McCain’s Holiday from History in Pakistan; Will any Old Military Dictator Do?; Lies about Obama

Barack Obama’s spectacular win in Wisconsin has the GOP frightened. The Democratic turnout was much, much better than the Republican. The Democrats and independents are energized.

Senator John McCain could not get the independents out in Wisconsin, and the Republican turnout was lackluster. In politics, failure always produces bluster. McCain spoke after his primary victory in Wisconsin last night, casting himself as a voice of experience in foreign policy.

He said things like this:

‘ I will fight every moment of every day in this campaign to make sure Americans are not deceived by an eloquent but empty call for change that promises no more than a holiday from history . . .

Today, political change in Pakistan is occurring that might affect our relationship with a nuclear armed nation that is indispensable to our success in combating al Qaeda in Afghanistan and elsewhere. . .

Will the next President have the experience, the judgment experience informs, and the strength of purpose to respond to each of these developments in ways that strengthen our security and advance the global progress of our ideals? Or will we risk the confused leadership of an inexperienced candidate who once suggested invading our ally, Pakistan, and sitting down without pre-conditions or clear purpose with enemies who support terrorists and are intent on destabilizing the world by acquiring nuclear weapons?’

These remarks were aimed at Barack Obama, and they are lies. McCain has repeatedly made this false charge, warning against sending troops to Waziristan. But Obama never advocated invading Pakistan with US ground troops. He said that the US should strike at al-Qaeda if it had actionable intelligence about its whereabouts in Pakistan, even if the Pakistani authorities refused to give permission.

This stance is US policy. In fact, George W. Bush implemented it with a Predator attack on an al-Qaeda leader in Pakistan just a couple of weeks ago, an attack that the Pakistani government declined to authorize. (Kevin Hayden concurs).

Actually, one of our overly deferential journalists should please get some backbone and just ask McCain what he would do if he had intelligence on Bin Laden’s whereabouts in Pakistan and could not get authorization from Islamabad to strike at him.

I personally think that Obama was unwise to make the statement he did, because there are some things better left unsaid. But aside from pure pacifists, what American would not pull the trigger on that old monster Usamah if he or she had the chance? I mind McCain pulling a Rove and making hay with a policy stance of his opponent that he actually agrees with.

And I think there is good reason to ask whether McCain helped create al-Qaeda and the mess in Pakistan to begin with. It is time for someone to start holding the Cold Warriors who deployed a militant Muslim covert army against their leftist enemies accountable for the blow-back they created.

Moreover, does McCain really know much about how the world works? Does he really understand Middle Eastern history?

McCain thinks when “only’ 4 US troops are wounded in a single day in Iraq, or when only 15 Iraqi police are killed in mortar strikes in a single day, that is a sign of ‘calm’ and that the ‘surge is working’ in Iraq, and it is all right for us to put up with these US casualties for the next 100 years and spend $9 billion a month on this boondoggle for his friends in Houston. He is part of a successful propaganda campaign, as Tom Engelhardt points out that has made Iraq disappear as an issue even though people die there every day and the US is hemorrhaging blood and treasure for goals that remain, to say the least, murky. McCain even manages to celebrate the defeat of al-Qaeda in Iraq at the same time as he insists the US has to stay in Iraq a hundred years to fight al-Qaeda! Which is it? Either the surge has failed in its goals or it has succeeded. If it has succeeded, why do we have to stay? If it has failed, when will it succeed?

And, let’s just consider the shaky dictator Pervez Musharraf, who just suffered a sharp rebuke from the Pakistani electorate, as I wrote about today in Salon.com. McCain appears never to have met a rightwing dictator he didn’t like. McCain defends the dictator. Here is what McCain said about Musharraf late last December:

“Prior to Musharraf, Pakistan was a failed state,” McCain said. “They had corrupt governments and they would rotate back and forth and there was corruption, and Musharraf basically restored order. So you’re going to hear a lot of criticism about Musharraf that he hasn’t done everything we wanted him to do, but he did agree to step down as head of the military and he did get the elections.”

