[Posted by Karl]
Slate’s Fred Kaplan follows the Obama Administration approach of slamming Fmr. Pres. Bush to make Pres. Obama look better, this time regarding Pakistan:
We finally have a president who grasps what needs to be done about Afghanistan and Pakistan. The frightening thing is that much of what needs to be done lies beyond the scope of American power.
President Barack Obama realizes, to a degree that George W. Bush never did, that the two countries can’t be dealt with separately, that the threats facing each are intertwined. He recognizes that Pakistan is central to the entire region’s security and that its fate will affect Afghanistan far more than vice versa. He understands that political and economic development are at least as decisive as military strength. His special envoy, Richard Holbrooke, has assembled a team of advisers who know the complexities of South Asian politics as deeply as anyone. Yet despite all this knowledge and insight, there’s only so much that the United States can affect, much less control (and most of the major players know this, too).
In reality, Pres. Bush made Pakistan a priority as early as September 13, 2001. Indeed, Kaplan is later forced to concede as much:
In short, we can send Pakistanis money, arms, handbooks, and the like. But we can’t make them do what they say they’re going to do or even effectively monitor whether they’re doing it. Bush sent $10 billion to then-President Pervez Musharraf, who pledged that he would use the aid to go after the terrorists. For the most part, he didn’t.
During the 2008 campaign, Obama talked tough and was eager to replace Musharraf with a more democratic govenment. It was obvious, even then, that the ostensibly liberal, secular, middle-class Pakistani opposition outside the Sharif and Bhutto-led blocs was small and splintered. This is why a 2007 survey of top national security thinkers from both sides of aisle had no consensus regarding US-Pakistan policy (note that these same experts generally thought the “surge” in Iraq was having a negative impact).
Now, Obama must deal with the new Pakistani government, which is (if anything) at least as ineffectual on the war as the Musharraf regime was. That is likely because the problem in Pakistan is as much a problem of the Pakistaini military and Inter-Services Intelligence as it is the Taliban itself. Yet Obama is no more likely to pressure these institutions than Bush was, because of the nuclear issue, in both the short- and medium-term. Beyond the military and the ISI, there is the problem that even now, public opinion is deeply conflicted confronting the Taliban.
Ironically, slamming Bush and touting the wisdom of Obama in this situation does not help Obama. Pakistan is about the last place on Earth where Obama wants the expectations bar set anywhere above ground level.