Barack Obama's views on going after al-Qaida in the Tribal Regions of Pakistan received much attention and discussion.

Speeches and statementsEdit

Obama Speech August 1, 2007

"As 9/11 showed us, the security of Afghanistan and America is shared. And today, that security is most threatened by the al Qaeda and Taliban sanctuary in the tribal regions of northwest Pakistan. Al Qaeda terrorists train, travel, and maintain global communications in this safe-haven. The Taliban pursues a hit and run strategy, striking in Afghanistan, then skulking across the border to safety. This is the wild frontier of our globalized world. There are wind-swept deserts and cave-dotted mountains. There are tribes that see borders as nothing more than lines on a map, and governments as forces that come and go. There are blood ties deeper than alliances of convenience, and pockets of extremism that follow religion to violence. It's a tough place. But that is no excuse. There must be no safe-haven for terrorists who threaten America. We cannot fail to act because action is hard. As President, I would make the hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. military aid to Pakistan conditional, and I would make our conditions clear: Pakistan must make substantial progress in closing down the training camps, evicting foreign fighters, and preventing the Taliban from using Pakistan as a staging area for attacks in Afghanistan. I understand that President Musharraf has his own challenges. But let me make this clear. There are terrorists holed up in those mountains who murdered 3,000 Americans. They are plotting to strike again. It was a terrible mistake to fail to act when we had a chance to take out an al Qaeda leadership meeting in 2005. If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won't act, we will."[1]

AFI-CIO Forum in August 7, 2007

Senator Dodd was asked about his statements the previous week about Senator Obama: "His assertions about foreign and military affairs have been, frankly, confusing and confused...He should not be making unwise categorical statements about military options."

Dodd: "Well, let me say on these matters here, I spent 26 years on the Foreign Relations Committee dealing with these matters; almost every major foreign policy debate. Words mean things. We've got to be very careful about language that is used in terms of the danger and harm it can do to our nation. My view was, when issues were being raised about Pakistan, understand that while General Musharraf is no Thomas Jefferson, he may be the only thing that stands between us and having an Islamic fundamentalist state in that country. So while I would like to see him change, the reality is: If we lose him then what we face is an alternative that could be a lot worse for our country. I think it is highly irresponsible of people who are running for the presidency and seek that office to suggest we may be willing unilaterally to invade a nation here that we are trying to get to be more cooperative with us in Afghanistan and elsewhere. So my views, and I say this respectfully to my friend from Illinois here, I think it was wrong to say what he did in that matter. I think it is important for us to be very careful about the language we use; make it clear that if this United States is going to build relationships around the world, we're going to have to do so with allies -- in some cases, allies that we might not particularly like."

Obama: "Well, look, I find it amusing that those who helped to authorize and engineer the biggest foreign policy disaster in our generation are now criticizing me for making sure that we are on the right battlefield and not the wrong battlefield in the war against terrorism. Chris, respectfully -- and you and I are close friends -- but the fact is: You obviously didn't read my speech. Because what I said was that we have to refocus, get out of Iraq, make certain that we are helping Pakistan deal with the problem of Al Qaida in the hills between Afghanistan and Pakistan. But, Chris, if we have actionable intelligence on Al Qaida operatives, including bin Laden, and President Musharraf cannot act, then we should. Now, I think that's just common sense."

Clinton: "Well, I do not believe people running for president should engage in hypotheticals and it may well be that the strategy that we have to pursue on the basis of actionable intelligence -- but, remember, we've had some real difficult experiences with actionable intelligence -- might lead to a certain action. But I think it is a very big mistake to telegraph that, and to destabilize the Musharraf regime which is fighting for its life against the Islamist extremists who are in bed with Al Qaida and Taliban. And remember: Pakistan has nuclear weapons. The last thing we want is to have Al Qaida-like followers in charge of Pakistan and having access to nuclear weapons. So, you can think big, but remember you shouldn't always say everything you think if you're running for president, because it has consequences across the world. And we don't need that right now."[2]


The argument wasn't about what was said so much as it was about where, when and how to say this. As Biden stated on Charlie Rose on August 9, this is current U.S. foreign policy.

Some news stories blamed protests in Pakistan on Obama's comments, but the largest protests happened earlier after a U.S. State Department speech by Nicholas Burns, the Under Secretary for Political Affairs, the previous week.[3] After Obama's speech, Burns supported his comments: "Asked if the US could send its own troops to demolish Al Qaeda bases inside the Pakistani tribal belt, Mr Burns said: "We are going to deal respectfully and, hopefully, effectively with the Pakistani government. They should control what happens inside their own territory. And nearly on every occasion we do want to work with the Pakistani government to try to defeat the terrorist groups. But we also said if we had perfect knowledge about location of Al Qaeda, we felt that we could give Al Qaeda a severe blow by US military action; then of course, we wouldn’t hesitate."[4]

Obama clarified his position when he changed "if Musharref won't act" from his speech to "if Musharref can't act" in the Forum.

Clarence Page discussed Obama's comments and the reaction to them, from both Democratic and Republican candidates.[5]


  1. Obama, Barack The War We Need to Win Washington, DC, August 01, 2007
  2. Sweet, Lynn AFL-CIO Forum complete transcript Chicago Sun-Times, August 7, 2007
  3. Burns, R. Nicholas Pakistan's Future: Building Democracy, or Fueling Extremism? Statement Before the Senate Committee On Foreign Relations, Washington, DC, July 25, 2007
  4. Iqbal, Anwar New US threat to use force: Al Qaeda sheltering in Waziristan, Taliban in Balochistan: Burns Dawn, August 3, 2007
  5. Page, Clarence Obama's international melodrama Chicago Tribune, August 12, 2007

See alsoEdit

Foreign policy