The diplomatic skills of John McCain

The Guardian reports today that

A mysterious night-time telephone call brought India and Pakistan, two nuclear armed countries, to the brink of war at the height of the crisis over the Mumbai terror attacks, it was revealed yesterday.

According to the Pakistani authorities, a “threatening” call was made by the Indian government, ostensibly from the foreign minister, Pranab Mukherjee, to Pakistan’s president, Asif Zardari, on Friday November 28, two days after the drama in Mumbai began. India had by then declared that all the militants who had stormed its commercial capital were from Pakistan.

The heated conversation left Zardari believing that India was about to attack his country, reportedly pushing Pakistan’s armed forces to high alert. Given Pakistan’s inferiority in conventional forces, analysts believe it could respond with nuclear weapons to an Indian attack.

Zardari quickly mobilised western leaders in an attempt to avert war, telephoning the US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, and Britain’s foreign secretary, David Miliband, among others, who in turn frantically called New Delhi. Rice reportedly telephoned Mukherjee in the middle of the night and demanded: “Why have you threatened war?”

For some reason, John McCain went to the region during the 3 days of the attacks and visited first New Delhi, then Lahore.

John McCain, the US senator, arrived in Pakistan at the weekend from New Delhi, where he met the Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh, and told Pakistani journalists that India was ready to order air strikes. At a lunch with senior reporters in Lahore, McCain said Indian officials had told him they had evidence of the involvement of former ISI officers in the planning and execution of the Mumbai assault.

Aren’t we glad he is not in charge of our foreign policy? Not only did he inflame already nervous leaders who might use nuclear weapons, but he did it in public, so that volatile mobs might take up the call for war.

In a short search of English-language Pakistani newspapers the only mention I found was in a very judicious editorial in the Daily Times (Lahore), counseling restraint on the part of the Pakistani government. It says, in part,

Talking informally to a group of Pakistanis in Lahore, the visiting US Senator John McCain said that “there is enough evidence of the involvement of former Inter-Services Intelligence officers in the planning and execution of the Mumbai attack, and if Pakistan does not act, and act fast, to arrest the involved people, India will be left with no option but to conduct aerial operations against select targets in Pakistan”. Since the senator had just arrived from New Delhi, this can be taken as a message from India.

From the tone of the statement one can say that the Senator, possibly along with the rest of the US delegation, wanted Pakistan to respond positively, “after receiving evidence from India”, to the Indian demand that the culprits named by them be arrested. The Senator talked in the future tense about his willingness to persuade India not to embark on military action against Pakistan. He thought America would not be able “do much” if India attacked Pakistan. He was more mindful of the assertion that India’s Mumbai attack was an Indian 9/11 like America’s in 2001, after which the US took the option of attacking Afghanistan.

No one in Pakistan should take this as empty bravado or a dare to the Pakistan government to respond equally truculently. The two countries stand at a critical juncture — much more serious than the standoff of 2001 — and the Pakistani side should refuse to be provoked into reminding the Indians that war will inevitably result from military strikes and that this war might escalate quickly into nuclear war. The scenario is qualitatively different this time. The world is less interested in forcing India to stand down than it was in 2001, and is inclined to put its trust in what the Indians are saying about the nature of the Mumbai attack. But it will definitely try and get Pakistan to respond positively without reaching the point of going to war.

However, before we consider how the world will approach Pakistan, we must take a look at what kind of evidence the Indians will present to Pakistan. Unfortunately, the truth is that India is throwing out hints of aggressive action before concluding the process of putting together all the evidence. The latest finding that domestic Indian terrorists could be involved in the Mumbai attack should change the Indian approach to the matter. Pakistan’s stance has been that if the spoor leads to Pakistan it could only be to the “non-state actors”, and that India should not rule out its own “non state actors”. The latest news from India tends to point to a cooperative approach rather than confrontation.

Post-election rumor and divisiveness


Springfield Fire Department Photo by Dennis Leger

The Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hatewatch site carries news of a black church being set ablaze yesterday, the day after the election. Not in Mississippi or Georgia, but in Massachusetts.

[MA] Post-Election Church Arson Investigated As Hate Crime
The Republican / November 5, 2008
The torching of a black church a few hours after Barack Obama was elected president is considered a probable hate crime by federal investigators. [Read full article]

The second comment on this article (on the Hatewatch site) was notable:

ManchurianC said,

ON NOVEMBER 6TH, 2008 AT 12:04 PM

Gee, what a surprise. Way too many Obama supporters were threathing [sic] riots in the streets if their god lost the election so to me this is tame even if it is an anti-Obama burn.

I don’t recall there being Republicans hanging at voting places in this country with clubs threatening voters on the 4th as occurred in Philly by Black Panters [sic] dudes.

