The news out of Pakistan isn’t good this morning. Besieged simultaneously by militant Islamicists and by middle class calls for democratic reforms, Musharraf has been walking a tightrope without a net ever since he took power in a coup. I don’t pretend to know even a fraction of the intricacies within the country, but what I do know is that America absolutely needed a stable and friendly Pakistan for two very important reasons:
The first is obvious. Pakistan has the bomb. The consequences are horrific if the country splinters and control of its nuclear arsenal is lost.
The second reason is geographic. Look at a map of Afghanistan and tell me how you would propose that America fight Al Qaeda there without the aid of Pakistan? There are only three ways into the landlocked Asian country: through Pakistan, through Iran, or over a very long route through Russia and the former Soviet Stans. If, as the Democratic rhetoric goes, Afghanistan is a more important fight than Iraq, then securing the assistance of a stable Pakistan is a necessary precondition.
I don’t know how quickly the situation in Pakistan will stabilize or deteriorate. Nor do I know how quickly the situation there will translate to the American electorate here. But what I do know translates well is an overall disgust with having to even concern ourselves with that part of the world.
The reason why we are in the Middle East is oil. And the reason why rogue Middle Eastern madman are internationally dangerous is the money they get from oil. The economic simplistics say that we just need to stop using oil and the foreign policy simplistics tell us that we just need to disengage entirely from that part of the world. Neither group ever offers a viable path to accomplishing their goals, but in the end both are right.
In a response to a commenter on an earlier thread I bemoaned the fact that the biggest rationale offered for reducing American oil consumption is global warming. At best GW fears are overstated. At worst it is total bunk. That the environmental movement has pinned its entire raison d’etre on global warming is ludicrous. If GW goes away as a viable theory (I’m predicting that it soon will), so too will the only accepted justification for weaning America from oil, the revenue from which makes possible the destabilizing regimes in the Middle East.
This is an area of failure for President Bush. I remember arguing to a colleague just a few days after 9-11 that three things were going to happen: We would build nuclear power plants again, we would immediately drill ANWR, and we would immediately raise CAFE standards. I was wrong on all three counts. I’m as small government, and laissez-faire capitalist as they come, but getting America off of our foreign oil diet should have been a national defense priority beginning September 12th. We’ve lost six years arguing about global warming instead.
Bhutto’s assassination is an opportunity to bring this domestic argument to the fore. We must elminate our dependence on foreign oil, but we can’t do that in the simplistic way that Democrats offer, which is to just set carbon consumption goals, spend billions of taxpayer dollars, and wish the problem away. And we must extricate ourselves from the Middle East, but not in the Paul-Kucinich way, which is to simply pretend that we have no foreign policy interest there even while we enjoy a huge economic benefit from the oil we use from the region.
Only one such candidate recognizes this reality. It is evident in how he frames the issue on his webpage. He doesn’t call it “Environment” or “Global Warming” or “Energy Policy”. Instead it is Energy Security. And that candidate’s name is Fred Thompson.