First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC
Bhutto's Death Shows Who Our Candidates Really Are
The death of Benazir Bhutto is a very sad thing for her family, a tragedy for her political party, and a historical complication that might well have far-reaching -- and devastating -- effects on Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the overall war against Fascist Islam.
But that's not what I'm going to talk about right now. Because as we enter 2008, we're going to get into the presidential campaign in a big way. And the responses of the various candidates to Benazir Bhutto's death tells us an enormous amount of valuable information about how they would do as president of the United States.
After all, the only aspect of the government that the president absolutely controls is our foreign policy, ranging from diplomacy to warfare. Congress can meddle, mostly by giving mixed or negative signals to foreign powers -- but governments of other countries are very much aware of the difference between the president and Congress when it comes to international relations.
Unfortunately, most of the candidates still on the auction block have no clue.
The day of Bhutto's murder, here's how the candidates scored:
Rudy Giuliani and John McCain both responded admirably. They showed a clear grasp of both military and diplomatic necessities. If either had been president that day, their responses would have been exactly right.
Barak Obama and Mitt Romney had the right demeanor -- let's face it, both these guys look like we'd like our presidents to look, and they had the right voice and attitude. Their words were so carefully chosen that they didn't actually say anything. Which was probably a good idea.
Hillary Clinton and Mike Huckabee left me gasping with the ignorance and recklessness of their answers. If either of them had been president, their responses would have had our diplomats scrambling for weeks to undo the damage. If it could be undone -- because if they actually acted as their statements implied, there would be no saving the situation.
By the next day, Hillary had made her position even worse. And Obama began to slide himself over into the Wretched category, as previous statements of his and new statements by his top strategist began to come forward.
Let me be more specific:
Mitt Romney merely offered a brief statement that Bhutto's death pointed out again the reality of violent global radical jihadism. This type of loss of life pointed out the need for our nation and other civilized nations to come together and support moderate Islamic leaders to help them reject violence.
All of which sounds fine. Except that the real problem is extremist governments that support and provide safe harbor for terrorists, or governments that are not in control of their own territory. Meetings of moderate Muslims would do, essentially, nothing at all.
Romney sounded moderate and judicious, but it's clear he didn't have a clue. Still, as president he would have access to advice from experts, and at least he didn't run off half-cocked.
Barak Obama sounded much the same. Shocked and saddened, he stands with the people of Pakistan and against the terrorists who threaten the common security of the world.
Wisely, Obama said he'd find out more information as the week unfolded, but he wanted it to be clear that Americans stand for democracy, and we'll be steadfast in our desire to end the terrorist acts that have blighted Pakistan and other parts of the world.
Of course, the cynic in me immediately said, Well, Mr. Obama, that's all well and good -- but since you now claim you always opposed the war that is actually doing the only thing that's effective against these terrorists, what would you actually do? Hold meetings, like Mitt?
Still, moderate sounding, and, like Romney, he might not do any harm before his advisers could weigh in.
John McCain spoke at greater length -- and with infinitely better understanding of what the role of U.S. President is in such a situation. He stated his hope that once the unrest subsided, we would see a commitment again from Musharraf for free elections. But for now, he recognized that law and order must be maintained in Pakistan.
He went on to say that he wished he could wave a magic wand or have an elixir that would cure the problem, but all we can do is recognize that this is a tense and unsteady time for Pakistan, and the U.S. cares very much that it have a peaceful and democratic outcome, in the long run.
McCain reminded us that he knows all the players in this situation, and if he were president he'd be in contact with Musharraf by telephone, and would be meeting with the National Security Council to see what, if anything, the U.S. could do to help restore order.
In fact, that's all the President could do in such a situation -- watch from a distance, listen to Musharraf if he asks for anything, not push him to do anything like try to hold an election when the main opposition candidate has just been killed and people are rioting.
Rudy Giuliani was, if anything, better than McCain. He specifically said we should not second guess our own administration or anyone else. The objective of the United States, he said, has to be to help Pakistan find out who did this and catch the conspirators, and to help Pakistan remain stable and keep terrorists from getting control of Pakistan.
We should be working closely with the government of Pakistan, said Giuliani, but exactly how to do that is up to President Bush. But we have to remain on the offensive against Islamic terrorists. Above all, we have to remember that Pakistan has nuclear weapons, and so there's an even greater need to maintain stability there. Only then do you work on the longterm goal of making Pakistan "even more of a democracy."
