By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Monday, November 19, 2007; 12:48 PM
President Bush continues to stand by his man -- even as his man has turned out to be a dictator.
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf wooed and won Bush shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, according to articles in the Washington Post and New York Times this weekend. And despite the mounting evidence that Musharraf was just leading him on, Bush hasn't had a change of heart.
Bush's relationship with Musharraf is reminiscent of his other man-crush on an incipient dictator, Russian President Vladimir Putin, the former KGB agent who some experts say reeled Bush in using standard spy tradecraft.
Michael Abramowitz writes in The Washington Post: "Even before he walked through the door at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York for his first face-to-face meeting with President Bush in 2001, Pervez Musharraf was something of a hero within the administration for his decisive stand against the Taliban and al-Qaeda after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
"Over the course of a dozen private meetings and numerous phone conversations since then, the savvy and well-spoken Pakistani president has made a point of cementing his personal relationship with Bush. Musharraf has regaled the U.S. president with stories of his youth in Punjab, his empathy for rank-and-file soldiers and his desire to reform the education system in Pakistan, according to individuals familiar with those conversations. . . .
"'I think [the president] took an instant liking to Musharraf,' former deputy secretary of state Richard L. Armitage said. 'At a key moment for us, we gave Musharraf a very tough series of choices, and he came down on our side. He is blunt, and Bush likes that.' . . .
"Several current and former administration officials described Bush as deeply impressed by Musharraf's response to the [9/11] attacks, particularly his personal courage in the face of assassination attempts by Islamic extremists."
But, Abramowitz writes: "Bush's personal investment in the Pakistani president, once seen as an asset in the administration's 'global war on terror,' is now seen as a liability for both leaders in Washington and Pakistan, where Musharraf's assumption of emergency powers and crackdown on opponents have triggered a political crisis in one of the United States' most important allies.
"In the two weeks since emergency rule was imposed, Bush has made clear he is standing by Musharraf, offering only muted criticism of his actions and refusing to consider any significant cut in U.S. assistance, which has totaled more than $10 billion since 2001."
Sheryl Gay Stolberg writes in the New York Times: "Mr. Bush has repeatedly called Gen. Musharraf 'a friend.' In 2003, the president invited the general to Camp David, a presidential perk reserved for the closest of allies. Last year, at the general's insistence, Mr. Bush risked a trip to Pakistan, jangling the nerves of the Secret Service by spending the night in the country presumed to be home to Osama bin Laden.
"But now that the general has defied the White House, suspending Pakistan's Constitution and imposing emergency rule, old tensions are flaring anew. Mr. Bush is backing away from the leader he once called a man of 'courage and vision,' and critics are asking whether the president misread his Pakistani counterpart.
"They said Mr. Bush -- an ardent believer in personal diplomacy, who once remarked that he had looked into the eyes of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and had gotten 'a sense of his soul' -- was taken in by the general, with his fluent English and his promises to hold elections and relinquish military power. They said Mr. Bush looked at General Musharraf and saw a democratic reformer when he should have seen a dictator instead.
"'He didn't ask the hard questions, and frankly, neither did the people working for him,' said Husain Haqqani, an expert on Pakistan at Boston University who has advised two previous Pakistani prime ministers, Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto. 'They bought the P.R. image of Musharraf as the reasonable general. Bush bought the line -- hook, line and sinker.' . . .
"The 'Bush-Mush relationship,' as some American scholars call it, has always been complicated, more a bond of convenience than a genuine friendship, some experts said. . . .
"Experts in United States-Pakistan relations said General Musharraf has played the union masterfully, by convincing Mr. Bush that he alone can keep Pakistan stable. Kamran Bokhari, an analyst for Stratfor, a private intelligence company, who met with General Musharraf in January, said the general viewed Mr. Bush with some condescension.
"'Musharraf thinks that Bush has certain weaknesses that can be manipulated,' Mr. Bokhari said, adding, 'I would say that President Musharraf doesn't think highly of President Bush, but his interests force him to do business with the U.S. president.'"Meanwhile, in Pakistan
David Rohde writes for the New York Times: "Continuing to defy the United States, Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, declined to tell a senior American envoy on Saturday when he would lift a two-week-old state of emergency, Pakistani and Western officials said.
