Hey Pakistan: You’re Either With Us, or Against Us, or…

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.

Modifying expectations

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.

For more Care2 coverage on Osama bin Laden, click here.


Photo from: Third Army


Anqa Gharshin
Anqa Gharshin7 years ago

You guys still believe that Laden was murdered here... They showed no real video, not even his body..How can any of you except that drama...
We all know how U.S has helped us.. There 9/11 is our 24/7.. Don't forget Palestine...
The whole terrorist thing is not us.. In true Islam terror doesn't exist.
Just want to say all this is happening is because of you.
How can you fight with us on terror when we all know what you did with Afghanistan and Iraq...
You are so powerful that people except your open lies as truth.. The Laden Drama I mean...
Using us for your oils, for our minerals..
We don't need..
Stop being the nice angel, "helping everyone" while not looking at your own self that what you are..
No offence to nice Americans..
They know who it is for..

James Turkali
James Turkali7 years ago

I agree with the comment from (CLARE C.) May 5th. 11:30am.
The money will go to the corrupt politicians who have bank accounts in Switzerland. Where do you think the first 10 billion Dollars help to Pakistan military go after 9/11 ? To Mr. TEN PERCENT: Parviz Musharraf !!! Dont trust pakistanis, most of the genocides in the troubled BAHRAIN (Persian Gulf), is committed by the Pakistani (Punjabi) mercenary army. These mercenaries are recruited Officially by the corrupted Government of Pakistan, to the cruel regime of Al-Khalifa of Bahrain, to liquidate the unarmed native protesters. I would sleep in a bed with full of Scorpions, BUT not with a Punjabi Pakistanis !! You mean to tell me that the Pakistan Secret Army did not know where Osama Bin Laden was ???

Hugh W.
.7 years ago

There are never two choices, someone said this before and I totally agree. You have to realize, we have to educate ourselves more on the conditions in that part of the country before we start jumping on one side or another. Being an American, it is sad to always see that so many Americans cannot see beyond 2 choices for anything. Many see one way that is right and one way that is wrong. Nothing is ever clearly black and white like this, only in a fairytale world.

One thing that everyone has to realize is that Pakistan is still located right next to Afghanistan. The Pakistanis all know that the coalition forces will only be there for a short time. The Pakistanis will still have to live with the Taliban in their midst. Would you be so brave or foolish to make enemies with someone that lived right beside you when the police were only visiting next store so briefly? I think not.

As we all know every country and I mean every country only does things for its own interests. If we actually had more collaboration in the world, we would probably have fewer problems.

Toni nofwds C.
Toni C7 years ago

Our excuse for being in the Middle East has been to fight terrorism, when in reality it is all about who controls the oil. Okay, ben Laden's gone now, folks, Obama is signing for new drilling in Alaska, so why don't we save our money we've been hnding Pakistan, pick up our toys, load up our troops, and haul butt out of there? We don't want to pick a fight with Pakistan because if we do, we have to worry about nuclear warheads AND China! Our leaders need to use some common sense [for a change] and pull out of the Middle East...

Danny W.
Danny Wilson7 years ago

"They" have no intentions of ending the war and bringing the troops home, they need that to bust out social programs....

ruth a.
ruth a7 years ago

There are never only two choices. There are as many choices as one's imaginations are wide.

Marie W.
Marie W7 years ago

Pakistan is like Saudi Arabia- ally in name only. As long as their rulers (like ours) get what they want; they pretend to care.

Sound Mind
Ronald E7 years ago

Pay only what they earn - after it's earned. Not a far out concept.

Linda T.
Linda T7 years ago

Pakistan is a very complex country not unlike ours. They have to deal with the Taliban there and we have to deal with the christain taliban here. See were not as different as we'd like to think.

Clare C.
Clare C7 years ago

Us taxpayers in the UK have promised £650 million in aid to Pakistan and it makes me sick! Pakistan is not an innocent country trying to fight Islamic extremism, it is supporting extremism and with British tax payers hard-earned money.

While in Pakistan several weeks ago Cameron promised the Pakistani’s £650 million pounds in extra aid, that’s not the full amount, the pakistani government get nigh on 2 billion pounds plus, Cameron is nieve to believe this money will go towards the starving uneducated children who sleep on the street’s but in truth the aid will go in the majority to the corrupt politicians who have bank accounts in Switzerland.