Kim Jong-Il: Death Of A Dictator

Kim Jong-Il, the tyrant that ruled over North Korea has finally died at the age of 69. He likely died from a heart attack or stroke, although the North Korean propaganda machine has claimed that he died from “overwork.” Under his leadership, North Korea continued to be a concentration camp writ on a nightmare scale. While Jong-Il dined on expensive Japanese sushi (imported directly from Japan through his personal chef) and drank French cognac, millions of North Koreans died of starvation and disease. On every measure of societal development, North Korea comes dead last, thanks to a regime that is the living embodiment of paranoia, xenophobia, and totalitarianism.

What is most frightening about the situation in North Korea is not that it’s so bad, it’s that it could be even worse. The Kim regime placed thousands of artillery pieces in the hills surrounding the Korean DMZ, and possesses chemical, biological, and crude nuclear weapons. The North Koreans have the means to devastate much of Seoul with a barrage of artillery, or even launch attacks against targets in Japan with medium-range missiles. The Kim regime may appear insane, but appearances are decieving: if anything, the Kim regime were coldly calculating, deftly weaving Korean legends and Marxist claptrap into a net that has kept 25 million people enmeshed in a living nightmare.

The scenes of North Koreans crying over the death of their persecutor mirrors the scenes of 1994 when Kim Il Sung died-—there too was a massive show of grief, staged or not. And what is even scarier to contemplate than these scenes being staged is that the Kim regime has so completely brainwashed the people of North Korea that the grief is real.

As terrible as the situation in North Korea is, it is made even more terrible by the fact that there is no acceptable endgame to this situation. Even if the regime were to collapse, it would be a humanitarian nightmare for the region and for the world. China has no interest in absorbing 25 million starving North Koreans. As much as the United States may wish to see a unified and democratic Korean Peninsula, that would be a project that could take decades, and the South Korean government may not be so willing to accept the cost of trying to lift the North out of its medieval state.

Heir to a Madman

But a collapse is all too possible. Kim Jong-Un has been designated by the Kim regime as the “Great Successor,” but he is not even 30, has never served in the military, and has only been groomed for leadership for a year. In contrast, the transition from Kim Il Sung to Kim Jong-Il occurred only after Kim Jong-Il had 25 years of experience in taking on leadership tasks. The North Korean military is the only power in the country that could do anything to stop the Kim regime, and it’s not certain whether senior military officials are willing to be led by a 20-something with no military experience and little credibility.

Little is known about Kim Jong-Un, including his actual birthday, his background, his education, his outlook on affairs, or how he might choose to lead the DPRK. What we do know is that he was educated in Europe where his classmates observed a shy boy with a love for basketball. He was not interested in engaging in diatribes against the United States, but drew portraits of Michael Jordan and collected pictures of himself with NBA stars. What this means for his outlook on the world is unknown. But what is known does not paint a picture of someone who has the leadership abilities or cunning of his father or grandfather.

It may well be that Kim Jong-Un is little more than a placeholder—rumors are that the heir apparent to the madman’s throne is hardly up to the task. It may well be that his aunt, Kim Kyong-Hui may be secretly running things behind the scenes. There are a million rumors, and because North Korea is so secretive and isolated from the rest of the world, it’s impossible to know what is really going on.

No Good Options

The problem with North Korea is the same that it has ever been: there are simply no good outcomes at this point. If the Kim regime continues under the leadership of Kim Jong-Un, then the North Korean people will remain mired in a living nightmare for years more. If Kim Jong-Un falls, then the only power that could keep the country from sliding into anarchy is the military, and they could very well end up provoking World War III if given the chance. And if both fall, then there is nothing left in the country to hold it together. North Korea would fall into anarchy, and the human costs would be beyond comprehension. Not since World War II would the world have seen such a refugee crisis.

The best that anyone can do is prepare for the day when the regime finally collapses, and hope for the best. That is not a sound policy, but that’s the only remaining option left. The chances that Kim Jong-Un will set North Korea on a path of openness and moderation are slim to none, and even if he were to try, it’s not at all certain that the military would support him in that endeavor.

