Wednesday, January 02, 2008
Baller convention, free admission:

The savvier among our Very Serious People talk about skillful manipulation of various and sundry fissures in Regime X, between Nations Y and Z or (these days) among Tribes A through F. And on the surface, the importance of the effort in question often gives reason to believe that exploiting such divisions is a sensible course of action. This is high-stakes geopolitics, after all, with direct consequences for economic prosperity and national security. "What, we're going to do nothing?" asks the Very Serious Person, and soon enough her interlocutor has the same question in the back of his mind, stifling his nascent objections.

Rarely factored into the calculation is the idea that the U.S.'s chosen vehicles for such-and-such strategy of division -- our proxies -- are playing us. That they know us better than we know them. And that they're more than adept at exploiting our desire to see Something Happen to advance their divergent agenda. Barnett Rubin, in what's already a contender for blog post of the year, doesn't quite use this prism to explain the circumstances leading up to the murder of Benazir Bhutto, but it's embedded within his insight:

The leaders of the Pakistan[i] military, of which Musharraf is a typical example, do not see themselves primarily as "pro-American moderates" battling with "anti-American extremists." They see themselves as responsible for building a powerful militarized state in Pakistan representing the heritage of Islamic empires in South and Central Asia against the threat from India and the selfish maneuvers of politicians (not necessarily in that order.) In the course of doing so, they have enriched themselves and gained control of much of the economy and civilian administration. The military has always aspired to control the judiciary as well, and Musharraf has now restored to that institution the supine illegitimacy that it possessed under General Zia. This means of course that the use of institutional power for private gain by the military is legal (as the judiciary has no power over the military), while similar use of institutional power by civilians is "corruption."

The military allies with the U.S. because that is the only way to get the weapons and money for their national security project and to prevent the U.S. from aligning with India. It has nothing to do with "moderation." The "pro-American moderate" Pakistan military has used the "anti-American extremist" jihadis for its national security project.

Sometimes we really don't have any choice except to intervene in unfamiliar disputes, from internecine politics of Country X to tribal wars in Failed State Y. What we can't afford to do is fool ourselves into thinking that we're not walking into a hustle, or that we know more about a hustler's corner than he does, or that the hustler is motivated by the goodness of his heart or the wisdom of our arguments.

--Spencer Ackerman