Yesterday, in a speech at the Ronald Regan Trade Building in Washington, D.C., presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama declared that he would shift “the central front in the War on Terror” from Iraq to Afghanistan [see video above]. He said, “Al Qaeda has an expanding base in Pakistan that is probably no farther from their old Afghan sanctuary than a train ride from Washington to Philadelphia.” As a result of this growing threat, the senator advocated changing the U.S. approach to Pakistan, suggesting that the United States cannot succeed in Afghanistan or secure their homeland unless they change their Pakistan policy.
Although Obama suggested, “…we must make it clear that if Pakistan cannot or will not act, we will take out high-level terrorist targets like bin Laden if we have them in our sights,” his reference to the country was not purely security-related. Instead he noted, “We must expect more of the Pakistani government, but we must offer more than a blank check to a General who has lost the confidence of his people. It’s time to strengthen stability by standing up for the aspirations of the Pakistani people.” In recognizing the writ of the Pakistani people and the sovereignty of the new coalition government, Obama announced during Wednesday’s speech that he is co-sponsoring a Congressional bill that would “triple non-military aid to the Pakistani people and to sustain it for a decade…” He asserted, “We must move beyond a purely military alliance built on convenience, or face mounting popular opposition in a nuclear-armed nation at the nexus of terror and radical Islam.”
Despite these statements, media outlets blared in their headlines, “Obama Targets Pakistan With New Anti-Terror Policy,” [the AFP] and “Obama Threatens Direct Action in FATA,” [Dawn newspaper], using buzz words that seemed to focus solely on the security aspect of Wednesday’s speech. Moreover, several media outlets, including Pakistani news agencies Dawn and The News, did not even mention the Democratic nominee’s references to nonmilitary aid, his support for Pakistan’s democracy, or his recognition of mounting anti-U.S. sentiment in the country, [the Daily Times, it should be added, did cite the nonmilitary aid statement]. The News, for instance, merely noted, “Obama said the greatest threat came from tribal regions of Pakistan. ‘We cannot tolerate a terrorist sanctuary, and as president, I won’t,’ he said. ‘We must make it clear that if Pakistan cannot or will not act, we will take out high-level terrorist targets like (Osama) bin Laden if we have them in our sights.'”
Yes, those statements were made (and can be construed in several ways), but the media’s framing of the event made it seem that they were the only references to Pakistan, which could subsequently impact reader opinion. Perhaps the contrast between the media coverage and the actual speech [the full text is available here] appeared more stark because I had the opportunity to be in the audience yesterday. However, it led me to ponder how many of us digest and receive our news. I am often guilty of blindly accepting what is portrayed in the press, at times not delving further into an issue by reading other coverage. It is no secret that news agencies often frame events in polarizing and sometimes simplistic terms in order to make it digestible for their audiences. However, perhaps in order for our own opinions to be more holistic, such realities should be taken into consideration.