Micah Zenko

Politics, Power, and Preventive Action

Zenko covers the U.S. national security debate and offers insight on developments in international security and conflict prevention.

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Ten What’s With…Daniel Markey

by Micah Zenko
November 26, 2013

No Exit from Pakistan:America's Tortured Relationship with Islamabad by Daniel Markey No Exit from Pakistan:America's Tortured Relationship with Islamabad by Daniel Markey

Daniel Markey is Senior Fellow for India, Pakistan, and South Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), where he specializes in security and governance issues in South Asia. He has published a book on the future of the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, No Exit from Pakistan: America’s Tortured Relationship with Islamabad (Cambridge University Press, October 2013).

1. What is the most interesting project you are currently working on?

Currently, I’m working on a CFR Council Special Report about a post-2014 strategy for Pakistan. The idea behind it is while Pakistan-U.S. relations have centered, at least over the past decade, on questions of terrorism and the War in Afghanistan, looking into the future there is a high likelihood that our interests in Pakistan will be more closely tied to other concerns in Asia—including our relations with China and certainly with India. Now that the Obama administration is committed to a force drawdown in Afghanistan to take place over the course of 2014, it seems to me that now is the time to make this shift. This project is sort of a follow on from observations that I make in the book, but it allows me to get into a more timely investigation of policy decisions that need to be made soon—within the next few months to the end of 2014.

2. What got you started in your career?

As a sophomore in college I took a course on contemporary international politics, which set me on a path to where I am today—not in any direct way, but it crystallized an interest in international politics that I think I had even back in high school. Beyond that, it gave me a framework to think about international relations beyond day to day ebb and flow of diplomacy, wars, military operations, and economic relationships. It gave me a sense of how the pieces of international politics fit together at a global level, and how people conceive of that playing out historically. I found that very exciting. I had come to college as a physics major and a course like this led me to appreciate just how much more interested I was in things that had a direct policy relevance, rather than something like physics, theoretical pursuits, or even some of the experimental work in physics. That led me to shift my major, to go on and get a PhD, then to teach and move to the State Department, which ultimately exposed me to the web of challenges that we face in South Asia, and Pakistan in particular, and that’s what led me to write this book.

3. What person, book, or article has been the most influential to your thinking?

I would have to say that in terms of my thinking on international relations, the book that always comes to mind is one of the first books that I read—Man, The State, and War by Kenneth Waltz. This is a 1959 publication that, for me, really brought home the idea of different levels of analysis that one ought to undertake when thinking about international politics and it is not enough to think about just the string of events of diplomatic history. Nor is it enough to think in terms of the bilateral relationships that exist or interstate interactions. One also needs to think of the individual level, of leadership, and of human interactions. Also quite important to this and future works that Waltz undertook is thinking about international relations at a structural level, and as a system. All of these things are featured in my book, whereas I think many books about Pakistan or U.S. relations with Pakistan really focus on that far off place. There may be many stories about individuals or even leaders, and, to a lesser extent, about the nature of the interaction between those two states. However, there is almost never a discussion about how that relationship might fit into a broader international system. In the sixth chapter of my book I really do take that approach—the chapter is titled “From the Outside In” for exactly that reason. It helps to explain the longer history of U.S.-Pakistan relations that was marked primarily by the Cold War, but also helps to begin to speculate about how the relationship may evolvein the future—in a future that will be marked increasingly by U.S. interests in Asia broadly, and by the U.S.-China relationship as a structuring mechanism for our other relations with different countries around the world

4. What advice would you give to young people in your field?

To be very blunt, I would say that if you are thinking about pursuing a PhD in political science, make sure you understand exactly what that means. In this day and age in the United States, it does not mean studying contemporary issues of policy significance. It does mean thinking very deeply about methodological issues, including the use of statistics and higher order math or computational efforts. If those are not things that are of interest to you, if you are interested in doing work that is very directly relevant to what is happening in Washington or foreign capitals, think twice. Political science in America has changed and it has moved pointedly in a direction that attempts to be more scientific, if only social scientific in approach, and this has had implications for its applicability to contemporary problems of foreign policy.

