Three days after his administration strongly hinted that President Obama would order American troops into Pakistan when targets became open, Obama himself reversed that position. In an interview with the Associated Press, Obama said he respected Pakistani sovereignty and foresaw no reason to violate it — at least not with ground troops:
As he carries out a retooled strategy in Afghanistan, President Barack Obama says he will consult with Pakistan’s leaders before pursuing terrorist hideouts in that country.
Obama said U.S. ally Pakistan needs to be more accountable, but ruled out deploying U.S. troops there. “Our plan does not change the recognition of Pakistan as a sovereign government,” the president told CBS’ “Face the Nation” in an interview broadcast Sunday. …
Without directly referring to the strikes, Obama said: “If we have a high-value target within our sights, after consulting with Pakistan, we’re going after them. But our main thrust has to be to help Pakistan defeat these extremists.”
Asked if he meant he would put U.S. troops on the ground in Pakistan, Obama said: “No.” He noted that Pakistan is a sovereign nation and said: “We need to work with them and through them to deal with al-Qaida. But we have to hold them much more accountable.”
That’s different than what the administration said on Thursday. As Wired reported, it sounded like Obama had decided just the opposite:
President Obama has just laid out his new war strategy. And he’s made it clear that the fight is both in Afghanistan and Pakistan. So I asked Dennis McDonough, with the National Security Council: Does that mean U.S. ground forces in Pakistan? Or more drone attacks? “I’m not going to comment on the notions you laid out there,” he answered, during a White House conference call with bloggers.
But during a separate press conference, Bruce Reidel, who recently completed a strategy review of the region for the White House, offered some hints. “Thus far, our policy sees Afghanistan and Pakistan as two countries, but one theater of operations for our diplomacy, and one challenge for our overall policy,” he said. “We have very concrete proposals for increasing economic assistance to Pakistan, proposals that have already been put forward by the Congress. We’re also looking at what we can do on the military side.”
Michele Flournoy, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, added, “I certainly believe we are going to be increasing our intelligence focus in this [Afghan-Pakistan] theater, and as opportunities arise that may increase the pace of operations, as well.”
“One theater” suggests no boundaries for US troops, a perception that the administration did not reject when explicitly asked on Thursday. Today, Obama has rejected it, although he threatened to invade Pakistan with American ground troops as a candidate. So is this “smart power”, or simply chaotic and fumbling messaging from the White House?