During the campaign, there was controversy over an Obama comment that he would authorize U.S. military action on Pakistani soil if the government there refused to act against al-Qaeda. As I wrote at the time:
it seems clear that Obama contends that if he had been President in 2005, he would have sent hundreds of U.S. troops into Pakistan, and if similar circumstances appear during his presidency, he will authorize the action.
Now, here’s the thing: it would be lovely to see a lawmaker, or even a blogger, acknowledge that these decisions are always going to require balancing the risk vs. the likelihood of success. And despite the table-pounding of partisans, it rarely looks like an easy call.
There’s an upside to this type of operation (capturing or killing Zawahiri, sending a message to al-Qaeda we can get them anywhere). There’s a downside to this operation (casualties, failure to kill or capture Zawahiri, causing outrage in Paksitan, destabilizing Pakistan’s government, perhaps even effectively creating a state of war with Pakistan). Do it right, and you’ve got one of the biggest wins in the war on terror. Do it wrong, and you’ve got the sequel to Desert One, or worse. (The Times article features disagreement among high-ranking military officials.)
So what do we do? Well, from time to time, the U.S. can use Predator drones and hellfire missiles. The Pakistanis seem to look the other way on that.
I trust those on the inside – the brass, the CIA, DoD, who have access to a lot more information than I do to balance the risk vs. reward. I’m not sure why I should believe that an Illinois senator with no military experience would balance it better.
A bit more than three years later, we learn the controversy is moot. U.S. soldiers have been fighting and dying on Pakistani soil for years now.