Friday, April 30, 2010

Four more years in Afghanistan?

The Guardian notes this assertion from NATO senior ambassador Mark Sedwill, who also points out the criticality of the upcoming (and certainly well-advertised) military operation in Kandahar (where, you'll recall, the Taliban have promised to "break the Americans' teeth). 

Sedwill also makes the important distinction that three-quarters of the insurgents were "allied with the Taliban rather than fighting for it," implying that the large majority were not ideologically motivated.   Important point; most of the Taliban want a society underpinned by Islamic values, but the true extremists among them are only a fraction of their total numbers, and are but one piece in what for most Westerners is a bewildering mosaic of factions and interests - all of them evidently united in one cause, which is to push the outsiders out of their homeland.

And by homeland, I don't mean "Afghanistan" necessarily.  So much of what I've read over the last months suggests that most "Afghans" hardly identify themselves as such, at least as a first choice.  Ethnic, tribal, clan, village identities have always been much more important in most traditional societies.  Most Americans have never come to grips with that.  They don't do nuance very well, and would as soon eschew it when (for their purposes = let's keep it simple, huh) a big-box label like "Afghan," or "Taliban," is out there.

Which finally brings me back to another point in The Guardian's account (and I've seen it elsewhere): that the "insurgents" will be brought into a reconciliation/reintegration process if they accept the existing Afghan constitution.  But let's not forget - that constitution was imposed by a US jerry-rigged process shortly after US forces ousted the Taliban in 2002, and it imposed a very centrist, top-heavy political scheme on a "country" where central power had always been loosely held and often operated in deference to long-entrenched local interests of clan/tribe/etc.  The whole idea was to enable the US to set up its "man" (Hamid Karzai) as a legitimizing facade for trying to govern Afghanistan in a manner that would give top priority to US interests.

Many of the "Taliban" aren't buying that, and the vast majority of "Afghans" see Karzai's government as corrupt and completely ineffective - indeed, more of a threat to them (via corrupt officials and police) than are the Taliban.  Yet, the US remains glued to Karzai as its guy.

How can this end well?

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Dear Tea Partier: You're angry because . . .?

 Sharing something that a good friend shared with me . . .

Dear Tea Partier: I just want to make sure I understand your anger. So hear me out.

   You didn't get mad when the Supreme Court stopped a legal recount and appointed a President.
    You didn't get mad when Cheney allowed Energy company officials to dictate energy policy.
    You didn't get mad when a covert CIA operative got outed by the VP.
    You didn't get mad when the Patriot Act got passed and took away your liberties.
    You didn't get mad when we illegally invaded a country that posed no threat to us.
    You didn't get mad when we spent over 600 billion (and counting) on said illegal war.
    You didn't get mad when over 10 billion dollars just disappeared in Iraq.
    You didn't get mad when you saw the Abu Grahib photos.
    You didn't get mad when you found out we were torturing people.
    You didn't get mad when the national debt doubled under the previous President from $5.674 trillion to $10.024 trillion.
    You didn't get mad when the government was illegally wiretapping Americans and the President lied about it.
    You didn't get mad when you saw the horrible conditions at Walter Reed.
    You didn't get mad when we let a major US city drown!

So let me understand this: You finally got mad when................
    When the government decided that people in America deserved the right to see a doctor if they are sick.
    Yes!  Illegal wars, lies, corruption, torture, stealing your tax dollars to make the rich richer, are all ok with you, but helping other Americans... well that makes you mad!

What Obama is up against . .

more of  Max Blumenthal's on-the-street reporting.  These people are scary.

Monday, April 26, 2010

The US's Desperation in Iraq is showing

Patrick Cockburn reports in The Independent that the US has injected itself into Iraq's post-election stalemate by pushing a solution that would have the current PM, Nuri al-Maliki, and the former PM whose party seems to have won the most seats, Ayad Allawi, agree to rotate the prime ministership in a new government, thereby (supposedly) making it all better.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, part of the US's sense of urgency here stems from Muqtada al-Sadr's "offer" to re-constitute his Mahdi Army militia (not that it was ever entirely de-constituted) and have them work with the Iraqi government's security forces to ensure security.  To see the Mahdi Army stand up again is, of course, the last thing that Maliki or Allawi (or, for that matter, the US) wants to see.  The Iraqi security forces are predominantly Shii, and many of them are former - or still - members of the Shii Badr Brigade militia, which has clashed violently with the Mahdi Army in the past.

