Can The Iraqis Hold It Together?

Rare is the day that I find that Thomas Friedman has written something actually worth reading, but he manages to deliver an even-handed and even insightful look into the end of the war in Iraq. Of course, he cannot resist putting in a few digs at President Bush, but overall his message is true: the future of Iraq will be decided by whether the Iraqi people can pull their country together.

Friedman writes:

Iraq had its strategic benefits: the removal of a genocidal dictator; the defeat of Al Qaeda there, which diminished its capacity to attack us; the intimidation of Libya, which prompted its dictator to surrender his nuclear program (and helped expose the Abdul Qadeer Khan nuclear network); the birth in Kurdistan of an island of civility and free markets and the birth in Iraq of a diverse free press. But Iraq will only be transformational if it truly becomes a model where Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds, the secular and religious, Muslims and non-Muslims, can live together and share power.

As you can see in Syria, Yemen, Egypt, Libya and Bahrain, this is the issue that will determine the fate of all the Arab awakenings. Can the Arab world develop pluralistic, consensual politics, with regular rotations in power, where people can live as citizens and not feel that their tribe, sect or party has to rule or die? This will not happen overnight in Iraq, but if it happens over time it would be transformational, because it is the necessary condition for democracy to take root in that region. Without it, the Arab world will be a dangerous boiling pot for a long, long time.

Friedman thinks that Iraq was a war where the U.S. and Iraq both paid too high a price, but he’s right in pointing out that the war had its benefits. Without the invasion of Iraq, we would not have seen the wave of revolutions across the Arab world that we’re seeing now. The visions of Iraqis going to the polls and choosing their own leaders left an indelible mark on the region. From Tunis to Tehran others in the Arab and Muslim world saw Iraq hold peaceful elections and wondered “why can’t I do this?” It took years to come to fruition, and it is far too early to see whether the Arab Spring will lead to a victory for Islamists or a real democratic movement (or some combination of both). But in the end, one thing was right: the invasion of Iraq marked a turning point.

That’s where the critics of the war in Iraq kept getting it wrong: they assumed that the U.S. and its allies went to war for one reason and one reason only: weapons of mass destruction. But wars are never that simple: and while WMDs were chosen as the primary causus belli for the war, that wasn’t the only one. The war in Iraq was intended to be a transformational moment for the region. It was, but it happened on a far longer timetable than the planners of the war perhaps thought.

I also take issue with the idea that the war was waged “incompetently.” The fact is that we took out Saddam Hussein in a matter of days. Yes, we made plenty of mistakes in the post-war period. But that’s not because the U.S. was incompetent. It’s because the U.S. has not done anything like what it had to do in Iraq before in its history. The U.S. had never engaged in nation building on a scale like it had in Iraq. The analogies to the Marshall Plan ignore the fact that while Europe was devastated by World War II, it has had a tradition of democracy and civil society that has barely existed in Iraq. Of course we were going to screw things up: the most important thing was that we adapted to the situation as it happened. Sadly, the Bush Administration was slower to adapt than it should have, but the fact was that Bush’s embrace of the “surge” (against the political conventional wisdom) was the right choice, which even Friedman now admits.

If we had done what John Kerry would have had us do: abandon Iraq early and leave it to al-Qaeda and Iran, who knows what the Middle East would look like today. Iraq would have been ripped apart by a combination of al-Qaeda and Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias.

The planners of the surge were right in separating Iraq’s Sunnis from al-Qaeda. Once al-Qaeda in Iraq was destroyed by the joint U.S.-Iraqi forces, Iraq’s Shi’ites no longer felt the need to rally around groups like Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army. Instead of trying to force a “political solution” without changing the reality on the ground, President Bush and the U.S. military set the groundwork for a political solution to happen on its own: something that could have only happened once al-Qaeda was defeated.

Now it’s ultimately up to the Iraqis to decide their own fate. The U.S. has left Iraq, and while leaving so completely without at least establishing basing rights in Iraq was an utter failure of the Obama Administration, the mission in Iraq was going to have to transition to Iraqi control at some point. We could not provide a security umbrella in Iraq—otherwise the Iraqis would have had no incentive to develop their own security umbrella.

