Sunday, December 30, 2007

Bhutto's assassination brings foreign policy back in focus

Bhutto's assassination brings foreign policy back into focus

By Shmuel Rosner

If Mike Huckabee wins in Iowa, he'll need a good score in New Hampshire. If Hillary Clinton loses in Iowa, she'll have to win in New Hampshire. If Barack Obama wins in Iowa, he might be able to take out Clinton in New Hampshire.

But it all depends on John Edwards not winning in Iowa, thereby upping the ante in New Hampshire. If Mitt Romney survives in Iowa and wins in New Hampshire, he could once again claim to be the leading candidate. Advertisement

If John McCain wins in New Hampshire, that would make him this year's comeback kid. If Rudy Giuliani is right, Iowa and New Hampshire won't be that important this year. The only thing that will matter will be Tsunami Tuesday: the big February 5 primary day. And if the tsunami is good for Giuliani, why can't it be good for Clinton?

So many scenarios, and all of them are still hypothetical possibilities. As we enter the first week of voting in Iowa, the number of experts who are bold enough to predict the results decreases as the number of candidates increases.

The analysts don't know who will win. Their ability to name the crucial issues that will help someone win is even worse. It's time to say it outright: In many cases, the reason for victory - or the election campaign's main theme - becomes apparent only after the elections are won. What we have here is a retrospective theme, hindsight wisdom.

For example, why did Bill Clinton win in 1992? Was it because of his "It's the economy stupid" slogan, or was it because Ross Perot, the independent candidate, divided the right-wing vote, preventing the incumbent George H.W. Bush from obtaining his otherwise attainable second term?

One could say that Clinton never persuaded half the voters to vote for his agenda. In his favor, one could say that Clinton was very observant in constructing his agenda, because Perot, too, contended for the job on the "economy, stupid" platform.

Last week's events in Pakistan have put the question of theme back on the agenda for the 2008 presidential elections. Matters that pertained to American foreign policy - matters that stood in the campaign's center for many months - have all but disappeared in recent weeks. They were barely mentioned in the candidate's battle for Iowa. But now, Pakistan has shoved these issues back down the candidates' throats.

As foreign policy becomes more dominant in the election campaign, Israel will draw closer to its center. Giuliani mentioned Israel vicariously on Thursday morning in relation to terrorism. He said it made no difference whether it was New York, London or Tel Aviv that was targeted.

But any discussion on the Middle East - be it about Iran, Islamic fundamentalism, nuclear proliferation or American interests in the region - is a discussion that directly concerns Israel.

In 2004, two days before the elections, a new tape by Osama Bin Laden assisted George W. Bush's reelection. Or, at least, that's what John Kerry, who ran against Bush, believes.

Similarly, if Clinton and McCain prevail during the next two weeks, their adversaries will be able to claim that the Pakistani assassin who killed Benazir Bhutto dropped the nail that had slowed Obama and Huckabee's galloping racehorse.

It is generally accepted that the more seasoned candidates - Clinton and former U.N. ambassador Bill Richardson on the Democrats' side and McCain and Giuliani on the Republican side - are more experienced in foreign policy than the newcomers.

Clinton was quick to remind her listeners that she personally knew Bhutto. She was able to tell the public that she had visited Bhutto more than 10 years ago with her daughter Chelsea. Rookie candidates like Obama and Huckabee would have trouble flaunting such personal connections. They hadn't been around long enough for Bhutto to take the trouble to know them.

Huckabee already demonstrated bewildering ignorance when it became clear he didn't know about the release of the National Intelligence Assessment on the Iranian nuclear program. He faltered again on Thursday, when he showed he didn't know that Pakistan's state of emergency had been lifted two years ago.

During an appearance in Iowa on Friday, Huckabee tried an interesting stunt. He told his supporters that Pakistani illegal aliens were entering the United States in large numbers - second only to the immigrants pouring in from the Mexican border.

Huckabee seems to believe that he sounds more credible when speaking about immigration, and that the people of Iowa need no more than a superficial explanation on how Pakistan is affecting the United States.

Polls from earlier this year have shown that Americans still place Iraq at the top of their national list of priorities. Maybe that is indeed how they stand, but there is reason to suspect that this is evidence of the force of habit.

In a year's time, when they are called on to vote, a new issue like the economy could position itself on top of that list. Unexpected developments on the international front (Iran, Russia and global terrorism come to mind) might require a complete reassessment.

And of course, there is the possibility that the election will reflect a fleeting mood or sudden show of affection for the personality of one of the candidates. Weather might bring more voters from certain states to the ballots.

Or the taller candidate could win, as is usually the case.

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