Thursday, November 8, 2007

Cultivating friendships

The Bush administration's handling of foreign policy hit another bump today when the president was forced to tell Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf to hold parliamentary elections early next year as promised and to step down as army leader. "I had a very frank discussion with him," Bush said from George Washington's home in Mt. Vernon, Va., where he was meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy. He said he told Musharraf, "You can't be the president and the head of the military at the same time." The relationship between the United States and Pakistan, a key ally in the U.S.-sponsored war against terror, has been in question lately -- certainly since Saturday, when Musharraf issued a declaration of emergency and suspended the Pakistani constitution. The U.S. has helped keep Musharraf in power with $10 billion in military aid since he seized power from the democratically elected prime minister in 1999. Musharraf's move had been widely anticipated in light of recent reversals in Pakistan's long struggle with a Taliban-inspired insurgency on the border with Afghanistan, and because of an imminent Supreme Court decision expected to force him to give up one of the two leadership posts. It seems to me that the dictator thing never works out for the United States, yet we always keep trying it. We're a democratic country and should not, at least on principle if not practicality, cozy up to repressive, undemocratic regimes. The result of our dalliances with dictators seems inevitably to be some kind of peril, like the rise of religious fundamentalism in Iran to the anti-U.S. fervor in South America.

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