Good Monsters

posted at 11:55 am on July 19, 2007 by Bryan

Paradoxically, Gen. Pervez Musharraf may have accelerated his downfall by taking on radicals that he had to destroy. If he hadn’t taken the Red Mosque radicals out, that would also have weakened him by showing that he’s incapable of dealing with threats to the peace. In most of the world, the Ghazi brothers would be little more than David Koresh-style radicals. But taking them on the Pakistan, like most of the Islamic world, is a lose-lose. Leave them alone and the threat festers; destroy them and they become martyrs and symbols for a righteous cause.

Gen. Musharraf took the Pakistani government in a bloodless coup in 1999. He had been appointed Pakistan’s top general by the then Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, over senior officers because he was seen as a loyal yes-man. So much for that. Eight years later, Musharraf still rules one of the most difficult and cantankerous countries in the world; Sharif isn’t allowed to enter Pakistan at all.

Pakistan itself was created by partitioning India. Those who propose partitioning Iraq along sectarian lines on the hope that it will create peace, think twice: Are India and Pakistan best of friends now? Is their relationship the source of world peace or a major threat to it? Pakistan is the source of the Taliban’s rise to power in pre-9-11 Afghanistan and it’s the source of many of the terrorists who have been trying to attack the UK. And it may be where al Qaeda’s leadership is holed up today. Imagine a Sunni Iraq, partitioned from and embittered to its Shia and Kurdish neighbors. Or imagine a Shia partition in southern Iraq, allied to Iran and constantly chafing against Saudi Arabia to its south. Partition is not a magic bullet for Iraq; it would probably cause as many problems as it solves. Just to take one more side road, the “rubble makes no trouble argument” ought to be a non-starter among serious observers as well. Rubble makes an awful lot of trouble when it’s left alone and dark forces can slip in and operate. See Afghanistan circa 1999-2001 and Somalia for examples. So we probably ought not partition Iraq, and we can’t just leave it in a state of chaos and destruction.

Which brings us back to Musharraf. Like Pakistan itself, he is a study in contradictions: His government supported the Taliban’s rise to power in neighboring Afghanistan, but after 9-11 he allowed Pakistan to become one of America’s most important bases of operations against the Taliban. Musharraf and his ISI has helped capture some of al Qaeda’s most notorious operatives, such as 9-11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed, but Musharraf has allowed the Taliban and thereby al Qaeda safe haven in tribal Waziristan and the ISI itself is divided in its loyalties. Musharraf rules Pakistan as a dictator, but by most accounts a benign one who allows opposition parties and press to have their say. And he doesn’t really rule the tribal areas of Pakistan at all. His writ in Waziristan is so weak he has all but ceded it to the Taliban. Still, the closest analogue to Musharraf might be Turkey’s modernizer, Kemal Ataturk. From a civil liberties point of view Ataturk was a monster in many ways, but the Turkey that he created hasn’t been a threat to the West or Israel and hasn’t spawned significant terrorist factions in the way that, say, Saudi Arabia has. Musharraf doesn’t appear to be anywhere near as uncompromising as Ataturk was in suppressing radicals who threaten the peace. His government’s support for the Taliban prior to 9-11 casts a long shadow over Musharraf’s possible career as a liberalizing and modernizing force for Pakistan.

But Musharraf might be the best we can hope for in the Islamic world for the foreseeable future. The push to democratize the Middle East has already brought Hamas to power in Palestine and sectarian parties like the Iran-linked SCIRI to power in Iraq. By popular demand, sharia has been written into the Afghan and Iraqi constitutions. Parties like Hamas and SCIRI and Moqtada al-Sadr’s political militia appear willing to use democracy to take power, and just as willing to discard democracy as Satanic once they have gained a solid grip on that power. Sadr has embraced and rejected democratic power multiple times, as the winds in Iraq have shifted. If Musharraf were to allow free elections in Pakistan today, it’s a safe bet that a coalition including Islamist parties would end up dominating the government, and they would do what they could to increase the power of sharia over Pakistan even if the majority didn’t want it. This month’s raid on the Red Mosque, nexus of radical fervor in Islamabad, was the right thing to do from a strategic point of view, but might well cost Musharraf his rule. Red Mosque sympathizers have set off a string of bombings across Pakistan intended to ramp up chaos and weaken him and are threatening more revenge. So far, 137 people have died in retaliatory terror attacks. In one of the latest, 17 Pakistani soldiers were killed when ambushed by Qaeda/Taliban fighters in Waziristan (and the soldiers killed 15 of those fighters in the same attack).

