Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Eat Your Words

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how I had high hopes for Pakistan's President Pervez "Uncle Pervy" Musharraf. I went so far as to say that with a dedicated effort on his part, he could be his country's Washington. Recent events have put the lie to my theory. It now seems clear that at the very least Musharraf and the Army are taking advantage of civil unrest and the assassination of Benazir Bhutto as an excuse to once again quash civil political parties and reconsolidate their control.

It seems I made the same mistake our government has, placing too much confidence in an authoritarian regime, allowing our fear of instability in a nuclear-capable country override our support for basic human rights and civil liberty. Or maybe that isn't a mistake. I honestly don't know. I suspect we are trading long-term stability for short-term security, which is a very old story for US foreign policy.

Personally, I need to step back and think my way through what our priorities should be, and work my way down to some kind of coherent position. I do think the first priority has to maintaining the security of any nuclear arsenals, and wherever possible keeping their masters on at least cordial terms. But that is a continuing priority, not something for the next few years. We don't worry about the nuclear arms of France or India, for example, because they are established, stable democracies. Therefore, it should be our policy to promote similar democracies wherever there are similar weapons.

It bears mentioning, that does not mean puppet or client states, or provide a mandate for setting up friendly governments by any means. Too often those efforts become heavy-handed, and backfire with unfriendly regimes soon taking power. For many years in the Cold War, France certainly saw itself as a "Third Way," not necessarily aligned to the US or USSR. That may have made them a thorn in Washington's side, but they were certainly no threat to US security.

Easy to say that is your position - sounds great. But the mechanics of promoting civil institutions, democratic governments is not so simple. The only recent examples I can think of where nations made relatively peaceful advances in this arena were the Warsaw Bloc states after the fall of communism. I do not think that situation was as delicate as Pakistan's right now, but perhaps there are some lessons there that would be instructive.

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