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Rove may be Bush's Montesinos
BY DENNIS JETT, firstname.lastname@example.org
The problem with having a hatchet man is that sometimes he carries an ax that cuts both ways. Former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori discovered that the hard way. President Bush may be on the same learning curve.
When Fujimori was president during the 1990s, the debate in Peru was often whether he was the first or merely the second most important man in the country. The other person some considered even more powerful than the president was Vladimiro Montesinos.
Montesinos carried the title of intelligence advisor, an unpaid position in Fujimori's government. He did not let the lack of a paycheck or any designated responsibilities limit his ambition, however. He accumulated vast authority over the workings of the government because he was able, articulate and dedicated to constantly ingratiating himself to the president. He also was ruthless. Bribing congressmen and journalists was all in a day's work, and he has been accused of human-rights abuses, drug and arms trafficking and numerous other offenses.
Montesinos had at least two bizarre habits. First, he rarely appeared in public, which only added mystery to his aura of power. Second, he secretly videotaped his meetings so that those he bribed could be blackmailed if they did not hold up their end of the bargain. I met with him as U.S. ambassador on a few occasions, but always as part of a large group with one exception. Even though that meeting took place in the Minister of Health's office, he nonetheless brought along his video gear and clandestinely taped it.
The first anyone knew of the secret recordings was when a Peruvian television station obtained and broadcasted a leaked videotape of Montesinos bribing a congressman. After that revelation, things unraveled quickly for both Montesinos and Fujimori. When Fujimori tried to fire him, Montesinos at first defied him and then fled the country when the military supported the president.
A couple of months later, Fujimori, too, was forced to leave the county and faxed back his resignation. Montesinos was arrested in 2001 and returned to Peru to faces charges, while Fujimori has thus far successfully avoided extradition from Japan.
Montesinos remained powerful as long as he was useful to Fujimori. Protests and accusations from human-rights groups and the few journalists that withstood attempts to intimidate them were ignored by a complacent congress, a corrupt judiciary and a media that was largely co-opted. There was no outcry from the public to find out the truth about Montesinos because people were generally satisfied with Fujimori's success at taming rampant terrorism and inflation.
Karl Rove may turn out to be Bush's Montesinos. One book about Rove, by a journalist who has followed Rove for years, is entitled Bush's Brain for a reason. Using direct-mail techniques and character assassination, Rove has mastered the tactics of the dirty war that political campaigning has become.
Some might object to comparing Rove to Montesinos given the latter's criminal charges. We may never know the degree of Montesinos' guilt and the true scope of his crimes, however. After years of judicial proceedings, the best the Peruvian judicial system has been able to do is convict him on a few minor charges.
As for Rove, at this point it is clear that he discussed the identity of an undercover CIA officer with journalists. He did so in an attempt to discredit Joe Wilson, and it remains to be seen whether he committed a crime in that act or whether he subsequently perjured himself or obstructed justice. Wilson is a former U.S. ambassador who had the temerity to inform the American public that Bush used false information in a State of the Union address to justify his rush to war against Iraq. Congress has nonetheless taken no serious interest in examining Rove's actions.
A docile congress that is unwilling to be a check or balance on the potential abuse of power by the executive. A media more interested in access to high government officials than in honestly reporting what they are doing. A public so traumatized by the threat of terrorism that it is also indifferent. Peru and the United States have much in common. The only remaining question in either country is whether the judicial system is capable of justice.
Dennis Jett is the dean of the International Center at the University of Florida and a former U.S. ambassador to Peru and Mozambique.