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Thursday, April 30, 2009

Byron York's Demographics By Scott Horton

Byron York's Demographics
By Scott Horton

From the Washington Examiner:

On his 100th day in office, Barack Obama enjoys high job approval ratings, no matter what poll you consult. But if a new survey by the New York Times is accurate, the president and some of his policies are significantly less popular with white Americans than with black Americans, and his sky-high ratings among African-Americans make some of his positions appear a bit more popular overall than they actually are.

"More popular than they actually are?" Of course, this conclusion is reached after making the mathematical adjustment contemplated in the Constitution as adopted in 1789. In Byron York's world, it seems, black Americans are still three-fifths citizens. They're apparently not capable of making objective political judgments like whites, and particularly the (dwindling) number of whites who support the G.O.P. One of the most unintentionally revealing posts I've ever seen.

Nukes and Spooks blog

Nukes and Spooks blog

April 30, 2009
Terrorism in 2008

The State Department today released its much-followed report on terrorism around the world. Along with it comes a statistical compendium of terrorist incidents, prepared by the National Counterterrorism Center.

The headline is as sobering as it is is unsurprising: terrorist attacks climbed dramatically in Pakistan and (to a lesser degree) Afghanistan last year, even as they declined significantly in Iraq. (The report only covers calendar year 2008, and does not include the recent spike in suicide bombings in Baghdad and Mosul, Iraq).

Here's some numbers:

_ terrorist incidents in Iraq in 2007 accounted for 43% of all incidents worldwide. Last year, they accounted for just 28%.

_ meanwhile, the number of terrorist attacks in Pakistan *quadrupled* between 2006 and 2008. The violence was concentrated in Pakistan's semi-autonomous Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and the North-West Frontier Province. Al Qaida senior operatives are believed to be hiding out in the FATA, while the Pakistani Taliban have steadily been gaining ground and political-military power in the NWFP.

Russell Travers of the NCTC told reporters that there were 61 terrorist attacks in the FATA in 2006, compared with 321 in 2008, and 28 in the North-West Frontier Province in 2006, compared with a whopping 870 in 2008.

On al Qaida, the report presents a mixed picture. On the one hand it says, as McClatchy and others have reported, "AQ has reconstituted some of its pre-9/11 operational capabilities through the exploitation of Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), the replacement of captured or killed operational lieutenants, and the restoration of some central control by its top leadership, in particular Ayman al-Zawahiri."

On the other hand, the report says that "worldwide efforts to counter terrorist financing have resulted in AQ appealing for money in its last few messages" and that "(Osama) bin Laden and Zawahiri appeared to be in the position of responding to events rather than driving them, particularly in the latter half of 2008." If true, that's a potentially major setback for a group that seemed at times to be driving the global agenda in the years after September 2001.

So, those are the headlines. But the report also contains some interesting tidbits that N&S thought might just make you rethink some assumptions about terrorism:

_ What was the single deadliest terrorist attack in 2008? In the Mideast or South Asia, right? Wrong. Travers said it was an attack on civilians in the Democratic Republic of Congo by the Uganda-based Lord's Resistance Army, where between 600 and 700 people were killed by machete.

_ Islamic extremists kill non-believers, right? Wrong again. The data show that of the 50,000 people killed or wounded by terrorism in 2008, more than 50 percent were themselves Muslims.

_ Even with the relatively good news from Iraq, the overall trend in terrorism isn't improving, according to the NCTC. Excluding attacks that took place in Iraq, the number of attacks and fatalities grew-slowly but steadily-between 2005 and 2008.

_ Finally, absent some new terrorist spectacular from al Qaida or one of its offshoots, the chances you - if you are a civilian - will die in a terrorist attack are pretty slim. There were 33 U.S. noncombatant fatalities in 2008, according to the State Department.

Secrets of Two Iraq Wars by Nathaniel Fick

Secrets of Two Iraq Wars

by Nathaniel Fick

April 30, 2009 | 5:54am

BS Top - Fick Haass IraqL to R: aurent Gillieron, Keystone / AP Photo; Maya Alleruzzo / AP Photo Richard Haass developed policy for both U.S. wars against Iraq. In his new behind-the-scenes book War of Necessity, War of Choice, he writes about Bush senior’s “sense of decorum,” explains why Colin Powell didn’t resign, and offers some devastating lessons about just and unjust wars.

“Ripeness is all” declares Edgar in Shakespeare’s King Lear, and this is the great lesson of Richard Haass’ account of his role in two U.S. wars against Iraq. The first, in 1990-91, was necessary, launched only after circumstance and great diplomatic effort had allowed it to “ripen.” Failing to respond to Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait would have set a destabilizing precedent at the dawn of the post-Cold War era, so the George H.W. Bush administration ensured that the United Nations and a coalition of able partners were prepared to stand together and share the burden of war, its cost, and its aftermath. The 2003 war, by contrast, was fought by choice. In Haass’ estimation, it was more than a blunder: It was unjust. “The worthiness of the cause, the likelihood of success, the legitimacy of the authority to undertake it—all were questionable. Not even its advocates could argue it was a last resort.” It was unripe, and that made all the difference.

Early in 2003, Haass wrote a last-ditch memo for the president outlining alternatives to war, “on the off chance Bush was having second thoughts and was feeling trapped.” Colin Powell took the paper and stuffed it in his pocket, and the nation rolled on toward war.

During the first Gulf War, Haass was the senior director for the Near East and South Asia on the National Security Council staff. During the initial phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Haass served as director of policy planning in Colin Powell’s State Department. The value of Haass’ insight is that most people experienced the two conflicts—separated by a dozen years—from vastly different vantage points. But he was a senior policymaker during both conflicts, and so is almost uniquely situated to draw lessons from the paired experience. His conclusions in this excellent book are valuable and devastating.

The War of Necessity book coverWar of Necessity, War of Choice: A Memoir of Two Iraq. By Richard N. Haass. $27. 356 pages. Simon & Schuster. Haass, now the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, blends history, memoir, and policy pith to great effect. “The key to understanding George Herbert Walker Bush and what made him tick,” he writes, “was his sense of decorum.” The president, who insisted that his staff always wear their suit jackets in the Oval Office, “was genuinely offended by the Iraqi invasion… of Kuwait. It was simply not how civilized countries behaved toward one another.”

The broader lesson here is that people matter. “It was anything but axiomatic that the United States would decide to deploy half a million troops halfway around the world to rescue a country that few Americans could find on a map.” The most fateful decisions of a presidency, Haass concludes, are often those forced without much warning. “It is why basing one’s vote on judgment and character might be best.”

Judgment appears to be the supreme metric by which Haass evaluates policymakers. According to this yardstick, retired Air Force General Brent Scowcroft is the hero of the book, and Defense Secretary-turned-Vice President Dick Cheney is its villain. Scowcroft, as National Security Adviser under George H. W. Bush, was the traffic cop overseeing the process by which the executive branch made foreign policy. “The trick is to make sure that the role of counselor does not get in the way of guarantor of due process; if it does, the system breaks down as everyone does end runs to get to the president.” A decade after managing that process “better than anyone who has held this job before or since,” Scowcroft emerged from private life to fire an opening salvo against the second Iraq war in an August 2002 Wall Street Journal op-ed: “An attack on Iraq at this time would seriously jeopardize, if not destroy, the global counterterrorist campaign we have undertaken.” Vice President Cheney’s response was swift. In a speech to the VFW in Nashville later that month, Cheney declared, “Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction… Many of us are convinced that Saddam will acquire nuclear weapons fairly soon.”

Scowcroft’s warning is poignant not only as a counterpoint to Dick Cheney (who, Haass notes, favored invading Iraq in 1991 even without Saudi agreement or the support of the U.S. Congress), but also as a reminder that the long preoccupation with Iraq has a sad parallel narrative: the neglect of Afghanistan and Pakistan. When the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989, U.S. interest there faded, but U.S. interests did not. Pakistan filled the vacuum, fueling radicalism and then developing a nuclear deterrent after the U.S. cut off most of its military aid. Twelve years later, the neglect continued, although Haass seems to doubt this: “Iraq increasingly garnered extraordinary high-level attention, but it is not clear any of this came at the expense of Afghanistan. Also not clear is that Iraq in fact drew economic or military resources that otherwise would have gone to Afghanistan.” Given that decision-makers’ time and military resources are inherently finite, this claim strains credulity. The U.S. mission in Afghanistan has been chronically under-resourced by nearly every conceivable measure: troops, development dollars, diplomatic attention. Indeed, as late as December 2007, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral Michael Mullen, testified before Congress, “In Afghanistan, we do what we can. In Iraq, we do what we must.” The tide has begun to turn in 2009, but only because U.S. forces are being withdrawn from Iraq.

In the end, Haass’ most interesting and introspective musings are on his own thought process as he advocated for and implemented policies with which he disagreed. He describes his position as 60/40 against going to war in 2003, and observes—correctly—that no organization could function if people left every time they lost out on a 60/40 decision. A more salient question, because it may have drastically altered the course of history, is what it would have taken for his boss, Colin Powell, to resign. Haass points out that Powell kept a portrait of George Marshall, the other general who became secretary of State, on his wall. When Marshall lost a debate with Truman over the decision to recognize the new state of Israel, his aides asked if he would resign. “No, gentlemen. You don’t take a post of this sort and then resign when the man who has the constitutional responsibility to make decisions makes one you don’t like.”

Early in 2003, soon before the invasion, Haass wrote a last-ditch memo for the president outlining alternatives to war, “on the off chance Bush was having second thoughts and was feeling trapped. I wanted Bush to know he retained a way out.” Powell took the paper and stuffed it in his pocket, and the nation rolled on toward war. “I wrote it,” Haass admits, “as much as anything for my own peace of mind.” When the contradictions became too much—and his wife called him an “enabler”—he stepped down.

Haass writes that all wars are fought three times: the political struggle over whether to go to war, the war itself, and then the sunset battle over what was accomplished and the lessons of it all. His book is a welcome addition to the long-running third phase of these wars, with lessons and insights for everyone they touched.

Plus: Check out Book Beast, for more news on hot titles and authors and excerpts from the latest books.

Nathaniel Fick is the chief operating officer of the Center for a New American Security. He served in Afghanistan and Iraq as a Marine Corps infantry officer.

Six years after Saddam Hussein, Nouri al-Maliki tightens his grip on Iraq home
Six years after Saddam Hussein, Nouri al-Maliki tightens his grip on Iraq

The Iraqi prime minister arrives in Britain today seeking UK investment. Ghaith Abdul-Ahad reports on how a leader once seen as weak is now being compared to his infamous predecessor

* Ghaith Abdul-Ahad
* The Guardian, Thursday 30 April 2009

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki surrounded by his bodyguards

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki surrounded by his bodyguards. Photograph: Wathiq Khuzaie/Getty Images

Baghdad has always produced more than its fair share of surreal conversations, but few can match the one I had with three Iraqi intelligence officers in the garden of a newly opened restaurant a few weeks ago. The three were former members of Saddam's notorious Mukhabarat. Now "reformed", they worked for the newly established Iraqi National Intelligence Service (INSI), a highly independent security service which some in the Iraqi government accuse of being too close to the US.

