Monday, August 31, 2009

Anthony Cordesman on "How to Lose" in Afghanistan

Anthony Cordesman on "How to Lose" in Afghanistan . . . with accompanying verbiage about "winning" and "victory" - neither of which he is able to define, nor does he try. I've often admired Cordesman's realism and honesty - he was a real thorn in the side to Bush on that score when it came to the debacle that is Iraq - but there's nothing here about whether the US is doing the right thing in Afghanistan, or what "success" is going to look like.

Nor does he mention how to pitch this war to a US public that clearly seems to be opposed to it, that has grave doubts as to its winnability, as the recent Washington Post poll made clear. Two more Americans were killed today, and many more are going to be killed. Cordesman nonetheless argues that McChrystal needs as many as 40,000 new troops, and that he ought to have them.

To accomplish what? The US went into Iraq and tried to "fix" it. Hasn't happened; isn't going to happen, at least not by dint of anything we have done, or can do. And Iraq has a more educated population, better infrastructure, longer tradition of a strong centralized state, in comparison to Afghanistan. The US cannot "fix" Afghanistan, just like we could not "fix" Iraq, or Vietnam.

This is now Obama's war. But he also has a presidency to think about.



How to Lose in Afghanistan

By Anthony H. Cordesman
Monday, August 31, 2009

The United States cannot win the war in Afghanistan in the next three months -- any form of even limited victory will take years of further effort. It can, however, easily lose the war. I did not see any simple paths to victory while serving on the assessment group that advised the new U.S. commander, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, on strategy, but I did see all too clearly why the war is being lost.

The most critical reason has been resources. Between 2002 and 2008 the United States never provided the forces, money or leadership necessary to win, effectively wasting more than half a decade. Our country left a power vacuum in most of Afghanistan that the Taliban and other jihadist insurgents could exploit and occupy, and Washington did not respond when the U.S. Embassy team in Kabul requested more resources.

The Bush administration gave priority to sending forces to Iraq, it blustered about the successes of civilian aid efforts in Afghanistan that were grossly undermanned and underresourced, and it did not react to the growing corruption of Hamid Karzai's government or the major problems created by national caveats and restrictions on the use of allied forces and aid. It treated Pakistan as an ally when it was clear to U.S. experts on the scene that the Pakistani military and intelligence service did (and do) tolerate al-Qaeda and Afghan sanctuaries and still try to manipulate Afghan Pashtuns to Pakistan's advantage.

Further, it never developed an integrated civil-military plan or operational effort even within the U.S. team in Afghanistan; left far too much of the aid effort focused on failed development programs; and denied the reality of insurgent successes in ways that gave insurgents the initiative well into 2009.

The appointments this summer of Karl Eikenberry as ambassador to Afghanistan and McChrystal as commander of U.S. and allied forces have created a team that can reverse this situation. In fact, given the rising unpopularity of the war and Taliban successes, they are our last hope of victory. Yet they can win only if they are allowed to manage both the civil and military sides of the conflict without constant micromanagement from Washington or traveling envoys. They must be given both the time to act and the resources and authority they feel they need. No other path offers a chance of a secure and stable Afghanistan free of terrorist and jihadist control and sanctuaries.

I do not know what resources Eikenberry or McChrystal would seek if given the chance. Eikenberry has indicated that funding of the civil side of the U.S. Embassy effort in Afghanistan is about half of what is necessary: Some $2.1 billion more may be sought to meet a $4.8 billion total need. He will almost certainly need far more civilians than the token "surge" that is planned (and that will not produce its full results until the spring or summer of 2010).

McChrystal has not announced a need for more U.S. troops, but almost every expert on the scene has talked about figures equivalent to three to eight more brigade combat teams -- with nominal manning levels that could range from 2,300 to 5,000 personnel each -- although much of that manpower will go to developing Afghan forces that must nearly double in size, become full partners rather than tools, and slowly take over from U.S. and NATO forces. Similarly, a significant number of such U.S. reinforcements will have to assist in providing a mix of capabilities in security, governance, rule of law and aid. U.S. forces need to "hold" and keep the Afghan population secure, and "build" enough secure local governance and economic activity to give Afghans reason to trust their government and allied forces. They must build the provincial, district and local government capabilities that the Kabul government cannot and will not build for them. No outcome of the recent presidential election can make up for the critical flaws in a grossly overcentralized government that is corrupt, is often a tool of power brokers and narco-traffickers, and lacks basic capacity in virtually every ministry.

Unfortunately, strong elements in the White House, State Department and other agencies seem determined to ignore these realities. They are pressuring the president to direct Eikenberry and McChrystal to come to Washington to present a broad set of strategic concepts rather than specific requests for troops, more civilians, money and an integrated civil-military plan for action. They are pushing to prevent a fully integrated civil-military effort, and to avoid giving Eikenberry and McChrystal all the authority they need to try to force more unity of effort from allied forces and the U.N.-led aid effort.

If these elements succeed, President Obama will be as much a failed wartime president as George W. Bush. He may succeed in lowering the political, military and financial profile of the war for up to a year, but in the process he will squander our last hope of winning. This would only trade one set of political problems for a far worse set in the future and leave us with an enduring regional mess and sanctuary for extremism. We have a reasonable chance of victory if we properly outfit and empower our new team in Afghanistan; we face certain defeat if we do not.

Zionist Racism in Jerusalem

The Guardian publishes today a riveting . . . and frightening report by Israeli journalist Meron Rapoport from the Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan. The opening line of the report, titled "Fifteen minutes of hate in Silwan," says it all, up front:

The vicious anti-Arab sentiments flowing through the streets of this Jerusalem neighbourhood are a shock to the senses.
It's searing hot, but there's some pleasantness about the stone-flagged path rising from the centre of Silwan, Jerusalem. Maybe it's the breeze, or the stone houses oozing coolness into the air, or maybe it's the wide-open mountain landscape. There are three of us – Ilan, the director, Michael, the cameraman and me, the interviewee. We're making a film on the blatant institutional discrimination against the residents of this Palestinian east-Jerusalem neighbourhood; authorities favour the Jewish settlers who are not hiding their desire to Judaise the neighbourhood, to void it of its Palestinian character.

Even before we position the camera, a group of orthodox Jewish girls, aged about eight to 10, come walking up the path in their ankle-long skirts, pretty, chattering, carefree. One of them slows down beside us, and pleasantly asks us if we want to film her. What would you like to tell us, we ask. I want to say that Jerusalem belongs to us Jews, she says as she walks on, only it's a pity there are Arabs here. The messiah will only come when there isn't a single Arab left here. She walks on, and her girlfriends giggle and rejoin her.

