Another analysis of Bush and Cheney's policy: act first, ask no questions later. The strike inside Syria is significant, but there is more to it than violating another nation's sovereignty.
We have entered a new phase in the war on terror. In July, according to three administration sources, the Bush administration formally gave the military new power to strike terrorist safe havens outside of Iraq and Afghanistan. Before then, a military strike in a country like Syria or Pakistan would have required President Bush's personal approval. Now, those kinds of strikes in the region can occur at the discretion of the incoming commander of Central Command (Centcomm), General David Petraeus. One intelligence source described the order as institutionalizing the "Chicago Way," an allusion to Sean Connery's famous soliloquy about bringing a gun to a knife fight.
Why the change in policy?
For starters, the administration is genuinely worried about al Qaeda's resurgence, not just in Pakistan, but across Asia and Africa. But with the clock winding down on the administration, it has a greater appetite for racking up victories against al Qaeda--and less worries about any residual political consequences from striking. Roger Cressey, a former deputy to Richard Clarke in the Clinton and Bush administrations, says, "[W]ith the administration in the final weeks, the bar for military operations will be lowered because the downsides for the president are minimal."
Minimal? Minimal for whom?
The big mystery now is whether the next administration will dismantle this policy or permit Petraeus to follow it to fruition. Obama has said nothing about Sunday's strikes in Syria (a silence that has rightly earned him taunting from the McCain campaign). On one level, this new policy conflicts with Obama's stated desire for opening up diplomatic channels to places like Tehran and Damascus. On the other hand, this is precisely the type of policy that he has repeatedly promised at least for Pakistan, whose territory is believed to host Osama bin Laden: If America has actionable intelligence on al Qaeda leaders, and the country housing those terrorist sits on its hands, we will act. His campaign rhetoric has now become the official war policy he will inherit. Is this a development that pleases him?
Campaign rhetoric ends the day he wins office.