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Saturday, October 31, 2009

Chimera of Victory By GIAN P. GENTILE

The New York Times
October 31, 2009
Op-Ed Contributor
Chimera of Victory

If history is a guide, then the recent suicide bombings in Baghdad show that the insurgency in Iraq is far from over.

Contrary to much of what is written and said, victory is not near and the notion that the “surge” of troops was some great, decisive military action that set the stage for political reconciliation is a chimera.

It was a chimera for the French in Algeria that their bloody counterinsurgency there defeated Algerian nationalists.

After the war, which lasted from 1956 to 1961, a myth started to build in the French Army and then found its way into American Army thinking, where it lives on today, that the French military operations defeated the insurgents.

Not true. In fact, the Algerian insurgents chose to lay low while the French Army and people impaled themselves on the political problems of colonial rule. In the end, President Charles de Gaulle ordered the French Army out of Algeria in 1961 and Algeria got its independence.

About 10 years later, some chroniclers of the Vietnam War began to write that the U.S. Army could have pacified the country and defeated the insurgents toward the end of the war with the counterinsurgency tactics introduced by Gen. Creighton Abrams.

According to this myth, if it hadn’t been for the fickleness and weakness of the American people and politicians, the war could have been won.

This notion, which dominates current army thinking on Iraq and Afghanistan, is also a chimera.

The Communist insurgency in Vietnam was not defeated by the early 1970s, but rather adjusted its actions based on the conditions prevailing in Vietnam.

The Tet offensive of 1968 so reduced Vietcong capability that the insurgents had to take a breather, so to speak, of a couple of years while North Vietnam prepared the final and successful military assault into the South in 1975.

So too with Iraq today. The fundamental political and social problem of who will hold power in Iraq has yet to be resolved, and the final reckoning may still have to be determined through fighting.

The ongoing ability and wiliness of insurgent groups in Iraq to carry out suicide attacks undermines the notion that the surge worked and, through military force, put an end to the violence.

These histories should also inform our thinking on Afghanistan.

History shows that occupation by foreign armies with the intent of changing occupied societies does not work and ends up costing considerable blood and treasure.

The notion that if only an army gets a few more troops, with different and better generals, then within a few years it can defeat a multi-faceted insurgency set in the middle of civil war, is not supported by an honest reading of history.

Algeria, Vietnam and Iraq show this to be the case. Regrettably we don’t seem to be learning anything from history with regard to Afghanistan. We are making the same blunders.

When I was a combat battalion commander in West Baghdad in 2006, I asked an Iraqi Army general how long it would be before the civil war ended in Iraq. “Four hundred years,” was his answer.

It took the United States almost a hundred years to end its most divisive political and social issue, slavery, and it required a cataclysmic civil war. Could an outside force have come into the United States in the 1850s and resolved its internal conflicts at the barrel of a gun?

So why do we think we have ended Iraq’s civil war at the barrel of a gun over the past two years — or that we can do it in Afghanistan?

Gian P. Gentile, a colonel in the U.S. Army, heads the Military History Program at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and served in Iraq in 2003 and 2006.
Copyright 2009

The Generals' Revolt As Obama rethinks America's failed strategy in Afghanistan, he faces two insurgencies: the Taliban and the Pentagon

The Generals' Revolt

As Obama rethinks America's failed strategy in
Afghanistan, he faces two insurgencies: the Taliban
and the Pentagon

Posted Oct 28, 2009 1:51 PM

In early October, as President Obama huddled with top
administration officials in the White House situation
room to rethink America's failing strategy in
Afghanistan, the Pentagon and top military brass were
trying to make the president an offer he couldn't
refuse. They wanted the president to escalate the war -
go all in by committing 40,000 more troops and another
trillion dollars to a Vietnam-like quagmire - or face a
full-scale mutiny by his generals.

Obama knew that if he rebuffed the military's pressure,
several senior officers - including Gen. David Petraeus,
the ambitious head of U.S. Central Command, who is
rumored to be eyeing a presidential bid of his own in
2012 - could break ranks and join forces with hawks in
the Republican Party. GOP leaders and conservative media
outlets wasted no time in warning Obama that if he
refused to back the troop escalation being demanded by
Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the commander overseeing the
eight-year-old war, he'd be putting U.S. soldiers' lives
at risk and inviting Al Qaeda to launch new assaults on
the homeland. The president, it seems, is battling two
insurgencies: one in Afghanistan and one cooked up by
his own generals.

"I don't understand why the military is putting so much
pressure on the White House now over Afghanistan," says
a former U.S. ambassador to Pakistan. "Unless it has
something to do with the presidential ambitions of a
certain Centcom commander."

The military's campaign to force Obama's hand started in
earnest in September, when the Commander's Initial
Assessment of the war - a highly classified report
prepared by McChrystal - was leaked to The Washington
Post. According to insiders, the leak was coordinated by
someone close to Petraeus, McChrystal's boss and ally.
Speculation has centered on Gen. Jack Keane, a retired
Army vice chief of staff and Petraeus confidant, who
helped convince George W. Bush to get behind the "surge"
in Iraq. In the report, McChrystal paints a dire picture
of the American effort in Afghanistan, concluding that a
massive increase in troop levels is the only way to
prevent a humiliating failure.

On Capitol Hill, hawkish GOP congressmen seized the
opening to turn up the heat on Obama by demanding that
he allow McChrystal and Petraeus to come to Washington
to testify at high-profile hearings to ask for more
troops. "It is time to listen to our commanders on the
ground, not the ever-changing political winds whispering
defeat in Washington," declared Sen. Kit Bond, a
Republican from Missouri. Attempting to usurp Obama's
authority as commander in chief, Sen. John McCain
introduced an amendment to compel the two generals to
come before Congress, but the measure was voted down by
the Democratic majority.

As the pressure from the military and the right built,
McChrystal went on 60 Minutes to complain that he had
only talked to Obama once since his appointment in June.
Then, upping the ante, the general flew to London for a
speech, where he was asked if de-escalating the war,
along the lines reportedly suggested by Vice President
Joe Biden, might work. "The short answer is: no," said
McChrystal, dismissing the idea as "shortsighted." His
comment - which bluntly defied the American tradition
that a military officer's job is to carry out policy,
not make it - shocked political observers in Washington
and reportedly angered the White House.

"Petraeus and McChrystal have put Obama in a trick bag,"
says Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, a former top aide to
Secretary of State Colin Powell. "We had this happen one
time before, with Douglas MacArthur" - the right-wing
general who was fired after he defied President Truman
over the Korean War in 1951.

It isn't clear how far McChrystal and his boss,
Petraeus, are willing to go. There have been rumors
around the Pentagon that McChrystal might quit if Obama
doesn't give him what he wants - a move that would fuel
Republican criticism of Obama. "He'll be a good soldier,
but he will only go so far," a senior U.S. military
officer in Kabul told reporters.

For his part, Obama moved quickly to handle the
insurrection. One day after McChrystal's defiant London
speech, the president unexpectedly summoned the general
to a one-on-one meeting aboard an idling Air Force One
in Copenhagen. No details of the discussion were
released, but two days later Jim Jones, the retired
Marine general who now serves as Obama's national-
security adviser, publicly rebuked McChrystal, declaring
that it is "better for military advice to come up
through the chain of command."

The struggle between the White House and the Pentagon is
an important test of whether the president can take
command in a political storm that could tear his
administration apart. Obama himself is partly to blame
for the position he finds himself in. During the
presidential campaign last year, Obama praised the
Afghan conflict as "the right war," in contrast to the
bungled and unnecessary invasion of Iraq. Once in
office, he ordered 21,000 additional troops to Kabul,
painting the war as vital to America's national
security. "If the Afghan government falls to the Taliban
or allows Al Qaeda to go unchallenged," the president
declared, "that country will again be a base for
terrorists who want to kill as many of our people as
they possibly can." He also fired the commanding general
in Afghanistan, David McKiernan, and replaced him with
McChrystal, a close Petraeus ally and an advocate of the
doctrine of counterinsurgency.

When it comes to COIN, as it's known in military jargon,
Petraeus literally wrote the book: the Counterinsurgency
Field Manual, which has become the bible for proponents
of COIN. In its essence, counterinsurgency demands an
extremely troop-intensive, village-by-village effort to
win hearts and minds among the population of an occupied
country, supported by a lethal killing machine and an
expensive "clear, hold and build" program to eliminate
the enemy from an area and consolidate those gains.
Within the military, COIN has developed a cult
following. "It has become almost a religion for some
people," says Paul Pillar, a former top intelligence
official with wide expertise in terrorism and the Middle

Supporters of Petraeus and McChrystal acknowledge that
applying COIN to Afghanistan means a heavy U.S.
commitment to war, in both blood and treasure. Even if
Obama dispatches 40,000 additional troops, on top of the
68,000 Americans already committed, we won't even know
if it's working for at least a year. "That is something
that will certainly take 12 to 18 months to assess,"
said Kim Kagan, the president of the Institute for the
Study of War, who helped write McChrystal's request for
more troops. Bruce Riedel, a COIN advocate and veteran
CIA officer who led Obama's review of the war last
March, is even more blunt. "Anyone who thinks that in 12
to 18 months we're going to be anywhere close to
victory," he said, "is living in a fantasyland."

In addition, the doctrine of counterinsurgency virtually
assures long-running military campaigns in other hot
spots, even as we're engaged in combat and rebuilding
operations in Afghanistan. "We're going to be involved
in this type of activity in a number of countries for
the next 15 to 20 years," said Lt. Gen. David Barno, a
COIN advocate who served as commander of U.S. forces in

So far, though, COIN hasn't exactly delivered on its
promises. Despite the addition of 21,000 troops in
March, the Taliban have continued to make gains across
Afghanistan, establishing control or significantly
disrupting at least 40 percent of the country. According
to McChrystal's own report, Taliban leaders "appoint
shadow governors for most provinces," set up courts,
levy taxes, conscript fighters and boast about providing
"security against a corrupt government." What's more,
U.S. casualties have skyrocketed: In the four months
since McChrystal took over, 165 Americans have died in
Afghanistan - nearly one-fifth of those killed during
the entire war.