Two minutes later a young, well-built young man comes up, carrying a weapon and a radio, without any uniform or tag upon his clothes. Even before he opens his mouth I'm already guessing he's a security guard, an employee of the private security contractor operated by settlers but sponsored by the housing ministry at an annual budget of NIS 40m (£4.6m). This security company has long since become a private militia policing the entire neighbourhood and intimidating the Palestinian residents without any legal basis whatsoever. A committee set up by a housing minister determined that this arrangement was to cease, and the security of both Palestinian and Jewish residents must be handed over to the Israeli national police. The government endorsed the committee's conclusions in 2006, but recanted six months later, under settler pressure. The private security contractor went on operating.

What are you doing here, the guy asks us. What are you doing here, I reply. I'm a security guard, now tell me what are you doing here, he says, growing more irate. It's none of your business, I reply. What's your name, he asks. What's your name, I answer. It doesn't matter, he says, I'm a security guard. So my name doesn't matter either, I reply. The security guy, visibly annoyed, resorts to conversing with his radio. If we were Palestinians, we'd have cleared the street at first notice. That's the unwritten rule. But we are Hebrew-speaking Israelis. It's a problem. The operation centre apparently explains our man that we're on public ground and there's little he can do about it. He positions himself nearby with his gun, not leaving us the entire trip.

We move on. A few minutes later two teenage girls, aged 17 or 18, come walking up the path. They're not orthodox, and one can see that they're not local. One of them stops in front of the camera. Film me, she pleads. Would you like to be interviewed, we ask. She says yes. She's from the town of Gan Yavne, and came to visit Jerusalem, City of David. Why here, we ask. Because this is where King David was, she says. It's a very important place for the Jewish people. It's such a shame there are Arabs here, though. But very soon all the Arabs will be dead, God willing, and all of Jerusalem will be ours. She walks on.

Two minutes pass by, and an ultra-orthodox Jewish family comes striding up the path. The husband, all in black, asks Ilan: say, do both Jews and Arabs live in this neighbourhood? Both Palestinians and Jews, Ilan replies, but most residents are Palestinians. It's only temporary, the ultra-Orthodox man reassures him, pretty soon there won't be a single Arab left here.

I exchanged glances with Ilan and Michael. We've been here for less than 15 minutes, we haven't asked anyone on what they feel about Arabs or the future of Jerusalem, we only stood for a short while in the street. Hate flowed toward us like a river to the sea, freely, naturally. Do you think, I ask Ilan, that we'll run into someone who'll say something positive, something human, something kind about human beings? Forget human, Ilan replies, I wonder if we'll run into someone who'll be content to just say something nice about the clear Jerusalem air.

Silwan. Remember that name. Its violence will soon overshadow that of Hebron.

Iraqi MiGs found in Serbia

The NY Times reports this morning that 19 Soviet-made MiG fighter planes belonging to the Iraqi air force have been discovered in Serbia. This seems to have caught the US completely by surprise. I'll be very curious to see what happens now, on a couple of fronts:

1. This likely will resurrect the insistence by Cheney/Limbaugh wing-nuts that if the US could be kept in the dark about big fighter-planes, then maybe Saddam's WMDs are still out there, after all. ( I've got too much on my plate right now to be monitoring talk radio and/or Fox News, but if anyone hears such rumblings bubbling up, I'd love to get a heads-up.)

2. As I posted about a few days ago, the US is working on providing for both Iraq and Afghanistan some new trainer-planes with which to re-develop their air forces, with baby steps. (Actually, the planes look like they're about one stage beyond made-by-Mattel, but they will be able to carry a couple of bombs and also provide ground support.) Now, Iraq suddenly owns some reasonably formidable jet aircraft (MiGs are no joke), although they're lacking the support structure to service them.

That, however, could be acquired via some deal with Russia, as could pilots for those planes. I can't imagine that Mr. al-Maliki is simply going to be content to let those planes sit, or to allow the US to dictate to Iraq (which is supposed to be a "sovereign nation" now) what to do with them. They could quickly become a rallying point for Iraqi-nationalist pride.

They are also the last thing that Israel wanted to see. Despite the US occupation and influence in Iraq, there is still no love lost between Iraq and Israel. The elimination of Saddam's regime, and of an Iraqi military with any offensive capability, made the 2003 invasion a real plus as far as the Israelis were concerned. 19 MiGs may not change the calculus completely, but you can be sure that they have the IDF's attention, and that the Israeli government will be pressuring Obama to keep those MiGs out of Iraq.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

US "Strategic Communication" - Put up, or Shut up

The last day or two featured several reports on a "searing critique" by Adm. Mike Mullen on US "strategic communication." That critique has now been published on Foreign Policy's website - as has a summary and supportive comment from Harvard scholar (and foreign-policy "realist" Stephen Walt.

The title of Walt's piece says it all - or mostly so: "Actions speak louder than words." In other words, the US can do all the spinning, outreach, "strategic communicating" it wants, but it's what the US does, not what it says, that makes the most lasting impression and has the most impact.

That this statement comes from the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff ought to be a wake-up call in every office of Mrs. Clinton's State Department, and especially, every room in the White House of Mr. Obama - he of the stirring speeches and warm words of conciliation and engagement. Don't get me wrong; those are ever so important. But actions, and policies, have to be constructed to re-assure the audience that the US means what it says - about democracy, human rights, the value of human life, and, especially, justice.

That means that we don't write off Pakistani, Afghan, or Iraqi - or Iranian or Palestinian - civilians killed by US bombs or drones (or Israeli bombs, which, of course, are furnished with our US tax dollars) as "collateral damage" in the cause of some greater good or overarching good intentions. (As Walt notes, how often do we assume, "Hey, we're America! Our intentions are always just and good, because - hey, we're America!")

That also means that we don't cave in to racists like Benjamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman on the question of settlement freezes, or colonizing East Jerusalem, or launching air-strikes against Iran. That Obama wants for his health reform the votes of senators and representatives who engorge themselves at the teat of AIPAC and make nice with the anti-Arab and anti-Muslim Limbaugh-loving racists who swell the ranks of Christian Zionists, ought not to make a difference when it comes to the US's stance on democracy, human rights, and justice on the international stage.

