President Bush arrived in Pakistan “like a drug dealer...under cover of night,” according to MSNBC’s Chris Matthews. On Friday’s Hardball, Matthews highlighted the security measures taken to protect Bush as he arrived in the same country in which al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden may have found sanctuary, but he pivoted between suggesting the threat to Bush is quite real and language that suggested the President had skulked into Pakistan like a coward.
Would he have preferred Bush arriving in a bright red suit with a bulls-eye painted on his back?
Beginning the segment at about 5:25pm EST on Friday night, Matthews first asked MSNBC’s Hasan Zaidi to describe “the weird way in which our President had to enter your country, enter that country today.”
Zaidi replied over video of Bush walking off of Air Force One in Islamabad and waving to a group gathered on the airport tarmac: “Well, someone called it, this is like entering something in the dead of night like a thief. The President came in on a plane that had its lights, its wing lights switched off, they had to, they lowered the shutters on the plane so that there would be no light reflected. The runway lights were switched off, and the plane landed in the dead of night. Once the plane landed, the President and the First Lady were whisked away in what, actually nobody found out. There was a motorcade traveling to the U.S. ambassador’s residence as well as two choppers, and the media men as well on the flight as well could not tell which of these two kinds of transport he was on.”
Later, Matthews asked ex-Clinton aide David Gergen and security expert Roger Cressey about the heavy security surrounding Bush’s visit. Matthews asked Cressey: “This is extraordinary, isn’t it?”
Cressey replied that “it’s typical for what happens when you bring the President into a very high risk country, very similar to what we did when President Clinton went into Pakistan in 2000.”
Matthews cut him off: “But he’s coming in like a drug dealer. I mean, having to sneak in like that, with the lights off, with the windows slammed shut on the plane. Is this a security question, really, or is it a problem of that government? Is it a problem that within the security service in Pakistan there are people out to hurt the President?”
Cressey said that it’s both, that it is a real security problem but that the Pakistani intelligence service also has elements that support al-Qaeda. They then discussed how the Secret Service fears that Bush’s movements could be leaked to al-Qaeda, that they have to assume that Bush’s security arrangements may be known to potential terrorists.
“The Secret Service is the best in the business, but their pucker factor right now is really high,” Cressey told Matthews. “They’re very worried because it is a high risk environment, and they cannot control the environment within which the President is handled.”
Matthews then turned to Gergen to opine on “what message this sends to the people of Pakistan. They know how the President’s coming in over there. Guess what, the leader of the greatest nation in the world, our ally in the war against terrorism, had to sneak into the country last night by cover of night.”
Gergen: “Look, they’re exposed to the danger, too. I think they probably give him credit for coming.”