Belmont Club

Strategic debt

“Pakistan urges ‘unconditional’ aid” according to Al-Jazeera, which apparently means a demand for little or no accounting of the monies given them because how can friends operate, except on “trust”.

The call came in a statement released by Asif Ali Zardari’s office on Tuesday, the day after he met Richard Holbrooke, the US special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, and Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff.

“Pakistan is committed in eliminating extremism from the society, for which it needs unconditional support by the international community in the fields of education, health, training and provision of equipment for fighting terrorism,” Zardari said in a statement released on Tuesday.

“Military action is only one aspect of the solution.”

The Associated Press described how the “trust” between the two nations was explainable in terms of the psychological mood to get the campaign against the Taliban and al-Qaeda going. The US delegation appeared to object, but they did not rebuke the Pakistanis openly.

Pakistani and U.S. officials emphasized the need for trust between their countries to counter the al-Qaida and the Taliban threat, even as Pakistan’s foreign minister complained Tuesday about American missile strikes on his nation’s soil.

U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke and Adm. Mike Mullen of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff were visiting Pakistan on the heels of President Barack Obama’s announcement of plans to reinvigorate the war in Afghanistan by sending more troops to the region and boosting aid to Pakistan to help it stave off al-Qaida and Taliban-led militancy on its soil.

Pakistani leaders say they are happy about getting billions more in assistance, but Obama’s insistence that the money won’t come without conditions — no “blank check” — has rankled some here and underscored a trust deficit between the two camps.

“We can only work together if we respect each other and trust each other,” Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said during a joint news conference.

It was a sentiment echoed by Mullen, who said he was committed to improving the nations’ relationship to the point where there is a “surplus of trust.” … Asked about whether the U.S. could simply hand over Predator drones to the Pakistanis so they could carry out the strikes, Mullen did not directly answer, but said the Americans were eager to share counter-insurgency techniques and lessons with Pakistan.

Barack Obama is asking for a lot of favors behind the scenes these days. Stratfor says that President Obama, after getting almost nowhere with the European Allies, and carefully concealing the fact, is now hoping that Turkey will help him hold back Russia. It explains that despite the happy snaps, the Allies simply agreed not to bicker in public.

The reality, however, is that the meetings ended in apparent unity because the United States accepted European unwillingness to compromise on key issues. U.S. President Barack Obama wanted the week to appear successful, and therefore backed off on key issues; the Europeans did the same. Moreover, Obama appears to have set a process in motion that bypasses Europe to focus on his last stop: Turkey. … This was Obama’s first major international foray, and he could not let it end in acrimony or wind up being seen as unable to move the Europeans after running a campaign based on his ability to manage the Western coalition. It was important that he come home having reached consensus with the Europeans. Backing off on key economic and military demands gave him that “consensus.” …

When Obama looks at the chessboard, the key emerging challenge remains Russia. … Turkey is the key to all of this. If Ankara collaborates with Russia, Georgia’s position is precarious and Azerbaijan’s route to Europe is blocked. … From the American point of view, Europe is a lost cause since internally it cannot find a common position and its heavyweights are bound by their relationship with Russia. … The key to sustaining the U.S.-German alliance is reducing Germany’s dependence on Russian natural gas and putting Russia on the defensive rather than the offensive. The key to that now is Turkey, since it is one of the only routes energy from new sources can cross to get to Europe from the Middle East, Central Asia or the Caucasus. … Therefore, having sat through fruitless meetings with the Europeans, Obama chose not to cause a pointless confrontation with a Europe that is out of options. Instead, Obama completed his trip by going to Turkey to discuss what the treaty with Armenia means and to try to convince the Turks to play for high stakes by challenging Russia in the Caucasus, rather than playing Russia’s junior partner.

Stratfor basically argues that Obama has given up, for the moment on the Europeans, and is playing the long shot with Turkey in an attempt to contain Russia. However, the President is carefully concealing from his empty hand from the domestic audience and is continuing to pretend to be the transcendant international superstar. But behind the scenes the reality is rather more depressing. Obama may be operating from a position of weakness both in Afghanistan and in the Caucasus and is using up US diplomatic and financial credit to get allies to do his bidding. Neither Pakistan nor Turkey will come cheap; and it is anybody’s guess whether the US taxpayer will get value for money.

There is ultimately going to be a price to pay for accepting a decline in US strategic strength — environmental regulations, disincentive to nuclear power, the nationalization of large swathes of the economy, a reduction in US combat systems that are the hallmark of BHO’s policies — in exchange for domestic entitlement programs and photo opportunities. For the moment, the deficit is being met by masking the shortfall with fake prestige; a political bubble.  But like all bubbles, it may pop at the first real challenge. And then to the economic deficit one must add strategic debt.