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Another Bush Backfire

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Monday, November 5, 2007; 1:30 PM

President Bush's coddling of Pakistani leader Pervez Musharraf suddenly risks being exposed as another case of White House anti-terror policies going spectacularly bad.

The ultimate anti-terror backfire, of course, is the war in Iraq, which U.S. intelligence shows has helped al Qaeda much more than it's hurt it.

But now, with Musharraf declaring emergency rule over the weekend, the country that Bush considers a bulwark against terror may gain infamy as a crucible for terror instead.

Michael Hirsh writes for Newsweek: "After six years of propping up and making excuses for Pervez Musharraf . . . Washington doesn't have many friends left to call on in Pakistan -- perhaps the No. 1 generator of anti-U.S. terrorism in the world today. That's the dilemma that democracy crusader George W. Bush faces after Musharraf, one of his firmest allies, took the dictator's path and declared martial law on Saturday. . . .

"Some U.S. officials now fear that that this nuclear-armed nation is teetering on the verge of chaos, and the result could be every American's worst nightmare: that nuclear material or knowhow, or God forbid, a bomb, falls into the hands of terrorists. 'If you were to look around the world for where Al Qaeda is going to find its bomb, it's right in their backyard,' says Bruce Riedel, the former senior director for South Asia on the National Security Council."

Ben Feller writes for the Associated Press: "President Bush says he gains influence with world leaders by building personal relations with them. Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf got a dose of that diplomacy at the White House last fall, when Bush hailed him as a friend and a voice of moderation.

"'The president is a strong defender of freedom and the people of Pakistan,' Bush said that day, side by side with Musharraf.

"Over the weekend, that advocate of freedom emerged with a different world image: a military dictator willing to crush the rights of his own people. . . .

"By unleashing a police state on his country, Musharraf put in motion a trifecta of trouble for the Bush administration. A nuclear-armed Pakistan lurched further into instability, civil rights and parliamentary elections were shoved aside, and the credibility of a Bush-backed leader took an enormous hit."

Renee Schoof and Warren P. Strobel write for McClatchy Newspapers: "The imposition of emergency rule on Saturday in nuclear-armed Pakistan underscores how little influence the Bush administration has on events in a country that has become the bulwark in the U.S. fight against terrorism. . . .

"Washington's lack of influence . . . was palpable. On Friday, both Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in Turkey for talks on Iraq, and Adm. William J. Fallon, the commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, had warned Musharraf not to impose emergency rule. But Musharraf didn't even wait for Fallon, who was in Pakistan, to leave the country before making his declaration."

Paul Richter writes in the Los Angeles Times: "In Musharraf, an American president sometimes accused of naive neoconservative faith in democracy made the ultimate realist's bargain to help prop up an authoritarian leader.

"The step Musharraf has taken now has raised fears that the world may end up with a nuclear-armed state that is at once more fractured and host to a stronger Islamic militant force. . . .

"[F]rom the beginning, U.S. officials have acknowledged concerns that the Pakistani government was not doing enough to foster democracy and halt nuclear proliferation. And an increasing number of U.S. officials have become convinced that Musharraf's regime hasn't done enough to fight militant Islamists. . . .

"Musharraf promised Bush from the beginning that he would eventually give up his position as head of the army, Pakistan's most powerful institution, and hold free and fair elections at the risk of ending his own rule. Yet his declaration of emergency rule has been widely judged a desperate attempt to hold onto power as the Pakistani Supreme Court deliberated on the validity of his recent reelection."

White House Still Reeling

Karen DeYoung writes in The Washington Post: "The Bush administration seemed to still be reeling from Musharraf's announcement Saturday and waiting for the rapidly shifting events to settle before making any move beyond expressing strong disapproval.

"U.S. aid to Pakistan over the past six years has totaled nearly $11 billion, most of it in military hardware and budget support. Immediately after the September 2001 terrorist attacks, President Bush lifted aid sanctions imposed on Pakistan and India after both countries tested nuclear weapons in 1998. Additional sanctions set against Pakistan after Musharraf seized power in a bloodless coup in 1999 were also waived."