If recent reports of deals with Netanyahu on settlement construction and upping sanctions vs. Iran are on-target, then Obama is wilting. This is crunch time for Mr. Obama. Either stay the course, or else please send your speech-writers home. Kumbaya is a very old song.

Congressional Republicans Raise Prospect of 'Revolution'

Be afraid, be very afraid.

Inhofe Raises Prospect of 'Revolution' | PEEK | AlterNet

Bush drove the country into a ditch both here and abroad. Now the Limbaugh/Palin/Bachman/Inhofe bunch - so skilled at riling up Bush's "base" of white Christian NRA Neanderthals - are talking about "nullification" (tantamount to secession from the USA) or even "rising up" in "revolution." And CNN was reporting yesterday about the Christian pastor who was praying for President Obama to die and "go to hell" - all in Jesus' name, I'm sure.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The reported deal between Obama and Netanyahu is a Defeat for the US

If The National's report of this deal is accurate, it's a disgrace for the US. Obama's promising words are smoke in the wind; Mahmoud Abbas has been played for a sucker once again; and the racist right-wingers of Lieberman's Yisrael Beitenu party can breathe easier.

Obama's Next Move in Afghanistan

Joe Klein nails it. The elections in Afghanistan were a charade - at best, a feel-good moment for those of us here at home who want to believe (or are at least paying attention) that the constant drip-drip-drip of Marines dying (and the boom-boom-boom of Afghans getting blown up - like in Kandahar) is accomplishing anything; at worst, an exercise is sham-democracy that likely will keep in power a corrupt and ineffective wheeler-dealer who has ties to opium traders and murderers. And as Klein points out, it's only going to go on and on. Republicans will insist on "supporting the troops", as will many Democrats; and Democrats are afraid to have their tough-guy creds tarnished.

Want more evidence of a planned long haul? The Pentagon may push now for the large-scale production of propeller-driven fighter planes - inexpensive (you can get 50 of them for the cost of one F-22), easy to learn to fly, easy to service, but with adequate pilot protection, as well as no possibility of threatening US (or, in Iraq's case, Israeli) air superiority - that it can provide to the fledgling Afghan and Iraqi air forces.

Ain't she a beauty?



Thursday, Aug. 27, 2009

Obama's Next Move in Afghanistan

The early returns from Afghanistan's presidential election had the smell of a decorous massage job. With 10% of districts reporting, the incumbent, Hamid Karzai, and his main challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, the former Foreign Minister, were tied, with about 40% each. But few of those votes came from Karzai's Pashtun strongholds in the south, where turnout was light — owing to Taliban threats — but heavily managed. "It's not exactly one man, one vote out in the rural areas," a Western diplomat told me. "The tribal leader gathers everyone together and says, 'We're voting for Candidate X.'" In some cases, apparently, tribal leaders have simply stamped all the ballots themselves; with literacy rates running at less than 10% in many rural areas, that's not considered fraud but business as usual. And so it seems likely that Karzai will "win" re-election. Whether he has won anything worth winning remains to be seen. (See pictures of the battle against the Taliban.)

The absurdity of holding an election in an impoverished country with a central government that barely governs and a guerrilla insurgency that has threatened to kill anyone caught voting is illustrative of our current Afghan dilemma. We have been prodding the Afghans to run, from Kabul, a country that has always been governed from the bottom up, valley by valley, tribe by tribe. Karzai has many attributes, but a desire to provide effective governance is off his radar screen. He is good at the traditional form of Afghan politics, creating alliances among tribal and ethnic factions. The money distributed by the central government — inevitably, money contributed by the international community — is routinely received as tribute by Karzai's local allies, to be disbursed, or not, as they wish; a government job is assumed by many, especially the police, to be a license to collect money for themselves. (An exception appears to be in the effective, if fledgling, Afghan army.) "I have yet to meet an Afghan civilian who has anything positive to say about the central government," a senior U.S. official told me. "They don't like the Taliban very much, but the Taliban at least provide a system of justice, plus some goods and services, and they'll go with that."

That is why Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, says the military situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated. "Last week I spoke to a couple of Army Rangers who had just engaged the enemy," Mullen told me. "They said it was like fighting the Marines. The Taliban were well trained, better organized, much tougher fighters than they'd been in the past." And that is why it is widely expected that General Stanley McChrystal will be requesting more troops when his review of the situation on the ground is completed in a few weeks. I'm told that President Obama will make a decision about whether to accede to McChrystal's request, in whole or in part, by November. That will probably be about the same time as the health-care-reform debate comes to a head. By the end of November, we should have a much clearer sense of the trajectory of the Obama presidency.

So what should Obama do about Afghanistan? His dilemma isn't as stark as has been posed in recent press accounts, with screamers on the right demanding slavish devotion to the military's wish list and screamers on the left demanding a withdrawal. The U.S. military has become far more ... nuanced when it comes to making requests of Presidents. The negotiations about what McChrystal can officially request will not take place anywhere near the public eye. It is very likely that more troops will be sent — to build and train the Afghan security forces, it will be said. Obama's problems on the left will be mitigated by the fact that most Democrats have also supported this war — as opposed to Iraq's — and have little desire to reverse themselves. They don't want to hurt the President, and they don't want to be perceived as weak on defense come election time.

Which still leaves the nagging question: What is the right thing to do in Afghanistan? It should be remembered that we invaded with cause: the Taliban government was providing safe havens for al-Qaeda, from which the Sept. 11 attacks were launched. Having routed the existing Afghan government, we had a responsibility to restore order. We have bungled that responsibility for eight years, attempting a Western version of order: central governance, the appearance of democracy — but largely ignoring traditional Afghan ways of social organization. The national-security challenge still exists, although its locus has shifted across the border to Pakistan.

Even if we help the Afghans establish a brilliant government in Kabul, that threat will remain — and it's legitimate to ask whether pouring our resources into Afghan nation-building is the best way to confront al-Qaeda. Unless the new Karzai government quickly changes course, the only reasonable answer is no. The question then becomes, What's Plan B? And is anyone working on that?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Why Israel will thwart Obama on settlements

Former CNN journalist Walter Rodgers tells it like it is.

