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McCain Questions Rivals on National Security

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By Dan Balz
Arizona Sen. John McCain reacted quickly to the assassination of former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto Thursday, calling the killing "a great tragedy" that would embolden Islamic extremists throughout the Middle East. He said U.S. policy should be aimed at providing Pakistan with "every kind of help we can to maintain order and move forward with the political process."

At a morning rally in Urbandale, McCain declined to criticize the Bush administration's policies toward Pakistan. But he did not shy away from saying that he believes he has credentials that none of his Republican rivals possess for dealing with national security threats posed by Islamic jihadists.

McCain was asked by reporters whether he thought Mitt Romney was equipped to handle national security issues of the type presented by Thursday's assassination. "I don't know. I know he doesn't have any experience there but I don't know how he would handle it to tell you the truth."

What about Mike Huckabee, another reporter asked? "Everybody that's running. None of them supported what's working in Iraq, except for me, and I was condemned at the time for it, for supporting the surge, which is succeeding. I think my record is clear -- 20 years, I've been involved in every national security issue that's faced this nation. And I have the judgment to handle it, and I've proven it."

McCain was pointedly dismissive of Rudy Giuliani's national security credentials. Asked about the former mayor's new television ad highlighting Giuliani's performance after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, he said he saw no connection between that and being president.

"It has very little to do with national security issues," he said. "It has a lot to do with handling the [aftermath of the attacks]. As far as I know, Mayor Giuliani's never been to Iraq. And I'm not saying that he is without credentials. I'm saying I'm the one with the most credentials and the most exp and the most judgment."

McCain said he would hope there is no political benefit for anyone from the events in Pakistan Thursday. But he said the events could focus new attention on the message of his campaign.

"It may serve to enhance those credentials or make people understand that I've been to Waziristan, I know Musharraf, I can pick up the phone and call him. I knew Benazir Bhutto. I know the area. But I hate for anything like this to be the cause of any political gain for anybody," he said.

By Web Politics Editor  |  December 27, 2007; 4:10 PM ET
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Next: Romney Heads to Iowa, Noting Uncertainty in GOP Race


Mc Cain is too much like Kennedy when it comes to illegal immigration. Huckabee is having a sudden change of heart but it is only recently that he changed his mind.

Our Government must be ready to change in 2008

The systems for verifying citizenship and the bio card for temporary workers must be ready and we will be looking to the Democrats to get the job done. So far, they have all spent all of their time investigating the investigation of every body else's departments other than their own.

We want Washington DC to hear the citizens of America. They work for us at our pleasure. They have all become rich while they do our nation's business, but they fail to ensure that our constitutional rights are protected when it comes to being invaded by other countries. How many inventory control systems in America could turn a profit if they never knew what came in and what went out?

Is it too complicated for our country to actually know who is among us? Perhaps we have allowed the lobbyist to get too close to our nation's interest. If we can't protect our sovereignty then we are foolish and allowing greedy people to take over us simply because we are too lazy to stand up and be heard. So, if we continue on this current path of letting other countries have a highway straight through us, have no method of knowing who and what they bring with them, and send our wages down to pre 1970 rates, then were the heck will our children work? How can they work for less when the cost of living, gas, homes, food, power, taxes, and all the while picking up the tab with our tax dollars for the illegal immigrants health care, educating illegal students who require Spainish speaking teachers at our expense, and feeding them with our food stamps, and watching people like Mc Cain, Huckabee, Kennedy, and Durbin demanding more? While our children have to take out student loans, work part time, and borrow every cent a parent can spare to keep them up while they are in school, our own senate wants these students to pay taxes on their earnings and hand those taxes out to the illegal students who shouldn't be here in the first place. Our leaders have lost the vision of what our country means to the Americans who have fought for this country, who have supported this government to our own discomfort in living conditions, and we deserve people who will work for this country, for WE THE PEOPLE, and stop trying to be Mother Teresa to the entire world. Other countries would love to just see America keep it's hand to it's self.

The bad trade deals that Clinton made like NAFTA , and Bush's CAFTA have driven those countries people to have to leave their homeland to earn a living. STOP!

