Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Michael Mullen held a news conference today related to Pakistan. Though the order of the day was primarily making accusations about the Pakistani government (which Gates conceded were “pure supposition on our part”), the issue inevitably turned to the two top US defense officials triumphantly cheering the bin Laden raid and mocking Pakistan’s inability to do anything about it.
“If I were in Pakistani shoes, I would say I’ve already paid a price. I’ve been humiliated. I’ve been shown that the Americans can come in here and do this with impunity,” Gates declared when asked about the prospect of punishing Pakistan for the discovery of bin Laden.
Mullen later elaborated on this point, telling reporters that the US raid was a “humbling experience” for Pakistan’s normally proud military and that “their image has been tarnished” by the US raid.
The declarations about the ability of the US to attack Pakistani soil “with impunity” will likely be regarded particularly gravely within Pakistan, coming as they do just one day after US helicopters launched another cross-border raid and attacked a Pakistani military site, wounding two Pakistani soldiers.
Tensions between the US and Pakistan have soared in the wake of the bin Laden raid, not so much because of its unilateral nature but because White House officials have insisted it sets a precedent for other cross-border US raids. The comments, as well as the US attacks since the raid, have many Pakistani officials voicing public concerns that the US believes, as Gates and Mullen apparently do, that they can attack Pakistani territory whenever they please and will face no ramifications beyond the occasional “formal complaint” from the virtually powerless civilian government.