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January 1, 2008

Getting Pakistan Wrong, Democrat-Style

Last week, pundits across the spectrum castigated Mike Huckabee for a couple of glaring mistakes in his response to the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. He offered "apologies" to Pakistanis, later clarifying to "condolences", and inexplicably placed Afghanistan on Pakistan's eastern border, rather than western. If those gaffes qualify for headline treatment, then Hillary Clinton's confusion on Pakistani politics should get top-of-the-wires treatment, at least:

Senator Hillary Clinton was praised in the wake of the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto for demonstrating her command of the players and the issues at stake in Pakistan, even as another candidate, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, was criticized for stumbling over details.

But in two confident television appearances, on CNN and ABC, Clinton made an elementary error about Pakistani politics: She described President Pervez Musharraf as a "candidate" who would be "on the ballot."

In fact, Musharraf was re-elected to the presidency in October. The upcoming elections are for parliament, and while Musharraf's party will be facing off against opposition parties, the president himself is not a candidate.

Afterwards, the Clintons attempted a little spin on the mistake, claiming that Hillary had meant Musharraf's party. As Ben Smith notes, that doesn't match up with Hillary's words:

"If President Musharraf wishes to stand for election, then he should abide by the same rules that every other candidate will have to follow," she told CNN's Wolf Blitzer (.pdf) December 28.

"He could be the only person on the ballot. I don't think that's a real election," she told ABC's George Stephanopolous December 30.

This hurts Hillary much more than Mike Huckabee. Huckabee has run on a primarily domestic agenda, with social conservativism and economic populism fueling his rise in Iowa. Although he has cast himself as prepared for foreign-policy questions, his strength does not lie in a deep understanding of international politics.

Hillary, however, has based her entire campaign as the one person most prepared to hit the ground running in the White House. Someone using that as a selling point does damage to her case when she can't tell the difference between a presidential election and a parliamentary election in a critical state for the war on terror. Given that most of the current unrest springs from Musharraf's questionable election as president in the last few weeks, it's even stranger that she made this error twice in three days.

If Hillary can't get Pakistan right, then she's obviously not prepared to get started on Day One. Her entire sales pitch fails on this question, and it reminds us that the three frontrunners among the Democrats have less national-office experience put together than John McCain, less executive experience -- as in zero -- than Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney, and that Mike Huckabee was Governor of Arkansas longer than any of them served in national public office. Even Fred Thompson beats them on that score.

UPDATE: Longtime CapQ commenter Keemo posted a comment about this on another thread as I wrote about this. No surprise -- the CapQ community starts off 2008 ahead of the captain!


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