Giuliani has a folksy style, but every word he said was smart. He didn't try to sell us on himself as president, or claim to be an insider; he showed respect for the current President (a policy that has been sorely lacking in both parties during Bush's presidency).
He hit the nub of the matter: Pakistan's nukes, and the need to keep them from terrorists at all costs.
Most important, he spoke diplomatically. Like a president. He spoke as if he knew his words would be heard or read in Pakistan. That's why he called for Pakistan to become even more of a democracy -- because most Pakistanis would be insulted if our president implied that they had no elements of democracy there.
Nobody but McCain was even in Giuliani's league, and even McCain played at the "I know more than the other candidates."
But none of these first four were as awful as the last two.
Mike Huckabee began by praising Bhutto for her courage in going back to Pakistan "because of her desire for leadership." Huckabee expressed his sympathy for her family and "our outrage" for this horrible act of violence.
Then he said something that, if it were said by a U.S. President, would severely damage our relations with Pakistan. He said that he thought it was "important" to ask of the Musharraf government what steps for security were taken, as well as to make sure there was no involvement from anyone in the existing government.
Now, of course we're all wondering who actually headed up the plot. So many groups and individuals might think Bhutto's death would benefit them. But when I speculate about such things -- or anyone in the press -- we're just the normal talking heads in a free press.
When a president speaks, however, it's a very different matter; and different, too, for a presidential candidate. The world watches and listens to our candidates, because one of them will almost certainly be president in a little over a year.
Why was Huckabee's statement so wretchedly dumb? Well, just imagine if, right after Robert Kennedy was murdered during the 1968 presidential primaries, the Charles DeGaulle had said, "We must ask the U.S. government what steps for security were taken, and we must make sure there was no involvement from anyone in the existing government."
That would have made headlines around the world, because it amounts to an accusation. The answer of almost everyone in America would have been, "Mind your own business! Who do you think you are!"
If Huckabee, as president, said such a thing, the whole world would see it as a declaration that the U.S. thought it had the right to meddle in the internal affairs of other countries. It would certainly unite the people of Pakistan in their resentment of the United States.
And thus it would seriously weaken Musharraf's ability to continue to cooperate with us in our operations in Afghanistan. No matter what you think of Musharraf, he's the guy in charge right now, and if we make it politically impossible for him to help us, our soldiers in Afghanistan -- and Karzai's democratically elected, friendly government -- would be put at grave risk.
In the world of diplomacy, words are actions. And Huckabee did the equivalent of setting off a stink bomb.
Then, just in case anybody had failed to realize that his candidacy is a joke, Huckabee made ludicrous statements about the need to secure our southern border against an influx of illegal Pakistani immigrants.
This man needs to buy a map of the world.
But he is not the worst. That position is reserved for our favorite cow-in-a-china-shop.
Hillary Clinton began by selling herself, as if we care that she has "known Bhutto for a dozen years." She gave us a bit of a history lesson, as if the press she was talking to didn't already have more information about Bhutto's family than Hillary. But of course she wasn't really talking about the slain leader -- she was talking about her only topic, Why Hillary Is Smart and Important.
Here's the truth: Hillary Clinton met Bhutto, of course, but when it was time for serious meetings during state visits, Hillary was sent out of the room. It would be an insult to the head of the Pakistani state, which is what Bhutto was for many of the years of the Clinton presidency, if the U.S. President kept his wife in the room during serious diplomatic discussions. I hope he never did such a thing.
And in her assertion of "knowing" Bhutto so well, is Hillary implying that during Bhutto's eight-year exile from Pakistan, Hillary was often on the phone with her, chatting about their kids? I think not.
But scamming about how well Hillary knew Bhutto is not the problem here. The problem is what she said next. Hillary claimed to grieve for Bhutto's two children and for the people of Pakistan, who "deserve to have an opportunity to vote for leaders of their choosing in a country that has tremendous potential that is not being realized because their system of government has oppressed the abilities and talents of millions of Pakistanis."
OK, that wasn't word for word, but it's a fair paraphrase.
If Hillary said that as president, it would be even more directly insulting to the current government of Pakistan than Huckabee's statement. Again: We depend on the help of that very government to operate our campaign in Afghanistan.
