"America's Favorite Dictator":

Robert Pollock reports on America's troubling relationship with Pakistani General Pervez Musharraf. While the U.S. pushes for greater democracy in the Middle East, it is conspicuously silent about undemocratic "allies" in the region.

Even among the "neocon" architects of President Bush's democracy-promotion agenda it's hard to find an unkind word about Gen. Musharraf . . . . Behind this bipartisan support--or at least acceptance--is Pakistan's nuclear arsenal, and the perception that Gen. Musharraf is the only thing standing in the way of its takeover by a radical Islamic government. But there are good reasons to doubt this perception, and to suspect that allowing a permanent "Musharraf Exception" to the democracy agenda will do more harm than good.

On the plus side of the Musharraf ledger is, indeed, the obvious fact that the man with the keys to Pakistan's bombs is not a raving Islamic fanatic. He has been an ally--of convenience, at least--in the fight against al Qaeda. And his rule, while autocratic, is not oppressive. With a smart and vibrant free press, Pakistan undoubtedly passes what Condoleezza Rice has called the "public square test"--a fancy way of saying you can speak your mind without fear of being carted away by the cops.

At the same time, however, Gen. Musharraf suffers from his lack of legitimacy among the secular classes who have run Pakistan's democratic governments in the past, and who would almost surely win if another free poll is held. The Islamists got only 11% in the last parliamentary election, but the general is increasingly courting them as he attempts to hold power--which may be one reason his antiterror efforts haven't included any attempts to crack down on the madrassas. For the same reason, Pakistan's efforts to control Taliban elements operating within its borders seem half-hearted. . . .

. . . let's have no illusions about Pervez Musharraf. He took power illegitimately in a country with some history of democracy, however imperfect. And now he seems to be in no hurry to give it up. The Bush Doctrine can survive the Musharraf Exception over the short run. But over the longer term, the credibility of our efforts to address the root causes of terror will require nudging Pakistan, too, back toward the democratic path.