Benazir Bhutto’s assassination yesterday as the returned exile
opened her campaign for a third term as Pakistan’s prime minister
ends a fateful pro-Western political dynasty and throws the future of
America’s troubled ally, the only Islamic nuclear power, further into doubt.
** PAKISTAN: LOCKING DOWN REALITY. I’m not really aware of anyone who buys the official spin about Benazir Bhutto’s assassination. To say it doesn’t track is to understate the obvious. The Democratic presidential candidates are advocating an open international investigation. The Republicans are much more circumspect, following their lead from the Bush White House.
Meanwhile, riot-torn Pakistan is under military lockdown. Which only further legitimizes opposition to established authority. To the unending delight of Islamic jihadists.
The truth is, the US is kind of out of good options in Pakistan. The situation has deteriorated, as NWN has been reporting for months, quite dramatically, as America continued in its fateful fixation with the now less-bad situation that is another make believe country, Iraq. General Musharraf may nor may not be whatever he is, but he’s it. At least for now. Along with the army. Does that mean that he, or they, are behind the assassination? Not at all.
We simply don’t know what we know about that. But what we do know is that the most credible civilian modernizer in Pakistan is already under the ground. And that Pakistan, America’s key frontline ally in the Terror War, is close to destabilized and already the world’s foremost haven for the forces which actually attacked America on 9/11.
** QUICK HITS. Meanwhile back in the Golden State, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, once mortal enemies, continued their buddy picture by filing the necessary financing ballot measure for the universal health care plan which has passed the Assembly but is pending in the Senate. Assuming the plan gets through the Senate, the necessary funding proposition, geared for next November’s statewide ballot, may yet find itself orphaned in a drastically different political landscape than contemplated a year ago, or now. More about that another time. … Schwarzenegger, as was reported over Christmas, oddly enough, will get a new communications director next year. Adam Mendelsohn, who’s done yeoman service in the resurrection of the former action superstar’s political career in the wake of his 2005 meltdown, is stepping away. Replacing him is Matt David, a very familiar figure to longtime NWN readers as head of Schwarzenegger’s rapid response team in his highly effective 2006 re-election campaign. Not that Mendelsohn is going far. He’ll be very involved in the governor’s political operation next year. David arrives in a week and a half, and will undergo a transition period with Mendelsohn for some time after that. More about that next week …
** BHUTTO ASSASSINATION: GETTING THE STORY STRAIGHT. There are now three very different and conflicting reports as to the cause of death of assassinated Pakistani leader Benazir Bhutto. In the first version, disseminated around the world yesterday, she was killed in the blast set off by a suicide bomber. In the second version, she was shot twice and killed by the assassin, who then set off a suicide vest to martyr himself and take as many of her supporters with him as possible. In the third version, she was killed not by gunshot or explosion, but by hitting her head on the lever of her vehicle’s sunroof as she hastily tried to duck back inside after emerging to wave to her supporters as she left her rally. Her lawyer calls this latest version from the government complete nonsense, and maintains that she was killed by gunshots.
Bhutto was buried today. Intriguingly, no autopsy or serious post-mortem examination of her body was conducted beforehand.
How she actually died is key to helping determine how she came to die. If she was killed by the detonation of an explosive vest, that is something that does not require a highly skilled individual. However, if she was shot to death, that implies a certain level of skill.
Another bizarre element here is how she came to be ambushed in the first place. Her motorcade, exiting the rally site, was slowed to a near standstill. By supposed supporters who flooded the exit lanes. Why wasn’t this exit point held open by security forces? Bhutto was under house arrest on at least three occasions after General Pervez Musharaff instituted martial law. On those occasions, her home was surrounded by hundreds, and at one point, thousands of troops and police. Yet adequate forces were not available to keep the exit from her rally free from a crowd.
** BARNSTORMING IOWA. The top three Democrats are all barnstorming through Iowa today. Barack Obama, clinging to an edge in most polls, is doing six events today as part of his “Stand For Change” tour. Hillary Clinton, who has come back some in most soundings, is only appearing at three events today. She’s reportedly somewhat under the weather. John Edwards, in contrast, is doing five events today and is again coming on strong.
The Republican candidates are also hitting Iowa in force. Fred Thompson scraped together enough money to put an ad on the air, keeping his hope for a distant third alive. John McCain has rallied there, hoping for his own surprise even as he and Mitt Romney engage in a TV ad war in New Hampshire, where Romney is trying to hold off the Arizona senator.
Huckabee leads in Iowa in a new AP poll, but may have gaffed again by saying that Pakistanis trail only Mexicans for illegal entry into America. Romney is inundating Iowa with negative ads and mail on Huckabee.
** DISASTER IN PAKISTAN. Short of Islamic jihadists getting ahold of a nuclear weapon, it’s hard to think of a single worse thing that could happen in Pakistan than what just did happen there.
Without former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, there is no widely recognized figure who can bridge the gap between an authoritarian military and more secular moderates.
US strategy in Pakistan is now officially in shambles. The hope of the Bush Administration, and it was a logical hope, was to rein in and retain Musharaff and forge an alliance between him, Bhutto, and the military, now headed — as NWN readers know from before his actual appointment — by General Afshaq Kayani, former head of the ISI intelligence service and one-time military attache to Bhutto. Thus making him perfectly positioned as a modern military officer.
