Fashion Statement

Posted January 3, 2007

Categories: Articles

If you’re going to throw rocks at the government, you’d better dress up for the occasion. That’s the take-away point from the media coverage of the protests in Pakistan. Splashed across the front page of newspapers last week was a picture of a Pakistani lawyer in a suit launching a projectile at the police. The photo editors couldn’t resist showcasing such a delicious juxtaposition of law and disorder.

The coverage in The Washington Post was particularly revealing, though not in the ways intended. In his attempt to deconstruct the image of the lawyer-protestor, for instance, Philip Kennicott succeeded only in displaying his own class prejudices. “Men in suits don’t throw things,” he writes. “If they confront police, they do it politely, in letters, in words spoken softly, reasonably, between reasonable men.”

Excuse me? Men in suits throw things all the time. The suits in the U.S. government, for instance, throw bombs at other countries. But alas, we have no pictures of these government officials breaking laws by signing orders to wage war, promote regime change, or stoke revolution. The truth is, men in suits are just as unreasonable, impolite, and confrontational as your average anti-war protestor—or more so. They simply don’t do it in the streets.

The anti-war and anti-globalization movements should take note. Forget pink. Forget Bread and Puppet. Forget peace signs, catchy slogans, Zapatista ski masks, and sensible protest wear. If we want to get media coverage and strike fear in the heart of Washington, we should come out for the next demonstration, all 500,000 of us, in our best interview suits.

Pakistan: The Real Story

In reality, of course, the government of Pervez Musharraf has cracked down severely on lawyers and everyone else who dares to challenge the Pakistani strongman. The noted Pakistani lawyer Asma Jahangir has a piece in The Washington Post on the crackdown. In an email making the rounds in cyberspace, her description of events is even more despairing: “Muneer A. Malik, the former president of the Supreme Court Bar Association and leader of the lawyers’ movement has been shifted to the notorious Attack Fort. He is being tortured and is under the custody of the military intelligence.”

Still, the Bush administration stands by its man. “In the crucial first few days after the coup there had been no phone calls from President George W. Bush or other leading U.S. officials demanding an immediate end to the martial law,” write FPIF contributors Zia Mian and A.H. Nayyar in Rule of Force vs. Rule of Law in Pakistan. They quote Pakistan’s minister of state for information as saying “the United States ‘would rather have a stable Pakistan—albeit with some restrictive norms—than have more democracy.’ In short, Islamabad expected, rightly it turns out, that Washington would wring its hands, offer platitudes about restoring democracy, perhaps a token slap on the wrist, and keep on supporting General Musharraf.”

Charles Krauthammer, neocon opinion maker extraordinaire, still sees value in supporting Musharraf, just as he chose to support Marcos in the Philippines and Pinochet in Chile in the past. “Universal democratization is lovely, but it cannot be a description of day-to-day diplomacy,” Krauthammer opines. “The blanket promise to always oppose dictatorship is inherently impossible to keep. It always requires considerations of local conditions and strategic necessity.” What local conditions is Krauthammer referring to? The conditions inside the Attack Fort prison?

Sadly, Krauthammer is far from alone. As Stephen Zunes puts it in Pakistan’s Dictatorships and the United States, “Despite his well-documented human rights abuses, the Pakistani general has been repeatedly praised by America’s political, academic, and media elites. Bush has commended Musharraf’s ‘courage and vision’ while [Deputy Secretary of State John] Negroponte told the recent House panel that the dictator was ‘a committed individual working very hard in the service of his country.’”

With turmoil in Pakistan, FPIF is still looking at the potential for détente in relations between Islamabad and New Dehli. This week, FPIF contributor Sharad Joshi looks at ways to end the conflict over the world’s highest battlefield, the Siachen ridge in the Kashmir province that straddles the two countries. “Demilitarization of Siachen is crucial to overall stability between India and Pakistan,” he writes in A Ridge Too Far. “But the confidence-building measures (CBM) proposed through the demilitarization of Siachen also come with great risks. The United States, which has remained aloof from this specific conflict, could receive substantial indirect benefits from a compromise over Siachen.”

