To hear media luminaries like MSNBC's Chris Matthews tell it last week, Benazir Bhutto's return to Pakistan in October was the second coming of Eva Peron, and her assassination was the second slaying of Archduke Ferdinand.
Mika Brzezinski makes gag noise when her producers make her do stories about the childish antics of girl celebrities like Paris Hilton, but she gushed over the Bhutto news when it broke on Thursday like it was the biggest story since Suzy Homemaker stuck her head in her Easy-Bake Oven. When Mika read the text from Bhutto's last speech she practically cried, especially when she got to the part about how brave Bhutto confessed she was being because she came back to her country from exile to help make all Pakistanis free, and knew full well she was putting her own life at great risk for the sake of her faithful followers, and don't cry for her, Argentina, and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.
I normally think quite highly of Mika. Let's hope she just caught a 48-hour bug or something, and gets better soon.
Matthews—good gravy, Matthews started in about how Bhutto was a great democratic leader, and how the world needs great democratic leaders because it doesn't have enough great democratic leaders, and what a tragic loss it is when we lose great democratic leaders like Bhutto, because great democratic leaders like Bhutto are made not born, and it's so hard to make great democratic leaders like Bhutto, and he kept saying that and saying it and saying it until I had to hit the mute button. I thought I was going to be okay until I looked up and saw he was still saying it. I could tell he was still saying it because I could read his lips from having heard him say it so many times, and I became mesmerized, and I watched and watched and watched him say it and say it and say it, until I got so cross eyed that I tawt I taw a putty tat.
Retired U.S. Army General and MSNBC military expert Barry McCaffrey, for a change, provided a delightful breath of fresh air when he reminding everybody that the great democratic leader Benazir Bhutto had been forced into "self-imposed" exile because she and her old man supposedly got caught sticking their hands in the Pakistani national till too many times. McCaffrey didn't go as far as saying that the Bhuttos, as a power couple, made the Clintons look like Ma and Pa Kettle, but you got the idea.
But it was David Shuster who, as he often does, supplied MSNBC's redeeming moment. After listening to Joe Scarboro wax wacky about how Bhutto's death wasn't a reflection on Bush's foreign policy because Bush hadn't done anything wrong in Pakistan or, really, even in Afghanistan for that matter, if your studied the situation a bunch and thought about it a whole lot, Shuster looked at Joe like he'd grown a horn in the middle of his forehead, and said something to the effect of, "Dude, where can I buy a bag of the weed you've been smoking?"
Sorry if it seems like I'm singling out MSNBC, but they have all the anchor and weather girls I have a crush on, so they're news channel I watch the most. I hear, though, that the Fox News set, which normally resembles the bridge of a Klingon battle cruiser anyway, looked like the crew had gone to general quarters and were bracing for impact from a Pakistani photon torpedo.
I finally got sick of television and flipped on the local NPR station, just in time to listen to umpteen yahooligans having the umptieth discussion I'd heard on how maybe Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf had Bhutto killed, or maybe it was al Qaeda, or maybe the Taliban, or maybe the CIA, or maybe what's left of the old KGB. Who knew? Certainly not the people who were talking about it on NPR and all the other news outlets. Some of the people talking about it flat out admitted that neither they nor anyone else talking about it knew what the hell they were talking about. In fact, some confessed, it was irresponsible to even be talking about it in the media at all, but that's what they were all getting paid to talk about, so they all kept talking about it.
And how about those zany presidential candidates? A bunch of them made haste to stand in front of Iowa snow drifts for the cameras and talk about how they'd know how to handle the Pakistan security situation right now, by golly, because of their experience and how well they personally know all the players involved. John Edwards grabbed the brass ring when he could brag that Musharraf had actually called him on the phone. (How's that for access, Joe Biden? Nyeh, nyeh.) You'd think Edwards and the rest of these characters might wonder just if a bit if coming across like they're lipstick buddies with Musharraf is really the best way to impress people with their foreign policy savvy right now.
In all, the media's hysteria over the Bhutto assassination has been their most embarrassing display of indefensible hype since the Jerry Lewis-class mourn-a-thon they threw when Ronald Reagan died. How could any of these "savvy" news types have been surprised? This wasn't the first time someone has tried to kill Bhutto lately, and political assassination is something of a Pakistani tradition. In Bhutto's case, it's a family tradition; her father and two of her brothers were knocked off for political purposes.
The underlying justification for all the neck deep hoopla, of course, is the notion that Bhutto's assassination might set off World War III the way Archduke Ferdinand's death sparked World War I, which is tommyrot. World War I was already packed and ready to leave the station. If the Ferdinand incident hadn't caused hostilities to erupt, something else would have shortly. Hell, at that point in history, Europe would have gone to war over a butterfly beating its wings in the wrong part of Africa.
Likewise, World War III will either happen or it won't independently of Bhutto's demise; things like Bhutto's demise happen all the time in that part of the world. So there were riots in the streets in Pakistan. Big whoop. That puts Bhutto's assassination on par with a soccer match.
I'm always trying to come up with a pithy, cogent way to frame the true nature of the threat we face from the Middle East, and always falling short, but let me try this out on you:
When I think how to describe what kind of danger Pakistan poses, the first thing that comes to mind is a tale from a military journalist pal who spent a day in a Pakistani airport, waiting for her airplane to show up and watching the janitor work. The janitor had a broom that he held by string instead of a handle. Every hour, he walked through the terminal, swatting at mounds of dirt, cigarette butts, chicken droppings and other inscrutable filth, trying as best he could to push it all under the chairs the passengers sat in while waiting for their boarding calls. You know who came behind the janitor and cleaned under the chairs? Nobody.
In that context, I also have trouble getting riled up about the possibility of terrorists getting their hands on a Pakistani nuclear weapon. The most complicated thing terrorists have done to date is to fly a few airplanes into buildings. I won't tell you doing that is as easy as falling off a rolling log, but it's not quite so hard as staying up one. Stealing a nuke and hiding it, and sneaking it halfway across the world, and making it blow up in a major American city, now that's real rocket science. If terrorists shoplift a Pakistani nuke, the people they're most likely to blow up with it are themselves. And I've heard whispers that in some circles, experts wonder if even Pakistan's rocket scientists could get one of their piece of junk nukes to cook off if they wanted it to.
Keep that in mind if you start hearing the Bush leaguers insist that Iran is still a bigger threat to us than Pakistan is, and consider that no one on earth can make Iran's nukes blow up because they don't exist.
Then start guessing which Middle East country Pavlov's Dogs of War will try to make you scared incontinent of next.
Maybe we should start a pool.
Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books) will be available April 1, 2008.