Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Iran, the US, and China

Some interesting reporting from the NYT today on China's strong relations with Iran, and how China sees Iran as a useful counter-balance to US would-be hegemony over Middle Eastern oil, as well as a source of the oil China needs for its own development.  Therefore, China has no interest in backing the US in any move to impose sanctions on Iran, much less attack it militarily.

“Their threat perception on this issue is different from ours,” said Zalmay Khalilzad, who as the American ambassador to the United Nations under President George W. Bush helped persuade China to approve limited sanctions against Iran. “They don’t see Iran in the same way as we do.”

Fran├žois Godement, a prominent China scholar and the president of the Paris-based Asia Center, put it more bluntly. “Basically,” he said, “the rise of Iran is not bad news for China.”
And China and Iran (formerly Persia) have a long and distinguished history of trade and cultural relations, and are drawing upon that now to sustain their modern ties. 

Funny.  Anybody else remember when the US and Iran had a history of good relations?  We did, of course, although it was with a repressive regimer.  That lasted right up to 1979's Revolution and the hostage crisis, which the US's previous policies helped catalyze, and which people in our foreign-policy establishment seem never to have gotten over and still seem to feel entitled to some payback.  Yet as recently as 2002, the "mad Mullahs" of the Iranian leadership were reaching out to the US, especially in the hunt for al-Qaeda and the Taliban right after the 9-11 attacks.  Iran also actually proposed around that time a deal with the US to give up its support for Hamas and Hezbollah and become more transparent about its nuclear program, in exchange for a security agreement with the US that would also recognize Iran's legitimate status in the region.

What happened?  Mr. Bush's 2002 "axis of evil" speech, for one, which smacked down Iran's outreach and helped bring to power the provocative Mr. Ahmadinejad.  That in turn unleashed the "new Hitler and Holocaust" trope among the Likudnik leadership in Israel.  AIPAC and the evangelicals took it from there in the halls of Congress.

So here we are, still demonizing Iran, an emerging power that has a young, mostly well-educated, computer-savvy population; burgeoning ties with another emerging military and economic power (China); strong ties with two other re-emerging nations (Russia and Turkey), as well as a nation in which the US is heavily invested (Iraq); and some of the planet's largest resources in oil and natural gas.

Maybe it's time for our leaders to consider partnership, rather than paranoia?

more fear-mongering on Iran in the NYT op-eds

The NYT publishes today an op-ed by Gary Milhollin and Valerie Lincy (the latter is the editor of something called; gee, I wonder what their slant is?) that warns that, in light of the recent disclosure about the Qom site,  the devious Iranians must truly have an "archipelago" of underground secret nuclear installations all over their country.  With talks with Tehran slated to begin tomorrow, they insist that the US hold Iran's feet to the fire to get them to 'fess up.

Haven't we heard this stuff before?  Like, in 2002-2003, with Tenet's slam-dunk case about all of Iraq's WMD installations, and the NYT's own Judith Miller writing about the same, as Ahmad Chalabi was spoon-feeding her stuff from operatives of zero credibility?

Read this piece.  It's built on a scaffolding of "if's" - If Iran has done this, then they can do this.  And if they can do this, then maybe they can do this.  This is the same sort of nonsense that helped launch Boy George's not-so-excellent adventure in Iraq.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

On bombing Iran: the usual suspects are weighing in

I'm up against a deadline for my book, so blogging time is limited.  But I highly recommend Glenn Greenwald's latest Salon pieces on the "new" disclosures about Iran's nuclear facility in Qom (still, by the way, under construction).  He makes a ton of excellent points, but take special note that
  • - So many of those now screaming for a strike on Iran are the same war-hawks who screamed for invading Iraq in 2002.  These guys seem never to learn, or to go away.
  • - Many of those boosting an attack on Iran are well loved by AIPAC and the Likudnik element in Israeli politics.
  • - Many of those reporters and pundits covering the issue for the MSM are all too prone to acting as stenographers for government sources, rather than as critical analysts who need to exercise a healthy skepticism when it comes to said sources.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Gideon Levy on Netanyahu's UN speech

David Brooks using Obama's words against him to stay the course in Afghanistan

I'll betcha that if there's any recent statement Mr. Obama would like to retract, or at least rephrase, it would be the one in his LA speech to the VFW where he called the Afghanistan expedition a "war of necessity." Brooks calls him on it, ostensibly in an encouraging way, but I think he's trying to box in Obama nonetheless.

But I'm especially disturbed by Brooks' scatter-shot application of "facts" - as in:

" the enemy is wildly hated. Only 6 percent of Afghans want a Taliban return, while NATO is viewed with surprising favor. This is not Vietnam or even Iraq."

