Posts Tagged ‘ Mitt Romney ’

Why Do Republicans Dislike Muslims?

By Dr Hesham A. Hassaballa for Patheos

For many years of my adult life, I was a Republican and voted with the GOP in almost every election. For several of those years, in fact, I was in the Republican Party organization in my local township. I felt at home in the Republican Party, with its insistence on personal liberty and limited government. Moreover, I felt that it was more “faith-friendly,” with people of faith being more welcome among Republicans than Democrats.

In 2008, however, that all changed. With the repeated whispers among Republicans that Obama was a “Muslim,” as if that was some sort of plague or flaw, I was totally soured against the GOP, and I officially left the Party. Since then, I have periodically wondered whether I made the right decision. In 2011, in a column I wrote for Patheos, I came to the conclusion that I had done the right thing.

Since then, it seems that the Republican Party has decided that demonizing Islam and Muslims is good politics. Never mind that American Muslims are some of the most successful Americans around. Never mind that American Muslims are just the sort of people who would be good allies of the Republican Party. Never mind that American Muslims are an important part of the fabric of our country and marginalizing them—as with any other minority—can only hurt the country going forward.

No. It seems that the Republican Party does not want any Muslims in its ranks, and it is quite content with that.

Now, that last sentence that I wrote may have been out of emotion and without much basis in fact. But, in fact a recent poll by the Arab American Institute backs up that contention with actual fact. According to the survey, 57 percent of Republicans have an unfavorable view of Muslims. Only 26 percent have a favorable view of Muslims. Now, when asked about “Muslim Americans,” it got a little better: 47 percent have unfavorable views versus 35 percent with favorable views.

According to the survey, “Republicans and Romney voters only give strong negative ratings to Arabs, Muslims, Arab Americans, and American Muslims.”

As a whole, Republicans are just not that into Muslims. But, does that explain the seemingly endless demonization of Islam and Muslims from members of the Republican Party? Is it a personal bias and dislike of Muslims that leads Republican lawmakers from more than a dozen states to try an enact laws that ban “Sharia law”? It would be easy to draw this conclusion and move on.

But as I read on in the study, I was struck by something that really explained a lot behind this negative attitude toward Muslims. When asked, “Do you personally know anyone who is Arab or Muslim?” 49-63 percent of respondents answered in the negative, the most being among Romney voters. Among those who said they knew an Arab or Muslim, 56-65 percent had a favorable view.

That is the key, and it actually gave me a lot of hope. Simply put, we need to know one another better. I suspect that many of the negative feelings toward Muslims found in this study are due to the fact that most of the respondents do not know a Muslim. Once they know a Muslim, they realize that Muslims are Americans just like them who love their country deeply and wish for many of the same things that they do.

It’s going to take a lot of effort, for both the American Muslim community and their neighbors of other faiths. That work, however, is critical to our cohesion as a nation and a people. There are forces of hatred and division that are actively at work to make sure that this divide amongst us stays as wide as possible. We have to make sure that these efforts end up in miserable failure.

Hesham A. Hassaballa is a Chicago-based physician and writer. He is author of, most recently, Noble Brother: The Story of the Prophet Muhammad in Poetry (Faithful Word Press). You can follow Hesham Hassaballa on Facebook. Hassaballa’s column, “An American Islam,” is published monthly on the Muslim portal. Subscribe via email or RSS.

Haley’s Comment

As Reported By Robert Walker for The Huffington Post

Like a comet streaking across the heavens, Governor Nikki Haley’s comment on The View about women not caring about contraception is drawing a lot of attention. And rightly so.

Poll after poll suggests that women do care about contraception. Case in point: Mitt Romney’s plan to shut down the family planning clinics run by Planned Parenthood has cost him dearly. His support among women has dropped precipitously in the past few months as voters learn more about his views on family planning.

When Haley and other Republican leaders opine about the lack of voter interest in contraception, it’s more wishful thinking than political insight. They recognize that the positions taken by the GOP presidential aspirants on family planning may help them in the primaries, but it will undoubtedly hurt them in the general election. As a result, they want to change the subject in the worst way.

Unfortunately for them, comments like those made by Governor Haley do nothing to shift voter attention to the issues they want to talk about, like deficits and the economy. To the contrary, they reinforce the idea that Republicans are tone-deaf on women’s issues.

Haley’s comment, in particular, appears to suggest that Republican leaders, even women like her, don’t care about a women’s access to contraception. Before making her claim, maybe she should have checked in with another Republican leader, Senator Olympia Snowe, who earlier this week said that the political attacks on contraception were “retro.”

What’s even more “retro,” however, is the unspoken half of Haley’s comment. By suggesting that women don’t really care about contraception, she’s suggesting that men could care even less. So much less that it’s not even worth discussing.

Polls, of course, suggest to the contrary. While men may feel less strongly than women do, they also care about contraception. Most men recognize that they also benefit when women are able to determine the number and timing of their pregnancies. Some men may want to keep women “barefoot and pregnant,” but it’s a pretty small minority. This is, after all, the 21st century.

As governor of South Carolina, Nikki Haley ought to appreciate the critical need for family planning services. Nearly half of all pregnancies in the United States are unintended. According to the Guttmacher Institute, South Carolina’s rate of unintended pregnancy is significantly higher than the national average. In 2006, 52,000 South Carolina residents had an unintended pregnancy, a rate of 58 per 1,000 women aged 15 to 44. Guttmacher report that births resulting from these unintended pregnancies cost the state and federal governments $254 million in 2006.

And South Carolina’s teenage pregnancy rate, while it’s been declining in recent years, is still about 25 percent higher than the national average according to the Centers for Disease Control.

A poll released earlier this year indicated that 95 percent of South Carolinians believe that teenage pregnancy is an important issue, with 85 percent supporting school-based sexuality education. Maybe, Governor Haley should go on a listening tour in South Carolina before declaring that women don’t care about contraception.

Many regard Governor Haley as a rising political star in the political firmament. She’s frequently mentioned as a possible vice presidential selection. Given Romney’s “gender gap,” adding a woman to the ticket might be a smart move, but, maybe he should find a woman who understands how women — and men — genuinely feel about contraception.

Governor Haley’s comment, like the famed Halley’s comet, will soon fade from public view, but the issue of contraception will not fade anytime soon. The war on contraception is real. State cutbacks, like those in Texas, are forcing family-planning clinics to close their doors, and if GOP leaders succeed in their efforts to eliminate Title X, the federal program that provides low-income women with improved access to family planning, more shutdowns will inevitably occur.

That’s why it’s so critically important that women — and men — pledge to speak out in support of reproductive health and rights. Don’t let the Governor Haleys of the world speak for you.

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note- We profiled Governor Nikki Haley a few days before she was elected as the first Indian born female governor as well as minority woman governor of a US state and wished her well here. However, her party and ideals diametrically are opposed to ours as Democratic voters in the US elections as many Pakistani Americans now are. Thus, some of her ideas and beliefs are not necessarily our own, but we still wish her well as she is a fellow Desi~

Rick Santorum, Meet Hamza Kashgari

By George Packer for The New Yorker

President Kennedy’s 1960 speech on religious freedom makes Rick Santorum “throw up.” “What kind of country do we live in that says only people of nonfaith can come into the public square and make their case?” Santorum says. It’s a central part of his campaign strategy to distort such things as a Kennedy speech, or an Obama speech, to whip up outrage at the supposed war on religious people in America. Here’s what Kennedy said:

I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute; where no Catholic prelate would tell the President—should he be Catholic—how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote; where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference, and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him, or the people who might elect him… I believe in a President whose religious views are his own private affair.

