Why John McCain Is Optimistic About Libya

April 26, 2011

BY: ROMESH RATNESAR

The war in Libya is not going well. Muammar Gaddafi shows no sign of giving up power. His forces’ siege of the rebel-held city of Misratah has killed upwards of 1,000 people, including two Western journalists. One month in, NATO’s air campaign is plagued by halfhearted commitment and intracoalition blame-passing. The rebels on whose behalf the U.S. and its allies intervened have failed to advance much beyond their strongholds in eastern Libya. Only a few inveterate optimists seem to believe the anti-Gaddafi forces still have a chance to win.

John McCain is one of them. “Gaddafi is a third-rate military power,” he told me on Sunday. “This isn’t the Wehrmacht we’re taking on. These are a bunch of goddamn mercenaries that are highly paid – but one thing we know about mercenaries is that if they think things are going in the wrong direction, they’ll get out of Dodge.” I had run into McCain the previous night in Cairo, as he was finishing a quiet dinner with two of his aides, at a Chinese restaurant overlooking the Nile. He was just back from a day trip to rebel-held Benghazi, Libya’s second largest city. In McCain’s view, the West still has tools at its disposal that can bring about Gaddafi’s downfall, even without a major commitment of U.S. military force. In two conversations with me before he departed Egypt for Oman, McCain described what he saw in Benghazi and laid out what it will take for the Obama Administration to avoid a foreign-policy disaster.

The fighting in Misratah over the past week has been horrific, McCain said. By the time they arrived in Benghazi, a 20-hour journey by sea, wounded rebel fighters had little chance for survival. “You just see dead after dead,” McCain said. One man’s entire face had burned off. McCain asked a doctor if another casualty, bleeding from his chest but still breathing, had a chance. The doctor said he’d be dead in an hour.

At the same time, the Senator believes the rebels have succeeded in repelling Gaddafi’s attempt to overrun Misratah, despite the regime’s claims that local tribes had been sent in to mediate. “Unless Gaddafi were losing, he wouldn’t be going through this bull—- about the tribal guys coming in,” McCain said. “If he were succeeding, he would just keep doing what he was doing. So this could be a big setback for him.” The rebels have “learned by doing” – they have neutralized Gaddafi’s advantage in weaponry by improving their use of guerrilla tactics. “Urban warfare is very nasty and individualized,” he said, “and the good guys have probably learned how to fight pretty well in that environment.”

McCain and his aides weren’t blown away by the fighting prowess of the opposition forces they met in Benghazi; their description of the rebels’ training exercises sounded a little like watching warm-up drills before a high school football game. “We’re talking about a fourth-rate power taking on a third-rate power,” he said. And though the citizens of Benghazi cheered McCain, they also said they were baffled at the West’s seeming unwillingness to take more aggressive steps to stop Gaddafi’s shock troops. “There is some anger, but a lot of it is just, ‘I thought the Americans would help us,’” McCain said.

So what do they want? And what, at this stage, can we still provide? According to McCain, plenty. “We should recognize” the rebel leadership as a provisional government, he said, which might open up the financial pipeline to Benghazi. “Get them communications equipment [like] satellite phones – Christ, these guys are still talking on cell phones! We should get them equipment and stuff that may not be weapons directly from us, but stuff they need that would really help. Uniforms, for Christ’s sake!” (The Obama Administration has said it will send $25 million in military surplus to the rebels.) Most importantly, the Obama Administration needs to reclaim ownership of NATO’s air campaign. “I love the British and I love the French, but they do not have the military capabilities of the United States of America … We are fighting half a war. You can never win conflicts unless you do what is necessary to win.”

In McCain’s view, a modest increase in moral and material support to the rebels, plus more aggressive application of American air power – including the use of unmanned drones – would cause the regime to crumble. “I don’t think it would be a lengthy campaign. In this kind of warfare, momentum shifts one way or the other.” But what if it doesn’t? What if, even after we make the Libyan war a fair fight, Gaddafi remains in power? That remains the insoluble Western dilemma, and even McCain is unable to offer a way out. Should we send in U.S. ground troops, which Obama has already ruled out? “There would be demonstrations the likes we haven’t seen since Vietnam.” Kill Gaddafi, as McCain’s Senate ally Lindsey Graham advocates? “That’s not something you can count on. You’re probably going to take some other people with him. You want to do that? What if you miss? You’re going to kill a lot of people. What I’m saying is that it’s not so simple.”

That leaves two potential outcomes: a prolonged stalemate and possible partition of Libya, which McCain calls the worst of all alternatives, or a negotiated settlement with elements of the Gaddafi regime, which might include one or more of his sons. That’s not exactly the bargain the Libyan people thought they were signing on to when the rebellion began. But the longer this drags on, the more it looks like the best one they’re going to get.


U.S.-Pakistan relations strained further with case of jailed diplomat

February 9, 2011

By: Karen DeYoung and Karin Brulliard

The Obama administration has suspended all high-level dialogue with Pakistan, a key U.S. partner in the Afghanistan war, over the case of an American diplomat the Pakistanis have detained on possible murder charges, U.S. and Pakistani officials said.

The case of Raymond Allen Davis, who has admitted he fatally shot two Pakistanis he said threatened him from a motorcycle while he was driving in Lahore on Jan. 27, has severely strained relations between the two governments and threatens to scuttle a planned summit among U.S., Afghan and Pakistani leaders scheduled for the end of this month in Washington.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton canceled a meeting last weekend with Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi at an international security conference in Munich to protest Allen’s detention, according to officials from both countries who were not authorized to discuss the situation on the record.

The administration has twice summoned Pakistani Ambassador Husain Haqqani to the White House for formal complaints and demands that Pakistan recognize Davis’s diplomatic immunity and release him immediately. The message was repeated in a meeting in Islamabad Monday between Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and U.S. Ambassador Cameron Munter.

Davis, 36, holds a diplomatic passport and is a member of the “technical and administrative staff” at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad “entitled to full criminal immunity in accordance with the Vienna Convention,” the State Department said Monday.

The administration and Congress, the statement said, “have repeatedly made clear at the highest levels that this matter must be resolved by the Pakistan government or it could impact other bilateral initiatives.”

In Pakistan, the issue has become embroiled in widespread anti-Americanism and suspicions, fanned by the Pakistani media and used for political advantage, that U.S. spies and intelligence contractors are secretly operating in the country. It has also posed a challenge to Pakistan’s weak civilian government as it struggles to wrest control of national security policy from the powerful military and fends off opposition political parties.

The most powerful opposition group, the Pakistan Muslim League headed by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, rules Punjab province and its capital, Lahore, where Davis is being held and several hearings have taken place in the case.

Although the administration has been unequivocal in its insistence that Davis has diplomatic status, it has been less than clear on the nature of his job in Pakistan over the last two years. An early embassy statement said it was “security” related, while officials in Washington have said that he vetted questionable visa applicants. The CIA has declined to comment on the case.

On Thursday, the Lahore court extended Davis’s detention for another eight days. The U.S. Embassy complained that it was given no notice of the hearing, that Davis had no attorney present, and that he was not provided with an interpreter.

“He was denied due process and a fair hearing,” the statement said. “His continued detention is a gross violation of international law.”

Although Zardari’s Pakistan People’s Party government has close relations with the administration, and depends on the billions of dollars in U.S. military and economic assistance, it fears being painted as a U.S. lackey.

A foreign ministry official said that the government itself is divided over the case. The ministry has determined that Davis is immune from prosecution based on his passport and diplomatic visa, and the fact that Pakistan “accepted” that when Davis first arrived in the fall of 2009, the official said.

Other parts of the government, he said, see some advantage in using the situation to prove the government’s independence from Washington. But the Americans, he said, “have dropped hints they could go to any extent” to get Davis released.

Further complicating the situation, a Pakistani intelligence official said that the two men Davis killed were not, as he has said, armed robbers intent on stealing money, his telephone and perhaps his car, but intelligence agents assigned to tail him. This official said the two intended to frighten Davis because he crossed a “red line” that the official did not further define.

Both the military’s Inter-Services Intelligence service and the Interior Ministry’s Intelligence Bureau regularly use motorcycle tails to track the movement of U.S. officials, another Pakistani official said.

The Pakistani media has also suggested that Davis is being held hostage to a wrongful-death case brought in New York by family members of four Americans killed in the 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai, India. U.S. and Indian officials have blamed the attack on the Pakistani organization Lashkar-i-Taiba, which has long-standing ties to ISI. Four senior ISI officials, including the organization’s director, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, have been called as witnesses in the case.

According to his 2009 visa application, Davis was born in Wise, Va. He gave an address in Las Vegas, where he is listed in Nevada state registration records as the co-owner of a firm called Hyperion Protective Services.

On Sunday, the widow of one of the men killed by Davis committed suicide in the city of Faisalabad. According to a doctor at the hospital where she was admitted after ingesting rat poison, she said she did it because she feared Davis would be released without facing trial


Seymour Hersh Unleashed

January 25, 2011

By Blake Hounshell

DOHA, Qatar-David Remnick, call your office.

In a speech billed as a discussion of the Bush and Obama eras, New Yorker journalist Seymour Hersh delivered a rambling, conspiracy-laden diatribe here Monday expressing his disappointment with President Barack Obama and his dissatisfaction with the direction of U.S. foreign policy.

“Just when we needed an angry black man,” he began, his arm perched jauntily on the podium, “we didn’t get one.”

It quickly went downhill from there.

Hersh, whose exposés of gross abuses by members of the U.S. military in Vietnam and Iraq have earned him worldwide fame and high journalistic honors, said he was writing a book on what he called the “Cheney-Bush years” and saw little difference between that period and the Obama administration.

He said that he was keeping a “checklist” of aggressive U.S. policies that remained in place, including torture and “rendition” of terrorist suspects to allied countries, which he alleged was ongoing.

He also charged that U.S. foreign policy had been hijacked by a cabal of neoconservative “crusaders” in the former vice president’s office and now in the special operations community.

“What I’m really talking about is how eight or nine neoconservative, radicals* if you will, overthrew the American government. Took it over,” he said of his forthcoming book. “It’s not only that the neocons took it over but how easily they did it — how Congress disappeared, how the press became part of it, how the public acquiesced.”

Hersh then brought up the widespread looting that took place in Baghdad after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. “In the Cheney shop, the attitude was, ‘What’s this? What are they all worried about, the politicians and the press, they’re all worried about some looting? … Don’t they get it? We’re gonna change mosques into cathedrals. And when we get all the oil, nobody’s gonna give a damn.’”