I'm curious as to from whose think-tank he got those facts - and how the hell does one even do such a poll in Afghanistan these days?

Brooks also asserts:

"while many Afghan institutions are now dysfunctional, there is a base on which to build. The Afghan Army is a successful institution. Local villages have their own centuries-old civic institutions. The National Solidarity Program was able to build development councils in 23,000 villages precisely because the remnants of civil society still exist."

The Afghan army is a successful institution? Great! Then the US can go home. Actually, several reports suggest that the Afghan army seems hardly to exist, at least from the standpoint of the US forces who've been finding them in very short supply when US forces go out on missions.

Brooks also notes that the Taliban are a "transnational Pashtun movement active in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is part of a complex insurgency trying to topple the Pakistani regime." Indeed. That Pashtun movement is also trying to drive invaders out of their homeland - as Pashtuns have been doing for centuries. (Of course, Brooks pooh-poohs all those historians who have written about Afghanistan as the graveyard of empires. They "know little," says he. Truly well-informed experts know better, says he. Actually, the truly well-informed experts do know better, than Brooks . . .

or, for that matter, I would suggest, than Brooks' new military icon, Gen, McChrystal. I'm truly disturbed by what seems an almost worshipful respect for the Petraeus-McChrystal doctrine of counter-insurgency as the silver bullet that supposedly turned Iraq around. We have brilliant generals, says Brooks; they'll save the situation. But Brooks (and so many other of the "the-Surge-worked" crowd) seem to forget that the Surge in Iraq (1) did not fix Iraq (not that any of our pundits seem to care about Iraq anymore. "Our work is done there, no?"), and (2) was but one of several factors that brought down the violence there (such as Muqtada al-Sadr's decision to have his militia stand down, and especially, the Sunni Awakening/Sons of Iraq movement, by which the US essentially paid off Sunni Arab tribes to get them to take on the al-Qaeda jihadist element of the anti-US resistance).

I'm glad that Brooks advises Obama to weigh his decision carefully, but I'd caution Mr. Obama against Brooks' kind of reasoning.

in reference to:

"transnational Pashtun movement active in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is part of a complex insurgency trying to topple the Pakistani regime."
- Op-Ed Columnist - The Afghan Imperative - (view on Google Sidewiki)

More pressure on Iran - and more scare-mongering

Lots of breathless reporting today (both here and elsewhere) of the revelation about the previously undisclosed enrichment facility at Qom in Iran. This revelation seems to have been well coordinated with the G-20 meeting opening in Pittsburgh. And it also dovetails nicely with Netanyahu's fiery speech at the UM, in which he once again raised the issue of Ahmadinejad as Hitler, the impending new Holocaust, etc.

My understanding, though, is that Iran is entitled under international law to pursue nuclear enrichment. That Iran has been concealing that is worrisome, and disturbing, but given the West's consistent demonization of the Islamic Republic ever since 1979, it's also understandable.

Numerous experts have weighed in to the effect that a nuclear Iran is (1) inevitable, (2) containable, and (3) not likely to try to use a nuclear attack to eradicate Israel, or any other country. And launching a military "option" in some misguided attempt to stop Iran from making any progress will only (1) fail to do so over the long term, and (2) result in a destabilization of the Middle East - including attacks on Israel - that would likely bring us closer to catastrophe, rather than avert it.

in reference to: Iran Said to Have Covert Nuclear Facility - (view on Google Sidewiki)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Can the Taliban be defeated militarily?

This new piece from the Times of London confirms the conclusion that's been taking an ever stronger hold in my thinking.  To answer the question I posed in the header: No - at least, short of nuking or carpet-bombing most of Afghanistan and Pakistan, and I trust we all agree that that's simply not an option.  Every model of effective counter-insurgency I've ever seen recommends tens of thousands more US forces than are already in Afghanistan, and they simply aren't available, nor could they be without resorting to the draft back here at home.  There's no way that Obama, or anyone else, can sell that to the American public.  The Iraq disaster has already cost the US too much in blood and treasure, which has made us sick of war-fighting; and on top of that, too many Americans are already burdened with doubt that more losses in Afghanistan are worth it . . . .

Especially, with no possible end in sight, with the goals of stabilizing the country virtually impossible to attain with the current corrupt, illegitimate, ineffectual Karzai government in power (and as things now stand, Karzai's going nowhere.).

Especially, with poverty and illiteracy worse now than ever, with destruction seemingly waiting all around.  One of the villagers interviewed for the Times piece put it plainly:

“We are starving, no one is helping us.  If the Government does not help us, we’ll go back and join the Taleban.” As his neighbours angrily denounced President Karzai’s rule, [the villager] admitted that he did not like the Taleban. But he added: “We just want anyone who can bring security.”

