The assassination of Benazir Bhutto has triggered a barrage of commentaries, among them a revealing piece by Medea Benjamin, which has been endorsed and posted by “Progressive” Democrats of America (“P”DA) on whose board she sits. Benazir Bhutto’s death is sad in many ways. She was a charming, intelligent woman – and certainly a courageous one, albeit more representative of dynasty than democracy. But Medea Benjamin’s evaluation of Benazir Bhutto is interesting not for what it says about Bhutto but for what it tells us about the attitude of “P”DA and Medea to the U.S. empire
Most interestingly, Benjamin’s statement declares: “The Bush administration has been a staunch supporter of Musharraf, providing his regime with over $10 billion in financial aid since 2001. … The U.S. government should withhold assistance until Musharraf steps down …” “Until”? “Until” says that once a Pakistani government is in place, which meets with U.S. “democratic” standards and U.S. approval, billions of mostly military U.S. aid should be poured into Pakistan once again. I am sure, if asked, Medea Benjamin and “P”DA would proclaim themselves “non-interventionists.” – well, maybe not “P”DA. But what business is it of the U.S. to determine by its aid what constitutes an acceptable government for the people of Pakistan? Contrast this to the clear call of Ron Paul to stop all military involvement and all aid to Pakistan. Nothing, no more, says Paul. That stance is not only the way to peace but is respectful of Pakistani self-determination, real democracy – in stark contrast to the neocolonial mentality of “P”DA.
The Medea Benjamin statement declares: “Bhutto was perceived by many Pakistanis as too ‘pro-Western,’ especially after remarks that if elected Prime Minister, she might allow U.S. military strikes inside Pakistan to eliminate al-Qaeda.” Those quotation marks around “pro-Western” speak volumes. Benazir Bhutto became Prime Minister for the first time with the backing and assistance of the Reagan administration in 1988. And she was sent back to Pakistan by the empire to help shore up the present Musharaff regime. In the end she paid with her life for that maneuver. When she agreed to work with Musharaff, she was denounced by many Pakistanis, including politician and former cricketer Imran Khan who accused her of “betrayal”. What kind of leader will compromise national sovereignity and allow entry to imperial troops? How is she different from Musharaff on that score? And how can a people enjoy democracy when they are under the sway of foreign forces and money?
Medea Benjamin’s statement states that Bhutto’s assassination is a “blow to women … who took strength from seeing a … woman playing a leadership role in a powerful Muslim country.” But is this not the triumph of identity politics over feminism? Bhutto did not want to enter politics as a young woman; but, according to Tariq Ali, she succumbed to her father’s wishes to continue the Bhutto dynasty. That bit of patriarchy is certainly no example for independent young women throughout the world. More significantly, Benazir Bhutto backed the Taliban, which in most quarters is not considered to be in the vanguard of feminism. Can we praise a woman who thrives personally at the expense of the common woman? Is Medea’s evaluation a harbinger of “P”DA support for Hillary Clinton who gained her “experience” in an administration which regarded the starvation of 500,000 children as “worth it” to make Saddam uncomfortable? Can feminists be proud of such women?
“P”DA’s nostrums are an echo of those that pour forth from the editorial pages of the NYT and the rest of the mainstream imperial punditry. These are more often than not advocates of a “benevolent” empire. But there can be no “good” empire; every empire represents the domination of one people over another. And there is no “good” in restoring billions in military aid to Pakistan once it toes the line, as Medea Benjamin and “P”DA wish. In many respects the propaganda of empire that preys on the good intentions of the common man and woman is the most insidious of all. It has led to countless tragedies; and until it is clearly recognized and firmly rejected, it is sure to lead to many more.