July 29, 2008

John McCain appeared via satellite with CNN’s Larry King last night, and the two covered a fair amount of ground in a short amount of time. There were a handful of important exchanges, but this was arguably the most striking.

King asked McCain what he’d do, as president, if he learned that bin Laden was in Pakistan, and he had a choice to send in U.S. forces after him. McCain replied, “Larry, I’m not going to go there and here’s why, because Pakistan is a sovereign nation.... But I want to assure you I will get Osama bin Laden as president of the United States and I will bring him to justice no matter what it takes.”

Unless, “what it takes” includes going into Pakistan.

I have to admit, I’ve heard McCain staking out a similar position for months, and I have no idea why he’s sticking to this. Barack Obama has said he’d pursue high-value terrorist targets into areas of Pakistan where the Musharraf government has little or no control, launching limited attacks based on actionable intelligence. McCain believes we shouldn’t pursue these terrorist targets, because he’s concerned about Pakistani “sovereignty.”

But this is crazy. Existing U.S. policy, under the Bush administration, is to go after terrorists in Pakistan. Obama wants to keep this policy in place. In fact, we’ve already executed this policy on more than one occasion, and have killed al Qaeda leaders hiding in Pakistani mountains. McCain thinks this is a mistake? McCain disagrees with existing U.S. policy? He wants to do “what it takes,” but Pakistani “sovereignty” is so important, McCain would scale back counter-terrorism efforts in the region?

If there’s any coherent rationale behind McCain’s approach, it’s hiding well.

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