Tag: US foreign policy

Future of the Missile Defense Project in Poland Uncertain Under an Obama Administration

By Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska, Polish Daily News and FI2W reporter

Polish President Lech Kaczynski speaks to Barack Obama.

Polish President Kaczynski - Photo: Polish Presidency.

The first phone conversation between Polish president Lech Kaczynski and U.S. President-elect Barack Obama, which took place the Friday after the election, has already caused diplomatic confusion, as apparently they had different understandings of what was said.

The next day, President Kaczynski issued a statement on his Polish-language website saying that Obama “emphasized the importance of the strategic partnership of Poland and the United States and expressed hope in the continuation of political and military cooperation between our countries. He also said that the missile-defense project would continue.”

The last sentence, however, was removed the next day after a quick reaction from Obama’s staff.

“President Kaczynski raised missile defense, but President-elect Obama made no commitment on it,” said Obama’s senior foreign policy advisor Denis McDonough. “His position is, as it was throughout the campaign, that he supports deploying a missile-defense system when the technology is proved to be workable.”

The misunderstanding quickly became fuel for comments in the Polish media.

The second-largest Polish newspaper, left-leaning Gazeta Wyborcza, which is often critical of the conservative Kaczynski, interpreted a memo by Obama’s top foreign policy advisers Tony Lake and Susan Rice as a reaction to that conversation.

As reported by Politico, in the memo sent out to all of Obama’s foreign policy advisers, Lake and Rice wrote: “We ask each of you please do not under any circumstances speak to the press, any foreign officials, or embassies on behalf of the transition or President-elect Obama. (…) It would be highly damaging for foreign government or media to receive information that they believe falsely to represent the views of the President-elect.”


The Democrats and Pakistan

Senator Joe Biden set the stage last week for a renewed US focus on Pakistan and Afghanistan if Barack Obama makes it to the White House this fall. The vice presidential nominee, in his acceptance speech at Denver’s Pepsi Center on August 27, called the, “resurgence of fundamentalism,” in Afghanistan and Pakistan, “the real central front against terrorism.” He mentioned Pakistan – which Washington considers a crucial ally in the “war against terror” – three times, and gave broad indications that US policy for that region could undergo some fundamental changes under an Obama administration.


Barack Obama and Joe Biden at the Democratic National Convention. Photo by Ka Chan

“I’ve been on the ground in Georgia, Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan, and I can tell you in no uncertain terms: this administration’s policy has been an abject failure. America cannot afford four more years of this,” the six-term Delaware Senator said. The Bush Administration has often been criticized by the media and leading Democrats, Biden included, for its Musharraf-centric policy for eight years during which Pakistan received more than $10-billion in US aid.

Biden called the Bush Administration’s foreign policy “catastrophic” and chided McCain’s vision as a continuation of Bush policies. He mentioned a troop surge as a necessary step to defeat the resurgent Taliban and Al-Qaeda. “The fact is, Al-Qaida and the Taliban—the people who actually attacked us on 9/11—have regrouped in those mountains between Afghanistan and Pakistan and are plotting new attacks. And the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff echoed Barack’s call for more troops.”

Obama too, in his acceptance speech a day later, identified two key foreign policy objectives: “I will end this war in Iraq responsibly, and finish the fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan.” The Biden-Obama strategy is expected to include a US troop surge in Afghanistan and renewed pressure on Pakistan.

The future administration in Washington will have to deal with old realities and new players in Pakistan. The nation of 167 million people is mired in abject poverty, increasing lawlessness, insurgency and political turmoil after the recent resignation of President Pervez Musharraf. The United States will have to build Pakistan’s capacity to stave off political, institutional and economic meltdown by offering greater military and economic aid and supporting democratic forces, without taking sides in Pakistan’s internal politics.

Though the Bush Administration has been adjusting to the changed ground realities in Islamabad, it is still too early to say much about the extent of cooperation the US will receive from Islamabad’s new rulers in the war against terror.

With former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League party sitting on the opposition benches and public sensitivity to US policy toward the region at its peak, Pakistan’s government will find it hard to sell the war on terror to the nation’s legislature. Already, many Pakistanis are upset by Barack Obama’s promise of unilateral strikes on Pakistani territory to root out terrorists – a position he has changed in recent weeks. Now Obama promises to honor Pakistan’s sovereignty, but suspicions among Pakistanis are so deep that many still believe the Illinois Senator might simply be playing to the voters’ ahead of the November election.

Musharraf’s exit thus could be a setback for US war efforts in the region. However, the change in Pakistani leadership also offers a rare opportunity. Washington can rebuild its relations with Islamabad, as has been proposed by Joe Biden repeatedly, by investing more in the people of Pakistan, in the economy, in the social infrastructure and in democratic institutions.

Jehangir Khattak is a US-based Pakistani journalist, and can be reached at mjehangir@aol.com

Obama Softens on Pakistan. A Pakistani journalist asks why?

Barack Obama’s trip to active combat theaters around the world has raised an important question: Is Obama having after-thoughts about his hard line policy for dealing with Pakistan, or has he changed his views to accommodate the on-the-ground realities he found on a maiden visit to one of toughest terrains of the world?

On his visit to Afghanistan, Obama sounded a more conciliatory tone towards Pakistan in contrast to his previous advocacy for unilateral military strikes on actionable intelligence inside Pakistani territory. Instead of encouraging US incursions inside Pakistan’s restive Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), Obama says he would like to work with the government in Islamabad, “to root out terrorist camps on the Pakistani territory.”

In an interview on the CBS Evening News, Obama refused to advocate unilateral military action on targets inside Pakistani territory. Instead, he recognized the need for greater cooperation with Pakistan. He admitted that the US could not solve the security problems in Afghanistan without engaging Pakistan. Obama said the US should use its military and economic assistance to persuade Pakistan to act against the insurgents. He did not repeat his earlier talk of making military aid to Islamabad conditional on Pakistan’s performance in the “war on terror.” He also did not spell out the tools he would use as Commander-in-Chief to “press Pakistan hard” to fall in line with US policy and go after terrorist targets inside its territory. (more…)

Letter from America

America on Road to Verdict – A Split One

(This article was originally written for Defence Journal)

By Jehangir Khattak

defence logo

Pakistan has frequently been mentioned by almost all the candidates from both sides of the political divide. Unfortunately, Pakistan’s name has never been mentioned in a manner that would make most Pakistanis proud. The candidates cite the example of Pakistan while discussing the rising threat of religious extremism in different parts of the world. The candidates’ strong rhetoric in their plans to “deal” with Pakistan has attracted at times pretty strong reaction from Pakistan’s Foreign Office. While politicians like Mike Huckabee lack international vision, their foreign policy outlook remains a guessing game. And whenever they spoke on international issues, those were nothing short of gaffes.

The assassination of Pakistan’s former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, on December 27, 2007, was the first major incident that evoked response from all the presidential candidates. The candidates’ varying responses exposed their command on foreign policy. So striking were these responses that top American dailies like The Washington Post wrote a special editorial on them under the caption “The Pakistan Test.” These reactions not only demonstrated the candidates’ understanding or otherwise of international issues, but also their ability to handle them. The astonishingly naïve reaction came from none else but Mike Huckabee who wanted a crackdown on illegal immigrants from Pakistan in the United States following BB’s assassination. His unimaginative approach did not end here. He, in the course of his comments, tried to make his audience believe that Pakistan is still under martial law.

Equally disappointing was Senator Barak Obama who has so far treaded a tough line on Pakistan. Obama has time and again expressed his resolve to hit terrorist targets, if any, on Pakistani soil without seeking Islamabad’s permission. Obama’s somewhat unilateralist approach towards Pakistan is in virtual contrast to his international outlook which advocates more inclusiveness and greater openness. Unlike the current Republican administration’s policy of not negotiating with its foes, Obama is promising talks with countries like Iran. In Pakistan’s case, Obama, who is promising change in Washington, is propagating something that would maintain status quo in the American line of thinking. Former Director George Tenet, in his latest book At the Center of the Storm, best explains this thinking. He says, “…we must not fall prey to typical American impatience and rush into ‘solutions’ that only make matters worse.” The Illinois Senator’s assertions on Pakistan have disappointed and even antagonized many of his Pakistani-American admirers.