Bringing security to Afghanistan is not something that the US can do.  We don't have the resources, we don't understand the culture, we're mostly clueless about the ethnic and tribal structure, and we've already killed too many innocent Afghans over the years  - by air strikes on fuel trucks, or air strikes on wedding parties, or air strikes on villages that just happened to be targeted because someone thought we could catch some "bad guys" there, or air strikes on the people who went to the funeral of the killed "bad guys" --  for us to even begin to have justifiable hope that Afghans would accept US forces as anything more than occupiers or - at best - intruders from whom locals can connive some money or good stuff.  (Like, for example, the enterprising young men who show up for training as Afghan security forces, then depart with some money and a gun, then show up again for a do-over, with US trainers oblivious to what's going on.)

Obama, blessedly, seems to be re-thinking his options, and maybe - just maybe - he'll be wise enough to find a way to disengage.  As Dan Froomkin notes in the Huffington Post, Mr. Obama - in sharp contrast to his predecessor - seems able to admit a mistake and change course.  If he does do that, he'll catch hell from McCain, Graham, and all the "victory or dishonor" types.  But to not be "victorious" in Afghanistan (and again, will someone tell me what that was supposed to look like?) is not the end of America.  Maybe no ticker-tape parades in the Big Apple, maybe no deck-of-the-USS-Missouri moment . . . but disengaging from Afghanistan might just let us take some first baby-steps toward a major national reassessment of who we really are, and what we can really do.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Obama leap-frogs the settlement freeze

As the NYT reports this morning, Mr. Obama is trying to press on, leap-frogging the settlement freeze issue to get Netanyahu to start talking about final settlement of the big issues separating Israel and the Palestinians.  The Palestinians are oh-so-ready to go there - and in sort of back-handed fashion, Obama is making Mahmud Abbas look better, because it truly is on Netanyahu's shoulders now.

But it won't be easy.  Netanyahu can count on the AIPAC-supported bunch (Republicans and Democrats alike) to lay into the president for pressuring Israel "unfairly."  And this "pivot" - as the NYT calls it - will take Obama nowhere unless he's ready to play some real hard-ball with Netanyahu - as in reducing US support to Israel, both diplomatic (in the UN) and economic (by which I also include the billions of dollars worth of military hardware the US provides).  But that, again, will likely cost him support in Congress, unless the American public can somehow reassure the president that they support him on this issue.  Can he somehow  make his case to the public, without leaving their local Congressional reps feeling threatened, caught in the middle between their constituencies and the well-funded (and fund-dispensing) "lobby"?

More tough-guy nonsense from Thomas Friedman

I do wish the man would stick to global warming and renewable energy, where he's got something useful to say.  His latest screed about playing tough with Iran, on the other hand, is not useful, at all.

TF claims that the nuclear-enrichment program is being used as leverage by a fanatic, "anti-Semitic" regime that cares not at all that its public is being brutalized  UN sanctions, and that the public would likely crack - or rise up - under new sanctions, not to mention an Israeli attack.  TF's advice to Robert Gates: keep that idea that Israel might "do something crazy" foremost in the minds of the Iranian leadership.

TF forgets (or ignores) the following:

  • the Iranian public hugely support their nuclear program as a right to which international law entitles them, and as something that an advanced, first-tier nation (a status to which, Iranians believe, history entitles them) ought to possess, without outside interference.
  • No amount of bullying or scare-tactics is likely to get the regime to back down.  TF knows nothing of Iranian cultural values or psychology.
  • The regime is not "anti-Semitic."  Its president idiotically rejects the Holocaust, but many members of the Iranian leadership feel that he's an idiot for doing so, and know that he's only hurting their country's international image by spouting off the way he does.  Moreover, if TF were to take the time to read the recent columns of his op-ed colleague Roger Cohen, who visited Iran - and some of its Jewish community - only a few months ago, he'd know that the regime is not anti-Semitic.  It is, however, anti-Zionist, and anti-Israel, as are a majority of people throughout the Middle East.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Afghan graveyard: America's turn?

The NYT's Robert Mackey lays it out, as have quite a few other over recent years: foreign invaders tend to leave Afghanistan defeated, and diminished.  Nota bene:

In February 1989, when the Soviets finally withdrew from the country a report in The Times by Bill Keller noted:

Today’s final departure is the end of a steady process of withdrawal since last spring, when Moscow says, there were 100,300 Soviet troops in Afghanistan. At the height of the Soviet commitment, according to Western intelligence estimates, there were 115,000 troops deployed.

