THE DAILY BLADE: Seeing Bhutto Without The Rose-Colored Glasses
Atlantic blogger Matthew Yglesias complains that “A remarkable quantity of dumb stuff has been said since Benazir Bhutto's death” and cites, in particular, this Ipecac Syrup from Washington Post columnist David Ignatius (“"She believed in democracy, freedom and openness - not as slogans but as a way of life. She wasn't perfect; the corruption charges that enveloped her second term as prime minister were all too real. But she remained the most potent Pakistani voice for liberalism, tolerance and change.")
It’s not Bhutto’s courage that is admirable so much as her chutzpah. Think Hillary Clinton, but even more power-mad, scandal-laden - and unbridled by the checks and balances of the U.S. Constitution. While her assassination has been described by editorial writers as “a blow” to democracy in Pakistan, Bhutto was no more a champion of democracy than the country’s current president, Pervez Musharraf. She was a Third World-class champion at corruption, one of the most rapacious leaders in her country’s history; a socialist who nonetheless believed that some animals are more equal than others; and not above harnessing the seething resentment of her followers to stage her own violent coup.
In a WaPo op-ed last month, Pakistani-born Salman Ahmad makes the case that the choice between Musharraf and Bhutto is a false one:
Benazir Bhutto is no savior. The queen of hypocrisy, she has managed to hypnotize Western liberals with her claim to represent progressive elements in the Muslim world. Bhutto is a charlatan. How can she call herself a democrat while also appointing herself head of the Pakistan People’s Party [PPP] for life? Her time as prime minister brought staggering levels of corruption and graft. Bhutto's niece and sister-in-law accuse her of conspiring to murder her own brother, Murtaza, who challenged her power during her second term. She continues to see Pakistan as her personal feudal fiefdom to be plundered. A false prophet of democracy, she threatens to bring back the rule of the gangster rather than the rule of law.
In The New York Times blog, The Lede, Steven R. Weisman, the paper’s New Delhi bureau chief in the mid-1980s, writes: “Benazir not only understood that Pakistan was a chaotic country, she often seemed almost to court chaos as an ally. I believe that, in effect, was her strategy in her current return.” Weisman says that a political ally of hers admitted that she hoped that once she returned to Pakistan, “the people would rise up to support her, there would be violence, and the army would step in and remove President Musharraf for her and bring her into power, perhaps in tandem with another general.” Elections were desirable – as long as the outcome was that she returned to power.
In accordance with her wishes Bhutto's 19-year-old son, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, and her husband, Asif Ali Zardari - who was imprisoned eight years for corruption – have succeed her as co-chairman of the PPP. The party also decided to contest the elections, now postponed until February. If the PPP wins, senior party official Amin Fahim will assume the post. The Wall Street Journal (subscription required) quotes political analyst Abdul Khalique Junejo, who explains that the PPP was forced to look to Bhutto's closest relatives to run the show after her assassination, because "[t]he party has no institutions - it was a one-woman show."
The elder Zardari wasted no time asserting control of the family franchise, reports The Times:
It is clear that Mr. Zardari is going to be regent while his son learns the ropes. Colleagues and friends of the family say Ms. Bhutto did not intend for her son, a student at Oxford, to take on such a demanding political role so soon. …
He stressed that he would not be running for prime minister, saying that the longtime deputy leader of the Pakistan Peoples Party, Makhdoom Amin Fahim, was the party’s candidate.
Yet a senior member of the party, Khawaja Tariq Rahim, predicted that Mr. Zardari would be the kingmaker - consolidating his hold on the party by creating his own clique of advisers - and that some of those close to Ms. Bhutto would fade away.
And so when the heir to the throne finishes his studies he will, naturally, become king. Long live democracy, Benazir Bhutto-style.