By late summer, some in the Obama administration began
to have doubts about the efficacy of McChrystal's
counterinsurgency strategy - doubts that greatly
increased in the wake of Afghanistan's disastrous
presidential election in August. Hamid Karzai,
Washington's hand-picked president, was accused of
widespread fraud, including ballot-box stuffing and
"ghost" polling stations. Without a credible Afghan
government, COIN can't succeed, since its core idea is
to build support for the Afghan government.

Even before the election fiasco, Obama had sent Jones,
his national-security adviser, to Kabul to deliver a
message to his military commander: The White House
wouldn't look favorably on sending more soldiers to
Afghanistan. If the Pentagon asked for more troops,
Jones told McChrystal's top generals, the president
would have "a Whisky Tango Foxtrot moment" - that is,
What the fuck? According to The Washington Post, which
reported the encounter, the generals present "seemed to
blanch at the unambiguous message that this might be all
the troops they were going to get."

Not long after the Afghan elections, Obama began a top-
to-bottom strategy review of the war. Among those who
started to question the basic assumptions of McChrystal
and his COIN allies were Jones, many of his colleagues
on the National Security Council, and Vice President
Biden. By contrast, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates
and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton remained
remarkably quiet during the assessment, seeming to defer
to the White House when it came to challenging the
Pentagon brass.

The issue has presented the most difficult political
decision of Obama's presidency thus far. The White House
knew that if Obama were to "fully resource" the military
campaign, he would be going to war without his own
political base, which has turned strongly against the
Afghan war. For the first time since 2001, according to
polls, a majority of Americans believe that the war in
Afghanistan is "not worth fighting." Fifty-seven percent
of independents and nearly three-quarters of Democrats
oppose the war - and overall, only 26 percent of
Americans support the idea of adding more troops.
Indeed, if Obama were to escalate the war, his only
allies would be the Pentagon, Congressional Republicans,
an ultraconservative think tank called the Foreign
Policy Initiative, whose supporters include Karl Rove,
Sarah Palin and a passel of neoconservatives and former
aides to George W. Bush.

On the other hand, rejecting McChrystal's demands for
more troops would make Obama vulnerable to GOP
accusations that he was embracing defeat, and give
congressional Republicans another angle of attack during
midterm elections next year. Even worse, the
administration has to take into account the possibility
of a terrorist attack, which would allow the GOP to put
the blame on the White House. "All it would take is one
terrorist attack, vaguely linked to Afghanistan, for the
military and his opponents to pounce all over him," says

Within the administration, Biden has emerged as the
leading opponent of McChrystal's approach to never-
ending war. "He's proposing that we stop doing large-
scale counterinsurgency, that we rely on drones, U.S.
Special Forces and other tools to combat Al Qaeda," says
Stephen Biddle, an expert at the Council on Foreign
Relations who served on McChrystal's advisory team.
Biden's view, which has support among a significant
number of officials and analysts in and out of
government, is that rather than trying to defeat the
Taliban, the United States ought to focus on targeting
Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups that want to strike
at American targets.

That Biden took the lead, says one former national-
security official, may be a sign that he has the
president's support. "Biden is playing a very inside
game," says the official. "He's in every meeting." In
early October, the vice president held a private session
to discuss war strategy with two members of the
administration who are considered among the more hawkish
members of Obama's team: Hillary Clinton and Richard
Holbrooke, the State Department's special adviser on
Afghanistan and Pakistan. In addition, Biden and Obama,
both former senators, are said to be relying on the
counsel of a pair of relatively dovish former
colleagues, Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island and Sen. John
Kerry of Massachusetts. Kerry, the chairman of the
Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has recently made
comparisons between Afghanistan and Vietnam. Also
weighing in, apparently to advise against sending more
troops, has been Colin Powell, who met quietly with
Obama in mid-September.

Supporters of Biden's view argue that adding more troops
would actually make the problem worse, not better,
because the Taliban draw support from the fiercely
nationalist Pashtun ethnic group in Afghanistan and
Pakistan, who will mobilize to resist a long-term
occupation. "The real fact is, the more people we put
in, the more opposition there will be," says Selig
Harrison, a longtime observer of Afghanistan at the
Center for International Policy, a think tank formed in
the wake of the Vietnam War by former diplomats and
peace activists. The only exit strategy that might work,
say Harrison and others, is dramatically reducing the
U.S. military role in Afghanistan, shifting the focus
from the Taliban to Al Qaeda, and stepping up political
and diplomatic efforts. Such an initiative would also
require an intensive push to secure support from
Pakistan and Saudi Arabia - which maintain links to the
Taliban - as well as Iran, Russia, India and China.

"There's only one mission there that we can accomplish,"
says Michael Scheuer, who led the CIA's anti-Osama bin
Laden unit for years. "To go into Afghanistan, kill Al
Qaeda, do as much damage to the Taliban as possible and

Opponents of that approach insist that it would allow Al
Qaeda to re-establish a safe haven in Afghanistan and
resume plotting attacks. But many terrorism experts
point out that Al Qaeda doesn't need Afghanistan as a
base of operations, since it can plan actions from
Pakistan or, for that matter, from a mosque in London or
Hamburg. "We deal with Al Qaeda in every country in the
world without invading the country," says Sen. Russ
Feingold, a Democrat who serves on both the Senate
foreign-relations and intelligence committees. "We deal
with them in Indonesia, the Philippines, Yemen, Somalia,
in European countries, in our own country, with various
means that range from law enforcement to military action
to other kinds of actions."

Feingold, who has proposed setting a flexible timetable
for the withdrawal of U.S. forces, says that the
administration must listen to advisers like Biden who
favor shifting course in Afghanistan. "If they do not,
if they refuse to, then we in Congress have to start
proposing our own timetables, just as we did when we
were stonewalled by the Bush administration," Feingold
says. "I'm prepared to take whatever steps I need to, in
consultation with other members of Congress, to make
those proposals if necessary."

Other Democrats have also expressed doubts about
appropriating more money for the conflict. Monthly
spending on the war is rising rapidly - from $2 billion
in October 2008 to $6.7 billion in June 2009 - and Obama
has requested a total of $65 billion for 2010, even
without another troop surge. "I don't think there is a
great deal of support for sending more troops to
Afghanistan in the country or in Congress," said House
Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the
Senate Armed Services Committee, has declared his
preference for sending trainers to Afghanistan to build
that country's armed forces, instead of U.S. combat
troops. And Rep. Jim McGovern recently got 138 votes for
an amendment that would have required the administration
to declare its exit strategy. "The further we get sucked
into this war, the harder it will be to get out of it,"
McGovern says. "What the hell is the objective? Tell me
how this has a happy ending. Tell me how we win this.
How do we measure success?"

Given the political pressure from both sides, Obama
appears to favor sidestepping the issue. At a meeting
with congressional leaders from both parties at the
White House on October 6th, the president said he won't
significantly reduce the number of troops in
Afghanistan, as many Democrats had hoped - but he also
seemed unlikely to endorse the major troop buildup
proposed by McChrystal. While that approach may quell
the Pentagon's insurrection for now, it only prolongs
the conflict in Afghanistan, postponing what many see as
an inevitable withdrawal. Wilkerson, the former aide to
Colin Powell, hopes Obama will follow the example of
President Kennedy, who faced down his generals during
the Cuban Missile Crisis. "It's going to take John
Kennedy-type courage to turn to his Curtis LeMay and
say, 'No, we're not going to bomb Cuba,'" Wilkerson
says. "It took a lot of courage on Kennedy's part to
defy the Pentagon, defy the military - and do the right

[From Issue 1090 - October 29, 2009]

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Tony Judt: Justice Goldstone and the Jews

Tony Judt: Justice Goldstone and the Jews
from The Huffington Post by Tony Judt

We Jews should be very proud of Richard Goldstone. In an ancient tradition of Jewish self-questioning and uncomfortable truth-telling, the author of the recent report from the UN Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict has braved personal vilification and institutional mendacity to describe the crimes committed by Israeli forces in the course of their invasion of Gaza in December 2008.

To be sure, the Goldstone Report also itemizes the crimes of Hamas, notably in its campaign of rocket-firing into Israel. But the scale of human rights abuses by Israel vastly outdoes anything Hamas could hope to have achieved: Israeli civilian victims of Hamas rocket attacks numbered less than ten. The attack on Gaza by the IDF resulted in at least 1,100 Palestinian civilian deaths. The major perpetrator of human rights abuses in this conflict is without question the State of Israel, and Justice Goldstone records as much.

That the Israel of Benjamin Netanyahu has chosen to conduct an international campaign against Justice Goldstone and his report need not surprise us. Israel refused to cooperate with the UN investigation; long before its conclusions were published, Netanyahu had set in motion a campaign to deny and denigrate them. More dispiriting, and of greater political consequence, is the pitiful and humiliating response of the Obama Administration. The "fierce urgency of now" apparently required that Washington join Tel Aviv in discrediting the Goldstone Report, and with it the UN inquiry.

This response is of course in keeping with America's long-standing determination to protect Israel against the consequences of its actions at home and abroad; but the universal international condemnation of the destruction of Gaza renders the Obama Administration's response peculiarly self-defeating -- everyone knows what happened in Gaza, so Washington's collusion in covering it up merely draws further attention to the discrediting of U.S. foreign policy and moral standing brought about by our unhealthy relationship with Israel.

There is a special irony to the public slandering of Justice Goldstone now under way. In the first place he is not only Jewish but has close family links to Israel and the Zionist ideal. Secondly, Richard Goldstone has an impeccable resumé as a critic of racism, prejudice and repression -- most notably as an active opponent for many years of the apartheid regime in his native South Africa. During the '90s he served as Chief Prosecutor at the United Nations International Criminal Tribunals dealing with human rights abuses, crimes and genocide in the former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda. It would be hard to fictionalize a more convincing biography for an engaged and ethically uncompromising jurist in the great tradition of Jewish political activism. Goldstone's standing in the world will only rise as a consequence of Israel's short-sighted attempts to discredit the man, the report and the facts. That our own government has chosen to join in this unworthy exercise should be a source of deep embarrassment and shame.

