Hey, check out our new new, morally nuanced, totally different drone policy:
A U.S drone attack early Wednesday killed seven people and injured four others in volatile North Waziristan tribal region, Pakistani security officials and local tribesmen said. It was the first attack by the unmanned U.S. spy planes on Pakistani territory since the election of the new civilian government two weeks ago.
PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) — Pakistani intelligence officials say a U.S. drone strike has killed the No. 2 commander of the Pakistani Taliban. The militant group denies he is dead. Three Pakistani officials say Waliur Rehman was among four people killed in a drone strike Wednesday morning in the North Waziristan tribal region near the border with Afghanistan.
On February 21, with sequestration looming, the U.S. Agency for International Development expanded a contract with Deloitte Consulting for an extra $15 million, to $37 million, to support “the implementation by the government of Pakistan of recent important and very welcome trade liberalizations policies” and “implementation of additional activities to support regional trade and transit between India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and the Central Asian Republics.”
President Obama and his team would never seize upon the news of a deadly attack in the Muslim world to attack a political opponent, right?
Eh, let’s look back to December 2007, when Benazir Bhutto’s assassination became a big topic in the Democratic presidential primary, just days before the Iowa caucus: “Three hours after news of Bhutto’s slaying broke, Obama delivered a withering rebuke of Clinton’s experience, depicting her lengthy political resume as a hindrance to solving big problems, including crises abroad.”
Then there was the comment from David Axelrod:
Axelrod, a senior Obama strategist, was more direct, linking the Pakistani crisis to the different positions that Clinton and Obama took on the Iraq war in 2002, when Clinton voted to authorize it in the U.S. Senate, and Obama, then an Illinois state senator, spoke out against it.
“Obama opposed the war in Iraq explicitly because he feared it would divert our attention from al-Qaeda, Pakistan, the whole region,” Axelrod said. “It underscores the fact that you have to have a president who understands the world, who is going to analyze these events, and who will chart the right course, counter to the conventional thinking.”
Surely Obama would rebuke his longtime aide, arguing that the killing of an anti-Taliban Pakistan leader by extremists shouldn’t be used as a political cudgel, and that hours after such an atrocity is an inappropriate time to make such heated political charges, right? Of course not.
OBAMA: : He was asked — he was asked very specifically about the argument that the Clinton folks were making that somehow this was going to change the dynamic of politics in Iowa. First of all, that shouldn’t have been the question. The question should be, how is this going to impact the safety and security of the United States, not how is it going to affect a political campaign in Iowa. His response was simply to say that if we are going to talk politics, then the question has to be, who has exercised the kind of judgment that would be more likely to lead to better outcomes in the Middle East and better outcomes in Pakistan. His argument was simply that Iraq has fanned anti-American sentiment and it took our eye off the ball, to the extent that there are those who are claiming now that their experience somehow makes them superior to deal with these issues. I think it’s important for the Americans people to look at the judgments they made in the past. And the experienced hands in Washington have not made particularly good judgments when it comes to dealing with these problems. That’s part of the reason we’re in this circumstance.
Obama was actually right then, and the griping about Romney now is wrong. If you believe that different parties and different leaders will give you different policies, and that different policies will give you different results, then these sorts of things have to be discussed.
If a presidential candidate thinks that embassy statements “condemn[ing] the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims” suggest weakness, or that the United States believes that we believe that outraged protesters have legitimate reasons for their rage, or imply that the U.S. government has some sort of legal or censoring authority in these matters, he should say so. If he thinks that a too-optimistic view of the “Arab Spring” has left the administration to underestimate anti-American attitudes and threats to Americans overseas, he should say so. If he thinks that roughly $1 billion per year in foreign aid, and a proposed additional $1 billion in debt forgiveness for Egypt are bad ideas, he should say so.
Or maybe he’ll discuss his thoughts on the news that “Muslim Brotherhood secretary general Mahmoud Hussein called for protests ‘in front of the mosques of the whole country … to show the whole Egyptian people’s anger.’”
Several dozen JSOC operatives have died in Pakistan over the past several years. Their names are released by the Defense Department in the usual manner, but with a cover story — generally, they were killed in training accidents in eastern Afghanistan. That’s the code.
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.