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As we go to the polls today, the world around us is quickly changing in new and distressing ways. The challenges the international system will present the government we elect will be harsher, more complicated and more dangerous than the ones its predecessors have faced.
Bluntly stated, the world that will challenge the next government will be one characterized by the end of US global predominance. In just a few short weeks, the new administration of President Barack Obama has managed to weaken the perception of American power and embolden US adversaries throughout the world.
In the late stages of the presidential race, now Vice President Joseph Biden warned us that this would happen. In a speech before supporters he said, "It will not be six months before the world tests Barack Obama... [We're] gonna have an international crisis, a generated crisis, to test the mettle of this guy... They may emanate from the Middle East. They may emanate from the subcontinent. They may emanate from Russia's newly emboldened position."
As it happens, Biden's warning had two inaccuracies. Rather than six months, America's adversaries began testing Obama's mettle within weeks. And instead of one crisis from Russia, the Middle East or the Indian subcontinent, Obama has faced and failed to meet "generated crises" from all three.
TAKE RUSSIA for example. Since coming into office, Obama has repeatedly tried to build an alliance with the "newly emboldened" Russian bear. A week after entering office, he announced that he hoped to negotiate a nuclear disarmament agreement with Russia that would reduce the US's nuclear stockpiles by 80 percent. At a security conference in Munich last weekend, Biden stated that the administration wishes to push the "reset button" on its relationship with Russia and be friends.
Responding to these American signals, the Russians proceeded to humiliate Washington. Last week President Dmitry Medvedev hosted Kyrgyzstan's President Kurmanbak Bakiyev in Moscow. After their meeting the two announced that Russia will give the former Soviet republic $2 billion in loans and assistance and that Kyrgyzstan will close the US Air Force base at Manas which serves American forces in Afghanistan.
After cutting off one of the US's major supply routes for its forces in Afghanistan, Russia agreed to permit the US to resume its shipment of nonlethal military supplies for Afghanistan through Russian territory. Those shipments were suspended last summer by NATO in retaliation for Russia's invasion of Georgia. And now they are being resumed - on Moscow's terms. The US, for its part, couldn't be more grateful to Moscow for lending a helping hand.
THE US ITSELF WOULDN'T have found itself needing Russian supply lines had the situation in nuclear-armed Pakistan not deteriorated as it has in recent months. Much of the situation in Pakistan today is due to the Bush administration's incompetent bungling of US relations with the failed state. For years the US gave tens of billions of dollars to the military government of Gen. Pervez Musharraf. Musharraf in turn used the money to build up Pakistan's military presence along the border with India, while allowing al-Qaida and the Taliban to relocate their headquarters in Pakistan after being ousted from Afghanistan by US forces.
Vigilant in maintaining his power, for years Musharraf repressed all voices calling for democratic transformation. For their part democrats in places like Pakistan's Supreme Court were not friends of the West. They did not oppose the Taliban and al-Qaida. Rather their enemies were Musharraf and the US which kept him in power.
Responding to a sudden urge to encourage the forces of democracy in Pakistan, while advocating their abandonment throughout the Arab world, secretary of state Condoleezza Rice compelled Musharraf first to resign as head of the Pakistani military - thus ending his control over the country's jihadist ISI intelligence services and over the pro-jihadist military. Then she forced him to accept open elections, which unsurprisingly, he lost.
The democrats who replaced him had absolutely no influence over either the ISI or the military and realized that their power and their very lives were in the Taliban's hands. Consequently, since Pakistan's elections last year, the new government has surrendered larger and larger areas of the country to the Taliban. Indeed, today the Taliban either directly control or are fighting for control over the majority of Pakistani territory. Moreover, the Taliban and al-Qaida have intensified their war in Afghanistan and are making significant gains in that country as well.
This would have been a difficult situation for the US to contend with no matter who replaced George W. Bush in the Oval Office. Unfortunately, due to Obama's stridently anti-Pakistani rhetoric throughout the campaign - rhetoric untethered to any coherent strategy for dealing with Pakistan - the Pakistanis no doubt felt the need to test his mettle as quickly as possible.
For his part, Obama gave them good reason to believe he could be intimidated. By letting it be known that he intended for his special envoy to the region Richard Holbrook's job to include responsibility for pressuring US ally India to reach a peace agreement with Pakistan over the disputed Jammu and Kashmir province in spite of clear proof that Pakistani intelligence was the mastermind of the December terror attacks in Mumbai, Obama showed that he was willing to defend Pakistan's "honor" and so accept its continued bad behavior.
