On November 6, Barack Hussein Obama shuffled to victory in an election that was never that interesting, never that close and, honestly, never that important. It is a dismal time to be the United States and President Obama is not likely to invigorate the country the morning after. But if America is a brand in decline, Pakistan is a brand in flux.
A billion dollars later, as the Carey Brothers put it, Mitt Romney is now a trivia question. Is there closure? No, because the Romney brand is only distinguished by its lack of distinction. Measured against fellow also-rans, Romney had neither the personality of John McCain nor the principles of George McGovern. By flipping back to the deranged Tea Party fringe, then flopping forward to the centre around debate time, he couldn’t even muster Barry Goldwater’s fundamentalist vibe. Even in loss, his campaign provides us no lesson.
At no point was the election in a dead heat: the challenger trailed in all eight battleground states for the better part of the spring. The other running theme wherein the two candidates presented ‘a clear choice’ only held true at home. Romney’s social conservatism belonged to 1953 and his plans to run the economy like a chief executive were at clear odds with President Obama’s dime store populism kicking around millionaires and billionaires at every stump speech. The entire election smelt of mediocrity. If one remembers how the presidents Bush clawed their way into the White House — with George HW implying his opponent freed rapists from jail and George W’s polling team ringing up undecided voters to inform them his GOP rival had fathered a black child — Obama vs Romney seems far from political history’s most negative electoral campaign. It was certainly the most expensive but such records are made to be broken by the next round — which brings us to why either outcome was awful for Pakistan.
It was uniquely upsetting to see us, among 21 happier countries polled by the BBC, be the lone voice in support of Romney. This meant that our depth of disillusionment has grown far and wide and completely out of step with other countries. But the onus, for once, isn’t on us. Four years ago, a mixed-race child born to a single mother struggled to find both purpose and identity. “Caught without a class, a tradition or a structure,” he wrote in college about “having large dollops of envy” for Pakistani friends gravitating towards the business world. Even when nominated to be president of the US, he refused to make his ethnicity into a campaign jingle. In 2008, inspiration was bursting at the seams of the Barack Obama message and people could feel it.
Four years later, ‘national interest’ trumped the meaning of life or familiarity with Pakistani college-going types. The former constitutional law professor handpicks a kill list (apparently, every Tuesday) and deemed offenders are picked off by drone missiles. Complaining that drone strikes drove American policy in Pakistan, the recently-departed US ambassador, Cameron Munter, even whined that he “didn’t realise his main job was to kill people”. After 176 dead children, it’s good to see the ambassador having learnt something from his 25 years of high diplomacy.
Osama bin Laden’s death is heralded as the presidency’s key achievement. Meanwhile, a foreign contractor shot dead two citizens in Lahore and a third was run over by his convoy. Gunships roamed a mile into Pakistani territory and killed 24 of our soldiers. We closed Nato’s supply routes to Afghanistan before reopening them like confused teenagers. Just now, calls to hunt down anti-Pakistan militants over the border in Afghanistan have been rebuffed. Really? After all that Haqqani rhetoric?
And so, Pakistan has begun looking to make once-sacrilegious friends, to disappearing Russians, cagey Indians, even most hopefully, Bangladesh. The road to reassessment is hard but no one cares for the alternative. Morning has come in President Obama’s America, one far more miserable than the one Ronald Reagan declared 18 years ago. And we need to look away the same way he did.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 15th, 2012.