The Quad City Times reports:
Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee defended his failure to read the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran in early December, joking in an interview Monday that President Bush didn’t read intelligence reports for four years.
Huckabee came under fire in early December when, in response to a reporter’s question about the Iran report, Huckabee said he wasn’t aware of it. Huckabee’s lack of familiarity with the National Intelligence Estimate — a report that showed Iran had discontinued its nuclear program — provided fuel for his critics who said he was a lightweight on foreign policy.
“The whole perception was based on an ambush question on the NIE report,” Huckabee said in an interview Monday with the Quad-City Times. “From there, it was like, ‘Wow.’ That was released at 10 o’clock in the morning. At 5:30 in the afternoon, somebody says, ‘Have you read the report?’ Maybe I should’ve said, ‘Have you read the report?’ President Bush didn’t read it for four years; I don’t know why I should read it in four hours.”
His comment about President Bush appears to be a reference to allegations made by Bush’s critics that Bush didn’t pay close enough attention to intelligence reports, particularly in the early years of his presidency.
When asked to clarify, Huckabee said this:
“The point I’m trying to make is that, on the campaign trail, nobody’s going to be able, if they’ve been campaigning as hard as we have been, to keep up with every single thing, from what happened to Britney last night to who won ‘Dancing with the Stars.’ ”
He said the campaign learned from the criticism related to the Iran report and now he gets regular briefings about developments in foreign policy.
Monday, December 31, 2007
The Quad City Times reports:
Buoyed by the still unsettled field, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg is growing increasingly enchanted with the idea of an independent presidential bid, and his aides are aggressively laying the groundwork for him to run.
The New York Times reports:
On Sunday, the mayor will join Democratic and Republican elder statesmen at the University of Oklahoma in what the conveners are billing as an effort to pressure the major party candidates to renounce partisan gridlock.
Former Senator David L. Boren of Oklahoma, who organized the session with former Senator Sam Nunn, a Democrat of Georgia, suggested in an interview that if the prospective major party nominees failed within two months to formally embrace bipartisanship and address the fundamental challenges facing the nation, “I would be among those who would urge Mr. Bloomberg to very seriously consider running for president as an independent.”
Next week’s meeting, reported on Sunday in The Washington Post, comes as the mayor’s advisers have been quietly canvassing potential campaign consultants about their availability in the coming months.
And Mr. Bloomberg himself has become more candid in conversations with friends and associates about his interest in running, according to participants in those talks. Despite public denials, the mayor has privately suggested scenarios in which he might be a viable candidate: for instance, if the opposing major party candidates are poles apart, like Mike Huckabee, a Republican, versus Barack Obama or John Edwards as the Democratic nominee.
A final decision by Mr. Bloomberg about whether to run is unlikely before February. Still, he and his closest advisers are positioning themselves so that if the mayor declares his candidacy, a turnkey campaign infrastructure will virtually be in place.
Bloomberg aides have studied the process for starting independent campaigns, which formally begins March 5, when third-party candidates can begin circulating nominating petitions in Texas. If Democrats and Republicans have settled on their presumptive nominees at that point, Mr. Bloomberg will have to decide whether he believes those candidates are vulnerable to a challenge from a pragmatic, progressive centrist, which is how he would promote himself.
The filing deadline for the petitions, which must be signed by approximately 74,000 Texas voters who did not participate in the state’s Democratic or Republican primaries, is May 12.
Among the other participants invited to the session next Sunday and Monday is Senator Chuck Hagel, a Nebraska Republican, who has said he would consider being Mr. Bloomberg’s running mate on an independent ticket.
Mr. Boren declined to say which candidate would be strongest, but suggested “some kind of combination of those three: Bloomberg-Hagel, Bloomberg-Nunn.” He said Mr. Bloomberg would “not have to spend a lot of time raising money and he would not have to make deals with special interest groups to raise money.”
“Normally I don’t think an independent candidacy would have a chance” said Mr. Boren, who is the University of Oklahoma’s president. “I don’t think these are normal times.”
Mr. Bloomberg, who has tried to seize a national platform on gun control, the environment and other issues, has been regularly briefed in recent months on foreign policy by, among others, Henry A. Kissinger, his friend and the former secretary of state, and Nancy Soderberg, an ambassador to the United Nations in the Clinton administration.
Advisers have said Mr. Bloomberg, a billionaire many times over, might invest as much as $1 billion of his own fortune (he spent about $160 million on his two mayoral races) on a presidential campaign.
But they warned that while they were confident of getting on the ballot in every state, the process was complicated and fraught with legal challenges, and that Mr. Bloomberg would begin with an organizational disadvantage, competing against rivals who have been campaigning full time for years.
Still, the mayor said this month at a news conference, “Last I looked — and I’m not a candidate — but last time I checked reading about the Constitution, the Electoral College has nothing to do with parties, has absolutely nothing to do with parties. It’s most states are winners take all. The popular vote assigns electoral votes to the candidate, and I don’t think it says in there that you have to be a member of one party or another.”
The key players — virtually the only players — in Mr. Bloomberg’s embryonic campaign are three of his deputy mayors, Kevin Sheekey, Edward Skyler and Patricia E. Harris. Another aide, Patrick Brennan, who was the political director of Mr. Bloomberg’s 2005 re-election campaign, resigned as commissioner of the city’s Community Assistance Unit earlier this year to spend more time exploring the mayor’s possible national campaign.
One concern among Mr. Bloomberg’s inner circle is whether a loss would label him a spoiler — “a rich Ralph Nader” — who cost a more viable candidate the presidency in a watershed political year. One person close to the mayor, who spoke on condition of anonymity so as not to be seen discussing internal strategy, stressed that Mr. Bloomberg would run only if he believed he could win.
“He’s not going to do it to influence the debate,” the person said.
The mayor was asked last week at a news conference whether a Bloomberg campaign would cost the Democratic or Republican nominee more votes.
“You know,” he replied, “if it’s a three-way race, the public has more choice than if it’s a two-way race, and has more choice in a two-way race than a one-way race. Why shouldn’t you have lots of people running, and what’s magical about people who happen to be a member of a party?”
Sam Waterston, the actor whose former co-star on “Law and Order,” Fred D. Thompson, is a Republican presidential candidate, is a founder of Unity08. That group also hopes to advance a nonpartisan ticket, and Mr. Waterston says the mayor is often mentioned on the group’s Web site as a prospective nominee.
“If he formally embraced Unity08’s principal goals of a bipartisan, nonpartisan, postpartisan ticket — which he’s almost in a position to do all by himself, having been a Democrat, a Republican, and now an independent — and of an administration dedicated to ending partisanship within itself and in Washington, then it’s hard to think of anyone better placed to win Unity08’s support if he sought it,” Mr. Waterston said. “And, of course, there’s nothing that says Unity08 couldn’t draft him.”
Some associates said that after six years as mayor, Mr. Bloomberg was itching for a new challenge — much like he was in 2000 when, as chief executive of Bloomberg L.P., he was flirting with running for mayor.
But Mr. Bloomberg will also have to weigh several intangibles: Can he run for president and serve as mayor of a combustible metropolis simultaneously for eight months? (He believes he can, and would not resign as mayor to run.) Does he want to be president badly enough to sacrifice his zealously guarded personal privacy? (He’s not completely convinced.)
Meanwhile, he thoroughly enjoys the attention, and despite the public denials, suggests that he is poised to run if the political stars align themselves for a long-shot, but credible, independent campaign. During a private reception this month, Mr. Bloomberg playfully presided over a personal variation of bingo, in which guests could win by correctly guessing the significance of the numbers on a printed card.
“Two hundred seventy-one?” Mr. Bloomberg asked.
One guest guessed correctly: It was George W. Bush’s bare electoral-vote majority in 2000.
Sunday, December 30, 2007
At The Trail blog at the Washington Post, John Solomon writes:
Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, locked in a tight GOP race in Iowa, said Sunday he would seek to punish doctors who took money to provide abortions to women if he succeeded in outlawing the procedure, as he has long advocated.
"I think if a doctor knowingly took the life of an unborn child for money, and that's why he was doing it, yeah, I think you would, you would find some way to sanction that doctor," Huckabee said during an appearance on NBC's Meet the Press. "I don't know that you'd put him in prison, but there's something to me untoward about a person who has committed himself to healing people and to making people alive who would take money to take an innocent life and to make that life dead."
The former governor said he would not support penalizing women who sought abortions even if they were outlawed. "I think you don't punish the woman, first of all, because it's not about ... I consider her a victim, not a criminal."
Huckabee, whose campaign surged to the lead in Iowa polls but has cooled in recent days, also used the appearance on the Sunday show to launch his most pointed attack yet on rival Mitt Romney. He accused the former Massachusetts governor of running a "very desperate and, frankly, distorted" campaign for the presidency.
"If you aren't being honest in obtaining the job, can we trust you if you get the job?" Huckabee asked, citing instances in which he alleged Romney distorted Huckabee's record as governor. Huckabee also came to the defense of a fellow rival, saying that when Romney "went after the integrity of John McCain, he stepped over the line. John McCain's a hero in this country. He's a hero to me."
McCain, whose campaign also has been targeted by Romney since it began rising in New Hampshire polls, also got into the mix during an appearance on ABC's This Week. McCain declined to call Romney a "phony" but said "I think he's a person who changed his positions on many issues."
The NYT reports:
William Kristol, one of the nation’s leading conservative writers and a vigorous supporter of the Iraq war, will become an Op-Ed page columnist for The New York Times, the newspaper announced Saturday.