This would significantly complicate the situation on the ground in Iraq tremendously, especially with the US in the process of withdrawing most of its combat troops.  Also remember that the Mahdi Army gave US forces a very tough time as resistance forces in Najaf in 2004, and that their members constituted many of the death squads that "cleansed" Baghdad of much of its Sunni population in 2006-2007.  Ayad Allawi's most important backers are the now-reinvigorated Sunni Arab population of Iraq.  They have no love for either the Mahdi Army or, by and large, the Iraqi security forces, who only recently were found to have been maintaining a secret prison in northern Iraq where they were detaining and torturing Sunnis.

However, the solution the US is reaching for - rotating the prime ministership - really does very little more than to apply a very loose band-aid over the sectarian divisions and mistrust that still afflict Iraq.  Allawi and Maliki seem to despise each other personally, and each of them surely despises what he sees as the other's intentions: that Maliki will bring Iraq more closely into Iran's embrace, and that Allawi will allow the Sunnis (read: Baath party, of which Allawi, though a Shii himself, was once a member in good standing).  What the US is proposing only kicks the sectarian-division can farther down the road.

More importantly from Washington's perspective though, it may give the US just enough cover to say to the American public (who surely have turned the page on Iraq; after all, the Surge fixed it, right?) "Hey, it's gonna be OK," and then get the hell out of Dodge.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Sunni distrust of Shii army in Iraq

Ned Parker's report in LA Times makes it very plain:

The room filled with mistrust as more than 70 tribal sheiks arrived Thursday to discuss the problem of violence with some of Iraq's army commanders.

The sheiks, dressed mainly in dark blue robes, had come by bus to the headquarters of the 24th Brigade of the 6th Iraqi Army Division. They were met by soldiers wearing red berets and forest green uniforms.

Tension was unavoidable, as residents of Abu Ghraib see the mainly Shiite army unit in the area as heavy-handed. The army, by contrast, believes the inhabitants of the rural region are actively or tacitly abetting Al Qaeda in Iraq insurgents.

Nonetheless, the sheikhs promised their cooperation . . . after the army commander used a bit of coercion:
Saidi brandished a folder of names and shook it in the air. He said it had more than 150 arrest warrants for violence-related acts, but he would forget them, if the sheiks all joined in helping stop the insurgent group Al Qaeda in Iraq.

Is the Mahdi Army about to re-emerge in Iraq?

The WaPo reports that Muqtada al-Sadr has offered the Maliki government the use of his militia, the Jaysh al-Mahdi (Mahdi Army), to improve security.  This comes, of course, in the wake of a recent string of bombings throughout much of Iraq, but during which the teeming, impoverished Sadr City area of Baghdad - Muqtada's largest bastion of political (and, no doubt, military) support - was hit very hard (56 killed), only a few days ago.

This could be a crucial time in Iraq's hoped-for recovery, with US troops on the way out yet the Iraqi government in turmoil, its credibility being shredded by these attacks (most of them by Sunni extremists, usually identified with al-Qaeda in Iraq/Mesopotamia) and by its current state of limbo while votes in Baghdad are recounted and the main post-election contenders apparently working furiously to build coalitions and stake their claim as the rightful leaders of Iraq's next government.  There is absolutely no love lost between the two biggies: Nuri al-Maliki and his State of Law party, and Ayad Allawi's Iraqiyya, behind which perhaps a majority of Iraq's Sunnis (who have been feeling no love from the Iraqi government ever since Saddam and his Baath party were kicked out) have now lined up.

One of Muqtada's spokesmen asserts that "This is not an invitation to the Mehdi Army to take up arms."  But one has to believe that, after a couple of years of having them stand down (which, by the way, according to most experts is one of the reasons for the decreased sectarian violence after 2007 - a result that led the neocons to proclaim a US "victory" in Iraq), Muqtada is now opening the door for the Mahdi army to do just that. 

Unfortunately (for Iraq's future), one can hardly blame him.

  • Although it has made some progress in its effectiveness (notably reflected in its recent killing or capture of some al-Qaeda higher-ups), the Iraqi security forces under Maliki's control have been unable to prevent a now quite long series of horrific bombings, some of them in the heart of the capital.  When people feel that the government can't protect them, they tend to resort to their own devices.  (Hey, ask the Tea Party folks about that.)
  • It has become increasingly clear that Maliki sees those security forces as instruments to enforce his own, pro-Shii political agenda.  But pro-Shii here does not include the interests of Muqtada, a Shii "cleric," and scion of a revered lineage of Shii religious leaders, who since 2008 has despised Maliki (an erstwhile ally) for using those forces to expel the Mahdi Army from Basra via the so-called "Charge of the Knights" operation.  Muqtada does NOT want to see Maliki achieve another term as prime minister.  Maliki is NOT going to divert huge attention to protecting Muqtada's largest enclave of support, even if its people are Shii.  Ergo . . .
  • The denizens of Sadr City - who include thousands of Mahdi Army members - are likely arming themselves at this very moment.  And why not?  The government has not protected them; its current leader hasn't all that much interest in protecting them; and now the man to whom they profess their deepest allegiance - Muqtada al-Sadr - is more or less saying that if the government can't protect them, my militia stand ready to "help."
Implications for the US?  Iraq is tensing up; Iraqis can't rely on their government; yet the US insists that the withdrawal is proceeding - and will continue to proceed - on schedule.  But by no means has the US been able to "git 'er done" in Iraq.  I'll close with a snippet from Andrew Bacevich's recent, marvelous essay in Harper's, where (borrowing a line from Norman Mailer) puts it as cogently, and as bluntly, as ever:

