Will Pakistan Choose Our President?


It's been a few hours since the Bhutto assassination, so it's time for political pundits to do their stuff and predict how this will affect the presidential primaries. The conventional wisdom: It's good for the candidates who have been running on their foreign policy experience (Clinton, McCain, Biden), bad for the guy who says he understands the world because he stayed at a Holiday Inn last night.

I'm speaking of Mike Huckabee, who partially botched his response (speaking to a crowd that was 88 percent his supporers, 12 percent Ron Paul supporters):

He made a bad choice of words when saying the U.S. needs to consider "what impact does it have on whether or not there's going to be martial law continuing in Pakistan." He should have said whether or not martial law will be reinstated – it was lifted nearly two weeks ago. A minor slip, maybe, but not a subject he wants to mess up on when he is already considered weak in the area of foreign policy.

Lucky for him, Jim Geraghty doesn't think the assassination will move Iowans.

Iowa has few military bases, defense contractors, etc. and has always had something of a pacifist or isolationist streak; national security issues just don't resonate in that state the way that economic and social issues do there. New Hampshire isn't terribly different; I recall a high-level Republican official in that state telling me in summer 2004 that the war on terror just didn't move voters in his neck of the woods; it was a faraway issue.

I don't know. It's not the same thing, but a month before the 2004 Iowa caucuses Saddam Hussein was captured in Iraq and there was an effect on the race: the long, hard fall of Howard Dean. He said (correctly, in retrospect) that it was still safe to nominate an anti-Iraq War candidate like him because "the capture of Saddam Hussein has not made us safer," and he got pummelled by… basically everybody, from the irrelevant but headline-grabbing Joe Lieberman to the desperate Dick Gephardt to the surging John Kerry.

This Democratic race isn't like that one (Obama, the closest thing they have to Dean, has responded with measure) and the stakes are very different. Democrats were cautious about nominating an anti-Iraq war candidate if public opinion turned on the war, as it started to after the Saddam capture. There's no comparable worry about the candidates' Pakistan stances. The only candidate in the old Dean position is Huckabee, who doesn't sound like he can handle these crises. The candidate who can use this: John McCain.

Ron Paul hasn't issued a statement yet, but I have asked for one from the campaign. I am truly interested in what he'll say, as the lone candidate who'd pack up our bases in Central Asia.