I think David Ignatius’ column on Pakistan today is pretty insightful. He makes the Iran analogy, and also makes the point that even with 20/20 hindsight it’s really not clear how Jimmy Carter should have handled that situation. Similarly, “changing Pakistan is a job for Pakistanis, and history suggests that the more we meddle, the more likely we are to get things wrong.”
The trouble, though, is that while it would be easy for us to not “meddle” if political protests started to rock Laos or Belarus, we’re already eye-deep in Pakistan-related meddling in the form of our huge post-9/11 aid packages. To pull the aid carpet out from under Musharraf would be a kind of meddling. To continue the unconditional aid policy, however, is a different kind of meddling. And to continue the aid but attach more strings to it — to make it clear that a violent crackdown on peaceful demonstrators would result in aid cuts, say — would also constitute a kind of meddling. Similarly, if Pakistani officials ask American diplomats what they think about the situation and they don’t say anything, that’ll likely be read as a green light for harsh measures.
Basically, we’re in a position where “don’t meddle” doesn’t mean anything. In the medium-term, what we need to do is shift our overall posture to one where we’re doing less meddling in other countries’ internal political problems (as Ignatius says, we don’t seem very good at it) but we’ve meddled so much in Pakistan that there’s no non-meddling option for the short-run.