So in the building confrontation between democratic parties and the military dictator who trashed the rule of law, which would McCain support? What kind of relations will a president McCain have with the new prime minister of Pakistan if McCain is on record supporting the dictatorship that preceded?

The potted history McCain offers is wrong, and it points to the deep problems of authoritarianism and admiration for dictatorship in McCain’s political philosophy. Pakistan was not a failed state before 1999, and in fact most of its political problems derived from repeated military coups such as the one spearheaded by Musharraf, as well as from the US government giving the Pakistani military gobs of money and enormous stockpiles of weapons, and winking at its nuclear program. In fact by “US government” above, we really could just substitute “Senator John McCain.”

Pakistan’s constitution prescribes a parliamentary government. When the military has allowed Pakistanis to go to the polls, they have elected moderate, centrist political parties such as the Pakistan People’s Party and the Muslim League. Those parties have longstanding grass roots, cadres, canvassers, and loyal constituencies.

Bhutto was elected in 1971 as head of the PPP.

The PPP was overthrown in 1977 by Gen. Zia ul-Haq, a fundamentalist general who had his boss, PM Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto hanged on trumped-up charges in 1979 and who kept promising new elections that never came. Gen. Zia sponsored the Muslim fundamentalist Mujahidin that Ronald Reagan called “freedom fighters,” and which included the early al-Qaeda. He also put enormous resources into making an atomic bomb. Nowadays a leader of that description would be part of Bush’s axis of evil. But Reagan cozied up to Zia like a cat to catnip.

And McCain went out to cozy up to the military dictator himself, in February of 1984. McCain supported the Reagan jihad, cynically deploying radical Muslim extremists like Gulbuddin Hekmatyar against leftist secularists in Afghanistan.

Here is what McCain was up to when the radical Muslim extremist Gen. Zia was in power in Pakistan, according to UPI, Feb. 17, 1984:

‘Senator John Tower, R-Texas, and Rep. John McCain, R-Ariz., arrived in the Pakistani capital Friday evening for the start of a three-day visit.

During their stay, the legislators will meet Pakistan’s military president, General Mohammad Zia ul-Haq, and other top officials. . .

While in Pakistan, they will also visit an Afghan refugee tent village on the outskirts of Peshawar, near the border with Soviet-occupied Afghanistan.

On arrival at Islamabad airport, they were received by U.S. Ambassador Deane Hinton and Pakistani Defense Secretary Aftab Ahmad Khan.’

Now McCain is the big expert on problem solving in Pakistan. McCain is the Pied Piper of Hamelin; he’ll be glad to get rid of your rat problem, but at the price of making your children disappear.

So lest we take any holidays from history, I have some questions for John McCain. Did you or did you not know about Gen. Zia’s nuclear weapons program? Did you wink at it? If so doesn’t that make you a proliferator of weapons of mass destruction to a radical Muslim extremist regime?

And what about this AP article from 1985:

‘ Rep. Tom Loeffler, R-Tex., presented the “Freedom Fighter of the Year” award to Afghan resistance leader Wali Khan on behalf of the U.S. Council for World Freedom on Oct. 3.

Loeffler called on Congress and the American people to “broaden support” for freedom fighters in Afghanistan, reminding listeners of America’s own fight for freedom.

Congress has agreed to give $15 million in covert assistance to the Afghan cause, the first time the legislators have “stepped forward” with aid since the beginning of the conflict, according to Loeffler. . .

Accepting the award on behalf of Khan was Pir Syed Ahmed Gailani, head of the National Islamic Front of Afghanistan, for which Khan commands 20,000 resistance fighters.

Other congressmen who joined Loeffler included Rep. Eldon Rudd and Rep. John McCain, both Arizona Republicans. ‘

So how much support did John McCain give to the precursors of the Taliban in Afghanistan? To the budding al-Qaeda?