Please join me and Jews from all over the world in signing the Jewish Appeal Letter in Support of the Goldstone Report written by Jews Say No an organization in NY. Go to:

Self-jiving Nation By James Howard Kunstler

Self-jiving Nation
By James Howard Kunstler
on October 26, 2009 7:06 AM

The scene in the White House these days must be a sort of Opera Bouffe, in which an earnest and rather grave young man moves from one roomful of lesser officials to another in which all agree to pretend that they have prevented the nation from falling into something they call "the abyss." At the end of Act I, a young deputy FDIC commissioner in the Little Mary Sunshine mold gets down on one knee, belts out a show-stopper about the glories of a bright and shining "tomorrow," and the audience goes out for intermission to discover that the city has been burning down around the theater all night.
Out in America-the-Real, Halloween time in this year of 2009 has an interesting "Day of the Locust" flavor. There's more than a whiff of smoke in the air, along with an odor of dead carp wafting out of all the the offices and institutions we depend on to define reality. Like the Hollywood of Nathaniel West's dark 1939 novel, America today seems poised in the gate of some harsh judgment. When the historians look back at this era - especially at the time between January 20th and the holiday season of 2009 - won't they marvel at how well-understood our predicament actually was, by so many parties to it, and the gulf between that comprehension and the story we told ourselves: that we were "recovering."
Like a lot of other observer-interlocutors, I'd like to know what folks imagine we are recovering to. To a renewed orgy of credit-card spending? To yet another round of suburban expansion, with the boys in the yellow hard-hats driving stakes out in the sagebrush for another new thousand-unit pop-up "community?" For a next generation of super-cars built to look like medieval war wagons? That's the "hope" that our officials seem to pretend to offer. It's completely inconsistent with any reality-based trend-lines, by the way.
Perhaps it's time to redefine "hope" in the greater social sense of the word. To me, hope is not synonymous with "wishes fulfilled." In fact, hope should not be about wishing at all. Hope should be based on confidence that the individual or group is reliably competent enough to meet the challenges that circumstances present. Hope is justified when people demonstrate to themselves that they can behave ably and bravely. Hope is not really possible in the face of patent untruthfulness. It is derived from a clear-eyed and courageous view of what is really going on. I don't think that defines any of the behavior in the United States these days. We've become a self-jiving nation intent on playing shell games, running Ponzi schemes, and working Polish blanket tricks on ourselves.
It begins to look now as if the Obama team is determined to run this creaking vessel right over the falls. We could have bravely faced the structural perversities in banking the past year, but we decided not to. So far only a tiny minority of the public - unfortunately the "tea-bagging" race-baiters - have been the only ones to squawk. I look around at my fellow baby-boomer ex-hippie, ex-political radical age-cohorts and I see a sad-ass claque of passive, played-out, defeated dreamers too depressed to form a coherent thought about what's really going on... lost in sentimental fantasies about "world peace," or free heart-transplants-for-everybody as they, the boomers themselves, lurch toward the graveyard.
Obama was not a boomer, not one of "us," so I had expectations that he'd rise above the fog of wishful thinking. But he begins to look more like Millard Fillmore and less like an earlier president from Illinois who got elected on the eve of a terrible national political convulsion. I think about Lincoln a lot these days, about how circumstances shoved him to act when Southern secessionists fired on Fort Sumter barely a month after the new president took the oath of office (which was done in March back then). There was no spinning the news on it, no wiggling away from reality: an organized insurrection led by rogue U.S. military officers fired on their fellow officers... and that was that. The issue, as the saying goes, was joined.
If you think we have been in a crisis of finance and economy for the past year or so, consider that we have also been sunk in a comprehensive crisis of leadership. Nobody in authority is willing to face the truth, state the truth, and offer a reality-based idea about how to meet the truth, This is a leadership failure not just in politics and government, but also in business, in the university faculties, in the editorial and production offices of the news media, and even among a barely-breathing clergy.
Americans look around and see nobody standing up for their interests. Their greatest interest is a vision of a fruitful society that they can help build and be a part of beyond the current wreckage of revolving-debt consumerism. It will have to be a vision based on fewer resources and on new arrangements for daily living. It will have to recognize losses frankly, and enable us to let go of things whose time is over, whether that is Happy Motoring, college-for-everybody, vast industries devoted to vanished leisure, or procedures geared to getting something-for-nothing.
For now, I still see the inflection point as coming by the holiday season, when the masters-of-the-universe on Wall Street will have to publicly post their Christmas bonuses (and as publicly held corporations, they will have to). It is also well within the realm of possibility that a Black Swan the size of Rodan the Flying Reptile will swoop through the stock markets to breath fire on the computer terminals and melt the glorious rally of 09 away. In the meantime, I wonder about that man in the White House, and those ever more comical meetings he attends every day. He must emerge from them spinning like a nine dollar gyroscope. Nobody wants to imagine what happens to him when the spinning stops.

AFGHANISTAN: U.S., NATO Forces Rely on Warlords for Security By Gareth Porter*

AFGHANISTAN: U.S., NATO Forces Rely on Warlords for Security
By Gareth Porter*

WASHINGTON, Oct 29 (IPS) - The revelation by the New York Times Wednesday that Ahmed Wali Karzai, the brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, has long been on the payroll of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency is only the tip of a much bigger iceberg of heavy dependence by U.S. and NATO counterinsurgency forces on Afghan warlords for security, according to a recently published report and investigations by Australian and Canadian journalists.

U.S. and other NATO military contingents operating in the provinces of Afghanistan's predominantly Pashtun south and east have been hiring private militias controlled by Afghan warlords, according to these sources, to provide security for their forward operating bases and other bases and to guard convoys.

Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal has acknowledged that U.S. and NATO ties with warlords have been a cause of popular Afghan alienation from foreign military forces. But the policy is not likely to be reversed anytime soon, because U.S. and NATO officials still have no alternative to the security services the warlords provide.

A report published by the Center on International Cooperation at New York University in September notes that U.S. and NATO contingents have frequently hired security providers that are covertly owned by warlords who have "ready-made" private militias which compete with state institutions for power.

The report cites examples of major warlords or their relatives or allies who have been contracted for security services in four provinces.

In Uruzgan province, both U.S. and Australian Special Forces have contracted with a private army commanded by Col. Matiullah Khan, called Kandak Amniante Uruzgan, with 2,000 armed men, to provide security services on which their bases there depend. That case was reported in detail in April 2008 by two reporters for The Australian, Mark Dodd and Jeremy Kelly.

Col. Khan's security force protects NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) convoys on the main road from Kandahar to Tarin Kowt, where more than 1,000 Australian troops are based at Camp Holland, according to the The Australian in April 2008.

Col. Khan gets 340,000 dollars per month – nearly 4.1 million dollars annually - for getting two convoys from Kandahar to Tarin Kowt safely each month. Khan, now police chief in Uruzgan province, evidently got his private army from his uncle Jan Mohammad Khan, a commander who helped defeat the Taliban in Kandahar in 2001 and was then rewarded by President Karzai by being named governor of Uruzgan in 2002.

The Australian Defence Force claimed to The Australian that Col. Khan is paid by the Afghan Ministry of Interior to provide security on the main highways of Uruzgan province. The Australian military had previously refused to confirm or deny Australian payments to Col. Khan.

CanWest News Service's Mike Blanchfield and Andrew Mayeda reported in November 2007 that the Canadian military had hired a "General Gulalai" to provide security for an undisclosed forward operating base. Gulalai is a warlord in southern Afghanistan who drove the Taliban out of Kandahar in 2001.

The same reporters revealed that Col. Haji Toorjan, a local warlord allied with Kandahar governor and major warlord Gul Agha Sherzai, was hired to provide security for Camp Nathan Smith in Kandahar City, where Canada's provincial construction team is located.

Blanchfeld and Mayeda found that the Canadian military had given 29 contracts worth 1.14 million dollars to a company identified as "Sherzai", suggesting strongly that the former governor of Kandahar, who had become governor of Nangarhar province, was the owner.

The Canadian military refused to confirm whether Gul Agha Sherzai is indeed the owner.

In Badakhshan province, Gen. Nazri Mahmed, a warlord who is said to "control a significant portion of the province's lucrative opium industry", has the contract to provide security for the German Provincial Reconstruction Team, according to the NYU report.

The report suggests that the U.S. and NATO contingents are spending hundreds of millions of dollars annually on contracts with Afghan security providers, most of which are local power brokers guilty of human rights abuses.

In addition to Ahmed Wali Karzai, it names Hashmat Karzai, another brother of President Karzai, and Hamid Wardak, the son of Defence Minister Rahim Wardak, as powerful figures who control private security firms that have gotten security contracts without registering with the government.

Two anonymous United Nations sources cited in the report estimate that 1,000 to 1,500 unregistered armed security groups have been "employed, trained, and armed by ISAF" and "Coalition Forces" for security services. As many as 120,000 armed individuals are estimated by the U.N. sources to belong to about 5,000 private militias in Afghanistan.

Most Afghan warlords are widely reviled, mainly because the private armies they continue to control carry out theft and violence against civilians without any accountability.

In his initial assessment last August, Gen. McChrystal referred to "public anger and alienation" toward ISAF, of which he is commander, as a result of the perception that ISAF is "complicit" in "widespread corruption and abuse of power".

That remark suggests that McChrystal, who had carried out the Special Forces' policy of relying on Afghan warlords for security in the past, was now expressing concern about its political consequences.

Jake Sherman, a co-author of the NYU report, was a United Nations political officer involved in the effort to disarm warlords from 2003 to 2005. He is sceptical that U.S. policy ties with the warlords will be ended.

"I don't see how U.S. and other contingents could sustain forward operating bases without paying these guys," said Sherman in an interview with IPS.

