Thursday, July 24, 2008

Obama's Election Poses Danger to the World

While Senator Barack Obama has been benefiting from his opposition to the unpopular war in Iraq and winning kudos for wanting to unconditionally talk with America's enemies, he has also been sounding more and more hawkish on Pakistan, a US ally. Governor Mitt Romney summarized it well last year when he said that Obama is essentially "saying he's going to sit down for tea with our enemies but then he's going to bomb our allies."

This aggressive stance by Mr. Obama raises some big questions: Is he going to end the war in Iraq and start a much bigger, far more dangerous and longer lasting war in Pakistan? Does he know that nuclear-armed Pakistan, a nation of 165 million people with about a million-man military, will be a far bigger challenge than Afghanistan, Iraq or Iran? Is he willing to radicalize moderate Muslims, destabilize Pakistan, and unwittingly aid the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in their quest to establish their extreme version of Islamic rule? Is Mr. Obama prepared for this local war in FATA to become a regional or global war? These questions are troubling many observers in the United States, South Asia and the rest of the world. Please read my post Is Obama's Recipe for Afghanistan Credible?

To put this in context, let us examine statements by US presidential hopefuls including Senator Obama, as reported in the press since last year:

Reuters Report, August 1, 2007: Obama said if elected in November 2008 he would be willing to attack inside Pakistan with or without approval from the Pakistani government, a move that would likely cause anxiety in the already troubled region.

Reuters Report, August 1, 2007: Clinton last week labeled Obama naive for saying he would be willing to meet the leaders of Iran, Cuba, Syria, North Korea and Venezuela without preconditions in his first year in office.

ABC News Report, August 1, 2007: In a strikingly bold speech about terrorism Wednesday, Democratic presidential candidate Illinois Sen. Barack Obama called not only for a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, but a redeployment of troops into Afghanistan and even Pakistan — with or without the permission of Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf.

Sioux City Journal, August 7, 2007: Obama said there was "misreporting" of his comments, that "I never called for an invasion of Pakistan or Afghanistan." He said rather than a surge in the number of troops in Iraq, there needs to be a "diplomatic surge" and that U.S. troops should be withdrawn within a year.

L.A. Times, Feb 20, 2008: Sen. John McCain of Arizona, close to clinching the GOP nomination, called Sen. Barack Obama 'naive' today and...blasted him for advocating a bombing of Al Qaeda hide-outs in Pakistan.

AFP Report, July 15, 2008: White House hopeful Barack Obama Tuesday promised to shift the "single-minded" US focus on Iraq to a threatening "terrorist sanctuary" in tribal Pakistan, in a broad new blueprint for US foreign policy.

CBS News, July 24, 2008: Obama's decision to travel to two war zones while highlighting his relatively hawkish rhetoric on Afghanistan and Pakistan reflects an attempt to deal with a problem faced by every Democratic presidential candidate since the Vietnam era: The perception that he is not as strong as his Republican rival when it comes to national security.

It seems from these reports that Obama has a chip on his shoulder. He wants to show Americans that he will be "strong on national security". He is out to prove his critics wrong about perceptions of being "soft on terrorism" or "not ready to be commander-in-chief". Does Obama suffer from the same kind of complexes that George Bush (the wimp) and George W. Bush (the lightweight, lacking gravitas) did, leading to Gulf war I and the ongoing Iraq war? Is he likely to lash out at Pakistan, without fully comprehending the consequences, just to prove his detractors wrong about their characterization of him as "soft or terror" or "closet Muslim" or "weak on national security" or "not being commander-in-chief material"? These are some of the risks that America and the world face if Obama is elected US President based on his unusual success story or charismatic personality or his soaring rhetoric.

Until recently, I have been a strong supporter of Mr. Obama's campaign to be president. I have a strong desire to see a black man become president in my lifetime and open up opportunities for more people of color and women in these United States. My support has been based on his message of change after many years of war in Iraq and economic decline in the United States. However, as Mr. Obama begins to articulate his positions on issues, I am having second thoughts. I do not want to help elect another warmonger whose only change would be the change in the war venue. And this change in venue could be far more disastrous than the situation under current President George W. Bush or potential situation under a future President John McCain, who are both known entities with plenty of foreign policy and national security experience.


Anonymous said...

