Political Strategy: Pakistan/Musharraf Calculation genre: Just Jihad & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

Obama And Clinton

Keep a close eye on Pakistan...both in terms of Musharraf's ability to hold power and also with regard to how the Democratic candidates frame their positions on handling the sensitive relationship. Bear with me while I elaborate.

Reuters is reporting that the embattled President is preparing to issue an emergency declaration that may well postpone the pending elections...elections in which he could be removed from office. While the report has not been confirmed by those within the Musharraf government, there is no doubt that he may be scrambling for the means to retain power in light of his recent decline in popularity.

ISLAMABAD, Aug 8 (Reuters) - Private Pakistani television channels reported on Wednesday that President Pervez Musharraf was preparing to declare a state of emergency imminently, but government spokesmen denied there were any such plans.

State-run Pakistan Television quoted official sources as saying the reports were baseless and Information Minister Mohammad Ali Durrani denied to Reuters that a meeting had been held to discuss the imposition of an emergency, as rumours swept the country.

A member of the inner circle of the Pakistani leadership told Reuters, however, that U.S. ally Musharraf was considering the option, which could allow him to extend the tenure of the national and provincial assemblies by 12 months and delay elections due by the turn of the year.

The government could explain such a step by citing growing insecurity because of the threat posed by Islamist militants allied to the Taliban and al Qaeda after a series of attacks, many of them by suicide bombers, in the past month.

Political analysts and opposition leaders, however, have feared that Musharraf, who is going through his weakest period since coming to power in a 1999 coup, might resort to an emergency because of difficulties he faces in getting re-elected by the sitting assemblies, while still army chief.

A not-so-secret meeting in Abu Dhabi in late July with former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, leader of the largest opposition party, to try to agree terms for power sharing was indicative of how desperate Musharraf's position had become.

She [Bhutto] wants Musharraf to quit the army and guarantee free and fair elections before she will countenance any deal.

I keep coming back to the situation in Pakistan because I contend that it will be pivotal in the U.S. effort to combat terrorism...and it may also decide the 2008 presidential election. The recent back and forth between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton shines a spotlight on the tenuous status of our relationship with Pakistan, the fragility of Musharraf's hold on power, and the importance Pakistan may play in pre-election politics.

At the same time, it is important to monitor the Bush administration's delicate handling of the situation in Pakistan. First, the relevant backdrop. Clearly, Pakistan isn't Afghanistan or Iraq but the fact that the Bush administration is quick to acknowledge its sovereignty seems to be a subtle deviation from the Bush doctrine announced shortly after 9/11...the one that sent a message to other nations that they were either with the United States or they were with the terrorists.

While Musharraf is regarded as an ally in the war on terror, few would disagree with the observation that Pakistan has been far more placating to terrorists and their Pakistani sympathizers than the United States would prefer. At the same time, the patience of the Bush administration is uncharacteristic...which I contend results from a realization that the U.S. is currently in no position to prosecute a war in Pakistan due to our commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan.

With that background, we can return to the bickering between Obama and Clinton. I suspect that the dust up indicates a realization that Pakistan is an important strategic consideration for 2008 that must be handled with the utmost of discretion. Let me explain.

Let's assume that both camps realize that the United States isn't in a position to risk a protracted battle in Pakistan should an American incursion lead to the toppling of Musharraf by extremists aligned with the Taliban and al Qaeda. Let's also assume that both camps have concluded that if a terrorist strike were to occur on U.S. soil prior to the 2008 election, it would elicit growing voter cynicism about the handling of the war on terror and lead to an advancing belief that the invasion of Iraq had distracted us from the prevailing issue of capturing or killing those responsible for 9/11.

With those assumptions, both candidates must feel compelled to position themselves to react to such a hypothetical...knowing that a strike on the homeland will undoubtedly alter the dynamic of the 2008 election.

Here's the equation and the calculation. A hypothetical terrorist attack on the United States would likely be viewed to have been executed by Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda...from the organization's hideout that most experts believe to be located in Pakistan.

