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…