Saturday, December 29, 2007

Clinton and Romney Raised Doubts about Musharraf

Clinton and Romney Raised Doubts about Musharraf

Clinton demands Bhutto probe, slams Musharraf
by Stephen Collinson Fri Dec 28, 5:22 PM ET

STORY CITY, Iowa (AFP) - Hillary Clinton Friday called for an independent, international probe into Benazir Bhutto's murder, as the turmoil wracking US anti-terror ally Pakistan reshaped debate in the White House race.


The Democratic front-runner weighed in on the crisis just six days before first 2008 party nominating contests, as fellow candidates also brandished their national security credentials and experience on the global stage.

"We need an international, independent investigation into the death of Benazir Bhutto," Clinton said, drawing applause from an audience in a packed school gymnasium as she campaigned in ice-bound Iowa.

Clinton paid a personal tribute to the former Pakistani prime minister, and also turned on President Pervez Musharraf, saying he had failed both to usher Pakistan towards democracy, and to crush Al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

"It is also clear the Bush policy of giving Musharraf a blank check has failed," Clinton said, adding a Bhutto death probe could mirror the UN inquiry into the killing of Lebanese ex-prime minister Rafiq Hariri in 2005.

The crisis also provoked a new row with Clinton's top Democratic rival Barack Obama, whose top strategist Thursday highlighted Clinton's 2002 Senate vote for a war in Iraq -- which he said had boosted Al-Qaeda, a suspect in Bhutto's murder.

Former NATO commander Wesley Clark, a Clinton backer, complained it was 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," he said.

Obama, campaigning in Williamsburg, Iowa, said Washington should cut military aid to Pakistan until Musharraf embraced democracy, and said the US invasion of Iraq was a distraction from the "war on terror."

"We've got to reverse policies, but we've got to see this in a bigger context which is that our invasion of Iraq resulted in us taking our eye off the ball," Obama said.

"We should have been focused in Afghanistan, finishing off Al-Qaeda."

Veteran Republican Senator John McCain earlier called for extreme care in US dealings with Pakistan.

"We want to do everything we can, but it has to be practical and it has to be achievable, and it has to be not opening another front in a war that we are overstressed with today," McCain said on Fox News.

The former Vietnam war hero called for looming Pakistani elections to go forward, though he said it would be tough for the opposition to coalesce around a candidate other than Bhutto.

McCain's Republican rival Mitt Romney raised doubts over whether Musharraf could keep a lid on political unrest.

"I'm not concerned about the quality of his character, but I am concerned about the quality of his judgment in a setting like this," Romney said, and dismissed suggestions foreign policy fears could bolster rivals with more experience on the international stage.

An unanswered question was how events in Pakistan would play out on the ice-bound campaign trail in Iowa, which holds caucuses next Thursday, and New Hampshire, which has a primary election on January 8.

The murder, and a story about its political impact, was splashed Friday across the only statewide newspaper in Iowa.

Earlier Friday, Clinton had conducted a CNN interview on turmoil in Pakistan from state capital Des Moines, in a presidential-style setting, framed by a US flag.

Former United Nations ambassador Bill Richardson, a Democratic candidate, called for a halt to US aid to Pakistan until Musharraf left office and full democracy was restored.

"Not one penny more ... until Musharraf is gone and the rule of law is restored," he said.

Breakout Republican Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor, dismissed suggestions his lack of experience on national security meant he would be unable to handle crises like that sparked by Bhutto's murder.

"I don't think it's appropriate to respond in a political way," Huckabee told reporters, warning candidates should not play "political games" over the grave situation in Pakistan.



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