[Originally published in The Guardian]
As part of her "Meet the Ineffectual World Leaders" parade to miraculously understand the complexities of modern day geo-politics in less than 40 days, Sarah Palin had a lively interaction with recently elected Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari in New York. Zardari, the Suge Knight of Pakistan, also affectionately known as "Mr. 10%" for his absolutely awesome reputation and history of corruption, stepped out in the American lime light for the first time as an elected politician.
It's both surreal and frightening that these two upstart political figures could very well be significant actors in deciding the fate of modern, global relations. Although, to be fair, Zardari has been siphoning influence, power and wealth off the Bhutto name for nearly two decades. It's fitting these two neophyte actors met in such an awkward and theatrical fashion.
As CNN reported earlier, upon entering the room filled with sycophantic Pakistani officials, Palin was first given verbal fellatio by the country's Information Minister, Sherry Rehman:
"And how does one keep looking that good when one is that busy?" Rehman asked when complimenting Palin.
"Oh, thank you," Palin said.
Not to be outdone, Zardari, the widowed husband of the assassinated Benazir Bhutto, called Palin "gorgeous" and then remarked: "Now I know why the whole of America is crazy about you."
"You are so nice," Palin replied, smiling. "Thank you."
Although some of this affected, hyperbolic flattery is common etiquette in elitist social circles of Pakistan, one is hard pressed to find the historical etiquette for the following exchange. When Zardari's aide told the two politicians to keep shaking hands for the cameras, Zardari remarked:
"If he's insisting, I might hug."
Palin smiled politely. Much to Zardari's dismay, no hug took place.
And with a flagrant display of horny, sleaze-ball rhetoric, Zardari symbolically portrayed the turbulent and twisted relationship between the United States and its volatile, erstwhile lover Pakistan. One partner actively and shamelessly covets nearness, while the other selfishly exploits these lustful pangs for myopic policy initiatives. The reader can cast the appropriate roles.
Those following the circus that is Pakistani politics undoubtedly know of last year's power sharing deal brokered by the United States between then President Musharraf and the late Bhutto, who was to become Pakistan's Prime Minister. Realizing their dictator of choice, Musharraf, was losing sway and popularity, the Bush administration hoped Bhutto would step in, allay growing social discontent, and be a more suitable [see: compliant] partner in the relentless and misguided "War on Terror." The tragic assassination of Bhutto in December unfortunately allowed a power vacuum to develop, one that is now filled by the most unexpected ally: Zardari.
The Pakistani Gangsta' is thankful to the Bush Administration- rightfully so - and recently declared he will personally tell Bush, "We [Pakistan] thank him for democracy. It was part of the promise that President Bush made to our part of the world," he said. "And the people are looking forward to democracy."
Since he's already paying gratitude, Zardari should also give thanks to Zalmay Khalizad, the U.S. representative to the U.N. Khalizad made headlines recently when the New York Times reported he overstepped boundaries by making several "unauthorized contacts" with Zardari. Khalizad maintains these emails were purely of a "social" nature. However, according to many, Khalizad gave Zardari advice on how to oust General Musharraf from power. If that information is indeed true, then the ramifications are quite troubling. The United States has "officially" declared itself "neutral" in the wake of Pakistan's new power shift, however this evidence strongly suggests the United States still has its sticky fingers in the Pakistani political cookie jar.
The New York Times reported a senior United States official confronting Khalizad about his unauthorized "extracurricular activities":
"Can I ask what sort of 'advice and help' you are providing?" Mr. Boucher wrote in an angry email message to Khalilzad. "What sort of channel is this? Governmental, private, personal?"
According to commentator Tariq Ali, Zalmay, a Dick Cheney protégé who was primarily responsible for the implementation of the now utterly impotent Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan, wants Zardari as a "pliant president in Pakistan."
Speaking of Karzai, one should recall the blisteringly informative session between him and Palin, in which the press was given access for less than 2 minutes. Instead of discussing the absolutely critical and urgent reassessment of U.S. regional policy in Central Asia, we were treated to mindless banter about Karzai's infant son. Truly, these are auspicious signs of a new, enlightened foreign policy. One hopes Palin didn't ask Zardari for his genealogy chart.