Kennedy said much more, but this is the strongest passage of that famous campaign speech to a group of ministers in Houston, in which he argued that the election of a Catholic President who believed in the Constitution shouldn’t concern any American who believed in the Constitution—and, Santorum says, “That makes me throw up.” Santorum’s rhetorical eloquence is about equal to his analytical skill. Kennedy had nothing to say against believers entering public life, or believers bringing their religious conscience to bear on public policy. He spoke against any move to make religion official. The Constitution speaks against this, too—Article VI establishes an oath to the Constitution as the basis for public office, and explicitly prohibits a religious test, while the First Amendment forbids the official establishment of religion and protects its free practice. Santorum claims to be a constitutionalist, but that’s just rhetoric and opportunism. Santorum believes in a religious test—that may be all he believes in. (Mitt Romney believes in a religious test of a slimy, halfway, Romneyesque variety: in 2007, he reportedly dismissed the idea of appointing a Muslim to his Cabinet, saying, “Based on the numbers of American Muslims [as a percentage] in our population, I cannot see that a Cabinet position would be justified.” So does Newt Gingrich, who has made atheist-baiting a central part of his political business.)

Kennedy seemed to have someone like Santorum in mind when he warned, “For while this year it may be a Catholic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed, in other years it has been—and may someday be again—a Jew, or a Quaker, or a Unitarian, or a Baptist. It was Virginia’s harassment of Baptist preachers, for example, that led to Jefferson’s statute of religious freedom. Today, I may be the victim, but tomorrow it may be you—until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped apart at a time of great national peril.” In 1960, it would have been hard to imagine how thoroughly religious sectarianism and intolerance would infect American politics, and especially one major party. The outcry over Obama’s policy on health insurance and contraception has almost nothing to do with that part of the First Amendment about the right to free religious practice, which is under no threat in this country. It is all about a modern conservative Kulturkampf that will not accept the other part of the religion clause, which prohibits any official religion.

Santorum, like most conservatives these days, says he is a constitutionalist. Jefferson wrote, and Madison worked to pass, the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom, which held that “all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.” Jefferson included an even stronger phrase that was eventually struck out by amendment: “the opinions of men are not the object of civil government, nor under its jurisdiction.” Presumably, all of this originalist nonsense makes Rick Santorum heave, gag, vomit, and puke.

What makes me throw up is the story of Hamza Kashgari. It’s a shame that every American doesn’t know his name. He’s a young, slender, philosophical-minded columnist and blogger from Saudi Arabia who, earlier this month, dared to tweet phrases of an imagined conversation with the Prophet Mohammad: “I have loved things about you and I have hated things about you and there is a lot I don’t understand about you…I loved the rebel in you…I will not pray for you.” Within twenty-four hours, more than thirty thousand furious replies had been posted on Twitter. Within a few days, more than twenty thousand people had signed on to a Facebook page called “Saudi People Want Punishment for Hamza Kashgari.” (So much for Arab liberation by social media.) One commenter wrote, “The only choice is for Kashgari to be killed and crucified in order to be a lesson to other secularists.”

Kashgari backed down, apologized profusely, and continued to be attacked. He went into hiding. Clerics and government officials threatened him with execution for blasphemy. He fled to Malaysia, hoping to continue to fly to New Zealand, where he would ask for asylum. But Malaysian officials, behaving against law and decency, had him detained at the airport and sent back to Saudi Arabia, where he was promptly arrested. Since mid-February there’s been no word of Kashgari. The Saudis have said they will put him on trial. What a pity there’s no First Amendment to protect him.
If only he had more powerful friends—if only Christopher Hitchens were still alive—Hamza Kashgari would be called the Saudi Rushdie. There would be a worldwide campaign to pressure the Saudis into releasing him. The United States would offer him asylum and quietly push our friends the Saudis into letting him go. But we’ve come to expect these things from our friends the Saudis.

We’ve come to expect these things from the Muslim world. We expect Afghans to riot for days and kill Americans and each other because a few NATO soldiers were stupid enough to burn copies of the Koran along with other objects discarded from a prison outside Kabul. Yes, those soldiers were colossally, destructively insensitive. Yes, we should know by now. Yes, the reaction has a lot to do with ten years of war and occupation and civilian deaths and marines urinating on Taliban corpses. Still, can we have a little outrage at the outrage? Can we reaffirm that human lives are more sacred than books? Can we point out that every time something like this happens, there’s a manufactured and whipped-up quality to much of the hysteria, which has its own cold political calculation (not unlike the jihad against secularists by Sean Hannity and other Salafist mouthpieces)?

Saudi Arabia needs an absolute separation of religion and state so that Hamza Kashgari can say things that other people don’t like without having to flee for his life. Afghanistan needs it, too, and so does Pakistan, so that mob violence and political assassination can’t enjoy the encouragement of religious authorities and the tolerance or acquiescence of government officials. And America needs it so that our Presidents’ religious views remain their own private affairs, and Rick Santorum and his party can’t impose dominion of one narrow, sectarian, Bible-based idea of the public good over a vast, pluralist, heterodox, freedom-loving democracy.

Welcome To The First Annual Celebrity Religion Swap

By Wajahat Ali for Salon.com

Muslims worldwide groaned upon hearing the news that Oliver Stone’s son, Sean, converted to Islam while filming a documentary in Iran.

Although we — the collective 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide — assume Sean Stone is a fine, upstanding man and sincerely wish him spiritual contentment, we earnestly ask Allah why Islam only attracts controversial celebs (in this case, the son of a controversial celeb) who further tarnish our already toxic brand name?

We plead to the heavens for an answer as to why he converted in Iran, of all places, which is currently the most feared and loathed country in America and about as popular as herpes.

We have patiently endured, oh, Allah.

We miraculously survived Mike Tyson, who converted to Islam while incarcerated, and then angrily threatened Lennox Lewis in an infamous interview: “I want your heart. I will eat his children. Praise be to Allah.”

Awesome.

Islam has the lowest favorability rating of any religion in America. If Islam were a world economy, it would be Greece. If it were a professional athlete, it would be San Francisco 49ers punt returner Kyle Williams, who muffed two critical punts, which helped the New York Giants reach the Super Bowl. If Islam went to the prom, it would be the ugly girl with freckles and an overbite standing in the corner with a bucket of pig’s blood teetering precariously over its head. If Islam were a Republican presidential candidate, it would be Newt Gingrich.

A diverse jirga of American Muslim leaders decided “enough was enough” and held an emergency meeting at Lowes’ Home Improvement store in Dearborn, Mich., to strategize how to bolster Islam’s faltering image.

A consensus emerged that we needed to draft popular, mainstream celebrities whose successful addition to our starting lineup would boost our international brand name. After all, 1,400 years of civilization and the religious practices of 1.5 billion solely rest on the tanned shoulders of the rich, famous and beautiful.

Inspired by comedian Dave Chappelle, one of the few Muslim converts who could be considered a net gain, the Muslims held a “Religious Draft” this week, inviting major religions to participate on hallowed ground: McDonald’s.

The following is a summary of the proceedings.

THE FIRST ROUND PICK

Since it was universally accepted Islam was the 2011 Indianapolis Colts of world religions, they had first pick.

Predictably, the Muslims drafted free agent Liam Neeson, who recently said, “There are 4,000 mosques in [Istanbul]. Some are just stunning and it really makes me think about becoming a Muslim.” The Irish actor is experiencing a pop cultural rebirth as the 21st century embodiment of uncompromising, kick-ass masculinity and sage paternalism. On behalf of Muslims, he took revenge against France, which recently caved into hysteria and banned the burqa. Neeson single-handedly destroyed the entire country with his bare fists in the blockbuster action film “Taken.” Muslims believe Neeson will help rebrand them as Jedi Knights, due to his portrayal of Jedi Qui-Gon in “Star Wars: The Phantom Menace,” and replace their current image as Dark Lords of the Sith.

