes to Americans everywhere, and in this instance, even for Pakistani’s who suffered tremendously since 9/11. With an ever crippling economy, and a seemingly endless barrage of violent onslaughts from Al Qaeda suicide bombers in the past 10 years, Pakistani’s along with American’s should rejoice at today’s victory while policymakers in both countries take time to capitalize on this game changer and move forward anew.

Step 1, halt the drones.

ORIGINALLY POSTED @ THE FOREIGN POLICY ASSOCIATION

h1

Gadaffi Makes Ahmadinejad Look Reasonable & Osama Bin Laden Seem Rational

February 24, 2011
How Can you Not Chuckle at This? - Libya's Dictator M. Gaddafi

How Can you Not Chuckle at This? - Libya's Dictator M. Gaddafi

It’s week 8 of a 10-week quarter in graduate school and suffice to say in such a system one is inevitably swamped from the onset. Despite my itching to write about Imran Khan’s talks since Davos on counterterrorism and the Cricket World Cup , I simply haven’t had the time or energy.

However, a friend came over this evening and we watched CNN coverage of Libya (more like CNN spotlight on “Crazy Gadaffi”) and I just couldn’t help but jot down some thoughts. At one point Wolf Blitzer had the former House Intelligence Committee Chair in the Situation Room and commented:

Is Gadaffi on drugs, there’s always been something off with him. He must be on drugs”.

The Congressman responded You know, two out of three times I met him, he was rational and completely in his senses. That third time though you could tell something was off. (this is paraphrased)

Hilarious. Hilarious  because this comedy was not the least bit intentional, it was prime time news. CNN went hours today with repeated images of Gadaffi in overwhelmingly monotone attire: this dreadful toasted camel tone, from head to toe and on that head was his 1984 curly mullet. It was too much. My friend and I laughed at the video clips and talked about a recent article in Vanity Fair entitled “Dictator Chic” depicting what was clearly portrayed as catastrophic fashion choices over the years. We laughed at a notion of giving Gaddafi a makeover as an effective means of American Intervention, but as students of International Relations/Security Studies that was all the segue required to transform our down time into a serious debate on shady men in international politics who manage to command the worlds attention for decades on end.

My friend (who is sure to be an expert on Iran who we’ll see on CNN one day) commented

It’s funny there are similar protests in Iran right now with crackdown on protestors but Ahmadinejad still publically calls for other dictators to hear peoples requests”.

I said, “Dude, Gadaffi makes Ahmadinejad look reasonable”.

Wow

Wow

We laughed in agreement, but got quiet for a second afterwards in serious thought.

She asked So…..Gadaffi, or bin Laden….whose more irrational?

I didn’t pause to reflect and immediately reacted “Bin Laden. He calls for establishment of an Islamic caliphate. Bin Laden is operating from a premise of ideology rather than rationality”

We looked at each other for a half a second, before I realized two things: One rationality and ideology need not be mutually exclusive in all situations, and secondly: if rationality in International Relations is understood (in a super simplistic nutshell) as a cost benefit analysis determinate of behavior, then my initial thought is incorrect.

I realized this and retracted, “Wait. Bin Laden has very real political objectives. He wants U.S. troops withdrawn from Saudi Arabia and an overthrow of the current Saudi regime. And whether we find that objective absurd or not, they are, according to his calculations attainable political objectives that he thinks are worth the costs he invests in terrorism”.

She was of my initial mindset and countered “No. I think he initially started off that way but has since called for overthrow of all Arab regimes and is so angry at what the west has done in the Muslim World that he would not have Al Qaeda stop targeting America for all that its done over the years

I responded “So the four biggest grievances Bin Laden has regarding the West in the Muslim World are troops in Saudi and Afghanistan being the top two. Next on his list is our military presence in Palestine and Iraq. Let’s assume all four of these, which he finds are legitimate grievances, are miraculously altered in his favor, I don’t think he would then continue to attack American targets

She smiled, and said “Solving those four eh? Now that’s hopeful!

