Monday, November 05, 2007

Once more into the breach


Well, you can start with this, from yesterday:

For more than five months the United States has been trying to orchestrate a political transition in Pakistan that would manage to somehow keep Gen. Pervez Musharraf in power without making a mockery of President Bush’s promotion of democracy in the Muslim world.

On Saturday, those carefully laid plans fell apart spectacularly. Now the White House is stuck in wait-and-see mode, with limited options and a lack of clarity about the way forward.

General Musharraf’s move to seize emergency powers and abandon the Constitution left Bush administration officials close to their nightmare: an American-backed military dictator who is risking civil instability in a country with nuclear weapons and an increasingly alienated public.
But then when you juxtapose it with this:

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.
Current and past U.S. officials tell me that Pakistan policy is essentially being run from Cheney's office. The vice president, they say, is close to Musharraf and refuses to brook any U.S. criticism of him. This all fits; in recent months, I'm told, Pakistani opposition politicians visiting Washington have been ushered in to meet Cheney's aides, rather than taken to the State Department.

No one in Foggy Bottom seems willing to question Cheney's decisions. Boucher, for one, has largely limited his remarks on the crisis to expressions of support for Musharraf. Current and retired U.S. diplomats tell me that throughout the previous year, Boucher refused to let the State Department even consider alternative policies if Musharraf were threatened with being ousted, even though 2007 is an election year in Pakistan. Last winter, Boucher reportedly limited the scope of a U.S. government seminar on Pakistan for fear that it might send a signal that U.S. support for Musharraf was declining. Likewise, I'm told, he has refused to meet with leading opposition figures such as former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, whom Musharraf has exiled. (Boucher says he has met with "people across the full political spectrum of Pakistan" during his nine visits there, from government parties to Islamic radicals to Chaudhry's lawyer.) Meanwhile, Boucher's boss, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, demands democracy and media freedom in Venezuela but apparently deems such niceties irrelevant to Pakistan.

With Cheney in charge and Rice in eclipse, rumblings of alarm can be heard at the Defense Department and the CIA. While neither agency is usually directly concerned with decision-making on Pakistan, both boast officers with far greater expertise than the White House and State Department crew. These officers, many of whom have served in Islamabad or Kabul, understand the double game that Musharraf has played -- helping the United States go after al-Qaeda while letting his intelligence services help the Taliban claw their way back in Afghanistan. The Pentagon and the CIA have been privately expressing concern about the lack of an alternative to blind support for Musharraf. Ironically, both departments have historically supported military rulers in Pakistan. They seem to have learned their lesson. It's a pity that those calling the shots have not.
And then, of course, today:

Elections are planned for mid-January, but there were fears they might be abandoned amid the crisis.

Police have broken up street protests and hundreds of lawyers and opposition activists have been arrested.

The US said it was "deeply disturbed" by events and urged Gen Musharraf to return to civilian rule.

Gen Musharraf said he had declared the emergency to stop Pakistan "committing suicide", because the country was in a crisis caused by militant violence and an unruly judiciary.
Once again, in order to save democracy, the rulers had to destroy it. In fact, it's almost exactly like that; and only 15 years later, too:

Perhaps this is the moment to recall an example that would appear particularly symptomatic of the current situation we have been discussing regarding Islam and democracy, namely, what happened in postcololnial Algeria in 1992 when the state and the leading party interrupted a democratic electoral process. Try to imagine what the interruption of an election between the so-called rounds of balloting might mean for a democracy. Imagine that, in France, with the National Front threatening to pull off an electoral victory, the election was suspended after the first round, that is, between the two rounds. A question always of the turn or the round, of the two turns or two rounds, of the by turns, democracy hesitates always in the alternative between two sorts of alernation: the so-called normal and democratic alternation (where of one party, said to be republican, replaces that of another be equally republican) and the alternation that risks giving power, modo democratico, to the force of a party elected by the people (and so is democratic) and yet is assumed to be nondemocratic.... The great question of modern parliamentary and representative democracy, perhaps of all democracy, in this logic of the turn or round, of the other turn or round, of the other time and thus of the other, of the alter in general, is that the alternative to democracy can always be represented as a democratic alternation. The electoral process under way in Algeria in effect risked giving power, in accordance with perfectly legal means, to a likely majority that presented itself as essentially Islamic and Islamist and to which one attributed the intention, doubt with good reason, of wanting to change the constitution and abolish the normal functioning of democracy or the very democratization assumed to be in progress.
The emphasized text there is always the question presented to democracies; and it's being presented again to the US, although not quite in the dramatic fashion it's on display in Pakistan.

