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America's Heavy-Handed Foreign Policy Not Working

JINSA Report #: 

July 15, 2011

The Obama administration is withholding $800 million of the $2 billion in current aid to Pakistan, angry over the (limited) level of Pakistani pursuit of Taliban elements attacking U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan. The United States believes intelligence information provided to Pakistan has been shared with insurgents and that the Pakistani government is not committed to "cleaning out" Taliban strongholds in the tribal areas. The Pakistani government, on the other hand, believes the United States violated Pakistan's sovereignty by capturing Osama Bin Laden without prior consultation and by killing Pakistani civilians in drone strikes in the tribal areas. Pakistan is furious about the aid reduction, particularly the $300 million meant as reimbursement for expenses already incurred.

There is, naturally, some justice on both sides, and the money - while important to Pakistan and not insignificant to the United States - is only a metaphor for the difficult relations between the two. The real problem is that the United States and Pakistan do not have the same goal for Afghanistan or for the future of Pakistan and we appear to have forgotten that it is, in fact, their country.

The United States wants the Pakistani government to police its border and prevent the flow of people and weapons into Afghanistan. But the border has never been solid and runs through tribes on both sides. Furthermore, Pakistan has a regional interest in Afghanistan having to do with its worries about close Indian-Afghan relations. Pakistan needs a pliable Afghan government - which may be easier to achieve with the Taliban in power, or at least in a sharing relationship, than with the Karzai government alone. Finally, Pakistan, Afghanistan and India will remain there long after the United States and its allies have gone. The relative permanence and impermanence has a lot to do with how willing the local players are to work with us or bend themselves to our political and military requirements.

The problem is not only there. The United States has, of late, been heavy handed in its demands of others and its willingness to overlook their interests or threaten them with punishment.

The United States has alienated Saudi Arabia over its defense of Bahrain, and is threatening to take the 5th Fleet out of Bahrain over the failure of its government to find accommodation with the Iranian-supported Shiite opposition - although that seems like cutting of our own nose. The United States has so discomfited Jordan over the idea of a border contiguous to "Palestine" that King Abdullah is weighing a natural gas deal with Iran. Egyptian democrats (or would-be) can't be pleased with the American decision to engage the Muslim Brotherhood, their nemesis. Siding with the Hezbollah-dominated government of Lebanon over its maritime border with Israel won't make Lebanese democrats any happier than it makes Israel. Some Libyans must be wondering why our coalition is bombing their country, which gave up its nuclear program, paid reparations for and ceased terrorism, and fights al Qaeda - everything the West asked for - just because Gaddafi didn't drop dead on demand by the President. The Syrians and the Iranians must be wondering why the President didn't demand the same of Assad and the Mullahs.

A recent Pew poll showed that the stature of the United States and the popularity of President Obama are lower now in the Arab/Muslim world than during the previous administration. It is unlikely to get better until the Administration remembers that those countries - like Israel - have their own priorities and requirements and won't just to bow to American demands.

There must be a better way.

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