The End of the Bush-Mush Affair

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, August 19, 2008; 11:45 AM

President Bush's stormy relationship with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf is finally over.

Long after it became apparent that Musharraf was leading him on, and long after it was clear that Musharraf was on his way out the door, Bush still stood by his man.

But now that Musharraf is gone, having resigned in the face of impeachment, Bush is left to pick up the pieces.

Anwar Iqbal writes in Dawn, Pakistan's most widely read English-language newspaper: "Diplomatic sources in Washington described President Bush as Mr Musharraf's 'last holdout' in the US capital. Others in the Bush administration -- including Vice-President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice -- had long given up on Mr Musharraf. But Mr Bush remained faithful to the person he considered a close ally and a personal friend."

Iqbal writes that Bush finally faced up to the inevitable about three weeks ago, after Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani flew to Washington for an intervention: "By the time Prime Minister Gilani met Mr Bush on July 28, Pakistani lobbyists were satisfied that they had neutralised the pro-Musharraf lobby in Washington.

"'President Bush was the last holdout,' said [a think-tank expert who worked with the Pakistani ambassador to Washington]. 'But after a good luncheon at the White House with people who had their hearts in the right place, Mr Bush also realised that he can no longer save Mr Musharraf'.

"The prime minister took a team of 'Musharraf experts' with him to the luncheon and they played a key role in persuading Mr Bush to stop supporting the Pakistani leader.

"'Once this was done, the Pakistanis knew that the Americans will no longer try to save Mr Musharraf, so they made their move [for impeachment],' the expert said.

"While Mr Bush had accepted the argument that Mr Musharraf could no longer be saved, he still wanted to make sure that the Pakistani leader was not penalised.

"Besides sending his own ambassador to the coalition leaders to negotiate a safe exit, indemnity from penalisation and a secure stay in Pakistan or abroad for Mr Musharraf, Mr Bush also asked two key allies -- Britain and Saudi Arabia -- to help."

Jane Perlez writes in the New York Times that Musharraf announced his resignation "after months of belated recognition by American officials that he had become a waning asset in the campaign against terrorism.

"The decision removes from Pakistan's political stage the leader who for nearly nine years served as one of the United States' most important -- and ultimately unreliable -- allies. . . .

"'We've said for years that Musharraf is our best bet, and my fear is that we are about to discover how true that was,' one senior Bush administration official said, acknowledging that the United States had stuck with Mr. Musharraf for too long and developed few other relationships in Pakistan to fall back on.

"Administration officials will now have to find allies within the fractious civilian government, which has so far shown scant interest in taking on militants from the Taliban and Al Qaeda who have roosted in Pakistan's badlands along the border with Afghanistan.

"At the same time, suspicions between the American and Pakistani intelligence agencies and their militaries are deepening, and relations between the countries are at their lowest point since Mr. Musharraf pledged to ally Pakistan with the United States after the 9/11 attacks.

"Among the greatest concerns, senior American officials say, is the durability of new controls over Pakistan's nuclear program."

Michael Abramowitz and Glenn Kessler write in The Washington Post: "For years, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf had no stronger supporter than President Bush. . . .

"[A]fter seven years of unstinting support for the onetime army general, including more than $10 billion in U.S. assistance for Pakistan since the 2001 attacks, the Bush administration finally concluded -- too late, in the view of its critics -- that time was up for Musharraf. . . .

"The shift from the Bush administration on Musharraf has been slow in coming. Even last fall, after Musharraf imposed emergency rule, Bush stood by the Pakistani president, offering only muted criticism and lauding him as 'a strong fighter against extremists and radicals' in the region. Although Musharraf's party was routed in elections this year, Bush telephoned the Pakistani president in May to say he looked forward to his continuing role in strengthening U.S.-Pakistan ties.

"'Certain folks hung on to him,' said a State Department official involved in Pakistan policy. . . .

"Despite the hope in some quarters of Washington that Musharraf could remain in his job, Bush administration officials said yesterday that they had been gradually preparing for his departure. . . .

"'We're confident that we will maintain a good relationship with the government of Pakistan,' White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe told reporters in Crawford, Tex., where the president is spending the week at his ranch."

Greg Miller writes in the Los Angeles Times: "Musharraf was arguably the administration's most important ally in the fight against Islamic extremists. But when he resigned the presidency Monday, senior counter-terrorism officials in the U.S. government said there was more relief than anxiety rippling through their ranks that the drama over Musharraf's fate had ended.

"Even at the height of his powers, the man who long commanded Pakistan's army had produced uneven results in countering the militant threat based in his country's northwest, said U.S. intelligence officials, all of whom requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the relationship.

