Washington Is As Dysfunctional As U.S. Relations With Pakistan
How is the U.S.-Pakistan relationship reminiscent of that between Democrats and Republicans?
- The relationship between the United States and Pakistan — like that between Republicans and Democrats — is akin to a failed marriage.
- 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.
- As with the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, Republicans and Democrats in Washington can only talk to each other in anger.
The killing of Osama bin Laden by a team of U.S. Navy Seals, which occurred on May 2, 2011, triggered a revealing turn of events. It brought into the open a pathetic pattern of self-righteousness, treachery, lying, denial, violent retaliation and assumed moral outrage.
It was all that is depressingly reminiscent of a dysfunctional marriage. Indeed, the level of popular outrage is so vehement and the suspicions are so endless between the United States and Pakistan that it would be comical — if it weren’t such a deadly serious matter.
There is method to this madness. 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.
This support remained strong even when the Pakistani army went on a killing spree against fellow Muslims in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) in 1971.
For their part, Pakistan’s generals adored for generations the remote and indulgent American “Sugar Daddy.” He sent 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 it was perhaps more high-minded but no less toothless and ineffectual (under the Democrats).
Successive U.S. administrations had pretended not to notice the Pakistani military’s strong support of extremist militants in neighboring Afghanistan.
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 which Pakistan’s then-President Pervez Musharraf gave him. In the main, he claimed that the Pakistani government was energetically hunting bin Laden and al-Qaeda.
Little wonder that Mr. Musharraf and his colleagues in Islamabad felt emboldened to continue their “two-track” conduct towards Washington — raking in the money while issuing mellifluous words and acting in the opposite direction.
But it wasn’t just the Pakistanis. On both sides, what prevailed was a pattern of denial and continued self-destructive behavior that is familiar to any marriage counselor.
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 the relationship between the U.S. government and Pakistan also echoes the increasingly vacuous posturing between Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. Congress.
Less than two decades ago, a Democratic president and a Republican Congress were still able to work together constructively to craft far-reaching policies for the public good.
For all their ideological differences and opposing bombastic charades, President Bill Clinton and Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich proved to be a formidable partnership. They managed to reform welfare policy, balance the budget, pass the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and create the essential preconditions for another generation of stability and growth.
But those days are now long gone. The current Republican leadership prefers to engage in shadow play and mock combat with President Barack Obama. It only pays lip service to 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. 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, 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.
Unfortunately, the Republicans and the Democrats on Capitol Hill 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.
If they don’t learn that one lesson at least, and fast, that would truly be disastrous.
Editor’s note: This piece was originally published on May 20, 2011. It was updated by the author on June 3, 2014.