Happy New Year

Happy New Year, everyone! Due to the holiday, posting for the rest of today will be light.

When you’re celebrating tonight, take a moment to remember the 899 American soldiers who were killed in Iraq this past year. For each of them, there is a family whose New Year’s celebration will forever be one person short.

MS-SEN: Roger Wicker Appointed To Senate

Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour has appointed Rep. Roger Wicker to replace Trent Lott in the Senate; Lott is stepping down despite being re-elected handily in 2006 and winning a spot among the GOP’s Senate leadership.

Talking Points Memo reports:

The Jackson Clarion-Ledger is reporting that Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) will appoint Congressman Roger Wicker (R) to the United States Senate, filling the vacancy created by Trent Lott’s resignation. Wicker would take office immediately, possibly followed by legal wrangling over whether the required special election should take place within 90 days or instead coincide with the 2008 general election.

As for Wicker’s House district, from which he would resign in order to take the appointment, President Bush carried it with 62% of the vote in 2004, so the Republicans would be initially favored in the special election.

According to Mississippi law, Wicker will only fill the seat until a special election is held. Gov. Barbour wants it to be held on election day 2008, but Mississippi law mandates that it be held within 90 days of Lott’s retirement, given that he steps down in this calendar year.

The Mississippi Democratic Party is trying to enforce the law and are challenging Barbour’s plan.  Daily Kos brings us more:

The Mississippi Democratic Party, however, said it expects Barbour to call an earlier election.

The law “makes clear that if Sen. Lott does indeed resign during this calendar year, as stated, then Gov. Barbour must call a special election for within 90 days of making a proclamation — which he must issue within 10 days of the resignation — and not on Nov. 4, 2008, as he has announced he intends to do,” state Democratic Chairman Wayne Dowdy said.

The date may affect the outcome of the special election–a lower-interest, lower-turnout special election not on election day would have different turnout and, possibly, a different victor.

Former MS Attorney General Mike Moore–Mississippi’s most popular Democrat–has decided not to run for the seat.  This leaves former Governor Ronnie Musgrove as the likely Democratic nominee, and polls show that he could give Wicker a run for his money.  We’ll have to see how the campaigns shape up and how the legal wrangling over the election date turn out.

Pakistan Update (UPDATED)

Benazir Bhutto’s son will be the next leader of the Pakistani People’s Party (PPP). From CNN:

Bilawal Zardari, speaking in English at a news conference, said: “I am thankful for the CEC [Central Election Commission] for imposing their trust in me as chairman of the Pakistan People’s Party.”

“Like all chairmen of the PPP, I will stand as the symbol of the federation. The party’s long and historic struggle for democracy will continue with renewed vigor, and I stand committed to the stability of the federation.

“My mother always said democracy is the best revenge.”

Bhutto had named her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, to head the Pakistan People’s Party in her will, which was read on Sunday, but he handed over the position to the couple’s son

[…]

Ali Zardari also said the PPP is asking the United Nations to investigate the circumstances of Bhutto’s December 27 killing. He said he does not plan to call for an autopsy on his wife, who was buried in her hometown on Friday.

[…]

Pakistan’s government has given several explanations for the official cause of Bhutto’s death, most recently saying she died after striking her head on the sunroof of her car. The PPP has called the government’s changing position “a pack of lies.”

“I have lived in this country long enough to know how the autopsies are done,” Ali Zardari said Sunday, explaining why he did not give the home secretary of Punjab province permission for an autopsy.

“It was an insult to my wife, to the sister of the nation, to the mother of the nation, if I was to give her last remains to be post-mortemed and I know the forensics reports are useless.

“We know what the wound is, we know how it was done. We don’t need post-mortems to prove the death, therefore I refuse to give them the last remains, because they belong to God and the people of Pakistan.

