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With friends like these . . .

With friends like these . . .

Posted: Friday, August 22, 2008 9:37 pm

By DOUGLAS COHN and ELEANOR CLIFT WASHINGTON – The mark of a good leader is the ability to size up people and figure out who can be trusted for what and for how long. By that measure, President Bush has been a failure. Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf is the latest Bush friend and ally to fall by the wayside, announcing on Monday he would leave office rather than be put on trial in impeachment proceedings mounted by the coalition government elected in February. Musharraf was an early supporter of the war on terrorism. His close relationship with Bush brought billions in U.S. military aid while Osama bin Laden, the instigator of the 9/11 attacks, remains free after seven years. Unpopular at home for backing Bush’s war, a war the Pakistani people feel has been thrust upon them, Musharraf resorted to extraordinary steps to maintain his hold on power. When he fired scores of judges whom he thought would undermine his reelection, including the chief justice of the Supreme Court, lawyers in business suits took to the streets to defend the rule of law. The public show of elite opinion along with the assassination of the charismatic leader Benazir Bhutto late last year energized democratic forces in the country. They now have a fragile hold on the government vacated by Musharraf. Dissatisfaction with Musharraf had been building for a long time before Bush recognized that the relationship had soured. U.S. funds meant to combat terrorist networks were used mostly to build up the Pakistani military’s conventional forces as instead of hunting down bin Laden and fighting a resurgent Al-Qaeda network in the tribal areas of Pakistan that border Afghanistan. Musharraf had no incentive to capture bin Laden when finding him might mean a lessening of U.S. aid. Fearful about his staying power in a country where extremism is on the rise and the target of at least two assassination attempts, Musharraf apparently concluded that appeasing terrorist elements was a better strategy for survival than risking their wrath with a crackdown. Bush should have figured out long ago that his continued loyalty to Musharraf was misplaced, and that their relationship had run its course. Bush can be excused for initially believing in Musharraf but not for defending him past the point of no return. Bush has quipped that he may not read books, but he can sure read people. His confidence in his gut reaction to those he meets led him to declare after his first meeting with Vladimir Putin, then the new leader of Russia, that he had looked into his eyes and seen his soul. It was an audacious comment and one that would grant Putin, a former KGB operative, the benefit of the doubt in a Republican administration that otherwise might have been more skeptical. Bush’s overly rosy assessment of Putin has come back to haunt him in the wake of Russia’s incursion into the former Soviet satellite state of Georgia. Though Georgia’s president helped provoke the Russian action, the end result is the same: the Russian bear is back after a long hibernation and Bush beware. Praising Putin’s soul looks pretty naïve, even comical, given Russia’s growing influence on the world stage, much of it fueled by oil money funneled from American drivers at the gas pump. When it comes to misreading world leaders, you could even toss in former Mexican President Vicente Foxx – though Foxx would probably say he misread Bush, not the other way around. The two men took office the same year and Bush’s affinity for his Mexican counterpart, a former Coca-Cola executive, signaled a willingness on both sides of the border to confront the festering problem of illegal immigration. Bush leaves office in January with immigration unaddressed and American interests on the defensive in Pakistan and Russia. With friends like these … Published in The Messenger 8.22.08

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