Sunday, November 11, 2007

Military Dictatorship: Administer Only as Needed

Referring to the $10 billion in military and financial aid that the US has given the government of Pakistan since it formally switched sides in late 2001 (Pakistan's military had long backed the Afghan Taliban, as had the US oil firm UNOCAL, now part of Chevron), the State Department's John Negroponte told the US Congress on Wednesday: "Cutting these [aid] programs would send a negative signal to the people of Pakistan." (Jay Solomon, "Musharraf ratchets up diplomacy in the U.S.," The Wall Street Journal [Asia], November 9 - 11, 2007).

Like what? That they might be able to demonstrate without being shot by an American client? That the US actually is opposed to military dictatorship?

Negroponte apparently doesn't want to send such signals to Pakistanis right now, since the US has decided that Musharraf's their man -- that is, at least until he isn't.

But, generally speaking, unlike the old days, given newly matured means of influence, the US no longer holds any special brief for military dictatorship as a form of government (The US Army's training school for foreign officers at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, actually had -- and may still have -- an International Officer Hall of Fame [Eisenhower Hall, General Instruction Building] that featured portraits of graduates who rose to run countries, by whatever means [one of the honorees being Pakistan's old dictator, Gen. Mohammad Zia, featured in a photo with President Reagan]; likewise for the now-renamed School of the Americas, at Fort Benning, Georgia).

The US has found recently that, under the right conditions, civilian/royal/ family dictatorships (like Jordan), military democracies (like Indonesia), or civilian democracies (like Colombia) can all work equally well for Washington and, indeed, that civilian democracy -- well constrained -- tends to be more stable and salable. Today some of those constraints on democracies come from the newer global markets, trade regimes, and IMF/Paris Club - type outfits, and from older factors like the dominance of the local rich, the ever-hovering threat of foreign invasion, and, for that matter, the threat of domestic invasion by the likes of the Hall of Fame men.

Its just that sometimes if you hold a vote the wrong people might win, and then be able to go on and do things you really don't want them to do. Today that actually happens far less frequently than people think. Minimal-choice elections are the rule. And even when seeming rebels win, they tend to behave themselves.

But in certain times, in certain countries, things threaten to get out of hand. And in Washington, cognoscenti sigh and say: 'OK, for this one, we need a tyrant.'

But that is no longer the first choice, the preferred go-to US option, -- whatever small comfort that might be for the anti-dictator elites of the country in question. Its a medicine that Washington basically promises to administer only as needed.

(Washington's declining ability, in recent years, to impose its will overall is a separate -- and not always relevant -- question, since for many millions of poor people around the world, the US still holds its old political/ military/ para-military leverage over them, and US rich people -- by the very fact of their being rich -- still hold their lives in the palms of their hands. See posting of November 8, 2007, "Duduk - Duduk, Ngobrol - Ngobrol. Sitting Around Talking, in Indonesia" for further explanation of this latter point.).