(CNN) - Asked in Thursday night's debate about Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf's recent moves against democracy in his country - which included suspending the constitution - the Democratic hopefuls for the presidential nomination took a universally tough line, saying they would mount pressure on Musharraf to switch course.
For all, it was an opportunity to demonstrate a toughness in dealing with overseas leaders and a commitment to fundamental democratic principles.
Yet there was an important distinction among them: whether U.S. aid for Pakistan should be contingent on moves toward democracy.
Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware said he told Musharraf himself, and also said on the floor of the Senate, that certain military aid should be taken away "if he did not take off his uniform" - meaning renounce military control while remaining the nation's president. "I would use that leverage," he said.
But Sen. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut said he disagrees with imposing such conditions, given how crucial Pakistan is in combating al Qaeda. "When you take the oath of office (for the presidency) January 20th, you promise to do two things: protect and defend the United States and protect yourselves from enemies foreign and domestic," he said.
Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York said she agrees that "the first step is to protect America."
She also said a democratic Pakistan would mean heightened security for the United States. "That's what is so tragic about this situation. After 9/11, President Bush had a chance to chart a different course both in Pakistan and Afghanistan and could have been very clear about what our expectations were. We are now in a bind. And it is partly, not completely, but partly a result of failed policies of the Bush administration."
- CNN's Josh Levs