CNN report via CSpanJunkie
"we must make it clear that if Pakistan cannot or will not act, we will take out high-level terrorist targets like bin Laden if we have them in our sights."
Barrack Obama, July 15, 2008
Well, Musharraf is long gone but his handpicked general, a former head of the ISI, is still in charge of Pakistan's armed forces. And on Friday President Obama's administration carried through on his promise to act. Airstrikes by American pilotless drones killed 17 people in two successive attacks in North and South Waziristan. Although we do not know from reports whether Musharraf's successor as head of the Pakistani army, General Kayani, or President Zardari refused or were unable to take action on any solid intelligence, we do know that three children as well as a "possible" senior Al Qaeda leader were reported killed. The airstrikes were part of a program begun by the Bush administration and authorized to continue by President Obama, but he himself does not personally authorize each strike.
I continue to think this program is a massive mistake. Firstly, on purely "realist" terms for reasons I've long-ago explained and that some reports say the US intelligence community warned Bush about - they're dangerously destabilizing to a nuclear-armed nation on the very precipice of civil collapse. The aim of these raids is to strike at Osama bin Laden and top al-Qaida leadership. But if a strike is to kill Bin Laden, or the Taliban's leader Mullah Omar, it will likely do so at a safe house owned by the ISI which would cause an anti-American explosion in Pakistan's military and convulsions in Pakistani society which would certainly oust anyone willing to back the US. Pakistani officials have previously condemned Bush's heavy-handed violation of their sovereignty, leading general katyani to say that such incursions would be prevented "at all costs". If Obama is really looking to stabilize the region, that's about as counter-productive as it is possible to get. As one former Pakistani official put it: "Maybe you'll get the fish, but you'll poison the pond around him." The most obvious retaliation Pakistan could take would be to close the supply route to Afghanistan from Pakistan's ports via the Khyber Pass. That might not hurt US forces much, but it would mean famine in Kabul as the Afghan countryside cannot support the capital on its own.
But secondly because such attacks really are morally unsupportable given the way they are planned and carried out. One attack inside Pakistan has already missed its target and killed entirely innocent civilians instead. We know from events in Afghanistan that the USAF seems to have a terrible predeliction for bombing wedding parties because some tribal enemy fingers the neighbouring village as being a nest of militants. And I simply don't believe the possible death of a "possible terrorist leader" is worth three children's lives under any circumstances. There's no point to reclaiming the moral high ground by closing prisons and banning torture if you're going to hand it away again with indiscriminate airstrikes - and airstrikes are by their nature indiscriminate despite what the PR brochures on "precision" bombs might say.
I've been very impressed with Obama's first couple of days in office but this is one campaign promise I believe he should either u-turn on or consider a drastically out-of-the-box alternative.
Crossposted from Newshoggers