Bhutto Aftershock: Reality or Rhetoric

Bhutto Aftershock: Reality or Rhetoric

With the world still jolted by the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, Americans are now facing the likelihood that a nuclear-armed Pakistan could be engulfed by civil war.
As soon as the news hit the wires, speculation immediately hit the airwaves. Was the assassination the work of al-Qaida? Did President Pervez Musharraf have a hand in the untimely death of a political foe? And were Pakistan”s nuclear weapons secure?

first it was thought Ms. Bhutto was shot, and then it was hypothesized shrapnel from the explosion was the culprit. The final cause of death was that Ms. Bhutto fractured her skull as she tried to duck back into her car. The government explanation did not wash.

“It is baseless. It is a pack of lies,” Farooq Naik, Ms. Bhutto”s a senior official in Pakistan People”s Party, told Britain”s Telegraph.
The government”s pointing the finger at al-Qaida further flamed the flames of distrust, as Ms. Bhutto was assassinated while traveling through Rawalpindi, one of Pakistan”s most secured cities and home to the Pakistan Armed Forces.

And if al-Qaida was able to pull of such a feat, one might think Pakistan”s stability might be joining the dodo bird sometime soon, not to mention the catastrophic effect it would have on the war on terror. All the while, the Pentagon assured a worried U.S. populace that Pakistan”s nukes were secure.

But it was the very issue of nuclear weapons that gave rise to a number of questions on the home front.
Could the instability in Pakistan have been prevented? Was the nation of 170 million Muslims prematurely forced to embrace democracy? And is democracy in the Middle East always in America”s national interest?
There is no doubt where the White House stands on the issue of democracy in the Middle East. President George W. Bush has made it clear democracy comes before stability in the war-torn region.
“For too long, many nations, including my own, tolerated, even excused, oppression in the Middle East in the name of stability,” President George W. Bush told the U.N. in 2004.

“Oppression became common, but stability never arrived. We must take a different approach. We must help the reformers of the Middle East as they work for freedom and strive to build a community of peaceful, democratic nations,” Mr. Bush added. But is this a proper recitation of history?
The 11 men who sat in the Oval Office before Mr. Bush had adopted a policy of pursuing order in the Middle East. That meant monarchies and military men were just fine so long as they were friendly to U.S. interests.
This policy caused the Soviets to be run out of Afghanistan and a peace to be brokered between Israel and Egypt. The policy was also instrumental in bringing an end to the Cold War.

So how was it in America”s best interest to abandon a policy of order in favor of democracy, especially in a region of the world where regional politics is being fueled by a strand of nationalist populism that is fervently anti-American?

Should we be surprised when democratic elections in the region yield gains for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Hamas in Palestine and Hezbollah in Lebanon? And we cannot forget that the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was the will of the people in Iran.

While there is no doubt America supports democracy abroad and prefers dealing with governments rooted in the democratic ideal, it has never been a prerequisite that nations dealing with Washington be democratic, especially during a time of war. To require so now could result in radical Islamists coming to power in Riyadh, Rabat, Kuwait City and Amman.
Ms. Bhutto”s death should serve as a warning signal to the policy wonks inside the Beltway: Strong governments, even those run by military men, are needed to douse Islamic flames of passion.

While Mr. Musharraf might not be the ideal leader, he has demonstrated a willingness to work with the United States and is a stable hand behind Pakistan”s nuclear button. To require Mr. Musharraf to implement the Western ideals of democracy in a nation whose culture is more akin to the concept of tribalism was, and is, reckless in fighting the war on terror.
Mr. Bush, though, is not anticipated to change and will be vacating 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in just over a year. The problems of Pakistan will fall on the shoulders of the man or woman who fills his shoes.

While Ms. Bhutto”s death has created a boom for the campaigns of Rudy Giuliani and John McCain, the opportunity found in the tragic event does not reside in the death itself. Rather, the opportunity is our chance to draft a new policy based on history, not ideology.
Thus, will the next president be limited to only finding opportunity, or will he be able to make his own?
Joe Murray can be reached at [email protected]