Instead, one can only pray a U.S. official - any U.S. official for that matter - wouldn't mind asking Zardari why he has yet to honor his initial commitment in reinstating the judiciary and Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, both of whom were undemocratically sacked by our "democratic" ally Musharraf for not yielding to his tyrannical whim?
In order to facilitate the brokered relationship with Bhutto, Santa Musharraf gave Zardari the best Christmas present of all time in the form of the 2007 National Reconciliation Ordinance. This was a loathsome piece of Machiavellian legislation that granted amnesty to politicians, bureaucrats and political workers accused of corruption, embezzlement, money laundering, murder and terrorism. Naturally, Chief Justice Chaudhry suspended the unlawful Ordinance, only to be later suspended himself by Musharraf on trumped up and vague "corruption charges." Honorably, Zardari was the most deserving recipient of this delightful Ordinance. As of last year, he was embroiled in several, massive corruption cases in over four different countries, none of which were vague figments of dictatorial fantasy.
Thankfully for Zardari, Christmas seems to coming twice this year since millions of Zardari's Swiss funds have just been released after the dropped corruption charges, thereby effectively making Zardari one of the richest men in Pakistan. A beneficiary of serendipity, Zardari is unique amongst billionaires for making his magical fortune without any semblance of a legitimate job or a functioning business.
It should comfort the United States that the Financial Times reported their chosen ally in Pakistan was diagnosed last year "with a range of serious illnesses including dementia, major depressive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder in a series of medical reports spanning more than two years." Coincidentally, at this time last year Zardari was supposed to make appearances at a UK court and challenge several pending corruption charges against him in multiple countries.
A New York psychologist said that Zardari "was unable to remember the birthdays of his wife and children, was persistently apprehensive and had thought about suicide." Recently, a spokesperson for Zardari rebuffed these assertions and declared him to be fully healed and well. Zardari should be heralded as a medical phenomenon and toured across the globe. Who knew the cure for dementia, depression and PTSD was obtaining the post of Pakistan's President?
With a deadly terrorist bomb blast killing nearly 60 last week at the Islamabad Marriott and a marked increase in terrorist suicide blasts within Pakistan's border, one hopes the U.S. learns from its near thirty year mistaken policy in siding with thugs, thieves and dictators in Pakistan. Instead, the administration, and even the Democrats, is now siding with Zardari, a known felon and thief, who - if we are to believe his own doctors - was suicidal and incoherent just a year ago. Yet, we seem doomed to repeat a myopic policy in yet another desperate attempt to aggressively pursue terrorists hiding within the NWFP Pakistan/Afghanistan border.
If Zardari still harbors those same psychological demons, a sure-fire, politically suicidal move would be to unconditionally support Bush's recent, shortsighted aggressive "offensive" policy; one that directly threatens Pakistan's sovereignty and emboldens the militants within her borders. Unfortunately, in my recent interview with Howard Dean, it seems the Democrats would follow suit in order to hunt Al-Qaeda and appear strong on the "War on Terror." Instead, this policy should be thoroughly re-examined and critically questioned in order to avoid a massive, inevitable blowback further destabilizing an already tenuous nation state with access to nuclear weapons. Specifically, the U.S. would be wise to exercise caution in partnering with Zardari, a man with disturbingly low popularity ratings, and instead encourage him to actually act democratically by re-instating the judiciary and the extremely popular Chief Justice Iftekhar Chaudhry. If anything, it would temporarily diffuse the rampant anger and disgust proliferating amongst the Pakistani people, many who believe the United States is merely installing and supporting yet another puppet for its own individual policy desires in the guise of a sham democracy.
Returning to the American pit bull, when Sarah Palin was asked about her recent meeting with Zardari, Karzai and other world leaders, she replied, "It's going great. These meetings are very informative and helpful, and a lot of good people sharing appreciation for America." Although it is obvious Zardari wants to closely hug his "partner", nuzzling comfortably in her bosom, the question remains: how does America hug back?