And did you see the irony here? Hillary has already promised to evacuate our soldiers from Iraq within sixty days of taking the oath of office. Apparently the people of Iraq do not "deserve to have an opportunity to vote for leaders of their choosing" and she doesn't care that they had a government -- Saddam's -- that was infinitely more oppressive than anything Musharraf has done.
So Clinton and Huckabee gave mortal insult to the government of Pakistan. Romney and Obama said nothing at all, but said it very presidentially. McCain clearly understood the situation and what the president should do.
Only Giuliani spoke with diplomatic finesse. Only Giuliani bothered to explain to the American people why Pakistan's stability matters so much: They have nukes, and we can't afford to let a terrorist-supporting government get control there.
That was day one. On day two, more information about the candidates' positions came to the fore.
John Edwards told CBS news that he had already talked with Musharraf after Bhutto was killed, insisting that "democratization in Pakistan must continue."
If anyone doubted Edwards was an empty suit, this maneuver proves it. Edwards not only talks to the head of a foreign nation as if he thinks he has some kind of authority or standing, he then brags about his own faux pas on national television!
Edwards, get a clue: Diplomacy does not take place in a courtroom, and you don't make demands on foreign heads of state unless you are about to back up your demand with an army. You express hopes, you don't insist -- especially to an ally with nuclear weapons, whose country is in turmoil, and who is juggling more power groups than you are capable of imagining.
Then the chief clown of the Senate, Joe Biden, weighed in by calling on President Bush to "re-orient" US policy away from Musharraf.
Oh, really? Then whom would we re-orient our policy toward? Musharraf is the head of government in Pakistan. Does he suggest we engineer a coup to get rid of him? Who does Biden think he is, Kennedy? And with Bhutto dead, which Pakistani politician does Biden think could immediately step in and do a better job than Musharraf at keeping the nukes out of the hands of the terrorists?
Or does Biden suggest we get Iran to help us with our war in Afghanistan? How many alternatives does he think the U.S. President has in that corner of the world?
But top honors for idiocy go to the Democratic frontrunners, Obama and Clinton.
Obama publicly declared that we should cut military aid to Pakistan until Musharraf "gets serious" about fighting Al-Qaeda.
Mr. Obama, at this moment it is Pakistan that is giving military aid to us. Don't you understand that? We are overflying their territory to get our troops in and out of Afghanistan. And the military aid we are giving them is precisely to help them control Taliban and Al-Qaeda.
But Musharraf cannot do much more than he's doing no matter how you clumsily and undiplomatically try to cudgel him into obedience to your infantile orders. He has to deal with powerful figures within Pakistan -- tribal leaders and warlords that he can't afford to go to war with. If Musharraf pushes them too hard, they will unite against him and throw him out of office.
Who would replace him then? Who would then be in control of Pakistan's nukes? Best guess: somebody who likes us less than Musharraf does, and somebody much weaker than Musharraf. How long before the nukes are in Al-Qaeda's or the Taliban's hands?
Add to that the absurd statements by Obama's top strategist, David Axelrod, claiming that it's because of the War in Iraq that Pakistan is suffering such unrest. Again, a man in need of a map. It's the war in Afghanistan -- you know, the war that Obama claims to approve of -- that is destabilizing Pakistan.
Of course, Obama's claim is that the Iraq War has "distracted" us from Afghanistan.
But this statement has always been idiotic, no matter who made it. The U.S. military has separate commanders in each country, whose full attention is devoted to their duties there. What do they think, that President Bush every now and then slaps his forehead and says, "Oh my gosh, I completely forgot about Afghanistan. Are we still fighting there, too?"
No matter whether we invaded Iraq or not, the Taliban would have fled across the border into Pakistan, taking their Arab Al-Qaeda allies with them. Pakistan would be exactly as destabilized. Iraq is irrelevant to what goes on in non-Arab Pakistan. Only Afghanistan matters there.
But the least presidential remarks came from, of course, the person who supposedly has the most experience and is ready to hit the ground running.
Apparently Bill kept Hillary out of the room when they were discussing what you do and don't say, even when running for President, when our troops depend on a foreign head of state for their supplies and passage in and out of a theater of war.
