Has Obama Lost Pakistan?

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In his State of the Union address earlier this week, President Barack Obama had this to say about U.S. counterterrorism efforts in the (mostly) Muslim world:

Today, the organization that attacked us on 9/11 is a shadow of its former self. Different al Qaeda affiliates and extremist groups have emerged – from the Arabian Peninsula to Africa. The threat these groups pose is evolving. But to meet this threat, we don’t need to send tens of thousands of our sons and daughters abroad, or occupy other nations. Instead, we will need to help countries like Yemen, Libya, and Somalia provide for their own security, and help allies who take the fight to terrorists, as we have in Mali. And, where necessary, through a range of capabilities, we will continue to take direct action against those terrorists who pose the gravest threat to Americans.

As we do, we must enlist our values in the fight. That is why my Administration has worked tirelessly to forge a durable legal and policy framework to guide our counterterrorism operations. Throughout, we have kept Congress fully informed of our efforts. I recognize that in our democracy, no one should just take my word that we’re doing things the right way. So, in the months ahead, I will continue to engage with Congress to ensure not only that our targeting, detention, and prosecution of terrorists remains consistent with our laws and system of checks and balances, but that our efforts are even more transparent to the American people and to the world.

One place left unmentioned in the president's address was Pakistan, where a recent Gallup poll indicates that disapproval of U.S. leadership is at an all-time high:

With President Barack Obama's first term characterized by strained relations between Pakistan and the U.S., more than nine in 10 Pakistanis (92%) disapprove of U.S. leadership and 4% approve, the lowest approval rating Pakistanis have ever given.

Pakistanis now more than at any other time in the past three years feel threatened by interaction with the West, according to a May 12-June 6, 2012, survey. A majority (55%) say interaction between Muslim and Western societies is "more of a threat," up significantly from 39% in 2011. This sharp increase is observed at a time of heightened Pakistani concerns regarding U.S. encroachment on Pakistani sovereignty, including an intensified number of U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan, as well as the aforementioned May 2011 killing of bin Laden by the United States military.

Enlisting "values" in the fight against terrorism is all well and good, but values projection isn't a direct marketing campaign. American values are understood abroad not through rhetoric, but through policy. While drones are certainly a more cost efficient, and less invasive, form of interventionism, they are a form of intervention nonetheless. The president came into office hoping for a reset with the Muslim world, but the "Muslim world" isn't a place; it's a concept comprised of many different sects, regions, languages, nationalities and interests. As it turns out, matters of sovereignty, national identity, regional supremacy and patriotism matter to Muslims, too. (Shocking, I know!)

Over 10 percent of the world's Muslim population resides in restive, nuclear-armed Pakistan. There's certainly no panacea for fighting fringe organizations like al-Qaeda, but if President Obama is so concerned about Muslim extremism, then he might want to stop alienating the places where most of the world's Muslims happen to live.

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