Vice President Dick Cheney responded to the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington by steering the United States into an even closer partnership with Pakistan, a country that had long been identified as a safe haven for the very Islamic jihadists Cheney claimed to abhor. Ahmed Rashid, the internationally-respected analyst of relations between Pakistan and the United States recalls that, in the years following the attacks, “(The) Bush Administration’s major policy decisions were run out of Vice President Dick Cheney’s office with the help of Donald Rumsfeld. Cheney had a warm and personal relationship with Musharraf and did not want to see the United States take on the (corruption of the) Pakistani army when the United States was so preoccupied with Iraq.”
Cheney, who with his clique of neoconservative compatriots guided the Bush administration’s response to 9/11 in the months and years following the attacks, was determined to engineer an occupation of Iraq, which did not harbor al-Qaeda operatives. But Pakistan, long an operational base for extremists, faced no threat of occupation or even of accountability Instead, Pakistan got huge increases in U.S. military and humanitarian aid and massive structural support for the military dictatorship of General Pervez Musharraf, who used the U.S. money and military might to maintain his rule while contributing little of value to the war on terror.
“To maintain his power, with the approval of Bush and Cheney, Pakistan’s then-president Musharraf cut deals with the religious parties that gave extremists succor, in particular the coalition called the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA, or United Action Committee). Musharraf also barred the parties of his main democratic rivals, including the Pakistan Peoples Party led by the since-assassinated Benazir Bhutto (Zardari is her widower),” Mike Hirsh, the veteran diplomatic corrspondent, observed in a 2010 assessment for Newsweek of circumstances on the ground in Pakistan. “The result was that Islamism grew in power and influence under Musharraf’s constantly deferred promises to reinstate genuine democracy, even as Washington delivered billions of dollars in aid.” But, surely, the U.S. was getting some juicy intelligence from Pakistan’s notoriously thorough and draconian spy network. Right? Wrong. “The Pakistanis were chronically stingy with intelligence,” continued the Newsweek assessment. “Critics such as Gary Schroen, the former CIA station chief, saw a pattern of giving up second-rate Taliban or Al Qaeda leaders only to ameliorate American mistrust, then retreating.” So what happened when candidate Barack Obama talked about getting tough with Pakistan? What happened when he spoke of going after terrorists inside the country Cheney made America’s top ally after 9/11? Cheney dismissed the Democrat as naïve and unprepared. With President Bush, he ridiculed Obama’s talk of tracking terrorists inside Pakistan. As the 2008 election approached, the vice president endorsed Republican John McCain as the candidate who, unlike Obama, “understands the danger facing America.”