Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Obama vows to take on terrorists in Pakistan

Barack Obama said Wednesday that he would send troops into Pakistan to hunt down terrorists even without local permission if warranted - an attempt to show strength when his chief rival has described his foreign policy skills as naive.

"They are plotting to strike again," Barack Obama said during a speech focusing on terrorism Wednesday.

The Illinois senator warned Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf that he must do more to shut down terrorist operations in his country and evict foreign fighters under an Obama presidency, or Pakistan will risk a U.S. troop invasion and losing hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. military aid.

"Let me make this clear," Obama said in a speech at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. "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-Qaida leadership meeting in 2005. If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won't act, we will."

Obama's speech comes the week after his rivalry with New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton erupted into a public fight over their diplomatic intentions.

Obama said he would be willing to meet leaders of rogue states like Cuba, North Korea and Iran without conditions, an idea that Clinton criticized as irresponsible and naive. Obama responded by using the same words to describe Clinton's vote to authorize the Iraq war and called her "Bush-Cheney lite."

Thousands of Taliban fighters are based in Pakistan's vast and jagged mountains, where they can pass into Afghanistan, train for suicide operations and find refuge from local tribesmen. Intelligence experts warn that al-Qaida could be rebuilding here to mount another attack on the United States.

Musharraf has been a key ally of Washington in fighting terrorism since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, but has faced accusations from some quarters in Pakistan of being too closely tied to America.

The Bush administration has supported Musharraf and stressed the need to cooperate with Pakistan, but lately administration officials have suggested the possibility of military strikes to deal with al-Qaida and its leader, Osama bin Laden.

Analysts say an invasion could risk destabilizing Pakistan, breeding more militancy and undermining Musharraf. The Pakistani Foreign Office, protective of its national sovereignty, has warned that U.S. military action would violate international law and be deeply resented.

A military invasion could be risky, given Pakistan's hostile terrain and the suspicion of its warrior-minded tribesmen against uninvited outsiders.

Congress passed legislation Friday that would tie aid from the United States to Islamabad's efforts to stop al-Qaida and the Taliban from operating in its territory. President Bush has yet to sign it.

Obama's speech was a condemnation of President Bush's leadership in the war on terror. He said the focus on Iraq has left Americans in more danger than before Sept. 11, and that Bush has misrepresented the enemy as Iraqis who are fighting a civil war instead of the terrorists responsible for the attacks six years ago.

"He confuses our mission," Obama said, then he spread responsibility to lawmakers like Clinton who voted for the invasion. "By refusing to end the war in Iraq, President Bush is giving the terrorists what they really want, and what the Congress voted to give them in 2002: a U.S. occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences."

Obama said that as commander in chief he would remove troops from Iraq and putting them "on the right battlefield in Afghanistan and Pakistan." He said he would send at least two more brigades to Afghanistan and increase nonmilitary aid to the country by $1 billion.

He also said he would create a three-year, $5 billion program to share intelligence with allies worldwide to take out terrorist networks from Indonesia to Africa.

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Blogger Paul said...

Learning nothing from Iraq, Democrats charge forward to Pakistan
Michael Shank

United States Presidential Candidate and Senator Barack Obama’s speech on August 1, 2007 at the Wilson Center, a think tank in Washington D.C., confirmed what many feared: the Democrats will continue, unabated, a war on terror that bears exact resemblance to the one waged by President Bush. The only difference: it’s going to happen in Pakistan instead of Iraq. As president, Obama’s first step will be “getting off the wrong battlefield in Iraq, and taking the fight to the terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan.” So watch out Pakistan, it appears the Democrats are as war savvy as the Republicans.

Obama’s campaign, however, was quick to clarify the assumptions above. In correspondence on Friday, August 3, with the Senator’s campaign communication director, Robert Gibbs refuted the notion of attack: “No one is going to attack Pakistan. No one is going to invade Pakistan. It’s honestly that simple.” But is it? What else could Obama have implied when he said that it was “a terrible mistake to fail to act when we had a chance to take out an al Qaeda leadership meeting in 2005” and that if the U.S. has “high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won’t act, we will”? It seems pretty clear—given the general consensus in Washington D.C. that Pakistan’s border regions are awash with al Qaeda—that an attack is in the making.

Other Senate Democrats apparently agree with Obama’s approach. In a recent conversation with Senator Feinstein’s press secretary Phil Lavelle, the question was posed to this columnist regarding the efficacy of a military attack on Pakistan’s tribal border regions. The mere fact that this question is being tossed about the Senate is a dismal harbinger of things to come. Needless to say, this columnist’s response was that it would undoubtedly be devastating and would fail to achieve any of America’s security objectives. That Feinstein and others are possibly contemplating a military attack is not all that surprising. Her policymaking capacities seem a little out of touch with reality of late. Recently on the Senate floor, she intimated that all madrasas globally are inciting jihadism. Thankfully, her press secretary rescinded the Senator’s comment.

But what is going on? Why are the Democrats so gleefully chomping at war’s bit? And if mimicking Republicans is en vogue, what will stop Democrats from mirroring comments by Republican Congressman Tom Tancredo, for example, who asserted, the same week Obama pointed towards Pakistan, that bombing holy Muslim sites will deter Islamic fundamentalists from attacks on the U.S.? Fortunately the U.S. State Department quickly criticized Tancredo’s comments as reprehensible, but the new standard for irrationality was set and will soon, no doubt, be followed perhaps by a Democrat.

The paradox behind all this Republican and now Democratic warmongering is that all of it, from Obama to Feinstein to Tancredo, uttered in the name of fighting so-called terrorism, will only further enflame extremism and thus terrorism. In the early 20th Century, the tribal regions in Pakistan non-violently resisted the British Empire’s rule over the subcontinent, sacrificing hundreds of thousands. Now, nearly one-hundred years later, these tribal descendants will resist with equal vociferousness any perceived outside imperialist aims. Undermining tribal resistance, therefore, comes not from the barrel of a gun, or as Obama implies from the tip of a missile. Undermining resistance, if that is one’s goal, is achievable only by offering something impossible to resist.

For Pakistanis, or anyone else for that matter, that means jobs, education, healthcare, adequate shelter and food, and, something President Musharraf seems unwilling to offer, a democracy. Unfortunately, U.S. aid has been so preoccupied with military aid ($10b to Musharraf since September 11, 2001), that it forgot what Pakistanis want most: the basics, the necessities of life. Fortunately, Obama recognizes that “Pakistan needs more than F-16s to combat extremism”, noting secular education and free elections as important. Yet his plan for post-F-16 policies is ill-defined and devoid of the passion embedded in his primary position: to hunt down and kill the terrorists.

When Senator John Kerry, in his unsuccessful bid for U.S. president in 2004, looked at the television camera during a debate and pointedly proclaimed that he would hunt down and kill the terrorists, it harkened a new political low for Democrats. They had succumbed to Republican rhetoric and could be relied upon for nothing new vis-à-vis the war on terror. Obama’s comments, sadly, are no different. It appears that we have learned nothing from Iraq and that a Democrat president in 2008 will merely usher in what has already (and ironically) been uttered by Obama himself in criticism of Senator Hillary Clinton: Bush-lite.

The writer is an analyst with the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University in Arlington, Virginia. Email:

2:33 PM, August 08, 2007  

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