Beyond their continuing dependence on the warlords for security services, Sherman sees another reason for keeping them on the payroll. If the U.S. and NATO military commanders tried to cut their ties with the private militias, Sherman said the warlords "would actually become a security threat".

Sherman recalled that during his period working for the United Nations in northern Afghanistan, local police were hired to guard a World Food Programme warehouse in Badakhshan. After a rocket attack on the warehouse, an investigation quickly turned up the fact that the police themselves had carried out the attack to pressure the U.N. to hire more guards.

The present U.S. and NATO dependence on warlord armies is rooted in the policy of the George W. Bush administration in the early years after the ouster of the Taliban regime in late 2001.

The Central Intelligence Agency put the commanders of the forces who had defeated the Taliban on the payroll and gave them weapons and communications equipment to help U.S. counterterrorism squads locate any al Qaeda remnants in Afghanistan.

The commanders used the U.S. support to consolidate their political control over different provinces or sub-provincial areas. Human Rights Watch observed in a June 2002 report on the new relationships forged between the United States and the warlords, "While the U.S. government does not view this policy as actively supporting local warlords, the distinction is often lost on Afghan civilians who see coalition forces openly interacting with the warlords."

Larry Goodson of the National War College, who participated in the 2002 process called the Loya Jirga under which the first post-Taliban Afghan government was established, told IPS he had recommended from the beginning a "de-warlordisation" process, in which "we took nasty, sleazy characters and turn them into less nasty, sleazy bosses."

But the warlords were kept on the payroll, Goodson recalls, mainly because the troops controlled by the former commanders were seen as "force multipliers", in a situation where foreign troops were in short supply.

*Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and journalist specialising in U.S. national security policy. The paperback edition of his latest book, "Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam", was published in 2006.

Transcripts of Defeat By VICTOR SEBESTYEN

October 29, 2009
The New York Times
Transcripts of Defeat


THE highly decorated general sat opposite his commander in chief and explained the problems his army faced fighting in the hills around Kabul: “There is no piece of land in Afghanistan that has not been occupied by one of our soldiers at some time or another,” he said. “Nevertheless much of the territory stays in the hands of the terrorists. We control the provincial centers, but we cannot maintain political control over the territory we seize.

“Our soldiers are not to blame. They’ve fought incredibly bravely in adverse conditions. But to occupy towns and villages temporarily has little value in such a vast land where the insurgents can just disappear into the hills.” He went on to request extra troops and equipment. “Without them, without a lot more men, this war will continue for a very, very long time,” he said.

These sound as if they could be the words of Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top American commander in Afghanistan, to President Obama in recent days or weeks. In fact, they were spoken by Sergei Akhromeyev, the commander of the Soviet armed forces, to the Soviet Union’s Politburo on Nov. 13, 1986.

Soviet forces were then in the seventh year of their nine-year-long Afghan conflict, and Marshal Akhromeyev, a hero of the Leningrad siege in World War II, was trying to explain why a force of nearly 110,000 well-equipped soldiers from one of the world’s two superpowers was appearing to be humiliated by bands of “terrorists,” as the Soviets often called the mujahideen.

The minutes of Akhromeyev’s meeting with the Politburo were recently unearthed by American and Russian scholars of the cold war — these and other materials substantially expand our knowledge of the Soviet Union’s disastrous campaign. As President Obama contemplates America’s own future in Afghanistan, he would be well advised to read some of these revealing Politburo papers; he might also pick up a few riveting memoirs of Soviet generals who fought there. These sources show as many similarities between the two wars as differences — and may provide the administration with some valuable counsel.

Much of the fighting during the Soviet war in Afghanistan was in places that have grown familiar to us now, like Kandahar and Helmand Provinces. The Soviets’ main base of operations was Bagram, which is now the United States Army headquarters. Over the years, the Soviets changed their tactics frequently, but much of the time they were trying and failing to pacify the country’s problematic south and east, often conducting armed sweeps along the border with Pakistan, through which many of the guerrillas moved, as the Taliban do now.

That war was characterized by disputes between soldiers and politicians. As Russian documents show, the politicians ordered the invasion against the advice of the armed forces. The chief of the Soviet Defense Staff, Marshal Nikolai Ogarkov, raised doubts shortly before Soviet forces were dispatched on Christmas Day 1979. He told Dmitri Ustinov — the long-serving defense minister who had been a favorite of Stalin — that experience from the British and czarist armies in the 19th century should encourage caution. Ustinov replied: “Are the generals now making policy in the Soviet Union? Your job is to plan specific operations and carry them out ... . Shut up and obey orders.”

Ogarkov went further up the chain of command to the Communist Party boss, Leonid Brezhnev. He warned that an invasion “could mire us in unfamiliar, difficult conditions and would align the entire Islamic East against us.” He was cut off mid-sentence: “Focus on military matters,” Brezhnev ordered. “Leave the policymaking to us.”

The Soviet leaders realized they had blundered soon after the invasion. Originally, the mission was simply to support the Communist government — the result of a coup Moscow had initially tried to prevent, and then had no choice but to back — and then get out within a few months. But the mujahideen’s jihad against the godless Communists had enormous popular support within the country, and from outside. Money and sophisticated weapons poured in from America and Saudi Arabia, through Pakistan.

The Soviets saw withdrawal as potentially fatal to their prestige in the cold war, so they became mired deeper and deeper in their failed occupation. For years, the Soviets heavily bombarded towns and villages, killing thousands of civilians and making themselves even more loathed by Afghans. Whatever tactics the Soviets adopted the result was the same: renewed aggression from their opponents. The mujahideen, for example, laid down thousands of anti-tank mines to attack Russian troop convoys, much as the Taliban are now using homemade bombs to strike at American soldiers on patrol, as well as Afghan civilians.

“About 99 percent of the battles and skirmishes that we fought in Afghanistan were won by our side,” Marshal Akhromeyev told his superiors in November 1986. “The problem is that the next morning there is the same situation as if there had been no battle. The terrorists are again in the village where they were — or we thought they were — destroyed a day or so before.” Listen to a coalition spokesman now explaining the difficulties its forces are facing in tough terrain, and it would be hard to hear a difference.

There are many in Washington now calling on President Obama to cut his losses and find an exit strategy from Afghanistan. Even if he agreed, it may not be an easy business. When Mikhail Gorbachev became Soviet leader in March 1985 he called Afghanistan “our bleeding wound.” He declared that ending the war was his top priority. But he could not do it without losing face.

The Soviet leadership fatally prevaricated. Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze wanted to pull out of Afghanistan immediately and blame Kremlin predecessors for the unpopular war. So too did Mr. Gorbachev’s most important adviser, the godfather of the perestroika and glasnost reforms, Aleksandr Yakovlev.

But Mr. Gorbachev dithered, searching for something he could call victory, or at least that other elusive prize for armies in trouble: peace with honor. “How to get out racks one’s brains,” Mr. Gorbachev complained in the spring of 1986, according to Politburo minutes. “We have been fighting there for six years. If we don’t start changing our approach we’ll be there another 20 or 30 years. We have not learned how to wage war there.”

Mr. Gorbachev was also haunted by the image of the last Americans leaving Saigon in panic: “We cannot leave in our underpants ... or without any,” he told his chief foreign policy aide, Anatoly Chernyayev, whose diaries have recently become available to scholars. Chernyayev himself called Afghanistan “our Vietnam. But worse.”

Withdrawal was a long, drawn-out agony. By the time the last troops left in February 1989, around 15,000 Soviet soldiers and 800,000 Afghans had died. “We must say that our people have not given their lives in vain,” Mr. Gorbachev told the Politburo. But even his masterful public relations skills could not mask the humiliation of defeat. Indeed, it marked the beginning of the end for the Soviet empire in Europe, as revolution swept through Eastern Europe in 1989, and of the Soviet Union itself two years later.

In 1988, Robert Gates, then the deputy director of the C.I.A., made a wager with Michael Armacost, then undersecretary of state. He bet $25 that the Soviet Army wouldn’t leave Afghanistan. The Soviets retreated in humiliation soon after. Mr. Gates, we can assume, paid up. But is there a gambling man out there who would lay money on the United States Army withdrawing in similarly humbling fashion? And would the defense secretary accept the bet?

Victor Sebestyen is the author of “Revolution 1989: The Fall of the Soviet Empire.”

Too Big To Fail, Too Small To Survive: Small Bank Failures Mount, While Profit At Big Banks Soars

Too Big To Fail, Too Small To Survive: Small Bank Failures Mount, While Profit At Big Banks Soars

On Wall Street, they may be popping the champagne bottles over big bank profits this past quarter. But times are tough for small to mid-size banks around the country as failures mount higher and higher.

The top 10 bailed-out banks -- Citigroup, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, PNC Financial, U.S. Bancorp, SunTrust and Capital One - have reported combined profits this year of $13.5 billion in the first quarter, $16.8 billion in the second quarter and $11 billion in the third quarter after a massive $18 billion loss in the fourth quarter of 2008.

This Time, Ban the Test

This Time, Ban the Test
The treaty calling for a global ban on nuclear tests was rejected by the U.S. Senate ten years ago. Jessica T. Mathews explains in the International Herald Tribune that ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty will enhance U.S. national security.

Legitimacy in Afghanistan Who are the Taliban?

Legitimacy in Afghanistan
Who are the Taliban?
Taliban A recent report by the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee suggested that the majority of Taliban fighters in Afghanistan are economically motivated. In an overview of who the Taliban are, Gilles Dorronsoro explains that such a view is misguided: “The fighters are basically farmers. Most of them are very young. They know what they stand for, and they view the foreigners as a threat to their families and their values.”

Getting Lost in Afghanistan

Getting Lost in Afghanistan
Afghanistan The Obama administration is reportedly examining a military strategy in Afghanistan that would increase troop levels to protect top population centers. Gilles Dorronsoro explains in the Guardian how former US marine and foreign service officer Matthew P. Hoh’s letter of resignation raises a number of important questions about the value of a continued American combat presence in Afghanistan.