On Monday, my colleagues Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker reported that the largest troop increase currently under consideration would bring the total number of American troops there to 113,000 — almost exactly the same size as the Soviet force:

Pentagon and military officials involved in Afghanistan policy say General McChrystal is expected to propose a range of options for additional troops beyond the 68,000 American forces already approved, from 10,000 more troops to as many as 45,000.

As The Lede noted in March, when Mullah Omar issued a call for help from Pakistani militants, there are an estimated 15,000 Taliban fighters on each side of the exceedingly porous border. On the day the Soviets departed in 1989, the BBC reported that “Kabul is surrounded by a mujahedeen force of around 30,000.”
Mackey also asks his readers to look at it another way:

Instead of looking just at failed occupations of Afghanistan, it might be worth looking at what how many troops were deployed during the successful occupation of postwar Germany in the 1940s. According to a Rand corporation study called “America’s Role in Nation-Building: From Germany to Iraq,” the U.S. peacekeeping force in the one-quarter of postwar Germany it controlled in 1945 (an area that then had a population of about 17 million people and no active insurgency) included more than 290,000 soldiers and “a constabulary or police-type occupation force” of 38,000.

Looking closer to home, consider that there are nearly 38,000 police officers in New York City, patrolling an area of just 300 square miles, with a population of 8.3 million. Given that, it is no wonder that Gen. McChrystal thinks it might be tough to provide security to 30 million Afghans and police 250,000 square miles of mostly mountainous terrain with even 100,000 troops.

Then again, it is also possible that too large a force, rather than subduing Afghanistan, could serve to provoke the Afghan people.

One man who has suggested that more American troops are not the answer is Russia’s ambassador to Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, who was a K.G.B. agent in Kabul during the Soviet occupation in the 1980s. Last October Mr. Kabulov told my colleague John Burns that the U.S. had “already repeated all of our mistakes,” and moved on to “making mistakes of their own, ones for which we do not own the copyright.” One of the biggest mistakes the Soviets made, Mr. Kabulov said, was letting the force grow too large. “The more foreign troops you have roaming the country,” he said, “the more the irritative allergy toward them is going to be provoked.”

Of course, the Kagan clan and other of the usual suspects (john McCain) will perhaps respond, "Well, yes, but . . . we're Americans!  We're better than all those others!  And anyway, we can't lose.  Otherwise, civilization as we know it will come to an end."

That's the kind of John-Wayne stuff I too was raised on, and fervently clung to, until Vietnam happened, and then over the years, so much else. 

Israel "Vindicated" in Gaza?!

That Jackson Diehl could pen this in the wake of the Goldstone report bespeaks a cluelessness that for an ordinary sentient being is remarkable, but for an editor of the WaPo's editorial section, beggars belief (unless he's trying to say that the hard-ass Israeli leadership seem not to care a whit about the suffering of non-Israelis, so they likely have no problem bombing Iranians - so, for the rest of us, watch out!)

Seven Days in May Redux? Or, Truman v. MacArthur?

Interesting take here on the timing of the "Woodward leak" via which McChrystal's report got into the Washington Post

For any of you who don't understand the Seven Days in May reference, that was a  1962 novel that was made into a 1964 movie (featuring Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas) about how a charismatic general tries to launch a military coup to topple the president.  No, I don't think we've reached that point, but a number of factors are starting to work against our president:
  • support for a messiah-like general (David Petraeus)
  • Republican Senatorial leadership who believe the aforementioned general walks on water
  • right-wing shout media who are out to topple Obama at any cost
  • an ignorant American public (many of them white racists) who fear Barack "Hussein" Obama; who fear that he's taking away their health care, and their country; and who think he's a closet communist/socialist
  • Republican legislators who are only too happy to play upon and manipulate that public in order to restore their party to power.

The McChrystal report: Now it hits the fan

All over the news is the release of General Stanley McChrystal's report to the president, in which he says, more or less straight out, that without more US troops with the year, Afghanistan will become a "failure." The NYT's report (link above) links to the report itself, while a much more detailed overview by Bob Woodward (what Atlantic mega-blogger Andrew Sullivan refers to as the "Woodward leak") can be found in this morning's WaPo.

I also strongly recommend Sullivan's post.  He ends with the following:

It seems to me we are at another turning point in the road, and one
of the few moments when American enmeshment in Afghanistan might be
turned back. We have to weigh the chances of serious terror groups
re-grouping and operating even more freely throughout Afghanistan and
Pakistan against the risks of more money, more troops, more casualties
and more blowback. And let's not fool ourselves: neither of these is a
good option. That's the Bush legacy. 

