washingtonpost.com
Bush's BFF Going Down

By Dan Froomkin
special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, February 19, 2008 1:21 PM

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf wooed and won President Bush shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and the two leaders have been an international power couple ever since.

Even when Musharraf asserted dictatorial powers last fall, Bush maintained his devotion -- and kept billions in military aid coming.

But Musharraf's close association with Bush now appears to be contributing to his downfall.

Carlotta Gall and Jane Perlez write in the New York Times: "Pakistanis dealt a crushing defeat to President Pervez Musharraf in parliamentary elections on Monday, in what government and opposition politicians said was a firm rejection of his policies since 2001 and those of his close ally, the United States. . . .

"The results were interpreted here as a repudiation of Mr. Musharraf as well as the Bush administration, which has staunchly backed him for more than six years as its best bet in the campaign against the Islamic militants in Pakistan. . . .

"Even as Mr. Musharraf's standing plummeted and the insurgency gained strength, senior Bush administration officials praised Mr. Musharraf as a valued partner in the effort against terrorism.

"With Mr. Musharraf as both president and head of the Pakistani military -- a post he relinquished last November -- the administration poured about $1 billion a year in military assistance into Pakistan after 9/11.

"After Mr. Musharraf stepped down from the army, the Bush administration still gave him unequivocal support. Last month, the assistant secretary of state for South Asia, Richard A. Boucher, told Congress he considered the Pakistani leader indispensable to American interests.

"Such fidelity to Mr. Musharraf often raised the hackles of Pakistanis, and the newspapers here were filled with editorials that expressed despair about Washington's close relationship with the unpopular leader."

Paul Wiseman and Zafar M. Sheikh write in USA Today that the election results "could leave Pakistan's next government facing intense public pressure to reduce its cooperation with the U.S. war on terrorism."

Jeremy Page and Zahid Hussain report for the Times of London that the new government could decide whether Musharraf "should be impeached for imposing emergency rule last year to secure his own re-election."

So with Musharraf on his way out, it's worth asking: What did Bush get in exchange for $10 billion in aid since 9/11, most of which went to Pakistan's military? Maybe not so much. As Joby Warrick and Robin Wright write in today's Washington Post, one of Washington's "rare victories these days in the fight against al-Qaeda inside Pakistan's national borders" recently came "without getting the government's formal permission beforehand."

William Arkin blogs for washingtonpost.com:: "I think the Bush administration has already faced an internal reckoning in terms of its reliance and support for Musharraf, and the repeated visits of American military commanders and intelligence officials to the country in the past six months signals that the United States is no longer going to defer to its old friend.

"But there is no new strategy."

Arkin concludes: "The quicker we can come to grips with the emptiness of the Bush doctrine, the quicker we may be able to formulate a less military-dominated approach. Pakistan will be the test case."

For background, see my Nov. 5 column, Another Bush Backfire, and my Nov. 19 column, Bush's Crush on Musharraf.

A Tale of Two Dictators

By contrast, the White House is saying good riddance to another dictator today.

Ben Feller writes for the Associated Press: "President Bush expressed hope Tuesday that the end of Fidel Castro's presidency will launch a transition to democracy in Cuba after nearly 50 years of ironclad, communist rule.

"Long a target of U.S. criticism and sanctions, the ailing Castro, 81, announced he would not accept a new term.

Here are Bush's remarks at a press conference in Rwanda today, after being asked this means for U.S. Policy: "[T]he question really should be, what does this mean for the people in Cuba? They're the ones who suffered under Fidel Castro. They're the ones who were put in prison because of their beliefs. They're the ones who have been denied their right to live in a free society. So I view this as a period of transition; that -- and it should be the beginning of the democratic transition for the people in Cuba.

"There will be an interesting debate that will arise eventually. There will be some who say, let's promote stability. Of course, in the meantime, political prisoners will rot in prison, and the human condition will remain pathetic in many cases. . . .

"The international community should work with the Cuban people to begin to build institutions that are necessary for democracy. And eventually, this transition ought to lead to free and fair elections -- and I mean free and I mean fair, not these kind of staged elections that the Castro brothers try to foist off as being true democracy."

Wiretapping Watch

Terence Hunt writes for the Associated Press: "President Bush said Saturday that lawmakers' failure to renew an eavesdropping law will make it more difficult to track terrorists and 'we may lose a vital lead that could prevent an attack on America.'

"Democrats faulted the president, who taped his weekly radio address before he left on a trip in Africa, for 'whipping up false fears and creating artificial confrontation.'"

