Sunday, November 04, 2007

The Problem With Coups

Musharraf, the pro-Western dictator of Pakistan, has declared a state of emergency and has begun removing all constitutional checks to his power. The Supreme Court of Pakistan apparently was preparing to render a verdict that he could not remain as president of the country and Musharraf will not tolerate this. This type of thing is always sad to see.

We have a translation of Musharraf's remarks at Here is some.

Let us move forward. How is the government functioning? In my view, it is in semi-paralysis, stricken. All of the senior representatives of the government are constantly going to the courts - especially to the Supreme Court. They are being giving sentences. They are being shamed publicly in the courts. Hence, they don't want to take any more decisions. At least 100 suo moto cases are currently running in the Supreme Court. And I am being told that thousands of applications are pending. And all of these suo moto cases are concerning the executive branch of the government. Functioning of the government is paralyzed at the moment.

Let us look at law enforcement agencies. In my view, they are demoralized - especially in Islamabad. They have given up hope. Why? Because their officers are being punished - same trips to the Supreme Court. Ten officers - including two Inspector Generals - are suspended or convicted. And so, we have a demoralized force with low morale, afraid to take any action. They don't want to do anything except sit with their arms crossed.

To hear Musharraf tell it, the Supreme Court is an evil group of people.

The US wanted a transition from Musharraf to Bhutto, with Bhutto winning the kind of stage-managed election without real competition that Abbas won. Nawaz Sharif, less pro-American, was expelled from the country. He was at least a threat to defeat Bhutto. I have not seen poll results, but I doubt anywhere in the Muslim world a more pro-American candidate, openly supported by and likely beholden to the West, can defeat a more religious candidate with comparable leadership credentials.

No matter though, the Saudis agreed to imprison Sharif to prevent him from competing against Bhutto. I'm sure the Bush administration along with the Saudis thought they were being clever. As Putin said, trying to fight a people is pointless. If Pakistan wants anti-American leadership, it is going to get anti-American leadership. If America makes the process harder, it only makes the ultimate leadership even more anti-American. (Same for Iraq of course. We saw what happened with Iran.)

In general, coups produce more talented leaders than inheritance. The leaders of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain and Syria do not have the brain power to put together a coup. After the coup is over, the same talent leads to more effective pursuit of national interests. Coups that are accomplished using foreign help, for example that of Iran's shah can produce poor leaders but military coups very rarely do.

Military coups though, do not have the safety valve of term limits. I'm coming to the opinion that the single most important element in consistently effective national leadership is term limits. Term limits imply that the current leader is leaving and that there will be a contest for the successor.

The difference between a contest that is a semi-popular national election, as in the United States, or a party convention as in China is not an important one. What is important is that a large body of people starts the contest and there is a skill-based winnowing system from which the most talented at political maneuvering emerges in a position to take leadership.

Term limits imply a contest and a contest implies a talented winner, as long as external factors such as membership in a much smaller group, family relationships or foreign sponsorship are not a significant factor in determining the winner of the contest.

One problem with coups is that nobody in power wants to limit his term. Really, while coup planners have to be at least decent, they often are not the very best and there are often people who are going to beat them in any fair contest as soon as its established. Being in power feels very good. A leader of a country is constantly affirmed and his psyche constantly reinforced. Very few people, especially people desperate enough for power to break the law and risk death fighting the established order can give this up voluntarily.

Instead, coup leaders become Musharraf. They drift out of touch with the country and use force to maintain power.

Regarding Sharif, the Saudis never cared. They did what the United States told them to do. There is no bigger group of buffoons on the international scene. The Saudis are making it so that you can't even say the words "Sunni Islam" without laughing.

The United States did what it has to do. It can't just let the whole Muslim world come under leadership that is hostile to America just because of Israel. Much like breaking up Iraq is bad policy from a US perspective, trying to prevent a popular leader in Pakistan from taking power by installing a puppet is also bad policy. As usual, US interests will not be served by this. In the case of Iraq, Russia will be the long-term winner because of Turkey. In the case of Pakistan Iran, China and Russia and will benefit from Pakistan's surge towards anti-Americanism.

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