Russia and the World

Russia and the World
Russia Reborn
Russia Nearly 20 years after the breakup of the Soviet Union, Russia still struggles to find its role on the international stage. Dmitri Trenin suggests in Foreign Affairs that by embracing a soft power foreign policy fueled by a new focus on economic, intellectual, and social renewal, Russia can emerge as a serious and indispensable global actor.

NATO and Russia: Partnership or Peril?

NATO and Russia: Partnership or Peril?
Russia Both Russian and NATO leaders have called for a new bilateral relationship, but with divergent visions of what such a relationship would look like. Dmitri Trenin explains that it is time for Russia and the West to begin the long and potentially rocky process of developing a security community in Europe that would include both NATO members and nonmembers.

Turkish Aspirations Turkey's Transformers

Turkish Aspirations
Turkey's Transformers
Turkey Turkey's ruling party aims to transform the country from a regional power into a global one. Henri Barkey and Morton Abramowitz explore in Foreign Affairs whether its ambitions will be thwarted by Turkey's Islamist past and the culturally conservative inclinations of its core constituents. Middle East Roundtable: Jordan-Israel peace after 15 years, October 29, 2009
Middle East Roundtable

Edition 39 Volume 7 - October 29, 2009

Jordan-Israel peace after 15 years

• Trickier than meets the eye - Ezzedine Choukri Fishere
What political capital did this treaty leave behind to cover the cost of peace with Syria and the Palestinians?

• Deep frustration in Jordan - Smadar Perry
We could have done a lot better.

• Walking a thin line - Rana Sabbagh-Gargour
The opponents of the peace treaty feel their skepticism has been vindicated.

• Cold peace - Ziad Abu Zayyad
Jordan's dream of achieving comprehensive peace and stability in the region has faded.

Trickier than meets the eye
Ezzedine Choukri Fishere

It is easy for peaceniks to praise the Jordanian-Israeli peace treaty; it expanded the circle of peace to a second major Arab state, legitimized much-valued cooperation between two neighbors and passed the tests of Jordanian succession and Palestinian intifada. Rejectionists find it equally easy to criticize the treaty, using the same arguments but with an opposite spin. Both focus on what meets the eye; but a closer look at the 1994 treaty reveals a trickier aspect. Although it created a solid Israeli-Jordanian peace, the treaty has for all practical purposes impeded progress toward broader Arab-Israel reconciliation.

Peace with Jordan was easy for Israel. In a sense, the two neighbors "grew up" together. The leaders on both sides understood, even if they sometimes ignored, each other's constraints. They clashed only under severe pressure, as was the case over Jerusalem in 1948 and in the 1967 war. But even then, they tried to find ways to limit the damage to their co-existence. Since Jordan dropped its West Bank claims--thanks to the PLO's shortsightedness--there have been no major Jordanian claims to territories controlled by Israel. Peace with Jordan, therefore, came at almost no territorial cost to Israel and, consequently, at little domestic political cost. For an Israeli prime minister, peace with Jordan was a dividend, not an expenditure.

But this is precisely the problem with the 1994 treaty, because the same cannot be said for Jordan. Although keen on peace with Israel, recognizing Israel publicly and flying its flag in Amman was certainly not a politically lucrative position for its king. Declaring an end of conflict with Israel while the latter occupied Palestinian territories didn't resonate with Jordan's Palestinian majority. Even the two issues that King Hussein had a claim on--Jerusalem's Aqsa Mosque and Palestinian refugees--were practically ignored by the 1994 peace treaty. Only Hussein's statesmanship could see this treaty through in Jordan.

All this could have been a petty calculation; who got more than the other out of a peace deal is of little interest. But the treaty raised a more fundamental question: what political capital did it leave behind to cover the cost of peace with Syria and the Palestinians?

Toward the end of 1993, Israeli PM Yitzhak Rabin faced a choice between pursuing a costly path to peace with Syria and tapping the Jordanian dividend right away. All those who wanted broad Arab-Israel reconciliation, including the Clinton administration, urged him to move on the Syrian track first. Progress on the Syrian track was expected to be politically costly for Rabin, but key to comprehensive peace. For Syrian President Hafez al-Assad, the Israeli choice to make peace with Jordan meant that Rabin was bent on isolating Syria in order to ignore it or force it to accept a humiliating deal. A friendlier interpretation, by American officials, saw in Rabin's choice a sign of political weakness: an easy way out of the required territorial concession on the Golan. Either way, Rabin's choice was a bad omen.

It was ominous because it confirmed what Arab leaders feared; that their Israeli counterparts are unable to muster enough political support to make the difficult decisions needed for peace. Rabin's choice in the fall of 1993 recalled PM Menachem Begin's choice in the fall of 1977.

Back then, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat created an opening for possible Arab-Israel reconciliation. Begin and his Likud crowd, however, were in no mood to relinquish their "promised land". They grabbed the opportunity to reach a bilateral Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty while carefully closing the window on broader Arab-Israel reconciliation, the price of which would be withdrawal from the Golan and the West Bank. Sadat tried to create a link between the two tracks, with support from US President Jimmy Carter. But Begin stood his ground. Faced with a choice between failure and bilateral peace, both Sadat and Carter chose the latter. Begin won the battle, but obviously Arab-Israel peace lost out.

Bilateral peace treaties do not "grow" into broader peace. Begin used one to avoid a broader and more costly peace. Rabin used another as a respite; as an additional resource to face the costs of the 1993 Oslo shock. Rabin wasted the Jordanian dividend and undermined his own ability to pay the political cost of withdrawal from the Golan or Palestine.

Peace with Jordan was an immediate gratification Rabin couldn't resist. But in doing so, he depleted his own "peace accounts" and undermined his ability to pursue the difficult peace path with Syria and the PLO. The easier peace with Jordan was achieved at the expense of broader Arab-Israel peace and was not a prelude to it. Deferred gratification is a virtue of those who think about the future of their children; this does not usually include politicians.- Published 29/10/2009 ©

Ezzedine Choukri Fishere is a distinguished visiting lecturer at the American University in Cairo. He worked as an advisor to the UN envoy to the ME peace process (2001-2004) and to the Egyptian foreign minister (2005-2007).

Deep frustration in Jordan
Smadar Perry

It's mainly a sour sensation. On the street in Jordan, people ask angrily and sincerely why Jordan ever bothered signing a peace agreement with Israel. And on the Israeli street, people wonder why this peace agreement, which was meant to be special and to constitute a leading example for other Arab states like Lebanon, the Gulf emirates and Morocco, never managed to take off. Well, maybe it got a little bit off the ground, but then it landed with a bang. When, on the Israeli side, we assess the situation on the fifteenth anniversary of the signing of the peace agreement, the impression is not only sour but, more to the point, there is a sense of missed opportunity. A process destined to generate great things fizzled from the very beginning.

We could have done a lot better. With a little forethought and vision we could have turned Aqaba and Eilat into twin cities generating a long list of cooperative ventures and economic benefits: a shared seaport and airport, the latter hosting tourist flights that keep the hotels filled all year long. Eilat and Aqaba are only 20 minutes apart by car, the Israeli port is overflowing and Aqaba offered to host its cargo ships. The site for a shared airport has even been selected, but the Israeli side has dragged its feet for reasons that to this day are not clear.

What do we have? Some 200 Jordanians cross the border daily to work in Eilat. That's almost it. This is neither normalization nor the "special" kind of peace promised by the late King Hussein. The peace process stopped before it could even begin to bloom, just months after the assassination of PM Yitzhak Rabin in November 1995.

Here we recall the words of King Hussein in his touching eulogy to Rabin in Jerusalem: "I lost a partner," Hussein said of his friend. The human dimension, a vital element even in relations between former enemies, has faded away. The telephones don't ring, meetings are few and far between and the human gestures that set the tone on the streets have followed suit and disappeared.

Yes, there are security ties. Intelligence and security warnings are definitely exchanged. On both sides of the border they have found strategic common denominators and the precise terminology for managing them. We have not yet heard just how many Israeli lives the Jordanians have saved over the years. But who cares?

Dry statistics tell the story of lost expectations. On the eve of the peace-signing ceremony at the Arava border crossing, 82 percent of the Jordanian population (including Palestinians) supported the agreement and praised at length the planned economic and other cooperation. This week, 15 years later, 80 percent of Jordanians (mainly Palestinians) demand to cancel the agreement, expel the Israeli ambassador and "erase the little that has been achieved and everything that was promised". Israelis, it emerges, are experts at making promises no one bothers to keep.

Yet when we examine all the missed opportunities, it turns out Israelis are not the only ones to blame. Take for example the issue of visas. An Israeli desiring to pop over to Jordan boards a plane or a bus and buys a visa at the border or the airport in Amman. In the other direction, nearly every Jordanian of Palestinian origin is suspect in Israeli eyes of vanishing inside Israel and following in the footsteps of thousands who have already exercised their "right of return" or simply sought work in the Arab sector in Israel. Hence what awaits a Jordanian visitor--and their numbers are dwindling--is an exhausting bureaucratic experience: standing in line at the entrance to the Israeli consulate, presenting a bank statement and family history, being over 65 or 70 years old and mainly, arming himself with patience. "Popping over to eat fish at the Sea of Galilee or humus in Acre" is out of the question.

Above and beyond all this, there is deep frustration at the highest levels in Jordan that no one on the Israeli side takes the trouble to pick up the phone occasionally, to maintain an atmosphere of partnership, to think together what to do about Abu Mazen (Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas) and how to deal with Hamas, to make decisions together, to avoid surprises. In Amman, all eyes are focused on regional sources of tension. In Jerusalem, everyone looks mainly toward Washington. That we could have been looking together in the same direction; that we have a long list of shared interests--these assets we have lost, perhaps forever.- Published 29/10/2009 ©

Smadar Perry is Middle East editor of the daily Yediot Aharonot.

