(CNN) - Mike Huckabee – whose foreign policy credentials have been under a microscope since he admitted to journalists that he was unaware of a major report on Iran’s nuclear weapons program – appeared to make another minor gaffe Thursday when he seemed to suggest incorrectly that Pakistan was currently under martial law.
At an Orlando press conference, the former Arkansas governor told reporters that the United States’ first priority should be to find the responsible parties.
“But the most urgent thing to do is to offer our sincere sympathies and concerns to the family and to the people of Pakistan, and that’s the first thing we would be doing other than, again, trying to ascertain who’s behind it, and what impact does it have on whether or not there’s going to be martial law continued in Pakistan, suspension of the constitution,” said Huckabee. “Those are concerns that the United States certainly should have."
Conservative critics immediately pointed out that Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf lifted the country’s state of martial law roughly two weeks ago. The slip "ought to be really bad news for Huckabee," said the National Review's Jim Geraghty, writing on the magazine's Web site. "...I'm not sure how big assassination-related news will play in the first primary states. Still, I think those misstatements will exacerbate the Huck/Not Huck divide in GOP circles." The National Review has endorsed Huckabee's Republican rival Mitt Romney.
UPDATE: In a statement Thursday night, the Huckabee campaign said: "Gov. Huckabee firmly believes that emergency rule/martial law in Pakistan, as a practical matter, should not be viewed as having been completely lifted until the restrictions imposed during that period on the press and judges are removed.
"Although General Musharraf let the pendulum swing a little more freely in the last few weeks, the overall policy, which is what the Governor was addressing in his comments, has been, and continues to be, repressive."
Later Thursday, at an event in West Des Moines, Huckabee told CNN that "it was not that I was unaware it was suspended, two weeks ago, lifted. ...The point was, would it be reinstated, would it be placed back in? All of the aspects of martial law have not been completely lifted even now. There's still a heavy hand Musarraf has used."
He added, "We ought to have immediate, very clear monitoring of our borders, and particularly to make sure if there's any unusual activity of Pakistanis coming into the country. We just need to be very, very thorough in looking at every aspect of our own security internally, because we live in a very dangerous time."
–CNN's Rebecca Sinderbrand
WASHINGTON (CNN) - Much of Thursday's campaign coverage gave way to non-stop reporting on the assassination of Benazir Bhutto - but that didn't seem to take the edge off the rough-and-tumble of the race.
One of Barack Obama's senior strategists, David Axelrod, made remarks which he later seemed to back away from that appeared to link the former Pakistani prime minister's death with Hillary Clinton's vote on the Iraq war. "I mean, she was a strong supporter of the war in Iraq, which we would submit is one of the reasons why we were diverted from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Al Qaeda who may have been players in this event today. So that's a judgment she'll have to defend," said Axelrod.
Joe Biden took a swipe at fellow Democrat Bill Richardson for calling on Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to step down: "That's like Bill saying 'Bring home all the troops in Iraq in three months.' It's not practical."
And John McCain said of Rudy Giuliani's post-9/11 experience as mayor of New York: "I don't know how that provides one the credentials to address national security issues."
Meanwhile, Mitt Romney downplayed the value of McCain's own national security expertise, one of his campaign's main themes. "Well, if foreign policy experience were the measure of electing a president, we'd just go to the State Department and pick up one of the thousands and thousands of people who've spent their whole lives in foreign policy - and frankly, becoming United States senator does not make one a foreign policy expert either," the former Massachusetts governor told CNN.
- CNN Associate Political Editor Rebecca Sinderbrand
Edwards said Thursday he spoke to Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf following Bhutto's death. (Photo Credit: AP)
DECORAH, Iowa (CNN) - John Edwards said Thursday he spoke with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf by phone and urged him to allow a team of independent international investigators into the country to examine the circumstances surrounding the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.
"I actually spoke to President Musharraf just a few minutes ago as I was about to come in here," Edwards told an audience at Luther College here. "And he was in Islamabad. And I urged him to continue this democratization process … I also urged him to allow international investigators into Pakistan to determine the facts."
Edwards told reporters after the event that the investigators are needed "for transparency purposes and credibility purposes to determine what happened."
The former senator said he had put in a request with Pakistan's ambassador to the United States earlier this morning to speak with Musharraf, and that Musharraf called him back before the town hall meeting.
"He called me because I told the ambassador I would like to speak to him," Edwards said. "I met him a few years ago, which I think I told you earlier."
Edwards would not reveal whether Musharraf welcomed the idea of an independent investigation into the Bhutto attack.
"I'm going to let him speak for himself. I don’t think it would be responsible to make an announcement on that," he said.
- CNN Political Producer Peter Hamby
WASHINGTON (CNN) - Democrat Hillary Clinton has purchased two minutes of airtime on every Iowa television station to deliver her 'closing argument' on the eve of the Iowa Caucuses, her campaign announced Thursday.