Why Israel will thwart Obama on settlements | csmonitor.com

Let's face it: the West Bank settlements are too large, too highly populated, and too stoutly defended by both the Jewish Zionist and Christian Zionist/ Pastor Hagee to be soon done away with, if ever. And unless the reports being leaked are true - that in his upcoming address to the UN, Obama is going to be extremely blunt with Israel in insisting that settlement-building cease, including in Jerusalem - then I fear that Mr. Obama is going to pan out as yet another US president who couldn't handle the chutzpah of the Israeli government.

And the world - and the citizens of the US - will be made to suffer for it.

The Death of Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim - and Iraq's Future

While much of the US (and beyond) is mourning the passing of Sen. Ted Kennedy, another death promises to have even more impact, at least on US foreign relations and policies in the Middle East.

The passing of Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, like that of Sen. Kennedy, was expected - both were suffering from terminal cancer - but al-Hakim's death opens a possibly tense leadership struggle atop the newly formed Iraqi political coalition, the Iraqi National Alliance [INA]. The AP story sets the scene pretty well:

The calm, soft-spoken al-Hakim, who died of lung cancer, was a kingmaker in Iraq's politics, working behind the scenes as the head of the country's biggest Shiite political party.

But for many in Iraq's Shiite majority, he was more than that — a symbol of their community's victory and seizure of power after decades of oppression under Saddam's Sunni-led regime. Al-Hakim's family led a Shiite rebel group against Saddam's rule from their exile in Iran, where he lived for 20 years, building close ties with Iranian leaders.

After Saddam's 2003 fall, al-Hakim hewed close to the Americans even while maintaining his alliance with Tehran, judging that the U.S. military was key to the Shiite rise.

Among Iraq's minority Sunnis, he was deeply distrusted, seen as a tool of Shiite Iran. Al-Hakim's outspoken support for Shiite self-rule in southern Iraq was seen by Sunnis and even some Shiites as an Iran-inspired plan to hand Tehran control of Iraq's Shiite heartland, home to most of its oil wealth.

His death comes at a time of political upheaval among Iraq's majority Shiites. The alliance of Shiite parties that al-Hakim helped forge and that has dominated the government since the first post-Saddam elections in 2005 has broken apart ahead of January parliamentary elections, pitting a coalition led by al-Hakim's party against another led by Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

As al-Hakim largely withdrew from the public arena due to his illness, his son and political heir Ammar has taken the lead in his party, the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council.

Ammar's relative lack of experience has raised some questions over whether he will be able to hold the organization together at a sensitive time in Iraqi politics, but party leaders have insisted they would remain united behind the al-Hakim family. . . .

Al-Hakim was born in 1950 in Najaf to one of Shiite Islam's most prestigious clerical families. His father was Grand Ayatollah Muhsin al-Hakim, among the most influential Shiite scholars of his generation.

The younger al-Hakim studied theology in Najaf and married the daughter of Mohammed Hadi al-Sadr, member of another prominent Iraqi Shiite clan. After the 1970 death of his father, al-Hakim and his brothers became active in political opposition to Saddam's Baath Party.

He was jailed several times until he and most of the family fled to neighboring Iran in 1980 following a crackdown by Saddam on the Shiite opposition. In Iran, his older brother, Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim, founded the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the forerunner of the SIIC. Abdul-Aziz headed the group's military wing, the Badr Brigade, which fought alongside Iranian forces during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War.

The al-Hakim brothers returned to Iraq soon after the collapse of Saddam's government. On Aug. 29, 2003, a massive vehicle bomb exploded outside the Imam Ali Mosque in Najaf, killing Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim and more than 80 others. Abdul-Aziz stepped into the leadership of the Supreme Council.

The younger al-Hakim lacked his brother's charisma, religious standing or political acumen. But he proved a fast learner and able leader, quickly building the party into Iraq's largest Shiite political organization. He served on the leadership councils formed by the Americans. Then, in the 2005 parliament election, he forged a grand alliance of Shiite parties — backed by Iran's foremost Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, which swept up a majority.

The coalition allied with the Kurds to form a government, though it constantly struggled to keep Sunni allies.

But signs of fraying among Shiites began to show in key Jan. 31 provincial elections, when members of the coalition competed against each other in the Shiite south. The Supreme Council suffered an embarrassing defeat in much of the south, while al-Maliki — head of the rival Dawa party — surged because of his popularity from security gains. The results were also seen as a voter backlash against religious parties as well as the Supreme Council's failure to improve public services in the south, where it had dominated since 2003.

Two days before al-Hakim's death, his SIIC joined with followers of anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to form a new political alliance to contest January parliamentary elections. The new Iraqi National Alliance excluded al-Maliki, making overt the new disunity among Shiites.


The SIIC (or ISCI) has been one of the more powerful Shii religious parties in Iraq's recent politics, and would have been the featured element of the new INA, along with Muqtada al-Sadr's movement. If Abdul-Aziz's son Ammar isn't ready for the mantle of leadership, it raises the question of whether Muqtada will attempt to step up as leader of the INA if the al-Hakim family can't maintain its hold. Thing is, these two parties only a few years ago were mortal enemies, with their rival militias fighting street battles in Najaf. On the other hand, both parties seem now well nestled under Iran's wing. SIIC always was. And whereas Muqtada earlier (2003-2007) took a very Iraqi nationalist tack, in recent years he's been residing in Iran, where he has been ramping up his credentials as a religious authority (he evidently aspires to the rank of ayatollah). (Notably, though, he's been pursuing this education at the Iranian Shii seminary at Qom, which has been since 1980's Islamic Revolution in Iran a rival to the pre-eminent Shii seminary, Najaf, in Iraq.) The leadership debate within INA will bear watching.

As will INA's decision (at this point, at least) to exclude Iraqi PM Nuri al-Maliki (and his section of the Shii al-Dawa - "Mission" - party) from their coalition. Without INA's support, it's unlikely that Maliki can retain his PM-ship in the elections upcoming in January.

Of course, for the US, much of this news is not good. The al-Hakims have worked closely with the US occupation; Muqtada has reviled it from the very start. And whoever emerges on top, it's likely that as the US reduces its presence in Iraq, that country is indeed going to become - as a US intel official recently put it - "a colony of Iran."

Monday, August 24, 2009

Another blow to US Big Oil?

Seems that Nippon Oil is about to sign a deal with the Iraqi govt to develop one of Iraq's giant oil fields.

Getting that Vietnam feeling?

