Friday, September 22, 2006

Oh, to have been a fly on the Bush-Musharraf wall

As luck would have it, Presidents Bush and Musharraf conferred today, right after the news story broke that Musharraf alleged that right before the Afghan invasion the US had threatened to "bomb Pakistan back to the Stone Age" if he didn't cooperate.

Isn't diplomacy a wonderful thing? If you read the transcript of their statements about their present meeting, you would think all was sweetness and light. They had mutual talks about a variety of interesting subjects, yada yada yada.

And that was it until the first question from the press. You can probably guess what that first question was:

Q: Mr. President, after 9/11, would the United States have actually attacked Pakistan if President Musharraf had not agreed to cooperate with the war on terrorism? He says that the United States was threatening to bomb his country back into the Stone Age.

And, President Musharraf, would Pakistan have given up its backing of the Taliban if this threat had not come from Armitage?

Bush's response:

BUSH: First, let me _ she's asking about the Armitage thing. The first I've heard of this is when I read it in the newspaper today. You know, I was _ I guess I was taken aback by the harshness of the words.

All I can tell you is that shortly after 9/11, Secretary Colin Powell came in and said, President Musharraf understands the stakes and he wants to join and help root out an enemy that has come and killed 3,000 of our citizens.

Matter of fact, my recollection was that one of the first leaders to step up and say that the stakes have changed...I don't know of any conversation that was reported in the newspaper like that. I just don't know about it.

Note that Bush is careful to place the blame on Armitage. One wonders exactly what Armitage did say, and on whose instructions. Interesting that Armitage, who was recently identified as the real culprit in the Wilson-Plame brouhaha, was involved. The possibility that he was some sort of loose cannon cannot be ruled out.

What's the truth? Musharraf isn't telling. In the first instance I can recall of a press conference in which a head of state takes the Fifth on account of a book deal, Musharraf fudges as follows:

I would like to _ I am launching my book on the 25th, and I am honor-bound to Simon Schuster not to comment on the book before that day. So ...

And Bush responds as his agent:

In other words, Buy the book, is what he's saying.

Armitage, of course, denies the allegation, saying there was no explicit threat:

"We wanted to make sure they understood both the opportunities and the downside, but there was no threat.

Maybe Musharraf is lying, or maybe Armitage or Bush is. Or perhaps all three. Yet another possibility is that Musharraf's memory is playing tricks on him. It's likely that Musharraf was under an extraordinary amount of stress right before the US invasion of Afghanistan and, explicit threats or no, he must have felt plenty threatened, and on all sides. I well remember the televised speech he gave shortly after 9/11, in which he threw in his lot with the US invasion. I remember thinking then that he was a dead man; that he wouldn't last out the year.

Well, here he is, five years later--and with a Simon and Schuster book deal, as well. Will wonders never cease?

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