From NBC/NJ's Aswini Anburajan
NEVADA, Iowa -- At a town hall in Nevada, Iowa, Obama expressed his sympathies for Benazir Bhutto's family and the Pakistani people and noted that he has spoken previously on the problem of extremism there.
"Obviously today we just want to express our sympathies to the Pakistani people and the Bhutto family about the assassination," he said. "I've been saying for some time that we've got a very big problem there."
He elaborated: "Not only do we have a president who has acted in an anti-democratic fashion the past, but we also have the rise of Islamic militants in the northwest provinces that are going back and forth between the borders of Afghanistan and Pakistan."
Obama added that Al Qaeda now has a base in Pakistan and American intelligence says that the group is stronger there now than they were before 2001.
Tying the problem of Pakistan to the war in Iraq, Obama said, "We were distracted from focusing on them. And they are causing us problems, and they are still plotting to do harm to America. And once we have focused on how to stabilize Iraq and reduce our footprint there -- saying no permanent bases, we are not occupying this country -- we will then be in a position to really take on those who actually killed 3,000 Americans. That's what I intend to do as President of the United States."
In August, Obama's reference to talking about Pakistan, most probably refers to an August 2007 speech on counterterrorism in which he argued the United States should strike Pakistan unilaterally if they find actionable intelligence about al-Qaeda terrorist camps there and Pakistan fails to act. The speech was criticized by some as overreaching in terms of foreign policy. But Obama frequently cites it now when pointing to the turmoil in Pakistan to say that he was right.
After Obama's closing argument speech today, his chief media strategist David Axelrod, used the opportunity to criticize Clinton on the same theme, saying that if the United States had not gone to war in Iraq, they would have had more resources to deal with the greater threat in Afghanistan and Pakistan.