Take the case of Iraq, now bizarrely trumpeted in some quarters as a “success” and even more bizarrely seen as offering a template for how to turn Afghanistan around. Much has been made of the United States Army’s rediscovery of (and growing infatuation with) counterinsurgency doctrine, applied in Iraq beginning in early 2007 when President Bush launched his so-called surge and anointed General David Petraeus as the senior U.S. commander in Baghdad. Yet technique is no substitute for strategy. Violence in Iraq may be down, but evidence of the promised political reconciliation that the surge was intended to produce remains elusive. America’s Mesopotamian misadventure continues. Pretending that the surge has redeemed the Iraq war is akin to claiming that when Andy Jackson “caught the bloody British in the town of New Orleans” he thereby enabled the United States to emerge victorious from the War of 1812. Such a judgment works well as folklore but ignores an abundance of contrary evidence.

More than six years after it began, Operation Iraqi Freedom has consumed something like a trillion dollars—with the meter still running—and has taken the lives of more than 4,300 American soldiers. Meanwhile, in Baghdad and other major Iraqi cities, car bombs continue to detonate at regular intervals, killing and maiming dozens. Anyone inclined to put Iraq in the nation’s rearview mirror is simply deluded. Not long ago, General Raymond Odierno, Petraeus’s successor and the fifth U.S. commander in Baghdad, expressed the view that the insurgency in Iraq is likely to drag on for another five, ten, or fifteen years. Events may well show that Odierno is an optimist.

Given the embarrassing yet indisputable fact that this was an utterly needless war—no Iraqi weapons of mass destruction found, no ties between Saddam Hussein and the jihadists established, no democratic transformation of the Islamic world set in motion, no road to peace in Jerusalem discovered in downtown Baghdad—to describe Iraq as a success, and as a model for application elsewhere, is nothing short of obscene. The great unacknowledged lesson of Iraq is the one that Norman Mailer identified decades ago: “Fighting a war to fix something works about as good as going to a whorehouse to get rid of a clap.”

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Experience of Combat: Sacrifice and Meaning

I personally have never engaged in combat, so I can't begin to imagine the gut-emotions of the experience.  But a recent serendipitous concatenation of events has been setting me to thinking often about it lately, about its impact on one's soul and psyche and about the bonds soldiers form both to each other and to the places where they fight.

Both the NY Times and the Washington Post now have reporters in Afghanistan, embedded with US troops, who've been regularly filing reports about the experiences with the units they're accompanying to God-forsaken places where the locals tend to resent or hate them, where death or mutilation courtesy of an IED or a resistance fighter can be literally only a footstep away.

HBO has been running for several weeks now a series, The Pacific, that very graphically depicts the experiences of members of the Marine First Division in the Pacific theater, from Guadalcanal to (this week) Peleliu.  TV, of course, is not reality, but for those of us who haven't been in combat, it can at least hint at the fear and the fury.  And before each episode, a few of the actual survivors (now 80+ years old) whose experiences are recounted in the following episode are interviewed. Their comments are straightforward; they don't wax on or brag; and sometimes, as the gates of memory swing open, their lips tremble as they choke back tears.  Those of us old enough to have been raised on John Wayne movies but have had relatives or friends (one of my grad school roommates was a Marine vet of Vietnam) who fought in WW II, Korea, or Vietnam know that  real combat veterans (one of which "The Duke" definitely was not) won't talk about their experiences much.  (For those of you who want to know more of Hollywood actors who were indeed World War II vets, but who customarily didn't talk about their experiences because the memories tore them up too much, google the name "Audie Murphy.")

Finally, I recently received from my aunt a salvaged and recopied collection of letters that her husband (my mother's brother Jim, who actually served with her/his other brother Phil with the US army in Europe in WWII) sent to their mother shortly after the war ended, while he was still in Germany, recounting (though in sanitized fashion) some of what had happened to them.  When I was a kid (up until I was about 13), my parents and all of us kids used to visit Uncle Jim's family in Grand Rapids in the summer.  Uncle Jim (who became a highly respected surgeon in GR) never, ever brought up the war, but now I know (from his letters) that he and Phil saw some bad times.

