Posted by: spacewritinguy | December 28, 2007

Bhutto’s Death: Time to Question the Bush Doctrine?

The assassination of former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto provides an opportunity to reopen a discussion about the utility of the Bush Doctrine. For those of you living under a cloud of consciousness-altering smoke, the Bush Doctrine has a few basic tenets:

  • Attack terrorists wherever they hide, as well as any organization or nation thought to be giving suppport to terrorists.
  • Deprive terrorists of safe havens and resources necessary to carry out further attacks on the U.S.
  • Encourage the spread of democracy throughout the Islamic world.

I have no problem with the first two points. It’s point three that deserves constructive criticism, from both sides of the aisle. General Pervez Musharraf bowed to Western pressure by giving up his leadership in the Pakistani military and opened free elections. He also allowed potential political rivals, like Bhutto, back into the country. Bhutto was attacked a couple times after her arrival in October. In a CNN commentary, she suggested that one of these attacks was carried out with the connivance of Pakistan’s secret police, which Musharraf controls. Now she’s been killed by yet another attack.

The question for Bush’s successor is, “Is democracy really good for everyone, especially if they aren’t equipped (by culture, history, or legal precedent) for it?” Might we not be better off supporting a strong man who will keep the jackals in his midst under control? Shall we stand by and let the strong man play at being magnanimous, while possibly suborning and assassinating his rivals? Or shall we force free elections down the collective throats of the Islamic world? What shall we do if a nation of Islamic believers vote themselves into a theocratic tyranny a la Iran? Will we stand by “self-determination” still? Democracy alone teaches people nothing, especially if it’s at the point of a bayonet. Ask the Melians if they thought their own bad local government was preferable to tyranny or “democracy” imposed on the tips of Athenian swords. Oh wait, you can’t–the Melians don’t exist anymore.

The neocon position on point three of the Bush Doctrine is that American support of strongmen in the Islamic world cost us credibility and held up the development of democracy in the Middle East. This ignores the probability that Middle Eastern tyrants wouldn’t have had nearly as much power over America’s destiny if we’d just pushed ourselves into energy independence after the 1973-74 OPEC embargo.

Another assumption underlying point three is that “Freedom is a longing written on the human heart,” or some such universalist nonsense. I have little doubt that every nation on Earth would like to be as powerful, technologically advanced, and as comfortable as the United States. However, there the similiarities end. Not all cultures worship at the altar of self-determination, equality under the law, and individual freedom the way that the West (and especially America) does.

The Islamic world is particularly unfertile ground for democracy, as its supreme text, the Qu’ran, is a document focused on strong leadership within a tribe, not peaceful negotiation with outsiders. Machinery and technology are frowned upon as futile or blasphemous, as all events in the physical world are the will of Allah. And Islam itself spread from Spain to the Hindu Kush in about 100 years, bearing centralized leadership (the Caliphate) and the sword. It is a religion and culture based on the assumption that it is the strongest horse around, and it is meant to be in charge. Judaism and Christianity, beginning as minority faiths, had to learn accommodation early on in their histories. Do we really want to sacrifice additional blood and treasure remaking this group of people?

“Publicity is the oxygen of terrorism.” Deprive Islamic terrorists of their publicity, and you deprive them of significance. Deprive them of petrodollars funneled to them by oil sheiks, and you deprive them of power. Of course this means radically transforming our economy and technology, but we’ve done it many times in our brief history, in part because we’ve believed that technology and human actions are not futile or blasphemous, but capable of working constructive ends in this life.

There are other options than total war or total surrender. It’s about damn time that we started discussing them before the next fool crisis erupts.


  1. So the demonisation of the West continues unabated, despite the complete inability of Islamic countries, in particular, the Islamic nation of Pakistan, to set its own house in order. This is not the first time the young country of Pakistan has been in turmoil, and will doubtless not be the last.

    Sure, the anti-west ignoramus would blame colonialism and current western foreign policy, idiotically assuming that such a cohesive policy exists, but the real cause of this problem, and most other Islam-related trysts around the world lies at the core of the Islamic religion itself, and the perverse act of politicising it.

    Within Iraq the vast majority of attacks and killings are due to sectarian factions of Islam killing eachother, yet to the Islamist it is still seen as a battleground created by the West. Afghanistan was a safe haven and training ground for the most brutal of thugs to carry the flag of Islam, yet the threat of a return to the dark ages imposed by the Taliban is still very real.

    Pervez Musharraf indeed stated that a country must be ready for democracy rather than have democracy imposed on it, but ask yourself this. How can that ever happen if those attempting to unify this once idealistic and aspirational Muslim country are blown up and shot at at the hands of simple minded thugs?

    Make yourself also aware of the difference between Islam and Political Islam – Islam based on the Qu’ran does not demand a Caliphate – this is a preposterous idea created by fools who learn the text but do not concern themselves with its meaning. Political Islam is more based on Marxist ideas than anything described in the Holy Qu’ran, and is essentially based upon the misplaced belief that Judaism and Christianity have usurped Islam in the world order.

    How the ostensibly usurped position can be reclaimed by slaughtering the only hopes of peace and prosperity the Islamic nation of Pakistan will ever have, I will never know

  2. My goal here is not to demonize the West or Bush, for that matter. I think we’d be better off if we just minded our own business. If we weren’t so dependent on oil, we might not be as inclined to interfere in their internal politics; nor would their actions have as much bearing on what we do here.

    I mourn the loss of Ms. Bhutto. I still don’t think Islam (political or otherwise) is compatible with Western-style representative government. The traditions and hard lessons that we’ve had are not in their history (e.g. the Thirty Years War). It’d be nice to think otherwise, but the riots in the wake of Bhutto’s death sort of bring the point home.

    Sending in our troops to force these folks to get along is not really the military’s job, unless we want to be a full-blown empire. If we wish to remain a republic, then we should use our military to punish those who harm us. That’s it. If we really think it’s our job to impose our style of governance on the Islamic world, then I refer you to as an example of what that imperial force might look like.

  3. There is no oil in Pkistan.

  4. also there is no reason to direct a guy from the UK to such a website; we had a hand in creating Pakistan. You should Musharraf’s biography.

  5. No, there isn’t any oil in Pakistan. But we wouldn’t be involved in the Islamic world if it weren’t for oil.

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