Appearing on Fox News on Sunday, national intelligence director Mike McConnell as much as admitted that the administration's concern is not about the loss of authorities it gained six months ago. Rather, it's about assuring retroactive immunity for telecom companies that performed quite possibly illegal actions on the White House's say-so.

The lapse of the law "introduces a level of uncertainty that is going to be very difficult for us," McConnell said. But then he explained: "Let me make one other point just -- very important. The entire issue here is liability protection for the carriers. And so the old law and extended law are an expired law if we don't have retroactive liability protection for the carriers. They are less inclined to help us."

Yale Law Professor Jack Balkin blogs: "The Bush Administration repeatedly violated FISA and told telecom companies that it was ok to do so based on a crazy constitutional theory that the President couldn't be bound by the law.

" Of course telecom companies will be less likely to cooperate in the future with an Administration whose legal advice has proven to be so unreliable. But giving them immunity whenever they receive bad advice from the White House gives the White House no incentives to stay within the boundaries of the law."

The Wall Street Journal editorial board writes that "the reality is that, because of these lawsuits, the telephone companies now won't cooperate without the legal protection of a court order. That's how pernicious these lawsuits are.

"We asked one phone company executive what he'd do, after Friday's expiration, in response to a government request for cooperation. His answer was blunt: 'I'm not doing it. If I don't have compulsion, I can't get out of court [and those lawsuits]. . . . I'm not going to do something voluntarily.' Having talked to telecom executives, we can tell you this view is well-nigh universal."

The Journal concludes: "What we have here is a remarkable display of the anti-antiterror minority at work. Democrats could vote directly to restrict wiretapping by the executive branch, but they lack the votes. So instead they're trying to do it through the backdoor by unleashing the trial bar to punish the telephone companies. Then if there is another terror attack, they'll blame the phone companies for not cooperating."

Torture Watch

Writing in Sunday's Washington Post, Dan Eggen revisits last week's testimony about torture from Steven G. Bradbury, acting head of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel: "The Bush administration allowed CIA interrogators to use tactics that were 'quite distressing, uncomfortable, even frightening,' as long as they did not cause enough severe and lasting pain to constitute illegal torture, a senior Justice Department official said last week. . . . "

"Bradbury's unusually frank testimony Thursday before the House Judiciary Committee subcommittee stunned many civil liberties advocates and outside legal scholars who have long criticized the Bush administration's secretive and aggressive interrogation policies. . . .

"Under questioning from lawmakers of both parties, Bradbury said pain suffered by a prisoner had to be both severe and long-lasting for an interrogation tactic to be considered torture.

"'Something can be quite distressing, uncomfortable, even frightening,' Bradbury said, but 'if it doesn't involve severe physical pain, and it doesn't last very long, it may not constitute severe physical suffering. That would be the analysis.'"

Bruce Fein writes in his Washington Times opinion column: "The beginning of the end of the rule of law has emerged under President Bush, i.e., a systematic twisting of language or precedents to advance a political agenda.

"The Bush administration has bettered the instruction of Humpty Dumpty in 'Through the Looking-Glass, And What Alice Found There': 'When I use a word it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less,' said Humpty Dumpty. . . .

"Mr. Bradbury's assertion that waterboarding by the CIA fell short of torture as defined by the federal anti-torture statute was first cousin to semantic jugglery and sophistry. He defended the now-abandoned practice on the fog of intelligence ignorance in the aftermath of September 11, 2001; and, President Bush's and CIA Director Michael Hayden's unsubstantiated claims that the CIA's enhanced interrogation program has proven invaluable in helping to prevent international terrorism either at home or abroad.

"The definition of torture, however, does not expand or contract like an accordion based on the objective of the interrogator or the intelligence need. The statute condemns torture period, with no commas, semicolons, or question marks."

Morris Davis writes in a New York Times op-ed that "we need to come to grips with the practice known as waterboarding, the simulated drowning of a person to persuade him to talk. . . .

"Why a few others in positions of power still find it so difficult to admit the obvious about waterboarding is astounding. We can never retake the moral high ground when we claim the right to do unto others that which we would vehemently condemn if done to us. . . .

"My policy as the chief prosecutor for the military commissions at Guantanamo was that evidence derived through waterboarding was off limits. That should still be our policy. To do otherwise is not only an affront to American justice, it will potentially put prosecutors at risk for using illegally obtained evidence.

