Bush's double standard

September 06, 2002|By Brahma Chellaney

NEW DELHI, INDIA -- The more justifications President Bush puts forward to launch military strikes on Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's regime, the more he exposes the contradictions in his foreign policy. And the more he risks needlessly stoking anti-U.S. sentiment in the world.

Mr. Bush is right that Mr. Hussein, a leader who gassed members of Iraq's Kurdish minority, epitomizes evil and that his ouster, by whatever means, is essential to resolving the 11-year-old humanitarian crisis confronting Iraqis and bring their nation back into the international mainstream. If Iraq were reintegrated with the world, it would send oil prices tumbling, benefiting the global economy.

But Mr. Bush is wrong in seeking to impose a unilateral solution to the Iraq problem. He mistakenly believes his foreign policy can apply different standards in pursuit of politically expedient, short-term objectives without damaging America's global leadership and its anti-terror campaign.

Just as his swagger on Iraq contrasts sharply with his sweet talk with other dictatorships, Mr. Bush's differential calculus in foreign policy is most evident on the key issues of democracy, terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.

Even as Mr. Bush seeks to publicly build a case for declaring war on Iraq for democracy's sake, he has openly winked at Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf's latest action in proclaiming 29 constitutional amendments in one stroke to crown himself virtually the emperor of Pakistan. Mr. Musharraf enthroned himself even as his continued export of terror keeps his country perilously close to war with India.

Asked to comment on this constitutional assault, Mr. Bush did not utter a word in criticism as he praised Mr. Musharraf for being "still tight with us on the war against terror" and promised disingenuously to "continue to work with our friends and allies to promote democracy."

If democracy is good (and necessary) for Iraqis, why is the same not applicable to Pakistanis? If Mr. Bush really wants South Asian peace and stability, he cannot overlook history: Every Pakistani military ruler has waged war with India, and the only occasions when the two neighbors have come close to peace have been during the shorter periods of democratic rule in Islamabad.

The more powers Mr. Musharraf has usurped, the more unpopular at home and the more dependent on his army he has become. That in turn makes it more likely he will ratchet up hostilities with India. With cross-border infiltration of Islamic extremists from Pakistan into India rising and Mr. Musharraf making belligerent statements on Kashmir, the dangers of a full-fledged war between the two neighbors are again growing.

Yet no ruler in the world has benefited more from 9/11 than Mr. Musharraf, who presides over a nation that is the main sanctuary of al-Qaida, Taliban and Kashmiri terrorists and a possible hideout of Osama bin Laden. In fact, Mr. Musharraf sustains his dictatorship with U.S. financial and political aid, as did the late Pakistani dictator, Gen. Mohammed Zia ul-Haq, who spurred on the rise of the forces of holy war.

Mr. Bush insists that Iraq, a starving, humbled nation whose various projects on weapons of mass destruction were methodically dismantled by U.N. inspectors over seven years before they were expelled in 1998, poses a continuing nuclear threat. But Mr. Bush has not said a word about Pakistan's clandestine nuclear and missile cooperation with China and North Korea that U.S. intelligence continues to track.

Mr. Bush's message to India is that the world's largest democracy should not retaliate against state-sponsored terrorism and nuclear blackmail. In fact, to block that possibility, Washington has supplied Pakistan with more than $175 million worth of military equipment in recent months, including badly needed replacement parts to get the Pakistani F-16 fighter fleet back in full service.

Mr. Bush needs to be reminded that consistency is a virtue in foreign policy, especially when America's unprecedented primacy in the world calls for responsible leadership and prudence.

U.S. foreign policy cannot build an international coalition on matters of peace and war by coddling one exploitive dictatorship that sponsors terrorism while threatening war on another exploitive dictatorship that sponsors terrorism.

Nor can Mr. Bush strengthen U.S. global leadership by demanding democracy in enemy states while lubricating friendly dictatorships, by differentiating between good and bad terrorism and by seeing a threat from potential nuclear weapons while ignoring existing nuclear blackmail and terror.

Brahma Chellaney is a professor of strategic studies at the privately funded Center for Policy Research in New Delhi.

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