Barack Obama, Neocon
Wall Street Journal. (Eastern edition). New York, N.Y.: Aug 3, 2007.
Democratic Presidential hopeful Barack Obama is taking heat from
liberals and conservatives alike for his comment that he wouldn't
hesitate to send U.S. troops into Pakistan to capture or kill al
Qaeda leaders. Actually, it's the best thing we've heard yet from the
junior U.S. Senator from Illinois.
"I understand that [Pakistan President Pervez] Musharraf has his own
challenges," Mr. Obama said in a speech Wednesday at the Woodrow
Wilson International Center for Scholars, in Washington, D.C. "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. . . . If we have actionable intelligence about high-value
terrorist targets and President Musharraf will not act, we will."
As a candidate recently pilloried by fellow Democrats as a foreign
policy naif, Mr. Obama's remarks may be no more than an effort to don
a Mike Dukakis helmet. And given the Senator's consistent opposition
to the war in Iraq, it may seem peculiar that he should now propose
invading a nuclear-armed Muslim country -- all the more so since Mr.
Obama let slip yesterday in an interview that as President he would
rule out the use of nuclear weapons "in any circumstance," before he
But in a primary contest where Democrats seem to vie with one another
for the title of who will pull out of Iraq the fastest, Mr. Obama's
speech is at least a recognition that he'd be willing to use military
force somewhere. It's also a reminder to antiwar Democratic voters
that the terror threat won't vanish when the Bush Administration
does, and that U.S. soldiers will have to be put in harm's way again.
Sometimes the easiest -- but worst -- decision for a President is not
to take military action. This was part of President Clinton's failure
against al Qaeda in the 1990s, which his wife and Presidential
candidate Hillary Clinton now wants to bathe in nostalgia as a
simpler time when life wasn't so hard. But no one should forget that
throughout the 1990s Mr. Clinton was storing up trouble with his
failure to react forcefully to the first World Trade Center bombing,
and to the al Qaeda attacks against U.S. embassies in East Africa in
1998 and the USS Cole in 2000.
Mr. Obama's comments also showed some welcome realism about the
problem that confronts the U.S. in Pakistan. Following Mr.
Musharraf's ill-conceived truce last September with Taliban-connected
warlords in the Pakistani province of Waziristan, terrorist raids
into neighboring Afghanistan rose threefold. Al Qaeda has also been
able to substantially reconstitute itself in the area, according to
the latest U.S. National Intelligence Estimate. If Pakistan is
unwilling or unable to police its own territory, then no prudent U.S.
President can afford to rule out special forces raids or Predator
strikes, or more.
Incidentally, Mr. Obama's words -- assuming they are sincere --
indicate that as President he would have overruled former Secretary
of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who in 2005 is reported to have vetoed a
U.S. commando raid into Waziristan on grounds that it might have
destabilized Mr. Musharraf's government. The Senator describes that
decision as "a terrible mistake," and anyone who wants to run to the
right of Rummy on counterterrorism can't be all bad.
Too bad, then, that Mr. Obama instantly squandered an opportunity for
seriousness by insisting that Iraq is "the wrong battlefield" in the
war on terror. In case he hasn't noticed, Iraq today is the main
battlefield where U.S. forces are confronting, and killing, al Qaeda
on a daily basis. And GIs don't have to invade another country to do it.
The Senator is also misguided to say that the struggle in Afghanistan
and Pakistan is "the war that has to be won," as if fleeing Iraq in
defeat would make that easier. If we let al Qaeda emerge victorious
in Iraq -- or even allow it to claim a partial victory -- we will
contribute a chapter to its mythology of Islamist invincibility, help
it gain new recruits, and encourage further assaults. The best way to
defeat al Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan is first to demonstrate
the national will to stay and win in Iraq.
Still, Mr. Obama's willingness to draw appropriate conclusions from
realities in Pakistan stands in refreshing contrast to his Democratic
opponents. Tragic as a premature withdrawal from Iraq would be, it
would be compounded if Democrats draw the lesson never again to use
or threaten force abroad. By distancing himself from his party's
pacifist wing, Mr. Obama is growing up as a candidate.