It’s hard to tell how this will affect the PPP and Pakistan’s elections. Zardari is only nineteen, currently studying at England’s Oxford University–it’s questionable if he has the experience and the knowledge necessary to run one of Pakistan’s main opposition parties. It will be interesting to see how this turns out.

In regards to Bhutto’s death, new video footage has emerged which appears to show her being shot, which somewhat contradicts the report from Pakistan’t interior ministry saying she died from head trauma incurred during the attack.

There are a number of unanswered questions here, and many of them may never be fully resolved. As it stands now, Pakistan’s future hangs in the balance, and the situation there is rapidly becoming more dangerous–Think Progress brings us this:

In the days since former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated, “nationwide rioting” has “brought life in Pakistan to a standstill.” Yesterday, as “the death toll from the violence climbed above 40,” government officials began “to consider delaying next month’s elections.”

Elections are scheduled for January 8th. Whether or not they occur–and how they turn out–may change the course of Pakistan’s history.

UPDATE: Raw Story brings us this video from the BBC, which claims that Pakistan’s elections will be postponed by two months.

RS also reports on of the devastation in Pakistan’s largest city, Karachi:

The previous three days of clashes and looting left at least 40 people dead across Sindh Province, where Karachi is located, provincial Home Minister Akhtar Zemin told The Associated Press. Hundreds of bank branches were destroyed and 950 vehicles burned.

The normally bustling port city remained a virtual ghost town, shocked by Bhutto’s death. Nearly all shops were closed and streets normally packed with traffic were empty, save for boys playing cricket.

[…]

Police with assault rifles were stationed on street corners across Karachi, and military patrols in armored vehicles rode through the rougher parts of the city, such as the notorious Lyari slums that have seen the most unrest.

Hundreds of Bhutto supporters gathered for memorial prayers at a party office, chanting “Benazir is innocent!” before marching into the streets. They were trailed by a police truck with an officer on top wielding a tear gas grenade launcher.

The PPP and Bhutto’s supporters won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.  Musharraf is going to have to keep his fracturing country together, a sizable task that he might not be able to accomplish.  And now with reports coming out that the elections will be postponed, it’s likely that there will be more violence from Pakistan’s pro-democracy forces.

Bhutto Assassination Fallout (UPDATED)

CNN brings us more on what precisely killed Pakistan’s Benazir Bhutto:

Benazir Bhutto died from a fractured skull caused by hitting her head on part of her car’s sunroof as a bomb ripped through a crowd of her supporters, a spokesman for Pakistan’s Interior Ministry said Friday.

“When she was thrown by the force of the shockwave of the explosion, unfortunately one of the levers of the sunroof hit her,” said spokesman Brigadier Javed Iqbal Cheema.

The explanation is the latest from the Interior Ministry. It initially said Bhutto was killed by shots fired by the bomber, and then, via the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan, it said the cause of death was a shrapnel injury.

[…]

The Interior Ministry also revealed Friday that it had proof showing that al Qaeda was behind Bhutto’s assassination.

Cheema said the government had an intelligence intercept in which an al Qaeda militant “congratulated his people for carrying out this cowardly act.”

However, that claim has not appeared on radical Islamist Web sites that regularly post such messages from al Qaeda and other militant groups.

The Interior Ministry told Pakistan’s GEO-TV that the suicide bomber belonged to Lashkar-e-Jhangvi — an al Qaeda-linked Sunni Muslim militant group that the government has blamed for hundreds of killings.

U.S. officials believe that a Taliban leader from Afghanistan, Baitullah Mahsud, may be the person behind the assassination.

Unfortunately, these revelations have to be taken with a grain of salt–these are spokespeople from Pervez Musharraf’s government, and there is a chance that elements in the government may have played a role in this. Thus, they may have an interest in misrepresenting the cause of death or pinning the assassination on someone else. Of course, it should be noted that there is also no evidence showing anyone in the government had a hand in the assassination, though many are pointing to governmental negligence as a contributing factor.

