Speculation hard in wake of Bhutto

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 31, 2007

It was rather unseemly to hear all the talking heads on television speculating last week about how the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan would affect the Iowa caucuses three days from today. The chatter began before Bhutto’s body was even laid to rest a day after her murder Thursday.

But aided and abetted by various Democratic and Republican presidential hopefuls eager to tout their foreign policy and anti-terrorism qualifications, analyze, speculate and just plain guess.

And unseemly or not, the fact is the assassination of the former Pakistani two time prime minister, who had returned from eight years of exile to seek the office once more, and how the United States proceeds in its relationship with a suddenly very unstable Pakistan will be a legitimate concern for the next president and certainly has its place in the presidential selection process.

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The often-suspect conventional wisdom was that the volatile situation in Pakistan would push security issues to the forefront of voters’ concerns, both in Thursday’s Iowa caucuses and the flood of primaries and caucuses to come in the next few weeks, including the Alabama primary on Feb. 5, which, believe it or not, is now just 41 days away.

In the immediate aftermath of the assassination, Democratic candidates like New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, Delaware Sen. Joe Biden and former U.N. Ambassador Bill Richardson were quick to emphasize their personal relationships with Bhutto and experience in dealing with Pakistan and the vexing problems of the region surrounding it.

The cable news channels were happy to let everyone make his or her case, even dusting off old footage of Clinton and her daughter strolling with Bhutto and her children in a Pakistan garden while Bill Clinton was president and Bhutto was prime minister.

Edwards, meanwhile, upped the ante by revealing that he had called Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf only hours after the assassination and engaged in a frank and substantive conversation, while both Biden, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Richardson displayed nuanced understanding of the dangers we now face in Pakistan.