The NYT reports that Admiral Mullen says (on the Sunday talk shows) that the situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating, that the Taliban are getting tougher, and that more US troops are needed there. The Commander on the scene, Gen. McChrystal, is still preparing his review for the president, so he's yet to make any formal recommendation about ramping up troop numbers. But it seems obvious that the groundwork is being laid for inserting even more forces. And everything I've been reading suggests to me that a small increase is not going to be enough, but that a major increase will not sit well with a US public that seems to be turning south on this war.

Meanwhile, as the NYT report also notes, Afghanistan's president Karzai is being hammered by US congressmen for his failure to crack down better on the opium trade. And more reports of "irregularities" in the recent election are surfacing - many of which point to fraud on the part of Karzai and his backers. Again, for those of you not familiar with the history, when the US went into Vietnam, it did so in support of a corrupt, ineffective regime that hardly had the support of the people of South Vietnam. The US helped foment a coup against the Diem regime, and then essentially backed a series of governments du jour - none of which proved effective.

This has indeed become Obama's war - up to this point, unfairly so, because he's inherited a probably untenable situation from Mr. Bush. (And on that score, I recommend Seth Jones's new book, In The Graveyard of Empires.) It's important that the American people be reminded of that history, but it's also important that Obama take his next steps very carefully. This is something I wrote about several months ago at the War in Context site - that Obama was steering us into a "perfect storm" - and if he isn't careful, he may wind up planting the US in a tar-pit that may cost the US as much, if not more, than the Iraq debacle.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Iraq: "The Insurgency is not Over"

. . . or so says John Nagl of the Center for a New American Security, as reported by the NYT's Rod Nordland in the wake of Wednesday's massive bombing in Baghdad. Questions abound.

  • How, with six different intelligence services, did the Iraqi authorities somehow allow two trucks full of explosives to penetrate the area around the government ministries?
  • The authorities have arrested 11 security-force officers. Are they scape-goats? Were they arrested for negligence, or for complicity?
  • Will al-Maliki's request for US help in the aftermath come back to haunt him, after weeks of bragging that a US presence was no longer needed to maintain security?

AFP reports that Sunni and Shii are now blaming each other for the disaster. So much for any progress toward reconciliation before the US gets out completely (which, by the way, could happen a full year before the currently mandated end of 2011 if Iraqis vote in a scheduled referendum on the timetable). And some of the strongest accusations against the Maliki government (and the US) are coming from organizations linked to former Baathist and Saddam-era Iraqi army officials.

For what is by far the best analysis of who likely was responsible for the bombings, Juan Cole's recent posting at Informed Comment is indispensable.

Afghanistan's Elections: Was There Really Much Point?

All the major dailies today report on yesterday's elections in Afghanistan (NY Times here, WaPost here, Wall Street Journal here, LA Times here, and the Financial Times here). The results won't be known for several days - maybe on Monday - but we can note at this point, this much:

  • The US and the Afghan authorities are calling the elections a success - the underlying idea being, hey, what more did you expect, given the conditions and the Taliban's intimidation, which, by the way, was deadly, as the WSJ reports:
    Taliban militants had stepped up attacks for a week and threatened to target polling places with suicide squads to disrupt the vote and force voters to stay home. In the end they managed 73 attacks across the nation amid massive security efforts. The dead included a U.S. soldier and a British soldier.
  • Turnout was low, probably well under 50 percent - and it was uneven across the country (which is, of course, a quilt of rival ethnic and tribal groups).
  • Although there are as yet no claims of massive fraud, there's plenty of evidence of a lot of "irregularities."
  • That being the case, there will be plenty upon which to base post-election protests.

Of course, the US will chalk up one more victory for "democracy," because ballots were cast and a president will be elected (although a second round of balloting may be needed).

But the reality is hardly so rosy. The favorite going in - and probable winner - was the incumbent, Hamid Karzai, whom the US essentially installed shortly after the 2001 invasion. By all accounts, his tenure has been a disaster, rife with corruption, and in the weeks leading up to the election, Karzai was wheeling and dealing, buying off various rivals with promises of influential (and undoubtedly lucrative) government posts, and bringing on board sundry warlords (including the notorious human-rights abuser Abdul Rashid Dostum). Karzai's brother is also up to his neck in Afghanistan's extremely lucrative - and supposedly extremely illegal - poppy/opium industry.

Nonetheless, this is the democracy that Mr. Obama is buying and hoping to safeguard with American lives and treasure. But is there really any point to all of this? Afghanistan is never going to become the model of a centralized democratic state. And as much as I want to see women's rights there brought into the modern age, the US military occupation and degradation of the country is not going to achieve that.

But Mr. Obama has decided that the Afghan war is a war of "necessity." Notably, Richard Haass (the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, and author of “War of Necessity, War of Choice: A Memoir of Two Iraq Wars”) disagrees. In a NYT opinion piece today, Haass argues persuasively that the current war is indeed a war of choice. At this point, Haass argues, it may be worth pursuing, but he also argues for regular and rigorous assessment of its progress and for keeping open the withdrawal option if pursuing the war there proves too costly to US interests in general.

Again, this is a war that the US cannot "win." We may be able to band-aid some of Afghanistan's gaping wounds, perhaps apply some direct pressure here and there to hold the bleeding, but any lasting surgical repair has to come from forces within Afghanistan.






Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Shoes I Don't Want to be in? . . .

. . . are Barack Obama's, because while his health-reform program is being veg-o-maticed here at home, the situation in foreign policy is swirling the bowl. To wit,
1. Iraq is starting to reach a new crisis point, in the wake of today's disastrous bombings in the heart of Baghdad's government district (and couple that with Gen. Odierno's expressed desire to insert US troops in Iraq's north in order to keep Arab Iraqi troops and Kurdish pesh merga from tearing into each other);
2. more US soldiers are being killed in Afghanistan - 6 more today;
3. the public seems to have turned against that war (according to the most recent poll), and
4. tomorrow's presidential election in Afghanistan promises to be (1) bloody and (2) perhaps fatally flawed, especially if Taliban intimidation prevents too many from getting to the polls. And beyond that, serious allegations of fraud are in the air. Moreover, the favorite in the presidential election is the incumbent, Hamid Karzai, whose government is notoriously corrupt, and who recently has attempted to boost his chances by bringing on-board a warlord, Mr. Dostum, whose atrocities and human rights abuses are legend.