And that’s the dilemma: What a dictator like Musharraf might do that we see as good and necessary, like taking on the radicals in his midst, might well endanger his rule, which in turn endangers us because if he falls, we lose a key ally and the radicals who might gain power after deposing him would get their hands on a nuclear state. Our push to democratize should logically include Pakistan, but not anytime soon because recent history tells us that it would be a mistake to allow democracy to displace him. So we’re stuck with a dictator whose continued rule mocks the democracy drive. The same is true in Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, all of which are either dictatorships or non-democratic monarchies, and where democracy would probably put radicals in power.

Reeling back the past few decades, the Middle East has seen every conceivable form of government, from Western-backed monarchs to Soviet-backed Stalinists to Wahhabi-based oligarchy to indigenous Islamic revolution to benign but mildly corrupt and licentious oil sheiks to terrorist kleptocrats. None of them have worked very well, either for the people of the region or for those of us on the other side of the world. There are two forms of government that haven’t been tried: caliphate and democracy. The re-establishment of the caliphate is the radicals’ dream end state and not at all what we want; democracy is the centerpiece of the Bush strategy for reforming the Middle East, and it’s not turning out to work very well either. We get purple fingers voting in the Mahdi Army in Iraq and voters choosing Hamas in the PA (not that there was much of a choice there, with terrorist Fatah on one side and terrorist Hamas on the other). Given enough time, democracy might work in the Middle East as radical entities discredit themselves, but time is the one thing we may not have both for political and strategic reasons. Iran may have the bomb by the time any of today’s democracy test labs yields positive results, and the Iranian bomb would empower the region’s most radical government and weaken any that might stand up to it. And domestically, patience with war has just about run out.

We have made some fundamental, category errors in the Middle East over the past few years. Chief among those is the notion that culture doesn’t matter. It does. The democratization process took decades in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan and is still in progress in the Philippines, where an Islamic insurgency is underway again. In regions where Islam and particularly sharia law are prevalent, democracy isn’t always seen as a good thing by the common man.

The second major mistake we continue to make is to see the world as one in which every person desires personal or political freedom above all else. Though that was the centerpiece of President Bush’s second inaugural address and is the basis of our drive to rapidly democratize the Middle East, it isn’t true. Some people desire freedom first, but some would rather have security than freedom, or power, or riches, or 72 virgins in the sky, or any number of other things. Freedom is an abstraction that’s hard to define. Different cultures define freedom differently. In the west, freedom means conscience, speech, and choice; elsewhere it doesn’t include any of those things. It means different things to different people who have grown up in different religions, cultures and traditions. Give a man who has never known real Western political freedom a choice between that, or that he’ll get to lord some measure of power over everyone around him even while he has to swear fealty to someone bigger and meaner than himself, and he might take being the malevolent middleman of a tangible regime over the abstract notion that he can be free to do whatever he wants. Freedom, he has never seen and therefore doesn’t know and may even see as sinful. Power, he has seen and understands its uses. Many even in the liberal West would gladly trade a bit of their freedom for some power, or fame, or security, etc. The drive to socialize from the left is a drive to trade some freedom for some security, and that drive tends to be popular in every Western country but the US. And it’s gaining ground here too.

Returning to Gen. Musharraf, the man who helped us roust the Taliban but who has also given the Taliban its safety zone in Waziristan, and who may have weakened himself by doing necessary damage to the radicals of the Red Mosque, he may be the best we can hope for over the next several decades. He’s in many ways a monster — a coup leader with questionable loyalties and intentions who has ruled as a dictator for 8 years now — but me may be a good monster, or at least one that we can work with in the short and medium term. Er, if he survives long enough. And it may be that our efforts in Iraq to bring about freedom and democracy in the long term will entail working with non-democratic but non-radical and non-brutal “good monsters” in the short term.

