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The Last Puzzle Pieces Of A Dysfunctional Presidency?

An interesting pattern is developing which may provide incontrovert ible evidence that the Bush administrati on’s foreign policy is an unmitigated failure. In reviewing the evidence, this failure may result from the propensity of George Bush to form opinions of foreign leaders based upon unfounded, instantaneou s, and impulsive impressions.

Recent developments in our relationship s with Russia and Pakistan highlight these concerns and raise doubts as to the President’s ability to size-up Vladimir Putin and Pervez Musharraf. While these situations seem to have garnered less attention than the war in Iraq and the tensions with Iran and North Korea; they may soon provide the proof that George Bush’s judgment is fully insufficient and fatally flawed.

Few can forget the President’s glowing assessment of Vladimir Putin immediately following his first meeting with the Russian leader and former KGB agent. The President’s characteriza tion of his bonding with “Vladimir” sounded more like the musings of a smitten schoolboy than the measured and deliberate views of a world leader. Reason Magazine offered the following insight into the mechanics of this quickly blossoming bond.

This beginning of a beautiful friendship was reportedly aided by Putin’s touching story of a cross which he received from his mother and which miraculously survived a fire at his summer cottage. (As one of Russia’s surviving liberal commentators  , Yulia Latynina, has noted, if Bush had belonged to a different faith Putin would no doubt have shared an equally touching tale about “a piece of advice given by a wise rabbi.”)

Note that the basis of this kinship has its roots in a testimony of faith…and mirrors the perception that George Bush approaches most interactions with an emphasis upon religious ideology and a willingness to promote those he perceives to be like minded and loyal. Recall that the Bush administrati on has hired 150 individuals who graduated from of Pat Robertson’s Regent University…a “fourth-tier ” law school according to U.S. News & World Report.

Take a look at some of the other quotes from George Bush which support the argument that he relies upon instinct and intuition in making important and far reaching judgments.

From InCharacter:

After meeting Russian president Vladimir Putin, Mr. Bush had him sized up: “I looked the man in the eye. I was able to get a sense of his soul.”

Explaining to journalist Bob Woodward his decision to launch the Iraq War, he said, “I’m a gut player. I rely on my instincts.”

The purpose of the president’ s 2006 fly-in to Baghdad was, he explained to American troops, “to look Prime Minister Maliki in the eyes — to determine whether or not he is as dedicated to a free Iraq as you are.” The president’ s snap assessment: “I believe he is.”

When interviewed on TV by Larry King, Bush confidently said, “If you make decisions based upon what you believe in your heart of hearts, you stay resolved.”

Expanding on the probability that Bush miscalculate d with regards to Putin, take a look at the following exchange between Garry Kasparov (who is a candidate trying to unseat Putin) and Bill Maher during last evenings edition of Real Time on HBO.

Kasparov offers a thoughtful and insightful view of Putin which seems to have eluded George Bush throughout his involvement with the increasingly authoritaria n Russian leader. Recent events seem to support Kasparov’s convincing argument that Putin masterfully manipulated George Bush. No doubt that should leave the American public all the more concerned and even more anxious for the President’s second term to end.

Should anyone doubt the extent to which George Bush may have miscalculate d with regards to Putin and his ambitions, the Washington Times aptly fills in the blanks.

From The Washington Times:

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invitation to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to visit to Moscow is just the latest sign that, more than 16 years after the collapse of Soviet Communism, Moscow is gravitating towards Cold War behavior. The old Soviet obsession — fighting American “imperialism ” — remains undiluted. “Keeping the relationship with Washington on the verge of a crisis and inventing an imaginary ‘American enemy’ is creating much-needed legitimacy for the current Russsian leadership, which now has only Mr. Putin’s personal popularity as its political base,” observes Heritage Foundation scholar Ariel Cohen.

