Musharraf’s Fall Shows Power Ain’t What It Used to Be
Pervez Musharraf was the object of his affection, but George W. Bush could not save his skin. The president of the United States could not save the president of Pakistan because leaders of even large and powerful countries — or, for that matter, of large and powerful companies — ain’t what they used to be.
Gone forever are the days when those at the top made the decisions and made them stick. The world has changed and those too myopic to see it pay the price.
Musharraf’s fall from power was described by the Financial Times as being “swift.” But it was not. For well over a year there have been clear and obvious signs — which the Bush administration failed fully to recognize — that Musharraf’s political life was in danger. The threat came from below. It came from citizen-activists who, beginning in March 2007, took to the streets immediately after their president overreached. Arrogant and overconfident, Musharraf made the mistake of unilaterally suspending Pakistan’s chief justice and firing some 60 other judges.
From that point on, it was all downhill. The Pakistani people continued to protest — while Musharraf’s support continued to dwindle. In November he declared a state of emergency, and in December his top political rival, Benazir Bhutto, was assassinated. Though it took until now to get him formally to resign, by the end of last year Musharraf’s reign had, in effect, come to an end.
Why was the decline and fall of his Pakistani counterpart so difficult for the American president to accept — even after the handwriting was clear on the wall? Because George W. Bush prefers to deal with his own kind, with other men in positions of power. This is not an aberration; it’s not uncommon for leaders to seek out other leaders, on the assumption that they can settle things between them.
But the incumbent president has relied on personal diplomacy more than most, a disposition that has not served him well. Even in the last few weeks it’s clear he was a fool for having supported to the nth degree Georgia’s careless, reckless head of state, Mikheil Saakashvili. And he was far more the fool for having declared the first time he met him that Russia’s bloodless strongman, Vladimir Putin, was “straightforward and trustworthy.” As Bush described it at the time, “I looked the man in the eye . . . . I was able to get a sense of his soul.”
It is easy enough to understand the temptations. Not only do leaders assume that between and among them they can control the ways of the world, there’s all that bonding and camaraderie, and all that pomp and circumstances whenever they meet and greet.
But the cold truth is that personal diplomacy never has been failsafe diplomacy. Moreover, at a time when leaders are more vulnerable than they were in the past, putting all your eggs in their one basket is strategically stupid.
Falling in love is easy. But breaking up is hard to do.
:: Source: Barbara Kellerman @ Harvard Business