Thursday, November 08, 2007

Bush and Perino, two small children

From the White House Press Briefing today.

Q Why is the President dodging a personal phone call to Musharraf?

MS. PERINO: The President has had his Secretary of State --

Q I'm asking you directly why doesn't he call him?

MS. PERINO: The President feels very strongly that President Musharraf knows exactly how he feels about the situation.

Q That isn't the point.

MS. PERINO: It is the point.

Q Dana, does the White House believe that Musharraf is now a dictator?

MS. PERINO: Look, I think that that is -- it's premature to say that. This is a President --

Q Well, why is premature when the First Lady --

MS. PERINO: -- who has worked closely with an ally in the war on terror, President Musharraf. We're doing two things with them: on the one hand, working cooperatively to take the fight to the enemy, to fight against terrorists; and on the other hand, trying to help President Musharraf and the other members of the Pakistani government to move along the path to democracy, because ultimately what's going to help solve this problem is a free society, a democratic society. And yes, President Musharraf, we believe, has made a mistake. We are gravely concerned about the situation. We are calling for an immediate return back to --

Q But wait a minute, why are you calling it a mistake? You seem to be giving Musharraf the benefit of the doubt.

MS. PERINO: -- we are calling for an immediate return to civilian rule, and we are in communication with them because we have a lot of cooperative interests. We have a broad relationship, and we cannot lose sight of the fact that we have very serious counterterrorism operations that are currently underway in Pakistan as well.

Q Why did -- the First Lady was very clear in her op-ed in The Wall Street Journal about Burma, Myanmar, saying it's a military dictatorship; what they're doing is wrong. We're not hearing the First Lady, we're not hearing the President being that sharp either on Pakistan. Why do you seem to be giving Musharraf the --

MS. PERINO: And what you have heard -- what you have heard from the President and this administration is that we were made aware that this state of emergency could possibly be declared. We have averted it before, in trying to work cooperatively with President Musharraf. This time the President of Pakistan decided that this is the direction he wanted to go in. We disagree with it. We want him to return to civilian rule. We want the normalcy of the democracy to come back. We're in the early stages of this crisis, and it's going to evolve. We're assessing the situation, and we're reviewing our aid packages.

Q But why is it evolving? It's been days that he basically said, no more constitution, and we're going to round up political --

MS. PERINO: We have condemned the action. We have condemned the action. We cannot support any means that are happening outside of the constitution. And that's why we are calling for him to return to the constitution. But remember, this is a country that we want to see democracy. There is a way to get them back on that path. It would be in the best interests of not just the Pakistani people but for people like those of us in the United States, who want to work with an ally in order to fight against terrorists.

Q But why should Musharraf believe that you guys are really serious about what you're saying from this podium when the President doesn't actually pick up the phone and call him to let him know personally? That carries a lot more weight than having Condoleezza Rice or somebody else talk to him.

MS. PERINO: Well, we disagree. The President has made his points very clear with Musharraf; he's had many meetings with President Musharraf. And Secretary Rice has delivered those messages. And we feel that we are going to keep pressuring them to get back to that rule of law, working with our Ambassador, Anne Patterson, who is in constant contact with President Musharraf.

Q It still does not carry the same weight as the President having direct contact with Musharraf -- (inaudible).

MS. PERINO: Well, I'll let you -- I'll let that be your opinion. I'll let that be your opinion.

Q But what is the tactic? I mean, what is the strategic reason for President Bush not to actually pick up the phone and talk to him?

MS. PERINO: I feel confident that the President is being well served and advised by his senior national security team. The decision has been made to have Secretary Rice be the one directed to have this communication.

Q Why shouldn't we see this as double standard? I mean, it's not the same standard as applied to Burma.

MS. PERINO: I can understand why that question would be asked, but I think everyone has to remember that we are in the early days of a crisis, looking at a country who had decided to try to move down the path to democracy in establishing freedom of the press, civil societies, improving the education system, the public health system, allowing for freedom of expression and assembly. Democracies take time to develop. It is not easy. And this is certainly a setback, and we're --

Q Well, they certainly don't have freedom of the press or assembly at the moment.

MS. PERINO: And we have called for a return to it.


Q Dana, where does the review on aid stand?

MS. PERINO: It's still ongoing. It's early to say.

Q I mean, is there a sense of urgency to it? Do you expect any --

MS. PERINO: I can assure that people have been working on this ever since we had heard that the state of emergency may have been what he was going to decide to do, and early on -- early to mid last week that they decided to have Secretary Rice call once again to President Musharraf to make our feelings known. The aid review that you talked about is ongoing. It's interagency, and I don't have anything more on it right now.

