Riaz Haq writes this data-driven blog to provide information, express his opinions and make comments on many topics. Subjects include personal activities, education, South Asia, South Asian community, regional and international affairs and US politics to financial markets. For investors interested in South Asia, Riaz has another blog called South Asia Investor at http://www.southasiainvestor.com and a YouTube video channel https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCkrIDyFbC9N9evXYb9cA_gQ
Thursday, October 2, 2008
Pakistan and Iran Figure in Biden-Palin Debate
Sarah Palin, the Republican candidate for vice president, went head to head with a much more experienced Democrat vice presidential hopeful Joe Biden in their only debate tonight. While she may have lacked on substance, she was quite effective with her folksy manner and charm that has endeared her to small-town America. She was able to hold her own in articulating and defending McCain's policy positions regarding Pakistan and Iran, the two important foreign policy challenges facing the next administration. At the same time, Joe Biden, often described as a gaffe machine, was able to avoid looking patronizing or disrespectful toward Sarah Palin.
Here is the debate transcript as it relates to foreign policy:
IFILL: Let's move to Iran and Pakistan. I'm curious about what you think starting with you Senator Biden. What's the greater threat, a nuclear Iran or an unstable Afghanistan? Explain why.
BIDEN: Well, they're both extremely dangerous. I always am focused, as you know Gwen, I have been focusing on for a long time, along with Barack on Pakistan. Pakistan already has nuclear weapons. Pakistan already has deployed nuclear weapons. Pakistan's weapons can already hit Israel and the Mediterranean. Iran getting a nuclear weapon would be very, very destabilizing. They are more than - they are not close to getting a nuclear weapon that's able to be deployed. So they're both very dangerous. They both would be game changers.
But look, here's what the fundamental problem I have with John's policy about terror instability. John continues to tell us that the central war in the front on terror is in Iraq. I promise you, if an attack comes in the homeland, it's going to come as our security services have said, it is going to come from al Qaeda planning in the hills of Afghanistan and Pakistan. That's where they live. That's where they are. That's where it will come from. And right now that resides in Pakistan, a stable government needs to be established. We need to support that democracy by helping them not only with their military but with their governance and their economic well-being.
There have been 7,000 madrasses built along that border. We should be helping them build schools to compete for those hearts and minds of the people in the region so that we're actually able to take on terrorism and by the way, that's where bin Laden lives and we will go at him if we have actually intelligence.
IFILL: Governor, nuclear Pakistan, unstable Pakistan, nuclear Iran? Which is the greater threat?
PALIN: Both are extremely dangerous, of course. And as for who coined that central war on terror being in Iraq, it was the General Petraeus and al Qaeda, both leaders there and it's probably the only thing that they're ever going to agree on, but that it was a central war on terror is in Iraq. You don't have to believe me or John McCain on that. I would believe Petraeus and the leader of al Qaeda.
An armed, nuclear armed especially Iran is so extremely dangerous to consider. They cannot be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons period. Israel is in jeopardy of course when we're dealing with Ahmadinejad as a leader of Iran. Iran claiming that Israel as he termed it, a stinking corpse, a country that should be wiped off the face of the earth. Now a leader like Ahmadinejad who is not sane or stable when he says things like that is not one whom we can allow to acquire nuclear energy, nuclear weapons. Ahmadinejad, Kim Jong Il, the Castro brothers, others who are dangerous dictators are one that Barack Obama has said he would be willing to meet with without preconditions being met first.
And an issue like that taken up by a presidential candidate goes beyond naivete and goes beyond poor judgment. A statement that he made like that is downright dangerous because leaders like Ahmadinejad who would seek to acquire nuclear weapons and wipe off the face of the earth an ally like we have in Israel should not be met with without preconditions and diplomatic efforts being undertaken first.
IFILL: Governor and senator, I want you both to respond to this. Secretaries of state Baker, Kissinger, Powell, they have all advocated some level of engagement with enemies. Do you think these former secretaries of state are wrong on that?
PALIN: No and Dr. Henry Kissinger especially. I had a good conversation with him recently. And he shared with me his passion for diplomacy. And that's what John McCain and I would engage in also. But again, with some of these dictators who hate America and hate what we stand for, with our freedoms, our democracy, our tolerance, our respect for women's rights, those who would try to destroy what we stand for cannot be met with just sitting down on a presidential level as Barack Obama had said he would be willing to do. That is beyond bad judgment. That is dangerous.
No, diplomacy is very important. First and foremost, that is what we would engage in. But diplomacy is hard work by serious people. It's lining out clear objectives and having your friends and your allies ready to back you up there and have sanctions lined up before any kind of presidential summit would take place.
BIDEN: Can I clarify this? This is simply not true about Barack Obama. He did not say sit down with Ahmadinejad.
BIDEN: The fact of the matter is, it surprises me that Senator McCain doesn't realize that Ahmadinejad does not control the security apparatus in Iran. The theocracy controls the security apparatus, number one.