"In a two-hour meeting, Deputy Secretary of State John D. Negroponte urged the president to end the emergency. But General Musharraf said he would do so when security improved in the country, the officials said. Mr. Negroponte is the United States' second highest ranking diplomat.
"'The president said, "I have noted your concerns and I think I will address all of these," ' a close aide to General Musharraf said."The Putin Analogy
Jonathan S. Landay wrote for McClatchy Newspapers in October that the current "U.S.-Russian tensions are a far cry from June 2001, when Bush declared after his first meeting with Putin in Slovenia that he'd looked in the Russian leader's eyes, found him 'trustworthy' and 'was able to get a sense of his soul.'
"Bush and his aides 'grossly misjudged Putin,' considering him 'a good guy and one of us,' said Michael McFaul of Stanford University's Hoover Institution.
"The former KGB officer created that illusion partly by appearing to share Bush's political and religious convictions, standard tradecraft employed by intelligence officers to recruit spies, he said.
"'Putin . . . is a brilliant case officer,' said Carlos Pasqual, a former senior State Department official now at The Brookings Institution, a center-left policy organization in Washington."
Many experts regard the real Putin as "a hard-line, derisive Russian nationalist," Landay writes.'Regained Footing' Watch
Peter Baker writes in The Washington Post: "The war in Iraq seems to have taken a turn for the better and the opposition at home has failed in all efforts to impose its own strategy. North Korea is dismantling its nuclear program. The budget deficit is falling. A new attorney general has been confirmed despite objections from the left.
"After more than two years of being buffeted by one political disaster after another, President Bush and his strategists think they may finally be getting back at least a bit of their footing."
And yet, Baker writes, "none of this has particularly impressed the public at large, which remains skeptical that anything meaningful has changed and still gives Bush record-low approval ratings. . . .
"Some Democrats agree that Bush seems to be doing better politically, but said the White House is fooling itself to think it amounts to much of a recovery. Even though security has improved in Iraq, political reconciliation remains elusive. Economic signs at home appear increasingly worrisome. And, they said, the public has largely made up its mind on Bush."
The demonization of the Democrats has its obvious advantages for Bush. "An us-vs.-them framework is comfortable for Bush," Baker writes. And "Bush, like other presidents, does better when he has a foil to play off of, whether an international enemy such as Osama bin Laden or Saddam Hussein, or a domestic political adversary such as Al Gore and Sen. John F. Kerry. Through much of 2005 and 2006, as he cratered politically, Bush had no particularly prominent rival to contrast with."
But the advantages, such as they are, may be superficial and short-term.
Writes Baker: "Bush's strategy contrasts with those of Clinton and Ronald Reagan, the last two-term presidents, who recovered from political troubles late in their tenures. Both found ways to work with an opposition Congress to pass important legislation. Reagan left office with a 64 percent approval rating and Clinton with a 65 percent rating."
Doug Feaver surveys reader reaction to Baker's piece.Meanwhile, the Opposition Splutters
David M. Herszenhorn writes in the New York Times: "Democrats in Congress failed once again Friday to shift President Bush's war strategy in Iraq, but insisted that they would not let up. Their explanation for their latest foiled effort seemed to boil down to a simple question: 'What else are we supposed to do?' . . .
"All signs indicate that Democrats will continue proposing such measures as long as Mr. Bush remains in office and troops remain in Iraq. 'We are going to keep plugging away,' said Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, chairman of the Armed Services Committee.
"Democratic lawmakers and strategists on Capitol Hill said their hope was that even if Republican support for Mr. Bush's strategy held firm, voters would reward Democrats for their efforts at the polls next November, and that there was no risk to failing again and again. . . .
"But other Democrats see a big risk. 'There is a lot of unease and disappointment,' said Senator Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut, who is running for president. 'The perception is that we are not leading on this issue. I get it every single day, wherever I go.'
"Mr. Dodd said lawmakers should just stop financing for the war. 'Congress has one authority here, and that's the funding,' he said."Why Did She Resign?
When White House political guru Karl Rove announced his resignation in August, he said he was doing so in order to comply with White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten's announcement that senior aides who stayed past Labor Day were committing to stay to the end of the Bush term in January 2009.