Rumors circulated that many Evangelical Christians felt slighted by this pick since Muslims stole their digital Avatar of Jesus: Neeson voices “Aslan the Lion” from the “Narnia” movies.

The rest of the day’s picks were organized according to different types of celebrity.

ATHLETES

In a surprise move, the Buddhists requested Mike Tyson from the Muslims. Exhausted from voluntarily suffering for the past 2,500 years, the Buddhists decided Tyson’s crushing right uppercut could “really eff up China.”

In turn, the Buddhists decided to offer the Beastie Boys — the aging, versatile, hip-hop trio from Brooklyn – sensing they peaked with their 1998 “Hello Nasty” album. The Muslims accepted, acknowledging the songs “Sabotage” and “Shake Your Rump” as perennial favorites in Egypt and Lebanon.

The Buddhists selflessly threw in Richard Gere and DVD copies of “American Gigolo” to sweeten the deal.

The Jews intervened and said they wanted the Beastie Boys back on their team. They offered the Muslims Ben Roethlisberger, two-time Super Bowl champion quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Having read about Big Ben’s dubious history of sexual impropriety, the Muslims passed, but decided to donate Mike D of the Beastie Boys to the Jews as a truce offering. Allegedly, the Muslims could never forgive Mike D for the horribly weak rhyme “Everybody rappin’ like it’s a commercial, acting like life is a big commercial” on the song “Pass the Mic.”

The Jews accepted the offer.

The Muslims, feeling emboldened, made an ambitious pitch to the Christians for Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow, who “just wins.”

Muslims offered former NBA all-star Shaquille O’Neal, who fell from their graces after he acted as a giant genie in the box-office bomb “Kazaam.” They also threw in Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, the controversial Denver Nuggets star who converted to Islam and refused to stand for “The Star-Spangled Banner” before games. The Christians were initially enticed, seeing this as a perfect “born-again” moment, but they passed.

The Muslims went aggressive and promised they wouldn’t supplant the Constitution with Shariah and replace the White House with minarets unless Tebow and Mel Gibson crossed over.

The Christians, anxious to excommunicate Gibson, agreed. For the 2012 NFL season, Tebowing will now consist of prostrating and praising Allah after every touchdown. The Christians asked the Muslims to preserve Tebow’s chastity and not introduce him to Miss USA Rima Fakih or hot Arab women from the reality TV show “All-American Muslim”; the Muslims said they’d try, but they promised nothing.

COMEDIANS

The Jews made a play for comedian Dave Chappelle, a Muslim, citing his hit series on Comedy Central “Chappelle’s Show” as a creative juggernaut that still influences the masses — especially several rabbis, who apparently love saying, “I’m Rick James, bitch!” after performing circumcisions.

The Muslims immediately rejected the offer, saying Chappelle is perhaps the only living proof that Muslims can be intentionally funny.

Instead, they offered Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as an example of an unintentional comedian and provocateur in exchange for Israel cooling down its dangerous rhetoric of a preemptive strike on Iran.

Furthermore, the Muslims offered the newly acquired Mel Gibson straight up for Jerry Seinfeld.

The Mormons tried to intercept Seinfeld by playing one of their highest cards: “Napoleon Dynamite” actor Jon Heder. The Jews pretended not to hear this mockery and allowed the Mormons to slink away with some shred of remaining dignity.

The Jews finalized a deal with the Muslims and rumors have circulated since that Mel and Ahmadinejad are under house arrest in Tel Aviv, forced to watch “The Chosen” and “Fiddler on the Roof” on repeat while listening to Jerry Lewis perform comedy.

MUSICIANS

Sensing friendly relations, the Jews humbly approached the Muslims for rapper Ice Cube, citing his immense street cred and respect from the hip-hop and African-American communities. The Jews conceded the Matisyahu experiment, although initially promising, had failed, as the Hasidic reggae rapper never lived up to his “King Without a Crown” potential.

The Muslims mulled it over for a considerable time. The jirga decided they would retain eternal rights to Cube’s 1993 hit single “It Was a Good Day” from his multi-platinum album “Predator,” but ultimately release him because he inexplicably starred in the awful family comedy “Are We There Yet?”

Muslims in return asked the Jews for Kabbalah-worshipping Madonna, sensing serious comeback potential after her excellent Super Bowl halftime show.

Catholics made a request for multi-talented actor and hip-hop artist Mos Def from the Muslims, who soundly rejected any and all future offers, stating the entirety of the Middle East and North Africa could never bear to part with Def’s song “Ms. Fat Booty.”

Instead, Muslims counter-offered with alternative rock artist Everlast, whose 1998 single “What It’s Like” has made a surprising comeback on radio stations due to the economic recession. The Catholics still remember Everlast as the lead singer of the hip-hop band House of Pain, who produced the classic party anthem “Jump Around,” before his conversion to Islam. The Catholics accepted; South Asian Muslims danced to “Jump Around” one last time; and the Muslims in return received Taylor Swift and her legions of pubescent female fans, along with her former boyfriend Taylor Lautner, who played the ethnic werewolf in the “Twilight” movies.

The Muslims had finally secured their most promising young-adult celebrity.

POLITICIANS

The Mormons halfheartedly offered Mitt Romney. The Evangelicals promised Michele Bachmann and her lifetime supply of blinks. The Catholics, out of sheer desperation and embarrassment, bartered Newt Gingrich and his third wife, Callista.

The Muslims decided to stick with their boy, Barack Hussein Obama, in hopes of retaining the White House in 2012.

MISCELLANEOUS

Muslims threw a Hail Mary and asked fundamentalist Christians for Chuck Norris, who so thoroughly kicked the Middle East’s entire ass during the ’80s. The Muslims respected Norris for his ability to fire an Uzi, perform a roundhouse kick and wave an American flag at the same time. In return, Muslims offered the infamous WWF wrestler the Iron Sheikh and even agreed to teach the Christians the impregnable camel clutch. Norris, humbled by the offer, respectfully declined, and admitted that although he enjoyed killing hordes of fictional Arabs in jingoistic action movies like “Delta Force,” he currently fancied himself an intellectual and activist committed to exposing the nonexistent threat of Shariah infiltrating America. The Muslims were saddened, but collectively agreed to watch Norris in the summer action film “Expendables 2.”

The Hindus decided to play their strongest card, actress Julia Roberts, and made a request for journalist Lauren Booth, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s sister in law, who converted to Islam in 2010. The Hindus saw her as the perfect revenge and giant, henna-painted middle finger to England for the British Empire’s previous colonization and exploitation of India’s resources. The Muslims thought this was reasonable and now the “Pretty Woman” flashes her million-dollar smile behind a burqa.

THE CHOSEN ONE

Finally, the draft ended with all the religions coveting “the chosen one,” who would single-handedly redeem their public image both at home and abroad.

The Mormons offered former Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman, highlighting his excellent Chinese and fine hair. The Muslims initially offered NBA Hall of Famer and current cultural ambassador Kareem Abdul Jabbar. They sweetened the deal and threw in President Obama. The Jews presented Steven Spielberg and his entire film library. The Hindus humbly offered Bollywood actors Amitabh Bachan, Aishwarya Rai and a picture of Gandhi signed by Ben Kingsley. The Buddhists presented Tina Turner, Herbie Hancock and Tiger Woods.

But, it was sadly to no avail.

The Christians and Church of New York decided to keep NBA superstar and New York Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin. Rumors circulated that they were talking to China about a potential trade to ensure the ambitious superpower does not ask the United States to repay its debt, thus financially crippling and utterly destroying our great nation.

