Streetwise Professor

December 30, 2007

The Devil You Know

Filed under: Military,Politics — The Professor @ 9:23 am

There are myriad reasons to criticize Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf. His numerous attempts to make deals with the Taliban in Waziristan and other Northwest Frontier regions have been unmitigated failures. No one will mistake him for a democrat or supporter of civil liberties. Nonetheless, the hyperventilating criticism of Musharraf by US presidential hopefuls, most notably Hillary Clinton and Bill Richardson, in the aftermath of the Bhutto assassination is just plain stupid. Clinton has called for an international investigation of the Bhutto killing,; this would undermine Musharraf’s already precarious position. Richardson advocated “forcing” Musharraf from power.

So, let’s say Clinton and Richardson get their way, and Musharraf is ejected from power. Who will rule instead? The choice is not between the authoritarian Musharraf and some democratic alternative. Not even Bhutto was a credible democratic alternative. The choice is between Musharraf and Islamic radicals allied with Al Qaeda.

This reminds me of events of 30 years ago–namely, the overthrow of the Shah. The Shah was no prize, an autocrat, a serial violater of human rights. He was unpopular. His campaign to modernize Iran alienated many traditional elements of Iranian society. (See Paul Johnson’s Modern Times for a good overview of this.) Unwilling to continue American support of such an unsavory character, Jimmy Carter et al threw him overboard. And as bad as the Shah was, his successors–Khomeni and the ayatollahs was infinitely worse for America, the world, and even for the supposed beneficiaries of the regime change, the Iranian people. We are still grappling with the consequences of that choice decades later.

Clinton and Richardson are old enough to remember this, not that they give any evidence of having absorbed the lesson. It is so much easier to preen morally like St. Jimmy, and to pretend that the choice is between a imperfect Musharraf and some ideal alternative–that doesn’t exist. The real choice is between an imperfect Musharraf and a demonic Islamist regime.

Given the immense strategic stakes, and Pakistan’s status as a nuclear power, the consequences of choosing badly are likely to be even more catastrophic than those that followed the fall of the Shah. It would be bad enough if Clinton’s and Richardson’s statements are political throwaways intended to appeal to the Democrat primary electorate. The situation in Pakistan is extremely delicate, and anything that undermines Musharraf redounds to the benefit of the Islamists–and to the detriment of the US. Statements by prominent US politicians can have this undermining effect. It would be immeasurably worse if these utterances reflect how a President (gag) Clinton or a President Richardson would govern.

All the alternatives in Pakistan are bad, but some are much worse than others. It is easy to slam Musharraf. It is far harder to identify a credible alternative that would be better for the US–and for Pakistan. Before shooting their big yaps, the Clintons and Richardsons and other candidates and elected officials in the US should consider the real alternatives. As the Carter Iran fiasco demonstrates, sanctimony may be self-satisfying, but self-defeating (in the extreme). For better or worse, for now Musharraf is all that stands between a bad situation and absolute disaster. Under these circumstances Clinton’s and Richardson’s remarks are irresponsible in the extreme.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

No Comments »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a comment

Powered by WordPress