Of Revolutions, Then and Now

During the period of July 4 -14, it seems appropriate to reflect on an all-too-common pattern followed by popular revolutions against rotten regimes: after the old regime is toppled, the various factions that overthrew it begin to fight among themselves, often with the least democratic faction prevailing. That is certainly how things played out in the French, Russian and Iranian revolutions, with the American revolution of 1776 standing as a rare exception. How to prevent this path is of more than theoretical interest now that nuclear-armed Pakistan appears to be under siege from several sides: tribal revolts in the hinterlands, an Islamist challenge in Islamabad (and elsewhere), and a movement for democracy and the rule of law among those who rightly object to the regime's treatment of the judiciary. Is it possible to support the pro-democracy forces without risking the replacement of an autocratic but friendly regime with a fanatical hostile one?

The Bush administration pretty clearly thinks not and is thus, as documented here in prior posts by Anil Kalhan, supporting Pervez Musharraf to the hilt. There is a conspiracy theory floating about that Musharraf has manufactured the Red Mosque crisis to quiet any Western criticism of his handling of the Chaudhry issue by reminding us here that, well, apres Musharraf, le deluge. But even if the immediate crisis is manufactured, the risk of an Islamist government coming to power in Pakistan should Musharraf fall---or even should he peaceably step aside for free elections---is real and terrifying.

Nonetheless, the U.S. track record of backing friendly autocrats to stave off unfriendly totalitarians (whether Communist or Islamist) is not good. The friendly autocrats tend to lose power anyway, and the resulting regime then has one more reason to hate us. I'm not suggesting that U.S. foreign policy should have, as an official aim, the removal of Musharraf. I am suggesting that we might want to moderate our support for him and that all of our foreign policy options here are very risky. This would be a hard job even for a competent administration.