Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Obama, Pakistan & Missile-Strike Diplomacy

Growing anger in Pakistan over US missile strikes

Yesterday, buried beneath news of shoe-throwing Iraqi journalists and Illinois political shenanigans, the AP displayed what has become an all too-familiar headline: US Missile Strike Suspected in 2 Deaths. Whether its missile strikes or military commandos, the casual invasion of Pakistani territory to fight America's "War on Terror" has become routinely commonplace. As the ritual goes, the US denies involvement but at the same time hails the killing of some key Taliban leader or international terrorist; the Pakistani government lodges a formal complaint about its sovereingty, yet its thought elements in its intelligence service (ISI) are working with the CIA; and (what is disputed by no one) civilian casualities and the destruction of civilian infrastructure takes place amidst whatever "victories" are won. Such collateral damage in what might be called the "Israeli counter-terrorism approach" is accepted as normal.

In this recent event, the AP notes the following:

The latest suspected U.S. strike set a house on fire, said Ajab Khan, a village resident who went to the scene. He said he saw two bodies brought out and three wounded people taken away in a vehicle. Suspected Taliban militants surrounded the house, Khan said — a common occurrence after such strikes.

Since August, there have been well over 30 of these attacks. And even if one or two actual "suspected taliban militants" are killed, so are regular people in these regions--who now live in constant terror of death from the skies at any moment. No independent account has been made of just who is killed by these strikes, or how many. In mid Nov. a strike killed some 13 people. The US, in their non-denial type denial, claims they were militants. The local people say many were just civilians. The truth? Who can say for certain. That's the problem with these types of policies. And sometimes, they go wrong--as in early June when a missile strike killed some 11 Pakistani soldiers.

To be certain, there is a certain grey area between sovereignty and dealing with non-state actors. However, despite such thorny technical aspects of international law, these continued incursions have hardly won any hearts and minds in the area, and some analysts have blamed such a ham-fisted approach for driving many into the growing Taliban insurgency. Others warn that each such act on the part of the US only destabilizes Pakistan's already weak government, a dangerous situation for a fledgeling nuclear power, who looks impotent as its supposed US ally continuously invades and bombs its population. Reacting to popular resentment at home, in Sept. Pakistani troops actually opened fire on approaching US commandos. The US forces turned back, lest some embarrassing international incident occur between these "allies."

Of course, at first glance, many may shake their heads and point yet again to another screw-up of the Bush administration. The only problem is, the recent president-elect signed up for this controversial policy as well.

As far back as early Aug 2007, Obama stated that he would be willing to attack inside Pakistan with or without approval from the Pakistani government. "If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won't act," Obama stated, "we will." Just shortly after this statement, the US missile attacks and commando raids into Pakistan began in earnest.

Of course, no one is suggesting any direct link to Obama's statement and the Bush White House's foreign policy decisions. But it did place the then presidential candidate, looking to sound tough on terror, into a position where he could never condemn the attacks. While not condoning them either, he nevertheless stuck by his earlier assertion that he'd do somewhat the same thing. The only difference to be teased out was that he was talking specifically about "high-value terrorist targets," while the Bush administration seems to be going after anyone they get a scent on. Though, in the eyes of many in Pakistan who were shaken by Obama's statement, not certain such delicate differences amount to a great deal. It's uncertain what the new administration's stance will be towards Pakistan, and whether this missile-strike diplomacy will continue. Hopefully "change we can believe in" includes a more sensible approach.

Related article below:

Obama's Pakistan Problem: "No We Can't!"

Whether ordained by God, the crusade against communism or the Global War on Terror, many Americans believe we have a mandate to police the world, hold dominion over its supply of oil and natural gas and lead the way in whatever way we happen to be leading at the time. John F. Kennedy and his New Frontiersmen believed all this as they escalated their terrible war of choice in Southeast Asia. George W. Bush and his neoincompetents still believe they pursued America's destiny in Iraq. And, from their writing and speeches, Barack Obama and his national security team believe no less strongly in America's calling to put the world right.

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