Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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December 27, 2007

MAKING THE MOST OF A TRAGEDY....I hesitate to use the word "shameless," but to see presidential campaigns exploit the Bhutto assassination for partisan gain is more than a little disconcerting.

Josh Marshall noted, "The leading Dem candidates for president appear to be in a pitched battle to make the most craven and insipid uses of the Bhutto assassination for immediate political advantage. A true horse race."

I think that's certainly true, but I'd add that it's not just Democrats.

In response to a question from CNN's Dana Bash on whether the current situation helps his campaign, McCain responded: "I'm the one with the experience, the knowledge and the judgment, so perhaps it may serve to enhance those credentials, or make people understand that I've been to Waziristan, I know Musharraf, I can pick up the phone and call him. I knew Benazir Bhutto, I know the area. But I hate for anything like this to be the cause of any political gain for anyone." (emphasis added)

Translation: "Once I'm done exploiting the tragedy, it's important to note how wrong it is to exploit the tragedy."

Paul Krugman has some helpful advice to the entire field of presidential hopefuls:

To all the presidential campaigns trying to claim that the atrocity in Pakistan somehow proves that they have the right candidate -- please stop.

This isn't about you; in fact, as far as I can tell, it isn't about America. It's about the fact that Pakistan is a very messed-up place. This has very bad consequences for us, but it's hard to see what, if anything, it says about US policy.... This isn't about us, and it's out of our control.

Atrios added, "When your first reaction to an event like this is to tell voters what you think it says about you, it's time to get off the campaign trail for a few minutes."

Steve Benen 5:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (40)

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Comments

Bhutto's death reminds me of how September 11 reminds me of all those years I spent in Viet Nam as a prisoner of war.

Posted by: Ross Best on December 27, 2007 at 5:31 PM | PERMALINK

To the slight defense of the candidates, if they took a "no comment" approach to questions about the assassination, they would risk being labeled as "unsure in times of crisis" and "not ready for prime time." I am not necessarily defending the messages chose, but the general rule of thumb appears to be that a successful campaign must rapidly define all emerging story lines. So, if crisis is erupting in Pakistan, you must have a plan of action to make the public think you are the type of person who would best deal with the crisis.

The whole campaign process is completely insane. If disaster can strike a campaign if its candidate chooses the cheese he likes for a cheese steak sandwich, the laws of reason clearly do not apply to campaigns.

Posted by: Chuck S. on December 27, 2007 at 5:33 PM | PERMALINK

The 'all about me' tone is not true for John Edwards. Josh has made this clear: http://talkingpointsmemo.com/archives/062115.php. I agree with Chuck S. that is IS appropriate for presidential candidates to respond in the event of an international crisis. What they should NOT do is use the event to denigrate their rivals.

Posted by: MaryLou on December 27, 2007 at 5:45 PM | PERMALINK

What Chuck S. said.

Posted by: F. Frederson on December 27, 2007 at 5:46 PM | PERMALINK

Just like I said in my comment to the last post: McCain is a deft practitioner of the Roveian Dark Arts. He knows how to play the Republicun game of obfuscating his own defects by projecting them on his opponents. Hence, the political opportunist preemptively accuses his opponents of political opportunism. Damn, he's good.

Posted by: CT on December 27, 2007 at 5:48 PM | PERMALINK

It's true that no one should try to exploit this for political gain, but back up a minute. The piece you cite on McCain has McCain responding to a direct question 'on whether the current situation helps his campaign'. One of the pieces TPM cites had an adviser responding to a similar question.

It's one thing to put out a press release touting how you are the best candidate to respond to an event such as this. It's another to give a response when asked a direct question about whether it helps your campaign. While both actions are inappropriate, I believe that only the former qualifies as "exploiting a tragedy".

Posted by: David Bailey on December 27, 2007 at 5:49 PM | PERMALINK

Ah, Kevin.

Krugman, once again, is laughably wrong.

