Wishing for Ponies

by Joshua Foust on 10/6/2008

What better way to describe this bi-partisan report on how to move forward in Pakistan? They want the U.S. to be smarter, better engaged, friendlier, perceived better, and able to direct its funds and influence in a way to perfectly meet U.S. interests.

I want a pony, too. Well, I don’t—the Ironman suit would suffice. But you get what I mean. This kind of report is the essence of Yglesias’ Green Lantern Theory of Geopolitics: if only we try hard enough, we can achieve perfect U.S. goals and never face any trade-offs! Let’s put these goals up side-by-side, and see how they really stack up.

  • Let’s! “Exhibit patience with Pakistan’s new democratically elected leaders.”
  • While Also… Demonstrating that U.S. patience is not unlimited, and is highly conditional.
  • I.E. Pressure them while expressing solidarity and thinking this will generate no reaction.
  • Let’s! Utilize “public diplomacy” to highlight U.S. and Pakistani interests in combating extremism and getting rich peacefully.
  • While Also… Not calling a fight against extremism a “Global War on Terror.”
  • I.E. Hope that Pakistanis are stupid and will fall for something so childish.
  • Let’s! Expand U.S. involvement in the country by spending more on USAID and the U.S. Embassy.
  • While Also… Training diplomats and other personnel who will devote their careers to the region.
  • I.E. Forget the State Department diplomat personnel system and assume no backlash.
  • Let’s! Commission a new NIE with the intent of changing “Pakistan’s cost-benefit calculus” about the deliberate use of militants.
  • While Also… Creating a new civilian agency to oversee the Army and ISI.
  • I.E. Pretend NIEs matter, snap our fingers and pretend everyone is secretly on the same side and has our best interests at heart.
  • Let’s! Create a Durand Czar!
  • While Also… Creatine better ties between Islamabad and Kabul!
  • I.E. Hope that no one else notices they’ve never had warm relations.
  • Let’s! Work closely with everyone to improve ties and prevent terrorism.
  • While Also… Make American diplomats into nuisances in Beijing, Tokyo, Riyadh, and other Gulf capitals.
  • I.E. Hope this was written by someone who has ever lived in the real world where all differences are reconciliable.
  • Let’s! Improve economic ties with Pakistan.
  • While Also… Buying t-shirts.
  • I.E. Assume the real problem is economic.
  • Let’s! Increase support to basic education and healthcare.
  • While Also… Improving water management, law enforcement, and justice programs in a way that allows the government to assume control later.
  • I.E. Wave magic achievement wand. Assume services are why people in the FATA feel disconnected from their government.

Good Lord, that is only the executive summary. Suffice it to say, the authors cannot make up their mind what, exactly, Pakistan’s problem is aside from being poor and hosting an unfriendly population and having issues with cross-border militancy. When you look at this with that depth of analysis, you might as well use “Pakistan” and “Chad” interchangeably. To borrow a friend’s phrase, they might as well have addressed this to God.

Which gets at the problem with a lot of what comes out of these bi-partisan groups: they somehow manage to be both lost in the details while still being militantly establishment. It takes ideas halfway between everyone else’s senses of common sense. It is the written equivalent of the yearly Davos global masturbation: a snapshot of what the global world order thinks. And depressingly often, not only hopelessly simplified but just plain old wrong.


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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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