The Plank

The "obama Wants To Bomb Pakistan" Lie

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Last night John McCain accused Barack Obama of, among other things, having "once suggested bombing our ally, Pakistan." This is a lie.

The basis for it is a foreign policy address Obama made last August, in which he said:

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.

Obama was clearly referencing a New York Times story from the previous month, describing how the administration had actionable intelligence about senior al Qaeda leaders, and planned a snatch-and-grab mission, but aborted it at the last second. As the Times reported, "The decision to halt the planned “snatch and grab” operation frustrated some top intelligence officials and members of the military’s secret Special Operations units, who say the United States missed a significant opportunity to try to capture senior members of Al Qaeda."

Further in the same spech, Obama offered a little more detail about the kind of anti-terrorist mission he envisions:

I will not hesitate to use military force to take out terrorists who pose a direct threat to America. This requires a broader set of capabilities, as outlined in the Army and Marine Corps’s new counter-insurgency manual. I will ensure that our military becomes more stealth, agile, and lethal in its ability to capture or kill terrorists. We need to recruit, train, and equip our armed forces to better target terrorists, and to help foreign militaries to do the same.

There is nothing in Obama's speech, or any other Obama speech, about "bombing" Pakistan. Both implicitly and explicitly, he called for small, Special Operations-type incursions.

Meanwhile, you know who is coming closer to "bombing an ally"? The Bush administration, whose determined prosecution of the war on terror McCain continues to tout. The Washington Post reported -- as it happens, the same day McCain made his smear -- that the CIA launched Hellfire missiles at an al Qaeda operative in Pakistan. As the Post noted, "Having requested the Pakistani government's official permission for such strikes on previous occasions, only to be put off or turned down, this time the U.S. spy agency did not seek approval."

So, to review: Obama did not call for bombing Pakistan, ever. Meanwhile the Bush administration is undertaking air attacks against targets in Pakistan. Is this wildly irresponsible? I suppose you could make that case. But McCain isn't interested in an argument about the merits of striking al Qaeda against the costs of undermining Pervez Musharraf. He's just interested in lying about what Obama said in order to portray him as a foreign policy novice.

--Jonathan Chait

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