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Obama: Least experience and espoused the most dangerous ideas was that of foreign policy

Obama-led Regional Solution for South Asia Should Scare the Heck out of Us

 By Dr. Richard Benkin  Saturday, December 27, 2008

For many conservatives, the election of Barack Obama to become the 44th President of the United States gave cause for concern on many fronts.  But perhaps the area for which Obama had the least experience and espoused the most dangerous ideas was that of foreign policy and in particular, the way he would approach international conflicts involving radical Islamists and their supporters.  Even before he is inaugurated, events might be setting the stage for an early test of those concerns.

In the wake of deadly terror attacks in Mumbai, India, at the end of November 2008, there have been increased calls for Obama to try and craft a “regional solution” to the conflicts in that part of the world.  Even before those attacks, he already seemed determined on that course.  Two weeks before the attacks on November 11, he told The Washington Post that he wanted to explore a “regional strategy for Afghanistan.” According to a report by the BBC, since Mumbai, “Obama has talked about looking at Afghanistan as ‘part of a regional problem that includes Pakistan, India and Iran.’

There have been persistent rumors that he will appoint veteran US diplomat Richard Holbrooke as a regional “troubleshooter” for South Asia; and while nothing has been confirmed, Washington insiders continue to insist that the Holbrooke appointment will happen some time after Obama’s inauguration on January 20, 2009.  Holbrooke has a reputation as something of a maverick but seems pretty much in lockstep with the man who might be his boss in the near future.  In a recent article in “Foreign Affairs,” Holbrooke said he wanted to see a South Asian regional strategy that includes Afghanistan and involves Iran, China, and Russia, as well as India and Pakistan. He called the Afghan government of Hamid Karzai “weak” and wants the US to impose stern conditions on any aid to it.  The notion of resolving issues that have plagued the India-Pakistani relationship since the countries’ birth, as well as the war in Afghanistan, might appeal to Obama’s penchant for grandiose thinking, but many South Asian experts are warning against it.

International security specialist, Ashley J. Tellis, who is with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and has particular expertise with Asian strategic issues, told the BBC that he does not agree with the ideas espoused by either Obama or Holbrooke.

“It was a bad idea before the Mumbai attacks and a bad idea after the Mumbai attacks. The faster we get away from it, the better it will be not only for the US but for peace in South Asia.”

He said the essential problem is “a weak Pakistan that is unable to control its national territory….The other half of the problem is the elements of the Pakistan state that are complicit with groups that pose a threat to Pakistan and the international community. The incoming US government will have to confront these issues directly.” That does not seem to square with what Obama means when he talks about “outreach” to the Muslim world or with his ideas of a regional solution in South Asia.

The history of US involvement in Middle East peace talks also provides a series of cautionary tales about attempted regional approaches to international conflicts.  Whether it was President Bill Clinton’s failed efforts at the 2000 talks in Camp David and Taba; or President George W. Bush’s more recent Annapolis initiative; these things simply have not worked.  And there are several reasons for that.

They presume a depth of knowledge that does not exist.  One would be hard pressed to find even the most well renown American or European who has a sufficient grasp of the many South Asian conflicts even to identify those who would need a place at the negotiating table.

They assume that individual conflicts are easily solved.  Kashmir alone is a hornet’s nest of competing sovereignties from India and Pakistan to Kashmiris demanding a state of their own; not to mention the part of Kashmir that China controls.  Any guesses what happens to that?  Speaking of China, it claims a northeastern Indian state, Arunachal Pradesh, which India has no intention of relinquishing.  Does Obama believe that his silver tongue can untie that Gordian knot?

They assume that trading the rights of some for those of others will result in everyone agreeing for some greater good.  Most of the conflicts feature Islamists on one side and democracies on the other; or even Muslims and Hindus opposed to each other.  Do we sacrifice Bangladesh’s Hindus to the Islamists there in exchange for Hindu control in Kashmir?  If we prevail on Pakistan to close (or allow others to close) its borders to Afghan Islamists, what does it get in return and who suffers?  That is not as far-fetched as it might seem to some.  Numerous reports tie the Mumbai terrorists to the Bangladesh-Nepal area and even more tie them to Kashmir; because the two bundles of issues are related.  If the United States could not get Jews and Muslims to agree on what to do with the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, it should not expect any better results with Hindus and Muslims over the Ram Temple.

They assume that there are common loci of control and equal determination to enforce the agreements.  Just as Hamas has made it clear that it will not abide by any Middle East peace that recognized the State of Israel, the various Islamist terror groups in South Asia cannot be counted on to lay down their weapons for any sort of compromise.  Who will force the Taliban in Afghanistan to do it?  Who will make sure that Lakshar-i-Taibi respects any agreement on Kashmir?  Pakistan will not; if we leave it to India, that will mean more not less conflict.  That same approach continues to fail in the Middle East because it does not force the Arabs to rein in the terrorists; it expects Israel to do so and accept the approbation when it does.

Because these conflicts in the Middle East and South Asia involve democracies that want peace and will live with compromise sitting across the table from tyrannies and parties that have stated they will not compromise on their maximalist demands; a West frustrated, embarrassed, and confused about its impotence, leans on the democracy to make concessions.  But they demand nothing from the other side in return.  In essence, they reward uncompromising, even genocidal, positions; and history has made it clear that the only thing to come from rewarding bad behavior is more bad behavior.

In the end, attempts to resolve the many South Asian conflicts is doomed to failure until the third parties (whether the United States, the European Union, or the United Nations) recognize that the essence of any solution is the defeat of radical Islam and all that goes with it from ethnic cleansing to hate-infused education; and they make action—not words—on this front contingent on any attempt at a “regional solution.”

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Dr. Richard L. Benkin secured the release of Bangladeshi journalist Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury in 2005.  The two continue working together to fight Islamist radicals and their allies in South Asia and elsewhere.  For more information on how to help, please contact Dr. Benkin at  Their web site is [url=][/url].

Dr. Benkin can be reached at:

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