5. What was the last book you finished reading?

Recently, I finished reading Why Leaders Lie by John Mearsheimer. I have also been looking at a book by Thomas Christensen, Worse than a Monolith. Both of these I am reading in preparation for another possible book project because the study of U.S.-Pakistan relations convinced me of the significance and the challenges associated with coercive diplomacy—particularly coercive diplomacy where not everyone is telling the truth—the limits to dealing with other countries where misrepresentation is a common feature of diplomacy, and the limits within the U.S. system of bluffing, dissembling, and omission of fact, and how these things play out particularly in the context of negotiations between states.

6. What is the most overlooked threat to U.S. national interests?

I am not sure if this is the most overlooked, but one of the threats to our interests is our inability, or apparent inability, to actually implement many of the strategies that we may come up with. That is the gap between what we say we are attempting to do—or what we believe we are attempting to do—and that which we actually can accomplish given the tools we have at hand in terms of our diplomats, aid professionals, and military and intelligence operatives. That gap is quite wide. As a consequence, that has led us, certainly over the past decade or so, increasingly toward a degree of disillusionment—a disillusionment with the role that American power can have in the world. I think that disillusionment has gone very far in terms of limiting the public appetite for foreign policy and limiting even our leaders from thinking about more ambitious overseas initiatives. Some of that is quite healthy and realistic. However, some of that is potentially dangerous because it leads us to not appreciate some of the things we have been able to accomplish. Redoubling our efforts and attempting to be better with implementation in the future has led us to tighten our belts and think differently about what strategies have been put in place. Again, some of that is necessary, but some of that has gone too far.

7. What do you think is the most inflated threat to U.S. national interests?

I think that the Middle East in general, the Arab-Israeli or Israel-Palestine dispute in particular, while quite important to U.S. national interests, tends to suck up a lot of the air in Washington. Many of those in positions of power have become quite comfortable with these issues because they have been forced to deal with them quite frequently. I think that they have grown up in a world where the Middle East has been one of the chief concerns of the United States for decades now. When issues arise, you get more than your fair share of expert, as well as less expert, analysis, and a great deal of attention that might be profitably shifted to other parts of the world where we also have significant interests. Throughout most of Asia—East Asia but also South Asia—the expertise levels have not been as high over long periods of time, but the United States’ interests are quite extensive—when it comes to security but also economic interests in East Asia. Some degree of a rebalancing, as the Obama administration has put it, is a necessary and smart thing to do.

8. What is the most significant emerging global challenge?

From my perspective, China’s rising economic power, diplomatic power, military power, and influence in its region, and increasingly globally, is by far the most significant global challenge. It will affect not only U.S.-China relations. There are many dimensions, including the economic dimension, but also a military and diplomatic competitive dimension. China will shape the international environment in other ways. It’s already doing so. It’s affecting our desire to reach out to other friends and allies—countries like Japan and Korea as allies, but also new potential partners like India. This is being driven by our concern with China’s rising power. That will continue to be at least a concern for the rest of our lives.

9. What would you research given two years and unlimited resources?

I am quite happy researching what I have been researching, but the idea of unlimited resources raises the question of how the study of South Asia, particularly a policy relevant study of South Asia, might be vastly improved in the United States. Some of the work I have done suggests American understanding, particularly in U.S. academic institutions, and resources that have been devoted to South Asia are really quite limited compared to other regions of the world, and certainly compared to the growing significance of this region for U.S. national interests. With unlimited resources it would be possible, for instance, to fund significant improvements in the number of endowed chairs in the United States at academic institutions. But even if you couldn’t do that, there would be the possibility of bringing on a considerable number of new graduate students in policy relevant areas—the study of history, sociology, political science—and in policy school as well. You could have more students studying these areas, potentially going into either academic careers and becoming professors who would then train subsequent generations of students, or going directly into policy making or analysis. I think that would be a very wise investment if resources were not as limited as they have been.

