The Campaign Spot

Election-driven news and views . . . by Jim Geraghty.

Doubting Any Bhutto Impact on Upcoming Caucus and Primaries


William Beutler asks, “Will this resurrect terrorism as an issue in the U.S. presidential election?”

John Podhoretz writes the assassination “is a sobering and frightening reminder of the challenges and threats and dangers posed to the United States by radical Islam, the nature of the struggle being waged against the effort to extend democratic freedoms in the Muslim world, and the awful possibility of a nuclear Pakistan overrun by Islamofascists. This is what the next president will be compelled by circumstance to spend a plurality of his or her time on. This is what really matters, not the cross Mike Huckabee lit up behind his head in his Christmas ad. American politics would dearly love to take a holiday from history, just as it did in the 1990s. But our enemies are not going to allow us to do so.”

Ah, but will it wake Iowans and New Hampshire-ites?

It ought to, but I’m not sure that it will. I discussed last week how Iowa has few military bases, defense contractors, etc. and has always had something of a pacifist or isolationist streak; national security issues just don’t resonate in that state the way that economic and social issues do there. New Hampshire isn’t terribly different; I recall a high-level Republican official in that state telling me in summer 2004 that the war on terror just didn’t move voters in his neck of the woods; it was a faraway issue.

We’ve seen the war in Iraq get less coverage as the monthly death rate for U.S. troops declined, and the war fade as a top issue among voters, a topic addressed less frequently in candidates’ remarks. And that’s an actual shooting war with American troops fighting and dying.

And the assassination of a foreign figure not recognized by many caucusgoers or primary voters is going to suddenly be a resonating issue?

Let me preface this with the usual caveats that terrorists can strike just about anywhere and just about anytime, but there are certain places in this country that seem more likely to be terrorist targets than others. New York City and Washington, D.C. are brimming with high-value targets, and big cities offer a lot of victims in a compressed space. As luck would have it, neither of the first two states to select our president has a particularly large city in it. New Hampshire has the Seabrook nuclear power plant, but beyond that, seems sparse in terms of high-profile terrorist targets.

The other reason we won’t see the following days become dominated by foreign policy discussions is that few of the candidates have radically differing policies regarding Pakistan. The country’s a mess, and no candidate thinks they have a silver bullet. (Perhaps Ron Paul will pledge to not intervene.) Primary choices are about contrast, and right now, none of these candidates have a policy proposal for dealing with Pakistan or al-Qaeda in that region that differs greatly from one another, or from the Bush administration, for that matter.

They all boil down to, “We hope to not have to use military force, and hope Pakistan will take action in the tribal regions, and we will urge them to do so, and pressure them to do so, and if necessary we will take action, but hope to get approval from their government, but if we don’t, and the value of the target is high enough, and if we feel it is worth the risk, then we will, maybe, but we don’t want to say what circumstances would warrant that…”

UPDATE: I stand corrected; Bill Richardson just staked out a position distinct from the rest of the field by calling for Musharaff’s resignation.

“Benazir Bhutto was a courageous woman. Her death, and the deaths of so many of her supporters, is more than just a tragedy. It is a testament to the will of the Pakistani people to see democracy restored. My thoughts and prayers are with the families of those who died today.

“Ms. Bhutto knew the dangers to her safety. But she would not be intimidated. We also must not be intimidated.

A leader has died, but democracy must live. The United States government cannot stand by and allow Pakistan’s return to democracy to be derailed or delayed by violence.

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.

It is in the interests of the US that there be a democratic Pakistan that relentlessly hunts down terrorists. Musharraf has failed, and his attempts to cling to power are destabilizing his country. He must go.”

Of course, this means Richardson will not only not be Hillary’s running mate, but he will not get to be her Secretary of State. If Musharraf is still in power in January 2009, it would be awkward for the Clinton administration to send Richardson to negotiate with the Pakistani leader when their representative has already called for him to be removed from power.

Tags: Barack Obama , Bill Richardson , Chris Dodd , Fred Thompson , Hillary Clinton , Horserace , Joe Biden , John Edwards , John McCain , Mike Huckabee , Mitt Romney , Newt Gingrich , Rudy Giuliani , Sarah Palin , Something Lighter , Tommy Thompson


Subscribe to National Review