We all have questions about Pakistan. Will civil war convulse the country? Will jihadists, rulers of Taliban-friendly provinces, conquer all of Pakistan? Will Musharraf himself be deposed in a military coup? Precisely what variety of "opposition" do the opposition groups actually represent? Lawyers? Jihadis? And what of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, leader of Pakistan's largest political party?
But there is one question more urgent than any other: What will happen to Pakistan's nuclear arsenal? The experts are agreed on an answer, just as they are agreed on all the answers: Nobody knows.
This isn't to say a consensus isn't emerging on what the United States should do next. In fact, two pundit groups have quickly formed, splitting conservatives in particular in a significant way. They come down to (1) supporting, or at least acknowledging, Musharraf as the lesser of many evils, including the Taliban; and (2) supporting democratic elections in Pakistan as the only possible moral choice. While the Bush administration seems to have decided to follow both policies simultaneously -- generating more muddle -- it's worth considering the two camps because they will probably set the tone of foreign policy debate for some time.
First, the Support Musharraf crowd. Writing at National Review Online, Stanley Kurtz makes the case: "Given the size and strength of the Islamist threat, and given the unique social role of Pakistan's army, a military government may be the only real bulwark against the potential disaster of a nuclear-armed al-Qaedastan." Powerline.com's Paul Mirengoff is inclined to agree. So, too, is the Heritage Foundation's Helle Dale in the context of "hold your nose diplomacy." Columnist Jack Kelly puts it this way: "Often the only choices we have in foreign policy are between bad and worse. In Vietnam in 1963 and in Iran in 1978, we chose worse. Let's not do that again."
That mention of "choosing worse" in Iran in 1978, the year Jimmy Carter disastrously pulled the rug out from under the Shah, thus clearing the way for the far more repressive regime of Ayatollah Khomeini and malignant jihadism to take hold in the region, is plenty compelling to me. But this argument carries little weight with conservatives who even now -- even after elections across the Muslim world have advanced the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Hamas in the Palestinian Authority, and a parliament in Iraq whose only show of unanimity, as far as I know, has been a vote to condemn Israel in its 2006 war against Hezbollah -- believe Democracy Is the Answer.