The world is a complicated place. After (rightly) focusing on domestic issues in recent weeks, international events have suddenly taken center stage, from Afghanistan to Taiwan, with serious implications for the future of our democracy.
Gun violence tragedies in Buffalo, Uvalde and Highland Park, Illinois have (finally) shamed legislators into action. The January Sixth hearings have exposed “the big lie” of a stolen election. The Supreme Court’s reckless overturning of Roe v. Wade has energized women around the country as the implications of the court’s decision have become clear—and Kansas voters have roundly rejected a measure that could further limit reproductive health choices for women in the heartland.
But this week’s headlines underscore yet again how events across the globe offer complicated choices to American diplomats. A CIA operation led to a drone strike in Kabul that resulted in the death of Al Qaeda’s leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri. The surgical elimination of al-Zawahiri—apparently no civilians were killed and his family, who was living with him, was unharmed—is a stunning example of the extent of US intelligence and the capacity of modern methods of warfare. The drone strike was so sophisticated that the Al Qaida leader was killed while standing on a balcony in his apartment while no one else was injured.
However, the implications of al-Zawahiri’s location raise significant diplomatic issues for the US. It is inconceivable that this high level Al Qaeda official could have been living in an upscale neighborhood in Afghanistan without the Taliban knowing. This directly violates the agreement upon which American armed forces left Afghanistan. How does the US hold the Taliban accountable for this breach? An even larger question involves the relationship between the national security communities in Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan. It is highly likely, as well, that the ISI, Pakistan’s premier security agency, was aware of their neighbor’s harboring the leader of Al Qaeda. How will this impact the relationship between the US and Pakistan?
As an American who has worked for more than a decade with grass roots organizations within Pakistan, it is my fervent hope that in the struggle to achieve national security, the US does not develop policies and principles that overlook issues of human security. While it is true that elements of the Pakistani government have had strained relations with Washington over the past several years, the Pakistani people have no great love for the ISI and are as interested as we in the US to maintain stable, cordial relationships between our two countries. How do we support their aspirations and their desire for deeper relationship with the American people, irrespective of the geopolitical machinations that unfold?
On the other end of the Asian continent, long-time China hawk and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called Chinese President Xi’s bluff and visited Taiwan. There was much handwringing before her trip that she was putting American interests at grave risk. There were questions about why she needed to go at all—what would it gain for Taiwan or the US, and if she must go, why now? Writing in The New York Times, Tom Friedman even called Pelosi’s visit “reckless.”
There was fear that her visit would be a “poke in the eye” of President Xi, piquing his anger and stoking his insecurity, thereby prompting unforeseen consequences that could add further tension to Sino-US relationships, complicate matters in the War in Ukraine and even lead to military reprisals. However, to forbid the Speaker from going to Taiwan would embolden Xi in the ongoing struggle between the world’s democracies and autocracies. Despite some saber-rattling by the Chinese, since Pelosi has returned safely and China’s reactions have been relatively muted, opinions in this country have become more favorable and she has been lauded for her courage in defense of freedom and human rights..
There are no quick and easy solutions to these global challenges. But the events of this week demonstrate how it is important for Americans, even in the midst of pressing national concerns, to be attentive to how we engage the complex world beyond our borders.