NEW DELHI — Which country poses a serious threat because of its established links with international terrorism, proven program to develop weapons of mass destruction and close ties with other dictatorships in WMD-related matters? To a resident of New Delhi, the answer may be obvious: Pakistan, bristling with dangerous extremists inside and outside its armed forces and engaged in covert WMD cooperation with the communist regimes in Beijing and Pyongyang.

But to U.S. President George W. Bush and several of his advisers, the answer is Iraq, a starving, humbled country that has reeled under oppressive international sanctions for 11 years and whose WMD projects were methodically dismantled by U.N. inspectors over several years before they were expelled for refusing to acknowledge their mission was over.

In the current din in the United States over whether to wage war on Iraq or find other ways to change the regime there, an undeclared Bush policy is emerging — demand democracy in enemy states and support oil-friendly dictatorships.

Bush is correct that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, who gassed members of his country’s Kurdish minority, symbolizes evil and that his downfall, by whatever means, is essential to resolve the humanitarian crisis confronting Iraqis and to bring their nation back into the international mainstream. If Iraq is reintegrated with the world, it would send oil prices tumbling down, benefiting oil-importing nations.

But the president is wrong in seeking to impose a unilateral solution to the Iraq problem. In doing so, he is in danger of pointlessly stoking anti-U.S. sentiment at a time when America’s unprecedented primacy in the world calls for responsible leadership and prudence. The more justifications Bush puts forward for war with Iraq, the more he exposes the contradictions in his foreign policy.

While offering few firm facts in support of his claims on Iraq, Bush continues to turn a blind eye to and even wink at inconvenient facts about Pakistan. Even as Bush was threatening war on Iraq for democracy’s sake, dictator Pervez Musharraf, not content with the sham referendum he held earlier this year for his self-declared presidency, proclaimed 29 constitutional amendments in one stroke to virtually crown himself the emperor of Pakistan.

More interesting is the way Bush reacted to this constitutional assault by someone who, true to his training, likes to execute everything in commando style. Bush began by heaping praise on Musharraf for being “still tight with us on the war against terror” and, after stating disingenuously that he would “continue to work with our friends and allies to promote democracy,” ended without a word in criticism.

If democracy is good and necessary for Iraqis, why isn’t it so for Pakistanis? If the U.S. really wants regional peace and stability, it cannot forget that every Pakistani military ruler has waged war with India and that the only occasions when the two neighbors have come close to peace have been during the short periods of democratic rule in Islamabad.

No ruler in the world has benefited more from the events of Sept. 11 than Musharraf, who presides over a nation that is the main sanctuary of al-Qaeda, Taliban and Kashmiri terrorists. Musharraf sustains his dictatorship with American aid, as did former Pakistani dictator Gen. Zia ul-Haq, who spurred on the rise of the forces of jihad.

Bush espouses a doctrine of pre-emptive war that flies in the face of the principle of inviolability of states enshrined in the Treaty of Westphalia. He justifies his doctrine on the plea that the 350-year-old convention must give way to the new WMD reality. As he put it in a speech at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in June, the WMD factor precludes the luxury of waiting for an attack and America must be “ready for pre-emptive action when necessary to defend our liberty.”

While many in America worry about Iraq or some terrorists acquiring weapons of mass destruction, the reality for India is that Pakistan has state-supported terrorists and nuclear weapons controlled by Islamist generals.

When the Pakistani dictatorship openly employs nuclear terror to shield its export of terror, shouldn’t the right of pre-emptive war come into effect automatically? Yet when Pakistan again employed nuclear blackmail this summer, the Bush administration, rather than working with New Delhi to immobilize such blackmail, targeted India economically through a hitherto untried sanctions tool — a travel advisory that urged U.S. citizens to leave India for safety reasons.

The Bush team wants to practice a policy of pre-emptive war to protect U.S. interests, but when it comes to India it applies a different standard by trying to actively dissuade New Delhi from striking pre-emptively or even in reprisal to major state-sponsored terrorists attacks. Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger speciously contends that there is now “an imperative for pre-emptive action” by the U.S. against Iraq. If there was a convincing imperative for military action by a democracy, it was the audacious attempt by five Pakistani gunmen last Dec. 13 to wipe out India’s elected leadership.

But what did Bush and his folks advise India then? Restraint. And how have they sought to thwart the possibility of Indian action ever since? By extracting two antiterrorism pledges from Musharraf in less than six months that he has not honored, and by supplying him more than $175 million worth of military equipment, including badly needed replacement parts to get the Pakistani F-16 fighter-jet fleet back in full service again.

If anything, Washington has validated Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s public admission that he erred in not seizing the moment after Dec. 13 to launch action — not pre-emptive but retaliatory. The Indian Air Force was ready on Dec. 14 to surgically inflict punitive blows on the Pakistani terror infrastructure and its guardians, with escalation to ground war precluded by the absence of mobilization of the rival armies. But the air force waited in vain for the political green light.

Kissinger contends that Iraq presents the “most consequential foreign policy decision” for the Bush presidency. If Washington is not to embark on a disastrous policy, it should heed the lessons of mistakes that have come to trouble its security and that of the rest of the free world. The most important lesson is to keep its focus on longer-term goals and not be carried away by political expediency and narrow military objectives. By focusing on immediate goals in the past, the West ended up creating monsters that it now has to fight.

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