"They complained that Musharraf had failed to root out elements of the Pakistani intelligence service that remain sympathetic to the Taliban, which has regained strength and appears to move easily across the border into Afghanistan to attack U.S. troops.

"'From the American point of view, we wildly mis-estimated him and we wildly mis-estimated Pakistani capabilities,' said Stephen Cohen of the Brookings Institution, who was visiting Pakistan this week. . . .

"Last week, Ted Gistaro, the U.S. national intelligence officer for transnational threats, warned that Al Qaeda had 'strengthened its safe haven in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas by deepening its alliances with Pakistani militants,' and said it 'now has many of the operational and organizational advantages it once enjoyed across the border in Afghanistan, albeit on a smaller and less secure scale.'

"Critics said the revival of the extremist threat signals the failure of the Bush-Musharraf partnership.

"'It ends an era marked by great cooperation but unfulfilled expectations,' said analyst Bruce Hoffman of Georgetown University."

Daniel Dombey, Andrew Ward and Amy Kazmin write in the Financial Times: "During the closest years of their relationship, between 2001 and last year, Mr Bush rarely let an opportunity go without lauding Mr Musharraf for his tough stand on 'radicals' and 'extremists'.

"But eventually, the Pakistani leader's star fell, even with Mr Bush, after a new democratically elected government came to power in Islamabad this year and proceeded to sideline Mr Musharraf.

"'The US was like a partner that has been cheated on for years and refuses to see the reality,' said Frederic Grare, a specialist on Pakistan at the Carnegie Endowment in Washington. He argued that the Bush administration overpersonalised its dealings with Mr Musharraf, brushed aside signs of Pakistani support for the Taliban and failed to perceive his lack of political support."

Deb Riechmann writes for the Associated Press: "'Bush came to call him the indispensable man,' said Bruce Riedel, a senior adviser to three presidents on Middle East and South Asian affairs. 'In the end, he also became the man who couldn't deliver. Bush was very slow to realize that he either had been had by Musharraf or that Musharraf was not up to the task. Historians will debate this for years.'"

For more on the history of the Bush-Mush relationship, see my November 19 column, Bush's Crush on Musharraf, which was prompted by articles in the Washington Post and New York Times describing how Musharraf wooed and won Bush shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Michael Abramowitz wrote that week in The Washington Post: "Over the course of a dozen private meetings and numerous phone conversations . . . 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."

Sheryl Gay Stolberg wrote then in the New York Times: "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."

Opinion Watch

The New York Times editorial board writes: "For seven years, the Bush administration enabled Mr. Musharraf -- believing that he was the best ally for the fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban. He never delivered on that promise. And Pakistan's people deeply resent Washington for propping up the dictator.

"With Mr. Musharraf finally out of the picture, it is time to focus American policy on his dangerous and dangerously neglected country."

Juan Cole writes for Salon: "It is a measure of the Bush administration's broken foreign policy that the departure of Pervez Musharraf, the corrupt, longtime military dictator of Pakistan, is provoking fears in Washington of 'instability.' Despite Bush's warm embrace, Musharraf gutted the rule of law in Pakistan over the previous year and a half, including sacking its Supreme Court. He attempted to do away with press freedom, failed to provide security for campaigning politicians and strove to postpone elections indefinitely.

"The Bush administration has made a regular practice of undermining democracy in places where local politics don't play out to its liking, and in that, at least, Musharraf was a true partner. But stability derives not from a tyrannical brake on popular aspirations; it derives from the free play of the political process. Musharraf's resignation from office, in fact, marks Pakistan's first chance for a decent political future since 1977."

Russia Watch

Paul Richter writes in the Los Angeles Times: "Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Monday condemned Russia for what she said was a growing reliance on military power as she headed for Europe to increase allied pressure for Moscow to withdraw its forces from Georgia.

"Rice, in her toughest criticism of the Kremlin to date, said Russia's incursion into Georgia was part of a pattern in which the government has increasingly turned to its military to assert its influence. . . .

"Rice and President Bush have been intensifying their criticism of Russia in recent days over the fighting in Georgia."

Tracy Wilkinson writes in the Los Angeles Times: "Signing a missile-defense deal with its good friend the United States has earned Poland nothing less than the threat of nuclear attack from Russia -- a threat that might not sound so empty these days, given Moscow's bloody battle with Georgia.

"That conflict has plunged Europe into crisis, sending waves of jitters through Poland and other eastern nations, once-occupied parts of a Soviet empire that some fear Russia may want to reconstruct. Moscow's actions have also succeeded in driving deeper the wedge between Europe's East and West. . . .