"Unfortunately, I was overruled on the question, and I resigned my position to call attention to the issue -- efforts that were hampered by my being placed under a gag rule and ordered not to testify at a Senate hearing."

The Baltimore Sun editorial board writes: "Waterboarding is torture, and torture is not consistent with what we believe in as a nation, regardless of the circumstance. Prosecutors at the Nazi war trials at Nuremberg knew it more than 50 years ago, and many senior intelligence and military officials question its value and morality now. . . .

"White House officials insist a ban on waterboarding would force the CIA to shut down its program of enhanced interrogation of terror suspects. When pressed to defend the president's position, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino . . . relied on partisan sniping: 'Americans will have to ask themselves, "Do you trust the intelligence community more than you trust Democrats who are beholden to their left wing?"'"

The Austin American-Statesman editorial board writes: "If the president wants to play word games and defend torture, make him spell it out. His administration continues to duck and weave when asked specifically whether waterboarding is already illegal. . . .

"Waterboarding is used to terrify captive, helpless suspects - who may or may not be guilty, may or may not actually know something - into giving information by using water to cut off their breathing and make them think they are drowning. There's no guarantee that the captive who agrees to talk is telling the truth; waterboarding is so effective in terrifying a captive with the fear of imminent death, some experts have said, that victims will say anything to make it stop. . . .

"We must not try to justify torture, no matter what words are used to camouflage it as something less."

The Orangeburg (S.C.) Times and Democrat editorial board writes: "Torture, it is said, rarely begets the truth. Confessions, maybe. Continuing its use yields the need for a national confession of our own."

Who's Suffering?

Here's video of NBC's Ann Curry interviewing the president and the first lady yesterday morning. Though Curry started off asking about Africa, she quickly turned the subject to Iraq:

Curry: "You know, I know that it helps that you've got the support with your children and your wife on this mission. And I want to mention that your wife has stood up for you on so many issues. She once told me about you when I asked her about how Americans, you know, were upset about the war in Iraq--I'm going to get to the quote here. She basically said, " No one suffers more than their president. I hope they know the burden of worry that's on his shoulders every single day for our troops." So I've been wondering ever since she said that, will the burden of worry, do you think, about this war in Iraq, ever truly leave you?"

Bush: "Well, what won't leave me is the fact that a mother has lost a son or a wife has lost a husband or a husband has lost a wife. I'll forever, you know, carry that with me. On the other hand, I firmly believe that their mission will yield peace."

Curry: "You--"

Bush: "And as people are now beginning to see, Iraq is changing, democracy is beginning to taking hold. And I'm convinced 50 years from now people look back and say thank God there was those who were willing to sacrifice."

Curry: "But you're saying you're going to have to carry that burden. You're saying you're going to have to carry that burden. Some Americans believe that they feel they're carrying the burden because of this economy."

Bush: "Yeah, well--"

Curry: "They say--they say they're suffering because of this."

Bush: "I don't agree with that."

Curry: "You don't agree with that? Has nothing do with the economy, the war? The spending on the war?"

Bush: "I don't think so. I think actually, the spending on the war might help with jobs."

Curry: "Oh, yeah?"

Bush: "Yeah, because we're buying equipment, and people are working. I think this economy is down because we built too many houses."

Curry: "Mm-hmm."

Bush: "And the economy's adjusting. On the other hand, we're just about to kick out $157 billion to our taxpayers and businesses and you know, other families so that we can get this economy going. But I want to get back to the Iraq war. What would have been worse on anybody's conscience would have been had we abandoned Iraq when times were tough and let those soldiers die in vain."

Curry: "Mm-hmm."

Bush: "That would have been the absolute worst thing that would have happened."

Curry: "But at some point if you're wrong about something--it is--I'm not saying that you are. I'm just saying that at some point, if you--this idea of not wanting soldiers to die in vain, at some point, if you're absolutely wrong, you don't want any more soldiers to die in vain."

Bush: "But we're not wrong in this case, and the surge is proving us not wrong."

Curry: "Mm-hmm."

Bush: "Secondly, failure in Iraq would have been an--will be an unmitigated disaster in the Middle East. I mean, it would empower the radicals who still want to hurt us, it would embolden Iran, which is a threat to peace, and it would have abandoned the Iraqi people, I mean, who are counting on the United States to continue to help them, having liberated them from a brutal tyrant who murdered thousands and thousands of his people. So I don't believe it was wrong. As a matter of fact, I believe it's right. And I believe history will prove it's right."

