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Benazir Bhutto

McCain and Giuliani Point to Pakistan

Arizona Sen. John McCain reacted to the assassination of former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto. McCain was campaigning at a rally in Urbandale, Iowa. Video by Jacqueline Refo/washingtonpost.com

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By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 28, 2007

Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) and former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, who have made terrorism central to their Republican presidential campaigns, emphasized their ability to cope with unpredictable threats yesterday after the assassination of Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto.

At a morning rally in Urbandale, Iowa, McCain said that he alone among his Republican rivals has the credentials to deal with national security threats posed by Islamic jihadists.

Asked whether he thought former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney was equipped to handle national security issues of the type presented by yesterday's assassination, McCain said: "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."

McCain added that his comments also applied to former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee as well as "everybody that's running." He said: "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."

In Florida, Giuliani said the assassination serves as another example of why the United States needs to "go on offense" against Islamic terrorism and expand its forces in Afghanistan to block the possible resurgence of the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Bhutto's death "should unite us in facing the terrorist war against us," he told a group of retired New York law enforcement officials in Broward County. "We need a military that is ready for anything the terrorists might throw at us. The reality is we need a larger military so these things don't become a strain."

By contrast, Romney told reporters in Manchester, N.H., that foreign policy experience is not essential for the next president, citing Ronald Reagan's ability to overcome the threat of communism despite entering the White House with little experience abroad.

"If the answer for leading the country is someone that has a lot of foreign policy experience, we can just go down to the State Department and pick up any one of the tens of thousands of people who spent all their life in foreign policy," Romney said.

Huckabee, who has campaigned primarily on domestic issues, issued a statement that focused more on the United States than on Pakistan. "On this sad day, we are reminded that while our democracy has flaws, it stands as a shining beacon of hope for nations and people around the world who seek peace and opportunity through self-government," he said in the statement.

Former senator Fred D. Thompson (Tenn.) said in an interview on Fox News that he spoke to Pakistani Prime Minister Pervez Musharraf a few years ago "before things got quite as complex as they are now," and that the United States is going "to have to walk that line between democracy on the one hand and stability on the other" when it comes to dealing with Musharraf, who recently ended six weeks of military rule in Pakistan.

Ken Mehlman, former chairman of the Republican National Committee, said yesterday's assassination serve as "a huge reminder of the salience of the terrorism issue," which can reemerge without warning and influence the election in ways that are hard to anticipate.

"It should remind both candidates and observers that this will grow and recede based on events that are completely unpredictable," said Mehlman, a partner with the D.C.-based law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld.

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