"Ukraine and Moldova are worried that they could be Russia's next targets. The Czech Republic, on the eve of the 40th anniversary of a Soviet invasion that crushed the Prague Spring reform movement, is fretting about history repeating itself. Many Eastern European nations, Poland chief among them, are eager to find safe haven, and have turned to Washington for guidance and reassurance and partnership.

"But the fact that the distracted and overly stretched Bush administration took little concrete action to protect Georgia from Russia's wrath must also give pause to nations that would throw their lot completely with the U.S. Is the strategic alliance that many Eastern European countries have been building with the U.S. since the fall of communism nearly two decades ago still worth the risks?"

Over at NiemanWatchdog.org, where I am deputy editor, I talk to international law professor Richard Falk, who warns that the Georgian conflict could be the first significant collision between the U.S.'s new global conception of security and the more traditional sphere-of-influence view. He suggests it's time to consider the adverse consequences of antagonizing Russia.

Cheney's Nod to Georgia

James Gerstenzang blogs for the Los Angeles Times: "Vice President Dick Cheney has been one of the key players pushing for a muscular response to Russia in the Georgian crisis. And it was Cheney who [Monday] afternoon stopped by the Georgian embassy for two minutes on his way home from the White House to drive home that message in one sentence.

"To be precise, he spent two minutes 20 seconds in a foyer -- 75 seconds of which were passed writing a message in a leather-bound remembrance book.

"To make certain he wrote the correct message -- this being diplomacy, where every comma (or missing comma) might be parsed -- he copied his words from a blue note card. Four times he put pen to paper in a large hand, three times he paused as he wrote, to consult the card.

"'To the people of Georgia' the vice president wrote, omitting punctuation after the salutation and at the end of his message.

"He continued: 'In this hour of sorrow, I offer the respect, condolences, and solidarity of the United States of America'

"He signed it: 'Dick Cheney'."

Here's a picture of the note.

Bush and the U.S. Attorney Scandal

"Was Bush Involved in U.S. Attorney Scandal?" That's the headline over Emma Schwartz and Justin Rood's story for ABC News.

"Before the court of public opinion, White House spokespeople have long maintained President Bush had no involvement in the firing of nine U.S. Attorneys, the central decision that mushroomed into one of the biggest scandals in eight years of the Bush administration," they write.

"'[T]here is no indication that the President knew about any of the ongoing discussions [about firing U.S. attorneys] over the two years, nor did he see a list or a plan before it was carried out,' White House spokeswoman Dana Perino told reporters in March 2007.

"In federal court, however, the administration's lawyers have been more ambiguous.

"'The record does reflect at this stage that the president was not involved in decisions about who would be asked to resign from the department,' Justice Department lawyer Carl Nichols carefully argued before a federal judge in June. But 'the record does not reflect that the President had no future involvement' in the scandal, he noted.

"Just how much of a role the president played in the firings and its aftermath remains unclear. But in trying to prevent top White House officials from testifying or turning over documents to Congress, the Bush administration 'is very consciously trying to walk a very fine tightrope,' explained Stephen Vladeck, a law professor at American University in Washington, D.C.

"On the one hand, experts say, the White House finds it politically necessary to make clear statements insulating Bush from the scandal. But in court, 'If they said [Bush] wasn't involved at all they would undermine their case for executive privilege,' Vladeck said. . . .

"Lawyer Stanley Brand, former counsel to the House of Representatives and one of the capital's leading ethics experts, put it more bluntly. 'The White House press people lie, but the lawyers have to tell the truth because they're officers of the court.' . . .

"The White House declined to comment on the president's role in the scandal. 'We don't have anything new to add to this exhaustively covered issue at this time,' wrote spokesman Scott Stanzel in an email to ABC News."

Woodward Watch

Hillel Italie writes for the Associated Press that Bob Woodward's fourth investigative book on the Bush presidency "'The War Within: A Secret White House History 2006-2008' will be published Sept. 8 by Simon & Schuster with an announced first printing of 900,000 copies. Simon & Schuster is keeping the book under strict embargo -- although such embargoes are often broken -- and had even held back the title.

"'There has not been such an authoritative and intimate account of presidential decision making since the Nixon tapes and the Pentagon Papers,' Woodward's longtime editor, Alice Mayhew, said Tuesday in a statement. 'This is the declassification of what went on in secret, behind the scenes.'

"According to Simon & Schuster, Woodward's book 'takes readers deep inside the White House, the Pentagon, the State Department, the intelligence agencies and the U.S. military headquarters in Iraq.

"'Based on extensive interviews with participants, contemporaneous notes and secret documents, the book traces the internal debates, tensions and critical turning points in the Iraq War during an extraordinary two-year period.'