THe pakistan assasination has everything to do with the United States. Pakistan is central to our interests in teh ME. Until this assasination attempt, it was exhibiting signs of moving to democracy, much like in Lebanon, Iraq, the West Bank and throught the ME. Pakistan was another showcase of Bush policy. That's why it was so important for AQ to try to destabilize it, to try to stick it in the President's eye. Now we have to see what happens.

Posted by: egbert on December 27, 2007 at 5:52 PM | PERMALINK

Yeah, I find the idea of milking Bhutto's assassination for political gain repugnant, as is the parade of bloviating pundits trying to predict which candidate or party this event will benefit.

But really, this kind of thinking comes as no surprise to the rest of us (that is to say non-Americans) & we're hardly surprised by it. It's always all about you, innit? It's about how some catastrophic event, half a world away, will impact domestic events in the US.

Even in the ongoing US coverage of the Iraq "war", it's almost always about how it impacts the US -- length of US military involvement, cost to the US taxpayer, lost or shattered US military lives, how a politician's postition on the war will affect their campaign, etc.

I can't imagine the daily hell that the average Iraqi/Afghani family lives through, but thanks to the US main-stream medai, I don't have to...

Posted by: raff on December 27, 2007 at 5:56 PM | PERMALINK

After reading several articles about candidates reactions to the assasination, I found this piece in The Guardian interesting:

Alone among the White House contenders, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson called on President Bush to pressure Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to step aside in favor of a coalition government.

``Until this happens, we should suspend military aid to the Pakistani government,'' he said in a statement. ``Free and fair elections must also be held as soon as possible,'' added Richardson, who served as ambassador to the United Nations for a portion of the Clinton administration.

So, while the rest of the field was busy analyzing how the event affected their candidacy, Richardson reacted to the event itself. I don't know that I agree with the course of action that he advocates, but at least he had an inkling of a plan and showed himself ready to respond.

Posted by: majun on December 27, 2007 at 6:04 PM | PERMALINK

ah egbert,

you truly are a moron. otherwise, you would have noticed kevin didn't post this.

Posted by: mudwall jackson on December 27, 2007 at 6:08 PM | PERMALINK

there is a difference between commenting on the assassination and commenting on how a particular candidate is better suited to handle the situation. using it for political advantage truly is wrong.

Posted by: mudwall jackson on December 27, 2007 at 6:12 PM | PERMALINK

The worst comment by far came from Guiliani:

"The assassination of Benazir Bhutto is a tragic event for Pakistan and for democracy in Pakistan. Her murderers must be brought to justice and Pakistan must continue the path back to democracy and the rule of law. Her death is a reminder that terrorism anywhere — whether in New York, London, Tel-Aviv or Rawalpindi — is an enemy of freedom. We must redouble our efforts to win the Terrorists' War on Us."
Posted by: Disputo on December 27, 2007 at 6:12 PM | PERMALINK

The 'all about me' tone is not true for John Edwards.

Riiight. He just called up Mush to talk about the weather.

Posted by: Disputo on December 27, 2007 at 6:14 PM | PERMALINK

ah egbert,
you truly are a moron. otherwise, you would have noticed kevin didn't post this.

Also, considering that Pakistan is in South Asia, and not the Middle East, egbert's vast ignorance encompasses geography.

Posted by: DJ on December 27, 2007 at 6:15 PM | PERMALINK

Majun,

So that was the "impulsive illogic of Bill Richardson" that Andrew Sullivan talked about?

Posted by: Fighting Words on December 27, 2007 at 6:48 PM | PERMALINK

Also, considering that Pakistan is in South Asia, and not the Middle East, egbert's vast ignorance encompasses geography.
Posted by: DJ

egbert stayed home from school the day they covered middle eastern geography.

oh wait, he was home-schooled. o.k., his mother stayed home from school they covered middle eastern geography.

your pal,
blake

Posted by: blake on December 27, 2007 at 6:51 PM | PERMALINK

Bullshit. This is a totally political issue Steve and because of our links with the Pakistanis, this is an important political issue in our race. What does this do to the elections? What does this do to Mushariff? What happens if order completely breaks down there with the nukes? Do our soldiers do anything from Afghanistan? Can they? Should they? How would the candidates deal with the various possible scenarios that could result in Pakistan? Krugs is dead wrong when he says it's not about US policy.

