By Daniel J. McLaughlin
There is no blue moon in the sky, nor are pigs flying by it. Although reality may seem like a nightmare, a sharp pinch of the skin proves that this is not a dream-like state. Donald Trump and the so-called fake news media appear to have reached a consensus on one issue. The president and the American press believe that something ought to be done about Pakistan's attitude towards the United States - but do they agree on how to achieve this?
Trump issued his first tweet of 2018 in a typical bombastic fashion. Auld acquaintance could be exactly that as the president launched into a rant about the supposed "lies and deceit" given to the US by Pakistan, arguing they take American leaders for fools. He criticised the $33 billion in aid over the last 15 years that America has sent to the country.
After his election victory, Trump was seemingly full of praise for Pakistan and its leaders. Following a phone call from then-prime minister Nawaz Sharif, whom he called a "terrific guy" who was doing "amazing work", the president said: "Please convey to the Pakistani people that they are amazing and all Pakistanis I have known are exceptional people." Since then, he has flip-flopped between condemnation and praise for Pakistan.
CNN was probably not on the president's Christmas card list this year, and the same could be said of the news organisation, but they agree with Trump that action needs to be taken. While they criticise his "diplomacy by Twitter" and note his inconsistency about Pakistan, they argue that backing his tweet with action could get results. The US relationship with the country has been "deeply pockmarked by times of estrangement resulting from Pakistan's unwillingness to root out its own bad actors".
They continue: "The US has treated Pakistan as an ally. The truth is, allies protect each other and each other's interests, and Pakistan has done little on either. Its government has co-operated occasionally - including freeing hostages earlier this year - but the stronger trend has been a continued, purposeful blind eye to terrorist activities within its borders."
A typical Trump tactic, in terms of international relations, has been to threaten to withdraw foreign aid. It has been an inappropriate diplomatic move in his previous encounters, but it could prove to be "potentially both necessary and expedient" in regards to Pakistan.
He is not, however, the first president to use this approach. Under the Obama administration, the US cut both military and economic aid to Pakistan sharply. In 2016, foreign aid from the US dropped to less than $1 billion - far below the $3.5 billion peak in 2011.
Trump likes to preface the New York Times with "failing", and launched a diatribe against the newspaper only recently, but Zalmay Khalilzad penned an opinion piece for them in support of the president's "bold, new strategy". The former United States ambassador notes that Trump is following through where Obama failed in the region, and must "show an unflagging commitment to the cause and be prepared to respond to moves by adversaries to disrupt his plan". Unlike his two predecessors, the current White House incumbent has been unafraid to address the fact that Pakistan has been playing a double game. He could make effective counter-measures against Pakistan, from the withdrawal of aid to using its influence with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
Khalilzad adds: "The Trump administration should make clear to Islamabad that it would be willing to reverse these moves and repair relations — but only after Pakistan has demonstrated a change in conduct that has the clear result of diminished violence in Afghanistan."
The Washington Post, who adopted the slogan "Democracy dies in darkness" after Trump's anti-press comments, called the president's speech in August about Pakistan "his most coherent, controlled and unobjectionable public articulation". They praised his long-overdue that the conflict in Afghanistan was floundering due to "Pakistan’s dualism on terrorism, as well as Washington’s dualism on Pakistan".
The so-called "fake news" media and Donald Trump acknowledge that there is a problem with Pakistan's commitment to the US relationship. The next contentious step, however, could be on their agreement - or disagreement - about how this should be resolved.