Voters would immediately look for answers and explanations as well as begin to review what has been stated on the topic in advance of a terrorist strike by the Bush administration and those running for president. There will be questions of what we knew, what we were doing to prevent an attack, and what kept us from a more aggressive approach with regards to Musharraf and Pakistan.

Some will conclude that we were unfortunately bogged down in Iraq...that we were focused on the Bush goal of toppling Hussein and establishing a foothold in the oil rich Middle East...and that we therefore failed to recognize or act upon the threat in Pakistan.

Opposition to the war in Iraq would likely expand and demands for an immediate withdrawal would predictably grow louder. Doubts about the Bush administration's handling of the war on terror would force voters to look to the 2008 presidential candidates in search of a strong leader with a tough strategy for combating terrorism which they could support...preferably an individual that had already voiced serious concerns about the situation in Pakistan and our apparent inaction.

As I've listened to the Pakistan debate between Senators Clinton and Obama...as well as commentary from the pundits on the merits of each candidates remarks...I've concluded that the pundits have yet to consider the scenario outlined in this posting.

While Obama has been criticized for stating that he wouldn't hesitate to act upon good intelligence and order a strike in Pakistan, I'm of the opinion that he knows full well why he chose to make such a statement...and cleverly coupled it with his contention that he has opposed the war in Iraq from the outset and argued that it kept us from capturing or killing the terrorists responsible for 9/11.

I suspect he did so because he knew he couldn't overcome Clinton's experience...but he could position himself as the candidate who voted against the war (funding), the candidate who believed the war in Iraq did nothing to pursue those who perpetrated 9/11, the candidate who called for an aggressive approach to the presence of al Qaeda in Pakistan, and the candidate who wasn't afraid to telegraph a stern message to Musharraf in advance of any possible terrorist attack.

I view his remarks to be a well reasoned political calculation...a measured risk with little down side and the potential for significant benefit. If Obama wants to best Hillary Clinton...and I have to believe that he does...it will likely require more of the same. His choice of Pakistan as his first foray into such a strategy may well be a brilliant move. Given the growing uncertainty surrounding Musharraf and the accelerating concerns about the reconstitution of al Qaeda in Pakistan, he has little to lose. Score one for the Obama camp.

Tagged as: 2008 Election, al Qaeda, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Osama bin Laden, Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf, War On Terror

Daniel DiRito | August 8, 2007 | 2:09 PM
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1 On August 8, 2007 at 11:53 PM, SteveIL wrote —

Linked from your post at TeamBIO!

A few things wrong here. Obama can state that he was against the Iraq war not because he didn't vote for it, but because he wasn't in the U.S. Senate at the time the vote was taken in 2002. He was, in fact, a state senator in Illinois. Therefore, there is no vote to call him on. Second, after your hypothetical terrorist attack, voters will not want answers and explanations, they will want blood. And they will get it. Rightly so. Even Hillary Clinton is smart enough to know this, which is why she's been easily able to point to a weakness in Obama right from the outset. Third, Obama's mentioning a unilateral attack in Pakistani territory came a week after the
Bush administration
had said the same thing. So all Obama is doing is riding on Bush's coattails; Bush is vilified by the leftists in this country for saying this, while Obama is lauded by these same charlatans as using some kind of "smart strategy". So, the question is, how many leftists are going to sign up for Obama's Pakistan adventure?

2 On August 9, 2007 at 10:27 AM, Daniel wrote —


Thanks for sharing your comments.

Yes, Obama wasn't in the U.S. Senate when the war in Iraq was initiated so he didn't have a vote at that time. He has voted against the war since he was elected to the Senate and he clearly voiced his opposition to the war prior to the invasion in a number of statements and speeches.

Whether or not Obama is in agreement with the Bush administration isn't the point of this posting. He has to defeat Hillary Clinton in order to be the Democratic nominee and face the GOP candidate...which by the way won't be George Bush.

As to riding on the coattails of the Bush administration, you can call it what you like. I doubt Obama is taking the position because he thinks riding George Bush's coattails is a good idea. Frankly, there aren't many GOP candidates willing to ride the President's coattails. I don't see the relevance.