The army, which was created by Britain in the colonial days, is the most coherent institution in the country. Of course, it, and the the intelligence service, have substantial jihadist elements within. Those elements may well have helped facilitate the assassination of Bhutto.
What next? Likely a reimposition of some form of martial law. The elections, set for January 8th, in which Bhutto and her party were likely to emerge in first place, are likely to lack legitimacy if they take place. The other major opposition leader, Saudi-backed former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who lacks the nationwide base that Bhutto had, is again calling for a boycott.
On the Republican side of the presidential race, this stark reminder of the centrality of security issues in a challenging, interconnected world should help John McCain. On the Democratic side, one might think it would help Hillary Clinton. It would certainly help Bill Clinton. But a recent New York Times feature sharply undercut her claims of expertise in the field, and it’s unclear whether the extremely high profile taken of late in her campaign by the former president reassures people about the couple, or underscores the notion that he is the superior in the relationship.
Even as her campaign lowballs expectations, Hillary Clinton is
putting on a full court press in Iowa, with positive and negative
campaigning. Here’s the up message, her new “High Stakes/New
Beginning” TV ad.
** HUNTING HILL. The polls are very awkward now. I’m not convinced that any poll taken over the Christmas holidays is valid. That’s especially true of polls taken on Christmas Day itself. That said, it would seem, emphasize seem, that Hillary Clinton has closed up a bit on Barack Obama’s lead in Iowa. And that John Edwards is either a strong third or perhaps in a statistical dead heat with the top two.
In New Hampshire, Obama has closed up on Clinton, making that race, in Clinton’s long thought firewall state, a dead heat.
Obama and Hillary are criss-crossing Iowa. So is former President Bill Clinton, campaigning all-out now as a virtual doppelganger candidate to his wife, the original campaign conception of using him sparingly now completely out the window.
Hillary is also benefiting from two “independent” expenditures. One on her behalf, by the big public employees union, the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). That’s hitting Obama for not advocating the requirement that all American buy health insurance. Ironically, Obama’s position is the same as many of Clinton’s backers.
The other help for Hillary comes in the form of a so-called “527″ committee, after the government code section. This group, headed by John Edwards’ former campaign manager, is spending on Edwards’ behalf. And also attacking Obama. Of course, if she is to lose Iowa, the Clintons would vastly prefer an Edwards win to an Obama win, reasoning that Edwards is in much weaker shape to capitalize in New Hampshire and other states.
Mike Huckabee went hunting Wednesday in Iowa. Pheasant hunting.
** HUNTING HUCK. After Mike Huckabee went pheasant hunting in Iowa Wednesday morning (take that, Mitt Romney), he went to Florida for some needed fundraising later that day and Thursday. Depending upon the poll, the former Arkansas governor either has a narrow lead in Iowa over Romney or a huge lead (that would be the Bloomberg/LA Times poll, 37% to 24%). I think it’s somewhere in between. He’s not taking off in New Hampshire, where there aren’t many evangelicals, but is leading or close to it in Michigan, Nevada, South Carolina, and even Florida.
The man on the move in New Hampshire is John McCain. He’s a strong second there behind Romney. The disaster in Pakistan points up the Vietnam War hero and veteran senator’s national security credentials. He’s even ducked over to Iowa for a few days of campaigning. Though he’s done little there, there’s a chance for a surprise third behind Huckabee and Romney.
It’s been scientifically determined that the best staging area in
future for Santa Claus and his global operation is not the North
Pole, but Kyrgyzstan.
** CHRISTMAS, RIGHT, THE OTHER DAY … A Swedish firm has scientifically determined that, for a global operation the likes of Santa’s, the Arctic is no longer optimal. And not because of climate change.
No, due to systems analysis of population patterns around the world, and given Santa’s mission of delivering toys upon a single night, it’s been determined that Santa Claus and his elves should relocate their headquarters operation to Kyrgyzstan. And because you read NWN, you actually know what Kyrgyzstan is.
The mountainous country, home to America’s sole remaining post-9/11 base in Central Asia, through which the defeated Red Army retreated following its defeat in Afghanistan at the end of the 1980s. While its capital city of Bishkek — known as Frunze when it was part of the Soviet Union, after the inventor of much early Soviet military doctrine, revolutionary hero Mikhail Frunze — didn’t have much in the way of snow cover in the video above, the RT corrrespondent didn’t have far to go to find the sort of winter wonderland in which Santa is most at home.
** 24/7 LIVE TV NEWS FEED FROM RUSSIA TODAY. Russia has re-emerged as one of the world’s great powers. Click here for a live TV news feed on your computer, bringing you English-language, jargon-free, fast-paced coverage of global and Russian news from the new Russia Today channel.
You probably already know about CNN International, BBC World, and Al Jazeera. Russia Today, which also features culture, entertainment, and sports, is based in Moscow and is owned and operated by the TV Novosti division of Russia’s state news agency, RIA Novosti.
While it’s quite foolish to expect to see, say, criticism of Vladimir Putin on Russia Today, the channel is very interesting nonetheless. The NWN live link to RT does not constitute an endorsement of the channel’s views. It’s presented as an otherwise unavailable new media window.
** TRACK GLOBAL AND U.S. ENERGY PRICES IN NEAR REAL TIME VIA BLOOMBERG ENERGY MARKET WATCH. Crude oil is trading back up near $98 per barrel in the wake of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination.
Your posts are welcome in the Forum.