McCain Outspoken in Defense of Musharraf
By Alec MacGillis
MANCHESTER, N.H. -- Seeking to present the face of a steady leader in a time of crisis, John McCain today rebuffed some of the calls for immediate U.S. action regarding Pakistan in the wake of the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto and expressed confidence in the government of General Pervez Musharraf.
Speaking to reporters after his plane touched down here on his way back from Iowa, McCain rejected out of hand any suggestion that the U.S. should consider invading Waziristan, the mountainous region of Pakistan that has become the base for al-Qaeda and Taliban elements suspected in the assassination.
"Pakistan is a sovereign nation. Second of all, some of the lessons of recent [American experience] argue that we have a complete plan and know what our objective is," he said, invoking the "Powell doctrine" that calls for going to war only when one has overwhelming force available. "If you've ever been to Waziristan, which I have been to, it's very rugged country that has not been governed by anyone going back to Alexander the Great. It presents an enormous military challenge alone, much less that it would the alienate people and government of Pakistan if we decided to initiate unilateral action."
McCain was outspoken in his defense of Musharraf, who has had to contend with criticisms today from others on the campaign trail, such as Bill Richardson's call for a curtailing of U.S. aid to Pakistan. "I continue to believe Musharraf has done a pretty good job, done a lot of the things that we wanted him to do," McCain said, citing Musharraf's decision to relinquish his military post, to call elections, and to end martial law.
He added, "I would remind some of my fellow Americans that Benazir Bhutto and [former prime minister Nawaz] Sharif presided over failed states, there was corruption, there was a failed state in Pakistan when Musharraf took charge...I would like to give Musharraf some credit for taking the measures that we asked him to do."
McCain rejected his rival Mitt Romney's argument that Ronald Reagan proved it was not necessary to have foreign policy expertise prior to becoming president to be able to contend with crises abroad. "President Reagan ..won the cold war and I revere his memory," McCain said, but then added, "I would view the present situation as one that requires no on the job training."
McCain also questioned Hillary Clinton's call for an independent investigation of the assassination, saying that the Pakistani government already appeared to be making progress in investigating the attack and that it is too early to argue that more is needed. And he rejected the argument put forward by Barack Obama's top strategist that the war in Iraq helped lead to the assassination by taking the U.S. focus off of the Al Qaeda threat on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
"It's inexperience, again, to make a comment like that," McCain said. "Afghanistan was a base for the Taliban and al-Qaeda and we had to go there. Iraq, if we had not mishandled Iraq as Rumsfeld did...things would be fine in Iraq today. It's the mishandling of Iraq that causes us problems in Iraq."
Washington Post editors
December 28, 2007; 6:17 PM ET
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