Foreign Affairs

The Phantom Menace

“The risk of an Islamist takeover in Pakistan”—long a familiar worst-case scenario among foreign-policy experts—“is a myth,” according to a new policy brief by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, which argues that the Pakistani military has grossly exaggerated the threat of radical Islam in order to consolidate power at home and win foreign support for the regime. While there are several Islamist political parties and militant groups operating in the country, they are controlled by Pakistan’s army, which has “always been able to maintain violence at an ‘acceptable’ level” by keeping Islamist groups divided and “generating infighting every time an organization became too important.” (And when Islamist groups have taken part in national elections, they have never won more than 12 percent of the vote, and have usually garnered somewhere between 5 percent and 8 percent.) The real threat to security in the region, the report concludes, is the near-absolute rule of the Pakistani military and its hostility to democratic reform. The military enjoys an enormous presence throughout the country, with 550,000 soldiers (nearly 50,000 more than the U.S. Army) and almost 1,000 generals, many of whom go on to play leadership roles at the country’s universities, banks, and corporations after retirement. Much-needed reform of the military’s role in Pakistani society will be impossible, the study’s author argues, so long as the West continues to behave as if the nation and its nuclear weapons could fall into the hands of terrorists at any moment.

—“Pakistan: The Myth of an Islamist Peril,” Frédéric Grare, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace


The More Things Change …

Presidents have come and gone and the Cold War has given way to the war on terror—but the rate of self-reported happiness in the United States has barely budged in thirty years, a new Pew Research Center report points out. Today, as in 1972, roughly 50 percent of Americans describe themselves as “pretty happy,” just over 30 percent describe themselves as “very happy,” and around 15 percent say that they’re “not too happy.” Nor have other trends in happiness changed much over the last three decades. Money bought happiness in 1972 at roughly the same rate it does now: rich people are more than twice as likely as people in the lowest income quartile to consider themselves “very happy,” while those with incomes in the middle fall somewhere in between. (The fact that the rich are consistently happier than the poor, but that neither group has grown appreciably happier overall despite three decades of rising per capita income, suggests that being richer than your neighbor, rather than being well-off in absolute terms, makes all the difference.) Frequent churchgoers, Protestant and Catholic alike, are consistently happier than infrequent churchgoers; and the wedded are nearly twice as likely as the unwed to be “very happy.” Other findings indicate that Hispanics and whites are slightly happier than blacks, that women and men describe themselves as happy in roughly equal numbers—and that “there is no significant happiness gap between dog owners and cat owners.”

—“Are We Happy Yet?” Pew Research Center


Everybody Hurts

Black or white, rich or poor—it doesn’t matter, we all get the same lousy medical care, a new study published in The New England Journal of Medicine suggests. The authors conducted interviews and obtained medical records from a random sample of 6,712 people in twelve metropolitan areas, and found that overall, participants in the study had received only 55 percent of the recommended medical care—defined as adherence to proper procedures in treating a variety of ailments—during their visits to health-care providers in the past two years. Well-off patients received better treatment than poor ones, but the differences weren’t striking: patients who made more than $50,000 received 57 percent of the recommended care, and patients who made less than $15,000 a year received 53 percent. Black and Hispanic patients received 58 percent of the recommended care—slightly better than whites, who received 54 percent. These results, the authors note, are at odds with those of many other studies, which have shown that whites have a significant advantage over blacks. To explain this discrepancy, they suggest that earlier studies focused on “invasive and expensive procedures,” in which whites do receive better treatment—though they add that this gap is narrowing as well.

—“Who Is at Greatest Risk for Receiving Poor-Quality Health Care?” Steven M. Asch et al., The New England Journal of Medicine