CRAWFORD, Texas – Running for president, George W. Bush couldn't name the new leader of Pakistan. But after the Sept. 11 attacks, Pervez Musharraf became a crucial but ultimately frustrating ally in the war against Islamic extremists.
The embattled Musharraf, who resigned Monday, angered his countrymen by siding with the United States. He disappointed Washington by failing to be tougher with Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan's lawless northwest border region. He pledged support for democratic reforms in Pakistan, yet it was Musharraf's dictator-like actions that eventually unraveled his nearly decade-long rule.
"Bush came to call him the indispensable man," said Bruce Riedel, a senior adviser to three presidents on Middle East and South Asian affairs. "In the end, he also became the man who couldn't deliver. Bush was very slow to realize that he either had been had by Musharraf or that Musharraf was not up to the task. Historians will debate this for years."
In November 1999, when Bush was running for the White House, a television reporter asked him whether he could name the general, who had seized power in a military coup the previous month.
"The new Pakistani general, he's just been elected — not elected, this guy took over office," Bush said.
But Bush couldn't remember his name. "General. I can name the general. General," he said, a bit irritated by the pop quiz on foreign policy.
A month after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Musharraf was standing with the now-President Bush at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York, declaring Pakistan's unwavering support to fight with the United States against "terrorism in all its forms wherever it exists."
Bush and Musharraf got along from the start. They both saw themselves as straight shooters who didn't wring their hands over decision-making. Bush and Musharraf, who has had plenty of knowledge about the United States — his brother is a doctor in Chicago — struck up a workable friendship. Musharraf is known to enjoy dancing to Western music at parties.
Despite their rapport, theirs was an alliance of convenience.
Bush needed help catching terrorists, and he wooed Musharraf because the general had a reputation as someone who would bring stability to Pakistan. Musharraf curried Bush's favor to earn support from the ruling class in Pakistan that believed their nation's path was determined by "Allah, the Army — and America," as Pakistan's ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, put it.
"It wasn't a personal relationship, but Musharraf tried to play it, effectively, for domestic advantage," he said.
Over time, Bush and Musharraf each suffered politically from their friendship. Bush was accused of looking the other way when Musharraf didn't play by the rules of democratic nations. The Pakistani leader's alliance earned him the unfriendly nickname of "Mush," which rhymes with "Bush." Some Pakistanis claim it was Musharraf's relationship with Washington that was to blame for many of the country's problems, including the rising tide of extremist attacks within Pakistan.
"We pretty much played the Musharraf card — ad nauseam — eventually to Pakistan's detriment," said Rick Barton, a Pakistan expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Late last year, Bush's confidence in Musharraf began to crack. In November 2007, Musharraf declared a state of emergency in Pakistan, suspended the constitution and dismissed independent-minded judges as the Supreme Court was set to rule on the legality of his October 2007 election — a ballot that was boycotted by the opposition.
Bush said it would be hard for him to argue that Musharraf was still trying to advance democracy if he didn't lift emergency rule before upcoming parliamentary elections.
"So far, I've found him to be a man of his word," Bush said then. "The fundamental question I have for President Musharraf is, 'Will these elections be under emergency rule or law?' Because if they are, it's going to be hard for — well, it'll be hard for those of us who have belief that he's advanced Pakistan's democracy to say that's, that's still the case."
Bush critics say when Musharraf started sacking judges and the like, the administration should have pulled its support.
"President Bush and Vice President Cheney backed a discredited dictator, which has undercut our ability to work with the new government to eliminate the terrorist sanctuary that has re-emerged in Pakistan's tribal areas," said Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Near Eastern and South and Central Asian affairs subcommittee.
He called Musharraf's resignation a welcome development and criticized Bush for what he termed a "personality-driven" U.S. foreign policy in Pakistan.
While Pakistanis gathered in the streets Monday to celebrate the end of Musharraf's presidency, the White House continued its public show of support for him.
At the Crawford, Texas, ranch where Bush is vacationing, White House deputy press secretary Gordon Johndroe said the president appreciates the work Musharraf did in the fight against terrorism and pushing democratic reform in the nuclear-armed Muslim nation.
On a flight to Europe, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told reporters: "President Musharraf took his country a long way in turning it back from the extremism that was starting to characterize it at the time of Sept. 11, 2001. He also kept his promise to try and help a transition to free and fair elections. We didn't agree with everything he did, especially the state of emergency, but he did take off the (military) uniform. The elections were free and fair."
Others weren't as diplomatic.
"I think Musharraf double dealt," said Riedel, who studies political transition, terrorism and conflict resolution at the Brookings Institution.
"He tried to play both ends, moving against certain terrorist targets, but more broadly letting the terrorists increase their influence in his own country. ... He campaigned for democratic reform, then staged faulty elections to help himself stay in power."