Mr. Kristol will write a weekly column for The Times beginning Jan. 7, the newspaper said. He is editor and co-founder of The Weekly Standard, an influential conservative political magazine, and appears regularly on Fox News Sunday and the Fox News Channel. He was a columnist for Time magazine until that relationship was severed this month.
Mr. Kristol, 55, has been a fierce critic of The Times. In 2006, he said that the government should consider prosecuting The Times for disclosing a secret government program to track international banking transactions.
In a 2003 column on the turmoil within The Times that led to the downfall of the top two editors, he wrote that it was not “a first-rate newspaper of record,” adding, “The Times is irredeemable.”
In the mid-1990s, Mr. Kristol led the Project for the Republican Future, an influential policy study group. Before that, he was chief of staff to Vice President Dan Quayle.
A native of New York City, he holds a bachelor’s degree and a doctorate from Harvard.
His father is Irving Kristol, one of the founding intellectual forces behind modern conservatism.
The Washington Post reports:
For the Bush administration, there is no Plan B for Pakistan.
The assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto dramatically altered Pakistani politics, forcing the largest opposition party to find new leadership on the eve of an election, jeopardizing a fragile transition to democracy, and leaving Washington even more dependent on the controversial President Pervez Musharraf as the lone pro-U.S. leader in a nation facing growing extremism.
Despite anxiety among intelligence officials and experts, however, the administration is only slightly tweaking a course charted over the past 18 months to support the creation of a political center revolving around Musharraf, according to U.S. officials.
"Plan A still has to work," said a senior administration official involved in Pakistan policy. "We all have to appeal to moderate forces to come together and carry the election and create a more solidly based government, then use that as a platform to fight the terrorists."
U.S. policy remains wedded to Musharraf despite growing warnings from experts, presidential candidates and even a former U.S. ambassador to Pakistan that his dictatorial ways are untenable. Some contend that Pakistan would be better off without him.
"This administration has had a disastrous policy toward Pakistan, as bad as the Iraq policy," said Robert Templer of the International Crisis Group. "They are clinging to the wreckage of Musharraf, flailing around. . . . Musharraf has outlived all possible usage to Pakistan and the United States."
Templer contends that without Musharraf, moderate forces, coming from Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party, Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-N, the moderate Balochistan National Party and the mostly Pashtun Awami National Party, could create a new, more legitimate centrist political space.
But with Musharraf having won a five-year presidential term in October -- an election perceived by many as tainted and illegitimate -- the looming question centers on who will become prime minister. Bhutto was expected to assume that role after the January election, a move U.S. officials believed would have bolstered both Musharraf and U.S. interests. But now there are no obvious heirs.
"We have a room full of tigers in Pakistan," the senior U.S. official said. "This is a really complicated situation, and we have to use our influence in a lot of ways but also realize we can't determine the outcome. We're not dropping pixie dust on someone to anoint them as the next leader."
Washington's challenges now are far more daunting than they were in brokering a deal between Bhutto and Musharraf that produced her return from exile and the promise of free elections.
At the top of the list is getting former prime minister Sharif to reverse course on boycotting the Jan. 8 parliamentary election. The United States is in the awkward position of trying to coax a party leader with an anti-American platform and close ties to religious parties to cooperate with Musharraf, a secular former general and top U.S. ally in fighting extremism.
The two men are bitter rivals. Sharif has accused Musharraf of treason for toppling his democratically elected government in a military coup in 1999. Musharraf, in turn, believes Sharif tried to kill him, his wife and 200 other passengers when the Sharif government in 1999 initially refused to allow a commercial jetliner carrying Musharraf to land in Pakistan even though fuel was running low. In his autobiography, Musharraf alleges that the airliner had only seven minutes of fuel when it finally landed after the military intervened.
The U.S. Embassy in Islamabad reached out to Sharif's brother and other members of his party the day of Bhutto's assassination, U.S. officials said. "We would certainly encourage him, as well as all others . . . to participate in the process with an eye towards ensuring there is the broadest possible opportunity for the Pakistani people to choose among a variety of legitimate political actors," State Department spokesman Tom Casey said.
But U.S. officials also said Sharif's call for an election boycott on the day of Bhutto's death was unseemly and an obvious ploy to pressure Musharraf when the Pakistan Muslim League-Q -- loyal to Musharraf and a rival of Sharif's faction -- was increasingly isolated.
"Nawaz is not our nemesis. He is likely to be part of whatever political solution evolves out of the present situation," John Stuart Blackton, a former U.S. diplomat in Pakistan and Afghanistan, said. "Nawaz isn't fond of America, but he isn't anti-American."
The other U.S. priority is helping to hold Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party together, officials said.
Pakistan's largest opposition party, ruled by a family dynasty, now must reorganize without a Bhutto in charge, they said. Long divided by competing tendencies, some members wanted to boycott the election after Musharraf imposed emergency rule last month, while others favored running for parliament. When Bhutto opted to participate, the others fell in line. Without her, some experts expect the party to get bogged down in debate or to fragment.
On the day of Bhutto's death, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice telephoned PPP deputy leader Makhdoom Amin Fahim to offer condolences and express hope that the PPP would not change its plans to participate in the election, U.S. officials said.
The future of the PPP depends in part on what Bhutto's husband, Asif Ali Zardari, does and how the party "survives the machinations" of ISI, Pakistan's military intelligence service, Templer said. "For the past eight years, the military and the ISI have done everything to splinter the party, through violence and intimidation. Despite that, it has hung together in a disciplined way."
Zardari's future role is a big unknown, analysts said. The environment minister when his wife was prime minister, he is a controversial businessman imprisoned for 11 years on corruption and attempted murder charges, most of which were dismissed. After his release, he went into exile, where he stayed when Bhutto returned in October.
Two other immediate challenges, U.S. officials said, are encouraging Pakistani leaders to hold the elections on Jan. 8 or shortly thereafter and prodding Musharraf to ensure that they are fair. On timing, they say the PPP should have the greatest say, given its problems since Bhutto's death. "Everyone needs to give them a fair chance," the senior official said.
Longer-term, as part of its original plan, the administration next month will launch a five-year, $750 million development effort to bring education, jobs and better security to the volatile frontier areas.
But critics warn that Plan A -- from rushing into elections already widely viewed as rigged to relying on Musharraf -- is unsustainable without Bhutto.
"It's folly," said C. Christine Fair of the Rand Corp. Even before Bhutto's death, the elections were being questioned because of limited campaign time and Musharraf's manipulation of the Supreme Court, she said. "Pakistanis are going to read [elections] as a sham to prop up Musharraf as Washington's water boy." The Bush administration should instead encourage Musharraf to promote reconciliation across the parties, which would jointly decide the date for elections, and to restore the ousted members of the Supreme Court, she said.
A new round of "farcical elections" will produce a weak government that Musharraf will try to manipulate, warned Stephen P. Cohen of the Brookings Institution. And in an op-ed co-written for yesterday's Washington Post, Wendy Chamberlin, a former U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, warned that a vote without prior political reforms "would almost certainly provoke a violent backlash."
Analysts are also concerned that the administration does not appear to be developing alternatives in case something happens to Musharraf, who has faced several assassination attempts or plots, or growing public disdain makes him an untenable ally.
Democratic presidential candidates have issued harsh criticisms of Musharraf. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) has said there is little reason to trust the Pakistani government, while New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson has called for Musharraf to step down. Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) also questioned the wisdom of sticking with this ally. "As long as we are supporting somebody who the Pakistani people themselves believe has subverted democracy, that strengthens the hand of the Islamic militants," he said in Iowa.
U.S. officials acknowledge that Musharraf's party is more isolated than ever. "It will have to work harder for its own voters and to try and pick up others," the senior official said. Suspicions in Bhutto's party that the government in some way colluded with extremists to murder her will also make it harder for the PPP to cooperate with Musharraf, he added.
Others warn of a political implosion if violence continues and a flawed election is held. "In the best case for the Taliban and al-Qaeda, and the worst case for the world, Pakistan could fall into such turmoil that the very control of the state could fall into Islamist hands, or Pakistan could effectively fracture -- with its massive armaments, including dozens of nuclear weapons, falling into the wrong hands," said J. Alexander Thier, a former U.N. official now at the U.S. Institute of Peace.
The Washington Times reports:
Benazir Bhutto was so fearful for her life that she tried to hire British and American security firms, including Blackwater, to protect her, but Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf refused to allow the foreign contractors to operate in Pakistan, her aides said.
"She asked to bring in trained security personnel from abroad," said Mark Siegel, her U.S. representative. "In fact, she and her husband repeatedly tried to get visas for such protection, but they were denied by the government of Pakistan."
Her entourage discussed deals with North Carolina-based Blackwater Corp., sources said.
"We were approached to provide [former] Prime Minister Bhutto's security, but an agreement was unfortunately never reached," a Blackwater spokeswoman said, confirming the negotiations. She declined to go into the precise details.
Sources within the British private security industry said she also had negotiations with the London-based firm Armor Group, which guards British diplomats in the Middle East. The company, however, said last night it had no knowledge of any talks.
Mrs. Bhutto frantically contacted officials, diplomats and friends in the United States, Europe and the Persian Gulf to urge Mr. Musharraf to improve her security in the wake of the suicide bomb attack that killed more than 140 during her homecoming parade on Oct 18.
Indeed, U.S. diplomats took the highly unusual step of providing her directly with confidential U.S. intelligence about terrorist threats to her life, knowledgeable sources said. Pakistan's Interior Ministry also passed on details of plots against her, and aides said letters containing death threats had been smuggled into her home.
