The Spectacle Blog

Pakistan Problems

By on 6.18.07 | 11:53AM

As anti-Musharraf protesters take to the streets, the media have been featuring articles critical of our support for the Pakastani leader.

In Sunday's Washington Post Ahmed Rashid wrote:

Pakistan is on the brink of disaster, and the Bush administration is continuing to back the man who dragged it there. As President Pervez Musharraf fights off the most serious challenge to his eight-year dictatorship, the United States is supporting him to the hilt. The message to the Pakistani public is clear: To the Bush White House, the war on terrorism tops everything, and that includes democracy.
He went on to describe the oppressive nature of the regime and Musharraf's unwillingness to crack down on the Taliban and al Qaeda in western Pakistan. Rashid closes by comparing our policy of supporting Musharraf to Carter's support for the Shah of Iran.

The NY Times, also examined the issue of democracy in Pakistan. The article cites Pakistani moderates who believe that they can do a better job than Musharraf of fighting extremists:

They, like some Americans, argue that countering militants is not just a military task. It is also important to use political and economic programs, they contend, to prevent extremism's spread. A civilian government, the argument goes, can do that more effectively than a military one.
The big danger with Pakistan, of course, is that if you democratize and an Islamist government takes hold, then we instantly get what we've been trying to avoid in Iran--a radical government, hostile to the United States, with the mentality of a suicide bomber, in possession of nuclear weapons that they could either use or hand off to terrorist groups.

The experiences of Iraq and Pakistan are the perfect illustration of a concept that I've long considered. If we take a step back from our partisan or ideological leanings, we have to recognize that the world is a complicated, messed up, dangerous place. We can all argue over what type of actions America should (or shouldn't) take to improve things, but in the end, it's likely to remain complicated, messed up, and dangerous. For decades we had a policy of propping up dictators, or at least leaving them in place, to maintain stability in the Middle East. This policy of enabling regimes that were oppressing their people, asside from being ethically dubious, fostered extremism and fomented hatred of the U.S. With Iraq, the Bush administration sought to reverse this policy by knocking out a dictator and trying to build a democracy in its place. We all know how well that experiment has gone. Meanwhile, in Pakistan, we are pursuing a traditional policy of supporting a military dictator who is relatively friendly to the U.S. to maintain stability and avoid a worst case scenario. And as the articles I linked to illustrate, that strategy is not without its problems.

While, like everybody else, I'll continue to advocate foreign policy positions that I believe are best, every once in awhile it's worth taking a step back to realize that there are likely to be problems with whatever options we choose. Some would see this as an argument for Ron Paul-type isolationism. But minding our own business is still a policy, and one that is not without its significant pitfalls.

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