But if McChrystal is right, he is strategizing Afghanistan as a
semi-permanent protectorate for the US. This is empire in the 21st
century sense: occupying failed states indefinitely to prevent even
more chaos spinning out of them. And it has the embedded logic of all
empires: if it doesn't keep expanding, it will collapse. The logic of
McChrystal is that the US should be occupying Pakistan as well. And
Somalia. And anywhere al Qaeda make seek refuge.

In the end, Gulliver cannot move. And his pockets are empty.

Indeed.  Mr. Obama will indeed have time for nothing more than a photo op with Netanyahu and Abbas.

Oh, and lest we forget, some Republican worthies are also calling in today's WaPo for the "military option" to be used against Iran.  Blockade first (which, by the way, is an act of war), then bombing if necessary.

Hey, you betcha!  We're the USA, right?  We can lick 'em all!

Or, as W would have said, "Bring 'em on!"

Upcoming meeting among Obama, Netanyahu, and Abbas

According to Haaretz this morning, expect no more than a nice photo-op.  Perhaps they're trying to lower expectations, but I've seen nothing reported anywhere that leads me to have hope for significant development.  And as Stephen Walt expressed so eloquently in the WaPo over the weekend, without some significant push from Obama, his previous acclaimed outreach will come to nothing.  Actually, it'll be worse than nothing, because he did indeed raise hopes.

From "Yes we can," it may be time to resurrect Jesse Jackson's old mantra: "Keep hope alive!"  But, day by day, even that's becoming tougher to do.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Desecration of Arab history

The Reuters Global News Blog reports that the tomb of Michel Aflaq, one of the pioneering figures of Arab nationalism and a founding father of the Baath party, is now being used by the US military as a shopping mall.

I honestly don't know what disgusts me more: that the US military would be so clueless about a monument to a man so important in the history not only of Iraq, but the Middle East; or that the current prime minister of Iraq, a religious Shii who is now trying to sell himself as an Iraqi nationalist, would knowingly permit such a desecration.  Yes, Saddam was a Baathist, as are some of those currently in both Iraq and Syria who are trying to pull him down.  But first and foremost, Aflaq was a pioneer of secular Arab nationalism, one of the central principles of which was resistance to the colonial/imperial policies of the West in the Middle East.

Some sage counsel from Zbig Brzezinski

This is one of the more straight-shooting proposals I've heard about how the US ought to respond to an Israeli attack on Iran.  Says Jimmy Carter's former national security adviser: If they try to fly over Iraq en route, the US Air Force ought to shoot them down.  Let's give Zbig points for boldness . . . and, IMO, there are worse courses of action.  And, while we're on the topic, kudos to Mr. Medvedev for pointing out that an Israeli attack would likely open the gates of hell.
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How the Taliban capitalize on the corrupted Afghan elections

Interesting piece in the WaPo this morning describes how the Taliban can use the corrupted recent elections against the Karzai government, and - by association - the US military effort.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Obama widens the Hamas-Fatah-PA Divide - and trashes his good-will

It's now reported widely (here's the VOA report)  how the US has tag-teamed with Israel to smear the recently released Goldstone report  as being heavily biased against Israel.

Let's say it again: the report is by a highly respected jurist, with impeccable credentials, a Jew himself, with deep ties to Israel.  In a new, excellent op-ed piece on the New Majority site (in which she harshly critiques - with good reason - George Gilder's new book), Hillary Mann Levett notes that Goldstone is

one of the world’s most eminent jurists, who is, along with his many other accomplishments, a trustee of Hebrew University in Jerusalem and a board member of Brandeis University’s Center for Ethics, Justice, and Public Life.

He has called it as he sees it.  That the US can so readily dismiss the report is, as I said yesterday, shameful.  For the Netanyahu government, it's business as usual.

But it's not hard to see the political calculations underlying the US stance.  Obama is desperate for some kind of movement in the "peace process" - so, from his perspective, this is not the time for the US to drive Netanyahu away by letting Israel swing in the wind of international reaction to Goldstone.  Instead, the US and Israel will clamor for blame for what happened in Gaza to be laid at the feet of Hamas.

Talk about easy pickings for the US.  We have long declared Hamas to be "bad guys" - which makes therefore all the Palestinians in Gaza guilty by association.  Palestinian Authority president Mahmud Abbas, on the other hand, is our official Palestinian "good guy."  After Yasser Arafat died in 2004, he became George Bush's and Ariel Sharon's regular go-to guy for sunny photo-ops to show how dedicated they were to the "peace process."  For those reasons, among many others, Abbas' credibility among most Palestinians  - and most Arabs across the Middle East, not to mention Iranians - is zilch.

