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America vs. The World

The big trouble with dumb bastards is that they are too dumb to believe there is such a thing as being smart. — Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Don't mess with Musharraf

updated below

Last week, Pakistan has accused the Bush administration of threatening it with military force if it did not cooperate in the War on Terror immediately following 9/11.

In a recently released memoir, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf stated that Undersecretary of State Richard Armitage declared that Pakistan would be “bombed back to the Stone Age” if he did not . (It should be noted that Armitage denies ever making such a statement, and is chalking it up to a gross mistranslation.)

Musharraf also declared that that America paid Pakistan millions of dollars in bounties for catching Al Qaida fighters in the past five years. While this is not necessarily criminal, it is an embarrassing exercise for the world’s City on a Hill to participate in.

These are bold allegations coming from a man I consider the most important man in the world. Why do I consider Musharraf so damn significant? It’s not that his country is the most powerful in the world (I actually rank Pakistan #9). But Pakistan is ranked #1 in my book in three noteworthy categories:

1. Pakistan is America’s most powerful partner in the War on Terror. Britain offers the most troops in Iraq and Israel may offer the most moral support, but Pakistan is the one on the front lines catching the actual terrorists in places others can’t.

2. Pakistan is the world’s most powerful entity that can believably be expected to switch sides. Russia may still resent America, China may challenge us in a generation and France may fight us diplomatically, but Pakistan is a country that could realistically become a true enemy along the lines of Iran or North Korea within a very short period of time—if they were motivated to do so.

3. Pakistan is the world’s most powerful country run entirely by one man. He’s a dictator who doesn’t have to answer to a Parliament, a Cabinet or any voters. And when that one man executes policies that benefit us but are opposed by the vast majority of his people, we should be increasingly concerned with his well being. A single well-aimed bullet could turn America’s key ally into America’s greatest foe. (Did I mention he has several attempts on his life each year?)

Needless to say, Musharraf is far too important a global player to piss off at this stage in the game. If the allegations are true, then we should all be concerned with his decision to accuse Bush Administration now. Because allies who break rank with talk sometimes follow that up with action.


No more than six hours after I declare Pakistani President Musharraf the most significant man in the world, and he ends up being interviewed by the wittiest man in the world.

Catch Musharraf on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, which originally aired on Tuesday, September 26. (My personal favorite moment: when Stewart asks Musharraf who would win an election in Pakistan between Bush and Bin Laden, and Musharraf responds "they'd both lose miserably."


Anonymous P. Pirx said...

Yeah, pretty correct analysis. The only thing I find peculiar here is the term "embarassing", coming as it does from a self proclaimed realist.

In time of war, in a most perfect of worlds, you would have allies who stand with you, shoulder to shoulder, because they believe in you and in your cause (of cause one may argue that in a most perfect of worlds there would be no war anyway, but that's besides the point:-)) In the real world, you get the allies you can get or, at times, the one you absolutely must have, by any means necessary. Persuasion, if it works, bribery, if needed, threats if necessary. And nowhere is this more true than in the Middle East and its vicinity. That's not a region where people will support you out of gratitude for what you've done for them in the past. There are only two things tht count. The second is what they expect to get from you in the future. nd the first, an most important, is the damage you can cause them. You can try all the sweet talk in the world, if they believe that Al Quada can hurt them worse than you can, guess which way their loyalties go.

As a little aside, two of the allies in this most noble of wars, aka WWII (yes, again), were Iceland, which provided the key bases for the Battle of the Atlantic, and Iran, which provided an overland supply route for Western goods to reach the Soviet Union. And you may check what means were used to bring them into the the fold.

Blogger Gordon the Gnome said...

When I say "embarassing," I don't mean bribery is shameful act from a moral stance... as you said, I'm a realist, and moral stances are few and far between for me.

What's embarassing is that the United States broadcasts its drastically decreasing soft power by repeatedly resorting to bribery—and, perhaps most importantly, by getting caught in the act. The attempt to woo Turkey on the Security Council leading up to the Iraq war comes to mind.

A country (particularly an empire) should do what works for it, but when bribery and threats come out in the open, it's a serious blow to the image of power we once held. Once that image of power disappears altogether, we'll be forced to resort to hard power... and that, my friend, is something to expensive for America at this time.

Anonymous P. Pirx said...

Yes, of course Gordon, no argument with any of this. Keep in mind, though, that hard and soft power are intimately related. Whan push comes to shove, the soft power of a nation is not founded on sweet nothings whispered by diplomats, or on said nation's likability (that can get you sympathy points, but little else) but on its ability and readiness (that's important) to hurt and punish enemies while rewarding and protecting allies. And said ability and readiness are established by track record.

In a sense, the relationship between hard and soft power is like this between assets and credit record. Assets help to establish a credit record, a sufficiently good credit record greatly reduces the need to actually use your assets. And, just like credit record, soft power can be built up through consistent behavior proving reliability, or it can be destroyed by actions to the contrary.

There is an interesting apparent paradox here, since it does take hard power to build the soft power which makes the exercise of hard power unnecessary. The classic example of it is ancient Rome which, through a judicious and ruthless exercise of hard power built up sufficient soft power to be able to maintain continuous peace for more than a century (a record not surpassed since). That's how the world works, "si vis pacem, para bellum" was true then and still remains so.

So, why I'm bringing all this up? Because, yes, it is true that the US soft power isn't what it used to be, but this is not a new development. The US emerged with an enormous reservoir of soft power from WWII and maintined this position for couple decades but then, starting from the 60s, said soft power gradually eroded. This is what got us to our current situation. And the US soft power is one of the things which are hanging in balance, at the moment. A victory in the current conflict will reestablish the US soft power, to the point when a generation, perhaps more, of peace can be expected. A defeat, on the other hand, will wipe out any remaining credibility and I trust you can work out the consequences.

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