In most cases I try avoid watching the talking heads of cable news, especially Fox News and let alone any Fox News pundit’s take on foreign policy. But every now and again I have the misfortune of hearing one of these jabbering sycophants’ asinine take on the world of international politics.
Most recently, while at the gym, my eyes had the not so illustrious pleasure of reading the incoherent foreign policy-related ramblings of Sean Hannity. The last time I actually sat and watched a full Hannity discussion on international relations was when he presented Fareed Zakaria with his incomprehensible view of the former Newsweek editor’s book on the rise of new global powers (such as China, India, Brazil, etc.). Zakaria sat in utter bafflement as the sum response Hannity had to his work was “what are you saying America isn’t number one anymore?! America is still number one!”
And this most recent Hannity foreign policy-related story was no different in nuance and analysis. This story dealt with Shakil Afridi, a Pakistani doctor who assisted the CIA in tracking down Osama Bin Laden, and his subsequent conviction by his government of treason. So who was the main culprit in this egregious breach of justice? The Pakistani government? The Pakistani military? Pakistan’s flawed justice system? Or the large segments of the Pakistani population who were outraged with the Bin Laden killing and demanded recompense?
Well, no. According to Sean Hannity, the real problem isn’t actually any of these things. You see, the real concern is how it’s President Obama’s fault.
Now for a guy who harps on the left for being overcritical of the Bush administration’s legacy in situations that may not be relevant, he sure is quick to criticize the Obama administration on areas where its influence is weak.
Hannity’s basic criticism was that the Obama administration was doing nothing to prevent Afridi from being thrown in prison. His guest, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, even seemed to suggest that America could simply free Afridi from captivity simply by yelling at the Pakistani government. “Hey guys! Stop! We’re America!” Yes that strategy always seems to work.
This unfair criticism of the Obama administration, of course, ignores numerous facts about domestic Pakistani politics, the complicated dynamic between the U.S. and Pakistani governments, and basic realities about international relations.
First of all, Pakistan is not a close ally that the U.S. can simply ask (or tell, as Rumsfeld would have it) to do things. Large factions of its intelligence services, military and general population are vehemently anti-American. Other factions, of course, are not. As far as states go, Pakistan is downright schizophrenic.
In addition, this isn’t the only issue of dispute between the U.S. and Pakistan. The Obama administration is trying to convince the Pakistani government to reopen supply routes for the war in Afghanistan, strongly pursue militant groups in the western part of the country, participate in negotiations with the Afghan Taliban, secularize its education system, and liberalize its social policies and societal attitudes. For the U.S., all of these goals are achieved with give-and-take discussions. Adding Afridi’s freedom into the mix is a complicated and difficult task.
But Hannity and Rumsfeld ignore these limitations. Not only that, but a bad case of amnesia strikes when instances of the Bush administrations failing to act (according to Hannity’s standards) in similar circumstances come to mind: rounding up enough partners for the Iraq War, convincing Turkey to provide use of its territory for the Iraq invasion, preventing the genocide in Darfur, supporting jailed and/or abused pro-democracy groups and individuals in Russia, China or (as we’ve been talking about) Pakistan. That’s not to say the Bush administration failed in all these cases. In some cases they did while in others it was legitimately limited by structural and institutional realities, both domestic and international.
Perhaps the most outlandish aspect of this criticism, however, is its blatant refusal to acknowledge the fact that the U.S. government has cut aid to Pakistan over the Afridi issue. But I guess that has nothing to do with Obama or Democrats. Or so thinks the Republican pundit mind.