Now, the often brilliantly evocative author Sebastian Junger has penned a piece for the NY Times about the experiences of the US forces with whom he was embedded in the recently abandoned Korengal Valley, where more than 40 US soldiers were killed between 2005 and 2010.  Here's what part of what he has to say:
The men at Restrepo seemed to make “sense” of combat in a completely personal way. They were not interested in the rest of the war and they were not much concerned with whether it was just, winnable or even well executed. For soldiers, the fight is what gives a place meaning, rather than the other way around.

In that sense, the Korengal was literally sacred ground. Every man in Battle Company lost a good friend there, and every man was nearly killed there. These soldiers did not require “strategic importance” or “national interest” to give the place value — it already had that in spades.

Outpost Restrepo was named after Juan Restrepo, a platoon medic who was killed on July 22, 2007. He was one of the best-liked men in the platoon, and his death was devastating. The men took enormous pride in the outpost they built, and they can now go online and watch videotape of it being blown up by an American demolition team. It is a painful experience for many of them, and in recent days, e-mail messages have flown back and forth as the men have tried to come to terms with it. One man became increasingly overwrought from watching the video over and over again, wondering what all the sacrifice had been for. Another soldier finally intervened.

“They might have pulled out but they can’t take away what we accomplished and how hard we fought there,” he wrote to his distraught comrade. “The base is a base, we all knew it would sooner or later come down. But what Battle Company did there cannot be blown up, ripped down or burned down. Remember that.”

It's understandable how men in such predicaments would become bound both to each other and to the places where they suffered together, regardless of the "justness" of the cause for which older men might have sent them there.  But don't all of us have an obligation to try to understand why indeed those young men are sent to far-off places, and to raise our voices when we sense that the cause for which we ask them to walk into the maw of death may indeed be a lost one - or, at least, one that's unwinnable, at least by them?

Monday, April 19, 2010

"We’re going to break the Americans’ teeth.”

Thus said a Taliban spokesman in an interview with the Times of London, when asked about the upcoming (and well-advertised) NATO offensive in Kandahar this summer.

Bombast?  Perhaps.  Should the US ignore it?  Hardly.


Because according to a recent survey conducted under the auspices of the US Army, most Afghans in the Kandahar region have little trust in their own government's police and army - which, as the survey's authors note, “sets conditions for a disenfranchised population to respond either by not supporting the government due to its inability to deliver improvements in the quality of life or, worse yet, by supporting the Taliban.”

The interview also revealed that Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar (and the Quetta shura) are willing to negotiate with the US/NATO forces.  The Taliban reportedly no longer wish to rule Afghanistan (they're content to "return to our madrasahs"), although they're unwilling to accept the "puppet government" of Hamid Karzai.

Do we want to trust in what Mullah Omar reportedly has offered?  Perhaps not - and it may well be that he may not be able to control all of the elements in Afghanistan that we now lump under the "Taliban" rubric.  Nonetheless, this may well be an opening that the US must pursue.  The "Taliban" are not some simple rag-tag bunch of Islamic extremists. They've come to embody for many Afghans the forces of resistance both to the NATO "outsiders" who now occupy their lands (many of them don't give a rat's behind about the "country" of Afghanistan), and to the corrupt security forces and political officials of the largely dysfunctional Karzai "government" in Kabul.

Yes, some of the Taliban's more extremist elements do horrible things to Afghans (women, most notably) who act in a manner that they deem "un-Islamic."  (To see some especially extreme cases of violence against women for which some Afghan - and Pakistani - men would likely claim Islamic sanction - even though the Quran contains absolutely no injunction to punish women in this fashion - I might direct your attention to a photo-essay on the effects of acid attacks on young women.  I advise caution: the photos are graphic, horrifying, infuriating, and absolutely heart-rending.)

But even with the most uplifting humanitarian intentions and promoting-American-values-and-human-rights zeal, the US military presence is not going to be able to stop this.  It may even retard change needed to stop it, which can only come from within Afghan society.  Much as we might like to, we cannot impose it.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

A New Middle East War on the Horizon?

For months now there have been rumblings in both Israel and Lebanon about imminent war: Hezbollah has been re-armed to recoup munitions destroyed in Israel's 2006 invasion of Lebanon; Hezbollah's influence in the Lebanese political system has risen; ties linking Hezbollah with Syria and Iran have been firmed up, rather than (as the US and Israel were trying to accomplish) diminished; some in the IDF are looking for payback for the embarrassment that Hezbollah dealt it in 2006; and Israel's stance toward the Palestinians (i.e., the status of Jerusalem and the West Bank settlements) and the putative "peace process" has only hardened.

