October 11, 2005

To Pakistan With Love

In my previous post, I cited an Op-Ed by Scott Atran which discusses the peculiar dilemma facing the ruling coalition in Indonesia: Because it relies on Islamist parties to form its coalition, it does not have the necessary underlying political support to crack down on Jemaah Islamiyah (the terrorist organization responsible for the multiple Bali bombings). Compounding the problem, anti-American sentiments, which rose dramatically after, and as a result of, the invasion of Iraq, have further lessened the latitude with which the ruling bloc can act against the al-Qaeda offshoot in its midst. Anti-Jemaah Islamiyah actions are seen as craven capitulations to the malevolent Americans. But within the somewhat pessimistic scenario laid out by Atran, there was a glimmer of hope:

Fortunately, the Pew figures also reveal positive trends that suggest another way forward for the United States and its allies. In three years, Indonesians' support for suicide bombing has declined from 27 percent to 15 percent, and confidence in Osama bin Laden is down from 58 percent to 35 percent.

If one American policy can be correlated with improvements in Indonesian attitudes toward the United States, it is aid for tsunami victims in Aceh. The Pew polls suggest that, largely because of the American role in tsunami rescue and relief, Indonesia is now one of the few nations where a majority believes that American actions sometimes consider other nations' interests. Since that time, support for combating terrorism has doubled to 50 percent, as Indonesians focus on the dangers they face rather than on distaste for American policies. [emphasis added]

As should be obvious, this data supports the thesis that our actions actually do affect the attitudes toward us held by citizens of other nations. This should not be a controversial proposition.

Realizing the impact our tremendous aid package to Indonesia, post-tsunami, had on public opinion, and noting how crucial the gaining of that same public's trust is to our mission of combating Jemaah Islamiyah and other Salafist extremists, I think the opportunity is ripe for us to try to make the same gains in Pakistan. By mobilizing our nation's vast economic and logistical resources to help alleviate the suffering stemming from the unthinkable tragedy in Pakistan, we could do much to begin repairing our image in a part of the world that is as crucial as any other to our larger mission of defeating al-Qaeda.

The same mountainous region in Northwest Pakistan that was hit hardest in the earthquake is, in fact, the same region that has been rumored to be housing many top level al-Qaeda operatives, including none other than Bin Laden and Zawahiri. Further, this inhospitable terrain has been the launching pad for the now resurgent Taliban movement which is jeopardizing the fragile peace in Afghanistan - a country that could all too easily slip into the chaos of armed conflict thus providing an ideal base for jihadists groups looking to re-establish their former locus of operations.

Even a slight uptick in support for America and our anti-terrorist efforts amongst Pakistanis would also serve to strengthen Musharraf's hand in any effort to crack down on the Islamist militants that threaten his rule, and have made numerous attempts on his life. Just as in Indonesia, Musharraf's actions are constrained by levels of domestic support. We should be pursuing policies that buttress, not drain, that support.

So get out the ex-Presidents, get the shipments going, the aid flowing and by all means take measures to stamp every parcel with a big old American flag. Try, to the greatest extent possible, to get actual Americans on the ground to utilize our expertise, to show our faces and to drive home the message that we are a force for good in the world. Relief efforts such as these do cost money, but in terms of the return on dollars invested, this type of PR is priceless. It would be worth a thousand Karen Hughes tours. The initial $50 million promised is an excellent starting point, but we might want to go higher, or at least insure that the alloted money is well spent.

As we saw with the Indonesian people, it is hard to hold on to prejudices fueled by propaganda and cynical misinformation when we extend a helping hand as proof positive that we are not quite the "Great Satan" we are made out to be in a slanted local media. Not to mention the fact that we would be helping to save lives and mitigate truly horrific suffering. This would be a synergy of our national interests with our nobler humanitarian impulses. To paraphrase Dan Darling and his sometime mentor Michael Ledeen: Faster, please.

Posted by at October 11, 2005 12:21 AM | TrackBack (8)
Comments

So get out the ex-Presidents, get the shipments going, the aid flowing and by all means take measures to stamp every parcel with a big old American flag. Try, to the greatest extent possible, to get actual Americans on the ground to utilize our expertise, to show our faces and to drive home the message that we are a force for good in the world.

Pakistan isn't Indonesia, and an earthquake isn't a tsunami. Sure, we should send supplies marked with Old Glory, but putting American feet on the ground in significant number is probably a very bad idea --- military personnel would become a target, and its doubtful that they would operate with the necessary level of restraint when/if they were attacked. The Bush regime's support for "faith based" NGOs means that its unlikely to fund non-religious NGOs to provide relief in Pakistan, and sending a bunch of right-wing evangelical nutcases into Pakistan is probably not the smartest thing to do either....

Posted by: p.lukasiak at October 11, 2005 12:47 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

From a public relations point of view the size of the American aid effort after the tsunami may not have been as important as the speed with which American forces were able to get to the scene and the visual images of American relief arriving in Sumatra. These were made possible by the Navy.

The attenuated media coverage of the military lately makes it a little hard to tell all that is going on in terms of post-earthquake relief efforts, but I've heard nothing about any American naval assets being part of them. It would be a mistake if they were not. To my knowledge there are two carriers in or near the region, the Roosevelt in the Arabian Sea and the Nimitz returning from a joint exercise last month with the Indian Navy. Between them and the various support vessels we have in the region there ought to be enough helicopters and relevant supplies to be useful, and what is more to be seen to be useful.

Posted by: JEB at October 11, 2005 10:11 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Agreed.

Posted by: Eric Martin at October 12, 2005 02:54 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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