The Freedom Agenda Fizzles
How George Bush and Condoleezza Rice made a mess of Pakistan.
We can't do much about this now, but we might have been able to do something about it two years ago or six months ago. The fact that we didn't is a grave indictment of Bush's foreign policy, both its practices and its principles.
For instance, nearly all of the $10 billion in U.S. military aid to Pakistan has gone to its military. Bush could have at least tried to funnel a larger portion of the aid to democratic institutions.
This crisis was triggered last March when Musharraf fired the chief justice of the Supreme Court for criticizing his rule. That set off the unprecedented street rallies by the nation's lawyers. That emboldened the Supreme Court, which started to take its duties seriously. That gave rise to the near-certainty that the court would rule Musharraf's reign illegal. That tipped Musharraf to suspend the constitution—and, with it, the courts.
Since Bush officials stay in touch with Musharraf quite frequently, and since they are known to pay at least lip service to democracy, someone could have at least advised Musharraf to get off this track. No one could have expected him to turn democrat, but he could have taken palliative measures—or cynical ones: for instance, paying off the justices—to ward off a crisis.
The Bush foreign policy was neither shrewd enough to play self-interested power politics nor truly principled enough to enforce its ideals.
One consequence of this crisis is that Bush's "freedom agenda" is finally bankrupt. He will never again be able to invoke it, even as a rhetorical ploy, without evoking winces or laughter.
In his second inaugural address, where Bush first declared that the main aim of his foreign policy would be to spread democracy and topple tyranny all around the world, he warned dictators that good relations with America "would require the decent treatment of their own people."
Musharraf's proclamation is the definitive proof that no dictator takes—or ever will again take—that warning seriously.
In the same address, Bush spun an appealing but specious syllogism: Tyranny breeds discontent; discontent breeds hatred and terrorism; terrorism threatens U.S. security; therefore, promoting democracy enhances U.S. security. Or, as he put it, "America's vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one."
Musharraf's proclamation, and Bush's muted response to it, proves that interests and ideals, alas, still sometimes clash.
But the most dismaying contradiction appears in the 2006 edition of the official document titled "The National Security Strategy of the United States of America." In his introduction, Bush wrote, "We seek to shape the world, not merely be shaped by it; to influence events for the better instead of being at their mercy."
Musharraf's proclamation reveals that we are not the "sole superpower" that Bush and his associates thought we were; that sometimes the combination of vital interests and mediocre diplomacy put us all too desperately at the mercy of events.
Fred Kaplan is Slate's "War Stories" columnist and author of the book, The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter.
Photograph of Condoleezza Rice and George Bush by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images.