This clip is notable mostly for what the president didn’t say. He didn’t mention any intention to review US aid to Pakistan, which both Secretary of State Rice and some Democrats in Congress have brought up as a response to the unfolding crisis there.
I don’t have a strong opinion on what ought to be done from a US perspective. It’s true in some ways that what we have is less a Pakistan policy than a Musharraf policy. But it’s also true that Pakistan goes a long way toward demonstrating the problems with democratizing the Islamic world: Osama bin Laden is far and away more popular in parts of Pakistan than anyone else. What sort of policy can you have for dealing with a country whose help we do need but whose people are predisposed to hate us?
Maybe it’s just me, but when I hear talk about putting pressure on him coming from the Democrats and State Department, the first thing that comes to mind is the fall of the Shah of Iran. There is a huge danger in the US applying any pressure on Musharraf at this point. There is also a huge danger in applying too little pressure on him, as it might end up becoming a betrayal of our own stated goals and principles. The Musharraf regime is extremely brittle and is buffeted on two sides, democrats on one hand and Islamists on the other. If the current crisis breaks the wrong way, we could end up with something like Afghanistan in Pakistan, where everyone is in control of something but no one is in control of the country’s central government.
Or we could end up with something like the Iranian mullahcracy in charge of a country that possesses nuclear weapons. We’ve arrived at another of those crossroads when there just don’t seem to be any good options on the table.
I’m also struck by another thought. When a US ally declares a state of emergency at least in part to deal with a real existential threat (and a judicial threat to his own power, to be sure), we all go ballistic and the Democrats seem to be out in front and the State Department gears up to bring a hammer down on him. But when a US enemy like Hugo Chavez who has allied himself with other US enemies like Iran gets his rubber-stamp legislature to grant him dictatorial powers, and he has been ramping up the anti-US rhetoric for years, just about the only place you’ll find much discussion of that is on the right. We may be sending the dangerous message that we’re tougher on our allies than on our enemies. That strikes me as unwise.
Update: Pajamas Media correspondent Ghaila Aymen reports from Pakistan on the “familiar uncertainty” of martial law.