You then state that Bush is "vilified" by the "leftists" for saying the same thing. Steve, if you'll think back, the American public was in favor of tracking down those responsible for attacking us on 9/11. George Bush is vilified because many do not see the invasion of Iraq as achieving that goal. I've seen nothing stating that the public no longer favors capturing or killing the terrorists responsible for 9/11.

I think you want to portray "leftists" as opposed to war and soft on terror. Unfortunately, that is simply the rhetoric of the right. Those Democrats I know are still in favor of pursuing bin Laden...so if Pakistan is where he's at, yes, they will sign up for the Obama "adventure". It would be a better adventure than the one we've been on for nearly five years in Iraq...building a "democracy".

Further, when you state that Obama is adopting the Bush position, keep in mind that the Bush administration cancelled a planned strike in Pakistan back in 2005.

Steve, I know you like everything to be about left vs. right, but the strategy to win the Democratic nomination isn't that simple...and it isn't always about George Bush...even though you and the President may think it is.

Thanks again for commenting.



3 On August 9, 2007 at 12:16 PM, metricpenny wrote —


I was directed here from a link in a commentor's post on the "Obama for America" blog.

Part of the discussion there today involves the experience of Senator Clinton vs Senator Obama.

You write above:
"I suspect he did so because he knew he couldn't overcome Clinton's experience..."

Please elaborate on her experience over his. Or point me to a post in which you have. I'd be very interested in hearing your point of view on this subject in light of this thoughtful and well written post.


4 On August 9, 2007 at 12:40 PM, Ezekiel, Charlton, SC wrote —

At a time when we're flooded with lazy journalism, misguided pundits and media misrepresentation, Obama is challenging conventional wisdom. I believe now is the time when the American people will know who amongst the so-called 'experts' really know their stuff.

At the Iowa debate, Mitt Romney said he agreed with Obama's plan to "Bomb our allies", just that it was "foolish" to talk about it. Hillary Clinton has now joined in. I see where this is coming from. First, don't talk to our enemies and now don't talk to the American people.

Apparently Ms. Clinton still hasn't learnt a thing. If she had discussed with the American people before voting to authorize the war, she might've voted 'NAY'.

Between 'KEEPING IT A SECRET AND STRIKING', and 'TALKING ABOUT IT BEFORE STRIKING', I'll take 'Talking about it first' anytime.

5 On August 9, 2007 at 12:49 PM, Daniel wrote —


Thank you for sharing your comments.

I personally don't have a firm opinion regarding Senator Clinton's superior experience. As a former First Lady who has served more years in the U.S. Senate, I understand she may have technically spent more time in the federal government than Senator Obama.

Were that the only measure of ability, perhaps one could conclude that Senator Clinton has more experience and leave it at that. I think that would be rather naive so I personally do not endorse that conclusion.

My mention of the issue of experience in this posting is primarily offered to address a perception that seems to exist; not my personal opinion. Keep in mind that my posting is about political strategy and while Senator Obama need not concede the experience issue to Senator Clinton, he does have to address the perceptions held by some voters.

My apologies if my posting seems to suggest that Senator Obama lacks adequate experience. I should have better defined the issue of experience as a perception that will need to be addressed as a matter of political strategy.

Thanks again for sharing your observations.



6 On August 9, 2007 at 12:57 PM, Sarah Jane, Iowa wrote —

Snickers would not make you strong just because tough guy Mr. T features in the ad.

Hillary's experience is nothing but a perception. America has two major problems- Healthcare and War on terror. Hillary has tried both and failed at both. What kind of experience is that?

She messed up healthcare so bad, she's hoping she'll win the nomination by just promising Americans that she'll provide universal healthcare without coming up with a plan just a Edwards and obama have done. I guess that too should not be talked about.

She was faced with the most important 'war on terror' decision in her entire career and she judged wrongly.

If Hillary is nominated, America will officially enter the hall of fame for electing terrible leaders.

Thought Theater at Blogged

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