Comment: The Bush administration failed Benazir Bhutto

" ... it is [a] time for sombre reflection on the utterly failed and fully dysfunctional foreign policies of the Bush-Cheney administration. ... "
The Bush administration failed Benazir Bhutto
December 30, 2007
The Age/John Nichols

Minutes before she was assassinated in Pakistan, former prime minister Benazir Bhutto told a rally in Rawalpindi that "I put my life in danger and came here because I feel this country is in danger. People are worried. We will bring the country out of this crisis."

The daughter of an executed former prime minister and the first woman to lead a Muslim state, Bhutto lived with danger even when she was in exile. She symbolized secular, modern, Western-oriented and democratic instincts that were at odds with the values both of Islamic fundamentalists and military dictators in the Muslim world. Al Qaeda had attempted, at least twice, to kill her.

When she returned to Pakistan on Oct. 18, Bhutto accepted the danger, saying that "if you fight for a cause you believe in, you have to be ready to pay the price." Bhutto believed it was the only way to address the crisis that Pakistan has become under the crudely cynical rule of the dictator Pervez Musharraf.

The severity of the threat became immediately clear.

Bhutto was the subject of an assassination attempt that killed 140 people on the day of her arrival. That attempt had yet to be adequately investigated by security forces controlled by Musharraf.

She had been placed under house arrest by Musharraf's government, which declared a sweeping state of emergency that was lifted in time for the election campaign in which Bhutto was engaged at the time of her killing.

Could anything have been done to prevent the assassination? Of course. Bhutto and her aides had repeatedly appealed for greater physical protection. Those appeals were directed to both Musharraf and his primary benefactor, U.S. President George W. Bush. But there was never an adequate response.

Bush and his aides may have recognized that Bhutto was an essential ally for the U.S., particularly as an enthusiastic supporter of global efforts to confront Islamic militancy. But they never sent a clear signal to Musharraf regarding the need to investigate the October assassination attempt, to confront threats to Bhutto and other opposition leaders, or to provide basic security.

Just as the dictator was allowed to neglect the task of tracking down Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda operatives within his country, just as he was given a pass when Pakistani officials shared nuclear secrets and technologies with rogue states, just as he was allowed to thwart democratic initiatives in his country and the region, Musharraf never faced a serious demand from the Bush administration to protect Bhutto.

And in the absence of that demand from the government that props him up as what Bush once referred to as "our guy," Musharraf – who has survived so many assassination attempts himself – failed to take the steps necessary to save Bhutto or to foster democratic processes.

The Bush administration failed Benazir Bhutto and now she is dead.

With her died the prospects of stability and democracy that she embodied. It was allegedly the kind of stability and democracy that the president, Vice-President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice claim as the goals of their so-called "war on terror." Her death is one of the clearest examples of their inadequacy.

This is a time for mourning. But it is, as well, a time for sombre reflection on the utterly failed and fully dysfunctional foreign policies of the Bush-Cheney administration.

The world is a more dangerous place today.

The failure of Bush and those around him to premise their relationship with Musharraf on the absolute demand that Bhutto be kept safe and alive made it so.

Now, the question is: Will Congress – Republicans and Democrats – step forward to say that the relationship that Bush has established and maintained with Musharraf is no longer morally or practically tenable?

John Nichols is the Washington correspondent for The Nation magazine.

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