Walking a thin line
Rana Sabbagh-Gargour

King Abdullah is loosing patience with Israel. Israel's accelerated anti-peace policies and unilateral actions in occupied Jerusalem are embarrassing him at home and threatening Jordan's national security and stability 15 years after the two countries signed their peace treaty. The outpouring of emotion at that signing ceremony between Yitzhak Rabin and King Hussein has well and truly been replaced with feelings of disappointment as bilateral ties hit rock bottom.

Like most Jordanians, Abdullah feels Israel has taken Jordan for a ride without consideration of its strategic needs or the sensitivities of its population. It is important to remember that half of Jordan's population is made up of Palestinian refugees who fled the 1948 war that led to Israel's creation and insist on exercising their rights to return and compensation.

The peace treaty was supposed to end the state of belligerency that existed between the two neighboring states and usher in an era of comprehensive Middle East peace. This was meant to have culminated in the creation of an independent, sovereign and territorially contiguous Palestinian state on the 1967 border with mutually agreed territorial swaps equal in size and value. Instead, successive Israeli governments have expanded settlement activity in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem without addressing the Palestinian issue. Comprehensive peace remains an elusive dream.

Abdullah, who became king after the death of his father in 1999, is now absorbing one blow after another from Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. The personal chemistry that allowed Hussein and Rabin to pursue a vision for comprehensive peace with courage and clarity simply does not exist between Abdullah and Netanyahu.

Israel is resisting a US-led, Arab-backed comprehensive peace plan, at the heart of which is the two-state solution, a strategic goal for Jordan. Despite the treaty that recognizes Jordan's "special role" over holy Muslim and Christian sites in Jerusalem, Israel is also pursuing aggressive unilateral actions in the divided city, to alter its Arab identity. It is excavating in and under al-Haram al-Sharif affecting the integrity of the Muslim site, impeding the work of Jordan's Awqaf teams seeking access to the site and continuing to demolish homes of the city's Palestinian residents.

These deteriorating conditions across the river are reviving the notion of Jordan as an alternative homeland for Palestinians, a long-standing right-wing Israeli dream that official Jordan had hoped was buried with the signing of the treaty. In parallel, Netanyahu is pushing for "economic peace" with the Palestinian in whatever is left of the West Bank along with greater self-rule. This is a scenario that could eventually push Jordan to enter into a confederation with that limited territory, which would destabilize Jordan's delicate demographic balance.

Regional instability, meanwhile, has turned the peace treaty into a political liability, inhibiting the government's margin of maneuver and preventing the normalization of ties between the peoples as well as governments. Today, a "cold political war" is being waged between Jordan and Israel. Their respective embassies in Amman and Tel Aviv maintain a minimum of bilateral cooperation in the areas of trade, health and water. Stronger cooperation between their security agencies helps maintain a quiet border.

Apart from rehabilitating Jordan's political ties with America, Europe and Gulf Arab states--which ruptured because Amman refused to join the military alliance that ended Iraq's occupation of Kuwait in 1991--and restoring badly-needed financial assistance, the peace treaty has not impacted the lives of ordinary Jordanians. The much-touted economic dividends that King Hussein promised his people did not materialize, except for a few joint projects here and there.

The opponents of the peace treaty thus feel their skepticism has been vindicated. The government now finds it more difficult to rein in opponents who have gone wild both in the street, the media and inside professional unions. For now, the king's strategic and political options also remain limited. Other than re-calling his ambassador in Tel Aviv for "prolonged consultation", he cannot meet popular demands to freeze the treaty and expel the Israeli envoy. The country has limited natural resources and remains heavily dependent on the treaty to nurture the political, economic and military strategic alliance with the US that Abdullah has deepened.

Jordan can neither change its strategic commitment to peace, nor count on a unified Arab and Palestinian position. Abdullah can only walk a thin line, stepping up his criticism of Netanyahu while managing public opinion, instilling gradual political reform to widen popular participation and praying that US President Barack Obama and the international community will convince Netanyahu to embrace a bigger picture.- Published 29/10/2009 ©

Rana Sabbagh-Gargour, an independent journalist, is former editor of the Jordan Times.

Cold peace
Ziad Abu Zayyad

Last week marked the fifteenth anniversary of the signing of the Wadi Araba peace treaty between Israel and Jordan. Significantly, there were no official celebrations. Rather, frustrated and disappointed comments were relayed, even if in diplomatic tones, reflecting a high level of disillusionment. Relations between Israel and Jordan are normal but increasingly cold. Obviously, expectations of the peace treaty have not been met, yet both sides can claim they have benefitted to a certain degree from their cold peace.

The euphoria of peacemaking witnessed in 1994 did not last long. It was the Palestinians who had cleared the way for the rush to conclude an Israel-Jordan treaty, but not without a certain level of resentment. Jordanians showed a high level of support for the attempts of the Palestinian delegation in Washington to be recognized as an independent delegation rather than as part of a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation, as demanded by Israel, yet the PLO leadership opened a secret back channel in Oslo. This was viewed later as a stab in the back.

As a result of that Jordanian resentment, and motivated by Jordan's interest to achieve Israeli recognition of its borders with Israel--thus putting an end to the Israeli right wing's denial of the Palestinian right to establish a Palestinian state on part of Mandatory Palestine and its insistence that Jordan should be the Palestinian homeland--Jordan rushed to accomplish a peace treaty with Israel believing that the whole region was on the path to comprehensive peace.

It is clear that without the Israeli-Palestinian Declaration of Principles at Oslo, Jordan could not have signed its own treaty, especially not one that saw Jordan lease part of its territory in Wadi Araba to Israel, contrary to the principles established by Anwar Sadat in Egypt's treaty with Israel, i.e., that Israel should withdraw from every inch of occupied territory before it can achieve peace.

One day after the signing of the Oslo DOP in September 1993, Jordan and Israel signed a Common Agenda, defining the issues that should be negotiated to conclude a peace agreement. In October 1993, King Hussein sent Crown Prince Hassan to Washington to meet President Bill Clinton and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres. The parties agreed to create a bilateral economic committee and a US-Jordan-Israel Trilateral Economic Committee. In July 1994, Washington hosted the first official meeting between King Hussein and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

There, Hussein and Rabin signed the Washington Declaration, formally ending the 46-year state of war between the countries. The accord included agreements on economic cooperation, telephone links, water, border crossings, tourism, air space and Jordan's relationship to holy shrines in Jerusalem. Rabin visited Jordan on August 9, 1994, the first Israeli leader officially to do so. The culmination of the many rounds of talks and agreements led to a peace treaty that was signed at the Wadi Araba crossing on October 26, 1994 and the establishment of full diplomatic relations on November 28.

The Oslo peace process opened the door not only to Jordan-Israel peace but encouraged several Arab countries to exchange missions with Israel and start a process of normalizing relations. But instead of being encouraged by these developments, Israel began to slow down the peace process while trying to enhance the normalization process, until the peace process inevitably went off the tracks.

Fifteen years later, comprehensive peace has not been achieved. Contrary to what was supposed to be the end result of the peace process, Israel now rejects a two-state solution, expanding Jewish settlements in occupied Palestinian territory, building a separation wall, creating facts on the ground to prevent any chance of creating a Palestinian state, changing the status and image of Jerusalem and making life intolerable for Palestinians in the hope that they will leave "voluntarily".

Jordan's dream of achieving comprehensive peace and stability in the region has faded. The Palestinian-Israeli conflict remains a source of tension and instability in the region. This conflict affects Jordan and its delicate social and political fabric, and has had a negative impact on Jordan-Israel relations. Increasingly, voices are calling for a freeze on relations with Israel and even of the peace agreement. Jordan's national security interests require positive developments on the Israeli-Palestinian track. Without such developments, Jordan may find itself having to make a back-to-the-wall decision to protect its social fabric and defend its national security.- Published 29/10/2009 ©

Ziad Abu Zayyad is co-editor of Palestine-Israel Journal, a lawyer, journalist, and a former PA minister and member of the Palestinian Legislative Council.

Serious Turkish diplomacy By: Flynt Leverett & Hillary Mann Leverett

Serious Turkish diplomacy
By: Flynt Leverett & Hillary Mann Leverett
October 29, 2009

Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was expected to come to the White House on Thursday for a meeting with President Barack Obama. Erdogan’s visit has now been postponed, and the decision to postpone comes on the heels of the Turkish leader’s high-profile visit to Iran this week.

When Erdogan does come to Washington, Obama would do well to listen to his Turkish visitor about the current state of play in the strategically vital Middle East. Erdogan will come to Washington not only at a time of strong domestic support for his government and the ruling Justice and Development Party, a moderate Islamist party that has dominated Turkish electoral politics in this decade, but also at a time of increasing influence for Turkey in the broader Middle East — while America’s influence in the region continues to decline.

We spent several days in Turkey last week, where we heard Erdogan describe his country’s “zero problems” policy vis-√†-vis its neighbors. Regarding the Middle East more specifically, Erdogan’s chief foreign policy adviser explained to us that Turkey’s approach to the region is based on four principles: Engage all actors; respect the results of all democratic elections (including those in the Palestinian territories in 2006 and Iran in 2009); increase cultural and economic relations among countries in the region; and work with regional and international organizations to maximize possibilities for engagement.

Turkey is, of course, a member of NATO and has long had a positive economic and strategic relationship with Israel. But, working from these four principles, the Erdogan government has in recent years effected major improvements in Turkey’s relations with a much wider range of Middle Eastern states, including Iran, Iraq and Syria.

This opening to the broader Middle East has been very strongly in Turkey’s interest. Expanding trade and investment links to Iran, Iraq, Syria and other regional states has boosted the growth of Turkey’s economy and reinforced its status as an “emerging market” of international significance. Moreover, closer ties to Middle Eastern countries, along with links to Hamas and Hezbollah, have made Ankara an increasingly important player across a wide spectrum of regional issues.

