Should an Obama-Biden administration take office in January
2009, their top foreign policy priority will have to focus on the situation in
Iraq, which has consumed U.S. lives, treasure, military readiness, and
credibility. They will also need to address the derivative strategic dilemmas
that have both resulted from and compounded the situation in Iraq, including a resurgent Iran, a
reconstituted al-Qaeda, and an Arab-Israeli peace process unraveling by the
hour. But though the U.S.
might seem consumed with the strategic quagmire in the Middle East, it would be
wise to simultaneously attend to the risks and potential opportunities that lay
waiting in South Asia.
Speaking at a conference Denver,
Colorado, Dean Anne-Marie Slaughter of the Woodrow Wilson
School at Princeton
University suggested resurrecting the
antiquated State Department concept of India
as part of the Middle East in order to ordain
it a strategic anchor that could shoulder greater regional responsibility. The
current administration, with the support of Senators Barack Obama and Joe
Biden, has pursued this objective partially through brokering the US-India
nuclear deal. The deal seeks to remove obstacles to a strategic partnership
that would allow for greater security cooperation on vital regional issues as
well as provide a measure of geopolitical pluralism while China rises as
a leading global power.
Since the nuclear deal recently cleared the Indian
parliament and the Nuclear Supplier's Group by a hair's breadth, the next round
will require significant political capital and hand-holding of the U.S.
Congress and the Indian government to reassure skeptics and finalize the deal,
a task akin to herding cats. Since Congress is unlikely to approve this before
they break for recess at the end of September, an Obama/Biden administration
would have to be committed from day one to get this through. Valid concerns
still remain over the bill such as the vagueness of language and ambiguity over
future testing. Ultimately, it is in the interest of both parties to secure a
deal that appears to bolster rather than undermine the nuclear nonproliferation
regime. Even India
is concerned about proliferation and its cascading effect, particularly in its
Despite the promise of this deal, U.S.-India relations
cannot operate in a vacuum as the U.S.
faces a greater challenge (and simultaneous opportunity) in Pakistan. The
current administration has thus far compartmentalized its India and Pakistan policies when in fact they
need to be linked to a broader regional strategy. Vice presidential candidate
Sen. Biden has suggested that Pakistan
poses the "real" front in the war on terror. While this is true, it has been
poorly conceptualized, obscured due to a myopic focus on Afghanistan,
counterterrorism tactics, and the Pakistani military as the sole interlocutors
To reconcile these tensions, the United States first needs to ditch
the "war on terror" trope that has been roundly criticized for being
strategically bankrupt and inviting both regional backlash and legal dilemmas.
Instead, the U.S. should
adopt what the former Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry described
at the Democratic National Convention in Denver
-- a strategy of global counterinsurgency. Because counterinsurgency, as
described by leading military theorists and practitioners, is 80 percent
nonmilitary, the concept places a premium on political efforts to win over
populations by addressing grievances and providing economic relief and
Next, the approach to Pakistan requires three principal
tactics: 1) work closely with the Pakistan military, which continues to be one
of the most professional and efficient institutions in Pakistan, to build
long-term cooperation and support for the U.S. military; 2) refrain from taking
political sides at the ballot box that compromises our brand, our long-term
relationship, and invariably becomes the embrace of death for any Pakistani
politicians; and 3) seriously start to invest in Pakistani people and
institutions for the long term with much greater economic support for
education, employment, and infrastructure development to afford the average
Pakistani a real stake in the U.S. relationship. Sen. Biden proposed last fall
for building real prospects (particularly in the poorer frontier provinces) to combat
listlessness and disenfranchisement, but now his charge as vice president will
be to turn that into a reality.
An outside the box maneuver would be to bring the Saudi
government into the process of Pakistani development as they also have a
long-term stake in combating the extremism that seeks to topple their regime.
The Saudis have a spotty record in Pakistan
with their track record of funding the mujahideen and radicalizing madrassas
(though often aided and abetted by the U.S.). However, the Saudis have a
credibility in Pakistan that
lacks. The reformist, internationalist King Abdullah has been deploying Saudi
wealth from the recent oil boom into education, employment, and infrastructure
investments throughout the Middle East, and
might welcome the prospect of a joint U.S.-Saudi program to invest in the
Pakistani development agenda.
Finally, because the strategic opportunities and dilemmas in
India and Pakistan are
tethered to each other, they must be approached in a comprehensive fashion. As
is often said of the Middle East, one cannot address security problems in South Asia a la carte, and in this case, the path to
dealing with both is by working to orchestrate an Indo-Pakistan peace deal.
Such a move would quell the ever-looming threat of an escalatory nuclear
exchange and alter the strategic calculus that currently incents the Pakistani
military to provide some material support to the Taliban and other radical
elements for strategic depth. Though the cause of the Indo-Pakistan peace process
was brought further along by former Pakistani President Musharraf, the U.S. has not
actively championed this front since President Clinton. A President Obama would
be wise to send a Vice President Biden to begin the work on this comprehensive
framework in South Asia.
One quick way to jump-start the Indo-Pakistan peace process
early in an Obama administration would be to drop U.S.
objections to the proposed Iran-Pakistan-India natural gas pipeline,
stalled in part due to U.S.
pressure on India.
This could be leveraged in exchange for some further concessions on the
India nuclear deal while propping India up as a regional stabilizer in
the Middle East. And the more the U.S.
does to foster positive relations between Iran
and its neighbors, the more likely it is to allay fears of strategic
encirclement, particularly by nuclear states, which in part feeds
In the end, a U.S.
long-term engagement in South Asia is the only way to meet pressing strategic
objectives related to the Middle East and
misnamed "War on Terror." Engagement on strategic cooperation,
politico-economic institutional development, and the peace process is the chief
interest of all parties in the region. But the primary inhibitor to this
virtuous cycle of cooperation will be if this is viewed as a zero-sum game
rather than a win-win proposition. If an Obama administration takes office in
January, the Indian and Pakistani governments need to rise above their
political infighting and meet the U.S. halfway to inaugurate a new
round of regional stability.