Bush's Crush on Musharraf

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.

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