Obama rattles saber at Pakistan —again

Oops, he did it again. While it has gone largely unnoticed in US media coverage, press outlets on the subcontinent are noting (with trepidation or glee) alarmingly bellicose comments by Barack Obama at the Austin Democratic presidential debate Feb. 21 broaching military intervention in Pakistan—an idea being viewed with growing seriousness in elite circles. Here’s a selection of quotes from the supposedly dovish candidate assembled (with trepidation) by Pakistan’s Daily Times Feb. 23, and (with barely disguised glee) by the India’s The Hindu Feb. 22:

“On the question of Pakistan, we just had an election there. But I have said very clearly that we have put all our eggs in the Musharraf basket. That was a mistake. We should be going after al-Qaeda and making sure that Pakistan is serious about hunting down terrorists, as well as expanding democracy.”

“My number one job as president will be to keep the American people safe. I will do whatever is required to accomplish that. I will not hesitate to act against those that would do America harm.”

Here’s how the official trancript from the International Herald Tribune rendered the quote (in response to a question on whether he is ready to be commander-in-chief):

[M]y number one job as president will be to keep the American people safe. And I will do whatever is required to accomplish that, and I will not hesitate to act against those that would do America harm.

Now, that involves maintaining the strongest military on earth… But it also means using our military wisely. And on what I believe was the single most important foreign policy decision of this generation — whether or not to go to war in Iraq — I believe I showed the judgment of a commander in chief. I think that Senator Clinton was wrong in her judgments on that. (Applause.)

Now, that has consequences. That has significant consequences because it has diverted attention from Afghanistan, where al Qaeda, that killed 3,000 Americans, are stronger now than at any time since 2001…

On the question of Pakistan, which Senator Clinton just raised, we just had an election there, but I’ve said very clearly that we have put all our eggs in the Musharraf basket. That was a mistake. We should be going after al Qaeda and making sure that Pakistan is serious about hunting down terrorists as well as expanding democracy, and I was right about that.

On the issues that have come up, that a commander in chief is going to have to make decisions on, I have shown the judgment to lead. That is the leadership that I want to show when I’m president of the United States. (Cheers, applause.)

So, while (legitimately) calling out Clinton over her support of the illegal unilateral aggression in Iraq, Obama calls instead for illegal unilateral aggression in Pakistan. OK, this could be Zbigniew Brzezinski talking (not that that lets Obama off the hook), and there is just enough wiggle room for ambiguity here. But it’s pretty clear what he means in light of his speech last summer at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in DC, in which he said (Chicago Tribune, Aug. 2, 2007):

I understand that President Musharraf has his own challenges. But let me make this clear. There are terrorists holed up in those mountains who murdered 3,000 Americans. They are plotting to strike again… If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf will not act, we will.

The timing of Obama’s comments is also ominous. The New York Times reported Feb. 22 that last month the Bush administration reached a “quiet understanding” with the Musharraf regime that “allowed an increase in the number and scope of patrols and strikes by armed Predator surveillance aircraft launched from a secret base in Pakistan—a far more aggressive strategy to attack Al Qaeda and the Taliban than had existed before. But since opposition parties emerged victorious from the parliamentary election early this week, American officials are worried that the new, more permissive arrangement could be choked off in its infancy.”

If a US break with Musharraf and/or a real democratic opening in Pakistan merely pave the way for unilateral US or NATO aggression, we could be going very quickly from the frying pan to the fire. It would be a bitter irony if it happens under a new president so many are now supporting because of his ostensible anti-war creds…

See our last posts on Pakistan and Barack Obama.

  1. Obama is right
    On February 15 2003 I protested along with millions of people around the world against the encroaching war in Iraq. Why? Because as Obama warned at the time, it would be a dumb mistake. It was dumb for many reasons, one being that it drew our focus away from those who planned the September 11 attacks, those still hiding somewhere in Pakistan or Afghanistan.

    It’s funny how some on the left think in black and white, a mode of thought more characteristic of the right. They believe that one must be either pro-war or anti-war. But this is a false dichotomy. Sometimes military force is justified. I and other reasonable people on the left believe that military force is appropriate against those who planned the attacks. This does not conflict with the belief that military force should be used as sparingly as possible, only when diplomacy fails, or when it’s against those who have already attacked.