But this morning comes news that Bush's top counterterrorism and homeland security adviser, Fran Townsend, is leaving for the private sector.
Here's Bush's statement/announcement on Townsend's departure: "With her extensive experience, intellect and candor, Fran has ably guided the Homeland Security Council. She has played an integral role in the formation of the key strategies and policies my Administration has used to combat terror and protect Americans. She has traveled the world to meet with allies in the Global War on Terror and has partnered extensively with first responders at the state and local level to enhance our preparedness. We are safer today because of her leadership."
CNN's Suzanne Malveaux spoke to Townsend this morning and reported: "The one thing that she wanted to make clear is she turned in her letter of resignation to the president on November 6, but she said they've been talking about this for the last six to eight months or so, that this deadline that many people are talking about, from Chief of Staff Josh Bolten to go ahead and leave before Labor Day, really didn't apply to her because she has a lot of sensitive projects that she had to close up and work on and that it really wouldn't be prudent even for her to tip off exactly when it would be that she's leaving. But she said she made one thing clear to the president when she turned in that letter of resignation. She said she is not leaving to spend more time with her family, as the old Washington cliche goes. As a matter of fact, she said she told the White House don't even say that, that none of her friends would believe her."
David Cole and Jules Lobel offer up a timely report card on the war on terror on the op-ed page of the Los Angeles Times. One statistic: the number of terrorist attacks worldwide increased to 6,659 in 2006 from 1,732 in 2001.Annapolis Watch
What to make of the upcoming Mideast summit?
Glenn Kessler writes in The Washington Post: "A few days after Thanksgiving, President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice plan to open a meeting in Annapolis to launch the first round of substantive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks during Bush's presidency.
"But no conference date has been set. No invitations have been issued. And no one really agrees on what the participants will actually talk about once they arrive at the Naval Academy for the meeting, which is intended to relaunch Bush's stillborn 'road map' plan to create a Palestinian state. . . .
"Even a senior administration official deeply involved in the preparations confided, before speaking off the record about his expectations: 'I can't connect the dots myself because it is still a work in progress.'"
Dion Nissenbaum writes for McClatchy Newspapers: "It might be called the Incredible Shrinking Middle East Peace Summit. . . .
"What once was seen as a chance to build an anti-Iranian coalition of moderate Arab nations by jump-starting Israeli-Palestinian peace talks now is viewed as little more than a launching pad for future negotiations. . . .
"As time runs out, the main players are considering the possibility that the meeting will be little more than a venue for picture-taking and speechifying, and that they'll emerge with nothing more than a general agreement on the direction of more talks."
But wait. Steven Erlanger writes in the New York Times that maybe there is a plan after all: "By pushing Israel to accept immediate negotiations with the Palestinians on the thorny 'final status' issues, with the aim to conclude a peace settlement within a year, the Bush administration is trying to attract a significant Arab presence at the peace conference in Annapolis, Md.
"The meeting in Annapolis, now penciled in to start Nov. 26 and last less than 24 hours, is meant to begin -- and bless -- negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian leaders on a final peace agreement between them, ostensibly to be completed by the end of the Bush presidency.
"The all-out push essentially speeds to the end of the now dormant 2003 'road map' for peace by insisting that the big issues once relegated to later discussion, like the status of Jerusalem and the return of Palestinian refugees, be addressed immediately, even before the Palestinians begin to dismantle terrorist groups and networks."Global Warming Watch
Andrew C. Revkin blogs for the New York Times: "Throughout the Bush presidency, there has been an aversion to addressing one question about global warming: How much is too much?
"Nothing has changed, it appears, even though administration officials late Friday night endorsed (along with counterparts from 129 other countries) the troubling findings in the fourth in-depth assessment since 1990 of the causes and consequences of global warming by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
"Despite the report's added emphasis on a list of 'reasons for concern' about the continuing growth of long-lived emissions that trap heat, senior White House officials said Friday and Saturday that it remained impossible to define a 'dangerous' threshold in the concentration of greenhouse gases or resulting warming."