The campaign says the message will air on every 6 p.m. news broadcast across the Hawkeye State.
(CNN) – Republican presidential candidate Fred Thompson has weighed in on the death of former Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.
“This is a war that we’re engaged in. It’s an international conflict,” said Thompson. “It’s a global conflict. Al Qaeda wants to bring Western civilization to its knees.”
Thompson also told reporters Thursday that he thinks “terrorism has never left the agenda” of the 2008 presidential race. “This is no time for on-the-job training,” added the former Tennessee senator, emphasizing the need for experience – a recurring theme in both the GOP and Democratic primary races.
–CNN Associate Producer Martina Stewart
WASHINGTON (CNN) - Republican Rudy Giuliani said Thursday the main U.S. goal in Pakistan – a country in crisis following the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto – should be stability right now, not democracy.
“America should be there to help Pakistan achieve the following objectives… first of all immediate stability, as best as can happen, and finding the people that did this,” the former New York City mayor told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, adding later that “there are very difficult choices, but the objective has to be stability in Pakistan first, and then right back on track towards democracy as soon as possible.”
Giuliani, who has made the war on terror a central theme of his campaign, declined to express confidence in Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, who has come under criticism from presidential candidates for his failure to fully deal with Islamic extremists within his country’s borders.
“Well he said the right words today, but we have to carefully look at this,” he told Blitzer. “Our objective here is no one person, our objective here is a stable Pakistan that will move toward democracy. And the big objective - and I’m speaking from the outside, not the inside, so people on the inside might have a slightly different view of this - you have to establish trust between the civilian leadership and the military, because hopefully they will stand against the efforts of the terrorists to destabilize Pakistan.”
–CNN's Rebecca Sinderbrand
WASHINGTON (CNN) - Many of the presidential candidates have reacted to the assassination of former Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.
Click here to read all the candidate reactions. (Continually updated)
WEST DES MOINES, Iowa (CNN) - Republican John McCain told reporters that new unrest in Pakistan might serve to help his presidential campaign, given the national security credentials that have been a central theme of his White House run.
In response to a question from CNN's Dana Bash on whether the current situation helps his campaign, McCain responded: “I’m the one with the experience, the knowledge and the judgment, so perhaps it may serve to enhance those credentials, or make people understand that I’ve been to Waziristan, I know Musharraf, I can pick up the phone and call him. I knew Benazir Bhutto, I know the area. But I hate for anything like this to be the cause of any political gain for anyone.”
In response to another question, the Arizona senator also suggested that Rudy Giuliani’s post-9/11 experience would not necessarily help him deal with the Pakistan crisis, if he were president. “I don’t know. I know he doesn’t have any experience there. I don’t know how he would handle it to tell you the truth,” said McCain. “He did a great job post-9/11 in handling a post-crisis situation, but I don’t know how that provides one the credentials to address national security issues. I think, as I say, he did a fine job. …
“But as far as I know Mayor Giuliani has never been to Iraq. I mean I don’t … I’m not saying he is without credentials. I’m just saying I’m the one with the most credentials, and experience, and the most judgment.”
–CNN's Dana Bash contributed to this report
(Photo credit: AP)
DES MOINES, Iowa (CNN) - Before a wildly enthusiastic standing room only crowd in downtown Des Moines, Barack Obama delivered the closing argument of his Iowa campaign Thursday. He framed his campaign as the only one aspiring to the true possibility of a better America and he called on his audience to reject the anger and appeals to fear that he suggest are coming from both Sen Clinton and Sen John Edwards campaigns.
Challenging Sen. Clinton’s claim that her Washington experience makes her best positioned to enact reforms, Obama said “you can’t at once argue that you’re the master of a broken system in Washington and offer yourself as the person to change it.” Taking on her vote on the Iraq war, he charged, “You can’t fall in line behind the conventional thinking on issues as profound as war and offer yourself as the leader who is best prepared to chart a new and better course for America.” In another not-so-thinly veiled attack on Senator Clinton he denounced Democrats who engage in “the same politics of fear”, who “invokes 9/11 as a way to scare up votes.”
Clinton spokesman Phil Singer quickly reacted to the speech, saying, “Now is not the time for political attacks, it's time to pick a president who can give us a new beginning in a time of war and a troubled economy."
"There are big stakes in this election – Iowans are going to pick the candidate best able to make the change we need starting on day one and that candidate is Hillary Clinton," he added.
Turning to John Edwards’ message that the struggle against special interests requires head-on confrontation that only Edwards is willing to engage in, Obama offered this: “There are others in this race who sy that this kind of change sounds good but that I’m not angry or confrontational enough to get it done. Well let me tell you something, Iowa. I don’t need any lectures on how to bring abut change because I haven’t just talked about it on the campaign trail, I fought for change all my life."