Husain Haqqani, a U.S.-based Bhutto adviser, director of the Center for International Relations and a professor at Boston University, confirmed that she wanted to use private international security contractors but said the Musharraf regime would not approve the plan.
He said the United States, which has arranged for private contractors to guard Afghan President Hamid Karzai and top leaders in Iraq, was reluctant to pressure Mr. Musharraf, an ally in the war on terrorism, to change his mind, despite the view that U.S. officials considered Mrs. Bhutto a linchpin in their crucial diplomatic bid to encourage Pakistan to return to democracy.
Officials from Mrs. Bhutto's Pakistan Peoples Party have complained that security arrangements for her were woefully inadequate, given the seriousness of the threats against her from al Qaeda, the Taliban and others. She relied largely on using a "human shield" of loyal followers who would form a ring around her, but as the attack Thursday proved, it was little protection against a determined assailant.
Some security industry specialists have suggested, however, that there may have been other reasons why the help of foreign security firms was not enlisted.
To be surrounded by an entourage of foreign bodyguards would have added to criticisms that Mrs. Bhutto was in the pocket of the West — an accusation leveled at Mr. Karzai — and might not have been welcomed by her own Pakistani security staff. But the firms could have taken a background role as consultants and trained locals in bodyguarding techniques to maintain a Pakistani face to her entourage.
"It's odd and disturbing that the Pakistan government did not do a better job of protecting her and that the U.S. apparently could not do more to persuade them," said Bruce Riedel, a former CIA officer and former National Security Council director for South Asia. "She made it very clear privately and publicly that she did not have enough security. That was abundantly clear after the attack on her return."
Saturday, December 29, 2007
Editors and Publishers report:
A day after the Huffington Post first reported it, The New York Times has announced that it has indeed hired conservative pundit, and Fox News analyst, Bill Kristol, as a new regular op-ed columnist.
Liberal bloggers had been up in arms over the move. Kristol said, in an interview with Politico.com, it gave him some pleasure to see their "heads explode." Kristol was perhaps the most influential pundit of all in promoting the U.S. invasion of Iraq and has strongly defended the move ever since.
Times' editorial page editor Andy Rosenthal defended the move. Rosenthal told Politico.com shortly after the official announcement Saturday that he fails to understand “this weird fear of opposing views....We have views on our op-ed page that are as hawkish or more so than Bill....
“The idea that The New York Times is giving voice to a guy who is a serious, respected conservative intellectual — and somehow that’s a bad thing,” Rosenthal added. “How intolerant is that?”
Unlike The Times’ other regulars, Kristol will write only once a week, with his first column set for Jan. 7, and he has just a one-year contract. The paper noted in its own announcement: "In a 2003 column on the turmoil within The Times that led to the downfall of the top two editors, he wrote that it was not 'a first-rate newspaper of record,' adding, 'The Times is irredeemable.'”
Kristol, on Fox News in 2006, suggested that the paper should face charges after its big banking records scoop: "I think it is an open question whether the Times itself should be prosecuted for this totally gratuitous revealing of an ongoing secret classified program that is part of the war on terror.”
In 2003, on NPR's "Fresh Air" show, he said, "There's been a certain amount of pop sociology in America ... that the Shia can't get along with the Sunni....Iraq's always been very secular."
In the July 14, 2006 issue of The Weekly Standard, which he edits, Kristol called for a "military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities. Why wait? Does anyone think a nuclear Iran can be contained? That the current regime will negotiate in good faith? It would be easier to act sooner rather than later. Yes, there would be repercussions--and they would be healthy ones, showing a strong America that has rejected further appeasement."
Kristol, in the current issue of The Weekly Standard, argues that Gen. David Petraeus should have been picked as Time's person of the year, but "Our liberal elites are so invested in a narrative of defeat and disaster in Iraq that to acknowledge the prospect of victory would be too head-wrenching and heart-rending." In the Dec. 17 issue he argued, "Resisting the temptation to throw away success in Iraq by drawing down too fast or too deep is the greatest service this president can render his successor."
The AP reports:
California is defined by its scenery, from the mountains that enchanted John Muir to the wine country and beaches that define its culture around the world.
But as scientists try to forecast how global warming might affect the nation's most geographically diverse state, they envision a landscape that could look quite different by the end of this century, if not sooner.
Where celebrities, surfers and wannabes mingle on Malibu's world-famous beaches, there may be only sea walls defending fading mansions from the encroaching Pacific. In Northern California, tourists could have to drive farther north or to the cool edge of the Pacific to find what is left of the region's signature wine country.
Abandoned ski lifts might dangle above snowless trails more suitable for mountain biking even during much of the winter. In the deserts, Joshua trees that once extended their tangled, shaggy arms into the sky by the thousands may have all but disappeared.
"We need to be attentive to the fact that changes are going to occur, whether it's sea level rising or increased temperatures, droughts and potentially increased fires," said Lisa Sloan, a scientist who directs the Climate Change and Impacts Laboratory at the University of California, Santa Cruz. "These things are going to be happening."
Among the earliest and most noticeable casualties is expected to be California's ski season.
Snow is expected to fall for a shorter period and melt more quickly. That could shorten the ski season by a month even in wetter areas and perhaps end it in others.
Whether from short-term drought or long-term changes, the ski season already has begun to shrivel in Southern California, ringed by mountain ranges that cradle several winter resorts.
"There's always plenty of snow, but you may just have to go out of state for it," said Rinda Wohlwend, 62, who belongs to two ski clubs in Southern California. "I'm a very avid tennis player, so I'd probably play more tennis."
Because California has myriad microclimates, covering an area a third larger than Italy, predicting what will happen by the end of the century is a challenge.
But through a series of interviews with scientists who are studying the phenomenon, a general description of the state's future emerges.
By the end of the century, temperatures are predicted to increase by 3 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit statewide. That could translate into even less rainfall across the southern half of the state, already under pressure from the increased frequency of wildfires and relentless population growth.
Small mammals, reptiles and colonies of wildflowers in the deserts east of Los Angeles are accustomed to periodic three-year dry spells. But they might not be able to withstand the 10-year drought cycles that could become commonplace as the planet warms.
Scientists already are considering relocating Joshua tree seedlings to areas where the plants, a hallmark of the high desert and namesake of a national park, might survive climate change.
"They could be wiped out of California depending on how quickly the change happens," said Cameron Barrows, who studies the effects of climate change for the Center for Conservation Biology in Riverside.
Farther north, where wet, cold winters are crucial for the water supply of the entire state, warmer temperatures will lead to more rain than snow in the Sierra Nevada and faster melting in the spring.
Because 35 percent of the state's water supply is stored annually in the Sierra snowpack, changes to that hydrologic system will lead to far-reaching consequences for California and its ever-growing population.
Some transformations already are apparent, from the Sierra high country to the great valleys that have made California the nation's top agricultural state.
The snow line is receding, as it is in many other alpine regions around the world. Throughout the 400-mile-long Sierra, trees are under stress, leading scientists to speculate that the mix of flora could change significantly as the climate warms. The death rate of fir and pine trees has accelerated over the past two decades.
In the central and southern Sierra, the giant sequoias that are among the biggest living things on Earth might be imperiled.
"I suspect as things get warmer, we'll start seeing sequoias just die on their feet where their foliage turns brown," said Nate Stephenson, a U.S. Geological Survey ecologist who is studying the effects of climate change in the Sierra Nevada. "Even if they don't die of drought stress, just think of the wildfires. If you dry out that vegetation, they're going to be so much more flammable."
Changes in the mountain snowpack could lead to expensive water disputes between cities and farmers. Without consistent water from rivers draining the melting snow, farmers in the Central and Salinas valleys could lose as much as a quarter of their water supply.
Any drastic changes to the state's $30 billion agriculture industry would have national implications, since California's fertile valleys provide half the country's fresh fruits, nuts and vegetables, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists' study.
"Obviously, it's going to mean that choices are going to be made about who's going to get the water," said Brian Nowicki, a biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity in Tucson, Ariz.
Among the biggest unknowns is what will happen along California's coast as the world's ice sheets and glaciers melt. One scenario suggests the sea level could rise by more than 20 feet.
Will the rising sea swamp the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, the nation's busiest harbor complex, turning them into a series of saltwater lakes? Will funky Ocean Beach, an island of liberalism in conservative San Diego County, become, literally, its own island?
Among the more sobering projections is what is in store for marine life.
The upwelling season, the time when nutrient-rich water is brought from the ocean's depths to the surface, nourishes one of the world's richest marine environments.
That period, from late spring until early fall, is expected to become weaker earlier in the season and more intense later. Upwelling along the Southern California coast will become weaker overall.
As a result, sea lions, blue whales and other marine mammals that follow these systems up and down the coast are expected to decline.
The changing sea will present trouble for much of the state's land-dwelling population, too. A sea level rise of 3 to 6 feet would inundate the airports in San Francisco and Oakland. Many of the state's beaches would shrink.
"If you raise sea level by a foot, you push a cliff back 100 feet," said Jeff Severinghaus, professor of geosciences at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego. "There will be a lot of houses that will fall into the ocean."
USA Today reports:
As his campaign has surged, Mike Huckabee has made a series of public foreign policy gaffes, fueling attacks by rivals that he lacks the international experience to be president.
The former governor of Arkansas has confused the status of martial law in Pakistan, raised questions about Pakistanis crossing the U.S. border and wasn't initially familiar with the latest U.S. intelligence assessment of Iran's nuclear weapons program.
While the missteps are his, a tough foreign policy critique has often been lobbed against governors, or past governors, running for president — Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, among them. But what Reagan, Clinton and Bush had — and what Huckabee seems to sorely lack in his bid for the Republican presidential nomination — was a roster of respected foreign policy advisers to reassure voters on national security issues.
