How wrong is Obama on Pakistan? So wrong that both The Economist and I agree that he is being foolish:
Although Pakistan is more complicated, one certainty is that the idea proposed recently by Barack Obama—sending in American troops against al-Qaeda—would be high folly.
My next column will talk more about Obama’s foreign policy, so I’ll leave that there for now. My latest column in TAC has also laid out why Musharraf’s continued hold on power is undesirable for both Pakistan and America, so go find yourself a copy of the 27 August issue. Strangely, and rather shockingly, I find myself once again agreeing with much of this Economist leader:
Until recently America turned a blind eye: better the general you know than the deep green sea of jihadism. But to see General Musharraf as lone defender against the Islamic tide is to misread Pakistan. It is not the Islamists but the moderate mainstream that has lost faith in him. His sacking of the chief justice (since reinstated) and his desire to have himself re-elected by the existing legislatures before the next general election have disgusted voters. America should not give uncritical support to a military ruler who is blocking the return of the democracy that Pakistan appears now both to want and to need.
The “moderate” mainstream’s moderation should not be talked up too much, but this analysis is still more right than wrong. The “democracy” to which Pakistan would be returning should not be exaggerated or treated as a panacea, since it has been a deeply dysfunctional democracy (during the time, and to the extent, that it has been one at all). The reason why Musharraf should step aside and be succeeded by an elected civilian government is not because glorious democracy makes all things better, nor is it because we should always prefer democracies to dictators for our allies, but because Musharraf’s continued hold on power and his errors in wielding that power have themselves become a serious threat to the stability of Pakistan and the security interests of both Pakistan and America. (Incidentally, it never ceases to amaze me how some of the people who found Putin’s head-cracking, clumsy, brutal methods in Chechnya so distressing are among the same who think that we need more head-cracking, clumsy brutality in Waziristan.) Democratisation is not normally the right answer, and it is never a cure-all or a “solution” to persistent political and social problems, and it is only a very small part of any remedy for what ails Pakistan, but real national interests of both countries dictate that a civilian government should take over from Musharraf in the very near future. The more that this can be done with minimal American involvement, the better for the new government’s credibility, since it has been the (often mistaken, but widespread) perception of Musharraf’s slavishness towards America that has weakened him at home.
What is amazing to me is that there is so much agreement in foreign policy circles in America that Pakistan’s truce with the tribes in Waziristan was a horrible mistake and that a resumed military offensive there by the Pakistani army is the right answer. Nothing could be farther from the truth.