Voice

A tea party made in heaven: should Islamabad be the next stop Angle & Co.?

Reading this weekend's New York Times's article on the deftness and ease with which the rich in Pakistan avoid paying taxes, an idea struck me. Well, actually to be perfectly honest, it struck my father -- who passed it along to me. The fact that he is currently lying in a hospital being pumped full of mind-altering drugs doesn't in any way undermine the quality of the idea. In fact, it just makes me want some of those drugs. 

Because it is an idea of striking clarity and manifold levels of appeal.

In short, it may well be that two of the biggest threats facing the United States America -- the decay of nuclear Pakistan and the rise of the Tea Party movement here at home -- suggest a grand solution fraught with opportunity (and delicious ironies). 

We need to keep an eye on Pakistan, but can't officially send troops there. Further, we can't afford to keep the ones we have in Afghanistan (who are actually there to keep an eye on Pakistan ... shhhh ... don't tell anyone) there indefinitely. And beyond that, we don't want to put our valued troops needlessly at risk.  

At the same time, at home we are confronted by a new political movement whose leaders drape themselves in the flag and then proceed to espouse a worldview that is alternatively un-American (anti-immigration in a nation of immigrants, anti-personal freedoms like choice, pro-infusion of politics with religion) and ante-diluvian (anti-science, pro-vigilantism, pro-solving problems at the point of a gun). They are out of place here and lord knows -- given our history of success without them -- they are expendable.

The tea-baggers want a country? Let's give them one: send them to Pakistan. 

It's a marriage made in heaven. Admittedly, there may be some disagreement as to which heaven, but let's leave that to them to work it out.

Think of the ways the Tea-bagger worldview makes Pakistan a much more natural place for them to live than America:

  • Tax Policy: As noted at the outset and in the Times article, inequality in Pakistan is growing at least in part due to one of the reasons that it is here: the rich don't have to pay taxes. Here, we can thank George W. Bush for that. There, they can thank inefficiency and corruption. But the result is the same: the U.S. government has got to cut big checks to make up the difference in both places -- as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton promised to do again this week while visiting Pakistan. But if the tea-baggers left and that eliminated political obstacles to actually implementing sensible tax policies in America, perhaps we could stop kiting those checks and starting writing ones we can actually cover.
  • Gun Control: Sharron Angle will be in hog heaven in Pakistan. (Except for the absence of hogs, given Islamic prohibitions on the consumption of pork, of course.) But Harry Reid's certifiably loony gun-loving opponent will love the fact that there ain't no silly debates about the meaning of the Second Amendment in Pakistan. There are probably more AK-47s in the country than there are books (see how perfect this fit is?). What's more, in places like Baluchistan and Waziristan, it makes a heck of a lot of sense to actually have one than it does say, well, anywhere in the United States.  What's more, returning fire in a gun-battle with extremists seems a lot more ethically defensible than hunting moose from a helicopter. (You helicopter hunters know who you are. You can't deny it. It's irrefudiatable.)
  • Religious Tolerance: Pakistan offers many provinces where the level of religious tolerance is seemingly the same as that of the tea-baggers-roughly zero. Admittedly, tea-bagger intolerance is manifest in the factually-dodgy assertion that America is a "Christian nation" founded on "Christian principles," whereas extremist intolerance in Pakistan is manifest in stoning non-believers to death.  But the distance between these two views is actually must less than it appears to be at first glance.
  • Love of Foreigners-- Again, nearly zero. Angle and her Teabuddies want to shut down our borders and criminalize looking Mexican. The Pakistanis have long had their own border problems and, the recent "trade deal" with Afghanistan aside, they have had real problems getting along with their neighbors.  In fact, they are as allergic to foreign influences as America's extreme right -- and both are united in their hatred of Hollywood values and Lady Gaga.
  • Foreign Policy: Quite apart from all the above reasons, there are probably mountaintops in Pakistan from which you can see the former Soviet Union. Which we know is all it takes for tea bag political hobbyists, including the Queen Tea Bag herself, to assert foreign policy expertise and affords yet another link between these two seemingly different but actually remarkably similar groups.

Here is a country with a large population committed to policies rooted in the values and outlook of centuries ago and a large group of Americans with a similar nostalgia for hangings, gunfights, superstition, racial and religious conflict and witch hunts. So theoretically, despite Pakistan's historically documented, deeply rooted strain of anti-Americanism, this may well be the one group of Americans with whom they have the most in common and thus, the ones with the best chance of building the bridge we need between our two cultures. And if we had to learn to live with less of the mean-spirited, misguided shrillness of the bagger rhetoric, I think we could handle it. And if it all ended badly for all involved, well, we could probably live with that, too.

Ethan Miller/Getty Images

David Rothkopf

When do we pull the plug on a country?

What if the idea of Haiti as a country simply won't work?

