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Sunday, October 31, 2010

Pax Americana Is Winding Down -- Arnaud De Borchgrave, Washington Times

Pax Americana Is Winding Down -- Arnaud De Borchgrave, Washington Times

Is the world's balance of power shifting away from the West and moving over to India and China? That's what a number of geopolitical sages are discussing in think tanks from Moscow to Beijing to London to Washington. In a joint SOS piece in the November-December issue of Foreign Affairs, former Deputy Treasury Secretary Roger Altman and the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, Richard N. Haass, warn U.S. leaders to curb "the current debt addiction - or global capital markets will do it for them." An age of austerity and draconian belt-tightening - and sudden decline in U.S. power - is upon us. Gridlocked Congress, fiscal train wreck, climbing without a rope, all the stuff of headlines the world over.

Read more ....

The Baseline Scenario What happened to the global economy and what we can do about it Foreign Money, National Security, And The Midterm Elections

Bombing Iran for votes, the strange path of a dumb idea from Marc Lynch

Bombing Iran for votes, the strange path of a dumb idea

David Broder has raised some eyebrows with his bizarre Washington Post column arguing that "with strong Republican support in Congress for challenging Iran's ambition to become a nuclear power, [Obama] can spend much of 2011 and 2012 orchestrating a showdown with the mullahs. This will help him politically because the opposition party will be urging him on. And as tensions rise and we accelerate preparations for war, the economy will improve."  It should only be surprising to those who haven't been paying attention, though.  Leaving aside the truly odd ideas about the economy, Broder is actually offering a warmed over, mainstream version of the  argument coined in August by former Bush Middle East adviser Elliott Abrams that "the Obama who had struck Iran and destroyed its nuclear program would be a far stronger candidate, and perhaps an unbeatable one."  Since then, each time the argument pops up I've tagged it on Twitter with "this idea was stupid enough when Elliott Abrams wrote it in August." 
Broder's column is an interesting study in how really dumb ideas bounce around Washington DC.  Fortunately, it's not an idea which seems to have any support at all in the Obama White House.  Unlike Abrams (who it's fair to assume does not wish  Obama well in November 2012) and Broder (who... well, it's anyone's guess), the Obama team can see perfectly clearly that the American people have no appetite for a third major war in the Middle East and that launching a war with massive strategic consequences for short-term political gain would be epically irresponsible.  They find this argument ridiculous.  Even if they were primarily interested in their electoral fortunes in designing Iran policy, they would quickly see that such an Abrams-approved strategem would wipe out their support on the left and gain absolutely zero votes on the right.  
Now, I'm very worried that Obama's Iran strategy will lock the U.S. into ever more hawkish rhetoric which ties their hands and paves the way to future military confrontations.   I think that serious people disagree about the likely effectiveness of sanctions or of diplomacy, and that all are struggling to find meaningful off-ramps in the glide towards ever-more stringent and militarized regional containment.   I worry about a lot on Iran policy.  But this isn't one of the things which I worry about.   I don't think that anyone in the Obama White House takes remotely seriously the epically bad Abrams-Broder advice to pursue military showdown with Iran for political advantage.   This may offer an intriguing window into how Abrams thought about foreign policy in the Bush White House, and a depressing case study in the circulation of ideas in Washington, but it tells us nothing at all about how the Obama administration is thinking about Iran.
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Saturday, October 30, 2010

Obama, Clinton Visit India With Wary Eye On Rising China -- Christian Science Monitor

Obama, Clinton Visit India With Wary Eye On Rising China -- Christian Science Monitor

President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton are making trips to India and the region in the coming weeks, with an eye toward strengthening alliances to counterbalance China.

President Obama and his secretary of state are embarking on Asian trips to build up an insurance policy in case the rising power China ever turns aggressive.

Mr. Obama’s first and longest stopover next month will be India, a country that his predecessor touted as a counterbalance to China. The Obama administration initially reversed that talk, but has lately come around to seeing India as a key link in a regional safety net.

Read more ....
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Is Yemen Becoming The New Front In The War On Terror?

Yemen: The New Front In The War On Terror? -- The Telegraph

The discovery of a suspicious package in Britain on a plane going from Yemen to Chicago is the latest in a number of suspected terrorist related incidents to involve the Middle Eastern country. Is Yemen the new front in the war on terror?

The multiple crises afflicting Yemen are not a surprise to anyone who has been watching, and certainly not to those in Washington. There is every reason to suppose that the US authorities are far more alarmed over events there than they were over Major Hasan, but they have been similarly unsure how to react. Some commentators in the Middle East are starting to see this as a trend: an uncertainty over how to deal with the Muslim world is leading to disaster.

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More News On Yemen Being The New Front In The War On Terror

Out of Yemen, a Top Al Qaeda Threat -- Wall Street Journal
Yemen Emerges as Base for Qaeda Attacks on U.S. -- New York Times
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula -- L.A. Times
Obama: US commits to destroying al-Qaida in Yemen -- Washington Post/AP
Yemen leader's hold on country growing more tenuous amid al-Qaida fight, multiple challenges -- Canadian Press
Obama Vows to 'Destroy' al Qaeda in Yemen After Bomb Discovery -- Politics Daily
Factbox: Al Qaeda's wing in Yemen -- Reuters
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Petraeus: NATO Pressure Forcing Taliban to Seek Peace -- Voice of America

General David Petraeus talks to a VOA PNN reporter about Iran and Afghanistan, 29 October 2010
General David Petraeus made the comments in an interview in Kabul Friday with VOA's Persian News Network.

The commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan says coalition progress in recent months has stopped Taliban advances in most of the country, and is putting pressure on even senior leaders of the group to seek a peace deal with the Afghan government.

General Petraeus has spoken of progress in specific parts of Afghanistan before, but now he says that in the last three-to-six months Afghan troops and his international forces have changed the situation in most of the country.

Read more ....

More News On Afghanistan

Afghan president condemns joint US-Russia raid on drug labs -- M&C
Afghan head condemns US-Russia drugs raid -- Sydney Morning Herald/AFP
Afghanistan says US-Russia raid violated sovereignty -- DAWN
Karzai demands investigation into NATO-led drug bust in Afghanistan -- Washington Post
U.S.-Afghan forces, aided by Russian agents, seize drug facilities in major raid -- L.A. Times
Petraeus: Iran's Kabul Payments 'Disingenuous' -- Voice of America

80 dead in Afghan military base attack -- CNN
Coalition forces kill 80 militants in E. Afghan province: official -- Xinhuanet
NATO: 30 insurgents killed, five coalition soldiers wounded in Afghan outpost attack -- MSNBC/AP
Nato troops repel insurgent attack in Afghanistan -- BBC
NATO: Forces Kill 30 Militants in Eastern Afghanistan -- Voice of America
NATO: 30 Fighters Killed In Afghan Outpost Attack -- Radio Free Europe
U.S. troops repel Afghan attack -- Reuters

Hopeful signs in NATO's Kandahar offensive: British general -- AFP
Kandahar campaign's fate not clear until June: NATO -- Reuters
NATO: True test of Kandahar to come in June -- AP

Taliban makes demands in Afghan peace talks -- The Telegraph
US Official: No High-Level Talks Taking Place with Taliban -- Voice of America
Envoy: No peace talks underway with Afghan Taliban -- AP
No Peace Talks With Taliban, U.S. Envoy Say -- Radio Free Europe
'Less than meets the eye' on Taliban talks: US envoy -- AFP
Holbrooke on Taliban Talks: 'There's Less Here Than Meets the Eye'-- ABC News
Afghanistan Peace Talks: 'NATO Wants a Quick Political Deal' -- Spiegel Online

Afghanistan Tops Agenda at Upcoming NATO Summit in Portugal -- PBS Newshour
Russian choppers again soon in Afghanistan -- UPI

Scoring goals not main point of women's soccer match in Afghanistan -- Stars And Stripes
Teleconferencing from the war zone improves treatment for wounded soldiers -- Washington Post
Profiles of a Dustoff 57, medevac team in Afghanistan -- Washington Post
Troops angry about Taliban negotiations -- Washington Examiner
Nato's dilemma: how to stop the Taliban's return -- The Independent
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Clinton Proposes China, Japan Join 3-Way Talks With U.S. To Ease Tensions -- Washington Post

Southeast Asian leaders meet in Hanoi this week to push ahead plans for a political and economic community by 2015.

The United States has called on China and Japan to hold talks to ease tensions [AFP]

HANOI - Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told Chinese and Japanese officials Saturday that she wanted the two countries to end their month-long spat and consider a three-way meeting with the United States to improve ties.

Clinton's push, made at a summit of 18 Asian nations in Vietnam, underscored the increasing alarm felt in Washington about persistent tensions between East Asia's two big powers.

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More News On China - Japan Tensions

U.S., Japan Seek to Calm China Tensions Over Disputed Islands -- Bloomberg
Clinton pressures China to settle island dispute -- AP
US takes firm line with China over rows with neighbors -- AFP
Clinton, in rare US visit to China's Hainan Island, presses Beijing over territorial disputes -- Canadian Press
U.S. wants Japan-China tensions to cool down -U.S. -- Reuters
China and Japan hold informal talks -- Financial Times
Japan, China leaders met informally: Japanese official -- Reuters
China Chastises Japan, U.S. Over Territorial Disputes Before G-20 Summit -- Bloomberg

