Obama Might Send Troops into Pakistan

Barack Obama has announced that he might send troops into Pakistan to fight al Qaeda if elected president.

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama said Wednesday that he would send troops into Pakistan to hunt down terrorists even without local permission if warranted — an attempt to show strength when his chief rival has described his foreign policy skills as naive.

The Illinois senator warned Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf that he must do more to shut down terrorist operations in his country and evict foreign fighters under an Obama presidency, or Pakistan will risk a U.S. troop invasion and losing hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. military aid.

“Let me make this clear,” Obama said in a speech prepared for delivery at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. “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-Qaida leadership meeting in 2005. If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won’t act, we will.”

This is a bold pronouncement, especially for a man whose candidacy is based, at least in part, on his having been opposed to the Iraq War from its outset.

On the merits, I’m sympathetic to his argument. After all, President Bush promised to go after terrorists wherever they might go and stated categorically that governments that harbor terrorists within their borders would be considered “against us.” While Musharraf is in an incredibly shaky position and exercises little if any control over North Waziristan, where the al Qaeda leadership is thought to be, they are in his territory. It’s far from clear what good our “alliance” with his regime has done to enhance our security.

That said, the consequences of a U.S. invasion of Pakistan are hard to predict. Musharraf’s government would surely fall and the successor would likely be Muslim extremists. He pledged a few weeks back to make a serious effort to assert control of the region and combat “Talibanization” there. It would certainly be preferable to have him do it than for us to try.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2008, Terrorism, , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Dave Schuler says:

    I cannot imagine circumstances under which a U. S. invasion of Pakistan would strengthen Pakistan’s central government. How being in the middle of a civil war in Pakistan is better than being in the middle of a civil war in Iraq eludes me.

    Is eliminating terrorist camps in Pakistan worth facing nuclear attack on our forces or nuclear weapons falling into the hands of terrorists? Is failing to eliminate those camps worth that risk?

    The terrorists he’s talking about pursuing would be able to flee into Tajikistan, China, or India. Whom do we invade next?

  2. markm says:

    “Bush promised to go after terrorists wherever they might go”. He did in fact say that and we did in fact go in there at one point. Musharraf took holy hell for it and i don’t think we’ve been back…or at least haven’t publicly stated that.

    I’m no expert but I think you need to be careful when you are going to attack an ally and even more so when they are a nuclear ally.

  3. Roving Spammer says:

    Comment in violation of site policies deleted.

  4. M1EK says:

    This is a bold pronouncement, especially for a man whose candidacy is based, at least in part, on his having been opposed to the Iraq War from its outset.

    That’s highly disingenuous, but sadly par for the course here.

    Hint: Al Qaeda attacked us. We are truly at war with them. Iraq never attacked us. We were very foolish to enter into a preemptive war with them.

    If Pakistan is truly harboring Al Qaeda, we have every moral justification, and I’d argue imperative, to strike them. The justification for attacking Iraq, on the other hand, falls below that for invading Saudi Arabia and many other nations far more responsible for threats to our national security.

    This statement from Obama is reassuring to people who want responsible, but tough, leadership. Republicans used to be those guys. They clearly aren’t any more.

  5. yetanotherjohn says:

    Sending your troops into a country to kill people is generally considered an act of war/invasion. The fact that Obama doesn’t seem to have the experience or even common sense to understand this shouldn’t give him any slack.

    What he proposes is a really bizarre foreign policy. Pull out of Iraq so it can fall to AQ, invade Pakistan to go after AQ there. Presumably, when US soldiers die in Pakistan he would then pull out of there. Most likely effect would be to give AQ two sanctuary countries, one with nuclear weapons.

    I think Obama’s plans for fighting the war on terror are relying a bit to heavily on south park gnomes.

  6. Michael says:

    What he proposes is a really bizarre foreign policy. Pull out of Iraq so it can fall to AQ

    You seem to either overestimate AQ, or underestimate Iran, I can’t tell which. But I find it very unlikely that a complete US withdraw would leave an extremist sunni government.

    Most likely effect would be to give AQ two sanctuary countries, one with nuclear weapons.

    Again, without US presence, AQ could not survive in Iraq. Furthermore, Pakistan’s military controls the nuclear weapons, and they are very unlikely to allow an extreme religious government to exist, let alone obey one, especially concerning nuclear weapons.

  7. brainy435 says:

    There’s a roving troll here.

    Yep. I’ve deleted it. – ed.

  8. legion says:

    What he proposes is a really bizarre foreign policy.

    Really? Under our current foreign “policy” (more of a drunken stagger from self-made crisis to self-made crisis, but hey), we invaded one country that was directly involved with the 9/11 attacks and harboring/supporting AQ, then withdrew the vast majority of our forces after eliminating the (semi) functioning government (but not the actual organization or mastermind of those attacks) in order to invade a completely different country that had _nothing_ to do with the 9/11 attacks and _wasn’t_ an AQ source until _after_ we invaded.

    But Obama suggests sending troops to where bin Laden most likely _is_, and _that’s_ considered bizarre…

  9. Triumph says:

    We have to remember that B. Hussein Obama has a questionable background.

    He was raised in the world’s largest Muslim country and was educated in a madrassa.

    When he says he would be willing to “invade” Pakistan, I take it to mean that he would send troops in there to protect his homonymic comrade, Osama.

