I am a fan of Zbigniew Brzezinski and generally agree with him that in order to get America’s national security portfolio back together — we have to be wary of seductive assertions that the U.S. can easily manipulate political realities in a place like Pakistan in pursuit of platitudes.
Democracy sounds nice but it is enormously difficult to achieve and does not equate with elections. Focusing only on elections, as Council on Foreign Relations President Richard Haass has stated, gives us “ballotocracy” — not democracy.
I agree with Senator Joe Biden that it is likely that Benazir Bhutto’s party probably would have prevailed in Pakistan’s elections in the coming two weeks, but this would not have made Pakistan democratic. Protected and established rights of minority parties, checks and balances, rule of law, freedom of the press and of civil society, and active political participation of the citizenry comprise genuine democracy — and in my view, Pakistan would not have been there after the elections.
But beyond that, there is a genuine question of whether America should have been meddling with the internal dynamics of Pakistan’s political situation. We helped insert Benazir Bhutto. The Saudis helped re-insert Nawaz Sharif. The political chessboard inside Pakistan was one that many external players have been trying to manipulate — and this ‘may’ have been a mistake.
The combination of Pakistan having nukes and also serving as the primary residence of bin Laden and Zawahiri make this a more complicated situation than just whether Pakistan is a real democracy — or a fake one under military control.
I have just received the statements on Bhutto’s assassinationg from Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama — and also a statement made by former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski.
Here is Hillary Clinton’s official statement:
“I am profoundly saddened and outraged by the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, a leader of tremendous political and personal courage. I came to know Mrs. Bhutto over many years, during her tenures as Prime Minister and during her years in exile. Mrs. Bhutto’s concern for her country, and her family, propelled her to risk her life on behalf of the Pakistani people.
She returned to Pakistan to fight for democracy despite threats and previous attempts on her life and now she has made the ultimate sacrifice. Her death is a tragedy for her country and a terrible reminder of the work that remains to bring peace, stability, and hope to regions of the globe too often paralyzed by fear, hatred, and violence.
Let us pray that her legacy will be a brighter, more hopeful future for the people she loved and the country she served. My family and I extend our condolences and deepest sympathies to the victims and their families and to the people of Pakistan.”
Obama’s statement is on the same course of Clinton’s comment — but without the edgy detail and acknowledgment of what a challenge democracy building is abroad:
“I am shocked and saddened by the death of Benazir Bhutto in this terrorist atrocity. She was a respected and resilient advocate for the democratic aspirations of the Pakistani people. We join with them in mourning her loss, and stand with them in their quest for democracy and against the terrorists who threaten the common security of the world.”
But then Obama advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski offered yesterday a contrarian critique of America’s support of Bhutto on MSNBC. I found Brzezinski’s commentary refreshing and honest — but clearly at odds with his candidate for the White House:
I think the United States should not get involved in Pakistani politics. I deplore the absence of democracy in Pakistan, but I think admonitions from outside, injecting exile politicians into Pakistan, telling the Pakistan president what he should or should not wear, that he should take off his uniform, I don’t really think this is America’s business and I don’t think it helps to consolidate stability in Pakistan.
I think that this is time for realism — seeing the world as it is, warts and all, rather than as we would hope it would or should be.
Brzezinski gets that, but all of the campaigns would be smart to realize that Americans having to make their next choice of president are going to choke on platitudes and want the costs and benefits of policy discussed seriously.
Pakistan remains the most dangerous country in the world today — and like the ticking clock that the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists used to post on how close the world was to midnight, and thus a nuclear war, I think that Bhutto’s death moves us closer to a cataclysm rather than further away.
The question now is how would a Hillary Clinton approach Pakistan realities today? How would Obama who has Brzezinski’s realism on one side of him and Anthony Lake’s democracy-or-nothing approach on the other deal with Pakistan? How would Huckabee? or Biden? or Romney? Giuliani?
— Steve Clemons