Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Illusion of Control

There are days when momentous events happen with such sudden force, that people can only step back for a second and pause, and try comprehend the bigger picture. Such events snowball and reverberate, generating unforeseeable yet associated events, and nations can only tremble in dread of what more may come.

I'm talking of course about the Mischa Barton DUI bust. Can any of these dingbats afford a goddamned driver? Then they can do lines off each others' tits and chug Ketel One till they black out, and no one's the wiser. It's one thing for some blue-collar guy to take the back roads home after work with a coldie between his legs (it's still not right, but it happens), but quite another for these overprivileged morons to weave up La Cienega at three in the morning, not only shitfaced but not even having a license. One Lindsay Lohan's more than enough, sweet cheeks. You're going to have to develop a sex addiction now just to get your career back.

Okay, okay, so seriously the Bhutto assassination is obviously huge. I would think the immediate assumption is that it's the same Islamic lunatics who've tried to assassinate Musharraf twice, this time trying to bait him into over-reacting in the tribal regions (which, let's face it, they sorely deserve). That and the only alternative in the upcoming election now is Nawaz Sharif, as big a crook as Bhutto was, but more sympathetic to anti-western sentiments. That this took place in Rawalpindi, a military city, is also significant. (Added bonus: the footage of some of these asshole rioters, lamely swinging anything they could find into the shells of destroyed buses -- real fuckin' cool, guys. The bus looks pretty well done, but hey, keep up the fine work. I remember my first beer.)

I dunno. There's really not much to say about this, oddly, and very little even to speculate. It's a sad situation, and we're stuck, and our man in Islamabad is stuck as well, being pushed into a corner where moderation becomes less and less likely an option for him. I think 2008 is going to see a U.S. surge in Afghanistan, because people have Tinkerbelled themselves enough to believe that the Iraq version succeeded utterly on its own merits. But the terrain, the people, and the cultures are entirely different, and the "planners" of these operations can't get out of their one-size-fits-all approach to things.

Update: Timely article in the London Review of Books, for those inclined to more backstory. Big thanks to Marius in comments for the tip.


Marius said...

My understanding was that Musharraf was rather inclined to deal with Bhutto--he felt he could outmanoeuver her, as he had almost done. Nawaz Sharif was harder to strongarm; that's why he wasn't allowed to file the paperwork in order to join the election process (so he pouted and announced he'd boycott the thing; but Bhutto's party, the PPP, were willing to go along with Pervez).

What I find really shocking is that it happened in the Pakistani equivalent of Fort Leavenworth; and it looks like the assassin got close enough to shoot her in the chest, then blow himself up. Either her security apparatus was monumentally incompetent, or the killer was allowed to go through by people who could have stopped him.

I don't think her death changes a great deal in Pakistan. She wouldn't have been allowed to really govern, under Musharraf. She'd have been a sort of Dimitry Medvedev to Pervez's Putin--a puppet installed to provide a varnish of legitimacy to a bastard regime. She would have gone along with whatever Musharraf had told her to do--the price of her being allowed in the government. There are no free elections in Pakistan, rather the army and the ruling party apparatchiks determine who gets how many votes and where (see Tariq Ali's analysis of the situation in the London Review of Books). It's patently false that, with her death, the Muslim fanatics are one step closer to the nuclear trigger--the Pakistani football is in the hands of the military, not of bearded, wild-eyed mullahs (that only happens in Iran). Benazir didn't come home to modernize or "reform" anything. She came to escape prosecution for corruption and money-laundering in three Western European nations; and she came because Condolleeza Rice thought they could "democratize" Pakistan by forcing Musharraf to "share" power with someone who's liked in the West, but reviled at home (yeah, she was largely reviled--for having allowed her playboy husband to steal 1.5 billion dollars from the national treasury). The "Muslim traditionalists" hated her for being a Westernizer. So what exactly kind of reform could she have undertaken?

The Western media will fuss over her death for a week or two; the stockmarkets will tremble for a day or two. Then everything will go back to "normal": Europeans will wring their hands over the lack of a democratic process in Pakistan; the American establishment will hope Musharraf keeps doing what he can to keep the savages at bay; and the people of Pakistan will once again resign to being ruled by a thuggish clique of military men.


Marius said...

Also, I find it comforting to see that some in the intelligence community partially confirm my misgivings. Those are smart people; they can't be that wrong--surely much less wrong than your average American pundit.

Heywood J. said...

Marius, I think every one of your points is spot-on there. The upshot is that it's clear that this administration -- and possibly the next -- has absolutely no clue what to do about Pakistan. Bhutto was clearly seen as the most "workable" of bad options, the one most likely to legitimize U.S. interests there.

Obviously, the big problem is that "U.S. interests" are not coherently defined in South Asia. All the good-faith efforts and checkbook diplomacy in the region has only paid partial dividends in India, and barely held the retaining wall in Pakistan. Apr├ęs Musharraf, le deluge, if we're not careful....and maybe even if we are.

And there are some peculiar facts already re Bhutto's assassination -- that the killer struck when she popped out of the sunroof for an encore (how do you predict that for a hit), and that after barely 24 hours, not only is the body already laid to rest, but the official cause of death is determined to be a skull fracture from the blast impact slamming Bhutto's head into the sunroof latch. Fucking bizarre.

It's either the wingnuts or the military, obviously. It just boils down to the usual cui bono.

Marius said...

This administration is particularly inept, so it would be illusory to expect anything workable from them. But even a smarter bunch would find themselves at a loss about what to do in Pakistan. You could either (1) push the real democratization agenda, and then you must navigate between two potential obstacles: (A) the need to appease the Pakistani military, who have long been used to interfering in domestic politics (they call it "being shown the respect they deserve" for their profession), and these guys aren't used to democratic exercise of civilian control; and (B) be prepared to deal with the emergence of a "traditional Muslim" political bloc as a result of democracy, as it happened in Lebanon and Palestine. Now, these "Islamists" aren't influential everywhere in Pak., but where they are, they may require a more Sharia-friendly form of governance, if democratic politics brings them more power. Plus, of course, they're quite favorably inclined to any violently anti-American local group (in Waziristan, etc.)

Or (2) you may think, Kissinger-like, fuck democracy, man, if what it takes for Pakistan to control those armed lunatics who harbor the Taliban is some army thug, then tough shit for the Pakistani people, but they're just gonna have to deal, because we're supporting this guy--or any other guy who promises to do the same.

The trouble with the second approach is that (i) Musharraf hasn't really been doing a whole lot to solve the tense situation in the "tribal areas" that concern the Americans. It's either because his army is incompetent, corrupt and outnumbered over there, or because he thinks he can't afford to set that area on fire and make his country really unstable, but that instead he can easily afford to lie to Dick Cheney about what a brave warrior he is.

And, of course, (ii) another problem with the second approach is that, in the long run, the lack of freedom and democracy for the Pakistanis will send at least a few of their young in the arms of the Taliban or Ayman al-Zawahri. As if the United States didn't have to worry about that coming from other "allies," like Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Dammit, we keep blasting the thinkamators on the boob-tube, and here I am, engaging in weekend punditry myself. Oh well. Over and out.