Saturday, September 13, 2008

Pakistan: Obama, Bush, McCain, Palin

It's a fair question. What do our national leader(s) and those who want to be national leaders think about "hot pursuit"- not by police of suspects trying to escape, but by United States armed forces of Al Qaeda in northwestern Pakistan?

Barack Obama has made his position clear. In a speech on August 1, 2007 he declared:

There are terrorists holed up in those mountains who murdered 3,000 Americans. They are plotting to strike again. It was a terrible mistake to fail to act when we had a chance to take out an al Qaeda leadership meeting in 2005. If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won't act, we will.

In a foreign-policy speech delivered on July 15, 2008 Obama argued

The greatest threat to that security lies in the tribal regions of Pakistan, where terrorists train and insurgents strike into Afghanistan. We cannot tolerate a terrorist sanctuary, and as President, I won't. We need a stronger and sustained partnership between Afghanistan, Pakistan and NATO to secure the border, to take out terrorist camps, and to crack down on cross-border insurgents. We need more troops, more helicopters, more satellites, more Predator drones in the Afghan border region. And we must make it clear that if Pakistan cannot or will not act, we will take out high-level terrorist targets like bin Laden if we have them in our sights.

John McCain has been almost as clear. The Associated Press on August 2, 2007 described the Arizona senator's response at Stanford University to Obama's remarks of the previous day:

McCain said the situation in Pakistan is "very delicate," since the country's leader, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, is an American ally with a tenuous hold on power. The Arizona senator said a direct American attack on the country could cause a backlash that might topple Musharraf.
"I think it's kind of a simplistic view of a very complex situation."

Sarah Palin is less clear. In the portion of her interview with ABC News' Charlie Gibson that was aired on 9/11/08, Palin first advocated a policy at odds with the guy at the top of the ticket, then said "we have got to have all options out there on the table," which only means we should never say never. Here is the transcript:

GIBSON: Do we have the right to be making cross-border attacks into Pakistan from Afghanistan, with or without the approval of the Pakistani government?

PALIN: Now, as for our right to invade, we're going to work with these countries, building new relationships, working with existing allies, but forging new, also, in order to, Charlie, get to a point in this world where war is not going to be a first option. In fact, war has got to be, a military strike, a last option.

GIBSON: But, Governor, I'm asking you: We have the right, in your mind, to go across the border with or without the approval of the Pakistani government.

PALIN: In order to stop Islamic extremists, those terrorists who would seek to destroy America and our allies, we must do whatever it takes and we must not blink, Charlie, in making those tough decisions of where we go and even who we target.

GIBSON: And let me finish with this. I got lost in a blizzard of words there. Is that a yes? That you think we have the right to go across the border with or without the approval of the Pakistani government, to go after terrorists who are in the Waziristan area?

PALIN: I believe that America has to exercise all options in order to stop the terrorists who are hell bent on destroying America and our allies. We have got to have all options out there on the table.

And George W. Bush? In 2005 (according to The New York Times in July, 2007)

The decision to halt the planned “snatch and grab” operation frustrated some top intelligence officials and members of the military’s secret Special Operations units, who say the United States missed a significant opportunity to try to capture senior members of Al Qaeda.
Their frustration has only grown over the past two years, they said, as Al Qaeda has improved its abilities to plan global attacks and build new training compounds in Pakistan’s tribal areas, which have become virtual havens for the terrorist network.

And now? The Chicago Tribune's Washington bureau (in their blog, "The Swamp") reports

The helicopter-borne U.S. Special Operations raid in Pakistan last week was not an isolated incident "but part of a three-phase plan, approved by President Bush, to strike at Osama bin Laden and top al-Qaeda leadership'' at the end of Bush's term, National Public Radio is reporting, citing well-placed sources.
"The plan calls for a much more aggressive military campaign, said one source, familiar with the presidential order, which gives the green light for the military to take part in the operations,'' NPR reports.

The bad news is that the plan may have been undertaken only because of the upcoming election and "represents an 11th-hour effort by the Bush administration to hammer al-Qaeda before leaving office,'' according to NPR. The good news? Bush seems to have adopted Obama's approach, reminiscent of Nouri al -Maliki adopting Obama's approach to a timeline when he declared in early July "the current trend is to reach an agreement on a memorandum of understanding either for the departure of the forces or to put a timetable on their withdrawal;” and the announcement approximately two weeks later (7/18/08) of a long-term security pact between the U.S. and Iraq including "horizons" for withdrawal.

If imitation is the sincerest form of flatter, Barack Obama should be flattered that the Administration seems to value his judgement.... as long as the Democratic nominee doesn't expect any admissions: from Bush that his primary motive is political; from McCain that he's out of step; or from Palin that she hasn't a clue as to what she's saying.

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