Erdogan wants to position Turkey to act as a mediator between its Muslim neighbors and the West — including the United States, which needs to move beyond nice speeches by Obama and undertake concrete diplomatic initiatives to repair its standing in the Middle East. But if Washington is too shortsighted to see the necessity of realigning its relations with key Middle Eastern actors such as Iran, the Erdogan government’s opening to the broader Middle East gives Ankara a wider array of strategic options for pursuing Turkish interests — the essence of successful diplomacy.

During his visit to Tehran this week, Erdogan met with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei — a rare honor for a foreign leader. (In 2007, Russia’s then-President Vladimir Putin was also accorded a meeting with Khamenei.) Turkey’s expanding ties to the Islamic republic — including gas supply contracts and preliminary agreements for major upstream and pipeline investment projects — are essential to consolidating Turkey’s role as the leading transit “hub” for oil and gas supplies to Europe. While in Iran, Erdogan said that he hopes Turkish-Iranian trade — currently valued at roughly $10 billion — will double by 2011 and strongly supported Iranian participation in the Nabucco gas pipeline. Meeting with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Erdogan criticized international pressure on Tehran over its nuclear activities as “unjust and unfair” while other states maintain nuclear weapons.

These statements signal that Turkey may well move ahead and conclude significant upstream and pipeline contracts in Iran despite U.S. opposition. The U.S. position on this issue is detached from economic reality. However much the Obama administration resists admitting it, the Nabucco pipeline will almost certainly not be commercially viable in the long run without Iranian gas volumes. In the end, Turkey’s approach to Iran does more for Western interests than does the U.S. approach. Under the Erdogan government, Ankara is increasingly confident that it can pursue its interests in the Middle East without either succumbing to U.S. pressure or fundamentally sacrificing its relationship with Washington. Erdogan’s planned visit to the White House strongly suggests that this confidence is eminently justified.

Israelis and some of Israel’s friends in the United States decry what they see as the expansion of Turkey’s ties to other important Middle Eastern states at the expense of Turkey’s ties to Israel. Ankara has indeed been sharply critical of Israel’s military campaign in Gaza and its role in the continuing humanitarian crisis there — a posture manifested in Erdogan’s highly publicized walkout from a joint event with Israeli President Shimon Peres at the World Economic Forum and the postponement of NATO military exercises in Turkey that would have included Israeli forces. But criticism of Turkey from pro-Israel circles misses an important reality: At this point, Israel arguably needs a relationship with Turkey more than Turkey needs a relationship with Israel.

There is an important lesson here for the Obama administration. America no longer has the economic and political wherewithal to dictate strategic outcomes in the Middle East. Increasingly, if Washington wants to promote and protect U.S. interests in this critical region, it will have to do so through serious diplomacy — by respecting evolving balances of power and accommodating the legitimate interests of others so that U.S. interests will be respected. Turkey’s Middle East policy provides a valuable model of what that kind of diplomacy looks like.

Flynt Leverett directs the New America Foundation’s Iran Project and teaches international affairs at Penn State. Hillary Mann Leverett is CEO of Stratega, a political risk consultancy They blog at

© 2009 Capitol News Company, LLC

Weapons of Mass Distraction by MARSHA B. COHEN

Weapons of Mass Distraction
29 Oct 2009
ibcover.jpg The 41st anniversary of the commencement of American-Israeli negotiations over Israel's nuclear program.

If Iranian negotiators haven't read Avner Cohen's book Israel and the Bomb, they should. They'd find out that Oct. 30 is the 41st anniversary of the beginning of the series of negotiations that culminated in American recognition of Israel's "nuclear ambiguity." They might learn some useful lessons.

As the worldwide media weighs and critiques Iran's dilatory response (or lack of satisfactory response) to western pressures over its nuclear program, Israeli diplomats and pundits are reiterating that, no matter what Iran says, it is nonetheless trying to exploit the pretext of a peaceful nuclear program to develop a nuclear weapons program.

After all, Israelis know how the game is played. They wrote the rules.

On Oct. 30, 1968, US Assistant Defense Secretary Paul Warnke began a series of negotiations with then-Israeli Ambassador Yitzchak Rabin, who would become Israel's fifth Prime Minister in 1974. [Awarded the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize for shaking hands with Yassir Arafat, Rabin was assassinated by a right wing Jewish fanatic at a Jerusalem peace rally a year later.] Although Warnke had not been provided with the CIA's assessment of Israel's nuclear weapons program, he nevertheless suspected that Israel had the capability of producing a nuclear bomb and quite possibly had already done so. He proposed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that linked Israel's signature on the NPT not only to the sale of the Phantom jets Israel wanted from the U.S. but to the transformation of the U.S. into Israel's main arms supplier, a role that had, until the 1967 "Six Day" war, been filled by France.

As reconstructed and recounted by Avner Cohen in his 1998 book (pp. 307-318), based on once-classified documents, Warnke met with Rabin on Nov. 12, and attempted to clarify the assertion, "Israel will not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons into the area." Rabin replied that it meant, "We would not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons."

"What do you mean by 'introduce'?" Warnke asked.

"What is your definition of nuclear weapons?" Rabin responded.

Warnke said the question he was asking had two parts: the definition of what was or was not a "nuclear weapon" and the definition of what was or was not "introducing" nuclear weapons. "If there are components available that could be assembled to make a nuclear weapon -- although part A may be in one room and part B may be in another room -- then that is a nuclear weapon," Warnke declared.

General Mordechai Hod, who had accompanied Rabin, asked whether there was any accepted usage of the word "introduction" in international law. Warnke admitted there wasn't. Rabin and Hod then focused on 'testing' as the hallmark of any operational nuclear weapons system. The five nuclear-weapons states had all tested nuclear weapons, and since Israel had not conducted any nuclear tests, it was abiding by its pledge not to have "introduced" nuclear weapons to the region.

Warnke still wanted to define "introduction" in terms of physical presence. But Rabin insisted that, since the purpose of nuclear weapons was to deter, their presence would have to be publicly acknowledged in order to make a case that they had been introduced, since an unacknowledged nuclear weapon had no deterrence value. Rabin further argued that both "notoriety and pretesting" were both necessary in order to meet the Israeli definition of "introduction." Warnke asked Rabin, "In your view, an unadvertised, untested nuclear device is not a nuclear weapon? Rabin responded affirmatively.

Israel's nuclear research program, explains Cohen, originated during its War of Independence in 1948. Israel's first Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion, based his survival strategy for the new state on two major components: a formal military alliance with one or more Western powers, and nuclear weapons. Initially, he considered the possibility of a defense pact with the U.S. that would guarantee the 1949 cease-fire borders. By the mid 1950s, he was convinced that Israel's security needs would best be served by nuclear deterrence it provided for itself. Ben Gurion regarded nuclear weapons as "insurance" in an arms race with the Arab states, as a weapon of last resort, and even as a means of persuading Israel's Arab neighbors to reconcile themselves to Israel's existence.

At this point, the US government itself lacked a coherent non-proliferation policy. Promoting atomic assistance to foreign governments in the peaceful use of nuclear energy (including Iran under the Shah's rule) became a significant component of U.S. foreign policy. Israel had no reason to disguise its research and development of civilian nuclear technology.

In 1960, Time magazine reported that Israel was building an atomic bomb in the Israeli desert town of Dimona. Ben Gurion would only admit to building a nuclear power plant there. He feared that a debate among government officials and policymakers, let alone any public input, might endanger his plans for the nuclear deterrent. Funding was secured outside "normal government channels." The project became off-limits for any discussion. In 1962, two Knesset (parliament) members from the Israeli left wing parties Mapam and Maki, proposed a debate on the establishment of a nuclear free zone in the Middle East in order to avoid a "holocaust" resulting from the use of nuclear weapons in the Arab-Israeli conflict. The proposal was scrapped from the Knesset's agenda at Ben Gurion's request.

According to Cohen, Israel had completed the development stage of its first nuclear weapon by 1966-67. CIA reports distributed in early 1967 indicated that Israel had produced all the necessary components to allow it to assemble a nuclear bomb in 6-8 weeks. Nevertheless, Israel refused to admit to having a nuclear weapons program, insisting it was sufficient for it to assert, "it would not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons into the Middle East."

Rabin and Foreign Minister Abba Eban and Ambassador to the U.S. Yitzhak Rabin met with U.S. Secretary of State Dean Rusk in October 1968. Rusk explained to them that Israel's development of nuclear weapons confront the U.S. with the embarrassing question of whether or not the U.S. was serious about the NPT, "which we are." It would also raise the disconcerting issue, within the larger context of the Cold War, of what the Soviet Union might do to provide Arab countries with access to nuclear weapons if Israel were to have them. Rusk and the State Department attempted to link the sale of U.S. F-4 Phantom jets to an agreement to sign the NPT, while CIA Director Richard Helms privately briefed President Lyndon Johnson that Israel's nuclear capability would preclude its signing as a non-nuclear weapon state.

Israel didn't sign the NPT. It got the Phantoms anyway. To avoid embarrassing the U.S., "ambiguity--Cohen calls it "opacity," i.e. lack of transparency--became the watchword whenever Israel's nuclear weapons program was mentioned.

There were some close calls. Disclosures to British Sunday Times journalist Peter Hounam in October 1986, concerning the activities at Israel's nuclear facility at Dimona by a technician who had been employed there, Mordechai Vanunu, met with a major disinformation campaign by the Israeli government. Vanunu was kidnapped by Israeli intelligence before his story could be verified.

The taboo on nuclear policy within Israel was nearly broken on Feb. 2, 2000. Knesset Member Issam Makhoul of the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality Hadash ("New") Front, a small Arab-Jewish political party, challenged Israel's policy on nuclear ambiguity. Makhoul attempted to point out the dangers not only of nuclear spiraling in the Middle East, driven by Israel's existing stockpile of "hundreds of nuclear bombs" and Israel's recent acquisition of the German submarines, but the possibility of nuclear terrorism carried out by Israelis. What defense was there, Makhoul asked, "if a nuclear Baruch Goldstein [a radical settler who burst into the mosque at the Tomb of Patriarchs in Hebron on Feb. 25, 1994, and opened fire on the Muslim worshipers there, killing 29 and wounding 150] should infiltrate the system and, equipped with a religious sanction from some rabbi, launch a nuclear Armageddon?"

