A reader writes:

Do you see Pakistan as an unstable republic with nukes? If yes, is there anything you might approve of/wish for the United States (and others) to do to preemptively mitigate the risks that might ensue from political chaos there? For the sake of argument, let’s pretend that the US has pure motives.

We’re obviously going to hear many arguments for why “Pakistan is the one (even if you didn’t like our other interventions),” how Abdul Qadeer Khan pals around with terrorists, etc.

So, it would be helpful to know what canny critics of American imperialism see as the maximum degree of intervention that would be appropriate.

My response:

One of the largest empires the world has ever known – complete with second-largest nuclear arsenal in the world, capable of wiping out the planet several times over – disintegrated completely in the early 1990s, breaking into a myriad of different nations, and chaotic polities, some of which went to war with each other while others had internal wars that raged for years. Corruption was rampant, society collapsed, death rates climbed, birth rates plunged – all of this, again, with a vast nuclear arsenal looming over it all. Yet I don’t recall anyone recommending any U.S. military intervention to “preemptively mitigate the risks that might ensue from political chaos” in the break-up of the Soviet Union, to which I was eye-witness for a time. The only difference I can see in regard to Pakistan is that the scale of the risk and its possible global ramifications are actually much, much smaller.

Oh, I suppose there is one other difference, of course. The Pakistanis are Other – dark-skinned, Asian, Muslim, etc. – whereas most people perceived the Soviets to be like Us – white, European, etc. (Even though, in reality, many of the peoples of the Soviet Union were in fact dark-skinned, Asian and Muslim.) And thus, as Other, we must assume that a) they are so primitive, childish and incapable that they need real people like Us to step and save them from themselves and sort out their affairs; and b) they are so wild and crazed that they will seize the first possible opportunity to grab those nukes and blow up half the world. This is precisely the level of witless prejudice that underlies — or indeed, defines — any argument for “intervention” in Pakistan, of whatever degree. No matter how the argument is tricked out with think-tank speak and the savvy tropes of realpolitik, it actually goes no further than that.

As far as unstable republics with nukes go, it is far more likely that primitive religionists will seize the US nuclear arsenal and use it in the Lord’s service to blow up half the world, as anyone who has watched the ever-spreading ‘Christianization’ of the American military will know. [Jeff Sharlett has much to say on this point in Harper’s, and Mark Crispin Miller provides more links as well.]

As Juan Cole and many others have noted, the picture now being painted of Pakistan on the verge of a Taliban takeover is wildly off the mark, and completely ignores the reality (there’s that damn thing again!) of Pakistan, which, as I pointed out yesterday, is actually filled with millions upon millions of ordinary, literate, peace-loving people, committed to democracy and the rule of law: principles for which they courageously risked their lives and liberties in ousting an American-backed military tyrant just a few months ago.

But now, suddenly — because it serves the needs of a militarist empire trapped in the worsening quagmire of another pointless, murderous, destablizing, hate-breeding “intervention” next door — these same Pakistanis are being painted as a mob of barbarians who are either cravenly capitulating to terrorists – or becoming terrorists themselves.

As someone who lives surrounded by people of Pakistani origin, I find this virulent racism and dehumanization – which is being implied and/or directly expressed by the highest officials of our political establishment, including the “progressive,” “liberal” Obama Administration – to be a sickening, shameful abomination.

I have no idea what a canny critic of American imperialism might say on the subject, but in my own decidedly uncanny opinion, the maximum degree of military intervention in Pakistan that would be appropriate is this: zero.

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