Meanwhile, Israeli officials are dissing Mr. Obama, and Mike Huckabee seems to have launched his 2012 presidential run by giving speeches in Israel trashing Obama's stance on Jewish settlement in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

The "Surge" in Iraq did not work, and US troops are going to be withdrawing from a country whose ruin was caused by their invasion (for which, of course, we can't blame them. This one's on Boy George's tab.) and will likely deepen after they're gone. And, of course, count on the Republican machine to blame Obama for "losing Iraq" (because, you know, the Surge was working! We'd won! Then those pusillanimous Democrats messed it up!)

A US military victory in Afghanistan is not possible now, and probably never would have been, even if Bush hadn't digressed into Iraq. But you can see the start of a full-court press (by, among others, John McCain - who wants to double the number of Marine battalions in Helmand from three to six - no surprise there, of course) on Obama to insert more US troops.

Vietnam, anyone?

I think we're fast approaching the point where Obama may need to hit the "reset" button.

Michigan Republicans and CIA-bought Mercenaries

The NY Times headlines a story with Michigan ties. It now seems that the CIA as early as 2004 was in the business of hiring mercenaries from Blackwater to assassinate al-Qaeda figures. The Bush administration regarded it no big deal, but Obama CIA director Leon Panetta saw major issues of accountability here, and blew the whistle.

The NYT also quotes Michigan Rep. Peter Hoekstra, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, to the effect of saying, what's the big deal. Or, more precisely, “I think there was a little more drama and intrigue than was warranted.”

Or perhaps Hoekstra is trying to cool off this story before it does more damage to the Michigan GOP, whose latest candidate for governor was businessman Dick Devos, whose wealthy and politically connected wife is the sister of Erik Prince, who just happens to be the president of . . . did you guess? . . . Blackwater (which was recently renamed Xe).

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A Tom Delay Moment from Slate mag.

The WP fronts, and everyone covers, ABC's announcement that Tom DeLay, the former Republican House majority leader who resigned from Congress in 2006 after being indicted, will be a contestant in Dancing With the Stars. The producers have apparently wanted a politician on the show for a long time and approached DeLay thinking he would say no. But The Hammer surprised them by quickly agreeing to participate and has been preparing for the show all summer. "If I hadn't been on the public stage, this would frighten me to death," he told USAT. "But this doesn't scare me. I'm going into this to have a great time." Political types quickly tried to out-pun themselves. "It would be interesting to see if Mr. DeLay can do the Perp Walk," said the research director of Texans for Public Justice.

Another Setback for Iraq's Democracy

Bombs kill at least 8 at Iraqi market - latimes.com

The LA Times' report about yet another anti-Shii bombing in Baghdad (7 were killed at a falafel stand, which are common eateries in most Middle Eastern cities; I went to one or two when in Damascus years ago) underplays what is a notable setback for Iraq - the indefinite postponement of a nationwide census. Iraq hasn't had an accurate census for years. The similar lack of one in Lebanon has stoked political/sectarian tensions there for decades, because of the ensuing arguments about appropriate representation of various communities. The same applies to Iraq, especially in the north, around Kirkuk.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Obama Defends Strategy in Afghanistan

Obama Defends Strategy in Afghanistan - NYTimes.com

Mr Obama is now dug in in Afghanistan (or perhaps Nixon's famous phrase, "hunkered down," is a propos). Whatever . . . but the point here is that he has deemed Afghanistan a "war of necessity," in sharp contrast to Mr. Bush's "war of choice."

Except that perhaps it really isn't a war of necessity. No matter. If it's a war "of necessity," it stands to reason that he has committed himself, and the rest of us, to "win" it.

Cue David Petraeus: "Tell me how this ends."

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Is Obama Throwing the Palestinians under the Bus?

The incisive, perceptive Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy has long been one of my favorite commentators - and this most recent column is an example of why.
Obama's America is not delivering the goods - Haaretz - Israel News

And although this has nothing to do with my opinion of him, one of the points he makes re-affirms something I wrote about months ago: that Netanyahu would surely have it in him to bully Obama, or at least to out-maneuver him. Levy makes a strong case that Netanyahu is doing exactly that. Perhaps Obama has put way too much on his plate, especially with the global economic woes and the need to reform health care in the US, along the black hole that is Afghanistan, dominating the menu lately. There's no way that he can give the Palestinians' concerns the highly focused attention they need. Indeed, with congressmen from his own party (whose votes he surely needs on health care and other issues) starting to defy him on the issue of the "settlement freeze" in the West Bank, it's not unlikely that Obama will opt to throw that issue into the back seat (if not completely under the bus). (For one thing, if Netanyahu refuses to play ball on the settlements issue, there may be less pressure on him to accommodate Netanyahu on his demand for a military strike on Iran's nuclear facilities.)

It's truly sad. And Levy notes it. Obama was the great new hope - and maybe the last hope - to forge some real progress on the Israel-Palestinian issue. It hasn't happened, and very likely it won't happen. The impact on the US's standing across the globe will not be positive. Potentially, in fact, it could sink to a new low. With Obama's ascent to the presidency and his words of outreach to Muslims across the globe, thousands were willing to renew their hope in the image of the US as fair-minded and a force for peace, after the debacle of the Bush regime. But an Obama failure to use US clout to provide some modicum of justice for the Palestinians just might produce an even deeper disillusionment with the US, and more angry young men and women hoping for an opportunity to strike personally against it.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Israeli Army Reports Possible Soldier Abduction

Israeli Army Reports Possible Soldier Abduction - NYTimes.com

This is not good. It can - and will - be used as provocation and as pretext for the Israelis to clamp down, and to pressure Mahmoud Abbas to do something just after the Fatah convention, where the legitimacy of armed resistance was re-affirmed.

Dick Cheney, Boy George's Historian

The WaPo reports today that Dick Cheney is preparing a memo that is likely to blow our recent boy president out of the water. The skinny is that it will be chock-full of news, but nothing personal. But given the tenor of some of Cheney's recent comments, his memoir is, at the very least, going to damn Bush with very faint praise.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Patience of Iraq's Shii: Can It Last?

There's a fine report by Rod Nordland in today's NYT about the restraint that Iraq's Shii Arabs are showing in the face of repeated bombings of their mosques and gatherings ever since US troops pulled out of urban areas and handed over security chores there to Iraqi forces. The current restraint is in marked contrast to the repercussions after the 2006 bombings of the al-Askari mosque in Samarra, which entailed the formation of Shii death squads that inflicted a horrible revenge on Sunni, especially in Baghdad.

