The assassination of Pakistani politician Benazir Bhutto just days before that country’s January 8th elections dominated discussion on the campaign trail here in Iowa on Thursday. Many candidates sought to illustrate their grasp of foreign affairs with their comments on the situation in Pakistan.
Democrat Joe Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, quickly scheduled a news conference in Iowa. "I’m convinced that Mrs. Bhutto would have won a free and fair election. I think she would have won it solidly. I believe she would have won a majority," Biden said. "The fact is she was by far Pakistan’s most popular, most popular leader."
But it was former North Carolina Senator John Edwards who talked directly with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. "Urging him to continue to the path toward democratization, to allow international investigators to come in to determine what happened, what the facts were so that there will be transparency and credibility about what actually occurred," Edwards said during a telephone interview with Radio Iowa.
Bhutto was strong and courageous, according to Edwards, who met her at a conference a few years ago. "(Bhutto) talked about the path to democracy in Pakistan being baptized in blood, so she understood the extraordinary risk that she was taking by going back," Edwards said, "and this is a terrible tragedy for the people of Pakistan, but it’s important for America to be a calming influence and provide strength in this environment."
Republican presidential candidate John McCain opened his Thursday morning event in Des Moines with this sober assessment about Pakistan. "It’s a tense time. America’s national security interests are engaged and we’re going to have to devote a lot of effort to make sure that things don’t unravel in that country and in the surrounding areas," McCain said.
Former President Bill Clinton told an audience in Spencer that Bhutto’s death had "saddened" him and his wife, Hillary Clinton — the candidate. "It is a stark reminder that we dare not take our democracy for granted, that some people are prepared to die for that level of freedom which we just assume we get when you show up at the Iowa Caucus," Clinton said.
Republican candidate Fred Thompson said Bhutto’s death has created a "perfect storm" in Pakistan. "The question is can we preserve the movement toward democracy while still maintaining stability in that country because stability is extraordinarily important for a number of reasons, but the most important one is the fact that they are a country that possess nuclear weapons," Thompson said during an interview with Radio Iowa, "and we cannot let those fall into the wrong hands."
According to Thompson, Bhutto’s assassination is part of a "worldwide" attempt on the part of radical Islamists to bring about "the demise of the western world."
Democrat Chris Dodd used the situation to suggest his 26 years in the U.S. Senate are better preparation for the presidency than rival Barack Obama’s "soaring speeches" or Clinton’s time as first lady. "You’ve got a very unstable situation in Pakistan today. Benazir Bhutto was a remarkable leader, a very good friend of mine, in fact I spoke to her just a few weeks ago. She called when I was in Iowa, in fact, and she was in Pakistan and we’ve been emailing back and forth," Dodd said during an interview with Radio Iowa. "…So this is a loss of a friend but more importantly it’s a loss for Pakistan and the United States and the region."
Dodd contends the U.S. needs to do whatever it takes to "stabilize and neutralize" any unrest in Pakistan because of fears that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal could "fall into the wrong hands."
Democrat Barack Obama opened a speech in Des Moines on Thursday by saying American must make clear that it stands with the people of Pakistan who are seeking democracy and, "against the terrorists who threaten the common security of the world."