Monday, April 30, 2012

Summary of the Situation

Let's take a step back.  It is important to periodically emerge from immersion in the pool of politics and intrigue, shake off the excess propaganda and barb-slinging, and dry oneself off in the warm embrace of self-reflection and thought.

Let's outline what's happening in the region:
  • Ongoing conflict in Syria; more violence; seemingly failed ceasefire; frustrations from inaction.
  • Islamists in Egypt, with disqualified candidates aplenty; Mandated secularism in politics in Libya; and more-of-the-same in Tunisia.  All relatively quiet in Morocco, Jordan, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia.
  • Continued, often bloody, protests in Bahrain.
  • Fruitful talks between the US and Iran.  Less chance that World War III will break out.  Less vitriolic shouts from extremists in the US and Israel.
  • Continued soured relations between the US and Pakistan.  Pakistan says "no more drones", and the US responds with more drones.
  • Afghanistan is in limbo, with a recent high-profile Taliban attack in Kabul, and a US president looking for an honorable exit.
From the outlook of US policy, what common themes can we identify?  Well, not many.  The US approach is on a case-by-case basis.  Example: support the Syrian opposition, don't support the Bahraini opposition.  Both wish for more rights, less oppression, etc.  However, the US doesn't have a fleet stationed in Syria-- it does have one in Bahrain.

The US/Pakistan relationship is much like my relationship with my last girlfriend: we're just on different levels.  We don't want the same things, and those things that we do want we want to acquire in different ways.  Can the US breakup with Pakistan, but still be friends?  Friends with benefits, maybe?  It can happen.  But-- and this is no reflection on my ex-- Pakistan has "issues" that it needs to resolve before it can develop meaningful relationships.  Namely, the courts and the executive have to play nice with each other, and the ISI needs to learn how to share, and there's high-level corruption, and... never mind.

Concerning Pakistan, my thoughts are that the US has to stop dangling the military assistance carrot and instead focus on civilian development.  Brandishing the stick won't help either.  In essence, the US has to fundamentally change the way it has been dealing with Pakistan for the past 30 years (since Zia, at least).  No more guns and bombs.  Pakistan has got plenty of those (and just tested a nuclear-capable missile last week).  What Pakistan lacks, and what the US wants, is the desire to stop militants from attacking the Afghani and Pakistani government and people.  That's the issue.  Listen, Pakistan isn't going to change overnight, and the US can't simply abandon it either.  Therefore, pick a strategy and a goal and go for it.  Giving guns isn't the right strategy, and it isn't going to attain the desired goal either.

Before this turns into a dissertation, let's conclude with a broad summary: Multilateralism and regional groups are playing the leading role in ongoing developments.  The US has, and should continue, to pay attention to that information.  Overall, less is more.  Overexposure and over deployment is expensive, dangerous, and harmful to all.  The US needs to pick its battles carefully-- and I use "battles" figuratively.  Hopefully it stays that way.

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