The New York Times is reporting that
President Bush secretly approved orders in July that for the first time allow American Special Operations forces to carry out ground assaults inside Pakistan without the prior approval of the Pakistani government, according to senior American officials.
The classified orders signal a watershed for the Bush administration after nearly seven years of trying to work with Pakistan to combat the Taliban and Al Qaeda, and after months of high-level stalemate about how to challenge the militants’ increasingly secure base in Pakistan’s tribal areas.
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.
It is worth recalling that in his first major foreign-policy address, in August 2007, Barack Obama proposed raids against al-Qaeda in Pakistan without consultation, and making
the hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. military aid to Pakistan conditional, and I would make our conditions clear: Pakistan must make substantial progress in closing down the training camps, evicting foreign fighters, and preventing the Taliban from using Pakistan as a staging area for attacks in Afghanistan.
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. It was a terrible mistake to fail to act when we had a chance to take out an al Qaeda leadership meeting in 2005. If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won’t act, we will.
If the story is correct — and it reads like an official leak — the July date indicates Bush approved this plan while Musharraf was still in power. (He resigned his office in August.) He was, however, vastly weaker and more compromised this past July than he was when Obama made his speech in 2007.
I was among many people who ridiculed the Obama proposal at the time, on the grounds that a) no nation violates the territorial integrity of an ally, even if that ally is problematic, and b) Obama’s bellicosity seemed entirely unbelievable, given that he spoke in the wake of his remarks about meeting with the leaders of the world’s worst regimes “without preconditions.” On the latter point, he was and remains wrong and foolish.
On the former point, though, he was, apparently, precognitive, and may be due an apology.