All in all, “it was a good day” for the Muslims in the first Religious Draft.

Wajahat Ali is a playwright, attorney, journalist and essayist. His award winning play”The Domestic Crusaders,” was published by McSweeney’s in 2011. He is the lead author of “Fear Inc., Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America.” He is currently writing a pilot for HBO. He is co-editing the anthology “All American: 45 American Men on Being Muslim” published in June 2012. More Wajahat Ali

Newt Gingrich Creeping Up On Mitt Romney In A Creepy Way

By David Horsey for The Los Angeles Times

Newt Gingrich is surging and the guy ahead of him, Mitt Romney, as well the guy behind him, Rick Santorum, are rattled.

Only days ago, Romney was sitting on a comfortable lead in South Carolina’s Republican primary race. Santorum was anticipating a positive bump in his numbers, thanks to the endorsement he received from top Christian evangelical leaders and the good chance that a final, official count of votes in the Iowa caucuses would show he actually beat Romney in that state.

Instead, with Saturday’s vote just two days away, the portly, aloof, intellectually promiscuous and thrice-married ex-speaker of the House seems to be winning the minds, if not the hearts, of more and more staunch conservatives in the Palmetto State.

In fact, Gingrich was even getting a bit of love, as well as respect, from a crowd of several hundred jammed into the banquet hall of Bobby’s Bar-BQ Buffet in Warrenville on Wednesday. Every seat was filled; those without seats stood along the walls and those that couldn’t get inside craned their necks to get a peek through the front door.

Gingrich spoke in front of a Model T Ford – a car only a little more ancient than a great many members of the audience. Clever lines that fell flat when Gingrich delivered them at the tea party convention Tuesday got big laughs with this much-less-grim crowd — like his somewhat-stale knee-slapper about letting Barack Obama use a teleprompter when the two debate.

They loved the parts of his stump speech that are well worn – our rights come from God and cannot be taken away by government – and a new attack on Obama spun off the day’s news – the president’s refusal to approve the Keystone oil pipeline is stupidly driving Canada into the arms of China. And they loved Callista, Newt’s exquisitely coiffed wife.

One audience “question” was this: “I think your wife would make a beautiful first lady, don’t you?”  In the receiving line after the event, a Callista fan said, “I’m anxious to see how you do Christmas in the White House.” There seemed to be a lot of warmth for the once-controversial Callista and for her candidate husband, though he is not all that good at exhibiting warmth himself.

In campaign mode, Gingrich is the polar opposite of Mitt Romney. Reportedly a bit shy, Romney, nevertheless, dives in, shakes every hand, signs every autograph, banters with everyone and smiles, smiles, smiles. It may be rehearsed and straight from some “How to Succeed in Politics” primer, but he’s as good at it as any TV game show host.

Mitt’s even good with babies. At a rally on the outskirts of Columbia on Wednesday night, he held a baby for the cameras and then pretended to walk off with her, delighting the crowd – even the child’s mother. And the baby never cried.

In contrast, Gingrich seems more like the queen of England. On Monday afternoon, at the end of his remarks at Rioz Brazilian Steakhouse in Myrtle Beach, Gingrich remained on the speaker’s platform while the crowd lined up like kids waiting to see a department store Santa. They were shuffled through rapidly; the candidate barely made eye contact, offered the tiniest of smiles and made the briefest request for support.

Is he merely reserved? Awkward? Overly formal? Or simply a man with a busy mind and a lot to get done; sort of like a college professor who resents wasting attention on the undergrads who mob him after class.

Of course, Gingrich actually is a former college professor, and his campaign speech is a lively academic ramble. He interprets history, dives into interesting new economic theories, wickedly picks apart the fallacious ideas of competing practitioners of the political arts and uses terminology that tells you he’s oh-so-much smarter than your typical governor of Texas or Massachusetts.

Gingrich drops names of the intellectual and political elite he has known and boldly lays claim to a major share of the legacy of two presidents, Reagan and Clinton. He brags that his candidacy is so historically significant and so utterly different from any other that it is nearly incomprehensible to the dullards in the media. In front of the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce, after presenting a litany of intractable problems faced by the nation, he said of himself, “If you have a leader who knows what he is doing, we can turn this around in a year.”

Just one year? The guy seems so full of himself that it is surprising he has caught on with so many voters. He is not the cliche candidate Americans are supposed to prefer – somebody you’d want to have a beer with because he’s just like you. Yet, here he is, still very much in the race and on the verge of messing up smiling Mitt Romney’s big-money campaign.

The Pakistanis Have A Point

By Bill Keller for The New York Times

As an American visitor in the power precincts of Pakistan, from the gated enclaves of Islamabad to the manicured lawns of the military garrison in Peshawar, from the luxury fortress of the Serena Hotel to the exclusive apartments of the parliamentary housing blocks, you can expect three time-honored traditions: black tea with milk, obsequious servants and a profound sense of grievance.

Talk to Pakistani politicians, scholars, generals, businessmen, spies and journalists — as I did in October — and before long, you are beyond the realm of politics and diplomacy and into the realm of hurt feelings. Words like “ditch” and “jilt” and “betray” recur. With Americans, they complain, it’s never a commitment, it’s always a transaction. This theme is played to the hilt, for effect, but it is also heartfelt.

“The thing about us,” a Pakistani official told me, “is that we are half emotional and half irrational.”

For a relationship that has oscillated for decades between collaboration and breakdown, this has been an extraordinarily bad year, at an especially inconvenient time. As America settles onto the long path toward withdrawal from Afghanistan, Pakistan has considerable power to determine whether the end of our longest war is seen as a plausible success or a calamitous failure.

There are, of course, other reasons that Pakistan deserves our attention. It has a fast-growing population approaching 190 million, and it hosts a loose conglomerate of terrorist franchises that offer young Pakistanis employment and purpose unavailable in the suffering feudal economy. It has 100-plus nuclear weapons (Americans who monitor the program don’t know the exact number or the exact location) and a tense, heavily armed border with nuclear India. And its president, Asif Ali Zardari, oversees a ruinous kleptocracy that is spiraling deeper into economic crisis.

But it is the scramble to disengage from Afghanistan that has focused minds in Washington. Pakistan’s rough western frontier with Afghanistan is a sanctuary for militant extremists and criminal ventures, including the Afghan Taliban, the Pakistani Taliban, the notorious Haqqani clan and important remnants of the original horror story, Al Qaeda. The mistrust between Islamabad and Kabul is deep, nasty — Afghanistan was the only country to vote against letting Pakistan into the United Nations — and tribal. And to complicate matters further, Pakistan is the main military supply route for the American-led international forces and the Afghan National Army.

On Thanksgiving weekend, a month after I returned from Pakistan, the relationship veered precipitously — typically — off course again. NATO aircraft covering an operation by Afghan soldiers and American Special Forces pounded two border posts, inadvertently killing 24 Pakistani soldiers, including two officers. The Americans said that they were fired on first and that Pakistan approved the airstrikes; the Pakistanis say the Americans did not wait for clearance to fire and then bombed the wrong targets.

The fallout was painfully familiar: outrage, suspicion and recrimination, petulance and political posturing. Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the chief of the army and by all accounts the most powerful man in Pakistan, retaliated by shutting (for now and not for the first time) the NATO supply corridor through his country. The Pakistanis abruptly dropped out of a Bonn conference on the future of Afghanistan and announced they would not cooperate with an American investigation of the airstrikes. President Obama sent condolences but balked at the suggestion of an apology; possibly the president did not want to set off another chorus of Mitt Romney’s refrain that Obama is always apologizing for America. At this writing, American officials were trying to gauge whether the errant airstrike would have, as one worried official put it, “a long half-life.”

