Foreign Policy Blogs

How Pres. Obama's State of the Union Address Bears on Pakistan

President Barack Obama delivered his second State of the Union Address on Tuesday.  Foreign policy did not top the agenda. Instead, as expected, the speech was heavy on domestic policy–even as an important election has swung past American politics, there’s one just around the corner.  Indeed, foreign policy seemed to have sprung up in President Obama’s speech only as a way of parrying the moves of his Republican opponents.  Nothing substantive was promised in the foreign policy arena, no declaration of some unimpeachable victory won.

President Barack Obama aligned his notes on foreign policy to reflect America’s moves against her reigning existential enemy : al Qaeda.  But the story he delivered was one of alighting good news.  He seemed ill-prepared to offer Americans a dose of the real politics actually transpiring in Central Asia and the Subcontinent.  Indeed, President Obama seemed little interested in drawing out the numerous facets of the quagmire that the U.S. military and foreign establishment actually faces on the ground.

Here’s what President Obama said:

“In Pakistan, al Qaeda’s leadership is under more pressure than at any point since 2001. Their leaders and operatives are being removed from the battlefield. Their safe-havens are shrinking. And we have sent a message from the Afghan border to the Arabian Peninsula to all parts of the globe: we will not relent, we will not waver, and we will defeat you.”

What he failed to mention, of course, was that a more decentralized al Qaeda is now based in Pakistan.  Moreover given Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, of the two neighbors across the Hindu Kush, Pakistan is the more important country for U.S. foreign policy.  He might have said that if we were to turn a serious eye toward U.S. foreign policy needs and goals, the U.S is simply mired in a useless war in Afghanistan.

Mr. Obama failed to mention that the U.S and its NATO allies know little about what is actually going on within the al Qaeda contingent based in Pakistan.  He failed to mention that al Qaeda runs its operations right alongside the Taliban and that the Taliban in Pakistan are still aligned with the Pakistani military. That there might be an exploitable rift between al Qaeda and the Taliban matters little since neither the U.S. nor NATO has figured out how to exploit any such rift.

Nor was there any mention of the fact that the even though the Pakistani military has recently moved against the Pakistani contingent of the Taliban– a disparate coterie of insurgents who have aligned together under the tag of Tehrik-e-Taliban– Pakistan seems ill-suited to act against those home trained insurgent groups that are attacking American soldiers in Afghanistan. Moreover, given that the U.S. is not officially at war with or in Pakistan (the distinction though absurd, matters), that the military in Pakistan is trying to move against the Tehrik-e-Taliban can hardly be a winning talking point in official U.S. foreign policy.

Finally, President Obama was silent on the most important issue of all: our ally in Pakistan.  Who is it? What is it?  The government? The military?  Perhaps this is beyond the scope of a political rundown of the coming politics in America but, quite frankly, this may be the point of contention that hobbles nearly every facet of President Obama’s foreign policy. It bears mentioning that the most important CIA station is the one based in Pakistan.  The CIA station chief’s cover was recently blown(quite likely the work of the Pakistani military) and he left Pakistan. This can’t have been good for U.S foreign policy in Pakistan.

Pakistan remains a  nuclear-armed country and there remain outstanding questions about who actually runs the country’s nuclear capability, the secular government or the increasingly Islamist military. The secular government is weak and for all intents and purposes it has been deposed by the military since the devastating summer floods.  The military is , of course, the once and present backer of the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan.  This is so now and if it remains so, how can President Obama square that circle?  How can be retrieve himself, his government and his country out of Afghanistan without hobbling Pakistan and its military?  And if he is able to do so by defanging the Pakistani military, how can he secure Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal against a marauding Islamist insurgency?



Faheem Haider
Faheem Haider

Faheem Haider is a political analyst, writer and artist. He holds advanced research degrees in political economy, political theory and the political economy of development from the London School of Economics and Political Science and New York University. He also studied political psychology at Columbia University. During long stints away from his beloved Washington Square Park, he studied peace and conflict resolution and French history and European politics at the American University in Washington DC and the University of Paris, respectively.

Faheem has research expertise in democratic theory and the political economy of democracy in South Asia. In whatever time he has to spare, Faheem paints, writes, and edits his own blog on the photographic image and its relationship to the political narrative of fascist, liberal and progressivist art.

That work and associated writing can be found at the following link:

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