Guest contribution:What do regular Americans think about Pakistan?

October 7, 2008

The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the author’s alone.  Joshua Foust is a defence analyst who also writes an Afghanistan blog for Global Voices  and is a contributing editor to, a blog devoted to Central Asia and the Caucasus.

                                           The view from the heartland

                                                    By Joshua Foust

In much of the hoopla over the American presidential election – including what to do about Pakistan and Afghanistan – the voices of regular Americans are often lost in the noise.

Senators Barack Obama and John McCain/Jim BourgAs someone who has studied Central Asia and American foreign policy for several years since graduating from University, I am perhaps not a typical voter. But I do live in Kansas City, Missouri – literally the centre of America.

So when I was invited to write for this blog about the popular conceptions here of Pakistan and Afghanistan, I initially froze: how does one make sense of what people think of a distant part of the world? I’ve spent so much time trying to figure out what I think, getting at what others do as well seemed an enormous task. Regardless, I could discern a few common themes by talking to those around me.

Belinda is a statistical programmer. Though she says she doesn’t read international news as much as she should, she considers herself reasonably well informed. “I think the US conducting raids into Pakistan could lead us down a bad path,” she said, referring to both drone-fired missiles and troop incursions into the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. She continued, “I think we need to tread really carefully.”

Christine, an entomologist, took a somewhat more flippant attitude. “The United States decided to tar and feather some insurgents and so he sent our military to go blow up homes in Pakistan.”

Senator Joe Biden and Alaska governor Sarah Palin/Jim YoungThese two seemed perfectly representative of what I can only call “The Daily Show Set”-that is, those who watch John Stewart’s nightly mockery of the news. They see the need for caution, yet seem to feel they can have no influence over the choices of policy makers.

There is, as one might expect, a difference between white-collar professionals and blue-collar professionals. Jared, a plumber working for a commercial real estate management company, simply didn’t know what to think of it. “They seem like really tough people,” he said. “But I don’t know what else to think, ya know?”

I did know. Without pouring over the news and spending hours talking to those with a personal stake in matters there, it is difficult to form a solid opinion.

The challenge in being informed about Pakistan is most news sources simply do not discuss Pakistan (or the region as a whole) in any detail whatsoever, to say nothing of offering enough information to form opinions.

And the Presidential candidates have not helped matters much, either. No one I spoke to could say what the candidates have actually said about the region, though they all thought John McCain would probably take a military-first approach and Barrack Obama would take a more diplomatic route. But aside from generalities, people don’t seem to know what to think of the region.

There is universal agreement it is important, and that the United States needs to have an active presence in the area, but beyond this information is simply too scarce to draw deeper opinions.


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Stop this crap !! Everyone in US i spoke to say first thing that comes in to mind about pakistan is terrorists.

Posted by Om | Report as abusive

This is such a simplistic analysis that it borders on foolishness. I highly suggest that next time you get an author that knows something about the subject. Mr Foust is obviously a light weight when it comes to the subject of Pakistan.

Posted by Billy Beal | Report as abusive

As someone who volunteers within the local community, I interact with ‘real’ everyday Americans of all races and ethnicity as well different income brackets from poverty level to six-figure plus. This article asks what these Americans think of Pakistan. The author gave very few examples, but from my own experience, about 50 people who I asked said comments ranging from ignorant to somewhat informed about Pakistan. Bottom line: most Americans know very little of any foreign affairs, let alone Pakistan. I agree that there is very little discussion in the mainstream media on the country itself and this is critical if the US is too craft any long term policy.

Posted by John | Report as abusive

Please allow me to jump into this in my own defense. I talked to far more than three people when Myra kindly asked me to explore what it’s like in the Midwest. But these three seemed the most representative, and certainly said the most interesting things. As John notes, there is a vast range of American opinion — preciously of that, however, ever makes its way into an American media diet.

Posted by Joshua Foust | Report as abusive

I am confused….

We invaded a country, Iraq, without any evidence of supporting terrorism or having nuclear weapon but can’t invade a terrorist country, Pakistan.

Its well known that those terrorists who attacked us are hiding in Pakistan, Why can’t we invade to clean them up.
Its well known that Pakistans’ army has been supporting these terrorists.
Its well known that Pakistan has been selling nuclear technology in black market (Iran and North Korea included).
Pakistan has no interest in cleaning up those terrorists and will never be interested in doing so because they are all the same.

Posted by ma | Report as abusive

Mr Foust: I appreciate your comment but it is hard not to view your article as trite and simplistic. This article is exactly the type of articles that give serious on-line journalists and bloggers a bad name. I would recommend that you NOT give up your day job. Simplistic analyses such as this are a disservice to readers of this usually excellent blog. I am sorry for being so blunt but your article is the worst I have ever seen posted on this site.

Posted by Billy Beal | Report as abusive

Hey ma..
dont be confused.. US is not invading pakistan bacause the cleaning job you talk about is outsourced to pakistani army.

Posted by Om | Report as abusive

Billy, I appreciate that, too. I don’t think it’s necessarily fair to call me a “lightweight” on Pakistan, though. I’d also be curious how you’d suggest writing a short-form article about public perceptions without it sounding kind of trite. That’s kind of how these pieces are.

Posted by Joshua Foust | Report as abusive

MA, you’re a knucklehead who has no memory. 533 members of congress voted in favor of the military action in Iraq based on “evidence” they ALL believed demonstrated a threat to American security. This evidence was from a national security team, majority of whom were there when Billy C was Pres. So, get your facts straight before you speak and show your ignorance.
As for Pakistan, we import hundreds of millions of dollars of cheap product. We should suspend all imports if they do not allow us to respond to those who attacked us on 9/11/2001. Do you remember that Date? Many Americans have already forgot.

So, lets suspend Pakistani imports first, but if we are fired upon while chasing our terrorist attackers, lets fire back – whoever it is.

Posted by stevo | Report as abusive