Nonetheless, until very recently Israel was probably liking its chances in the region, and was convinced that it still retained the kind of  tactical initiative that it exercised (for example) with its air strike on an alleged Syrian nuclear facility in 2009.  It was able to do so with impunity.  The Syrians dared not launch any military response to what was a provocation - indeed, an act of war - on Israel's part.  The military balance of force was too heavily in Israel's favor.

As of today, it still is, but it's obvious that Syria's possible supplying of Scud missiles to Hezbollah tips that balance more in Hezbollah's (and, by extension, Syria's) favor.  Hezbollah would have the capability of launching a missile strike that could reach anywhere inside Israel.  The Scud missile is notoriously inaccurate, and the IDF's missile defense system would likely be able to knock some of them down.  But bear in mind how alarmed Israelis were - and how brutal was the Israeli response - when Hamas was firing much smaller rockets into Israel from Gaza.  Scud missiles are potentially many, many times the threat.

And, I suspect, they are a threat that Israel will not be willing to live with.  Israeli leaders - and their backers on Capitol Hill - will be clamoring for the US to make appropriate threats against Syria.  But Mr. Obama - and Mr. Sarkozy - have been working to engage Mr. Assad, with Mr. Obama having gone so far as to nominate - for the first time in five years - a new ambassador to Damascus (his confirmation in the Senate is pending - and may in fact be endangered by this development).

And it will not have escaped the attention of the Israeli leadership that there is a burgeoning feeling in the US (signified by General Petraeus' recent Congressional testimony) that Americans are waking up (finally) to the reality that Israel's acting with such impunity toward Palestinians and its other Arab neighbors has a direct effect on US interests in the Middle East and Central Asia - including the well-being of US soldiers.  They can hardly expect the US to come running to Israel's support if Mr. Netanyahu decides to take some sort of pre-emptive military action against Hezbollah.

What are Israel's likely options?
  • The scary one = proceed with a pre-emptive military strike against Hezbollah in Lebanon.  The dangers of such a response are self-evident:
  •  Hezbollah would launch reprisals against Israeli cities and towns;
  •  Iran might take actions against the now-withdrawing US contingent in Iraq, as well as threaten the petroleum-shipping route through the Straits of Hormuz, if the US supported Israel's actions (as Mr. Bush did in 2006 - remember Condi Rice's comforting assertion that the destruction was really OK, as it signaled the "birth-pangs of a new Middle East"?);
  • the people and infrastructure of Lebanon would be devastated.  (Israel has made it clear that in its view, since Hezbollah is a legitimate political party in Lebanon and an elected presence in its parliament, the entire country of Lebanon will be held to account.)
  • a new refugee problem would be created in the Middle East
  • a new generation of "terrorists" would be spawned.
  • A better option = sit down with the Syrians, and negotiate seriously - SERIOUSLY! - to return to Syria the Golan Heights, which Israel grabbed up during the 1967 war and has colonized ever since.

The importance that Syria has attached to regaining the Golan from Israel was recently raised by Josh Landis in an essay for Foreign Policy's Middle East Channel.  Prof. Landis also reminds us, though, that Mr. Netanyahu has sworn never to return the Golan to Syria.  He also notes:
The larger question. . . is not whether Syria has delivered Scuds to Hezbollah. Syria has been rebuilding Hezbollah's missile supplies ever since they were largely exhausted during Israel's 2006 incursion into Lebanon. It will continue to do so as long as Israel refuses to trade land for peace. Syria says it will no longer have any reason to arm Hezbollah once it gets the Golan back and can sign a peace agreement with Israel.

Syria understands that the reason Israel will not return the Golan Heights is because of the terrible imbalance in power between the two countries. So long as there is no peace, Syria will feel compelled to arm itself and its allies. Only this week at the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, we were reminded that Israel has hundreds of atomic warheads that can be delivered by missile, plane, and submarine. What's more, Washington continues to supply Israel with large amounts of military aid and cutting-edge military technology. Israel accuses Syria of trying to change the balance of power by introducing Scuds to Lebanon, but from Syria's point of view, it is Israel that has skewed the regional balance.

