Obama’s South Asia policy: Pakistan will be the acid test

April 25th, 2009 - 1:39 pm ICT by IANS  

Barack Obama Washington, April 25 (IANS) As President Barack Obama completes 100 days in office next week, experts have sat down to grade his foreign policy initiatives so far - and the report card is not too impressive, at least from the South Asian perspective.
The web edition of the renowned Foreign Policy journal asked some of the “best foreign-policy minds in Washington and beyond” to rate Obama’s performance so far.

The result? 11 As, 16 Bs, 7 Cs, and a D.

Stephen Sestanovich, a senior fellow for Russian and Eurasian studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, has given the president an A+ for “class participation”. At the other end of the specturm, Elliott Abrams, who served in the Reagan and George W. Bush administrations and is a senior fellow in Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, has given him a D for “the abandonment of brave men and women throughout the world fighting for human rights and civil liberties”.

Peter Feaver, a professor of political science at Duke University who has given Obama “a respectable B-”, asks: “What about China? What about India? What about Japan? To get a good grade in this foreign policy class, there has to be a coherent strategy for Asia, and I don’t see it yet…”

He noted: “I don’t see the case for saying he has been a failure thus far. On the contrary, he has been better than many feared, at least on foreign policy…”

Feaver says Obama has largely continued the Bush policy on major issues. “I defy someone to identify how the Af-Pak decision was substantially different from the trajectory that the Bush team was on. It was sold with different rhetoric, but on policy, it was the same. Same policy, different letterhead.”

Meghan O’Sullivan (B+), a deputy national security adviser in the Bush administration and now a senior fellow at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, comments: “Marks for Afghanistan and Pakistan are still good at a B, but somewhat weaker in part due to my concern that the president’s decision to make building the Afghan Security Forces - rather than population security - the centrepiece of the strategy is unlikely to produce meaningful results in the necessary timeframe.

“With this as the primary mission, the Afghan strategy for confronting an aggressive insurgency bears an uneasy resemblance to the failed US effort in Iraq 2005-06.

“The hardest piece of this challenge is Pakistan, where the administration will be hard pressed to change Pakistani behaviour with inducements and threats, absent a successful diplomatic effort between India and Pakistan to ease core Pakistani insecurities. The Obama administration may have just such an effort under way and, if so, is right to keep it quiet and behind the scenes.”

William Inboden (B-), senior vice president of the Legatum Institute, remarks that in Obama’s scheme of things, “traditional and emerging allies such as Japan, Australia and India are left wondering how much they still matter to the United States”.

Commenting at length on the “Af-Pak” initiative, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace visiting scholar David Rothkopf remains a “pessimist”.

“I would consider it a passing grade if we don’t end up with more troops there than we have right now and if the whole of Pakistan is not being run by fundamentalists. Losing more of Pakistan or Afghanistan to the Taliban, Al Qaeda or other extremists or having the two countries serve as a base for another attack on India or elsewhere would bring the overall grade down a lot.

“This is Obama’s war… Capture Osama, you get an automatic A here, though, more importantly, the president probably also gets an automatic reelection. Actually, achieve military success and shore up democracy and attitudes toward America in Pakistan and not only does Obama get an A but (special envoy) Richard Holbrooke gets a Nobel Prize and probably his own talk show or cabinet post, whichever he would prefer.”

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