    Obama received critcism from all sides of the political spectrum when he made the comment about Pakistan. They called him naive. Later the CIA did exactly as he suggested and took out a senior Al Qaeda commander in Pakistan with a predator missle. Was this wrong?

    1. “Right” as in “wing”?
      Let’s put aside the question of whether military intervention may be justified in Pakistan. Invading a sovereign country unilaterally (the pretty clear implication of “If President Musharraf will not act, we will”) is plain old illegal, like it or not. If Obama means to imply doing it the legitimate way by going through the UN, he should choose his words more carefully. I’m not defending targeted assassinations, but the Predator hit on al-Libi was carried out with the approval of the Pakistani government. That is not the spirit of comments like “If President Musharraf will not act, we will.”

      1. Read the Link
        Had you read the link I posted, or the original Washington Post article you’d see that you’re wrong when you say we had Pakistani approval for the operation. That aside, even if we did have Musharraf’s approval, it would still be a situation where we acted because he was unwilling. So yes, Obama is right as in correct.

        1. OK, it was illegal
          You are right, the Washington Post does say Musharraf was only informed as the operation was underway. This must have been before the recent deal the New York Times reported allowing US drones to operate freely from a secret base in Pakistan. (Although this was far from the first such incident.) So you win. This was illegal, unilateral action. You support the Nazi ideology of aggressive warfare. Happy?

          1. Parsing semantics
            It is unfortunate that we’ve already proven Godwin’s Law in a forum “committed to real journalism (as opposed to mere opinion-spewing and bloggery).” I’ll dismiss the ad hominem and stick to the Obama discussion.

            If it’s true that Pakistan permitted the operation to assassinate al-Libi, we’re still left with a situation that is in line with Obama’s statement: we should act when Musharraf fails to act. To disagree is to believe that Musharraf “acted” by allowing U.S. drones to fly. But many others would define “acting” as making an effort to capture or kill those responsible for the attacks on New York and the pentagon. Therefore your argument against Obama’s statement hinges on semantics, and is unlikely to sway people given Obama’s unambiguous statements emphasizing diplomacy over warfare.

            While we may disagree I do respect your stance. Democracy thrives on balance.

            1. Cut the Godwin-baiting
              I was not engaging in hyperbole. I was stating a legal principle already established at Nuremberg. Invoking Godwin’s Law to dismiss it is akin to the Stalinists screaming “red-baiting” when called out on their similar contempt for international law. As we already wrote:

              International law scholar Francis Boyle reminded us as Bush was preparing for the Iraq attack in 2003: “This doctrine of pre-emptive warfare or pre-emptive attack was rejected soundly in the Nuremberg Judgment.” Former Nuremberg prosecutor Benjamin Ferencz also pointed this out in the prelude to the war, stating: “A preemptive military strike not authorized by the Security Council would clearly violate the UN Charter.” As Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, US prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials, said in his opening statement to the tribunal in November 1945: “Our position is that whatever grievances a nation may have, however objectionable it finds the status quo, aggressive warfare is an illegal means for settling those grievances or for altering those conditions.”

              So go argue with them, willya?

              I’m sorry, but it is a pretty critical distinction whether the US carries out military operations with or without the consent of the sovereign government of the territory in question. Obama’s statements are dangerously (and perhaps intentionally) ambiguous on this point.

              1. Leave Adolph out of this
                > You support the Nazi ideology of aggressive warfare.

                As the first poster to mention the Nazis in an unrelated discussion you’ve lost according to Godwin. The connection to Nuremberg is much too tenuous. Aggressive warfare can be attributed to many different parties before and after 1939 – 44.

                Other than than, your argument is sound –

                > it is a pretty critical distinction whether the US carries out military operations with or without the consent of the sovereign government of the territory in question.

                Just lay off that ‘n’ word. Makes you sound hysterical.

                1. Leave history out of this?
                  I don’t think so. It is not “unrelated.” Aggressive warfare certainly has been carried out by many different parties before and after World War II. But in 1945, legal principles were established confirming its illegality—in response to the Axis aggression. If you are going to dismiss those principles, you are embracing a Nazi doctrine.

