Once again we are reminded of the importance of invitations. Who among us has not breathlessly awaited the advent of the sought after invitation, the arrival of which signifies that the recipient has arrived. Of course not all invitations are as public as those offered in Washington and none is more sought after than an invitation from George Bush’s White House.
For Mr. Bush, invitations to lunch or dinner (or best of all, the ranch) are subtle ways of letting world leaders know how important they are. Ranch trumps dinner and dinner trumps lunch every time. Just ask the president of China, Hu Jintao. He only got lunch when he visited the United States in April.
During the last week of September three very important people ate at the White House. Two had dinner (together) and one had lunch. One of the two who had dinner is not all that strong on human rights but nonetheless, Mr. Bush considers him a worthy dinner table companion. The two were Pervez Musharraf, the self-made president of Pakistan and Hamid Karzai, president of Afghanistan. The two men don’t like speaking to each other but each likes basking in the reflected glory of being in the presence of their patron.
According to an Indian newspaper, The Hindu, the meal was not entirely cordial. President Karzai accused President Musharraf of supporting the Taliban and harboring Osama bin Laden. President Musharraf in turn compared Mr. Karzai to an ostrich and said he had nothing better to do than point fingers at others. For good measure he threw in that Mr. Karzai was lacking decision-making ability and courage. (Mr. Musharraf was so taken with his description of Mr. Karzai qua ostrich that he repeated it in an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.)
The next guest didn’t rate dinner. It’s a bit of a wonder he even got lunch until one remembers that if there’s one thing Mr. Bush doesn’t have, it’s principles. Expediency is his watchword. His guest was President Nursultan A. Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan.
Kazakhstan has proved itself a good friend to Mr. Bush since 9/11. He has let NATO airplanes going to Afghanistan over fly his country and has sent a bunch of soldiers to Iraq to help fight Mr. Bush’s war against the Iraqi people. In addition he has huge reserves of oil and gas that are being taken out by American companies and that is the sort of thing that has the power to make most anyone one of Mr. Bush’s good, if not best, friends.
When Dick Cheney paid Kazakhstan a courtesy call in the spring he said he admired its “political development.” One of those developments happened the day before he arrived. The government shut down two American democracy organizations active in that country, The National Democratic Institute for International Affairs and the International Republican Institute. It said they had violated a law that forbids “material assistance” to political parties. The institutes were also accused of ‘the handing over of materials’ and ‘illegal instances of transport’ while working with political and civic groups.
Mr. Bush’s dinner guest has complete control over television in his country and, to no one’s surprise the medium is lavish in its praise of Mr. Nazarbayev. So generous is its praise that in the December 2005 election, official results showed Mr. Nazarbayev receiving 91% of the popular vote. (The International Republican Institute reported he only got 82 percent of the vote, a reported difference that might account for its being shut down by the government after the election.)
Before lunch Mr. Bush praised the visiting president saying the nation was “a free nation.” He said he and Mr. Nazarbayev had pledged to “support the forces of moderation throughout the world” and in return Mr. Nazarbayev said his country and the U.S. had “truly become close partners”.
Some might have questioned Mr. Bush’s description of Kazakhstan as a free nation, given its lack of free elections, restriction on the news media, etc. They needn’t have. Mr. Bush heaped those complements on Mr. Nazarbayev on the same day Congress passed a law Mr. Bush wanted that, among other things, rid the president of the troublesome writ of habeas corpus for folks in military prisons, permits coerced evidence if a judge thinks it reliable and in general goes a long way to destroying what has long made the United States a great example for the rest of the world.
Commenting on things in Kazakhstan, Yevgeny A. Zhovtis of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law said “There are four enemies of human rights: oil, gas, the war on terror and geopolitical considerations.. And we have all four.”
So, thanks to Mr. Bush, does the United States.