On Saturday, Musharraf claimed he took extraordinary actions in response to terrorism, a claim clearly aimed at keeping the support of the United States, and one in line with the thesis that Cheney could be backing Musharaff. However, that isn't swaying world opinion, or apparently, even US actions:

The US has suspended defence co-operation talks with Pakistan set for this week and says it will review its multi-billion dollar aid programme.

The UK, another major donor, says it is examining whether the emergency will affect its aid to Pakistan.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said the announcement that elections would go ahead was welcome, but it must be accompanied by civilian rule and political freedoms.

The Netherlands became the first country to suspend aid, and the EU said its members were considering "possible further steps".
It remains to be seen just how successful Musharaff's "emergency measures" will be, or whether the claim of elections in January will materialize. But one can only be left wondering: who's on first? And how does this affect any attack on Iran, which Cheney is supposedly also backing? Frank Rich offered this analysis, obviously written before last Saturday:

Then there’s the really bad news. Much as Iraq distracted America from the war against Al Qaeda, so a strike on Iran could ignite Pakistan, Al Qaeda’s thriving base and the actual central front of the war on terror. As Joe Biden said Tuesday night, if we attack Iran to stop it from obtaining a few kilograms of highly enriched uranium, we risk facilitating the fall of the teetering Musharraf government and the unleashing of Pakistan’s already good-to-go nuclear arsenal on Israel and India.
Well, if an attack on Iran happens, will it have any backing in the US? Probably not:

One year out from the 2008 election, Americans are deeply pessimistic and eager for a change in direction from the agenda and priorities of President Bush, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Concern about the economy, the war in Iraq and growing dissatisfaction with the political environment in Washington all contribute to the lowest public assessment of the direction of the country in more than a decade. Just 24 percent think the nation is on the right track, and three-quarters said they want the next president to chart a course that is different than that pursued by Bush.

Overwhelmingly, Democrats want a new direction, but so do three-quarters of independents and even half of Republicans. Sixty percent of all Americans said they feel strongly that such a change is needed after two terms of the Bush presidency.
I'd say after Saturday, that need for a change in direction is even clearer. Which leaves one wondering, as Frank Rich did, why Hillary Clinton is talking like this:

“I am not in favor of this rush for war,” she said, “but I’m also not in favor of doing nothing.”
Why are those still seen as the only options? And who is trying to make that either/or claim, except people like Dick Cheney?

UPDATE: The BBC says "the US...will review its multi-billion dollar aid programme." The devil, of course, is in the details:

President Bush's top national security aides say U.S. financial backing for Pakistan's counterterrorism efforts likely will go uninterrupted despite the administration's unhappiness with President Pervev Musharraf's declaration of a state of emergency.

The White House said Bush would comment Monday on the crisis.

"The best option is for Pakistan to get back on its path to democracy," press secretary Dana Perino told reporters, echoing statements that administration officials had made throughout the weekend.


[Dana Perino] said that Bush has not spoken to Musharraf since the Pakistani president imposed emergency rule on Saturday.

At the State Department, deputy spokesman Tom Casey said a review of "the broad spectrum of assistance that we give to Pakistan" was under way, but declined to comment on whether Musharraf's actions had triggered statutory aid suspensions. He also reiterated that the administration had to consider Pakistan's status as a strong anti-terrorism ally in the review.
So Bush can't be bothered to contact Musharaff directly, and the review depends greatly on Pakistan's status as "a strong anti-terrorism ally."

Nope; no reason to think Dick Cheney is guiding our foreign policy; no reason at all.

UPDATE 2 (a la the Very Serious Glenn Greenwald):

The White House Speaks:

Even a senior administration official, at a White House briefing, merely called Musharraf "a friend who we think has done something ill-advised." The official spoke on condition of anonymity so he could talk more freely about the behind-the-scenes thoughts of the White House.

Despite billions in U.S. aid to Pakistan since Musharraf declared himself a war-on-terror partner after the 2001 attacks, Bush appeared resigned that the United States has little leverage to influence Musharraf's behavior.

"Our hope now is that he hurry back to elections," Bush said. "All we can do is continue to work with the president as well as others in the Pak government to make it abundantly clear the position of the United States."

Even as Bush spoke, police in Pakistan oversaw a sometimes-violent crackdown on lawyers and others opposing Musharraf's decisions, with hundreds, if not thousands, of arrests. And Musharraf said he would return the country to "the same track as we were moving" but gave no indication when parliamentary elections would take place. They had been scheduled for January.

The Pakistani leader has ignored U.S. requests before, including not following through on repeated promises to relinquish his post as head of Pakistan's army and, most recently, for most of last week when officials up to Rice's level unsuccessfully lobbied Musharraf not to declare a state of emergency.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., warned against being too soft.
Irony was unavailable for comment. It was presumed he was so confused by recent events he couldn't get out of bed because he couldn't find the floor. Unconfirmed reports have it that Irony has been removed to an undisclosed location.

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