US Faces Substantial Obstacles to Increasing Rare Earths Production

Reader James S. highlighted a useful article at the MIT Technology Review, “Can the U.S. Rare-Earth Industry Rebound?” Our only quibble to this solid piece is its summary, which underplays some critical aspects of the article:
The U.S. has plenty of the metals that are critical to many green-energy technologies, but engineering and R&D expertise have moved overseas.
In fact, the while the article does discuss US versus foreign engineering expertise in rare earths mining, it describes in some detail how difficult rare earths mining is in general (more accurately, not the finding the materials part, but separating them out) and the considerable additional hurdles posed by doing it in a non-environmentally destructive manner. Thus the rub is not simply acquiring certain bits of technological know-how, but also breaking further ground in reducing environmental costs.
And this issue has frequently been mentioned in passing in accounts of why rare earth production moved to China in the first place. It’s nasty, and advanced economies weren’t keen to do the job. China was willing to take the environmental damage. For instance, the New York Times points out:
China feels entitled to call the shots because of a brutally simple environmental reckoning: It currently controls most of the globe’s rare earths supply not just because of geologic good fortune, although there is some of that, but because the country has been willing to do dirty, toxic and often radioactive work that the rest of the world has long shunned.
From the MIT Technology Review:
Getting from rocks to the pure metals and alloys required for manufacturing requires several steps that U.S. companies no longer have the infrastructure or the intellectual property to perform….
In the 1970s and 1980s, the Mountain Pass mine in California produced over 70 percent of the world’s supply. Yet in 2009, none were produced in the United States, and it will be difficult, costly, and time-consuming to ramp up again…
The two mines that will be stepping up production soonest are Mountain Pass, being developed by Molycorp, and the Mount Weld mine, which is being developed by Lynas, outside Perth, Australia. Mountain Pass has the edge of already having been established. But the company cannot use the processes used in the mine’s heyday: they’re both economically and environmentally unsustainable.
Several factors make purification of rare earths complicated. First, the 17 elements all tend to occur together in the same mineral deposits, and because they have similar properties, it’s difficult to separate them from one another. They also tend to occur in deposits with radioactive elements, particularly thorium and uranium. Those elements can become a threat if the “tailings,” the slushy waste product of the first step in separating rare earths from the rocks they’re found in, are not dealt with properly…
Mountain Pass went into decline in the 1990s when Chinese producers began to undercut the mine on price at the same time as it had safety issues with tailings. When the Mountain Pass mine was operating at full capacity, it produced 850 gallons of waste saltwater containing these radioactive elements every hour, every day of the year. The tailings were transported down an eleven-mile pipeline to evaporation ponds. In 1998, Mountain Pass, which was then owned by a subsidiary of oil company Unocal, had a problem with tailing leaks when the pipeline burst; four years later, the company’s permit for storing the tailings lapsed.
Meanwhile, throughout the 1990s, Chinese mines exploited their foothold in the rare-earth market. The Chinese began unearthing the elements as a byproduct of an iron-ore mine called Bayan Obo in the northern part of the country; getting both products from the same site helped keep prices low initially. And the country invested in R&D around rare-earth element processing, eventually opening several smaller mines, and then encouraging manufacturers that use these metals to set up facilities in the country.
Yves here. I’d be curious for input on this point from any informed readers. China has allegedly made R&D advances, but are these processes aimed at increased efficiency? If so, they’d give China a cost advantage, but not contend with environmental issues; indeed, it’s conceivable that the toll with these new processes is even worse. Back to the article:
By 2012, Molycorp expects to produce 20,000 tons a year, and under its current mining permits could double capacity to 40,000 tons. Sims also says the company will produce rare-earth products at half the cost of the Chinese in 2012. According to the company, these savings will be made possible by several changes, such as eliminating the production of waste saltwater. Molycorp will use a closed-loop system, converting the waste back into the acids and bases required for separation and eliminating the need to buy such chemicals. The company will also install a natural-gas power cogeneration facility onsite to cut energy costs.
But Ames Lab’s Geschneidner notes that one major source of cost in the separation process can’t be eliminated–the fact that it simply takes a long time. Milled rock is shaken again and again in a mixture of solvents to separate the elements by weight; depending on the ultimate purity that’s required, this must be done 10,000 to 100,000 times. The result is then sold as a concentrate or treated to produce rare-earth metal oxides.
Even if Molycorp does succeed in reducing the costs of separation by half, the next step in production may cause a hiccup. Rare-earth oxides and concentrates do have a market, for example as catalysts for the petroleum industry, but they can’t be made into magnets. To make magnets, rare-earth oxides must first be converted into pure metals, a process that produces caustic byproducts, and is done solely in China today. Sims says that Molycorp is investigating pathways that are environmentally friendly and aren’t covered under intellectual property owned by foreign companies. These metals must next be made into alloys suitable for the magnets, another capability that’s concentrated overseas, mostly in Japan and Germany.
The story is not quite as dire as one might conclude from this article, which focuses strictly on the US mining question. The US is not the only country looking to gear up its rare earth production. Rare earths can be extracted from used products, particularly cars. And some products can be designed to eliminate the use of rare earths, although the tradeoff is typically more bulk and weight. Nevertheless, it is clear that advanced economies will need to make a lot of adjustments, including more investments in R&D and product design, to contend with the challenge of rising demand versus constrained supplies of rare earths.

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Uri Avnery Bread and the Circus

I WAS surprised when, towards the end of 1975, I received an invitation from the Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, to meet him at his residence. He opened the door himself, poured me a glass of whisky, poured one for himself, and without any further ado asked me: “Tell me, Uri, have you decided to destroy all the doves in the Labor Party?”
Some weeks before, my magazine, Haolam Hazeh (“This World”), had started to publish disclosures about the corrupt dealings of the candidate for President of the Central Bank, Asher Yadlin. On the eve of the conversation, we had also started to publish suspicions concerning the Minister of Housing, Avraham Ofer. Both were leaders of the Labor “doves”.
I answered that, unfortunately, I could not offer immunity to corrupt politicians, even if their political positions were close to mine. These are separate matters.