This blog post by radio talk show host Michael Medved gives a pithy summation of Bhutto’s career and takes pundits and journalists to task for making her out to be a Pakistani Joan of Arc:
The instant canonization of Benazir Bhutto ought to embarrass the pundits and journalists who now talk only of her saintly aspects - featuring glamorous photos or video from twenty years ago showing the lady at the peak of her stunning beauty. As a matter of fact, her two previous terms as Prime Minister both ended in failure, embarrassment and rejection, along with widespread and credible charges of corruption. It’s natural to remember her best characteristics after her sudden death, and compared to General Musharaf or her Islamist rival Nawaz Sharif she may indeed look enlightened, even heroic, but the posthumous praise on cable news networks sounds embarrassingly overwrought.
Commenting on an op-ed piece she authored for The New York Times after Musharraf declared martial law, WaPo columnist Charles Krauthammer noted that the Harvard-educated, media-savvy Bhutto “knows just how to appeal to America. … she quoted President Bush back to himself: "All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know: The United States will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you."
Krauthammer added that Bhutto “caught Bush's democratic messianism at its apogee, the same inaugural address in which he set ‘the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.’” In other words, she played Bush like a violin – using his naiveté as a means to an end. That end being her reinstallation as Pakistan’s head by any means necessary.
Finally Weisman suggests that Bhutto may not have been the scourge of Islamofascist terrorists that some believe based solely on reading her slick op-ed pieces in U.S. newspapers: “[She] also used to deny knowing anything about Pakistan’s support of the fundamentalist Taliban group in Afghanistan while she was prime minister, or its plans to make a nuclear weapon. ‘She could be steely in denying the obvious.”
Editorial Note: An earlier version of this article was published on Political Mavens December 29, 2007. This post has been updated to reflect relevant events since then.
Pakistan: How The Candidates Dealt With Reality, Not Hypotheticals
Coincidentally, both The New York Times and The Washington Post ran stories about how the suddenness of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto was a sort of pop quiz on foreign policy for the presidential candidates. The Times called it “a ghoulish sort of test: a chance to project leadership and competence - or not - on a fast-moving and nuanced foreign policy issue.” For the WaPo, the bottom line was: “Could they respond cogently and clearly to a sudden foreign policy crisis?” Here’s how they graded the candidates:
† Sen. Joseph Biden (D-DE): “[T]ried to sound presidential as he expressed concern about loose nuclear weapons in
† Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY): “[A]ssert[ed] … personal expertise … private conversations with Bhutto and [Pervez] Musharraf … visits to Pakistan and … concerns about fallout affecting the nation’s nuclear arsenal to the hunt for Osama bin Laden. … [C]alled for an independent investigation into Bhutto’s death.” [The Times]
“[S]erious and substantive. … [R]ightly cited ‘the failure of the Musharraf regime either to deal with terrorism or to build democracy,’ adding that ‘it's time that the United States sided with civil society in
† Fmr. Sen. John Edwards D-NC): “[P]assed with flying colors. … [M]anaged not only to get Musharraf on the phone Thursday but also to deliver a strong message … "to continue on the path to democratization [and] to allow international investigators to come in and determine what happened, what the facts were." [WaPo]
† Fmr. Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R-NY): “[T]hin. … anodyne … slogans about fighting terrorism or ‘jihadism’ while avoiding serious comment about
† Fmr. Gov. Mike Huckabee (R-AR): “Found himself on the defensive on Friday, trying to clarify earlier remarks in which he said the chaos in Pakistan underscored the need to build a fence on the American border with Mexico, and that ‘any unusual activity of Pakistanis coming into the country.’” [The Times]
“[F]lunked abysmally. … [A]ppeared not to know that Musharraf had ended ‘martial law’ two weeks ago. … The cynicism of this attempt to connect Pakistan's crisis with anti-immigrant sentiment was compounded by its astonishing senselessness.” [WaPo]
† Sen. John McCain (R-AZ): “[A]ssert[ed] … personal expertise … private conversations with Bhutto and Musharraf … visits to Pakistan and … concerns about fallout affecting the nation’s nuclear arsenal to the hunt for Osama bin Laden. … [S]ought to convey leader-to-leader chemistry when he called Musharraf a ‘personally scrupulously honest” man who deserved “the benefit of the doubt” on uniting Pakistan.’” [The Times]
