Friday, December 28, 2007

When You Miss the Forest for the Trees, It Makes A Sound

Blake Hounshell rightly suggests that a larger strategic vision is required in the realm of foreign policy in general, and vis-a-vis Pakistan in the present example. What is needed is a framework that appreciates underlying structures, institutions and popular will which would replace the solipsistic, ad hoc, Great Person-type approach undertaken by the Bush team and far too many many predecessor administrations:

In the wake of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, many will want the United States to rush back into the arms of the one known quantity in Pakistan: reliable strongman Pervez Musharraf. It's an understandable temptation—but a dangerous one. As the dust settles, America must be careful to keep its distance from the general, and stand for democracy.

With the country crumbling before our eyes, calling for Pakistani democracy may sound like a roll of the dice...Wouldn't it be safer just to let Pakistan's strongman keep the lid on? After all, we're talking about an Islamic state armed with nuclear weapons.

In fact, Musharraf's autocratic rule is a major part of the problem. For a man who styles himself as a bulwark against extremists, the results have been paltry indeed. The increasingly unpopular general has gone after lawyers and judges with seemingly more gusto than he has against the Taliban and al Qaeda. On Musharraf's watch, al Qaeda has rebuilt its terrorist redoubts in the tribal areas and the Taliban is resurgent on both sides of the Afghan border. Musharraf has become less popular in Pakistan than Osama bin Laden, according to one recent poll. Some bulwark. [...]

The question of who should rule Pakistan, however, was never about just one woman. Nor should it be about one man. Investing U.S. hopes in a single leader who tells us what we want to hear is shortsighted, even risky. It's a mistake the United States has made far too often in its history, most tragically in Iran under the Shah. Instead of hitching its star to any particular individual, America should support the Pakistani people's right to elect their own leaders and hold those leaders—rather than us—accountable if they fail. [...]

Though holding them as scheduled on January 8 would be divisive, free and fair elections will eventually be less risky than many people fear. But continuing to let Pakistan slide into chaos under Pervez Musharraf? That may be the most risky strategy of all. [emphasis added]

It would be remarkable if the Bush administration could actually bring itself to support democracy, even when the electoral process results in the ascension of parties/individuals that are not on the wish list. But that's the true test isn't it. Only supporting democracy when elections yield the preferred outcome is tempting, but it's also a sure-fire way to completely undermine one's credibility as a democrat. See, ie, Hamas.

Further, heavy-handed interference in support of candidates, elected officials and autocrats corrupts the integrity of the process and creates a dynamic whereby our nation becomes synonymous with the applicable agent - for better, though most likely, for worse. As with Musharraf.

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