Pakistan and the “Other” Other War

Today’s New York Times reports that Pakistan’s president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, is caught in “one of the most serious political binds of his nearly seven-year tenure.” Gen. Musharraf’s bind is an American bind, too, because he has been “one of Washington’s most indispensable allies” since the 9/11 attacks, and Washington is loathe to see a nuclear-armed country of 165 million people become an enemy in the war on terrorism.

The tension between short-term diplomatic expediency and long-term political objectives has characterized U.S.-Pakistani relations for years. Another Pakistani general who took power in a coup, Mohammed Zia-ul-Haq, aided U.S. efforts to drive the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan in the 1980s (which we appreciated), even as his country was busy developing nuclear weapons (which we didn’t). 

Today, the short-term benefit that we derive — Musharraf’s cooperation in the fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban — is being undermined by Musharraf’s political weakness at home. We don’t appreciate that groups in Pakistan have been linked to the London airplane bombing plot; we don’t appreciate that Pakistan’s government has proved either unable or unwilling to eliminate the flow of foreign fighters and foreign money into Afghanistan, as The Times of London reported yesterday; we are frustrated by the whitewash of the A.Q. Khan affair, one of the most notorious cases of nuclear proliferation in the history of the NPT regime; and it is uncomfortable, to say the least, for the Bush administration to say that it favors democracy while clinging tightly to an undemocratic ruler such as Musharraf. 

And yet, the fear of what could come — and the worst-case scenario of an Al Qaeda sympathizer with his finger on Pakistan’s nuclear button is very, very bad — inhibits the United States from pressuring Musharraf on a range of issues. 

How long can this persist? And what are we sacrificing over the long-term in order to see the Pakistani status quo remain in place?

We are certainly sacrificing any semblance of consistency.

Take, for example, the Bush administration’s approach to the issue of state sovereignty, and of holding a sovereign government responsible — to its own people and to the international community — for what takes place on its territory, and compare the three cases of Lebanon and Hezbollah, Iraq and Iran, and Afghanistan and Pakistan.

In the war between Israel and Hezbollah, a fragile cease-fire remains in place as the Lebanese government attempts to reassert is authority over an independent militia supported by foreign governments. The AP reports that the Lebanese army deployment into southern Lebanon “marks the extension of government sovereignty over the whole country for the first time since 1969.”

In the other war of great interest for Americans, the war in Iraq, Shiite militias, also supported by foreigners, undermine the legitimacy of the government, and threaten to drag the country into a full-fledged civil war.

In the first instance, the U.S. government supports a UN force (one that will not include U.S. troops, thankfully) to shore up a weak government. The implication is that the Siniora government cannot be held responsible for Hezbollah’s actions. (The fact that Hezbollah is a member of the government adds a further complication.)

In the case of Iraq, the United States has darkly warned Iran and Syria to halt the flow of foreign fighters across the border, and to cease all support for the ethnic militias. Several agitators outside of the administration have declared Iran and Syria’s meddling in Iraq to be an immediate casus belli. The implication is that Tehran and Damascus are in complete control of their borders, and of all money that flows (even from private hands) to the militias. This is not a problem of weak governance; it is a problem of mendacious governments.

Return, then, to Pakistan’s behavior in America’s “other” other war — the one that we launched after the 9/11 attacks.

The Times of London story reported that “Highly trained foreign fighters are pouring back into Afghanistan across the Pakistani border to take on British and other Nato troops.” One source told The Times: “We know they are coming from Egypt, Syria and the Yemen and there may well be foreign fighters from other countries who are once again taking up the Taleban cause.”

The parallels are hardly perfect — few are. In fact, the problem in Pakistan’s lawless northwest territories is worse than what is taking place in Iraq, or what was happening (and might still happen) in southern Lebanon. In the case of Lebanon, Hezbollah posed a direct threat to Israel. In Iraq, the threat is of an incipient civil war evolving into a full-scale conflict, and then a regional war. In Afghanistan, if the Taliban’s resurgence facilitates Al Qaeda’s efforts, and if the Pakistani-Afghan border proves as porous to other things (e.g., nuclear materials or weapons) as it is to people and money, it threatens the whole world.