Veterans Day

To commemorate Veterans Day, FPIF features two pieces from our longtime contributors, Col. Dan Smith and columnist Frida Berrigan, and one piece from a newcomer, Joshua F. String, a research associate at the Institute for Policy Studies.

In Paying for the Wars’ Wounded, Smith reflects on the costs of conflict. “Today’s wounded (and today’s 3,858 dead in Iraq and 459 in Afghanistan) present the public with an opportunity to start to end the fighting, the dying, and the maiming that seem to be endemic in the “social contract” of modern nation states,” Smith writes. “How? By bringing face-to-face those who serve with those who first asked them to serve, sent them to “care” for (that is, to fight for) the nation, and in so doing created a moral and even a legal reciprocal obligation to care for the wounded who “cared” for the nation when asked.”

Frida Berrigan focuses on a different set of costs, namely the U.S. military budget. “The Pentagon lost $13 billion alone in the sofa cracks last year,” Berrigan writes in How Much is Enough? “The Government Accountability Office put the price of Pentagon accounting problems at $13 billion in 2005. For fiscal year 2008, we are looking at a “base military budget” of $520 billion and another $127.5 billion in war spending, which means that total military spending will hit $647.5 billion. The Bush administration has presided over one of the largest military buildups in the history of the United States. $647 billion is a lot of money. After adjusting for inflation, it represents the highest level of military spending since World War II.”

And Joshua String relates the story of a boy, only 14, whose decision about joining the military reflects the much larger dilemma facing the war-obsessed United States. The 14-year-old had “resigned himself to the fact that the traditional understanding of ‘further education’ was showing itself to be neither commensurate with his talents, interests, nor his family’s economic resources. And so, he revealed, military enlistment would certainly be his only exit strategy to a different world of new possibilities,” String writes in Putting Foreign Policy in a Domestic Focus. “A young boy, yet to even begin high school, already was gripped by the feeling of entrapment proffered by a real world of ‘no good options.’”

Overseas Religious Influence

Our Religion and Foreign Policy strategic focus picks up again this week with two substantial reports on the impact of religious communities across borders.

In Dancing in the Earthquake, Rabbi Arthur Waskow assesses the tension between restoration and renewal in religious communities around the world, and the impact of these transformations on the approach of religious communities in the United States toward the Middle East. He offers a detailed look at the five principle communities in the United States—institutional Jewish, mainstream Protestant, evangelical Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Muslim—and assesses their relative influence on U.S. Middle East policy.

“There are two radically different ways of responding to the worldwide earthquake that moves the ground beneath our feet. One way is to grasp at some pillar of past certainty that we hope can help us live through the quake and subdue its energy, so as to make it possible once again to walk, to march, in the path that we remember,” Waskow writes. “The other is to learn to dance in an earthquake. In that dance, all our old versions of dancing will have to be reworked. No pattern of steps that we knew before will keep us upright and graceful as the ground shakes beneath us. Dancing in the earthquake—renewing rather than restoring our traditions and communities—may well be necessary if religious life in America is to shape a new official policy toward the land from which our three major religions emerged—the Middle East.”

Scott M. Thomas, meanwhile, offers a critique of the predominant U.S. government approach to promoting religion overseas. In How and Why to Support Religion Overseas, he writes, “Even before the Iraq debacle we should have known that authenticity needed to accompany development. Successful development, no matter how it is defined, can only occur if social, political, and economic change corresponds with the moral basis of a society, with its cultural and religious tradition. We should have learned this tragic lesson with the failure of modernization and development in the late 1960s, and the return to a U.S. concern for what Samuel Huntington famously called ‘political order’ rather than democracy.”

Finally, FPIF published this week the second round in our Strategic Dialogue on Taiwan. In the first round, Ian Williams argued that the United States should not abandon Taiwan at its time of need while Yu Bin maintained that Taiwan’s uncompromising push for independence is destabilizing the region. This week, Ian Williams responds by emphasizing Taiwan’s Right to a State and Yu Bin urges Taiwan to act more responsibly in Making Democracy Safe for the World.

FPIF, November 16, 2007

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