Bush Plans "Left in Ruins" by Bhutto's Assassination

Helene Cooper's first instinct when something bad happens in Pakistan: See how badly it reflects on Bush.

The assassination of Benazir Bhutto dominated Friday's front page, and accompanying the lead story was a "news analysis" headlined "A Serious Blow to U.S. Reconciliation Efforts." (The web headline was far more benign: "Salvaging U.S. Diplomacy Amid Division.")

Helene Cooper and Steven Lee Myers reported from Washington.

"The assassination of Benazir Bhutto on Thursday left in ruins the delicate diplomatic effort the Bush administration had pursued in the past year to reconcile Pakistan's deeply divided political factions. Now it is scrambling to sort through ever more limited options, as American influence on Pakistan's internal affairs continues to decline."


"The assassination highlighted, in spectacular fashion, the failure of two of President Bush's main objectives in the region: his quest to bring democracy to the Muslim world, and his drive to force out the Islamist militants who have hung on tenaciously in Pakistan, the nuclear-armed state considered ground zero in President Bush's fight against terrorism, despite the administration's long-running effort to root out Al Qaeda from the Pakistan-Afghanistan border."

Whenever something terrible happens in Pakistan, the first instinct of Cooper, the paper's diplomatic correspondent, is to find the anti-Bush angle. On November 4, after Pakistan's President Musharraf declared a state of emergency and began rounding up dissidents, Cooper (and White House reporter Sheryl Gay Stolberg) wrote:

"For more than five months the United States has been trying to orchestrate a political transition in Pakistan that would manage to somehow keep Gen. Pervez Musharraf in power without making a mockery of President Bush's promotion of democracy in the Muslim world.

"On Saturday, those carefully laid plans fell apart spectacularly. Now the White House is stuck in wait-and-see mode, with limited options and a lack of clarity about the way forward."