But there is still a problem: President Obama got his wish. We’re out of Iraq now. And now President Obama will basically ignore Iraq—not that any of the Republican candidates care to engage there either. But right now, as Friedman notes, Iraq is in a state of transition that could either lead to a chance at a lasting democracy or a renewed civil war, At the very least we should be active in getting both sides to negotiate rather than start to rearm sectarian militias.

Right now, Iraq’s future is in grave trouble: the Shi’ite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has accused Iraq’s Sunni Vice President of being involved in terrorism and is threatening to upset the delicate political balance that has kept the peace in Iraq. The arrest warrant for Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi threatens to split off the Sunni Iraqiya bloc, and since al-Hasmemi fled to Iraqi Kurdistan, it may lead to tension with the Kurds as well. If that happens, then Iraq could all too easily fall into civil war once again.

If President Bush were President, there would be extensive shuttle diplomacy going on to cool these tensions: but President Obama seems blithely uninterested in the long-term peace in Iraq. That mistake threatens to undo everything that more than 4,000 brave Americans fought and died to achieve.

We did pay a high price to bring a hope for democracy to Iraq, but what was achieved there could be transformative for the region and for the world. But if we neglect Iraq, we risk losing everything. It may be ultimately up to the Iraqis to shape their own future, but we cannot pretend that we’re not interested in the results, and we should not abandon them when we could help them create and maintain a stable and civil society.

After Egypt’s Revolution

This weekend, the government of Egypt began to collapse. After a week of unrest, last Friday saw the beginning of the end for the dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak. Following in the footsteps of the revolution in Tunisia, the Egyptian people have risen up and kicked out their incompetent and autocratic leadership.

This may sound like a wonderful thing on the surface, but the trust is far more complicated. The likely winner of a free Egyptian election won’t be liberal democrats, but the radical Muslim Brotherhood. Barry Rubin looks at the likely outcomes of the Lotus Revolution and finds that the radicals have the upper edge. Remember, Egypt is the birthplace of radical Islam. Sayid Qutb, the man who inspired the modern Islamist ideology, was an Egyptian. Hamas is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood. The number two man in al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, was Egyptian, So too was Mohammad Atta, the ringleader of the September 11 attacks. Egypt has long been a hotbed of radicalism, and polling shows that many Egyptians are largely sympathetic to Islamist ideology.

Protesters in front of Cairo's Egyptian Museum

Protesters in front of Cairo’s Egyptian Museum

What was even more distressing was the risk of Egypt falling into anarchy. Some of world’s greatest treasures are contained in Cairo’s Egyptian Museum. The museum is next to the headquarters of Mubarak’s political party, the NDP. Already, two priceless Egyptian mummies were vandalized in the chaos. But the Egyptian people took the security of their ancient past into their own hands: a human chain of Cairenes protected the museum and arrested looters until the Army could arrive and secure the building. Many in Egypt have long learned that the only way to keep the peace has been to band together into neighborhood associations: the police would not or could protect protect them. Those ad hoc organizations have helped to save lives and keep order during the revolution.

Who Will FIll The Vacuum?

It appears clear that the Mubarak regime will not survive for very long. The Egyptian people have spoken, and if the Army continues to support the protests, Mubarak will have no choice to flee or die. But the question then becomes about how will fill the power vacuum?

Nobel laureate Mohammad El-Baradei appears the most likely front-runner. El-Baradei was the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, and a well-known figure. He is also closely tied to the Muslim Brotherhood. If El-Baradei gains power, the Muslim Brotherhood gains power right with him. At worst, this would make Egypt like Gaza: a radicalized hotbed of Islamist that would pose a serious threat to the stability of the region, and could spark a war with Israel. At best, the Muslim Brotherhood has to compromise and support democratic reform. But given the attitudes of the Egyptian people, a secular government seems unlikely.

