Coincidentally, both The New York Times and The Washington Post ran stories about how the suddenness of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto was a sort of pop quiz on foreign policy for the presidential candidates. The Times called it “a ghoulish sort of test: a chance to project leadership and competence – or not – on a fast-moving and nuanced foreign policy issue.” For the WaPo, the bottom line was: “Could they respond cogently and clearly to a sudden foreign policy crisis?” Here’s how they graded the candidates:

† Sen. Joseph Biden (D-DE): “[T]ried to sound presidential as he expressed concern about loose nuclear weapons in Pakistan, and he also emphasized his foresight by noting that he had long called Pakistan ‘the most dangerous nation on the planet.’” [The Times]

† Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY): “[A]ssert[ed] … personal expertise … private conversations with Bhutto and [Pervez] Musharraf … visits to Pakistan and … concerns about fallout affecting the nation’s nuclear arsenal to the hunt for Osama bin Laden. … [C]alled for an independent investigation into Bhutto’s death.” [The Times]

“[S]erious and substantive. … [R]ightly cited ‘the failure of the Musharraf regime either to deal with terrorism or to build democracy,’ adding that ‘it’s time that the United States sided with civil society in Pakistan.’” [WaPo]

† Fmr. Sen. John Edwards D-NC): “[P]assed with flying colors. … [M]anaged not only to get Musharraf on the phone Thursday but also to deliver a strong message … “to continue on the path to democratization [and] to allow international investigators to come in and determine what happened, what the facts were.” [WaPo]

† Fmr. Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R-NY): “[T]hin. … anodyne … slogans about fighting terrorism or ‘jihadism’ while avoiding serious comment about Pakistan.” [WaPo]

† Fmr. Gov. Mike Huckabee (R-AR): “Found himself on the defensive on Friday, trying to clarify earlier remarks in which he said the chaos in Pakistan underscored the need to build a fence on the American border with Mexico, and that ‘any unusual activity of Pakistanis coming into the country.’” [The Times]

“[F]lunked abysmally. … [A]ppeared not to know that Musharraf had ended ‘martial law’ two weeks ago. … The cynicism of this attempt to connect Pakistan’s crisis with anti-immigrant sentiment was compounded by its astonishing senselessness.” [WaPo]

† Sen. John McCain (R-AZ): “[A]ssert[ed] … personal expertise … private conversations with Bhutto and Musharraf … visits to Pakistan and … concerns about fallout affecting the nation’s nuclear arsenal to the hunt for Osama bin Laden. … [S]ought to convey leader-to-leader chemistry when he called Musharraf a ‘personally scrupulously honest” man who deserved “the benefit of the doubt” on uniting Pakistan.’” [The Times]

“[S]erious and substantive.” [WaPo]

† Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL): “[T]ried to sound like both a leader and a candidate on Pakistan on Friday. At one point, he said he would suspend some military aid to Pakistan if the government did not hold free elections and clamp down on terrorist groups. At another point, though, he suggested that the war in Iraq – which his rivals Clinton, Edwards and others had voted for – had ‘resulted in us taking our eye off the ball’ in pursuing Al Qaeda and bringing stability to the region.” [The Times]

“[C]ommitted an ugly foul. … a far-fetched attempt to connect the killing of Bhutto with Clinton’s vote on the war in Iraq. … [M]ade the debatable assertion that the Iraq invasion strengthened al-Qaeda in Pakistan.” [WaPo]

† Gov. Bill Richardson (D-NM): “[A] former diplomat, made an effort to cast himself as a man of action, meanwhile, calling for … Musharraf … to step down. … [C]alled for cutting off all aid to Pakistan.” [The Times]

† Fmr. Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA): “[S]aid that, if he had been president, he would have gathered information from our C.I.A. bureau chief in Islamabad.’ The Central Intelligence Agency has station chiefs, not bureau chiefs.” [The Times]

“[T]hin. … anodyne … slogans about fighting terrorism or ‘jihadism’ while avoiding serious comment about Pakistan.” [WaPo]

Here’s The Stiletto’s take:

Curiously, though Hillary and McCain have visited Pakistan and have both previously spoken directly with Musharraf, he made time to take a call from Edwards. Maybe Edwards the only candidate who thought to pick up the phone? Even so, Musharraf could’ve let a functionary handle the call. Maybe he knows something about Edwards’ prospects the rest of us don’t.

Musharraf is unlikely to be swayed by any calls for independent or international investigators – and certainly not by a demand that he resign – so these exhortations on the part of the candidates amount to little more than grandstanding. The Stiletto is not impressed.

Romney mixing up bureau and station chiefs could have been a mere slip of the tongue, rather than evidence of cluelessness. Huckabee better start boning up on foreign policy – and read a newspaper now and then – but his linking Bhutto’s assassination with U.S. border security is no less a non sequitur than Obama linking it to the Iraq War.

If Richardson is “a man of action,” his actions are too rash and precipitous to be considered presidential; he scares The Stiletto. Obama’s proposal to condition U.S. aid to Pakistan meeting certain benchmarks is more reasonable.

The situation in Pakistan is volatile and it seems to The Stiletto that an anodyne (i.e., neutral) statement is the most prudent way to go – and perhaps the most presidential, as well. The candidates should not say or do anything that will inflame passions in Pakistan, further complicate our diplomatic efforts to induce Musharraf to hold elections, or compromise U.S. interests and objectives, particularly the ongoing hunt for Bin Laden and his associates in Pakistan. The less said, the better.

Note: The Stiletto writes about politics and other stuff at The Stiletto Blog.

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