The Bhutto Mistake


The U.S. government played a part in the return of Mrs. Benazir Bhutto to Pakistan. For what reason, I don’t know, but it was clearly a mistake on everyone’s part. The woman paid with her life.

She had been schmoozing the Washington crowd for years. She had even hired a public-relations firm to help her do it at one point. In the past, the U.S. had pressured the Pakistani government to accept her as prime minister. She didn’t last long in that office despite two terms and was ultimately exiled on charges of corruption and incompetence. Her husband has a notorious reputation for corruption. Her father was hanged, and two of her brothers were murdered.

I don’t think democracy lost a champion. I think she was just another representative of a feudal family that has always seen the government as an opportunity for personal enrichment. As for the crisis in Pakistan, it is a Pakistani crisis, not ours, and we should keep our nose out of Pakistan’s internal affairs.

The deal is this: When President Bush decided to overthrow of the government of Afghanistan, the Pakistan dictator, Pervez Musharraf, was approached in the usual imperial manner — would you rather be bombed or accept a few billion dollars to help us? Musharraf wisely decided to accept the few billions and has kept his end of the bargain. Part of his unpopularity is directly because he is seen as an ally of the U.S. We should keep our end, pay up and shut up. God knows, every time we have dumped an ally, we have ended up with an enemy in his place.

If Musharraf can stay alive (he’s survived nine assassination attempts) and stay in power, then we should accept that and keep quiet about democracy. He was a dictator when we asked for his help and a dictator when he gave us that help. In that respect, he’s no different from America’s "friends" in the Arab world — dictators every one, despite their royal trappings.

Bush, of course, isn’t really interested in democracy, despite his blather about it. The only two freely elected Muslim governments in the region — those of the Palestinians and the Iranians — he won’t have anything to do with. He’s tried to overthrow the elected leader of Venezuela. Bush is the kind of politician who you need to disregard what he says and watch what he does. Bush maintains an almost pathological distance between what he says and what he does.

I’m against the empire, but if we’re going to be stuck with one, we’d better at least find a competent emperor. Bush just can’t cut the mustard. He’s like an over-the-hill Nero, so full of himself that he can’t see the world around him. The military is deteriorating before his eyes. He’s got us stuck in two countries with no exit strategy. In the meantime, the economy appears to be going south with the geese, and American prestige is going with it. We should all pray that the country can survive another year of incompetent leadership.

Any competent martial artist will tell you that timing is everything. The days of empire are past. Bush may like to imagine himself as Winston Churchill, but he’s not anywhere close, nor does he seem to realize that the British Empire was fading fast even when Churchill was in office. A nation can afford only so many wars and the debt and taxes that go with them. In today’s world, even the winners lose money on wars, though a few favored corporations get an inordinate amount of blood money.

Peace and prosperity are possible; war and prosperity no longer are.

Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years.