The big question is how the military will react. The military is the most widely respected institution in Egyptian society. If they throw in with the Islamists, then Egypt could look like another Gaza. But if the military decides to enforce democratic norms, Egypt could look much more like democratic Turkey. The Egyptian military, thankfully, tends to be less Islamist and more nationalist. A military government, strangely enough, could be more democratic than a populist government led by someone like El-Baradei.

Ultimately, the question is up in the air. There is even the possibility that the Muslim Brotherhood and the military will end up fighting for dominance, leading to civil war. This outcome seems unlikely know, but the idea that the Mubarak regime would suddenly collapse in a popular revolution didn’t seem very likely just a few weeks ago.

President Obama: Voting ‘Present’ Again

Here in America, this crisis has exposed just how weak American foreign policy has become under President Obama. The lack of a coordinated response from the Obama Administration was inexcusable. First we had Vice President Biden saying that Mubarak was not a dictator and should not step down—a statement that was both irresponsible and idiotic. For one, Mubarak most certainly is a dictator, if an American one. Second, it signaled to the Egyptian people that the American government was in bed with the regime they were dying to overturn. The damage that statement caused was severe, and may have ripple effects for years.

President Obama was hardly better. There was a time when American leaders were unabashedly and unapologetically in favor of democracy worldwide. While President Obama’s statements on Friday night gave lip service to universal human right, the US government has done little to show support for the people of Egypt. Already, there are comparisons between Obama’s handling of Egypt and Jimmy Carter’s handling of Iran in 1979. The feckless response to the Lotus Revolution demonstrates American weakness abroad at a crucial time in the Middle East. Democratic movements across the region know that America will do little to protect them: Islamist ideologues know that America will do little to stop them. It is a recipe for disaster.

The Future of the Middle East Is Being Written Now

The revolutionary fervor that began in Tunisia is beginning to spread: there have been protests in Jordan and Yemen as well. But these revolutionary movements aren’t all democratic: many are Islamist movements seeking to further isolate the region from Western democratic influence. What we are seeing could be a flowering of democracy or a regional descent into radicalism. And we are sitting on the sidelines.

American policy should be clear: we will not directly intervene in the region without being asked, but we are not neutral. We support democratic movements over Islamist ones, and we will no longer prop up convenient autocrats like Hosni Mubarak.

When Mubarak first came to power, supporting the Egyptian regime made sense: they were willing to support peace with Israel and prevent the outbreak of another regional war. But the dynamics of the region have changed: autocracy feeds Islamism.

Before this revolution, the only place where an Egyptian could speak against the regime was in the mosques. The Muslim Brotherhood was the only group that could stand against the Mubarak regime. If Egypt is to democratize, it must develop civil society where there has been virtually none. That will not happen within a few weeks, a few months, or even a few years. Democracy is a process, not an event, and it will take generations for a democratic culture to develop in Egypt.

That is why sitting back and doing nothing is not an option. If democracy is to flower, it has to be supported, both internally and externally. That means the United States must be willing to engage with Egyptian pro-democracy activists and work to support civil society across Egypt and the region. But if all we are going to do is sit around and wait to see how things shake out, we will miss opportunities to shape events in favor of democracy and human rights.

President Obama said all the right words on Friday, but the right words are not enough. If we want a free and peaceful Middle East we have to support those who will make the Middle East more free and more peaceful. That means becoming more, not less, involved in the region. We don’t have to be heavyhanded in our treatment of the region, but benign neglect will not help anyone.

Right now, Egypt is at a turning point. The future of the region is being written now, and if Egypt tilts towards democracy and pluralism, it could continue to spill over across the region. But if Egypt becomes another Islamist theocracy, the democratic dreams of people from Beirut to Tehran could be crushed. As a believer in liberal democracy, I would like to think that democracy will win out. But pragmatically, I know that democracy is a rarity in human history: the human condition is much more likely to be in bondage to autocrats or tyrants than consensual governments.

But ultimately, the fate of Egypt will be written by the Egyptian people themselves. And they have shown that they will not live with the autocratic regimes that were once common across the region. The rest of the world can either recognize the new reality of the Middle East or be steamrolled by it.