Clean around our own door steps before you try to clean everyone else's.

Posted by: net_50 | December 28, 2007 9:16 AM | Report abuse

Hillary Clinton is as far from Bush as you can get.

She's smart, competent, amazingly high energy and hardworking and incredibly detail-oriented.

She's the exact oppposite of Bush.

She's like a female FDR+JFK with a good sized dollup of Maggie Thatcher thrown in for good measure.

Posted by: svreader | December 27, 2007 10:50 PM | Report abuse

Senator Hillary Clinton is the strongest candidate to be President.

The events of today show how much we need her leadership in the White House.


Clinton is just Bush in a pantsuit. Another brain-dead neo-con doing the bidding of the CFR. And of course doing favors for all her criminal contributors.

Posted by: eco-pharm | December 27, 2007 10:11 PM | Report abuse

McCain is an unstable lunatic. He shouldn't even be allowed to visit the White House.

Posted by: eco-pharm | December 27, 2007 10:07 PM | Report abuse

Ahem, cough Cough!

YES, John Boy, you do have very impressive Military Experience. But it does sort of stop there now don't it?!

I bet when it is really considered, John McCain could do a whole lot more focussing on nothing but the military for Mitt Romney/ Huck, in their Cabinet!

Same for Tancredo, Giuliani, Thompson, and even Dr.NO!-Each specializing in their specialized talents, for the Statesmen, to State!

See, Mitt's best stregnth, utilizing other peoples!

Posted by: rat-the | December 27, 2007 9:47 PM | Report abuse

She was a target and by returning to Pakistian just made it easier for her killers.

From the incident on the day she arrived this was bound to happen unless she had proper security. She did not.

The Bush Administration has failed miserably in this part of the world.

We definately need a regime change in Washington.

Senator Hillary Clinton is the strongest candidate to be President.

The events of today show how much we need her leadership in the White House.

Posted by: COWENS99 | December 27, 2007 9:45 PM | Report abuse

Please, please, please spare us the "only the GOP tough guys can handle this dangerous world" drivel. The GOP has been handling it for most of three decades, except for Clinton, when they controlled Congress for 3/4 of the time. How has that worked out????

Posted by: steveboyington | December 27, 2007 9:43 PM | Report abuse

'McCain said he would hope there is no political benefit for anyone from the events in Pakistan Thursday. But he said the events could focus new attention on the message of his campaign.'

I despise these people, juliani said the same thing on CNN a minute ago, and yet they all play up thier credentials, they have no souls, no humility, no decorum and they want to be president, remmeber one thing and one thing only, 9/11 happened when the repubs were in power, they all say not on my watch, it was on their watch, and I really don't think being held a prisoner of war makes you suitable to be president, just as being the ex mayor of a city doesn't, remember also that it was this president who has funded pakistan while it was selling, or giving nuclear assistance to N Korea and many others, you just got to hate these people, I know there's enough hate in the world, as shown by todays killing of Bhutto

Posted by: totallyclips | December 27, 2007 9:42 PM | Report abuse

Here is a big problem I have with McCain: his photo op strolling around the Baghdad marketplace, extolling how similar it was to a market in the Midwest. Last time we checked, you didn't need an advance team of 100 or so special forces and bulletproof vests for safety. That propaganda film showed how much integrity he has regarding the "straight talk express".

Posted by: steveboyington | December 27, 2007 9:12 PM | Report abuse

Geritol John needs a little shot a B-12 and a huge bolus of reality. John supports what is "working now' in Iraq, the infamous "surge". yes, but John you supported all the bullheaded, bullshot, arrogant, idiotic policies in Iraq all along. After 5 years of dismal failure and almost 4000 American deaths you can somehow extrapolate "good judgement" out of that cesspool?

Well if being a POW for 5 years somehow qualifies you as a foreign policy-military-diplomatic expert, anything is possible. The fact that you were a POW for that long is not only admirable, if illustrates a character that few of us have. However, sorry, that does not translate, transfer or otherwise imbue you with mystical powers to be the only person in the race who could serve as our next president.