                  Even Poppy Bush Hitler-baited Saddam after the Kuwait invasion, and took the trouble of arranging UN approval for Desert Storm. Dubya did not in Operation Iraqi Freedom, essentially engaging in the same behavior his dad had Hitler-baited Saddam for. And it is disturbing to see Obama emulating his logic. Sorry.

    2. Obama’s past makes him say this
      He is contesting elections in a white christian country. He has Hussain as his middle name.

      He has to say these things to woo voters. It is like a black guy acting more faithful to the whites than the white themselves.

      1. Yes, obviously.
        But once he’s in office, are the same factors going to make him actually do these things? If so, this is not exactly what I call progress…

        1. Mistaken Obama
          This Moron Obama cared for 3000 Americans but donot count for countless Pakistani soldier who fought against Taliban and Alqeda in there and died.

          This i.e Obama who knows shit about War on terror. knows nothing about Pakistani lives lost fighting american war on terror

  2. Resisting Obama Administration Militarism
    Most U.S. anti-war activists want to see the Militaristic U.S. Establishment’s foreign policy of “Bipartisan Militarism” immediately ended.

    So unless an Obama Administration in 2009 immediately withdraws all U.S. military forces from Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan, most U.S. anti-war activists will likely resist an Obama Administration’s militaristic foreign policy (in the same way U.S. anti-war activists opposed the Democratic Carter Administration’s policy of supporting the Shah of Iran, supporting former Nicaraguan Dictator Somoza, creating the Rapid Deployment Force in the Middle East and re-introducing draft registration in the USA–the last time former Columbia University Professor Zbigniew Brzezinski was allowed to formulate U.S. national security policy in the White House). If an Obama Administration in 2009 launches a military attack on Pakistan or fails to dramatically reduce the Pentagon’s budget in 2009, most U.S. anti-war activists will also likely organize non-violent resistance to an Obama Administration.

    Most U.S. anti-war activists (and most people around the globe) still want the U.S. government to finally adopt a pacifist foreign policy in the 21st-century. So unless Barack Obama is willing to adopt the pacifist foreign policy that was advocated by Martin Luther King before MLK was eliminated, then it appears that the Obama campaign’s media consultant, David Axelrod, has been marketing Obama in a false way by implying that Obama reflects the politics of Martin Luther King in the 21st-century.

  3. Dissent from Obamarama
    From San Francisco’s BeyondChron website, Feb. 27, by Matt Gonzalez, Green Party member of the SF Board of Supes, ex-mayoral candidate (gave Gavin Newsom a good run for his money) and now Ralph Nader’s running mate for president:

    The Obama Craze: Count Me Out
    Part of me shares the enthusiasm for Barack Obama. After all, how could someone calling themself [sic] a progressive not sense the importance of what it means to have an African-American so close to the presidency? But as his campaign has unfolded, and I heard that we are not red states or blue states for the 6th or 7th time, I realized I knew virtually nothing about him.

    Like most, I know he gave a stirring speech at the Democratic National Convention in 2004. I know he defeated Alan Keyes in the Illinois Senate race; although it wasn’t much of a contest (Keyes was living in Maryland when he announced). Recently, I started looking into Obama’s voting record, and I’m afraid to say I’m not just uninspired: I’m downright fearful. Here’s why:

    This is a candidate who says he’s going to usher in change; that he is a different kind of politician who has the skills to get things done. He reminds us again and again that he had the foresight to oppose the war in Iraq. And he seems to have a genuine interest in lifting up the poor.

    But his record suggests that he is incapable of ushering in any kind of change I’d like to see. It is one of accommodation and concession to the very political powers that we need to rein in and oppose if we are to make truly lasting advances.

    The War in Iraq
    Let’s start with his signature position against the Iraq war. Obama has sent mixed messages at best.

    First, he opposed the war in Iraq while in the Illinois state legislature. Once he was running for US Senate though, when public opinion and support for the war was at its highest, he was quoted in the July 27, 2004 Chicago Tribune as saying, “There’s not that much difference between my position and George Bush’s position at this stage. The difference, in my mind, is who’s in a position to execute.” The Tribune went on to say that Obama, “now believes US forces must remain to stabilize the war-ravaged nation – a policy not dissimilar to the current approach of the Bush administration.”