The Other War In Iraq

Instapundit has a lengthy note from a Colonel in Baghdad on the recent fighting in Basra. He observes that the driving force in that conflict was not Moqtada al-Sadr, but the lack of services being provided by the Iraqi Government. Indeed, that highlights a bigger issue: over the long term, the biggest problem in Iraq isn’t terrorism. Al-Qaeda in Iraq has been largely crushed. Moqtada al-Sadr was forced to cry uncle and is viewed by all as an Iranian stooge. While there are still acts of violence in Iraq, they’re less and less the sort of organized attacks that we’ve seen over the course of the war.

The real issue is going to be corruption. The biggest roadblock to democratization is corruption, and it’s endemic in Iraq. The Iraqis have a source of revenue in oil, and it’s enough to sustain their development. The problem is without a system of accountability and transparency, that money won’t go to where it’s needed.

Over time, we’re going to need a new “surge”—but one that focuses on working with the Iraqi government to stop corruption. We’re in a unique position to help, and working alongside the Iraqis we need to develop systems that help make sure money goes to where it is truly needed and those that steal from the Iraqi treasury are brought to justice.

Most NGOs focus on issues other than helping improve the rule of law in foreign nations—and it seems counterintuitive to think that accountants rather than aid workers can truly help developing nations. Yet, if a nation is to transition successfully from autocracy to democracy, fiscal accountability is absolutely crucial. Many democratizing states fail to democratize because the government does not act with accountability to the people, which causes the people to lose faith in government.

The US needs to work with NGOs like Transparency International and the Iraqi government to create a more democratic and accountable political and financial system for the Iraqi people. We have made great strides in terms of fighting terrorism and providing security—yet that alone won’t be enough to make Iraq a strong and functional nation. The future of Iraq hinges on the ability of the government to provide critical services while remaining accountable to the people. If it cannot do this, then the Iraqi people will be forced to turn to militia leaders for help, and Iraqi society will fragment. This does not have to come to pass, but in order to prevent it we have to start looking beyond basic security and towards governmental reform.

Building A Government From The Ground Up

Bill Ardolino takes a deep look inside the tumultuous politics of Iraq in The Long War Journal. He gives a level of analysis we never see in the mainstream media, delving deeply into the structure of the Iraqi government and examining what is working and what is not:

While divisive politics and naked sectarian interest receive most of the blame for Iraq’s political inertia, government inefficiency, corruption, and administrative inexperience arguably pose larger problems.

“We think our system is bureaucratic … their system is even more bureaucratic. It tends to be a paper-based system. … They tend to require lots of signatures from different technocrats along the way. They tend not to delegate much,” said Brigadier General Terry Wolff, the Special Assistant to the President and the Senior Director for Iraq and Afghanistan Policy Implementation on the National Security Council.

As an example, a paper-based system of requisitions adds layers of difficulty for various provincial police headquarters getting equipment from the Ministry of the Interior. Thus, both Western observers and police officers in a Sunni province like Anbar might view equipment shortages as the product of sectarian hostility by the Shia-dominated federal government, when much of the delay is really administrative.

Iraq’s problems are becoming less visible, but the Iraqi government still has a long way to develop. The Iraqis are returning to the model they know, which is the corruption and centralization of the Ba’athist regime. It will take some time for their to be the political transitions necessary for Iraq to have a truly stable government. That will mean clearing out corruption in the various ministries and streamlining bureaucratic processes. It will also require the Iraqis to have a view of government that promotes democratic accountability rather than the centralization of the Ba’athist era.

Those are all multi-generational changes. The Iraqis have not had anything even close to democratic government in at least a generation. The transition from dictatorship to democracy is never easy, and it cannot be accomplished in the space of a mere 5 years. The Iraqis are making some progress, but that progress is slow. What matters is not that the Iraqi people have a fully functional government quickly, but that they carefully start building the legal, political and administrative foundations for good government.

