America’s media are following President Musharraf’s “emergency” suspension of Pakistan’s Constitution, Supreme Court and elections, asking what it means for America’s war on terror. After watching the military arrest hundreds of lawyers, jurists, journalists and opposition political leaders, our editorial boards and columnists seem to agree that the Bush Administration’s policies in that region are in a complete shambles. But what do we do now?
Bush’s support for democracy has been proved a sham, while support for repressive regimes is once again accepted as an unavoidable reality. As we heard in Iraq, there is a chorus lamenting that “there are no good options” in Pakistan, and to drive that home, we are reminded how deeply embedded the Army is in every aspect of Pakistan’s society.
There is widespread agreement that the Bush/Cheney policies have failed to get Musharraf’s military to deal effectively with al-Qaeda and Taliban threats to Afghanistan (never mind the potential extremist threat to Pakistan), while also failing to convince Musharraf or the military to support Pakistan’s return to democracy and civilian rule. Nevertheless, experts tell us “we need Musharraf more than he needs us” to fight our war on terror. So it seems we have no choice but to continue spending billions of dollars propping up his military dictatorship, even as he crushes democratic institutions, silences the press and jails opposition leaders. Our war on terror dictates this.
After a brief flirtation with the notion that promoting freedom and democracy is a long-run antidote to terrorism, the White House has now returned to the more familiar ground of sacrificing democratic principles and institutions in order to keep us safe. The pattern is familiar; we saw it in Tuesday’s Mukasey confirmation vote, in votes on FISA and the MCA. The Administration can readily buy this in Pakistan, because it has been selling the same policy at home.
Weakening the institutions of democracy and intimidating political opponents — justified as necessary to fight terrorism — have been the Bush/Cheney regime’s principal domestic policy agenda for six years. We’ve seen that agenda executed through a relentless assault on the US Constitution and the rule of law, trampling the Bill of Rights, sabotaging civil/voting rights statutes, obliterating checks and balances and executive accountability, politicizing the justice system, imposing massive secrecy and conducting unprecedented spying on US citizens.
The result has been an attack on American democracy far more serious and damaging than anything that could possibly have been mounted by religious extremists holed up in Afghanistan or Pakistan. There is no doubt our democracy is under assault, but the principal threat is not from al Qaeda or the “Islamofascists” but rather the fear that grips men like Joe Lieberman.
Nothing General Musharraf is doing to Pakistan is morally different from what Bush and Cheney have been doing, piece by piece, to America’s democratic principles and institutions. At best, we are dealing with matters of degree but not of kind. And the solutions to both regimes are similar.
If we want to save our democracy, let alone Pakistan’s, we’re going to have to transform the way we think about terrorism. The war on terrorism is a fraud. The Administration has worked tirelessly to convince Americans to believe they must give up their democratic values to fight terrorism, but from 9/11 forward, Bush has gotten it backwards. Instead, we have to give up our fear of terrorism to preserve our democratic values. Protect the Constitution and the rule of law, defend democratic values and institutions here, and provide an inspiration and support for those who struggle for them elsewhere.
As for Pakistan, realpolitik dictates that we begin again to train Musharrah’s officer corps, to make them more amenable to Western-style democracy, but perhaps it makes more sense to send our Justice Department lawyers there to learn how to defend an independent judiciary and the rule of law. We need our own long march not from Lahore to Islamabad, but from Philadelphia to Washington.
It is a monumental misconception to believe we need Musharraf to defend our liberties. We need only the courage, vigilance and determination to defend them here. The Pakistanis who are struggling for their democracy already understand this truth. America should let them — and Musharraf — know we’re with them.
America’s Liberty Bell; Photo by Zesmerelda, via flicker