DES MOINES, IA.—The assassination of former Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto on Thursday shook off the domestic narrative—at least for a day-- that has been dominating the closing days of the deadlocked Democratic presidential primary in Iowa.
With the race so close, Bhutto’s death could have an impact on the outcome in Iowa and the other early voting states if the conversation turns to national security experience and judgment in an age of terrorism.
But then again, a severe winter storm the night of Jan. 3 may also make a difference on who wins in Iowa.
“Will it be a factor? Yes. Should it be a factor? Yes. But should it be the only factor? I think it should not,” said White House hopeful former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) on CNN.
Sen. Joe Biden Jr. (D-Del.) the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee—struggling this year for attention to his candidacy—showed that experience does mean something. He twice implored Pakistan President Pervaiz Musharraf to step up security for Bhutto and other candidates in next weeks’s elections, with his last letter on Oct. 24, written after an assassination attempt.
Biden is far behind Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Edwards but his latest commercial running in Iowa, now viewed in the context of the Bhutto assassination, seems prescient: Showing pictures of the Oval Office, a narrator says, “For 35 years Joe Biden has been tested—and made the tough decisions that have protected our nation and save lives.”
It’s Biden and the rest of the second tier of candidates with vast amounts of foreign policy experience —Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Ct.) and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson who were willing to engage more specifically on Thursday than the more cautious frontrunners.
Richardson called for Musharaff to step down and end aid to Pakistan. Dodd, on MSNBC, noting Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal said elections should be postponed and getting rid of Musharaff without knowing who would replace him “in the middle of this kind of chaos, I think could be a very very dangerous step for Pakistan and for us at this juncture.”
For months now, Clinton and Obama has been sniping at each other over their foreign policy creditionals—to the absurd point of claiming who had more former Bill Clinton White House advisors supporting their bids. (Clinton does)
Obama’s message of the day—a closer “Change” speech-- was overshadowed by the Bhutto killing. Since he started running almost a year ago, he has not been able to shake questions about his international experience.
While Obama is unique in having lived in another Indonesia when he was a boy—and calling for renewed outreach to the leaders of Muslim nations—friend and foe—the Bhutto killing may spotlight his major weakness.