John D. McKinnon blogs for the Wall Street Journal: "Freudian slip? In a transcript of a briefing on the latest international climate-change report, the White House inadvertently referred to James Connaughton, chairman of its Council on Environmental Quality, as chairman of the Council on Economic Quality."Bush Sure Can Pick 'Em
Joe Carroll and Mario Parker write for Bloomberg: "Ethanol, the centerpiece of President George W. Bush's plan to wean the U.S. from oil, is 2007's worst energy investment.
"The corn-based fuel tumbled 57 percent from last year's record of $4.33 a gallon and drove crop prices to a 10-year high. . . .
"Even worse for investors and the Bush administration, energy experts contend ethanol isn't reducing oil demand. Scientists at Cornell University say making the fuel uses more energy than it creates, while the National Research Council warns ethanol production threatens scarce water supplies.
"As oil nears $100 a barrel, ethanol markets are so depressed that distilleries are shutting from Iowa to Germany. An investor who put $10 million into ethanol on Dec. 31 now has $7.5 million, a loss of 25 percent. Florida and Georgia have banned sales during the summer, when the fuel may evaporate and create smog."No Recess for You
Paul Kane writes in The Washington Post: "Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), in a showdown with the White House over executive branch nominations, refused yesterday to formally adjourn the chamber for a planned two-week Thanksgiving break in order to thwart President Bush's ability to make recess appointments.
"Rather than allowing the Senate to take a full break, Reid employed a rarely used parliamentary tactic by scheduling 'pro forma' sessions twice a week until early December, when Congress returns for three weeks of work. Under that plan, a few senators, perhaps just one Democrat and one Republican, will briefly open the chamber for debate during the next two weeks."
Noam N. Levey of the Los Angeles Times quotes Jim Manley, Reid's press secretary: "It's unfortunate that we have to do this, but we couldn't run the risk of the administration ramming through some of their highly controversial appointments while we were in recess."Turkey Watch
Sonja Barisic writes for the Associated Press: "The Pilgrims' feast in Massachusetts has always overshadowed Berkeley Plantation's place in history. Now, a planned visit from President Bush has some Virginians giving thanks for the recognition.
"On Monday, the president plans to stop by the plantation on the banks of the James River, where English settlers held a thanksgiving service almost two years before what is traditionally known as the nation's first Thanksgiving in New England."
Meanwhile, Barisic writes: "Lisa Suhay, a Norfolk children's author, has been trying to get Bush to pardon a pig in recognition of the Berkeley thanksgiving -- which may have included a meager meal with bacon or ham. . . .
"White House spokesman Blair Jones said, though, that Bush will stick to the traditional turkey pardon, in the Rose Garden on Tuesday."
Christopher Boyd writes in the Orlando Sentinel: "This year, when the president pardons the official national Thanksgiving turkey, it's going to get more than just a reprieve from the White House holiday menu.
"It's going to Walt Disney World.
"On Tuesday, President Bush will perform the 60th annual 'pardoning of the turkey' ritual. The winning bird will then get a first-class flight to Orlando on a United Airlines jet, and a red-carpet entry to Disney World."Impeachment (Non) Watch
The Project for Excellence in Journalism finds that during the week of Nov. 4 -9, Rep. Dennis Kucinich's introduction of a measure to impeach Vice President Dick Cheney "was barely a blip on the larger news-scape. The story did not come close to cracking the top-10 stories in PEJ's overall News Coverage Index."
But on talk radio, it was "the top story with 20% of the total airtime. . . . [T]he cheers from the left side of the talk dial could hardly be contained -- along with some encouraging jeers from the right."The Inner Rove
Karl Rove writes in his new Newsweek opinion column that "the question to John McCain from a woman at a town hall in South Carolina last Monday was tasteless, but key: 'How do we beat the [rhymes with witch]?'"
Meanwhile, his liberal counterpart, Daily Kos blogger Markos Moulitsas, writes that "Democrats should and will use Bush and his destructive policies on the campaign trail as the primary example of what happens when people who hate government are elected to run it."Eight More Years?
Thomas L. Friedman writes in his New York Times opinion column: "I have no idea who is going to win the Democratic presidential nomination, but lately I've been wondering whether, if it is Barack Obama, he might want to consider keeping Dick Cheney on as his vice president."Cartoon Watch
Tom Toles on all that breathing room in Iraq.