SAN DIEGO, California (CNN) -- This week, like a lot of Americans, I have Pakistan on my mind -- again.
Ruben Navarrette Jr.: The United States has leverage with Pakistan in the form of military and economic aid.
The last time was in August when that country made a cameo appearance in the 2008 presidential campaign. When Sen. Barack Obama suggested getting out of Iraq and moving "onto the right battlefield in Afghanistan and Pakistan," and then pledged, if elected president, to go into Pakistan if our military was in hot pursuit of "high-value terrorist targets" (read: Osama bin Laden), his opponents pounced.
Rudy Giuliani suggested that Obama should be more accommodating of Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf. Mitt Romney said that Obama was "confused as to who are our friends and who are our enemies." Sen. John McCain called Obama's remarks "kind of typical of his naivete." And Sen. Hillary Clinton said that Obama's foreign policy views were "irresponsible and frankly naive."
And while U.S. intelligence agencies put bin Laden in the remote tribal areas of western Pakistan, the Pakistani ambassador to the United States insisted that, if the U.S. military went into his country after bin Laden, it would destabilize the region.
You don't say. What do you call what is happening now?
In a power grab intended to head off a likely decision by the country's Supreme Court declaring him ineligible to serve another term, Musharraf has declared a state of emergency, suspended the constitution, limited freedom of the press, detained more than 1,000 lawyers and opposition leaders, and put the next round of elections on hold indefinitely. With that, a key U.S. ally in the war on terror -- and a nuclear power to boot -- seems to be spinning out of control.
Now for the really depressing part: The United States seems powerless to stop it. Speaking for his administration, President Bush said Monday that it is "our hope" that Musharraf will "restore democracy as quickly as possible."
Hope? Easy, Mr. President. You don't want to be too aggressive. You might scare him off. Is hope all we have left when dealing with Pakistan? What about the leverage that should come from providing the country with military and economic aid to the tune of -- according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies -- at least $10 billion since September 11, 2001?
By comparison, the amount of aid that Great Britain plans to give Pakistan -- $493 million over the next three years -- seems like a pittance. And yet the Brits say that they're reviewing their aid package in light of the crackdown and demanding that Pakistan's government release all detainees.
That's a splash of moral leadership -- and a good example for the United States to follow. After all, what good is having a friend in that part of the world if it is no friend of freedom and democracy? And, if expedience has us cozying up to a petty dictator who puts his interests before those of his country, what makes us think that -- when push comes to shove -- he won't put his interests before ours? And, if that's true, tell me again why this relationship is worth preserving.
Ruben Navarrette Jr. is a member of the editorial board of the San Diego Union-Tribune and a nationally syndicated columnist. You can read his column here.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer. E-mail to a friend