On Friday morning, Huckabee listed former U.N. ambassador John Bolton as someone with whom he either has "spoken or will continue to speak."
At a Thursday evening news conference, Huckabee said, "I've corresponded with John Bolton, who's agreed to work with us on developing foreign policy."
Bolton, however, has a different view. "I'd be happy to speak with Huckabee, but I haven't spoken with him yet," said Bolton, now a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington.
"I'm not an official or unofficial adviser to anyone," said Bolton, who mentioned he'd had conversations with other Republican candidates but declined to name any names.
Asked to explain Bolton's comments, Huckabee aides said the former Arkansas governor had e-mailed with Bolton. Bolton did not immediately respond to a request to address Huckabee's e-mailing claims.
Huckabee said he had also spoken with former State Department official Richard Haass (now president of the Council on Foreign Relations); military analyst Ken Allard; former national security adviser Richard Allen; former House speaker Newt Gingrich; Frank Gaffney, founder of the Center for Security Policy, a conservative think tank; and a "number of military personnel."
A Gingrich spokesman said the two men had spoken, on an unofficial basis, on Friday.
Council on Foreign Relations spokeswoman Lisa Shields said Haass has "briefed Huckabee on foreign policy issues as well as [briefing] many other candidates" in both parties. Shields stressed that the relationship was not exclusive and that Haass was not affiliated with the campaign.
Reached via e-mail, Allen said an intermediary asked him to speak with Huckabee, but he hadn't yet agreed. "I'm gradually getting older, but am fully capable of recalling with whom I have spoken," said the former Nixon and Reagan foreign policy campaign adviser.
Allard and Gaffney could not be reached for comment.
Huckabee argues that foreign policy is less about experience and more about judgment. "The most important thing a president does is to make tough decisions when confronted with a crisis," he said Friday. As a governor, "you've dealt with the unexpected, a crisis, time and time again."
The confusion over Bolton, however, is the latest in a growing list of foreign policy hiccups by the Iowa front-runner. And to succeed nationally, Huckabee must broaden support beyond his socially conservative base by proving his competency on issues such as national security.
On Thursday, he commented on the assassination of former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto, saying the U.S. needs to consider "what impact does it have on whether or not there's going to be martial law continuing in Pakistan." Martial law, as it turns out, was lifted two weeks ago.
Huckabee clarified the point later that day. "What I said was, you know, it was not that I was unaware that it was suspended two weeks ago, or lifted two weeks ago. The point was continued: ... Would it be reinstated? Would it be placed back in?" he said.
Huckabee also raised eyebrows Thursday when he said that Bhutto's death should prompt "an immediate, very clear monitoring of our borders and particularly to make sure if there's any unusual activity of Pakistanis coming into the country."
And earlier this month, Huckabee said he was unfamiliar with the National Intelligence Estimate reporting that Iran hadn't had a program to develop nuclear weapons since 2003.
Huckabee's lack of foreign policy experience has fueled a host of critics. On Thursday, rival Sen. John McCain of Arizona said Bhutto's assassination highlights Huckabee's lack of foreign policy experience.
"You know, I don't think it's appropriate to respond in a political way," Huckabee said.
Last week, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice denounced Huckabee's critique of the Bush administration as having a "bunker mentality" when it comes to foreign policy.
"The idea that somehow this is a go-it-alone policy is just simply ludicrous," she said at a State Department news conference. "One would only have to be not observing the facts, let me say that, to say that this is now a go-it-alone foreign policy."
The New York Times reports:
In discussing the volatile situation in Pakistan, Mike Huckabee has made several erroneous or misleading statements at a time when he has been under increasing scrutiny from fellow presidential candidates for a lack of fluency in foreign policy issues.
Explaining statements he made suggesting that the instability in Pakistan should remind Americans to tighten security on the southern border of the United States, Mr. Huckabee said Friday that “we have more Pakistani illegals coming across our border than all other nationalities, except those immediately south of the border.”
Asked to justify the statement, he later cited a March 2006 article in The Denver Post reporting that from 2002 to 2005, Pakistanis were the most numerous non-Latin Americans caught entering the United States illegally. According to The Post, 660 Pakistanis were detained in that period.
A recent report from the Department of Homeland Security, however, concluded that, over all, illegal immigrants from the Philippines, India, Korea, China and Vietnam were all far more numerous than those from Pakistan.
In a separate interview on Friday on MSNBC, Mr. Huckabee, a Republican, said that the Pakistani government “does not have enough control of those eastern borders near Afghanistan to be able go after the terrorists.” Those borders are on the western side of Pakistan, not the eastern side.
Further, he offered an Orlando crowd his “apologies for what has happened in Pakistan.” His aides said later that he meant to say “sympathies.”
He also said he was worried about martial law “continuing” in Pakistan, although Mr. Musharraf lifted the state of emergency on Dec. 15. Mr. Huckabee later said that he was referring to a renewal of full martial law and said that some elements, including restrictions on judges and the news media, had continued.
Mr. Huckabee’s comments on the situation in Pakistan were not the first time he has been caught unprepared on foreign policy matters. Early this month, after the release of a National Intelligence Estimate concluding that Iran had stopped its nuclear weapons program in 2003, Mr. Huckabee said that he was not familiar with the report, even though it had been widely reported in the news for more than 30 hours.
Neglected horses abound as drought shrivels supply, spikes price
The News & Observer reports:
Rescue agencies are taking in record numbers of horses across the state, many emaciated because of the drought-related hay shortage.
In the most recent case, a Randolph County woman was charged Thursday with 11 counts of animal abuse and eight counts of disposing of a dead animal improperly, after county officials investigated separate reports of a large number of dead horses scattered on the ground and of 11 live horses jammed into an undersize corral with no water and little hay.
The U.S. Equine Rescue League normally accepts about 100 neglected or abused horses a year in the three states where it operates, which include North Carolina. This year, the agency has taken in about 170 -- 90 in this state alone -- said Jennifer Malpass, director of the league's Triangle chapter.
Horse rescue groups nationally -- even those in states not stricken with a severe drought -- are being inundated with pleas to take neglected horses.
One group in Florida is fielding daily calls, up from bimonthly requests early this year. A rescue group in south central Kentucky had to turn away 13 horses this month. Kathy Grant, an equine cruelty investigator who runs a rescue group, says the rural roads in her eastern Tennessee community are lined with pastures dotted with emaciated horses.
"A lot of the farmers around here have hay, but they're holding on to it," said Grant. "When they're releasing it, they're charging exorbitant rates. A normal person can't afford it."
A round bale jumped from $12 to $100 since the summer, Grant said. In South Carolina, rescue volunteers noticed the price triple. In Texas, struck by a severe drought last year, hay prices haven't leveled off; horse owners are paying double what they did three years ago.
High prices are leaving owners with tough choices. Some are voluntarily forfeiting their animals. In other cases, horses are seized after county officials determine they have been abused or neglected.
County officials typically don't have holding facilities for large animals and so depend on agencies such as the rescue league to assume responsibility for horses. The league nurses them back to health, then places them in foster homes until someone adopts them, Malpass said.
The flood of rescues this year is a double blow to the volunteers.
Even before the drought, they were struggling to find space for foster horses. Now, they not only have to find shelter for more horses but also feed them when hay is expensive and scarce, Malpass said.
Hay donations drop
Her chapter normally receives about 300 bales of donated hay before winter, mostly from big horse operations clearing spring hay from their storage barns to make room for the fall cutting. But there was so little to spare that hay donations this year were only about a third the normal amount.
That means the volunteer rescuers are having to pull money out of their own pockets -- and a lot of it -- for hay, which has doubled in price in many areas.
The hay crisis also has increased the severity of the cases they are seeing, said Amy Woodard, a volunteer who leads the league's efforts in the northeastern corner of the state.
As the expense of feeding them has risen, the selling prices of horses have dropped. That has made purchase possible for people who might not be able to afford proper food and health care, or who didn't have the knowledge to keep horses healthy, Malpass said.
The horse owner in the Randolph County case, Jauvanna Craven, 51, of Groom Road, Sophia, surrendered her horses. That saved time in court and allowed the county to get the surviving horses more quickly into the hands of rescuers.
Randolph County Health Director MiMi Cooper was so shocked at the animals' condition that she went to Craven to issue the charges herself. Craven could have faced more counts of improper disposal, said Cooper, who owns four horses herself.
"There were probably more than eight, but there were pieces [of dead horses] everywhere," she said. "Do you know what I had to do? I had to count heads."
Craven could not be reached for comment.
She had kept the horses on a 22-acre tract but sold it recently, Cooper said. The new owners discovered a number of horse carcasses and called the health department Dec. 21 to report them.
On the same day, the department got what it thought was an unrelated call about the 11 living horses, which were in a different location. They were confined in a pen that was big enough for only one or two horses, Cooper said. The horses were clearly starving, with every rib showing and their hip and shoulder bones jutting. One had an injury and had to be euthanized.
"She said that she was running a rescue operation," Cooper said. "That's not how you rescue horses."
The Equine Rescue League's Triad chapter took four of the horses, and another agency took three. The other three were apparently owned by someone else, who hadn't known about their health problems, and he took them away.
Shortage hits everyone
The hay shortage is so bad, though, that even conscientious owners are getting into trouble, Malpass said.
Marilyn Kille, who is taking care of three foster horses just outside Chapel Hill, said that people who own only one or two horses don't often have the massive dry storage space required for a whole winter supply of hay.
