August 10, 2007

Obama's Foreign Policy Blunder

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Despite his rising status as the rockstar of the Democratic Party, Barack Obama has proven that no amount of popularity can match the experience and knowledge required to master the complexities of foreign policy. Obama threatened to unilaterally bomb Pakistan if actionable intelligence placed high-level al-Qaeda operatives in Pakistan and President Musharraf would not act. While this threat became a good applause line, Musharraf, a U.S. ally who faces a tough situation in Pakistan, did not take so kindly to Obama’s words, and he certainly was not alone. Obama’s statement, combined with his willingness at the same time to meet with crazy dictators like Chavez and Ahmadinejaid, provoked much criticism from Hillary Clinton on Obama’s naive statement, and Mitt Romney weighed in as well with the best one-liner of Sunday’s Republican debate: “In one week, he went from saying he’s going to sit down, you know, for tea, with our enemies, but then he’s going to bomb our allies. I mean, he’s gone from Jane Fonda to Dr. Strangelove in one week.” In the Democratic debate that shortly followed, both Hillary Clinton and veteran Senator and foreign policy expert Chris Dodd double-teamed Obama for his reckless decree. At the very least, Obama’s public declaration of hostility towards Pakistan does not qualify as “common sense.”


Dodd and Clinton take on Obama

No one disagrees that United States needs to pressure Pakistan to take a more active role fighting al-Qaeda in their country. Dodd and Clinton, however, understand the consequences of exerting too much pressure. As always, the United States reserves the right to take whatever actions are necessary to protect itself, but we should quietly maintain this authority and think twice about publicizing this option for a specific situation involving a specific nation. By doing this, Obama has already helped turn Pakistan against us, and he has not even stepped foot in the White House much less won the Democratic nomination. A leading English Pakistani newspaper, DAWN, reports that the Pakistani lawmakers—from both the ruling and opposition parties—have heavily criticized the current state of relations with America, citing both Obama’s unilateral threat and also legislation he promotes tying aid to Pakistan with their performance against terrorists. And who could blame them? Tying aid to Pakistan’s performance in fighting terrorism, much less a threat to bomb a nation, does not say much about how the U.S. values their friendship with Pakistan or appreciates the support they have already given.

One cannot underestimate the difficulties that face Musharraf as leader of Pakistan. Al-Jazeera recently reported on how he met with exiled opposition leader Benazir Bhutto. Now think about this. Do you think Musharraf suddenly had a miraculous change of heart? Or is he running low on support and allies in Pakistan? In fact, the BBC indicates that Musharraf briefly considered declaring a state of emergency due to the volatile political and security situation in his country. Part of it may also relate to a recent raid of a radical Islamic mosque in Pakistan which, albeit controversial, certainly shows his commitment to fighting terrorism. Hopefully it will not provoke a fourth assassination attempt on Musharraf. Somehow, I could not imagine how Obama’s comments would help ease the tension or value the work Musharraf has already done and continues to do. Obama needs to understand that his statements affect more than polling numbers.

Furthermore, even if Obama does follow up on his words and executes a successful strike, we still have to worry about what happens next. Well, if it destabilizes Pakistan enough so that radicals can oust Musharraf and take over the country, essentially we have a rogue nation armed with nuclear weapons, a possibility which Clinton wisely pointed out. If that happens, Obama would have to refocus his efforts from Iraq to the real front in the war on terror as he says, but not exactly in the way that he imagined. Furthermore, although everyone wants us to get bin Laden, realistically, how much will it help us in the grand scheme of things? Capturing Saddam Hussein and killing Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leading al-Qaeda member in Iraq, did wonders for us there. It essentially put an end to both the insurgency and the terrorists, Democrats praised the turnaround that followed, and Bush’s approval ratings soared–wait, none of that happened.

Osama bin Laden may be an important person in the war on terror, but he’s ultimately just that, another person. Successors will always exist, and Al-Qaeda will move on after his capture or death. Ultimately, if the U.S. does not do more to support moderate Muslim people and governments in the Middle East, al-Qaeda and other Islamic terrorist groups will continue to attract followers and sway those on the borderline between anger and extremism. Bombing a sovereign Muslim nation which, in spite of its problems, has provided a lot of support to the United States, would only marginalize the influence of moderate Muslims in the Middle East and encourage more people to join Islamic terrorist groups.

Beyond the targeted lines and applause Obama generated confronting Dodd and Clinton, he clearly has lost focus of the big picture in terms of both foreign policy and his battle with Hillary, who has recently gained on Obama in part due to their foreign policy scuffle preceding this debate. Obama has managed to generate bipartisan opposition to his talk on Pakistan, and that constitutes quite the accomplishment, because when someone says “bipartisan opposition,” usually people have another politician in mind. While Hillary Clinton has developed a not-so-stellar reputation among Republicans, if in a future debate she delivers an excoriating rebuke to Obama for his conduct concerning the deeply troubling situation in Pakistan, this Republican may have to stand up, clap, and say, “Speak the truth, Hillary!”

Mike Wacker is a blogger and an Assistant Web Editor at The Sun. He can be contacted at mwacker@cornellsun.com.