Musharraf’s exit: another blow to Bush foreign policy (Commentary)

August 19th, 2008 - 1:08 pm ICT by IANS  

Had George Bush’s presidency not already entered its lame duck months, the less than flattering departure of Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf so close to the time when Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin took off his gloves would have dealt a staggering personal blow to the US president. That Bush’s term is all but over is a mitigating factor for him in what is otherwise a huge foreign policy challenge for Washington. Notwithstanding his harsh denunciation of the Russian attack on Georgia as “bullying and intimidation” and rather impassive response to Musharraf’s resignation, Bush has to be conscious that these are no longer his crises to deal with.

Just as Putin and his protégé, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, would have found the timing of the attack on Georgia particularly opportune because of Bush’s impending departure and the Beijing Olympics, Pakistani leaders Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif could not have been any less aware of the choice of their timing to muscle out Musharraf.

Both Moscow and Islamabad must have reasoned that Bush is already hamstrung by the limits of his presidential tenure and he would not be able to do much more than engage in bellicose posturing. It is remarkable that the two men Bush so publicly trusted let him down in the end in their own way. It is arguable whether either Putin or Zardari/Sharif would have been as motivated to do what they did in an earlier part of Bush’s tenure. Of course, it is equally debatable whether Bush would have been able to seriously influence either outcome even earlier.

Bush will leave behind a disastrous foreign policy legacy for his successor after the Nov 4, 2008 presidential elections. The debacle in Iraq alone would have been a profoundly daunting challenge for any new president. Once the mess in Afghanistan, instability in Pakistan, threat out of Russia and sabre rattling out of Iran are factored in, together they constitute a challenge of harrowing proportions. Unless some breathtaking miracle solves all four major crises in the next five months, the new US president would have his work cut out from the get go.

For the sheer variety of the crises no other US presidency has perhaps been as mishap-laden as the Bush administration. From 9/11 to the Hurricane Katrina, from the devastation of the financial markets caused largely by the mortgage meltdown to the soaring gas prices and from Iraq to Russia via Afghanistan and from North Korea to China and Myanmar, the Bush administration has had to spend a majority of its time on fire fighting.

For a president who came in with the reputation of being nonchalant in his disinterest in foreign affairs, Bush has had to take a deep plunge into geopolitics. It is practically impossible for him to escape the impression that he would leave the world in a greater ferment than he found it in.

Mushrraf’s ouster significantly changes the equation for Washington even though the US is unlikely to acknowledge it in so many words. Although the genuineness of Musharraf’s commitment to the war on terror had been coming under increasing suspicion, in him the US had someone who at least pretended to speak the same ideological language. While it remains in Pakistan’s interest to take the rising threat of Islamist terror head-on, it is anybody’s guess whether a fractious democratic government can really afford to keep up the pressure. The only factor that would compel the civilian administration in Islamabad not to dilute its campaign against Islamist terror would be the serious threat it poses to Pakistan’s own stability.

It would be alarmist to suggest that even as the world is in the midst of a nebulous war on terror, it could also be heading for some version of Cold War in the aftermath of the Russian action in Georgia. However, there is some validity to the view that Moscow’s decision to march into Georgia was prompted by its wish to regain not just the ideological ground but even territory that it lost in the wake of the disintegration of the Soviet Union.

The US decision to station a missile defence base in Poland has obviously enraged Russia even though Washington has claimed that the interceptors to be deployed on the Baltic Coast are aimed at the threat of intercontinental ballistic missile strikes from Iran and North Korea. That little annoying detail that neither North Korea nor Iran has those missiles is irrelevant in the grand scheme of things.

(Mayank Chhaya is Chicago-based commentator. He can be reached at m@literateworld.com)

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