Pervez Musharraf’s government has very little credibility left, and it will be difficult for people to believe in an investigation conducted by the government. There must be some sort of investigation into Bhutto’s assassination that has a degree of independence from Pakistan’s government, in the event that individuals or groups within the government were in some way to blame for it.

Along those lines, the Pakistani government has ordered an official judicial inquiry into Bhutto’s death, which will incorporate representatives from her political party. Talking Points Memo has more:

Caretaker Prime Minister Mohammedmian Soomro told journalists following an emergency cabinet meeting that a judge would be appointed to head a committee to probe the gun-suicide bomb attack on Bhutto Thursday afternoon as she left an election campaign rally in the city of Rawalpindi.

The committee chairperson would be appointed in consultation with officials from Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), and a report would be submitted within a time frame to be determined later, he said.

Soomro said the cabinet was considering postponing elections scheduled for January 8 because of Bhutto’s murder, but would not act until after consulting with the country’s main opposition parties.

“Right now the elections stand as they are,” he said. “I am ready to meet the opposition leaders on one minute’s notice, and we are even in contact with some of them.”

It’s hopeful that the investigation into the assassination will involve Pakistan’s opposition parties, and that the elections have not been postponed yet. If Musharraf’s government interferes with either the investigation or the scheduled election, it’s likely that Pakistan will dissolve into even more violence.

Pakistan is on the verge of a power vacuum; Musharraf is hemorrhaging support and there is no longer a significant opposition figure to step forward and take control of the flagging government. This instability, combined with Pakistan’s extremist groups and nuclear arsenal, makes this a particularly difficult situation.

More as it develops…

UPDATE: Wonkette brings us a series of photographs from before and after the assassination. Before viewing, keep in mind that these photos contain significant violence and gore.

On the domestic front, Mike Huckabee uses the Bhutto assassination to show off his woeful lack of knowledge on foreign policy:

“People who questioned my view of foreign policy probably need go back and read the speech that i delivered back in Washington in September. … We have seen what happens in the Musharraf government. He has told us he does not have enough control of those eastern borders near Afghanistan to be able go after the terrorists. But on the other hand, did he not want us going in so what do we do?”

Pakistan’s western border is with Afghanistan–their eastern border is with India.

UPDATE II: Confusions remains over the exact cause of Bhutto’s death:

Bhutto’s political party disputed official versions of the incident, accusing the government of lying. Video footage of Thursday’s attack on Bhutto contains a murky shot of a hand firing a pistol three times, but the Pakistani government said Bhutto — who was standing through her vehicle’s sunroof — was not hit.

The latest explanation Friday by Pakistan’s Interior Ministry said Bhutto, 54, died from a fractured skull after hitting her head on a piece of the vehicle.

[…]

On Thursday, an initial report from the Interior Ministry said Bhutto died of a gunshot wound to the neck.

[…]

Dr. Mussadiq Khan of Rawalpindi General Hospital, who treated Bhutto before she was declared dead, said she had “a big wound” on the side of her head “that usually occurs when something big, with a lot of speed, hits that area.”

[…]

Farzana Raja of Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party said the government’s explanation is “a pack of lies,” and she offered another explanation. “It was a sniper shooting,” she said, also accusing the government of a “total security lapse.”

CNN national security analyst Ken Robinson, who worked in U.S. intelligence in Pakistan during the Clinton administration, said he suspects Bhutto’s enemies are attempting to control her legacy by minimizing the attack’s role in her demise.

“They’re trying to deny her a martyr’s death, and in Islam, that’s pretty important,” Robinson said.

Bhutto’s supporters may benefit from the assassination, if she becomes a martyr for their causes. The latest government report on the assassination minimizes the effect of the attack, stating that she hit her head and subsequently expired.  Whether the government is telling the truth or not is up in the air–maybe they played a role in the assassination, or maybe they’re using this opportunity to downplay her death, or maybe they’re actually telling the truth. At this point, nobody knows for sure.
It’s likely that the tension between the opposition party and the government will continue, which is why an independent investigation is necessary.  Even if one is completed, though, there’s a likelihood that (depending on the findings) it might end up being disputed still.