Ardolino’s look inside the Iraqi government gives us an idea of what’s going right and what is going wrong. In order to understand what’s going on in Iraq, we can’t merely rely on the crude stereotypes in the mainstream media. Iraq is far more diverse, far more vibrant, and far more complex than the caricature presented by the media. This unique look inside the Iraqi government gives us a perspective we might otherwise never gets, and will give future researchers and political scientists an opportunity to see the process of democratic development in a way we’ve never been able to see before.

UPDATE: It’s Bill Ardolino, not Bill Roggio. Mea maxima culpa.

The Problem With Pakistan

Pajamas Media has an excellent roundup on the current state of martial law in Pakistan after President Pervez Musharraf arrested members of the Supreme Court and shut down parts of the Pakistani press. The “state of emergency,” now in its third day represents a potential crisis in the region that will have major implications for the war against al-Qaeda and America’s democratization policy.

The problem is this: while we don’t like military dictatorships, the alternative in Pakistan is not very good. Pervez Musharraf is hardly a poster boy for democracy, but he’s also responsible for combatting extremism in Pakistan and ensuring that tensions with India didn’t result in a nuclear exchange. The two things we definitely don’t want in Pakistan is a radical Islamist government who might use nukes or a radical secular nationalist government that might use nukes. Our primary interest is ensuring that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons don’t fall into the wrong hands. Pervez Musharraf, even though he’s acting like any other dictator, is at least someone who’s unlikely to spark World War III. The same cannot necessarily be said of others.

Depending on who you ask, this crisis began either when Pakistan’s Supreme Court was about to rule against Musharraf’s position as head of the army and President or when radical Islamists started causing trouble in Pakistan’s frontier regions. The former is most likely, but there’s no denying that terrorist activity in Pakistan is a major problem. Musharraf almost certainly is using terrorism as an excuse to clamp down on the Pakistani legal establishment. However, the question remains who would rule Pakistan is Musharraf were to be desposed?

The State Department is calling on Musharraf to restore civilian rule and step down as the head of the Pakistani Army. That’s a natural consequence of our pro-democracy position. The problem with that call is that the Pakistani Army is one of the few things holding the country together. It would be great if we could have a democratic Pakistan, but if there was a free and fair election it’s not at all certain that the beneficiaries wouldn’t be hardcore Islamists sympathetic to the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Again, our strategic outlook has to consider that Pakistan is a nuclear state, and anything that potentially puts nukes into terrorist hands is a very bad thing for the West.

What’s interesting to observe is India’s lack of strong reaction to the situation in Pakistan. India and Pakistan have had a long-standing dispute over Kashmir and a few years ago were close to nuclear war. However, under Musharraf tensions have slowly been reduced:

The two neighbors have fought three wars since Pakistan was carved out of India at the end of the era of British rule. Relations between the two nuclear-armed neighbors have thawed recently and General Banerjee at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies says India is in no rush to see President Musharraf depart the stage in Pakistan.

“In recent years Musharraf was seen in India as somebody who was constructive on the critical issues between India and Pakistan and especially on Kashmir and therefore somebody that India could do business with,” added Banerjee.

The Indians realize that the alternatives to Musharraf are not good. While the US is publicly condemning Musharraf’s military coup, it’s quite likely that privately many members of the US government agree with India’s outlook. Our policy towards Pakistan has largely been one of slowly pushing Musharraf towards democracy, but not so hard as to threaten his ability to keep Pakistan from sliding into anarchy or war. Musharraf’s actions make that delicate balance much harder now.

Ultimately, we have to look out for our interests. Benazir Bhutto might be a compelling alternative to Musharraf, but without the support of the Army she’s likely to end up deposed yet again. Bhutto is saying the right things, but the charges of corruption weren’t far off the mark and the last thing Pakistan needs is a leader who’s at risk from either a military coup or an Islamist takeover. Bhutto has yet to demonstrate that she’s strong enough to lead Pakistan. Musharraf is not acting like someone with a commitment to democracy, but we have to realize that democratic development in Pakistan is a dangerous game. Push too much and we risk losing Musharraf as a key ally. If we lose Musharraf, there’s no telling what could happen. In a situation like this, it’s better to go with the devil you know than risk having a nuclear-armed terrorist state perched in a critical area of the world.