The fact is that we would like to think of the leadership of North Korea is being insane, but the reality is that it is sociopathic, but not crazy. Kim Jong-Il was a rational actor playing a rational game—bloody, intransigent, and evil, but rational all the same. Both he and his father knew that North Korea could not compete except by playing great powers against each other, which was accomplished by seemingly irrational actions like threatening war and shelling South Korean targets. So long as the DPRK could threaten the world, it could extract concessions that it would never have gotten by playing nice.

We simply do not know if Kim Jong-Un is smart enough to keep playing this game, or there’s some member of his inner circle that can. What is scarier than a coldly rational and insane-seeming North Korea is an irrational North Korea willing to risk it all on a dangerous whim. One of the best options may be that North Korea becomes a de facto Chinese protectorate, with Beijing keeping the country in line. As distasteful as that option may be, it is better than having an unstable North Korea with both an ongoing humanitarian crisis and plenty of weapons of mass destruction that could fall into terrorist hands.

Kim Jong-Il is dead, and roasting in a hell that he richly deserves. What we must hope for is that he doesn’t take the entire Korean peninsula down with him.

Predictions 2010

It is another year, and that means time for another set of predictions. So, without further adieu, here are my predictions for the coming year:


  • President Obama’s popularity will remain mired below 50% throughout most of the year.
  • The Democrats will lose more the 40 seats, putting the GOP in control of the House.
  • In the Senate, Democrats will not fare much better. Majority Leader Reid will lose his seat, following in the footsteps of Tom Daschle. Chris Dodd also loses his seat to a GOP upstart. Same with Blanche Lincoln.
  • The health care bill will be signed into law, and will be a major albatross around the necks of Democrats.
  • The Democrats, rather than moving towards the center, will lurch left as the “netroots” convinces many in the party that the reason for the 2010 defeat was because the party was insufficiently “progressive.” The Democrats will end up in the same position the Republicans were in a year ago.
  • But Republicans should be wary as well. They will have won not on their own laurels, but because of disgust with the current Congress.
  • Cap and trade will be DOA as Congress gets increasingly worried about the political backlash.


  • The protests in Iran continue in fits and starts, weakening the foundations of the regime. The Iranian government continues to brutalize its own people, while the West does little of consequence to stop them.
  • President Obama launches further military action in Yemen to try to remove al-Qaeda.
  • A major economic collapse in the EU shakes the foundation of the Euro.
  • Gordon Brown faces a vote of no-confidence in Parliament, causing the him to call new elections in the UK.
  • The situation in Afghanistan remains unsettled, but the addition of U.S. troops helps calm some of the tensions.
  • Iran will come closer to testing a nuclear weapon, and will likely have the capability of doing so by the end of 2010.


  • Unemployment will remain high throughout the year as discouraged workers reenter the workforce. This will be a huge political problem for the Democrats in the 2010 cycle.
  • The price of gold and other hard assets will continue to skyrocket on inflation fears, leading to a mini-bubble in asset prices.
  • The government will continue with bailouts of major companies, despite President Obama’s focus on debt reduction.
  • The national deficit will continue to skyrocket as Congress is unable to restrain spending.


  • Apple will announce their tablet in early 2010, with a 10-inch touch screen and optional 3G wireless through Verizon rather than AT&T. The tablet (probably not called the iSlate) will have a major effect on the e-reader market, although Amazon will counter by making Kindle content available on the new device. Critics will complain that the price point is too high, but the device will sell like hotcakes anyway.
  • E-Books will begin to outsell physical book copies.
  • The reality TV show craze will finally, mercifully die off as people get sick of the them.
  • Web series will continue to take off from being largely low-budget affairs to being more like regular TV shows. Shows akin to Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog will receive much critical acclaim and will begin to supplant conventional TV.
  • “Steampunk” will go from a small subculture to the next major popular phenomenon. Things like home canning, writing letters on fine stationery, and Victorian styles will become increasingly popular.
  • The death of the newspaper industry will not stop, even though many papers start reconciling themselves with the digital world.

China Invests In Pebble-Bed Technology

Next Big Future reports on a joint Chinese-South African project to advance pebble bed reactor technology. Pebble bed reactors are an advanced type of nuclear reactor design that promises to be significantly safer than conventional designs, for more details see here.