In addition, The Huffington Post brings us photos of Bhutto’s vehicle, as well as her head X-rays from after the attack.  As with the pictures above, these are also graphic.

Benazir Bhutto Assassinated (UPDATED)

From CNN:

Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated Thursday after addressing a large gathering of her supporters.

The suicide bomb attack also killed at least 22 others, doctors said. It was not immediately clear if Bhutto died from shots fired before the blast, or from wounds caused by bomb shrapnel.

President Pervez Musharraf held an emergency meeting in the hours after the death, according to state media.

He said the killers were the same extremists that Pakistan is fighting a war against, and announced three days of national mourning.

Video of the scene just moments before the explosion showed Bhutto stepping into a heavily guarded vehicle to leave the rally.

Police sources told CNN the bomber, who was riding a motorcycle, blew himself up near Bhutto’s vehicle

[…]

The attack came just hours after four supporters of former Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif died when members of another political party opened fire on them at a rally near the Islamabad airport Thursday, Pakistan police said.

Several other members of Sharif’s party were wounded, police said.

First off, there should be no rush to judgment–we don’t know who planned this or why. It could have been supporters of President Pervez Musharraf hoping to keep him in office; it could have been supporters of Bhutto hoping to use her death to take down the Musharraf regime; it could have been any number of other groups pushing some kind of political agenda, or it could have just been one person with a political axe to grind. As it stands now, nobody knows who did this or why.

In addition, it should be noted that Bhutto has a number of enemies in Pakistan. Though the media portrayed her as the country’s pro-democracy savior, she was partially responsible for Musharraf’s rise in the first place–she was so dogged by charges of corruption and nepotism as Prime Minister that her government was dismissed twice, once in 1993 and again in 1996.

Alex Rossmiller at AMERICAblog has some thoughts on this:

In terms of policy implications, this is reflective of a massive US foreign policy blunder, in that the Bush administration, in a monumentally stupid move, shoved Bhutto down the throat of Musharraf (and the rest of Pakistan) as a savior, despite her lack of broad popular support and general reputation as corrupt. In making someone who didn’t necessarily have the ability to deliver the savior for democracy in Pakistan, we simultaneously set up our own policy to fail and offered Musharraf a return to (or continued) total power in the event that our little power-sharing arrangement didn’t work. We also — though not only us — painted a big fat target on her back. Really a debacle all the way around.

Along these lines, there have been calls for Musharraf to step down–either because he’s responsible for the attack or because he was negligent in going after extremists and providing Bhutto protection. Bill Richardson has released a statement along those lines, and longtime Bhutto advisor Husain Haqqani has also said as much:

“There is only one possibility: the security establishment and Musharraf are complicit, either by negligence or design. That is the most important thing. She’s not the first political leader killed, since Musharraf took power, by the security forces.”

I’m inclined to agree somewhat–Pakistan is home to a wide array of extremist groups, including the remnants of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda–Musharraf has done little to combat them, allowing those groups to flourish under his rule. As the July 2007 NIE [PDF] concluded:

Al-Qa’ida is and will remain the most serious terrorist threat to the Homeland, as its central leadership continues to plan high-impact plots, while pushing others in extremist Sunni communities to mimic its efforts and to supplement its capabilities. We assess the group has protected or regenerated key elements of its Homeland attack capability, including: a safehaven in the Pakistan Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), operational lieutenants, and its top leadership.

Bhutto’s assassination is a tragedy, there’s no doubt. And it’s likely that–no matter who is responsible–Musharraf may use this to his political advantage.

Even if he and his people aren’t responsible, his poor leadership in going after extremism has allowed violence like this to happen. No matter what, Musharraf carries some of the blame for this, and he should bear some responsibility.