After a few pleasantries, which included frisking my shirt for wire-tapping devices, we sat around a plastic table while the most senior officer told me that his men were actively monitoring intelligence and military activities inside the government of Nouri al-Maliki. The two other officers looked in opposite directions as their colleague spoke.

"We have our own eyes and follow what they are doing there," the senior officer said. "Maliki is running a dictatorship - everything is run by his office and advisers, he is surrounded by his party and clan members. They form a tight knot that is running Iraq now. He is not building a country, he is building a state for his own party and his own people."

As a waiter in a white shirt and black trousers approached, the senior officer fell silent and his colleague ordered tea. Only when the waiter moved away, the senior officer continued: "We compile reports on their activities, generals' and military units' movements, and their corruption, the positions they are taking in the government and the contracts they are obtaining. But we don't know what to do with these reports because we don't trust the government."

The charges voiced by the INSI officers are heard, in hushed tones, more and more around Baghdad these days. Critics say Maliki is concentrating power in his office (the office of the prime minister) and his advisers are running "a government inside a government", bypassing ministers and parliament. In his role as commander in chief, he appoints generals as heads of military units without the approval of parliament. The officers, critics say, are all loyal to him. He has created at least one intelligence service, dominated by his clan and party members, and taken two military units - the anti-terrorism unit and the Baghdad brigade - under his direct command. At the same time he has inflated the size of the ministry of national security that is run by one of his allies.

Maliki, who many say was chosen because he was perceived to be weak and without a strong grassroots power base, has managed to outflank everyone: his Shia allies and foes, the Americans who wanted him removed at one time, even the Iranians.

In Beirut I met an Iraqi Shia cleric who settled in Syria in the 80s to escape Saddam's persecution. Maliki was the head of the Dawa party there and the two met frequently. "Unlike other opposition figures he [Maliki] didn't build wealth, he is very honest and very organised," he told me. The sheik, who spent more than 25 years involved in the opposition to Saddam, explained the conspiratorial mentality of his fellow opposition figures.

"The Dawa party in its methods and way of working is very similar to the Communist party. They don't trust anyone. They surround themselves with people they know. Maliki, like all of us, is the product of exile. They have suffered for so long in exile so now they trust no one."

A senior official in the council of ministers offered a less sympathetic view of Maliki's growing monopoly on the levers of power. "Iraq is ruled by institutions that are not covered by the law or the constitution, they have their own prisons and intelligence service, working for the benefit of the government, not the state."

Shifting animatedly on his chair, he counted off the elements of Maliki's security apparatus. "Constitutionally we have intelligence units in the ministry of defence and the ministry of information, but then we have the ministry of state for national security, run by Maliki's ally Sherwan al-Wa'ili. According to the constitution it should have staff of no more than 26 people, now they are more than 1,000. Maliki has his own intelligence unit, and military units that work directly under his command as the commander in chief. The prime minister is running everything through his advisers and nothing happens without his approval or his office, the office of the prime minister."

The official kept adjusting his jacket nervously and after a long silence, he continued: "They changed their rhetoric. They talk now about law and nationality but the reality is the same, they are the same sectarian people." Then, after a pause, he added: "No, it's not about sects any more its about the party, the interest of the party."

Observers not steeped in Iraqi history might be bemused to find that six years after the toppling of a dictator, after the death of several hundred thousand Iraqis, a brutal insurgency, trillions of wasted dollars and more than 4,000 dead US soldiers, the country is being rebuilt along very familiar lines: concentration of power, shadowy intelligence services and corruption.

"Political imagination in Iraq is still attached to the past 30 years," an Iraq analyst based in Beirut told me. "Credibility of the ruler is connected somehow to the old order." After reflecting on the time she spent in Iraq before the war she added: "Saddam Hussein is not dead."

Guns and steel

One morning, I watched the Iraqi prime minister visit the newly opened Baghdad archaeological museum. Hundreds of armed men stood guard around the concrete buildings, while armoured vehicles blocked roads miles away. A helicopter buzzed in the dusty sky overhead. Outside the gates, dozens of black SUVs waited like faithful dogs and women pressed their black shrouded bodies against the metal railing waiting for a glimpse of the leader. In the centre of this bubble of men, guns and steel walked Maliki, surrounded by a further three rings of bodyguards, dressed respectively in dark grey suits, khaki outdoor outfits and commando fatigues.

He moved between glass display cabinets, inspected Sumerian seals and Islamic bowls, and listened to the accompanying museum official explaining the stone Assyrian motif. After inspecting each cabinet, he moved his eyes from the artefact into the lens of the accompanying Iraqi TV camera, beaming his confident image live to the nation. Then his tour would resume and his halo of bodyguards, journalists and foreign dignitaries move with him.

It's a scene Iraqis would be very familiar with. It has been played out numerous times through Iraq's modern history, as its leaders have sought to borrow legitimacy from the nation's history. In the lobby of the museum, newspaper clippings show the dictator Abdul Salam Arif making a similar visit for the museum's inauguration in 1963, though with significantly fewer guards. Saddam visited too, although the newspaper clippings are not afforded the same prominence for obvious reasons.

Even Maliki's critics admit he is giving Iraqis what they crave. All over Baghdad, people tell you that Abu Israa, as the prime minister is fondly known, is the strong leader the country needed after the chaos of civil war, insurgency and occupation. His success in the recent local elections was one measure of this popularity.

An Iraqi veteran politician, who attended a tribal meeting with Maliki two weeks ago, told me it was very similar to a meeting he had attended with Saddam. "The tribesmen cheered for him, they chanted: 'Yes, yes to Maliki the leader.' Some unfolded banners and, just like Saddam, he went on talking for hours, without a coherent message." Half giggling, he added: "These are all the signs of The Day ... the day when the dictator emerges."

Mahmoud Othman, an independent Kurdish member of parliament, talked in a similar vein. "The problem is the people, they want a strong person.

People are used to that image, because Iraq went through decades of centralised authority and because people who want electricity, water and sewerage think that the authority of a strong man can solve all these problems."


Any self-respecting Iraqi politician who wants to build his own power base must first establish or acquire his own intelligence service. After a couple of weeks in Baghdad talking to politicians, members of parliament and intelligence officials I came to the conclusion that Iraq has seven separate intelligence units. Or maybe eight. No one could agree on the precise number.

An Iraqi journalist with links to some government officials explained. "People shouldn't blame Maliki. The security situation creates from the leader a dictator, and that's normal and logical, to surround yourself by people you trust; your friends and family, because you don't trust the others.

"Maliki and the leadership of Dawa [Maliki's party] managed to obtain the loyalty of military and civilian institutions and commanders and now those officers are loyal to Dawa and moved their alliances from other parties.

"Officers, even if they are not part of Dawa, want to kiss the hand that feeds them they become part of the matrix because they are appointed by Maliki. For example, officers attached to the supreme council changed their loyalties to that of Dawa."

Faryad Rawandousi, a member of the security committee in the Iraqi parliament, said: "There are a lot of appointments of officers, brigade commanders and above - 140 ranks that come directly from the prime minister without obtaining the approval of the parliament. These appointments are done without going back to the constitution, using existing laws of the former regime without taking into consideration that we are in a very different political system."

"The big commanders are loyal to whoever puts them in power," an official in the ministry of defence said. "They support Maliki because he is not imposing on them difficult conditions and some moved their alliances from other parties."

All these signs are not enough to make Maliki a dictator in the mould of Saddam, says the Iraq analyst. "There is no return to the days of Saddam - this is at most a shaky dictatorship. Now we have many small dictatorships, not one strong one, and that will create checks and balances."

Charles Tripp, a professor of politics in the Middle East at the School of Oriental and African Studies and a leading Iraq historian, said: "Dictators didn't come out of nowhere, they didn't come by a great explosion. They come by capturing small things bit by bit. Small things are very telling - they tell you the nature of things to come. One day people will wake up and ask how did we come here, it must be an awful conspiracy."

Back in the Baghdad restaurant garden, the waiter returned with tea and sugar and the intelligence officer immediately changed the subject. "It's nice weather to sit outside in the gardens," said one of the other men.

"Yes, but the sound of the generators is too loud," replied the other.

When the waiter had left I asked the senior officer if he feared he was being watched. "We are all being monitored," he said. "We monitor each other." Then he laughed. "But Maliki's people are too young. In the world of Mukhabarat they are just learning."

* © Guardian News and Media Limited 2009

McClatchy Washington Bureau Is Obama wrong on Iraq? Baghdad violence worst in year

McClatchy Washington Bureau
Is Obama wrong on Iraq? Baghdad violence worst in year

Posted on Wed, Apr. 29, 2009
Corinne Reilly and Hussein Kadhim | McClatchy Newspapers

last updated: April 30, 2009 12:23:47 AM

BAGHDAD — April was the bloodiest month for violence in Baghdad in more than a year, another sign that Iraq's security gains are beginning to reverse.

President Barack Obama acknowledged Wednesday night that violence has risen in recent weeks, but he said the levels of violence were still below last year's.

Calling recent bombings "a legitimate cause for concern," Obama said "civilian deaths . . . remain very low compared to what was going on last year."

But statistics kept by McClatchy show that in Baghdad alone, more than 200 people have been killed in attacks so far this month, compared with 99 last month and 46 in February, according to a McClatchy count.

The last time McClatchy recorded more than 200 civilian deaths in one month in the capital was more than a year ago, in March 2008.

On Wednesday, a series of explosions killed at least 43 people, including at least 41 who were killed in Sadr City, a sprawling Shiite Muslim slum in east Baghdad. Three bombs hidden in parked cars detonated in quick succession along a busy commercial street around 5 p.m., an official with Iraq's interior ministry said. At least 68 were wounded, and authorities said they expect the death toll to rise.

"It was chaos in the streets," said one witness, Wissam Hassan.

Two more car bombs detonated in Baghdad's Hurriyah neighborhood Wednesday night, killing at least two people and wounding eight.

Large-scale bombings targeting civilians have been on the rise since March, and there is widespread concern among Iraqis that the violence may quickly spread as the U.S. begins to draw down.

American officials have said they don't think the renewed violence marks a serious setback.

During a visit to Baghdad last week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters the spike in attacks in not an indication that Iraq is regressing. She said she and Army Gen. Raymond Odierno, the top U.S. commander here, agree that the uptick in bombings shouldn't change American plans for withdrawal.

Outside analysts aren't so optimistic.

Michael O'Hanlon, a senior fellow and Iraq expert with the Brookings Institution, called the rise in violence "significant."

"There almost surely won't be a complete reversal" in the progress that's been made, he said in an e-mail. "But there could be an end to the progress and even a new, somewhat higher level of ongoing violence."

O'Hanlon speculated that anger among Sunni Muslim militiamen known as the Sons of Iraq may be partly to blame for the rise in attacks. Relations between the militia's members and Iraq's Shiite-led government are at an all-time high.

Rahim al Daraji, a former mayor of Sadr City, said the explosions there prove that Iraq's security forces aren't effective.