Indeed, at virtually every turn, Mr. Putin and the Russian leadership appear to be doing their best in ways large and small to marginalize and embarrass the United States and undercut U.S. foreign policy interests. […]

The Russian strongman has threatened to retarget Russia’s missiles at Europe if missile defenses are deployed there. Mr. Putin has also threatened to withdraw from the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty signed by Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and President Reagan (the INF treaty eliminated Soviet-era SS-20 missiles and U.S. Pershing II missiles deployed in Europe.) And he has also threatened to pull out of the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty limiting force levels between the Black Sea and the Baltic Sea.

[…] Although Moscow has supported earlier sanctions against Iran (after lobbying to water sanctions down), Mr. Putin invited Mr. Ahmadinejad to the Russian capital in an effort to undercut U.S. efforts to isolate Tehran in response to its nuclear weapons program and its role as a state sponsor of terrorism. On Tuesday, speaking at a conference in Tehran involving nations that border the Caspian Sea, the Russian leader warned the United States against a military strike against Iran’s illicit nuclear facilities, And along with the leaders of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan  , Mr. Putin backed the right of Iran to develop so-called peaceful nuclear energy — in essence, adopting Tehran’s false assertions that it isn’t attempting to obtain nuclear weapons.

But for the most part, Mr. Putin is working to damage U.S. interests, and his “anti-imperi alist” policies are reminiscent of Soviet-era behavior.

Clearly Putin’s recent actions aren’t indicative of a sudden change of heart; rather he has merely found this moment to be the opportune time to unveil his real intentions and put the screws to his less than nimble American “friend”…the one who looked into his clever eyes and thought he saw the soul of a sincere “crony”.

The fact that our President chose to characterize the potential for Iran to become a nuclear nation as the predecessor event to World War III simply gives Putin the pivotal power he seeks in order to reestablish Russia as a major player in world affairs and himself as the agent to execute that role. Putin has essentially positioned himself as a key player in any effort to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear capabilities which may well mean any peaceful resolution will have to include negotiating with Russia. Hence Putin has the leveraged position he may have been seeking from the outset.

Moving onto the President’s relationship with Pakistan’s Pervez Musharaff, a man George Bush called “his buddy”, we see indications of the same behavior.

From India Daily:

Only time can say if the US made another mistake in Pakistan by supporting the dictatorship in Pakistan. ”Musharraf is a strong ally in the war against these extremists. I like him and I appreciate him,” Bush said.

Bush also called Musharraf a partner in the promotion of democracy. “I”m of course, constantly working with him to make sure that democracy continues to advance in Pakistan. He’s been a valuable ally in rejecting extremists. And that’s important, to cultivate those allies,” he said.

As one looks at the increasingly dicey situation in Pakistan, one is forced to wonder if our blind allegiance to Musharraf has precluded our maneuverabil ity. Despite all of the gratuitous rhetoric about democracy, the people of Pakistan increasingly resent the fact that the United States has hitched its wagon to a leader who took power through a military coup and has thwarted efforts to conduct a legitimately democratic election.

History tells us that Pakistan has the makings of previous U.S. foreign policy disasters whereby we have propped up dictators who we feel we can manage…all the while doing so at the expense of wholesale unrest amongst the inhabitants of those nations. Iran is the first to come to mind and we all know that dangerous story is still unfolding. The fact that Pakistan is a nuclear nation only exacerbates the concerns. Take a look at some excerpts from a recent article in The New York Times.

From The New York Times:

WASHINGTON, Oct. 20 — The scenes of carnage in Pakistan this week conjured what one senior administrati on official on Friday called “the nightmare scenario” for President Bush’s last 15 months in office: Political meltdown in the one country where Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and nuclear weapons are all in play.

White House officials insisted in interviews that they had confidence that their longtime ally, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, would maintain enough control to keep the country stable as he edged toward a power-sharin g agreement with his main rival, Benazir Bhutto.

But other current and former officials cautioned that the administrati on had invested so much in General Musharraf’ s success that its leverage was now limited. Similarly, they and Pakistan experts said that a series of policy miscalculati ons had left the administrati on with few good options.

They contended that the administrati on was surprised by how quickly domestic support for General Musharraf eroded, and that it was slow to act on warnings dating to 2004 that the administrati on had built too much of its policy around a single Pakistani leader. That over-relianc e meant that a more coherent policy was never fully fashioned.

