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Richardson Criticizes Bush

In a speech at the Des Moines Botanical Center, Bill Richardson says President Bush "let down both the American and the Pakistani people."
In a speech at the Des Moines Botanical Center, Bill Richardson says President Bush "let down both the American and the Pakistani people." (By J. David Ake -- Associated Press)

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Saturday, December 29, 2007

PAKISTAN POLICY QUESTIONED

Richardson Criticizes Bush

DES MOINES -- Bill Richardson, keying off the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, sharply criticized the Bush administration's Pakistan policy and called for an immediate cutoff of military aid to that country that does not go directly to the fight against terrorism.

A day after calling on Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to step down, the New Mexico governor delivered a broad critique of the Bush administration's policies. Richardson also highlighted his own foreign policy credentials and argued that now is no time to elect a president who is a neophyte on the international stage.

"President Bush faced a choice with Pakistan," Richardson said in a speech to an overflow audience at the Des Moines Botanical Center. "He needed to choose whether to support the dictator or the Pakistani people. He chose the dictator. Repeatedly. And by doing so, he has let down both the American and the Pakistani people."

Richardson acknowledged the risks of forcing Musharraf from power, given Pakistan's instability and status as a nuclear state. But he argued that the risks are far greater if Musharraf were to remain in power, and he accused some of his Democratic rivals of making the same mistake as the president in putting too much faith in Musharraf.

Earlier this year, Richardson was more supportive of Musharraf. "I think the vice president is right. You have to lean on Musharraf, who is our ally," he said in February on MSNBC. "And what you don't want to do is provoke a situation, even though he's not a great champion of human rights, democracy, et cetera, to have somebody replace him who is less friendly to us, who would cause us real problems."

Tom Reynolds, press secretary for Richardson's campaign, said about those earlier remarks: "Whatever slight hope existed that Musharraf could reform himself and regain credibility with his people is now lost. Unless Musharraf steps aside, Richardson does not believe elections can be fair or that the country can make progress toward true democracy."

John McCain took an opposite view from Richardson's, saying on Friday to reporters in Manchester, N.H., that he continues "to believe Musharraf has done a pretty good job, done a lot of the things that we wanted him to do." McCain cited Musharraf's decision to relinquish his military post, to call elections and to end martial law.

In his outspoken defense of Musharraf, McCain also rejected any suggestion that the United States should consider invading Waziristan, the mountainous region of Pakistan that has become the base for al-Qaeda and Taliban elements suspected in the assassination.

"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 alienate the people and government of Pakistan if we decided to initiate unilateral action," McCain said.

-- Dan Balz and Alec MacGillis


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