“That’s the attitude,” he continued. “We’re gonna change mosques into cathedrals. That’s an attitude that pervades, I’m here to say, a large percentage of the Joint Special Operations Command.”

He then alleged that Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who headed JSOC before briefly becoming the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, and his successor, Vice Adm. William McRaven, as well as many within JSOC, “are all members of, or at least supporters of, Knights of Malta.”

Hersh may have been referring to the Sovereign Order of Malta, a Roman Catholic organization commited to “defence of the Faith and assistance to the poor and the suffering,” according to its website.

“Many of them are members of Opus Dei,” Hersh continued. “They do see what they’re doing — and this is not an atypical attitude among some military — it’s a crusade, literally. They see themselves as the protectors of the Christians. They’re protecting them from the Muslims [as in] the 13th century. And this is their function.”

“They have little insignias, these coins they pass among each other, which are crusader coins,” he continued. “They have insignia that reflect the whole notion that this is a culture war. … Right now, there’s a tremendous, tremendous amount of anti-Muslim feeling in the military community.”

Hersh relayed that he had recently spoken with “a man in the intelligence community… somebody in the joint special operations business” about the downfall of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia. “He said, ‘Oh my God, he was such a good ally.’”

“Tunisia’s going to change the game,” Hersh added later. “It’s going to scare the hell out of a lot of people.”

Moving to Pakistan, where Hersh noted he had been friendly with Benazir Bhutto, the journalist told of a dinner meeting with Asif Ali Zardari, the late prime minister’s husband, in which Hersh said the Pakistani president was brutally disdainful of his own people.

Hersh described a trip he made to Swat, where the Pakistani military had just dislodged Taliban insurgents who had taken over the scenic valley, a traditional vacation area for the urban middle class. Hersh said he asked Zardari about the tent cities he saw along the road, where people were living in harsh, unsanitary conditions.

“Well, those people there in Swat, that’s what they deserve,” the Pakistani president replied, according to Hersh. Asked why, Hersh said Zardari responded, “Because they supported the Taliban.” (Note: Hersh’s conversation is not recounted in his 2009 New Yorker article on Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, presumably because it coudn’t be verified.)

The veteran journalist also alleged that the CIA station chief in Islamabad, who was recently recalled after his name surfaced in Pakistani court documents and in the lively Pakistani press, had actually been fired for disputing the plans of Gen. David Petraeus, who took over the Afghan war last summer after General McChrystal was summarily dismissed.

“When Petraeus issued a very optimistic report about the war in December that he gave to the president,” Hersh said, the station chief “just declared it was bankrupt… internally. He just said ‘This is completely wrongheaded. The policy’s wrongheaded.’ Off he goes. Out he goes.”

“I’ve given up being disillusioned about the CIA,” Hersh said. “They’re trained to lie, period. They will lie to their president, they will lie certainly to the Congress, and they will lie to the American people. That’s all there is to it.”

Hersh was speaking on the invitation of Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, which operates a branch campus in Qatar.


Senators say US military’s cyber ops not disclosed to Congress

January 19, 2011

The Pentagon failed to disclose clandestine cyber activities in a classified report on secret military actions that goes to Congress, according to a Senate document that provides a public peek at oversight concerns surrounding the government’s computer war capabilities.

A brief written exchange between Senate questioners and the Pentagon’s assistant secretary for special operations, Michael Vickers, underscores unresolved questions about how and when the Pentagon conducts cyber warfare, and about the guidelines for military action in the event of a computer-based attack on the U.S.

The U.S. military’s use of offensive cyber warfare has only rarely been disclosed, the most well-known instance being the electronic jamming of Iraqi military and communications networks just before the lightning strike against Saddam Hussein’s army in 2003. But Pentagon officials have been clear that cyber espionage and attacks from well-funded nations or terror groups are the biggest threats to military networks, including critical battlefield communications.

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters Wednesday that the cyber threat from China is significant and that the Defense Department needs to focus more on cyber warfare. The Pentagon has made a lot of changes to deal with the threat, he said in remarks at the Foreign Press Center, but added that the U.S. has to “come to a place where, again, those threats are diminished, if not eliminated.”

The growing threat has been evident in recent global clashes including the Internet blitz against Georgian government sites just before the Russians invaded in 2008 and the Chinese government’s reported efforts to develop computer viruses to attack enemy networks. The Pentagon created Cyber Command to better deal with the threats, but has yet to clearly define the parameters of its offensive and defensive cyber operations.

Nowhere does the brief Senate exchange obtained by The Associated Press detail the cyber activities that were not disclosed. But cyber experts suggest they may have involved secret operations against insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan, and could possibly include other hotspots such as Yemen or Somalia.

The exchange emerged in a question posed to the Vickers, who has been nominated as undersecretary of defense for intelligence.

The Senate Armed Services Committee voiced concerns that cyber activities were not included in the quarterly report on clandestine activities. But Vickers, in his answer, suggested that such emerging high-tech operations are not specifically listed in the law – a further indication that cyber oversight is still a murky work in progress for the Obama administration.

Vickers told the committee that the requirement specifically calls for clandestine human intelligence activity. But if confirmed, he said, he would review the reporting requirements and support expanding the information included in the report.

“It would be my intent, if confirmed, to fully comply with that responsibility, to include cyber activities,” he said.

The exchange was included in 33 pages of Senate questions and answers from Vickers in preparation for his nomination hearing. No hearing date has been set.

Pentagon spokesman Cmdr. Bob Mehal declined to discuss the clandestine activities report or the answers Vickers submitted to the panel, because the report is classified, and Vickers’ submission has not been made public.

James Lewis, a cyber security expert and longtime consultant for the government on such high-tech related issues, said it is likely the committee complaint referred to ongoing military cyber activities in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, although there also could be similar efforts in Yemen or other countries where the U.S. is supporting counterinsurgency operations.

Lewis said there have been longstanding tensions between the congressional committees and the various military and intelligence agencies over how much sensitive information is given to lawmakers, as well as historical turf battles that have played out repeatedly between the various panels with overlapping oversight of military and intelligence.

The oblique exchange between Vickers and the Senate panel also highlight congressional efforts to map out strict oversight and command and control guidelines for the military’s shadowy cyber role.

“Congress members and staff always feel they should be getting much more info about clandestine operations than they get,” said Lewis. He added that while there are times when it’s better to strictly control access to some classified information, there is still “a legitimate need for oversight since such clandestine activity can have political consequences.”

The exchanges between Vickers and the Senate panel also cover a wide range of other intelligence issues.

If confirmed, Vickers said, his big challenge would be the continuing struggle to meet the military’s “unmet demand” for intelligence as the U.S. fights two wars and works to dismantle terrorist networks, including those in Yemen and Somalia.

Asked whether the intelligence community has devoted enough counterterrorism resources to Yemen and Somalia, Vickers said the military needs more intelligence and special operations forces with language and cultural expertise.

He added that he would like to see funding increase from $40 million to $50 million for counterterror operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and efforts to train other nations’ forces. Such training is being done in a number of countries including Yemen and Pakistan.

Vickers also offered a sharp condemnation of recent leaks of classified data. He did not specifically cite the more than a quarter-million diplomatic records obtained by WikiLeaks, but he said unauthorized disclosures are among the most serious problems he would face.

“The spate of unauthorized disclosures of very sensitive information places our forces, our military operations and our foreign relations at risk,” he said.

Vickers, a former Green Beret, has had a long and storied career, including his engineering the clandestine arming of Afghan rebels who drove the Soviet Union out of their country in the 1980s. His role in one of the largest covert actions in the CIA history was chronicled in the 2003 book “Charlie Wilson’s War,” which became a film in 2007.


US Intelligence Thwarted Attack on Iran

November 24, 2010

by Ray McGovern

Why should George W. Bush have been “angry” to learn in late 2007 of the “high-confidence” unanimous judgment of all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies that Iran had stopped working on a nuclear weapon four years earlier? Seems to me he might have said “Hot Dog!” rather than curse under his breath.

Nowhere in his memoir, Decision Points, is Bush’s bizarre relationship with truth so manifest as when he describes his dismay at learning that the intelligence community had redeemed itself for its lies about Iraq by preparing an honest National Intelligence Estimate on Iran. As the Bush book makes abundantly clear, that NIE rammed an iron rod through the wheels of the juggernaut rolling toward war.

Nowhere is Bush’s abiding conviction clearer, now as then, that his role as “decider” includes the option to create his own reality.

The Fawning Corporate Media (FCM) has missed that part of the book. And hundreds of Dallas “sheriffs,” assembled to ensure decorum at the Bush library groundbreaking last week, kept us hoi polloi well out of presidential earshot.

But someone should ask Bush why he was not relieved, rather than angered, to learn from U.S. intelligence that Iran had had no active nuclear weapons program since 2003. And would someone dare ask why Bush thought Israel should have been “furious with the United States over the NIE”?

It seems likely that Bush actually dictated this part of the book himself. For, in setting down his reaction to the NIE on Iran, he unwittingly confirmed an insight that Dr. Justin Frank, M.D., who teaches psychiatry at George Washington University Hospital, gave us veteran intelligence officers into how Bush comes at reality – or doesn’t.

“His pathology is a patchwork of false beliefs and incomplete information woven into what he asserts is the whole truth. … He lies – not just to us, but to himself as well. … What makes lying so easy for Bush is his contempt – for language, for law, and for anybody who dares question him…. So his words mean nothing. That is very important for people to understand.” (See “Dangers of a Cornered Bush.”)

Not Enough Sycophants

When the NIE on Iran came out in late 2007, Bush may have pined for his sycophant-in-chief, former CIA Director George Tenet, and his co-conspirator deputy, John McLaughlin, who had shepherded the bogus Iraq-WMD analysis through the process in 2002 but had resigned in 2004 when their role in the deceptions became so obvious that it shamed even them.

Tenet and his CIA cronies had been expert at preparing estimates-to-go – to go to war, that is. They had proved themselves worthy rivals of the other CIA, the Culinary Institute of America, in cooking intelligence to the White House menu.

On Iraq, they had distinguished themselves by their willingness to conjure up “intelligence” that Senate Intelligence Committee chair Jay Rockefeller described as “uncorroborated, unconfirmed, and nonexistent” after a five-year review by his panel. (That finding was no news to any attentive observer, despite Herculean – and largely successful – efforts by the FCM to promote drinking the White House Kool-Aid.)

