November 5, 2007 [LINK / comment]

"Auto-coup" in Pakistan

To a Western person, the idea of a military leader declaring emergency rule and suspending the constitution seems a little strange. (Doesn't he already have the power?) But that's precisely what Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf did on Saturday, in effect launching a "coup" against the other branches of government. (It's basically the same thing that Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori did in April 1992: the "auto-golpe." Musharraf defended his actions on the grounds that the Islamic extremists were getting out of control, but most of the people who are protesting against him are middle class lawyers and other professionals. See BBC.

President Bush and other administration officials have condemned Musharraf's takeover, urging a quick return to democratic constitutional rule, but their opinions are not likely to sway him very much. Musharraf sees himself caught between a rock and a hard place, and his choice to use brute force may backfire badly if Pakistan's armed forces get bogged down in the strife between political factions. Pakistan has seldom enjoyed much stability or progress in its 60-year history, lagging well behind its bigger neighbor India in several respects. If the government fails to restore order soon, it will call into question the (tacit) reason why many countries are trying to acquire nukes: It supposed makes the incumbent government look much stronger. But this added prestige tends to wear off quickly.

What should the U.S. government do about the situation in Pakistan? For the time being, not very much. If we cut back on foreign aid to Pakistan, Musharraf's moderate government would probably fall very quickly. (Forget Sen. Barack Obama's idea of sending troops into Pakistan.) U.S. diplomatic leverage has declined in recent years, and if we try but fail to pressure President Musharraf to make substantial concessions, we will lose prestige. What is called for in a situation like this is slow, steady pressure.

Poor Condi Rice

The possible breakdown of order in a nuclear-armed country that has long been one of our allies (even if not a very reliable once) raises questions about the Bush administration's overly idealistic and sentimental approach to foreign policy. (When is the last time you heard a top official speaking candidly about U.S. national interests? In the Post Sunday Outlook section, Fred Kaplan digs into the tragic failure of Condoloeeza Rice's tenure as Secretary of State. He concludes that Condi got caught up in the post-9/11 frenzy and abandoned her realist intellectual roots. That is a syndrome I can identify with, I'm sorry to say.

Illegal alien driver licenses

That's what New York Attorney General Elliott Spitzer wants, and apparently Hillary Clinton agrees. The argument is that giving driver licenses to illegal aliens would help the federal government keep tabs on people who are currently living underground. See Well, that is certainly a pragmatic step forward, but will ultimately be futile unless complementary reform programs are enacted. But the short-term political advantages pale in comparison to the savings that could be realized if entitlements programs were radically scaled back, which would dry up demand for illegal laborers.

Voters to Stop Sprawl - Prince William County has endorsed Corey Stewart for reelection, but the low traffic numbers on their Web page make one wonder how influential that group is. In any case, it illustrates the connection between uncontrolled immigration and uncontrolled suburban sprawl. "Green" activists should favor getting a handle on the immigration situation in this country.

Sunday's Washington Post explained why the protests by the "immigrant rights" activists in Prince William County backfired: "Clash of Cultures," in which the Latino side unwittingly frightened native-born Americans half to death with their intimidating tactics. I think exposure to other cultures and social customs is a very healthy thing, in most cases, but I'm pretty sure that most Americans don't want our country to follow in the political footsteps of often-unstable Latin American countries such as Colombia or Argentna.