Benazir Bhutto's assassination Thursday should put a bitter end to the Bush Administration's misguided policy of shoving democracy down the throat of the Middle East and Muslim world. Since 9/11 there has not been a single country in that region that has had peaceful and successful elections. Hamas's victory in Gaza, the stalemate in Lebanon, elections in Iraq and now Pakistan none of them have led to the stability, modernity and civil society this Administration promised us.
The common denominator between Pakistan, Gaza, Lebanon and Iraq is an ongoing war, wars without end, wars that poison democracy. The Bush Administration is particularly culpable in creating the chaos in Pakistan because it forced a premature reconciliation between President Musharraf and Bhutto; it forced Musharraf to lift martial law; it showered money on Musharraf to fight a war that was never popular in Pakistan. The Administration could not understand that it can't have both in Pakistan a democracy and a war on terrorism.
The immediate reaction in the United Sates will be visceral: al-Qaeda killed Bhutto because she was too secular and too close to the United States, an agent of American imperialism. It will be of some comfort that the front lines of terrorism are thousands of miles away; that we are fighting "them" there rather than in lower Manhattan; that there are heroes like Bhutto ready to fight and die for democracy, moderation and rationality.
But this misses the point. The real problem in Pakistan undermining democracy is that it is a deeply divided, artificial country, created by the British for their expediency rather than for the Pakistanis. Independent Pakistan has always been dominated by a strong military. And democracy will only be nurtured when the wars on its border come to an end, whether in Afghanistan or Kashmir, and the need for the military to meddle in politics is removed. And never before.
Another irony underscored by Bhutto's assassination is that after 9/11 the Bush Administration justified going to war in Iraq to stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction. But as of today all that it has managed to do is invade two countries, Afghanistan and Iraq, neither of which has weapons of mass destruction, while leaving Iran and Pakistan to fester two countries that one day very well promise to threaten us with their weapons of mass destruction.
It is high time Americans return a pragmatic President to the White House. When George H.W. Bush, James Baker and Norman Schwartzkopf decided not to occupy Iraq in 1991 at the end of the first Gulf War, they understood that imposing an American-style democracy wasn't going to work.
Robert Baer, a former CIA field officer assigned to the Middle East, is TIME.com's intelligence columnist and the author of See No Evil and, most recently, the novel Blow the House Down