Saturday, December 29, 2007

Pakistan, US Candidates React

With the Iowa presidential caucus only days away, it’s not surprising that many of the candidates quickly chimed in on the situation in Pakistan. Even though this blog is focused on international affairs, since one of these people will be the next president – and in charge of US foreign policy – its worth a quick look at who said what; the good, the bad and the indifferent.

The best comments came from a pair of senators. Democrat Christopher Dodd, though not giving any soundbite-worthy one-liners, had some very well thought out statements that reflected a deep understanding of the chaotic situation in Pakistan. He was willing to express some unconventional ideas, including the suggestion that the January 8 elections should be delayed in the best interests of democracy in Pakistan. While it may seem like a contradiction, Dodd argued that the political opposition to Musharraf needed time to rally round a new candidate in the absence of Bhutto.

On the Republican side, Senator John McCain came off as the best of the crowd. He argued that he had the judgment and experience to lead in the face of foreign policy challenges. He noted that, unlike other candidates, he had actually been to Pakistan’s Waziristan province and personally knew Musharraf.

Then there were the not so good performances. Perhaps predictably, Rudy Giuliani attempted to tie the assassination of Benazir Bhutto to the 9/11 attacks – though the only possible similarity between the two is that al-Queda has been cited in early reports as possibly having provided Bhutto’s assassin. Giuliani also said that the assassination was further proof that the US needed to be on the offense in the War on Terror (US soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan might argue that America already is playing offense).

Meanwhile, when Mitt Romney was asked what was more important in Pakistan democracy or stability, his answer was “both.” If Romney can’t make a simple choice in a reporter’s question one wonders what he will do when he has to make a real choice in foreign policy.

Current favorite Mike Huckabee had an unfortunate moment on MSNBC during an interview on Friday’s “Morning Joe” when he talked about the Islamic extremists on Pakistan’s eastern border. The frontier provinces suspected of harboring the extremists are actually in western Pakistan. My first notion is to give Huckabee a pass on this one since I myself sometimes mix up by lefts and rights, but its not the first time Mike hasn’t seemed to know what’s going on in foreign policy. Earlier this month Huckabee could not answer questions National Intelligence Estimate on Iran (which indicated Iran had suspended their pursuit of nuclear weapons) after it had been dominating the news for more than two days. Huckabee had another odd statement on Saturday when he suggested that the Pakistan situation showed the need for US border security. Even the friendly crowd he was addressing seemed not to know what to make of that comment.

Finally on the Democrats side Bill Richardson said that Musharraf should resign immediately and be replaced by a multi-party “unity” government. It’s a fine idea in theory, but in reality there is no way Musharraf will resign, and where the multi-party government will come from is a mystery, especially since the head of the main opposition party has just been killed and the head of the only other opposition party of any importance announced that he will boycott the January elections. It was a statement that made Richardson seem out of touch.

A number of the other candidates, including the three democratic front-runners, issued statements that were fairly unremarkable. Hillary Clinton’s was a little better since she was able to say she knew Bhutto and had discussed issues regarding the role of women in Pakistan with her while First Lady in the 1990’s. Barack Obama’s meanwhile was not at all memorable, and delivered so blandly that one wonders if he truly grasps the importance of what is happening in Pakistan.

Finally, outsider Ron Paul was perhaps the most interesting of the bunch. Paul used the event to push his belief that the United States should withdraw from many of its international engagements. Paul questioned why the United States had military bases in 130 countries around the world, including having thousands of troops based in places like Germany. Paul suggests the need for an important discussion - namely what is America’s role in the world? Are we the global policeman? The last remaining superpower? Do we even want these roles? They are interesting questions to discuss, though Paul himself seems to display a real tendency towards isolationism.
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