What is surprising in the case of Iran is the candor with which George W. Bush explains his chagrin at learning of the unanimous judgment of the intelligence community that Iran had not been working on a nuclear weapon since late 2003. (There is even new doubt about reports that the Iranians were working on a nuclear warhead before 2003. See “Iranian Nuke Documents May Be Fake.”)

The Estimate’s findings were certainly not what the Israelis and their neoconservative allies in Washington had been telling the White House – and not what President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney were dutifully proclaiming to the rest of us.

Shocked at Honesty

Bush lets it all hang out in Decision Points. He complains bitterly that the NIE “tied my hands on the military side.” He notes that the Estimate opened with this “eye-popping” finding of the intelligence community:

“We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program.”

The former president adds, “The NIE’s conclusion was so stunning that I felt it would immediately leak to the press.” He writes that he authorized declassification of the key findings “so that we could shape the news stories with the facts.” Facts?

The mind boggles at the thought that Bush actually thought the White House, even with de rigueur help from an ever obliging FCM, could put a positive spin on intelligence conclusions that let a meretricious cat out of the bag – that showed that the Bush administration’s case for war against Iran was as flimsy as its bogus case for invading Iraq.

How painful it was to watch the contortions the hapless Stephen Hadley, national security adviser at the time, went through in trying to square that circle. His task was the more difficult since, unlike the experience with the dishonestly edited/declassified version of what some refer to as the Whore of Babylon – the Oct. 1, 2002, NIE on WMD in Iraq, this time the managers of the Estimate made sure that the declassified version of the key judgments presented a faithful rendering of the main points in the classified Estimate.

A disappointed Bush writes, “The backlash was immediate. [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad hailed the NIE as a ‘great victory.’” Bush’s apparent “logic” here is to use the widespread disdain for Ahmadinejad to discredit the NIE through association, i.e., whatever Ahmadinejad praises must be false.

But can you blame Bush for his chagrin? Alas, the NIE had knocked out the props from under the anti-Iran propaganda machine, imported duty-free from Israel and tuned up by neoconservatives here at home.

How embarrassing. Here before the world were the key judgments of an NIE, the most authoritative genre of intelligence analysis, unanimously approved “with high confidence” by 16 agencies and signed by the Director of National Intelligence, saying, in effect, that Bush and Cheney were lying about the “Iranian nuclear threat.”

It is inconceivable that as the drafting of the Estimate on Iran proceeded during 2007, the intelligence community would have kept the White House in the dark about the emerging tenor of its conclusions. And yet, just a month before the Estimate was issued, Bush was claiming that the threat from Iran could lead to “World War III.”

The Russians More Honest?

Ironically, Russian President Vladimir Putin, unencumbered by special pleading and faux intelligence, had come to the same conclusions as the NIE.

Putin told French President Nicolas Sarkozy in early October 2007:

“We don’t have information showing that Iran is striving to produce nuclear weapons. That’s why we’re proceeding on the basis that Iran does not have such plans.”

In a mocking tone, Putin asked what evidence the U.S. and France had for asserting that Iran intends to make nuclear weapons. And, adding insult to injury, during a visit to Tehran on Oct. 16, 2007, Putin warned: “Not only should we reject the use of force, but also the mention of force as a possibility.”

This brought an interesting outburst by President Bush the next day at a press conference, a bizarre reaction complete with his famously tortured syntax:

Q. “Mr. President, I’d like to follow on Mr.-on President Putin’s visit to Tehran … about the words that Vladimir Putin said there. He issued a stern warning against potential U.S. military action against Tehran. … Were you disappointed with [Putin's] message?”

Bush: “I – as I say, I look forward to – if those are, in fact, his comments, I look forward to having him clarify those. … And so I will visit with him about it.”

Q. “But you definitively believe Iran wants to build a nuclear weapon?”

Bush: “I think so long – until they suspend and/or make it clear that they – that their statements aren’t real, yes, I believe they want to have the capacity, the knowledge, in order to make a nuclear weapon. And I know it’s in the world’s interest to prevent them from doing so. I believe that the Iranian – if Iran had a nuclear weapon, it would be a dangerous threat to world peace.

“But this is – we got a leader in Iran who has announced that he wants to destroy Israel. So I’ve told people that if you’re interested in avoiding world war III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them from have the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon. I take the threat of Iran with a nuclear weapon very seriously, and we’ll continue to work with all nations about the seriousness of this threat.”

Can’t Handle the Truth

In his memoir, Bush laments: “I don’t know why the NIE was written the way it was. … Whatever the explanation, the NIE had a big impact – and not a good one.” Spelling out how the Estimate had tied his hands “on the military side,” Bush included this (apparently unedited) kicker:

“But after the NIE, how could I possible explain using the military to destroy the nuclear facilities of a country the intelligence community said had no active nuclear weapons program?”

Thankfully, not even Dick Cheney could persuade Bush to repair the juggernaut and let it loose for war on Iran. The avuncular vice president has made it clear that he was very disappointed in his protégé. On Aug. 30, 2009, he told Fox News Sunday that he was isolated among Bush advisers in his enthusiasm for war with Iran.

“I was probably a bigger advocate of military action than any of my colleagues,” Cheney said when asked whether the Bush administration should have launched a pre-emptive attack on Iran before leaving office.

Bush briefed Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert before the NIE was released. Bush later said publicly that he did not agree with his own intelligence agencies. (For more on the Bush memoir’s conflicts with the truth, see “George W. Bush: Dupe or Deceiver?”)

And it is entirely possible that the Iran-war juggernaut would have been repaired and turned loose anyway, were it not for strong opposition by the top military brass who convinced Bush that Cheney, his neocon friends and Olmert had no idea of the chaos that war with Iran would unleash.

There’s lots of evidence that this is precisely what Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen and then-CENTCOM commander Adm. William Fallon told Bush, in no uncertain terms. And it is a safe bet that these two were among those hinting broadly to Bush that the NIE was likely to “leak,” if he did not himself make its key judgments public.

Whew!

What About Now?

The good news is that Cheney is gone and that Adm. Mullen is still around.

The bad news is that Adm. Fallon was sacked for making it explicitly clear that “We’re not going to do Iran on my watch,” and there are few flag officers with Fallon’s guts and honesty. Moreover, President Barack Obama continues to show himself to be an invertebrate vis-à-vis Israel and its neocon disciples.

Meanwhile, a draft NIE update on Iran’s nuclear program, completed earlier this year, is dead in its tracks, apparently because anti-Iran hawks inside the Obama administration are afraid it will leak. It is said to repeat pretty much the same conclusions as the NIE from 2007.

There are other ominous signs. The new director of national intelligence, retired Air Force Lt. Gen. James Clapper, is a subscriber to the Tenet school of malleability. It was Clapper whom former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld put in charge of imagery analysis to ensure that no one would cast serious doubt on all those neocon and Iraqi “defector” reports of WMD in Iraq.

And, when no WMD caches were found, it was Clapper who blithely suggested, without a shred of good evidence, that Saddam Hussein had sent them to Syria. This was a theory also being pushed by neocons both to deflect criticism of their false assurances about WMD in Iraq and to open a new military front against another Israeli nemesis, Syria.

In these circumstances, there may be some value in keeping the NIE update bottled up. At least that way, Clapper and other malleable managers won’t have the chance to play chef to another “cooked-to-order” analysis.

On the other hand, the neocons and our invertebrate president may well decide to order Clapper to “fix” the updated Estimate to fit in better with a policy of confrontation toward Iran. In that case, the new director of national intelligence might want to think twice. For Clapper could come a cropper. How?

The experience of 2007 showed that there are still some honest intelligence analysts around with integrity and guts – and with a strong aversion to managers who prostitute their work. This time around, such truth-tellers could opt for speedy, anonymous ways of getting the truth out – like, say, WikiLeaks.

This article appeared first on ConsortiumNews.com.


Nuking the White House

November 22, 2010

By MAUREEN DOWD


Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times

You know you’re in trouble when you need Henry Kissinger to vouch for you.

But there was the one formerly known as “The One” sitting at a table with a bunch of old, white, Republican dudes, choosing the most abstruse issue on the agenda for his moment to Man Up.

With Republicans treating the president like a dirt sandwich and Democrats begging the president to throw a knuckle sandwich, Obama drew his line in the sand on telemetry.

The Start arms treaty used to be a chance for American presidents to stare down the Russians. Now it’s a chance for a Democratic president, albeit belatedly, to stare down the Republicans.

The administration dilly-dallied for months on New Start, which should have been a no-brainer, even after it was clear that Senator Jon Kyl was a problem and needed to be cultivated, and even after it was clear that Republicans were on track to grab some power back.

But faced with the treaty’s unraveling, with possible deleterious consequences for sanctions on Iran and supply lines for our troops in Afghanistan, Obama had no choice. Even if the treaty doesn’t much affect our strategic security, it affects the relationship with Russia and our standing in the world. And resetting the relationship with Russia, with his buddy Dmitri, is the president’s only significant foreign policy accomplishment.

Besides, a man who won the Nobel Peace Prize on layaway doesn’t want to be responsible for any loose Russian nukes ending up in the crazy ‘Stans.

As Richard Wolffe notes in his new book, “Revival: The Struggle for Survival Inside the Obama White House,” the president drove Rahm Emanuel crazy by spending his first months in office toiling on the details of Start when the chief of staff was trying to get him to focus on the economy and his domestic agenda.

Nuclear arms control, Wolffe writes, was one of Obama’s first interests as a student at Columbia University. And his head is still in those wonky clouds.

“Most people don’t really give a pig’s patootie about a nuclear arms deal with Russia,” James Carville told reporters last week. But he agreed that the president needed to get out of his spineless spiral, even repeating his put-down from the Democratic primaries, that if Hillary gave Barry one of her spheres of testicular fortitude, “they’d both have two.”

Just as Bill Clinton once snatched welfare reform from the Republicans, now President Obama is playing W.’s national security card against the Republicans.

It would have been nice if Obama had made his tough stand earlier, on tax cuts or “don’t ask, don’t tell.” And since he doesn’t have the votes yet, he risks losing and taking a second shellacking. Popeye pulling out the spinach too late.

Still, if the president calls the Republicans’ bluff and makes them vote against ratification, they look petty. Is it worth risking the obliteration of the world to obliterate Obama’s second term?