The Bush policy in Lebanon is in support of an international force. In Iraq, the president favors confrontation with the foreigners meddling in Iraqi internal affairs. With respect to Pakistan and Afghanistan, we adopt a muddled, middle course — fearful of pressuring Musharraf else his government falls, but frustrated by the extent to which Pakistan remains at the center of the terror war.

If the trend lines were moving in an upward trajectory — if Islamic radicalism was on the decline in Pakistan, if Afghanistan was becoming more stable, if Musharraf was making meaningful progress towards democratization, or, at least, gaining strength against the radical Islamists — we could hold to the current course on the assumption (hope, really) that we could ride out the storm and that circumstances will ultimately improve.

But the trend lines are not moving in a favorable direction, and it suggests that a different approach is needed. At a minimum, we must be thinking about, and preparing for, a post-Musharraf future, whenever that might come.

Preference for Ignorance

Yesterday, I had a Tech Central Station column that said:

In the fields of health care, education, and assistance to poor countries, we rarely measure value properly. It seems as though we prefer to be ignorant about what succeeds and what fails. We know shockingly little about the cost-effectiveness of very expensive programs.

And today, the New York Times reports:

Some medical experts say Elyria’s high rate of angioplasties — three times the rate of Cleveland, just 30 miles away — raises the question of whether some patients may be getting procedures they do not need or whether some could have been treated just as effectively and at lower cost and less risk through heart drugs that may cost only several hundred dollars a year. Or whether, in some cases, patients might be even better off with bypass surgery — even though a bypass is a riskier, more invasive and more expensive procedure.

When it comes to treating blocked arteries, there are no definitive studies showing which approach most benefits patients in the long term.

The absence of cost-benefit analysis in medical decision-making is one of the main issues raised in my new Cato book Crisis of Abundance. On Tuesday, August 29th, Cato will be having a lunch forum on the book, where you can hear me as well as comments from Washington Post columnist Sebastian Mallaby and Democratic wonk Jason Furman.

An Anonymous Affront to Transparency

As the Federal Times reports, a bill designed to promote transparency in the federal government is being held up by a very non-transparent Senate procedure.

An anonymous senator has placed a “hold” on a bill that would create a publicly accessible federal database to track all federal grants and contracts. As Chris Edwards explains, it’s a meritorious piece of legislation. However, this bipartisan bill introduced by Sen. Tom Coburn is indefinitely stalled and might not reach the Senate floor this year.

The House has approved a similar, though slightly watered-down, version of this legislation that would monitor federal grants, but not contracts.

With 29 bipartisan senators co-sponsoring Coburn’s bill and roughly 100 diverse groups supporting it, you would think that this legislation would pass easily.  

Think again.


Bashing Wal-Mart (and Millions of Shoppers)

Can Democrats ride what they see as a populist wave of anger against Wal-Mart to success in the 2006 elections and beyond? According to a New York Times story this morning:

Across Iowa this week and across much of the country this month, Democratic leaders have found a new rallying cry that many of them say could prove powerful in the midterm elections and into 2008: denouncing Wal-Mart for what they say are substandard wages and health care benefits …

The focus on Wal-Mart is part of a broader strategy of addressing what Democrats say is general economic anxiety and a growing sense that economic gains of recent years have not benefited the middle class or the working poor.

This new strategy tells us much more about the lingering anti-business, anti-market and, yes, elitist mindset of the Democratic Party’s national leaders than it does about Wal-Mart itself.

Wal-Mart and other price-conscious discount retailers are really a working family’s best friend. They operate in the marketplace as representatives for millions of consumers, ensuring that they get the best and lowest prices possible from wholesalers and producers. Tens of millions of American shoppers vote with their feet every week by visiting their local Wal-Mart.

If Wal-Mart offers wages and benefits that are below the national average, it is not because of company policy but because of the realities of the marketplace. Retail jobs in general offer below-average compensation because the jobs tend to be lower-skilled and less productive than most other jobs. Even so, Wal-Mart’s wages within the retail sector are competitive. A worker at Wal-Mart is more likely to have health insurance and be paid more than a worker with similar skills at a small, “mom and pop” retailer.

The denunciation of Wal-Mart is largely driven by politics. Labor unions, a key Democratic Party constituency, see non-unionized Wal-Mart stores as a threat to their efforts to organize retail workers, especially those in the grocery sector.