"This will push us back to the sectarian violence," he said. "The Shiites will be looking for revenge."

Hakim Mishchil, a 34-year-old nurse who lives in Sadr City, said one of the bombs went off within feet of an Iraqi Army checkpoint.

"What does this tell you?" he asked. "They are not doing their job."

Under an agreement signed last year between Washington and Baghdad, U.S. troops must leave Iraqi cities and hand control to local security forces by the end of June. President Barack Obama has pledged to withdraw most Americans from the country altogether by late 2010.

(Reilly reports for the Merced Sun-Star. Kadhim is a McClatchy special correspondent.)

NEFA Foundation: Exclusive English-Language Video Interview with Taliban Spokesman in Pakistan's Swat Valley By Evan Kohlmann

NEFA Foundation: Exclusive English-Language Video Interview with Taliban Spokesman in Pakistan's Swat Valley
By Evan Kohlmann

muslimkhan.jpgThe NEFA Foundation has obtained an exclusive English-language interview with Haji Muslim Khan, the spokesman of Tehrik-e-Taliban Swat Valley (Pakistan). During the interview, conducted on April 27, Muslim Khan discussed the Taliban implementation of Shariah law in Swat and neighboring regions. When asked about the notion of "moderate Taliban" versus "hardline Taliban", Khan began laughing and replied, "No, there is no difference... they are the same." Khan also accused U.S. President Barack Obama of ordering a Pakistani military attack on the TTP in Swat, referring to Obama as "an enemy of Islam and Muslims."

Part one of two of the interview is now available on the NEFA Foundation website.
April 29, 2009 09:37 PM

Preventing Nuclear Terrorism: A Global Intelligence Imperative By Michael Jacobson

Preventing Nuclear Terrorism: A Global Intelligence Imperative
By Michael Jacobson

This afternoon, the Washington Institute published a piece by Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, the former DOE intelligence chief and head of the CIA's WMD Department in the Counterterrorism Center. In the article, Mr. Mowatt-Larssen lays out the threat the US still faces from nuclear terrorism, and outlines some steps the US and the international community should take to mitigate this dangerous situation. One particularly important step, in Mr. Mowatt-Larssen's view, would be to establish a full-fledged intelligence office at the IEAE.

Here is an excerpt from the piece:

As Mohamed ElBaradei's term as head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) draws to a close, the organization is struggling to choose a new leader. After deadlocking on an initial vote in March, a new round of nominations closed on April 27, with the next vote scheduled in the coming months. While the IAEA sorts out changes at the top, the United States should try to expand the agency's mandate and responsibilities. One such change would be the establishment of a full-fledged intelligence office, which would dramatically improve the agency's ability to identify and deter the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

Post-September 11 Urgency

After the September 11 attacks, the CIA faced the daunting prospect of al-Qaeda seeking a nuclear bomb and collaborating with Pakistani nuclear scientists in an effort to build one. A mood of grim determination gripped the U.S. intelligence establishment, a sentiment highlighted by CIA Director George Tenet when he stated that "We are behind the eight ball" in tracking al-Qaeda's efforts to obtain WMDs.

This threat galvanized an unprecedented response, which stimulated a degree of risk taking, experimentation, and creativity that would have been impossible under normal circumstances. U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies abandoned traditional methods of conducting business and worked together in unprecedented ways to defuse the threat. Government agencies agreed to colocate officers and work together as an integrated team, drawing from a well of capabilities that included everything at the U.S. government's disposal. The United States also shared raw leads and information with dozens of countries in the war on terrorism, most notably with our new Russian partners. Washington went to extreme lengths to ensure information was passed to anyone who might have answers, including Syria, Sudan, and Iran. Conventional rules limiting the sharing of information were suspended in favor of sharing everything with everyone. In all, the CIA passed WMD-related leads and analysis to over two dozen countries. In fact, in the process of averting a WMD-enabled al-Qaeda, the United States and its allies were able to thwart attacks in the formative stages in several countries.

To read the rest of the piece,

Afghanistan/Pakistan Update


Petraeus Parallels Iraq, Afghanistan Strategies - Fred W. Baker III, American Forces Press Service. Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the author of the military’s counterinsurgency manual, yesterday explained the principles that led to success in Iraq and how they apply to the fight in Afghanistan. Petraeus cited the downward spiral the country has taken, with an expanded and stronger insurgency and markedly increased levels of violence. Also, the Afghan government has been slow to develop, is wracked with corruption, and its legitimacy in the eyes of the locals has suffered. Petraeus embraced President Obama’s new strategy for Afghanistan, saying that progress there is tied to a “robust, sustained and comprehensive counterinsurgency campaign.”

General Retires, Readies to Become Ambassador to Afghanistan - Fred W. Baker III, American Forces Press Service. Army Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry retired here today, 24 hours before being sworn in as the US Ambassador to Afghanistan. Until today, Eikenberry served as the deputy chairman of the NATO Military Committee in Brussels, Belgium. Tomorrow he will be sworn in by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton as ambassador.

US Sets Fight in the Poppies to Stop Taliban - Dexter Filkens, New York Times. American commanders are planning to cut off the Taliban’s main source of money, the country’s multimillion-dollar opium crop, by pouring thousands of troops into the three provinces that bankroll much of the group’s operations. The plan to send 20,000 Marines and soldiers into Helmand, Kandahar and Zabul Provinces this summer promises weeks and perhaps months of heavy fighting, since American officers expect the Taliban to vigorously defend what makes up the economic engine for the insurgency.

US Training of Pakistan Army to Grow - Julian Barnes, Los Angeles Times. The Pakistani government has agreed to allow the U. a greater role in training its military, part of an accord that will also send counterinsurgency equipment to help Islamabad step up its offensive against militants. Washington has been watching with growing alarm as Taliban forces have made military gains in Pakistan and US officials have stepped up pressure on Islamabad to do more. Although the Pakistani military launched an air attack against the Taliban on Tuesday, senior US Defense officials remain deeply worried about Islamabad's ability to beat back the militant advance.

US May Fast-track Aid to Block Taliban - Raza Khan and Christina Bellantoni, Washington Times. The Obama administration is considering expediting aid to Pakistan, where militants are advancing on the capital and posing a threat to a cluster of strategic installations, including a major dam, a key bridge and the country's largest weapons and ammunition complex. Pakistani military analysts say militants could bring normal life to a halt in a large part of Pakistan if they move against the Tarbela dam. The world's largest earthen dam, it is located on the Indus River about 30 miles northwest of the capital in the districts of Swabi and Haripur.

Pakistan Battles Taliban in Northwest - Barry Newhouse, Voice of America. Pakistan's military has opened a new front in its offensive against Taliban militants in the country's northwest. Troops are pursuing an estimated 500 militants in Buner district, a region just 100 kilometers from the capital. Army spokesman Major General Athar Abbas says security forces, backed by attack helicopters and jets have moved into Buner district. He says the operation is focused on the estimated 500 Taliban militants now camped out in the mountainous terrain.

Pakistan Claims to Retake Town From Taliban - Carlotta Gall and Elisabeth Bumiller, New York Times. After a week of strong criticism here and abroad over its inaction, the Pakistani military claimed on Wednesday to have reasserted control of a key town just 60 miles from the capital in the strategic district of Buner which was overrun by hundreds of Taliban militants last week. The development came one day after the military deployed fighter jets and helicopter gunships against the insurgents. It was not immediately clear what level of resistance the Taliban had offered. Pakistan also agreed to move 6,000 troops from its Indian border to fight militants on its western border with Afghanistan, according to a Pakistani official who did not want to be identified discussing troop movements in advance.

Pakistan Launches Air Strikes Against Taliban - Matthew Rosenberg and Zahid Hussain, Wall Street Journal. Pakistani fighter jets pounded Taliban positions in a district near the Swat Valley on Tuesday as ground troops pressed on, in the military's most robust effort to repel a Taliban advance. Pakistan faces intense pressure from Washington to abandon a peace deal with the Taliban in Swat, which has become a major militant base since the deal was struck in mid-February. Tuesday's fighting in the neighboring Buner district seemed likely to further undermine the already shaky accord. The Taliban moved last week from Swat into Buner, 70 miles northwest of Islamabad, the capital. Their advance - and Pakistan's passive initial response - raised alarm among US officials, who said the government was capitulating in the face of a Taliban sweep toward the capital, which lies in the plains where most of the country's population and industry is situated.

Pakistan Attacks Taliban Bases Near Islamabad - Zulfiqar Ali and Mark Magnier, Los Angeles Times. The Pakistani army launched an air attack Tuesday and began deploying ground troops against Taliban bases near Islamabad, the nation's capital. The offensive appeared to be a broadening of the state's moves against militants, many of whom have become increasingly brash since reaching a controversial peace deal this year largely on their terms. Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, a military spokesman, told reporters in Rawalpindi that army and Frontier Corps paramilitary units launched the operation in Buner district, building on a several-day offensive in the region. Abbas said 450 to 500 Taliban fighters are believed to be active in Buner.

Taleban Advance Halted by Pakistan's Combined Air and Ground Onslaught - Zahid Hussain, The Times. Pakistani jets pounded Taleban positions and ground troops moved into the northwestern town of Buner yesterday in an escalation of a military offensive against militants seeking to strengthen their grip in a region close to the country's capital. Jets and helicopter gunships launched airstrikes to cover the ground troops' advance through Buner's mountainous terrain and to keep Taleban fighters in the neighbouring Swat Valley from bringing in reinforcements.

US Welcomes Pakistani Offensive, Calls for Sustained Effort - Al Pessin, Voice of America. The US Defense Department on Tuesday welcomed Pakistan's offensive against the Taliban and other groups near Islamabad, but says the real test will be whether the effort is sustained and actually defeats the militants. Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said that after months of calling for more decisive Pakistani action against the militants, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and other top officials are "clearly pleased" with the offensive.

US Officials Ratchet Up Pressure on Pakistan Over Taliban Militants - Howard LaFranchi, Christian Science Monitor. The Obama administration appears to have pushed some hot buttons with the government of Pakistan – getting some quick action against the rising threat from the country's extremist forces, but also irritating a leadership anxious to show it is not acting under pressure from anyone. That sequence follows a familiar pattern in US-Pakistan relations, experts in the region say: first comes some American action, usually rhetorical, followed by just enough Pakistani action to satisfy Washington. The difference this time is that Pakistani action follows a shift in US focus: from Pakistan as it affects the war next door in Afghanistan to Pakistan itself and its stability amid an intensifying confrontation with Taliban militants.

Afghanistan Cancels Public Celebration of Holiday - Pamela Constable, Washington Post. The streets of the Afghan capital were deserted Tuesday in a tense, silent observance of an annual holiday that evokes an era of patriotic heroism for some Afghans and a period of brutal, devastating civil war for others. For the first time in 16 years, there was no military parade through city streets and no cheering crowd of retired mujaheddin donning pie-shaped pakul hats and faded combat jackets in memory of their triumphant guerrilla fight against Soviet occupation forces during the 1980s.

