What if Pakistan shoots down a Drone?

By Dr. Haider Mehdi 

It is hoped that foreign policy decision-makers in the corridors of power in Islamabad and defense managers in the GHQ, Rawalpindi, will consider this article as a policy document and review it with diligent deliberations and considerable insight in the context of future Pak-US relations. It seems imperative now that making a final or fundamental policy decision on the status of US drone strikes on Pakistani territory has assumed a central stage for bringing peace to this nation. Not only that, it is a vital issue on the basis of which Pakistan can re-establish its control over a nearly decade-old violation of its territory and sovereignty. Also, a firm decision to stop drone attacks by fresh diplomatic initiatives and possibly military intervention, Islamabad can manage to remove a major impediment to peace talks with the insurgents in the northern part of the country and gain considerable control over ever-growing domestic terrorism. A policy decision has to be made by Islamabad now.

So the important questions are: What if Pakistan were to shoot down a US drone over its territory? Is the prevalent fear amongst the power-holders in Islamabad accurate and realistic that Washington would retaliate with a massive military response and bomb Pakistan back into the Stone Age (so to speak)? These are two vital questions that Islamabad needs to analyze and understand with absolute clarity and an in-depth comprehension of the American political-military behavior.

In my personal considered opinion, the Obama Administration will not retaliate with a military response. Instead, it will seek a diplomatic and a military-to-military (Pak Army-Pentagon) secretly agreed upon peaceful resolution to the issue.

No, Sir, Barak Hussein Obama will not venture America into fresh military adventurism.  Among several other factors, the US knows that the Pakistani military is a highly trained, disciplined, organized, powerful force. Pakistan is not Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya or a militarily weak nation in Africa, or Central or Latin America. Military action would not be an easy mission for the US to undertake.

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Having said that, here is my line of thought and reasoning to explain why Obama will not seek a military solution if a US drone was struck down. This raison d’etre needs to be considered with due intellectual understanding and expert policy-making indulgence.

Let us start with the foreign policy-making process in Washington. A superpower like the US does not make its foreign policy on an ad-hoc basis. There is a lengthy, extended and meticulously organized and imaginative process that is carried out in formulating interstate relations. At the Pentagon and State Department, various possible scenarios are developed: What will happen if such and such happens? What possible political reactions or military responses are feasible from an adversary in a political-military conflict? What crisis control management mechanism can be set into action to ward off a potentially dangerous escalation of a conflict? What kind of American public support can be mustered quickly in case a military response becomes imperative? How would Congress react to the president’s declaration of war against a former ally? What would the Republican Party’s and dissident Democrats’ reaction be in the event of a fresh military initiative? In addition, policy input from think tanks and the academic community is sought.

In spite of this carefully laid out process of decision-making in US foreign policy deliberations, an overall riding fact is that nearly all decisions on foreign-policy in Washington are made with an explicit mindset and a nearly rigid sense of self-perception that the US is the holder of tremendous political and military power, and it is entitled to shape all global political events to its will.

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Added to this debilitating psychological factor is the awesome power of the office of the presidency in the US political system. The element of the personality cult of the American president is so strongly and so deeply imbedded in the system that the incumbent president becomes the central figure in the conduct of US foreign policy in all decisions, may they be political or military in nature, and are directly linked to the prestige and historical significance of the White House occupant at the time.

So, the most important question here is this: How would Obama react in the event of Pakistan shooting down a US drone over its territory? Here is an analysis:

1) Constitutionally, Obama cannot contest presidential elections for a third term of office. Hence, winning the election will not be an overriding personal political consideration for Obama. He certainly will be careful, though, in selecting a course of action that could enhance the Democratic Party’s next election prospects.

2) How does Obama want to perceive his place in America’s political history (surely he must wish to be politically immortal)? Does he wish to be remembered as a “war president” or a president cherished for his domestic political reform? We will not have an answer to this until Obama writes his political autobiography at some point in the future.

3) Will the American public support Obama if he makes a formal declaration of war against Pakistan? Expert opinion on American public attitudes will tell you there is a 40/60 (40 in favor, 60 against) probability of support of another American war at this stage with the global political situation.

4) How would the Pakistani military leadership react to yet another blatant military provocation against its country – in fact, an act of war?
5) Does Pakistan have the economic muscle and the political capacity to mobilize its army against a US military onslaught?

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6) Will Pakistan use short-range nuclear tactical warheads to decimate a major portion of American troops in Afghanistan – or even create a “Threat Perception” as a “deterrence” to ward off an anticipated American attack? How would this “Real” or “Perceived Threat”  be viewed in the White House as Obama nears the end of his presidential term?

7) Would Obama jeopardize his place in American history by provoking a nuclear threat to American troops and then back down, which would be seen domestically as a major strategic defeat after a military failure in Afghanistan?

8) Obama will have to decide: How would another war under his watch be judged in future global political history?

9) How will future generations in America evaluate Obama’s presidency? Will they throw him into the dustbin of American history? Will they deny Obama the political immortality that every American president dreams of? Perhaps they will – Obama will be in the same dustbin of political history as George W. Bush has been assured of.

Finally, and most importantly, here is the deciding factor: What place will Barack Hussein Obama have in history as an African-American president, under whose watch many more white, as well as black, soldiers are likely to be killed? That will be Obama’s paramount concern while deciding how to respond to Pakistan’s shooting down a US drone over its territory.

If Pakistan’s fresh diplomatic initiatives fail with Obama’s Washington, Islamabad should go ahead and shoot down the next US drone in Pakistan’s sky.

History and time is on Pakistan’s side – undoubtedly!