I TOLD this story this week at a conference held by Tel Aviv University devoted to a new book by Prof. Yossi Shain, “The Language of Corruption”.
The panel was very mixed. There were two former Ministers of Justice – Yossi Beilin, the chairman of the “Geneva Initiative”, and Daniel Friedman, a right-winger whose unrestrained attacks on the Supreme Court had aroused public indignation; Yedidia Stern, a national-religious intellectual who is advocating reconciliation with the secular camp, and retired General Yitzhak Ben-Israel of the Air Force and the Israeli Space Agency, a member of the last Knesset for the Kadima party. I was introduced as the creator of Israel’s investigative journalism, who was responsible for the exposure of the first big corruption affairs that rocked the nation.
Prof. Shain vigorously attacked those who fought against corruption - including judges, police officers, prosecutors and such. He claimed that they endanger Israeli democracy and undermine national strength. These two words – “national strength”- are typical of the Right.

And indeed, everybody knows that corruption affairs are currently occupying the center of the public stage. A former President of the state is awaiting judgment in a rape trial. A former Prime Minister is suspected of accepting fat bribes. A former Finance Minister is in prison. A former senior minister has been convicted of indecent conduct for forcing his tongue into the mouth of a female army officer (it happened on the day the government decided to launch Lebanon War II). The Foreign Minister is under investigation. A long list of assorted politicians, senior civil servants and army officers are in various stages of investigation and prosecution.

Shain’s book does not deal with the affairs themselves, but with the place they occupy in public discourse. He believes that they should be taken off the headlines and removed from center stage.

His arguments deserve consideration.
IN THE headlines, corruption scandals often fill the space that should have been devoted to the matters that are crucial to our future.
Take, for example, two topical cases.
Case 1: A Knesset committee has just adopted a law that enables “reception committees” of “communal localities” with less than 500 families to refuse would-be residents not to their liking.
The law, which will come into force in a matter of days, is designed to circumvent the judgment of the Supreme Court forbidding the refusal to admit Arabs. The wording of the law is a masterpiece of verbal acrobatics, in order to avoid the use of the word “Arab”. But the meaning is clear to everybody.
An investigation by the Arab “Adala” organization has shown that the 695 agricultural and urban communities to which the law will apply occupy the greater part of the lands that belong to the government (most of which, by the way, were expropriated from Arab owners after the foundation of the state). Almost all the real estate of Israel belongs to the government.
This is a clear case of racial segregation, of the kind that existed in the US against Jews and blacks. There it disappeared 50 years ago. It concerns the very essence of the State of Israel. It turns the status of Israel’s Arab citizens, 20% of the population, into a time bomb.
(Lately, the chief rabbi of Safed, a government employee, has decreed that selling or letting apartments to Arabs is a sin. Before 1948, Safed was a mixed town with an Arab majority. Mahmoud Abbas was born there. The day before yesterday, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the unquestioned leader of the Oriental Jewish community, also decreed that selling land to “foreigners” – meaning the Arabs who have been living here for more than a thousand years before the venerable rabbi himself was brought to this country from Iraq – is expressly forbidden by the Jewish religion.)

Case 2: A senior army officer has distributed a document that describes an alleged plot by the incoming Chief of Staff (Yoav Galant) to smear the present Chief of Staff (Gabi Ashkenazi). The document is a forgery, and many signs indicate that it originated in the immediate surroundings of Ashkenazi. It appears that the forger is a personal friend of Ashkenazi and his wife. The State Comptroller is now investigating the matter.
A juicy affair, by any standard. An intrigue in the highest echelons of the army.
How were these two matters covered by the media? The first one was mentioned a few times. The second has occupied the headlines for months now, with no end in sight.

NO DOUBT, the big corruption scandals help the media – and the public at large – to push aside the central problems of our existence: the occupation, the elimination of the chances for peace, the enlargement of the settlements, the continuing blockade of Gaza, the racist laws against the Arab minority in Israel proper, all the dangers connected with the ongoing 130-year-old conflict between us and the Palestinians.
The public does not want to hear about this. It wants all these matters to disappear from its sight, so as to be left to enjoy life. This is a national exercise of escapism.
It is much more convenient to deal with a forged document in the safe of the Chief of Staff, Ashkenazi, than to deal with the war crimes committed in the course of the “Cast Lead” operation, whose commander was Ashkenazi.
It is much nicer to pursue the private affairs of public personalities who are caught in flagrante: the Philippine maid illegally employed by Ehud Barak, the air ticket fraud of Ehud Olmert, the long tongue of Haim Ramon, the fat bribes handed out to municipal leaders in Jerusalem for a permit to build an architectural monstrosity on a hill overlooking the center of the city.
The rulers of ancient Rome gave the masses panem et circenses (bread and circus games) to take their minds off matters of state. Our corruption affairs, which follow each other in quick succession, are ersatz circus games.

ALREADY WHILE serving as editor-in-chief of Haolam Hazeh, when we were conducting the fight against government corruption, I was conscious of the dangers inherent in such a campaign.
More than once I was troubled by the thought that when we reveal the repulsive doings of corrupt politicians, we may be encouraging the public to detest all politicians, indeed politics as such. Are we not helping to create a public climate of “they are all corrupt” and opening an abyss between the public and the political system?
If politics stinks, good people will not opt for a political career. Politics will be left to people of low intelligence, bereft of talent and ethical standards, even criminal elements. The results are already obvious in the present Knesset.
The loathing of politics and politicians can pave the way to fascism. Fascist movements all over the world exploit the contempt for politicians in order to arouse the longing for a “strong man”, who will turn the rascals out.