One of the reasons I’ve said that the future may well belong to the East is because the Chinese are willing to invest in this kind of technology while Western governments are too motivated by short-term political pressure to invest in projects such as these. The only way we will be able to meet the energy needs of the future and preserve the environment is to start moving towards nuclear energy. The truth is that wind, solar, geothermal, and other “green” technologies cannot produce enough power to meet our needs. They may be supplements to a nuclear infrastructure, but they will never supplant it.

If President Obama wished to be truly forward-looking, he would commission a similar program in the United States. For all the talk about the “Republican war on science,” the Democrats remain in thrall to an environmental lobby that wants to push for forms of alternative energy that will never be able to meet America’s needs. So instead, we keep our inefficient fossil fuels and push for stopgap solutions like “clean coal” rather than investing in an energy infrastructure that truly meets the needs of the 21st Century.

Pebble bed reactors promise a safer, cleaner, and more plentiful form of energy for America and for the world. If we are to remain a superpower into the 21st Century, we cannot turn our back to advances such as this. We cannot let the stigma of the word “nuclear”—and the irrational fear it engenders—stand in the way of our future.

Hat tip to Glenn Reynolds for the link.

Serious Times Call For More Serious Analysis

Foreign Policy has two perspectives on Fareed Zakaria’s latest piece in Newsweek. Both are interesting critiques of both Zakaria and the Obama foreign policy.

First, Christian Brose finds Zakaria’s thinking too reflective of the “Washington establishment”:

We’ve been hearing a lot about the Obama administration’s plans to talk to adversaries — Iran, Russia, Syria, the Taliban, etc. But we’ve heard preciously little about how the administration intends to create conditions of strength that are the requirement for diplomatic success. Everyone knows Obama is willing to talk. The question is what new leverage he will bring to bear to make that talk effective. Will we use the military forces we are withdrawing from Iraq to exert greater pressure on Iran? Are we asking our European allies to take any bold new steps on financial coercion? What exactly is Russia willing and able to do to change Iran’s decision-making? So far, answers to questions like these have not exactly been forthcoming, and in their absence, it’s not at all off-base to think that talking without leverage could harm U.S. interests. (And all of this is assuming that Iran hasn’t just said, screw it, we’re getting the bomb, and damn the torpedoes, which opens up a whole new world of problems.)

Second, Peter Feaver argues that Zakaria doesn’t have a serious critique of American foreign policy:

A more balanced perspective on Bush — some positive, some negative — would pave the way for Fareed to offer a more balanced perspective on Obama. I agree with Fareed that some of the critiques of Obama have been exaggerated, almost as exaggerated as, well, the conventional wisdom on Bush. But surely in a column calling for a reasonable perspective on Obama’s foreign policy performance, Fareed could have found space to at least discuss some of the missteps and rookie mistakes: perhaps a mention of the ham-handed personnel decisions (like this one or this one) or the needless insults to allies (such as this one or this one). If these are dismissed as minor peccadilloes, how about a candid admission that, as Fareed himself recommended, Obama has more often than not continued Bush’s foreign policies while claiming to make bold dramatic changes?

In the end, I don’t think that the Obama Administration cares all that much about foreign policy. Obama is not a foreign-policy oriented President. He’s much more concerned with the U.S. economy, which is (rightly or wrongly) popularly conceived as much more important than what’s going on abroad. Obama’s view of American power is not fully formed. He had almost no foreign policy experience when he took office, and he’s displayed little interest in foreign policy now—other than largely staying the course from the Bush Administration.

Obama’s idea is that if somehow everyone gets together and talks somehow everyone will come to a consensus. That model barely works in faculty meetings, and it won’t work in international diplomacy. Iran will not give up their pursuit of nuclear weapons. Why should they? The US can talk all they want, but there’s nothing we can offer that will give Iran a reasonable incentive to stop. The Iranians are doing what a rational state would do in their shoes: develop a nuclear deterrent to Israel. That they may be insane enough to use that deterrent is a problem, but even if the Iranian regime were perfectly rational, they’d still be developing nuclear weapons.

There’s no “consensus” there. Iran wants nuclear weapons, we want to deny them the opportunity. There’s no amount of carrots that can dissuade them otherwise, and the Iranians know damned well that Barack Obama does not have the political will to stop them. They have no fear of President Obama, and there’s no reason they should fear him. That is a problem for us.

