“Smart Power”

That’s the Obama administration’s rather obnoxious description of its own foreign policy–as though its predecessors were all dumb. Reality is intractable, though, even when you’re smart. Today it was Pakistan. The Pakistani government, not especially pro-American or anti-terrorist, has cut a “deal” with violent Islamists to install Sharia law in the contested Swat valley–which sounds, of course, more like a capitulation, perhaps a willing one, than a “deal.” The administration’s reaction is concern: “US voices ‘concern’ over Pakistan’s deal on Sharia law”:

The United States expressed concern to Pakistan’s President Ali Zardari that a deal allowing Sharia law in the volatile Swat valley amounted to a possible capitulation to Taliban militants.

US envoy Richard Holbrooke told CNN in an interview on Thursday afternoon that he had spoken with Zardari by phone just hours earlier and expressed his “concern.” …

“I am concerned, and I know Secretary (Hillary) Clinton is, and the president is, that this deal, which is portrayed in the press as a truce, does not turn into a surrender,” Holbrooke said. …

Asked about the risk of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal falling into the hands of extremists, Holbrooke said it was “a legitimate concern.”

You get the feeling that they’re concerned. It turns out that even if you’re smart, Pakistan is a bit of a puzzle:

“It is hard to understand this deal in Swat,” in the country’s northwest, said Holbrooke….

The Pakistan president has described the deal as “an interim arrangement,” said the US diplomat.

“He does not disagree that people who are running Swat now are murderers, thugs and militants and they pose a danger not only to Pakistan but to the US as well.”

Well, that’s reassuring. Fortunately, our government intends to talk about what is happening in the Swat valley:

Along with the Kabul government, Pakistan was sending a high-level delegation to Washington next week — including its foreign minister and the head of the country’s intelligence service — to join US officials in a strategic review of the war in Afghanistan, Holbrooke said.

“And I can assure you, and President Zardari knows this, that this will be the top initial subject of conversation,” he said.

When you’re really smart, a little conversation goes a long way.

To be serious for a moment: Pakistan is of course a huge problem, perhaps the biggest. It is a country–arguably a country, anyway–that may be on the verge of collapse. Its foremost nuclear scientist, the chief source of nuclear proliferation in recent years, A. Q. Khan, has been released from house arrest and is being treated as a hero. The country’s government–President Musharraf, detested as impure by American liberals, having departed the stage–may or may not prefer sanity to Islamic fanaticism. Whether there is a solution to the Pakistani puzzle, no one really knows.

All of which is to suggest that a little humility from the Obama administration would be welcome. If the administration would emphasize the continuity of American interests and American policies rather than denouncing its predecessors at every turn and telling the world how “smart” it is, it may or may not do much good in critical places like Pakistan. But it couldn’t hurt, and it would certainly be less annoying.

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