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Don’t trust Obama’s poetry

Published Jul 04, 2012 05:24pm


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While the Americans celebrate the Independence Day today, the global public opinion about the United States remains split. The high-income Europeans largely expressed a favourable opinion of the US and its leadership. On the other hand, low-income countries in Asia, Middle East, and Latin America remained wary of the unilateral American policies.

The US image, however, has taken the strongest hit in Pakistan where an overwhelming majority (74 per cent) considers America an enemy. The latest data from the Pew Global Attitudes Survey revealed that 80 per cent Pakistanis held an unfavourable view of the US.

Whereas the US continues to drop bombs on Pakistan from drones, which have reportedly killed several civilians and children along with others, and for months had refused to apologise for ‘accidentally’ killing 24 Pakistani soldiers at the Salala check-post, one could hardly blame Pakistanis for not cozying up to the Americans.

Source: Pew Global Attitudes Project, June 2012.

What a difference three years make. In 2009, President Barack Obama was applauded by the youth at Cairo University and was honoured by the Norwegian Nobel Committee, which awarded him the Nobel Peace Prize. By 2012, thanks to the unilateral international policies pursued by the Obama administration, the admiration had turned into despair and, in some instances, contempt. Pew Data revealed that since 2009 the approval of President Obama’s international policies in Muslim-majority countries declined by 56 per cent.  Even in China, President Obama’s international policies saw a 53 per cent decline in approval from 57 per cent in 2009 to 27 per cent in 2012. At the same time, the US drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, and elsewhere met a widespread global opposition.

Source: Pew Global Attitudes Project, June 2012.

President Obama himself failed to meet global expectations on several fronts. When he was first elected President, many (including the Nobel Committee) thought that he would usher in an era of multilateralism; seek international approval for any military action; and be an honest broker in the Middle East. Pew data however reveal that President Obama has failed to meet expectations on all these fronts.

Source: Pew Global Attitudes Project, June 2012.

The Obama administration’s ‘my way or the highway’ foreign policy has alienated peoples all across the globe. Pew data reveal that apart from Brazil, India, and China, Europeans and Muslim majority countries were of the view that the US acted unilaterally. In India 44 per cent of the respondents were of the view that the US was mindful of her interests. However, a year earlier in 2011, 57 per cent Indians held the same view. Similarly, in 2009, 41 per cent of the global respondents were of the view that the US would consider their country’s interests in making foreign policy decisions.  However, only 26 per cent believed the same in 2012.

Source: Pew Global Attitudes Project, June 2012.

Whereas, the US image continues to suffer because of Obama administration’s unilateralism, President Obama, however, boasted to supporters at a fundraiser of restoring America’s image globally. Earlier in February he told donors in Los Angeles that “[o]ne of the proudest things of my three years in office is helping to restore a sense of respect for America around the world, a belief that we are not just defined by the size of our military.”

The gullible supporters of the Democratic Party in Los Angeles might have bought President Obama’s claim of restoring America’s image abroad. The fact remains that drone attacks in Pakistan and the unilateral American foreign policy, which is driven by Pentagon rather than the State Department, has caused many to lose confidence in the US and President Obama.

The dissent is no longer confined to the people in foreign lands.  The ever expanding role of the CIA and other military institutions in civilian matters in the US has raised ire amongst American legislators and veteran diplomats. Twenty-six Congressmen, including two Republicans, have recently wrote to President Obama raising concerns about the process through which drone strikes are being authorised. The letter questions the “nature of the follow-up that is conducted when civilians are killed or injured ... and the mechanisms that ensure civilian casualty numbers are collected, tracked and analysed.” And whereas President Obama was advising supporters of restoring America’s image, the Congressmen were concerned that the civilian fatalities from drone strikes would further fuel anti-Americanism abroad. The drone strikes “could significantly increase risks of killing innocent civilians or those with no relationship to a potential attack on the US and further inflame anti-American sentiment abroad,” wrote American Congressmen.