“[S]erious and substantive.” [WaPo]
† Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL): “[T]ried to sound like both a leader and a candidate on Pakistan on Friday. At one point, he said he would suspend some military aid to Pakistan if the government did not hold free elections and clamp down on terrorist groups. At another point, though, he suggested that the war in Iraq - which his rivals Clinton, Edwards and others had voted for - had ‘resulted in us taking our eye off the ball’ in pursuing Al Qaeda and bringing stability to the region.” [The Times]
“[C]ommitted an ugly foul. … a far-fetched attempt to connect the killing of Bhutto with Clinton's vote on the war in Iraq. … [M]ade the debatable assertion that the
† Gov. Bill Richardson (D-NM): “[A] former diplomat, made an effort to cast himself as a man of action, meanwhile, calling for Musharraf … to step down. … [C]alled for cutting off all aid to Pakistan.” [The Times]
† Fmr. Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA): “[S]aid that, if he had been president, he would have gathered information from our C.I.A. bureau chief in Islamabad.’ The Central Intelligence Agency has station chiefs, not bureau chiefs.” [The Times]
“[T]hin. … anodyne … slogans about fighting terrorism or ‘jihadism’ while avoiding serious comment about Pakistan.” [WaPo]
Here’s The Stiletto’s take:
Curiously, though Hillary and McCain have visited Pakistan and have both previously spoken directly with Musharraf, he made time to take a call from Edwards. Maybe Edwards the only candidate who thought to pick up the phone? Even so, Musharraf could’ve let a functionary handle the call. Maybe he knows something about Edwards’ prospects the rest of us don’t.
Musharraf is unlikely to be swayed by any calls for independent or international investigators – and certainly not by a demand that he resign - so these exhortations on the part of the candidates amount to little more than grandstanding. The Stiletto is not impressed.
Romney mixing up bureau and station chiefs could have been a mere slip of the tongue, rather than evidence of cluelessness. Huckabee better start boning up on foreign policy – and read a newspaper now and then – but his linking Bhutto’s assassination with U.S. border security is no less a non sequitur than Obama linking it to the Iraq War.
If Richardson is “a man of action,” his actions are too rash and precipitous to be considered presidential; he scares The Stiletto. Obama’s proposal to condition U.S. aid to Pakistan meeting certain benchmarks is more reasonable.
The situation in Pakistan is volatile and it seems to The Stiletto that an anodyne (i.e., neutral) statement is the most prudent way to go – and perhaps the most presidential, as well. The candidates should not say or do anything that will inflame passions in Pakistan, further complicate our diplomatic efforts to induce Musharraf to hold elections, or compromise U.S. interests and objectives - particularly the ongoing hunt for Bin Laden and his associates in Pakistan. The less said, the better.
Is This One Of Those Jobs That “Americans Won’t Do?”: Part V
The Los Angeles Times reports that down South, forged documented aliens compete with lower-income blacks and whites for day labor jobs:
Although U.S.-born workers make up 7% of the day-labor pool nationwide, they account for nearly 20% in the South, according to a 2006 UCLA study.
Indeed, long before the Southern labor landscape was transformed by a tidal surge of Latin American immigrants, blacks and whites populated the "catch-out corners" in Southern communities, whistling and waving after employers in hopes of "catching out on a job" and pocketing a few tax-free dollars. …
Frustration over the Latino presence was palpable in the loud, strained voice of Anthony Curtis, 42, a burly man in an orange parka. "They pick up the majority of the work," he said, motioning toward the Spanish-speaking men huddled nearby. "They dominate the corner."
But when Curtis was asked whether he supported a crackdown on illegal immigration, his voice softened. "That's a hard thing to say," he said. "You say that, you're on a racial-type mind-set. All I'm looking for is equal opportunity." …
Ironically, Curtis’ illegal counterparts had no qualms about making disparaging racial comparisons:
Jose Diaz, 38, an illegal immigrant from
"It's 100% true that we work harder than they do," said Victor Reyes, 45, an illegal immigrant from
By the way, Dec 12th was the one year anniversary of the Immigration and Custom Enforcement raids of Swift & Co. meatpacking plants, which netted more than 250 illegal aliens on the payroll, including roughly 30 who were arrested for identity theft. The next day,