If you survey informed Americans, you will hear Pakistanis described as duplicitous, paranoid, self-pitying and generally infuriating. In turn, Pakistanis describe us as fickle, arrogant, shortsighted and chronically unreliable.

Neither country’s caricature of the other is entirely wrong, and it makes for a relationship that is less in need of diplomacy than couples therapy, which customarily starts by trying to see things from the other point of view. While the Pakistanis have hardly been innocent, they have a point when they say America has not been the easiest of partners.

One good place to mark the beginning of this very, very bad year in U.S.-Pakistani relations is Dec. 13, 2010, when Richard C. Holbrooke died of a torn aorta. Holbrooke, the veteran of the Balkan peace, had for two years held the thankless, newly invented role of the administration’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. The antithesis of mellow, Holbrooke did not hit it off with our no-drama president, and his bluster didn’t always play well in Kabul or Islamabad either.

But Holbrooke paid aggressive attention to Pakistan. While he was characteristically blunt about the divergent U.S. and Pakistani views, he understood that they were a result of different, calculated national interests, not malevolence or mere orneriness. He was convinced that the outlooks could be, if not exactly synchronized, made more compatible. He made a concentrated effort to persuade the Pakistanis that this time the United States would not be a fair-weather friend.

“You need a Holbrooke,” says Maleeha Lodhi, a well-connected former ambassador to Washington. “Not necessarily the person but the role.” In the absence of full-on engagement, she says, “it’s become a very accident-prone relationship.”

On Jan. 27, a trigger-happy C.I.A. contractor named Raymond Davis was stuck in Lahore traffic and shot dead two motorcyclists who approached him. A backup vehicle he summoned ran over and killed a bystander. The U.S. spent heavily from its meager stock of good will to persuade the Pakistanis to set Davis free — pleading with a straight face that he was entitled to diplomatic immunity.

On May 2, a U.S. Navy Seals team caught Osama bin Laden in the military town Abbottabad and killed him. Before long, American officials were quoted questioning whether their Pakistani allies were just incompetent or actually complicit. (The Americans who deal with Pakistan believe that General Kayani and the director of the Inter-Services Intelligence agency, Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, were genuinely surprised and embarrassed that Bin Laden was so close by, though the Americans fault the Pakistanis for not looking very hard.) In Pakistan, Kayani faced rumbles of insurrection for letting Americans violate Pakistani sovereignty; a defining victory for President Obama was a humiliation for Kayani and Pasha.

In September, members of the Haqqani clan (a criminal syndicate and jihadi cult that’s avowedly subservient to the Taliban leader Mullah Omar) marked the 10th anniversary of 9/11 with two theatrical attacks in Afghanistan. First a truck bomb injured 77 American soldiers in Wardak Province. Then militants rained rocket-propelled grenades on the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, forcing our ambassador to spend 20 hours locked down in a bunker.

A few days later the former Afghan president, Burhanuddin Rabbani, spread his arms to welcome an emissary from the Taliban to discuss the possibility of peace talks. As they embraced, the visitor detonated a bomb in his turban, killing himself, Rabbani and the talks. President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, without any evidence that American officials are aware of, accused Pakistan of masterminding the grotesque killing in order to scuttle peace talks it couldn’t control.

And two days after that, Adm. Mike Mullen, the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, took to Capitol Hill to suggest that Pakistani intelligence had blessed the truck bomb and embassy attack.

His testimony came as a particular shock, because if the turbulent affair between the United States and Pakistan had a solid center in recent years, it was the rapport between Mullen and his Pakistani counterpart, General Kayani. Over the four years from Kayani’s promotion as chief of the army staff until Mullen’s retirement in September, scarcely a month went by when the two didn’t meet. Mullen would often drop by Kayani’s home at the military enclave in Rawalpindi, arriving for dinner and staying into the early morning, discussing the pressures of command while the sullen-visaged general chain-smoked Dunhills. One time, Kayani took his American friend to the Himalayas for a flyby of the world’s second-highest peak, K2. On another occasion, Mullen hosted Kayani on the golf course at the Naval Academy. The two men seemed to have developed a genuine trust and respect for each other.

But Mullen’s faith in an underlying common purpose was rattled by the truck bombing and the embassy attack, both of which opened Mullen to the charge that his courtship of Kayani had been a failure. So — over the objection of the State Department — the admiral set out to demonstrate that he had no illusions.

The Haqqani network “acts as a veritable arm of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency,” he declared. “With ISI support, Haqqani operatives planned and conducted that truck-bomb attack as well as the assault on our embassy.”

Several officials with access to the intelligence told me that while the Haqqanis were implicated in both attacks, there was no evidence of direct ISI involvement. A Mullen aide said later that the admiral was referring to ISI’s ongoing sponsorship of the Haqqanis and did not mean to say Pakistan authorized those specific attacks.

No matter. In Pakistan, Mullen’s denunciation led to a ripple of alarm that U.S. military “hardliners” were contemplating an invasion. The press had hysterics. Kayani made a show of putting the Pakistani Army on alert. The Pakistani rupee fell in value.

In Washington, Mullen’s remarks captured — and fed — a vengeful mood and a rising sense of fatalism about Pakistan. Bruce O. Riedel, an influential former C.I.A. officer who led a 2009 policy review for President Obama on Pakistan and Afghanistan, captured the prevailing sentiment in an Op-Ed in The Times, in which he called for a new policy of “containment,” meaning “a more hostile relationship” toward the army and intelligence services.

“I can see how this gets worse,” Riedel told me. “And I can see how this gets catastrophically worse. . . . I don’t see how it gets a whole lot better.”

When Gen. David H. Petraeus took over the U.S. military’s Central Command in 2008, he commissioned expert briefing papers on his new domain, which sprawled from Egypt, across the Persian Gulf, to Central Asia. The paper on Afghanistan and Pakistan began, according to an American who has read it, roughly this way: “The United States has no vital national interests in Afghanistan. Our vital national interests are in Pakistan,” notably the security of those nuclear weapons and the infiltration by Al Qaeda. The paper then went on for the remaining pages to discuss Afghanistan. Pakistan hardly got a mention. “That’s typical,” my source said. Pakistan tends to be an afterthought.

The Pakistani version of modern history is one of American betrayal, going back at least to the Kennedy administration’s arming of Pakistan’s archrival, India, in the wake of its 1962 border war with China.

The most consequential feat of American opportunism came when we enlisted Pakistan to bedevil the Soviet occupiers of Afghanistan in the 1980s. The intelligence agencies of the U.S. and Pakistan — with help from Saudi Arabia — created the perfect thorn in the Soviet underbelly: young Muslim “freedom fighters,” schooled in jihad at Pakistani madrassas, laden with American surface-to-air missiles and led by charismatic warriors who set aside tribal rivalries to war against foreign occupation.

After the Soviets admitted defeat in 1989, the U.S. — mission accomplished! — pulled out, leaving Pakistan holding the bag: several million refugees, an Afghanistan torn by civil war and a population of jihadists who would find new targets for their American-supplied arms. In the ensuing struggle for control of Afghanistan, Pakistan eventually sided with the Taliban, who were dominated by the Pashtun tribe that populates the Pakistan-Afghanistan frontier. The rival Northern Alliance was run by Tajiks and Uzbeks and backed by India; and the one thing you can never underestimate is Pakistan’s obsession with bigger, richer, better-armed India.