Normally, hay is abundant enough that suppliers keep plenty on hand, and horse owners can drop by every couple of weeks to buy more. Now, horse owners are competing for the scant supply against beef and dairy operations. Often, the only way to get it is to buy full truckloads from as far away as Ohio or New York.
Randolph County has fielded at least half a dozen calls this year from owners who didn't know where to turn, Cooper said, and area veterinarians have been getting similar calls.
Depending on the situation, Cooper said, the county steers them to hay sources like the on-line list kept by the state agriculture department, or links them with a rescue agency. Instead of suggesting that owners give up horses, the rescue agency prefers to teach them how to keep horses healthy, Malpass said.
Usually that approach works, she said. When it doesn't, the county or the rescuers ask the owner to give up the horse, or the county takes the owner to court to force the issue.
Normally rescues taper off in summer, when horses can graze. That's when the rescuers get a breather and start to build up their stores of hay.
This past summer, though, there was no break in rescues and the hay donations didn't come. So now, Malpass' group finds itself starting winter -- when livestock rely more on hay and less on grazing -- with an unusual number of horses to feed, not nearly enough hay and predictions that hay crops next year might be poor, too.
"It's really worrying because it can only get worse from here," she said.
Candidates stress fighting terrorism
The presidential campaign erupted Friday into a full-blown debate over how best to stabilize Pakistan as candidates vied in the few days before Thursday's Iowa caucuses to show who was best prepared to lead the fight against terrorism.
In the wake of Thursday's assassination of Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, Republican and Democratic presidential candidates spent much of Friday laying out specific policies they'd follow now -- or, for Democratic Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and two former Republican governors, Mike Huckabee of Arkansas and Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, trying to convince voters that they're qualified to play in that league.
The rivals with thicker foreign-policy resumes offered detailed blueprints of how they would deal with Pakistan. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a former United Nations ambassador, struck first, telling a Des Moines audience that the United States should give Pakistan "not one penny more until [President Pervez] Musharraf is gone and the rule of law is restored."
Most Democratic candidates wouldn't go that far; New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton offered a multi-part plan to restore stability but stopped short of calling for Musharraf's ouster.
"I don't think the Pakistani government at this time under President Musharraf has any credibility at all," Clinton said as she visited Story City. "They have disbanded an independent judiciary. They have oppressed a free press."
She called for a "full, independent, international investigation."
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph Biden, D-Del., urged putting new pressure on Musharraf to hold "fair elections as soon as possible," while Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., a senior Foreign Relations member, urged that Pakistan's elections be postponed.
The fight was not just over ideas -- it was over foreign policy pedigree, too.
Dodd took aim at Clinton, questioning her experience.
"It isn't enough to be sitting on the sidelines, watching your husband deal with these problems over the years," Dodd said. And he termed Richardson's call for Musharraf to resign "a dangerous idea."
GOP backs Musharraf
The Republican debate had a different tone. Most candidates were more willing to tolerate, and in some cases even praise, Musharraf, while they painted Democrats as unsteady and weak.
"I don't think it would be a good idea to call for him [Musharraf] to step down now," former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson told CNN on Friday. "I hope that we as candidates out here don't start lobbing these ideas that get plenty of attention but are not very sound. This is a serious matter. It's going to be with us for some time, and we need to be deliberate in our approach to it because we have several interests involved."
Arizona Sen. John McCain said, "You're going to hear a lot of criticism about Musharraf, that he hasn't done everything we wanted him to do, but he did agree to step down as head of the military, and he did get the elections."
Romney stressed his experience as a business executive -- saying he could put together "a great team" to help manage crises -- while Huckabee linked the assassination to illegal immigration, saying it highlighted the importance of securing the nation's borders by building a fence along the Mexican border.
Benazir Bhutto left a last will and testament that maps out the future for her political party and who should lead it in her absence, her husband Asif Zardari disclosed on Saturday.
The document will be presented to her Pakistan People's Party on Sunday. It's expected to include her preference for who should lead the party in her absence. Zardari himself would be a highly controversial contender. Their son Bilawal would win a huge amount of goodwill, but is still a teenager, and Zardari appeared to rule him out on Saturday.
"He's too young. He's 19 years old," Zardari said.
Zardari said he opened the letter himself only on Saturday. Its contents will be read to an emergency meeting of the party on Sunday by Bilawal, a student at Britain's prestigious Oxford University, where his mother also studied.
"She left a message for the party and she left a will," Zardari said, in between meeting mourners who came by the hundreds to Benazir Bhutto's family home here in the village of Naudero. "This [document] is about politics. What we should do and how we should go about things."
Asked whether he wanted to lead the party, he didn't dismiss it.
"Lets see.... It depends on the party and it depends on the will."
Longer term, it's widely predicted that Bilawal Bhutto will take over leadership of the party, Pakistan's most popular political machine, which has always been led by a Bhutto. Benazir's sister, her only surviving sibling, has never taken part in politics.
The People's Party is faced with a vacuum of leadership. There are no towering figures within the party. Many say that Ms. Bhutto did not allow others to gain much recognition, and she concentrated power and decision-making in her hands. The party must also decide whether to boycott the parliamentary elections, now set for January 8.
These political decisions must be made amid continued grief and mourning. On Sunday, special prayers will mark the third day after her death, an important marker in the Muslim faith.
On Saturday Zardari met with mourners. He stood in the courtyard of the family home, where mats had been spread. He embraced each man in turn, as dozens lined up every few minutes. Then there would be a short break for prayers, and the mourners would start coming forward again. Women passed through but went to a different area.
Many men were in tears, some crying uncontrollably. Most looked like poor peasant farmers from the surrounding countryside, dressed in tatty and stained clothing. Also attending were some political figures.
Periodically, large groups of veiled women would enter the compound wailing and beating their heads.
Zardari kept his composure throughout.
A neighbor in the village, Dur Mohammed, who came to Benazir's house, said: "We feel this was not the body of Benazir Bhutto. This was the corpse of our future, our dreams."
The crowd's emotion reached a breaking point with the arrival of Nawaz Sharif, leader of another political party who had been a bitter rival of Benazir. The throng surrounded him and his entourage, chanting "Benazir is innocent" and "long live Bhutto".
Deep anger was evident.
"She repeatedly told the government that the security had to be beefed up. She was very much concerned for her life," said a cousin, Shahid Hussain Bhutto. "It was not a suicide attack. It was a planned, targeted, killing."
Iqbal Haider, a former attorney general of Pakistan, said the government was "trying to create confusion and hide the real killers".
"Where was the security? Why didn't they cover the vehicle? There was no security, no precautions. That is why we hold [President] Pervez Musharraf responsible."
Friday, December 28, 2007
Pakistan President Announces Three Days of National Mourning; Sharif Calls for Polls Boycott
The coffin of Pakistan's former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who was shot dead in Rawalpindi city near the country's capital city, reached her ancestral town Garhi Khuda Bukhsh in the wee hours of Friday and she will be laid to rest there by midday, media reports said.
On the other hand, violence gripped the country immediately after the news of her killing spread in every nook and corner of Pakistan like jungle fire. Reports said that at least 10 persons were killed in different cities of Bhutto's home province of Sindh while several banks, vehicles and other government installations were burnt in various towns of the country.
Bhutto, who was running campaign of her Pakistan People's Party (PPP) for Jan. 8 election, was shot dead when she left Liaquat Bagh -- a park named after the country's first prime minister Liaquat Ali Khan who was shot dead while addressing a rally there on Oct. 16, 1951 -- after addressing the rally. Besides Bhutto, at least 30 of her supporters were also killed in the suicide bombing.
"Bhutto was embarking on her bullet-proof vehicle when the assailant fired two gun shots at her and simultaneously triggered a suicide blast," eyewitnesses and police said. "She received one bullet in her neck and the other in her temple which pierced her skull," they added.
"She had already died when brought at the Rawalpindi General Hospital," said a cardiologist, who operated upon her at the hospital. "She had a hole in the front side (almost) of her skull. The bullet left from the rear side with a big wound. Her brain was already torn apart," said the doctor, who wished not to be identified.
The cardiologist said she was operated upon, her chest was opened and heart was taken out so that it could be massaged in an effort to resume her heartbeat but to no avail.
"The assassination of Ms Bhutto is a target killing," said Senator Dr Babar Awan, a close aide of slain Pakistani leader. "She was worried about her security and had expressed her fear even during the rally," said Dr Awan, who had reached the venue of the rally along with Ms Bhutto.
"We were sitting together and she has been telling me as to what threats she faced. She also gave me some details but I cannot divulge those details for the time being. She also gave me something in writing. She was extremely worried," he added, while talking to the media.
Dr Awan said that when they left the venue of the rally, they had two vehicles and he along with Rehman Malik and Farhatullah Babar boarded the first vehicle while Ms Bhutto embarked the vehicle that was behind the first one. When she stood up to wave to her supporters, first she was target with sharp shooting and then a bomb went off.
"However, police immediately whisked away us," he said.
When the doctors pronounced Bhutto dead, the leaders and workers of her party refused to receive her body until arrival of her spouse, Asif Ali Zardari, from Dubai. However, Zardari reached Islamabad along with her three children -- Bilawal Zardari, Bakhtawar Zardari and Asifa Zardari -- through a special plane and received her coffin.
From the hospital, the coffin was shifted to nearby Islamabad Airport from where it was flown to Sukkur city in Sindh province onboard a C-130 aircraft that also carried Zardari, his children and some senior PPP leaders.
When the aircraft landed at the Sukkur airport, a military helicopter was already present at the airport to take the dead body of Bhutto to her hometown Garhi Khuda Bakhsh. According to reports, a grave had already been dug adjacent to the grave of her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. However, the coffin was shifted from helipad to her ancestral residence so that close family member could catch the last glimpse of her face.
