Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Monday, November 05, 2007

  Bush still dodging questions about martial law

More than two days after the coup in Pakistan, George Bush finally speaks about it. Trouble is, he’s still saying nothing.

At a photo-op/press-availability this afternoon with Turkish PM Erdogan, Bush barely acknowledged the crisis. All he would say is that Musharraf needs to hold elections as soon as possible, and ought to take his uniform off (meaning presumably that the dictator should not parade around quite so openly as a military dictator).

No word from Bush about the major issues at stake: Whether Musharraf should be permitted to hold onto power; whether he should release political prisoners; whether he should respect the Pakistani supreme court; whether he should end martial law. He didn’t even use the expression “martial law”. Nor was Bush willing to discuss whether the US should withhold any aid from Musharraf or impose any sanctions at all.

In fact, Bush still hasn't spoken yet to Musharraf!

Here in this short compass is just about everything Bush has said to date about the imposition of martial law in Pakistan:

I briefed the Prime Minister on Secretary Rice's recent phone call with President Musharraf. I asked the Secretary to call him to convey this message: that we expect there to be elections as soon as possible, and that the President should remove his military uniform. Previous to his decision we made it clear that these emergency measures were -- would undermine democracy. Having said that, I did remind the Prime Minister that President Musharraf has been a strong fighter against extremists and radicals, that he understands the dangers posed by radicals and extremists. After all, they tried to kill him three or four times.


As I said earlier in my statement, that we made it clear to the President that we would hope he wouldn't have declared the emergency powers he declared. Now that he's made that decision, I hope now that he hurry back to elections. And at the same time, we want to continue working with him to fight these terrorists and extremists, who not only have tried to kill him, but have used parts of his country from which to launch attacks into Afghanistan, and/or are plotting attacks on America.

And consider the series of questions Bush just doesn't answer in this brief press availability:

What will be the consequences if [Musharraf] doesn't take your advice, and how seriously are you weighing a cut in U.S. aid? ...

Q Do you have any leverage, though? ...

Q Mr. President, did you misjudge President Musharraf?

Meanwhile, this afternoon Dana Perino's opening remarks at the daily press briefing omitted any mention of Pakistan! When reporters began asking questions, she tried to convince them to wait until later in the day when Bush would have his little press-availability with the Turkish PM. Pathetic...

Q Why hasn't the President called Musharraf, who is, after all, a key ally, personally? Is he reserving that, is there a lack --

MS. PERINO: The President has directed his Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, to have that direct contact. And if there's more to update later today we will.


Q But, Dana, the President does take great pride in his personal diplomacy. He's met numerous times with General Musharraf. He stood shoulder to shoulder with him here and in other places. Why doesn't he just get on the phone and say, back down from this?

MS. PERINO: I'll just repeat what I just said, which is he has directed Secretary Rice to deliver the message on his behalf, and if there's more to update you on later we will....

Q Has the President, indeed, already spoken with Musharraf today?



Q Dana, should we take it as significant that he has not spoken directly to --

MS. PERINO: No, no. Obviously the President got briefings over the weekend; he had Secretary Rice in touch with him last week. Our Ambassador, Anne Patterson, has been in contact with Musharraf and the -- Musharraf's officials in his government. And we've been getting regular updates from the Director of National Intelligence, as well as our national security team, and of course from Secretary Rice, who has been in the region.

Q But it does seem a departure from the way he deals with other world leaders that he claims to have good relationships with.

MS. PERINO: If there's a phone call, we'll let you know.

Q Did Musharraf decline calls? Have you attempted a call?

MS. PERINO: No, I don't believe so. ...

Q Was the Pakistani ambassador called in?

MS. PERINO: Not that I know of, but we can check. ...

Q Dana, in addition to this situation, the President has delegated authority for the management of the Middle East summit to the Secretary of State. And here, two days into this crisis, he hasn't picked up the phone and called the guy who he stood here and called his "good friend." Is it fair to assume that the President is reluctant to personally invest himself in a situation that possesses a high risk of failure?

MS. PERINO: No, Mark, I think -- look, that's apples and oranges. The President has asked Secretary Rice to work on the Middle East peace summit. She's the Secretary of State, that is what she does. And she is the person that the President entrusts to carry his messages for him. That's not unusual. We are working towards a summit on Middle East peace which the President would attend. So I just -- I don't think that follows.

Q We have a couple of situations which hold in them a high risk of failure. Is it fair to consider -- is it fair to perceive him as not being interested in personally investing himself in the situation?

MS. PERINO: I resent that, because the President is personally engaged, and it is because of his engagement and his desire to see this succeed that he has Secretary Rice, one of his closest and most trusted advisors, carrying out this action for him.

Amidst all the haziness and confusion, there was this one moment of lucidity from Perino--rather ironic, given that she represents an administration that has eroded personal liberty to an unprecedented extent in the name of a "Global War on Terror".

Q But what he says what he's doing is against the terrorists, that is necessary to preserve stability there against terrorist organizations?

MS. PERINO: We do not believe that any extra-constitutional means were necessary in order to help prevent terrorism in the region. And that's why we are deeply disappointed with the actions, and we asked them to not do it.

Q Is it ever reasonable to restrict constitutional freedoms in the name of fighting terrorism?

MS. PERINO: In our opinion, no.

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