How Pakistan Is Countering the Taliban - Husain Haqqani, Wall Street Journal opinion. The specter of extremist Taliban taking over a nuclear-armed Pakistan is not only a gross exaggeration, it could also lead to misguided policy prescriptions from Pakistan's allies, including our friends in Washington. Pakistan and the international community do face serious challenges in confronting terrorists and the ideologies that sustain them. But panicked reactions of the type witnessed in the U.S. media over the last few weeks -- after the Taliban drove into Buner, a town 60 miles north of the capital Islamabad -- are not conducive to strengthening Pakistani democracy or to developing an effective counterterrorism policy for Pakistan. Now that the Taliban have been driven out of Buner, and Pakistani forces have militarily engaged them just outside their Swat Valley stronghold, it should be clear to all that Pakistan can and will defeat the Taliban.

Obama Says Pakistan Nukes in Safe Hands

Obama Says Pakistan Nukes in Safe Hands
Farhan Bokhari and James Lamont, Financial Times US president Barack Obama on Wednesday has backed assurances from Pakistan's military, saying he believed the country's nuclear arsenal of as many as 100 warheads was in safe hands.

N. Korea Issues Threat on Uranium Choe Sang-Hun, The New York Times

N. Korea Issues Threat on Uranium
Choe Sang-Hun, The New York Times
North Korea said Wednesday that it would start a uranium enrichment program, declaring for the first time that it intended to pursue a second project unless the United Nations lifted sanctions.

Ending the Nuclear-Weapons Threat

Ending the Nuclear-Weapons Threat
Diplomacy is the key. Japan stands ready to help.

Congress Looks to Bolster Iran Sanctions

Congress Looks to Bolster Iran Sanctions
Matthew Lee, Associated Press
Sen. LiebermanCongress is taking up a bipartisan proposal which would give the Obama administration more leverage over Iran by toughening economic sanctions on foreign oil and shipping firms that aid Tehran.

A group of Democrats and Republicans introduced legislation Tuesday that would give the president expanded authority to crack down on companies that export gasoline and other refined petroleum products to Iran.

Seamless Continuity From Bush Time Obama and "Two States" By ELLEN CANTAROW

Seamless Continuity From Bush Time
Obama and "Two States"


A false claim is wafting through the press: Obama is hanging tough with Benjamin Netanyahu, he’s going to “twist Israel’s arm” and at long last force the Jewish state into a two-state agreement, settling the Israel-Palestine question for good. There’s even talk that Obama backs the Arab League’s 2002 peace initiative, complete with its main demand: Israel’s withdrawal to its 1967 borders.

There’s no proof for any of this. Obama has said nothing about when, where, and with what boundaries a Palestinian state might be established. Neither did George Bush. The slide from one regime to the next has been seamless on the score of Israel and Palestine as on much else.

In regard to a critical document invoked by Obama in his first policy speech about the region last January -- the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative -- Obama has not changed an iota, at least publicly. He gave the speech before State Department employees last January, announcing George Mitchell as his Middle East envoy. Most important, the speech delineated the clear outlines of Obama’s Middle East doctrine, as I described in my “The Problem Isn’t Avigdor Lieberman”

Obama’s reference to the Arab Peace Initiative was crucial for what it omitted -- the proposal’s first part, the precondition for everything that follows: “Full Israeli withdrawal from all the territories occupied since 1967, including the Syrian Golan Heights, to the June 4, 1967 lines as well as the remaining occupied Lebanese territories in the south of Lebanon.” Only after these preconditions have been laid out does the document continue: “Consequently, the Arab countries affirm the following….” In “Consequently,” the intent is unmistakable: Once Israel fulfills the crucial condition requiring Israel’s withdrawal to the 1967 lines, the Arab countries will do x, y, and z. One of the corollaries following the “Consequently” clause reads: “Establish normal relations with Israel in the context of this comprehensive peace [emphasis mine]”. Nothing could be clearer. Moreover, the Arab League’s request of Israel, “the context,” expresses the international consensus for the past 30 years, routinely blocked by the US and Israel.

Obama deliberately ignored all of this in his speech. Instead, he patted the Arab League on the head (“The Arab peace initiative contains constructive elements”), calling on Arab states to take “steps towards normalizing relations with Israel, and [stand] up to extremism that threatens us all.” To construe Obama’s remarks as a slip or “mistake,” to suppose that this literate, lawyerly President didn’t actually read the document, would be preposterous. Obama’s choice was a deliberate policy declaration: Israel will continue to do what it is doing, with US protection. The US has found a proxy (and armed it -- more on this below). Hamas must “bow its head” to the master’s will. Between the lines that refer to Arab states “normalizing” their relations with Israel, read: the US’s most powerful Arab clients, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, hopefully (though not surely) with Syria in tow.

As for the “peace” which Obama professes to cherish, it would be easy to get to it through negotiation along the real Arab League proposal lines, the international consensus. But three-plus decades of US-Israel rejectionism have fostered only Israel’s expansion and the US’s regional hegemony, through brutal occupation and wars, with the consequences in Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon (and, if one includes Iraq in the Gulf War, sanctions and Bush periods, Iraq) well-known to readers of this publication.

What has Obama had to say – let alone do about – all of the Palestinian suffering? He has somewhat tempered his if-rockets-were-falling-on-my-daughters expression of sympathy for Israel with words of the “both sides suffering” variety, taking a slight bow to Gaza’s “humanitarian” crisis (a topic that deserves its own commentary). It’s a mistake to think his intellect – and reverse racism to think his skin color - will serve the dispossessed across the American empire. (Among the “cool” and “aloof” moments which increasingly anger Obama’s voting base was his silence at the UN’s elimination of Israel-Palestine from the Durban Anti-Racism Review Conference). Obama is a President skilled in oratory, with an admirable public relations machine, who can be counted on to exert all the savageries of imperial management. John F. Kennedy was just such a President, with charisma, intelligence, and a slick propaganda mill that still leaves liberals revering “Camelot.” In reality, however, his administration was among the US’s most brutal.

What’s surprising is that left publications have focused so little on Obama’s clear statement of intent in the Arab League proposal reference. It is also surprising that the left press has seldom commented (if at all) on a March 4 address to the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center by Senator John Kerry. As Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Kerry made very clear the Administration’s “peace” plans:

To start with, we need to fundamentally re-conceptualize the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a regional problem that demands a regional solution. The challenges we face there – Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and the Middle East peace process – form an interconnected web that requires an integrated approach . . . . That’s why it is vital that we move quickly, with the Arab world and the Quartet, to build Palestinian Authority capacity. [Thanks to Noam Chomsky for drawing my attention to his discussion of Kerry’s role in his “Exterminate All the Brutes,” on Znet.]

The US, together with “the Arab world” (meaning the US’s most powerful Arab clients, Egypt and Saudi Arabia) is to become a united front with Israel against, of course, Iran. The “Israeli-Palestinian conflict” will thus be integrated – or sidelined – within the wider spectrum of the US’s imperial dominance throughout the region. As for the Palestinians, Kerry reiterates that the Administration has found “a legitimate partner for peace” in Abbas – of course there have been no “legitimate” partners to date, Arafat’s compliance at Oslo and his pre-Oslo overtures to Israel being so much disposable trash in the dustbin of history. (Hamas’s repeated overtures to Israel – these have guaranteed truces as long as 30 years in exchange for Israel’s retreat to the ’67 borders, the same requirement as in the Arab League proposal – have been rebuffed by targeted assassinations and last winter’s butchery in Gaza.) Abbas is now shored up with an army. Here’s Kerry at Brookings again:

For years, everyone has talked of the need to give the Israelis a legitimate partner for peace . . . . We must help the Palestinian Authority deliver for the Palestinian people, and we must do it now. . . . Most importantly, this means strengthening General Dayton’s efforts to train Palestinian security forces that can keep order and fight terror. Recent developments have been extremely encouraging: during the invasion of Gaza, Palestinian Security Forces largely succeeded in maintaining calm in the West Bank amidst widespread expectations of civil unrest.

Given the US’s “help” to similar client regimes throughout the world, the “help the Palestinian Authority deliver” phrase is chilling. While one part of the “experiment” with a final solution to the Palestinian problem was underway – Israel’s bombing and shelling of Gaza, possibly as a test for future US strikes in the Middle East in densely populated areas – another part, equally critical, was underway in the West Bank. To protect the population’s “human rights” the “truly professional” Palestinian National Security Force (N.S.F.) crushed West Bank demonstrations, averting the worrisome possibility that in the face of Israel’s slaughter of their sisters and brothers in Gaza, there might be unwelcome disturbances. According to reliable reports, Abbas also has CIA-run forces, Preventive Security and General Intelligence, which promise to be far more brutal than Dayton’s paramilitaries (these fall under State Department aegis).

Thomas Friedman, the US-Israel’s press proxy, reported in the New York Times this past February that after Hamas “took over Gaza in 2007,” the US gave funds to Keith Dayton to do proxy-army training of Palestinians in Jordan: “Schooled in everything from riot control to human rights [sic], the N.S.F. [Palestinian National Security Force] is the only truly professional force controlled by the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas.”

Only a few of Abbas’s “truly professional” proxy-ancestors are Trujillo in the Dominican Republic, Somoza in Nicaragua, Suharto in Indonesia, and the proxy forces, professionals in massacre, looting, rape, and assassination, which operated under them. There is, needless to say, no unified Palestinian resistance movement to parallel the FMLN in El Salvador let alone Nicaragua’s Sandinistas. In a Palestine weakened by decades of savage occupation, the US succeeded in fomenting maximal strife between Hamas and Fatah.

As for the “two states” that get Obama’s lip-service, there are only two possibilities. One is the Lieberman-Kadima proposal (Tzipi Livni, among others to Lieberman’s “left,” has endorsed it). It would annex to the West Bank parts of the Galilee containing large Arab populations and call the result a “Palestinian state.” This is the racist solution, which has sometimes been termed “soft transfer”, as I described it on this site.

The other is the land-swap option proposed at Taba, Egypt in 2001 at the end of Clinton’s administration. (There is also the land-swap option of the Geneva Accord crafted by Yossi Beilin and Yasser Abed Rabbo, after PM Ehud Barak pulled out of the Taba talks.) Israeli security and foreign policy expert Zeev Maoz quotes the joint Israeli-Palestinian January, 2001 statement after Taba:

The sides declare that they have never been closer to reaching an agreement and it is thus our shared belief that the remaining gaps could be bridged with the resumption of negotiations following the Israeli elections.

The Brzezinski-Scowcroft proposal savaged by Bill and Kathy Christison in these pages contains a sentence referring to Taba: “Indeed, the outline of an Israeli-Palestinian accord was crafted during the dying days of the Clinton administration.” After the sentence about Taba the authors demur about the difficulties of getting “to yes,” but the allusion is still in the document.

What is the alternative to Taba? Or to the Geneva initiative (in the very unlikely event that the Obama administration were to take it up again)? In the ruins of Gaza people hover on the edges of bare survival (among other ravages of the siege alone, which continues unremittingly, is stunted growth in young children, noted in a recent Lancet report) in the West Bank, California-like suburban settlements ravage the former beauty of Palestine’s hills, slicing and dicing what remains of Palestine’s villages and cities; two armies and brutal vigilantes attack any form of resistance, however peaceful, and the usual suffering (evictions, home demolitions and more) goes on under US-Israel rule.

