The day before we celebrate our country’s independence, most of us here in the United States are thinking about what it means to enjoy the exceptional status of being American citizens. Many of us are thinking about the sacrifices made by our forebears and loved ones whose service in uniform has made ours the most revered nation on earth — a beacon for liberty, and justice for all mankind.
But on the day before we celebrate an event that fundamentally changed world history in ways few events in the history of mankind have, America’s chief envoy to the world beyond our borders was thinking about other things during a telephone call with Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar. The purpose of Secretary Clinton’s call: To issue an apology to the government of a country which has not only become a critical incubator for terrorist groups that target U.S. and allied interest globally, but a government whose agents have also persistently meddled in our mission to deliver peace and stability to its neighborhood.
“I once again reiterated our deepest regrets for the tragic incident in Salala last November. I offered our sincere condolences to the families of the Pakistani soldiers who lost their lives. Foreign Minister Khar and I acknowledged the mistakes that resulted in the loss of Pakistani military lives. We are sorry for the losses suffered by the Pakistani military,” Secretary Clinton later shared with reporters.
The government of Pakistan responded to this apology by agreeing to reopen NATO supply routes to Afghanistan that cross Pakistani territory. According to The New York Times, “The agreement ends a bitter seven-month stalemate between the two countries that has threatened to jeopardize counter-terrorism cooperation and complicated the American troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.”
Yet this agreement also signifies an end to something far more important. That is, America’s position of strength in our dealings with a nuclear-armed foreign power whose government has quite troubling ties to terrorist elements that pose the most immediate threats to the safety and security of Americans and our allies.
Issuing apologies to a government whose intelligence apparatus has been a top supporter of militants who today target Americans in Afghanistan and beyond will only be perceived as one thing in countries where movements like Al Qaeda are thriving: A display of American weakness. Particularly, of course, within Pakistan itself.
Indeed, the State Department has once again assumed it is appropriate to apply Western standards for diplomatic engagement to a situation in which those standards do not apply.
Whereas we in the West might perceive such gestures to be driven by a spirit of cooperative interest, and to be reconciliatory in nature, the Pakistanis and other foreign observers in Southwest Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa will most likely interpret them quite differently.
While the tenuous relations with the government of Pakistan following America’s accidental killings of 24 Pakistani military personnel certainly jeopardized our capabilities to execute the mission in Afghanistan, it is conceivable that this latest development could do far greater damage.
In his book "Diplomacy," Dr. Henry Kissinger posited nuance is the essence of statesmanship. Perhaps the Obama administration could benefit from purchasing a few copies of this work. For — and to put it bluntly — many of us who are concerned about the safety of our friends or family members serving in Afghanistan today found Secretary Clinton’s actions to be anything but nuanced. For many of us, they were a slap in the face.
Michael S. Smith II is a principal and co-founder of Kronos Advisory, counter-terrorism adviser to members of the United States Congress, and a senior analyst with Wikistrat Ltd. Follow him on Twitter@MichaelSSmithII.