The senior Bush administration official who briefed anonymously on Vice President Dick Cheney’s visit to Afghanistan and Pakistan sounded suspiciously like, well, Cheney himself.
The White House transcript of the Tuesday briefing left little room for doubt as to the official’s identity, including this opening sentence:
“The reason the president wanted me to come, obviously, is because of the continuing threat that exists in this part of the world on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border,” the official said.
Cheney had just left Afghanistan, where a suicide bomb attack against Bagram air base killed up to 14 people. Cheney used the visit to the two countries to press for stronger action against the Taliban and al-Qaida.
“Let me just make one editorial comment here. I’ve seen some press reporting (that) says, ‘Cheney went in to beat up on them, threaten them.’ That’s not the way I work,” the official said.
The official was speaking on “background,” a common practice in Washington that means he could only be identified by the euphemism, “senior administration official.” Media critics have long complained about the practice, saying public officials should be identified.
The “senior administration officials” often make sure they leave no clues to their identity in these sessions.
But in this case, the official blew his own cover.
“I would describe my sessions both in Pakistan and Afghanistan as very productive,” the official aboard Cheney’s plane said.
Cheney arrived back in Washington early Wednesday and briefed President Bush on his trip.
Official’s status report
The senior administration official said that Karzai was upbeat “because of the United States’ economic and financial commitment. We’ve asked for significant sums for him this year in the budget, the commitment of an additional brigade of troops to beef up what’s already there, that’s all taken as a sign of our commitment, specifically to Afghanistan.
“They worry about that. They look over their shoulders, obviously, and if they see weakness on the part of the United States, or an unwillingness to carry through on our commitments, they automatically raise questions about how good our commitment to them is.”
The official said the situation was “slightly different” in Pakistan because the United States does not have U.S. forces on the ground there.
“But Musharraf, of course, has been the target of assassination attempts,” the official said. “He’s been closely allied with us going after al-Qaida. And, again, you’ve got people who, in effect, are betting the farm, so to speak, that they can count on the United States to be there, and to support them, and in many cases provide the leadership necessary to prevail in this global conflict with these extreme elements of Islam. And it would be difficult to sustain that conviction on their part if the United States were to suddenly decide that the problems in Iraq are too tough, we’re going to pack it in and go home. So there are consequences in this part of the world for a course of action that some people are advocating in the U.S.”