Reports said that her funeral was to be offered between 10 and 11 a.m. (PST) and burial was to take place by noon. Thousands of her admirers and party workers had reported started pouring in her hometown soon after learning about her death and millions of people were expected to gather for her last rites.
Violence Grips Pakistan
As soon the news about assassination of Ms Bhutto, who was elected in 1988 as first female prime minister of any Islamic state, broke, the people took to streets in all major cities and towns of the country and violent riots went out of control of the law-enforcement agencies. Rioters set on ablaze numerous government offices, banks and vehicles in various cities and towns.
In Rawalpindi and Islamabad, the workers of the PPP got emotional and chanted slogans against the government while marching on the city roads. They also blocked various roads. The police tried to control the violent protesters but in vain. Ms Bhutto had addressed a rally in Rawalpindi after 11 years and a huge crowd of her party workers and supporters had gathered to listen to her.
The bus terminals, fuel stations and hotels were closed by their owners fearing backlash of Ms Bhutto's assassination while those who were calm and cool confined themselves to their houses.
The PPP supporters set on fire the venue of a public meeting of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML), which ruled the country for the last five years, in Sargodha city. Former Punjab Chief Minister Pervaiz Elahi was reportedly scheduled to address a rally at the venue on Friday. Besides, three election offices of PML were also burnt in this central Punjab city.
Like other cities and towns of the Punjab province, shops, cinema houses and fuel stations were closed in Lahore, the capital of the province, and two police vehicles were burnt while another was hijacked along with policemen. However, the policemen were later released but after being subjected to torture.
The office of a mobile telephone company, one fuel station and a house were also burnt in Lahore. The violent protesters block roads and burnt tyres while some also resorted to aerial firing.
In the industrial city of Gujranwala, the shops of traders who delayed closure of business were damaged. In dusty Multan city in southern Punjab, hundreds of people staged a protest demonstration and burnt tires. Reports said the workers of PPP in the Punjab were highly provoked and some of them even talked of taking revenge.
In Karachi, where Bhutto's palatial residence was known as Bilawal House, all the trade centres were closed. A sense shock and grief grip the whole city and traffic gone out of control. It seemed that people had lost their senses.
The aggrieved and provoked people were chanting slogans in favour of Ms Bhutto and pelting government offices and buildings with stones and setting vehicles on fire. In Lyari neighbourhood of Karachi, which is considered stronghold of Ms Bhutto-led PPP, women also took to streets. They were beating their chests and wailing.
In Karachi, the commercial capital of Pakistan, it seemed that any natural disaster had struck. At least two police stations were reportedly also attacked in the city.
Similar situation was reported from other cities and towns of the Sindh province. Reports also said that at least 10 persons were killed in violence in different parts of the province.
The violence was also reported from Peshawar and Quetta, capital cities of the North West Frontier Province and Balochistan province, respectively.
President Musharraf Announces Three Days of Mourning
Soon after the assassination of Ms Bhutto, Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf in a televised statement condemned the incident and renewed his pledge to root out the menace of terrorism from the country. He also announced three-day mourning in the country.
Sharif Announces Polls Boycott
Several political leaders of Pakistan expressed serious anguish over the killing of Ms Bhutto and described it as a national tragedy. Some of them even demanded President Musharraf to resign from his office forthwith.
"This is not just a mourning day. It is the darkest day of our history. I share the grief with the nation. This tragedy is even beyond imagination of anybody," said former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
"It is the time to heal the wounds of Sindh," he said while announcing to boycott the Jan. 8 election.
The leaders of all religious and political condemned the assassination of Ms Bhutto in the strongest terms and some of them even gave strike call for Friday and announced mourning.
World Condemns Bhutto Assassination
Several world leaders as well as the United Nations also expressed their shock and grief over the assassination of Ms Bhutto and strongly condemned the incident. Leaders of the countries including the United States, Britain, France, Russia, India, Bangladesh, Italy, the United Arab Emirates, China, Iran, South Africa and Czech Republic were among those who expressed their grief.
The United Nations, Arab League, European Commission and European Union also criticised the murder of Ms Bhutto. U.S. President George W. Bush urged Pakistan to stay on the democratic path.
"The U.S. strongly condemns this cowardly act by murderous extremists who are trying to undermine Pakistan's democracy," Bush told reporters hours after Bhutto was killed. "Those who committed this crime must be brought to justice," he said near his ranch in Texas where he is spending the end-of-year holidays. "We stand with the people of Pakistan in that struggle against the forces of terror and extremism."
Benazir Bhutto: A Profile
The eldest of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's four children, Benazir was born in Karachi on June 21, 1953. Her mother Begum Nusrat Bhutto was of Kurdish-Iranian origin while her paternal grandfather was Sir Shah Nawaz Bhutto, a Sindhi and a key figure in Pakistan's Independence Movement.
She attended Lady Jennings Nursery School and then the Convent of Jesus and Mary in Karachi. After two years of schooling at the Rawalpindi Presentation Convent, she was sent to the Jesus and Mary Convent at Murree. She passed her O-level examinations at the age of 15.
In April 1969, she was admitted to Harvard University's Radcliffe College. In June 1973, she graduated from Harvard with a degree in political science. During her time at college, she was a member of Phi Beta Kappa. She attended Oxford University in the autumn of 1973 and graduated with an MA degree in philosophy, politics, and economics. She was elected President of the prestigious Oxford Union.
After completing university education, she returned to Pakistan shortly before her father was overthrown by General Ziaul Haq on July 5, 1977. She campaigned for her imprisoned father in 1977-79 along with her mother Nusrat Bhutto, who became chairperson of the PPP. From 1977 to 1984 she suffered long periods in detention. She provided a detailed account of this traumatic period in her autobiography: 'Daughter of the East' (1988).
Having been allowed in 1984 to go back to the United Kingdom, she became leader in exile of the PPP but was unable to make her political presence felt in Pakistan until the death of General Ziaul Haq on August 17, 1988 despite receiving a tumultuous homecoming in April 1986.
In July 1987, she married Asif Zardari, a member of a landowning family from Sindh.
Her party won 1988 elections although it did not obtain an absolute majority and much her energy was dissipated by her conflict with Punjab Chief Minister Nawaz Sharif, who was also leader of the national opposition Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (Islamic Democratic Alliance). Following the collapse of the PPP-Muttahida Qaumi Movement alliance in October 1989, there was mounting ethnic violence in her home province. The May 1990 Pucca Qila incident in Hyderabad intensified the violence throughout Sindh. President Ghulam Ishaq Khan cited the deteriorating law and order situation when he dismissed the Bhutto government on August 6, 1990. Benazir Bhutto was charged with corruption and misuse of power, while her husband was arrested on a kidnap charge.
When Nawaz Sharif became prime minister of the country after the October 1990 elections, there was continuous conflict between him and Benazir Bhutto during the next two years. In January 1993, however, a more conciliatory atmosphere emerged which saw Benazir Bhutto elected as chair of the National Assembly's Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs. Zardari was released on bail shortly afterwards.
Benazir Bhutto returned to power following the October 1993 polls after the president dismissed Nawaz Sharif, his reinstatement by the Supreme Court in May and the deal brokered by the army in which both the president and premier resigned. Benazir's relations with her mother were strained over her becoming sole PPP chair and by claim of her brother Murtaza Bhutto to his father's political legacy when he returned from exile in November 1993.
The greatest threats to her government however emanated from the 1994-95 unchecked violence in Karachi and the deteriorating economic situation in 1996. She was dismissed from office by President Farooq Ahmed Khan Leghari in November 1996 and her husband was arrested in connection with the death of her brother along with his six supporters in an encounter with police on Sept. 19, 1996 as well as of accepting kickbacks. Again accused of nepotism and corruption, Benazir Bhutto was placed under house arrest, though never officially charged with anything.
It was during Benazir Bhutto's rule that the Taliban gained prominence in Afghanistan due to her support. Benazir and the Taliban were openly opposed to each other when it came to social issues, however, she saw the Taliban as a group that could stabilise Afghanistan and then allow economic access to trade with Central Asian Republics. Her government provided military and financial support for the Taliban, even as far as sending a very small number of the army into Afghanistan. The Taliban took power in Kabul in September 1996.
Less than a year later, she again attempted to regain power but in February 1997 elections, Nawaz Sharif celebrated a landslide victory over the PPP as his Pakistan Muslim League (PML) won a resounding 134 of 217 seats in the National Assembly while the PPP was reduced to a mere 19 seats and virtually erased from the Punjab Assembly.
In 1999, Benazir and Zardari were convicted of corruption. Benazir appealed the verdict while living in exile in England and the United Arab Emirates. In 2001, the Supreme Court set aside the corruption charges against the couple and ordered their retrial but a Swiss court convicted them of money laundering in 2003. Benazir was barred from running in the 2002 parliamentary elections. Zardari was released from prison in 2004 and Benazir and her three children (Bilawal Zardari, Bakhtawar Zardari and Asifa Zardari) reunited with Zardari in December 2004 after more than five years.
Since then, Benazir and her family lived in Dubai, where she cared for her children and her mother, who is suffering from Alzheimer's disease. From Dubai she travelled around the world giving lectures and keeping in touch with the PPP supporters.
On the request of the Pakistan government, Interpol issued a request for her arrest and that of her husband in 2006. She is a dual national with Pakistani and British citizenship.
