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Juan Cole: Bush Calling John Edwards Inexperienced Is Laughable

Juan Cole, at his blog:

George W. Bush alleged Thursday that John Edwards lacks the experience necessary to be president.

The problem with this argument is that Bush lacked the experience necessary to be president when he ran in 2000, so this sort of cheap shot just hoists him by his own petard. Let's just remember a seminal Bush moment in 1999:

' Bush fails reporter's pop quiz on international leaders

November 5, 1999
Web posted at: 3:29 p.m. EST (2029 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Texas Gov. George W. Bush is enduring sharp criticism for being unable to name the leaders of four current world hot spots, but President Bill Clinton says Bush"should, and probably will, pick up" those names.

The front-runner for the 2000 Republican presidential nomination faltered Thursday in an international affairs pop quiz posed by Andy Hiller, a political reporter for WHDH-TV in Boston.

Hiller asked Bush to name the leaders of Chechnya, Taiwan, India and Pakistan. Bush was only able to give a partial response to the query on the leader of Taiwan, referring to Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui simply as"Lee." He could not name the others.

"Can you name the general who is in charge of Pakistan?" Hiller asked, inquiring about Gen. Pervaiz Musharraf, who seized control of the country October 12.

"Wait, wait, is this 50 questions?" asked Bush.

Hiller replied:"No, it's four questions of four leaders in four hot spots." . . .

Bush, in answering the question about the leader of Pakistan, also said:"The new Pakistani general, he's just been elected -- not elected, this guy took over office. It appears this guy is going to bring stability to the country and I think that's good news for the subcontinent."

Gore released a statement Friday taking Bush to task for his comments on Pakistan's recent coup.

"I find it troubling that a candidate for president in our country -- the world's oldest democracy -- would characterize the military takeover as"good news," Gore said."Further, I find it even more disturbing that he made these comments about a nation that just last year tested nuclear weapons -- shortly after voicing his public opposition to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

A spokesman for President Clinton also criticized Bush's comments.

"It is very dangerous for this country to condone the overthrow of democratically elected governments," said David Leavy, spokesman for the National Security Council.

Not only did Bush not know who General Pervez Musharraf was, he seems to have confused coup-making with"taking office," and moreover went on to suggest that the overthrow of an elected prime minister and the installation in power of the Pakistan military, then the world's strongest supporter of the Taliban, would bring"stability!" Musharraf made his coup in part because of the military's anger over Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's willingness to back down from confronting India over Kashmir, so that he explicitly came to power as a warmonger.

I can't tell you how ominous I found Bush's performance in that interview. I still remember him stuttering about"the General," unable to remember Musharraf's name. He obviously had no idea what he was talking about, though he demonstrated a number of ill-fated instincts. He obviously liked authoritarian rule better than democracy, equating dictatorship with"stability." And, he didn't think he needed to know anything about South Asia, with its nuclear giants and radical religious politics--the latter a dire security threat to the US. He couldn't tell when things were becoming more unstable as opposed to less. Musharraf went on to play nuclear brinkmanship with India in 2002, risking war twice that year. Although Musharraf did turn against the Taliban after September 11, under extreme duress from the US, elements of his military continued to support radical Islamism and have recently been implicated in assassination attempts on Musharraf himself. This was the body that Bush proclaimed was bringing"stability" to the region in fall of 1999.

So, one answer to Bush's charge about Edwards is that if it had any merit, Bush should have declined to run himself.

Another answer is that Edwards certainly knows far more about foreign affairs now than Bush did then. Indeed, given how Bush has rampaged around the world alienating allies and ignoring vital conflicts with the potential to blow back on the US, one might well argue that Edwards knows more now than Bush does.

This is what Edwards' campaign literature said about his positions:"Edwards believes that the U.S. must be an active leader to help resolve conflicts, from reducing tensions between India and Pakistan to the peace process in Northern Ireland. Edwards is a strong supporter of Israel, and believes that the U.S. has a vital role in promoting peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians."

I don't see Bush doing any of this.