Reviewing American security strategy

This Article was published in
The Frontier Post (June 26, 2010)
Pakistan Observer (June 27, 2010)

By Sahibzada Hussain Mohi-ud-Din Qadri

The election of Democratic candidate, Barack Obama, to the US presidency in 2008 signaled a change in the American foreign policy. During his election campaign, President Obama made all the right vibes and touched the relevant chords. His election slogan, change, inspired hopes among the Americans at home and the millions of people in the rest of the world who looked in Obama’s person a deliverer. The US president’s maiden speech after oath-taking and his subsequent address in Cairo promised the beginning of a new chapter with the Muslim world ‘based on shared values and common interests’. Obama acknowledged that the relations between US and the Muslims had touched all time low under President Bush and there was a need to reverse the tide in the greater interest of global peace and harmony in the world.

Underscoring the importance of giving State Department a superior role over the hawkish Pentagon, President Obama appointed his two special envoys for Pakistan-Afghanistan and the Middle East. In a marked departure from the Bush era’s national security strategy, which was characterized by the policy of preemption, the Obama administration has come up with a new strategy. The 31-page National Security Strategy Paper of the Bush era identified the potential areas of threat to the US. ‘The regions where technology and fundamentalism met’ were put on the hot spot of the US security calculus. “We cannot defend America and our friends by hoping for the best…In the new world we have entered, the only path to peace and security is the path of action,” said the Bush era’s NSS document.

In a manifest contrast to this military-led doctrine of the Bush administration, the new National Security Strategy (NSS) of President Obama is conciliatory in tone and realistic in substance. It reiterates the US’ commitment to ideals of free market economy, liberalism and democracy. ‘To succeed, we must face the world as it is,” is the opening line of the document. The new NSS recognizes the fact that it is not within the control of a single country to shape the global order and that Washington would pursue rule-based international system in cooperation with the rest of the world. Thus the policy of preemption stands replaced by that of engagement. “While the use of force is sometimes necessary, we will exhaust other options before war whenever we can, and carefully weigh the costs and risks of action against the costs and risks of the inaction,” says the report. ‘Enlightened self-interest’ has been marked as the basis of engagement with the world.

In order to ensure the US supremacy, the new NSS emphasizes the importance of economy. The current fiscal deficit of $ 1.5 trillion spells a danger to the US economy and there is a strong realization that this burgeoning fiscal deficit needs be narrowed down. In other words, it calls for reversing the policy of ‘outreach’, that is responsible for ever increasing public spending on wars outside the US. The exact amount that the industrial-military complex under President managed to spend on its Iraq and Afghanistan misadventures is simply staggering. The situation becomes even more hostile in the wake of the global recession that hit the US and entire Europe and from whose aftermath the world including the US has yet to recover fully.

Another area of departure from the rotten policies of the Bush era is the acknowledgement that militant organizations who are engaged in a fight with the world community do not represent political Islam. The fact that no religion including Islam sanctions violence against anyone is welcome. While defeating and dismantling Al-Qaeda and its affiliates remains the major US goal, the report identifies Pakistan and Afghanistan as the core of the terrorist organization. In order to accomplish its declared objective, the incumbent US administration seeks to diversity the ambit of its engagement with Islamabad encompassing several areas.

The Pak-US Strategic Dialogue, whose status has been upgraded to the level of foreign ministers, represents an effort from both sides to concretize the relationship. While the military aspect of the relationship continues to remain important, it is the cooperation in non-military areas that is the chief highlight and matter of immense importance.

All in all, the new National Security Strategy Report seeks to make amends for the policy failures of last eight years of the Bush era. However, the real challenge lies in turning the intent into policy action. Obama’s performance during his stint in power falls short of the needful. Other than stabilizing the US economy in the aftermath of the global crunch, the US president does not any feather to his cap in the realm of foreign policy. The Middle East continues to burn with Israel choosing to violate the international law with abandon. Islamabad and New Delhi are still locked in a position of no dialogue. Afghanistan is as volatile as it was on Obama’s taking over of the presidency. What options Pakistan has in the fast-changing situation after the launching of new NSS is the subject I plan to write on in my next column.

(The writer is Australia-based PhD candidate)