In 2002, General Pervez Musharraf introduced a new amendment to the Constitution, banning prime ministers from serving more than two terms. This disqualifies Benazir from ever holding the office again. However, the PPP got the highest number of votes and 62 seats in the National Assembly in the October 2002 general elections.
Benazir Bhutto returned to Pakistan from the UAE on Oct. 18, 2007 and millions of people from across the country gathered in Karachi to welcome her. She was leading her homecoming process along with other party leaders onboard a bullet-proof lorry when a bomb blast occurred her vehicle, killing nearly 150 people. She is leading her party in Jan. 8, 2007 elections and has filed her nomination papers to contest election to the National Assembly on two seats. However, she has also filed her nomination for election on a reserved seat for women.
Benazir Bhutto is the author of two books, 'Foreign Policy in Perspective' (1978) and her autobiography, 'Daughter of the East' (1989). Several collections of her speeches and works have been compiled, including 'The Way Out' (1988). Three books about Benazir have been published in India: 'Benazir's Pakistan' (1989); 'The Trial of Benazir' (1989); and 'Benazir Bhutto: Opportunities and Challenges' (1989).
The Telegraph reports:
Benazir Bhutto wanted her children to keep off politics and fiercely guarded them from the media.
After her assassination, true to sub-continental traditions, speculation has already begun on which of her two older children will become her political heir.
The eldest, 19-year-old Bilawal, has emerged as a possible contender to continue his family’s dynasty. And Bakhtawar Zardari, 16 — two years older than the youngest Asifa — is on record saying three years ago that her life’s mission was to serve Pakistan as a politician.
Bilawal Bhutto, who uses his mother’s surname and looked disconsolate at the funeral today, is believed to have a keen interest in history and politics. He was first tapped as a possible successor when he enrolled at Oxford, the same university from which his mother and grandfather graduated.
Pakistan People’s Party leaders had earlier said Bilawal would not enter politics till he had finished his degree but those comments were themselves taken as a hint of his future intentions.
Some party sources, however, were doubtful how inclined the young man would be to take up the responsibility at the moment.
Bakhtawar may not have had any hesitation, from what she had said in an interview to The Telegraph in August 2004.
“I will surely enter the political arena and carry forward the mission of my mother Benazir Bhutto and grandfather Zulfikar Ali Bhutto — to serve Pakistan,” the 13-year-old had said in Karachi, choosing her words as carefully as a seasoned politician.
She had come over from Dubai, where the children lived with Bhutto during her eight years of self-imposed exile, to see her ailing father, Asif Ali Zardari.
The trip and the interview were an exception, considering the protective cover under which Bhutto kept her children.
Asked by an American reporter in 1994 if her children would follow her into politics, she had replied with conviction: “No. Never. Politics in Pakistan is much too dangerous.”
She had added: “I would like to see my son as a lawyer and I would like my (elder) daughter to be a social worker.”
Sometime this year, however, she seemed to have changed her mind. Newspapers said she was grooming Bilawal, registering him as a Pakistani citizen through the embassy in Dubai, making him eligible to vote in her hometown of Larkana.
In that Bhutto might have been following in the footsteps of her mother Nusrat, who had favoured son Murtaza over her daughter as the successor to husband Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.
Bhutto — who was older than her brother which Bakhtawar is not — had then dismissed Nusrat’s position as reflecting “pure male prejudice”.
Her reported decision to back Bilawal would have partially mirrored Sonia Gandhi’s choice of Rahul over Priyanka at a time many in the Congress saw the more articulate daughter as the natural political heir to Rajiv Gandhi.
Some PPP lobbies are touting a woman successor, but it’s not Bakhtawar. The candidate is Murtaza’s 25-year-old daughter, an educated, photogenic and headstrong woman who has criticised Bhutto in her columns for the English-language daily The News.
Around the time Bakhtawar gave the interview to The Telegraph, Zardari had said he wanted to see all the three children in politics. He said he expected Bakhtawar and Asifa to join the PPP women’s wing and Bilawal the students’ body.
Family friends described the children as “humble and respectful of elders”.
“All three, like their mother, are fond of books and literature,” said Iqbal Haider, secretary-general of the Pakistan Human Rights Commission and former law minister.
Haider said Bilawal took after Bhutto also in his love of computers. The tall and dapper young man, often described as Z.A. Bhutto Junior, “is deeply attached to his mother and speaks very affectionately of her all the time,” Haider said.
Bhutto, when she was Prime Minister, used to carry a baby Bilawal in her arms even to official functions to her aides’ consternation.
The young man today helped carry Bhutto’s coffin to the plane at Islamabad.
Bhutto doted on her children and closely followed their education and guided their upbringing. She resisted previous calls for return to Pakistan, saying her children needed a mother.
It was only when they entered their teens that she agreed to take the plunge again in the rough-and-tumble of Pakistan’s politics, only to fall a victim to it.
She had taken time off her election campaign yesterday morning to speak to her children. It turned out to be the last time.
Neither Zardari nor Bilawal wanted to discuss their family’s political plans after their arrival in Pakistan late last night.
“I have only now begun to mourn her death,” said Zardari, 51, who had 10 days ago celebrated 20 years of marriage to Bhutto, 54.
Her return to Pakistan was part of anti-terrorism strategy
The Washington Post reports:
For Benazir Bhutto, the decision to return to Pakistan was sealed during a telephone call from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice just a week before Bhutto flew home in October. The call was the culmination of more than a year of secret diplomacy - and came only when it became clear that the heir to Pakistan's most powerful political dynasty was the only one who could bail out Washington's key ally in the battle against terrorism.
But the diplomacy that ended abruptly with Bhutto's assassination Thursday at a political rally always was an enormous gamble, according to current and former U.S. policy-makers, intelligence officials and outside analysts.
It was a stunning turnaround for Bhutto, a former prime minister who was forced from power in 1996 amid corruption charges. She was suddenly visiting with top State Department officials, dining with U.N. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and conferring with members of the National Security Council. As President Pervez Musharraf's political future began to unravel this year, Bhutto became the only politician who might help keep him in power.
"The U.S. came to understand that Bhutto was not a threat to stability but was instead the only possible way that we could guarantee stability and keep the presidency of Musharraf intact," said Mark Siegel, who lobbied for Bhutto in Washington and witnessed much of the behind-the-scenes diplomacy.
Bhutto's assassination leaves Pakistan's future - and Musharraf's - in doubt, some experts said. "U.S. policy is in tatters. The administration was relying on Benazir Bhutto's participation in elections to legitimate Musharraf's continued power as president," said Barnett Rubin of New York University. "Now, Musharraf is finished."
Bhutto's death also demonstrates the growing power and reach of militant anti-government forces in Pakistan, which pose an existential threat to the country, said J. Alexander Thier, a former U.N. official now at the U.S. Institute for Peace. "The dangerous cocktail of forces of instability (that) exist in Pakistan - Talibanism, sectarianism, ethnic nationalism - could react in dangerous and unexpected ways if things unravel further," he said.
But others insist the U.S.-orchestrated deal fundamentally altered Pakistani politics in ways that will be difficult to undo, even though Bhutto is gone. "Her return has helped crack open this political situation. It's now very fluid, which makes it uncomfortable and dangerous," said Isobel Coleman of the Council on Foreign Relations. "But the status quo before she returned was also dangerous from a U.S. perspective. Forcing some movement in the long run was in the U.S. interests."
Bhutto's assassination during a campaign stop in Rawalpindi might even work in favor of her Pakistan Peoples Party, with parliamentary elections due in less than two weeks, Coleman said. "From the U.S. perspective, the PPP is the best ally the U.S. has in terms of an institution in Pakistan."
Bhutto's political comeback was a long time in the works - and uncertain for much of the past 18 months. In mid-2006, Bhutto and Musharraf started communicating through intermediaries about how they might cooperate. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher was often an intermediary, traveling to Islamabad to speak with Musharraf and to Bhutto's homes in London and Dubai to meet with her.
Under U.S. urging, Bhutto and Musharraf met face-to-face in January and July in Dubai, according to U.S. officials. It was not a warm exchange, with Musharraf resisting a deal to drop corruption charges so she could return to Pakistan. He made no secret of his feelings.
In his 2006 autobiography, "In the Line of Fire," Musharraf wrote that Bhutto had "twice been tried, been tested and failed, (and) had to be denied a third chance." She had not allowed her own party to become democratic, he contended. "Benazir became her party's 'chairperson for life,' in the tradition of the old African dictators!"
The turning point to get Musharraf on board was a September trip by Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte to Islamabad. "He basically delivered a message to Musharraf that we would stand by him, but he needed a democratic facade on the government, and we thought Benazir was the right choice for that face," said Bruce Riedel, former CIA and national security council staffer now at the Brookings Institution's Saban Center for Middle East Policy.
As part of the deal, Bhutto's party agreed not to protest against Musharraf's re-election in September to his third term. In return, Musharraf agreed to lift the corruption charges against Bhutto. But Bhutto sought one particular guarantee - that Washington would ensure Musharraf followed through on free and fair elections producing a civilian government.
Rice, who became engaged in the final stages of brokering a deal, called Bhutto in Dubai and pledged that Washington would see the process through, according to Siegel. A week later, on Oct. 18, Bhutto returned.
Ten weeks later, she was dead.
Xenia Dormandy, former National Security Council expert on South Asia now at Harvard University's Belfer Center, said U.S. meddling is not to blame for Bhutto's death. "It is very clear the United States encouraged" an agreement, she said, "but U.S. policy is in no way responsible for what happened. I don't think we could have played it differently."
Monday, December 24, 2007
Stocked with messages - Artists, would-be advertisers use unsuspecting stores as medium
The New York Times reports:
This is the season of frenetic shopping, but for a devious few people it’s also the season of spirited shopdropping.