Q And more broadly, you've outlined, again, the White House strategy of urging Pakistan to return down a democratic path, reviewing aid. But you also said yesterday that you shouldn't rush -- you shouldn't rush into a strong action.

MS. PERINO: I don't know if I said that. I said that we have to be mindful to make sure that we do not undermine any of our counterterrorism efforts. We have -- the President has to protect the American people. Pakistan is a country where extremists try to take -- are trying to take hold and have a safe haven, and we had to deny them that. And working -- we have been working with the Pakistani government, through President Musharraf, for the past several years on that.

Q What I'm wondering is, are you concerned at all of a world view that perhaps the White House response to this is too passive?

MS. PERINO: We -- I believe our -- look, our allies understand that we have -- that we have a problem here. It is difficult. The world is not tidy. It is certainly a difficult situation in Pakistan right now. But they also understand that we have counterterrorism efforts there. And I believe that the world community would understand that we would like to try to get him back on the path to democracy, to have the free and fair elections, for him to take off his uniform. And that's what we are going to continue to push to do.

Q Dana, may I quick follow, please?

MS. PERINO: I'm just going to go -- since you had a couple, I'm going to go back to others who haven't.


Q Doesn't Musharraf's actions, in rounding up lawyers, judges, activists, people who have opposed him politically, doesn't that betray his stated reason for the state of emergency, which was supposedly to -- out of concern over Islamic militants? Does the White House perceive that --

MS. PERINO: Clearly we are very concerned that people who wanted to express themselves freely would have been put in prison. We would like for them to be released immediately. The common enemy that we all have are the extremists and the terrorists, and it's not just the extremists and the terrorists that want to attack Americans or other Western allies, but they have attacked the Pakistani people as well. That's the common enemy.

Q Has Secretary Rice or anybody else in the government engaged the Pakistani government on this level, saying, why are you arresting people, lawyers --

MS. PERINO: Yes, certainly. Ambassador Patterson and Secretary Rice have been very involved in it. And Steve Hadley has talked to his counterpart as well.

Q And have you had any feedback from the Pakistan government that talked about the Attorney General, about elections? Have they talked at all about --

MS. PERINO: I would say that we do not have official word, and we certainly don't have a date yet. So hesitant to say that for sure that those are going to take place.

Q But, I mean, have they talked about releasing any of those folks that have been arrested?

MS. PERINO: I have not heard that.


Q Can you concede that the U.S. doesn't have the leverage that it once did over Pakistan? And perhaps the reason the President isn't picking up the phone is because it's easier to point out that Musharraf turns his back on Secretary Rice than it is to point out that he turns away from the advice --

MS. PERINO: No, the President feels strongly that he and Musharraf have had a good relationship in the past. They have worked well together to help prevent terrorists, as well as the President has helped him on the way to establishing a free and fair Pakistan, one that is democratic.

The United States is certainly a powerful country, and the President feels very confident that his feelings are well known by the Pakistanis, especially President Musharraf.

Q But as far as our leverage over what's happening in Pakistan.

MS. PERINO: I think that we are quite comfortable with where our leverage is. This is a situation where, look, the United States, we can be a powerful country; we can urge, we can provide aid. But Pakistan is a sovereign nation. And they made a decision that we disagreed with. We think it's a mistake. We'd like to see them move to democracy, because ultimately what they want is peace for their region and peace for their country, and that's going to come from democracy. This is a step backwards. And in order to get to that peace that they say that they want, and that we certainly would like to see, getting back on that path to democracy is the only way to do that.

This is how I used to act when my mom asked me to clean my room or eat my vegetables.

The rich thing about the Pakistan situation is that Musharraf has suspended the Constitution and is rounding up dissidents in the name of fighting terrorism; stealing a page right out of the Bush playbook. He's adpoted trademark GOP rhetoric, decrying "activist judges" while comparing himself to Lincoln.

This comes on the heels of Turkey justifying excursions into Iraq using similar logic: why surely Turkey must be allowed to defend itself from Kurdish terrorism!

The world has realized we've remodeled our house with glass. What are we going to say to Musharraf exactly? That jailing people without trial or counsel in the name of fighting terrorism is wrong? Does that admonition come with a cough and a snicker?

Turkey and Pakistan have learned from the pros. Make vague appeals to terrorism and you can justify anything.

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