Here's what Sen. Joseph Biden, the Delaware Democrat and presidential candidate who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told Bob Schieffer on CBS's "Face the Nation" yesterday: "What I hear from the administration and the brief briefing I got last night, I don't know that they have any notion of what they're going to do right now. There's still this faint hope that this martial law will last only a day or two, but I think that is--I think we're kidding ourselves. So they're in a very tough spot. Look, as--you know, this administration has a--has a-- has a Musharraf policy, not a Pakistani policy. It's tied to Musharraf, and it's also--its hands are pretty well tied right now. And it's put itself in a very difficult position and, in turn, us in a difficult position."

Another Casualty

John D. McKinnon and Neil King Jr. write in the Wall Street Journal (subscription required): "President Bush's vaunted 'freedom agenda,' using U.S. aid, influence and example to advance political liberty around the globe, suffered one of its worst setbacks this weekend when Gen. Pervez Musharraf declared a state of emergency in Pakistan. . . .

"Mr. Musharraf's crackdown -- which appeared to catch administration officials by surprise -- has dramatically underscored how much Mr. Bush's freedom march has slowed, and in a few cases gone into retreat. . . .

"[W]ith little more than a year to go in his term, the president's once-lofty hopes for expanding world freedom increasingly are being replaced by fears over security and stability. This is true not only in Pakistan, but also in other trouble spots where the U.S. has been deeply involved, such as Afghanistan, Iraq and the Palestinian territories."

The White House response to the Journal's thesis: "Mr. Musharraf's move was 'disappointing and discouraging, but let's see where this goes before making judgments as to the freedom agenda,' said [White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe]."

What Cheney Wrought

Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid writes in a Washington Post op-ed: "The spread of anti-Western feelings and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism have been fostered by a U.S. policy that has sought to prop up Musharraf rather than forcing him to seek political consensus and empower a representative civilian government that would have public support for attacking the extremists."

And who's most responsible for that policy? Here's what Rashid wrote in The Post in June: "Current and past U.S. officials tell me that Pakistan policy is essentially being run from Cheney's office. The vice president, they say, is close to Musharraf and refuses to brook any U.S. criticism of him. This all fits; in recent months, I'm told, Pakistani opposition politicians visiting Washington have been ushered in to meet Cheney's aides, rather than taken to the State Department.

"No one in Foggy Bottom seems willing to question Cheney's decisions."

Bush Flashback

Here's more from Bush's Sept. 22, 2006, joint press availability with Musharraf at the White House: "I admire your leadership. I admire your courage. And I thank you very much for working on common strategies to protect our respective peoples."

Bush explained: "We talked about democracy. The last time I was with the President, he assured me, and assured the people that were listening to the news conference, that there would be free and fair elections in Pakistan in 2007. He renewed that commitment, because he understands that the best way to defeat radicalism and extremism is to give people a chance to participate in the political process of a nation."

Here's Bush just last July, speaking in Cleveland: "Musharraf is a strong ally in the war against these extremists. I like him and I appreciate him. I'm, of course, constantly working with him to make sure that democracy continues to advance in Pakistan. He's been a valuable ally in rejecting extremists. And that's important, to cultivate those allies."

The Money Still Flows

David E. Sanger and David Rohde write in the New York Times: "The Bush administration signaled Sunday that it would probably keep billions of dollars flowing to Pakistan's military, despite the detention of human rights advocates and leaders of the political opposition by Gen. Pervez Musharraf, the country's president.

"In carefully calibrated public statements and blunter private acknowledgments about the limits of American leverage over General Musharraf, the man President Bush has called one of his most critical allies, the officials argued that it would be counterproductive to let Pakistan's political turmoil interfere with their best hope of ousting Al Qaeda's central leadership and the Taliban from the country's mountainous tribal areas."

But consider what all that money has -- or hasn't -- bought us.

Greg Miller writes in the Los Angeles Times: "Despite billions of dollars in U.S. military payments to Pakistan over the last six years, the paramilitary force leading the pursuit of Al Qaeda militants remains underfunded, poorly trained and overwhelmingly outgunned, U.S. military and intelligence officials said. . . .

"[R]ather than use the more than $7 billion in U.S. military aid to bolster its counter-terrorism capabilities, Pakistan has spent the bulk of it on heavy arms, aircraft and equipment that U.S. officials say are far more suited for conventional warfare with India, its regional rival.

"That has left fighters with the paramilitary force, known as the Frontier Corps, equipped often with little more than 'sandals and bolt-action rifles,' said a senior Western military official in Islamabad, even as they face Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters equipped with assault rifles and grenade launchers."