It is difficult for those who have long yearned for justice for Palestine to admit that the US-Israel are winning. But the conclusion is inescapable.

To recognize this doesn’t mean stopping our condemnation of the ongoing daily savageries against Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza; or stopping educational work among Americans ignorant of the facts; or valuable “sister city” projects and other person-to-person work underway in, for instance, Cambridge, Massachusetts; or boycott and divestment activities of the sort recently achieved at Hampshire College. But none of that work should cloud our understanding of the very narrow real-world options possible under Obama.

Ellen Cantarow has written since 1979 on Israel and Palestine. She can be reached at



Pakistan_facilitiesI have been asked to "put up or shut up" about Afghanistan. In other words, I have been asked to make clear my views on an appropriate US policy for Afghanistan. I thought I had done that, but, no matter.

I think that we Americans need to stop exagerating the level of threat to the United States that originates or will originate in Afghanistan. The temptation to see the activities and scheming of takfiri jihadis as parts of a world war between the Islamic "House of War" and the rest of us has caused us to begin to re-design our society(ies) for total war against an all powerful and virtually eternal enemy. This is nonsense. Islam, Islamdom, and Islamicate Civilization are much given, as are other such cultural constructs, to revivalism in a pattern that recurs over centuries as memory of the costs of each revival fades from the living collective mind. The present phenomenon of Islamic zealotry is not something new. It is something old come again. This wave of revivalism has peaked and will decline under the pressure of local government and religious establishments, foreign military intervention and the competition presented by other forms of Islam, each with its claim to universal authenticity and its own circle of adherents.

In Afghanistan there is always war; war for resources, honor, leadership, authenticity of Islamic identity. The causes of war are endless. There are many different peoples in Afghanistan; Pushtun, Tajik, Uzbek, Hazara, Turkmen, Nuristani, etc. etc. etc. Many of these groups speak mutually incomprehensible languages. They are mostly Sunni, but some, like the Hazara, are Shia. What we see now in Afghanistan is NOT a "theater of war" in a "global war on terror." Rather, it is a continuation of the ancient Afghan pattern of traditional warfare among the peoples, their groupings old and new, and sectarian definitions of Islamic truth. The minions of the Al-Qa'ida related zealot groups are scattered and hidden in the "landscape" of ever shifting conflict that is Afghanistan. They are like raisins in a cake. These "raisins" are a danger to the United States. They are a danger but not an "existential" threat to our "way of life" as they are sometimes described. Americans are not going to experience a mass conversion to the Al-Qa'ida version of Islam. Such a conversion would be a threat to our "way of life" but it will not happen. Nuclear, biological or chemical weapons in the hands of Al-Qa'ida? The "dirty bomb" thing? None of these threats are existential threats to the United States. The US is too big a country for that. The Soviet Union with its thousands of hydrogen bombs was an existential threat to the Uhnited States, but not Al-Qa'ida. Americans in their obsession with self tend to confuse personal survival with group survival. In this case, the group under consideration is the American polity. That entity is in no way threatened existentially by the raggedy jihadis in Afghanistan or their better dressed fellow enthusiasts elsewhere. For true Muslims, the survuival of the 'Umma is all important. The base line truth is, as Cieran says, that attacks with 50kt. weapons would be met with retaliation with multi-megaton weapons. That would be the end of Islamdom in many places. It would not be the end of Islam but Muslim polities would suffer to an extent that few can imagine. Faced with that truth only a handful of fanatics would even consider such a thing. Therefore, it is the handful of fanatics that should be the objects of our attention. They are dangerous to us at the individual, familial and local levels.

President Obama in his announcement of policy with regard to Afghanistan, said that our goal would be to disrupt, disorganize and destroy our enemies. That is an appropriate goal given the actual size and intensity of the threat. Forget about nation building in Afghanistan. Forget about generational commitments of vast amounts of treasure that we no longer possess. Forget about Cheney's nonsensical 1% solution. This sounds like a half-baked "lift" from the Israeli Right. A decent regard for the opinion of mankind would point to the wisdom of infrastructure building aid for the Afghans on a multi-national basis. Past that point we should focus on killing and disrupting the adherents of tiny sects that opt for violent action against what they see as unbelief. Most Afghans, indeed most Pushtuns do not want an unending war with the US. They are more than willing, like Willie Sutton, to go where the money is. The goal of policy in Afghanistan should be to pit the majority(ies) against the handful of people who actively threaten us. Is this war? Yes. It is my kind of war.

In Pakistan the problem is very different. There, a developed post-colonial state is threatened by a reversion to ancient forms of conflict. Once again, the Pushtuns of the mountain and hill country seek to impose their will on the people of the plain of the Indus watershed. The nuclear arsenal of Pakistan makes a victory of the hillmen unacceptable to the US. As I wrote at the National Journal blog this week, a return to Pakistan Army control of the government and imposition of government control over the border country seems the only acceptable solution and the United States should stop impeding that outcome.

Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity Re Torture

This memorandum was hand-delivered to the White House yesterday afternoon.

April 29, 2009


FROM: Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS)

SUBJECT: Torture

This memorandum is VIPS’ first attempt to inform you on a major intelligence issue, as we did your predecessor; thus, some background might be helpful. Five former CIA officers established Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) in January 2003, when we saw our profession being corrupted to justify an attack on Iraq. Since then, our numbers have grown to 70 intelligence professionals, mostly retired, who have served in virtually all U.S. civilian and military intelligence agencies.

In our first Memorandum for the President (George W. Bush), dated February 5, 2003, we provided a same-day commentary on Colin Powell’s U.N. speech. We warned the president that “an invasion of Iraq would ensure overflowing recruitment centers for terrorists into the indefinite future [and that] far from eliminating the [terrorist] threat, it would enhance it exponentially.”

We strongly urged the former president to widen the discussion on Iraq “beyond the circle of those advisers clearly bent on a war for which we see no compelling reason and from which we believe the unintended consequences are likely to be catastrophic.” VIPS’ second pre-war Memorandum for the President was titled, “Forgery, Hyperbole, Half-Truth: A Problem”—a reference to the bogus intelligence we saw being ginned up to “justify” war.

President Bush ignored our warning and the warnings of other informed individuals and groups. The corporate media uncritically echoed the Bush administration’s misuse and misrepresentation of the intelligence, despite the questions raised—including those raised by our unique movement. (It was the first time an alumni group of intelligence officials had formed expressly to chronicle and to halt the corruption of intelligence.)

The cheerleading for war had begun—a war that would fit the post-WWII Nuremberg Tribunal’s description of a “war of aggression.” Nuremberg defined such a war as “the supreme international crime, differing from other war crimes only in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”

Torture: An Accumulated Evil

Torture is one of those accumulated evils. Violating domestic laws like the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 is another. You were right to unceremoniously jettison former CIA director Michael Hayden, who betrayed the thousands of NSA professionals who, until he directed that domestic law could be ignored, had adhered scrupulously to the 1978 FISA law as NSA’s “First Commandment”—Thou Shalt Not Eavesdrop on Americans Without a Court Warrant.

In contrast, we believe you were badly misguided in giving a prominent White House post to former CIA director George Tenet’s protégé John Brennan, who has publicly defended “extraordinary rendition” in full knowledge that its purpose was torture. Brennan also had complicit knowledge of the lengths to which Tenet conspired with the Department of Justice to distort history and the law in drafting opinions that attempted to “justify” torture.

With all due respect, Mr. President, it would be another mistake for you to believe what you are hearing from the likes of Brennan and Hayden and the journalists they have fed and domesticated. Please do not be deceived into thinking that most intelligence officials, past and present, condone torture—still less that they are angry that you have put a stop to such techniques. We are referring, of course, to what President Bush called “an alternative set of procedures” involving cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment that violates domestic and international law. We focus on torture in the VIPS statement that follows these introductory remarks.

The Senate Armed Services Committee recently concluded that it was President Bush himself who, by Executive Memorandum of February 7, 2002 exempting al-Qaeda and the Taliban from Geneva protections, “opened the door” to the abuse that ensued. You need to know that the vast majority of intelligence professionals deplore “extraordinary rendition” and the other torture procedures that were subsequently ordered by senior Bush administration officials.

Sadly, President Bush was not the first chief executive to find a small cabal of superpatriots, amateur thugs, and contractors to do his administration’s bidding. But never before in this country were lawless thugs given such free rein. The congressional “oversight” committees looked the other way.

Tenet and his acolytes successfully ingratiated themselves with President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and the faux lawyers who devised what actually amounts to a very porous “legal” shield for those who carried out the torture. It was a shield designed for and applied exclusively to those “just following orders” at the CIA black sites, and not for the low-ranking soldiers doing similar things at Abu Ghraib.

Some of the latter have done time in prison; one is still there. It would appear that some are less equal than others. And, to this day, the organizers and apologists for torture have managed to escape the consequences of their actions.

No doubt you appreciate better than anyone that the official Department of Justice memoranda you insisted be released last week are a national disgrace. Worse still are the first-hand accounts by young soldiers at Guantanamo of perversions like “rape by instrumentality.” You should be aware that this was a practice adamantly defended by former White House lawyers when Congress attempted to draft legislation expressly prohibiting it. Asked to explain their objection, Bush administration lawyers acknowledged that they were worried that such legislation might subject practitioners to prosecution under state and federal criminal statutes.

* * *

VIPS Statement on Torture

Interrogation Abuses and Those Responsible Must Be Fully Exposed

Inasmuch as we have gone on record as strongly opposed to torture, both on moral and practical grounds, from the first public awareness that the Bush administration had decided to violate international and domestic law, treaty provisions, and American tradition;

As former intelligence officials we understand that unless intelligence is “actionable”—accurate, specific, and timely enough to be acted upon with some confidence—it is ineffective. Equally important, we acknowledge our responsibility to expose fallacious reasoning regarding the utility of torture in acquiring actionable intelligence. This issue comes to the fore especially in the celebrated, but specious “ticking time-bomb hypothetical”—a regular feature of Jack Bauer TV fiction.

The fact that the exploits of Jack Bauer have injected a dangerous level of fiction and fear among impressionable viewers, and have misled not only interrogators at Guantanamo but also the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, Silvestre Reyes—not to mention Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia—leaves no doubt that such illusionary scenarios need to be addressed by professionals with real-life experience.

Inasmuch as the recently released legal memos that comprised part of the “golden shield” constructed by Bush Administration lawyers do shed some light but also provide inadequate information on “harsh interrogation tactics,” and that the memos sow confusion regarding which officials were responsible for institutionalizing those methods—not to mention whether they were actually effective, as former vice president Cheney continues to insist;

Inasmuch as it has come to light that two detainees were waterboarded at least 266 times, throwing strong doubt on various rationalizations regarding the effectiveness of waterboarding in providing timely actionable intelligence (in a “ticking time-bomb” scenario, for example);

Whereas CIA Director Leon Panetta has insisted that the “harsh interrogation tactics that some officials have declared to be torture” (the circumlocution now in vogue in the corporate media) might again be used in a future “ticking time-bomb hypothetical;”

Whereas, when the torture technique of waterboarding, a practice with antecedents in the Spanish Inquisition, was applied by Japanese troops in WWII to American and British prisoners—Japanese officers were later tried and executed;

Whereas there has been no better system devised— despite some shortcomings—to ascertain the truth of potential wrongdoing than the criminal investigative and judicial adversary process, which provides the right to attorney and right to jury and is governed by judicial rules which attempt to ensure fairness;

Whereas we recognize that the criminal justice process serves the important goal of stopping and deterring criminal actions and cannot be dismissed as merely “retribution;”

Whereas 92 videotapes showing application and results of the “harsh interrogation tactics that some officials have declared to be torture” have already been destroyed, and there is understandable concern that other evidence is being destroyed as the days go by;

Whereas other civilian and military intelligence professionals have also gone on record (see attached Annex) with respect to how torture tactics are not only ineffective in terms of getting reliable, actionable intelligence but have fueled recruitment by Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups to the point that, arguably, more U.S. troops have been killed by terrorists bent on revenge for torture than the 3,000 civilians killed on 9/11;

Whereas the false confessions that were elicited by the torture of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, for example, were used by the president, vice president, and the secretary of state (at the U.N.) to claim that proof existed of operational ties between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda, and whereas such false confessions also diverted limited investigative resources to pursue bogus leads;

We of VIPS call for a full, truthful, and public fact-finding process to begin without delay. We ask that you give careful consideration to Senator Carl Levin’s suggestion that the attorney general appoint retired judges with solid reputations for integrity to begin the process. Another viable possibility would be the appointment of an independent “blue-ribbon commission,” perhaps modeled on the Church Committee of the mid-Seventies, to assess any illegal or improper activities and make recommendations for reform in government operations against terrorism.

We commend the administration for releasing the Department of Justice memos attempting to legalize torture.

We believe the remaining relevant information must be released promptly so that the citizenry can make informed judgments about what was done in our name and, if warranted, an independent prosecutor appointed without unnecessary delay. We believe strongly that any judgments regarding amnesty, forgiveness, or pardon can only be made on the basis of a fully developed, public record—and not used as some sort of political bargaining chip.

Finally, we firmly oppose the notion that anyone can arrogate a right to ignore the Nuremburg Tribunal’s rejection of “only-following-orders” as an acceptable defense.

(signatories are listed alphabetically with former intelligence affiliations)

Gene Betit, US Army, DIA, Arlington, Virginia
Ray Close, National Clandestine Service (CIA), Princeton, New jersey
Phil Giraldi, National Clandestine Service (CIA), Purcellville, Virginia
Larry Johnson, CIA & Department of State, Bethesda, Maryland
Pat Lang, US Army (Special Forces), DIA, Alexandria, Virginia
David MacMichael, National Intelligence Council, Linden, Virginia
Tom Maertens, Department of State, Mankato, Minnesota
Ray McGovern, US Army, CIA, Arlington, Virginia
Sam Provance, US Army (Abu Ghraib), Greenville, South Carolina
Coleen Rowley, FBI, Apple Valley, Minnesota
Greg Theilmann, Department of State & Senate Intel. Committee staff, Arlington, Virginia
Ann Wright, US Army, Department of State, Honolulu, Hawaii


We list below other experienced intelligence personnel, who have spoken out publicly about the inefficacy and counter productiveness of torture:

FBI: Ali Soufan, Dan Coleman, Jack Cloonan

CIA: John Helgerson (former Inspector General), Bob Baer, Haviland Smith


Navy General Counsel Alberto J. Mora;
Major General Antonio Taguba (who probed Abu Ghraib and concluded that Bush officials committed war crimes:;
Air Force Col Steven M. Kleinman; Rear Admiral (ret) and former Judge Advocate General for the Navy John Hutson;
former Naval Intelligence officer and Assistant Secretary of Defense during the Reagan Administration Lawrence Korb;
former U.S. military interrogator (pseudonym) Matthew Alexander;
former military intelligence officer Malcolm Nance,


Ali Soufan Op-Ed Contributor; My Tortured Decision; Reclaiming America’s Soul - Apr 23, 2009
Soufan was an F.B.I. supervisory special agent from 1997 to 2005.

Dan Coleman; The Torture Memos Are Not Just Sick, They're Full of Lies:
Coleman was with the FBI; says “I can give you two reasons why Cheney wants more torture memos…”,_they're_full_of_lies:_a_closer_look_at_the_bybee_memo/

Jack Cloonan: How to Break a Terrorist
Foreign Policy: FPTV
Cloonan is a veteran FBI interrogator who spent 25 years as an FBI special agent and interrogated members of al Qaeda

CIA IG John Helgerson: CIA official: no proof harsh techniques stopped terror attacks Washington — The CIA inspector general in 2004 found that there was no conclusive proof that waterboarding or other harsh interrogation techniques helped ...

Ray Close (VIPS) and Haviland Smith, both are retired CIA Station Chiefs who served in various senior positions in the Operations Directorate, including in Europe, the Middle East and (Smith) as Chief of the Counterterrorism Staff.
Two former top CIA officials on the efficacy of torture, by Stephen Soldz

Former Navy General Counsel Alberto J. Mora: Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo are ‘first and second identifiable causes of U.S. combat deaths in Iraq.’

Air Force Col Steven Kleinman, senior intelligence officer:

Malcolm Nance: Why the Bush torture architects must be prosecuted
Nance is a former military intelligence officer and the Founding Director of the International Counterterrorism Center for Excellence at Hudson N.Y. and author of "The Terrorist Recognition Handbook - A Practitioner's Manual for Predicting and Identifying Terrorist Activity." Also at:

Former U.S. Interrogator Matthew Alexander (pseudonym) author of Torture Policy Has Led to More Deaths than 9/11 Attacks
“I'm Still Tortured by What I Saw in Iraq”;
Sunday, November 30, 2008. Also on and

Calamity Jane Harman Shoots Herself in the Foot

Calamity Jane Harman Shoots Herself in the Foot

Posted By Justin Raimondo On April 28, 2009 @ 9:00 pm

The exposure of the Jane Harman-AIPAC axis of treason has exploded the illusion of the Israel Lobby’s invulnerability. Here they thought they had the AIPAC espionage trial swept safely under the rug, or nearly so, what with the prosecution of two former top Lobby officials seemingly stalled indefinitely, and the Justice Department "reviewing" whether to pursue the case. Not only that, but accused Israeli spy Steve Rosen is riding high, having recently been instrumental in the downfall of Obama administration appointee Charles Freeman. Slated to take up a key post, which would have had him writing the president’s daily intelligence briefing, Freeman was lynched by a bipartisan mob of neocons and Israel-firsters, with the disgraceful (albeit not sufficiently disgraced) Rosen leading the charge.

This triumphal march hit a rather large bump in the road, however, when none other than Congressional Quarterly published a bombshell story detailing how Rep. Jane Harman – hawkish Democrat and reliable ally of the Lobby – had been caught red-handed offering to take up a request by "a suspected Israeli agent" to intercede with the Justice Department and the White House in order to get the charges against Rosen and his assistant, Keith Weissman, reduced or dropped altogether. In exchange, the agent averred, AIPAC would pressure Speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi to appoint Harman head of the House Intelligence Committee, with the threat of withholding Haim Saban’s substantial contribution to the Democratic Party dangled over Pelosi’s head like Damocles’ sword.

Harman has been twisting herself into a pretzel in a vain attempt to push back, and in the process she humiliated herself on the public airwaves in a real trainwreck of an interview with National Public Radio’s Robert Siegel. When he asked her if she remembers that conversation with a "suspected Israeli agent" – as the original story exposing her perfidy described her interlocutor – she screeched: "We don’t know that there was a conversation"! However, a few minutes later, when Siegel inquires whether it is "realistic to think that anybody is going to release a completely unredacted transcript of that conversation," she averred: "Well, let’s find out. I mean, the person I was talking to was an American citizen" – apparently forgetting that the existence of that conversation was supposed to be in doubt.

What is Calamity Jane smoking? Or is she so rattled by being closely questioned that she can’t remember important details of her story? She may be shaken, yet Harman hasn’t lost the natural craftiness that is an integral part of any successful politician’s personal arsenal: she apparently still thinks she can slither out of what appears to be a tight spot by brazening it out. At any rate, unlike her brother-in-corruption, Rod Blagojevich, she can count on the local Democratic Party machine to back her no matter what.

She may be right not to worry. After an initial flurry of publicity, the media is largely dropping the ball on this one., Congressional Quarterly, and Philip Weiss’ indispensable blog are about the only three venues where you can regularly read detailed updates on the Harman-AIPAC spy scandal. Elsewhere, the story is dropping well below the fold.

As for Congress exerting any discipline over their corrupt colleague – forget it. The Democrats in Congress, for their part, are busy protecting their own: the House Intelligence Committee, whose chair she coveted so much that she was willing to sell her own country down the river, is launching an "investigation" – not into Harman’s shenanigans, but into whether other members of Congress have been placed under surveillance. Not that anyone in that august body has a guilty conscience, mind you.

The Republicans, long in thrall to the Israel Lobby, are keeping mum. This is the one and only scandal involving a major figure in the Democratic Party about which they have absolutely nothing to say.

And it isn’t just Congress that’s giving Jane plenty of cover: after an initial wave of shock (and celebration, at least in the comments) that the warmongering congresswoman from Venice, Calif., was going to get her due, the mildly left wing of the blogosphere has readjusted its moral compass and taken up the partisan cudgels on Jane’s behalf.

Rep. Harman, says Laura Rozen, is a victim of a conspiracy by former CIA director Porter Goss, who has it in for Jane because (1) she’s a Democrat, and those horrible Republicans are so partisan; (2) Harman opposed the use of waterboarding, and this is payback from the pro-torture Republicans; and (3) something to do with someone named "Dusty Foggo." Seen from this perspective, the Harman spy scandal becomes Jane’s martyrdom at the hands of ghouls, and what she is reported to have said in her conversation with an Israeli agent fades like so much background noise. It’s a classic ad hominem argument: Goss is a creep, he’s behind this, end of story. No comment from Rozen about Harman’s sign-off to her spookish phone pal, possibly the most incriminating comment anyone has ever made while being eavesdropped on by the Feds: "This conversation doesn’t exist"!

Unfortunately for Jane, the conversation does exist, and sooner or later the transcript – which I hear is floating around reporters’ circles – is going to come out. Then what will she say?

If I were Jane Harman, I’d be looking over my shoulder at what’s going on in my home district. According to this report,

"Jane Harman’s high-profile role in the still-unfolding wiretap scandal has liberal activists in the 36th, long frustrated by Harman’s hold on this D+12 district, wondering if they finally have an opening to defeat her in a primary. Marcy Winograd, who won 38 percent against Harman in 2006, has been urged to run again and is ‘thinking about it.’"

