The imposition of martial law by General (a.k.a. “President”) Pervez Musharraf clearly highlights a failure of U.S. policy. The United States has poured millions of dollars into Pakistan since September 11th for purposes of combating the Taliban and Al Qaeda forces who have took refuge in Pakistan following the Battle of Tora Bora in December 2001.
However, Pakistan under the Musharraf dictatorship has not proved to be a reliable ally. It has cut deals with terrorist groups promising to leave them alone and has seemingly been willing to cede territory to home-grown Taliban-like groups as it focuses the resources of the armed services on cracking down on pro-democracy activists. Musharraf has learned that he is not held accountable for what he does as long as says what the administration wants to hear. He has learned how to recite certain buzzwords, catch phrases and American myths, popular with certain elements of the American political scene, to justify his actions. In return, President Bush congratulates him for taking “positive steps.”
Sidney Blumenthal has this take on the U.S./Pakistan relationship in the larger context of the Bush administration’s policy:
…Pakistan, whose intelligence service and military contain elements that sponsor the Taliban and al-Qaida, remains an epicenter of terrorism. General Pervez Musharraf's imposition of martial law in Pakistan on November 3 was his second coup, reinforcing his 1999 military takeover. Facing elections in January 2008 that seemed likely to repudiate him and an independent judiciary that refused to grant him extraordinary powers, he suspended constitutional rule. Toothless US admonitions were easily ignored.
Musharraf's coup spectacularly illustrates the "Bush effect". His speech of November 3, explaining his seizure of power, is among the most significant and revealing documents of this new era in its cynical exploitation of the American example. In his speech, Musharraf mocks and echoes Bush's rhetoric. Tyranny, not freedom, is on the march. Musharraf appropriates the phrase "judicial activism" - the epithet hurled by American conservatives at liberal decisions of the courts since the Warren-led Supreme Court issued Brown versus Board of Education, which outlawed segregation in schools - and makes it his own. This term "judicial activism" has no other source. It is certainly not a phrase that originated in Pakistan. "The judiciary has interfered, that's the basic issue," Musharraf said.
Indeed, under Bush, the administration has equated international law, the system of justice, and lawyers with terrorism. In the March 2005 national defense strategy, this conflation of enemies became official doctrine: "Our strength as a nation state will continue to be challenged by those who employ a strategy of the weak using international fora, judicial processes, and terrorism."
Neoconservative lawyers, in and out of the administration, have strenuously argued that the efforts to restore the Geneva conventions, place detainees within the judicial process and provide them with legal representation amount to what they denigrate as "lawfare" - a sneering reference to "welfare" and the idea that detainees are akin to the unworthy poor. Lawyers for detainees, meanwhile, are routinely insulted as "habeas lawyers," as though they were agents of terrorists and that arguing for the restoration of habeas corpus proves complicity "objectively" with terrorists.
Rather than cite these neoconservative talking points directly or invoke the authority of Bush, whose feeble protestations he brushed aside, Musharraf slyly quoted Abraham Lincoln, who suspended habeas corpus in Maryland and southern Indiana during the American civil war. (The US circuit court of Maryland overturned his act. In 1866, the Supreme Court ruled in Ex parte Milligan that civilians could not be tried before military tribunals when civil courts were functioning.)
In Musharraf's version, Lincoln is his model, taking executive action in order to save the nation: "He broke laws, he violated the Constitution, he usurped arbitrary powers, he trampled individual liberties, his justification was necessity." Musharraf, of course, as he suspends an election, leaves out the rest of Lincoln, not least the difficult election of 1864, which took place in the middle of the civil war.
But where did Musharraf get his warped idea of Lincoln as dictator and America as an example of tyranny? Not quite from diligent study of American history. According to a 2002 interview with Ikram Sehgal, managing editor of the Defense Journal of Pakistan, Musharraf received this notion from his reading of Richard Nixon's book Leaders, published in 1994, in which Nixon discusses Lincoln's measures taken under extreme duress with ill-disguised admiration. Thus, for Musharraf, as for Cheney and Bush, Nixon's vision of an imperial president lies at the root of their actions in creating an executive unbound by checks and balances, unaccountable to "judicial activism".
Since declaring a state of emergency, Musharraf has rounded up thousands of lawyers and shut down the courts, while halting offensive military action against terrorists. In the name of combating terrorism, even as parts of his government are in league with them, he launches an attack on those who profess democracy.
The Bush administration finds itself devoid of options. Neoconservatives are left, happily at least for some of them, to defend torture. They have no explanations for the implosion of Bush's policies or suggestions for remedy. Self-examination is too painful and in any case unfamiliar. Bush regrets Musharraf's martial law, yet tacitly accepts that the US has no alternative but to support him in the war on terror that he is not fighting - and is using for his own political purposes.
On the rubble of neoconservatism, the Bush administration has adopted "realism" by default, though not even as a gloss on its emptiness. Bush still clings to his high-flown rhetoric as if he's warming up for his second inaugural address. But this is not rock-bottom. There is further to fall.
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