20 September 2008

Islamabad: "Not the act of a Muslim"

The above were the words of the president of Pakistan, the widower of Benazir Bhutto, regarding the truck-bombing of the Islamabad Marriot hotel shortly after his inauguration, and a short distance from where he was holding a reception. Since the morning news there's been no update of the official death estimate, but most observers expect it to rise from "more than 40," possibly into the hundreds.

The president probably didn't mean to hint that a Hindu had done the deed. More likely he meant the same thing you'd hear from most Christians in this country the next time one of their number commits a mass killing or other publicly heinous crime. The perpetrator may pretend to be a believer, according to this line of argument, but the deed belies the belief. No true Muslim or Christian could do such things, just as no true Communist would build a gulag and no true Capitalist would cause an economic depression.

Time will tell whether this event will take Americans' attention away from the economy, now that Wall Street is rejoicing over the government's impending bank bailout. On Fox News this morning, Bob Barr was being interviewed as the Islamabad story broke. He warned that renewed attention to national security (especially since that's the topic of the first McCain-Obama debate next Friday) might distract the public from what Barr described as a takeover of the banking industry by government bureaucrats. Barr disapproves of the bailout, and when asked by the Fox interviewer whether financial security wasn't just as important as national security, he replied with the hope that wiser decisions are being made on the latter front than on the former.

In any event, Pakistan is likely to be a lively debate subject. Senator Obama has generally endorsed President Bush's incursions and drone attacks into the frontier provinces, in keeping with his concern with destroying the al-Qaeda leadership. Without criticizing Bush himself, or noting that Obama had applauded an aggressive Bush policy, Senator McCain during the primary debates criticized the Democrat for an irresponsible, immature approach to Pakistan that failed to appreciate the delicate realities of the situation. He could point to today's atrocity as proof that he is right about Pakistan, that the attack was a consequence of the provocative moves that Bush has undertaken and Obama has approved. Obama, on the other hand, could argue that the news from Islamabad merely underlines the priority of stabilizing the frontier region and driving out or capturing bin Laden and his gang. He could remind voters that McCain has never, to my knowledge, submitted a strategy for pursuing the terrorists into Pakistan, which he must do if he is to follow bin Laden "to the gates of hell." The most I've ever heard from McCain on this subject is that he'll negotiate with the country's leaders, but given how little law prevails in that hillbilly Pashtun country, negotiation seems to amount to a do-nothing strategy. It's possibly even less than Bush is doing at this point.

Pakistan is also a useful debate subject because the Islamabad incident should tell us that the Iraq "surge" is old news. Obama remains correct that it has failed in its political goals, and it remains little cause for applause that we had to clean up a mess that we created for no good reason in the first place. The main front against terrorism is Pakistan and Afghanistan, and this seems like a good time for Obama and any other opponent of the Iraq adventure to tell the public that this has always been the case, no matter what Bush and the Republicans believed.

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A YouTube subscriber has posted a photomontage of the Islamabad Marriot as it was and as it has become. I don't find anything profound here, just an interesting mix of images and music. Have a look for yourselves.

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