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Bill Adair
By Bill Adair February 27, 2008

Et tu, Clinton?

At the Democratic debate in Cleveland, Ohio, on Feb. 26, 2008, Sen. Hillary Clinton stole a line from Sen. John McCain and President Bush.

Clinton said that last summer, Sen. Barack Obama "basically threatened to bomb Pakistan, which I don't think was a particularly wise position to take."

Clinton's line echoes recent comments by McCain, who told reporters Feb. 20 that Obama "suggested bombing Pakistan," and Bush, who said in a Feb. 17 TV interview that he didn't know much about Obama's foreign policy except that "he's going to attack Pakistan and embrace (Iranian President Mahmoud) Ahmadinejad."

Clinton is seriously distorting Obama's remarks, just as Bush and McCain did. As we said with our check of McCain's statement last week, it is an extreme charge because Pakistan has been a key ally to the United States.

Clinton, Bush and McCain are referring to a speech that Obama gave in August 2007 at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington. He spoke about the problem of terrorists at large within Pakistan. He said he would continue to provide military aid to Pakistan as long as the authorities there work to close terrorist training camps and prevent the Taliban from using Pakistan as a staging area for attacks in Afghanistan.

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Then Obama added:

"I understand that (Pakistan) 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-Qaida leadership meeting in 2005. If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won't act, we will."

The transcript of his speech makes it clear that Obama is talking about targeting terrorists within the country regardless of whether he has the permission of the Pakistani government.

We recognize that Clinton et al. are making a larger point questioning the wisdom of Obama telegraphing future military plans and we are not addressing whether that is a good idea. But it is a significant distortion to say Obama wants to "attack Pakistan," as President Bush did, and an even more serious one that he supports "bombing Pakistan" as McCain and Clinton did. (Indeed, all Obama said was that he would "act.")

The charge from Clinton and her odd allies is especially unusual in light of a Feb. 19 article in the Washington Post that revealed missiles from a CIA-operated Predator aircraft recently killed a key al-Qaida commander in the Pakistani town of Mir Ali. The U.S. government did not have permission from the Pakistani government for the attack, the article said.

So the United States is already doing what Obama is advocating.

We might give Clinton points for qualifying her remarks with "basically." But even with that qualifier, she is twisting Obama's comments to imply he wants to attack a U.S. ally. It's not enough to call that False. We called it Pants-on-Fire wrong when McCain said it and we're doing the same for Clinton.

Our Sources

New York Times, Transcript of Democratic Debate, Feb. 26, 2008

Fox News Sunday, Interview with President Bush , Feb. 10, 2008

Barack Obama campaign Web site, Speech at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars , Aug. 1, 2007

Associated Press, McCain says Obama is simplistic to warn of bombing Pakistan , Aug. 2, 2007

CNN, Democratic debate transcript , July 23, 2007

Associated Press, Clinton: Obama is 'naive' on foreign policy , July 24, 2007

White House Web site, President Bush Press Conference , Aug. 9, 2007

Associated Press, Obama: Would meet Iranian as president , Sept. 24, 2007

New York Times, Obama Envisions New Iran Approach , Nov. 2, 2007

Washington Post, Unilateral Strike Called a Model For U.S. Operations in Pakistan, Feb. 19, 2008

CQ Transcript Wire, Sen. McCain Holds a Media Availability, Columbus, Ohio, Feb. 20, 2008

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