ALL THIS may lead to the conclusion that we should reduce the fight against corruption, or at least refrain from talking about it.
But this is a very dangerous idea.
A society that confers immunity on corrupt leaders is digging its own grave. That is the way the Roman republic rotted and imploded. This has happened to many states since then, even in our lifetime. It is not the talk about corruption that destroys democracy, but corruption itself. Corruption cannot be swept under the carpet for long. Even if the media were to stop dancing around it, rumors would get around and undermine trust in government even more.
When ministers fill public positions with their political protégés or their relatives, the management of public affairs and monies is turned over to the incompetent and/or the dishonest. The best and the brightest are pushed aside by “political appointments”. When politicians are bought - quite simply – by business tycoons, they are compelled to serve them against the public interest. The quality of leadership goes down, and incompetents decide our fate in matters of life and death, peace or war.
This is not a specifically Israeli problem. Corruption rules many countries. Some believe that the US is more corrupt than Israel. Just now the Supreme Court there has opened the gates to corruption even wider, allowing large corporations to buy politicians almost openly. True, unlike us, Americans kick out politicians who have been caught. (Remember the immortal words of Vice President Spiro Agnew: “The bastards changed the rules and didn’t tell me!”)

THE STRUGGLE against the occupation and the fight against corruption do not contradict each other. On the contrary, they complement one another.    
The occupation destroys our ethical standards. A society that loses its repugnance of the daily cruelty in the occupied territories loses also its resistance to corruption.
The occupation is a life-threatening disease, corruption is “simply” nausea.  But if the patient is nauseous, no medicine will stay down.

The Threat of Politicized Intelligence By MANSOOR IJAZ


James Bailey
Mansoor Ijaz, an American of Pakistani origin, negotiated Sudan's offer of counterterrorism assistance to the Clinton administration in 1996 and 1997 and jointly authored the blueprint for a ceasefire of hostilities between Indian security forces and militant Islamists in Kashmir in July and August 2000. If new US National Security Adviser Thomas E. Donilon needs a reminder of how stark the enemy threat is, he need look no further than today's discovery of printer cartridges rigged like explosive devices aboard UPS airliner cargo holds that left Yemen bound for Jewish Synagogues in the United States. A dry run? You bet. And not just to test the holes in air cargo security systems, but to test the reaction time and responsiveness of our national security apparatus.
The backroom maneuvering that led to Donilon's ascent and the departure of his predecessor, Gen. James L. Jones (USMC Ret), is a dangerous reminder of what happens when politics enters the world of intelligence gathering, analysis and policymaking. Donilon, whose reputation as a backroom Democratic Party wheeler dealer precedes him, would do well now to shed that skin and get down to the serious business at hand in containing and controlling threats that are approaching four-dimensional complexity against American--and global--security interests.
History is replete with bad decisions made by men and women charged with securing America who lamely, selfishly and often purposefully politicized intelligence for narrow political objectives. Those failures should serve as a reminder to Donilon and the team he assembles that America's enemies are lurking and waiting for any sign of weakness to attack us. And attack us they will.

Much of the failure to deal with militant Islam inside the Clinton presidency came from his national security team, which (with the exception of former counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke) had little practical experience with military campaigns, counterterrorism strategies, guerrilla warfare tactics or other facets so critical to ensuring modern-day security. They repeatedly, and with increasing stridency, politicized intelligence gathering, analysis and policy responses. Sudan, on which I write from personal knowledge and experience, was a prime example of what America can never afford to allow again.

Politicized intelligence was the Achilles heel of many a past president, with disastrous consequences emerging every single time. President Obama must insure that the principal legacy left by his outgoing national security adviser--integrity of the intelligence analysis and policy-response process, and a strategic vision for securing America against an ever growing array of threats--remains the baseline from which America makes its national-security policy decisions. If he does not, he may find one day soon that the very terrorists he was elected to thwart have come home to roost. More at:

China is on path to 'militarization of space'

The Asian space race is moving along slowly, but steadily – and China is in the lead, with technology that could give it a military advantage over the US.

In this photo released by China's official Xinhua news agency, a Long March 3C rocket carrying China's second unmanned lunar probe Chang'e II is launched from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China's Sichuan province on Oct. 1.
The security implications of China's space program are not lost on India, Japan, or the United States.
The Pentagon notes that China, through its space program, is exploring ways to exploit the US military's dependence on space in a conflict scenario – for example, knocking out US satellites in the opening hours of a crisis over Taiwan.
"China is developing the ability to attack an adversary's space assets, accelerating the militarization of space," the Pentagon said in its latest annual report to Congress on China's military power. "PLA writings emphasize the necessity of 'destroying, damaging, and interfering with the enemy's reconnaissance ... and communications satellites.' "
More broadly, some in the US see China's moon program as evidence that it has a long-range strategic view that's lacking in Washington. The US has a reconnaissance satellite in lunar orbit now, but President Obama appears to have put off the notion of a manned return to the moon.
With China slowly but surely laying the groundwork for a long-term lunar presence, some fear the US may one day find itself lapped –"like the tale of the tortoise and the hare," says Dean Cheng, an expert on China's space program at the Heritage Foundation in Washington. "I have to wonder whether the United States, concerned with far more terrestrial issues, and with its budget constraints, is going to decide to make similarly persistent investments to sustain its lead in space."
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Friday, October 29, 2010