On the other hand, I suspect that Tehran is frightened of Binyamin Netanyahu. He will not tolerate a nuclear Iran, and he’s the only world leader who would do something to stop them. But even that seems a less than likely circumstance.

What should Obama do? He has to face facts: the world is not a peaceable place. If he chooses to negotiate it must be with the full understanding that negotiation may be pointless. That means understanding that players like Russia, China, Iran, and Venezuela may not have any interest in so much as throwing us a bone. That means being willing to be both smart and tough. All the tough rhetoric in the world is worthless. Nobody fears Vladimir Putin because he talks tough, they fear Putin because he’s perfectly capable of killing dissidents, invading countries, and playing hardball to get what he wants.

That doesn’t mean that Obama should emulate Putin, but that does mean that he needs to learn to play hardball. That means being willing to engage Central Asian states on the same terms that Russia does: and they’ve become far better than us at offering tasty carrots and brutal sticks. We can’t pretend that Tashkent works the same way as Washington D.C. It doesn’t, and we have to learn to play by the regions rules.

Obama has shown some promise—he has been less radical in foreign policy than some had predicted. But he still has a long way to go. He can’t keep alienating allies like he did with his shameful performance with Gordon Brown. He has to face the realities of a harsh and unforgiving world. Obama has the benefit of being intelligent and articulate, which counts for a lot. But it will never be enough, and unless the world fears him just a little, America will never truly be respected.

The End Of The Westphalian Model?

Ed Morrissey makes an interesting argument that the declaration of Kosovar independence signals a major shift in the international order. He argues:

The breakup of Serbia calls into question whether the concept of Westphalian sovereignty remains extant. Shall Burgundy go back to the Burgundians, if they so desire? Will Wales and Cornwall exit from Great Britain? Can Texas declare its independence? More pragmatically, are we seeing a return to the micronationalism that generated numerous wars on the European continent over the centuries before Westphalia?

This occurs in the shadow of the struggles in Africa and the Middle East over nationalism, sovereignty, and statehood. Just as we want to solidify the boundaries between nations in these regions to produce more stability, we seem to be supporting the breakdown of the exact same system in Europe. The end of the Age of Empire has left civilization struggling for a new model of political stability for almost a century — and the struggle continues today in Kosovo.

In 1647, after decades of brutal warfare during the Thirty Years War, the kings of Europe entered into the The Treaty of Westphalia, a document that essentially created the modern concept of the nation-state and settled long-running disputes over the religious and political makeup of Europe.

The Westphalian model shaped what we call “realism” today. States were sovereign entities that could apply their own laws to their people. They were equal to other states, and the principle of non-intervention between states was upheld as a goal (if not in practice). This model still exists today, although the trends towards globalization have started to diminish the concept of absolute sovereignty.

Putting aside the issue of Kosovo itself away for the moment, Mr. Morrissey’s question is a strong one. In Europe, there has been a trend towards regional devolution. Scotland has its own Parliament. Wales has recently been granted its own National Assembly. Belgium may yet split between its Flemish and French territories. It seems like everywhere in Europe, instead of the integration that the European Union was supposed to have brought, the seeds of division keep growing.

The Brussels Journal has a fascinating piece looking at the idea that the nation-state may be obsolete. Yet the problem is no one knows what should replace it: how can one have democracy without a demos? The paradox of European integration is that it’s empowering disparate interest groups to move away from each other rather than harmonizing them.

Ultimately, the Peace of Westphalia worked because it was the right compromise, and the European Union’s rash attempts to remake Europe in a new image—even if beneficial in some respects—is far too audacious for the good of Europe.

The crisis in Kosovo demonstrates that when you try to play games with national borders, the results are not always pretty. The breakup of Yugoslavia into ethnic enclaves has only partially reduced tensions. Serbia has longstanding historical claims on that region, and instead of successfully arbitrating those claims, the United Nations has spend over a decade without making much headway. Meanwhile, radical Saudi clerics have been steading radicalizing the Muslim majority in Kosovo, human traffickers have turned the region into a major center of the slave trade and smugglers of everything from arms to drugs are profiting from the chaos.

