American thinker George Santayana once observed:
"Those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it." And
German political philosopher Karl Marx, who had studied the policy miscalculations
made by the European leaders of the 19th century, mused: "History repeats
itself, first as a tragedy, second as a farce."
The two renowned theorists were hoping that their comments would serve as warning
to future policymakers. Unfortunately, when one analyzes many of the foreign
policy decisions made by the Bush administration, one must conclude that President
George W. Bush and his aides have treated these cautionary remarks as though
they were a set of policy prescriptions instead.
Hence, once it was clear that regime change and democracy promotion seemed
to have failed in Iraq (leading to a civil war and the rise to power of Shi'ite
political parties with ties to Iran), the Bush administration decided to promote
them in Lebanon (strengthening Hezbollah) and in Palestine (leading Hamas to
And as it is becoming clear as the various "color revolutions" in
places like Ukraine and more recently, Georgia, have exposed those pretending
to be local Jeffersonians as failed Machiavellians and ignited domestic political
backlash, the Bushies are once again trying to choreograph another political
transition of power that would supposedly lead us to another promised land of
democracy – this time in Pakistan.
Out of fairness to the current administration, it must be said that Americans
of every stripe fervently believes that the US has the right and the obligation
to influence and even determine political changes in other countries. This position
is not limited to the neoconservatives.
In fact, this idea has been embraced by Republican and Democratic administrations
since World War II and it is backed by most members of the US foreign policy
The opposition by many in Washington to the regime change in Baghdad reflects
disagreement with the method (military power) that the Bush administration applied
to achieve that goal as well concerns over the cost-effectiveness and management
of the operation, not to the self proclaimed duty to act.
Thus, there is therefore no strong disagreement in Congress and elsewhere in
the US with the idea that Washington needs to "do something" in order
to force Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to "take off" his military
uniform and allow free elections in the country.
Similarly, Republicans and Democrats as well as the media seem to be infatuated
with former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto whose current performance
suggests that she auditioned to play the role of Corazon Aquino in a Pakistani
remake of the Philippines' "People's Power" extravaganza. And if she
succeeds, she will be like Ukraine's Viktor Yushchenko and Georgia's Mikhail
Saakashvili and add another color to US-sponsored democratic revolution, and
in the process emerge as a leading opponent of radical Islamic terrorism.
And according to the script written in Washington, the American producer would
not only get a woman who is committed to – supposedly! – liberal democratic
values elected as prime minister but would even succeed in winning Gen. Musharraf's
agreement to play the role of supporting actor (as president) in the movie.
Pakistan's powerful military would be co-opted as willing extras.
This all sounds great if you wanted to produce a political fantasy about Pakistan.
But if you were doing a documentary about the country – that is, dealing with
reality as opposed to wishful thinking – consider the following.
First, like Iraq, Pakistan is not a unified nation-state but a confederation
of several ethnic, religious and tribal groups. Indeed, the regime doesn't even
control large parts of the country which are dominated by tribal leaders with
links to the Taliban
At the same time, Pakistani politics is a depressing story of military coups,
civil wars, assassinations and ethnic and religious bloodbaths – and a lot of
corruption; all of which has been tolerated by Washington in exchange for Pakistani
support during the Cold War and, lately, in the war on terrorism.
Ms. Bhutto and her illustrious family have been very much an integral part
of this tragic story. "Pakistani democracy" is an oxymoron – and the
buying into the notion that Ms. Bhutto would lead it reflects an astounding
naïveté, if not ignorance.
Moreover, at a time when Osama bin Laden is more popular either than Gen. Musharraf
and Mr. Bush in Pakistan, is it realistic to imagine that a political figure
who is so divisive would ride into power with public support through a political
scheme designed in Washington?
Ms. Bhutto can surely talk the talk – employing PR and lobbying firms to market
herself, an articulate and attractive Oxford-educated female – as America's
Woman in Islamabad. But she lacks the power and the skills to walk the walk.
Even in a best-case scenario, she would end up playing the role of the puppet
of Pakistan's military and security services, just as she did during her last
term in power in the country.
And, yes, did we mention that Pakistan, unlike Saddam's Iraq – or for that
matter, Ukraine and Georgia – has nuclear weapons?
Indeed, the geostrategic importance of Pakistan in the context of the war on
terrorism and instability in the Broader Middle East suggests that perhaps the
country should not be subject at this point in time to yet another American
exercise in democracy promotion.
The most intriguing – and disturbing – historical analogy that is being discussed
in Washington these days when the situation in Pakistan is mentioned, is the
failed US strategy to choreograph a transition to power when the Shah of Iran
began facing growing opposition to his rule in the late 1970s.
American meddling that helped force him out of power while at the same time
pressing the Iranian military to refrain from taking control, created the conditions
for the 1979 Islamic Revolution and the electoral triumph of Ayatollah Khomeini
and his allies.
The US "alliance" with Pakistan's Gen. Musharraf after 9/11 was based
mostly on realpolitik considerations, and here one can certainly make the argument
that the Bush administration's policy has been a failure as far as getting the
Pakistanis to deliver the remnants of the Taliban and al-Qaeda, including perhaps
Osama bin Laden, who are hiding in Pakistan's mountains.
Pakistan is not the place and today is not the time for allowing good intentions
to pave the road to an illusionary democracy that could end-up looking more
Copyright © 2007 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. All rights reserved.