Otherwise known as reverse shoplifting, shopdropping involves surreptitiously putting things in stores, rather than illegally taking them out, and the motivations vary.
Anti-consumerist artists slip replica products packaged with political messages onto shelves while religious proselytizers insert pamphlets between the pages of gay-and-lesbian readings at book stores.
Self-published authors sneak their works into the “new releases” section, while personal trainers put their business cards into weight-loss books, and aspiring professional photographers make homemade cards — their Web site address included, of course — and covertly plant them into stationery-store racks.
“Everyone else is pushing their product, so why shouldn’t we?” said Jeff Eyrich, a producer for several independent bands, who puts stacks of his bands’ CDs — marked “free” — on music racks at Starbucks whenever the cashiers look away.
Though not new, shopdropping has grown in popularity in recent years, especially as artists have gathered to swap tactics at Web sites like Shopdropping.net, and groups like the Anti-Advertising Agency, a political art collective, do training workshops open to the public.
Retailers fear the practice may annoy shoppers and raise legal or safety concerns, particularly when it involves children’s toys or trademarked products.
“Our goal at all times is to provide comfortable and distraction-free shopping,” said Bethany Zucco, a spokeswoman for Target. “We think this type of activity would certainly not contribute to that goal.” She said she did not know of any shopdropping at Target stores.
But Packard Jennings does. An artist who lives in Oakland, Calif., he said that for the last seven months he had been working on a new batch of his Anarchist action figure that he began shopdropping this week at Target and Wal-Mart stores in the San Francisco Bay Area.
“When better than Christmas to make a point about hyper-consumerism?” asked Mr. Jennings, 37, whose action figure comes with tiny accessories including a gas mask, bolt cutter, and two Molotov cocktails, and looks convincingly like any other doll on most toy-store shelves. Putting it in stores and filming people as they try to buy it as they interact with store clerks, Mr. Jennings said he hoped to show that even radical ideology gets commercialized. He said for safety reasons he retrieves the figures before customers take them home.
Jason Brody, lead singer for an independent pop-rock band in the East Village, said his group recently altered its shopdropping tactics to cater to the holiday rush.
Normally the band, the Death of Jason Brody, slips promotional CD singles between the pages of The Village Voice newspaper and into the racks at large music stores. But lately, band members have been slipping into department stores and putting stickers with logos for trendy designers like Diesel, John Varvatos and 7 for All Mankind on their CDs, which they then slip into the pockets of designer jeans or place on counters.
“Bloomingdale’s and 7 for All Mankind present the Death of Jason Brody, our pick for New York band to watch in 2008,” read a sticker on one of the CDs placed near a register at Bloomingdales. “As thanks for trying us on, we’re giving you this special holiday gift.” Bloomingdales and 7 for All Mankind declined to comment.
For pet store owners, the holidays usher in a form of shopdropping with a touch of buyer’s remorse. What seemed like a cute gift idea at the time can end up being dumped back at a store, left discretely to roam the aisles.
“After Easter, there’s a wave of bunnies; after Halloween, it’s black cats; after Christmas, it’s puppies,” said Don Cowan, a spokesman for the store chain Petco, which in the month after each of those holidays sees 100 to 150 pets abandoned in its aisles or left after hours in cages in front of stores. Snakes have been left in crates, mice and hamsters surreptitiously dropped in dry aquariums, even a donkey left behind after a store’s annual pet talent show, Mr. Cowan said.
Bookstores are especially popular for self-promotion and religious types of shopdropping.
At BookPeople in Austin, Tex., local authors have been putting bookmarks advertising their own works in books on similar topics. At Mac’s Backs Paperbacks, a used bookstore in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, employees are dealing with the influx of shopdropped works by local poets and playwrights by putting a price tag on them and leaving them on the shelves.
At Powell’s Books in Portland, Ore., religious groups have been hitting the magazines in the science section with fliers featuring Christian cartoons, while their adversaries have been moving Bibles from the religion section to the fantasy/science-fiction section.
This week an arts group in Oakland, the Center for Tactical Magic, began shopdropping neatly folded stacks of homemade T-shirts into Wal-Mart and Target stores in the San Francisco Bay Area. The shirts feature radical images and slogans like one with the faces of Karl Marx, Che Guevara and Mikhail Bakunin, a Russian anarchist. It says, “Peace on Earth. After we overthrow capitalism.”
“Our point is to put a message, not a price tag, on them,” said Aaron Gach, 33, a spokesman for the group.
Mr. Jennings’s anarchist action figure met with a befuddled reaction from a Target store manager on Wednesday in El Cerrito, Calif.
“I don’t think this is a product that we sell,” the manager said as Mr. Jennings pretended to be a customer trying to buy it. “It’s definitely antifamily, which is not what Target is about.”
One of the first reports of shopdropping was in 1989, when a group called the Barbie Liberation Organization sought to make a point about sexism in children’s toys by swapping the voice hardware of Barbie dolls with those in GI Joe figures before putting the dolls back on store shelves.
Scott Wolfson, a spokesman for the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission, said he was not sure if shopdropping was illegal but that some forms of it could raise safety concerns because the items left on store shelves might not abide by labeling requirements and federal safety standards.
Ryan Watkins-Hughes, 28, a photographer from Brooklyn, teamed up with four other artists to shopdrop canned goods with altered labels at Whole Foods stores in New York City this week. “In the holidays, people get into this head-down, plow-through-the-shopping autopilot mode,” Mr. Watkins-Hughes said “‘I got to get a dress for Cindy, get a stereo for Uncle John, go buy canned goods for the charity drive and get back home.’”
“Warhol took the can into the gallery. We bring the art to the can,” he said, adding that the labels consisted of photographs of places he had traveled combined with the can’s original bar code so that people could still buy them.
“What we do is try to inject a brief moment of wonder that helps wake them up from that rushed stupor,” he said, pausing to add, “That’s the true holiday spirit, isn’t it?”
Friday, December 21, 2007
'Stay-at-home' Barack Obama comes under fire for a lack of foreign experience
Fresh doubts over Barack Obama’s foreign policy credentials were expressed on both sides of the Atlantic last night, after it emerged that he had made only one brief official visit to London – and none elsewhere in Western Europe or Latin America.
Supporters of Hillary Clinton, who has seen Mr Obama tighten the Democratic presidential race over recent weeks, say that his relative inexperience contrasts with her extensive overseas travel and personal relationship with many world leaders.
Yesterday they underlined this message by pointing to reports showing that Mr Obama had failed to convene a single policy meeting of the Senate European subcommittee, of which he is chairman. There was also strikingly robust criticism from an independent Washington think-tank about a “disconcerting void” over transatlantic relations in Mr Obama’s foreign policy, as well as from a former British Minister for Europe.
Mr Obama’s advisers say that he has an “intuitive grasp” of world affairs because he spent part of his childhood abroad. “The benefit of my life of having both lived overseas and travelled overseas is, I have a better sense of how they’re thinking and what their society is really like,” Mr Obama said last month.
Reacting to the latest attack on his international credentials, Mr Obama’s advisers pointed out that he had met Tony Blair, among other world leaders, in Washington or on official trips to Africa, the Middle East, Russia and former Soviet Republics.
In a statement emphasising his early opposition to the Iraq war – which Mrs Clinton backed initially – and his support for Nato in Afghanistan, a spokesman said: “Barack Obama will be a leader who understands that the security of the US and Europe is shared. As someone who has lived in Indonesia and has family in Kenya, he will also be uniquely able to bridge the divide between the G8 nations and the developing world.”
The spokesman said that Mr Obama had held European subcommittee hearings on the nomination of two US ambassadors in the past year when he had been busy with his presidential campaign.
But Steve Clemons, the director of foreign policy at the New American Foundation in Washington, said that such hearings were not the same as convening full meetings on pressing policy issues such as the future of Nato. “Someone who is seeking the presidency should have some facility for the most important anchor in global affairs, which is the transatlantic relationship,” he said. “The major threats in the 21st century are changing but what is not changing is the vital necessity of Europe and the US collaborating in meeting those challenges with Europe, for instance, in the lead on dealing with Iran. This is a very disconcerting void in Obama’s profile.”
Mr Obama’s visit to London in August 2005 was a one-day stopover when he returned from a trip to Russia with other senators on the Foreign Relations Committee and met Mr Blair in Downing Street.
Denis MacShane, a Minister for Europe in Mr Blair’s Government, said he had been troubled by comments Mr Obama had made on the Middle East peace process and the prospect of military action in Pakistan. He added: “A lot of people are concerned that international policy is not his strongest suit, just as it was not with George Bush in 2000.
Mr Obama also met Mr Blair twice in Washington, and Nicolas Sarkozy, then the French Interior Minister. But anecdotes are circulating in Washington about how he has turned down requests from other visiting foreign dignitaries, such as an Italian opposition leader who was told that the senator was in “presidential mode” and only seeing leaders of countries.
— George Bush visited China, Japan, Mexico, Spain, UK, Israel, Ireland, The Gambia, Italy and Egypt before becoming President
— When Theodore Roosevelt travelled to Panama in 1906 to visit the Panama Canal he became the first President to leave the country
— In 1992 Bill Clinton criticised President Bush for his foreign travel. In office President Clinton made 133 trips abroad
— Hillary Clinton claims to have visited 82 countries when her husband was in the White House
— This year Rudy Giuliani claimed that his work as a security consultant, combined with his time as New York Mayor, had taken him on more than 90 foreign trips, “more than any other candidate for president in the last 5 or 6 years”