Little to distinguish

Published: February 28, 2012
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The writer was Pakistan’s ambassador to the EU from 2002-2004 and to the US in 1999 
tariq.fatemi@tribune.com.pk

The writer was Pakistan’s ambassador to the EU from 2002-2004 and to the US in 1999 tariq.fatemi@tribune.com.pk

Current US presidential election rhetoric among Republican hopefuls may occasionally sound bizarre, especially on domestic issues. But when it comes to foreign policy, there is little to distinguish between candidates of either party. And nothing could be more illustrative of this than the comparison between what Obama had promised and what he has delivered since assuming office.

It is not simply promises such as closure of the Guantanamo prison, but an attitude that is reminiscent of Bush’s disdain for the international community. Drone attacks on Pakistan (and elsewhere) are now carried out routinely, even though human rights organisations have expressed doubts over its legality. In fact, there were nearly four times as many drone strikes in Pakistan during the first two years of the Obama Administration, as there were during the entire Bush Administration.

Current US policy dictates that drones are to be used only in failed states or in ‘sanctuaries’, where a state is either unwilling or unable to kill or capture targeted individuals. But the Defence Department insists that since the US is in a global war, it does not need to identify an immediate threat before targeting it. The State Department, more appreciative of diplomatic considerations, believes that the laws of war do not apply outside a theater of war and therefore, lethal force should only be used to prevent an eminent threat.

On other important foreign policy issues, such as Russia and China, Obama is closer to the views of his Republican predecessor, than that indicated during the campaign. Though he vowed to “reset” US policy towards Russia, some of his initiatives, such as placement of missiles close to Russia’s borders, have added to Moscow’s misgivings. More recently, Washington’s views on the forthcoming Russian presidential polls, as well as the US ambassador’s alleged support for opposition politicians, have added to the impression that the US is seeking to promote anti-Putin forces.

It is, however, the administration’s policy towards China which most echoes the recommendations of the neo-cons and thus represents a departure from US policy pursued since President Nixon’s historic visit to Beijing 40 years ago. Moreover, the recently-released US Defence Strategy clearly signifies a well-thought-out plan to challenge China’s growing economic and political power. Both Obama and Secretary Clinton have publicly alluded to their fear that a strong and confident China poses a threat not only to Asia, but to US influence in the Pacific as well. Over the past year, Washington has been assiduously encouraging its friends in the region to accept the stationing of US troops on their territories and to increase defence budgets, all ostensibly to ‘contain’ China.

On Kashmir, Palestine and Iran, President Obama has resiled from positions taken during the campaign, under a combination of powerful domestic and foreign pressures. While Kashmir has simply disappeared from Washington’s radar, thanks to Indian lobbying; on Palestine, he appears to have abandoned thought of another initiative, convinced that there is simply no support for applying pressure on Israel. On Iran, the Obama Administration has been beating the drums of war, even though he had advocated a policy of engagement. His bitter criticism of his predecessor for what he claimed was a “war of choice” in Iraq has been forgotten, with no attempt to temper the growing crescendo for a surgical strike on Iran that could lead to another conflict, at a time when the US has been in war for the longest period in its history, with more than 6,300 troops killed and an estimated $3 trillion lost!

Given his life experience, Obama’s pronouncements had led to expectations of change, especially in foreign policy. In reality, he has hewed close to many of his predecessor’s controversial policies, demonstrating that when it comes to national security issues, it is the defence and intelligence establishment, as in most countries, which determines priorities.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 29th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (10)

  • Saad Raees
    Feb 29, 2012 - 2:24AM

    He has to win elections, thus, he would have to support a war on Iran, even though just yesterday Iranians declared the creation of nuclear weapons “a sin”, and it wasn’t the first time they did that!

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  • venky
    Feb 29, 2012 - 5:00AM

    Kashmir disappeared from Washington’s radar not because of Indian lobbying, but the violent nature of the movement and the visible external support it received in the past decade. India’s position also reinforced in the international community due to India’s persistent path of democratic elections in Kashmir and providing a fair people representation.It is a no mean achievement considering the fact that entire Pandit community is pushed out of the valley due to militancy.

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  • Cautious
    Feb 29, 2012 - 5:31AM

    It is not simply promises such as
    closure of the Guantanamo prison, but
    an attitude that is reminiscent of
    Bush’s disdain for the international
    community. Drone attacks on Pakistan
    (and elsewhere) are now carried out
    routinely, even though human rights
    organisations have expressed doubts
    over its legality.

    I disagree — the international community has no sympathy for those who harbor terrorist — and their silence on the issue would seem to support my position.

    Recommend

  • IndianDude
    Feb 29, 2012 - 6:34AM

    “..Current US policy dictates that drones are to be used only in failed states or in ‘sanctuaries’, where a state is either unwilling or unable to kill or capture targeted individuals*…”

    This description fits pakistan to the T. Except, perhaps the ‘failed’ state part, pakistan by no means is a failed state. However, the part about ‘sanctuaries’ (e.g. Haqqanis) and ‘unwilling’ to capture targeted individuals(e.g. Quetta Shura and of course, mother of all wanted men OBL) fits the bill.

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  • MarkH
    Feb 29, 2012 - 9:40AM

    @Saad Raees:
    Them calling it “a sin” is absolutely worthless. In fact, just about any country calling anything warlike “a sin” but still developing weaponry that they use, even if it’s considered acceptable the world over, is an absolute joke. People always use the most extreme wording possible when they want to be believed. Liars “swear” all the time. Liars violate oaths of telling the truth daily. Liars “swear to God” while lying. It’s all the same. Words are worthless. If there’s evidence, contradict it, or the evidence holds more power than your words.

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  • antanu g
    Feb 29, 2012 - 4:06PM

    @Cautious:
    your being disagreed does not alter the truth that successive US presidents have been hypocrites to the T. but you will not accept it because normally biggest victims of this tendency have been muslims. US simply cant dare to touch venezuela…north korea due to the very obvious reasons.this is is height of double stantandards and and anybody who supports this is equaly hypocrite and deserves no respect.

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  • Genius
    Feb 29, 2012 - 5:25PM

    @Cautious:

    The international community of Terrorists reserve the right to call anyone and everyone resisting their terrorism a most convenient phrase i.e. Terrorist.
    European terrorism in recent time has been going on since the last 500 years and can be seen in action in Iraq and Afghanistan.
    Guantanamo Bay Camp is a living testimony of the height of “Lawlessnes” the international community of Terrorists would go to.
    We all can see the international community of Terrorists crucifying every virtue professed and practised by Jesus.
    Can others not see the same? Who can deny it?Recommend

  • BlackJack
    Feb 29, 2012 - 5:38PM

    @antanu g:
    For a change I agree with you, my friend – in that American foreign policy has always been opportunistic and hypocritical; but the biggest beneficiaries have mostly been the despots of the Middle East where the US has consistently disregarded human rights in exchange for military bases and control of oil prices and shipping lanes. Pakistan was molly-coddled in the decades post-independence to act as a counter-weight to a pro-USSR India (despite its non-aligned stance) – now the changes in global dynamics (and Pakistan’s possible implosion) have required this relationship to be jetissoned. The tragedy is that Pakistan never thought along these lines, so the landing has been much harder. India on the other hand has pursued a fiercely independent (but cautious) foreign policy – and is probably the closest non-ally that the US and Russia both have; and while there is a benefit in maintaining good relations, India is always sceptical of US motives, and will never move further into its orbit.

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  • Saad Raees
    Feb 29, 2012 - 6:05PM

    @MarkH:
    I agree, but the notion that that Iran wants to nuke Israel is baseless and does not make sense, because nuking Israel is not just nuking Israel, but also Palestinians since its the same land with complex geography, nuking Israel would have as much horrible affects on Palestinians as it would have on Israelis and Iran would not want to attack them as far as my thinking goes!
    Also, attacking Iran is not the best solution if that’s what Iran wants to do. Yes, Iranians hate the regime and are comparatively more pro-Americans, but they would not accept any attack on their soil! And obviously, if there is any war, then expecting that the strikes would target only nuclear facilities is foolish, civilians would be killed as well and there you will give birth to another extremely anti-American nation!
    Think before you do anything!

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  • Meekal Ahmed
    Feb 29, 2012 - 10:35PM

    I don’t think defense and intelligence agencies dictate US policy. There are many cases where the executive branch has prevailed and the agencies have been over-ruled. This is not Pakistan we are talkling about, Sir, where those services keep the civilian government firmly under their thumb.

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