I thought that after the White House’s initial embarrassing screwups in misrepresenting what happened at the compound in which bin Laden was killed — basic facts like whether bin Laden was armed or used human shields — the White House would carefully explain to staff how important it was not to be caught giving conflicting stories again to the media, let alone conflicting messages to the already humiliated Pakistanis. Nope.
The New York Times has a story Monday night in which senior administration officials tell them, on the one hand, how important it is to repair the damaged relationship with Pakistan and, on the other, how Obama himself insisted on having sufficient US forces available during the raid in case the Seals who stormed the bin Laden compound had to “fight their way out” against Pakistani armed forces.
On Sunday, National Security Adviser Donilon intimated on the Sunday shows that there was no evidence specifically showing Pakistan had knowingly harbored bin Laden. That was presumably intended to give the Pakistan government some wiggle room. The Times reports that Admiral Mullen called the Pakistani Army chief to smooth ruffled feathers, and C.I.A. Director Leon Panetta called his Pakistan counterpart “to discuss the way forward in the common fight against Al Qaeda.” And the Times quotes Press Secretary Carney on why this is important:
“We believe that it is very important to maintain the cooperative relationship with Pakistan precisely because it’s in our national security interest to do so,” said the White House spokesman, Jay Carney.
Okay. If smoothing things with Pakistan is so important — as in, they do have nukes that could fall into the wrong hands — then why did senior officials also emphasize to the Times we not only didn’t trust Pakistan to know about or participate in the operation, but we were prepared to engage in an act of war against Pakistan forces defending their own country? And which idiot official(s) thought it was helpful or necessary to provide this information?
“Their instructions were to avoid any confrontation if at all possible. But if they had to return fire to get out, they were authorized to do it.” . . .
About 10 days before the raid, Mr. Obama reviewed the plans and pressed his commanders as to whether they were taking along enough forces to fight their way out if the Pakistanis arrived on the scene and tried to interfere with the operation.
That resulted in the decision to send two more helicopters carrying additional troops. . . .
“Some people may have assumed we could talk our way out of a jam, but given our difficult relationship with Pakistan right now, the president did not want to leave anything to chance,” said one senior administration official, who like others would not be quoted by name describing details of the secret mission. “He wanted extra forces if they were necessary.”
Translation: the US was prepared to enage in an act of war against a supposed ally and to fight a battle against the ally’s armed forces on their own territory, in order to pull off an armed intrusion and killing of an enemy living in that country.
Now, this wasn’t planned as a suicide mission; once you’ve decided to intrude into Pakistan to kill or capture bin Laden, it’s only logical you give your guys sufficient contingent authority and backup to protect themselves to get out. But why publically blurt this out to Pakistan?
Perhaps the White House thinks this story will add to the President’s image of a take charge, macho military leader. Presidents tend to like that.
But if the broader strategic policy requires a continued non-belligerent relationship with Pakistan, then I think it’s just as likely this is another case of another (the same?) thoughtless official saying something that will need an almost immediate retraction or clarification. So who was this anonymous official?