Is this backsliding from the democracy component of our Middle East strategy? In the short term, yes, though I’d look at it as more of a strategic adjustment than a full-fledged backsliding. We gave South Korea several decades of non-democratic security, and democracy eventually took root there. Reality suggests that we’ll have do to the same for Iraq: Create security, and from that democracy might result. So we’d better get cracking to find a “good monster” we can work with to run the place in the mean time.


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The belief that everyone wants Democracy assumes a secular world where government and religion are separate. To Muslims government and religion are one and the same.

Democracy by its nature is anti Islam.

We should not expect people who have never been exposed to our freedom to desire them.

We should not expect people who believe in Sharia law to want Democracy.

It will be a long fight.

TunaTalon on July 19, 2007 at 12:07 PM

Great post, Bryan. You know, I remember a conservative professor I once had for world geography talking about the Middle East. This was just before our military moved into Iraq. He said that the Muslim faith teaches that eternal damnation is lurking around every corner. They need a strong government and set of laws to prevent them from sinning. I value freedom above all else, but I have the luxury of a set of beliefs that don’t eternally condemn me to hell because of occassionally sinning. I don’t want to just leave Iraq in defeat, but Democracy is not working for the Iraqis right now. Maybe we should redefine victory as providing a modicum of stability, and allow the Iraqis to hammer out the details in their own time. It took us from 1776 until 1787 to develop our particular brand of representative democracy, and we weren’t fighting an embedded, relentless insurgency.

LarryinVA on July 19, 2007 at 12:23 PM

I think throwing the ideas of Democracy and liberty and self-governance at the islamist is a way to wield them away from their religion, long term. may take several generations….long and ugly indeed. but with modern world we don’t have any other real options.

jp on July 19, 2007 at 12:30 PM

Gen. Musharraf, I knew Mustafa Ataturk, and you are no Mustafa Ataturk.

Krykee. Pakistan. One assassination away from being a nuclear islamo-facist regime.

locomotivebreath1901 on July 19, 2007 at 12:45 PM

The neocon call for democracy in the middle east illustrates their total ignorance of islamic tenets or of the arab culture that precedes islam. It can’t happen. They people don’t want it, and even if they did, they wouldn’t know how to use it. And if they knew how to use it, they would use to legitimize islamic rule.

This is why, as I have said before, removing the secular saddam was a naive gambit. The removal of a secular dictator in iraq, under the auspices of fighting the war on terror, was highly ironic, considering that George Bush ushered in the very islamic militants we were supposed to be at war with post 9/11. Instead of attacking an islamic theocracy, such as Iran, which would have at least been consistent with the idea of going to war with terrorism, he attacks a secular dictator that for 24 years suppressed those very islamic militants that are now emboldened and running wild in the absence of a dictator to keep them in line.

Then, in another sweeping irony coming on the heels of 9/11, Musharraf, the man who George hails as an “ally on the war on terror”, happens to the one man on earth who can, did, and continues to, protect osama bin laden from capture, the man George said he wanted “dead or alive”, and this, the very same Musharraf who has allowed the Taliban, a foe supposedly vanquished years ago, to set up shop and get right back into business of threatening America.

What we need for Iraq and Afghanistan, is no doubt, not democracy. Georgie boy couldn’t be more wrong on that. Democracy is only as good as the culture that practices it. Garbage in/garbage out. In Algeria, for example, they elected a radical muslim party to power in 1994, and the government had to nullify the election just to keep the islamists from coming to power. Democracy does not fight extremism if the masses are extreme, or easily cowed – both qualities of arab culture.

However, what we do need is certainly not a Musharraf. He has proven that. He utterly lacks the ruthlessness to rule over an islamic nation. He is the worst of both worlds – neither good enough to be democratic nor bad enough to be an effective dictator. Ultimately, in the final analysis, what we need in Iraq is neither a Musharraf nor democracy. What we need is a saddam.

How’s that for irony?

jihadwatcher on July 19, 2007 at 12:56 PM

Musharraf was bound to have to stand up against the islamofascists at some point. He’s in trouble now, but it would have only been worse if he waited.

sublime on July 19, 2007 at 1:01 PM

Well written Bryan. Kudos.