We laughed and I continued, Because if we can agree that Bin Laden sincerely believes both that these objectives are legitimate grievances and his tactics can be effective, then he’s acting rationally. And if those grievances get solved, why would he bear the costs of investing in terrorism afterwards? It requires, money, organization and is very high risk. He would have to begin from scratch in rallying a support base with new objectives. Because he would no longer have reason to wage what he thinks is “jihad” if there were nothing to gain from it”.

She stopped for a moment, then thought about it aloud “So, then Osama Bin Laden does act rationally

It was a disturbing sort of conclusion we both very hesitantly came to. Because it’s immediately easier to assume our enemy is an irrational mad man, (a la the images of Gadaffi on CNN) than understand, recognize and deal with the root causes of their actions. Which has led me to expand focus from solely military forms counterterrorism in my studies. When the crux of the issue is one of grievances over U.S. troop presence in the so-called “Muslim World”, an amplified U.S. presence in response is increasingly seen as counter productive. It’s among the main reasons our initial target of obliterating the Taliban in Afghanistan at the onset of Operation Enduring Freedom has shifted instead to finding ways of negotiating with the group.

Although the United States policy of non negotiation with terrorists on the grounds that concessions reinforce and empower terrorist activity is reasonable, an over reliance on military means simply has not been sufficiently effective into our 10th year of engagement in Afghanistan, and as a dire result, now in Pakistan.

Pakistan is a prime example of how negotiations in tandem with diplomacy supported by military coercion is key to combating terrorism today. Spillover of Al Qaeda and radical militarization of Taliban among other terrorist groups has proliferated in direct correlation with our military operation in Afghanistan since 2001. Bridget Nacos of Columbia University in her work “Counterterrorism Strategies: Do We need Bombs over Bridges” describes a main reason for this:

As the Iraq war demonstrated, massive military force can result in a recruiting bonanza for terrorists. And as ground and air operations against Al Qaeda and Taliban figures in Pakistan’s tribal region showed, such strikes can trigger further waves of Terrorist attacks

Where does that leave us? The aforementioned point of negotiations with the Taliban is a fair starting point. No matter how unpalatable and in stark counter to international norms on human rights the Taliban seem, they were not engaging directly in terrorist activity prior to Bush’s “War on Terror”. The Taliban’s objectives were intrastate, domestic ideological goals of imposing their radical, warped brand of Islam on Afghani’s. In fact, Fawaz Gerges, scholar and author of “The Far Enemy: Why Jihad went Global”  explains while allowing Al Qaeda to operate in Afghanistan, the Taliban was actually at odds with them over their ambitions to wage attacks against American targets, or the “far enemy” if you will.

So, negotiation with groups by attempting to understand their grievances rather than ideology is key. Negotiations attack the support base of terrorist groups, whereas military means have shown to radicalize them in recent years. Groups whose ideologies, and constructed identities are repellent to us, may still be brought back into the fold of non-violence and retreat back into not targeting the United States. This is important because these very groups have aligned with terrorist organizations and made the past few years for our troops the deadliest ever and with General Patreus predicting an even worse situation for 2011, new strategies are essential.

Understanding that terrorism carried out by Al Qaeda is not entirely irrational, but rather calculated, orchestrated and heavily invested in to achieve what they feel are legitimate political grievances is critical in counterterrorism, especially efforts aimed at the spillover and expansion of attackers. An accurate assessment of not only the enemy but also potential sympathizers and supporters in Afghanistan and Pakistan requires immediate and preventative measures. Nacos suggests robust diplomacy through traditional channels, and engaging media and general public. It’s a fair argument, and given the deteriorating situation, her recommendations are very worthy of consideration.

Republished @ The Foreign Policy Association

h1

Where Comedy & Intellect Coincide

October 29, 2010
No Question too Tough for Obama - The Daily Show with Jon Stewart : October 2010

No Question too Tough for Obama - The Daily Show with Jon Stewart : October 2010

I just remembered why I liked Barack Obama so much. His appearance on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart last night showcased the President at his best: intellectual, elegant, steadfast and most importantly: insightful.

