Archive for the ‘Pakistan’ Category

USA: Lay off the president, man!

September 28, 2010

Coming from me, a defense of Barack Obama may surprise my readers.  That’s because they may not have read the fine print!  Some of his policies I haven’t exactly agreed with (principally, the expensive health care reform, which at a time of rapidly rising sovereign debt, was imprudent).  I reluctantly supported Obama for president in 2008 because he was the better of the two candidates.  Reluctant because we could have chosen a more experienced hand (read here), especially on economic policy. 

Nevertheless, the president has done an exceptional job in tough times.  He has been lucky both before and after the election, but, judging by the recent grilling from his erstwhile supporters, his luck may be running out. They even talk about Obama losing his mojo.  You can criticize Obama and the Democrats, for sure, but what is the alternative?  The only thing innovative in the Republican Party these days is the Tea Party, and I for one don’t want to be dumbed down by the likes of Sarah Palin and the former witch from Delaware (Christine O’Donnell). As for the more “mainstream” Republicans such as future Speaker Boehner, is the answer really more tax cuts at a time of skyrocketing government debt?

What really gets me about this country is the electorate’s emotional bipolarity.  First Obama is viewed as nearly Jesus Christ, now he’s a bum.  C’mon people!  C’mon Velma Hart!

I cringe at charisma.  The Obama-euphoria of the campaign trail scared me, as many of his supporters failed to think critically about the choice.  Instead they anointed a messianic figure and expected him to deliver paradise.  Obama fanned the flames of euphoria then and is now getting burned.  Today, even though the administration managed to sidestep a 1930s-style economic meltdown by rescuing the banks and providing a huge Keynesian stimulus, we hear from Velma and Company that they’re upset they don’t “feel it yet.”  Jon Stewart is “saddened.”  As I have said before, Americans are spoiled. Unlike citizens in emerging markets, accustomed to crisis, accustomed to lines outside of banks, Americans want it all.  Now they are mad at Obama for only achieving what is humanly possible. He has delivered far more than Bill Clinton did by this time in his administration, and is even delivering on the liberal agenda – for example, by appointing two very young, very liberal female lawyers to the Supreme Court.

Now he is branded as anti-business.  There were a pair of articles in The Economist on this (see below).  I noted in my blog during the 2008 election that it did not make sense to elect a man with no economic policy experience to pilot us through the economic storm, who, as a young man, quit a job as an economic analyst because he didn’t want to become a tool of corporate exploitation.  Two years later, people have noticed that his passion is not for business.  Well, lay off him now.  His policies are not particularly anti-business – this government has spent more bailing out corporations than any previous one.  Furthermore, he is in good company taking on corporate abuse.  Anyone remember Teddy Roosevelt’s trust-busting?  Finally, if we continue to harp on this anti-business thing, it will become self-fulfilling.  The Obama administration’s credibility growing the economy could be irreparably damaged, which will hurt us all.

It is human to fight the last war.  So, to avert a depression, the Obama administration took actions that were not taken in the thirties.  Yet our undoing will be something unforeseen, and in my view, this is likely to come on the fiscal side.  Government debt is around 90% of GDP and deficits are in the double digits.  With economic growth likely to remain sluggish (economists have declared a “new normal”), it is not far-fetched for the United States to be in a Greek-style sovereign default over the medium term if a road map to solvency is not charted soon.  There are as yet few signs of determination in this administration to deal with this problem (they appointed a panel), not least because of the recent turnover in the economic team.

What I don’t like about Obama is the spin.  Spin is less than truthful.  I know all politicians do it, especially the successful ones. But, Barack Obama ran as a change agent, a post-partisan, and he has been, is, and will probably always be an aggressive left-of-center partisan.  Centrists, such as Evan Bayh, Joe Lieberman, Norm Coleman, Ben Nelson, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, need not apply.  He admires Ronald Reagan and is his heir in terms of image-making.  Now he is going around the country discussing his Christian faith.  Good timing.  The other side does it too.  It is demoralizing for a centrist like me to hear John Boehner savage Obama’s economic policy record and Obama call Boehner’s Pledge to America irresponsible.  Where lies the truth?  Same thing happened on health care.  The problem is, partisanship wins elections. 

