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Lionel Beehner

Lionel Beehner

Posted: September 17, 2008 11:01 AM

Bush Embraces 'Obama Doctrine' to Bomb Pakistan


By authorizing U.S. strikes against terrorists and Taliban rebels in Pakistan, President Bush has firmly embraced the Obama Doctrine. The Illinois senator laid out his views on the matter last fall, when he said he would authorize strikes--if supplied with actionable intelligence--against Pakistan if President Musharraf failed to rein in terrorist activity on his territory. He was pounced on by pundits--but his views on the subject put Obama squarely in the same camp as neocons in Washington and the Wall Street Journal Editorial board.

Obama's views on this subject were forward-thinking and out-of-the-box. But they are dead wrong and dangerous. By justifying cross-border incursions under the mantle of "hot pursuit" of non-state actors--which remember, is an aberration of international law, a bastardized form of maritime law governing ships on the high seas--Obama is opening up a dangerous legal can of worms that would make the world a much messier place.

It would provide a legal justification for any twitchy country with a hyperventilating military nervous about a non-state actor on its borders to invade with impunity--international legal norms or collateral damage be damned. It would remove the brakes on Turkey to go guns-a-blazing into Iraq to stamp out the PKK. Ditto Colombia and the FARC, whose camps are in Ecuador and Venezuela. Israel might use similar logic to take the fight to Tehran, Damascus, or Beirut. China might bomb its western-most provinces to root out Uighur separatists. Russia would re-invade the Caucasus. And so forth and so on.

These conflicts would likely not stay localized but run the risk of escalating into region-wide conflagrations. Moreover, they would lead to untold civilian casualties and turn hearts and minds against the aggressor, as has been evident in Pakistan.

This does not mean that we--or the Turks, Colombians, or Israelis--should sit on our hands and do nothing in the face of terrorism. But preemptively violating another state's sovereignty is serious business and risks widening previously contained conflicts. Instead we must coerce states that harbor terrorists to cooperate--using legal mechanisms like extradition treaties, pressure from the UN Security Council, sanctions, withholding aid (i.e. Pakistan), etc.--rather than just crossing borders willy-nilly.

Obama has lots of good ideas about improving U.S. foreign policy and restoring our image in the world. This is not one of them.