November 07, 2007

Kaplan on Pakistan

Fred Kaplan at Slate is not a veteran Pakistan watcher by any stretch of the imagination. But he is a student (and critic) of the current American administration. So Charlie takes what he says with a few grains of salt, but his latest on the situation in Pakistan does strike a chord.

Now we've really got problems.

Strong start. Glad we go that out of the way.

The state of emergency in Pakistan signals yet another low point in President George W. Bush's foreign policy—a stark demonstration of his paltry influence and his bankrupt principles. More than that, the crackdown locks us in a crisis—a potentially dangerous dynamic—from which there appears to be no escape route.

No escape, huh? Paltry influence? Bankrupt principles? Come on, Fred, isn't Musharraf fighting Taliban and al Qaeda elements in the border areas?

Musharraf is portraying his suspension of the constitution as a necessary step to stabilize Pakistan and fend off Islamist terrorists. Yet the timing suggests it was, for the most part, a power grab. Pakistan's Supreme Court was about to rule that Musharraf's reign as both president and army chief of staff was unconstitutional. That meant the coming elections (which may or may not now be called off) would have ended his reign. And so he dissolved the court. He also arrested many democratic activists and shut down the nation's independent media.

It should now be clear, if it wasn't already, that Musharraf has been diddling Bush & Co. the past three years or longer.

Oh snap! (And did Kaplan just say "diddling"?) Ok, power grab, check. Crazy islamists are just a bogeyman.

The problem is that there's some truth to Musharraf's official reason for his crackdown. He has been going after al-Qaida jihadists, especially those inside his own country, though not so much Taliban fighters on the border of Afghanistan. And he is in a genuinely tight spot.

Sucks to his tight spot. Let's just cut him off and be done with it.

If the United States were to respond to this power grab by cutting off aid to the Pakistani army, the army would turn elsewhere—and the Islamist factions would be strengthened. If the United States were to cut its links to Musharraf … well, Musharraf is the face of the Pakistani army. If he goes, probably some other strongman would take his place, but the tenuous coalition he has assembled could fall apart in the process, with unpredictable—but almost certainly unpleasant—results.

Well goddammit, you're not making this easy, Fred! It's like the tail is wagging the dog here.

The fact is, the United States needs Musharraf more than Musharraf needs the United States. And the fact that he's rubbing our noses in it doesn't make it any less true.

Well, then, look. This was just the inevitable result of getting into bed with dictators. It's unavoidable.

We can't do much about this now, but we might have been able to do something about it two years ago or six months ago. The fact that we didn't is a grave indictment of Bush's foreign policy, both its practices and its principles.

But it's just an indictment of the Pakistan policy, right? Freedom is on the march!

The Bush foreign policy was neither shrewd enough to play self-interested power politics nor truly principled enough to enforce its ideals.

One consequence of this crisis is that Bush's "freedom agenda" is finally bankrupt. He will never again be able to invoke it, even as a rhetorical ploy, without evoking winces or laughter.

Fred, I hope you're buying the next round. I need a drink. Any parting words?

Musharraf's proclamation reveals that we are not the "sole superpower" that Bush and his associates thought we were; that sometimes the combination of vital interests and mediocre diplomacy put us all too desperately at the mercy of events.

Make that two.