Israeli officials, when faced with the Golan question in private or at conferences, explain that the reason Israel refuses to strike a deal with Syria is that the country is too weak. It has nothing to give Israel in exchange for the Golan, which has been Israel's quietest border for 35 years. In the face of this debilitating weakness, Syria will do what all weak states do: find powerful allies and try to arm itself. It must also rely on nonstate actors, such as Hezbollah and Hamas. In short, it will struggle to right the balance of power. Some commentators have argued that  Syria ought to simply renounce its current path, make a rapproachment with the West, and by doing so get back the Golan and normalized relations. But the notion that Israel would give Syria back the Golan if it renounces Hezbollah and Iran is naive. The Palestine Liberation Organization renounced violence some time ago and has little to show for it.
Bottom line: If there's to be peace (ergo, no war, no more destruction of lives, no new "terrorists" engendered), it's Israel that needs to make a move.  Netanyahu won't make that move.  The ball is in Mr. Obama's court.

Friday, April 16, 2010

reBlog from A century of Mideast mistakes

I found this fascinating quote today:

Truman’s reply anticipated all subsequent policy: “I’m sorry gentlemen…but I don’t have hundreds of thousands of Arabs among my constituents.”, A century of Mideast mistakes, Apr 2010

You should read the whole article.

Will the US Intervention in Afghanistan prove to have been worth it?

That's the question Eugene Robinson addresses in his WaPo column today, in which he interprets the US military's decision to leave the remote Korengal Valley as a "template" for the entire Afghan adventure: over 5 years, an advance of 3 miles, at the cost of 42 US troops (no mention of lives ruined by severe wounds), few local hearts and minds won - only to pull out, with no discernible positive impact.

The US has wedded itself in Afghanistan to a corrupt, vote-stealing, warlord-coddling government in way that undercuts all we profess about how much we value democracy and human rights beyond our own shores.  There is no "victory" in sight, nor is "victory" attainable.

Meanwhile, US soldiers and marines are engaged daily in desperate firefights (most of which receive scant attention here at home) in remote places, or - out of fear or frustration - commit acts that earn them only more enemies, both in Afghanistan and in the broader Muslim World.

It's truly difficult to see what good is to possibly come from any of this.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

McCain urges unilateral action on Iran

To think that this hot-head had a shot at the Presidency . . . and would have placed the inimitable Ms. Palin only a heartbeat away . . .

McCain urges unilateral action on Iran

From NBC's Jim Miklaszewski
Pentagon and military officials told a congressional hearing today that Iran is at least one year away from enriching enough uranium to build a nuclear weapon -- and three to five years away from producing the actual weapons itself.

Nevertheless, Democratic and Republican senators today expressed growing concern -- if not impatience -- in failed attempts by the U.S. and international community to force Iran to halt its efforts to develop a nuclear weapon.

In a testy exchange, Sen. John McCain led the charge in questioning both Pentagon and State Department officials, saying the U.S. should act unilaterally in an effort to cutoff refined oil and gas shipments to Iran and no longer wait for the United Nations to enact stiffer sanctions.

When the State Department's Bill Burns countered that it would be "very difficult" to get Russia and China to sign onto those kinds of tougher sanctions, McCain shot back that all the international communities efforts have failed so far to change Iran's behavior. When the Pentagon's Michele Flournoy waded in to say that Iran has in fact altered its behavior and Russia and China will sign on to new sanctions, McCain bristled saying there's "no justification" in her belief that Russia will play along since the Russians have been playing "rope a dope" with the US on this issue.

All members of the panel, when asked, gave the usual "all options are on the table" when asked if the U.S. has a military plan to strike at Iran's nuclear facilities but deferred any details to a closed session.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Palin and Newt on Obama's Nuclear Posture Review

An excellent piece by Slate's Fred Kaplan, who sums it all up, wonderfully:
What's really going on is this: The Republicans are looking for any excuse to lambaste anything that this president says or does. You'd think matters of national security might be exempt from this election strategy, but apparently you'd be wrong.
And that they'd trumpet (courtesy of Sean Hannity and Fox News) such a non-entity as Sarah Palin for wisdom on foreign policy (or,for that matter, on anything else) tells me all I need to know about the hard times upon which the "Grand Ole Party" has fallen.

Nuclear proliferation: serious discussion "too politically divisive"

As Mr. Obama's nuclear summit ("the largest gathering of world leaders called by an American president since Franklin D. Roosevelt organized the 1945 meeting in San Francisco that created the United Nations") prepares to convene, today's NY Times features a long Sanger and Broad report on the accelerating nuclear arms race between India and Pakistan -  a topic, they note, deliberately left off the agenda because it would be too politically divisive. 

These are, of course, the same India and Pakistan that have nuclear arsenals and delivery systems, but have never signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty.  This is the same India with whom the Bush administration nonetheless made a major deal enabling them to ramp up its nuclear industry.  This is the same Pakistan whose nuclear weapons, Mr. Obama re-assures us, are secure even as its army (and the US drone forces) daily battle a Taliban insurgency.  This is also the same Pakistan with whom the US steadfastly refuses to make a nuclear deal a la the one Bush made with India - something that rankles the Pakistani leadership to no end.

