Failing Pakistan Policy ‘Essentially Being Run From Cheney’s Office’

cheney.jpgThe extremely close U.S. partnership with Pakistan’s General Musharraf has come under increasing scrutiny, as Musharraf continues to crack down on the country’s civil society and a new generation of al Qaeda leaders under Osama bin Laden have led a resurgence in Pakistan.

The Bush administration “has put itself in the embarrassing position of propping up the Muslim world’s most powerful military dictator as an essential ally in its half-baked campaign to promote democracy throughout the Muslim world,” the New York Times editorialized last week. “Washington needs to disentangle America, quickly, from the general’s damaging embrace.”

In yesterday’s Washington Post, respected Pakistan analyst Ahmed Rashid explained a key problem with current U.S. policy:

The problem is exacerbated by a dramatic drop-off in U.S. expertise on Pakistan. Retired American officials say that, for the first time in U.S. history, nobody with serious Pakistan experience is working in the South Asia bureau of the State Department, on State’s policy planning staff, on the National Security Council staff or even in Vice President Cheney’s office. Anne W. Patterson, the new U.S. ambassador to Islamabad, is an expert on Latin American “drugs and thugs”; Richard A. Boucher, the assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs, is a former department spokesman who served three tours in Hong Kong and China but never was posted in South Asia. “They know nothing of Pakistan,” a former senior U.S. diplomat said.

Current and past U.S. officials tell me that Pakistan policy is essentially being run from Cheney’s office. The vice president, they say, is close to Musharraf and refuses to brook any U.S. criticism of him. This all fits; in recent months, I’m told, Pakistani opposition politicians visiting Washington have been ushered in to meet Cheney’s aides, rather than taken to the State Department.

Cheney’s office has been linked to some of the most damaging and reckless policies carried out under President Bush, including the origins of the war in the Iraq, warrantless domestic spying, the historic expansion of executive authority and the sanctioning of torture. It’s no surprise to find Cheney’s fingerprints on the failing U.S.-Pakistan policy as well.

UPDATE: Harper’s Scott Horton has more.