US and Pak are both confused on which is worse. On one hand, if they don't do anything, they cannot let a nuclear Pakistan take over by extremists. On the other hand, if they go in all guns blazing they sure know they are going to stir up the hornet nest. Pakistan pulled in different directions from 4 power centers and its military-intelligence complex on auto-pilot mode (letting loose its 'great game' plans on neighbors),is caught between a rock and a hard place.Americans are in a Mexican stand off with Iraq-Afghanistan on one side and Iran on another.US is delaying its assault on Pak tribal areas, so that they have sufficient free assets to break open Homurtz straits in case of Israeli strikes which are imminent. Iran is pretty over-confident and underestimating Israeli will-power when it comes to question of existence. The price Israel payed for two bodies of soldiers should wake up Iran from slumber. In coming months, this region is going to become a fireball from Israel-Lebanon, Iran, Afghanistan-Pakistan border finally spreading to Kashmir..either by design or default.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a comment received via email: "Obama's Presidency may poses more danger to Pakistan than the World. It will be more fair to comment on this subject when you are fully aware of the position of his opponent."

Re Republican position, here are a couple of news items:
L.A. Times, Feb 20, 2008: Sen. John McCain of Arizona, close to clinching the GOP nomination, called Sen. Barack Obama 'naive' today and...blasted him for advocating a bombing of Al Qaeda hide-outs in Pakistan.

Daily Telegraph, Aug 7, 2007 "He's gone from Jane Fonda to Dr Strangelove in one week," said Mitt Romney, to applause, during a Republican debate in Des Moines, Iowa. "He went from saying he's going to sit down for tea with our enemies but then he's going to bomb our allies."

Will Obama presidency will be more dangerous to Pakistan than the world? Probably so, but it's hard to isolate the conflict to Pakistan, especially in this day and age. There will be significant repercussions for the region and the world, if the US fails and Al-Qaeda and Taliban become dominant forces in Pakistan. It could become an extremely dangerous situation because of Pakistan's nuclear capability and strategic location.

Dr. John Maszka said...

The disappointing aspect of Obama is that everything that he appears to stand for- multiculturalism, religious toleration, peace, diplomacy- all are overshadowed by this foolish idea of moving the war to Pakistan.