    This guy shouldn’t be trusted. He is going to make this country’s experience with John Walker Lindh seem like a field day.

  10. Personally, I’d like to see proof that bin Laden is alive before we invade Pakistan (or Iran, Tajikistan, or China) to capture him. Presumably, Senator Obama no longer has any issues with “unilateral” action and not bothering with the UN.

    Strangely, in the comments above lamenting our decision to invade Iraq, the name of Saddam Hussein doesn’t come up once. I was always under the impression that Saddam’s past record using WMDs, destabilizing the area, ignoring the UN resolutions to disarm, and the threat, however not quite yet imminent, inferrable from those acts was why we invaded Iraq.

  11. Derrick says:

    Triumph,

    Great argument. I’m sure that Obama is some Manchurian Candidate programmed at birth by our enemies to destroy us, what with the funny name and all. When he gets the Presidency someone in the Middle East will press some do-hickey to turn him on, or even better some subliminal message implanted during and episode of Keith Olberman and POOF! he’ll begin bombing Kansas.

  12. Pug says:

    Pull out of Iraq so it can fall to AQ

    Somebody’s been drinking the Bush Kool Aid. If we pulled out of Iraq, the Shiite militias would destroy Al Qaeda in Iraq in about two weeks. They would simply round up all foreigners and leave their remains scattered about Baghdad with holes drilled in their skulls by power tools. They play by a completely different set of rules.

    James is right. Bush did promise to pursue the terrorists wherever they are and they are in Pakistan. Mr. Musharaff should fulfill his promises or we should fulfill them for him.

    It wouldn’t require a full scale invasion, which would be as stupid as the Iraq invasion. Al Qaeda could be pursued by special forces raids and air strikes.

  13. brainy435 says:

    So, Pug, if the Iraqis can destroy Al Qaeda without us, how come Al Qaeda had free run of places like Anbar and Diayala until we brought in more forces to these areas? Why would the militias need to join us now, instead of doing it on their own long ago?

    Or were you just spouting ignorant bs for political gain?

  14. Pug says:

    Please note, brainy, I said the Shi’ite militias. As soon as the Americans leave, the Shia will move to exert control over all of Arab Iraq, including al-Anbar and Diyala, but not Kurdistan as the Kurds are ready for a fight. So far, they haven’t operated in these areas. The Shia won’t just clear the area of Al Qaeda, they will eliminate Al Qaeda.

    My BS is no more ignorant than your BS. Probably less so, in fact.

  15. Invasion is an exaggeration says:

    Striking against certain al Qaeda strongholds within Pakistan, or even sending in troops to those mountainous footholds, isn’t the same thing as overthrowing Pakistan, which is what you seem to imply.

  16. M1EK says:

    Presumably, Senator Obama no longer has any issues with “unilateral” action and not bothering with the UN.

    Since Al Qaeda attacked us on our own soil, essentially nobody except the true lunatic fringe objected to our invasion of Afghanistan. If Pakistan refused to get serious, and we needed to invade to get at Al Qaeda there, I’d hope to see similar support.

    This is completely different from the concept of a preemptive invasion against a country which posed no threat to us or our allies. THERE, you’d better have some international legitimacy. It is very very sad that even at this point, there are people in Bush’s camp who still claim not to get the difference.

  17. Anjin-San says:

    That said, the consequences of a U.S. invasion of Pakistan are hard to predict. Musharraf’s government would surely fall and the successor would likely be Muslim extremists.

    James,

    You need to drink more coffee before you post. First you say “the consequences of a U.S. invasion of Pakistan are hard to predict”, then you proclaim “Musharraf’s government would surely fall”.

    You have done a very nice job of contridicting yourself.

    I don’t think Obama is calling for a US invasion of Pakistan. More likely surgical strikes and an end to Bush’s “safe haven for Bin Laden” policy.

    It is hard to see where this would go. But it would put us on track fighting our actual enemy, and perhaps lead to justice for the thousands of Americans murdered on 9-11, something Bush seems to have forgotten about.

  18. G.A.Phillips says:

    anti-Muslim war mongering, unilateral Urban cowboy talk, from the new Slick Willy.

    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-Qaida leadership meeting in 2005.

    dude why? like the mistake was not taking them out before 911 when the &%&%ING drone was hovering over thier head?

    If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won’t act, we will.”

    I smell a resolution.

    More like:If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets, President Clinton would not act, we will.”

    dude like ripped off “W” from 2000!!!

  19. Anderson says:

    My spiel on this suffers from being repeated too often, but regardless:

    Hostilities in Afghanistan are being conducted by hostiles who retreat and base themselves over the Pakistani border.

    If Musharraf exercises sovereignty over the area, then it’s his duty to quell these hostiles. He has not done so, because he is either unwilling or unable.

    If unwilling, then Pakistan is a de facto ally of these hostiles. Enough said.

    If unable, then Pakistan does not, in fact, exercise sovereignty over the region in question, and has forfeited its right to object to other powers’ use of force in the area.

    Or, as Obama said, Musharraf needs to control his territory, or we’ll do it for him.

  20. brainy435 says:

    So, Pug, Shi’ites have cleared Al Quaeda from Shi’ite ares completely now? Or are they just allowing themselves to be slaughtered while waiting for us to leave? Or do you think we are somehow protecting Al Quaeda? It’s hard for me to gage the exact level of your insanity.

  21. Like I said, it’s as if Saddam Hussein never existed.