The American unilateralism of the past decade or so is likely the result of the increasing control of the American defense establishment (Pentagon, CIA, and the like) on diplomatic corps. Writing in Foreign Affairs in 2009 J. Anthony Holmes warned that if “the United States is to remain a superpower, it must rebuild the once-robust civilian diplomatic and development capacity that has since disappeared.” Ambassador Holmes is a past president of the American Foreign Service Association and a former US Ambassador to Burkina Faso. In his essay Ambassador Holmes urged the Obama administration not to rely exclusively on military but instead “invest in the government's traditional diplomatic capacity and build the bureaucratic infrastructure needed to deal with post conflict stabilisation,  reconstruction, and nation building.”

Despite cogent advice from seasoned diplomats of letting civilians manage the US foreign policy, the Obama administration continues to follow the plans devised by the American military establishment. How else would one explain continuing with the drone strikes that have met global condemnation?

One wonders how serious President Obama is about continuing in his role as the President of the United States for another four years. While talking to his supporters in Los Angeles he effectively declared that one should not read too much into his campaign promises. Borrowing an expression from the former New York Governor Mario Cuomo that “campaigning is poetry, governance is prose,” President Obama stated: “We’ve been slogging through prose for the last three years. And sometimes that gets people discouraged because people, they like the poetry.”

The Norwegian Nobel Committee in 2009 perhaps also bought into President Obama’s poetry of campaign promises. The committee praised him for bringing back multilateral diplomacy. Three years later, Obama administration’s unilateralism is at the centre of global discontent with the United States.

President Obama’s prose in governance is in stark contrast to the poetry of his campaign promises. This time around it would be prudent to judge the President for his prose and not his poetry.

Murtaza Haider, Ph.D. is the Associate Dean of research and graduate programs at the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University in Toronto. He can be reached by email at

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.


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Murtaza Haider is a Toronto-based academic and the director of

