Blaming America first has become something of a safe bet in recent years.
The problem with blaming other countries is that we can't fix them. Try as we might we bomb the wrong people, make devils' bargains, create new enemies and bring misery to friends.
Take Benazir Bhutto. Our government's hands could hardly be bloodier had we pulled the trigger, set off the bomb or trained her assassin.
I'm not a betting man, so when I blame America, it's in part because your daily paper and the talking heads on TV and Congress won't hold our government accountable, but mostly I do it because it's God's own truth. When it comes to Pakistan, we have a long history of mucking things up, and I'll spend most of this column documenting not necessarily in this order.
1. How Condoleezza Rice unwittingly set Bhutto up for the kill by convincing her to return to Pakistan last October.
2. How American policy led to the creation of the Taliban and al-Qaeda--forces officially blamed for killing her—and funneled those forces into Pakistan from Tora Bora and elsewhere.
3. Worst of all, how our government allowed Pakistan to develop the long-dreaded "Islamic bomb" by turning a blind eye to the activities of A.Q. Kahn, beloved father of Pakistan's nuclear weapons. In serving as midwife for those nukes, we raised the stakes so high in Pakistan that events there now imperil our world.
Don't take my word for it. Four new books chronicle the sad truth of how we enabled Pakistan to get the bomb. ("The Nuclear Jihadist" by Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins. "Iran and the Bomb" by Therese Delpech. "America and the Islamic Bomb" by David Armstrong and Joseph Trento. "Deception: Pakistan, the United States, and the Secret Trade in Nuclear Weapons" by Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark.) All four tell more or less the same rotten story when it comes to Pakistan, according to press reports, and the players are depressingly familiar. Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Presidents Carter, Reagan, Clinton and both Bushes, a variety of spooks, politicos, business interests, and the arch-villain of them all, A.Q. Kahn.
His activities made Pakistan a trader in nuclear merchandise across a broad Muslim crescent and as far beyond as North Korea.
"The man who knew too much," an article headlined in the Oct. 13, 2007, edition of The Guardian, chronicles how Rich Barlow, an expert on Pakistan's nuclear secrets, was thrown out of the CIA and disgraced when he blew the whistle on Pakistan's nukes.
So why would America allow Pakistan to gain nuclear weapons? Mostly for the same reasons we funneled money and arms to that country's government and extremist Muslim organizations in the Seventies and Eighties. It was part of the price tag for Pakistan's help in driving the Soviet Union from Afghanistan.
Here's the strategy.
First, lure the Soviets INTO Afghanistan, which was a Soviet ally at the time. Back when this God-playing strategy still seemed like a good idea, President Carter's national security advisor, Brzezinski, used to brag about how he set out "to give them their Vietnam" by luring the Soviets into invading Afghanistan. He lured the Soviets there by encouraging guerilla attacks on the country's infrastructure.
Next, support the Mujahideen and Arab Jihadists--forerunners of the Taliban and al-Qaeda respectively--as we enabled these groups to fight the Soviets, often using Pakistan as a staging ground. To ensure Pakistan's cooperation, we turned a blind eye to its nuclear ambitions and offered arms and aid.
Much is made of this strategy in "From the Shadows: The Ultimate Insider's Story of Five Presidents and How They Won the Cold War," a book written by Robert Gates before he became our secretary of defense. No Lefty he.
You'll see precious little evidence of the blowback from this cynical ploy---which resulted in millions of casualties as war led to war---in the new Tom Hanks flick, "Charlie Wilson's War," which carefully tiptoes around many of the character flaws and other inconvenient truths about Charlie Wilson.
Rather, read "The Looming Tower" by Lawrence Wright, if you want the big picture. No darling of the Left, Wright chronicles how Osama Bin Laden, his ally Ayman al-Zawahiri, Afghani tribesmen and Jihadists from across the Muslim world used Pakistan in the war against the Soviets, with the approval of the Reagan / Bush administration.
Wright tells how the Jihad attracted bored and disaffected Muslims from all across the Middle East to Pakistan to aid their fellow Muslims in Afghanistan, and how tribal warlords there grew so bloody and violent in the aftermath of their victory that America encouraged the nascent Taliban to take over. The Taliban turned out to be worse, if possible, than the warlords they replaced.
After the civil war in Afghanistan, armed and battle-seasoned Muslims who'd flocked to Afghanistan and Pakistan returned to Egypt, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Somalia, the Sudan and other countries, creating fundamentalist movements and terror cells there.
Bin Laden made common cause with the Taliban, established terrorist training camps in Afghanistan for his new followers, and Al-Qaeda was born. Cells sprang up in Germany, France, England and, eventually, America and elsewhere.
One result was 9/11. In the aftermath of that calamity, we bombed and invaded Afghanistan, while encouraging the Northern Alliance to wrest control from the Taliban.
As the New Yorker and others have chronicled, lots of al-Qaeda and Taliban operatives, hemmed in at Tora Bora in late 2001, escaped to the Pakistani border in a virtual caravan. Seymour Hersh, writing in the New Yorker, has charged that American Special Forces colluded in the getaway, and provided damning eyewitness accounts. Big Media, natch, shrugged off the story.
Either way, over the years we've funneled lots of killers to Pakistan—Jihadists, Mujahideen fighters, Taliban, al-Qaeda—making that country their uneasy host for years. And during many of those years, we made it our business to support President Pervez Musharraf with billions in aid and weapons, despite the success of al-Qaeda and the Taliban to perpetrate outrageous violence from there.
Which brings us to Bhutto. Wittingly or not, we set her up for the kill. It's laid out in a story from the Dec. 28 Washington Post, headlined, "U.S. Brokered Bhutto's Return to Pakistan: White House Would Back Her as Prime Minister While Musharraf Held Presidency," By Robin Wright and Glenn Kessler.
They write, "For Benazir Bhutto, the decision to return to Pakistan was sealed during a telephone call from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice just a week before Bhutto flew home in October. The call culminated more than a year of secret diplomacy--and came only when it became clear that the heir to Pakistan's most powerful political dynasty was the only one who could bail out Washington's key ally in the battle against terrorism.
"It was a stunning turnaround for Bhutto, a former prime minister who was forced from power in 1996 amid corruption charges. She was suddenly visiting with top State Department officials, dining with U.N. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and conferring with members of the National Security Council. As President Pervez Musharraf's political future began to unravel this year, Bhutto became the only politician who might help keep him in power.
"The U.S. came to understand that Bhutto was not a threat to stability, but was instead the only possible way that we could guarantee stability and keep the presidency of Musharraf intact," said Mark Siegel, who lobbied for Bhutto in Washington and witnessed much of the behind-the-scenes diplomacy.
"Bhutto's assassination leaves Pakistan's future - and Musharraf's - in doubt, some experts said. 'U.S. policy is in tatters. The administration was relying on Benazir Bhutto's participation in elections to legitimate Musharraf's continued power as president,' said Barnett R. Rubin of New York University. 'Now Musharraf is finished.'"
I wouldn't bet on it. Musharraf still has powerful friends in Washington, Pakistan, and elsewhere. Who and why begs lots of other questions about pipelines, arms deals, secret meetings, 9/11 and other intrigues I can't begin to address here. Let's just say Musharraf has options. He could yet feed lots of people to the pyre of ambition before he's finished.