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Campaign 2008

The Candidates and the World

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From the Inbox

by campaign2008
February 21, 2008

Reader William deB. Mills writes:

It is time for the U.S. to put its relations with Moslem societies on a more professional and less emotional basis…and to put relations with each in the broader context. Pakistan and Iran are the two critical cases in point.

The foreign policies of both Iran and Pakistan over the past half century have incorporated repeated challenges to the international system that suggest profound dissatisfaction on the parts of the ruling elites in each state going far deeper than individual personalities, parties, or ideologies. This in turn suggests that such frequently recommended (in the West) solutions as “regime change,” creating “democracy,” or taking political power from the military and passing it to civilians will not by themselves resolve this dissatisfaction.

One issue is security. Each state has typically perceived itself as facing significant security threats. Iran has repeatedly been threatened by the U.S.: the U.S. overthrew Iran’s first attempt at a democratic government in the early 1950’s, supported Saddam’s invasion. Today, the chaos in Iraq resulting from the U.S. invasion concerns Iran. Other ongoing concerns include Baluchi unrest in Pakistan, Persian Gulf security, Afghanistan (first from the Soviets, then the Taliban, and now both U.S. military bases and narcotics). A more recent security threat of course comes from Tel Aviv. Pakistani security concerns revolve around a perceived Indian threat and domestic unrest, which has been greatly exacerbated in the tribal areas by external pressures to apply military force.

A second issue, connected to but distinct from security, is status. Iran wants regional status befitting its history and size. It also sees acquisition of regional status as a means of breaking out of isolation and enhancing its security. Geographically, Pakistani elites aspire to regional leadership in, at a minimum, Kashmir and Afghanistan, in great part to gain buffer zones against India. Ideologically, Pakistani elites want close ties to Saudi Arabia and over the past three decades have opened the doors ever wider to Saudi cultural, educational, and religious influence at the same time that Saudi money has flowed to Pakistan in return for Pakistani nuclear knowledge.

In brief, both for reasons of national security and regional status, which in itself enhances security, Iran and Pakistan have consistently focused their foreign policy over the last half century on enhancing both security and regional status. Although Washington may see these two states in terms of U.S.-Iranian or U.S.-Pakistani relations, that relationship has never been the foundation of Iranian or Pakistani foreign policy. This misperception may have much to do with the difficulties Washington has had in eliciting the type of behavior it desires from those two countries: in brief, the carrots and sticks employed by Washington have not been those most relevant to the primary concerns of Pakistan and Iran. If Washington indeed wants Iran and Pakistan to moderate–not to mention renounce—the development of nuclear arms, nuclear proliferation, and support of insurgencies, then Washington will have to pay more attention to Iranian and Pakistani core concerns. It will have to show Iran and Pakistan that they can achieve progress on their core concerns by working within the system rather than by challenging it.

–William deB. Mills


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