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Pakistan: Nexus of Failure

How is the failure of the Bush Administration’s foreign policy coming to roost in Pakistan?

November 6, 2007

How is the failure of the Bush Administration's foreign policy coming to roost in Pakistan?

As many have argued for years, Pakistan is the world’s most dangerous nation. This is not a criticism of President of Pakistan Pervez Musharraf’s policy towards the United States or his neighbors, but an evaluation of the precarious state of his regime.

Pakistan has enough material for over 60 nuclear weapons, an unstable government, strong Islamic fundamentalist influences in its military and intelligence services, and armed Islamic fundamentalist groups operating on its territory — including Osama bin Laden.

If the government should fall and the army split, who gets the weapons? Who gets the material for the weapons? Who get the scientists who know how to build the weapons?

Musharraf’s martial law and raids reminiscent of fascist regimes are pushing his nation to the brink. It is quite possible that the crisis or an actual insurgency could come and go while the Army maintains firm control of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and materials.

After all, the People’s Liberation Army never lost control of China’s weapons during the Cultural Revolution’s years of chaos. But China did not have a foreign terrorist group based inside its borders.

Al Qaeda is now headquartered in Pakistan and presumably still intent on acquiring nuclear weapons, as the 9-11 Commission and other studies have documented. This could be their best chance to realize this decade-long goal.

There is also the possibility that a radical Islamic regime could seize state power, as one did in Iran in 1979. One would think that one such experience would be enough to expose the obvious flaw in the Bush pick-and-choose strategy: The good guys and bad guys keep changing.

Iran used to be a good guy when the United States sold the country its first nuclear reactor and when Richard Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz approved the Shah’s plans for uranium enrichment and plutonium processing plants during the Ford Administration.

In President Bush’s world-view, General Musharraf is a good guy — but Pakistan could go overnight from a major non-NATO ally to our worst nuclear nightmare.

How did we get to this point? The media, prompted by administration officials, tend to treat crises as alien beings — that is, as if they appeared out of nowhere, with no history and no relationship to us. Instead of examining, “What went wrong?” the focus is almost exclusively, “What should we do?”

Crises, however, do have histories. Without understanding the policies that produced a crisis, it is impossible to devise a policy to resolve it. The mistakes of previous administrations paved the way, but it is the unique strategy of this administration that brought us to the precipice.

Pakistan is the nexus of four Bush policy failures: The failure to defeat Al Qaeda and the Taliban, the failure of the Iraq War, the failure to stop the spread of nuclear weapons globally and the failure to pursue a Middle East peace process. One could add others, but these four suffice.

First and most importantly, rather than finish the job of destroying Al Qaeda and their Taliban allies in Afghanistan, President Bush turned U.S. forces, including some of those then in direct pursuit of the demoralized, desperate bin Laden, to his plans for war with Iraq.

If he had completed the mission, Al Qaeda would never have been able to reconstitute terrorist training camps in Pakistan where they are now perfectly perched to stimulate and benefit from insurgency.

Second, if President Bush had listened to his seasoned military and foreign policy experts instead of his neoconservative Rasputins, he never would have launched an unnecessary war in Iraq that has inflamed Muslim passions around the world — and particularly in Pakistan, where less than 20% of the population now holds a favorable view of the United States.

Third, if Bush had not been swayed by a speechwriter’s clever “axis of evil” phrase — and if he had not launched the nation on a futile effort to overthrow certain regimes that might pursue nuclear weapons while protecting others’ nuclear ambitions as well as our own — perhaps we could have shut down Pakistan’s A.Q. Khan network before it spread its tools and contacts around the world.

We could have by now negotiated the verifiable termination to programs in North Korea and Iran, slashed arsenals in Russia and the United States and been working with both Pakistan and India to reduce and better secure their arsenals.

Finally, if the administration had stayed with efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian dispute (as had all previous administrations), America would today enjoy a reputation for even-handedness and justice in Pakistan, would have retained it legitimacy in the Muslim world — and would be in a much stronger position to push for restoration of democratic processes.

As it is, the failed Bush policies have left us weak, isolated and with poor options.

Perhaps the best that can be done at this point is to use the pressure points of diplomacy and reduced military aid to convince President Musharraf to lift the state of emergency, encourage new elections with all candidates allowed and quietly cooperate with Pakistan’s armed forces to ensure the security of the nuclear materials and weapons and the separation of their components.

Only sustained policies to end the war in Iraq, re-focus anti-terrorism efforts on the real killers of 9-11, develop a Middle East stability process that involves dialogue with all the involved nations, and a global effort that recognizes that nuclear weapons everywhere — not just those in the arsenals of our current adversaries — are a danger and strives for their elimination, can contain the danger from Pakistan today and reduce the risks of future Pakistans tomorrow.