Should he step down? Certainly not now, when Pakistan is mired in domestic turmoil, but there should be some accounting for his multiple failures over the years.

More as this develops…

UPDATE: John Cole provides some perspective:

Pakistan is important to US security. It is a nuclear power. Its military fostered, then partially turned on the Taliban and al-Qaeda, which have bases in the lawless tribal areas of the northern part of the country. And Pakistan is key to the future of its neighbor, Afghanistan. Pakistan is also a key transit route for any energy pipelines built between Iran or Central Asia and India, and so central to the energy security of the United States.

[…]

The NYT reported that US Secretary of State Condi Rice tried to fix Musharraf’s subsequent dwindling legitimacy by arranging for Benazir to return to Pakistan to run for prime minister, with Musharraf agreeing to resign from the military and become a civilian president. When the supreme court seemed likely to interfere with his remaining president, he arrested the justices, dismissed them, and replaced them with more pliant jurists. This move threatened to scuttle the Rice Plan, since Benazir now faced the prospect of serving a dictator as his grand vizier, rather than being a proper prime minister.

With Benazir’s assassination, the Rice Plan is in tatters and Bush administration policy toward Pakistan and Afghanistan is tottering.

CNN has more:

But it was not immediately clear, however, what if any influence Washington might have or whether Bhutto‘s death would drive the United States into a deeper embrace of Musharraf, whom some believe offers the best chance for Pakistani stability despite his democratic shortcomings.

“This latest tragedy is likely to reinforce beliefs that Pakistan is a dangerous, messy place and potentially very unstable and fragile and that they need to cling to Musharraf even more than they did in the past,” said Daniel Markey, who left the State Department this year and is now a senior fellow at the private Council on Foreign Relations.

“The weight of the administration is still convinced that Musharraf is a helpful rather than a harmful figure,” he said.

[…]

“The United States does not have a great deal of leverage where Pakistan is concerned,” said Wendy Sherman, who served as counselor to former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. “And at the end of the day, the decisions are going to be made by the Pakistani people and by the leadership of Pakistan and not by the United States.”

Other analysts warned that Bhutto’s assassination might further damage Musharraf, whose democratic credentials have been seriously tarnished by growing authoritarianism, and have lead to widespread unrest.

“Legitimacy for Musharraf will be deferred if not impossible,” said Christine Fair, a South Asia expert at the RAND Corporation. “The U.S. likely does not have a plan for this contingency as Musharraf remains a critical ally and because Bhutto’s participation was hoped to confer legitimacy to the upcoming January elections.”

Pakistan’s future is in turmoil. Musharraf has been hemorrhaging support in recent years, particularly in response to his consolidation of power. He could attempt to use the assassination (and the resulting turmoil) to solidify his power and quell political dissent, but it’s likely that any attempt to do so would simply inflame the opposition, leading to even more violence. And why wouldn’t they react with violence? With Bhutto–their best chance to crack Musharraf’s iron-fisted rule–gone, what do they have to lose now?

Even if Musharraf doesn’t take advantage of the situation, the opposition will. In fact, they’re already blaming him for the assassination. Whether they accuse him of having a hand in it or simply being negligent in fighting extremism, they’ll hold him responsible and call for him to resign. It’s likely that the assassination will erode Musharraf’s support even more, and it could even be the spark that takes down his regime. Of course, whether that is a good thing or a bad thing depends on who would take power afterwards.

It’s hard to tell where things will go from here, but it’s clear that things will get worse before they get better. The biggest loser here is the Pakistani people, who face increased violence and instability in their country. A close second is Bush administration, who pinned their plan to democratize Pakistan on Bhutto’s victory. She was our leverage against the Musharraf regime–without her threatening his power, the U.S. has lost a lot of leverage in pushing for democratic reforms.

