The Libyan dictator only had to be slowly cornered by his own people with a little help from the sky – and not speedily smashed with a hasty, chest-thumping foreign invasion.
Such “strategic patience” is now President Obama’s guiding doctrine for dealing with the world’s hot spots. From North Korea to Iran to Africa, he has looked for smart but small moves to ensnare an opponent while biding his time to build up alliances, “leading from behind,” and husbanding resources.
If this approach is successful, a conflict’s finale – let’s say, a Qaddafi meekly hiding in a drainpipe – makes this clever, lawyerly effort look so simple.
Strategic patience, however, doesn’t work if Mr. Obama also reveals his own impatience, such as setting a deadline for a conflict to end. Then the advantage of strategic patience goes to an opponent.
That’s now the case in Afghanistan, where Obama plans to end the American combat role by 2014 (assuming he is reelected). Not only is the Taliban waiting out this ongoing American exit, but so is the Pakistani military.
No wonder, then, that the president had to send Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, CIA chief David Petraeus, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey to Islamabad this week. This power team tried to cajole Pakistan into working harder and faster to eliminate Taliban bases on its soil, especially the Haqqani network.
For more than a decade, America has pressured Pakistan to do this, with only some success. Obama even had to ignore Pakistan’s sovereignty to snag Osama bin Laden last spring.
So what does strategic patience look like for the United States in Afghanistan?
The key lies in India, which Pakistan perceives as an archfoe. They are competing for influence in Afghanistan after a US pullout. Obama must convince India to make concessions to reduce Pakistani fears of its larger neighbor in order to help the US leave behind a stable, friendly Afghanistan. The US claims Pakistan is backing the Haqqani group in case it and other Taliban groups win in Afghanistan.
India has already reduced the number of its troops along the Pakistan border. And in recent days, the two sides have moved to expand the very limited trade between them. Amazingly, trade between Pakistan and India was a small $1.83 billion in 2010. Only 1.2 percent of Pakistan’s exports went to India.
A thriving Indo-Pak trade relationship would reduce the mistrust between them, as would a loosening of travel between the two countries. Most of all, India needs to let the people in the disputed territory of Kashmir decide their own future.
Throwing more American aid at Pakistan without reducing its historic fears of India does not show strategic patience.
If such a doctrine is to work in Afghanistan – America’s longest war – the president must work smarter with India.