Another Friday, our second consecutive holiday deadline nearly a full week ahead of when we actually print this issue. Last week, I punted and tried to explain that, with every columnist in town writing guilty-toned happiness Christmas drivel already, I didn’t feel the need to join that chorus and left a big blank on the page where readers could fill in the blanks. This week brings another annual game I won’t play as every writer in town is compiling best-and-worst lists from 2007 or posting forecasts into 2008. Even we are, as I gather from the artwork I’ve seen for this week’s cover. This time, I won’t leave a blank, though.
That’s because this week brings a course change. Yesterday, Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister of Pakistan was assassinated. Today, that country is recoiling from her murder with more killings, civil unrest and the strain of a world watching to see what happens next in the country formerly hailed as the United States’ best hope for democracy in that part of the world.
With the first presidential primaries and caucus’ only weeks away, pundits are already spinning that Bhutto’s assassination is good news for Republicans since Republicans are believed to be trustworthy on foreign-policy issues. Republican candidates are supposed to be more experienced in foreign matters and should gain political points as this drama unfolds. But you could fool me.
Below are the leading candidates’ statements about the Bhutto assassination, which I think is pretty much a bunch of drivel. Once again, I explain that I, a professional driveller, know drivel when I see it. If you can tell a Republican from a Democrat, a hawk from a dove, an experienced leader from a novice, then you’re a far better informed citizen than I. Statements are matched to the speaker at the end of this column.
A. “The death of Benazir Bhutto underscores yet again the grave dangers we face in the world today and particularly in countries like Pakistan, where the forces of moderation are arrayed in a fierce battle against those who embrace violent Islamic extremism. Given Pakistan’s strategic location, the international terrorist groups that operate from its soil, and its nuclear arsenal, the future of that country has deep implications for the security of the United States and its allies. America must stand on the right side of this ongoing struggle.”
B. “This type of loss of life points out again the need for our nation and other civilized nations of the West and of the Muslim world to come together to support moderate Islamic leaders and moderate Islamic people and to help them in their effort to reject the violent and the extreme. The world is very much at risk by virtue of these radical, violent extremists, and we must come together in an effort, in great haste and with great earnestness to help overcome the threat of the spread of radical, violent jihad.”
C. “We must use our diplomatic leverage and force the enemies of democracy to yield: President Bush should press Musharraf to step aside, and a broad-based coalition government, consisting of all the democratic parties, should be formed immediately. Until this happens, we should suspend military aid to the Pakistani government. Free and fair elections must also be held as soon as possible.”
D. “I spoke to President Musharraf a few minutes ago and I urged him to continue the democratization process because of how important it is to the Pakistani people and how important it is to his country. … It’s very important for the Pakistani people, for the stability of the world and for America’s interests, that the democratization process continue, and I believe this is the time for America to be a strong and calming influence in a difficult and unstable environment.”
E. “We’ve been supporting the Musharraf government and he’s a military dictator that overthrew an elected government and we just gave him $10 billion over the last seven years. He’s supported by 8 percent of the people and that does annoy some people. There are so many factions over there. We shouldn’t have been supporting this military dictator anyway.”
F. “Her death is a tragedy for her country and a terrible reminder of the work that remains to bring peace, stability, and hope to regions of the globe too often paralyzed by fear, hatred, and violence. Let us pray that her legacy will be a brighter, more hopeful future for the people she loved and the country she served. My family and I extend our condolences and deepest sympathies to the victims and their families and to the people of Pakistan.”
G. “I am shocked and saddened by the death of Benazir Bhutto in this terrorist atrocity. She was a respected and resilient advocate for the democratic aspirations of the Pakistani people. We join with them in mourning her loss, and stand with them in their quest for democracy and against the terrorists who threaten the common security of the world.”
H. “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.”
If you can glean anything resembling leadership or if you find comfort from the above, you must reside in a realm I do not. Outside of maybe two statements, our candidates supply only carefully drafted, generic commentary. So, my one New Year’s wish? I wish we could just start over.
Answers: A. John McCain B. Mitt Romney C. Bill Richardson D. John Edwards E. Ron Paul F. Hillary Clinton G. Barack Obama H. Rudy Giuliani