In The Washington Post recently, Robert Kagan advised his fellow conservatives to show maturity and readiness to govern: “Blocking the treaty will produce three unfortunate results: It will strengthen Vladimir Putin, let the Obama administration off the hook when Russia misbehaves and set up Republicans as the fall guy if and when U.S.-Russian relations go south.”

Senator Richard Lugar, the only Republican so far willing to vote with the president, was blunt in warning Kyl of the danger of playing politics with nukes. His message underscored the hypocrisy of Republicans who shriek at the Iranians building a nuclear bomb while shrugging at the thousands of nukes that the Russians have floating around.

“One of those warheads – and there were 13,300 originally – one of them could demolish my city of Indianapolis,” Lugar told Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC.

The president and his advisers have been moping since the election. Richard Wolffe says the fourth-quarter player in the Oval, who has struggled to figure out whether he’s an insider or an outsider, aims to position himself as a statesman. He wants to come across as the grown-up in the room, disciplining puerile Republicans who would “mess with nuclear weapons and screw up alliances.”

The Republicans may help Obama if they act so vindictive, entitled and puffed up that they turn off the voters who just anointed them.

Sarah Palin’s fans have hijacked what is supposed to be a fun talent contest, “Dancing With the Stars,” and turned it into an annoying straw vote for the Palin family. And on Friday, as Americans were rebelling against groping airport pat-downs, the soon-to-be speaker of the House, who was supposed to travel like real Americans, put himself above the madding crowd.

The Times’s Jeff Zeleny was on the scene and reported that John Boehner did not wait in line or go through security: he “was escorted around the metal detectors and body scanners, and taken directly to the gate.”

So much for Reagan’s trust but verify. Now we’ve got distrust and vilify.


Top Companies Aid Chamber of Commerce in Policy Fights

October 22, 2010

By ERIC LIPTON, MIKE McINTIRE and DON VAN NATTA Jr.

Prudential Financial sent in a $2 million donation last year as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce kicked off a national advertising campaign to weaken the historic rewrite of the nation’s financial regulations.


R. Bruce Josten, chief lobbyist of the Chamber of Commerce, left, and Chamber of Commerce president Thomas J. Donohue in Washington in January.

Dow Chemical delivered $1.7 million to the chamber last year as the group took a leading role in aggressively fighting proposed rules that would impose tighter security requirements on chemical facilities.

And Goldman Sachs, Chevron Texaco, and Aegon, a multinational insurance company based in the Netherlands, donated more than $8 million in recent years to a chamber foundation that has been critical of growing federal regulation and spending. These large donations – none of which were publicly disclosed by the chamber, a tax-exempt group that keeps its donors secret, as it is allowed by law – offer a glimpse of the chamber’s money-raising efforts, which it has ramped up recently in an orchestrated campaign to become one of the most well-financed critics of the Obama administration and an influential player in this fall’s Congressional elections.

They suggest that the recent allegations from President Obama and others that foreign money has ended up in the chamber’s coffers miss a larger point: The chamber has had little trouble finding American companies eager to enlist it, anonymously, to fight their political battles and pay handsomely for its help.

And these contributions, some of which can be pieced together through tax filings of corporate foundations and other public records, also show how the chamber has increasingly relied on a relatively small collection of big corporate donors to finance much of its legislative and political agenda. The chamber makes no apologies for its policy of not identifying its donors. It has vigorously opposed legislation in Congress that would require groups like it to identify their biggest contributors when they spend money on campaign ads.

Proponents of that measure pointed to reports that health insurance providers funneled at least $10 million to the chamber last year, all of it anonymously, to oppose President Obama’s health care legislation.

“The major supporters of us in health care last year were confronted with protests at their corporate headquarters, protests and harassment at the C.E.O.’s homes,” said R. Bruce Josten, the chief lobbyist at the chamber, whose office looks out on the White House. “You are wondering why companies want some protection. It is pretty clear.”

The chamber’s increasingly aggressive role – including record spending in the midterm elections that supports Republicans more than 90 percent of the time – has made it a target of critics, including a few local chamber affiliates who fear it has become too partisan and hard-nosed in its fund-raising.

The chamber is spending big in political races from California to New Hampshire, including nearly $1.5 million on television advertisements in New Hampshire attacking Representative Paul W. Hodes, a Democrat running for the United States Senate, accusing him of riding Nancy Pelosi’s “liberal express” down the road to financial ruin.

“When you become a mouthpiece for a specific agenda item for one business or group of businesses, you better be damn careful you are not being manipulated,” said James C. Tyree, a former chairman of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, who has backed Republicans and Democrats, including Mr. Obama. “And they are getting close to that, if not over that edge.”

But others praise its leading role against Democrat-backed initiatives, like health care, financial regulation and climate change, which they argue will hurt American businesses. The Obama administration’s “antibusiness rhetoric” has infuriated executives, making them open to the chamber’s efforts, said John Motley, a former lobbyist for the National Federation of Independent Business, a rival.

“They’ve raised it to a science, and an art form,” he said of the chamber’s pitches to corporate leaders that large contributions will help “change the game” in Washington.

As a nonprofit organization, the chamber need not disclose its donors in its public tax filings, and because it says no donations are earmarked for specific ads aimed at a candidate, it does not invoke federal elections rules requiring disclosure.

The annual tax returns that the chamber releases include a list of all donations over $5,000, including 21 in 2008 that each exceed $1 million, one of them for $15 million. However, the chamber omits the donors’ names.

But intriguing hints can be found in obscure places, like the corporate governance reports that some big companies have taken to posting on their Web sites, which show their donations to trade associations. Also, the tax filings of corporate foundations must publicly list their donations to other foundations, including one run by the chamber.

These records show that while the chamber boasts of representing more than three million businesses, and having approximately 300,000 members, nearly half of its $140 million in contributions in 2008 came from just 45 donors. Many of those large donations coincided with lobbying or political campaigns that potentially affected the donors.

Dow Chemical, for example, sent $1.7 million to the chamber in the past year to cover not only its annual membership dues, but also to support lobbying and legal campaigns. Those included one against legislation requiring stronger measures to protect chemical plants from attack.

A Dow spokesman would not discuss the reasons for the large donation, other than to say it supports the chamber’s work.

Prudential Financial’s $2 million donation last year coincided with a chamber lobbying effort against elements of the financial regulation bill in Congress. A spokesman for Prudential, which opposed certain proposed restrictions on the use of financial instruments known as derivatives, said the donation was not earmarked for a specific issue.

But he acknowledged that most of the money was used by the chamber to lobby Congress.

“I am not suggesting it is a coincidence,” said the spokesman, Bob DeFillippo.

More recently, the News Corporation gave $1 million to support the chamber’s political efforts this fall; Chairman Rupert Murdoch said it was in best interests of his company and the country “that there be a fair amount of change in Washington.”

Business interests also give to the chamber’s foundation. Its tax filings show that seven donors gave the foundation at least $17 million between 2004 and 2008, about two-thirds of the total raised.

These donors include Goldman Sachs, Edward Jones, Alpha Technologies, Chevron Texaco and Aegon, which has American subsidiaries and whose former chief executive, Donald J. Shepard, served for a time as chairman of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s board.

Another large foundation donor is a charity run by Maurice R. Greenberg, the former chairman of the insurance giant A.I.G. The charity has made loans and grants totaling $18 million since 2003. U.S. Chamber Watch, a union-backed group, filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service last month asserting that the chamber foundation violated tax laws by funneling the money into a chamber “tort reform” campaign favored by A.I.G. and Mr. Greenberg. The chamber denied any wrongdoing.

The complaint, which the chamber calls entirely unfounded, raises the question of how the chamber picks its campaigns, and whether it accepts donations that are intended to be spent on specific issues or political races.

The chamber says that it consults with members on lobbying targets, but that it does not make those decisions based on the size of a donation or accept money earmarked to support a specific political candidate.

Endorsement decisions, chamber officials said, are based on candidates’ votes on a series of business-related bills, and through consultations with the chamber’s regional directors, state affiliates and members.

To avoid conflicts of interest, individual businesses do not play a role in deciding on which races to spend the chamber’s political advertising dollars. The choices instead are made by the chamber’s political staff, based on where it sees the greatest chance of getting pro-business candidates elected, chamber executives said.

“They are not anywhere near a room when we are making a decision like that,” Mr. Josten said, of the companies that finance these ads. The chamber’s extraordinary money push began long before this election season. An organization that in 2003 had an overall budget of about $130 million, it is spending $200 million this year, and the chamber and its affiliates allocated $144 million last year just for lobbying, making it the biggest lobbyist in the United States.

In January, the chamber’s president, Thomas J. Donohue, a former trucking lobbyist, announced that his group intended “to carry out the largest, most aggressive voter education and issue advocacy effort in our nearly 100-year history.”

The words were carefully chosen, as the chamber asserts in filings with the Federal Election Commission that it is simply running issue ads during this election season. But a review of the nearly 70 chamber-produced ads found that 93 percent of those that have run nationwide that focus on the midterm elections either support Republican candidates or criticize their opponents.

And the pace of spending has been relentless. In just a single week this month, the chamber spent $10 million on Senate races in nine states and two dozen House races, a fraction of the $50 million to $75 million it said it intends to spend over all this season. In the 2008 election cycle, it spent $33.5 million.

To support the effort, the chamber has adopted an all-hands-on-deck approach to fund-raising. Mr. Josten said he makes many of the fund-raising calls to corporations nationwide, as does Mr. Donohue. (Both men are well compensated for their work: Mr. Donohue was paid $3.7 million in 2008, and has access to a corporate jet and a chauffeur, while Mr. Josten was paid $1.1 million, tax records show.)

But those aggressive pitches have turned off some business executives. “There was an arrogance to it like they were the 800-pound gorilla and I was either with them with this big number or I just did not matter,” said Mr. Tyree, of Chicago.

Another corporate executive, who asked not to be named, said the chamber risks alienating its members.

“Unless you spend $250,000 to $500,000 a year, that is what they want for you to be one of their pooh-bahs, otherwise, they don’t pay any attention to you at all,” the executive said, asking that the company not be identified.

Chamber officials acknowledge the tough fund-raising, but they say it has been necessary in support of their goal of remaking Congress on Election Day to make it friendlier to business.

“It’s been a long and ugly campaign season, filled with partisan attacks and political squabbling,” William C. Miller Jr., the chamber’s national political director, said in a message sent to chamber members this week. “We are all tired – no doubt about it. But we are so close to bringing about historic change on Capitol Hill.”