Kosovo Watch

Peter Finn and Peter Baker write in The Washington Post: "The United States and the European Union's largest countries recognized the independence of Kosovo on Monday, a major boost for the fledgling state, which still faces intense opposition from Russia, Serbia and even some Western European countries over its proclaimed status.

"President Bush, traveling in Africa, hailed the new state's 'special friendship' with the United States, promising to set up a U.S. embassy there and inviting Kosovo to establish a diplomatic mission in Washington. Asked Tuesday about Russia's opposition, Bush told reporters, 'There's a disagreement, but we believe as do many other nations that history will prove this to be the correct move.'

"In a letter Monday to President Fatmir Sejdiu, Bush said, 'On behalf of the American people, I hereby recognize Kosovo as an independent and sovereign state.' . . .

"The formal U.S. statement on Kosovo came at the end of a long and confusing day. Bush appeared to recognize Kosovo's independence during an interview with NBC News, only to have the White House try to withdraw the recognition and then finally reconfirm it after Rice's statement was released. Serbia then withdrew its ambassador from Washington in protest."

In Africa

Sheryl Gay Stolberg writes in the Sunday New York Times: "As violence in Africa threatened to overshadow his six-day tour of the continent, President Bush on Saturday defended his decision not to visit strife-torn nations like Kenya and Sudan, saying he wanted to focus instead on successes like his programs to fight AIDS and malaria.

"'This is a large place with a lot of nations, and no question, everything is not perfect,' Mr. Bush said during a brief visit to Benin. . . . 'On the other hand, there's a lot of great success stories, and the United States is pleased to be involved with those success stories.'"

Barry Moody writes for Reuters: "Unpopular at home and in much of the world during the last year of his presidency, George W. Bush is basking in rare adulation on his African tour.

"Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete poured praise on Bush in Dar es Salaam on Sunday, the second day of his five-nation African tour, each compliment applauded warmly by members of the east African country's cabinet. . . .

"Beaming repeatedly during a press conference with Kikwete, [Bush] made a point of referring to his welcome on the streets, which he described as 'very moving'.

"Bush opened his remarks by saying 'Vipi Mambo!' before turning to U.S. journalists and adding: 'For the uneducated, that's Swahili for 'Howdy Y'all'' --a typical Texas greeting.

"Kikwete told Bush: 'The outpouring of warmth and affection from the people of Tanzania that you have witnessed since your arrival is a genuine reflection of what we feel towards you and towards the American people.'"

Darfur Watch

Ben Feller reports today for the Associated Press: "Speaking on soil once stained with the blood of Rwanda's genocide, President Bush called Tuesday on all nations to step up efforts to end 'once and for all' the ethnic slaughter still continuing in Sudan's western Darfur region.

"The president said the U.S. is using sanctions, pressure and money to help resolve the Darfur crisis that Bush calls a genocide. But the president, frustrated at the lack of willingness of some other countries to do the same, sought to give his campaign for their increased involvement added weight by making pointed remarks on it from the Rwandan capital."

Deception Watch

And Baker does a little truth-squadding in The Washington Post: "So when is a $200 million funding increase really a $341 million funding cut? When you're careful about how you word it.

"As President Bush jets his way across Africa this week, the White House is touting all he has done to fight AIDS, malaria and poverty on the continent, and most activists agree he has done more than any of his predecessors. But some of the claims require a little unpacking.

"Take the U.S. contribution to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. At a briefing in Dar es Salaam yesterday, Mark Dybul, the president's global AIDS coordinator, . . . said the president has proposed an increase in the U.S. contribution for next year, which is debatable at best.

"'The president is requesting an increase for our contribution to the Global Fund, an increase above his last year request from $300 million to $500 million,' Dybul told reporters.

"A casual listener might think the United States is increasing its contribution to the Global Fund. Not really: As is often the case with Washington budget claims, it's important to look at exactly what is being asserted. Bush did request$300 million for the Global Fund for the current fiscal year, but Congress decided to go further and approved $841 million. So even though Bush's request for $500 million for the next fiscal year is higher than he requested the year before, in reality it would cut the contribution back from the $841 million it is getting in cold hard cash this year."

Haunted by Obama

Peter Baker writes in The Washington Post: "For a president in his last year in office, heading overseas is one sure-fire means of getting away from that annoying election campaign to pick his successor for a little while. Or is it?

"Turns out the folks President Bush is visiting have been following the contest back home almost as much as the Americans have -- thanks to a favorite son, of sorts, in Barack Obama, whose father was born in neighboring Kenya."