On foreign policy, Obama savaged Bush for adventurism and questionable methods in war.  Yet in office, he has ramped up the use of targeted assassinations, sometimes resulting in the deaths of innocents.  The end justifies the means, the saying goes.  As a candidate, he lashed out at David Petraeus for the “surge” in Iraq; now he has hired him to salvage his Afghan policy.  Yet Obama supporters don’t bat an eye, as they swing from indicting Bush for torture to arguing for the necessity of targeted assassinations.

I would like to see a stronger Republican Party.  The country would benefit from an energetic opposition.  Yet, by shifting toward the loony right, Republicans are squandering the opportunity to harness the country’s frustration.  This could work out in the end for Barack Obama.  Taking a page from the Big Dog’s script in 1994-96 — after the Democrats in Congress suffer a beating this year, Obama finds a “Dick Morris” to guide his policy rightward over the next two years.  The Party of No (GOP) nominates someone or other like Sarah Palin in 2012, and No Drama wangles himself another term.  The country could do worse.

From The Economist, September 23, 2010:

WINSTON CHURCHILL once moaned about the long, dishonourable tradition in politics that sees commerce as a cow to be milked or a dangerous tiger to be shot. Businesses are the generators of the wealth on which incomes, taxation and all else depends; “the strong horse that pulls the whole cart”, as Churchill put it. No sane leader of a country would want businesspeople to think that he was against them, especially at a time when confidence is essential for the recovery. From this perspective, Barack Obama already has a lot to answer for. A president who does so little to counter the idea that he dislikes business is, self-evidently, a worryingly negligent chief executive. No matter that other Western politicians have publicly played with populism more dangerously, from France’s “laissez-faire is dead” president, Nicolas Sarkozy, to Britain’s “capitalism kills competition” business secretary, Vince Cable (see article); no matter that talk on the American right about Mr Obama being a socialist is rot; no matter that Wall Street’s woes are largely of its own making. The evidence that American business thinks the president does not understand Main Street is mounting (see article). A Bloomberg survey this week found that three-quarters of American investors believe he is against business. The bedrock of the tea-party movement is angry small-business owners. The Economist has lost count of the number of prominent chief executives, many of them Democrats, who complain privately that the president does not understand their trade—that he treats them merely as adornments at photocalls and uses teleprompters to talk to them; that he shows scant interest in their views on which tax cuts would persuade them to hire people; that his team is woefully short of anyone who has had to meet a payroll (there are fewer businesspeople in this White House than in any recent administration); and that regulatory uncertainty is hampering their willingness to invest.
Ignorant but not antagonistic That Mr Obama has let it reach this stage is a worry. But negligence is not the same as opposition. True, he has some rhetorical form as an anti-business figure—unlike the previous Democrat in the White House, Bill Clinton, who could comfortably talk the talk of business. Mr Obama’s life story, as depicted in his autobiography and on the campaign, was one of a man once mired in the sinful private sector (at a company subsequently bought by The Economist), who redeemed himself only by becoming a community organiser; his wife had a similar trajectory. There are the endless digs at Wall Street and Big Pharma, not to mention the beating up of BP. He remains a supporter of “card check”, which would dispense with the need for secret ballots in establishing a trade union. His legislative agenda has centred on helping poorer individuals (the health-care bill, part of the stimulus bill) or reining in banks (the financial-reform bill). The only businesses he has rescued are the huge union-dominated General Motors and Chrysler. Against this, it could have been much worse, especially given the opprobrium that now dogs Wall Street. A president who truly wanted to wage war on business would have hung onto GM, not rushed to return it to the private sector. Card check has not been pushed. The finance bill, though bureaucratic, is not a Wall Street killer. With the exception of a China-bashing tyre tariff and a retreat on Mexican trucks, Mr Obama has eschewed protectionism. A lot of government cash has flowed to businesses, not least through the stimulus package. And above all his policies have helped pull the economy out of recession. So what should he do? The same leftist advisers who have led Mr Obama into his “anti-business” hole are doubtless telling him that it is just a matter of public relations: have a few tycoons to stay in the Lincoln bedroom; celebrate Main Street’s successes, rather than just whining about bonuses; perhaps invite a chief executive to replace Larry Summers, the academic who announced this week that he was standing down as the president’s main economic adviser. Well, maybe. But once again this is advice from people who have never run a business. The main thing that is hurting business is uncertainty. Mr Obama was right to tackle big subjects like health care and Wall Street, but too often the details were left to others. Why, for instance, should a small American firm hire more people when it still does not know the regulations on health care, especially when going above 50 workers will make it liable to insurance premiums or fines? Fiscal policy is even more uncertain, thanks to Mr Obama’s refusal to produce a credible plan to rein in the deficit. Why should any entrepreneur plough money into a new factory when he has no idea what taxes he will eventually be asked to pay? These are questions that business needs answering in a businesslike way—and so does America. Otherwise the horse will not pull the cart.

Obama’s Speech to the Muslim World

June 4, 2009

President Obama with Egypt's Hosni Mubarak  Source:  Huffington Post

President Obama’s speech to the Muslim world today, titled “A New Beginning,” was at its best when it explained the grievances of both sides of the Muslim/non-Muslim divide, but much less effective when it dealt with substantive issues, such as Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear weapon. 

Like he did so powerfully for Americans in his famous speech on race of March 2008, President Obama in this speech exhorted the citizens of Planet Earth to bridge our differences, understand each other better, and solve our common problems peacefully.  I applaud his effort at launching a new beginning between what he calls Muslim-majority nations and the rest of the world, especially the United States, in order to build a peaceful “alliance of civilizations.” Barack Obama, in his now-famous speech on race (“A More Perfect Union”), drew tens of millions of Americans to his movement, even though arguably he failed to adequately explain his association with his pastor, whose comments had offended Americans and precipitated the speech.  Nevertheless, this kind of speech, which the president is so good at, can work well.  It helped get him elected; and, he believes the power of his personality can solve Huntington’s clash of civilizations.

In spite of the hubris underlying Movement Obama’s appeal to our better angels (his predecessors were incapable of the moral transformation this singular man and his team believe they can accomplish), we all hope it works.  It is foolish to cynically dismiss such important, yet elusive, building blocks of civilization as legitimacy that can win over hearts and minds to good causes.  Charismatic moral leadership can help us pitiful humans stop the slaughter and evolve.   Yet it is likewise naive, though emotionally satisfying, to discount the risks of disillusionment that underlie a phenomenon such as Barack Obama.

The president outlined seven key issues that Muslims and the West must address: the violence of extremists, the Arab-Israeli conflict, nuclear weapons, democracy, religious freedom, women’s rights, and economic development.  He definitely covered the major issues, though some of them, while not unimportant, appear more the product of a Democratic focus group, or more accurately, an effort to please a number of constituencies, than issues really critical to a new beginning of peace and cooperation between the West and the Muslim world.  I’ll let the reader decide which ones should be high on the priority list.

Here is a transcript of the speech, but it is worthwhile to have a look at what he said specifically about nuclear weapons and Iran.  Of note is how short this section was, especially when compared to issue number two, the Arab-Israeli conflict.

“The third source of tension is our shared interest in the rights and responsibilities of nations on nuclear weapons.

This issue has been a source of tension between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran. For many years, Iran has defined itself in part by its opposition to my country, and there is indeed a tumultuous history between us. In the middle of the Cold War, the United States played a role in the overthrow of a democratically-elected Iranian government. Since the Islamic Revolution, Iran has played a role in acts of hostage-taking and violence against U.S. troops and civilians. This history is well known. Rather than remain trapped in the past, I have made it clear to Iran’s leaders and people that my country is prepared to move forward. The question, now, is not what Iran is against, but rather what future it wants to build.

It will be hard to overcome decades of mistrust, but we will proceed with courage, rectitude and resolve. There will be many issues to discuss between our two countries, and we are willing to move forward without preconditions on the basis of mutual respect. But it is clear to all concerned that when it comes to nuclear weapons, we have reached a decisive point. This is not simply about America’s interests. It is about preventing a nuclear arms race in the Middle East that could lead this region and the world down a hugely dangerous path.

I understand those who protest that some countries have weapons that others do not. No single nation should pick and choose which nations hold nuclear weapons. That is why I strongly reaffirmed America’s commitment to seek a world in which no nations hold nuclear weapons. And any nation – including Iran – should have the right to access peaceful nuclear power if it complies with its responsibilities under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. That commitment is at the core of the Treaty, and it must be kept for all who fully abide by it. And I am hopeful that all countries in the region can share in this goal.”

He alludes to the differing perceptions underlying the mistrust between Iran and the West.  He points out  the danger of a nuclear arms race in the region.  And, as he does throughout the speech, he portrays himself as someone who, unlike his predecessors, understands the other side’s point of view.  He understands Muslim frustration over the fact that some countries are allowed to have nuclear weapons, while others are not. 

What is missing in this speech is anything Churchillian.  What is missing is realism…for example, a statement that the U.S. is determined to prevent the acquisition of nuclear weapons by unstable or radical regimes, be they Muslim or not.  The risk of the Obama phenomenon is that his extended hand and emotional understanding will not be backed up by a steely determination to oppose dangerous regimes.  True, he takes a stab at this in his remarks about Al Qaeda and extremism.  However, just as it was nearly impossible for Bush to establish moral authority, it will be challenging for Obama to convey strength and determination, and to inspire respect and, yes, fear among America’s adversaries.  I understand he was addressing Muslims, but still there were no unequivocal statements against the Iranian acquisition of the bomb.  

He acquiesced to the Arab narrative in many ways.  The most salient example was his putting the Arab-Israeli conflict, or as he termed it, “the situation between Israelis, Palestinians and the Arab world,” as one of his seven key issues causing tension in the region.  It sure is, but why not the India-Pakistan conflict over Kashmir?  The Shia-Sunni divide was noted, but not as a key cause of tension.  Genocide in Darfur was not mentioned.  Saudi Wahhabism and other sources of extremism in Muslim education were not mentioned. 

The Arab narrative suggests that everything nasty that happens in that part of the world is linked to, if not caused by, Israeli actions vis-à-vis the Palestinians.  Never mind how the rest of the Arab World has treated the Palestinians, refusing to settle these refugees in neighboring countries, the way India and Pakistan settled Hindu and Muslim refugees after their 1948 conflict.  What’s more, the language about Israeli settlements was harsher in this speech than in the past.  The United States does not accept the legitimacy of settlements, and the settlements must stop.  This is quite different from Bush’s statement that after forty years of conflict, forty years of woeful Palestinian (and in most cases, Arab) leadership, some of Israel’s settlements have become a reality on the ground and the subject of negotiation.  Of course, Obama may turn around and tell the Israelis he was only talking about the “growth” of settlements, not the full dismantling of all settlements.  The Obama administration has asked the Israeli government for clarification of its views on settlements, when “clarify” is exactly what Team Obama needs to do on this issue.   

Nevertheless, all in all, it was a valiant effort on the part of President Obama.  I hope he can engender understanding and cooperation through the power of his personality.  His administration has orchestrated this overture to the Muslim world quite well.  The president argued as much in his speech.  He has stuck it to Israel on settlements.  He is pulling out of Iraq. He has called for all nations in the region, and in the world, to give up nuclear weapons.  He is giving humanitarian aid to Pakistan and Afghanistan.  He is launching educational and economic initiatives in the region.  This is the change he offers from Bush’s bluster.  And, he says, the Arab world must do its part.  I hope it works.

South Asia heating up…

May 11, 2009

Swat region of Pakistan.  Source: BBC

The temperature in South Asia, often sweltering, has heated up over the last week.  Read a selection of news reports below.

With the peace deal between the government of Pakistan and the Taliban in tatters and pressure on Pakistani President Zardari from Holbrooke and Co. getting heavy, the Pakistani armed forces launched attacks in recent days on the Taliban in the Swat region of northwest Pakistan.  This comes against a backdrop of continued U.S. targeted killings of Al Qaeda operatives in the region. Tens of thousands of civilians are reportedly fleeing their homes, leading the United Nations to call for restraint. 

Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, U.S. air strikes against Taliban positions in Farah may have resulted in many civilian deaths, causing President Karzai, a struggling though still favored candidate in that country’s national elections in August, fresh from a summit with President Obama, to criticize the U.S.  President Obama, as candidate Obama, had been a vocal critic of such U.S. air strikes in that country.  Early last week, President Zardari of Pakistan joined Karzai and Obama for an anti-Al Qaeda summit in the White House.  Finally, elections in India are winding down, opening the door for the Obama administration to pressure the government that emerges there to seek a peace deal with Pakistan over Kashmir.  South Asia certainly qualifies these days as a hot spot.

Read about (and listen to): Obama’s remarks following the meeting with the Af-Pak leaders, praising unity in the war against Al Qaeda; General David Patraeus’s announcement of a policy review regarding air strikes in Afghanistan; a BBC report on the latest fighting in Swat, where 200 militants have reportedly been killed; a NYTimes article over the weekend discussing Al Qaeda’s effort to effect a jihadist takeover of Pakistan;  another Times article about Pakistan’s effective ambassador to the U.S.; an FT opinion piece arguing that NATO is fighting the wrong war in Afghanistan, while hamstrung in Pakistan; a piece in the Economist about how Hamid Karzai, with only 15% support, remains the favored candidate in Afghanistan’s August elections; and finally, further south, off the coast of India, reports emerging of a horrendous death toll of 378 people (over a hundred of them children) in the ongoing civil war in Sri Lanka.

A Concert of Great Powers

April 1, 2009
President Obama announces his Af-Pak Initiative.  Source: CNN
President Obama announces his Af-Pak Initiative. Source: CNN
Metternich   Source:  Wikipedia
Portrait of Prince Metternich Source: Wikipedia

Keeping nuclear-armed Pakistan out of the hands of radicals should be a central goal of U.S. foreign policy.  Like a nuclear-armed Iran, control of the Pakistani government by believers in a radical ideology would be one of the worst scenarios for U.S. interests and for the safety of the world.  Weapons of mass destruction will proliferate, but ensuring that basically conservative governments (like China’s and Russia’s), regardless of ideology, remain the custodians of these weapons should be on overriding international priority.  In terms of furthering this objective, President Obama’s “Af-Pak” initiative last week, and its focus on preventing Al Qaeda and the Taliban from taking control of Pakistan, should be applauded.

However, what is missing from this initiative is greater emphasis on multilateralism.  The world is fast slipping from America’s “unipolar moment” after the fall of Communism to a dynamic multipolar world of rising and declining powers.  The sooner the U.S. recognizes this and couches almost every foreign policy initiative in terms of getting the great powers to work together to solve global problems, the more likely this power shift will occur peacefully.  The only goal perhaps more important to U.S. interests than preventing WMD proliferation is this peaceful shift to multipolarity.  Such a shift, characterized by consultation and coordination, would provide the best mechanism for solving the world’s problems, including WMD proliferation.  True, you cannot put the brakes on America’s myriad foreign policy initiatives as new institutions of multipolarity are erected, but you can tailor policy with multipolarity in mind and use the bully pulpit to promote reform of the machinery of diplomacy.

In fairness, President Obama’s Af-Pak initiative did include a call for a Contact Group, including NATO, the Central Asian states, Gulf nations, Iran, Russia, India and China.  Yet this was more of an afterthought to a unilateral initiative.  Notwithstanding Movement Obama’s ever-present language of renewal – from the “new politics” and “transformational leadership” of the campaign to recent calls for a “new day” for Afghanistan and Pakistan and a “new partnership” with (as well as a “language of respect” and a “hand of friendship” toward) the Muslim world – Obama’s foreign policy remains much the same as that of his predecessor, the guy he so single-mindedly excoriated. 

