Former Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s assassination is deeply saddening, and we should mourn the loss of such an enigmatic leader in a region so desperate for strong moderate leadership. Watching the talking heads on TV yesterday, I noticed that not a single pundit thought this assassination was good for US interests.
Before I spew any further let me preface my arguments by explaining that my analysis is purely normative, and that I deplore assassination as a foreign policy tool.
Any assassination is a power play by a particular party. What makes it so effective is that it is often impossible to determine who ordered the assassination, which is usually the group which stands to directly benefit from the fallout. Of course identifying the beneficiaries of the fallout is equally as difficult given the chaos that ensues after the fact, and so we are usually left with the lone gunman.
I was surprised that not a single pundit thought this assassination is good for US interests. I will attempt to explain without using a positive analysis, that the assassination could be good for US interests. Our foreign policy, call it nation-building, the bush-doctrine, whatever you will, is primarily concerned with building and maintaining military bases abroad and currently we have over 700 internationally based military bases.
Places we do not have bases: you guessed it, Iran, Pakistan, China, Russia, and before 2002, Iraq and Afghanistan. We have military bases in Saudi Arabia, which is probably why we don’t care that 16 of the 19 hijackers on September 11th came from Saudi Arabia.
Why does the assassination of Benazir Bhutto benefit a foreign policy of expanding the network of US military bases? It’s extremely difficult to say, but unrest might increase Pakistan’s reliance on US aid, giving the US more leverage to demand military bases in Pakistan in exchange for an increase in aid. More likely, the unrest will contribute to growing international unease regarding Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, giving the Bush administration cause to enter and occupy the country. It’s no secret we’ve wanted to send troops into the northern mountains to hunt Al Qaeda – this could be the catalyst for such an offensive.
It’s also plausible that President Musharraf stood to benefit more by her assassination, however I’m not inclined to believe that she died on his orders. Musharraf is an intellectual, and despite his dictatorial grasp on power, he would realize he has more to lose from an assassination of a political rival – it will incense and aggravate a population with significant unrest forcing him to abdicate his post with more uncertainty than before. However, the assassination eliminates his strongest political rival.
Perhaps Bhutto arranged for her own assassination. Martyrdom seems more common of a tool in the Muslim world than the western world, and there is reason to believe that she may be more effective in death than in life. In life she may lose an election allowing Musharraf to prop up a puppet replacement or win the election himself, but in death she may enrage the citizens of Pakistan to depose and exile Musharraf.
Regardless of who stood to benefit from Bhutto’s assassination one thing remains clear – those who ordered her death were comfortable taking a great risk for their own benefit. The recklessness of this group is deplorable. Their actions will undoubtedly increase the risk of nuclear proliferation, civil unrest, and skepticism of US intentions in the region.
It seems that the Al Qaeda myth is wanning and few people believe they have a hand in anything that our government claims, especially the citizens of Pakistan who are more inclined to believe the opposite of what we claim than they are to trust us.
Please feel free to comment with your own theories!