WILLIAMSBURG, Iowa -- A day after former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated, White House hopeful Barack Obama said the United States needs to come down hard on Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf.
Obama said today he would suspend any military aid to Pakistan not directly going to fight al Qaida until Musharraf gets “serious” about stomping out the group.
“We have poured billions of dollars in support to President Musharraf,” Obama told hundreds of supporters who braved a snowstorm to hear him at the Mary Welsh Elementary School. “This despite the fact that he has suspended democratic practices in Pakistan. He has not obeyed the constitution. He has put the chief justice there under house arrest, still has political prisoners and the press is suppressed. As we’re supposed to be leading up to elections.”
Obama and most of the other Democratic and Republican presidential candidates are scrambling around Iowa amid heavy snowfall today with just days to go before next week’s caucuses.
“As long as we are supporting somebody who the Pakistani people themselves believe has subverted democracy, that strengthens the hand of the Islamic militants,” Obama told the crowd.
Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat, made a similar plea to cut foreign aid to Pakistan and has even called on President Bush to ask Musharraf to step down.
Candidates with more foreign policy experience than Obama have been showcasing that since Thursday’s assassination.
Sen. Joseph Biden, a Democrat, released a letter he had sent to Musharraf urging more protection for Bhutto. Fellow Democrats Hillary Clinton and Chris Dodd, and Republican John McCain and others are speaking from the perspective of actually knowing Bhutto.
Obama started four campaign stops Thursday apologizing for being late because of phone calls he said he had to make to ambassadors early Thursday to get a reading on Bhutto’s assassination. He continued using that opening up to and including his 8 p.m. appearance about eight hours after he made the calls.
In an apparent slap at Clinton, who had earlier questioned how spending four years of childhood in Indonesia gave Obama valuable international perspective, Obama today ribbed candidates who claimed foreign policy from meetings with “ambassadors I visited who I had tea with.”
Later in the day, after the Clinton campaign complained that the "tea" comment seemed sexist, an Obama spokeswoman clarified that he was not referring to Clinton - he was referring to legislators who go on congressional "fact-finding" trips and have tea with the ambassadors.