Failing to act decisively – or at all – when in possession of intelligence about Osama bin Laden is perhaps Bill Clinton’s biggest failure as president and his longest-lasting legacy.
Now, writing about the U.S. missiles that killed Abu Laith al-Libi, an al Qaeda commander, MSNBC says:
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. The government of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf was notified only as the operation was underway
Officials say the incident was a model of how Washington often scores its rare victories these days in the fight against al-Qaeda inside Pakistan’s national borders: It acts with assistance from well-paid sympathizers inside the country, but without getting the government’s formal permission beforehand.
It is an approach that some U.S. officials say could be used more frequently this year, particularly if a power vacuum results from yesterday’s election and associated political tumult. The administration also feels an increased sense of urgency about undermining al-Qaeda before President Bush leaves office, making it less hesitant, said one official familiar with the incident.
"In the past it required getting approval from the highest levels," said one former intelligence official involved in planning for previous strikes. "You may have information that is valid for only 30 minutes. If you wait, the information is no longer valid."
From that perspective I can understand the logic of performing unsanctioned strikes. Also playing into that equation must be the fact that, while these territories are part of Pakistan as it is drawn on maps, this area of the country is essentially ungoverned, at least in the national sense.
Still, on their own these sorts of unilateral actions cannot be sustained in the long run. The Pakistani National Assembly that results from yesterday’s election will undoubtedly want to have a say in matters, something that may reduce, rather than increase, the number of such strikes.
Hopefully the Bush administration will engage Pakistan again on this issue and create a mutually agreed upon plan for continuing to press the terrorists in the country’s untamed areas. Failing that, the fight must go on.