U.S. Counterterrorism Strategy Boomerangs in Yemen, Somalia By: James M. Dorsey | Briefing

Rather than weakening militants, Western counterterrorism and counterinsurgency strategies in Yemen and Somalia are fueling radicalism and turning wide swathes of the population against the West. With little real effort to economically and politically stabilize the two countries, U.S. military and security support exacerbates local fault lines and strengthens deep-seated anti-Americanism. More at:
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NATO in an Age of Austerity By: James Joyner | Feature

A lack of political will and a wave of defense budget cuts would seem to spell doom for NATO as a global expeditionary force, at least in the foreseeable future. While in all likelihood NATO will pull through, there's reason to fear that it will do so as a hollow organization. At the same time, there's some reason to hope that the forced belt-tightening will force a rethink of how to make NATO even more central to trans-Atlantic security. More at:
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Commentary: Managing decline By ARNAUD DE BORCHGRAVE UPI Editor at Large

WASHINGTON, Oct. 29 (UPI) -- Is the world balance of power shifting away from the West and moving to India and China? That's what a number of geopolitical sages are discussing in think tanks from Moscow to Beijing to London to Washington.

In a joint SOS piece in the November-December issue of Foreign Affairs, former U.S. Deputy Treasury Secretary Roger Altman and the President of the Council on Foreign Relations Richard Haass, warned U.S. leaders to curb "the current debt addiction -- or global capital markets will do it for them." An age of austerity and draconian belt tightening -- and sudden decline in U.S. power – is upon us. Gridlocked Congress, fiscal train wreck, climbing without a rope, all the stuff of headlines the world over.

The political move to center stage of satirical humorist Jon Stewart with his mass "Rally to Restore Sanity" is seen by some as throwback to the collapse of Germany's post-World War I Weimar Republic.

But where can the United States afford to disengage and leave heavy geopolitical lifting to regional powers? In some key areas, U.S. power remains indispensable for the indefinite future. The Persian Gulf and its huge oil resources are at the top of the list.

North Korea, faced with total economic collapse, is unpredictable and makes a U.S. Army division-plus an indispensable tripwire in South Korea. Everything else is marginal -- and debatable.

America's global military footprint (outside of Iraq and Afghanistan) tops $250 billion a year. There are still 200 U.S. military facilities in Germany 65 years after World War II. U.S. military hospitals for U.S. casualties in transit from Afghanistan and Iraq as an intermediary stage home are important. All else is marginal. If CENTCOM and SOCOM can be in Tampa, Fla., why not EUCOM in Norfolk, Va., where NATO's Atlantic command is based?

World War II hastened the end of the British Empire but it took several decades to manage its decline. The partition of India and the creation of Pakistan in 1947 triggered a bloodbath that took 1 million lives.

There were several more last gasps of empire before a British government decided in October to live within its means, slashing defense to where it could no longer be used to defend the Falkland Islands against another Argentine invasion, as it did successfully in 1982.

In the mid-1950s, British-controlled Aden was the world's largest bunkering port, servicing traffic in and out of the Red Sea and Suez Canal. But in 1967, Britain took another drubbing as it exited Aden, then, a year later, London, under Laborite Harold Wilson, gave up all its commitments and obligations east of Suez, from the canal to the Persian Gulf to Singapore. It took another 10 years to turn over Hong Kong to its original owner.

From Oman, at the entrance to the Persian Gulf, all the way up to Kuwait, Britain kept the peace until 1972 with the British officered "Trucial Oman Scouts" for a total annual outlay of $40 million. The Nixon Doctrine succeeded Pax Britannica in the gulf and the Shah of Iran became America's proxy.

Instead, the shah was overthrown in 1979 and a hostile, obscurantist religious dictatorship has kept the rest of the gulf in psychological thrall ever since.

The French empire unraveled with 16 years of rearguard fighting (1946-54; 1954-62) -- eight years in Indochina, followed by a six-month break before another eight years of warfare in Algeria. World War II hero Charles de Gaulle rode to the rescue and managed decline by putting France on the road to modernity -- with nuclear weapons and a new high-tech vision of the future (that produced the Caravel and the supersonic Concorde).

Is the time at hand for a new leader to manage the decline of the modern American empire? Iraq was clearly an expensive geopolitical illusion, a weird concoction of motives, inspired by neocons who thought they were making Israel more secure.

Precisely the opposite was achieved. Seven years and $1 trillion later, Iran now has more influence in Iraq than the United States. Its agents are also dropping off the occasional million-dollar bundle to keep Afghan President Hamid Karzai's chief of staff sweet and compliant.

Psychologically, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is more beholden to Tehran these days than to Washington. After the United States coughed up $1 trillion it didn't have to fight the Iraq War, Baghdad still has less electric power today than it had under Saddam Hussein.