As long as Pakistan was our partner in tormenting the Soviet Union, the U.S. winked at Pakistan’s nuclear-weapons program. After all, India was developing a nuclear arsenal, and it was inevitable that Pakistan would follow suit. But after the Soviets retreated, Pakistan was ostracized under a Congressional antiproliferation measure called the Pressler Amendment, stripped of military aid (some of it budgeted to bring Pakistani officers to the U.S. for exposure to American military values and discipline) and civilian assistance (most of it used to promote civil society and buy good will).

Our relationship with Pakistan sometimes seems like a case study in unintended consequences. The spawning of the mujahadeen is, of course, Exhibit A. The Pressler Amendment is Exhibit B. And Exhibit C might be America’s protectionist tariffs on Pakistan’s most important export, textiles. For years, experts, including a series of American ambassadors in Islamabad, have said that the single best thing the U.S. could do to pull Pakistan into the modern world is to ease trade barriers, as it has done with many other countries. Instead of sending foreign aid and hoping it trickles down, we could make it easier for Americans to buy Pakistani shirts, towels and denims, thus lifting an industry that is an incubator of the middle class and employs many women. Congress, answerable to domestic textile interests, has had none of it.

“Pakistan the afterthought” was the theme very late one night when I visited the home of Pakistan’s finance minister, Abdul Hafeez Shaikh. After showing me his impressive art collection, Shaikh flopped on a sofa and ran through the roll call of American infidelity. He worked his way, decade by decade, to the war on terror. Now, he said, Pakistan is tasked by the Americans with simultaneously helping to kill terrorists and — the newest twist — using its influence to bring them to the bargaining table. Congress, meanwhile, angry about terrorist sanctuaries, is squeezing off much of the financial aid that is supposed to be the lubricant in our alliance.

“Pakistan was the cold-war friend, the Soviet-Afghan-war friend, the terror-war friend,” the minister said. “As soon as the wars ended, so did the assistance. The sense of being discarded is so recent.”

A Boston University-educated economist who made his money in private equity investing — in other words, a cosmopolitan man — Shaikh seemed slightly abashed by his own bitterness.

“I’m not saying that this style of Pakistani thinking is analytically correct,” he said. “I’m just telling you how people feel.”

He waved an arm toward his dining room, where he hung a Warhol of Muhammad Ali. “We’re just supposed to be like Ali — take the beating for seven rounds from Foreman,” he said. “But this time the Pakistanis have wised up. We are playing the game, but we know you can’t take these people at their word.”

With a timetable that has the United States out of Afghanistan, or mostly out, by the end of 2014, Pakistan has leverage it did not have when the war began.

One day after 9/11, Richard Armitage, the deputy secretary of state, summoned the head of Pakistani intelligence for a talking to. “We are asking all of our friends: Do they stand with us or against us?” he said. The following day, Armitage handed over a list of seven demands, which included stopping Al Qaeda operations on the Pakistani border, giving American invaders access to Pakistani bases and airspace and breaking all ties with the Taliban regime.

The Pakistanis believed from the beginning that Afghanistan had “American quagmire” written all over it. Moreover, what America had in mind for Afghanistan was antithetical to Pakistan’s self-interest.

“The only time period between 1947 and the American invasion of Afghanistan that Pakistanis have felt secure about Afghanistan is during the Taliban period,” from 1996 to 2001, says Vali Nasr, an American scholar of the region who is listened to in both academia and government. Now the Bush administration would attempt to supplant the Taliban with a strong independent government in Kabul and a muscular military. “Everything about this vision is dangerous to Pakistan,” Nasr says.

Pakistan’s military ruler at the time, Pervez Musharraf, saw the folly of defying an American ultimatum. He quickly agreed to the American demands and delivered on many of them. In practice, though, the accommodation with the Taliban was never fully curtailed. Pakistan knew America’s mission in Afghanistan would end, and it spread its bets.

The Bush-Musharraf relationship, Vali Nasr says, “was sort of a Hollywood suspension of disbelief. Musharraf was a convenient person who created a myth that we subscribed to — basically that Pakistan was on the same page with us, it was an ally in the war on terror and it subscribed to our agenda for Afghanistan.”

But the longer the war in Afghanistan dragged on, the harder it was to sustain the illusion.

In October, I took the highway west from Islamabad to Peshawar, headquarters of the Pakistan Army corps responsible for the frontier with Afghanistan. Over tea and cookies, Lt. Gen. Asif Yasin Malik, the three-star who commanded the frontier (he retired this month) talked about how the Afghan war looked from his side of the border.

The official American version of the current situation in Afghanistan goes like this: By applying the counterinsurgency strategy that worked in Iraq and relying on a surge of troops and the increasingly sophisticated use of drones, the United States has been beating the insurgency into submission, while at the same time standing up an indigenous Afghan Army that could take over the mission. If only Pakistan would police its side of the border — where the bad guys find safe haven, fresh recruits and financing — we’d be on track for an exit in 2014.

The Pakistanis have a different narrative. First, a central government has never successfully ruled Afghanistan. Second, Karzai is an unreliable neighbor — a reputation that has not been dispelled by his recent, manic declarations of brotherhood. And third, they believe that despite substantial investment by the United States, the Afghan Army and the police are a long way from being ready to hold the country. In other words, America is preparing to leave behind an Afghanistan that looks like incipient chaos to Pakistan.

In Peshawar, General Malik talked with polite disdain about his neighbor to the west. His biggest fear — one I’m told Kayani stresses in every meeting with his American counterparts — is the capability of the Afghan National Security Forces, an army of 170,000 and another 135,000 police, responsible for preventing Afghanistan from disintegrating back into failed-state status. If the U.S. succeeds in creating such a potent fighting force, that makes Pakistanis nervous, because they see it (rightly) as potentially unfriendly and (probably wrongly) as a potential agent of Indian influence. The more likely and equally unsettling outcome, Pakistanis believe, is that the Afghan military — immature, fractious and dependent on the U.S. Treasury — will disintegrate into heavily armed tribal claques and bandit syndicates. And America, as always, will be gone when hell breaks loose.

General Malik studied on an exchange at Fort McNair, in Washington, D.C., and has visited 23 American states. He likes to think he is not clueless about how things work in our country.

“Come 2015, which senator would be ready to vote $9 billion, or $7 billion, to be spent on this army?” he asked. “Even $5 billion a year. O.K., maybe one year, maybe two years. But with the economy going downhill, how does the future afford this? Very challenging.”

American officials will tell you, not for attribution, that Malik’s concerns are quite reasonable.

So I asked the general if that was why his forces have not been more aggressive about mopping up terrorist sanctuaries along the border. Still hedging their bets? His answer was elaborate and not entirely facile.

First of all, the general pointed out that Pakistan has done some serious fighting in terrorist strongholds and shed a lot of blood. Over the past two years, Malik’s forces have been enlarged to 147,000 soldiers, mainly by relocating more than 50,000 from the Indian border. They have largely controlled militant activities in the Swat Valley, for example, which entailed two hard offensives with major casualties. But they have steadfastly declined to mount a major assault against North Waziristan — a mountainous region of terrorist Deadwoods populated by battle-toughened outlaws.

Yes, Malik said, North Waziristan is a terrible situation, but his forces are responsible for roughly 1,500 miles of border, they police an archipelago of rough towns in the so-called Federally Administered Tribal Areas, or FATA, and by the way, they had a devastating flood to handle last year.

“If you are not able to close the Mexican border, when you have the technology at your call, when there is no war,” he said, “how can you expect us to close our border, especially if you are not locking the doors on your side?”

Americans who know the area well concede that, for all our complaints, Pakistan doesn’t push harder in large part because it can’t. The Pakistan Army has been trained to patrol the Indian border, not to battle hardened insurgents. They have comparatively crude weaponry. When they go up against a ruthless outfit like the Haqqanis, they tend to get killed. Roughly 4,000 Pakistani troops have died in these border wars — more than the number of all the allied soldiers killed in Afghanistan.