But Abbas has also been a long-time leader of Fatah, the Palestinian nationalist party that was long headed by Arafat and that is the bitter, entrenched enemy of Hamas.  Hamas threw Fatah out of Gaza, after the US sponsored an attempted Fatah coup against the Hamas leadership there.  Abbas, therefore, has no problem watching the US and Israel dis the Goldstone report, at least to the extent that they can take swings at Hamas in the process.  And actually, Abbas has no real choice here.  Any luster that he still may have, he owes to their support.

But does Obama understand that by doing this, he's only damaging his own initiatives?

He's quite likely driving the wedge between Hamas and Fatah even deeper.  Without some reconciliation between these two factions, the Israelis can continue to use Hamas as the pretext for resisting the creation of a real Palestinian state - something to which Obama supposedly is committed.

By rejecting the Goldstone report, Obama rejects the possibility that Israel can be held accountable for its actions when it comes to brutalities inflicted on Palestinians.  Hereafter, he can hardly claim that the US can be a fair broker between the two sides.

By backing Israel in the face of such a credible, yet damning report, Obama puts the lie to his Cairo speech to the Muslim world, to his Nowruz greetings to the Iranian people, and to any future initiatives he might take to demonstrate American fairness and goodwill when it comes to the Middle East.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Obama's missile-shield backtrack

The MSM are all over President's Obama's decision to scrap the Bush plan (with origins going back to Reagan) to install missile-defense shield in East Europe.  The Financial Times provides a fine review of perspectives from all around, including the East European countries (who hate it, and feel betrayed), John McCain (who calls it "seriously misguided"), and uber-neocon John Bolton (who speaks of it as a catastrophe - any surprise there?).  The feeling among many is that Obama is throwing Poland, the Czech Republic, etc., to the wolves (or better, the Russian bear) in return for Medvedev/Putin support on sanctions vs. Iran.

I hope that's not the reason.  More sanctions will accomplish very little, nor is Russia (or China) going to support them significantly in any event.  They've got too much invested in maintaining good relations with Iran.  (Although unfortunately Mr. Ahmadinejad keeps providing possible pretexts for the world at large to step farther away.  The Telegraph and CSM report yet another denial of the Holocaust from him.)

But stepping away from the shield may have some salutary effects on other scores:

1. For the US effort in Afghanistan, and in the energy-rich pipeline heaven that Central Asia is headed toward becoming, the US needs to be able to work with Russia.  Proceeding with the missile shield as scheduled was sure to jeopardize that.

2.  George Stephanopolous raised the question on his ABC News blog this morning: Is Obama using this to deter Israel from bombing Iran?  Remember, the East Europeans are upset because they were counting on that shield as insurance against Russian aggression against them, but it was also intended to be part of a network to defend against the advent of an Iranian missile-delivered nuclear threat.

UPDATE: Have a look at David Corn's take (at the Mother Jones website) on John McCain's anguish over this decision.  It was only recently that McCain was praising the administration for relying more on the ship-based, mobile, tried-and-true missile defense that Obama is now going to trust.  And the corker?  One of the US Navy missile-equipped destroyers that's a cog in the system is the USS John McCain (named for the senator's grandpa and dad!).

UPDATE 2:  Al-Jazeera reports on a new NATO proposal that the US, Russia and the NATO allies link their missile systems to defend against other enemies - i.e., North Korea, and Iran.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The US's Shameful Response to the Goldstone Report

Report from Reuters that the US's UN rep., Susan Rice, essentially rejected the findings of the recently submitted Goldstone Report on war crimes committed by both Hamas and the IDF during the Gaza "Cast Lead" operation of Dec. 2008 - Jan. 2009.  The mandate from the UN Human Rights Council, for which the report was prepared, is flawed, says she, and therefore the report's recommendations that the Security Council discuss the report and perhaps forward recommendations to the International Criminal Court at The Hague can be ignored.

Mind you, this report was researched and compiled by an internationally respected, experienced jurist whose previous work in South Africa and Bosnia received great acclaim.  In this case, though, his findings discomfit Israel (which rejects them as one-sided - - goodness, what a surprise!) and also threaten to derail Obama's progress to an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement.

Except . . . how can he expect any Palestinian leader to ante up anything toward that goal when the supposedly "fair broker" - the US - refuses to take seriously an authoritative report detailing how Israeli forces brutalized the Palestinian population of Gaza.  Israel disputes the facts, and the conclusions.  OK, let 'em; who expected otherwise?  But for Obama to simply tag along with their rejection is utterly shameless.  And it completely undercuts the ballyhooed outreach of his Cairo speech and Persian Nowruz greetings to Iran.

