Democracy is famously an untidy endeavor.
But as we are seeing in Pakistan, dictatorship can be significantly messier.
Our always-reluctant ally in the war on terror, Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf, has shown the colors of a thug over the past few days, suspending the constitution, routing "disloyal" judges and rounding up opponents in illegal arrests. Meanwhile, his forces are wielding his club in the streets to put down understandable protests.
Even allies in the Bush administration and Britain have denounced Musharraf's heavy hand and called for him to turn back from the brink of madness to restore democratic rule.
This is no small matter for the world. Pakistan is a powder keg sitting atop a broiling Islamist insurgency bubbling all around a nuclear stockpile.
Musharraf - who has never put his heart into the war on Islamic radicalism - suddenly claims he must suspend the constitution and uproot Supreme Court judges to get at the problem. Don't buy it. It's a convenient ruse to camouflage his true intent, which is to hold onto power in any manner possible.
This is nothing new for him. Also the head of the army, Musharraf ascended to power in a coup d'etat in 1999 - and has suspended that pesky constitution twice before. He was "elected" president for five years in 2002 in an election that everybody but Jimmy Carter might find foul-smelling. Indeed, even Musharraf would later apologize for "irregularities" in the vote.
Now, on the eve of what should be new and free elections, we are to believe that Musharraf must put freedom on hold because he has magically seen the need to defeat the Islamic radicals - the same ones that have cloistered Osama bin Laden in Musharraf's back yard since 2002. Right.
Pervez Musharraf has not been an unalloyed evil by any means. He has been an ally in the war against terror, even if halfhearted. And he has sought rapprochement with Israel.
But his usefulness is at a bloody end, and he must restore freedom and dissent, and allow a peaceful succession to a truly elected leader through on-time elections.
He hasn't been much of a solution to terror. How much of a problem he remains to peace and freedom will be known shortly.