Today's Topic



Regrouping for
the New Year

Natalia J. Garland

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Americans are not strangers to political assassinations and assassination attempts. Some of our most important leaders were killed in the performance of duty or service to our nation. This is a list of presidential assassinations.

  • Abraham Lincoln - 1865
  • James Garfield - 1881
  • William McKinley - 1901
  • John F. Kennedy - 1963

In addition to the 'successful' assassinations, there were also failed attempts. This is a list of the presidential assassination attempts.

  • Andrew Jackson - 1835
  • Franklin D. Roosevelt
    (president-elect) - 1933
  • Harry S. Truman - 1950
  • Gerald Ford - 1975
  • Ronald Reagan - 1981

There were also two political leaders who were assassinated only weeks apart. One was a civil rights organizer and the other was a presidential candidate.

  • Martin Luther King, Jr. - April 1968
  • Robert F. Kennedy - June 1968

Among the many political leaders who have been assassinated worldwide, probably none has saddened Americans more than the assassination of Benazir Bhutto on December 27, 2007. Her death motivated us to regroup our efforts to defeat terrorism, especially as we evaluate our current presidential candidates. Who can protect us at home? Who can form relationships with our allies? Who is willing to risk his or her life? The Bhutto assassination has reminded us that our next president must be able to fulfill these responsibilities with extraordinary courage and conviction.

Bhutto served as Prime Minister of Pakistan for two different terms (1988-1990 and 1993-1996), was accused of corruption (payoffs and money-laundering), spent some time in exile and became the chairperson of the Pakistan Peoples Party. Despite questions regarding her administrative competence, her significance for Americans was that she was returning to Pakistan as a candidate in that country's 2008 general election. Bhutto was pro-democracy and anti-Islamofacisism. She was popular among the people and her ideas posed a threat to the Taliban and to Al-Qaeda.

Bhutto was different from us, and yet she was the same as us. She was a devout, moderate Muslim. She felt it was her calling or destiny to return to Pakistan and establish democracy. She was the first female Muslim leader. She appreciated Western Civilization and was a friend to the modern world. She had attended convent schools as a child, went on to study at Harvard and at Oxford, and spoke English better than most Americans. Perhaps it was her contact with Americans that prompted her to describe herself as an optimist.

There had already been an assassination attempt on Bhutto in October, 2007. Although she survived, 140 civilians were killed. After the failure of that attempt, she wrote an article for the Opinion Journal. These are excerpts.

Some in the Pakistani government criticized my return to Pakistan, and my plan to visit the mausoleum of the tomb of the founder of my country, Mohammed Ali Jinnah. But here was my dilemma. I had been in exile for eight painful years. Pakistan is a country of mass, grassroots, people-to-people politics. It is not California or New York, where candidates can campaign through paid media and targeted direct mail. That technology is not only logistically impossible, but it is inconsistent with our political culture.


The sanctity of the political process must not be allowed to be destroyed by the terrorists. Democracy and moderation must be restored to Pakistan, and the way to do that is through free and fair elections establishing a legitimate government with a popular mandate--leaders supported by the people. Intimidation by murdering cowards will not be allowed to derail Pakistan's transition to democracy.
[End of quotes.]

America has never again been able to produce leaders comparable to Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, or Martin Luther King, Jr. They were exceptional people whose deaths left a permanent void in politics and history. The loss of Bhutto will be deeply felt by Americans and Pakistanis: that is, any potential for humanitarian victory is gone and there is nobody who can replace her. Whatever the details regarding the allegations of past corruption, the American government was hoping for Bhutto's help in the future. If that hope had not been real, then the terrorists would not have assassinated her. It was not a matter of our having total approval of Bhutto, but a matter of seeking cooperation with America's best prospect in a complicated and treacherous part of the world.

Pakistan is thought to be home to terrorist leaders, training grounds, and hiding places among the scattered tribal communities. Moreover, Pakistan has nuclear weapons. Bhutto represented democracy, moderate Islam, a blending of Pakistani culture with the good attributes of the West, and the emancipation of women. We will never know if Bhutto was sincere or if she was pursuing political ambition, or a conflicted combination of two motives, because the "murdering cowards" eliminated the mere possibility of positive change in Pakistan. This should serve as proof that Pakistan is an extremely important country for terrorist propagation.

As we enter the New Year, let us analyze the current state of terrorism, evaluate our enemies and allies, try to establish new allies among the imperfect but viable prospects, mourn all our tragic losses, and regroup our efforts to protect America and to renew a pro-democratic relationship with Pakistan. The determining factors will be (1) the resolve of the next American president and (2) the loyalties and stamina of the Pakistani people. (Written 01/01/08: bibliography available.)

Until we meet again..............stay sane.

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Copyright 2008 Natalia J. Garland