You make eloquent speeches, Mr. President, but too much of what you're doing - your "war of [dubious] necessity" in Afghanistan, your bogus shutting-down of Guantanamo ( hardly a step forward if you're simply going to "rendition" people to an even darker black-hole at Bagram), and now this - tells me that you're steering much too close to Mr. Bush's course.

I don't think thats what we elected you to do.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Afghanistan Debate is Surging, as is Israel's Anger

The Times of London reports on Adm. Mike Mullen's call (before the US Senate, no less) for more US troops to Afghanistan, and spins it as exposing a major rift within the US leadership.  Indeed, it does - with Mullen (and major Republican senators) calling for a new "Surge" a la Iraq 2007, Carl Levin and much of the Democratic establishment leaning the other way, and now, a number of respected academic and otherwise notable commentators sending Obama a letter questioning the entire Afghan enterprise.

As well they should.  The war-weary US public is no longer behind an enterprise that is costing billions of dollars that could otherwise be used for dire needs back home (crumbling infrastructure, vanishing jobs, health care, education, psychotherapy - cf. Serena Williams, Kanye West, Joe Wilson, Glenn Beck . . .).  (In fact, as a report in the CSM notes, "For the first time, the war in Afghanistan in the next budget year will cost Americans more than the war in Iraq. By the end of the next fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1, the total military budget costs for both wars will have exceeded $1 trillion".)  Nor are most of the US's NATO allies, including Canada, all of whom seem to feel the losses of young soldiers more deeply than do we (again, cf. all the buzz - and attention - on the afore-named "celebrities").

Yet even as the debate about the Afghan war thickens, the pressure is being ramped up to launch yet another war, with Iran.  As Stephen Walt recently noted at Foreign Policy, the same crazies that were calling for invading Iraq seven years ago are now screaming their war-cries against Iran - most recently, Bret Stephens in the Wall Street Journal.  Today it's widely reported that the IDF plans to attack Iran if crippling sanctions aren't imposed on Iran - or diplomacy hasn't cowed Iran - by the end of this  year.  (PLEASE READ today's latest from Roger Cohen on the lunacy of that idea, and on how to proceed farther down that diplomatic road.)

And Israeli anger is growing not only in re Iran.  The release of the UN-sponsored report from Richard Goldstone on Israel's Operation Cast Lead campaign against Gaza last December and January has instigated a new round of howling and breast-beating there about anti-Israel bias, etc., etc.  As Haaretz reports, Israel president Shimon Peres (that once upon a time partner for peace with the Palestinians) claims that the "UN Gaza report makes mockery of history."  I've not read the report as yet, only some brief summaries, but the author's credentials are impeccable, and he points blame at both sides (the IDF and Hamas, though the IDF comes out the worse).   Nonetheless, Israel is rejecting it, out of hand.

The larger point here (although Israel's accountability for the horrors it inflicted on Gaza then, not to mention the blockade since then, are themselves a large point) is that by their actions (and this goes back to much earlier than Gaza 2008), the Israelis have turned world opinion decidedly against themselves, at a time when (at least in their official statements) they scream out to the world that they face mortal peril from a would-be nuclear Iran.  Odds are, they are not going to get the sanctions they want against Iran; nor is Iran going to give up its enrichment program; nor does the US public want a new war against Iran.

But if Israel bombs Iran, will Obama let Netanyahu drag the US down with him?

Monday, September 14, 2009

McChrystal: No significant al-Qaeda presence in Afghanistan

If this is indeed the case, and if Obama was serious in his definition of the goals for the Afghanistan intervention (= to keep al-Qaeda from setting up shop there), isn't it logical to conclude that a major infusion of troops (dare we say, "Surge") is not needed.

Unless the actual goal is to completely eliminate the Taliban.  They are indeed a hateful bunch in so many ways, but the fact of the matter is that they have become, to a significant degree, an expression of nationalist resistance (be it Afghan nationalism or, perhaps more likely, Pashtun ethnic nationalism) against foreign occupiers.  Inserting tens of thousands more US forces is not going to defeat or eliminate them, just as inserting hundreds of thousands US forces into South Vietnam neither eliminated the Viet Cong nor brought Vietnam into the US's political orbit.

Graham, Lieberman, and McCain: The US must "prevail" in Afghanistan

. . . or so they insist in their WSJ op-ed piece.  Actually, in some ways it's a remarkable essay, in that they (= two prominent Republicans, as well as a "Democrat" who backed Bush right down the line on Iraq) also point the finger directly at the Bush administration for mismanaging the effort there for 8 years.  That certainly has to sting Bush, Cheney, and Condi Rice.

