There are plenty of things to be worried about these days, but few of them are as frightening as what is happening in Pakistan. Right after Sept. 11, 2001, when President George W. Bush saddled up to fight the war on terror and "smoke out" Osama bin Laden, then-Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage is reported to have given Pakistan's military chief an ultimatum: If Pervez Musharraf didn't cooperate in the war against al-Qaida and the Taliban, the United States would bomb his country "back to the Stone Age."
Naturally, this brought our two countries much closer together. Bush looked into Musharraf's eyes and found a soul mate in the war against the "evildoers." Never mind that Musharraf is a dictator who doesn't even wear a disguise " we love dictators when they are useful, and we hang them when they're not. As for democracy, this administration couldn't care less what government it cozies up to, or what that government does to its own people, constitution, courts or the right to dissent. Oh, just for clarification, this is Pakistan I'm talking about.
Bush called Musharraf "my buddy," and that is about as deep as it goes. In the bipolar Bush brain there is no nuance, no grasp of the dangers of simpleminded foreign policy " not even a hint that becoming a Bush "bubba" is the kiss of death.
Musharraf has never been a dependable ally against terrorism, but he plays it both ways, cashing in on billions of U.S. aid while taking his cue from democracy's Houdini. Once the press is muzzled and the opposition destroyed, the last piece of the authoritarian puzzle is always control of the courts. They can either put you in power (Florida), or remove you from office (as Pakistan's judiciary was about to do in a ruling that could have invalidated Musharraf's election). If you can't appoint your personal pick for life, then arrest them until they stop behaving impartially.
Meanwhile, bin Laden makes a videotape whenever he needs to help Bush win an election, and the Taliban in Pakistan is stronger than ever. Afghanistan is lost, Turkey threatens to invade Iraq (surely not without a U.N. resolution?) and Iran's crazy-like-a-fox president is enjoying celebrity status.
Nightmare of nightmares, Pakistan has dozens of nuclear warheads that are ready to fire, and in the current crisis, nobody is in control of the country. In a recent New York Times, one headline read "Pakistan Rounds up Musharraf's Political Foes," and just below it "U.S. Is Likely to Continue Aid to Pakistan." How's that for spreading democracy around the world?
Anyone who is even remotely paying attention has gotten the point by now, and that's why American credibility is at an all-time low. Our only ethic is economic and political self-interest " period. If a democracy can deliver for us, fine. If it's pseudo-democracy that carries water for us, let's not quibble. If it's an outright dictatorship, then let's try to be "constructively engaged" until we decide whether its part of the axis of evil, or part of the axis of necessary evil. No wonder we keep waking up to find a horse's head in our bed.
"You're doing a heck of a job, Pervez." Someday we'll put you in the dictator's hall of fame, along with Augusto Pinochet, Jorge Videla, Suharto, the Shah of Iran, Saddam Hussein, Somoza, Mobutu Sese Seko, the Saud family, François "Papa Doc" Duvalier, Fulgencio Batista and many more. Just like the president said in his inaugural address: "All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know: The United States will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors."
Unless, of course, there is money to be made.
Meyers is minister of Mayflower Congregational Church in Oklahoma City and professor of rhetoric in the philosophy department at Oklahoma City University. His sermons can be heard at 9:30 a.m. Sundays on KOKC-AM 1520.