They have been trying for two centuries. Even before the horrific tragedy of the earthquake six months ago, Haiti festered. The economy has averaged one percent growth per year for the past four decades (pdf). Haiti's per capita income places it 203rd among all nations. In purchasing power parity terms, it is $1,300 per year, putting it roughly on the same level as Uganda, Burkina Faso and Mali. In nominal terms, the per capita number is only $790, the lowest in the Western Hemisphere by far -- despite Haiti's proximity and ties to the richest economy on earth and aid flows and commitments nearing $10 billion since 1990.

This is not a new phenomenon. The Haitian experiment as a free republic that began with the successful slave rebellion of Toussaint L'Ouverture and Jean Jacques Dessalines in the first years of the 19th century has by many measures been a failure since the beginning. Today, Haiti's per capita GDP is less than a sixth that of the country with which it shares the island of Hispaniola and therefore many characteristics and circumstances, the Dominican Republic.

Haiti has had dictatorships and democracy, external rule and global assistance. Throughout its history, its governments have failed virtually all the most rudimentary tests of administrative or policy competence. It has seen almost three dozen coups, averaging one every six years or so. Haiti ranks 126th in the world on education expenditures. Roughly half the population is illiterate. Something like 8 out of 10 college graduates emigrate. The country has only the most rudimentary telecommunications, power generation or transport infrastructure outside of Port au Prince. The majority of people didn't have access to basic health care even before January's earthquake. The leadership has consistently been viewed as corrupt, and its elites have consistently been viewed as out of touch with its people. The top one percent of the population control almost 50 percent of the country's assets. It is almost alone amongst the nations of the Caribbean to be unable to take advantage of the potential for tourism. Deforestation and ill-considered agricultural practices have decimated agri-business on the island-with a few notable exceptions. Manufacturing has never taken in a meaningful way despite much vaunted efforts to manufacture baseballs or clothing.

The human tragedy of Haiti is unspeakable. The promise of its people remains great.

But what if the concept of Haiti is the problem? Haitians speak French and Creole as a vestige of a colonial era that began its decline over two centuries ago. That the island is divided between French and Spanish speaking halves is yet another consequence of European historical caprice. The country's people are descendants of slaves who were torn from Africa and subjected to inhumane treatment as a consequence of a despicable and fundamentally immoral economic model that was recognized as intolerable and unsustainable also decades before the country's founding.

In other words, the country has been shaped in many important ways by conditions that are virtually irrelevant to the modern world. Which raises the question: When does the statute of limitations run out on the idea behind a country's existence?

That's not to say that a people's right to self-determination ever expires. Rather it is to say that there may well be a time that it is in the interest of the people of a country like Haiti and its neighbors to determine that the experiment has failed. I realize this is an incrediblly inflammatory notion. It is certainly neither offered lightly nor without regard for the Haitian people, for whom I have the greatest respect, admiration and affection.

Rather it is to say, how much longer can the world write checks for billions, undertake initiatives doomed to failure, deal with governments gutted either by circumstance (the earthquake) or incompetence (virtually every other Haitian government)? There is a cost to the Haitian experiment and of course, it is not just measured in the outlays of international institutions or NGOs. Its more painful toll is measured in the costs to the Haitian people -- either during natural disasters (and hurricane season will soon come to a nation which currently has a million people homeless or housed in flimsy tent camps) or as a consequence of the year-in and year-out inability of the government to educate them, raise their standard of living, create new jobs, mine some sort of hope from the despair of the country's shanty-towns and villages that are dirt poor but filled with vibrant, energetic people.

Should nations that can't stand alone consolidate with neighbors? Should they break into different pieces? Should they develop different relationships with large countries with whom they share affinities? Should they be able to enter periods of protected restructuring like companies in bankruptcy? Should they, at the very least, start to question more seriously the underlying concepts that have, after decades or centuries, left them chronically poor, uncompetitive, unstable?

We treat the "right to nation" like it were a theological construct. But countries, like companies, like families, like churches, like all human organizations are just conceptual structures designed to produce a better life for the people within them. If all evidence suggests that the concept is flawed in some key way, we need to ask: When does it become time to reconsider, reinvent and explore new avenues that might better serve those who currently suffer without real hope of change? We can all think of other countries that might benefit themselves and the global community at large from such reconsideration.

Does this mean we should stop trying to help Haiti rebuild or to re-emerge from the current disastrous conditions? Of course not. Indeed, given the amount of dithering around helping Haiti that has occurred over the past six months, decency demands we redouble our efforts ... and then some. It is appalling that the oversight commission has only met once and has yet to appoint an executive director. It is appalling that the government of Haiti -- devastated as it has been -- has been so devoid of leadership. The country can emerge stronger if the world unites to help it as we must.

No, the reason I raise the issue is that after decades of watching Haiti (and many other countries) struggle with resource limitations, cultural obstacles, competitive disadvantages and chronic crises, I just think it is worth asking whether we need to be bolder in our approach to finding solutions and to truly ask ourselves what we would and could do if we sought to truly serve the people of these countries rather than the ideas of long dead founders, the consequences of long-forgotten geopolitical twists and turns or the objectives of elites who benefit from old ideas that no longer benefit anyone other than the few.

Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images