Here are some excerpts related to Pakistan, from President Obama’s 100 day press conference last night:
QUESTION: Can you reassure the American people that, if necessary, America could secure Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal and keep it from getting into the Taliban’s hands, or worst-case scenario, even al Qaeda’s hands?
MR. OBAMA: I’m confident that we can make sure that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is secure, primarily, initially, because the Pakistani army, I think, recognizes the hazards of those weapons falling into the wrong hands.
We’ve got strong military-to-military consultation and cooperation.
I am gravely concerned about the situation in Pakistan, not because I think that they’re immediately going to be overrun and the Taliban would take over in Pakistan; more concerned that the civilian government there right now is very fragile and don’t seem to have the capacity to deliver basic services, schools, health care, you know, rule of law, a judicial system that works for the majority of people.
And so as a consequence, it is very difficult for them to gain the support and the — the loyalty of their people. So we need to help Pakistan help Pakistanis. And I think that there’s a recognition, increasingly, on the part of both the civilian government there and the army, that that is their biggest weakness.
On the military side, you’re starting to see some recognition just in the last few days that the obsession with India as the mortal threat to Pakistan has been misguided, and that their biggest threat right now comes internally. And you’re starting to see the Pakistani military take much more seriously the armed threat from militant extremists. (link)
What do people think of this statement? I have a couple of thoughts below.Here are a couple of brief observations:
1) Notice that he doesn’t use the word “Islam” anywhere here. It’s implicit in his reference to the Taliban, but he’s not really focusing on the threat of global Islamic extremism. In the logic of this statement, if militants are steadily gaining ground in what is effectively a civil war, it is at least in part the government’s fault.
That is interesting, and a shift from the earlier Bush doctrine, which entailed talking a lot about Jihadism, and always insisting that “we have them on the run.” Obama is not particularly optimistic about the situation in Pakistan; quite the opposite.
2) Notice that Obama refuses to engage in speculation about what would happen to Pakistan’s nuclear weapons if the government were to be overrun by the Taliban. This is wise for two reasons. First, as President, he has to be much more careful about engaging in hypotheticals than he was as a candidate, when he made that famous comment about being willing to go around the Pakistani government to strike at Al Qaeda within Pakistan’s borders.
Second, his refusal of the question is wise, because I don’t think anyone is too worried about this particular scenario; the military is simply too strong. (There are, of course, other scenarios, many of which would not be good.)