After the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, her former aide Husain Haqqani told Time magazine:
She was let down by those in Washington who think that sucking up to bad governments around the world is their best policy option.
As long chronicled here at LiberalOasis, the Bush Administration’s Pakistan policy had nothing to do with democracy, and not much to do with fighting Al Qaeda either.
It’s pure speculation who exactly was behind the assassination.
But it’s patently clear that a policy of propping up a dictator — including the attempt to keep Musharraf in power by shoehorning Bhutto into his government — did nothing to advance freedom and stability in Pakistan, nor our own national security.
It is also patently clear that Bush plans to continue his failed policy, if not make it worse.
The White House still puffs up Musharraf as a democratic leader.
Plus, the White House spokesperson yesterday talked of “strong lines of communication” with Pakistan’s General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, rumored to be a possible military strongman replacement if Musharraf cannot keep clinging to power.
Essentially, the White House signaled it is happy to work with this dictator or the next one — instead signaling it would work with whomever the Pakistani people choose to represent them in a free and fair election.
There was much pundit pontification yesterday regarding which US presidential candidates will benefits from the renewed focus on our unstable world, with the Beltway “wisdom” pointing towards candidates deemed to have foreign policy experience: Clinton and Biden for the Dems, McCain and Giuliani for the GOP.
Such analysis had little to do with the candidates actually had to say about foreign policy and Pakistan — just the general notion of “experience” (which, of course, Giuliani essentially has none.)
The voters should be able to hear what candidates have to say about the matter, then judge for themselves who is displaying experience and judgment.
For example, here’s what McCain had to say on Fox News yesterday: “I think we should be offering our support for the government as it is.”
Translation of McCain: More Musharraf please. He even said, “You may have to see martial law for a period of time.”
The allegedly experienced Giuliani had little to say about what he would to do with Pakistan policy, simply using Bhutto’s death as an opportunity to say: “We must redouble our efforts to win the Terrorists’ War on Us.”
On the Dem side, Clinton also said little of substance, though she took the opportunity to stress her personal interactions with her to give the veneer of foreign policy experience.
John Edwards, who like Clinton has expressed support for Musharraf, at least directly pressured Musharraf to allow an international investigation — a policy move recognizing the dictatorship cannot be trusted to get to the bottom of the murder.
It was Bill Richardson however who made the clearest statement about his foreign policy approach:
We must use our diplomatic leverage and force the enemies of democracy to yield: President Bush should press Musharraf to step aside, and a broad-based coalition government, consisting of all the democratic parties, should be formed immediately. Until this happens, we should suspend military aid to the Pakistani government. Free and fair elections must also be held as soon as possible.
Yet Richardson is not getting mentioned as an experienced candidate because he is going against Beltway “wisdom” that Musharraf must be tolerated as a linchpin of stability, despite all evidence to the contrary.
Biden also deserves some respect for his efforts to protect Bhutto’s safety earlier, and for having a well thought out Pakistan policy in place already — saying Congress would suspend military aid if Musharraf did not restore democracy.
Obama’s team chose to engage the experience debate by connecting the instability in Pakistan with Clinton’s vote to authorize the Iraq war.
On message, I suppose. But he would have been better served if he stressed his earlier willingness to break with Musharraf — before the dictator declared his state of emergency, and despite the scoffing from the Beltway and candidates like Clinton, Edwards and Chris Dodd.
He missed opportunity to show how he would fundamentally change our foreign policy, as Richardson and Biden did. He already laid down the groundwork, yet he chose not to highlight it yesterday.
The bottom line is Bhutto did not need explicit, personal upport from Washington.
She needed Washington to sincerely support democracy. She needed Bush to engage all parties in Pakistan, not pick and choose his favorites, undermine the Pakistani people’s will, and stoke chronic instability.
The Bushies had no interest in that. That’s how she was let down by Washington.
Candidates who want to show how experienced they are should think about taking the time to explain that to both the media and the voters, and explain how they would replaced this disastrously failed policy.
(updated slightly, 12/28, 10:30 AM ET)