Rich Lowry

The sound you hear in Pakistan is a couple of pillars of Bush administration foreign policy crumbling away.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf -- the army chief of staff who seized power in a 1999 coup -- figured that if he declared a state of emergency and suspended his country's constitution, a Bush administration that has made the promotion of democracy a matter of gospel would merely tut-tut and keep the aid dollars flowing. It might be the only correct judgment the embattled general has made in the past year.

Musharraf's lurch back toward dictatorship, with the Bush administration unwilling to try to do anything serious to counter it, is another blow to the administration's doctrinaire commitment to democracy-promotion. It shows how other primal geopolitical instincts, such as simple fear of the unknown (who would replace Musharraf if he fell?), necessarily trump a preference for the ballot box.

Musharraf has been touted as one of President Bush's most important allies in the war on terror, but he has made a mockery of the you're-either-with-us-or-against-us polarity of the Bush Doctrine. Like that other nettlesome U.S. ally, Saudi Arabia, Musharraf wants to be "with us" just enough to stay on our right side, while "against us" enough to placate hostile domestic political forces. These governments can always respond to pressure from us to do more with the (persuasive) argument that the alternative to them would be even worse. Thus, Bush's black-and-white principle founders in a morass of gray.

Musharraf's latest coup doesn't invalidate the theoretical soundness of Bush's "freedom agenda." As a general matter, democracies are likelier to be friendly to the United States. Even in the particular case of Pakistan, the administration was right to push Musharraf to open up the political system and reach out to the secular opposition. He is basically being asked to wage a tough, bloody civil war against Islamic extremists entrenched in the northwest of the country. Without broad political support, the fight will be unsustainable. Already, the army has been eagerly surrendering to, rather than battling, extremists.

The administration nudged Musharraf to cooperate with exiled former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, but ran into the usual obstacles to its foreign-policy goals: history and culture. In its 60 years of existence, Pakistan has never managed to establish stable constitutional rule, and the midst of a brewing domestic insurgency probably isn't the most auspicious time to start. The military has typically alternated power with corrupt, ineffectual civilian leaders like Bhutto proved herself to be when she was in power.

Rich Lowry

Rich Lowry is author of Legacy: Paying the Price for the Clinton Years .
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