Eric Lipton reported from Washington, and Mike McIntire and Don Van Natta Jr. from New York. Kitty Bennett and Griffin Palmer contributed research.


U.S. Aids Taliban to Attend Talks on Making Peace

October 15, 2010

By THOM SHANKER, DAVID E. SANGER and ERIC SCHMITT

BRUSSELS – United States-led forces are permitting the movement of senior Taliban leaders to attend initial peace talks in Kabul, the clearest indication of American support for high-level discussions aimed at ending the war in Afghanistan, senior NATO and Obama administration officials said.


Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates spoke to members of the news media on Wednesday while flying to a NATO meeting in Brussels.

While the talks involve senior members of the Taliban, officials emphasized that they were preliminary, and that they could not tell how serious the insurgents – or the weak government of President Hamid Karzai – were about reaching an accord.

But comments by administration officials in Washington and a senior NATO official in Brussels on Wednesday indicated that the United States was doing more to encourage a peaceful settlement in Afghanistan than officials had previously disclosed, and might reflect growing pessimism that the buildup of American forces there will produce decisive gains against the Taliban insurgency.

The NATO official confirmed that “there has been outreach by very senior members of the Taliban to the highest levels of the Afghan government.” Though the talks are preliminary, he said, the prospect of negotiating a settlement of the war effort, now nine years old, is alluring enough that personnel from NATO nations in Afghanistan “have indeed facilitated to various degrees the contacts” by allowing Taliban leaders to travel to the Afghan capital.

Mr. Karzai has been trying for many months to persuade Taliban leaders to join his government, and the efforts intensified late last year after President Obama said that he intended to begin scaling back American troop levels in Afghanistan by the summer of 2011. American officials had earlier insisted that such talks were a sideshow to the main war effort and that they were unlikely to produce results until the Taliban felt weakened by the intensified NATO assault.

Now, some officials appear eager to show that they are pursuing a new approach in Afghanistan that explores a possible political settlement even as the military tries to step up pressure on the Taliban.

The top American commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David H. Petraeus, told reporters in Afghanistan recently that high-level Taliban leaders were reaching out to senior Afghan officials to start discussions. General Petraeus seems determined to show progress on achieving American goals in Afghanistan – both military and political – ahead of a December review of the war effort ordered by Mr. Obama.

Support for talks also comes as American officials have expressed a growing frustration with the complex role played by Pakistan, which provides safe haven for many insurgents and has ambitions of dictating the postwar political situation in Afghanistan.

Pakistan has insisted that any lasting solution in Afghanistan must involve reconciliation with the Taliban, and has urged the United States to participate in peace talks. At the same time, Pakistan has disrupted some efforts by Mr. Karzai to reach out to Taliban leaders hiding in Pakistan, presumably because he made those overtures without Pakistan’s approval.

It is not clear which Taliban leaders have been allowed to travel to Kabul to conduct talks with Mr. Karzai’s government. The NATO official also did not disclose what members of NATO’s Afghanistan force, the International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, have done to support the talks beyond offering safe passage to insurgents participating in the discussions.

“It would be extremely difficult for a senior Taliban member to get to Kabul without being killed or captured if ISAF were not witting,” the official said. “And ISAF is witting.”

In Washington, officials have been more cautious about prospects for a peaceful settlement. One senior American official noted recently that the Taliban, while war-weary, had little incentive to make concessions because they still had the sense that they could outlast the American presence in the country. Mr. Karzai, others noted, can be an erratic negotiator, and part of the mystery in Kabul is whether he is keeping American and NATO allies abreast of his conversations.

Mr. Obama signed off on a policy early this year that talks were possible as long as Taliban leaders, at the end of the process, agreed to renounce violence, lay down their arms, and pledge fidelity to the Afghan Constitution. As recently as August, two senior American officials said, Mr. Obama was updated on the progress of those efforts, officials said, and reaffirmed that the United States should aid the process, even if the Taliban involved in the talks represented only breakaway factions of the insurgent group.

“We’re not expecting Mullah Omar to walk in the door,” one senior administration official said recently, referring to the Taliban figure Mullah Muhammad Omar. “But there have been pings from commanders a few notches down.”

The NATO official said: “These are in the very preliminary stages of discussions. So you would not yet characterize this by any means as a negotiation.”

The NATO official discussed developments in Afghanistan on standard diplomatic ground rules of anonymity because of the delicacy of the reconciliation discussions. The official spoke in advance of a NATO meeting in Brussels on Thursday that will include alliance ministers of foreign affairs and of defense. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates are scheduled to attend.

Next month, President Obama is expected to attend a NATO summit meeting in Lisbon, where the United States must make the case to nervous – and in some cases, soon-departing – allies that there is a viable plan for turning more of Afghanistan over to the government. That effort will have little chance of success, many officials believe, if there is no political path for integrating low-level Taliban fighters and reconciling with their leaders.

Congressional officials and independent experts voiced skepticism on Wednesday that the current discussions would lead to any immediate breakthrough.

“We’ve now got two years of reports of talks about talks, but none of it has panned out as serious,” said Bruce O. Riedel, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who led Mr. Obama’s first Afghanistan policy review.

But the increased NATO military operations in southern Afghanistan aimed at killing or capturing midlevel Taliban commanders has caused some Taliban leaders “nervousness about life and fortune,” Mr. Riedel said.

“It’s a more dicey game. You’re starting to see people wanting to put money down on all bets.”

Thom Shanker reported from Brussels, and David E. Sanger and Eric Schmitt from Washington.


U.S. Tries to Calm Pakistan Over Airstrike

October 7, 2010

By HELENE COOPER and ERIC SCHMITT

WASHINGTON – The Obama administration scrambled to halt a sharp deterioration in its troubled relationship with Pakistan on Wednesday, offering Pakistani officials multiple apologies for a helicopter strike on a border post that killed three Pakistani soldiers last week.


Militant gunmen in Nowshera, Pakistan, attacked a convoy of NATO oil tankers that were headed to Afghanistan on Wednesday.

But even as the White House tried to mollify Pakistan, officials acknowledged that the uneasy allies faced looming tensions over a host of issues far larger than the airstrike and the subsequent closing of supply lines into Afghanistan.

American pressure to show progress in Afghanistan is translating into increased pressure on Pakistan to crack down on terrorist groups. It is also running up against Pakistan’s sensitivity about its sovereignty and its determination to play a crucial role in any reconciliation with the Taliban.

American and NATO officials said privately that the Pakistani government’s closing of a crucial border crossing might have made it easier for militants to attack backed-up tanker trucks carrying fuel through Pakistan to Afghanistan to support the American war effort.

Still, the unusual apologies, officials and outside analysts said, were intended to clear away the debris from the explosive events along the border, in hopes of maintaining Pakistani cooperation.

“We have historically had astonishing sources of resilience in our relations with Pakistan,” said Teresita Schaffer, a South Asia expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “One should not too quickly assume we’re in a breakpoint. But having said that, the time we’re in right now, the intensity of anti-American feeling, the antipathy of militants, all of these things make new crises a little more complicated to get through than the old ones were.”

The overall commander of forces in Afghanistan, Gen. David H. Petraeus, has been pulling out all the stops – aggressively using the American troop buildup, greatly expanding Special Operations raids (as many as a dozen commando raids a night) and pressing the Central Intelligence Agency to ramp up Predator and Reaper drone operations in Pakistan.

He has also, through the not-so-veiled threat of cross-border ground operations, put pressure on the Pakistani Army to pursue militants in the tribal areas even as the army has continued to struggle with relief from the catastrophic floods this summer.

The fragility of Pakistan – and the tentativeness of the alliance – were underscored in a White House report to Congress this week, which sharply criticized the Pakistani military effort against Al Qaeda and other insurgents and noted the ineffectiveness of its civilian government.

American officials lined up to placate Pakistan on intrusions of its sovereignty. General Petraeus offered Pakistan the most explicit American mea culpa yet for the cross-border helicopter strikes, saying that the American-led coalition forces “deeply regret” the “tragic loss of life.”

Anne W. Patterson, the American ambassador to Pakistan, quickly followed suit, calling “Pakistan’s brave security forces” an important ally in the war. Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, offered a private, but official, apology to Pakistan’s military chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, in a telephone call on Wednesday afternoon.

Both American and Pakistani officials said that they expected that Wednesday’s apologies would be effective, at least in the short term, and that Pakistan would soon reopen the border crossing at Torkham, a supply route for the NATO coalition in landlocked Afghanistan that runs from the port of Karachi to the Khyber region. The Pakistani government closed that route last week to protest the cross-border strikes.

“It’s obvious that the situation right now ain’t good,” said a senior NATO official, who agreed to speak candidly but only anonymously. “The best thing we could do is to strip away as many of the relatively smaller things as possible so we can focus on the big issues. And crazy as it may seem, the border crossing is a relatively small issue, compared to the others.”

Those other issues were flagged in the latest quarterly report from the White House to Congress on developments in the region. The assessment, first reported in The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, takes aim at both the Pakistani military and the government.

For instance, “the Pakistani military continued to avoid military engagements that would put it in direct conflict with Afghan Taliban or Al Qaeda forces in North Waziristan,” the report said. It also painted Pakistan’s president, Asif Ali Zardari, as out of touch with his own populace, a disconnect that the report said was exacerbated by Mr. Zardari’s “decision to travel to Europe despite the floods.” The overall Pakistani response to the catastrophic floods this summer, the report said, was viewed by Pakistanis as “slow and inadequate.”

Frustration with Pakistan is growing in the United States in part because “we’re living in the post-Faisal Shahzad era,” said Daniel Markey of the Council on Foreign Relations, referring to the Pakistani-American who was sentenced to life in prison on Tuesday for the attempted Times Square bombing.

Mr. Markey said that tensions among counterterrorism officials had also mounted because of the unspecified threats of terrorist attacks in Europe. “Frustration has really mounted, so the drumbeat is getting louder,” he said.

Making things worse, the administration is expected to brief Congressional officials on an Internet video, which surfaced last week, that showed men in Pakistani military uniforms executing six young men in civilian clothes, underscoring concerns about unlawful killings by Pakistani soldiers supported by the United States.

A prominent House Democrat warned on Wednesday that American aid to Pakistan could be imperiled. “I am appalled by the horrific contents of the recent video, which appears to show extrajudicial killings by the Pakistani military,” Representative Howard L. Berman, a California Democrat who leads the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement.