None of our modern knuckle-headed empire builders, who thought they perceived Israel's interests more clearly than the rest of the country, understood that Saddam Hussein, albeit a cruel dictator, was our best defense against Iranian expansionism.

In 1980, Saddam had taken on the evil empire next door. But Iran's obscurantist zealots used teenagers with golden keys to paradise to walk across Iraqi minefields and a million dead and eight years later, the two gulf giants fought themselves to a Mexican standoff.

The decline of the American empire may be hastened by another war in the gulf -- this time triggered by Israeli and/or U.S. bombs on Iran's nuclear installations. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad appears to be pushing his luck by moving Iran's frontiers to Israel's borders -- with Hezbollah to the north in Lebanon, Syria to the east and Hamas in Gaza to the south.

Iran's medieval hawks have convinced themselves an asymmetrical gulf war would speed up the end of what they call "American imperial colonialism."

The burdens of a global Pax Americana have shunted domestic priorities off center stage. Long postponed and now increasingly urgent infrastructure projects are pending.

Bridges, roads, railroads, airports (from runways to terminals to air traffic control), schools, hospitals, all have deteriorated to what author Arianna Huffington's new book describes in the title -- "Third World America." Some $1 trillion worth of urgent infrastructure is in arrears.

The once acclaimed Acela Express in the eastern corridor is an embarrassing joke next to the high speed trains of Europe, Japan and China. A bullet train that covers the equivalent mileage of Washington-New York in 90 minutes made its debut last week on China's rapid rail network of 4,617

At the same time, the United States is awash with unemployed -- pushing 18 million if one includes those who have given up looking and whose benefits have run out. Surely this points to a domestic Marshall Plan for a high-tech renaissance. But the current political rumblings -- from the Tea Party to ultra-liberal kibitzing -- leave little hope for a quiescent phase of historical reawakening.

Meanwhile, China continues to spread its worldwide influence -- without the military. Its new supercomputer just beat America's, with a speed of 1.4 quadrillion operations per second.

Analysis: Saudi seen edging cautiously into Afghan talks By Ulf Laessing


RIYADH (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia is being drawn into efforts to reach a settlement to the Afghan war, despite its reluctance to become too embroiled with Islamist militants it once backed, diplomats and analysts say.
But they say Saudi Arabia would be unwilling to formally mediate in any peace talks. Like other countries involved, it wants Afghans to take the lead with outside players acting more as facilitators.
"Everybody has a very bad experience in their efforts to mediate between Afghans," said a senior diplomat in Kabul.
"It's very simple, if you try to mediate between them, both sides will push their luck and it will fall, believe me it will fall. The third party cannot hold it," he said.
Saudi Arabia has made no public comment on an appeal from Kabul to help mediate in talks with insurgents to try to bring an end to the nine-year war in Afghanistan.
But analysts and diplomats say the kingdom, which hosted secret talks with the Taliban in Mecca in 2008, is expected to come under pressure from the United States to help Washington find an exit strategy from an increasingly unpopular war.
Saudi Arabia enjoys considerable influence over the Muslim world both because of its authority as home to Islam's holiest sites and its hefty financial clout from oil earnings.
"There is a lot of pressure on the Saudis from the U.S. to help mediate in Afghanistan," said one western diplomat in Riyadh.
Official sources say that for the first time all the main parties involved, from the government to insurgents, from Washington to Pakistan, are seriously considering ways to reach a peace deal.
They have cited Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates as potential intermediaries, along with Pakistan, in what are as yet very preliminary "talks about talks."
"Saudi Arabia, UAE, Pakistan can make the right kind of noises saying: 'we support it' and I think that will make a difference," said the diplomat in Kabul.
One source with knowledge of talks about Afghanistan said Riyadh might be more willing to help than before since peace efforts now have the backing of Washington -- missing in 2008.
Saudi Arabia, along with Pakistan and the United States, backed Islamist insurgents fighting the Soviets in the 1980s, and later become one of only three countries to recognize the Taliban government that ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001.
But it is reluctant to become too closely associated with peace talks after working hard to shake off any public perception of links to Islamist militancy.
Fifteen of the 19 men involved in the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States were from Saudi Arabia, and al Qaeda shares the kingdom's fundamentalist Wahhabi interpretation of Islam.
Diplomats say Western visitors have been lobbying the kingdom since last year to help mediate but it remains wary after the 2008 talks came to nothing.
"The Saudis might intermediate but they want to hear from the Afghan factions first in public that they are serious about talks this time," said a senior Western diplomat.
"They don't want to put their reputation at risk by backing a peace project that may not work."
Afghan diplomats say they hope Riyadh will get involved.
"Saudi Arabia has a major role and we hope in Afghanistan that Saudi plays an important role as it did in the past in Afghanistan and in other countries," said Said Anwarshah Ghaffari, Afghanistan's charge d'affaires in Riyadh.
"The kingdom has its weight in the Islamic world and we look at it as our older brother," he said.
Former intelligence chief Prince Turki al-Faisal, who has dealt with the Taliban before, last week cited reconciliation efforts in the past as a sign of Saudi support for Afghanistan, but he gave no hint about revisiting the talks.
Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said in January the Taliban must deny sanctuary to al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden before the kingdom would act as mediator. Militants using the al Qaeda name began launching attacks on Saudi Arabia in 2003.
Riyadh froze its ties with the Taliban in 1998 over their refusal to hand over bin Laden who had been stripped of Saudi citizenship for activities against the ruling Al Saud family.
Diplomats and analysts say Saudi Arabia will be heavily influenced by the approach of Pakistan, with which it shares close military and intelligence cooperation.
"If Pakistan supports peace talks then the Saudis will help but they don't want to get too involved," said Haroun Mir, an Afghan analyst.
Pakistan is keen for a peace settlement in Afghanistan to end a war which it sees as increasing instability at home, though it is also anxious to curb the influence of rival India.
At the same time Sunni Saudi Arabia has to balance out the influence of Shi'ite Iran, its main rival in the Middle East and a powerful Afghan neighbor.
"I think Saudi Arabia should get more involved in Afghanistan. If we don't do it then others will," said prominent Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
But Saudi Arabia's rivalry with Iran could also mean that Tehran would look askance at any Saudi role in helping mediate.
Dubai based political analyst Theodore Karasik said it was significant that Saudi King Abdullah had spoken several times to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad over the past few weeks to discuss regional issues.
Asked whether Iran and Saudi Arabia could reach an understanding on Afghanistan, he said: "It's possible."
(Additional reporting by Jonathan Burch in Kabul and Asma Alsharif in Jeddah; Editing by Myra MacDonald)
© Thomson Reuters 2010. All rights reserved
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Adrian Hamilton: Of course Iran wants to meddle in its region