Despite what McCain says about military rule bringing stability, the opposite is the case. Never mind the dirty war in Afghanistan that led to the displacement abroad of 5 million Afghans, 3 million of them to Pakistan, and which helped destabilize Pakistan. Never mind the filling of Pakistan with machine guns and drug smuggling to support McCain’s al-Qaeda “freedom fighters,” which created a million heroin addicts in Pakistan. Karachi spiralled into virtual civil war in the mid to late 1980s under Zia. There were massive Shiite demonstrations against unfair Sunni fundamentalist policies of Zia. A Movement for the Restoration of Democracy began mobilizing political parties. Zia put Benazir Bhutto of the Pakistan People’s Party under arbitrary house arrest.

Gen. Zia finally exited the scene in a summer, 1988, airplane crash. But he left behind 16 martial law amendments, among them a provision for the president, who is not popularly elected, to arbitrarily dismiss parliament and the prime minister. It would be as though Bush could fire Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid and hold new elections whenever he liked, timing them so that the Republicans had an advantage.

That power of the president to just sack the prime minister was never legislated by any representative of the Pakistani people. It is a martial law amendment. It was legislated by Gen. Zia, friend of Muslim radicals.

So it was not the fault of the civilian political parties that the governments would “rotate back and forth,” in McCain’s words. Ghulam Ishaq Khan, who was never popularly elected president but rather got the post by a kind of default, kept dismissing the elected prime ministers.

As for there being corruption, la di da. The Republican Party, home of Tom Delay and Jack Abramoff, should talk about corruption. And as for that crack about civilian governments “rotating back and forth,” isn’t that a common thing in democracies? But the rotation wasn’t anyway natural. It was a product of high-handed, dictatorial presidents exercising martial law powers and sometimes being blackmailed into doing so by powerful covert intelligence officials. The martial law amendment allowed presidents to dismiss three governments in a row.

And then the fourth civilian government, of Nawaz Sharif’s second term, was overthrown.

The instrument was an illegal and extra-constitutional coup by Gen. Pervez Musharraf.

Musharraf was a hawk who backed the Taliban (and very likely al-Qaeda) in Afghanistan and who nearly provoked two wars with India. Yes, a pillar of stability, as McCain says. Quite right. Among the reasons alleged for his coup against Sharif was that he feared Sharif would back off from supporting the Taliban under Clinton administration pressure, and that Sharif would make peace with India at Washington’s insistence. The very essence of stability.

Sharif had agreed to send in a special operations team to kill or capture Usama Bin Ladin in neighboring Afghanistan in 1999. When Musharraf made his coup, he reneged on the deal. I.e., Musharraf is indirectly implicated in the September 11 attacks insofar as he could have perhaps prevented them by taking out Bin Laden and he refused. Yes, as McCain says, a great pillar of stability.

The Pakistani military had created the political instability with its earlier coups and martial law amendments and creation of arbitrary, dictatorial powers vested in the president, which lightly disregarded the will of the people as expressed at the ballot box. And now in 1999, the military got rid of the civilian government altogether for a while, until in 2002 the US State Department pressured Musharraf to allow elections.

Musharraf did not dare actually run for office against a real opponent. He staged a “referendum,” in which he got less that 50% of the vote, but since he had no opponent he could hardly lose. He rigged the parliamentary elections of fall 2002, ensuring that his Pakistan Muslim League-Q had a majority. He interfered with the PPP and the Muslim League-N so much that he let the Muslim fundamentalist parties take over two provinces and get 17% of seats in parliament. Some of these members of the provincial parliament from the fundamentalist parties were actually Taliban. Others had trained the Taliban or actively denied that al-Qaeda existed.

Far from “bringing stability” as McCain suggested, Musharraf has destabilized Pakistan in the past year, arbitrarily sacking the chief justice of the supreme court, provoking massive demonstrations, brutally invading the Red Mosque, and provoking a violent backlash in the northwest. This is stability?

And is this really the kind of government McCain supports? Are these judgments the fruit of his experience? Is this the kind of holiday from history he is going to take? Having backed the radical Muslim extremists in Afghanistan in the 1980s, having winked at Zia’s dictatorship and nuclear program, having coddled Musharraf’s authoritarianism, is McCain going to bring us more disasters like September 11, done by his good friends, Reagan’s Freedom Fighters?

If so, by all means bring on the breath of fresh air instead.