Because the protocol of our politics demands that foreign policy be conducted solely in terms of idealism, American politicians and public figures have always been uncomfortable dealing with thugs and despots. We are unable, at least in our public life, to manage the cheerful and practical cynicism that comes so easily to our British cousins. “He may be a thug, but he’s our thug” must be considered a deeply shameful attitude by any American politician with national ambition.
And so no one can acknowledge that the national interest of United States sometimes requires it to do business with dictators. We have to pretty them up as our “friends”, and George W. Bush has refined this art, lionizing all the petty thugs that prudence requires him to ally with as “America’s good friend”, or “a great friend in the War on Terror”, or — God help us all — “a friend of Freedom”.
Which brings us to General Syed Pervez Musharraf. On September 10th, 2001, this stalwart friend of the United States was anathema. Under his aegis Pakistan’s ISI had nurtured, brought to power, and maintained the Taliban in power in neighboring Afghanistan. The brutes in Kabul were Musharraf’s and Pakistan’s little Islamist hobby, a way to allow those boisterous military types in the ISI to get their jollies without upsetting the applecart back in Islamabad. Add the Islamic Bomb to the equation, and Pakistan could only be consigned to the Outer Darkness of our foreign policy.
On the bright morning of the following day, though, everything changed. Mushy got a little dose of the carrot and a little dose of the stick, and overnight became a zealous ally in the War on Terror.
But General Musharraf is not all that different from some of the other Third World Dictators who receive quite different treatment at the hands of the Great Satan.
Saddam Hussein got death, because he fell foul of the United States, lost a war, got caught, stayed alive through the legal proceedings wearing a natty suit and a personality that alarmed Iraq’s newly installed rulers. Gen. Musharraf gets dinner at the White House because he knows what’s good for him (down to the bit about proper attire).
He’s got a good point there.
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So what does Mushy have that Saddam didn’t have? More brains? Hardly. Saddam was brilliant in his evil, a shrewd and clever strategist. He stayed alive and in power for thirty-five years in the most brutal and lethal political environment on earth. Saddam was no dummy; it must have been something else.
Look at it this way: suppose A. Q. Khan had done his work a little faster, or imagine that the DPRK and Saddam had been able to work out a mutually acceptable deal back in the 1990s. Pretend that when March 2003 rolled around, Saddam had a dozen or so Scud-B missiles tipped with 20-kiloton nuclear warheads, warheads that he could lob into Tel Aviv, Incirlik, or Kuwait, or at the U.S. fleet in the Persian Gulf.
Would the Marines have made the long march up to Baghdad anyway? Would the statues in the squares have still been toppled?
Or would Saddam now be sitting next to our President, wearing his dinner jacket and smiling for the photo op? Would he be lionized as a “true friend in the War on Terror”?
It’s worth thinking about.
The Acorn continues:
The most that can be said about hanging dictators and heads of state is that it serves to deter others. The clever ones know that that’s not true either. The real message is “unless you have one of the permanent members of the UN Security Council backing you, don’t mess with America”. The clever ones get it.
But, to be completely accurate, Nitin Pai should have added a clause: “unless you have one of the permanent members of the UN Security Council backing you, or an arsenal of nuclear weapons”.
Tehran gets it.