Friday, August 15, 2008

Obama's Magic Wand

One of the many long-ignored realities in the Afghanistan theater is the continuing support of the ISI for Islamic militants, both in the FATA and Kashmir, which has endured for decades as a buffer against Indian influence in the region. Because Bush is only capable of seeing things in terms of absolutes, Musharraf and the Pakistani military were never confronted on their double dealing, and the problem was allowed to fester.

Now, both presidential candidates have announced plans to send a couple more brigades in, yet still have not addressed any of the central inhibitions of progress. Obama, in keeping with his sorcerer theme, is convinced that he can succeed in getting Pakistan and India to put their decades-long enmity behind them, thus eliminating the need for supporting Islamic militants and leading to a general aura of good tidings and cheer in the region. A farcical foreign policy promise if ever there was one.

Obama is a capable speaker to be sure, but wooing scores of college freshmen is not the same as ending generational conflict between neighboring nuclear powers. Unless he has a plan for Kashmir which would satisfy both sides up his sleeve, the mere suggestion of easing tensions to the point he suggests is lunacy. Especially now.

The latest crisis in Kashmir has turned that logic on its head. After a dispute over land snowballed into some of the biggest protests since a separatist revolt erupted in 1989, India and Pakistan are back at each other’s throats, hurling allegations at each other. Rather than asking whether the two countries can be persuaded to make a durable peace, the question now is how bad the relationship can get. “India-Pakistan relations are getting perilously close to ground zero,” writes former Indian diplomat M.K. Bhadrakumar in an Asia Times article.

Add in the domestic political instability in Pakistan, and relations between India and Pakistan have probably not been so combustible since they declared a ceasefire on the Line of Control dividing Kashmir in November 2003.

In other words, the plan is dead on arrival. That would be a problem for Obama if the American electorate were the slightest bit concerned about actual policy details, but un-fortified platitudes pass for foreign policy in the world of campaigning, which begs the question: What have we learned in the last eight years?

The last eight years have seen a disastrous foreign policy predicated on the same empty rhetoric, which, while different in tone, was still based entirely on the premise that no one would examine it too closely. We've witnessed the calamity wrought by a foreign policy long on promises and ideas but short on tactical details and historical literacy. We don't need four more.

McCain's bluster is easy to spot, a feat helped in no small part by his proclivity for uttering absurdities detectable by even the most geographically and culturally illiterate among us. Obama, though, has succeeded in dressing his foreign policy up in enough of a disguise that it comes off as deeper than it actually is. He understands the workings of the world infinitely better than McCain, but at the root, his foreign policy would be less a break from the typical American fare than we'd like to pretend.

One would be hard-pressed to find any variance between Bush, McCain, and Obama on the topic of Georgia, just as Obama's Afghanistan policy is largely mirrored by McCain's. What is clear, is that once in office, Obama will most likely settle into the same refrain seen for the last century in American foreign policy: A huge rhetorical structure of freedom and democracy all standing on a shaky foundation of ignorance of the realities of foreign lands.

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