Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Coup in Pakistan/Democracy in Venezuela

So, Gen. Musharraf (I refuse to call him President.) has called a "state of emergency," suspended the constitution, and moved to crush dissent. Meanwhile, in America, Pres. Bush (I wish I didn't have to call him President.) has half-heartedly rattled his saber while simultaneously patting Musharraf on the back. Surprising? I wish.

Far too often, American leaders have preferred strongmen over democracy, despite the U.S.'s oft-repeated rhetoric about spreading freedom around the globe. From the Shah of Iran to Saddam Hussein to Augusto Pinochet to the House of Saud to Pedro Carmona to Pervez Musharraf, our nation has a habit of supporting brutal dictators, even going so far as to participate in the overthrow of democratically elected governments. Democracy is messy and unpredictable. Strongmen are easier to bribe and control. (Or so we've deluded ourselves into thinking.)

Bush's willingness to play with strongmen has been evident since he looked Vladimir Putin in the eye, decided he "liked the guy" and gave the Russian autocrat a "cute" Frat-boy nickname. Or maybe, it started when he hosted the Taliban in Texas. For sure, he's been willing to pour money into Musharraf's coffers despite the fact that he illegally seized control of Pakistan's government in 1999.

Will Musharraf's abandonment of any pretense of democracy change matters? Hardly. Bush has made it clear that he wants Musharraf and the military in charge of Pakistan. I doubt he'll change his mind simply because Musharraf has done what Bush has plans to do here in the event of a second major terrorist attack.

It is interesting, though, to compare Bush's response to Musharraf with his response to Hugo Chavez. Duly elected by his people multiple times, Chavez has the backing of most Venezuelans and much of Latin America. During his presidency, he has created one of the most democratic nations in the Americas and through democratic processes, given Venezuela a new constitution. Time will tell whether Venezuela will become even more democratic still or whether Hugo Chavez will become too enamored with power to cede it when his time comes. Recent events seem to indicate that the latter is more likely.

Bush's response to a duly elected president? Although the 2002 coup that ousted Chavez from power lasted only 48 hours, the Bush administration managed to acknowledge the government of Pedro Carmona in record time. (The U.S. was the only country to do so.) It is more than coincidental that Carmona and other coup leaders had been meeting with Bush in the weeks prior to their brief but violent takeover of Venezuela's elected government. In fact, the Bush administration was intimately involved in the plot. Since then, the Bush administration has regularly demonized Chavez, secretly funded opposition parties, pursued policies of "containment" and ordered increased CIA activity in the country.

So, the president who "plans" to spread freedom around the globe is patting a brutal, repressive dictator on the back while plotting the overthrow of a democratically elected president. How I wish that was a surprise.

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