I took Barack Obama to task during the primaries for this statement, first announced in a primary debate against his fellow Democrats and later underlined when he affirmed it in subsequent campaign statements:
I was dismayed by this because it demonstrated a lack of respect for the autonomy of an (ostensible) ally in our military activities. We would not and should not conduct an air strike operation in Canada without the permission of the Canadian government, and the same respect should be afforded to Pakistan.
That principle holds. So now, I read this about the Bush Administration, in the wake of the resignation of President Musharraf:
American officials say that they will notify Pakistan when they conduct limited ground attacks like the Special Operations raid last Wednesday in a Pakistani village near the Afghanistan border, but that they will not ask for its permission.
This means that both Obama and Bush have said that it is a good policy to conduct military operations in Pakistan without the permission of the Pakistani government if that is necessary to get at a miltiary target. Either the policy is a good one, and Obama and Bush are right, or the policy is a bad one, meaning that Obama and Bush are wrong.
I say they’re wrong.
Conducting military operations within the borders of another country without its permission is an act of aggression against that country. Period. If we need to take out a target in Pakistan, and the government of Pakistan won’t agree to our doing so, then we have a choice to make — is the target valuable enough to risk going to war with Pakistan or not?
Part of the job of the government is to set up channels of communication with countries where we anticipate that our military action is necessary is easy. We’re supposed to coordinate with those countries, both at the diplomatic and military levels, so that when a target of opportunity presents itself, we can take action promptly and without breaking the law of nations. If the target appears and we can’t get permission from the forum country to act, then we have a choice to make — has Pakistan just backed out of its alliance with us by refusing permission to act? And if so, what will our reaction be to Pakistan’s withdrawal from its alliance with us?
Politically, this suggests that Bush was a hypocrite to blast Obama for his willingness to act unilaterally in Pakistan. (At the time, Obama’s actions would have been a change in U.S. policy there, but clearly Bush didn’t have that strong a principle about it after all.) Yes, Obama’s statement anticipated this change in official policy.
But none of that makes the policy right. If the policy is that we take out the target regardless, then we are saying that the destruction of this target is worth going to war against Pakistan. Maybe the target is worth paying that price. If so, then the policy is right. But until and unless we know what that target is and what the circumstances are which cause us to be able to attack it, we can’t really say one way or another whether we’d be willing to go to war against a nation known to be armed with nuclear weapons in order to take that target out.
At best for the Obama-Bush policy, it’s premature and foolhardy. I don’t think the Bush Administration’s new policy justifies what Obama said earlier. I think it means that Obama may be as much of a warmonger as Bush.