The killing of Osama bin Laden by a team of U.S. Navy Seals has brought into the open a pattern of self-righteousness, treachery, lying, denial, violent retaliation and assumed moral outrage that is depressingly reminiscent of a dysfunctional marriage. Indeed, the level of popular outrage is so vehement on both sides and the suspicions are so endless that it would be comical if it weren’t such a deadly serious matter.
|The relationship between the United States and Pakistan — like that between Republicans and Democrats — is akin to a failed marriage.|
Like so many couples, the United States and Pakistan loved each other in their youth and even middle age, but tried to remain in denial as each of them changed quite radically.
From the days of President Mohammed Ayub Khan, Pakistan’s first military dictator, successive U.S. administrations swooned at their virile, anti-communist military partners in Islamabad, even when the Pakistani army went on a killing spree against fellow Muslims in East Pakistan (later Bangladesh) in 1970.
For their part, Pakistan’s generals adored for generations the remote and indulgent American “Sugar Daddy” who would send billions of dollars of aid and other goodies their way, while basically leaving them to their own devices. Until September 11, 2001, U.S. policy towards Pakistan was either bordering on blissful indulgence under the Republicans, or was perhaps more high-minded but no less toothless and ineffectual under the Democrats.
Successive U.S. administrations pretended not to notice the Pakistani military’s strong support of the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan. But it was under President George W. Bush that the current train crash in U.S.-Pakistani relations fully developed. Mr. Bush swallowed every disingenuous explanation President Pervez Musharraf gave him claiming that the Pakistani government was energetically hunting bin Laden and al-Qaeda.
Little wonder then that Mr. Musharraf and his colleagues in Islamabad felt emboldened to continue their two-track conduct towards Washington. On both sides, it was a pattern of denial and continued self-destructive behavior that is familiar to any marriage guidance counselor.
|Republicans think they can block any tax increases with impunity forever and that energy prices will magically fall as long as government regulations are slashed.|
But the point here is not to sort out whether Washington or Islamabad is ultimately at fault, but rather to point to a truly scary parallel. For the empty shell of what is now a pretend relationship between the U.S. government and Pakistan also echoes the increasingly vacuous posturing between Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. Congress.
As recently as a decade and a half ago, a Democratic president and a Republican Congress were still able to work together constructively to craft far-reaching policies for the public good.
President Bill Clinton and Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich proved to be a formidable partnership in reforming welfare, balancing the budget, passing the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and creating the essential preconditions for another generation of stability and growth.
But those days are now long gone. Today’s generation of congressional leaders either ended up quadrupling the federal deficit they inherited from President Bush in only two years, as happened under Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Or, like the current Republican leadership, they engaged in shadow play and mock combat with President Barack Obama instead of taking effective bipartisan action to rein in federal spending and restore fiscal sanity, including by raising revenues and constructively working to control healthcare costs.
Republicans and Democrats exhibit the classic symptoms of a failed marriage by engaging in a nonstop blame game rather than facing up to painful realities. Republicans think they can block tax increases with impunity forever and that energy prices will magically fall as long as government regulations are slashed. Democrats think they can continue to go on spending binges forever. In this regard, President Obama and the Democratic leaders in Congress are like a frustrated, unhappy, aging spouse seeking comfort in obsessive shopping binges.
|As with the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, Republicans and Democrats in Washington can only talk to each other in anger.|
As with the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, the collapsed marriage between Republicans and Democrats in Washington has become a dialogue of the deaf. Both sides can only talk to each other in anger. Both sides refuse to take any of the responsibility for the potentially disastrous problems their pattern of inaction causes. Both act like spoiled young children who have never grown up.
The uncharitable and genuinely unseemly refusal of so many Republican leaders, starting with George W. Bush, to publicly give President Obama his due for taking considerable political risk in order to hunt down bin Laden, is just another symptom of this failed relationship.
But unfortunately, the Republicans and the Democrats on Capitol Hill, like the United States and Pakistani diplomats in Washington and Islamabad, cannot just turn their backs and close the door. Hundreds of millions of people and issues of global import depend on them swallowing their pride and their insecurities and starting to talk to each other at long last.
One can only hope that the sharp deterioration in the U.S.-Pakistani relationship provides a wake-up call to leaders in Washington that they, on the home front, have to do much better than act like Americans and Pakistanis toward each other. If they don’t learn that one lesson at least, and fast, that would truly be disastrous.