Monsters of the Moment

From Saddam to Osama, America Creates Its Own Nightmares

At least one more country needs visiting to capture the full bizarrerie of great-power foreign affairs and the irrational cohabitations that rise therefrom. That country is Pakistan.

Pakistan, Muslim archenemy of Hindu India, separated from India in 1947 at the birth of independence from British colonial rule. Pakistan has flirted on occasion with rituals of democracy, but essentially has functioned as a military dictatorship engaged in periodic wars with neighbor India, a committed democracy. Each is paranoid about the other, and their continuing dispute over Kashmir regularly erupts into violence. Both have the atomic bomb.

During the Cold War, India forged a relationship with the Soviet Union, while Pakistan lined up with China. Official Washington has generally favored Pakistan, using the jejune argument that the Pakistanis are easier to deal withas dictatorships often are. Most Americans who have lived on the subcontinent, such as myself, come away feeling that India, given its democratic tradition, is a much more natural ally for the U.S. than Pakistan. In 1971, Pakistan had acted as the go-between for the secret Kissinger trip to Communist China to lay the groundwork for the breakthrough Nixon visit the following year. For this and other favors, Washington owed Pakistan.

Today, Pakistan and the U.S. pose for pictures as allies. But there are deep internal contradictions. Is it not interesting that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, bin Laden's operational commander, was captured the other day in a safe house in, yes, Pakistan? And not just in any old spot in Pakistan, but in the cantonment town of Rawalpindi, which adjoins Islamabad, the nation's capital. How long had he been there? Was he under the protection of elements in the Pakistani government or military intelligence service who are sympathetic, sometimes openly, to the Taliban and Al Qaeda? Is Pakistan the next monster of our making?

More telling perhaps, Pakistan has secretly provided both North Korea and Iran with nuclear technology and blueprints useful in producing atomic weapons. North Korea, Iran, and Iraqin George Bush's wordsconstitute the "Axis of Evil." Should Pakistan be added to the list? The White House has chosen to look the other way. To date, the North Koreans are believed to have produced at least two bombs and have the capability of delivering them to America's West Coast. Iran is believed now to have the capability of building a bomb, and keeps expanding its technical reach. Western intelligence says Iraq probably has some nuclear materials but has not yet been able to build a bomb. Also, its missiles are all fairly short-range.

Is it not fair then to ask why, if North Korea and Iran both present a greater and more immediate threat, our first act should be to declare war on Iraq?

Many of those who support Bush's war policy on Iraq, including editorialists, have done so with fingers crossed, calling it a "roll of the dice." Somehow I don't see Vegas as a model for how best to bring about a regime change.

Bush partisans say this president is a bold wartime leader whose audacity could "change the world." But that is a colossal leap, especially when one considers that this president has never really been out in the world he wants to change and, in the pattern of his life, hasn't shown much interest in it.

For myself, as I watch him on television delivering his speeches and lobbying for international support (all while physically inside the borders of the United States), I see a man in a hurry who reduces complex issues to simplistic, missionary-like termssuch as the good vs. the bad. Is this a man who has the stomach and patience to commit the government to the long, complicated haul that is surely needed to turn around a nation like Iraq? Or must it happen for him before the next presidential election?

Might it not be worth considering some less pyrotechnical strategy? What if the president were to order a complete reassessment of our foreign relationships with a view to making fewer accommodations with dictatorships and rogue nations? We might not eliminate every corrosive alliance of expedience, but there could at least be a shrinkage of them. Some of the doubts in American minds today have to do with the nagging thought that perhaps we've gotten into bed with too many wild dogs and woken up with something more than fleas.

This is not a comforting feeling for a people who want to think of themselves as the good guys.

As for the instant question of Iraq, what would be so wrong if, instead of the all-out smash-and-destroy war the president and his people have planned, the U.S. and Britain simply began to ratchet up the small, quiet war that has been going on for quite a while. The air patrols in the northern and southern no-fly zones could be gradually enlarged until all of Iraq was blanketed with overhead surveillance that could spot and, when necessary, knock out clearly identified weapons installations. Economic sanctions could be tightened as well, with stiffer penalties against those selling contraband to Saddam Hussein.

True, this would not bring about a change of regime as swiftly as a blitzkrieg, but over time it would loosen Hussein's grip on power and make change possible.

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