Not So 'Smart Power': WSJ

Not So 'Smart Power'
Congress sticks a gratuitous thumb in Pakistan's eye.
Wall Street Journal, October 15, 2009

This is said to be the age of "smart power," when the U.S. uses diplomacy and foreign aid, not force of arms, to advance its interests. This must not take into account the room-temperature diplomatic IQs on Capitol Hill.

At the request of President Obama, Congress voted last month to triple American aid to Pakistan to $7.5 billion over five years. The Kerry-Lugar bill signals America's commitment to Pakistan, which we want to help us defeat the Taliban and al Qaeda along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. This should have been an easy diplomatic win—until some of the 435 Secretaries of State in the House decided to make their own Pakistan policy.

The House approved the aid with conditions, and Foreign Affairs Chairman Howard Berman demanded that they stay in the final bill. The California Democrat was backed by Gary Ackerman, Jane Harman and the 152-strong India caucus in the House, who wanted to send Pakistan their own message. None of the contentious language was in the Senate version, and the Administration and these columns warned Congress to keep it out.

For good reason, as subsequent events show. Pakistan's military, media and opposition parties have seized on the House language to attack America's supposed designs on the country. The government of President Asif Zardari, which backed the aid and wants closer ties with the U.S., finds itself on the back foot. Recent gains toward strengthening civilian rule and fighting the Taliban are in jeopardy.

Congress insisted that the Secretary of State certify that Pakistan's government exercises "effective civilian control over the military." The bill also demands "a sustained commitment" against Islamic terrorism, particularly against the Taliban hotbed of Quetta and the anti-Indian Lashkar-i-Taiba terror group's seat in Muridke. These conditions aren't binding. They're merely a gratuitous thumb in the eye of Pakistani national pride.

At a meeting presided over by military head General Ashfaq Kayani, the Pakistan army's corps commanders last week issued a démarche to the civilian government that the bill violates Pakistani sovereignty. The opposition led by Nawaz Sharif, a former premier with Islamist leanings, joined in the strike in parliament. As hard as the Nobel chorus may find it to believe, President Obama's ascension hasn't magically rid the world of anti-Americanism. Pakistan's politics is especially combustible and U.S. influence is brittle.

Pakistanis also remember the Pressler Amendment of the 1990s, which barred military-to-military contacts in response to Pakistan's development of the nuclear bomb. This only reduced U.S. sway in Islamabad and meant that a generation of Pakistani officers had little contact with the U.S. in their formative years, coloring their views today. General Kayani, by contrast, still speaks fondly of the year he spent at Fort Leavenworth.

In his defense, Mr. Berman says, "This is a created crisis, by people who either haven't read the bill or don't want to describe it accurately, and whose goal is either to destabilize [Pakistan's] government, or challenge some of the Pakistani military's priorities." He has a point, but Pakistanis hold no monopoly on political immaturity. Mr. Ackerman issued a release "denouncing" the response in Pakistan, saying, "If Pakistan doesn't want us as a partner, that's up to them." In other words, if we lose Pakistan, so be it.

Smart power can't work if it's wielded by a confederacy of dunces.


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