A Pakistani court has found Shakil Afridi—the Pakistani physician who was instrumental in helping the CIA confirm the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden—guilty of treason. For his crimes—for doing what the Pakistani government should have done years ago—Afridi has been sentenced to 33 years in prison. Although Washington has politely requested Afridi’s release, there appears to be no action or force behind the diplomatic niceties. In fact, it appears Washington has kicked another friend to the curb. Sadly, this has become a common occurrence in the Age of Obama.
Before getting into the full litany of the president’s “oh well” approach to friends and allies, let’s stay with the Afridi situation for a moment. First, on its face, this is a travesty of justice—even according to Pakistani law. After all, if this man is guilty of treason for collaborating with the CIA, what about the Pakistani military’s on-again-off-again collaboration with the CIA and DoD? Are Pakistan’s president and generals going to be jailed for decades for their cooperation—albeit halfhearted or perhaps quarter-hearted—with Washington?
More importantly, we shouldn’t lose sight of the central fact that Afridi helped bring the world’s most notorious, most wanted, most infamous mass-murderer to justice. The trial of Afridi and the verdict reveal just how broken Pakistan is—something many observers, including myself, have pointed out for many years (here, here, here and here). If the best we can hope for is a transactional, interests-only relationship with Islamabad, then someone in the Obama administration needs to ask—amid Pakistan’s treatment of Afridi, sheltering of bin Laden, aiding of the Haqqani network and Taliban, outing of U.S. operatives, blockading of Afghanistan-bound equipment, firing on U.S. forces across the AfPak border—what exactly the United States is getting in the exchange.
If Washington had a sense of honor, it would demand Afridi’s release by a date certain and allow Islamabad to contemplate the consequences of not complying—a cutoff in aid, an expulsion of Pakistan’s diplomatic corps, a public unveiling and shaming of Pakistan’s duplicitous military-intelligence apparatus, another U.S. raid into the country.
But such a demand is not forthcoming from this administration. Afridi is only the latest example of the president’s “oh well” doctrine when it comes to allies.
• Early on, the Obama administration offloaded a handful of Gitmo detainees onto the British protectorate of Bermuda—without consulting Britain, America’s oldest, most faithful friend in a dangerous world. “This is not the kind of behavior one expects from an ally,” a British official declared.
• The president pulled the rug out from under Poland and the Czech Republic in order to get an arms control treaty of questionable merit with Russia. Worried about Iran’s nukes and missiles, Europe had agreed to a NATO-wide missile defense system before the Age of Obama. But for the president, decades of friendship and shared sacrifice were less important than some ephemeral relationship with Russia, so he scrapped NATO’s plans for a permanent defense against missile threats. It may have pleased the Russians, but it humiliated the Poles and Czechs. A Polish defense official called the decision “catastrophic for Poland”—and understandably so. After all, Poland and the Czech Republic exposed themselves to Russian ire by agreeing to allow permanent U.S. missile defense bases on their soil. The Czech Republic announced that it was withdrawing from the president’s scaled-down missile defense program, angrily rejecting Washington’s revised plans as “a consolation prize.”
• When Britain and France led NATO into Libya, they expected—and deserved—a strong assist from Washington. What they got wasWashington’s insistence on a “time-limited” war and a stunning declaration that access to the full complement of U.S. air power “expires on Monday.”
• The president ditched the Dalai Lama in order to save a photo-op summit in Beijing. Likewise, he tossed longtime ally Hosni Mubarak aside when the crowds got too loud in Cairo. Mubarak deserved to go, but so did Iran’s Ahmadinejad and Syria’s Assad. Yet when given a chance to push those tyrants—who, unlike Mubarak, are America’s sworn enemies—out of power, the president did nothing.
• The Israelis have been diplomatically sideswiped with public diktats, undercut by leaks and treated to scorn rather than consultations by this administration too many times to count.
• Iraqis who helped the U.S. military have been left dangling in the storm winds. Not only is there no U.S. force to serve as a referee, a guide, a backstop in Iraq, but there is no one in the administration helping our Iraqi friends—who risked everything to help Gen. Petraeus’ troops win Iraq’s postwar war—make their way out of Iraq.
• The president famously concluded in 2009 that “it is in our vital national interest to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan,”before promising that “after 18 months, our troops will begin to come home.” Setting aside the bizarre notion that “our vital national interest” has an expiration date, his tacit message to Hamid Karzai and the ever-dwindling number of Afghan troops willing to fight the Taliban was: Don’tcount on us for the long haul. Doubtless, that message was amplified by the president’s hasty pullout from Iraq.
In the summer of 2008—almost exactly four years ago—Candidate Obama traveled to Berlin and spoke of “loyalty and trust.” He declared that “the burdens of global citizenship continue to bind us together” and explained that “true partnership” requires “allies who will listen to each other, learn from each other and, most of all, trust each other.”
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