Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Nation-Building, Democracy and Pakistan

In 2000, when he was first running for the presidency then-Governor George W. Bush expressed contempt for Democrats and their willingness to intervene in other countries and engage in the business of nation-building. Under his watch, the United States would not be engaged in nation-building he famously announced.

We are reaping the rewards of that line of thinking today. In the aftermath of September 11, the Bush Administration was no longer worried about interfering in the business of other nations. In fact, when it came to the Middle East, we were actively engaged in the management of individual states. From the removal of Saddam Hussein in Iraq to our insistence on free elections in the Palestinian territories, the US has been encouraging the fa├žade of democracy, without any real sense of what that means.

Democracy isn't the problem, of course, it's the single-minded pursuit of the trappings of democracy in places that have yet to build the foundation for such a system. So elections in the Palestinian territory created a morass of political confusion with power now marginally in the hands of the Hamas party, folks about whom we have reservations. In Iraq, elections have handed us a so-called power-sharing government that may exist on paper but does not exist in deed. The political system there is on the verge of collapse.

And in the last two weeks, Pakistan, a nation that passes for an American ally in the region, has slipped from a quasi-democracy ruled by a President who is also the head of the armed forces, into a state with the equivalent of martial law. The opposition has been temporarily shushed; President Musharaff may shut it down entirely.

All of this places the Bush Administration in a tricky position. Pakistan has been a bulwark against Al-Queda in Afghanistan, and when they haven't been as helpful as America would like, at least they haven't shut us out. They oppose the Taliban in Afghanistan and so do we. So while Musharaff has been less than democratic in the last five years, we have been silent. Now that Musharaff is no longer pretending to be democratic, the United States is in a pinch. A destabilized, nuclear Pakistan is not a good thing. Pakistan in the hands of the military is probably better than Pakistan in the hands of militants.

But it all gives lie to now-President Bush's claim that the United States stands up for democracy all over the world. And it points up the hubris of a Bush Administration swollen with foolish ideas about how we can promote democracy without engaging in the business of nation-building. Democracy is a good system, with a proved track record of generating peaceful, prosperous states. But it doesn't just appear and it isn't the effect of willpower and the brash insistence of the American president.

Note to President Bush: Wishing doesn't make it so.

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