If this is a time of policy and not politics — prove it. Work together.
Pakistan is in confusion about its future — and whether we want to admit it or not — America has real stakes in the course Pakistan takes and very, very few options in affecting that course.
So far, most of the candidates have been beating each other up over what they would do if in the White House and confronted with something as shocking and potentially pivotal as the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.
There is no silver bullet fix to the Pakistan problem — which is tied to Iraq, to 9/11, to the unresolved, hemorrhaging ulcer of Israel/Palestine relations, to a growing Saudi-Iran Cold War in the Middle East, to its own pretensions as a great state and its inability to convince the totality of Pakistani citizens that modernity will move them forward in ways they want.
I’m of the opinion that this is a time when good policy work is needed, and strategy — not politics. But we are now in a time of politics and not policy — as a friend told me recently.
General Wesley Clark has echoed my statement that Bhutto’s death is not a time for politics — but it’s clear that all parties in all the campaigns are engaged in one-upmanship. Clark wants all to take the high road, but that in and of itself is political.
David Axelrod blew it in my view yesterday with his assertion that Clinton bore responsibility for Bhutto’s assassination. We all are complicit then. The Dems have been complicit in continuing to empower the President to do what he will in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The real culprit in the war and the mess in the Middle East and South Asia is George W. Bush’s national security team.
But Clark in a statement below calls for leadership, but what would leadership look like?
General Wesley Clark stated today:
This is a time for leadership, not politics. Senator Obama’s campaign seems to believe that Senator Clinton’s actions led to the tragic events in Pakistan. This is an incredible and insulting charge. It politicizes a tragic event of enormous strategic consequence to the United States and the world, and it has no place in this campaign.
There is no doubt that Clark’s statement is itself politically motivated — but what if decent leaders who would put aside politics hijacked this statement and made something of it?
I think it would be interesting for someone like Joe Biden and Chris Dodd — who really do know this situation in Pakistan well — called on Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, Barack Obama, Bill Richardson, and whomever would join from the Republican side to discuss collectively a sensible strategy for the US to take given the potential consequences of Bhutto’s murder.
They all want to try and differentiate themselves from each other in this political marketplace — but coalescing even minimally in a serious discussion and “encounter” with an informed, diverse set of regional and national security experts would show that these candidates could put the nation’s interest before their own ambitions.
Bhutto’s assassination may trigger more ahead. Clark is right that this is not something to drive a political vehicle with — but saying that is not enough.
Who is going to call for a credible discussion on the options America needs to consider in the region.
I think, if asked, most of the candidates would have to accept — and there is an easily assembled list of smart analysts and Pakistan watchers who could be publicly called on to share their expertise.
That would be leadership.
— Steve Clemons