Hang­ing by a Thread

How se­ri­ously should Pak­istan con­sider harsh and in­sult­ing Re­pub­li­can rhetoric?

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Michael Kugel­man

Our cover story this month ex­am­ines Re­pub­li­can pres­i­den­tial de­bates and the

em­a­nat­ing anti-pak­istan rhetoric.

The 2012 U. S. Re­pub­li­can Party pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates may dis­agree on many is­sues, yet they are all united in their de­sire to heap vit­riol on Pak­istan. They say that it lies; that it can­not be trusted; that it is fall­ing apart; that it is un­civ­i­lized; and that it bet­ter help the United States track down ter­ror­ists -- or else.

Un­der­stand­ably, Pak­ista­nis re­sent this tough talk. Alas, it is nei­ther new nor a uniquely Re­pub­li­can phe­nom­e­non. Back in 2007, Demo­cratic Party pres­i­den­tial can­di­date, Barack Obama vowed in a cam­paign speech that he would not hes­i­tate to use mil­i­tary force in Pak­istan, even with­out the coun­try’s ap­proval. “If we have ac­tion­able in­tel­li­gence about high- value ter­ror­ist tar­gets and Pres­i­dent [ Pervez] Mushar­raf won’t act, we will,” he de­clared. Sim­i­lar threats have been is­sued from the cam­paign trail in 2012.

Still, de­spite the bel­li­cose rhetoric em­a­nat­ing from the cur­rent crop of can­di­dates, Pak­ista­nis should not be overly con­cerned. Why? Be­cause it is just that - rhetoric. The 2012 elec­tion will be won or lost on eco­nomic is­sues, not for­eign af­fairs. Amer­ica is a coun­try where 46 mil­lion peo­ple live be­low the poverty line -- the high­est num­ber in the 50- plus years the U. S. Cen­sus Bureau has pub­lished poverty fig­ures. Ad­di­tion­ally, me­dian house­hold in­comes have fallen to lev­els not seen since 1996. Lit­tle won­der so many Amer­i­cans to­day are fi­nan­cially worse off than their par­ents’ gen­er­a­tion.

So when the Re­pub­li­can hope­fuls step to the podium to par­rot their Pak­istan po­si­tions, they know that they need only de­liver some well- placed sound bites that tide the elec­torate over un­til the sub­stan­tive dis­cus­sions re­sume on jobs, health­care costs or other eco­nomic is­sues.

Since U. S. public opin­ion about Pak­istan is so neg­a­tive, the most de­sir­able sound bites are those that ma­lign and in­sult. There­fore, Repub­li­cans’ harsh lan­guage does not re­flect any uni­fied party po­si­tion on Pak­istan -- which, ow­ing to the party’s in­ter­nal di­vi­sions, does not

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