Monday, December 31, 2007

Brief Comments On Bhutto

A couple of weeks ago, I put together one of those casual lists of people with whom I'd most like to have dinner. Benazir Bhutto was on it. There's been some good commentary during the past few days about her life and death. But I think the images of her that will endure, appropriately, are those from the final few weeks of her life: high on a platform, unprotected (though as we know now, not unconcerned) in front of thousands of people in one of the most volatile nations on earth, or poking up through a car roof, waving passionately to supporters. She was, above all else, courageous. Quite a contrast to our own campaign trail these days, where blow-dried chest-thumping and courage via lapel flag-pin defines the candidates as well as their supporters. Bhutto certainly wasn't perfect, but she talked the talk and walked the walk in a part of the world where doing the latter, unfortunately, often gets you killed.

Meanwhile, my nominations for chutzpah-cum-desperation award of the month are here and here. Ready for another four (or eight) years in which these sorts of devastating indictments of an administration's foreign policy are spun as "reminders" of something we've apparently all forgotten?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Giuliani invoked September 11th when mentioning this morning's carnage. . ."

Now there's a surprise. . .

12/31/2007 1:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a great GOP campaign slogan -- "On To Islamabad"! I look forward to hearing from the "serious" people at the American Enterprise Institute and the Israeli embassy, about why we need to occupy Pakistan pronto.

Not that the Dems would do much to stop them, mind you. We are so fucked.....
-- sglover

12/31/2007 3:37 AM  
Blogger Hal Hildebrand said...

Um, isn't corruption on a massive scale something completely antithetical to a democracy? Doesn't massive corruption rank somewhere right at the top as the all time enemies of democracy?


Courageous != virtuous and it certainly doesn't equal honorable. Quite frankly, it takes a lot of courage to be as corrupt as Bhutto obviously was. The fact that you can't even begin to mention this wee tiny fact about her, nor does it even seem to put a dent in your admiration of her is your own tell.

Frankly, it really doesn't appear that you've learned much during the reign Bush. Sure, you hate him, but it seems like you'd make the same mistake all over again and then issue the same regrets.

12/31/2007 10:44 AM  
Blogger The Cunning Realist said...

Corruption in Pakistan? I'm shocked. As for what I "can't even begin to mention", note the post's header for an indication of my intention here as well as my time constraints. My comment that "Bhutto certainly wasn't perfect" is appropriate for a short post, no? But a suggestion: set up your very own blog (call it "Courageous Hal" or some variation of that) and devote the first post to an exhaustive analysis of the political and social history of Pakistan, focusing particularly on the issue of corruption. Let us know when you're done, and we'll all head over to take a look. In the meantime, I'll ask my mailman if he's seen your monthly subscription check anywhere.

12/31/2007 11:55 AM  
Blogger Hal Hildebrand said...

Hmmm. Interesting response. Like the whole intellectual discussion aspect and purposeful avoidance of personal attacks while sticking to the facts. As they say, classy. WRT a blog, thanks. I have one, written under a non de plume. I use my real name for comments.

Anyways, the point is that you're putting Bhutto as a courageous person who is worthy of the pedestal you're putting her up on. Now, the question is why? You say she walked the walk. What walk was that? Granted, the post is only a "brief commentary", but what you left dangling was rather odd. You have of course completely ignored my first question, which is about corruption, by simply attacking me instead. Yes, obviously Pakistan is corrupt. But then wasn't Bhutto at least as corrupt as the current regime? And if so, then what about her - other than the massive corruption - was honorable about her?

Someone using opposition politics to reestablish herself in a position where she can resume funneling massive amounts of money back into her and her crony's personal bank accounts doesn't appear to be honorable or worthy of a pedestal. The fact that she was willing to risk her life to do this certainly takes some stones, but that really isn't what it's all about, is it? Corrupt politicians have always used "democracy" and popular issues as the front for their actual agenda of siphoning off the public treasury. Doesn't make her honorable and the only courage it shows is that she's willing to do anything to get back feeding at the trough.