Now though, as Nordland notes, Shii politicians dominate the central government, the leading cleric - the Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani - is calling upon Shii to remain peaceful in the wake of the bombings, and even the Shii cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, whose men comprised many of the death squads of 2006-2007, has turned to non-violence and is reemphasizing social activism. And - as Nordland again notes - the Shii have a tradition of long-suffering in the face of adversity, in which those who die for the cause attain the status of martyr.

The burden is now therefore on the Maliki government, it would seem. One has to wonder how long the Shii will remain patient if the government's security forces can't demonstrate progress in reducing the number and impact of these attacks. Moreover, many Iraqis are complaining about the corruption rampant throughout the government ministries, where nothing can get done without bribes being paid. A report from the BBC highlights the problem:

While the prime minister blames the Sunni insurgency for the attacks, opponents of his predominantly Shia government say it is time to focus on the enemy within.

They accuse Mr Maliki of alienating Iraq's Sunni population and allowing corruption to infect all parts of the government, especially the security services.

According to Iraq's own government anti-corruption agency, the ministries of defence and the interior are among the most corrupt in the country.

Alia Nusaif Jasim, an MP and member of parliamentary anti-corruption committee, alleges that millions of dollars of US defence aid never make it to the state coffers.

"Right now, corruption is a bigger threat for us than insurgency, because it is preventing all of our government institutions - and especially our security services - from doing their job," Ms Jasim said.

The ministry of defence denies all corruption accusations, but in Baghdad stories of bribery in the army abound.

"I have to give a bribe to join the army, I have to bribe at checkpoints, I have to bribe the commander if I am in the army - everywhere I turn I have to bribe," said Ali, a resident of Baghdad.

This perception strips the army of its moral authority, and makes it more difficult for people to believe it is capable of protecting them - especially now that US troops no longer patrol urban areas of Iraq.


The Shii have traditionally made up a large proportion of Iraq's impoverished, disenfranchised underclass, especially in slums like Sadr City in Baghdad. Now, at least, they can vote, and their votes have great political weight. But how long will they remain patient, even with a Shii-dominated government, if basic living conditions and the country's overall economy don't improve soon?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Surging US Troops into the Afghan Black Hole

On the Foreign Policy website, neocon military historian Kimberly Kagan argues today that the Taliban are indeed winning there, but only for now - and that the war can be "won" if the US and NATO follow her prescriptions for inserting more resources, in the right places. To her, the right places are not development projects (which NATO sees as essential to building Afghans' faith in both the West and their central government (such as it is)), but places where the "insurgents" might be massed. In other words, it's all about killing the enemy, says she. That means more boots on the ground.

. . . which is also what highly respected military analyst Anthony Cordesman has argued for - to the tune of at least 45,000 more US troops, as well as tens of thousands more Afghan soldiers as well. Cordesman is the ultimate realist-pragmatist, never inclined to sunny optimism. If he is arguing for that many more troops, you can also bet that military higher-ups are taking that recommendation very seriously - and that Gen. McChrystal is going to be asking for at least some significant fraction of that number when he makes his upcoming recommendations to Mr. Obama.

. . . which also explains McChrystal's recent phone call (facilitated . . . perhaps inspired? . . . by Richard Holbrooke) to Vietnam War historian Stanley Karnow. I've seen no report on the actual content of the conversation - aside from Karnow's opinion that both the Vietnam and the Afghanistan wars were ill-advised - but you have to suspect that McChrystal has been alerted to the parallels between the two. He also must be well aware that continuing escalation of US deployments in Vietnam led to a disaster.

Obama is about to be confronted with a huge decision, at a time when the country is distracted with the ever-more-polarized health-reform debate, the future of cash-for-clunkers, the never-ending Michael Jackson story. . . and growing outcry in Congress (led by Eric Cantor) that Obama is turning his back on Israel. And don't forget that Iraq is not yet "over" - regardless of the continuing assertions - reflected in Kimberly Kagan's FP essay - that the "Surge" won it for the US. The bombings that killed 50 Iraqis - mostly Shii - in Baghdad and a village near Mosul yesterday made for the most deadly day since the US withdrawal from the urban areas.)

But the US/NATO casualty count in Afghanistan is growing (4 more soldiers were killed yesterday), and by every estimate I've seen, it's going to grow much worse, and stay worse, for a long time. And the more Americans killed, the stronger will become the insistence that the US stay there, whatever the cost, so that the sacrifice will not have been "in vain," and so that (to channel John McCain's campaign 2008 expression) the troops can come home "with honor."

Friday, August 7, 2009

General McChrystal Consults Historian about Vietnam War

The AP reports that Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who's commanding US military operations in Afghanistan, recently called Stanley Karnow to consult with him about the Vietnam War and possible parallels with the current situation in Afghanistan. Seems that it was Richard Holbrooke (who knew Karnow in the Vietnam days when Holbrooke was a junior diplomat and Karnow was a reporter) put them in touch (actually, made the call and then handed the phone to the general). Karnow is a recipient of the Pultizer Prize, and his book on the history of the Vietnam War is highly regarded.

Especially heartening though is that Karnow feels strongly that both wars were big mistakes:

Holbrooke confirmed to The Associated Press that the three men discussed similarities between the two wars. "We discussed the two situations and what to do," he said during a visit last week to NATO headquarters in Brussels.

In an interview Thursday with the AP, Karnow said it was the first time he had ever been consulted by U.S. commanders to discuss the war. He did not elaborate on the specifics of the conversation.

When asked what could be drawn from the Vietnam experience, Karnow replied: "What did we learn from Vietnam? We learned that we shouldn't have been there in the first place. Obama and everybody else seem to want to be in Afghanistan, but not I."

"It now seems unthinkable that the U.S. could lose (in Afghanistan), but that's what experts ... thought in Vietnam in 1967," he said at his Maryland home. "It could be that there will be no real conclusion and that it will go on for a long time until the American public grows tired of it."

Karnow's views on all this were likely well known to Holbrooke before he made the call. This stands, of course, in very sharp contrast to the Bush administration's approach to the impending invasion of Iraq, when they cherry-picked historians like Bernard Lewis and Fouad Ajami - both of them believers in the irredeemable backwardness of the Arab world and the responsibility of Western powers to go in and "fix" things - to lend some intellectual heft to their maneuvering. And again in sharp contrast, the Obama administration in general has shown great willingness to consult with historians like Samantha Power and Robert Malley (even if the pro-Israel lobby has forced them to do so unobtrusively), who have a deep knowledge of the complexities of Middle Eastern history and culture and an ability to craft policy recommendations without the presumption of Western triumphalism or US exceptionalism.