Winograd is a co-founder of the Progressive Democrats of America, and she is quite articulate on the question of U.S. aid to Israel, Tel Aviv’s massive violation of human rights and basic human decency in Gaza and the West Bank, and foreign policy issues generally. Thirty-eight percent in a Democratic primary in California, running against a popular and powerful incumbent member of Congress, is nothing to sniff at, and Harman may be in some real trouble. She is hoping that the other shoes – the identity of her phone pal, the transcript of her conversation, or some other new development in the case – will fail to drop, but if this really is a "conspiracy" by Republicans and others out to get the bombastic congresswoman, then one would expect that we haven’t heard the end of this, not by a long shot.

Okay, but so what? Who cares whether a member of Congress tried to sell herself to the highest bidder, in this case, an Israeli agent who was offering AIPAC’s services as if that organization were an adjunct of the Israeli government? After all, isn’t corruption what Congress is all about? Nothing abnormal about that. Why should this be a major issue?

The significance of this case goes beyond the fate of any of the individuals enmeshed in it: Harman, Rosen, and Weissman. The purpose of the AIPAC spy nest was to penetrate the U.S. government’s closely guarded deliberations on a subject dear to Tel Aviv’s heart: Iran’s alleged nuclear program. They wanted, in particular, a document that would shed light on those internal deliberations, and their accomplice, former Pentagon analyst Larry Franklin – who confessed and was sentenced to 12 and a half years in a federal prison – was eager to give them all they wanted, and more. Unlike most spies, Franklin didn’t do it for money or out of sheer hubris. He was and is a committed ideologue, a neocon who put into practice the principle that there is no daylight between Israeli and American interests.

While the rest of the country was debating the merits of the Iraq war, the AIPAC spy ring was preparing for the next war, with Tehran. And the results of that campaign are bearing fruit today, as the Obama administration ratchets up the rhetoric – throwing overboard the CIA’s 2007 National Intelligence Estimate that says Iran abandoned its nuclear weapons program years ago – while holding out the prospect of direct talks. The idea is to effect a tradeoff with the Israelis: a "peace settlement" over the status of the occupied territories in Palestine in exchange for a united front with Tel Aviv against Tehran.

Faced with what they claim is an existential threat – Iran’s alleged-but-never-proven quest for nukes – the Israelis are stepping up their activities in the U.S., both overt and covert, in an effort to drag America into a conflict with Iran. They are threatening to attack the Iranians themselves if we don’t do it, and this drama could no doubt be scheduled to reach a crescendo at a moment when the president of the United States can ill afford to alienate a significant section of his own party, which is firmly in the Lobby’s pocket.

When the Bush administration began to pull back from their effort to pull off a "transformation" of the Middle East, the Israelis went ballistic and launched a foolish attempt to covertly do an end-run around the Bushies – using methods that go under the heading of espionage, rather than lobbying. Under the illusion of its own invulnerability, the Israel Lobby has been pushing the boundaries for quite some time. The prosecution of Rosen and Weissman is an effort by professionals in law enforcement – the Justice Department, the FBI, and the CIA – to draw some boundaries. Yet the Lobby doesn’t recognize any such limits. Their chutzpah knows no bounds.

They think they can – and will – get away with it, but we’ll see. The Harman affair is pushback from those whose job it is to protect this nation’s security from all enemies, both foreign and domestic. The problem with AIPAC, from their perspective – and mine – is that it is both foreign and domestic, as the leaked conversation with Harman underscores: here was an Israeli agent promising to mobilize AIPAC just as if it were a division of the IDF – which, in fact, it is.

If Rosen and Weissman are ever brought to trial – and we have no word yet on the "review" that is supposedly taking place within the Justice Department, which is deciding whether to succumb to pressure to drop the case – the massive extent of Israel’s penetration of our security defenses will become all too apparent. Regardless of its outcome, the trial will be just the beginning of the Lobby’s problems – which is why they’re fighting so furiously, and viciously, to prevent the court in the eastern district of Virginia from ever convening.

Which is why I’m glad to see that someone in the Justice Department (where the Harman leak originated, I’m told) is fighting just as furiously and viciously to make sure that doesn’t happen – at least, not without inflicting some damage on those who are protecting and enabling a spy nest in the heart of our nation’s capital.

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New Stakeholders, New Solutions? Addressing Global Problems in an Age of Emerging Powers Jessica Tuchman Mathews, Thomas Fingar

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Jessica Tuchman Mathews, Thomas Fingar

* o A Thousand Envoys Bloom

U.S. Foreign Policy
Obama's First 100 Days
Obama David Rothkopf warns that despite appointing high-profile advisers tasked with transforming U.S. foreign policy, the Obama administration has yet to engage the most pressing challenge: overhauling the entire national-security apparatus to reflect U.S. priorities and budget realities.
Emerging Powers

Does China's Financial Sector Jeopardize Economic Growth?

China's Economic Outlook
Does China's Financial Sector Jeopardize Economic Growth?
China Zhou Xiaochuan, governor of the People's Bank of China, recently called for an alternative to the U.S. dollar as the world's currency of choice. To discuss the health of China's financial sector and whether the pace of reforms should increase, Carnegie convened the 9th debate on Captiol Hill in the ongoing "Reframing China Policy" series. Middle East Roundtable: The emerging US-Iran dynamic April 30, 2009

Middle East Roundtable

Edition 16 Volume 7 - April 30, 2009

The emerging US-Iran dynamic

• Where do we go from here? - Arshin Adib-Moghaddam
What we can realistically hope for in the short run is a "cold peace".

• The answer is always Clausewitz - Mark Perry
We can threaten to let loose the dogs of war, but we will not be believed.

• Just the beginning - Michael Rubin
Every US president has sought rapprochement with the Islamic Republic.

• The first 100 days - Sadegh Zibakalam
Those who write about Iranian history in the future will refer to Obama's New Year message as a turning point.

Where do we go from here?
Arshin Adib-Moghaddam

Make no mistake about it. The overtures that President Barack Obama has made to Iran since his election in November 2008 are momentous. In his first sit-down interview, which he symbolically gave to the Arabic satellite network al-Arabiya, Obama addressed Iran directly, asking the leaders of the country to "unclench their fist" so that they can shake hands with the "international community". On the occasion of the Persian New Year celebrations in March 2009, he reiterated his willingness to talk to Iranian leaders, setting a markedly different tone than his predecessor George W. Bush. Although his administration has not followed up rhetoric with policy yet, Obama has set the stage for rather less raucous engagements between the two countries. This may yield a "cold peace" characterized by diplomatic rivalry rather than militaristic coercion.

On the other side of the cognitive divide, President Mahmoud Ahmadinezhad became the first Iranian leader in three decades to officially congratulate a US president-elect, a gesture acknowledged by Obama at a news conference in January 2009. So there is a lot of politics involved at this stage, including backdoor messages via third parties (e.g., Turkey and Switzerland) and a good dose of "veiled" or clandestine diplomacy. In general, many are hoping that things are moving in a better, rather more conciliatory direction.

This salutary moment of hope, intermittently suspended when Ahmadinezhad usurps center stage such as during the recent UN racism conference in Geneva, should not distract from the real strategic issues that threaten to keep the US and Iran apart. The strategic preferences of the two countries continue to clash along three issues: a) the pro-Israel policies of the US versus Iran's subversion of Israeli power within the region and beyond; b) US efforts to contain populist Islamist movements such as Hamas and Hizballah versus Iran's support for them; c) and the United States' opposition to populist leftist movements, especially in Latin America, which clashes with Iran's close cooperation with them.

So, on the one side we have Iran, which perceives itself as an ideological superpower poised to export the revolutionary call for empowerment and independence to receptive agents in the international environment. On the other side, the United States (including Obama) firmly believes in the Americo-centric configuration of world politics. These self-perceptions are in many ways mutually exclusive. But that does not mean that the US and Iran need be perennial enemies. What we can realistically hope for in the short run is a "cold peace" that can be achieved within three interrelated contexts and along three mutual interests. In Iraq, both the US and Iran support the stability of the al-Maliki government and the unity of the Iraqi nation-state. This mutual interest has already led to some low level diplomatic engagements throughout 2008. In Afghanistan, an equally important strategic theater, both states oppose the resurgence of the Taliban and support the government of Hamid Karzai politically and economically. And on a global scale, both the US and Iran are opposed to al-Qaeda type movements that are virulently anti-American and anti-Shi'ite/anti-Iranian.

Tehran will pay particular attention to US initiatives vis-a-vis the nuclear issue. More specifically it will measure the policy-value of Obama's conciliatory speeches with an assessment of its actions in the United Nations Security Council. Thus far the Obama administration has not shown any willingness to move away from the rather aggressive sanctions policy pursued by successive US administrations, which has done nothing but alienate the pragmatists in Iran. Yet an emphasis on "positive" rather than gunboat diplomacy is required in order to prepare the way for trust-building measures between the countries. For at the center of Iran's concern is an understandable insecurity dilemma that needs to be addressed in any negotiations, given that the country is geo-strategically located at the heart of a conflict zone that extends from Palestine/Israel in western Asia, over Iraq and Afghanistan to Pakistan/India in southern Asia. To put it simply: a state that does not feel threatened would not think about nuclear weapons in the first place.

These are some components for a positive-sum game between the two countries that would ensure that both parties benefit from dialogue and acknowledgement of each other's interests within a context of mutual respect and engagement. It would seem to me, therefore, that any efforts from the neo-conservatives in the United States and their brothers in arms in Israel to entangle us in a confrontation with Iran must be understood not as a recipe to prevent the country from going nuclear, but rather as incitement to surreptitious aggression and a prelude to war. And that is exactly what we do not need. - Published 30/4/2009 ©

Arshin Adib-Moghaddam is the author of, most recently, "Iran in World Politics" (2008) and "The International Politics of the Persian Gulf" which has just been republished by Routledge as a paperback.

The answer is always Clausewitz
Mark Perry

The wry and oft-repeated saying among senior American military officers is always good for a laugh: "no matter what the question," they claim, "the answer is always Clausewitz." Unlike many war theoreticians, Prussian Major General Carl von Clausewitz actually served in the military--fighting Napoleon and spending time in a French prison. He was released in time to witness Wellington's British squares crush Bonaparte's Imperial Guard at Waterloo. His "On War" was published posthumously. For nearly two hundred years, Clausewitz's work has retained its power. It was studied by Mao, was carried in the knapsacks of Vietnamese soldiers at Dien Bien Phu, was required reading among Saddam Hussein's senior commanders.

We have Clausewitz to thank for German militarism: the Prussian army wasn't really an army until he came along--its officer corps took pride in the length of their ponytails and scoffed at the notion that they should actually command troops. The Germans have since discarded Clausewitz's most trenchant lessons: surveying the ruins of their cities in the wake of the last European war, they relegated "On War" to the dustbin of German history. Not so with America's officers, for whom "On War" is viewed with the same awed faith that believing Christians reserve for the Nicene Creed. America's commanders talk of war's "fog", its "friction" and the "strategic center of gravity"--all from the lexicon of the Clausewitz catechism.

