Sunday, February 15, 2009

How not to keep secrets (or win wars)

According to the L.A. Times, in a disclosure "likely to embarrass the Pakistani government and complicate its counterterrorism collaboration with the United States," the Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman let a big cat out of a small bag last week.

A senior U.S. lawmaker said Thursday that unmanned CIA Predator aircraft operating in Pakistan are flown from an air base in that country... The disclosure by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)... marked the first time a U.S. official had publicly commented on where the Predator aircraft patrolling Pakistan take off and land.

At a hearing, Feinstein expressed surprise at Pakistani opposition to Predator-launched CIA missile strikes against Al Qaeda targets along Pakistan's northwest border.

"As I understand it, these are flown out of Pakistani base," she said.

The basing of the pilotless aircraft in Pakistan suggests a much deeper relationship with the United States on counter-terrorism matters than has been publicly acknowledged. Such an arrangement would be at odds with protests lodged by officials in Islamabad... and could inflame anti-American sentiment in the country.
(Emphasis added.)
Tribune reporting goes on to inform us that a spokesman for Feinstein said "her comment was based solely on previous news reports that Predators were operated from bases near Islamabad."

For many, the default explanation might be to suggest that this represents much ado about nothing, with Feinstein simply being open about a poorly kept secret involving a nominal ally in the GWOT. And as much could be said with a straight face; according to the "previous news reports," the "uneven performance" of the Pakistani military requires U.S. forces to pursue Al Qaeda across the Afghan border without the approval of Pakistani officials
"who at best lack commitment and resolve and at worst lack sympathy for U.S. interests."

One could also argue that it's tough to expect 535 people to keep any secret, and that lawmakers of both parties make these kinds of slips all the time. Representative Pete Hoekstra (R-MI) also got into his own barrel of hot water last week when it was revealed that he used his Twitter page to update those who may have been concerned of his whereabouts in Mesopotamia. By all media accounts, Hoekstra provided blow-by-blow details of where he was while in Iraq, as well as his observations on the relative level of safety in and around the Green Zone.

But while the Feinstein and Hoekstra cases appear relatively similar and equally benign, the longer-term impacts of each could not be more disparate. At worst, Hoekstra endangered his own safety while traveling in a theater of conflict. For her part, DiFi has unnecessarily complicated ongoing operations against Al Qaeda both in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and she has contributed to the perception that, as the Weekly Standard described it, the United States is
"the big, bad bully that violates Pakistan's sovereignty without a care for the people."

Feinstein has also added to the perception that the Pakistani government is either duplicitous or incompetent, neither of which will improve its standing with the population. And she did so at a time when the country's President Asif Zardari described himself as being in a fight
"for the survival of Pakistan."

The big question, as put by Ejaz Haider of the Pakistan Daily Times is "why would [Feinstein] say what she said?" Haider proposes that either
"President Barack Obama wants to settle this issue by getting Pakistan to take the pain of this disclosure, grapple with its fallout, and shut up," or "not exclusive of the first [explanation]... the Obama administration thinks it better to get other actors to do what they must, and as the necessary price for the move away from [George W.] Bush's unilateralism to Obama's multilateralism."

In any event, Haider concludes that while
"the policy of denial was unsustainable in the longer run," to force a disclosure now "is pure idiocy."
Feinstein's statement has not only effectively buried the policy of denial, it has also left Islamabad to bear this cross. Given the credibility problem for this government, it is going to be a heavy one. Also, if this disclosure has been deliberate, someone in Washington didn't think hard enough about its consequences.
In their quest for the cover of ideological purity, consequences are something that the Obama administration and the Democratic Party have paid minimal attention to. How else is one to explain Obama moving to close Guantanamo Bay before considering how un-Mirandized detainees would be tried in U.S. courts? And why else would a senator who was a chief beneficiary of the largess of banking executives turn around and add a provision to the stimulus bill that limits the bonuses of said executives?

These actions and nearly every other act taken by this government serve as proof positive that the Left is not to be trusted with the reins of power. Unfortunately, it appears that by the time a majority of the American people recognize the mistake they made last November, we will already have been unwittingly transported into a future that we will scarcely be able to deal with, let alone reverse.

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