Makhoul also called attention to the unsupervised buildup of nuclear waste that had accumulated at Dimona during the past 40 years, as well as Dimona's precarious position on the earthquake-prone Syrian-African rift. He questioned the placement of the nuclear missile site near Kfar Zechariah, the Biological Institute at Nes Tziona, where biological weapons are manufactured, and other facilities producing Israeli weapons of mass destruction in residential districts of the most densely populated areas of Israel, calling it "a crime against the residents of Israel and the neighboring countries."

CNN Jerusalem Bureau Chief Walter Rodgers, who was present, reported that several Knesset members walked out during Makhoul's speech. Five Arab members of Israel's Parliament were ejected, and Makhoul was gaveled down by the Knesset speaker. According to Rodgers, the debate had made possible small, though very slow steps by the Israeli government toward a more open nuclear policy. He lamented that "instead of a constructive discussion, the harsh tones of this first debate, with Israeli Arabs on one side and Israeli Jews mostly on the other, may have closed the door on this issue for a while longer" (CNN, 2/2/2000, 6:08 pm ET).

The Makhoul episode was repressed and quickly forgotten. Far more disturbing to Israeli policymakers were Avner Cohen's revelations in Israel and the Bomb. Two years after it was published in the U.S. in English, it was scheduled to appear in Hebrew, in Israel, during the summer of 2000. Cohen had not only provided a comprehensive chronology of Israel's secret nuclear program, he had brought Israel's policy of deliberate ambiguity, which he referred to as "nuclear opacity," to light a mindset, deeply embedded in Israel's national security culture and in the norms, values and attitudes of anyone initiated into Israeli culture:

The culture of opacity is rooted in several convictions: that it is vital to Israel's security to posses nuclear weapons; that the Arabs should not be allowed to obtain nuclear weapons, thus maintaining an Israeli nuclear monopoly; that Israel cannot openly make a case for nuclear monopoly and thus must keep its nuclear status unacknowledged; that the nuclear issue must be kept out of public discourse; that the issue should be left to anonymous nuclear professionals; and finally, that the policy of opacity has served Israel well and has no alternative. Even in today's Israel, when all other security-related organizations and issues, including the Mossad and the Shin Bet, have become a matter of public debate and criticism, the nuclear complex is conspicuous in its absence from the public agenda (Israel and the Bomb, p.343).

On June 5, 2006, this author (who, though sharing the same last name, is unrelated to Avner Cohen) posed the following question to Cohen, in an online Q&A in Shmuel Rosner's Haaretz blog:
Israel claims that the real danger of Iran acquiring nuclear capability is that it would result in other Middle Eastern states also wanting to acquire nuclear capability, and is not just an Israeli concern about being "removed from the arena of time" (Israeel bayad az sahneye roozegar mahv shavad, usually translated as "Israel must be wiped off the map").

I find it somewhat ironic that in chapter 13 of your book "Israel and the Bomb," this was exactly the concern expressed by the Americans about Israel's nuclear capability in the 1960s, and the reason that the Israeli policy of "opacity" was grudgingly accepted by the U.S. -- i.e. so that the Arab states would not claim the right to nuclear weapons since Israel had them. Could you please comment?

Also, while Iran is being derided for its clandestine nuclear research, if the politics were different, couldn't that secrecy also be considered "ambiguity" or "opacity" from an Iranian point of view (a notion which Israel clearly is unwilling to admit or permit)?

Marsha B. Cohen

Cohen responded at great length and in surprising depth about the historiography of Israel's nuclear program. A short segment of his response--the most directly related to Iran--is reproduced below):

This leads me to your last and probably most intriguing point. You noted that "while Iran is being derided for its clandestine nuclear research, if the politics were different, couldn't that secrecy also be considered "ambiguity" or "opacity" from an Iranian point of view (a notion which Israel clearly is unwilling to admit or permit)?"

Yes, I agree with you that it is a great irony that there is a great deal of resemblance in the mode of opacity -- via secrecy, concealment, ambiguity, double talk and denial -- between the way Iran is pursuing its nuclear program today and the way Israel was pursuing its own program in the 1960s.

In fact, I would not be surprised if some Iranian policy makers and nuclear technocrats have deliberately decided to try to adopt or mimic the Israeli model of nuclear opacity, IF the world would permit them to pursue that mode.

If this line of thinking is correct, it means that Iran's nuclear program would not be aimed at a test of a nuclear device, nor towards declaring Iran as a nuclear-armed state. Instead, while most likely maintaining a secret weaponziation program (but without testing), Iran would continue to insist publicly on its right to enrich uranium.

Over time, while remaining within the NPT, Iran would be seeking to acquire a perception and reputation (by ways of leaks, rumors, double talk, etc) that they have actually built a "secret" nuclear arsenal or at least secretly accumulated a sufficient amount of weapons-grade fissile material.

It may well be that some Iranians have come to believe that by mimicking the Israeli model, as much as they could, they would get all the prestige and deterrence effects they need but without leaving the NPT, let alone without testing or declaring such a bomb. Let the question of the Iranian bomb remain opaque, just like Israel. This would mimic the way Shimon Peres for decades used to talk about "deterrence by way of uncertainty." Let the world guess.

In fact, the world is already guessing now where Iran is in its nuclear pursuit. Some say that Iran is as far as five to 10 years away from producing the bomb, while others, including some mavens in Israel, are fearful that if Iran has been closely imitating Israel it may well already have the bomb. What a remarkable irony indeed.

If Iran indeed follows the Israeli model of nuclear opacity, this would put Israel in a great dilemma of its own. Should Israel call the bluff over Iranian opacity, and in doing so expose its own opacity, or should Israel prefer to acquiesce, just as the world had acquiesced over its own two generations ago.

Thank you again Marsha, for allowing me to reflect on history.

Cohen was indeed intrigued by the irony I had suggested and proceeded to further (and publicly) reflect on it. About two months later, he was quoted in a Reuters news dispatch by Bernd Dubussman (Sept. 26, 2006, 11:36 am):

"Whether deliberately or inadvertently, there are elements of resemblance between the way Iran is pursuing its nuclear program today and the way Israel was pursuing its own program in the 1960s," Avner Cohen, author of a landmark study entitled "Israel and the Bomb," in a telephone interview.

"This is a great irony of history but Iranian policymakers and nuclear technocrats may be strategically mimicking the Israeli model," said Cohen, senior research scholar at the University of Maryland's Center for International and Security Studies.

As Cohen sees it, the elements the Israeli and Iranian nuclear programs have in common are secrecy, concealment, ambiguity, double talk and denial.

Iran's probable strategy, he says, is to create the perception of having a secret weapons program, or being close to it, without actually testing a bomb or declaring its possession or impending possession.

That echoes the Israeli program, which began in the late 1950s at the Dimona nuclear complex in the Negev Desert. Since then, Israel has declined to confirm or deny it has nuclear weapons, saying only it would not be the first to "introduce" them into the Middle East.

Over the decades, Israel's attitude has been "let the world guess" or as former Prime Minister Shimon Peres called it, "deterrence by uncertainty."

Writing for Haaretz on Feb. 12, 2007, Cohen elaborated on the political implications of the Israeli-Iranian nuclear analogy:

Iran's choice of nuclear ambiguity will be a political challenge for the international nuclear system, but a far greater challenge to Israel, which granted legitimacy to such ambiguity. There is an important difference between Israel and Iran: Israel's nuclear ambiguity succeeded as an international phenomenon because the world, and particularly the U.S., decided to accept it as a country maintaining such a policy. Israel received a kind of exemption from the international community, which closed its eyes to the nuclear issue for political, legal and even ethical reasons unique to Israel. Israel's ambiguity succeeded because the world preferred it to all the other options.

But that is why the Iranian challenge is so powerful: Is it preferable to remove the mask from Iranian ambiguity and to call it by name, or is a vague Iran preferable to an openly nuclear Iran? At what point in time should we remove the masks and insist on international nuclear transparency? And what will be the future of Israeli ambiguity in such a world? These are all questions that until now have hardly been asked, but they demand a great deal of thinking, both worldwide and in Israel.

In the two years since Cohen wrote this, zero progress has been made in addressing these questions, either in Israel or the "international community."

Forty-one years after the Warnke-Rabin negotiations, Israeli's advanced level of development of nuclear technology, including its production of nuclear weapons, remains "opaque." Apologists insist that, since Israel never signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty, it is not bound by its dictates, while Iran, which signed the Treaty in order to reap the benefits available to non-nuclear weapon states, is accountable to an ever-shifting higher standard.

Israel has been at the forefront of accusations that Iran is in the process of developing nuclear weapons, frequently trumpeting its threat to carry out unilateral military strikes at Iranian nuclear production and research facilities. Military sources in the U.S. and Israel (unnamed, of course) drop hints that Israel is being provided by the U.S. with the bunker-buster weapons, and equipped with the necessary delivery devices to be used against Iran. Yet to this day, the western media carefully qualifies all references to Israel's own possession of nuclear weapons as "alleged" or in other waffling terminology that implies that there exists some question about the extent of Israel's nuclear capability.

If Iran had the luxury of an administration whose electoral legitimacy were less in doubt, or that had done less to deliberately cultivate worldwide opprobrium by its appalling human rights violations, these questions could, should and might possibly have been raised. This is the reason why the Israeli diplomatic corps was mobilized and ready to spring into action to delegitimize the Iranian election results had Mousavi emerged as the victor.

The questions confronting Iran's interlocutors are far larger than the grim shadow of any one man, including Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The words being spoken in and about the current debate over Iranian nuclear enrichment are a pale and rather pathetic substitute for those that still need to be debated. Until then, the current nuclear campaign against Iran will be limited to largely discussing weapons of mass destruction, while ignoring the danger of the weapons of mass distraction.

Marsha B. Cohen covers Israel for Tehran Bureau.

Copyright © 2009 Tehran Bureau