“The failure of Pakistani officials to punish those responsible could have implications for future security assistance to Pakistan,” he said.

A joint Pakistan-NATO inquiry on the helicopter strike concluded on Wednesday that Pakistani border soldiers who initially fired on NATO helicopters were “simply firing warning shots after hearing the nearby engagement and hearing the helicopters flying nearby,” said Brig. Gen. Timothy M. Zadalis, a NATO spokesman, in a statement.

“This tragic event could have been avoided with better coalition force coordination with the Pakistani military,” he said.

Alissa J. Rubin and Carlotta Gall contributed reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan, and Jane Perlez from Islamabad, Pakistan.


Indian nuke bill seen as bad for business

September 7, 2010

Bhopal case adds to worries

By Ashish Kumar Sen-The Washington Times


Indian policemen take away a protest banner as they detain a Greenpeace activist protesting against a nuclear bill near the Indian Parliament House in New Delhi, India, on Aug. 25, 2010. (Associated Press)

A bill approved last week by the Indian Parliament that holds suppliers of nuclear reactors and raw materials liable in the event of an accident is raising concerns that it will scare away foreign businesses from India’s lucrative energy market.

The legislation was approved in both houses of Parliament during the same week that the country’s highest court reopened the Bhopal gas-leak case in response to a government petition seeking harsher punishment for corporate leaders responsible for the 1984 accident.

Together, the legislative and judicial actions – both years in the making – provide for an uncertain business environment in terms of civil liability, as Asia’s third-largest economy aims to expand its nuclear energy capacity from 4,000 megawatts to 30,000 megawatts by 2020.

General Electric Co. and Westinghouse Electric Corp. are among the foreign suppliers seeking a share of India’s estimated $150 billion worth of energy contracts, but the state-owned Nuclear Power Corp. of India Ltd. (NPCIL) said the legislation could deter those companies from the marketplace.

NPCIL Executive Director Sudhinder Thakur said in a statement that “no manufacturer, Indian or foreign, would be able to serve the nuclear power industry” in India under the civil liability bill, which makes suppliers of equipment for nuclear power plants, including raw materials, liable for 80 years after the construction of a plant in the event of an accident.

In addition, Ashley Tellis, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace who was closely involved in negotiating the U.S. civilian nuclear deal with India, said the legislation will be “a significant deterrent not only to U.S. business but, equally importantly, to Indian and other international private business as well.”

Companies in Russia and France, as well as the U.S., are considering nuclear energy contracts with India.

The George W. Bush administration struck the civilian nuclear agreement with India in 2006. The deal raised eyebrows by allowing nuclear commerce with India even though it is not a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, said it is ironic that after the Bush administration “expended enormous political and diplomatic capital to exempt India from U.S. nonproliferation laws and [Nuclear Suppliers Group] guidelines – and damaging the global nonproliferation system in the process – the new Indian law may effectively deny U.S. nuclear supply firms access to the Indian market, which was a chief selling point for the deal.”

Moreover, contrary to the Indian government’s claims, analysts say the civil liability legislation is not compliant with the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Convention on Supplementary Compensation (CSC).

“The CSC requires that all nuclear liability must be channeled absolutely and exclusively to the operator of a nuclear power plant; by the admission of the Indian government itself, the bill channels liability to the supplier as well. Hence, it is not CSC compliant,” Mr. Tellis said.

The legislation’s passage has set off alarm bells in U.S. industry.

The U.S.-India Business Council (USIBC), which includes top-tier U.S. and Indian companies among its members, said the absence of a CSC-compliant liability regime could “preclude involvement by the private sector – both Indian and foreign – and stymie India’s multiyear effort to develop civil nuclear power.”

U.S. officials declined to comment on the passage of the legislation, but analysts said they expect the Obama administration is not pleased with the development.

President Obama is scheduled to visit India in November.

“It’s going to be interesting to see whether the Indians, now that they have passed this law, are going to stick to their guns or cave under possible U.S. pressure to reverse course,” said Henry Sokolski, executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center.

The specter of the deadly gas leak at a Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal in 1984 loomed over the liability discussions in India. At least 15,000 people were killed and 500,000 injured in the world’s worst industrial accident.

Just last week, the Indian Supreme Court opted to review its 1996 decision to reduce the charges in the case from culpable homicide to negligence amid a national outcry for stiffer penalties for those responsible and more compensation for victims.

“A country that has experienced Bhopal is not about to open itself up to a nuclear version of such,” Mr. Sokolski said, adding that the commercial value of the U.S.-India deal was always oversold.

“Now it has come up a total cropper. … This only builds on our legacy of being nuclear diplomatic chumps.”


Two Minutes to Midnight?

August 25, 2010

Cutting Through the Media’s Bogus Bomb-Iran Debate

By Tony Karon
TomDispatch

America’s march to a disastrous war in Iraq began in the media, where an unprovoked U.S. invasion of an Arab country was introduced as a legitimate policy option, then debated as a prudent and necessary one. Now, a similarly flawed media conversation on Iran is gaining momentum.

Last month, Time’s Joe Klein warned that Obama administration sources had told him bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities was “back on the table.” In an interview with CNN, former CIA director Admiral Mike Hayden next spoke of an “inexorable” dynamic toward confrontation, claiming that bombing was a more viable option for the Obama administration than it had been for George W. Bush. The pièce de résistancein the most recent drum roll of bomb-Iran alerts, however, came from Jeffrey Goldberg in the Atlantic Monthly. A journalist influential in U.S. pro-Israeli circles, he also has access to Israel’s corridors of power. Because sanctions were unlikely to force Iran to back down on its uranium enrichment project, Goldberg invited readers to believe that there was a more than even chance Israel would launch a military strike on the country by next summer.

His piece, which sparked considerable debate in both the blogosphere and the traditional media, was certainly an odd one. After all, despite the dramatics he deployed, including vivid descriptions of the Israeli battle plan, and his tendency to paint Iran as a new Auschwitz, he also made clear that many of his top Israeli sources simply didn’t believe Iran would launch nuclear weapons against Israel, even if it acquired them.

Nonetheless, Goldberg warned, absent an Iranian white flag soon, Israel would indeed launch that war in summer 2011, and it, in turn, was guaranteed to plunge the region into chaos. The message: the Obama administration better do more to confront Iran or Israel will act crazy.

It’s not lost on many of his progressive critics that, when it came to supporting a prospective invasion of Iraq back in 2002, Goldberg proved effective in lobbying liberal America, especially through his reports of “evidence” linking Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda. Then and now, he presents himself as an interlocutor who has no point of view. In his most recent Atlantic piece, he professed a “profound, paralyzing ambivalence” on the question of a military strike on Iran and subsequently, in radio interviews, claimed to be “personally opposed” to military action.

His piece, however, conveniently skipped over the obvious inconsistencies in what his Israeli sources were telling him. In addition, he excluded perspectives from Israeli leaders that might have challenged his narrative in which an embattled Jewish state feels it has no alternative but to launch a quixotic military strike. Such an attack, as he presented it, would have limited hope of doing more than briefly setting back the Iranian nuclear program, perhaps at catastrophic cost, and so Israeli leaders would act only because they believe the “goyim” won’t stop another Auschwitz. Or as my friend Paul Woodward, editor of the War in Context website, so brilliantly summed up the Israeli message to America: “You must do what we can’t, because if you don’t, we will.”

Goldberg insists that he is merely initiating a debate about how to tackle Iran and that debate is already underway on his terms — that is, like its Iraq War predecessor, based on a fabricated sense of crisis and arbitrary deadlines.

Last Friday, the New York Times reported that the Obama administration had convinced Israel that there was no need to rush on the issue. Should Iran decide to build a nuclear weapon (which it has not done), it would, administration officials pointed out, quickly make its intentions clear by expelling the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors who routinely monitor its nuclear work, and breaking out of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). After that, it would still need another year or more to assemble its first weapon.

In other words, despite Goldberg’s breathless two-minutes-to-midnight schedule, there’s no urgency whatsoever about debating military action against Iran. And then, of course, there’s the question of the very premises of the to-bomb-or-not-to-bomb “debate.” Perhaps, after all these years of obsessive Iran nuclear mania, it’s too much to request a moment of sanity on the issue of Iran and the bomb. If, however, we really have a couple of years to think this over, what about starting by asking three crucial questions, each of which our debaters would prefer to avoid or ignore?

1. Does the U.S. have a right to launch wars of aggression without provocation, in defiance of international law and an international consensus, simply on the basis of its own suspicions about another country’s future intentions?

Or to put it bluntly, as former National Security Council staffers Flint Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett have: Does the U.S. have the right to attack Iran because it is enriching uranium?

The idea that the U.S. has the right to take such a catastrophic step based on the fevered imaginations of Biblically inspired Israeli extremists — Goldberg has previously suggested that Prime Minister Netanyahu believes Iran to be the reincarnation of the Biblical Amalekites, mortal enemies the ancient Hebrews were to smite — or simply to preserve an Israeli monopoly on nuclear force in the Middle East is as bizarre as it is reckless. Even debating the possibility of launching a military strike on Iranian nuclear facilities as a matter of rational policy, absent any Iranian aggression or even solid evidence that the Iranian leadership intends to wage its own version of aggressive war, gives an undeserved respectability to what would otherwise be considered steps beyond the bounds of rational foreign policy discussion.

Perhaps someone in our media hothouse could take just a moment to ask why, outside of the United States and Israel, there is no support — nada, zero, zip — for military action against Iran. In Goldberg’s world, this may be nothing more than the eternal beast of anti-Semitism rearing its ugly head in the form of disdain for the rise of yet another Amalek/Haman/Torquemada/Hitler. A more sober reading of the international situation would, however, suggest that most of the international community simply doesn’t share an alarmist view of what Iran’s nuclear program represents.

Indeed, it is notable that, in Goldberg’s world, Arabs and Iranians never get to speak. The Arabs, we are told, secretly want Israel or the U.S. to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities out of fear that the acquisition of nuclear weapons would embolden their Persian rivals. They are, so the story goes, just not able to say so in public. Of course, when Arab leaders do publicly express their opposition to the idea of another war being launched in the Middle East, they are ignored in the Goldberg-led debate.

Similarly, their rejection of Washington’s long-held premise that Israel’s special security must be exempted from any discussion of the creation of a nuclear-free Middle East remains outside the bounds of the Iran-debate story. And don’t expect to see any mention of the authoritative University of Maryland annual survey of Arab public opinion either. After all, it recently reportedthat, contrary to claims of an Arab world cowering under the threat of Iranian nukes, 57% of the Arab public actually believe a nuclear-armed Iran would be good for the Middle East!