10. Why should someone who is not a Pakistan specialist read your book?

One of the things that the book tries to do is to make sense of the U.S.-Pakistan relationship in a way that takes you beyond the headlines that are so routine—the bombs, other terrorist events, bilateral disputes, and so on—that unfortunately, if you just read the newspaper on a regular basis, will not give you context. So these stories, while perhaps interesting, do not easily fit into a broad understanding, a longer term understanding. That is one of the things I am trying to do in my book.

I am also trying to provide a portrait of Pakistan that goes beyond the headlines of terrorism or nuclear weapons, and gives a sense as to how the country ticks well beyond that, and to put that into the context of the bilateral relationship with the United States. I’m trying to suggest to American readers in particular, why—after 2014 when the United States draws down its military presence in Afghanistan, the killing of Osama bin Laden, and all the frustrations that we have had with Pakistan over the past decade, and in many ways well beyond that—this relationship continues to matter, why this is a relationship of mutual vulnerability. I think many of us are very frustrated with Pakistan and with good reason. Yet, I think after reading this we will come away impressed with the need to continue to deal with this set of issues one way or another.

And the last point would be that the book explores in a thoughtful way, and I think an even handed way, the complexity of making policy from the American perspective. It is very easy to criticize what the Obama administration, the Bush administration, or prior administrations, have done in dealing with Pakistan. What is very difficult is explaining how exactly they might have done it better. What I try to do is explain the story from that historical perspective, from the view of individuals who were making the decisions at the time showing that often they were not faced with a good answer and a bad answer, but simply two bad choices, and they picked what they thought was the lesser of two evils. And that is another important lesson that the book tries to bring home. All of these should be of interest to people who are not interested in Pakistan per se.

Post a Comment 3 Comments

  • Posted by Peter Duveen

    “6. What is the most overlooked threat to U.S. national interests?” If I may take a crack at this one myself, I would say the most overlooked threat to U.S. national interests are the “interests” themselves, how they are defined and acted upon, and the degree to which they conflict with global interests such as world peace and prosperity. A redefinition would go a long way toward eliminating these interests as a threat. What is the greatest threat to a man waving a loaded gun in heavy traffic? How about “himself.”

  • Posted by Phillip Bolster

    Pakistan is a complex subject which desperately needs some simplifying and explanation in the media.

    All too often I hear defenders of the ‘drone war’ use that line ‘tacit agreement from Pakistan’ as a Realist vaccine against any anti-drone strike argument and although there is some truth in that argument it is bandied about far too often which ignores the underlying complexities behind the Pakistan situation on the ground – the ISI and it’s historic arrangements with the US, the realities of the Tribal region and the duplicitous approaches by the Pakistani military and Pakistani policy towards the Taliban etc

    It all needs ironing out in a way people can understand so I welcome this book .

    Pakistan is too often over simplified as ‘The Most Dangerous Country on earth’ . Time to break it down in similar a way to Iran…. the people want one thing, the state another, the Intel agencies yet another. So many players so many interests so many cooks spoiling the stew.

    Many pieces to the Pakistan puzzle.

    - American/Pakistan politics.. congress etc
    - CIA Drone Strikes since 2004
    - The delicate Pakistan ‘failing state’
    - The ISI and connections to CIA + Washington
    - US AID to Pakistan… carrot and stick policy and its track record etc
    - The military situation in the FATA region

    The Suicide bombings deserve much more attention than the world has given them

    2000-2006 – between 1 and 9 suicide attacks per yr
    then
    2007 – 57+
    2008 – 61+
    2009 – 90+
    2010 – 58

    http://pakistanbodycount.org/analytics

  • Posted by Tariq

    Solution to all problems is to speak truth. what is interest of contemporaries in Af-pak region. who is competing for what. If the answer to this question is honest then a lay man can understant the situation correctly.

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