Hillary Clinton, on the second day, said that the Pakistani government under Musharraf had no credibility and that the assassination of Bhutto should be investigated by an international tribunal, like the UN investigation of the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Harriri.
But in the case of Lebanon, what they're investigating is Syria's involvement. So the Lebanese are cooperating with the investigation. In the case of Pakistan, any UN tribunal would be investigating the very government whose cooperation would be essential to even let them into the country!
Furthermore, there is no evidence that Musharraf or his government were complicit. Clinton is simply making wild accusations based on rumors and speculation. Serious presidential candidates don't do that. It's irresponsible and reckless and could have repercussions on the safety of American soldiers in the region.
Musharraf would not gain credibility by letting the UN investigate. Especially because he knows that it would instantly become a witch hunt against his government -- precisely because he has been cooperating with President Bush. Anyone with a brain knows that the UN is rife with enemies of the United States and therefore of anyone who helps us in the war.
Hillary Clinton and the other Democrats are so used to making wild, absurd accusations against President Bush that they actually think presidents can act that way toward heads of other governments.
Again, you see the irony: If President Bush really were the fascist that the Lunatic Left constantly accuses him of being, the Democratic candidates would be in jail -- or worse -- for their constant stream of libels and slanders against him. Instead, he rarely bothers to answer their foam-spitting rants. It's a free country, and idiots are allowed to say what they want to about public figures.
Obama and Huckabee have both made the additional suggestion that we should put American military personnel into action inside Pakistan, with or without Pakistan's permission, in order to deny Al-Qaeda and the Taliban their safe havens there.
This is the most tragic idiocy of all, whether a Republican or Democrat says it. That would be the surest way to unite all Pakistanis against America. Because it would constitute an invasion of an ally.
Have they forgotten what happened when U.S. forces under Nixon's orders entered Cambodia to deprive the Viet Cong of their safe havens there? That was what triggered the riot at Kent State, leading to the deaths of four students.
To send military forces into a foreign country without permission is an act of war. And if Musharraf gave permission, he would almost certainly be deposed or killed within days -- probably by people within his own military.
Back in August, in a Wall Street Journal interview, Benazir Bhutto herself was asked about Senator Obama's call for "unilateral U.S. military action in the tribal areas" of Pakistan. Her answer was to grimace and say, "I was disturbed by his comments. And I was disturbed because any unilateral attack will unite all Pakistanis together because they will see it as a threat against our country."
Pakistan is a sovereign nation! It has pride and patriotism! We do not need to make Pakistan into our sworn enemy!
In fact, America has a long history of cooperation with Pakistan. That is a precious resource, which all of the Democrats running for President, plus Huckabee, seem eager to throw away and turn into permanent enmity.
Where Does This Leave Me?
Until the assassination of Bhutto, I was still up in the air about my choice of candidate. I had hope for Obama -- I really would like to vote for a Presidential candidate from my own party.
But I am sickened by the spectacle of him and Hillary flinging accusations at each other when both of them have played politics with Bhutto's death, and both of them have spoken in ways that should absolutely disqualify them from ever having a hand in the foreign policy of the United States.
Huckabee has also proven himself to be, not a mere lightweight like Romney, but perniciously ignorant and clumsy. It would be dangerous to put our foreign policy into this man's hands. And he seems blithely unaware of what's wrong with his own statements.
But I have ample reasons for also disliking Giuliani, McCain, and Romney. Without belaboring them here, let me simply say this:
We are at war with an implacable enemy. Victory in Iraq or Afghanistan is not victory in the war. It will take years of relentless pursuit of our enemies to put an end to the evil of Islamic terrorism.
And we also have extremely dangerous rivals, if not enemies, in Russia and China. As Russia provides Iran with anti-missile defenses, specifically designed to shoot down American planes in the event we should need to take military action against Iran, it should be clear to us all that the so-called "end of history" and "peace dividend" were, to say the least, premature.
We need, above anything else, a president who can be trusted to be both careful and dogged in pursuing our foreign policy. The Democratic Party has no candidate fit to be trusted with our foreign policy in this dangerous world. And the Republican Party has only Rudy Giuliani who shows that he already understands how the job is done, with McCain as a decent second and Mitt Romney as a lightweight who might be able to learn the job, hopefully in time.
And that's what the assassination of Benazir Bhutto has shown -- to anyone willing to listen to what the candidates have been saying.
Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.