These are salient, timely and urgent political questions and for you to pretend otherwise is naive and blind or dishonest.

So far I've seen none of the candidates saying anything substantive other than "It sucks she died" and since it's the first day, I'll give 'em a pass but we'd better see something by Monday.

Posted by: MNPundit on December 27, 2007 at 6:51 PM | PERMALINK

NPR had a piece this evening where a friend of Bhutto read email from her saying if she died she thought it was the work of Pakistani intelligence.

NPR.org

Posted by: slanted tom on December 27, 2007 at 6:54 PM | PERMALINK

I have to agree with some of the above comments. If a candidate is asked a stupid question can we criticize them giving stupid answer? Of course I would hope that any of them, GOP or Dem, would have the intelligence to say something.... intelligent (?) but this is American politics we're talking about. That place where politicians make outrageous claims and than make outrageous corrections and unbelievable excuses and/or apologies.

Posted by: kevin T on December 27, 2007 at 7:12 PM | PERMALINK

India comes out looking good in all of this. Born at the same time as Pakistan with similar issues and problems on a much larger scale, it managed to let Democracy thrive through uncertain times. And it is now reaping the benefits of its commitment to democracy.

Why can't US politicians do the right thing and recognize Pakistan for the evil it is? Why are they still sucking up to a dictator of a country that trades in nuclear weapons, hosts the terrorists that hit us on 9/11 etc? If Republicans are so tough on the terrorists who brought us 9/11, why are they not threatening the dictator of Pakistan with the same fate they were so eager to let Saddam suffer. Whatever danger Iraq/Saddam posed pales in comparison to what Pakistan/Busharraf poses.

Posted by: rational on December 27, 2007 at 7:25 PM | PERMALINK

Fighting words,

I wouldn't call Richardson's reaction, or choice of US action to be impulsive or illogical. Pakistan has survived for over fifty years as a military dictatorship, whether up-front under Ayub Khan or Pervez Musharraf, or with a weak, ostensible parliamentary democracy fronting for military that called the shots under both Bhuttos and Nawaz Sharif. But they have always owed that survival to US largesse. Through most of the cold war Pakistan was our number two client state after Israel for military hardware. First, with India asserting her stubborn independence on the sub-continent, mostly by dealing with Russia in the economic sphere, Washington was eager to remain a player in the region and Pakistan was the only other game in town. Later, with Russia in Afghanistan, Pakistan (mainly the ISI), was the logical conduit for our aid to Afghan mujihadeen. And the ISI had a distinct fondness for the most religious of those groups, so we eventually ended up with Al Qaeda and the Taliban, both nurtured by ISI with US dollars. So, now with those groups resurgent in the tribal areas along the Afghan border, what is so illogical about pulling the plug on the Pakistan military unless they make a real move toward democracy? If handled right (certainly not the way Bush would handle it), there could be something positive that comes out of a military embargo. But it can't be just the US. The Pakistan military would have to really feel the bite.

It is a real crap shoot, one that can't be a bluff, because the Pakistan military will try to call. Which is the reason that I would think long and hard before supporting such a move. You don't want to push them into nuclear brinksmanship.

Posted by: majun on December 27, 2007 at 7:29 PM | PERMALINK

I'm not saying we own a piece of the situation in Pakistan, because that is an intrinsically unprovable proposition. I think it could be proven that we have TRIED to own a piece of it. We'd be in a better position if we hadn't.

All we can say now, and what all the Democratic candidates ought to be saying unanimously, is that this is what comes of using other peoples for scenery in elaborate allegories of our own domestic factional infighting. People get whacked: real live people with faces and names, sometimes even ones with whom we were trying to identify common interests!