Clausewitz's most famous Te Deum--that "war is a continuation of politics by other means"--is celebrated for good reason: it is a reflection of his belief that military commanders can practice and perfect their craft, much as Beethoven or Goethe practiced and perfected theirs. That war takes lives is not pertinent; organized killing is a specious fact undampened by good intentions. Even so, at the heart of the Clausewitz dictum is the unswerving belief that war is the result of failed diplomacy and not the other way around. That Clausewitz's descendents got this so terribly wrong was obvious in 1945. Having seen their military utterly destroyed, German diplomats had nothing left to talk about. What were they going to do: use harsh language?

Clausewitz is taught at nearly all of America's military colleges; it is as central to the study of war as Cicero is to the humanities. Yet, while "On War" is required reading for military officers, it is ignored by American politicians. Thus, Clausewitz's seminal lesson remains unlearned: that diplomacy is best practiced under a threat of certain pain-to-come. Yet, the not-so-secret truth about America's military is that it is exhausted, its army victimized by multiple deployments in an unnecessary war, the cream of its combat officer corps seeking employment elsewhere, its newest recruits dredged from the un-and-under employed. We can threaten to let loose the dogs of war, but we will not be believed.

We Americans now celebrate our willingness to talk, to grasp the hand of those who unclench their fist. That the world, and most especially the Iranian leadership, remains skeptical of this offer should not be a surprise. For we have gotten Clausewitz exactly wrong: we are talking not to prevent conflict, but because we have no choice. Which is why the Iranian leadership is insisting that any talks with America focus on a host of regional and international issues, and not simply on their nuclear program. Their insistence on this is a test of our good intentions--as it should be. Are we really interested in regional stability? Do we really want to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? They will undoubtedly tell us (if they have not already) that the road to peace and stability in the region does not run through Tehran (as Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu insists), but through Jerusalem.

We dismiss this view at our peril, for it is the one thing that every state in the region--from Iran to Saudi Arabia to Jordan--believes. That is to say: if the United States is truly interested in forging a new era of stability in the Middle East, and a new understanding with Iran, then President Obama can begin by telling Netanyahu that we expect Israel to be as good a friend to us as we have been to them. Netanyahu can confirm this by shifting Israel's policy on settlements in the West Bank. The United States, President Obama should say, does not want Israel's settlements frozen, it wants them removed. That can start now. The reward for this act of friendship will be our continuing commitment to Israel's defense. This message need not be confrontational, but it must be clear. Then too, the message has a certain elegance. It will convince Iran that we intend to follow our words with actions. At the same time it meets that other central tenet of the Clausewitz canon: a nation's strength is defined not by the size of its army, but by whether it means what it says. - Published 30/4/2009 ©

Mark Perry is a director of the Washington and Beirut-based Conflicts Forum and the author of Partners in Command: George Marshall and Dwight Eisenhower in War and Peace.

Just the beginning
Michael Rubin

President Barack Obama has made outreach to the Islamic Republic of Iran a foreign policy centerpiece of his administration. At his inauguration, he promised that if US adversaries would unclench their fists the United States would extend a hand. Then, in his first major television interview, he told al-Arabiya satellite TV, "It is important for us to be willing to talk to Iran, to express very clearly where our differences are, but [also] where there are potential avenues for progress. And we will over the next several months be laying out our general framework and approach."

He has. US diplomats have sought out their Iranian counterparts at international forums and agreed to meet Iranian officials without precondition. On March 20, Obama released a Nowruz greeting in which, without precedent, he declared, "The United States wants the Islamic Republic of Iran to take its rightful place in the community of nations," implicitly recognizing the current government as the legitimate representative of the Iranian people.

Obama believes in born-again diplomacy--that whether with Iran, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, North Korea or Russia it is possible to forget the past and start anew. Alas, the world does not revolve around Obama nor has the reason for the poor state of US-Iran relations been simply lack of past effort.

Every US president has sought rapprochement with the Islamic Republic. US diplomats remained in Tehran throughout the revolution, first by choice and later, of course, as hostages. It is ironic that President Jimmy Carter's desire to engage sparked the embassy seizure, as Iranian radicals responded to the perceived threat of rapprochement symbolized by National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski's handshake with Prime Minister Mehdi Bazargan by storming the compound to disrupt that process. Nevertheless, Carter allowed the Islamic Republic to retain its embassy in Washington for five more months, hoping to keep open a possibility for dialogue.

The Reagan administration also sought relations, even sending former National Security Advisor Robert "Bud" McFarlane to Tehran. Speaking at the University of Tehran on December 9, 2008, former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani ridiculed the attempt, recalling how, "McFarlane came here and our authorities were not willing to talk to him. Only our second and third rate authorities talked to him." McFarlane returned empty-handed.

Twenty years ago, there was again hope for change. The Iran-Iraq war had ended, Ayatollah Rohallah Khomeini was dead and Hashemi Rafsanjani, lauded as a pragmatist in the West, won the presidency. "I don't want to...think that the status quo has to go on forever," President George H.W. Bush told a press conference shortly after his inauguration.

President Bill Clinton, too, reached out to the Islamic Republic, even authorizing Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to engage her Iranian counterpart in a one-on-one meeting, an opportunity lost when Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, shortly before the rendezvous, ordered Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi not to show.

And despite President George W. Bush branding Tehran as part of the Axis of Evil--a mild comment compared to near daily Iranian calls for America's demise--there was greater engagement with Tehran under Bush than under any administration since Carter's. Alas, whether in Iraq or Afghanistan, the White House discovered that Iranian diplomats either did not speak for the Revolutionary Guards or did not keep their promises.

So where does this leave Obama? There is an unfortunate dynamic in Washington in which new administrations fault predecessors rather than adversaries for failure to engage productively. No matter what their preconceptions before entering the Oval Office, however, all presidents discover they are powerless to resolve differences with Tehran when Iran's leadership does not desire it. Hence, while the presidents or foreign ministers of countries like Bolivia, Eritrea and Senegal, let alone Hamas leaders, receive audiences with the Supreme Leader, the Iranian leadership refuses to allow US diplomats even to set foot in Tehran. And while journalists and academics applaud Obama's overtures, they too often ignore the Iranian response, for example Khamenei's Apr. 15, 2009 speech at Imam Hossein University where he declared, "The recommendation to return to the global order is the same as capitulating to the bullying powers and accepting the unjust world order."

The Islamic Republic is an ideological entity. It roots sovereignty not in the will of its citizens but upon the notion that the supreme leader acts as a place holder for the Hidden Imam. As a system it has failed. Iran's economy is in tatters and the regime preserves power through the ever more pervasive Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

To deflect responsibility for failure, it pays to have an enemy to rally masses around the flag. Iran's leadership has determined that the United States--the "Great Satan"--is it. Meaningful rapprochement would mean the regime's demise. Rather than work to improve relations with the US, therefore, Iranian authorities, either directly or by proxy, impose ever more obstacles. Alas, Ahmadinezhad's recent speech at Geneva and the arrest of Roxanna Saberi are just the beginning.- Published 30/4/2009 ©

Michael Rubin is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a senior lecturer at the Naval Postgraduate School.

The first 100 days
Sadegh Zibakalam

US President Barack Obama's Iranian New Year message caught many Iranians, including many Iranian leaders, by surprise. Those who write about Iranian history in the future will refer to Obama's message as a turning point in relations between the post-Iranian revolution and its arch enemy, the United States.

The message contained several important and unprecedented points. First, unlike all previous messages from US leaders, it did not try to drive a wedge between the Islamic leadership and the Iranian people. Second, it avoided all the previous charges that successive US leaders have leveled at the Islamic regime since its birth in 1979. There was no call for Iran to abandon its nuclear program, no demand that it stop supporting Hamas and other militant groups in the region, nor was the frequent accusation of interference in the affairs of other states, notably Iraq, repeated.

But perhaps the most crucial point about Obama's New Year message was his reference to the "Islamic Republic of Iran" rather than simply saying Iran. This was the first time since the Iranian revolution and the birth of the Islamic regime in Iran in 1979 that a US president referred to Iran properly. Whether or not Obama realized it, that part of his speech was interpreted in Iran as delivering a significant message to Iranian leaders, to the effect that the US was prepared to recognize the Islamic revolution and therefore the Islamic Republic of Iran. In other words, the US had abandoned the strategy of regime change in Iran.

Obama's speech was far more conciliatory than even the most optimistic Iranians had anticipated. The US president had fully extended his hand to the Iranian leaders and the ball was now in their court. Less than 48 hours after the speech, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, speaking on the occasion of the beginning of the Iranian New Year, responded to Obama's olive branch.

Before analyzing the Iranian leader's response, we must consider the awkward position in which Obama's message placed the Iranian leaders. Hitherto, their approach toward the US was one of outright dismissal and condemnation for its arrogant power and behavior, support for Israel, inimical policies against Islam and Islamic states, illegitimate occupation of Islamic countries (Iraq and Afghanistan), exploitation of third world countries and the like. Khamenei's remarks about America's past and present policies in the region and throughout the world were particularly strong and scornful, invariably including severe attacks on US presidents.

His speech this New Year, however, was much softer regarding the US than anyone could recall. He refrained from the usual salvo against America's detrimental role in the world and its arrogant and power-hungry president. Instead, he maintained that words alone were insufficient to solve the problems. The US, continued the Iranian supreme leader, must take practical steps to prove that it is sincere in its aspiration to avoid repeating past mistakes and to adopt a new and different strategy. Thus the ayatollah did not slam the door on Obama; he was prepared to wait until the new US president demonstrated that he was genuine in carrying out changes. A more positive response was yet to come, surprisingly, from hard-line Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinezhad. Still, Ahmadinezhad did not go beyond the supreme leader's guidelines and basically maintained that Iran was prepared to have "serious, positive and constructive dialogue with the US".

Yet not all the responses from across the ruling hard-line spectrum were lukewarm or ready to give Obama a chance. The more radical currents and figures warned the others not to trust "the gimmick, the disguise that the new US president was hiding behind". A leading hard-line newspaper used an old and famous Iranian proverb to describe the new US president: "a baby wolf that is raised with a human being will ultimately turn into a wolf." In other words, sooner or later Obama would present his real "face", one that is not very different from that of the previous US president. Every word used by the new administration regarding Iran that sounded similar to the previous vocabulary was highlighted in print to demonstrate the "wolf's" real character. US statements that did not correspond to this theory were either neglected or were exploited so as to demonstrate the arrogance of American power.

On balance, however, the atmosphere in Tehran is one of "wait-and-see". The customary daily shouts of "death to America" have decreased as has the burning of the US flag. While it is too early to conclude that detente has emerged between Iran and the US, many Iranians remain optimistic that the time is right for change between the two countries.- Published 30/4/2009 ©

Sadegh Zibakalam is professor of Iranian Studies at Tehran University.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------- is an internet forum for an array of world perspectives on the Middle East and its specific concerns. It aspires to engender greater understanding about the Middle East region and open a new common space for world thinkers and political leaders to present their viewpoints and initiatives on the region. Editors Ghassan Khatib and Yossi Alpher can be reached at and, respectively.