And, this is also the same nuclear summit that Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has decided to skip.  His country, too, has never signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty.  His country, like India and Pakistan, has a nuclear arsenal, although Israel's is estimated to be significantly larger.  But Netanyahu's presence would draw attention to Israel's undeclared nuclear arsenal, especially from the Arab representatives who will be on hand.  That, too, would be politically divisive - and our Congressmen on the AIPAC political contribution list would have been compelled to attack Mr. Obama if any of those nasty Arabs had singled out Israel for criticism.

Unfortunately, the leaders of Iran (which has, by the way, signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty) are also skipping the meeting.  Nonetheless, they can expect that their ears will be burning.  We can probably expect that the most ballyhooed statement that will emerge from this summit will be one expressing the "world's" unified stance calling upon the nefarious mullahs to come clean about their nuclear-weapons program.

Would that the US could be so forthright in calling upon the Israeli government to shed some light on its nuclear program.  But that, of course, would be politically divisive.

Monday, April 5, 2010

The US's Hopeless Situation in Afghanistan

The NY Times reports today on how "U.S. Admits Role in Killing of Afghan Women" in a messed-up raid in Gardez back in February.  It's heart-wrenching to read.  One of the women who was shot was a pregnant mother of 10; and she - and two women - died as "collateral damage" in a Special Forces raid on a house mistakenly tied to "militants," but that actually housed a police chief and a district prosecutor who came out of the house, with guns, to see what was going on.  According to local informants, the Special Forces raid followed a party to honor the birth of the house owner's grandson.

It's also disgusting to read, because it's being reported (in the Times of London, and denied by NATO - whose credibility now is toast) that the Special Forces guys, knowing they'd screwed up, went so far as to dig the bullets out of the women's bodies and wash out the wounds with alcohol, then lied to their superiors about what had gone down.  That's a cover-up, compounded by the fact that the US military spokesperson then went public with a denial of US culpability before finally reversing that stance.

This, on the heels of Afghan president Hamid Karzai's invective against the US and the UN for interfering in the recent (fraud-riddled) elections - a matter that he considers (justifiably, though certainly self-servingly in this instance) his country's domestic affairs.  As the NYT notes,

Karzai described the Western military coalition as coming close to being seen as invaders who would give the insurgency legitimacy as “a national resistance.”
According to a Parliament member who chose to remain anonymous, Karzai also said to that body: “If you and the international community pressure me more, I swear that I am going to join the Taliban.”

Basically, the US is now stuck with an elected Afghan president who most determinedly is not going to stick to any script the US hands him.  He's cultivating ties with both China and Iran; he's not about to dump his half-brother, whom the US has fingered as a bad-guy drug lord; and he's not going to accede to US demands to clean up his government and share power with local authorities.  The only way the US might rein him in is by threatening to withdraw its troops, and then (if he doesn't cave) actually doing so.  But, then what?

Peter Galbraith (quoted in the NYT analysis) makes an important point:

“There is no point in having troops in a mission that cannot be accomplished. . . . The mission might be important, but if it can’t be achieved, there is no point in sending these troops into battle. Part of the problem is that counterinsurgency requires a credible local partner.”
There is no way this ends well for the US.  Even if the "Taliban" were to disappear tomorrow, Karzai remains the democratically elected president of Afghanistan; the US can't afford a long-term significant military presence there.  Karzai knows the US has to leave, sooner or later, and that his long-term interests lie in cultivating this neighbors China and Iran, who happen to be the US's major competitors for hegemony in that region.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Car bombs kill at least 30 in Baghdad

The Washington Post's account, to appear on Monday . . . on page 5(?!).  We're looking at a real possibility of Iraq unraveling . . . and it only merits page 5 coverage?

Saturday, April 3, 2010

India rebuffs US call to shun Iran gas talks

I had to laugh when I saw this headline from today's Dawn. Yesterday the Obama-hating Charles Krauthammer penned a typically snide piece for the WaPo in which he excoriated Obama for making nicer to China than to the US's more "natural" Asian ally, India.  Quoth he:
Obama visits China and soon Indonesia, skipping India, our natural and rising ally in the region -- common language, common democracy, common jihadist enemy. Indeed, in his enthusiasm for China, Obama suggests a Chinese  interest in peace and stability in South Asia, a gratuitous denigration of Indian power and legitimacy in favor of a regional rival with hegemonic ambitions.

Wonder what CK has to say about India's making nice with those mad mullahs.

