The New York Times this morning published an article about "Al Qaeda Network Exord," an executive order signed by then-Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld back in 2004 that greatly expanded the military's power to secretly enter sovereign territory of other nations if they felt that terrorist activity was going on there. While Rummy signed the order, it was apparently approved by President Bush and used to justify numerous covert attacks in nations like Saudi Arabia, Syria, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia (in all 15-20 countries are listed in the order).
Beyond the PR nightmare that this should bring to the White House (though at this point I think many people are jaded by the Bush Administration's use of the Constitution as toilet paper and are more than ready to move on to President Obama), this brings up many questions both philosophically and diplomatically. To begin with, there is American exceptionalism. I'm down with American exceptionalism; I think this country has something that others do not (namely a heterogenous population that, for all of its issues [racism, xenophobia, etc.], is unique and culturally enriching), as well as a Constitution that goes farther than any other state document in protecting freedoms such as speech and religion for its people. This is something to be proud of. However, because we have these things does not mean that we can conduct secret missions without the approval of the government who rules over the land we conducting covert attacks on. If something like this were to happen in America can you imagine the response? If a Zapatista cell were in Texas or Arizona or New Mexico and Federales crossed the border into America without Washington's approval to take out the Zapatistas, how would Bush and Company respond? Do you think they would just let it slide because Calderon had signed some executive order? Doubtful.
Diplomatically this brings up serious issues, as well. When you choose to go behind a government's back to get things done, you lose all bargaining power with that government. What incentive would Zardari have to compromise with the U.S. on certain diplomatic items if he knows that his power will be worked around with secret executive orders? The way that he, or any leader of the 15-20 countries on that list, sees it they lose either way: either they bargain with the U.S. and allow these strikes to happen, or they do not bargain (or take a hard-line stance that is non-negotiable) with the U.S. and the strikes occur anyway behind their backs. So while publicly Bush and his administration will refer to Pakistan and Saudi Arabia as allies, in private they clearly do not trust them enough to take care of what they deem as threats to America and will violate those countries' sovereign borders to do what they think is right.
With Obama coming in in January, one would hope that he would bring an end to this kind of thing. One's belief that this would happen may be heightened by the reports that Obama wants to reverse a lot of the executive decisions made by the Bush Administration. However, his stance on cross-border raids into Pakistan from Afghanistan during the campaign suggests that he will more than likely not repeal this portion of the Bush Adminstration's strategy. In fact, it would politically harm him to repeal it because of Senator McCain's attacks on Obama that he is not fit to be Commander-in-Chief and is not hard enough on terrorism. We saw this with another young president who came from the Senate and did not want to appear soft on Communism. Let's hope that history does not repeat itself.
All in all, these types of secret raids into others' territory is not a good step in healing the wounds America has brought to the world with its blatant lying about the Iraq War in 2003. Many in America may not realize the distrust that other countries have for American leadership due to this egregious error. Instability in the Middle East has been underscored by the American invasion of Iraq. Just today there were mulitiple bombings in Baghdad. This country most certainly has the ability to return to diplomatic greatness and be seen abroad as something to emulate rather than fear or scorn. We have it in us, and hopefully Obama's administration has it in them. Peace.
Photos - Map of the region where many of the countries mentioned in "Al Qaeda Network Exord" lie (New York Times), An October 27 funeural for a person killed in an American cross-border raid into Syria (New York Times), The guys who made it happen (Wikipedia)