Thursday, December 21, 2006

WaPo on Pakistan

I have to love the faith of the Washington Post editorial board in "secular democrats." Apparently, the solution to our problems in Pakistan is to bring back the "secular democrats" overthrown by Pervez Musharraf--another Putin-esque dictator who is too close to the Islamists.

These are the secular democrats whose electoral fortunes have been falling; whose inability to govern led to the whole coup in the first place; and who presided over both the nuclear test and support for the Taliban in the first place.

It's nice that troublesome facts don't have to intrude on editorializing.

Anatol Lieven presented a challenge in the recent issue of TNI about Pakistan--one the Post's editorial doesn't answer:

Unlike most of the Arab world, Pakistan has had several prolonged experiences of democratically elected parliamentary governments in the past, from 1947 to 1958, 1971 to 1977 and 1988 to 1999. None of these democratically elected governments succeeded in lifting the country out of mass poverty, and some were economically disastrous. All civilian governments have been guilty of corruption, election-rigging and the imprisonment or murder of political opponents, in some cases to a worse degree than the military administrations that followed.All of these periods involved serious unrest in some or all of Pakistan. The losing parties in elections have, as a rule, denounced these elections as rigged (which admittedly they often were) and encouraged the military to seize power. When the army eventually did so, in all three cases this was initially at least welcomed by a large majority of the population, utterly fed up with the experience of "democratic rule."Given these three previous experiences, to argue that if formal democracy were to be reintroduced in Pakistan tomorrow it would be radically different and better, one must be able to present credible evidence that something fundamental about Pakistan has changed radically for the better since the 1990s.

Surprising, too, the consistency we Americans have in labeling parties and countries democratic or not--and simply ignoring inconvenient facts. Does the following point Lieven makes about Pakistan bear some resemblance to the democratic forces we keep hearing about in many parts of the former Soviet Union?

In Pakistan the only true national political parties are those of some of the Islamists. The parties routinely described in the Western media as "democratic" are in fact congeries of landlords, clan chieftains and urban bosses vowing more-or-less temporary allegiance to some national leader like Benazir Bhutto. As noted, all have been more than willing to adopt highly undemocratic methods when necessary. Most Pakistanis have fully accepted the form of democracy but are still far from truly accepting the content.

On another note: my latest contribution to the foreign policy debate--No "No-Cost" Solutions--now up at National Interest online.

The default US position is that secular progressive democrats always represent the true interests of the people and if they aren't winning elections it is because the people are ignorant or deceived. So they have no problem reconciling their idea of "democracy" with the fact that these politicians can't win elections.
Nick, just wanted to comment on something from your National Interest piece.

The problem I have with the Zucker film is that it follows this popular perception that Chamberlain and others were stupid weaklings. But Britain wasn't even ready to fight in 1938. The year of time Munich bought enabled Britain to be better prepared. And the US was even less ready.

Ahmadinejad suffered setbacks in the last election. So why is it necessarily a bad strategy to start talking and let his base of support continue to erode from within?
All of this talk about grand bargains with Iran, finding a solution, etc. is bogus. We have to be ready to fight and we have to be ready sooner rather than later. Nick you are right that politicians have not led on this but realists can't take the position that since the country doesn't want to fight then all we have left is to negotiate. There is a realist case for confrontation with Iran sooner rather than later.
conservative realist:

There is absolutely no realist case for confronting Iran.

1. You are not going to kill the 5 to 7 % of the population that is necessary to force an un-conditional surrender. You have to use nuclear weapons to do that and you won't. So you cannot win.

2. Your best shot at a powerful air strike - causing deaths of several thousand Iranians - will take days to execute and will require you to gather every pieces of hardware that you have from all over the world. So not only Iran but other states would know that you are coming and will plan accordingly.

3. The air war can be done and cause great harm to Iran. I imagine that you will be playing by the Kosovo & Israel book and go after electrical grids, bridges, rail roads etc. as well military targets. Iranian government is willing to accpet these losses.

4. The Iranian response will come in multiple fronts and it will be painful. You will have to ask yourself, how much are you willing to escalate. Are you willing to see the destructions of the Saudi Oil facilities at Ra'as Al Tanur? Destruction oil & gas facilities of Qatar and Kuwait? Yes, I know that they can be repaired but it will take months. Please be advised that Mr. Khamenie has already warned you of this - so don't say that you were not warned.

5. By attacking Iran, US would have, in effect killed NPT, helped Russia and China to a permanent position in the Persian Gulf, and lastly declared war against all of Islam.

Really, if you were a realist you would sit by Odom and learn a few things from him.

"Those who live in glass houses should not throw stones."

The mess that occurs under civilian-led elected governments in Pakistan is comparable to the mess that occurs under military dictatorships. So the same criticisms that apply to the elected "secular democrats" must apply to the unelected autocrats.

This analysis misses the elephant in the room: is democracy (forget secular, the place is an Islamic state) even possible in Pakistan when the military establishment has such a stranglehold over politics, bureaucracy and the economy. Short answer, no.
Nick, the sordid history of Pakistan's democracy is a useful thing to bring up, but nevertheless, Musharraf's reign is not a solution. Just because the current dictator is relatively prudent pragmatic, not given to whimsical militaristic excess, etc, is no guarantee about his successor. Ultimately, the only accountability function is through an electoral government. What that electoral government could use, and Pakistan could help create though, is a higher internal consensus barrier to arbitrary modifications of the laws governing political competition. In other words, it needs an independent judiciary.
If Musharraf - or someone else - sets that up, the next round of democracy might more smoothly. Islamic or not.

Musharraf, to his credit, has done as good a job as anyone could at holding the country together. But resting on the laurels of a coincidental and circumstantial period of competence just isn't good enough for the most dangerous country in the world.

Just my $.02

Jordan W.
Jordan W.

Yes, I agree with you.

That's why we have to have a nuclear capability in Iran - heaven knows what could happen in Pakistan.
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