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The Impotent Hegemon

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                   January 4, 2008

The Impotent Hegemon
By Patrick J. Buchanan

"Things are in the saddle, and ride mankind."

Emerson's couplet comes to mind as the New Year opens with 
Pakistan, the second largest Muslim country on Earth, in 
social and political chaos, trending toward a failed state 
with nuclear weapons. 

Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, whom the White House 
pressed to return home from exile to form an anti-Islamist 
alliance with President Pervez Musharraf, is dead, 
assassinated on the second try in two months. 

Her 19-year-old son, who has spent most of his life outside 
the country, is now the declared leader of her Pakistan 
Peoples Party but is remaining at Oxford. Her husband, 
widely regarded as the bag man of the Bhutto family, is 
playing regent, denouncing the Pakistan Muslim League with 
which Musharraf is affiliated as a "murderers' league." 

As riots ravage the country, the PPP is demanding that the 
Jan. 8 elections go forward and calling on the nation to 
repudiate Musharraf and bring the PPP to power -- in her 

Nawaz Sharif, a two-time prime minister like Bhutto who 
presided over Pakistan's test of an atom bomb, who is close 
to the Islamists, who was also ousted for corruption, and 
who is detested by Musharraf, had declared an election 
boycott. Now his party, too, is urging that the elections 
go forward. Sharif wants Musharraf out and himself in. 


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If Musharraf postpones the elections, or they are not 
regarded as free and fair, the whole nation could erupt. 
If he does not postpone the elections, he will almost 
surely be repudiated. 

Revealed by all this is the inability, if not the 
impotence, of America to assure a desired outcome in a 
nation whose support is indispensable if we are not to 
lose the war in Afghanistan, now in its seventh year. 

Moreover, the reactions of some U.S. presidential 
candidates suggest they are not ready to run this country, 
let alone Pakistan. After Bhutto's assassination, Bill 
Richardson called on Musharraf to resign. Hillary Clinton 
has suggested that Musharraf could be toppled and demanded 
that he submit to an outside investigation of the murder 
of Benazir Bhutto. 

Nancy Pelosi is suggesting a cutoff in U.S. aid if there 
is no outside investigation and demanding the White House 
ensure that Pakistan's elections are "free and fair." 
Perhaps the Pakistanis will demand observers this year 
in Florida and Ohio. 

But if Musharraf stands down, who steps in? Do we know? 
And if elections go forward, are we ready to accept any 

After all, this is a country whose provinces bordering on 
Afghanistan, the Northwest Frontier and Baluchistan, are 
ruled by a coalition of Muslim parties sympathetic to the 
Taliban. Tribal regions along the border play host to the 
Taliban and perhaps Osama himself. Elements of Pakistan's 
military and intelligence services are Islamist. The 
nuclear proliferator A.Q. Khan and Osama are far more 
popular than Musharraf or Bush. Lose Pakistan in the war 
against al-Qaeda and the Taliban and you lose the Afghan 

In recent elections in the Near and Middle East, many of 
them called at the insistence of President Bush, the 
winners were Hamas, Hezbollah, the Muslim Brotherhood, 
Moqtada al-Sadr and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. 


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What are the primary U.S. interests today in Pakistan? That 
its nuclear weapons remain in secure and friendly hands and 
that Pakistan remains an ally in the war against al-Qaeda. 

Whatever happens in the elections Jan. 8, or later, the 
United States should retain close ties to Pakistan's 
military. As Rome's emperor Septimus Severus counseled 
his sons on his deathbed, "Pay the soldiers. The rest do 
not matter." 

But the United States must begin now to look at the longer 

It seems clear that we are so hated in that country that any 
leader like Bhutto, seen as a friend and ally to the United 
States, is ever at mortal risk. Musharraf has himself been 
a repeated target of assassins. 

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Second, our ability to influence events is severely 
limited. What does democracy mean in a country where 
60 percent of the people are illiterate and parties 
are fiefdoms of families and political instruments of 
religious radicals? 

As Burke reminded us, "It is ordained in the eternal 
constitution of things that men of intemperate minds 
cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters." 

We need to ask ourselves hard questions. Has the blood we 
have shed in Afghanistan and Iraq, the hundreds of billions 
we have plunged into these wars, and into foreign aid, 
made us safer? Has it made us more friends than enemies? 
Perhaps, as is seen today in Anbar, locals are better at 
dealing with al-Qaeda than even our American soldiers. 

Russia, China, India, and Japan are closer to Pakistan than 
we. Yet, none of them feels the need we apparently do to be 
so deeply enmeshed in her internal affairs.  

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