Sheryl Gay Stolberg writes in the New York Times: "Mr. Bush is on a six-day, five-country tour to spotlight American efforts to fight poverty and disease in Africa. Though the president's face is on billboards all over town, the name Obama is on the lips of Tanzanians -- from taxi drivers to city merchants to the artisans who sell wooden Masai warriors in makeshift stalls at a dusty open-air market on the outskirts of town.

"Halfway around the world, Mr. Bush cannot escape the race to succeed him."

McCain's Conundrum

Elisabeth Bumiller writes in the New York Times: "Senator John McCain's campaign advisers will ask the White House to deploy President Bush for major Republican fund-raising, but they do not want the president to appear too often at his side, top aides to Mr. McCain said Sunday. . . .

"[E]ven as the consensus was that Mr. McCain needed to 'stand in the sun' on his own, as one adviser put it, without the large shadow cast by Mr. Bush, left unsaid was the difficult calculus the McCain campaign faces: Using Mr. Bush enough to try to make the tough sell of Mr. McCain to conservatives but not so much that he will drive away the independents and some moderate Democrats that Mr. McCain is counting on in November.

"Democrats, meanwhile, have been using every opportunity to link Mr. McCain to Mr. Bush, even defining Mr. McCain's candidacy as part of a 'Bush-McCain' ticket that they say will essentially give the president another term."

Michael Cooper writes in the New York Times that Bush's father yesterday "gave Mr. McCain a strong endorsement that the candidate said he hoped would help unite the fractured Republican Party behind his presidential bid.

"'His character was forged in the crucible of war,' Mr. Bush said. 'His commitment to America is beyond any doubt. But most importantly, he has the right values and experience to guide our nation forward at this historic moment.'

"The endorsement marked another turning point in the complex, evolving relationship between Senator McCain, of Arizona, and the Bush family. From his bitter defeat at George W. Bush's hands in 2000, to their reconciliation, which sometimes led independents to complain that he had allied himself too closely with the president, Mr. McCain has sometimes walked a fine line in the relationship.

"But if some advisers to Mr. McCain have suggested that he would be careful about when and how he would appear with the president, Mr. McCain himself was enthusiastic about the prospect when asked about it on Monday.

"'I'd be honored to have President George Bush's support, his endorsement; I'd be honored to be anywhere with him under any circumstances,' he said."

Slavery Watch

Edward Ball, writing for theRoot.com, finds Bush's family history of slave-ownership particularly relevant as he travels through Africa: "The skeletal facts surfaced in April 2007, when an amateur historian named Robert Hughes published his research in the IllinoisTimes, a small paper out of Springfield. Hughes found census records showing that during the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries, in Cecil County, Maryland, five households of the Walker family, the president's ancestors via his father's mother, Dorothy Walker Bush, had been slaveholding farmers. The evidence is simple but persuasive: genealogies of the Bush family match up with census data that counted farmers who used enslaved workers. . . .

"The Bush clan may not be capable of reckoning personally with the tragic inheritance of the slave days. But this week, on a state visit, the president sets foot in three countries that sent hundreds of thousands of captives to America. Today, some of the tens of millions of descendants of those captives want a White House that is accountable. In West Africa President Bush has a superb opportunity, like one presented to a physician attending a wound. A sound physician would chose instinctively to apply medicine, not simply turn away in denial and neglect."

Bushes Lose

In honor of Presidents' Day, Gallup asked: "Suppose you could bring back any of the U.S. presidents, living or dead, to be the next president of the United States. Who would you most want to be the next president?"

The answers, in order: John F. Kennedy, 23 percent; Ronald Reagan, 22; Bill Clinton, 13; Abraham Lincoln, 10; Franklin Roosevelt, 8; George Washington, 4; Theodore Roosevelt, 3; Harry Truman, 3; Jimmy Carter, 3; Thomas Jefferson, 3; Dwight Eisenhower, 2; Richard Nixon, 1; George H.W. Bush, 1; George W. Bush, 1.

Late Night Humor

Jay Leno, via U.S. News: "The US military is going to shoot down that satellite that's falling to Earth. I knew it was just a matter of time before President Bush did a preemptive strike on ourselves.' Bush said he 'wants to try and bring democracy to outer space."

Cartoon Watch

Jeff Danziger and Kal on Bush's warm welcome in Africa; Mike Luckovich on Bush and McCain; Ann Telnaes on McCain's stance on torture; Mike Keefe on Bush's surprise for the next guy. And a Mark Fiore animated cartoon on FISA.

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2008 Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive