Musharraf Bucks Bush, but the Cowboy Still Rides High at Home

At a press conference in Crawford last week, following two days of talks with the visiting German chancellor, President Bush praised Pakistani dictator Pervez Musharraf for bringing al-Qaeda leaders to justice and for “honoring his word.”

“I take a person for his word until otherwise,” Bush said, making no sense. He probably intended to say, “I take a person at his word until I don’t” or “I take a person at his word until I find that he’s lying.” Maybe it was a veiled message to the Pakistani leader that Bush might think otherwise than fondly about him if he doesn’t obey the advice he’s receiving daily from the U.S. State Department. But Musharraf seems to have wearied of Bush’s advice and neocon hints and threats about U.S. military action in his country.

Musharraf embarrassed the U.S. president November 3 by executing an auto-coup in a zone (which the neocons call “the greater Middle East”) Bush has declared he wants to democratize. But he doesn’t, really, because that would mean groups like Hamas, Hezbollah and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt would be democratically brought to power.

“He made a clear decision to be with us and he’s acted on that advice,” Bush explained. Another weird comment. “That advice”? Whose advice? The advice of Musharraf’s own clear decision, advised by his own clear decisive mind to itself? This too doesn’t make sense.

It think what the Bushman wants to say is: “I advised him in 2001, through Colin Powell and Richard Armitage, to be with us or see his country bombed back to the Stone Age. He clearly decided to join us, breaking with old allies and taking huge political risks. That’s why we like him. And that’s why we’ll keep supporting him, with our third biggest aid package (following those we give Israel and Egypt) even though he’s unpopular with his people (less admired than Osama bin Laden), has suspended the Pakistani constitution and is locking up his political opponents. He’s told us he’ll allow the parliamentary elections to be held on schedule, and I think he’ll put on a good enough show so that we’ll be able to say real soon that ‘Pakistan’s returning to democracy.’”

Remember how Condi Rice, after it had become obvious that the war on Iraq had been based entirely on lies, started to depict it as part of a glorious Wilsonian democratization campaign that would sweep the Muslim world?

“We are going to build a different kind of Middle East,” she declared in a speech to U.S. troops in Afghanistan in March 2005, “a different kind of broader Middle East that is going to be stable and democratic and where our children will one day not have to be worried about the kind of ideologies of hatred that led those people to fly those planes into those buildings on Sept. 11.” This too made no sense, even at the time. It was a crude attempt to pit “democracy” against (rational and understandable) hatreds of such phenomena as foreign occupation and foreign-sponsored dictatorship. Now it’s clear to any with eyes to see that the Bush administration wants to create a “broader Middle East” (including the Caucasus, Central Asia and the Horn of Africa) led by pro-U.S. clients who ideally pose as democrats and can be depicted as such in the U.S. corporate media — but who basically take their orders from Washington. Dictatorships and absolute monarchies are tolerable allies if they can be portrayed (and of course they are portrayed by a compliant mainstream press) as somehow gradually evolving through U.S. tutelage towards some version of the American system — the final, natural terminus of human development.

The “different kind of Middle East” Condi envisions isn’t one in which democracy flourishes, but one in which permanent U.S. military bases provide “stability” and guarantee that no power other than the U.S. will significantly compete with it to secure regional hegemony. The “different kind of” Somalia is run, not by the Islamic Courts Union (which had a real social base) but by invading Ethiopian proxies of the U.S. who meet with ongoing resistance in Mogadishu and elsewhere and respond with indiscriminate attacks on civilians. The “different kind” of Lebanon is run, not by a regime friendly to neighborly Syria but by U.S. lackeys intent on alienating and marginalizing Hezbollah, probably the most popular party in Lebanon’s “democratic” system.

The “different kind” of Iraq is run, not by a secular strongman determined to keep Islamists out of power, but by Shiite parties who’ve crafted a constitution proclaiming Islam the “national religion” and their militias who are hounding Christians out of the country and striving to impose Sharia law. The “different kind” of Afghanistan is run, not by the Taliban imposing the burqa on women, but by the Northern Alliance warlords imposing the burqa on women — while the Talibs regain control of whole regions and everybody profits from the revived opium trade. The “different kind” of Georgia is run by someone hailed as a democrat during the “Rose Revolution” of 2003 but now revealed as a autocrat; he declared martial law in his country just four days after Musharraf did it in Pakistan. It’s more of the same old oppression, and the “ideologies of hatred” are gaining more, not less, support as U.S. actions produce revulsion pretty much everywhere.

The nice thing about Musharraf’s declaration of a state of emergency is that it so plainly exposes the mendacity behind this supposed effort to “build a different kind of Middle East.” Confronted with the fait accompli, the Bush administration adroitly concluded and announced that there was no legal barrier to continuing aid to Musharraf, just because he had suspended the Pakistani constitution and arrested his political foes. Top officials emphasize that Musharraf is “indispensable” in the “War on Terror” so however his assault on democracy might shock his own people, he’ll get a free pass.

Musharraf has announced that elections will be held in January. (He’d earlier stated that they would be placed back to February, then changed his mind.) He’s on record, that is to say, as intending to return to democracy. Now that he’s been approved by the parliament for a third eight-year term as president and the Supreme Court prevented from ruling on the legality of this third term, he plans to use the interim to ensure that the elections produce results helpful to himself, perhaps in unholy alliance with the highly corrupt if somewhat popular Benazir Bhutto. It’s not clear whether the elections will be held under conditions of martial law; he initially intimated that they would be, but a top Pakistani official has since stated that the emergency will only last a month. Quite possibly the opposition parties, including Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party, will boycott the elections and further undercut the regime’s claims to legitimacy.

