Thursday, December 27, 2007

Assassination reaction

As many have said, this horrible act was unfortunately the most anticipated assassination in modern history. Bhutto will certainly go down as an heroic figure in Pakistani politics and it's likely this event will be a turning point to something, hopefully not something bad.

Bhutto was a friend to the west; she even appeared on a local radio talk show here in Memphis back in the summer talking with host Mike Fleming about going back to Pakistan. This is definitely a defeat for our side any way you look at it, illustrated by her own words in one of her last interviews:
Bhutto says she first heard the name Osama bin Laden in 1989, when he sent $10 million to the ISI, Pakistan’s infamous intelligence service, to help it overthrow her first government.
I'm not going to speculate wildly on this yet.

The presidential candidates have reacted, though. For what it's worth, here's my take on their take:

Giuliani: mentioned "bring them to justice" and "Islamic terrorists". Nothing surprising. If the situation worsens his numbers will go up, plain and simple.

Huckabee: mentioned "prayers" for the people and also "developments", ie, the situation is still developing. The prayers are fine, I concur, and the waiting is also fine. Presidents need not jump off the high dive before all the facts are known.

McCain: mentions "saddened" then lists all the times he's been there and that he'd now be meeting with the NSC, etc. Sorry, but he's coming across a little know-it-all-ish, as we'll see with a few of his Senate colleagues.

Obama: mentioned "saddened" as well along with deep regret and standing with the people for democracy. Fine. Obama hasn't been a Senator very long, and it shows.

Romney: characterized it as developing as well, which scores a point with me. He also took a jab at Ron Paul with "remain actively engaged across the globe".

Richardson: expressed sadness then made vast policy suggestions of forcing Musharraf out and stopping aid until they formed a more perfect democracy. Too hasty.

Clinton: sadness and support of democracy, which is good. Nothing extraordinarily bad, except perhaps too much information as she kept feeding statements to the press.

Dodd: Near the top of his statement, "as a member of the foreign relations committee". Next.

Biden: Decent statement, except this seems to be jumping the gun a bit, "this fall, I twice urged President Musharraf to provide better security for Ms. Bhutto," We don't know enough facts to make such determinations yet and this could well cause consternation abroad.

Thompson: short and to the point, bringing it back to a fight against extremism. Perhaps too short, though, as he expressed no regret (at least that USAToday published). People want to see an expression of regret or sadness. Just glad to see he didn't respond with a zinger.

Ron Paul: (still waiting for a statement).

MORE 12/27/07

You've probably read or heard what Paul said, which was no surprise. Edwards also claimed to have talked with Musharraf, which reeks just a tad of opportunism.

Paul and a few conservative pundits mocked the mention of the importance of democracy, suggesting we "pushed it" too fast with Bhutto's return. I disagree. Yes, it was unlikely Pakistan would soften up their internal turmoil before January but we simply must continue to underscore democracy whenever possible. That's our long-term goal. If realpolitik was our only tactic we'd be left with perpetually whacking moles.

But saying it and actually expecting it are different.

Musharraf has been playing a stalling game with us for years, which is why I believe Bush was not premature in pressing Bhutto's return. The game involves waiting us out in Afghanistan until we get tired, broke, or a new president arrives who wants to redeploy. There are more than a few running for office this time around. The NATO coalition is slowly fracturing--the Euros really have no stomach for it anyway--and the Taliban have moved past being the proverbial gnat on a dog's butt. The longer Musharraf holds us out of Wazirstan and the terror-tories, the greater chance we'll go away and he'll survive. But OUR national security demands we have the ability to put pressure on the Taliban's home base while making sure their ilk don't grab the nuke football. Time may be running out.

MORE 12/28/07

Individuals that I respect have taken the idea of Bhutto being a friend of the west and democracy to task, so allow me to add some context to the above. The mere fact that Bhutto was a strong woman and former leader of a Muslim country was a larger step forward out of the 7th century than we've seen so far in the 21st century. Some say it was perhaps an honor killing.

In that sense, whatever she was she wasn't a Wahabbist, and that's better than AQ Khan or a bin Laden surrogate running the country. Admittedly though it's a far cry from a legitimate democracy, so point well taken.

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