Reforming Iraqi Elections

Former Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi has a well-written argument for changing Iraq’s electoral laws to reduce sectarian tensions. He argues that the system used in 2005—which had Iraqis voting on party lists rather than individual candidates is the cause of the current political paralysis in Baghdad:

Yet due largely to political pressure from the international community, the elections went ahead in January 2005, under a misguided “closed party list” system. Rather than choosing a specific candidate, voters across the country chose from among rival lists of candidates backed and organized by political parties. This system was entirely unsuitable given the security situation, the lack of accurate census figures, heavy intimidation from ethnic and religious militias, gross interventions by Iran, dismantled state institutions, and the use of religious symbols by parties to influence voters.

Accordingly, the vast majority of the electorate based their choices on sectarian and ethnic affiliations, not on genuine political platforms. Because many electoral lists weren’t made public until just before the voting, the competing candidates were simply unknown to ordinary Iraqis. This gave rise to our sectarian Parliament, controlled by party leaders rather than by the genuine representatives of the people. They have assembled a government unaccountable and unanswerable to its people.

That criticism seems accurate to me. One of the problems with the current Iraqi government is that it’s essentially sectarian. There are Sunni parties, Shi’ite parties, Iranian-backed Shi’ite parties, and Kurdish parties. There isn’t an Iraqi party which represents a wide base of Iraqi society but a whole host of squabbling parties which represent only their narrow interests. The reason why nothing gets done in the Iraqi government is because the people in the Parliament are more beholden to the party leaders than to the people.

However, Dr. Allawi does have a proposed solution to these problems:

I propose that a new electoral law be devised to move Iraq toward a completely district-based electoral system, like the American Congress, or a “mixed party list” system like that in Germany, in which some representatives are directly elected and other seats are allotted based on the parties’ overall showing. In either case, the candidates must be announced well in advance of the election, and they must be chosen to represent the people in their locality.

Furthermore, a new law should ban the use of religious symbols and rhetoric by candidates and parties — these have no place in democratic elections. In order to prevent interference from militias and to ensure transparency, the United Nations must supervise all these elections district by district. And these reforms should be supplemented by other preconditions of national reconciliation, like general amnesty to all those who have not engaged in terrorism.

On the first point, Dr. Allawi’s plan is exactly what Iraq needs. The most important part of democratic development is that the government be responsive to the people. The biggest mistake we’ve made in terms of guiding Iraq’s political development is not doing enough to foster grass-roots development and civil society. The foundation of democratic government is civil society. You can build a democracy with most intelligently crafted structure and institutions, but if there’s no civil society that government will collapse. There is some civil society in Iraq, but the government doesn’t reflect those developments. Changing the system for electing the Iraqi Parliament won’t help develop civil society, but it will make the government more responsive to the independent development of civil society. Instead of Shi’ite candidates and Kurdish candidates you would have a Member of Parliament from Um Qasr who was directly responsible to the people of Um Qasr, not the head of some party list. You would have a Member of Parliament from a district of Baghdad whose job it was to represent the people of that district. Good government is government that is responsive to the people and has a direct interest in making the standard of life better for their constituency.

I’m less sure about a ban on religious expression in campaigns. Yes, religious sectarianism is harmful to democracy. At the same time, one cannot discount the fact that religious issues are important to the people. Would it strengthen American democracy if our candidates couldn’t speak about religion? There has to be a line between religious appeals and overt religious sectarianism in government. If we want a stable and democratic Iraq we have to acknowledge that Islam is part and parcel of the makeup of Iraq. It seems better to me that Iraq have freedom of expression than to try and bottle up the religious aspect of Iraq life in Iraqi politics. What is key is to ensure that all members of Iraq’s society be given the same freedom, be they Sunni, Shi’a, Assyrian Christian, Yazidi, or otherwise.