LAST FRIDAY, the Pakistanis tested Obama. The Supreme Court freed Pakistan's Dr. Strangelove - A.Q. Khan - from the house arrest he had been under since his nuclear proliferation racket was exposed by the Libyans in 2004. Through his nuclear proliferation activities, Khan is not only the father of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal - but of North Korea's and Iran's as well.
Khan's release casts a dark shadow on Obama's plan to dismantle much of America's nuclear arsenal, because with him free, the prospect that Pakistan is back in the proliferation business becomes quite real. Already on Sunday Khan announced his plan to travel abroad immediately. For its part, the court in Islamabad specifically stated that Khan is free to resume his "scientific research."
Pakistan's open contempt for the US and its weakness in the face of the Taliban's takeover of the country has direct consequences for the US's mission in Afghanistan - and for its new dependence on Russia. This week the Taliban bombed a bridge on the Khyber Pass along the Pakistani border with Afghanistan that served as a supply line to US forces in Afghanistan. As US Brig.-Gen. James McConville stated in Kabul, the latest attack simply underlines how important it was for the US to resume its shipments through Russia.
MANY HAVE POINTED to Pakistan as an example of why Israel and the West have no reason to be concerned about Iran acquiring nuclear arms. To date, they claim, Pakistan has not used its nuclear arms, and indeed has been deterred by both India and the West from doing so.
While it is true that Pakistan has yet to use its nuclear arsenal, it is also true that since its initial nuclear test in 1998, Pakistan has twice brought the subcontinent to the brink of nuclear war. In both 1999 and 2002, Pakistan provoked India into a nuclear standoff.
Moreover, due to its nuclear arsenal, Pakistan successfully deterred the US from taking action against it after the September 11 attacks showed that al-Qaida and the Taliban owed their existence to Pakistan's ISI. Although Pakistan's government is not an Islamic revolutionary one like Iran's, the fact is that since it became a nuclear power, Pakistan has moved away from the West, not toward it. Indeed, its nuclear deterrent against India - and the West - has empowered and strengthened the jihadists and brought them ever closer to taking over the regime in a seamless power grab.
Far from arguing against preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, the Pakistani precedent argues for taking every possible action to prevent Iran from acquiring them. After all, unlike the situation in Pakistan, Iran's regime is already controlled by jihadist revolutionaries. And like their counterparts in Pakistan, these forces will be strengthened, not weakened in the event that Iran acquires nuclear weapons.
Indeed, since Obama came into office waving an enormous olive branch in Teheran's direction, the regime has become more outspoken in its hostility toward the US. It has humiliated Washington by refusing visas to America's women's badminton team to play their Iranian counterparts. It has announced it will only agree to direct talks with Washington if it pulls US forces out of the Middle East, abandons Israel and does nothing to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. It has rudely blackballed US representatives who are Jewish, like House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Howard Berman, at international conclaves. And it has announced that it will refuse to deal with Obama's suggested envoy to Iran, Dennis Ross, who is also a Jew. In all of its actions, Iran has gone out of its way to embarrass Obama and humiliate America. And Obama, for his part, has continued to embrace Teheran as his most sought-after negotiating partner.
MOVING AHEAD, the question of how our next government should handle America's apparent decision to turn its back on its traditional role as freedom's global defender becomes the most pressing concern. It is clear that we will need to embrace the burden of our own defense and stop expecting to receive much from our alliance with the US. But it is also clear that we will need a new strategy for dealing with the US itself.
In formulating that policy, the next government should draw lessons from fellow US-ally India. Once it became clear to the Indians that the Obama administration intended to treat them as the strategic and moral equivalent of Pakistan, they struck back hard. When the administration signaled that it would agree to Pakistan's assertion that its problems with the Taliban were linked to India's refusal to cede Jammu and Kashmir to Islamabad, New Delhi essentially told Washington to get lost.
In an interview on Indian television last week, ahead of Holbrook's first visit to the area this week, India's National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan said that Obama would be "barking up the wrong tree" if he were to subscribe to such views. He added that India would be unwilling to discuss the issue of Jammu and Kashmir with Holbrook and so compelled Obama to remove the issue from Holbrook's portfolio.
At the same time, the Indian government released a dossier substantiating its claim that the December attacks on Mumbai were planned in jihadist terror training camps in Pakistan and enjoyed the support of the ISI. Moreover, in response to Khan's release from house arrest on Friday, India called for the international community to list Pakistan as a terror state.
In acting as it has, India has made two things clear to the Obama administration. First, it will not allow Washington to appease Pakistan at its expense. Second, it will do whatever it believes is necessary to secure its own interests both diplomatically and militarily.
A sound example for the next government to follow.