Go home John. You sold your soul to the devil when you endorsed GWB after what he did to you in South Carolina in 2000. You may have been principled once, you are just another tired, old political hack chasing a pipe dream.

Posted by: forensicsbx | December 27, 2007 9:01 PM | Report abuse

OH PLEASE. Watch these candidates climb all over bodies to extol their own personal virtues.

_I am the best equipped, most experienced, most adept_ to take care the country and the world.

Yet, as someone earlier noted, these talking heads have stood by and watched our country squander lives and blood and resources in the middle east.

Stop the madness; stop the neocon war mongering; stop the sabre-rattling and wake up.

Voters, beware all the "experience" that's being touted. It's lies.

Posted by: suzeq | December 27, 2007 8:31 PM | Report abuse

Hillary Clinton is tougher than any of the male candidates running.

Nobody could ever accuse Margaret Thatcher or Golde Meir of not being tough enough to do the job.

Hillary Clinton's made out of the same stuff.

I rather have her in charge of my military than Romney or Huckabee any day.

Posted by: svreader | December 27, 2007 8:20 PM | Report abuse

The assassination should remind American voters that we are living in a dangerous world. The choice of the next President is no longer just a political one. The voters must decide if candidates like Mr. Obama or Mrs. Clinton are most qualified to be commander in chief of the United States Forces.

Posted by: dunnhaupt | December 27, 2007 8:08 PM | Report abuse

This is truly disgusting.

The woman is barely cold in her grave and McCain is trying to turn her death into a political advantage. Can he really be that cold hearted?

What's next, an ad that says that if she used a particular product or a used a particlar private security contractor she'd still be alive?

Is there no limit to people's callousness and naked lust for money and power?

I feel like throwing up.

Posted by: svreader | December 27, 2007 8:03 PM | Report abuse

Here we go again. Barely minutes or hours after this woman is dead, we have talking heads hyperventilating about which presidential candidate will benefit from her death. The conventional wisdom here is that McCain, Rudy or Hillary are poised to take on those problems. They are supposed to be the tough. OK.

Just like that? Here I was rushing home hoping to hear some foreign policy experts discuss the seriousness of this tragedy, given Pakistan's possession of nuclear weapons. Instead already some are calling the election, with not a single vote yet.

Wow. I recall the same kind of excitement over the Iraq war. No one taking the time to ask the right questions. But instead, talking about the political gains.

Hello. I want some assurance from foreign policy experts on what the best course would be to deal with this matter.

Posted by: askpeabody | December 27, 2007 7:32 PM | Report abuse

Well, since I am one of those hawkish conservatives, I am indeed arguing that McCain has more AND better national experience than any other candidate running -- that's not the only important issue though -- which is why I am supporting Romney this time around.

Now, if Dick Cheney were running . . .

Posted by: JakeD | December 27, 2007 7:29 PM | Report abuse

Jake, I think you mean "more" national security experience, not "better." Because "better" is a judgment call while "more" is simply a quantification, which is what your list provides us with.

One could actually make the argument, quite effectively, that McCain is unable to lead our country in foreign policy affairs because of his history in the military.

Let me give you an example. If you see a UFC fighter on the street and call him an ignorant fool, is he going to punch your lights out or plead with you to change your mind before taking physical action? Of course he's going to punch your lights out because that's his tried-and-true method of engagement.

Similarly, McCain thinks of military action as the primary means to an end. Most hawkish conservatives are in line with this kind of thinking. Clearly, as in Iraq and Afghanistan, this thinking is not successful without strategy and effective diplomacy.

What this country needs is a leader who sees military action as ONE means to an end, not THE means to an end. We need someone who can remain objective regarding military attacks, and McCain will never be able to overcome his bias in that regard. Only someone who is not bound to the military can lead this country with a balanced foreign policy.

Posted by: thecrisis | December 27, 2007 7:25 PM | Report abuse

Both McCain's grandfather and father were Admirals in the United States Navy -- following in their footsteps, McCain graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1958 -- he became a Naval aviator flying attack aircraft from carriers. Participating in the Vietnam War, he narrowly escaped death during the 1967 Forrestal fire -- on his twenty-third bombing mission over North Vietnam, he was shot down and badly injured. McCain was captured and became a prisoner of war for five and a half years, before he was released following the Paris Peace Accords in 1973.

Retiring from the Navy in 1981 and moving to Arizona, McCain soon entered politics. In 1982, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from Arizona's 1st congressional district -- after serving two terms there, he was elected to the U.S. Senate from Arizona in 1986 -- he was subsequently re-elected Senator in 1992, 1998, and 2004. McCain has served on the Senate Armed Services Committee for his entire tenure.

Anyone else want to contend their candidate has better national security experience?

Posted by: JakeD | December 27, 2007 7:08 PM | Report abuse

I would have to agree with McCain that, out of all the candidates in the race, he is the most qualified in terms of national security experience -- a close second would be Joe Biden as a long-time member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations -- of course, Biden was going to law school in 1968 rather than Vietnam.

Posted by: JakeD | December 27, 2007 7:00 PM | Report abuse

tom1960davis: thanks for noticing ; )

Posted by: JakeD | December 27, 2007 6:49 PM | Report abuse

I guess Ronald Reagan was a "liberal on the GOP ticket" too, since he SIGNED INTO LAW the first amnesty to legalize illegal aliens -- BTW: if they are legalized, aren't they among the "American people"? What about their children BORN here -- are you one of those arguing that the 14th Amendment "All persons born or naturalized" does not mean "all"?

Posted by: JakeD | December 27, 2007 6:46 PM | Report abuse

John McCain is a liberal running on the republican ticket. John McCain was on the committee (chaired by Ted Kennedy) who devised a plan to give amnesty to millions of illegals. John McCain's vote to legalize illegal aliens was a vote against the American people.

Posted by: lkleaz | December 27, 2007 6:41 PM | Report abuse

To all that question Sen. McCain's Foreign Policy credentials,

Please remember that in the prelude to NATO and the US moving into help stabilize Bosnia, Sen. McCain effectively acted as a Foreign Minister, for the Clinton administration, no less, securing the help needed from our allies. Many of his colleagues from the GOP were too timid to try to find solutions, but instead ventured to predict disasters that never happened.

Also, from the Get-Go, Sen. McCain has advocated that we use a lot more troops than the administration was giving to the efforts in Iraq. The administration was attempting to fight a war on 'economy of effort' which is just spiffy for private industry, but horrible for any kind of military operation.

Posted by: kolbkl | December 27, 2007 6:35 PM | Report abuse

JakeD just completely schooled islandloans. Enjoy your service, islandloans.

Posted by: tom1960davis | December 27, 2007 6:34 PM | Report abuse

O.K., islandloans, I'll bite: how in the world do you think John Kerry was more qualified than an INCUMBENT PRESIDENT on national security experience?

Posted by: JakeD | December 27, 2007 6:25 PM | Report abuse

More years in meditation (solitary) and multiple terms in the Senate spell "a steady had at the wheel": who on earth (or in this campaign) can claim to have been there, done that, seen the "waste" (four years: the honesty here is overwhelming in re Rumsfeld):this is a seasoned man: and a leader for our times. As a "veteran" of the health care (Medicare wars): I cannot imagine anyone (else) REALLY stepping up to the plate and both knowing, then building the state-of-the-art REHABILITATION facilities now required here, in the United States. It will be SO refreshing to hear talk of rebuilding healthcare "infrastructure": which in the end will save billions in care dollars for our returning veterans. It will not relegate them to the streets.

Years of experience is exactly what we need: but even if he will not say it (again, then again): by someone who has, indeed, been there, etc.

I was forced to do two years of ROTC: I would never claim Army experience. There are a few, in the Senate, on both sides, with whom President McCain will work: with real military careers in their past. McCain will bring them together, to make certain that no one is left on the street: no one is discharged for lack of beds. Perhaps Senator Edwards should consider a position in a McCain Cabinet: they are both saying the same thing: have the guts to yell it out: one quarter of all street people out there are United States veterans. Where is their health care? What went wrong with their promises: as Edwards rightly points out: for the least of them, and the least able to articulate their needs. Chilling: shades of Humphrey (how we treat others): and a mix of moderate Democratic reasoning. And civility first, above all.

Posted by: beaufortalbert | December 27, 2007 6:17 PM | Report abuse

What happens when we find out that Musharraf or someone within his regime is responsible for the attack? Of course Republicans will say it's Al Qaeda and Al Qaeda will likely be more than happy to take credit for it, even if they had nothing to do with the attack.

Just another attempt of the right wing to spin every attack into momentum for their partisan, imperialistic campaign.

Posted by: thecrisis | December 27, 2007 6:12 PM | Report abuse

river845 says "It is merely factual for McCain to state that he has experience and is informed about world events in a way that none of the other "candidates on either side is." In what way is he experienced? Because he attended a bunch of committee meetings? Because he was a POW in another equally misguided war as the current one? He's only demonstrating here that he's an experienced politician by quickly exploiting a tragedy to try to bolster his nearly defunct campaign.

Posted by: TomCadorette | December 27, 2007 5:50 PM | Report abuse

McCain has not demonstrated any leadership in relation to Pakistan or Afghanistan. He has no expertise in South Asian issues that he can present to distinguish himself from the other candidates.

As for the surge, it is unsustainable (it will begin to draw down in April, for political purposes and in recognition that our military cannot sustain, although military doctrine would call for it to be increased.

In addition to unsustainability, it is not demonstrably working. 2007 is the deadliest year of the war for US forces. There is no progress on the political end. Turkey and Kurdistan are reaching the point of open conflict. The moderate Shia clerics are losing influence due to the incompetence of Al-Maliki and his government. There is no rapprochement between Sunni and Shia. The irony is that Sadr is appearing to present the best hope for a united settlement on Iraq.

Sen. McCain's claims have no merit unless one only accepts media spin.

Posted by: Paleocon_Bill | December 27, 2007 5:49 PM | Report abuse

National Security is a "no-brainer". The problem before 9-11 as now is a dysfunctional FBI. The only way to protect the country is shake up the FBI with terminations of employment and new hires.

Until that happens the US is just as safe now as it was before 9-11.

Funnie thing about McCain and Hillary. They tout experiece as a pre-requsite yet support the inexperienced Bush to the hilt.

We can rule out both Hillary and McCain as serious contenders in the Presidential race. They dish out too much BS.

Posted by: Maddogg | December 27, 2007 5:49 PM | Report abuse

If Mc Cain's argument that he's the only candidate who has the national security experience and qualification, so voters should elect him as the 2008 president. That's wrong Mr. Mccain. This isn't the only issue Americans are after for their country. Look what happened during the Bush-Kerry election. Kerry was more qualified than Bush on national security experience. Voters chose Bush.

Posted by: islandloans | December 27, 2007 5:48 PM | Report abuse

While I respect Sen McCain, I question his claim that the surge is working as that depends on your definition of "working".

Dr. Paul certainly has a better grasp of the issues than anyone else running.

Dr. Paul's supporters put off some people by their enthusiasm but their zeal for his ideas and ideals has a solid basis.



Posted by: tchtic | December 27, 2007 5:48 PM | Report abuse

The one who should tout good judgement was Obama.
Senator Obama "There are terrorists holed up in those mountains who murdered 3,000 Americans. They are plotting to strike again . . . If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won't act, we will."

Bhutto on Obama's statements about Pakistan
Well, I wouldn't like the United States to violate Pakistan's sovereignty with unauthorized military operations. But the issue that I would like to stress is that Barack Obama also said, if Pakistan won't act. And that's the critical issue, that the government has to act. And the government has to act to protect Pakistan's own serenity and integrity, its own respect, and to understand that if it creates a vacuum, then others aren't going to just twiddle their thumbs while militants freely move across the border.

"The country is endangered by organized minority had seized control of the levers of the state," including officials who had connections to extremists going way back to the Afghan mujahedin war against the Soviets, which boosted such radicals as Osama bin Laden."

As usual judgement is better than experience

Posted by: TennGurl | December 27, 2007 5:45 PM | Report abuse

It is merely factual for McCain to state that he has experience and is informed about world events in a way that none of the other candidates on either side is.

This is one of McCain's main strengths. It is the business of politics to profit from misfortune, as well as good fortune. They play the ball whatever way it comes to them.

Posted by: river845 | December 27, 2007 5:41 PM | Report abuse

You have to be a low life scumbag to try to score points from someone's tragic death. McCain appears to fit right in.

Posted by: playa_brotha | December 27, 2007 5:31 PM | Report abuse

I find it ironic that McCain is braggin about his foreign policy experience. if anything, American foreign policy has been nothing but disastrous in the past 20+ years. Not sure who is believing Mccain's fictitious stories. Iraq war is a disaster and it is by no means a success or a finished one anytime soon. Him braggin abiut surge shows how shallow his common sense is.

Posted by: kanank | December 27, 2007 5:23 PM | Report abuse

Who will benefit from Bhutto's death? Politicians are quickly answering, "Hopefully me." McCain says that his support of having more troops in Iraq-- a strategy as yet unproven in its results-- shows he could deal with crises such as Pakistan? Say what?? He will not criticize U.S. support of Musharraf's dictatorial rule? And he is certain that Islamic extremists were behind the Bhutto killing, even before an investigation has been undertaken and while some could just as well see Musharraf or his military backers as the guilty parties? And, of course, no criticism of the U.S. policy (under Bush's daddy) of giving arms to Islamic rebels, including Taligan, who fought the Soviets. But, then, how many Republicans even criticized the Reagan Administration for selling guns to Iran to supposedly woo "moderate" clerics in the government there (with guns??) and to raise funds for the Contras? Geesh, people. At least wait until Bhutto is buried before trying to benefit from her death.

Posted by: Sutter | December 27, 2007 5:21 PM | Report abuse

Sure - we can send more troops over there and we'll just print more dollars to make it happen. Everyone who is on a fixed income over here, we'll just print more dollars so they can have food stamp and what all. Then when there's a run on dollars we can devalue the currency and ruin everyone who isn't rich in America and start a global depression. After that, we can buy up all the assets for pennies on the dollar and be even richer corporations than we are now! PLEASE help us, Dr. Paul!

Posted by: lnardozi | December 27, 2007 5:20 PM | Report abuse

Is he campaigning to become president or keep his job in the senate? I'm no Giuliani supporter but to say that his crisis management experience after 9/11 isn't related to a president's role in foreign relations is crazy. I'm sure he knows a lot of answers about foreign policy issues, but I'm not sure that qualifies him to be president. That job is about leadership, quick and critical responses, and team-building. Nixon was a foreign policy genius but I think you'd have a hard time arguing that Nixon lifted this country up the way Reagan, someone without foreign policy experience, did. I like McCain, but he's not right for the president's job. The worst thing a president can do is put the American interest second behind global opinion and international law. McCain's stance on GITMO, interrogation, and borders shows that if anything he is weak on foreign policy. He needs to keep his job in the senate. He seems to not understand that being president is a totally different job.

Posted by: txindep | December 27, 2007 5:17 PM | Report abuse

Is the answer to the question.... "Who benefits from Benazir Bhutto's death?".... Al Qaida? Not very likely. Curious how quickly leaders like Bush "assume" that Al Qaida did this.... how convenient.

Posted by: kejhill | December 27, 2007 5:07 PM | Report abuse

Over recent years, John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, and all the rest of the GOP nodded approvingly while George Bush & Co. poured billions into the coffers of General Musharaff. During that period Musharaf: a. presided over the dismantling of Pakistani democracy b. allowed his minions to provide nuclear technology to rogue regimes like North Korea c. allowed Al Qaeda and like-minded fundies to seek refuge within Pakistan's borders d. continued to sabre rattle with India. So why should I care that John McCain can pick up a phone. The GOP has proven itself incompetent and clueless when it comes to dealing with Pakistan, Afghanistan and the whole region.

Posted by: jbentley4 | December 27, 2007 4:33 PM | Report abuse

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