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.
"The situation in the tribal areas is not tolerable," said a senior American official who, like others interviewed for this article, spoke on condition of anonymity because of the delicate nature of the missions. "We have to be more assertive. Orders have been issued."
The new orders reflect concern about safe havens for Al Qaeda and the Taliban inside Pakistan, as well as an American view that Pakistan lacks the will and ability to combat militants. They also illustrate lingering distrust of the Pakistani military and intelligence agencies and a belief that some American operations had been compromised once Pakistanis were advised of the details.
As a policy matter, I think this was the right call for Bush to make. As a political matter, it's worth keeping in mind that John McCain apparently disagrees.
As we talked about last week, Barack Obama has said, on multiple occasions, that he supports taking actions against terrorist targets in Pakistan, if Pakistani officials are unable or unwilling to act. McCain not only disagrees, he's repeatedly criticized Obama's policy, accusing him of wanting to "bomb our ally." Indeed, McCain recently suggested to CNN's Larry King that he, as president, wouldn't even pursue Osama bin Laden if he slipped past the border because "Pakistan is a sovereign nation."
And yet, here we are. Bush's position not only seems largely consistent with Obama's policy, it also ignores McCain's concerns about Pakistani "sovereignty" altogether. Indeed, now that Bush has given the green light to U.S. Special Operations forces conducting ground operations on Pakistani soil, McCain, if he's consistent, considers the current U.S. policy as an "invasion" of an "ally."
So, where's McCain's denunciation? Where's his outrage and condescending smear about Bush's inexperience? When might we hear McCain publicly explain to voters how dangerous Bush's policy is?
Maybe some enterprising reporter on the trail with McCain can ask him.