The idea that Iran’s regime might exist for any purpose other than to destroy Israel is largely ignored as well. Bizarrely enough, Iranians don’t actually feature much in the American “debate” at all (beyond citations of Mad-Mullah-like pronouncements by some Iranian leaders who wish Israel would disappear). The long, nuanced relationship between Israel and the Islamic Republic, asexplained by Trita Parsi, author of Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran, and the United States, is simply ignored. So, too, is every indication Iran’s leaders have given that they have no intention of attacking Israel or any other country. In fact, in the Goldberg debate, domestic politics in both the U.S. and Israel is understood as an important factor in future decisions; Iran, with the Green Movement presently suppressed, is considered to have no domestic politics at all, just those Mad Mullahs.

2. Even if Iran were to acquire the means to build a nuclear weapon, would that be a legitimate or prudent reason for launching a war?

If Iran is actually pursuing the capability to build nuclear weapons, its leaders would be doing so in response to a strategic environment in which two of its key adversaries, the U.S. and Israel, and two of its sometime friends/sometime adversaries, Russia and Pakistan, have substantial nuclear arsenals. By all sober accounts, Iran’s security posture is primarily focused on the survival of its regime. Some Israeli military and intelligence officials have been quoted in Israel’s media as saying that Iran’s motivation in seeking a nuclear weapon would be primarily to head off a threat of U.S. intervention aimed at regime change.

Most states do not pursue weapons systems as ends in themselves, and most states are hardwired to prioritize their own survival. It is to that end that they acquire weapons systems — to protect, enhance, or advance their own strategic position, or up the odds against more powerful rivals. In other words, the conflicts that fuel the drive for nuclear weapons are more dangerous than the weapons themselves, and the problem of those weapons can’t be addressed separately from those conflicts.

An Iran that had been bombed to destroy its nuclear power program would likely emerge from the experience far more dangerous to the U.S. and its allies over the decades to come than an Iran that had nuclear weapons within reach. The only way to diminish the danger of an escalating confrontation with Iran is to address the conflict between Tehran and its rivals directly, and seek a modus vivendi that would manage their conflicting interests.

Unfortunately, such a dialogue between Washington and Tehran has scarcely begun, even as, amid alarmist warnings, Goldberg and others insist it must be curtailed so as to avoid the Iranians “playing for time.”

3. Is Iran actually developing nuclear weapons?

No, it is not. That’s the conclusion of the CIA, the IAEA, whose inspectors are inside Iran’s nuclear facilities, and most of the world’s intelligence agencies, including the Israelis. U.S. intelligence believes that Iran is using a civilian nuclear energy program to assemble much of the infrastructure that could, in the future, be used to build a bomb, and that Iran may also be continuing theoretical work on designing such a weapon.

Washington’s spooks and its defense establishment do not, however, believe Iran is currently developing nuclear weapons, nor that its leadership has made the ultimate decision to do so. In fact, the consensus appears to be that Iran will not weaponize nuclear material, but will stop short at “breakout capacity” — the ability, also available, for instance, to Japan, to move relatively quickly to build such a weapon. Currently, as the New York Times reported, the time frame for “breakout,” if all went well (and it might not), would be about a year, after which Iran would have enough fissile material for one bomb. (The Israelis, by comparison, are believed to have 200 to 400 nuclear weapons in their undeclared program, the Pakistanis between 70 and 90, and the United States more than 5,000.) In addition, a credible nuclear deterrent would require the production of not one or two bombs, but a number of them, which would allow for testing.

For ex-CIA Director Hayden, such a breakout capacity would be “as destabilizing as their actually having a weapon.” His is a logical leap that’s hard to sustain, unless you believe that it’s worth launching a war to prevent Iran from, at worst, acquiring a defensive trump card that might prevent it from being attacked.

Iran’s enrichment activities are, of course, a violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions backed by sanctions. Those were imposed to demand that Iran suspend its enrichment program until it satisfied concerns raised by IAEA inspectors over its compliance with the disclosure and transparency requirements of the NPT — especially when it came to aspects of its program which have been developed in secret, raising suspicions over their future use.

Three years before North Korea was in a position to test a nuclear weapon, it had to withdraw from the NPT and kick out IAEA inspectors. Iran remains within the treaty. Even as the standoff over its nuclear program continues, renewed efforts are underway to broker a confidence-building deal to exchange Iranian enriched uranium for fuel rods produced outside the country to power a Tehran reactor that produces medical isotopes.

None of this will be easy, of course. The two main parties are trying to impose their own, mutually exclusive terms on any deal: Washington wants Iran to forego its treaty-guaranteed right to enrich its own uranium because that also gives it the potential means to produce bomb materiel; Iran has no intention of foregoing that right. Such longstanding pillars of foreign policy sobriety as Senator John Kerry and Colin Powell, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of State, have publicly deemed the U.S. position untenable.

To suggest that Iran’s present nuclear program represents the security equivalent of a clock ticking down to midnight is calculated hysteria that bears no relation to reality. Ah, says Goldberg, but the point is that the Israelis believe it to be so. Yes, replies former National Security Council Iran analyst Gary Sick, now at Columbia University, but the Israelis and some Americans have been claiming Iran is just a few years away from a nuclear weapon since 1992.

The premises of the debate just initiated by Goldberg’s piece are palpably false. More important, they are remarkably dangerous, since they leap-frog over the three basic questions laid out above and move straight on to arguing the case for war amid visions of annihilation. This campaign of panic is not Goldberg’s invention. It’s been with us for a long time now. Goldberg is just the present vehicle for an American conversation initiated by others, among them those known in the Bush years as neocons, who have long been dreaming of war with Iran and are already, as Juan Cole recently indicated, planning for such a war under a future Republican administration, if not sooner.

Similarly, among Israelis, Prime Minister Netanyahu, in particular, believes that Americans are politically feeble-minded; he said as much to a group of Israeli settlers in a video that surfaced recently: “I know what America is. America is a thing you can move very easily, move it in the right direction. They won’t get in [our] way.”

Through Goldberg, the Israeli leader and his aides are seeking to “move America in the right direction” with dark tales of Auschwitz and Amalekites, and of Netanyahu himself as a hostage, in the Freudian sense, to a fierce and unforgiving father who won’t tolerate any show of weakness in the face of perceived threats to the Jews. Goldberg’s sources, including Netanyahu, make it perfectly clear that they don’t believe Iran would attack Israel. Instead, they warn that an Iranian nuclear weapon would embolden Hamas and Hizballah, although the logic there is flimsy indeed. After all, if Iran would not attack Israel on its own with a nuclear weapon, why would it do so to defend its insurgent allies?

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has suggested that a nuclear-armed Iran would prompt the best and brightest Israelis to emigrate, because they are clever people who can make a good life for themselves anywhere in the world. Indeed, and they have been doing exactly that for many years now. Some 750,000 Israeli Jews now live abroad — one in every six Israelis — precisely because anti-Semitism is no longer a threat to Jewish life in most of the industrialized world. None of this has anything to do with an Iranian bomb. It has to do with the frustration of Israel’s leadership that 63% of the world’s Jews have chosen to live elsewhere.

Despite Goldberg’s panic-inducing prediction, there are plenty of reasons to believe that, for all its bluster and threat, Israel won’t, in fact, bomb Iran next year — or any time soon. But would the Israelis like to see the United States take on their prime regional enemy? You bet they would. Indeed, Netanyahu continually insists that the U.S. has an obligation to take the lead in confronting Iran.

It’s patently clear in Goldberg’s piece that the Israelis are trying to create a climate in which the U.S. is pressed onto the path of escalation, adding more and more sanctions, and keeping “all options on the table” in case those don’t work.

In an excellent commentary that dismantles the logic of Goldberg’s argument, David Kay — the American who served as an UNSCOM arms inspector in search of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq after the U.S. invasion — suggests that:

Israel is engaged in psychological warfare with the Obama administration — and it only partly concerns Iran… [B]eyond Iran, of probably greater importance to the current Israeli government is avoiding the Obama administration pushing it into a choice between settlements and territorial arrangements with the Palestinians that it is unwilling to make and permanent damage to its relationship with the U.S. Hyping the Iranian nuclear program and the need for early military action is a nice bargaining counter… if the U.S. wants to avoid an imminent Israeli strike, it must make concessions to Israel on the Palestinian issues.”

Creating a sense of crisis on the Iran front, narrowing U.S. options in the public mind, and precluding a real discussion of U.S. policy towards Iran may serve multiple purposes for various interested groups. Taken together, however, they reduce all discussion to one issue: when to exercise that military option kept “on the table,” given the unlikeliness of an Iranian surrender. The debate’s ultimate purpose is to plant in the public mind the idea that a march to war with Iran, as Admiral Hayden put it on CNN, “seems inexorable, doesn’t it?”

Inexorable — only if the media allows itself to be fooled twice.

Tony Karon is a senior editor at TIME.com where he analyzes Middle Eastern and other conflicts. He also blogs on his own website Rootless Cosmopolitan.


Pentagon to cut thousands of jobs, defense secretary says

August 12, 2010

By Craig Whitlock

Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 10, 2010


Defense Secretary Robert Gates says tough economic times require that he shutter Joint Forces Command which employs some 5,000 people and eliminate other jobs throughout the military.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said Monday that the Pentagon will cut thousands of jobs, including a substantial chunk of its private contractors and a major military command based in Norfolk, as part of an ongoing effort to streamline its operations and to stave off political pressure to slash defense spending in the years ahead.

Gates said he will recommend that President Obamadismantle the U.S. Joint Forces Command, which employs about 2,800 military and civilian personnel as well as 3,300 contractors, most of them in southeastern Virginia. He also said he will terminate two other Pentagon agencies, impose a 10 percent cut in intelligence advisory contracts and slim down what he called a “top-heavy hierarchy” by thinning the ranks of admirals and generals by at least 50 positions.

The reduction in funding for contract employees — by 10 percent annually over three years — excludes those in war zones.

(Post Investigation: Top Secret America)

Although the moves will save an unspecified amount of money, defense officials characterized them as a political preemptive strike to fend off growing sentiment elsewhere in Washington to tackle the federal government’s soaring deficits by making deep cuts in military spending. The Obama administration has exempted national security from its budget reductions, but Gates said he fears that Congress might not be able to resist for long.