The Bush Backlash

Dan Balz and Jon Cohen write in The Washington Post: "One year out from the 2008 election, Americans are deeply pessimistic and eager for a change in direction from the agenda and priorities of President Bush, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

"Concern about the economy, the war in Iraq and growing dissatisfaction with the political environment in Washington all contribute to the lowest public assessment of the direction of the country in more than a decade. Just 24 percent think the nation is on the right track, and three-quarters said they want the next president to chart a course that is different than that pursued by Bush. . . .

"For the fourth consecutive month, Bush's approval rating remains at a career low. Thirty-three percent said they approve of the job he is doing, and 64 percent disapprove. Majorities have disapproved of Bush's job performance for more than 2 1/2 years. . . .

"Only 23 percent of those surveyed said they want to keep going 'in the direction Bush has been taking us."

Mukasey Watch

But despite the pervasive unpopularity of the president and his policies, he gets his way on the Hill, time and time again.

Dan Eggen and Paul Kane write in Saturday's Washington Post: "The nomination fight over attorney general nominee Michael B. Mukasey effectively came to an end yesterday, as two key Senate Democrats parted from their colleagues and announced their support for the former judge despite his controversial statements on torture.

"The orchestrated announcements by Sens. Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.) and Dianne Feinstein (Calif.) virtually guarantee that Mukasey will be approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, to be followed by his likely confirmation in the full Senate later in the month.

"The developments mark an important political victory for President Bush, who mounted a spirited and aggressive defense of Mukasey in recent days. They also underscore the pitfalls facing Democrats as the party struggles to stake out an independent policy on national security issues during a presidential campaign season."

Evan Perez and Jackie Calmes write in the Wall Street Journal: "The way in which Senate Democrats wavered and then consented to the confirmation of Michael B. Mukasey as attorney general reflects the party's broader struggle to make headway on its national-security agenda, despite President Bush's unpopularity. . . .

"Left-leaning groups and bloggers over the weekend renewed criticism that despite winning the House and Senate a year ago, Democrats were 'caving in' to the president."

Just More Kabuki?

Did the White House know all along that the Judiciary Committee vote was a safe bet?

Consider this from Eggen and Kane's story in The Post: "Schumer, who was the first senator to demand Gonzales's resignation and is well known for seeking the limelight, stayed unusually quiet over the past two weeks while he negotiated behind the scenes with the White House, according to sources familiar with his activities.

"One Democratic aide said Schumer gave the administration guidance about what Mukasey should include in a letter to Democrats on waterboarding. The letter included some of the elements but fell short in key areas, stoking the controversy, the aide said."

Regarding the Media

Tim Rutten writes in his Los Angeles Times column that newspapers "repeatedly described waterboarding as a 'harsh technique' or as a 'coercive measure.' It is neither of those things. It is torture, and the refusal to make that point each and every time this repugnant practice comes up is a form of rhetorical squeamishness indistinguishable from moral cowardice. . . .

"When the media characterize it as a political struggle between the White House and congressional Democrats or as a complex debate over national security in a post Sept. 11 world -- two convenient dodges -- they aren't being realistic or fair. What the media really are doing is engaging in a sophisticated fan dance -- a convenient act of concealment.

"What's really at stake is whether this country will continue to stand with the framers of our Constitution and our authentic moral traditions or whether we now will allow Bush and Cheney to put us shoulder to shoulder with Pol Pot."

The Feisty President

Charles Babington writes for the Associated Press: "President Bush enters a new phase of government-by-minority this month, issuing a veto certain to draw the first override of his presidency, and testing even his most loyal allies' limits on spending issues that will dominate the fall agenda.

"The strategy allows Bush to employ every ounce of his presidential powers, imposing his will so long as he is backed by one-third of either house in Congress -- the minimum to sustain a presidential veto. But it could strain his relations with GOP lawmakers as he pushes his tax-and-spending dogma beyond points that even a third of the House or Senate can accept.

"Bush's growing use of the veto, combined with his continued embrace of executive orders and 'signing statements,' signal his willingness to defy large portions of Congress and the public to shape policies in his final year in office."