He tweets @regionomics

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (15) Closed

Albert Jul 04, 2012 05:56pm
First of all every pakistani should start thinking with right mind frame. After Israel pakistan is the Second country recepient of uncounted foreign Aid from USA ,, every pakistani instead of hating America should say thank you america. Political or Social problems pakistan has those are all created by the hands of pakistanis who are living in pakistan. Every pakistani who lives in pakistan dream to come to usa, Sadly once they reach to Usa they live with hate to America and do not want to go back to Pakistan. Very weired nation I am pakistani living in united states and love America and always pray for Peace in pakistan and prosperity for every pakistan
Mohammad Ali Khan Jul 04, 2012 01:55pm
Neither Obama, nor Pakistani politicians can fix Pakistan.Only when Pakistanis will wake,get organized and lead their country,can Pakistan start its progress.
NASAH (USA) Jul 04, 2012 03:09pm
Poetry or prose -- the alternative to Obama is worst medicine for Pakistan.
raika45 Jul 04, 2012 12:49pm
All your charts and writing has a small problem.The nation whose president you are condemning is giving Pakistan billions in aid.Not your fair weather friends China.Without this cash your nation is in big trouble.Why do you not talk of China's doing.To it's minority including the muslims, or it's demands of the south china sea? You should not spit at the hand that helps you.Especially at the leader.What makes you think that his replacement will embrace your country.It is not right for you to create problems regarding Pakistan and America among your people.
saythetruth Jul 04, 2012 12:52pm
Pakistan should not wast time with USA or any other country we are all alone and at the moment I believe it a good thing. Obama or your Nana can not fix the Political mess of Pakistan. All we need is a honest leader with a good team of intelligent advisers to fix Pakistan. Pakistan problems are complex and westerns can never understand our culture and they always try to apply their values on our system . There is a lot of politics in USA and nothing is getting done form health care to unemployment the country is in a mess and on a verge of bankruptcy. Poor Obama is stuck with horrible democrats on one hand and on the other hand the Republican who got nothing better to do other than Obama bashing all day. USA economy is stand still at the moment, even if Obama want to reform just the foreign Policy nobody care in the USA. To USA foreign policy means only one thing protecting the interest of Israel. Most American are clue less they care more for Israel due to APIC influence than their own country. Even though Obama is very biased toward Pakistan due to the ill advice that he gets from his adviser including Ms. Clinton. I still feel sad for him because he is good decent leader perfect for USA, he can do a lot of good for rest of the world but he has same problem as Pakistan very bad advisers.
@anujthegreatguy Jul 04, 2012 01:16pm
As per Imran khan said "'Only Pakistan can solve its problem" Pakistan have enough capability and visionary people to lead the nation to the path of prosperity. They only need to click at once. US can do nothing about the issues of south east Asia. They are only protecting their interest while keeping lives of the people of subcontinent at stake.
Anuj Jul 04, 2012 02:15pm
Pakistan will continue to need America this decade to see through several messes including the economy. Pakistan's democratic institutons, irrespective of memogate, will continue t be beholden to the US as the power of the Pak army slowly declines in public governance , over the decade. So like it or not, there are very low chances of Obama bashing to cause any reduction in the relationship, howwever rocky it may be, and there will continue to be a flood of visa seekers from pakistan to US to study (law etc) and work there in the interim.
Kanwal Jul 04, 2012 12:12pm
And you truly do not mention Dear Mr Haider that Pakistan was a truly beautiful country comparably before our friends thought of fighting their war on other people's lands through other people's unwilling sacrifices. Two Afghan wars later, we the common Pakistanis, already in fight against poverty and the civil and military feudals of this country (who were very much favored with money, resources and media by these so-called foreign friends), are really not supposed to stay in love with USA. No normal person would.
AABID Jul 05, 2012 01:19am
Till the nation don't have clear policy, strong leadership honest and obedient military and awake people, can not make progress. Pakistan must understand the value of relationship (not just for money) value of human life and citizen's rights. The literate people of the country need to work hard and need to guide/educate innocents. The country still have lot of intellectual persons, they just need to show courage.
Against injsutice Jul 05, 2012 03:12am
It is not billion in aids. It is in billions in compensation for services rendered. As for the fair weather friend China, it supplies Pakistan with logistical and military support. And many leading economists state that Pakistan would do well without American dollars, which amount to nothing more than a bribe. Obama is worse than Bush when it comes to foreign policy. And the charts not only reflect Pakistan but other countries of the world.
shirin Jul 05, 2012 04:22am
US is not giving aid to Pakistan. It is reimburing Pakista, which yes, charges US a pretty penny for the use of its air, sea, and land. That money comes out of USAID account but it is not AID. It is reimbursement. So yes, we can spit on the hand, because there are times the customer needs to be shown the door. Incidentally, Israeli is the biggest recipient of USAID, and still the Haaretz news article are often critical of US. And Haaretz is a left wing newspaper. Imagine what the rightwinger says. If you were not so bent on brown nosing Americans, you would realize that every journalist is free to critique the foreign policy of US. That is so completly fair.
ahmed Jul 05, 2012 04:24am
pakistan's military is for the military only. they do not answer to elected officials. pakistan is a mess and must clean itself up instead of blaming americans. i hope that my country will find the way.
Indian Jul 05, 2012 07:06am
I am truely inquisitive as to what a republican President ( Say George Bush ) would have done in face of NATO suppy line blockade!!!! I guess all of us know the answer. So pray to God that the Republicans loose and the Democrats and Obama wins the elections. Else Pakistan would have had it.
Fuad Jul 05, 2012 04:05pm
Indians can daydream about the " would have had it" scenario! Many a Republican administration has come and gone and we've still not "had it".
Irfan baloch Jul 05, 2012 08:47am
@raika45 thanks for stating the obvious, but sadly you lost the plot the article is not about how much aid Pakistani government gets, but the clear contrast between what Obama promised & received the Nobel prize for it & what he actually did. so with due respect, American aid should'nt have any bearing on stating the facts that American foreign policy is driven by its military & covert ops. its also irrelevant how the American Policy will shape up towards Pakistan & rest of the world because the focus of the article is Obama's broken promises. finally, reference to the last sentence of your post, I dare say that you have lost the plot. why did you decide that pointing out the discrepancies in Obama's promises & his actions is creating problems for Pakistan? so please tell us, whats right for the author? Campaign for another Nobel prize for Obama