But they once again fall back on the "we must prevail" trope.  To do that, say they, we must do the following, among other things:

1. We must trust our new genius-general, Stanley McChrystal, just as we "trusted" his now superior, David Petraeus - who, of course, brought the US "success" in Iraq because (don't you remember?) the Surge "worked."  That's why Iraq is so calm right now.  (That remark is meant to be sarcastic, of course, but Americans can't entirely be faulted for thinking that Iraq these days is calm.  Iraq has disappeared from the mainstream-media coverage, but it remains very volatile, with an ever-widening fault line between Arabs and Kurds, especially over Kirkuk and oil.)  But to date I've seen nothing reported to indicate that McChrystal is enjoying much success, or that suggests that he's turning anything around.

2. We must believe that we now have the right strategy, which, in their minds, is counter-insurgency a la Petraeus in Iraq.  But Petraeus' ideas on counter-insurgency did not "fix" Iraq.  They only dampened down the violence, but without addressing the cause of the violence, which lay largely within the political and social tensions in Iraq's society.  These are matters with which the US was ill-prepared to deal.  Which brings us to . . .

3.  We must hold the Afghan leadership accountable, and ensure that they clean up their act.  How they propose the US do that, however, they don't say.

4.  We must send more troops to Afghanistan, for that is the only way to defeat the Taliban and keep al-Qaeda from reestablishing itself in Afghanistan.  This, however, is mere assertion, just as it was being asserted in the 1960s that failure to defeat the Viet Cong would lead to the loss of all of Asia to the "Free World."  Nor can the esteemed senators detail exactly how more troops will lead to a defeat of the Taliban.  Indeed, Zbigniew Brzezinski and others have suggested that the more troops we introduce, the more the locals will see them as foreign occupiers, and the more they will rally to the Taliban's cause.

But at the end, the senators assure President Obama that they stand behind him in his "war of necessity" (even while senators of his own party - among them, Carl Levin - have expressed deep reservations about any significant troop increase).  Mr. Obama may have boxed himself in with that unfortunate choice of words.  At any rate, the esteemed senators have taken a pre-emptive step to keep him cornered.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Republicans Have Some Explaining to do

This, my friends, is how reasoned discourse in a democracy disappears. And I'll bet that Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, and Glenn Beck will be oh-so-happy to give their little pals big hugs on-air.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

US Embassy Guards at Kabul "Gone Wild"

Oh, those fun-loving mercenaries that your tax dollars are paying for . . . . Beware, the photos are pretty graphic, even with the "fix-ups".

Bring in the "Contractors": How to "Lose" in Afghanistan

Not that I believe that the US can "win" . . . but I've been puzzled for a long time about how the US could ever sufficiently "resource" the mission there, given commitments in Iraq (where the problems are decidedly not getting any easier to solve), declining enlistments, etc.

Well, the NYTimes reports today on one way of doing it. The US now has more "contractors" (let's call them what they are: mercenaries, guns-for-hire) in Afghanistan than members of the US military. "As of March this year, contractors made up 57 percent of the Pentagon’s force in Afghanistan, and if the figure is averaged over the past two years, it is 65 percent, according to the report by the Congressional Research Service."

These, of course, are the same trigger-happy worthies who became notorious - and universally hated - by Iraqis for their tendencies to shoot first, ask questions later (well, maybe sometimes they asked questions. Mostly it was just, shoot.) And relying on them flies completely in the face of the counter-insurgency doctrines that David Petraeus and his understudy, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, claim they want to rely on for the US mission: protect the civilian population by getting out among the locals and winning hearts and minds.
Oddly, this story appears at the same time that a New Republic blog post (at The Plank) appeared about how it's not legit to compare the US's prospects in Afghanistan with the Soviet experience there in the 1980s, because the Soviets were brutal toward the locals whereas Petraeus/McChrystal are taking a different approach.

I might also note that employing people such as these undercuts Obama's message of outreach to, and empathy with, Muslims across the world. The biggest thing Obama had going for him early on was the change of tone from the Bush years, the new message that the US cares about and respects Muslim peoples. Blackwater mercenaries are nobody's idea of a CARE package.

The other big Afghanistan-related story is, of course, George Will's column yesterday in which he asserts that "it's time to get out of Afghanistan." That such a big gun from the conservative side of the aisle weighed in so heavily against the war was sure to draw some fire from the neocon right - and it did. Fred Kagan (who from what I can tell has never sen a US military intervention that he didn't like) castigated Will, but seemed not to address the meat of Will's argument well at all. (Rather, he focused on Will's characterization of the British contribution to the effort there as relatively small - which, compared to the US effort, it is - and blasted Will for denigrating our comrades-in-arms. That obviously is not what Will intended, but Kagan needed to create a straw man upon which to vent his outrage.


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