Kenneth T. Walsh writes for U.S. News: "Faced with potential gridlock almost across the board, Bush has ordered his staff to prepare a variety of executive orders and administrative actions that will let him end-run Congress for the remainder of his term. This has been done by presidents before, but Bush's plans seem more extensive. White House officials say that Bush is considering a lengthy series of unilateral actions on hot-button topics such as reducing reliance on fossil fuels by encouraging alternative energy sources, limiting the importation of dangerous toys from China, restricting illegal immigration but still allowing needed agricultural workers to enter the country, improving veterans' healthcare, and alleviating air-traffic congestion."

Steven T. Dennis writes for Roll Call (subscription required): "Despite their rhetoric about not wanting to hand President Bush another 'blank check' for the Iraq War, Democrats appear poised to give him exactly that -- enough cash to keep the war going full steam for as long as six months, no strings attached.

"Democratic leaders continue to fear GOP attacks that cutting off or slowing funds would hurt the troops, despite anger among the Democratic base over the party's failure to use Congress' power of the purse to end the war."

Here's how Bush summed things up in his speech to the conservative Heritage Foundation last week: "I'm looking forward to working with you for the next 14 months -- but you better put on your running shoes, because my spirits are high, my energy level is good and I'm sprinting to the finish line."

Health Care Watch

Robert Pear writes in the New York Times that the veto of a bipartisan compromise providing health insurance to 10 million children "highlights the rift between Mr. Bush and members of his own party, including many who helped create the child health program 10 years ago. . . .

"Explaining why he vetoed it, Mr. Bush said 'we weren't dialed in' to the negotiations. But after checking their calendars, lawmakers said they and their aides had had more than 35 meetings and telephone conversations on the issue" with White House staff members "from January through September."

Those staff members were Allan B. Hubbard, director of the National Economic Council; Keith B. Hennessey, a former policy director for Senator Trent Lott, Republican of Mississippi; and Julie L. Goon, a special assistant to the president.

So what went wrong? Pear explains that while a handful of powerful senators "was hashing out details of their bipartisan proposal, White House officials urged lawmakers to provide tax breaks for anyone buying private health insurance. Mr. Hubbard, a business school classmate of Mr. Bush's, kept promoting this idea even after Senate Republican leaders told the White House the time was not ripe for this broader debate.

"Senator Hatch tried to bring White House officials into the negotiations, believing their involvement would produce a better bill. But, lawmakers said, the administration did not want to discuss the child health program except as part of a broader discussion that included the president's tax proposals."

Education Watch

Peter Baker writes in The Washington Post about the No Child Left Behind education law and Bush's relationship with Sen. Edward M. Kennedy: "This was supposed to be the one area where the embattled White House and the assertive new Democratic Congress would find common ground, thanks to the unlikely partnership between a Texas conservative and a Massachusetts liberal. But like the rest of Bush's legislative agenda, No Child Left Behind has fallen victim to political deadlock, leaving a weakened president struggling to salvage perhaps his most important domestic achievement with the help of one of his toughest critics."

Aiming Big in the Middle East

Karen DeYoung writes for The Washington Post: "Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said Monday that he believes the path to peace with Israel is now open and that a Palestinian state can be achieved before the end of the Bush administration in January 2009.

"Echoing a near-identical statement made Sunday night by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Abbas said that an upcoming peace conference in Annapolis would launch negotiations over core issues in the conflict. . . .

"Abbas's comments, as he stood beside Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice after talks between the two Monday morning, put Israel, the Palestinians and the United States on the same page in expressing optimism -- an achievement in itself given the long-stalemated status of the peace process. The establishment of a Palestinian state, a goal that has eluded U.S. presidents for decades, would be a major accomplishment for President Bush at a time when his foreign policy legacy remains in question."

Iran Watch

If history is a lesson, we should listen to McClatchy this time around.

Jonathan S. Landay writes for McClatchy Newspapers: "Despite President Bush's claims that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons that could trigger 'World War III,' experts in and out of government say there's no conclusive evidence that Tehran has an active nuclear-weapons program.

"Even his own administration appears divided about the immediacy of the threat. While Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney speak of an Iranian weapons program as a fact, Bush's point man on Iran, Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns, has attempted to ratchet down the rhetoric.

"'Iran is seeking a nuclear capability . . . that some people fear might lead to a nuclear-weapons capability,' Burns said in an interview Oct. 25 on PBS. . . .

"Bush's rhetoric seems hyperbolic compared with the measured statements by his senior aides and outside experts. . . .

"If conclusive proof exists," Landay writes, "Bush hasn't revealed it. Nor have four years of IAEA inspections."