The Obama team argues that they will be smarter and more focused than their predecessors, and perhaps the Af-Pak initiative will bear this out.  However, the new thinking required in foreign policy is not yet apparent in this administration (granted, it is still early).  We have thus far been treated to clever rhetoric, including cute, new metaphors, such as the “reset” button on U.S.-Russian relations.  Besides being another backhanded criticism of Bush, the “reset” metaphor fails to acknowledge that the “software” of U.S.-Russian relations remains the same.  Since the end of the Cold War, the West (led by NATO and the EU) has been unable to resist the temptation to extend its influence to Russia’s doorstep.  If Obama’s “reset” constitutes cooperation, not confrontation, discussion, not unilateralism, then he would in fact be installing new software in relations with Russia.  

Still, we need a point of departure in American foreign policy.  Some adjustment of global institutions is under way, including altering voting rights at the IMF, utilizing the G-20 forum instead of the G-7, discussing reform of the U.N. Security Council.  The president should raise the profile of this process, calling for new diplomatic machinery.  He should seek a Concert of Great Powers, similar to the Concert of Europe erected in 1815 by the victorious powers in the Napoleonic Wars.  

The Concert of Europe that included Great Britain, Russia, Prussia and Austria, and after a few years, France, the vanquished aggressor, prevented major wars for forty years and a global conflagration for nearly a hundred.  The Concert involved periodic international congresses and a recognition of the national interests of the great powers and the need for a balance of power.  The vice grip that Wilsonians have had on U.S. foreign policy thinking over the last century has precluded such an approach.  Likewise, neo-conservative unilateralism cast aside any close cooperation with other great powers.  It is time that realists put these ideologies in their proper place.  FDR had proposed something like a Concert of Great Powers after WWII, with his “Four Policemen,”  the U.S., U.K., USSR and China.

Kissinger has pointed out that balance of power politics without at least some international agreement on values cannot produce stability.   Yet agreement on shared values is difficult to achieve.  To an extent, the Concert of Europe included this component.  The powers agreed that territorial adjustment would only occur through consultation.  The three members of the Holy Alliance – Prussia, Russia and Austria – agreed on the principle of monarchical legitimacy, while France and Britain demurred.  Nevertheless, the governments of the day found enough shared values to make the Concert work for decades. 

There is much that the great powers today – both rising and declining – can agree on.  They all participate with vigor in the global economy.  They are all active members of international organizations and parleys, such as the U.N. and various regional fora.  They are all relatively conservative in that they do not seek substantial territorial aggrandizement and are essentially peace-loving.  None seeks the elimination of any other sovereign state.  Yet there are substantial exceptions and areas of disagreement.  China opposes self-determination for Taiwan; Russia would like a free hand in its near-abroad; America intervenes in local hotspots if certain principles are violated.     

A commitment to working through a Concert of Great Powers would present challenges and ethical quandaries for American policymakers, and would be difficult politically.  The U.S. Congress enjoys grandstanding on moral issues.  The president is required by law to produce public documents on international affairs that sometimes irritate other powers, such as the report on China’s military that was released last week, and the State Department’s Human Rights reports, released in late February.  These reports have a great deal of utility and can encourage ethical behavior in the world.  Nevertheless, cooperating closely with such rising powers as China, Russia, India, Brazil, Mexico, Turkey, Indonesia, Egypt and Saudi Arabia should become at least as high a priority as sermonizing to the rest of the world about ethics.  

This would mean, not giving up our values, but moderating the vehemence of our pursuit of them.  It would mean recognizing that cooperating with other great powers holds out the prospect of solving complex regional problems and maintaining global peace and prosperity, worthy moral objectives as well.  Pursuit of great power accord might be worth the short-term toleration of unfortunate ethical lapses of other powers.  It might require the U.S. to put religious freedom and democracy lower on the list of priorities than coordination with the great powers.  It might mean pushing allies to do things that might seem unfair, in order to solve a conflict that would garner broad international support.  In the end, resolution of local conflicts that attracts the support of the great powers would be eminently more stable than the alternatives.   

The world has a large number of international and regional fora, including the UN (both the General Assembly and the Security Council), NATO, the G-20, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, Organization of American States, Organization of the Islamic Conference, African Union, Arab League, the EU, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the IMF, World Bank and regional development banks, and the WTO, among others.  What do we do with all of them? 

