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August 1, 2006
The Dictator's Islamist Dodge

Daniel Freedman, who runs the excellent New York Sun blog It Shines For All, takes an interesting look at the disincentives for dictators to defeat Islamofascism in the American Spectator. Freedman reports that the real threat to Pakistan's military dictatorship comes not from Islamists but from Democrats, led by former PM Benazir Bhutto. However, Pervez Musharraf has plenty of motivation for painting the Islamist threat as the biggest threat -- and for making sure that he never quite beats them:

THIS RESPONSE TO A PERCEIVED Islamist "threat" by the West is based on the premise that if the dictator falls, Islamists, rather than democrats, will take power. An apparent "threat" therefore ensures that the dictator won't be pressured to introduce reform and will be showered with aid. Take Egypt's Hosni Mubarak: He's backtracked on democracy reforms and imprisoned democracy activists. Yet he receives $1.7 billion a year in American aid. Why? Because of the supposed threat of radical Islamists (the Muslim Brotherhood). Other experts at this trickery are the Saudi princes: They fund extremist mosques around the world and yet American taxpayers pay for American troops to protect them.

It's also true, however, that the astute dictator has few other options if he wants to maintain his rule while maintaining good relations with the West. He's stuck in a Catch-22 situation. Not only does an Islamist "threat" solidify the dictatorship, defeating an Islamist threat, meantime, spells trouble for the dictatorship.

Under the Bush Doctrine, if a dictator has an Islamist threat and appears to be fighting that Islamist threat, he's an ally in the war on terror. But if the dictator ever defeats the Islamists, he's simply a dictator and an enemy in the war on terror -- as dictatorships breed terrorism. Therefore, if a dictator successfully defeats the terrorists and fulfills his tasks in the war on terror he's really scored the ultimate Pyrrhic victory: He's turned himself into the target. That the Bush Doctrine ends up punishing a dictator who succeeds in destroying domestic terrorists can't have escaped dictators.

With the fighting continuing in Afghanistan, we still need a cooperative Musharraf rather than the alternative. However, this does set up a dichotomy that the US will eventually have to face. If the cure for terrorism and fanaticism is democracy -- and I believe it is -- then we have to quit enabling the dictators at some point.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at August 1, 2006 9:29 PM

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