Without divulging how I voted in the Democratic primaries or General Elections of 2008, I will admit to being skeptical of Obama’s static foreign policy agenda and also feeling apprehensive about his left of center public policy. Because with such immense charisma calling for sweeping change amidst sentiments of “hope”, (which gave him mass appeal, especially amongst my generation) actual substance of his promises on policymaking were left out.

For better or worse, realities of effective politicking in our commercial election culture denied us an opportunity for substantial debate. Ironically, that gap in information was filled last night not by a mainstream news outlet, but Comedy Central .

This morning though, the mainstream news outlets probably realized this and have been abuzz over the interview. The Christian Science Monitor questions: Did Mr. Obama take Jon Stewart to the cleaners?” In one word: Yeah. But with such questions abounding, apparently many of us expected otherwise. Stewart is so widely celebrated as a voice of younger generations; recall pundits taking swipes at him in 2008 citing “stoned slackers”  were his majority viewing demographic. But his impact is far greater than such talk suggests. The Daily Show has become a relatively legitimate cultural representation of political inquiry and dissent. While the material is sometimes crass, I’ve found that well informed members of the public actually pay attention to what is said on the program.

If Wikileaks is the mighty foreign affairs whistleblower of our time, the Daily Show is it’s naughty little brother, revealing less dramatic yet just as irrational and unacceptable public policy absurdities of the day.

To boot, Jon Stewart actually asks compelling questions on important issues that he sincerely seems concerned are not addressed by mainstream media. And he did this impeccably in interviewing the President yesterday. Decidedly subduing humor, Stewart was poised and firm. He questioned Obama a number of times on Democratic party infighting as symptomatic of a larger problem within our system of government:

“Is there a difference between what you ran on and what you delivered? You ran on, if I may, such “audacity”…yet legislatively it has felt timid at times. I’m not even sure at times, what you want out of a healthcare bill

Cheeky use of “audacity but the question was an honest, direct investigation of the American President keeping promises, complete with a serious suggestion that he has not. Undaunted and with characteristic level-headedness, Obama responded deftly by listing accomplishments of healthcare reform thus far:

–       30 million more Americans are to be insured

–       A new Patients Bill of Rights ensures carriers can’t cancel coverage when one is sick

–       Abolishes Lifetime Maximum’s on health policies

–       Children/Young adults have extended stay on parental coverage until age 26

–       All while cutting the deficit by 1 trillion + dollars

“This is what I think most people would say is as significant a piece of legislation as we’ve seen in this nations history. But what happens is it gets discounted because the presumption is we didn’t get 100% of what we wanted, we got 90% of what we wanted, so lets focus on the 10%. And right now there is a woman in New Hampshire who doesn’t have to sell her house to get her cancer treatments because of that healthcare bill. And she doesn’t think it’s inconsequential, or “timid”

It was one of the most substantial responses I’ve heard a politician say on television that I can remember. We’ve become so used to seeing political figures evade questions (in the few instances they are asked serious ones), ambiguously address issues, irrelevantly tout campaign slogans, and regurgitate party rhetoric. Obama did not resort to any of that. He steadily addressed each pressing question with facts followed by insight. The highlight and defining moment of the interview came when Stewart peppered the President with a third follow up inquiry on healthcare reform, insisting enough had not been done in line with campaign promises to which Obama responded:

“Look, if the point Jon is that overnight we did not transform the healthcare system, that point is true. When we promised during the campaign, change you can believe in, it wasn’t change you can believe in, in 18 months. It was change you can believe in, but you know what, you’re going to have to work for it”

Sold. It was witty, honest and directly answered the question: And he elaborated:

“When social security was passed, it applied to widows and orphans and it was a very restricted program, and overtime that structure that was built, ended up developing into the most important social safety net in our country. The same is true on every piece of progressive legislation. When the civil rights act passed, there were still folks down south who couldn’t vote, and I’m sure there were commentators who said this law is not doing the job, but the point was we had created a structure, we put a framework in place that allowed us to continue to make progress. That’s what we’ve done in the past 18 months, and that’s what we’ll keep on doing as long as I’m president of the United States”

Behold: Factual + insightful = solid answers the public deserves. And while we can complain about an apparently dismal state of affairs wherein cable comedy television is perhaps the most substantial access to political discourse we have, let us instead revel in this moment when our Commander in Chief authoritatively leads with intellect. Our hegemony deserves nothing less.

TO VIEW THE FULL INTERVIEW: click here

h1

In Defense of Sarah Palin’s Sex Appeal

October 22, 2010
Sarah Palin - Making Politics Chic

Sarah Palin - Certainly Making Politics Chic

Making Ignorance Chic” is among the most emailed articles this week at the New York Times in which Maureen Dowd addresses an everlasting female dilemma: choosing between “intellectualism and sexuality”. She describes the “false” dichotomy in which women are rarely appreciated for both simultaneously. And by describing this phenomenon as “persistent”, I interpret it’s become progressively easier to pursue heightened sexuality than intellectualism. Dowd takes us back to 1950’s America reminiscing that “dumb blonde’s” like Marilyn Monroe made it seem fashionable to at the least, attempt to appear intellectual, while today’s personalities like Sarah Palin are “making ignorance chic”.

And it sounds convincing to cite a time when beauty icons like Marilyn were asked to pose with token history books and married intellectuals versus Sarah Palin who prides herself on being anti intellectual, or who Dowd is actually describing is of “average” intellect.

But does this make Marilyn any more intellectual in and of itself? Did Marilyn give females more reason to aspire to be intellectual while Palin makes ignorance chic? I don’t think so. If anything, it’s the other way around. If both cases reflect a societal and ultimately self-imposed choice for beauty over brains, Palin should be perceived as more empowering between the two.

Did Marilyn Monroe Make Reading Chic?

Did Marilyn Monroe Make Reading Chic?

Because while both represent sex before intellect, at least Palin comes complete with autonomy; which is a function of time and space.

Dowd describes Marilyn marrying intellectuals, or posing in “tight shorts” with books on Goya as evidence that it was somehow more chic to be intellectual then, albeit in an apologetic tone. But despite Palins sometimes absurd thoughts, she is not prided by advocates for being absurd or sexy; she’s lauded for what she has accomplished.

Unlike Monroe, Palin has very tangible intellectual achievements to show for as governor of Alaska, per opportunities afforded to her as we’ve progressed as a society in trying to level the playing field for women since Marilyn’s time.

So there are system level differences making it misleading to compare to what degree their individual impact was on perpetuating ignorance as chic. But if anything, Marilyn, and I’d say females in that time had less opportunity and incentive to pursue intellectual routes than we do in Palin’s America.

Simply put: Palin was governor / Marilyn merely married the author of Death of a Salesman.For what it’s worth, looking then just to sexuality: it’s further telling that Marilyn had to show far more skin than Palin in setting any standards for chic. Point being, it’s not significantly less sexy to be intellectual now than it was in the 50’s.

So Dowd’s piece is slightly off target. It’s partial to Marilyn (heck, deep down I am too) and that era. The article would be correct in a more general sense: it’s remained diametrically chic to be sexy rather than intellectual. And that route is often more immediately convenient too (females are aware of this every waking second, and very early on).

The catch is, pursuing sexuality at the expense of intellectualism is disastrous long term strategy (girls are rarely fully aware of this), and that’s the real lesson both Marilyn Monroe and Sarah Palin demonstrate.

h1

Obama’s Wars – Not Planning to Fail, but Failing to Plan

September 28, 2010
Obama's Wars - Shifting Focus to Pakistan

Obama's Wars - Shifting Focus to Pakistan

“Obama’s Wars” released today already has the attentive public abuzz with tidbits of explosive revelations disclosing divergences at the top levels of government; nothing short of that we’ve come to expect from a Bob Woodward work. While McChrystal’s abrupt departure earlier this year had already exposed wrangling between our executive branch and military personnel, Woodward’s book is set to make public the reality of Obama’s campaign promise in setting Pakistan squarely at center stage in our War on Terror.

“we need to make clear to people that the cancer is in Pakistan”

The book will illustrate Obama’s aim to wind down the war; elucidating his always meticulous refrain from using “Victory” in reference to Afghanistan.  Woodward reports however, that he is determined that no success can come without targeting Al Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban in Pakistan.

According to the Washington Post, the book recounts a top secret meeting with Obama’s then Director of national Intelligence, Mike McConnell who specifically warned that Pakistan is not be trusted as a partner in our Afghanistan engagement.

It’s thus no wonder “quagmire” is used to describe the task at hand. Because regardless of how much the President wants to cut back in Afghanistan, the very strong reluctance stems from potentially risking American interests and leaving the aforementioned “cancer” in Pakistan. So deepening, or as the President might prefer, “shifting” the focus requires a new, more Pakistan focused agenda.

Looking at his National Security Strategy laid out in May 2010, we do find Pakistan as a top concern. Amidst steadfast commitment to liberalist principles calling to defeat terrorism with multilateralism, in adherence with international law and a sensitive awareness to growing interdependence in an increasingly globalized system, the document reads our security objective as such:

“to disrupt, dismantle and defeat Al Qa’ida and its affiliates through a comprehensive strategy that denies them safe haven, strengthens front-line partners, secures our homeland, pursues justice through durable legal approaches, and counters a bankrupt agenda of extremist and murder with an agenda of hope and opportunity. The frontline of this fight is Afghanistan and Pakistan”

Naming Pakistan alongside Afghanistan underscores the President’s shifting focus. The policy refers to Pakistan as the “epicenter of violent extremism” and warns “danger from this region will only grow if it’s security slides backward”.

Throughout the document, we see such warnings used interchangeably for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Perhaps an indication of how policymakers and journalists use sweeping generalizations such as “Af-Pak” for two countries still far from understood. However the National Security Policy makes no mistake in interchanging recommendations. Clearly spelling out that “denying Al Qa-da the Ability to Threaten the American People, our Allies, Our partners and our Interests Overseas” is our main objective, it specifically spells out how to achieve this in Afghanistan through:

–       Continued work with the United Nations and Afghan Government

–       Improving accountable and affective governance

–       Assistance on supporting the President of Afghanistan

–       Supporting ministries, governors and local leaders who have demonstrated measured progress in combating corruption

–       Targeting our aid to Agriculture and human rights

–       Military and International Security Assistance Forces partnering with Afghanistan to target the insurgency

–       Timetable laid out: transition to Afghan responsibility. July 2011 reducing troops

This describes the first two parts of the three pronged approach spelled out in the National Security Strategy. The third prong refers to Pakistan and is relatively vague. It restates the objective of “strengthening Pakistan’s capacity to target violent extremists with continued assistance in those efforts” without laying out how this can occur, or what this entails. With Afghanistan, there is reference to the United Nations, specific levels of government and ISAF forces collaborating as a means to acheiving the objective to combat and provide security from violent extremists. No such specificities are spelled out in reference to Pakistan. Rather, the document vaguely describes an approach that is meant to

“strengthen Pakistan’s democracy…provide “assistance responsive to the needs of the Pakistani people and sustain a long term partnership committed to…deepening cooperation in a broad range of areas …in the years to come”

That is not a strategy. There is not a linking of means to an end. There is no specific timetable or reference to benchmarks for the end objective, nor quantifiable measurements for success. Further, Pakistan has not been able to cement it’s democracy let alone sufficiently respond to the needs of its population in 60+ years, making our intentions to do so implausible. In regards to “long term, deepening cooperation” amidst the staunch multilateral rhetoric, the document does not once refer to Pakistan among the “partners” it seeks to engage in reaching our objectives. It references “fostering a relationship” but partnership is nowhere to be seen.

So, if the President has his way, we will wind down Afghanistan and likely shift focus to Pakistan. I hope by then there exists a more clearly laid out and practical approach to achieving our objectives and securing our interests there. Otherwise, without sufficient planning, the quagmire just deepens.

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED @ THE FOREIGN POLICY ASSOCIATION

%d bloggers like this: