CLEVELAND (TDB) -- There is a long exchange between President Bush and a Pakistani he encountered in Ohio that is posted today on the Web site of the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad. Bush got a question from the Pakistani at the Cleveland Inter-Continental during a whirlwind visit four months ago and said of Gen. Pervez Musharraf, "I like him."
That line is haunting, and may become the seminal statement in a foreign policy disaster. It was uttered before the strongman declared martial law, before Musharraf began to jail political opponents, fired the Supreme Court justices and dissolved democratic institutions by declaring a state of emergency Sunday. Today, Bush is urging his pal Gen. Musharraf to take off the military uniform and restore freedoms. Is it real? Or wink, wink, nudge, nudge.
Meanwhile, in Pakistan there are clashes and protests in the streets, and it now appears that the American president got in bed with an Islamic militarist with dictatorial inclinations. A tough spot for Bush, who sent U.S. troops to topple Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq -- an invasion that was supposed to bring democracy to an Islamic nation.
From the Embassy's portal, here's a bit of what Bush said July 10 in downtown Cleveland about his pal, Gen. Musharraf:
''Pakistan, by the way is a -- Musharraf is a strong ally in the war against these extremists. I like him and I appreciate him. 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.
"See, again, I repeat to you -- and this is hard to some Americans to understand -- we are at the beginning of a major ideological struggle that will affect the security of the United States. And it's a struggle between moderation and extremists. It's a struggle between radicals who kill and rational people who want to live in peace."
So Musharraf is a strong ally against those extremists? He now looks like a tinhorn despot. The word banana republic comes to mind. But Pakistan isn't in Central America. There is a certain Woody Allen Bananas sense to the reports that Bush wants Condi Rice to call Musharraf and tell him to ditch the uniform. After all, as Bush said in Cleveland, "I like him."
Make you wonder, who doesn't he like?