Because I largely ignore right-wing media, I was slow to get to this story. Apparently, the right-wing’s latest obsession is the fate of Shakil Afridi, a man who cooperated with the United States in their search for Usama bin-Laden by running a vaccination program in Abbottabad. He has since been arrested, tried, convicted, and sentenced to 33 years in prison, although ostensibly not for his role in the hunt for bin Laden.
He’s in a Pakistani prison, but Fox News correspondent Dominic Di-Natale claims to have interviewed him for 40 minutes. Whether he was really talking to Afridi is very much in doubt. In any case, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky is taking the interview at face-value. During the interview, Afridi, or someone impersonating Afridi, claimed that he had been brutally tortured at the hands of the Inter-Service Intelligence agency (ISI), who he characterized as completely hostile to the United States. This added new fuel to Senator Paul’s campaign to cut off all aid to Pakistan until Mr. Afridi is released from prison.
Senator Paul started his campaign in June, when he tried to insert an amendment to that effect in the Farm Bill, of all places. This time, the bill is about creating jobs for veterans. It recently passed a cloture vote with 95 votes and a motion to proceed by 84 votes. Nevertheless, the Senate just agreed to shut down for five days in an effort to avoid voting on Paul’s amendment.
If you ask the American people if we should give large sums of foreign and military aid to a country that seemingly harbored Usama bin-Laden and which imprisoned and tortured someone who tried to help us find him, most people are going to say ‘no.’ It is for situations like this that the Founders created the Senate and had the senators selected by state legislatures instead of directly by the people. Yes, the House of Representatives will always be vulnerable to this kind of passion of the moment, but the Senate was supposed to be insulated enough that they could take the heat and make rational decisions even when public opinion was inflamed. We screwed that up when we decided that we had too much corruption in the state legislatures and too little accountability from our senators. It is a trade-off, and Rand Paul is showing us the downside right now. I am going to quote Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, because, in this case, he is completely correct:
“Pakistan is a country with nuclear weapons that is hanging by a thread. I think [the Paul Amendment] would be a very bad idea,” Graham said. “They’ve opened up the supply routes; they have been helpful in some areas.
“We live in dangerous times, and I am very worried about the possibility of a nuclear-armed Pakistan falling into extremist hands. So no, now is not the time to disengage from Pakistan,” Graham said, before noting that the funds should have “some conditions.”
Senator Graham is correct, but asking politicians to vote for continued aid to Pakistan under these conditions less than sixty days from an election when Muslims are assaulting our embassies and consulates is not a recipe for a rational result.
Senator Rand Paul is being supremely irresponsible. He should be castigated from the rooftops. The decision on how to treat Pakistan should be made by the administration, in consultation with Congress. Funding should not be cut off just because the junior senator from Kentucky has found an irresistible tool of demagoguery.