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the Toronto Star

US Foreign Policy Failures Thrust Into Spotlight

Haroon Siddiqui

This week brought two failures of American foreign policy into sharp focus - in Cuba and Pakistan.

The Cuban catastrophe is familiar. Isolating Fidel Castro only helped consolidate his iron grip. Political and trade sanctions hurt the Cuban people more than his regime.

Washington has been so trapped and so much of a hostage to right-wing Cuban exiles in the United States that it wouldn't even take advantage of the end of the Cold War to change course.

A contemporary parallel can be seen in the U.S. approach to Iran.

Still smarting from the 1979 anti-U.S. revolution, Washington has chosen confrontation over constructive engagement on nuclear and other issues, and been gunning for regime change in Tehran.

Washington has been subsidizing nostalgic Iranian exiles in the United States and pursuing bilateral political and economic sanctions on Iran that have only hurt ordinary Iranians but helped the Islamists consolidate their power.

Canada was well served by its independent stance of engaging Cuba. It has not been in the case of Iran because of its slavish adherence to Washington's dictates.

Developments in Pakistan don't come as a surprise either.

Voters have repudiated Busharraf, a.k.a Pervez Musharraf, for being a lapdog of George W. Bush.

Musharraf follows a long line of allies who paid the price for ignoring domestic public opinion to join the war on terror on American terms: Tony Blair, John Howard, Silvio Berlusconi, Jose Maria Aznar and the leaders of Hungary, Norway, Poland, Slovakia and Ukraine.

Also, there's more militancy and terrorism in Pakistan, as elsewhere, than before the war on terrorism.

Those in the United States and Canada who argued that Musharraf had "not done enough" in attacking the Taliban may want to ponder the extent of the Pakistani people's rage had he, in fact, done "enough."

He survives, for now.

Elected president for a five-year term in October by the outgoing National Assembly and four provincial assemblies that he controlled, he says he's prepared to work with the newly elected government. It is difficult to see how.

His has been a one-man show.

He picked the cabinet and the prime minister, who obeyed him.

He ran the army, which he no longer does. The new chief, though his choice, has already distanced the army from politics and ensured that it did not rig the election.

The extraordinary powers that Musharraf does hold, such as the right to fire the prime minister, also portend trouble.

Asif Zardari, widower of Benazir Bhutto, and leader of her Pakistan Peoples Party, which has won the most seats, appears ready to work with Musharraf. Nawaz Sharif, leader of the second-largest party, isn't.

Both are discredited politicians, having been in jail on corruption charges and later exiled, from where they returned only recently.

Beyond personalities, the real battle would be over two issues: how to further democratize Pakistan and tamp down the insurgency. On the latter, Zardari has signalled a new approach: more dialogue, less war. It's in Canada's interest to encourage the process.

Belying his thuggish reputation, he made sense Tuesday saying that democracy being the best antidote to militancy, the elected government would have to build a domestic consensus that it is in Pakistan's own interest to tackle terrorism.

For his part, Sharif has been more focused on restoring judicial independence, starting with the release of the chief justice and his reinstatement, demands that the U.S. should have supported but hasn't.

Pakistan and Cuba are on the cusp of change. Canada should encourage the U.S. to do less dictating and more listening.

Haroon Siddiqui, the Star's editorial page editor emeritus, appears Thursday and Sunday. Email:

© Copyright Toronto Star 1996-2008

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