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Pakistan Attack Upends Notion of Foreign Policy Success

The incident in Pakistan over the weekend, where NATO forces shot and killed two dozen Pakistani military forces, is an example of why the notion of a “successful” foreign policy from the Obama Administration leaves a lot out.

In essence, when people say that the President has “succeeded” in the foreign policy arena, they mean that he has succeeded in killing a lot of people, mainly suspected Al Qaeda and related suspected terrorists in countries across Asia and Africa. This “success” (and the fact that the US is struggling to find additional Al Qaeda targets suggests that there is at least a little success involved here) carries with it collateral damage of the type we saw in Pakistan over the weekend. And that carries its own foreign policy deficiencies. As Henry Kissinger counseled to Richard Nixon in 1969 when he wanted to bomb the entire Southeast Asia region into the Stone Age, “You don’t want countries mobilized against you as the butcher of the world.”

As it is, Pakistan is demanding that the US vacate Shamsi Air Base, a suspected drone base, within 15 days, and they have further cut supply lines from Pakistan to US and NATO troops into Afghanistan. But this is not really the major concern here. Supply lines have been routinely cut over the past few years in retaliation to US excesses and abuses, to the extent that the US has drastically reduced their reliance on that supply line and opened up a separate one through Central Asia that delivers over half of non-lethal supplies. Similarly, Shamsi Air Base has really already been shuttered for drone strikes, supposedly, though this demand adds the step that it be completely vacated.

The bigger issue is that this incident causes a total rupture of relations between the US and a large, nuclear-armed country that holds a large segment of the world’s extremist elements inside. Pakistan has not exactly been a model partner for the United States in the post-9/11 age, but shattering the relationship has more negative consequences for national security and foreign policy than the litany of drone strikes bring positives. It’s a classic example of blowback; the near-term advantage of dead terrorist suspects outweighed by the enormous enmity generated by the barrage of attacks.

The US disputes the facts of the attack, but traditionally this precedes an eventual apology. We have so destroyed the Pakistan relationship that it’s hard to unravel whether or not there’s anything worth salvaging. But it definitely makes the world a [worse] place to have that level of antagonism in a dangerous part of the world. That is anything but a success.

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David Dayen

David Dayen