Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Slipping Stances on World Oppressors

"The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world. ... All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know: the United States will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you." - GW Bush, 2nd inaugural address, Jan 2005
What words of hope he spoke back then. Standing with the oppressed. Of course, he was referring to our imminent success in Iraq, our "mission accomplished" in helping the Iraqis stand against their oppressor Saddam Hussein. However, these days our stance seems more like the Texas two-step than a strong mission statement.

A lot of words has been exchanged about the recent turmoil in Pakistan. For those who might not know yet what is going on, I'll give you a quick recap: Faced with a promise he made of giving up his military post, and of Presidential elections in which most polls declared he'd be wiped out by opposition parties, "President" Pervez Musharraf has couped against his own presidency, declaring marshal law, dissolving the Constitution, placing several members of the Supreme Court under house arrest when they refused to go along with him, and jailing thousands of lawyers and other protesters for demonstrating against him. Oh, and he is silencing major independent news organizations.

The worst part of all this is the international community is doing nothing than muttering under its breath about the situation. Especially in the United States, where this administration has made a world-wide campaign against those who might use tyranny to further injustice and terror. We have invoked sanctions or traded harsh words with several nations who we consider to be conducting activities we deem anti-democratic. For examples, see Venezuela, Cuba, Myanmar, North Korea, and Iran. In all those places, we have tried to bring our pro-democracy rhetoric to bear with some force, usually economic, to try and effect changes in how they do business with their own people.

However, now, when one of our "most important non-NATO" allies goes and shreds any hope of democratic reform, we sit idly by. We have even made excuses for General Musharraf's actions (as he is acting more a general than a president). "Oh, he has the bomb... we don't want to antagonize him" ... "Well, he's still fighting the war on terror for us, we don't want to disrupt him" ... "if he goes, Pakistan will only have anarchy and could fall into the hands of extremists." All of these are practically bullshit.

** Bomb - yes, Pakistan has the bomb. However, we have not shrunk from admonishing other nations with fully-fledged nuclear capabilities (China, North Korea). It is even more dangerous because Pakistan's nuclear engineers were responsible for helping North Korea develop it's own arsenal. This should be even more of a reason why the army should not be in control all the time ... they clearly do not have the mental or moral capacity to determine when to hold onto to their state secrets.
**Terror - Pakistan has made few contributions to the war on terror recently, and indeed seems to be taking some steps backwards. The same day he swept democratic precepts aside, Musharraf also released 28 Taliban prisoners in a prisoner-soldier swap with militants on his border. Some of those included bomb makers and transporters. Where are they headed now? Not to protest with the lawyers; they're most likely headed over the border into Afghanistan, where the Taliban is on a rebound and has posted several new leads this year, pushing close to Khandahar and other cities as they struggle to regain their grip on the country. And Pakistan's army is not fighting them. Not to mention how thousands have been called from the front line to fight and arrest the protesters, as if these people are the most dangerous threat to the country's future.
**Anarchy - This whole charade was well-timed to offset the elections and Supreme Court decisions, all of which were suspected to go against Musharraf. In a poll by Terror Free Tomorrow, Musharraf has a lower approval rating than recently-returned oppsition leader Benazir Bhutto (38% to 63%). It is widely believed that her party would sweep Musharraf from office in the elections (which have now been postponed indefinitely), and she has signaled support for the United States as a part of her moderate stance.

None of the arguments hold water.
The end result is that we are supporting some modicum of short-term stability for democracy, lending credence to a dictator who is actively oppressing his people rather than step in and try to aid the people of Pakistan, in some way, with their struggle. It seems strange, as we have taken much effort to try to establish democracy in other portions of the world. Indeed, with hundreds of billions of dollars flowing into Iraq, trying to prop up a democracy and create a "model state" in the Middle East. If we value stability over democracy, why depose Saddam in the first place? He was very stable, we were keeping an eye on him so he was pretty pinned down (still no WMDs found), and was not in league with the Taliban, Iran, or other terrorist groups. Yet we brought him down to promote democracy. Cuba has been stable to the rest of the world for decades. Yet just last month President Bush stood beside Cuban exiles and railed against Cuba's denying of freedom to its people.

I am not urging we march into Pakistan as we did Baghdad. For one, we do not have the military means or public support to initiate such an endeavor. Also, perhaps Iraq has taught us that military force is not always the best way to effect "regime change" in a country. However, to let Pakistan stumble down this road without demonstrating that we will not stand for this type of behavior, even from our allies, is unconscionable. When 53% of Pakistanis believe that one of their top priorities as a nation is "Free elections, free press, and an independent judiciary" we should pay attention. When only 18% approve of suicide bombings, we should realize this is a society not filled with radicals, yet, but rational people who desire the means and ways to make their life better in the future, for them and their children. However, our image is tarnished there, whether beyond hope is debatable. How might things change if we were to help promote democracy in a peaceful way? One that is not seen as militaristic, or anti-Islamic, but moderate, accepting, progressive yet understanding? It is a tall order, but don't we owe it to our credibility in the region, nay across the world as a country whose defining purpose is to promote democracy, as it is the surest way to repeal terror and oppression around the world?

Consider also this hypothetical future: 53% of people disapproved of Musharraf even before this weekend's shenanigans. If he retains power, under the auspices of fighting terror and keeping stability, it is altogether possible that those young people who he claims to be protecting will only be further marginalized by his draconian measures. When free press and free courts do not offer people a legitimate avenue to redress their concerns with the government and each other, where will they turn? Madrassas, sharia law, militants, tribal organizations that can help give them what the "stable" government of Pakistan can not. Do you doubt this? Consider what happened when the Shah of Iran lost touch with his people, and used all means necessary to stay in power after he was returned to office in 1953. Where did the people turn, but to a small religious leader named Ruhulla Khomeini? And how did that example turn out, and how did it effect our world in terms of security, human rights, terrorism? Would we really want to sandwich Afghanistan between two of the same? Do we really want another Iran, this time with already developed nuclear capabilities?

To end this, I'll leave with another quote, used by GW Bush in his inaugural address, but also resonating into this conflict:
"Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves; and, under a just God, can not long retain it." --Abraham Lincoln, from the April 6, 1859 letter to Henry Pierce
After those who deny freedom are no longer in power, how will what we have done (or not done) while they were in control affect what happens when they no longer retain it?