Foreign Policy Obama Pakistan Politics The War on Terrorism

Pakistani Power Politics

For those of you paying attention, President Pervez Musharraf, who has been rulingBenazir Bhutto Pakistan for the past eight years, won the presidential election in a landslide yesterday despite being weakened by all sides by domestic insurgencies, international opprobrium, and several constitutional and other crises. He won because of a last-minute deal he struck with the exiled leader.

The alliance is one that seems destined to fall apart, as Bhutto and Musharaff detest one another and represent two very different Pakistans. Bhutto will be entering the country in the next few days, with all charges against her dropped. She has already publicly declared that her life will be in danger by returning–whether from the Islamic militants who despise her or the current president, she did not say.

But let me spin this back to how this affects the race for president of the free world. As most people know, a few months ago, Senator Barack Obama made some comments about Pakistan in a foreign policy speech:

Let me make this clear. There are terrorists holed up in those mountains who murdered 3,000 Americans. They are plotting to strike again. It was a terrible mistake to fail to act when we had a chance to take out an al-Qaida leadership meeting in 2005. If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won’t act, we will. [my highlighting]

Bhutto, speaking at a public session before the Council on Foreign Relations responded:

Well, I wouldn’t like the United States to violate Pakistan’s sovereignty with unauthorized military operations. But the issue that I would like to stress is that Barack Obama also said, if Pakistan won’t act. And that’s the critical issue, that the government has to act. And the government has to act to protect Pakistan’s own serenity and integrity, its own respect, and to understand that if it creates a vacuum, then others aren’t going to just twiddle their thumbs while militants freely move across the border. [my highlighting]

Now let me highlight the significance of that: the former Prime Minister of Pakistan and current power broker in that country seems to believe that Senator Obama’s position is defensible–for America to violate her own country’s sovereignty. Senator Clinton on the other hand, does not engage in hypotheticals because that would reveal her thinking, her calculations and blasted Obama for his “irresponsible” remarks.

My question is: why didn’t Obama engage with Clinton–or anyone–more heavily on this issue, which ended up being talked up as a gaffe rather than a considered position?

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