These groupings and institutions should not necessarily be replaced by other machinery.  However, a regular forum for the great powers, both rising and declining, to meet and discuss issues, and perhaps in time, to confront aggressors and solve regional problems, is needed.  Whether this could take place through an existing vehicle, say, the G-20, or the U.N. Security Council (revamped to include new members), or even through regular bilateral discussions and ad-hoc parleys, such as the North Korea six-party talks, such diplomatic coordination would be critical to a peaceful transformation of the international system.  

This approach does not preclude the U.S. from giving voice to its values — promoting democracy, human rights, and private enterprise.  It simply suggests that the best way to pursue these ends in the long run is through a peaceful coordination of the interests of the great powers.  Again, sometimes the emotionally-satisfying sermonizing we Americans enjoy can be counterproductive to the very aims we seek.  Though more intensive diplomatically, especially in the near term, this approach over the long term could lift the burden of global stability off the solitary shoulders of the United States.  

It is unclear what the initial steps this administration should take to usher in a multipolar world.  President Obama is traveling to Britain this week for the G-20 summit, not a bad time to launch such a discussion.  Updating the existing machinery, already under way, is not a bad beginning.  Let’s hope that Movement Obama remains true to its rhetoric and seeks renewal in American foreign policy.


India’s Rise and Kashmir

March 5, 2009
Source: BBC
Source: BBC


Is the conflict over Kashmir hindering India’s rise?  Is an unstable Pakistan, with its religious, regional and political cleavages, likewise a threat to India’s rise?  Is American foreign policy exacerbating tensions in South Asia with its concentration on Al Qaeda, the Taliban and Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan?

In The New Yorker ’s March 2 edition, Steve Coll addresses these important questions.  Coll discusses a “back channel” that exists over Kashmir, whereby India and Pakistan, two nuclear-armed foes, themselves have drawn up outlines of a solution to one of Samuel Huntington’s “civilizational fault line” conflicts.  Given such direct negotiations, perhaps India and Pakistan are further along in solving their fault line conflict than Israel and the Palestinians, who rely on third party mediation, are in solving theirs. Furthermore, unlike the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Kashmir does not involve an existential threat to either India or Pakistan.

When he was in power, President Musharraf controlled Pakistan’s armed forces, including the intelligence services, long-engaged in mischief-making through their support of Islamist guerrilla groups operating in Kashmir.  Bush bashers faulted W for coddling this dictator in his effort to get Pakistani cooperation in the fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban.  As a result, little pressure was applied on Pakistan regarding Kashmir.  Rooting out Al Qaeda and the Taliban along the Afghan border is a top priority for Obama, so it seems U.S. pressure over Kashmir will continue to take a back seat.  However, don’t rule out tough guy Richard Holbrooke just yet.

What is becoming clear is that, once again, Pakistan’s democracy is proving too weak to handle its myriad problems.  President  Zardari, in power since September 2008, is having trouble standing up not only to militants along the Afghan border, but also to militants within the Pakistani military, which Musharraf controlled.  While Musharraf himself came to power nearly ten years ago by sowing discord in Kashmir, he came to realize that Pakistan’s survival was more at risk from Islamists than from India, especially after 9/11.  Paranoia over India continues to effervesce within the Pakistani defense establishment, a fact obscured during the Musharraf dictatorship.  India for its part understands that its heady rise could be threatened by any conflict with its arch foe.  Further, the disintegration of Pakistan, caused by either war with India or civil war with the Islamists, is not in the interests of India.   Hence, there are mutual interests in resolving the conflict over Kashmir.   

As for American foreign policy, the Obama administration should not lose sight of the strategic importance of ensuring that the world’s rising powers succeed as peaceful democracies with strong links to the global capitalist system.  Anchoring Brazil, Russia, China, and of course, India in Western institutions represents America’s best chance of success within an emerging multi-polar world.  Surely, any help offered toward resolving India’s quarrel with Pakistan would serve this overriding strategic objective and should be at the top of the list of American priorities.