UPDATE II: According to Adnkronos International, Al-Qaeda is claiming responsibility for the attack:

A spokesperson for the al-Qaeda terrorist network has claimed responsibility for the death on Thursday of former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto.

“We terminated the most precious American asset which vowed to defeat [the] mujahadeen,” Al-Qaeda’s commander and main spokesperson Mustafa Abu Al-Yazid told Adnkronos International (AKI) in a phone call from an unknown location, speaking in faltering English. Al-Yazid is the main al-Qaeda commander in Afghanistan.

It is believed that the decision to kill Bhutto, who is the leader of the opposition Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), was made by al-Qaeda No. 2, the Egyptian doctor, Ayman al-Zawahiri in October.

Death squads were allegedly constituted for the mission and ultimately one cell comprising a defunct Lashkar-i-Jhangvi’s Punjabi volunteer succeeded in killing Bhutto.

UPDATE III: Turning to the domestic implications of the Bhutto assassination, Matt Yglesias has this to say:

Well, it seems to me that we desperately need to break away from the “trouble abroad, let’s turn to hawkier hawks!” mode of organizing our politics. After all, there was a strategic choice undertaken by the United States of America during the year 2002 to refocus our attention away from Central Asia and the Pakistan/Afghanistan area and toward the Persian Gulf. That was, of course, the “tough,” “strong,” “serious” thing to do.

Then throughout 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007 it’s been the case that the “tough,” “strong,” “serious” thing to do is to maintain a massive strategic focus on Iraq in particular and the Persian Gulf in general. Vast quantities of troops, money, and attention lavished on the Gulf was Central Asia languishes.

[Emphasis Added]

Whenever there’s violence or political turmoil abroad, our polity–particularly the political press–embraces right-wing hawkey as a solution.

Why, though? Here in the U.S., right-wing hawks made both America and the world less safe–they invested huge amounts of time, effort and money into Iraq, which has devolved into an unstable, violent civil war. Iran has become more poweful due to the fact that they no longer have Iraq to keep them in check. North Korea behan building and testing nuclear weapons, which ended only when hawkishness was abandoned and negotiation was embraced.  In addition, the hawks took America’s focus off of Al-Qaeda–which has been re-establishing itself in Pakistan and took credit for the Bhutto assassination–and instead put it all on Iraq.

Clearly, hawkishness has contributed to global instability and violence.  In light of recent history,  perhaps our political press should re-evaluate the way it perceives–and portrays–events such as this.  Hopefully we can put the “trouble abroad, let’s turn to hawkier hawks!” electoral philosophy to rest once and for all.

Ron Paul Quote Of The Day

From the Ron Paul Political Report, 1992:

Indeed, it is shocking to consider the uniformity of opinion among blacks in this country. Opinion polls consistently show that only about 5% of blacks have sensible political opinions, i.e. support the free market, individual liberty, and the end of welfare and affirmative action…. Given the inefficiencies of what D.C. laughingly calls the “criminal justice system,” I think we can safely assume that 95% of the black males in that city are semi-criminal or entirely criminal.

If similar in-depth studies were conducted in other major cities, who doubts that similar results would be produced?  We are constantly told that it is evil to be afraid of black men, but it is hardly irrational. Black men commit murders, rapes, robberies, muggings, and burglaries all out of proportion to their numbers.

[…]

Taken from the Ron Paul Political Report, 1120 NASA Blvd., Suite 104,
Houston, TX 77058 for $50 per year. Call 1-800-766-7285.

[Emphasis Added]

Congressman Ron Paul, ladies and gentlemen.  Leading the ‘revolution’ with insane, half-baked ideas and outright racism.

Merry Christmas

Due to the holiday, I won’t be posting later today (unless there’s some important breaking news later).  So step away from your computer a bit and go spend time with those you love.

If you want to read something political, you can take a look at my post on the “War on Christmas,” which was featured on Salon’s Blog Report.