When a friend of mine from university joined the Foreign Office, his first posting was to Yemen where one of his duties was security. Opening his instructions for what to do in case of rioters attacking the embassy building, he was told to go to the safe and get out the bag of gold coins kept there. If the rioters broke through he was to stand at the top of the stairs and toss the coins down to the crowd below and then make his escape.

Cash has always been the currency of the East. So it's hardly a surprise that Iran was found bringing bags of it to President Karzai's office in Afghanistan, nor that the world's best-dressed leader should admit it with a smile when caught out.

What is a little more confusing is the contortion with which the US government has reacted to the news. Since, as Karzai cheerfully revealed, Washington pays him in precisely the same manner, the State Department is hardly in a position to denounce Tehran's act. On the other hand, it is terribly anxious to demonise the country and paint it as a supporter of terror throughout the region and to keep it from having any influence in Afghanistan. Just as in Iraq one might add, where the recent WikiLeaks documents have been pored over by the New York Times, to show that it proves Iranian complicity in arming and directing terrorist groups against the US forces.

So they may have. They were also aiding and abetting with cash the forces of Moqtada al Sadr, al-Maliki and anyone else they thought was useful. As for working against the interests of the US, how else do you expect a country to behave which has been threatened by bombing by a power taking over the countries to the right and left of you?

With its two greatest regional enemies, Saddam Hussein and the Taliban, overthrown, Tehran could have hardly been more delighted and it rushed to offer convenient views, and co-operation with Washington to sort out the aftermath. It was an offer meant to limit US involvement as much as aid it, but it could have been built on to lock Tehran into the post-war reconstruction of the two countries. Instead it was flatly rejected.

And so, with British backing, the US has proceeded ever since, with a persistent and ever louder accusation that the Iranians are wreckers, determined to wreak havoc and terror wherever they stretch their hand.

It's a convenient view for the US military – and the WikiLeaks documents are from the military – because outside interference can be used to explain away their own failures in Iraq and now Afghanistan. And it suits the State Department, under Mrs Clinton as much as George Bush, because it allows a neat focus by which it can pursue a policy of isolation and crippling of the enemy of corrupt Arab regimes in the Gulf and Egypt and of Israel.

It also represents such a complete misunderstanding of Iran, its role, history and intentions that one stands aghast each time it rears its ridiculous head in public. Of course Iran has an interest in its neighbours and their future.

The Afghan wars have left it with over 2m refugees within its borders. The Iraq invasion has pushed as many into camps on the other side. As much as any other nation it wants stability next door. As much as any country it works to use its influence, through its Shia religious connections, aid and military assistance as well as its relations with radical movements, to produce friendly regimes about it.

But that doesn't mean it can command the Shia abroad, let alone deploy the fanciful "Shia Arc" which has so obsessed Washington analysts. The Shia fought without objection in the Iraqi army as it invaded Iran. The Hazara Shia are very much a minority in Afghanistan, where the majority Pashtun loathe them.

It is precisely because the Iranians are not Arabs or Sunni that they feel vulnerable and need to bring ever bigger bags of cash and arms into play. It's not a nice government. Indeed it's a particularly nasty one at the moment. But any diplomatic effort should be directed towards using Iran's influence and interests in stability positively, as Qatar's ruler, now on a state visit to Britain, keeps trying to say. Isolation is the worst policy.

The pity of it is that Britain, of all countries, should best understand that. Unlike America with its armed forces and China with its cash, both of whom feel they can proceed without local knowledge, Britain, which built an empire on few resources of manpower, could only do it by working the local power structure.

Instead, we now tamely follow a Washington policy towards Iran that is neither intelligent nor effective.

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