Would McCain Have Authorized The Strike That Killed A Senior Al Qaeda Commander Last Month?

In Wisconsin last night, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) attacked Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL), calling him “an inexperienced candidate who once suggested bombing our ally, Pakistan.” The Arizona senator repeated the charge on Good Morning America earlier today, claiming that “Obama wants to bomb Pakistan without talking to the Pakistanis.”

McCain is distorting what Obama said in August about the use of force in Pakistan. Here are Obama’s actual words:

If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets, and President Musharraf won’t act, we will.

As Joe Klein notes, “Obama was merely saying that he supported current U.S. policy.” The Washington Post reported yesterday that in late January, the CIA killed “a senior al Qaeda commander” in Pakistan “without getting the government’s formal permission beforehand”:

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, according to the officials, who insisted on anonymity because of diplomatic sensitivities.

At a media availability today a reporter noted that what Obama’s “saying is not going after Pakistan, but going after al Qaeda targets within Pakistan.” “That’s still bombing Pakistan,” replied McCain. He then called Obama “naive.” Watch it:


So, to get McCain’s “straight talk” straight, he claims Obama is “naive” and “inexperienced” for doing what the CIA calls “a model” of how to score victories against al Qaeda. Does this mean that if he were President and the Pakistani government “turned down” requests for cooperation, McCain would have let a top al Qaeda commander go free?

UPDATE: Ilan Goldenberg, Michael Cohen and Matthew Yglesias all have more.