Foreign Policy Blogs

Pakistan and President Obama's Tocquevillian Foreign Policy

President Obama’s first move in his speech at the State Department on U.S. diplomacy in the Middle East was to address directly and immediately the hunt for and death of Osama bin Laden.  He argued, forcefully, that bin Laden was not a martyr. Indeed he was anything but. The president reminded his domestic and international audience that bin Laden coaxed Muslims onto destroyings institutions, and lives instead of building something positive. Bin Laden was not interested in directing on, cheering on alternative visions to remedy the ills of the world; his call was to knock down the world at large.  Pakistanis would do tell to remember that, President Obama seemed to imply.

That said, his speech dealt with self-determination, now a clawed, clamored for value in the young, raging Muslim world.  He also spoke to the call for democratic de-centralization of power, especially as registered by a younger generation informed by social media and the travails of unemployment and rising food prices. At issue: moral dignity, and individual value and minority conceptions of individual value that many leaders in countries in the Middle East and other places, certainly South Asia, have not upheld. Indeed, many regimes associated with the United States have moved to actively suppress and, when called forth, repress calls for moral dignity and minority value.  How can America then speak for those values?

What role will America play in this call for individual value and dignity, when so much of the felt demands and derived wants in much of the Muslim world stand against so-called American interests? The young man and woman in Karachi holds America in low-esteem and there’s little that anyone can do to change that anytime soon. Yet ,President Obama argued that America truly has a sincere interest in the self-determination of the people in those same streets where masses might hold the opinion that America cares only about its “self-interest, narrowly understood”. Instead he offered a value of self-interest broadly aligned with Alexis de Toquevilles definition of “self-interest properly understood.”

America must henceforth bend a little to the demands of others in order to achieve the broader outlines of the goals that best serve its broader regional and security interests.  After all, it won’t do to have a whole generation of young men up at arms against American values and American calls on those values. Certainly the last ten years has taught many talented American politicians of just that fact. Indeed, even as the president offered his speech the restless people on the street in the Middle East still held the opinion that he’s gotten behind the Arab Spring far too late, and that he’s likely to stand with autocrats in the fight between democracy and oppression.

President Obama’s speech was designed and offered to deflect just that opinion. It might help that many in the Muslim world think the president is sincere in his commitments on democracy.  The son of a Muslim man, he enjoy greater good will in the region than the two men who most recently held his office.  That’s certainly a cache he can use to go some distance; certainly many might think that he’s interested in working with the Muslim world in good faith.  That may just be the start of a good friendship between partners who more than ever before need each other.  Though true of many countries in the Middle East, this has never been more true of the United States and Pakistan than is the case now.



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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