If Bush and his gang had had the wisdom to consult such people 8 years ago, in the wake of 9-11, and to have acted on their recommendations . . . I can only imagine how different things might have been since then.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Pakistani Taliban leader killed?

US officials evidently are increasingly confident that Pakistani Taliban leader Beitullah Mehsud may have been killed by a US missile strike. The NYT's report oozes optimism about the implications. The AP's report, on the other hand, notes that although his death would be a major blow to the Taliban, others are likely ready to step up to replace him.

It does call to mind the US strike that killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, in 2006. Much was made of it, but AQI hardly missed a beat. Let's hope that Mehsud's demise - if he indeed is dead - will improve things for Pakistan's people, many of whom remain refugees from the fighting between the Pakistani army and the Taliban in regions like Swat. But I suspect that the Taliban won't be too long, or too severely, set back.

Eric Cantor and Palestinian Dispossession

Republican Congressmen visiting Israel, led by Eric Cantor, are reading straight from the AIPAC manual - criticizing President Obama by insisting to their hosts that he's misguided; that it's not about the settlements, but the Iranian "existential threat."

But I encourage you to click on the link, and have a look at the photos included (at the right) of the Palestinian elderly and children whom the Israeli high court evicted from their home in East Jerusalem, sitting on the sidewalk across the street, dispossessed, turned out, while one of the Jewish "settlers" closes the gate on their residence.

Cantor and his pals ought to be ashamed.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Sanctions on Israel?

An interesting idea floated by the CSM, taking a cue from former Congressman Paul Findley: economic sanctions on both Iran and Israel. Surely not too likely a prospect as far as Israel is concerned, and as Tony Karon noted recently in The National, sanctions against Iran - at a time when the US wants to encourage its people to rally against the current regime - might be counter-productive if they produced just the opposite result.

But let's not forget that Israel receives $3 billion in assistance from the US each year, without which it would be hurting badly. And the Netanyahu government's response to Obama in re settlement expansion or virtually any other issue has hardly been encouraging, or even minimally cooperative. (And pro-Israel groups continue to hammer Mary Robinson, to whom Obama has decided to award a Presidential Medal of Freedom.) Sanctions may be the kind of leverage Obama needs to make a dent in Netanyahu's resolve.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

As Israel Dispossesses West Bank Arabs, AIPAC Slams Obama

Rev. Gary Burge at the Electronic Intifada posts a compelling eye-witness account of how the Israeli government continues to strangle Arab villages (demolished houses, dilapidated schools, non-functioning water and sewage) in the West Bank while neighboring Jewish settlements are provided with all the amenities of a US gated community. Meanwhile, a new Israeli poll reveals that 77 percent of Russian immigrants to Israel favor pressuring Israel's Arabs to leave the country. (h/t Mondoweiss).

Meanwhile, both the US and Sweden have summoned their respective Israeli ambassadors for a dressing-down over Israel's eviction of Arab families from East Jerusalem. The Israelis have retaliated against Obama via AIPAC, the Anti-Defamation League, and the Zionist Organization of America, all of which today blasted the president for his decision to award former president of Ireland Mary Robinson with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Israel is angry because Ms. Robinson, as chair of the UN's Human Rights Commission, was highly critical of Israeli policies towards Palestinian Arabs. (see cogent comments from Mondoweiss and M. J. Rosenberg of the Israel Policy Forum).

(Oh, by the way, the other recipients this year: US civil rights leader Joseph Lowery, South African civil rights leader Desmond Tutu (who likewise is not beloved of the Israel lobby), and slain San Francisco mayor Harvey Milk.)

Monday, August 3, 2009

More bad news on the "peace process" front

Both Israel and some of the US's pals in the Arab world (specifically, Saudi Arabia and Jordan) are digging in their heels on Obama's push for compromises, and Hillary Clinton has slammed the Israelis for evicting about 50 Palestinian Arabs from their houses in East Jerusalem.

Meanwhile, Helena Cobban has an excellent piece on Dennis Ross' unsuitability as a negotiator in any of this, and on the fact that (as the Saudis and Jordanians are insisting) the time for relying on "confidence-building measures" to further the peace process came and went a long time ago. The Arab leaders refuse to buy into that charade any longer - and justifiably so, because all it ever produced was photo ops as well as time and pretexts for Israel to keep claiming that it had no "partner" for peace - even as it continued to expand settlements and undermine the credibility of any Palestinian leader who tried to play ball. I think that anyone who understood all of that was truly depressed when Obama decided to bring Ross onto his team. If Obama wanted to inject some new forcefulness into his diplomatic agenda, he could do a lot worse than to sack Ross, give him some sort of medal, and let him go back to WINEP and working for the AIPAC bunch.

Ahmad Chalabi Back in the Mix

Juan Cole reports at Informed Comment that Ahmad Chalabi is reinserting himself into Shii politics.

Ahmad Chalabi is the party guest who refuses to leave. Never forget: this is the guy who fed the Bush-Cheney bunch plus credulous journalists like the NYT's Judith Miller all the bogus intel about WMDs in 2002 and 2003. That bogus info underpinned much of the famous Colin Powell presentation to the UN Security Council.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Conundrum of Afghanistan Poppy Production

Fine reporting from USA Today. The Afghan government's US-mandated destruction of poppy fields is leaving farmers impoverished, unable to support their families, and faced with very bad choices. The authorities are saying, "sorry, too bad, some pain is needed now if the country is to move ahead." This may be an excellent recruiting tool for the Taliban; it may also, on the other hand, drive some to enlist in the Afghan army or police, but if they're sent far away to train (see an excellent report about this from the WaPo's Pamela Constable here), what about the women and children left behind without support?

Is Thomas Friedman a Self-Hating Jew?

My short answer = No! But his essay in today's NYT is likely to cause a few Likudniks to weigh in to that effect. He tells it like it is in re the West Bank settlements and the ruffian settler elements there, and he also make explicit reference to a "pro-Israel lobby."

But eventually Mr. Obama will have to get the Israeli government to commit to a lot more than a "moratorium" (as Friedman puts it) on settlement-building, or expansion of current settlements. Without removal of the vast majority of them, Israel has no possibility whatsoever of living in peace with its Palestinian neighbors.

Nor was peace brought any closer by Israel's action today to evict more than 50 Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem. The BBC report notes that the US as well as the UN and the British government.

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