The Westphalian system may have its flaws, but the idea that some vague supranational system can supplant it has even deeper problems. We currently live in a world where another bloody European war seems impossible—the decimation of Europe in two world wars has had profound and lasting consequences. At the same time, the root causes of the last great European wars have not gone away. Those who would seek to redraw Europe’s borders should consider whether creating ethic states will lead Europe into the future or only open ancient wounds.

It’s Not About You

Rarely do I say this but Paul Krugman could not be more right:

To all the presidential campaigns trying to claim that the atrocity in Pakistan somehow proves that they have the right candidate — please stop.

This isn’t about you; in fact, as far as I can tell, it isn’t about America. It’s about the fact that Pakistan is a very messed-up place. This has very bad consequences for us, but it’s hard to see what, if anything, it says about US policy.

Krugman is right that no matter what policy choices we might have made in the past, what’s going on in Pakistan is the natural consequence of Pakistan being a failing state. Democracy isn’t going to flourish there because there’s a sizable fraction of the population—if not an outright majority—who has no interest in democracy or peaceful coexistence. Years of poor policy choices by Pakistani leaders have created a cauldron of instability, and an event like the assassination of Benazir Bhutto was an inevitability.

However, this disaster is relevant inasmuch as it makes one consider which candidate is the best fit to lead this country in a turbulent world. Mike Huckabee has been demonstrating that he’s terminally clueless on international affairs. John Edwards once again demonstrated a complete and utter lack of common sense by calling up Musharraf during the middle of this crisis. The last thing Musharraf needed was a Presidential candidate—and not even one who has a shot of getting his party’s nomination—giving him unsolicited advice.

John Podhoretz wondered yesterday if this would spell an end to this political season’s “holiday from history” and force American politicians to get serious about the very real threats that this country will face in the future. Sadly, as Krugman points out, what we’re hearing tends to be more idle boasting than real thought.

A Curious Coincidence

Ed Morrisey has a good synopsis of the declassified National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear weapons program. (The document itself is available here.) It’s conclusions are quite interesting:

We assess with high confidence that until fall 2003, Iranian military entities were working under government direction to develop nuclear weapons.

Glenn Reynolds puts it best: “Well, that’s convenient.” Indeed, it’s quite interesting to note when Tehran apparently stopped working on their nuclear program. We know that Mohammar Qadafi stopped Libya’s nuclear program in response to the removal of the Hussein regime. Now it appears that the national intelligence community finds the same pattern of behavior in Iran.

It would appear that the war in Iraq had a greater deterrent effect than we had thought previously and made the calculus in developing weapons of mass destruction less desirable than before. For years now we’ve heard the opposite argument be made: that rogue regimes would rush to develop nuclear weapons to avoid being attacked by the US. North Korea’s attempt at nuclear blackmail didn’t even get them to force the US into bilateral talks instead of multilateral ones, and the destruction of a suspected Syrian nuclear facility has only highlighted just how seriously the US and its allies take nuclear proliferation.

There is another explanation, but one which changes the Iraq War from a direct cause to an indirect one: it was in the fall of 2003 that the A.Q. Khan nuclear proliferation network was destroyed. Without that assistance, it’s possible that the Iranians couldn’t develop a workable weapon on their own or judged it too difficult to be useful. Still, the A.Q. Khan network was removed because of Libya’s choice to dismantle their nuclear program, which in turn was inspired by the war in Iraq. In either way, Iran’s decision-making was influenced by the destruction of the Hussein regime.

We judge with high confidence that the halt lasted at least several years. (Because of intelligence gaps discussed elsewhere in this Estimate, however, DOE and the NIC assess with only moderate confidence that the halt to those activities represents a halt to Iran’s entire nuclear weapons program.)

In other words, we don’t know if Tehran has really stopped weapons production now. Given that the Iranians are admitting to building thousands of centrifuges, it is quite likely that Iran has not halted their entire nuclear weapons program, but are creating a “just-in-time” system that would give them both weaponized nuclear material and a working device that could be combined as needed. There’s some risk that the resulting device wouldn’t work, but even if it just sprays the uranium around the Iranians have a perfectly workable “dirty bomb.”

We assess with moderate confidence Tehran had not restarted its nuclear weapons program as of mid-2007, but we do not know whether it currently intends to develop nuclear weapons.