The "War on Terror" is not about terror. It is not about Islam. It is not about Osama bin Laden. It is not about Afghanistan or Iraq or Iran or Pakistan. It is not about oil. It is not about Russia or China. It is not about geopolitics. It is an American civil war that is being pursued by proxy on other people's backs, using their countries as stages and props. And it is time we hung our heads in shame and got the Hell out of there and came home and started fighting it out honestly amongst ourselves.

Posted by: Frank Wilhoit on December 27, 2007 at 7:30 PM | PERMALINK

I normally find Krugman to be a nasty and arrogant partisan, but he is on the money with this one.

Posted by: brian on December 27, 2007 at 7:39 PM | PERMALINK

It is a real crap shoot, one that can't be a bluff, because the Pakistan military will try to call. Which is the reason that I would think long and hard before supporting such a move. You don't want to push them into nuclear brinksmanship.

Pakistani military already engaged in nuclear brinkmanship when they threatened to use nuclear weapons as Musharraf's ill conceived, illegal incursion into India (1999 Kargil war) was thoroughly repulsed by India. Pakistani military already engaged in nuclear brinkmanship when they traded nuclear weapons technology, trying to sell technology to whoever was willing to pay for it.

Pakistan's military already proved to be an unreliable partner. Time to kick their butt and show them the door. Militaries know nothing about democracy and about being constructive. They are strictly hierarchical, paranoid organizations and it is foolish to expect them to pave way for a democracy. Which is why real democracies have elected civilians controlling their militaries, not the other way around.

Posted by: rational on December 27, 2007 at 7:44 PM | PERMALINK

When you quote atrios as a legitimate source of insight, then it is time to take a "time-out" and stop bloggin' for a few minutes.

If I wanted some "poo-poo" snark and immature banter without any meamingful context or comments, then I'd go read the self-proclaimed kingpin in "liberal" politics - patent bullcrap, but a tight little circle of links, isn't it.

Posted by: little bear on December 27, 2007 at 8:09 PM | PERMALINK

To what extent Kargil involved any real nuclear brinkmanship on the part of Pakistan is questionable to say the least. Having tested their first atomic weapon just the year before, and with India more than twenty years ahead, with proven delivery capabilities, Musharraf's claim in his autobiography that Pakistan didn't have a delivery capability at that time, is probably the truth. At any rate, Sharif's ordering the army to stand down is probably what led to his downfall.

And A Q Khan wasn't nuclear brinkmanship, it was international nuclear outlawry, that Bush, being the mental midget that he is and the paper tiger that everyone in the international community believes him to be, let Khan get away with it, allowing Musharraf to give him a gentle slap on the wrist so as not to upset his fan base throughout the country. Allowing the illegal sale of nuclear technology to so many rogue nations without any serious consequences may end up being the most serious mistake of Bush's ill-fated Presidency.

But things are different now. Pakistan is sure to have a reliable delivery system for what is certainly a stockpile of nuclear warheads and is probably prepared to trade blow for blow with India. I wouldn't be surprised if our military hasn't given the Pakistanis some important missile technology to help them along. Bush is really that stupid.

Posted by: majun on December 27, 2007 at 8:16 PM | PERMALINK

"I normally find Krugman to be a nasty and arrogant partisan" -brian

Proving how abnormal you are.

And whatever happened to 'shrill?'

Posted by: Joey Giraud on December 27, 2007 at 8:23 PM | PERMALINK

Mission Accomplished (after several embarrassing attempts).

I'm sure Bush is "shocked, shocked" to discover yet another "unfortunate" negative externality to backing a dictator like Musharraf: the political assassination of opposition candidates.

It doesn't really matter whether Musharraf was behind the attack or whether the attack was planned and executed entirely by Muslim extremists who are sympathetic to al Qaida, it all ends up being a foreseeable consequence of Bush's foreign policy.

Bush supported Musharraf, and Musharraf maintained a longstanding truce with tribes in the NW province that provided safe haven to 'exiled" members of al Qaida and the Taliban like ObL.