I mean, one can certainly have a grudging admiration for those who are pretty much on the wrong side of things. Either for their ruthlessness, willingness to risk all to enrich themselves, etc. But if you're someone who is purporting to be a champion of democracy, good and all that jazz, then what possible interpretation of "walk the walk" is one supposed to have regarding your comment other than you think she was either some beacon of democracy - as much as can be in the corrupt land she lives in - or that you pretty much admire the fact that she's willing to put her life on the line so she can resume stealing. If it's the former, then it seems like a very thin reed to rely on.

12/31/2007 12:24 PM  
Blogger The Cunning Realist said...

We're certainly not going to settle the issue of "What Made Benazir Run" here. But I think it's obvious that if one's main goal is personal enrichment, there are a lot easier roads to take than poking your head up through car roofs in Pakistan -- especially for someone like Bhutto, who was living a very comfortable life in Dubai and, unlike most other former third-world heads of state, had the background, status, and means to maintain that lifestyle and do whatever she wanted.

12/31/2007 1:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rudy can't help himself. His tongue automatically forms the phrase 9/11 whenever he opens his mouth.

Best wishes to the Cunning Realist in 2008 - and best wishes to all of us in surviving one last year of the Bush administration.

12/31/2007 1:25 PM  
Blogger Hal Hildebrand said...

But I think it's obvious that if one's main goal is personal enrichment, there are a lot easier roads to take than poking your head up through car roofs in Pakistan

Depends, really. One does what one is good at and there are always "easier" ways which are effectively outside one's own skill set that, if one had the correct skill set would make things easier. But that seems like a rather quick way to dismiss the argument. In my experience, I've found that rather rich and powerful people aren't really satisfied with living the comfortable life. They're driven to make/do more. There's plenty of examples of certifiable despots coming back under very dangerous circumstances doing "courageous" things to win back their power and riches. History seems quite filled with examples. Further, I'm pretty sure that individual's rationalizations for their actions almost never comes down to looking at things objectively. Perhaps she really did see herself as a champion of democracy and someone who was there only for the people. People have a great capacity for lying to themselves.

But again, the issue is more the reality rather than what she did or did not see herself as. Again, if you are correct and her heart was pure and that is what indeed drove her, then I guess I can see your point. But I can't look past the actual facts that she was driven out of power by the very people she was supposed to be serving, and I'm wondering how you can rationalize that away. She stole massive amounts from the government coffers to line her own treasury. She assisted many others to do the same. She was so hated by those she purportedly served that they would rather have a military dictatorship than have her in office. Good intentions certainly doesn't excuse this behavior.

I suppose one can mark that down to the idiocy of the masses and their flaws, but surely at some point one has to start looking at her life objectively rather than through the filter she used to see herself. And that view of what she was and what she did is really quite damning.

As they say, the path to hell is paved with good intentions. The trick, it seems, is to figure out you are, in fact, on the road to hell and damn your good intentions that tell you otherwise. While there may be a few points given for good intentions, what matters is the actual, real effect we have on those around us.

There may be good arguments for why she was the lesser of all the available evils, but I haven't heard much other than arguments of your framing - i.e. good background, right schooling, etc, etc. Not coming from the right side of the tracks myself, I've never understood the philosophy that having the right background did anything more than provide even sharper relief for the very real failures of those who had every reason and resource to do far better with their actual actions. George Bush comes to mind as a good example.

In any event, it is very strange how one never sees any argue for Bhutto from the perspective of her actual record. But then, her actual record is pretty abysmal so I guess one has to choose a different pallet to paint her tribute with.

12/31/2007 1:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Completely aside from politics of the day... just a quick note to say thanks for a great year of writing. Happy N.Y.

12/31/2007 4:24 PM  
Blogger Hal Hildebrand said...

If You Knew Pinky …

Timothy Noah does a wonderful parody of the college remembrances hagiography of Bhutto...

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