January 02, 2008

As we entered the fifth day of 24/7 Benazir Bhutto coverage on cable news, it started to dawn on me that the MSM imagined that they were reporting on some kind of grand tragedy “€“ the democratic hope for Pakistan, struck down by a terrorist while bravely defying a dictator! The American public seemed to have jumped on board, apparently interested in a land far, far away that it knows little, little about. Even the more serious minded like to imply that the former prime minister’s assassination is rich with geopolitical implications.

But then when our public intellectuals are pressed to explain exactly why Bhutto was so awe-inspiring and significant and what exactly this entails for the region and the U.S., they”€™re at a loss “€“ prone to hazy formulations and able to coherently articulate only the patently obvious (such as “€œshe was very brave.”€)

In their minds, we should guarantee free election, unless that means that the Islamacists will win, whereby we should prop up Musharraf, unless his rule creates more instability, in which case we should… well, at the very least we all agree that we must vaguely support the growth of democracy!

The source of this confusion is two fold. First, there’s the forgivable tendency to Romanticize foreign populist leaders. Secondly, there’s the unforgivable interventionist mania that persists amongst America’s foreign-policy culture. Both the Left and Right simply assume that we must do something “€“ fast!

The Washington Post called the Bhutto event a “€œtest“€ to determine which presidential candidate could “€œrespond cogently and clearly to a sudden foreign policy crisis.”€ The editors announced that John Edwards “€œpassed with flying colors”€ by dint of his recitation of the typical beltway bromides: Edwards was able to get General Musharraf on the phone and demanded he “€œcontinue on the path to democratization.”€ Bold words! We”€™ve never heard that before.

The Post editors then praised Edwards’s other big idea, allowing “€œinternational investigators”€ to enter the country and “€œdetermine what happened.”€ It seems that even for the kind-hearted liberals at the Post, Pakistan is little more than our bitch on whose sovereignty we may trample”€”for the Pakistanis own good, of course.

Mike Huckabee did what he does best as our prospective televangelist-in-chief, first offering his “€œapologies“€ to the Pakistani people and then sending out his warmest “€œsympathies.”€ When he actually moved from consolations to politics, he made a rather awkward connection to immigration.

David Frum “€“ who finds it “€œtruly disturbing“€ that the American presidential candidates have been focusing on American domestic issues and not the outside worlds and “€œits dangers”€ “€“ says that he takes solace in the thought that with the Bhutto assassination, Americans might once again turn their gaze abroad “€“ perhaps another preemptive invasion might be in store!

But then even Frum is unable to put into words what a course of action might look like. Indeed, he can only gesture to Barack Obama’s July proposal that we send the troops into Pakistan, which he acknowledges was a “€œdumb idea”€ but perhaps the start of something good.

But despite all the chatter about this heartbreaking event of staggering importance, Bhutto simply ain”€™t the woman she’s cracked up to be: her movement didn”€™t represent any kind of substantial change in Pakistani politics and her death alters little to nothing. Bhutto doesn”€™t really matter, and the failure to acknowledge this inconvenient truth has led to a great deal of muddled commentary. 

Bhutto was certainly an interesting person “€“ a fervent populist, a graduate of Harvard-Radcliff and Oxford, the author of four books, and the first women to be elected head of state of a Muslim country.

But then she was also deposed twice, by all accounts deservingly, for rampant corruption. Her two previous elections in Pakistan did not result in a new dawn for non-chauvinist Koranic democracy, and it’s doubtful that the third time would be a charm.

Just before her death, she announced to Parade magazine, “€œI am what the terrorist most fear”€ and completed a book on the “€œreconciliation“€ between Islam, democracy, and the West. But as prime minister, Bhutto supported the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan. She seems to have opposed radical Islam in word far more than in deed. 

Secretary of State Condoleezza waxed maudlin about Bhutto as a “€œchampion for democracy,”€ but this great democrat declared herself “€œleader for life”€ of the Pakistani People’s Party and, not surprisingly, her 19-year-old son has just stepped into to her unaccountable shoes. Bhutto supported democracy only to the extent that she might get elected.  

Pakistan remains a danger-zone, and of geopolitical significance, due to the fact that its streets are swarming with likely jihad recruits and its state is in possession of nuclear weapons. There is a real nightmare scenario of jihaidst seizing power, turning the nukes away from India and toward Israel, and thus setting off an apocalyptic domino effect. But then this has been a real possibility for the past decade, and the fact that a corrupt demagogue was murdered changes nothing. 

The only real revelation about Pakistan that occurred these past few days came when Ron Paul called a spade a spade on national TV. Appearing on “€œThe Situation Room”€ and asked by Wolf Blitzer “€œwhat would you do right now?”€ Paul answered that it”€™d be best for Washington to distance itself from the situation “€“ billions of dollars in foreign aid was clearly a bad investment and sending in troops to either prop up the general or “€œpromote democracy”€ would only lead to greater resentment of the U.S. in the region.

Sound advice, but it doesn”€™t play too well among the “€œdo something now!”€ foreign-policy establishment or on histrionic cable news. 


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