Moving the war on terror to Pakistan could have disastrous consequences on both the political stability in the region, and in the broader balance of power. Scholars such as Richard Betts accurately point out that beyond Iran or North Korea, “Pakistan may harbor the greatest potential danger of all.” With the current instability in Pakistan, Betts points to the danger that a pro-Taliban government would pose in a nuclear Pakistan. This is no minor point to be made. While the Shi’a in Iran are highly unlikely to proliferate WMD to their Sunni enemies, the Pakistanis harbor no such enmity toward Sunni terrorist organizations. Should a pro-Taliban or other similar type of government come to power in Pakistan, Al-Qaeda’s chances of gaining access to nuclear weapons would dramatically increase overnight.
There are, of course, two sides to every argument; and this argument is no exception. On the one hand, some insist that American forces are needed in order to maintain political stability and to prevent such a government from rising to power. On the other hand, there are those who believe that a deliberate attack against Pakistan’s state sovereignty will only further enrage its radical population, and serve to radicalize its moderates. I offer the following in support of this latter argument:
Pakistan has approximately 160 million people; better than half of the population of the entire Arab world. Pakistan also has some of the deepest underlying ethnic fissures in the region, which could lead to long-term disintegration of the state if exacerbated. Even with an impressive growth in GDP (second only to China in all of Asia), it could be decades before wide-spread poverty is alleviated and a stable middle class is established in Pakistan.
Furthermore, the absence of a deeply embedded democratic system in Pakistan presents perhaps the greatest danger to stability. In this country, upon which the facade of democracy has been thrust by outside forces and the current regime came to power by coup, the army fulfills the role of “referee within the political boxing ring.” However, this referee demonstrates a “strong personal interest in the outcome of many of the fights and a strong tendency to make up the rules as he goes along.” The Pakistani army “also has a long record of either joining in the fight on one side or the other, or clubbing both boxers to the ground and taking the prize himself” (Lieven, 2006:43).
Pakistan’s army is also unusually large. Thathiah Ravi (2006:119, 121) observes that the army has “outgrown its watchdog role to become the master of this nation state.” Ravi attributes America’s less than dependable alliance with Pakistan to the nature of its army. “Occasionally, it perceives the Pakistan Army as an inescapable ally and at other times as a threat to regional peace and [a] non-proliferation regime.” According to Ravi, India and Afghanistan blame the conflict in Kashmir and the Durand line on the Pakistan Army, accusing it of “inciting, abetting and encouraging terrorism from its soil.” Ravi also blames the “flagrant violations in nuclear proliferation by Pakistan, both as an originator and as a conduit for China and North Korea” on the Pakistan Army, because of its support for terrorists.
The point to be made is that the stability of Pakistan depends upon maintaining the delicate balance of power both within the state of Pakistan, and in the broader region. Pakistan is not an island, it has alliances and enemies. Moving American troops into Pakistan will no doubt not only serve to radicalize its population and fuel the popular call for Jihad, it could also spark a proxy war with China that could have long-lasting economic repercussions. Focusing on the more immediate impact American troops would have on the Pakistani population; let’s consider a few past encounters:
On January 13, 2006, the United States launched a missile strike on the village of Damadola, Pakistan. Rather than kill the targeted Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda’s deputy leader, the strike instead slaughtered 17 locals. This only served to further weaken the Musharraf government and further destabilize the entire area. In a nuclear state like Pakistan, this was not only unfortunate, it was outright stupid.
On October 30, 2006, the Pakistani military, under pressure from the US, attacked a madrassah in the Northwest Frontier province in Pakistan. Immediately following the attack, local residents, convinced that the US military was behind the attack, burned American flags and effigies of President Bush, and shouted “Death to America!” Outraged over an attack on school children, the local residents viewed the attack as an assault against Islam.
On November 7, 2006, a suicide bomber retaliated. Further outrage ensued when President Bush extended his condolences to the families of the victims of the suicide attack, and President Musharraf did the same, adding that terrorism will be eliminated “with an iron hand.” The point to be driven home is that the attack on the madrassah was kept as quiet as possible, while the suicide bombing was publicized as a tragedy, and one more reason to maintain the war on terror.
Last year trouble escalated when the Pakistani government laid siege to the Red Mosque and more than 100 people were killed. “Even before his soldiers had overrun the Lal Masjid ... the retaliations began.” Suicide attacks originating from both Afghan Taliban and Pakistani tribal militants targeted military convoys and a police recruiting center. Guerrilla attacks that demonstrated a shocking degree of organization and speed-not to mention strategic cunning revealed that they were orchestrated by none other than al-Qaeda’s number two man, Ayman Al-Zawahiri; a fact confirmed by Pakistani and Taliban officials. One such attack occurred on July 15, 2007, when a suicide bomber killed 24 Pakistani troops and injured some 30 others in the village of Daznaray (20 miles to the north of Miran Shah, in North Waziristan). Musharraf ordered thousands of troops into the region to attempt to restore order. But radical groups swore to retaliate against the government for its siege of the mosque and its cooperation with the United States.
A July 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) concludes that “al Qaeda is resurgent in Pakistan- and more centrally organized than it has been at any time since 9/11.” The NIE reports that al-Qaeda now enjoys sanctuary in Bajaur and North Waziristan, from which they operate “a complex command, control, training and recruitment base” with an “intact hierarchy of top leadership and operational lieutenants.”
In September 2006 Musharraf signed a peace deal with Pashtun tribal elders in North Waziristan. The deal gave pro-Taliban militants full control of security in the area. Al Qaeda provides funding, training and ideological inspiration, while Afghan Taliban and Pakistani Tribal leaders supply the manpower. These forces are so strong that last year Musharraf sent well over 100,000 trained Pakistani soldiers against them, but they were not able to prevail against them.
The question remains, what does America do when Pakistan no longer has a Musharraf to bridge the gap? While Musharraf claims that President Bush has assured him of Pakistan’s sovereignty, Senator Obama obviously has no intention of honoring such an assurance. As it is, the Pakistanis do just enough to avoid jeopardizing U.S. support. Musharraf, who is caught between Pakistan’s dependence on American aid and loyalty to the Pakistani people, denies being George Bush’s hand-puppet. Musharraf insists that he is “200 percent certain” that the United States will not unilaterally decide to attack terrorists on Pakistani soil. What happens when we begin to do just that?

In 2002 Musharraf was reported to have told a British official that his “great concern is that one day the United States is going to desert me. They always desert their friends.” Musharraf has more reason now to skeptical of his American allies than ever.

Riaz Haq said...

Obama's focus shift from Iraq to Afghanistan is getting a lot of coverage. In the Gulf News, Patrick Seale says that trying to force through a military solution on Afghanistan would be a grave mistake which would only radicalize the Muslim world further, while Juan Cole writes in that Obama could be jumping from the frying pan into the fire by shifting the focus away from Iraq to Afghanistan.

The Financial Times quotes Zbigniew Brzezinski, the former U.S. national security adviser and prominent supporter of Barack Obama, as saying the United States risks repeating the defeat suffered by the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. “It is important for U.S. policy in general and for Obama more specifically to recognize that simply putting more troops into Afghanistan is not the entire solution,” he is quoted as saying.

Here's a link to a recent Reuters blog post on this subject: