Bhutto assassination: Afternoon update

The markets are reacting badly to the Bhutto assassination, although some lousy durable-goods orders and rising oil prices have something to do with it, too.  At the close, the Dow and the S&P 500 are both down about 1.4%.

The more news that comes in, the more obvious it becomes how badly Washington — and more specifically, Condi Rice — has screwed up in Pakistan.  It was Rice who brokered the power-sharing deal that allowed Bhutto to return to Pakistan last fall in the hopes of gussying up the soft dictatorship of Pervez Musharraf.  Even mainstream analysts like Zbigniew Brzezenski are acknowledging what a colossal blunder this has been:

I think the United States should not get involved in Pakistani
politics. I deplore the absence of democracy in Pakistan, but I think
admonitions from outside, injecting exile politicians into Pakistan,
telling the Pakistan president what he should or should not wear, that
he should take off his uniform, I don't really think this is America's
business and I don't think it helps to consolidate stability in

Amen, brother.

But it turns out that Washington's meddling in Pakistan goes much further than that.  Just yesterday, Washington Post military blogger William Arkin reported :

Beginning early next year, U.S. Special Forces are expected to vastly
expand their presence in Pakistan, as part of an effort to train and
support indigenous counter-insurgency forces and clandestine
counterterrorism units, according to defense officials involved with
the planning…

U.S. Central Command Commander Adm. William Fallon alluded to the
agreement and spoke approvingly of Pakistan's recent counterterrorism
efforts in an interview with Voice of America last week.

"What we've seen in the last several months is more of a willingness
to use their regular army units," along the Afghan border, Fallon said.
"And this is where, I think, we can help a lot from the U.S. in
providing the kind of training and assistance and mentoring based on
our experience with insurgencies recently and with the terrorist
problem in Iraq and Afghanistan, I think we share a lot with them, and
we'll look forward to doing that."

I'm sure this will go over well with ordinary Pakistanis, already upset with Washington pulling strings to use Bhutto to shore up Musharraf's regime.

But wait, there's more!  It turns out much of the $5 billion in U.S. aid given to Pakistan since 9/11 has been spent not on fighting Islamist radicals, but instead has been poured down a rathole:

Money has been diverted to help finance weapons systems designed to
counter India, not Al Qaeda or the Taliban, the officials said, adding
that the United States has paid tens of millions of dollars in inflated
Pakistani reimbursement claims for fuel, ammunition and other costs.

Remember that the next time Pakistan and India start rattling nuclear sabers at each other. 

Back to Bhutto for the moment.  Assuming al-Qaeda's claim of responsibility is true (that's a hard sell among Bhutto supporters, convinced Musharraf is behind it), the timing is really, really interesting.  Yes, the Pakistani elections are less than two weeks away.  But so are the first two contests in the U.S. presidential race, in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Discerning readers might recall at this point Osama bin Laden's 2004 video, issued days before the November general election.  As Ron Suskind reported in his book The One Percent Doctrine, CIA analysts concluded the video succeeded in its aim — getting Bush reelected and thus ensuring a steady supply of new al-Qaeda recruits outraged with U.S. foreign policy.

And lo and behold, look at some of today's sidebar news, strongly implying the more hawkish presidential candidates are bound to benefit: 

"Still, the instant conventional wisdom will say that heavy news
coverage of the gun and bomb attack will bolster the arguments of Sens.
Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.), both members of the
Armed Services Committee. … That same instant C.W. will say that the
candidates most damaged will be Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and former
Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R)," report The Politico's Mike Allen, Jonathan Martin and Ben Smith…

On the GOP front, the attack could complement Rudy Giuliani's attempt
to reinsert national security concerns into the presidential campaign
with a national television ad he purchased that will begin airing

Washington Post reporter Chris Cillizza argues
at his blog, The Fix, that Bhutto's assassination could help Giuliani
recover the spotlight in the final weeks before Iowa and New Hampshire
voters make their choices.

Somewhere in a cave, whether he had anything to do with Bhutto's assassination or not, bin Laden is smiling. 

Update:  Why is Ron Paul's campaign MIA on this?  I've seen other candidates' campaigns issue statements today, worthless platitudes reinforcing conventional wisdom of course, reacting to the news.  How hard is it for Paul's folks to issue a statement about how the assassination vividly demonstrates that U.S. meddling in Pakistan is just making us more enemies?  Yeah, I know I'm being harsh, but $18.8 million dollars in the fourth quarter ought to buy a better response.

Additional update:  I take it all back.  Apparently he has guest shots scheduled on all three of the cable news channels between 4 and 7 PM EST today, where news-hungry undecided voters will get to hear a very different take on Pakistan compared to all the other candidates.  My bad.

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