    Obama’s campaign says he was referring to the ongoing occupation and how best to stabilize the region. But why wouldn’t he have taken the opportunity to urge withdrawal if he truly opposed the war? Was he trying to signal to conservative voters that he would subjugate his anti-war position if elected to the US Senate and perhaps support a lengthy occupation? Well as it turns out, he’s done just that.

    Since taking office in January 2005 he has voted to approve every war appropriation the Republicans have put forward, totaling over $300 billion. He also voted to confirm Condoleezza Rice as Secretary of State despite her complicity in the Bush Administration’s various false justifications for going to war in Iraq. Why would he vote to make one of the architects of “Operation Iraqi Liberation” the head of US foreign policy? Curiously, he lacked the courage of 13 of his colleagues who voted against her confirmation.

    And though he often cites his background as a civil rights lawyer, Obama voted to reauthorize the Patriot Act in July 2005, easily the worse attack on civil liberties in the last half-century. It allows for wholesale eavesdropping on American citizens under the guise of anti-terrorism efforts.

    And in March 2006, Obama went out of his way to travel to Connecticut to campaign for Senator Joseph Lieberman who faced a tough challenge by anti-war candidate Ned Lamont. At a Democratic Party dinner attended by Lamont, Obama called Lieberman “his mentor” and urged those in attendance to vote and give financial contributions to him. This is the same Lieberman who Alexander Cockburn called “Bush’s closest Democratic ally on the Iraq War.” Why would Obama have done that if he was truly against the war?

    Recently, with anti-war sentiment on the rise, Obama declared he will get our combat troops out of Iraq in 2009. But Obama isn’t actually saying he wants to get all of our troops out of Iraq. At a September 2007 debate before the New Hampshire primary, moderated by Tim Russert, Obama refused to commit to getting our troops out of Iraq by January 2013 and, on the campaign trail, he has repeatedly stated his desire to add 100,000 combat troops to the military.

    At the same event, Obama committed to keeping enough soldiers in Iraq to “carry out our counter-terrorism activities there” which includes “striking at al Qaeda in Iraq.” What he didn’t say is this continued warfare will require an estimated 60,000 troops to remain in Iraq according to a May 2006 report prepared by the Center for American Progress. Moreover, it appears he intends to “redeploy” the troops he takes out of the unpopular war in Iraq and send them to Afghanistan. So it appears that under Obama’s plan the US will remain heavily engaged in war.

    This is hardly a position to get excited about.

    There’s more

    1. Another Green Ego Trip
      (with apologies to Brian Eno)

      While I don’t necessarily disagree with this critique of Obama I get annoyed at the rampant egomania of symbolic runs for the presidency. Besides Florida 2000 – and don’t get me started on there’s no difference between Bush and Gore as I’m no longer in High School – I have to ask, what’s the point?

      I have no problems with third parties, and generally would line up as far as I can tell with the west coast Green Parties, but before running for national office shouldn’t a few questions be asked? There are 50 states, how many state Governors are Green Party? How many Senators? How many state legislatures are controlled by the Green Party? How many major cities have city councils controlled by the Greens? The last is a non-rhetorical question as, unlike the other questions, I suspect the answer may not be zero, but I’d be interested if it was into double digits even while bending the classification of ‘major city’.

      Is the irony of the right wing making large cash donations to Nader’s campaigns lost on these candidates? My guess is they are too busy looking in the mirror. If they can’t seize control of San Francisco, what makes them think they are at all relevant in New Jersey much less Ohio or Texas?

      I probably wouldn’t vote for Obama, but I had no problem voting against Hillary and will have no problem voting against John ‘kill kill kill’ McCain. Most politics is local. It’s about fixing the roads and picking up the trash and financing the schools and controlling the graft. Until you have a ground organization in 50 states doing a lot of that, it’s just posing. Yeah, you’re against the war. So am I. If you’re under the illusion that giving the election to the Republicans again is symbolically flexing your muscle or that the last eight years of the oil barons was worth a statement in 2000 then you’re a selfish egotist.

      Which leads to the question? Is it more responsible to make a symbolic pose and be irrelevant – or in the case of 2000 actually do damage – or does irrelevance arrive with a lack of responsibility and so the freedom to pursue your ideals without actually having to do the hard work of coalitions and governance? Hey, if you don’t get elected, you can go on posing.