Friday, August 03, 2007

A Good Critique of Obama's Speech

A couple of days ago I did a brief blog post about Obama's speech on terrorism over at Sepia Mutiny. The speech has since been widely criticized, but the best takedown of Obama's misguided approach to Pakistan must be Sepoy's, at Chapati Mystery. It's a long post, but this part is especially good:

One should remind Barack Obama, and the US Congress which just passed such a conditional bill, that Pakistan is, in clear and evident fact, fighting a war in Waziristan - with scores of military casualties seemingly every day. One can also remind him that since the Lal Masjid stand off - July 3rd - there have been a dozen suicide bombings across Pakistan killing over 200 civilians - almost keeping pace with Baghdad. One can further remind him that Pakistan has indeed allowed US military strikes on its sovereign territory, even with questionable intelligence. On November 10, 2006, US missiles hit a madrasa in Bajaur aimed at killing the elusive No. 2 of Al Qaeda but managed mainly to kill children. They must all be casualties of Pakistan’s soft focus in the war on terrorism.

To be crystal clear, Obama suggests that a country that is a sovereign nation and ally, that has full nuclear capability, has the ability to carry out nuclear attacks, has the ability to give nuclear technologies to the card-carrying-member-of-the-Axis-of-Evil-next-door Iran, has an unpopular dictator supported and maintained by the United States, has deployed 100,000 troops across its North Western borders, has suffered thousands of casualties - army and civilians - carrying out the Global War on Terror, has seen its cities and deserts flood with the detritus from the forgotten war going on in Afghanistan, but has nonetheless maintained complete compliance by killing and capturing many key members of the Al Qaeda ... should be invaded. (link)

I think the salient critique of Sepoy's argument here might be that while all this may be true, there is a legitimate concern that elements in Pakistan's military and intelligence organizations may be playing a double game specifically with regards to Al Qaeda.

Still, I'm in agreement with Sepoy by and large. My earlier enthusiasm for Obama is starting to fade...

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vkrishna said...

If invading and pacifying Pakistan is this simple, India would have done it by now. Any serious observer of the region knows that military options like missile strikes and "hot pursuit" type scenarios have very limited and diminishing returns. And invasions involve two components-the military component wherein a region's military resistance is destroyed, and a second and far more difficult component which involves the holding and control of the invaded land. The Iraq invasion took care of the first but has failed spectacularly in the second, and there is no reason to believe that it would be any better in Pakistan, if anything Pakistan is at least an order of magnitude more difficult.

Obama's speech is silly also because the *Pakistani* Army is unable to maintain complete control in areas like Waziristan. Wherever else the army's sympathies and goals may be, certainly the Pakistani army's major objective is to retain control and power. The fact that the Pakistani army is unable to maintain this is in itself ominous, and an American force is hardly likely to do better.

Finally, Obama's idea of further financial and material support for "secularization", laudable though it maybe, suffers from a fairly fatal flaw in that while Obama may wish for "secularization", the people who would have to implement such an agenda and spend the money in Pakistan may have very different agendas. Even if a couple of generals and politicians pay lip service to this idea, they do not control the implementation of such agendas. It should also be kept in mind that the Islamization policies of Zia-ul Haq were further extended and implemented by such "secular" and "westernized" worthies as Benazir Bhutto.

The situation in Pakistan is extremely troubling and likely to get worse, especially after the Lal Masjid events. It is also very delicate and interventions with a poor understanding of this sort are not going to improve matters.

6:01 PM  
Anonymous said...

Sorry, but I think you're reading WAY too much into this.

We wouldn't be attacking Pakistan itself. We would be attacking al-Qaeda in territory that Pakistan doesn't control.

12:38 PM  
Anonymous said...

Obama's comment isnt silly. If elements in pakistan actively shield Osama, and if the US gets reliable intelligence about his whereabouts, it would be irresponsible of the US not to act on it, and in such a case - which was the only scenario Obama had talked about - indeed the US would be obligated to act with or without Musharaf's persmission. I agree with that, and that was the thrust of Obama's statement.

Its a bit disheartening to see normally fair-minded people like Amardeep jump on the "Lets all feel sorry for Pakistan and blame the West entirely for its 50 years of internal trouble" bandwagon. But then that WOULD be in line with mainline thought in south asian studies, wouldnt it? And he IS a bonafide academic now. :)

Hilary's criticism of Obama was the correct one, for my money: "Obama, you can think that, and even do it, but you should not have said it out loud." That was her reaction, and that is probably correct.

12:04 AM  
Anonymous said...

I should add too, that Sepoy's line here, (and Amardeep's who agrees with him), only works when you (in the usual south asian studies style) reduce the conflict here to taht between Pakistan and the US; whereas in geo-political reality, England, Spain, Germany, India, Various southeast asian nations, various other nations in the world, would ALL hold the US accountable if it did not take out Osama based on actionable intelligence, whereever he might be found, if his host country refuses to act. Because the problem represented by Osama is an international problem; not a manichean problem between Pakistan and the US. So first and foremost Sepoy's (and Amardeep's) analysis depends on carefully cutting out all that context, making this purely a US-bullying-vs-poor-old-pakistan rhetorical issue. Note how Sepoy's analysis also similarly 'carefully' turns the problem of Musharaff's rise in pakistan into a US-blamed problem. There is no question that the US has intervened in south asian politics; there is also no question that China, Russia, and other nations have also intervened, and there is also no question that Pakistan's internal politics holds an enormous amount of blame and responsibility for the present situation in the country. But if we ignore all the rest and blame Musharraf's rise on the US, then we come to the conveniently manicheaen (and typically south asianist) conclusion that sepoy/amardeep arrive at here. It is based on the one hand on the reduction of a complex geo-political history of the region to a us-vs-pak problem, and on the other hand on an unwarranted expansion of Obama's statement (he was talking about a specific hypothetical situation; not about an unlimited license to intervene in 'soveriegn' nations). One reduction and one expansion later, we have all the things we applaud within south asian studies: righteous indignance for us, critiques of the west and its policies for them. Yay!

12:11 AM  

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