Al Gore got some great laugh lines out of the mixed popular vote / electoral college outcome of the 2000 election. My favorite was when he’d strike a philosophical pose: “You know the old saying — you win some, you lose some. And then there’s that little-known third category.”
That joke came to mind today as I was thinking about the idea of Pakistan facing an all-or-nothing choice of standing with the United States or against us in opposing terrorists. This either/or choice was posed directly by President Bush to then-Pakistani President Musharraf right after the attacks in 2001 and echoes through today’s discussion of where Pakistani authorities really stand.
No simple choice
As (Vice) President Gore says, we need to bear in mind the third category. As with many of the tricky foreign policy challenges the United States faces, US relations with Pakistan don’t boil down to a simple choice of one or the other. Treating Pakistan as an adversary would only deprive us of whatever cooperation and intelligence we can get from them. The foreign policy debate has even given us a new term for this: frenemy (most often applied to China).
Daniel Larison sums up the tendency to oversimplify very nicely:
Whenever an allied government doesn’t measure up to what the U.S. expects of it, it is tempting to accuse it of perfidy or betrayal, but that avoids considering whether we are expecting something that the ally can reasonably provide. … Considering how widely loathed our government is in Pakistan, and considering how antagonistic many of our policies are to Pakistani interests, the U.S. has no reason to expect any Pakistani cooperation. For various reasons, we have received some cooperation anyway. Inevitably, that isn’t enough for some people, who seem to expect allied governments to commit a sort of suicide to fulfill our demands.
Larison draws on the always insightful Anatol Lieven as a reality check on Pakistan’s domestic politics, but his wider point is the need to factor those realities into our expectations for any foreign government. In response, though, Greg Scoblete questions how much consideration should be given for harboring bin Laden. Running through the various possible levels of complicity that Pakistani authorities may have had — of course we don’t really know — Greg insists that the United States has to have “red lines” when it comes to providing refuge for fugitive #1:
I don’t think that’s a reason to invade or attack the country – which would be an insane act. But I don’t think it’s unreasonable to probe this question with more urgency and to demand changes in Pakistan’s behavior if their complicity can be proven.
Indeed, it is very hard to argue against pressing this issue very hard. And I’d be shocked if the Obama administration does anything different from just that. Whatever the ambivalence and hedging of Pakistani leaders, the revelation that bin Laden’s been literally living in their back yard puts them under a very uncomfortable spotlight. This gives the administration a lot of leverage; of course they’ll use it to maximum effect.
So Larison and Scoblete both make important points. America can’t expect other governments to set aside their own political considerations and comply with all of our wishes. But nor should that mean settling for minimal cooperation. This is the stuff of statecraft: inducing the actions we want via whatever leverage we have.
The thing about deciding that another government is “against us” is that it actually narrows your options and can reduce leverage. That’s why we need to get more familiar with that little-known third category.
Photo from: Third Army