Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Nightmare in Pakistan

Take your eyes off Pakistan for a day or so and something terrible happens. Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf's declaration of a state of emergency -- tantamount to martial law -- looks much more like an effort to maintain his pitiful hold on power than anything to do with fighting the threat of jihadist terrorists -- the Pakistani supreme court was on the verge of saying it was unconstitutional for him to be president and head of the army simultaneously -- and it was transparent as could be.

As Fred Kaplan points out in Slate, the situation demonstrates "yet another low point in President George W. Bush's foreign policy -- a stark demonstration of his paltry influence and his bankrupt principles." Musharraf not only declared the emergency after Condi pleaded with him not to, he pretty much threw back in the administration's face the fact that its brave talk about using interventionism to promote democracy was a hollow facade. The U.S. has put our money where Bush's mouth is to the tune of $10-11 buillion since 9/11, almost all of it for the military. As Kaplan puts it, "It should be clear now, if it wasn't already, that Musharraf has been diddling Bush & Co. the past three years or longer."

Bottom line: If the U.S. doesn't do more than tut-tut about Musharraf, nobody will ever be able listen to Bush talk about promoting democracy without snickering or scoffing.

Kaplan thinks the U.S. might have had a chance to straighten Musharraf out a couple of years ago or maybe even six months ago, when he started moving against the supreme court. I'm not sure. As I've noted on several occasions, Musharraf is mostly a bad actor, but the situation in Pakistan, which some call the least governable country in the world, has been something of a no-win for some time. Musharraf moving against terrorists in the northwest provinces was unpopular among Pakistanis, who thought he was acting as Bush's puppet. And no central government has ever had effective control over those tribal provinces -- something I find somewhat charning though most people find it deplorable.

For a different take on Pakistan, here's Lee Smith, now with the Hudson Institute, who has been writing a book on Arab media forever. He argues that for all his shortcomings Musharraf hs done a great deal that the U.S. wanted, and that cutting him off would send the message that the U.S. doesn't stand by its allies.

The mistake was personalizing foreign policy -- Bush has a bad habit of doing that, since he has the delusion that he can size people up and that's all that's needed -- centering it on Musharraf the person rather than Pakistan the country.

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