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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

McCain, Musharraf, and The Ways of The World

John McCain is Mr. Foreign Policy, Mr. Experience, the one candidate who's been in government longer than marble. He's seen leaders come and leaders go, he's seen entire nations fall to history, he's seen wars won and wars lost. And all this experience seems to have gone completely over his head. In all those years in government, John McCain doesn't seem to have learned a damned thing.

The lessons of Vietnam are clearly lost on the Vietnam vet. A war based on lies cannot be won, because the objectives aren't based on truth. Beat the living hell out of it all you want, but your aren't going to get that square peg into that round hole. The hammer of the military has its limitations.

But, like free market moonies who believe that the "genius of the market" can do anything -- including predicting terrorist attacks -- McCain is a military moonie who seems to believe that force is the only way to do anything.

As a result, McCain's choices of international allies reflects Bush's -- and a history of failure that goes back throughout the 20th century. Diplomacy is for wussypants appeasers. Stalin's quote -- "The Pope? How many divisions has he got?" -- could easily be applied to anyone who shares McCain's thinking. Real allies have guns, because only guns have influence. The world is an awful and dangerous place and only the strong are worth knowing. The Dalai Lama is for photo ops and dictators are for actual work. Nowhere is more apparent than in McCain's support for disgraced Pakistani dictator Pervez Musharraf.

Prior to 9/11, Musharraf was a nobody -- just another strongman who'd taken over a developing nation in a coup. How much of an nobody is demonstrated in Reuters' Factbox; "Musharraf's evolving relationship with Washington":

November 3, 1999 - In a test of foreign policy acumen, a television news reporter in Boston asks then-Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush to name the leaders of four global "hot spots," including Pakistan. Bush cannot name Musharraf, who had taken power in a coup a month earlier, referring to him as "the general."

No word on whether Bush giggled when he was told Musharraf's first name was Pervez, but I think it's probably a given. Bush didn't know who Musharraf was because he probably thought he'd have no use for him. That changed.

September 11, 2001 - After Al Qaeda attacks the United States, Musharraf reverses Pakistan's support for the Taliban in Afghanistan, which had sheltered Osama bin Laden's network, and throws its weight behind Bush's war on terrorism. Pakistan's Islamist opposition calls him a U.S. stooge.

June 2003 - Washington promises billions of dollars in aid for Pakistan -- it hands over more than $10 billion between 2001 and 2008 -- while White House officials say Bush presses Musharraf to move toward democracy and stop extremists from launching attacks on Afghanistan from Pakistan. Many al Qaeda leaders had fled across the border to Pakistan when U.S. forces invaded Afghanistan.

March 25, 2004 - Bush waives sanctions on Pakistan imposed after Musharraf seized power in a coup, saying this will facilitate a transition to democracy and help the fight against international terrorism.

Musharraf, the classic military usurper, suddenly fit the mold of other unsavory US allies -- Augusto Pinochet and Saddam Hussein come to mind. He had men, he had guns, and he had the sort of power that only an autocrat has. "[D]ictatorships have the characteristic of being efficient," Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld once said. "They don't have to worry about the press. They don't have to worry about parliaments. They don't have to worry about a court system. They just do things, efficiently, immediately -- poorly, but quickly."

But the problem with dictatorships is that they're always illegitimate. The dictator holds on to power through any means necessary or he doesn't hold on to power at all. The brutality and corruption of dictatorships are born of desperation -- they're always in danger of being legitimately deposed. Musharraf was lucky; many are removed from existence altogether when they lose power, not just removed from office.

Dictatorships are generally seen as the most stable governments, because their oppressive nature makes immediate change unlikely. And, as Rumsfeld pointed out, they don't waste a lot of time screwing around with debate. A dictatorship would seem to make an ideal ally for a nation concerned more with effectiveness than with human rights, democracy, and the rule of international law.

But the dictatorship is a government in one man. As a result, it must be short-lived. An alliance with a dictatorship is by no definition a long range strategy. It's a momentary convenience. John McCain was a big fan of that convenience.

After the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, McCain couldn't find enough nice things to say about Pervez Musharraf. Where many were calling on Musharraf to step down, McCain was running to his defense. McCain called him a "personally scrupulously honest" man who deserved "the benefit of the doubt" on uniting Pakistan and that I continue to believe Musharraf has done a pretty good job, done a lot of the things that we wanted him to do.

He even cast Musharraf as the savior of Pakistan:

Speaking to about 50 people packed into a cafe in Iowa, McCain said U.S. politicians should keep in mind that Musharraf has been a largely reliable ally who agreed to hold elections.

"Prior to Musharraf, Pakistan was a failed state," McCain said. "They had corrupt governments and they would rotate back and forth and there was corruption, and Musharraf basically restored order. So you're going to hear a lot of criticism about Musharraf that he hasn't done everything we wanted him to do, but he did agree to step down as head of the military and he did get the elections."

And, now that Musharraf has stepped down rather than be impeached, McCain can't get far enough away from his former good buddy. And that's what McCain hasn't learned, that dictatorships are only stable for the blink of an eye, historically speaking. That promoting democracy will serve us for centuries, while supporting a dictator serves us for one man's lifetime -- or an even shorter term. That the guys with the guns have no lasting power.

Foreign policy has been poorly focused for more than a century. McCain would continue that myopic focus. As I said, he hasn't learned a damned thing.