Frank Rich writes in his New York Times opinion column: "When President Bush started making noises about World War III, he only confirmed what has been a Democratic article of faith all year: Between now and Election Day he and Dick Cheney, cheered on by the mob of neocon dead-enders, are going to bomb Iran. . . .

"The reason so many Democrats believe war with Iran is inevitable, of course, is that the administration is so flagrantly rerunning the sales campaign that gave us Iraq. The same old scare tactic -- a Middle East Hitler plotting a nuclear holocaust -- has been recycled with a fresh arsenal of hyped, loosey-goosey intelligence and outright falsehoods that are sometimes regurgitated without corroboration by the press. . . .

"Yet there is nonetheless a method to all the mad threats of war coming out of the White House. While the saber- rattling is reckless as foreign policy, it's a proven winner as election-year Republican campaign strategy. The real point may be less to intimidate Iranians than to frighten Americans. Fear, the only remaining card this administration still knows how to play, may once more give a seemingly spent G.O.P. a crack at the White House in 2008.

"Whatever happens in or to Iran, the American public will be carpet-bombed by apocalyptic propaganda for the 12 months to come."

Bush Before the Troops

Josh White and William Branigin write in Saturday's Washington Post: "President Bush, invoking the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, as he has many times before, contended Friday that Iraq is the central front in the struggle against extremism, telling a supportive military crowd at this Army post that it is imperative to continue fighting the increasingly unpopular war.

"Bush praised the 1,300 newly minted soldiers graduating from Basic Combat Training here for volunteering to defend the country. . . .

"In asserting that they must stay committed to the fight, Bush was speaking to perhaps one of the most loyal audiences he could have found." Here's the transcript.

Cheney Flunks Geography

White and Branigin also note that Cheney, in a speech before the World Affairs Council of Dallas-Fort Worth, was asked about the influence of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. "The people of Peru, I think, deserve better in their leadership. But that's obviously a matter they've got to resolve for themselves," Cheney said.

Cheney's Notion of Negotiating

Peter Baker writes in The Washington Post that when Cheney was asked at that same Dallas appearance "why the United States should invade countries such as Iraq and Iran rather than sit down and talk with their leaders, he said he would be more than happy to talk with them -- on certain rather favorable terms.

"'Well, I would love to have one giant peace conference, to see our adversaries come sit down on the other side of the table, and negotiate a treaty here -- like we did at the end of World War II onboard the USS Missouri -- and have the problem solved,' he said, before going on to explain why he did not think that was possible.

"Of course, the 'treaty' signed on the Missouri was actually an instrument of 'unconditional surrender' in which Japan agreed to 'obey and enforce all proclamations, orders and directives' issued by the Supreme Allied Commander, Gen. Douglas MacArthur. If only Iran would be reasonable and agree to something like that, everything sure would be a lot easier."

White House Propaganda Watch

Jonathan Karl reports for ABC News: "The White House has selectively edited a report on Iraq, taking out negative information and distorting the report's meaning.

"This isn't about intelligence or weapons of mass destruction. It's my report on Thursday's evening on World News with Charles Gibson. . . .

"The White House sent out an edited version of my report in an official White House publication called 'White House Iraq Update.' . . . As edited by the White House, my report looked like an unqualified declaration of success in Iraq."

Impeachment (Non) Watch

CBS News reports that "a statewide poll conducted by CBS affiliate WCAX in Burlington, Vt. posed the question to 400 likely voters. Sixty-one percent said they would be in favor of Congress beginning impeachment proceedings against President Bush. Thirty-three percent opposed it, and 6% were not sure.

"The numbers for Vice President Cheney differed only slightly: Sixty-four percent favored impeachment, while 31% opposed it."

John Nichols blogs for the Nation that despite the lack of media coverage, "when citizens are asked what they think about holding members of the Bush administration to account, they respond with an enthusiasm far greater than that displayed for impeaching Richard Nixon at the height of the Watergate scandal. It is this reality -- as opposed to the state of denial fostered by so much of the media and the political class -- that Congressman Dennis Kucinich will act upon next week, when he offers a privileged resolution on the House floor to bring articles of impeachment against Vice President Dick Cheney."

Cartoon Watch

Jeff Danziger on the war in Iraq; Garry Trudeau on ramping up for Iran; Tom Toles on Bush and bipartisanship; John Sherffius on the Bush Adminquisition.

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