I read this editorial last week while I was on the road, and thankfully though about it this afternoon to complete my trifecta of posts for the day.
The editorial details a question posed to Rep. John Tanner (TN-08) concerning Pakistan. From the Editorial:
Whom should we side with in the ongoing confrontation in Pakistan between the autocratic government of Pervez Musharraf and ostensible democratic reformer Benazir Bhutto, a former prime minister freshly returned from exile? Not an easy question, and Tanner, after ruminating out loud over the pros and cons of the matter, finally came down, reluctantly but decisively, on the side of the status quo. What’s at stake in the region is stability, the congressman said, and that’s especially needful in the case of Pakistan, not only a de facto ally in the so-called war on terror but a country in possession of a decent-sized nuclear arsenal.
There are several things about the statement that Tanner and I can agree on, with some clarification. 1. Certainly stability is preferable to instability in Pakistan, unfortunately that stability should be rooted in Democratic institutions, not a government that rose to power as the result of a military coup. 2. Pakistan is an ally, though a reluctant one in the war on terror. Musharraf’s insistence on making peace treaties with Islamic militants on the Afghan border to concentrate power should be very concerning to the US. 3. Pakistan most certainly possesses nuclear weapons, and we should be working with them to put that genie back in the bottle. Acting like it’s not there is not working.
All of these “agreements with conditions” are well and good, but neglect the issue that should be front and center in the assessment; Pakistan should be able to decide their own fate democratically.
The editorial goes on to somehow relate our experience in Iraq to a potential experience in Pakistan:
…our experience in Iraq has surely taught us something about the dangers of overthrowing dictators. Saddam Hussein was no paragon, to say the least. But he was A) secular and B) strong enough to hold the festering parts of that country together against potential (now long since actualized) religious anarchy. Much the same can be said of Musharraf, and it has to be considered, as Tanner indicated, whether the cure for authoritarian regimes (which are surely to be preferred to totalitarian ones) can be worse than the illness.
Musharraf is no Saddam Hussein at this point. That could change at any moment and supporting him only compounds the problem. As we should have learned in our relationship with Saddam in the 80’s, a dictatorial ally for today can be a major dictatorial pain in the rear end tomorrow. Like our relationship with Saddam in the 80’s we had a common enemy. Then it was Iran, today it is the specter of islamofascism, or whatever they’re calling it today. The similarities are disturbing.
While I understand and somewhat support efforts to keep us from the “don’t poop where you eat” politics that have dominated our foreign policy in this administration, I also reject the Reagan error politics of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”. This policy, started by Republicans and adopted by knee knocking Democrats seeking foreign policy credibility is a mess up of grand proportions. If America is going to be the paragon of all that is “Liberty, Justice, and Freedom” on the planet, then we need to stop propping up dictators who are “Just us” without the Liberty or Freedom. As of this writing, Pakistan is no different, despite their strategic positioning.
It’s time to take the diplomatic high ground. That doesn’t mean icing Pakistan, but talking to them more to get more of what we want (democratic elections, demilitarizing the militants in the north, nuclear drawdown). That means showing them how beneficial a partnership with America can be. Regardless of our current foreign policy strategy (if you can call it that) they still need us more than we need them. Pakistan will make concessions, if it’s beneficial for them, and if they’re asked (I assume they’re not since the Bushies love friendly Dictators). Anything less is a waste of time, and a violation of all that America stands for. We can and should do better.