If Musharraf sticks around—and isn’t toppled in a mass uprising the way the “indispensable” Shah of Iran was in 1979 — he’ll “honor his word” alright. He’ll keep Pakistan in the U.S. camp, and deploy his forces from time to time along the border with Afghanistan to confront the growing Taliban presence. He’ll point out that such actions are politically risky for him, since many in Pakistan (including in the armed forces) sympathize with the Taliban and al-Qaeda, and will receive from the U.S. expressions of appreciation for his courage alongside formulaic appeals to do more. The fact is that people in Pakistan and many other places have very valid reasons to hate U.S. foreign policy, and that hatred — however unfortunately — can translate into sympathy for Islamic extremism. When the U.S. drove bin Laden and al-Qaeda forces, along with some Taliban forces, out of Afghanistan into Pakistan in December 2001, it unwittingly sparked a Pakistani Taliban movement and created the ultimate headache for its ally in Islamabad.

It’s estimated that at present 70% of the Swat Valley is controlled by local Taliban forces. They are demanding imposition of the Sharia, and the Pakistani state having taken a beating at the hands of the local Talibs is considering acceding to this demand. Government paramilitaries have surrendered to the guerrillas, not wanting to fight their “brothers” and sympathizing with their religious zeal. Tourism in the valley, with its treasures of Buddhist art — tragically targeted by the iconoclastic Islamists emulating the Taliban’s assault on the buddhas of Bamiyan in 2001 — has been destroyed.

Musharraf must have been thinking, these last six years, “We didn’t ask for this situation. They made me cooperate with them as they attacked our friends the Taliban in Afghanistan. They didn’t complete the job of destroying the Taliban and al-Qaeda but instead drove them here to Pakistan, where I’m obliged to deny that they have a significant presence although they obviously do. I can’t tell the world what is plainly the case — that U.S. aggression and bullying around the world encourages these kinds of movements. Instead I have to deplore ‘extremism’ and take limited action against the ‘extremists’ incurring more hatred towards myself from a growing section of my population including, I fear, members of the military I head. If I just ignore the militants in Waziristan, the Swat Valley and elsewhere, I’ll lose U.S. support and the crazy neocons might organize some wild attack on my country I’ll either have to endorse or pretend I don’t know about.”

And more recently, he’s been thinking: “All this is very worrisome, but my friendship with Bush has brought the country 10 billion dollars in aid and prevented us from being bombed back into the Stone Age. He needs me as much as I need him. I had to declare this state of emergency to retain power. As John Bolton told Wolf Blitzer the other day, I’m better able to control the extremists who exist at all levels of my military than Benazir Bhutto, with whom Condi Rice keeps telling me I should work. I’ve shown that I’m not entirely their puppet, and that I understand the circumstances here better than they. I understand their need to condemn my actions but they can’t do so too sharply; they need me as much as I need them.”

The Bush administration is learning that with all its military, political and economic might the U.S. can’t control the world. Things aren’t going according to plan in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Georgia — anywhere. People are resisting occupation, al-Qaeda is regrouping and expanding, and client leaders are resisting Bush’s “advice.” Only in this country are things going Bush’s way, with the judiciary in his pocket, the legislature compliant, the press disinclined to expose known administration lies or question current administration allegations intended to justify more aggression. Presidential contenders compete to threaten action against Iran, Congress calls for more sanctions against Iran, the media favors neocon think-tank propagandists as authorities on Iran and conveys the impression that Iran has a secret nuclear weapons program and has threatened to destroy Israel. They’re giving Bush and Cheney just what they want. However reduced the cowboy’s stature may be in the rest of the world, here at least Bush still rides high in the saddle.

Gary Leupp is a Professor of History at Tufts University, and author of numerous works on Japanese history. He can be reached at: Read other articles by Gary.

2 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. section9 said on November 13th, 2007 at 10:53am #

    Well, since the U.S. Army and Marine Corps has struck an alliance with the tribals in Anbar, Diyala, and in Baghdad proper, Al Qaeda in Iraq has been basically run to ground and annihilated. This has allowed Maliki to make his own arrangements with the Iranians from a stronger position.

    There are none so bound as those who approach politics from the straitjacket of ideology.

  2. Gary Corseri said on November 13th, 2007 at 1:41pm #

    In addition to the rich content and context, I thought it especially interesting stylistically–the way Leupp “entered” the minds of Bush and Musharraf to reveal the simplicities and contradictions in Bush’s mind and the fairly layered thinking of Musharraf.

    It has been clear to most of us who abandoned the mainstream media for the progressive web some time back that the U.S. neocon leadership has given up on democracy in favor of the “unitary executive” (which would be called dictatorship anywhere else!). But how did we come to have such muddled dictatorship? Mirabile dictu!

    If we are going to play the game of “Great Powers”–what Brzezinski and others call the Great Chessboard of moves and countermoves on the Eurasian landmass–we might at least recall that the game as played by our imperialist predecessors and partners has delievered our world to
    its present state of moral morass, intellectual and cultural decadence, and Armageddonist despair. If shrewdness in the service of immorality has yielded such rotten fruit, what monstrosities must muddledness sire?

    Leup asks the right questions, provides helpful background, and delivers all in a finely punctuated style.