Number two, five secretaries of state did say we should talk with and sit down.
Now, John and Governor Palin now say they're all for -- they have a passion, I think the phrase was, a passion for diplomacy and that we have to bring our friends and allies along.
Our friends and allies have been saying, Gwen, "Sit down. Talk. Talk. Talk." Our friends and allies have been saying that, five secretaries of state, three of them Republicans.
And John McCain has said he would go along with an agreement, but he wouldn't sit down. Now, how do you do that when you don't have your administration sit down and talk with the adversary?
And look what President Bush did. After five years, he finally sent a high-ranking diplomat to meet with the highest-ranking diplomats in Iran, in Europe, to try to work out an arrangement.
Our allies are on that same page. And if we don't go the extra mile on diplomacy, what makes you think the allies are going to sit with us?
The last point I'll make, John McCain said as recently as a couple of weeks ago he wouldn't even sit down with the government of Spain, a NATO ally that has troops in Afghanistan with us now. I find that incredible.
Palin argued that Biden is a Washington insider who has disagreed with Obama on many crucial policy issues and voted differently from Obama over the years. She said Biden's positions have been closer to McCain's than Obama's on Iraq. I agree with Palin's assessment that Biden voted for Iraq war and only starting opposing Iraq war after things started go badly there to avoid taking responsibility for failure. In fact, he not only voted against the surge in Iraq, but he made the case for effectively dividing Iraq into three countries and existing from there. Division of Iraq would have been extremely destabilizing for the entire region, with southern Iraq aligning with Iran, and Kurds demanding freedom of Kurds in Turkey, Iran and Syria to join with northern Iraq. While attacking Obama and Biden as liberal Democrats aligned completely with their party, Palin emphasized the maverick image of John McCain and her record as a reformer within the Republican party. I believe Palin was successful in blunting Biden's attempts to link John McCain with George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.
Overall, Palin came through as a genuine people's person while Biden did well by showing his deeper knowledge and long experience, ready to be vice president and, if necessary, president.
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Does it matter who wins? Pakistan loses out no?
Iran and Pakistan: An Interview with Alex Vatanka
, Iran and Pakistan: Security, Diplomacy and American Influence
So much of U.S. policy in South and West Asia has been determined by Washington’s relationship with two countries: Iran and Pakistan. But the relationship between these two regional powers has been in many ways as influential as their swings from allies to frenemies to adversaries with the United States. The ties between Iran and Pakistan run deep, and have shifted over time from a deep affinity to regional rivalry and proxy conflict. Underneath it all has been the two countries’ pragmatic self-interest. “Neither country has ever genuinely considered optimum relations as an end in itself,” Alex Vatanka writes in the introduction to his book, Iran and Pakistan: Security, Diplomacy and American Influence. “For both Iran and Pakistan, bilateral closeness was always meant to reap something strategically larger.” But over the past seven decades, since Pakistan’s inception, their relationship has been buffeted by global and regional competition, by the Cold War, the scramble for Afghanistan, and the Iran-Saudi rivalry.
I recently finished reading Vatanka’s book and had the opportunity to discuss the history of the Iran-Pakistan relationship with him by phone. “In this relationship, for the United States watching is not an option,” he told me. “This is a relationship involving two large countries, one is already nuclear armed, one is a threshold nuclear-armed state, combined something like 300 million people, almost the size of the U.S. population. It's a big market potentially if we wanted to integrate them. There are a whole host of areas where we can cooperate in terms of counterterrorism, trying to bring some sort of stability to Afghanistan. If you let the diplomats, perhaps, and economic entry have a bigger say and not look at the relationship purely through the security prism, which is where we are now, then this relationship can improve and become more healthy than it is today. It's clearly unhealthy today.” Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Could you start by explaining why you wanted to focus on Iran and Pakistan?
Almost for the last 20 years, I've been covering Iranian affairs—domestic, foreign, and a lot of regional dynamics involving Iran and it's neighbors. When you look at Iran's immediate neighborhood, including its 15 immediate neighbors (if you include its land and maritime neighbors), there’s plenty of literature on most of the neighbors' relations with Iran. Certainly among those neighbors, we'd consider them the big neighbors, Saudi, Turkey, Iraq, Afghanistan—Pakistan stands out as one that hasn't really been tackled in the context of its relations with Iran. So I thought, here's a gap, here's a deficiency, and why not try to see if we can find out more about it. That was really the beginning of that research idea, project, and the subsequent book that came out of it.
I think the history alone is really interesting, and there's a lot of that in the book, but I think there's a lot more to it than just the historical narrative. I think if you look at these two large countries, as they sit in Asia, anyone who wants to figure out how the large power politics, the race for influence in this part of the world happened, needs to take into account what drives Iran and Pakistan and where they come from in term of their past, where they are today, and where they are likely to go forward.
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