The government has been in a tizzy since the recent comments by Iraqi PM Nuri al-Maliki seemingly endorsing Obama’s withdrawal plan in the German magazine Der Spiegel. The timing could not have been better: right on the eve of Obama’s grand world tour rivaling only Woodrow Wilson’s post-WWI ego boosting euro-trip. Except Obama has five points, not fourteen:
- ending the war in Iraq responsibly
- finishing the fight against al-Qaeda and the Taliban
- securing all nuclear weapons and materials from terrorists and rogue states
- achieving true energy security
- and rebuilding our alliances to meet the challenges of the 21st century
The International Herald Tribune has done an excellent job researching the comments. It is reporting that the Iraqi PM does not want to come across as endorsing Obama’s plan, and wanted to correct that. A look at the literal translation of his remarks though seems to make clear that he favors Obama:
The following is a direct translation from the Arabic of Maliki’s comments by The Times: “Obama’s remarks that — if he takes office — in 16 months he would withdraw the forces, we think that this period could increase or decrease a little, but that it could be suitable to end the presence of the forces in Iraq.”
He continued: “Who wants to exit in a quicker way has a better assessment of the situation in Iraq.”
Now…concerning Obama’s recent rhetoric about Afghanistan and Pakistan
The IHT article reports also on Obama’s stop in Afghanistan, where he has proposed an increase in troop presence. While there, he refused to miss an opportunity to take a stab at Pakistan:
“I think that the U.S. government provides an awful lot of aid to Pakistan, provides a lot of military support to Pakistan,” Obama said on “Face the Nation” on CBS. “And to send a clear message to Pakistan that this is important, to them as well as to us, I think that message has not been sent.”
Obama’s rhetoric on Pakistan has been extremely fierce. In Foreign Affairs way back in July of 2007, he had this weighty goal in mind:
I will join with our allies in insisting — not simply requesting — that Pakistan crack down on the Taliban, pursue Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants, and end its relationship with all terrorist groups. At the same time, I will encourage dialogue between Pakistan and India to work toward resolving their dispute over Kashmir and between Afghanistan and Pakistan to resolve their historic differences and develop the Pashtun border region. If Pakistan can look toward the east with greater confidence, it will be less likely to believe that its interests are best advanced through cooperation with the Taliban.
The next month, Obama stated explicity that if warranted he would pursue unilateral military action within Pakistan’s borders, angering Pakistan. (CNN’s article and video)
I don’t think the issue is whether or not he is right. I think we should pursue terrorists, I think Pakistan should be cooperative, I think there should be lasting peace between it and India, and I think it would be great if our military could operate inside the country. The problem is that outside of the parameters of the campaign trail, this issue becomes significantly more complicated.
Pakistan is a highly volatile region. It is clinging for dear life onto some semblance of democracy. Yes, it is receiving aid, but that aid is already conditional in the sense that it strongly encourages (but does not demand in the Obama sense) liberal reforms and cooperation in fighting terrorists. Both of these actions are highly anathema to the more Islamic and fundamentalist pockets of Pakistani society, and their anger has come to have a very real presence, Benazir Bhutto’s assassination being the most glaring example.
The Pakistani government is pursuing a balancing act: maintain control of the country while acquiescing to the United States. For that we are thankful, because the last thing the world needs is an Islamist government with nuclear capability.
Some would argue that the Bush administration doesn’t care about Afghanistan but about Iraq and thus isn’t demanding enough help from Pakistan. That seems like faulty logic to me: if the current administration wants to focus more on Iraq, it would make sense for it to have maximized Pakistan’s participation on the other front to ease the US burden.
I would like to make it clear that I am not saying that Obama is wrong, or that Pakistan cannot do more by us. However, I think it is imperative that we all think about the broader picture lest we become captivated by Obama’s over-simplification of geopolitics. If we could be getting more from Pakistan, it seems unlikely that we wouldn’t already have done so.