Magazine article Foreign Policy in Focus

Be Ahead of the Pack

Magazine article Foreign Policy in Focus

Be Ahead of the Pack

Article excerpt

July 14, 2008

Here's a tip on how to sound smart on foreign policy.

When your friends are talking about the Iraq War, shake your head and look very somber. "The real problem," you inform them, "is Iran. That's the next battlefield."

Okay, people have been talking about Iran for several years now. And, according to Seymour Hersh, not only are we already conducting a low-intensity war over there, the Democrats last year approved a no-longer-secret escalation of those activities. So you have to be prepared to deal with their smug, oh-yes-we-know-all-about-that look. "But while everyone is looking at Iran," you say, after shaking your head again and looking even more somber. "The real problem is Afghanistan. That's the problem that everyone is missing."

But suppose they're already talking about Afghanistan, because maybe not everyone is missing this problem after two consecutive months of casualty figures worse than Iraq and the attack this week that left nine U.S. soldiers dead. If reference to Afghanistan doesn't get them, then you should stroke your chin and say very quietly, "The real problem is Pakistan. That's the real mess."

By this point, the Sunday morning news programs should be calling for your expert commentary. But let's say that you have well-read friends and they're already talking about Pakistan. And didn't President Bush acknowledge that Pakistan, not Iraq or Afghanistan, would be the biggest challenge for his successor? So now you have to switch gears and fall back on your last gambit. It's time to try outrage. "The real problem," you inform them, "are not the rogue operations out there in Pakistan or Afghanistan. The problem is here: in Dickistan. It's Dick Cheney's office. That's the lawless province causing all the havoc."

But let's go back to the real world for a moment and the issue of Pakistan. There's much talk these days about the Taliban and al-Qaeda and other militant organizations plotting all sorts of mayhem in Pakistan's version of the Wild West: the areas that border Afghanistan. U.S. officials are concerned that the new civilian government in Pakistan is so eager to cut a deal with these militants that it's willing to look the other way at their cross-border operations in Afghanistan. And the Pakistani government is none too pleased about the cross-border operations conducted by the U.S. military, including the air strike last month that killed 11 Pakistani soldiers.

Surely the Pakistanis themselves are concerned about the resurgent Taliban, the elusive bin Laden, and the potential of frontier chaos spreading throughout the country.

Not so, says FPIF columnist Zia Mian. "When asked who was most responsible for violence in Pakistan today," he writes about a recent poll in Pakistan's American Problem, "over 50% of Pakistanis blame the United States. About 10% blame respectively India and the Pakistan army (and ISI). The Pakistani Taliban was blamed by less than 5%."

Indeed, while extremist violence is certainly a problem in Pakistan, it isn't a central preoccupation, reports FPIF contributor Fouad Pervez. "On my recent trip to Pakistan, every conversation veered toward one of four issues. These topics also fill most news broadcasts and top the headlines in every newspaper. Pakistanis talk about these issues on the streets, in the markets, and at the masjids," he writes in The Real Crisis in Pakistan. …

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