"The Washington Post, where Woodward currently serves as an associate editor, will run excerpts on Sept. 7. And that night, Woodward will appear on CBS television's '60 Minutes.'"

Mike Allen writes for Politico: "Administration officials tell Politico that Woodward spent two mornings with President Bush and interviewed Vice President Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and a host of other senior officials. . . .

"White House officials say they are optimistic that the book, which the publisher says 'declassifies the secrets of America's political and military involvement in Iraq,' will reflect more favorably on Bush than Woodward's previous volume, 'State of Denial,' which came out in September 2006.

"The president's surge strategy for Iraq, albeit late, has slowed the violence on the ground, and Bush aides believe the book will reflect that.

"As usual, though, Woodward is holding his cards close. Even officials who have discussed the project with him repeatedly are uncertain how Bush will look. The title suggests a heavy dose of administration infighting."

Cheney's Energy Man

Juliet Eilperin writes in The Washington Post: "A senior aide to Vice President Cheney is the leading contender to become a top official at the Energy Department, according to several current and former administration officials, a promotion that would put one of the administration's most ardent opponents of environmental regulation in charge of forming department policies on climate change.

"F. Chase Hutto III has played a prominent behind-the-scenes role in shaping the administration's environmental policies for several years, the officials said, helping to rewrite rules affecting the air that Americans breathe and the waters that oil tankers traverse. In every instance, according to both his allies and opponents, he has challenged proposals that would place additional regulations on industry. . . .

"At the White House, Hutto has been one of the oil and gas industry's key points of contact for energy and environmental issues. . . .

"The move to elevate the domestic policy adviser to the post of assistant secretary for policy and international affairs signals the administration's determination to resist new environmental protections, environmentalists said. . . .

"Francesca Grifo -- who directs the Scientific Integrity Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, an advocacy group -- said that if Hutto takes the helm of the Energy Department's climate policy office, the impact could last well beyond Bush's term in office [because] in the coming months, Hutto could make policy decisions that the next administration would find difficult to reverse quickly."

Teen Idols in the Press Room

Amy Argetsinger and Roxanne Roberts write in The Washington Post: "The Jonas Brothers own the hearts of millions of teens, and Dick Cheney-- well, aren't his approval ratings somewhere in the teens? So naturally these formidable powers were obliged to converge at the White House yesterday.

"The pop threesome -- in town for last night's Nissan Pavilion show -- aren't just boy-band sensations who also play ed boy-band sensations in the Disney Channel hit 'Camp Rock.' They're also children's health advocates (Nick, 15, the cute one, has diabetes), which snagged them a policy briefing with senior staff and a PSA taping session on the South Lawn with Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne. Alas, their Oval Office tour with the veep (whose granddaughters are major fans) was off-limits to press, reports our colleague David Malitz."

Revolving Door Watch

Ken Herman blogs for Cox News Service: "Former longtime George W. Bush aide Dan Bartlett is joining the commentating class.

"CBS News today announced that Bartlett is now one of its on-air analysts and will do on-air analyzing at the upcoming national political conventions."

Legacy Watch

The current issue of Mother Jones (not yet available online without a subscription) is all about the Bush legacy -- and how to recover from it.

Monika Bauerlein and Clara Jeffery write in an editors' note: "George W. Bush . . . is likely to go down in history as one of the few presidents who failed on every conceivable front. Future chroniclers will no doubt uncover malfeasance beyond what we can even now imagine, but as it stands, it's hard to think of a single admirable, or merely adequate, thing this administration has done. (Okay, one: Bush could be called many names, but 'bigot' is not one of them. His Cabinet looked a lot more like America than any Democrat's ever has; without Powell and Rice, the Obama candidacy might not have been possible.) Even aside from the war, detention, and torture, there are innumerable ways in which Bush has left us worse off and less safe. . . .

"In the past, America has [bounced] back from bad presidencies. . . . This time, the damage seems deeper, in part--and this may be George W. Bush's most pernicious legacy--because of the cynicism the W years have engendered. Large percentages of us now have no trouble believing that our ballots don't count, and that Washington is so completely in the pocket of corporate interests that no amount of mobilization can change its foregone conclusions. Can such a nation pull together to craft a new vision--one that would right the injustices, both legal and economic, of the past eight years? Do we even want to, or would we be satisfied to stop being embarrassed about our president?"

Cartoon Watch

Ben Sargent and Ed Stein on White House howlers, Matt Wuerker on Putin as an amateur, Tom Toles on the Bush threat, Pat Oliphant on four more years and RJ Matson on Bush's bird.

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