The conventional wisdom among presidential candidates is that the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto has proved the importance of continued American meddling in that land. Both Republicans and Democrats are rushing to mumble incoherent platitudes before the cameras, while several have even proclaimed their next big idea for how Pakistan ought to be run.
Democratic candidate Bill Richardson made his first headline in months by proclaiming that President Bush ought to give former general now just "president" Pervez Musharraf his pink slip. Most of the rest simply say we should "support democracy" there.
This "wisdom" of interference is so conventional that CNN’s Wolf Blitzer expressed shock when Republican candidate Rep. Ron Paul of Texas said that the tragedy proved his case for nonintervention in the affairs of other nations. We should not, Paul said, either subsidize or work to undermine other governments because such policies invariably only empower our enemies.
But why should Blitzer have been shocked?
Benazir Bhutto herself thought this was so. In one of her last interviews, she told Parade magazine, "[The U.S.] policy of supporting dictatorship is breaking up my country. I now think al-Qaeda can be marching on Islamabad in two to four years."
As Paul told David Shuster of MSNBC, "the murderers are 100 percent responsible" for what they have done, but we should not look at the events of this week in a vacuum.
The U.S. has poured tens of billions of dollars into Musharraf’s dictatorship while he has failed to prevent the entrenchment of, and numerous attacks by, al-Qaeda radicals hiding out on the Afghan border, thus revealing the overall policy to be flawed and counterproductive.
The U.S. government’s backing of the military in Pakistan helps it to play an inordinate role in the society at large and ultimately makes it harder for democratic forces to organize their own power structures, weakening them and alienating the population. This is especially true when "democracy" is identified with the U.S., which backs their dictatorship.
Then when Musharraf’s public relations soured, we reversed our policy and worked to undermine the government we had been propping up (e.g., Bhutto’s U.S.-brokered return to Pakistan this October).
Is it the case that good intentions always result in good outcomes? That because "We’re an empire now," we can "create our own reality," as a White House staffer once put it to journalist Ron Suskind? Is it possible for American politicians (other than Dr. Paul) to question for a moment whether the policies they advocate might do more harm than good?
Those who think that Paul’s noninterventionist outlook somehow amounts to a "weakness" on the terrorism issue might examine the view of the former chief of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, Michael Scheuer the man whose team gave the Clintons 10 separate opportunities to capture or kill Osama bin Laden before Sept.11.
After a debate last May when Congressman Paul tangled with former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani over his view that we’re threatened by suicide terrorists due to our bombings, occupations, and support for dictatorships in the Middle East, Scheuer released a statement defending Paul.
"Of [all] presidential candidates now in the field from both parties, only Dr. Paul has had the courage to square with the average American voter." He continued, "[Y]ou can safely take one thing to the bank. The person most shaken by Dr. Paul’s frankness was Osama bin Laden, who knows that the current status quo in U.S. foreign policy toward the Islamic world is al-Qaeda’s one indispensable ally."
Terrorism is a tactic adopted by weak actors. Having limited resources with which to wage war, groups like al-Qaeda resort to a sort of foreign affairs judo, using the enemy’s power against itself in this case, us. The action for them is in the reaction. Al-Qaeda’s strategy is to recreate the old Afghan jihad against the USSR: hit the U.S. and our allies hard in order to provoke invasion and occupation to bleed our treasury and military dry. They celebrate our occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq as steps toward our eventual total withdrawal from the region.
Regarding the assassination of Bhutto, former Centcom commander Gen. Anthony Zinni appears to validate Paul as well. He told the Washington Post he believes al-Qaeda is trying to bait the U.S. into reacting by broadening the Afghan war into Pakistan.
The al-Qaeda movement has only been halfway successful thus far in its war with the United States. Even with our occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq and the spread of jihad through both countries, with thousands of American lives and hundred of billions of dollars wasted, the jihadists have failed in their primary mission: to rally the people of the Muslim world around their movement. They may have the ability to assassinate leaders, but bin Laden’s followers, mostly exiled in the Waziristan region, have no real chance of ever taking those leaders’ places.
If anything could change that, it’s further American intervention, while a hands-off policy could be just what the doctor ordered to allow the Pakistani people to handle their own business and marginalize their own violent radicals.
Intervention is precisely what our enemies want. Will Americans smarten up, or will bin Laden and Zawahiri succeed once again in dictating American foreign policy?