Some officials fear that a year of unrest, violence and political intrigue in Pakistan could undercut President Bush’s last chance to root out Osama bin Laden from the lawless territory where Al Qaeda has regrouped, and could cripple a renewed administrati on effort to turn around Afghanistan.

Today, despite the administrati on’s heavy reliance on General Musharraf, the tribal areas are a base for a revitalized Qaeda, which has created a new command structure and is again planning internationa l attacks, according to a National Intelligence Estimate issued in July, parts of which the administrati on published in an unclassified form.

So the stakes in Pakistan reach well beyond its own borders. Not only is it possible that a relatively moderate nation may be in the process of a radical transformati on towards Islamic extremism, our support for an unpopular leader may be facilitating that shift and laying the groundwork for Pakistan to become a reconstitute d Afghanistan under the prevailing influences of both the Taliban and al Qaeda.

Efforts to include former leader Benazir Bhutto in a newly formed government may be too little too late as anything remotely endorsed by Musharraf may be viewed to be too closely directed by the United States. Since Bhutto is popular with Pakistan’s moderates and arguably viewed as a strong proponent for democracy, were her role in a shared leadership to be seen as capitulation to a plan guided by the United States, it may precipitate the wholesale embracing of those extremists who renounce the perceived meddling of the West in the region.

I contend that those who have relied on the relatively moderate temperament of the Pakistani population as grounds for continued support of Musharraf and the gradual move towards democratizat ion may fail to realize that all of the ingredients for radicalizati on are present in this increasingly unstable nation. Should the circumstance s continue to fuel the fire, the recipe will not only take shape, but the finished product will turn out to be a culinary catastrophe we can’t swallow.

Frankly, the situations with Putin and Musharraf are reminiscent of many other instances of stubborn bravado and blind loyalty that have typified the Bush administrati on. When persistent intransigenc e is accompanied by the isolation it naturally engenders, the path to rational and reasoned objectivity is often erased. Worse yet, it frequently happens unconsciousl y.

In the end, its as if the President all too often confronts issues by first defining his own intuited reality and then proceeds to operate as if it is the equivalent of the proverbial “gospel truth”. As such, adjustments are grudgingly made only when the prevailing facts become completely incontrovert ible and the circumstance are utterly untenable. By that time, the damage has been done and the costs have been incurred.

With approximatel y fifteen months to go, we can only hope that George Bush won’t have the opportunity or the inclination to further exercise his suspect abilities to discern friend from foe.

Cross-posted at Thought Theater

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One Response to “The Last Puzzle Pieces Of A Dysfunctional Presidency?”

  1. Excellent post! Great analysis. Thanks for this.
    Bush’s pattern of relying on impulse and what he believes to be instinct and then doggedly sticking to a position once he has taken it, rather than seeking actual information and basing his actions on that and changing his stance if new information justifies it, is a fundamental part of his personality.   It’s tied to his peculiar lack of curiosity and indifference to matters outside his relatively narrow range of interests.

    Personally, I believe it’s due to a combination of fear and laziness. The fear is that one that is common to fundamentali sts and other kinds of true believers, the dread of having to take responsibili ty for a decision and getting it wrong, which leads them to abdicate their adulthood, turn to an authoritaria n belief system, and say “You drive.” Like the reverend Ted Haggard said in the film Jesus Camp, the beauty of it is that they don’t have to think, all they have to do is turn to the Bible and the church to tell them what’s right and wrong. Of course, seeing as how he was busted for buying meth from his favorite male prostitute shortly after that, his Bible is apparently a different edition than most people have.
    The laziness, or perhaps aversion to having to try to actually think, shows up in Bush’s reliance on snap impressions and quick decisions based on the fundamentali st and gilded-era capitalist values he has internalized .
    The psychologist B.F. Skinner voiced an extreme version of the behaviorist school of psychology, saying that people are simply stimulus-res ponse organisms, although some of the stimuli and responses look complex, and that there is actually no such thing as consciousnes s. I’ve always thought that was ridiculous, but in the case of people like Bush, Skinner may have been right.

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