Benazir Bhutto has been murdered and the Democrats, stampeding to the microphones to make a statement about her death, have shown themselves as clueless as ever. Quickly after the assassination, a top foreign policy adviser for Barack Obama, Susan Rice, contrasted her boss’s approach with that of Hillary Clinton: “Sen. Clinton’s view,” she asserted, “has been closer to Bush’s, which is to see Musharraf as the linchpin but democracy as something that is desirable, but not necessarily essential to our security interests. Whereas Obama feels that democracy and human rights in the context of Pakistan are essential to our security.”
Hillary’s campaign reacted quickly to show that they could be just as Carteresque as Obama, if not more so. Lee Feinstein, Hillary’s foreign policy adviser, took issue with the claim that his candidate supported Musharraf. He wrote indignantly: “Sen. Obama’s continuing and deliberate efforts to politicize this tragedy by blaming Sen. Clinton for it are unbecoming someone seeking the office of the presidency. Sen. Clinton has opposed the Bush administration’s coddling of President Musharraf and stood steadfastly with the people of Pakistan in their struggle for democracy and against terrorism.”
Obama himself said in his statement on Bhutto’s death: “We have to make sure that we are clear as Americans that we stand for Democracy.” Clinton, for her part, declared: “I grieve for the people of Pakistan who deserve to have an opportunity to vote for leaders of their choosing….I certainly will do anything I can to support the continuing efforts to democratize a very important and critical nation to the future of that region and the world.” So evidently both Clinton and Obama agree that Musharraf is odious, and Obama offers advocacy of “democracy and human rights” as an alternative.
Neither candidate seems to have any awareness of the harsh reality that has led Bush to back Musharraf’s regime for so long, despite its authoritarian character and its spotty commitment to counterjihad efforts. With a September poll showing Osama bin Laden enjoying the approval of 46% of Pakistanis, with 66% believing that the United States is engaged in a war against Islam and 43% approving of Al-Qaeda, it is entirely within the realm of possibility that free democratic elections in Pakistan would lead to the election of a pro-Osama, pro-jihad government — just as elections in the Palestinian Authority led the jihad terror group Hamas to power. Musharraf is indeed odious, but Bush has calculated that he is better than the jihadist alternative. And indeed, his regime’s reputation may be worse than the reality: David Frum has noted that the Musharraf regime has “presided over important economic reforms and impressive economic growth: an average of 6.5% per year since 2003. The World Bank reports that under Musharraf, poverty in Pakistan has declined ‘significantly.’”
In light of all this, to posit “democracy and human rights” as the solution to all of Pakistan’s ills is just as short-sighted as Jimmy Carter was in the 1970s, when he abandoned the Shah of Iran – not least because of his poor human rights record — and allowed the Ayatollah Khomeini, whom Carter praised as a fellow “man of faith,” to take power in Iran. The result? According to Steven F. Hayward of the American Enterprise Institute in his book The Real Jimmy Carter, “Khomeini’s regime executed more people in its first year in power than the shah’s SAVAK had allegedly killed in the previous 25 years.” A democratically elected regime in Pakistan would likely behave the same way, dwarfing Musharraf in brutality.
There are no good or easy choices in Pakistan, a land that provides yet another illustration of the limitations of seeing democracy as the cure to all the ills of the Islamic world. But it is unfortunate that Clinton and Obama, in this as in other issues also, seem determined to reapply solutions that have been tried and failed in the past. One of the great weaknesses of the free and bipartisan American system is a lack of continuity in policy, and a lack of historical sense compounded by a tendency to allow partisanship to obscure historical lessons. Carter was an incompetent and a failure. Simply because he was a Democrat, must the Democratic candidates subject us to more Carterism?
Advocates of democracy and human rights in both parties should bear in mind that the strict Islamic law that jihadists want to implement in Pakistan and elsewhere denies human rights to women and non-Muslims in a thorough and draconian way that is worthy of the most authoritarian of regimes. Rather than abandon the women and Christians of Pakistan to its tender mercies, perhaps it is time for some out-of-the-box thinking. Will a candidate dare to confront the jihad and Islamic supremacism as such? Or will it forever be the Enemy That Must Not Be Named?