The Proper U.S. Role in Pakistan


Should the U.S. government attempt to be a major player in resolving the Pakistan crisis intensified by the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto? One presidential candidate suggested sending in U.S. troops. Others had milder thoughts. My advice: Stand back, stay cool, and consider offering recommendations or taking other action only if the established governmental authority requests it.

The status of Pakistan as a nuclear weapon power is a special reason for restraint by the United States. Identifying and sequestering nuclear weapons is a massive, dangerous undertaking requiring the full attention of a large number of well-trained troops.

Whether President Pervez Musharraf should stay or go should not be settled in Washington. Pakistan will hopefully have a fair election soon, but such decisions should be left to domestic political forces. The U.S. should consider intervention only if our government will be a part of a multinational mission authorized by an international institution.

America needs to shed the persistent but false notion that foreign countries welcome our guidance and intervention. For one thing, they recognize the flagrant hypocrisy in our foreign policies, past and present.

Early in the Eisenhower administration, U.S. intelligence services headed by Kermit Roosevelt conspired with the British to overthrow a popularly elected government in Iran and replace it with the imperial shah. The purpose was to retain U.S. and British control of Iran’s oil reserves. U.S.-Iranian relations have been rocky ever since.

For 40 years the U.S. government has conspired against the human rights of mostly Muslim Palestinians by giving unqualified support to Israel’s territorial expansion, a bloody outrage that spurs anti-American passions in Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, and other nations where Muslims predominate.

National pride is a powerful emotion, even in citizens who believe their country is poorly led. Almost everyone resents criticism and interference from abroad. How would we feel if France or Russia tried to tell us how to behave?

In my 40-year experience as a close observer of U.S. foreign policy and policymakers, including several years on a congressional committee specializing in nuclear issues, I have concluded that the U.S. government should routinely treat heads of government in public utterances with respect for the office they hold, carefully avoiding any appearance of self-righteousness. We should offer criticism and unsolicited advice only in private councils.

The Pakistan crisis is a part of a larger question. Does the problem of terrorism require the U.S. government to police the world?

In 2002, grossly overreacting to 9/11, President George W. Bush approved radical changes in our national security doctrines. The changes effectively trashed the doctrine of national sovereignty by declaring the right of the U.S. government to intervene with acts of war against the territory of any nation where our government perceived a threat to America’s security. The new doctrines also announced an administration decision to maintain a system of U.S. military bases and forces sufficient to police the world. These doctrines destroyed the majesty and moral authority of the presidency.

Rescinding these doctrines and hoisting once more to pre-eminence the banner of justice as our national goal should be the top priority of America’s next president.


Reprinted with permission from the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs (WRMEA)