Say what you like about George W. Bush's poor stewardship of U.S. foreign policy -- and we have -- the president got it exactly right Monday. After a meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Bush was asked whether he would wait for permission from Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to send U.S. forces into Pakistan if he had actionable intelligence about the whereabouts of top Al Qaeda leaders, although waiting might mean missing an opportunity to strike at them.
Bush artfully dodged the question. And although this page is not in the habit of praising evasions by public officials, in the case of Pakistan, smart foreign policy required what is known in diplomacy as "strategic ambiguity" -- in other words, a deliberate refusal to be pinned down.
Let us here speak the undiplomatic truths that must never pass an American president's lips unless he or she has made a decision to sever the distressed but still highly strategic alliance with Pakistan -- not just with Musharraf, but with the generalissimo's successors:
First, sovereignty in a country as troubled as Pakistan is something of a fig leaf, and violations of the territory of weak U.S. allies in the post-9/11 era have increasingly become a matter of "don't ask, don't tell." It is widely believed that U.S. Special Forces and CIA operatives have been plying their arts inside Pakistani borders, with the understanding that they will do their best not to embarrass Musharraf by being too obvious or killing too many civilians, and that Pakistani authorities will do their best to ignore their presence.