Intelligence is always fuzzy, but policymakers should not blindly hope for the best. If there’s any reasonable chance that Tehran will develop a bomb it makes sense to ensure that the costs of doing so are untenably high.

We continue to assess with moderate-to-high confidence that Iran does not currently have a nuclear weapon.

The fact that they’re not absolutely sure that they don’t should scare the hell out of everyone. Fortunately, it’s unlikely that they do, but the risks of a nuclear-armed Iran are too great to be countenanced.

Tehran’s decision to halt its nuclear weapons program suggests it is less determined to develop nuclear weapons than we have been judging since 2005. Our assessment that the program probably was halted primarily in response to international pressure suggests Iran may be more vulnerable to influence on the issue than we judged previously.

That is a bit of good news, but the question is how long the West will be willing to keep the pressure up. The costs of building a nuclear weapon need to be far higher than any possible benefit: and even that assumes that the people who have the bomb are subject to such a rational calculus. If a nuclear weapon fell into the hands of terrorists, it’s not clear whether they’d care whether the US launched a nuclear response. For that matter, who would we attack if al-Qaeda launched a nuclear attack on a major American city? The country where they got the nuke? What if they weren’t directly responsible for the lapse in security? The country that hosted the terrorists? Again, what if al-Qaeda was not there at the behest of that government?

The conventional doctrines of mutually assured destruction and retaliation don’t work in the context of nuclear terrorism: which is why the risk of a terrorist group getting their hands on a nuke is a nightmare scenario for the United States. If we miscalculate the intentions of the Iranian regime and they do think that they can give a nuke to terrorists and claim plausible deniability, what would our move be? There is a huge amount of risk in a policy of containment, and if there’s any reasonable chance of it failing then policymakers have to follow a different path.

We cannot allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon, and we have a lot of ambiguity as to what Iran’s intentions and capabilities are. We need more intelligence on the ground in Iran so that we have some warning before Iran goes nuclear. The fact that we know so little now should be deeply disturbing: the last thing we need is for our lack of intelligence to lead to another atrocity.

A New France?

Fareed Zakaria has an interesting piece on how French President Nicolas Sarkozy is in a position to make significant reforms in France. The fact that he’s won his first round against the French railway union suggests that Sarkozy isn’t afraid to fight his battles against the entrenched French union system. As Zakaria explains:

The street is an odd element in France’s Fifth Republic, very much part of the system. Charles de Gaulle created a political order that he accurately characterized as an “elected monarchy.” There are few checks on the president’s power. The prime minister tends to be significantly less important than key presidential advisers, and Parliament is a joke. The only real debate, opposition and counterbalance to the president comes from the street, and so it has become part of the French way of politics, one that the public seems to understand and accept. But this time, the president is banking on the fact that the public wants change, and will, for once, side with the palace and against the street. He appears to be right. Public sympathy is not with the strikers. Timing is everything in politics, and Nicolas Sarkozy’s greatest distinction might prove to be that he has arrived at just the right moment.

If he is able to win this battle, Sarkozy will be able to press forward with a series of reforms, each begetting the next. The cumulative effect of these changes could unleash a wave of optimism, which is itself hugely beneficial to a country’s economy. France would embrace the new global economy rather than fretting about it.

President Sarkozy is in a unique position to remake France into the engine of European growth, but it won’t be easy. Zakaria argues that France’s structural problems aren’t as great as they seem, but the opposite is more likely true. France suffers from the same demographic decline as the rest of Europe, and even solid growth can’t erase the gap between economic performance and future liabilities. That demographic shift also has cultural effects: France is already having trouble assimilating it’s Arab and Muslim populations, and those problems will only continue unless something is done.

The good news is that France isn’t over the edge yet, and Nicolas Sarkozy seems to be the right man at the right time. He has a daunting challenge ahead of him in reducing the barriers to entrepreneurial activity that keeps France’s economy from taking off. He’ll have to fight the political and union interests that have every interest in keeping the status quo no matter what. None of those things will be easy, especially in a country where unions might as well be another branch of government. However, if Sarkozy is willing to stick to his principles as he did in making overtime tax-free, he has a singular opportunity to restore vitality to the French economy.

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.