Wednesday, November 7, 2007
Conflating Two Threats
Matthew Yglesias is correct to point out the relationship between American support for anti-democratic regimes and anti-American sentiment, and it's true that we pay a much greater cost for a hands-off policy towards an authoritarian country we're friendly with than one we're hostile towards.
But I think causally linking the resulting anti-American backlash to extremist violence is only possible if you conflate the two distinct oppositions faced by regimes such as Iran under the Shah, and Pakistan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia today.
The Islamic extremists setting off bomb belts in crowded plazas aren't motivated by a yearning for democracy. To the contrary. They'd still be setting them off if Pakistan were ruled by a democratically elected civilian government. They don't target these regimes because they don't resemble America enough. They target them because they resemble America too closely.
On the other hand, the lawyers protesting martial law in Pakistan, who serve as a bulwark against Islamic militants and represent in principle the constituency most likely to be sympathetic to America, are much more likely to resent the hell out of us if we don't take a tougher line against Musharraf. And while they probably won't embrace extremist violence and terrorism as a result of our abandonment, they probably won't be very inclined to align themselves with us when they eventually do achieve democratic rule.
So it really does seem obvious that we should be doing everything we can to support them, while at the same time trying to find solutions to the broader faultlines that fuel the Islamic militants.