The latest evidence to bolster Barack Obama’s foreign policy judgment against his critics arrived this morning on the front page of The New York Times. The paper of record reports today that President Bush issued an order three months ago that permits U.S. special forces to strike against Al-Qaeda inside Pakistan, without the permission of Islamabad’s government.
That is precisely what Obama said he would do as president if the Pakistani government proved unwilling or unable to act against the Islamist terror organization whose attacks on 9/11 are being marked today in New York, Washington, and around the country.
Ever since he made those remarks during a Democratic debate in August 2007, they have drawn sharp criticism from various opponents (including Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden). But the harshest assaults came from the Republicans, notably Mitt Romney, and John McCain. Last February, McCain falsely described Obama as a “confused, inexperienced candidate who once suggested bombing our ally Pakistan.” Obama never said he wanted to “bomb” Pakistan, of course. His exact warning was that if Pakistan did not act against Al Qaeda’s bases in the mountain region bordering Afghanistan, “we will.” He did not go further.
But the Bush administration could not resist the opportunity to blast him back then, repeatedly. The late Tony Snow, then the White House press secretary, went after the Illinois Democrat from the press podium immediately after Obama’s debate remarks. As the UPI reported on Aug. 1, 2007, Snow “rejected a suggestion by a Democratic presidential hopeful that U.S. troops might have to clean out safe havens in Pakistan.” He went on: "Let me just say we think that our approach to Pakistan is one that not only respects the sovereignty of Pakistan as a sovereign government, but is also designed to work in a way where we are working in cooperation with the local government."
Several months later, as Obama’s campaign gathered force, the president himself went out of his way to blast the Democrat on foreign policy in very personal terms. On Feb. 10, Bush gave an interview on Fox News Sunday, saying of Obama: “I certainly don’t know what he believes in. The only foreign policy thing I remember he said was he’s going to attack Pakistan and embrace [Iranian President] Mahmoud Ahmadinejad." Of course Obama said no such “thing” about either of those topics.
But Bush may be understandably bitter because he has been forced to reverse himself, again, in the very direction demanded by Obama. The United States has turned away from confrontation with Iran to direct negotiation, at least for the moment. Our policy in Iraq has shifted from indefinite occupation toward that dreaded timetable for withdrawal, at the insistence of the Iraqi government. Today that list of humiliating foreign policy flip-flops got longer.