With the turmoil in Pakistan, we may be seeing a return of realpolitik, where we look at dictators with the “he may be a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch.” President Musharraf says he is trying to take a firm stand against Islamists (and there certainly are plenty of them in Pakistan), and considering that Pakistan has nuclear weapons and missiles to deliver them, that’s a pretty damned important thing.
The situation in Pakistan, though, highlights something that not many people want to discuss: the tendency in Muslim nations to go for one of two styles of government. Either they are repressive theocracies, or repressive thugocracies. The number of nations that have a majority Muslim population that do NOT follow one of those paths is very slim — Turkey and Indonesia come to mind, and they’ve got problems. of their own with rising Islamist sentiments.
It’s easy — seductively easy — to simply say that “Islam is incompatible with democracy.” the Palestinians provide a wonderful example of this — their two major political factions are both terrorists, with Fatah being held by nominally-secular kleptomanic thugs and Hamas as the Islamist thugs. The notion of a major political faction among the Palestinians NOT devoted to terrorism is almost laughable. And history is no friend to those who would like to see a change.
It’s often noted that the two examples of secular Islamic nations are not Arabic in nature. The logical question that is never asked is whether or not there is something about the Arab/Islamic blend that is incompatible with democracy.
It’s tough to ask that question without sounding like a racist. But it’s one that should be considered.
Challenging that assumption was one of the factors behind President Bush’s plan for Iraq. The idea that we could help the Iraqi people move out from under a brutal dictator and avoid simply getting a new dictator or falling sway to the theocratic tyrants of the type that ruled Afghanistan, that rules Iran, that poses a threat to Egypt and Saudi Arabia and other nations, was a challenge that could probably rival a labor of Hercules.
But the essence of that aspiration was hope. Hope that ideas like freedom and democracy are fundamenally appealing to all human beings, and could succeed even in a place like Iraq.
Pragmatically speaking, it was probably the hardest choice. If we were simply interested in Iraqi oil or getting along, we could have cut a deal with Saddam. Instead, we cut him a noose. Similarly, we could have just tossed him out of power, then put “our” guy in charge — swapping one tyrant who didn’t like us for one who was beholden to us. That would have worked out pretty well, too, on a purely pragmatic basis.
But we didn’t. Instead, we tried to help the Iraqis find their own way to a free, democratic state. And we’re still trying.
Will it work? I don’t know. I hope so. The people of Iraq deserve the opportunity.
And for all my other problems with George W. Bush, I have to respect him for going all-out trying.