Payback can be quite rough, folks. Welcome to America. I am sure it will get much worse before it gets better. And that’s an optimistic view of things.

When I investigated this person’s claims I found much mention on partisan websites, but the factual basis was small or nonexistent. No one else had yet replied to ManchurianC, so I did, and reproduce it here in an effort to help defuse this sort of counterproductive discourse.


These are dramatic charges. Can you provide some links to news coverage of these threats? Such comments can provide a basis for susceptible people to engage in counter-violence of their own, pre-emptive violence, or just harden their demonization of the other party. Without substantiation, these are just dangerous rumors.

In searching for the Black Panther news I found an account: 2 guys threatened voters, cops came, end of story. Bad, criminal, but not some kind of major movement. And, based on our observation of the Obama campaign all through this long time, the candidate and his staff would have condemned such actions (and may have done so, if asked, I don’t know). If 2 skinheads showed up at a polling place and tried to intimidate some group of voters, would we assume it was planned or condoned by McCain or the Republican Party? I hope not.

When I googled the threats of riots I found one article
where a blogger used a comment by James Carville and led it off with a “riot” headline that did not represent what Carville said. Carville said he thought the election was going to go to Obama, based on polls, then added:
“But you stop and contemplate this country if Obama goes in and he has a consistent five point lead and loses the election, it would be very, very, very dramatic out there.” No mention of riot. Had the lead belonged to McCain, and a Republican talking head had said the same thing, would we be accusing McCain and his party of encouraging riots?

Another blogger cites an AP article with the headline “Obama warns of ‘quiet riot’ among blacks” but goes on to give Obama’s actual words, which were as follows:

Many of the folks in this room know just where they were when the riot in Los Angeles started and tragedy struck the corner of Florence and Normandy. And most of the ministers here know that those riots didn’t erupt over night; there had been a “quiet riot” building up in Los Angeles and across this country for years.
If you had gone to any street corner in Chicago or Baton Rouge or Hampton — you would have found the same young men and women without hope, without miracles, and without a sense of destiny other than life on the edge — the edge of the law, the edge of the economy, the edge of family structures and communities.

Those “quiet riots” that take place every day are born from the same place as the fires and the destruction and the police decked out in riot gear and the deaths. They happen when a sense of disconnect settles in and hope dissipates. Despair takes hold and young people all across this country look at the way the world is and believe that things are never going to get any better. You tell yourself, my school will always be second rate. You tell yourself, there will never be a good job waiting for me to excel at. You tell yourself, I will never be able to afford a place that I can be proud of and call my home. That despair quietly simmers and makes it impossible to build strong communities and neighborhoods. And then one afternoon a jury says, “Not guilty” — or a hurricane hits New Orleans — and that despair is revealed for the world to see. [end quote from Obama]

The blogger who quoted Obama’s speech goes on to say,

Obama is actually making a subtle and interesting point. He’s not saying that “quiet riots” are actual riots or that the quiet riots inevitably produce the actual ones. By contrast, he’s saying that “quiet riots” aren’t riots — they are things that devastate communities, such as crime, joblessness, localized violence, and inner-city despair. He’s saying that we shouldn’t need high-profile events like Katrina or the Los Angeles riots to alert us to the “quiet riots” that have been going on in the background for years and years.

Nor is Obama saying, as the AP claims, that the quiet riot currently “threatens to erupt” into new riots comparable to the ones in Los Angeles. That idea simply isn’t in the speech. The AP just dreamed it up. As a result, Obama suddenly sounds like he’s trafficking in the sort of rhetoric that conservatives love to get outraged about: That we’d best minister to inner city problems lest we have another big riot on our hands. Obama just didn’t say this at all.

Shameful, profoundly incompetent garbage. Just awful.

Please, everyone, our country has more than enough problems without putting a vicious meaning onto innocuous words. And it is highly irresponsible to write words that seem to accept arson of a church as not so bad, because the other side had (allegedly) threatened or done worse things. It’s easy to hold yourself aloof and be condemnatory, with or without facts to back you up, but at this point the election is over and the best American tradition is to come together and work together for the mutual good, not try to stir up anger and thereby undercut positive action that benefits us all as a nation.

President Bush’s approval ratings, and the results of “Do you think the country is on the right track?” polls, indicate that most Americans think our country is not doing well and not on the right track. We had an election, it was nowhere near as close as the last two, and now it’s time for positive action. Help shape the actions that are taken by making your thoughts known but don’t try to paralyze us with rumors and divisiveness. Don’t be Nero, fiddling while Rome burns: you’ll have to live in the charred ruins just like the rest of us.