Democrats will need to decide who they want to represent: Tens of millions of cost-conscious, lower- and middle-income shoppers, or noisy but far less numerous union members who do not like competition.

Judge Says NSA Wiretapping Program Unconstitutional

The ACLU brought a constitutional challenge to the NSA’s controversial wiretapping program several months ago and the judge has now ruled the NSA program to be unconstitutional (click on the 06-10204 pdf). This is just the initial round of what will likely be a long legal fight.  The government will appeal and the battle will move to an appeals court, and then possibly to the U.S. Supreme Court.

For additional background, go here and here.

Last Hope for Fourth Amendment Hangs by a Thread; Weekly Standard Rejoices

Over at the Weekly Standard, William Tucker notes gleefully that the exclusionary rule is but one Bush Supreme Court appointment away from extinction.

Tim Lynch’s 1998 Policy Analysis is about all you’ll need to thoroughly refute Tucker’s general thesis. But two specific passages in Tucker’s broadside on the Fourth Amendment are worth addressing:

What makes the exclusionary rule so absurd is that it only protects people who are guilty of crimes. If the police come to your house, knock down your door, ransack your home, throw all your belongings in the street, and find no incriminating evidence, then the exclusionary rule offers you no compensation whatsoever. Only if evidence turns up that shows you to be guilty of something are you rewarded.

This argument – that the exclusionary rule “only protects the guilty” – is a common refrain on the right. Strictly speaking, Tucker’s right. Once the scenario he outlines has taken place, the exclusionary rule offers no remedy. But Tucker and critics like him ignore the rule’s deterrent value. The exclusionary rule helps ensure that fewer of those incidents happen in the first place.

If police know in advance that evidence gathered from ill-conisidered searches performed without adequate investigation won’t hold up in court, they’re more likely to take the necessary precautions to ensure that bad searches don’t happen. That means fewer scenarios like the one Tucker lays out, and fewer of the all-too-real incidents that clutter this map.

Tucker also bites on Justice Scalia’s canard about the new police professionalism, and the new mechanisms we supposedly have in place to deal with police excess:

In pointing out how dated the exclusionary rule has become, Justice Scalia noted both the “increasing professionalism of police forces” and the ease with which aggrieved citizens can now pursue other remedies against the police for the violation of their rights. “Citizens whose Fourth Amendment rights were violated by federal officers could not bring suit until 10 years after Mapp,” Scalia noted. Since then, “Congress has authorized attorney’s fees for civil-rights plaintiffs… . The number of public-interest law firms and lawyers who specialize in civil-rights grievances has greatly expanded… . [E]xtant deterrences against [Fourth amendment violations] are … incomparably greater than the factors deterring warrantless entries when Mapp was decided. Resort to the massive remedy of suppressing evidence of guilt is unjustified.”

As any civil rights attorney will attest, the barriers to bringing a federal lawsuit agianst a police officer, police department, or city are enormous. The qualified immunity we give individual officers and the sovereign immunity granted to government entities they work for – immunities Scalia has helped broaden – make such suits nearly impossible in all but the most egregious cases. Even then, it’s tough to find a lawyer willing to risk the time and energy to bring a suit that’s likely to be thrown out of court before ever reaching trial.

Throughout the 1990s, New Yorkers on the receiving end of “wrong door” raids like the one Tucker describes weren’t even compensated for the damage done to their homes, much less for the needless terror and fright they suffered. After the “wrong door” raid that ended in the death of innocent city worker Alberta Spruill in 2003, the city instituted some reforms, but has already begun to renege on its promises.

In many cities, the entire warrant process – from the shady informant’s tip to breaking down the suspect’s door – takes only a matter of hours. The judges we entrust with oversight have largely turned the warrant process into a rubber-stamp exercise. And when these lax procedures do result in tragedy, public officials clam up. Transparency and accountability give way to CYA and damage control.

There are some 40,000 paramilitary police raids conducted each year in America, and that number is rising. Given the high stakes and low margin for error associated with such tactics, we need more assurance that police are doing everything possible to ensure they have the right suspect, not less. The coming death of the exclusionary rule should be mourned, not celebrated.