Bush allowed ObL to escape Afghanistan into Pakistan and was in no rush to have Pakistan hunt down and destroy al Qaida because, well, they needed a bogeyman to justify the war in Iraq and the never ending war in terror in general. Remember, Bush also had a chance to take out al Qaida's #1 man in Iraq BEFORE the war started, but obviously they weren't going to eliminate their one plausible if not highly attenuated connection between 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq, which they had been planning (according to former Secretary of the Treasury Paul O'Neil) from literally the first time the cabinet met.

Benazir Bhutto threatened Musharraf's hold on power and promised, if she got into power, to hunt down and destroy al Qaida in Pakistan (where Musharraf would not). So both groups wanted her dead.

While it may be safe to assume Bush did not want Bhutto dead, he certainly helped support if not actually create the environment that inevitably led to today's assassination. It should also be noted that Bush's comparatively muted reaction to the first attempt on Bhutto's life showed a certain level of indifference, which Musharraf may be forgiven for having interpreted as a green light for follow up attempts). Even assuming Musharraf's hands are completely clean, he didn't exactly make any bold and public efforts to hunt down and punish the groups who were responsible for the first attempts (which they might also have seen as something of a green light).

By now of course it's all out Bush's control. He coddled camera-friendly monsters like Musharraf out of short term expedience rather than principle, and helped to set back the cause of Democracy in the region even further, putting further lie to his stated 'excuses of the week' for why we invaded Iraq in the first place.

There is blood on Bush's hands. But no one in American politics is brave enough to say so. Nor will anyone dare state the obvious consequences to US interests in the region. If you can't speak the truth when tragedies like this or 9/11 occur, with consequences that ripple throughout the world, you really don't have any business running for US president.

I'm guessing none of this lot, save possibly Richardson, will have words that match the consequences of the occasion rather than what will appropriately concerned, but not too smart or committal to the provincial audiences in Iowa who don't really know or care what havoc US foreign policy can cause in the world.

Posted by: Augustus on December 27, 2007 at 8:28 PM | PERMALINK

on edit:

I'm guessing none of this lot, save possibly Richardson, will have words that match the consequences of the occasion; rather we'll get comments that will sound appropriately concerned (but not too smart or committal) for the provincial audiences in Iowa who don't really know or care what havoc US foreign policy can cause in the world.

Posted by: Augustus on December 27, 2007 at 8:33 PM | PERMALINK

Majun,

I should have been more clear in my intentions. On Andrew Sullivan's website, he cites another link (from Captain's Quarters, or something like that) criticizing Bill Richardson's response. He also, snarkily, says this guy (Ed Morrissey) "rightly sneers" at Bill Richardson's response. My sarcasm was entirely directed at the Andrew Sullivan response, NOT towards you or Bill Richardson.

Now, I don't entirely disagree with Richardson's two points: 1) forcing fair elections, and 2) suspending military aid. Regarding 1, I do think that we should encourgage fair elections. We have forced several other countries to have fair elections. I just think that what everyone is worried about is that the Pakistanis will elect an Islamist president. Regarding 2, I agree with you that, if done right, cutting military funds to Pakistan can be beneficial to everyone.

Posted by: Fighting Words on December 27, 2007 at 8:40 PM | PERMALINK

Presidential candidates have no choice but to comment on these events. When important overseas events occur, such as a major assassination in a turbulent nuclear-armed country, the public is naturally going to look for leadership from those who aspire to lead the country. They are also going to evaluate the candidates' responses for signs of good and bad judgment. It's not a question of "exploiting" the assassination, but rather of being willing to step up and be heard on what is obviously a very important issue.