We in the West must always take the long view from now on. Islam is at war with civilization. It’s more dangerous than the fascists of the 20th century as it combines pure fascism with a satanic death cult. There may be moderate Muslims but Islam itself is radical. Any once of support to any sharia government works against us in the long term. History tells us that you can’t win over these brainwashed minions so let’s stop pretending.

Mojave Mark on July 19, 2007 at 1:26 PM

That was an excellent post, Bryan. I may quibble with bits, but nicely done.

Something I would like to see addressed at some point is the number of Iraqi police and soldiers that we’re training. All that authority, political power and sheer muscle will be difficult to dismantle even after Iraq is pacified (if it ever is). We’ll end up with a similar situation to Pakistan–whoever controls the guns will control the country–or worse, run by a Beria clone.

rho on July 19, 2007 at 1:29 PM

Islam, the Religion of Piece(s)!

TruthToBeTold on July 19, 2007 at 2:57 PM

You make excellent points. And they were excellent points when they were made by Daniel Pipes in April 2003.

http://www.danielpipes.org/article/1068

Maybe we should start listening to that guy.

Mike Antonucci on July 19, 2007 at 4:04 PM

Frankly it’s not important for the Middle East to have Democracy. Democracy is something the people want. It can’t be something that the foreign powers want for an equally foreign populace, and based on historical evidence the Middle East hates everything about Democracy – and more importantly where it comes from.

What Atatürk did in Turkey was not uncommon of what the Ottomans did everywhere in the Middle East during their imperial rule. Both forms of governing unabashedly squashed any form of uprising and drummed up the individual’s right to be… individualistic. It should be noted that the Ottomans were a little less so in the freedoms then Atatürk was but nevertheless both experienced a grand amount of peaceful time (so far as quelling evil).

Furthermore any form of democracy the entirety of the Middle East has seen is in the form of foreign powers muddling (is that a word?) in the affairs of state. In every sense of the word since the beginning of recorded time Middle Easterners have hated Democracy, and everything it stands for, because of Western Democracy’s influence in the Middle East – an influence that has never propped up the Arab people (or likewise contemporaries).

In the case of the Sheriff, again Democracy means very little to him and his people. What they care about is economy. They have none, and when you have none there brews a vial hatred for everything and anything you can get your hands on. For example… Pakistan has fought six modern era wars with India not because the other side is Hindu but because India had power in the region; they were the ones with all the ports, farmland, and tributaries. Over time Pakistani hatred for everything Indian grew to the point where it became a label they had genetically fostered onto their collective foreheads. Were they going to embrace democracy so they could be more like India? No. Why would you embrace something you most vehemntly hate? It’s like the school yard bully putting on those dorky glasses and starting to study… of which the probability of occurring is very little.

Therein this economic paradigm that spreads throughout the Middle East like vial Pink Shirted nutroots over a DNC convention, is the sole proprietor of our failures in the Middle East.

So long as western countries take oil out of the hands of the Middle Easterners,

So long as big Western corporations continue to import every little thing into the Middle East,

So long as foreign governments continue to shy away from staring the Middle Easterners in the eye and instead focus all their efforts on the Governments of said peoples,

So long as the Middle East continues it’s bout with a lack of a proper educational system (outside of the Qur’an), lack of a proper economic system, lack of proper basic civil services they see every other western nation have,

The Middle East will continue it’s downward spiral into self annihilation.

For America a stable, peaceful, cooperative Middle East would be wonderful… but as far they see it the Middle East wants nothing to do with another form of governing power, called Western Democracy, telling them what to do. Like your article noted, they’d rather be telling their people what to do then Western countries telling them what to do, the same Western countries that have been giving them shit for the last couple centuries, and the people rightly don’t care because they don’t have bread on the table, security in the streets (let alone streets), schools for their kids, hospitals for their sick (or doctors for that matter) – and they don’t want any of it to come from what they perceive to be power and greed-hungry-Christianized-white-man Western Democracies.

PresidenToor on July 19, 2007 at 5:36 PM

Freedom without power is meaningless.

Freedom without security is chaos.

And then to be free enough fulfill their desires.

It’s what they desire that brings the Clash.

Some desire a global tyranny …with their own uber-tribal bosses ruling everything and everyone eternally.

Some desire a cooperative democratic republic of free agents working toward creative liberation of the human spirit.

These aims tend to be unreconcilable.

profitsbeard on July 19, 2007 at 9:31 PM

get of Mr.Musharref’s back. He’s helping roll back arabs from his land. That’s what all this instability is about, Arab imperialism. Think about it. These jihadis come in and what’s the first thing they do? Take a wife from a local tribe. Then the encrouchment begins and ends. It’s over once blood is mixed. These are all my theories based on a decent liberal arts educations :). I think Arabs are moving along the coast from deep in Saudi land towards Darfur in the west and bangladesh in the east. Arab culture destabilized and overthrew persian culture in Iran, Pashtun in Afghanistan and these Baluchs look like recent decent of arab peoples. They are not at all like Musharref and the majority of Pakistanis who are more dark skinned, the indigenous people. We need to help these people push the arabs from their lands. Push them all the way across Afghanistan into Iran and then finish the whole mess of them while Israel wipes out Syria. Okay maybe the last sentence is an overreach but definitely the wahabbi and fundy shias need to be bottled up.

pc on July 19, 2007 at 10:16 PM

I have been taught a bit by a Bangladeshi muslim gentleman who recently passed away, god bless his soul, from an unsucessful fight against cancer. He taught me the origin of words such as Ma Mama come from Bangladeshi culture where the Ma is on parent and the Ma Ma is the mother of the one parent. I think there’s even a Mamie or Mommie to us. I won’t profess to remember all the details but it was a facinating discourse on the origin of words. Anyway he said, surprise, Saudi wealth is funding the mosque networks in these eastern countries and it while they appreciate the charity it chaps the locals ass that they are expected to wear traditional arab garb. He says it’s the height of stupidity to expect people to wrap up for desert living in a lush lowland. Anyway he said they also use such bullshit intimidation tactics such as the day of 200 bombs which were essential large firecrackers that were set off simultaneously all around Bangladesh in an attempt to intimidate the people into accepting Sharia law. Real aggresive huh.

pc on July 19, 2007 at 10:28 PM

Awesome post!

nottakingsides on July 19, 2007 at 11:28 PM

Bryan, Excellent post. It’s actually the second or third time I’ve come back to it. I didn’t want to comment right away, for fear of making an a$$ of myself.

Right on the money about partitioning. I’ve thought that from the first time I heard it. Many seem to endorse it. But all we have to do is look at Africa and what’s still going on today. Yes it’s a much larger area. But I believe the same rukles apply. Even the UK, similarly, Ireland Scotland, Wales all on their own but under British rule. For now it’s pretty quiet with each other. But it wasn’t that long ago that No. Ireland was like the ME.
Anyway Musharraf to his credit has helped us along the way since 9/11. We as a have stood by his side. Is this a case of the dictator you know is better than the dictator you don’t?

PowWow on July 20, 2007 at 11:21 PM

PowWow on July 20, 2007 at 11:21 PM

How about that? Quoting myself. Just reading another artice that says he’s begging taliban for peace. Hmmm

PowWow on July 20, 2007 at 11:33 PM

Excellent commentary, Bryan.

You have made some very excellent points here.

I thought “conservatism” meant the following:

—skeptical of government’s abililty to solve problems of cultural or religious origin
—distrust or skeptical about government’s ability to change cultures

The Iraq war was anything but a conservative-backed war. It was a war backed by neo-cons who believe we can change culture and disputes simply by dropping bombs and introducing foreign ideas of Western democracy.

The consequences of the Iraq war have emboldened Iran. Iran is 10 times stronger, more influential now, than before the invasion. At least before, Suddam (Sunni) was a check to hold Shia in balance. Now, the whole economic and cultural area of southern Iraq is clearly in Iran’s control.

ColtsFan on July 21, 2007 at 2:07 AM

This is why, as I have said before, removing the secular saddam was a naive gambit.

He wasn’t all that secular when it suited him. I think it was right to remove him but he should have been replaced by Allawi or Chalabi imo, both reasonable men.

aengus on July 21, 2007 at 9:34 AM