During NH debate, ABC's Gibson characterized Obama's Pakistan position as "essentially the Bush doctrine," ignoring Bush contradictions

››› ››› KATHLEEN HENEHAN

During the ABC News-Facebook Democratic debate, ABC News' Charlie Gibson said that Sen. Barack Obama's assertion that, as president, he would "press them [the Pakistani government] to do more to take on Al Qaeda in their territory," and that "if they could not or would not do so, and we had actionable intelligence, then I would strike," is "essentially the Bush doctrine: We can attack if we want to, no matter the sovereignty of the Pakistanis." But by asserting that Obama's policy on Pakistan is "essentially the Bush doctrine," Gibson was claiming that there is in fact a clear Bush doctrine on the question of whether the U.S. would strike Al Qaeda in Pakistan regardless of the sovereignty of Pakistan. Bush and administration officials have in fact made inconsistent statements on this issue.

During the January 5 ABC News-Facebook Democratic presidential debate, moderator Charlie Gibson referred to Sen. Barack Obama's (D-IL) August 1, 2007, foreign policy speech -- in which Obama said that, as president, he would take action against "high-value terrorist targets" in Pakistan -- and asked Obama, "You stand by that?" Obama answered: "I absolutely do stand by it" and went on to say, "[B]ack in August, I said we should ... press them [the Pakistani government] to do more to take on Al Qaeda in their territory. What I said was, if they could not or would not do so, and we had actionable intelligence, then I would strike." Gibson replied, "[W]hat you just outlined is essentially the Bush doctrine: We can attack if we want to, no matter the sovereignty of the Pakistanis." But as Media Matters for America has repeatedly documented, Bush and administration officials have taken contradictory positions on the question of whether the U.S. would act on actionable intelligence against Al Qaeda in Pakistan regardless of the sovereignty of Pakistan. Indeed, within a span of five days Bush said both that he would and would not go after Al Qaeda in Pakistan without the permission of the Pakistani government. Gibson's assertion of a "Bush doctrine" ignores these contradictions.

On September 20, 2006, Bush said to CNN host Wolf Blitzer that he would "[a]bsolutely" order U.S. troops into sovereign Pakistani territory "to bring [bin Laden] to justice." Bush reaffirmed that position on November 28, 2007, during another interview with Bush. Blitzer asked: "[A] year ago September ... you told me that 'absolutely' -- that was your word -- you would authorize U.S. troops to go into Pakistan if you had actionable intelligence on Osama bin Laden's whereabouts or other top-ranking Al Qaeda members. Is that still your position?" When Bush replied, "Yeah," Blitzer asked, "Hasn't changed?" Bush responded: "No, hasn't changed."

On the other hand, during a September 15, 2006, press conference -- five days before his 2006 interview with Blitzer -- Bush ruled out "sending special forces to Pakistan to hunt down [Osama] bin Laden" in part because "Pakistan is a sovereign nation." Additionally, on August 1, 2007, then-White House press secretary Tony Snow said: "[O]ur 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," as Media Matters documented.

In the August 1, 2007, speech, Obama said: "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 [Pakistani] President [Pervez] Musharraf won't act, we will." Obama also criticized Bush's policies toward Pakistan: "He elevates al Qaeda in Iraq -- which didn't exist before our invasion -- and overlooks the people who hit us on 9/11, who are training new recruits in Pakistan." Time magazine political columnist Joe Klein wrote in an August 1, 2007, post on the magazine's Swampland blog that Obama's approach is the "precise opposite" of Bush's policy:

Finally, on Pakistan, what Obama is proposing is the precise opposite of what Bush has done. It is clear that not only is General Musharraf incapable of controlling his tribal areas, but also that there are elements of the Pakistani military and intelligence services that are actively Salafist and support the jihadis, quite possibly including the Al Qaeda leadership. Bush has chosen to do nothing about this.

During the debate, after Gibson asserted, "[W]hat you just outlined is essentially the Bush doctrine," Obama replied:

OBAMA: No, that is not the same thing, because here we have a situation where Al Qaeda, a sworn enemy of the United States, that killed 3,000 Americans and is currently plotting to do the same, is in the territory of Pakistan. We know that.

And so, you know, this is not speculation. This is not a situation where we anticipate a possible threat in the future. And my job as commander-in-chief will be to make sure that we strike anybody who would do America harm when we have actionable intelligence do to that.

From ABC News' January 5 broadcast of the ABC News-Facebook Democratic presidential debate:

GIBSON: Brian Ross there.

Well, Osama bin Laden, as he pointed out, has said it is his duty to try to get nuclear weapons. Al Qaeda has been reconstituted and re-energized in the western part of Pakistan. And so my general question is: How aggressively would you go after Al Qaeda leadership there?

And let me start with you, Senator Obama, because it was you who said, in your foreign policy speech, that you would go into Western Pakistan, if you had actionable intelligence, to go after him, whether or not the Pakistani government agreed. You stand by that?

OBAMA: I absolutely do stand by it, Charlie. What I said was that we should do everything in our power to push and cooperate with the Pakistani government in taking on Al Qaeda, which is now based in northwest Pakistan. And what we know from our national intelligence estimates is that Al Qaeda is stronger now than at any time since 2001.

And so, back in August, I said we should work with the Pakistani government, first of all to encourage democracy in Pakistan, so you've got a legitimate government that we're working with, and secondly, that we have to press them to do more to take on Al Qaeda in their territory. What I said was, if they could not or would not do so, and we had actionable intelligence, then I would strike.

And I should add that Lee Hamilton and Tom Keaton, the heads of the 9/11 Commission, a few months later wrote an editorial saying the exact same thing. I think it's indisputable that that should be our course.

Let me just add one thing, though. On the broader issue of nuclear proliferation, this is something that I've worked on since I've been in the Senate. I worked with Richard Lugar, then the Republican head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to pass the next stage of what was Nunn-Lugar, so that we would have improved interdiction of potentially nuclear materials.

And it is important for us to rebuild a nuclear nonproliferation strategy, something that this administration, frankly, has ignored, and has made us less safe as a consequence. It would not cost us that much, for example, and would take about four years for us to lock down the loose nuclear weapons that are still floating out there, and we have not done the job.

GIBSON: I'm going to go to the others in a moment, but what you just outlined is essentially the Bush doctrine: We can attack if we want to, no matter the sovereignty of the Pakistanis.

OBAMA: No, that is not the same thing, because here we have a situation where Al Qaeda, a sworn enemy of the United States, that killed 3,000 Americans and is currently plotting to do the same, is in the territory of Pakistan. We know that.

And so, you know, this is not speculation. This is not a situation where we anticipate a possible threat in the future. And my job as commander-in-chief will be to make sure that we strike anybody who would do America harm when we have actionable intelligence do to that.

Posted In
National Security & Foreign Policy
Network/Outlet
ABC
Person
Charlie Gibson
Stories/Interests
Barack Obama, 2008 Elections
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