Iraqi is developing politically, and ultimately the Awakening movements in places like al-Anbar and Diyala will likely have a great influence on Iraqi politics as Iraqi Sunnis become more involved in national politics. Ensuring that Iraq’s political culture remains responsive to the people is crucial for Iraq’s future development. At the same time, Iraqi politics need to have checks and balances to avoid the mob mentality from destroying Iraq’s democratic principles. Getting that balance right takes time and experimentation, and Iraq is at the Articles of Confederation stage of development in which a new Constitution may develop to fix the shortcomings of the old. When that happens, electoral reform will need to be one of the top issues, and Dr. Allawi’s changes would help make Iraqi government more accountable and ensure that democracy in Iraq lasts for the long term.

Can We Trust Benazir Bhutto?

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto has returned home to throngs of cheering supporters after eight years of self-imposed exile. She has an editorial in the Boston Globe on her intention of creating a new and democratic Pakistan, and she may just have the political power to do that. She writes:

As I board the plane that takes me home to Pakistan today, I carry with me a manuscript of a book I am writing that will be published shortly. It is a treatise on the reconciliation of the values of Islam and the West, and a prescription for a moderate and modern Islam that marginalizes religious extremists, returns the military from politics to their barracks, treats all citizens and especially women with full and equal rights, selects its leaders by free and fair elections, and provides for transparent, democratic governance that addresses the social and economic needs of the people as its highest priority.

To me this is not just a book but a campaign manifesto, a guide to governing. If the people of Pakistan honor me again with an opportunity to lead, I intend to practice what I preach, to have my actions match my rhetoric and to make Pakistan a positive model to 1 billion Muslims around the world.

It’s certainly a noble goal. The question is whether Bhutto can pull it off, and whether her return presages a brighter future for Pakistan or whether it will simply return that country to the pre-Musharraf status quo.

Ralph Peters makes a pointed argument that Bhutto will only take Pakistan backwards:

Nonetheless, we blind ourselves to the forces in play when we caricature all coup-makers. For all his faults, Musharraf views himself as a Pakistani patriot – not as a political party boss in the fashion of Bhutto, nor as a Punjabi or Pashtun, Baluch or Sindhi first. Indeed, only the military holds the fractured state of Pakistan together.

Now Benazir Bhutto – one of the figures who did so much to destroy the fabric of society and the economy – is back in Pakistan. It appears that she and Musharraf have worked out a power-sharing arrangement. We may hope for the best, but we also need to be prepared for the worst: a new era of hyper-corruption, as Bhutto’s grab-all gang replaces the relative moral rigor of the military in the public sphere.

And let’s not forget those nukes.

While Bhutto is saying all the right things, her record in Pakistan is hardly stellar. During her tenure as the country’s leader, the Pakistani government openly helped the Taliban gain power in Afghanistan. She was kicked out of office twice for massive corruption. She has nearly $1.5 billion that had previously been locked away in a Swiss bank account and is now accessible due to the deal with the Musharraf regime.

Peters is quite correct to point out that behind all the flowery rhetoric about peace and democracy is a politician who has repeatedly let her people down. One of the most corrosive problems faced by developing nations is corruption, which eats away at the foundations of good government. The last thing Pakistan needs to replace a flawed by honest patriot with a corrupt sectarian who will continue her policy of getting rich off lucrative foreign contracts while Pakistan crumbles around her and falls into extremism.

Perhaps Benazir Bhutto has changed her spots. Perhaps she really believes in democracy and establishing a democratic future for Pakistan. Yet the West should not blindly trust her to do so. The worst thing that could happen in the region is a nuclear-armed Pakistan in the hands of those who would use those weapons for either religious terrorism or national conflict. A nuclear exchange between Pakistan and India would devastate the entire region and throw the world economy into panic.

The stakes are too high in this matter to trust blindly. Bhutto must be held to her word, and that means that should she return to her own ways the West must be willing to look past Musharraf’s military background and work with him on ensuring that Pakistan does not fall into anarchy or worse.