Bush and the Despots He Admires
A country governed by a despot is an inverted cone. -- Samuel Johnson
Mr. Bush is not disappointed in them. Quite the contrary. He's envious. Although sharing their goals, he is far less successful than they. They have shown how democracy works in an ideal world. Mr. Bush, of course, has the misfortune to be the President of the United States that is not an ideal democracy notwithstanding his efforts to make it so.
On November 21 Mr. Bush gave ABC news an interview during the course of which Perez Musharraf's name came up. Describing Mr. Musharraf, Mr. Bush said that he "truly is somebody who believes in democracy." According to reports, the reporter interviewing Mr. Bush asked if there was any line Mr. Musharraf should not cross to which Mr. Bush said: "He hasn't crossed the line. As a matter of fact, I don't think that he will cross any lines." Mr. Bush went on to say that it was a good sign that on the same day he was being interviewed Mr. Musharraf had released thousands of people from jail. (The reporter could have asked Mr. Bush if it was so good for Mr. Musharraf. to release people from jail why Mr. Bush didn't follow his lead and let some folks out of Guantanamo who have no business being there. He might have gone so far as to point out to Mr. Bush that releasing people from jail who should not be in jail was not half as good for democracy as the act of putting them in jail was bad for democracy.
Here are some of the things Mr. Musharrraf has done to demonstrate his belief in democracy. On November 3 he declared a state of emergency. He suspended the constitution, shut down 58 independent news stations and replaced all the justices on the Supreme Court. Their replacement was necessary because they were about to rule that his election as president in October was invalid. By removing them and replacing them with justices who would do his bidding he was able to perpetuate democracy in Pakistan. (The shut television stations were told they could reopen if they adhered to a government code of conduct that was imposed because, said Mr. Musharraf: "We want to bring some responsibility to them." Among other things, a journalist can go to prison for 3 years if coverage "ridicules" the president or other government officials.) In response to criticism from Condoleezza Rice about the imposition of martial law before elections scheduled in January Mr. Musharraf said that martial law was the best way to insure free and fair elections.
The other of Mr. Bush's good friends, whom Mr. Bush resembles more than we realized when we elected him, is Russia's Vladimir Putin. At the conclusion of Mr. Putin's visit to the Bush compound in July, Mr. Bush, praised Mr. Putin. He said: "Here's the thing, when you're dealing with a world leader, you wonder whether or not he's telling the truth. I've never had to worry about that with Vladimir Putin." Returning the complement Mr. Putin said that common democratic values are important for both countries. He said that Russia and the United States face the same problems that have "to do with the relationship with the media; it has to do with human rights" said he. We know how that's playing out in Bush's America. Here's how it's played out in Russia.
Putin's term as president is drawing to a close. Parliamentary elections are to take place in Russia in December. Mr. Bush was disappointed in his hopes that Republicans would have a majority in Congress following the 2006 elections. Mr. Putin is not taking any chances that his party, United Russia, will suffer the fate of the Republicans. At a recent campaign rally he stirred up his supporters saying: "Regrettably, there are those inside the country who feed off foreign embassies like jackals and count on support of foreign funds and governments, and not their own people." Not content with railing against his opponents, on November 24 a rally was held against Mr. Putin, and the riot police beat and then arrested those who attended, including Garry Kasparov, the former chess champion and leader of Other Russia, one of the opposition parties. Mr. Kasparov was charged with organizing an unsanctioned protest and resisting arrest and sentenced to 5 days in jail. In the southern Republic of Ingushetia three Moscow television journalists and a human rights activist were reported attacked by armed, masked men as they went to cover an opposition rally.
If this column leads the reader to believe that Mr. Bush likes all despots, it has erred. Mr. Bush has no use for Hugo Chávez of Venezuela who has likened Mr. Bush to the devil. But for that comparison, Mr. Bush would probably find it in his heart to say good things about him as well.