Posted by: Dan Kervick on December 27, 2007 at 9:03 PM | PERMALINK

Of course candidates and their spokespeople are going to respond and media are going to yap about how this event benefits those candidates with supposed better foreign policy credentials. Amazingly Giuliani's claims to foreign policy experience have never been questioned or debunked by the media. Answering reporters questions is not shameless exploitation.

http://www.politico.com/blogs/bensmith/1207/Obamas_Pakistan_spin.html

An unstable Pakistan is a threat to the region and the world, Krugman has lost all credibility to comment on the election.

Posted by: noexpert on December 27, 2007 at 9:10 PM | PERMALINK

what should have been said by someone is this:

the crime scene should be secured and preserved.

pinky's body should be secured for an investigation by a team of forensic pathologists

all the other bodies should be secured and preserved for an investigation by a team of forensic pathologists.

all in the immediate vicinity should be secured so that their hands can be subjected to nitrate analysis.

my guess is that pinky was shot by one of those very close to her. who, unlike lee, will have nitrate residue all over his/her hand[s].

it is also my guess that the round[s] was/were fired from very close range[less than 10 ft] and that any straight-forward forensic analysis will reveal that.

if there was no effort to secure the site as a crime scene. if there has been no effort to conduct a forensic autopsy, then you can be assured that the gangster general ordered the hit, that individuals supposedly very close to pinky, within her entourage, were the perps.

you might also want to consider that the bushits seduced pinky into returning so as to terminate her with extreme prejudice.

Posted by: albertchampion on December 28, 2007 at 1:01 AM | PERMALINK

All of the presidential candidates' reactions illustrate exactly the United States is hated around the world. A political candidate in geopolitically important country is assassinated, and the immediate reaction from all candidates of both parties is an unabashed, how can I exploit this death and chaos to my personal and political advantage? Not one of them seems seriously concerned about the consequences to Pakistan, its people, or the world community at large. Just--how can I make this benefit me?

Posted by: Helena Montana on December 28, 2007 at 4:50 AM | PERMALINK

How hard would it be for a candidate to say something like, "This is a tragedy for the people of Pakistan and for the Bhutto family and the family of all of the victims. It is not about me or my campaign. It is wrong for any of us to try to benefit from this woman's death. This is not about us. It is about the people of Pakistan and the future of the nation of Pakistan. Trying to make it about which candidate will benefit is narcissistic and morally disgusting."

Posted by: Reality Man on December 28, 2007 at 6:49 AM | PERMALINK

Yes, we should remember Bhutto, first women president of a Muslim country and learn more about a country with plenty of secular and tolerant people, the crude rush by would be Presidents to exploit her memory is pretty shocking

Posted by: Derek Wall on December 28, 2007 at 7:48 AM | PERMALINK

"This is a tragedy for the people of Pakistan and for the Bhutto family and the family of all of the victims. It is not about me or my campaign."

You've touched on something that I've found quite disturbing for several years now: The way the US talks about and writes about the third world (actually anybody else) as though they were nothing but house pets that can be groomed and altered as needed, if we only had the will to make the necessary changes. This is an extension of the post-WWII meddling with foreign governments taken to new absurd heights with the involvement of cable TV pundits, etc. When are we ever going to focus on getting our own house in order?

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on December 28, 2007 at 11:04 AM | PERMALINK

Given that the U.S. relations with Pakistan already had been a point of contention in the Democractic candidate race, and they are currently a key ally of the U.S., it's impossible for candidates not to comment on this.

Personally, I want them to comment on this, and if they can comment on what they believe could be the impact of Bhutto's death, and how they would proceed if they were president, I think they should do so. To do otherwise is to essentially ignore the elephant in the room.

Posted by: Quinn on December 28, 2007 at 10:37 PM | PERMALINK

To expect no comments from American politicians would be silly, it is the content of the comments generally that is at issue here. Perhaps defining to the American public just exactly what "the elephant in the room is" would be more enlightening.

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on December 28, 2007 at 10:59 PM | PERMALINK

By far the worst comment is from Obama, saying HRC's vote for teh wah caused the assassination, while he was against it in kindergarten.

Posted by: Ron Cantrell on December 29, 2007 at 10:02 AM | PERMALINK
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