Friday, April 2, 2010

The US and Democracy in the Middle East

The US's record of democracy promotion across the Middle East has been pretty awful.  Here's another reminder . . . and note my emphases, below . . .
In Azerbaijan, voices for democracy strive to be heard

By Ali Karimli
Friday, April 2, 2010; A19

Many Americans may know my country, Azerbaijan, for its oil wealth or for its conflict with Armenia over the territory of Nagorno Karabakh. A March 5 article in The Post portrayed a nation whose ruling family appears to own $75 million worth of luxury villas in Dubai. Few of us in Azerbaijan were surprised by a report that President Ilham Aliyev's family apparently invests assets abroad. What else should be expected from a leader who inherited power from his father through fraudulent elections?

Aliyev's brutal crackdown on the opposition and independent media began with his election in October 2003. Thousands of Azeris protesting the transfer of power -- more succession than an election -- were arrested and beaten. As opposition supporters languished in jail, then-deputy U.S. Secretary of State Richard Armitage phoned Aliyev to congratulate him on his "landslide" victory. Democratic voices of protest were stifled by the blows of police batons. Western powers were eager to work with a new leader they viewed as young and progressive.

Nearly two years later, on the eve of the 2005 parliamentary elections, Azeri democrats inspired by the support Western nations had given to the Rose and Orange democratic revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine decided to again challenge Aliyev's authoritarian regime. Events unfortunately played out along now-familiar lines: The government falsified election results; opposition protests were crushed; yet Washington praised the work of Azerbaijan's Constitutional Court, which had just approved false election results.

Aliyev apparently interpreted the international community's silence as carte blanche to turn a country with long-standing democratic traditions into a fiefdom. The government evicted major opposition parties from their centrally located headquarters. Independent media also felt the wrath. One outspoken editor of an opposition magazine was fatally shot in March 2005; several others received harsh prison sentences on trumped-up charges.

There was a time when Azerbaijan's future looked promising. In the 1980s, Azerbaijan was at the forefront of the democratic movements that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union. In 1992, we held our first democratic elections. Abulfaz Elchibey, leader of the Popular Front, won 59 percent of the vote. Elchibey viewed himself as a political heir to the founders of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic in 1918. Azerbaijan was the first nation in the Muslim world to establish a parliamentary democracy that granted universal suffrage, preceding many Western countries.

But these days, the only vote that counts is that of Ilham Aliyev. After "winning" his second presidential term last year, in an election with no viable opposition alternative, Aliyev and his rubber-stamp parliament conspired to change the constitution, through a referendum, to lift term limits on the presidency.

The next parliamentary elections are to be held in November. The democratic opposition is once again preparing to challenge the regime. While there are no indications that the government's behavior will differ from that of years past, we have decided to participate in the election process because we recognize that this is our chance to fight for our ideals.

Our platform is simple: We intend to establish a functional democracy in our country. Azerbaijan has a resourceful populace, and we can and must decrease our nation's dependence on oil. We must break the economic monopolies controlled by corrupt officials. Our goal is to establish a free, market-based economy. We want Azerbaijan to integrate into the Euro-Atlantic community of nations, ending its status as a satellite of autocratic Russia.

As we continue our struggle for freedom, it is vital that the United States pursue appropriate action with regard to the largest nation in the South Caucasus. Bilateral relations have long been based on cooperation on energy, security and democratic development. Sadly, many Azeris see U.S. policy as driven by energy interests and the global war against terrorism. To us, it seems that democracy gets short shrift. We hope the Obama administration will make clear to Azerbaijan's leader that democratic reforms and human rights are a priority in U.S.-Azeri relations.

American policymakers should have learned from countries in the Middle East and other areas that authoritarian, corrupt regimes do not make reliable allies. Nor is their "stability" based on the consent of the governed. The democratic opposition in Azerbaijan does not seek intervention or financial assistance from the United States. What we need is the moral support of an America that stands by its own values.

Ali Karimli is chairman of the Popular Front Party of Azerbaijan and co-founder of Azadlig (Freedom) Political Bloc of Opposition Parties.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

A National Unity Government in Iraq?

Juan Cole reports (based on reporting in al-Hayat) that Ayad Allawi and Nuri al-Maliki are actually discussing the possibility of a national-unity government.
Informed Comment: Sadrists are Holding Referendum on PM; <br> Allawi says Would go to Iran, form Gov't of National Unity

Both men bill themselves as non-sectarian Iraqi nationalists who favor a strong central goverment in Baghdad (although Allawi, on the basis of past performance, has the more valid case for such a label).

That might leave the INA out in the cold, especially if Muqtada al-Sadr (whose Sadrist element now dominates the INA) refuses to line up with a government that includes a leader who drove his people out of Basra. It would also leave the Iranians with less leverage, although they'd prefer an Iraqi government with Maliki rather than without him.


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