“They’re obviously reluctant to go against the Haqqanis, but reluctant for a couple of reasons,” an American official told me. “Not just the reason that they see them as a potential proxy force if Afghanistan doesn’t go well, but also because they just literally lack the capability to take them on. They’ve got enough wars on their hands. They’ve not been able to consolidate their gains up in the northern part of the FATA, they have continued problems in other areas and they just can’t deal with another campaign, which is what North Waziristan would be.”

And there is another, fundamental problem, Malik said. There is simply no popular support for stepping up the fight in what is seen as America’s war. Ordinary Pakistanis feel they have paid a high price in collateral damage, between the civilian casualties from unmanned drone attacks and the blowback from terror groups within Pakistan.

“When you go into North Waziristan and carry out some major operation, there is going to be a terrorist backlash in the rest of the country,” Malik told me. “The political mood, or the public mood, is ‘no more operations.’ ”

In late October, Hillary Clinton arrived in Islamabad, leading a delegation that included Petraeus, recently confirmed as C.I.A. director, and Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, Mullen’s successor as chairman of the Joint Chiefs. Petraeus used to refer to Holbrooke as “my diplomatic wingman,” a bit of condescension he apparently intended as a tribute. This time, the security contingent served as diplomacy’s wingmen.

The trip was intended as a show of unity and resolve by an administration that has spoken with conflicting voices when it has focused on Pakistan at all. For more than four hours, the Americans and a potent lineup of Pakistani counterparts talked over a dinner table.

Perhaps the most revealing thing about the dinner was the guest list. The nine participants included Kayani and Pasha, but not President Zardari or Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, who provided the dining room at his own residence and made himself scarce. The only representative of the civilian government was Clinton’s counterpart, the new foreign minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, a 34-year-old rising star with the dark-haired beauty of a Bollywood leading lady, a degree in hospitality management from the University of Massachusetts and, most important, close ties to the Pakistani military.

For a country that cherishes civilian democracy, we have a surprising affinity for strong men in uniform. Based on my conversations with American officials across the government, the U.S. has developed a grudging respect for Kayani, whom they regard as astute, straightforward, respectful of the idea of democratic government but genuinely disgusted by the current regime’s thievery and ineptitude. (We know from the secret diplomatic cables disclosed by WikiLeaks that Kayani has confided to American officials his utter contempt for his president and “hinted that he might, however reluctantly, have to persuade President Zardari to resign.”) Zardari, whose principal claim to office is that he is the widower of the assassinated and virtually canonized Benazir Bhutto, has been mainly preoccupied with building up his patronage machine for elections in 2013. The Americans expect little from him and don’t see a likely savior among his would-be political challengers. (As this article goes to press, Zardari is recovering from chest pains in a hospital in Dubai; there are rumors he won’t return.) So, Kayani it is. The official American consensus is less enamored of Kayani’s loyal intelligence underling, General Pasha, whose agency consorts with terrorists and is suspected of torturing and killing troublemakers, including journalists, but Pasha is too powerful to ignore.

The day after the marathon dinner, Clinton’s entourage took over the Serena Hotel for a festival of public diplomacy — a press conference with the foreign minister, followed by a town meeting with young Pakistanis and then a hardball round-table interview with a circle of top editors and anchors.

Clinton’s visit was generally portrayed, not least in the Pakistani press, as a familiar ritual of America talking tough to Pakistan. In the town meeting, a woman asked why America always played the role of bossy mother-in-law, and that theme delighted editorial cartoonists for days.

But the private message to the Pakistanis — and a more careful reading of Clinton’s public performance — reflected a serious effort to reboot a troubled relationship. Clinton took care to pay tribute to Pakistani losses in the war against terror in the past decade — in addition to the military, an estimated 30,000 civilian dead, the equivalent of a 9/11 every year. She ruled out sending American ground troops into Pakistani territory. She endorsed a Pakistani plea that U.S. forces in Afghanistan do a better job of cleaning up militant sanctuaries on their own side of the border.

Questioned by a prominent television anchor, she repudiated Mullen’s testimony, not only disavowing any evidence of ISI complicity in the attack on America’s embassy in Kabul but also soft-peddling the spy agency’s coziness with terrorists.

“Now, every intelligence agency has contacts with unsavory characters,” she said. “I don’t think you would get any denial from either the ISI or the C.I.A. that people in their respective organizations have contacts with members of groups that have different agendas than the governments’. But that doesn’t mean that they are being directed or being approved or otherwise given a seal of approval.”

That particular riff may have caused jaws to clench at the C.I.A. compound in Langley, Va. The truth is, according to half a dozen senior officials with access to the intelligence, the evidence of Pakistan’s affinity for terrorists is often circumstantial and ambiguous, a matter of intercepted conversations in coded language, and their dealings are thought to be more pragmatic than ideological, more a matter of tolerating than directing, but the relationship goes way beyond “contacts with unsavory characters.”

“They’re facilitating,” one official told me. “They provide information to the Haqqanis, they let them cross back and forth across the border, they let this L.E.T. guy (the leader of the dangerous Lashkar-e-Taiba faction of Kashmiri terrorists) be in prison and not be in prison at the same time.”

And yet the Pakistanis have been helpful — Abbottabad aside — against Al Qaeda, which is America’s first priority and which the Pakistanis recognize as a menace to everyone. They have shared intelligence, provided access to interrogations and coordinated operations. Before the fatal border mishap Thanksgiving weekend, one U.S. official told me, anti-terror cooperation between the C.I.A. and Pakistani intelligence had been “very much on the upswing.”

The most striking aspect of Clinton’s trip, however, was her enthusiastic embrace of what is now called “reconciliation” — which is the polite word for negotiating with the Taliban.

Pakistan has long argued that the way to keep Afghanistan from coming to grief is to cut a deal with at least some of the Taliban. That would also mean Afghanistan could get by with a smaller, cheaper army. The notion has been anathema to the Americans tasked with killing Taliban; a principled stand against negotiating with terrorists is also a political meme that acquires particular potency in election seasons, as viewers of the Republican debates can attest.

Almost unnoticed, though, reconciliation has moved to a central place in America’s strategy and has become the principal assignment for U.S. officials in the region. Clinton first signaled this in a speech to the Asia Society last February, when she refocused Afghanistan strategy on its original purpose, isolating the terrorists at war with America, meaning Al Qaeda.

The speech was buried beneath other news at the time, but in early October, Tom Donilon, Obama’s national security adviser, met Kayani in Abu Dhabi to stress to skeptical Pakistani leaders that she was serious. Clinton’s visit to Islamabad with her generals in tow was designed to put the full weight of the U.S. behind it.

Clinton publicly acknowledged that the ISI (in fact, it was General Pasha in person) had already brokered a preliminary meeting between a top American diplomat and a member of the Haqqani clan. Nothing much came of the meeting, news of which promptly leaked, but Clinton said America was willing to sit down with the Taliban. She said that what had once been preconditions for negotiations — renouncing violence, shunning Al Qaeda and accepting Afghanistan’s constitution, including freedoms for women — were now “goals.”

In diplomacy, no process is fully initiated until it has been named. A meeting of Pakistani political parties in Islamabad had adopted a rubric for peace talks with the Taliban, a slogan the Pakistanis repeated at every opportunity: “Give peace a chance.” If having this project boiled down to a John Lennon lyric diminished the gravitas of the occasion, Clinton didn’t let on.

