Feature

Pakistan

Should the U.S. hunt down bin Laden?

Finally, 'œsome welcome realism' about Pakistan, said The Wall Street Journal in an editorial. But it's coming from an extremely unlikely source—anti-war Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. In a speech in Washington, D.C., last week, the junior senator from Illinois said he was prepared to order U.S. airstrikes and commando operations against Osama bin Laden and the al Qaida terrorists who've found refuge inside the territory of our unreliable ally, Pakistan. 'œIf we have actionable intelligence,' Obama declared, 'œand President Musharraf will not act, we will.' Democrats and Republicans both pounced, accusing Obama either of excessive belligerence or geopolitical naïveté. But Obama is absolutely right: The U.S. can no longer afford to be patient with Musharraf. His inaction, the National Intelligence Estimate recently revealed, has enabled the Taliban and al Qaida to reconstitute themselves and establish new training camps in the northern Pakistani province of Waziristan.

'œSo President Obama would invade Pakistan?'' said James S. Robbins in National Review Online. Such talk tough is mighty strange coming from a guy who, in talking about Iraq, has sounded like a pacifist. But his macho posturing on Pakistan only reveals how little Obama really knows. It would be nice if the U.S. could simply issue a 'œkill'' order on bin Laden and his cronies, but the fact is that it's not simple to locate a handful of individuals in a province that contains 1,817 square miles of remote, mountainous terrain and a hostile local population. The administration has been hunting the bad guys hiding in Pakistan, and has launched at least three Hellfire missile attacks that have taken out several major al Qaida figures—and barely missed bin Laden's No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahri. Launching strikes based on 'œactionable intelligence,'' Mr. Obama, is already U.S. policy. More overt action, such as a troop invasion, could enrage Pakistan's sizable population of Islamic fundamentalists, and lead to the toppling of Musharraf's government.

We've all heard that argument for six years now, said Ruben Navarrette in the San Diego Union-Tribune, and most Americans are sick of it. Bin Laden murdered 3,000 Americans, and he's the 'œone person we have the right to pursue to the ends of the Earth.'' But after pretending all this time to be hunting bin Laden, Musharraf's government admitted just last week that if the U.S. were to kill the most wanted man in the world within Pakistani territory, it would enrage the Pakistani people and badly damage relations between the two countries. And Pakistan is our 'œally'' in the war on terror? 'œSuddenly, Barack Obama seems like the least-naïve person in the race.''

He's naïve in one important respect, said the Los Angeles Times. Smart foreign policy always requires 'œstrategic ambiguity'—letting Musharraf know the U.S. reserves the option to hunt down bin Laden and al Qaida, without saying so publicly. Besides, it's understood that the CIA and U.S. Special Forces are already operating inside Pakistan. The tacit agreement is that they'll 'œdo their best not to embarrass Musharraf by being too obvious.' In return, he pretends not to know they're there.

John Podhoretz

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