Get Serious, Pervez

Back in the day, John Kennedy and Richard Nixon did the Jack Paar “Tonight Show” as presidential candidates. The latter even played some piano. And Bill Clinton flaunted his sax appeal on Arsenio Hall. Just a few months back, Al Gore warmed to the occasion with Jay Leno. Hillary Clinton, John McCain, Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani have all hit the circuit.

It’s part of running for high profile and high office and reaching all pockets of the American electorate. Especially if the exposure is free. It’s also a reminder of the parallels between politics and show business and America’s popular-culture penchant for politicians as celebrities.

But there was something profoundly disquieting about seeing Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf last week on Comedy Central’s “Daily Show” with Jon Stewart. (But not as viscerally disturbing as seeing Danny Glover bear-hugging Hugo Chavez in Harlem.) Having a book (“In The Line Of Fire: A Memoir”) to hawk didn’t seem reason enough. Happens all the time; next up: Noam Chomsky.

The U.S. is in a civilizational war with Islamic jihadists. It’s an end game that won’t be resolved with a geo-political treaty. Someone’s way of life will end. It’s not a given that it won’t ultimately be the U.S. and the West. It’s that serious.

Having Musharraf exchange winks and nods and jihadi jokes with a faux news comedian is not what I was looking for from an ally who has to deliver. It would be like having Nguyen Van Thieu or Prince Norodom Sihanouk dropping in on Soupy Sales during the Vietnam War.

While Iraq is the recruiting poster, the Afghanistan-Pakistan frontier is the nerve center of terrorism against the U.S. Here is where Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zarahiri and Mullah Omar still lurk. And Pakistan, which once claimed the Taliban as a client, is the key.

Musharraf is walking a very thin line. He is not popular with the Pakistani street, which is to say that assassination is a daily possibility. Domestic politics prompted him to proscribe U.S. and NATO troops from hunting for bin Laden and the others. He has pulled Pakistani troops from border provinces that house Afghanistan-raiding, Taliban insurgents. Whatever the reasons, including self-preservation, he’s still not doing enough.

Not a good time to wallow in a low-brow smugfest with Jon Stewart. It doesn’t underscore resolve.

Musharraf is “with us” because the rubble of the Stone Age was seemingly the alternative. Regardless, he and his country are critically important in the war against al-Qaeda and Islamaniacs. Arguably, it can’t be won without a major contribution from Pakistan.

It would be more reassuring if the man presiding over a Muslim country with nuclear arms that is a critically important ally against America-hating jihadists acted more like the president of Pakistan and less like a media-pandering American politician.

Maybe I’m just hopelessly old school. But what’s wrong with a head of state on the front line against terrorism taking a pass on a comedy spot and limiting his interviews to serious journalists?

Did the generous book plug mean that much?

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