Within the American policy conglomerate, not everyone is terribly upbeat about the prospect of reconciling with the Taliban. The Taliban have so far publicly rejected talks, and the turban-bomb killing of Rabbani was a serious reversal. There is still some suspicion — encouraged by Afghanistan and India — about Pakistan’s real agenda. One theory is that Pakistan secretly wants the Taliban restored to power in Afghanistan, believing the Pashtun Islamists would be more susceptible to Pakistani influence. A more cynical theory, which I heard quite a bit in New Delhi, is that the Pakistani Army actually wants chaos on its various borders to justify its large payroll. Most Americans I met who are immersed in this problem put little stock in either of those notions. The Pakistanis may not be the most trustworthy partners in Asia, but they aren’t idiots. They know, at least at the senior levels, that a resurgent Taliban means not just perpetual mayhem on the border but also an emboldening of indigenous jihadists whose aim is nothing less than a takeover of nuclear Pakistan. But agreeing on the principle of a “stable Afghanistan” is easier than defining it, or getting there.

After Clinton left Islamabad, a senior Pakistani intelligence official I wanted to meet arrived for breakfast with me and a colleague at Islamabad’s finest hotel. With a genial air of command, he ordered eggs Benedict for the table, declined my request to turn on a tape recorder, (“Just keep my name out of it,” he instructed later) and settled into an hour of polished spin.

“The Taliban learned its lesson in the madrassas and applied them ruthlessly,” he said, as the Hollandaise congealed. “Now the older ones have seen 10 years of war, and reconciliation is possible. Their outlook has been tempered by reason and contact with the modern world. They have relatives and friends in Kabul. They have money from the opium trade. They watch satellite TV. They are on the Internet.”

On the other hand, he continued, “if you kill off the midtier Taliban, the ones who are going to replace them — and there are many waiting in line, sadly — are younger, more aggressive and eager to prove themselves.”

So what would it take to bring the Taliban into a settlement? First, he said, stop killing them. Second, an end to foreign military presence, the one thing that always mobilizes the occupied in that part of the world. Third, an Afghan constitution framed to give more local autonomy, so that Pashtun regions could be run by Pashtuns.

On the face of it, as my breakfast companion surely knows, those sound like three nonstarters, and taken together they sound rather like surrender. Even Clinton is not calling for a break in hostilities, which the Americans see as the way to drive the Taliban to the bargaining table. As for foreign presence, both the Americans and the Afghans expect some long-term residual force to stay in Afghanistan, to backstop the Afghan Army and carry out drone attacks against Al Qaeda. And while it is not hard to imagine a decentralized Afghanistan — in which Islamic traditionalists hold sway in the rural areas but cede the urban areas, where modern notions like educating girls have already made considerable headway — that would be hard for Americans to swallow.

Clinton herself sounded pretty categorical on that last point when she told Pakistani interviewers: “I cannot in good faith participate in any process that I think would lead the women of Afghanistan back to the dark ages. I will not participate in that.”

To questions of how these seemingly insurmountable differences might be surmounted, Marc Grossman, who replaced Holbrooke as Clinton’s special representative, replies simply: “I don’t know whether these people are reconcilable or not. But the job we’ve been given is to find out.”

If you look at reconciliation as a route to peace, it requires a huge leap of faith. Surely the Taliban have marked our withdrawal date on their calendars. The idea that they are so deeply weary of war — – let alone watching YouTube and yearning to join the world they see on their laptops — feels like wishful thinking.

But if you look at reconciliation as a step in couples therapy — a shared project in managing a highly problematic, ultimately critical relationship — it makes more sense. It gives Pakistan something it craves: a seat at the table where the future of Afghanistan is plotted. It gets Pakistan and Afghanistan talking to each other. It offers a supporting role to other players in the region — notably Turkey, which has taken on a more active part as an Islamic peace broker. It could drain some of the acrimony and paranoia from the U.S.-Pakistan rhetoric.

It might not save Afghanistan, but it could be a helpful start to saving Pakistan.

What Clinton and company are seeking is a course of patient commitment that America, frankly, is not usually so good at. The relationship has given off some glimmers of hope — with U.S. encouragement, Pakistan and India have agreed to normalize trade relations; the ISI has given American interrogators access to Osama bin Laden’s wives — but the funerals of those Pakistani troops last month remind us that the country is still a graveyard of optimism.

At least the U.S. seems, for now, to be paying attention to the right problem.

“If you stand back,” said one American who is in the thick of the American strategy-making, “and say, by the year 2020, you’ve got two countries — 30 million people in this country, 200 million people with nuclear weapons in this country, American troops in neither. Which matters? It’s not Afghanistan.”

Bill Keller, a former executive editor of The Times, writes a column for the Op-Ed page.

Republicans Sharply Criticize Pakistan in Debate

By Arshad Mohammed for Reuters

Pakistan took a lot of criticism in Saturday’s Republican presidential debate, with a leading candidate saying it was nearly a failed state and another suggesting the United States cut its foreign aid to zero.

But it is unclear whether any of their ideas is likely to be imposed on a country that has nuclear weapons and whose cooperation is seen as vital to stabilizing Afghanistan as the United States prepares to pull out from there by the end of 2014.

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney said Pakistan has multiple centers of power including the relatively weak civilian leadership, the military and the powerful intelligence agency know as the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate.

“The right way to deal with Pakistan is to recognize that Pakistan is not a country, like other countries, with a strong political center that you can go to and say, ‘Gee, can we come here, will you take care of this problem?'” Romney said.

“This is instead a nation which is close to being a failed state. I hope it doesn’t reach that point, but it’s really a fragile nation,” he said.

Polls point to Romney as the Republican who would be the most likely among the party’s crop of candidates to defeat President Barack Obama, a Democrat, in the November 2012 U.S. presidential election. The Republicans begin choosing their nominee in state contests beginning in January.

Texas Governor Rick Perry suggested that every country, including Pakistan, should see its U.S. aid eliminated each year and then should convince the United States why it deserves any money at all.

“Then we’ll have a conversation in this country about whether or not a penny of our taxpayer dollars needs to go into those countries,” Perry said in response to a question about whether Islamabad was playing a double game with Washington.

“Pakistan is clearly sending us messages … that they don’t deserve our foreign aid … because they’re not being honest with us,” he added.

“American soldiers’ lives are being put at jeopardy because of that country … and it’s time for us as a country to say no to foreign aid to countries that don’t support the United States of America,” he said.

‘FRIEND OR FOE’

Businessman Herman Cain had difficulty offering a direct response when asked whether Pakistan was ultimately an ally or adversary. “There isn’t a clear answer as to whether or not Pakistan is a friend or foe,” Cain said.”

U.S. officials have long argued that the Taliban and other militants enjoy safe havens in Pakistan from which they attack U.S. soldiers in neighboring Afghanistan.

They privately argue Pakistan plays a double game, taking billions of dollars in U.S. aid while elements of its government tolerate militant groups such as the Haqqani network blamed for a September attack on the U.S. embassy in Kabul.

Pakistan says it has made more sacrifices than any other country in the war against militancy, losing about 10,000 members of its military and security forces.

There have been growing questions in Washington about whether U.S. troops should to go after Taliban safe havens in Pakistan, an idea sure to be deeply unpopular in a population already embittered by U.S. drone strikes.

Some Republican candidates argued that the United States has little choice but to nurture relations with Pakistan, citing the fact that it has nuclear arms and that it has to be part of the solution in Afghanistan.

“Pakistan must be a friend of the United States for the reason that Michele (Bachmann) outlined. Pakistan is a nuclear power,” said former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, referring to fellow Republican candidate Bachmann.

“It’s important for us, with a nuclear power with a very vast number of people in Pakistan who are radicalizing, that we keep a solid and stable relationship and work through our difficulties,” he added.

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