“It is important that we not repeat the mistakes of the past, where tough economic times or the winding down of a military campaign leads to steep and unwise reductions in defense,” Gates said. He cited threats from Iran, North Korea and other countries — in an implicit reference to China — as justification for continued overall growth in the Pentagon’s budget.

(Iraq commander told to eliminate his own job)

After a decade in which its budget has nearly doubled, the Defense Department confronts its most significant fiscal constraints since the end of the Cold War. These constraints are pressing the military to accept major changes in the way it operates, especially as it tries to end long-running wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The initiatives Gates detailed are part of his previously announced effort to save $100 billion over five years by trimming overhead and shrinking bureaucracy so that more money can be spent on troops and weapons.

(Opinion: A defense plan for the 21st century)

That bureaucracy includes the U.S. Joint Forces Command, which was established in 1999 to coordinate training and military doctrine among the branches of the armed services. The command is also involved in organizing the deployment of armed forces around the world.

On Monday, the defense secretary emphasized that he is not seeking to cut the Pentagon’s overall budget. Rather, he said, officials need to demonstrate a newfound thriftiness to keep deficit hawks elsewhere in the government at bay. “The culture of endless money that has taken hold must be replaced by a culture of savings and restraint,” he said.

In a statement, Obama said he supports Gates’s plans, saying they would “help us sustain the current force structure and make needed investments in modernization in a fiscally responsible way.”

Despite soaring federal budget deficits, the Obama administration has asked Congress to increase defense spending next year from $535 billion to $549 billion, not counting the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Lawmakers from both parties have questioned how long the Pentagon’s budget can avoid the ax as Washington confronts its mounting debts. Analysts said Gates’s preemptive strategy has played well on Capitol Hill, but might go only so far.

“It’s a very smart and anticipatory set of actions Gates is taking, and it will definitely help,” said Maren Leed, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a former staff member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “Will it be enough? Probably not.”

Some stalwarts of the defense establishment have urged Gates to make deeper cuts.

The Defense Business Board, an advisory group at the Pentagon, recommended to Gates last month that he shutter the Joint Forces Command. It also urged the Defense Department to shed more than 100,000 civilian jobs overall, returning its workforce to the size it was in 2003, when it numbered about 650,000.

Gates noted that the number of people working directly for him — in the Office of the Secretary of Defense — has swelled by 1,000 employees over the past decade, an increase of about 50 percent. He said he would freeze the number of personnel in his office, as well as those working for defense agencies and the military’s 10 combatant commands, for the next three years.

The reduction in money for contractors alone would mark a major shift in the way the Defense Department has conducted business over the past decade, as it sought to limit the size of the federal workforce by hiring private firms instead.

The Pentagon did not specify how much it hopes to save by closing the Joint Forces Command or by reducing the number of contractors. Nor did it say how many of those positions would be transferred to the rest of the Defense Department’s civilian workforce.

“It’s premature to give you a number,” Comptroller Robert F. Hale told reporters. “I don’t think it’s ready for prime time.”

Indeed, the military isn’t even sure how many contractors are on its payroll. One Pentagon report recently estimated that it relies on about 766,000 contractors, at a cost of about $155 billion. “This does not include the intelligence organizations and we are told it is not a ‘high-confidence’ figure,” the Defense Business Board noted. In comparison, the Defense Department’s civil-service workforce consists of 745,000 people.

A Washington Post analysis conducted as part of the “Top Secret America” investigation, however, found a significantly higher number: an estimated 1.2 million contractors overall being paid by the Defense Department, including the armed services and military intelligence agencies.

Staff writer Rosalind S. Helderman in Richmond and staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.


A Chance For ISI To Retaliate

July 29, 2010

Leaks Destroy The American Case Against ISI

  • US tries to hide American war crimes & shift focus to Pakistan
  • 90,000 documents on US military & CIA failures, only 180 on ISI
  • How safe are US nuclear, chemical and biological secrets
  • Most of the American propaganda on Pakistan is “Rumors, bullshit and second-hand information”

By AHMED QURAISHI
Wednesday, 28 July 2010.
WWW.PAKNATIONALISTS.COM

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Since late 2006, United States government, military, intelligence and media have been orchestrating regular attacks against Pakistan, creating a false alarm about its nuclear capability and portraying its premier spy agency, the ISI, as a threat to world peace.

The weak and apologetic reactions by Pakistan’s political and military officials encouraged this American double game.

But here comes the smoking gun, more than 90,000 leaked US intelligence documents, which prove how the Washington establishment has been running a vilification campaign against Pakistan both under Bush and Obama administrations, without any evidence except malicious intent.

Here is a chance for Pakistan to use these documents to argue its own case more confidently.

As soon as the classified documents were leaked over the weekend, US government sprung into action to minimize damage by shifting the focus toward Pakistan.

US government and military officials succeeded in making Pakistan and ISI the main story and hide the massive and spectacular US failures in Afghanistan, including evidence on war crimes and civilian carnage. It’s an exercise that bears the hallmarks of a CIA-style public diplomacy [a la Iraq invasion].

Instead of brooding over the American failures and war crimes that have been neatly hidden from the world for eight years, the mainstream US media chose once again to indulge in anti-Pakistanism which is rampant and endemic within the US media and among think-tank types. A British journalist, Declan Walsh, couldn’t help but notice this anti-Pakistan streak in how the Obama administration handled the leaks.

“In issuing such a strongly worded statement with implicit criticism of the ISI,” Mr. Walsh wrote in The Guardian, “the White House may be trying to keep ahead of a tide of US opinion that is hostile towards Pakistan.”

A TASTE OF AMERICAN DECEIT

Here’s a quick look at how ISI and Pakistan are a small part of the story blown out of proportion:

  • Out of more than 90,000 classified US documents, only about 180 mention ISI, and only about 30 or so charge the legendary Pakistani spy service of wrongdoing in Afghanistan
  • The whole case built by US against Pakistan and ISI is based not on evidence but on information sourced to ‘informants’, ‘sources’, initials [like A.E.], and sources linked to either the new US-created Afghan intelligence or the Indians. Both Karzai’s spies and the Indians have been telling anyone who’d listen that they are the preeminent source for any credible information on Pakistan
  • Many of these classified US documents carry a disclaimer added by the authors or their handlers in the US military and intelligence. The disclaimer emphasizes that information in these reports can’t be trusted, is unverified, is sourced to people working for monetary gain or are linked to biased parties such as the Indians and Karzai’s intelligence
  • Most importantly, many of these documents carry a warning that US policymakers should not rely on information in the reports to formulate policy

THE REAL STORY

The real story, the one hidden in the bulk of the 90,000 leaked documents, is this:

  • How the US government, military and CIA have hidden a US military disaster in Afghanistan from the American public and the world
  • How the mainstream US media is complicit in misleading the American public and the world
  • How the United States is involved in war crimes in Afghanistan, especially in mass murder of innocent Afghan civilians
  • How the US and its allies within the Pakistani government and military are most probably hiding similar tales of mass murder of Pakistani citizens in Pakistan’s tribal belt who fell victim to CIA-run drones

PAKISTANI OFFICIAL COMPLICITY

An important question that arises out of these documents is this:

  1. If this is the level of US propaganda against Pakistan over the past five years, why have Pakistan’s political and military leaders acquiesced in US’s anti-Pakistan pressure tactics and failed to appropriately respond to American disinformation?
  2. If this is the quality of US intelligence in Afghanistan, why has Pakistan’s government and military accept faulty US intelligence to allow US covert military operations inside Pakistan that have almost pushed the nation to civil war?

Pakistan’s leaders have almost wasted one opportunity – the Pakistan-US strategic dialogue in March 2010 – to redefine the terms of cooperation between Islamabad and Washington in Afghanistan. The storm over the leaked secrets provides a second opportunity to Pakistani policymakers to review their generally weak and apologetic policy that has messed up Pakistan in little less than eight years.


Neighbours wary of thaw in Pak-Afghan relations: NYT

July 27, 2010

The News International

‘The Indians are shell-shocked. They went in with more than a billion dollars, and now Pakistan is eating their lunch’

NEW DELHI: Recent moves by Afghanistan and Pakistan to improve their once-frosty relationship have prompted deep concern in other countries in the region and led some to consider strengthening ties to Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s political rivals, the New York Times has reported.

The US government considers the Afghan-Pakistan overtures essential to combating insurgencies racking both nations. But India, Iran and Afghanistan’s northern neighbors fear that they are a step toward fulfilling Karzai’s desire to negotiate with Taliban leaders and possibly welcome some of them into the government.

These nations think that Karzai’s plans could compromise their security and interests by lessening the influence of Afghanistan’s Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara ethnic minorities, with whom they have cultivated close links, diplomats and government officials say.

The apprehension, voiced pointedly by senior Indian officials in recent interviews, has emerged as yet another challenge for the US government, which seeks to encourage new initiatives to stabilise Afghanistan while minimising fallout on the already tense relationship between India and Pakistan.

In an attempt to assuage those concerns, the Obama administration’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard C. Holbrooke, traveled here last week to meet with India’s national security adviser and foreign secretary. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, arrived on Thursday for two days of meetings with top military and civilian leaders.

India has been riled by recent meetings involving Karzai and Pakistan’s top two security officials: Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani, the Army chief, and Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, the intelligence director. Afghanistan and Pakistan have signed a trade agreement that allows Afghan trucks to drive through Pakistan to the Indian border.

Indian officials had wanted to send their trucks through Pakistan to Afghanistan, but the Pakistani government insisted they not be included in the negotiations. US officials hailed the deal as a major step forward in the relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan and a vital development for Afghanistan’s economy.

Of greater concern to the Indians is Karzai’s interest in reconciling with elements of the Taliban leadership. Because of the Taliban’s historic ties to Pakistan’s intelligence agency, Indian officials think that such a move would give Pakistan new influence in Afghanistan.

Allowing the Taliban, which is dominated by ethnic Pashtuns, to have a role in the Afghan government is something “we don’t think is a very good idea,” a senior Indian government official said. “It’s not that there are two equal political factions, with equal legitimacy, that have a right to political power. Karzai is the elected president. Not the Taliban. It should not be a question of negotiating a place at the table for them.”

The Indian government, the official said, disputes “suggestions that come from the Pakistanis that the Taliban is legitimate, they represent the Pashtuns and therefore you need to deal with them and negotiate with them. That’s the difference. We don’t think they represent the Pashtuns.”

Compounding India’s pique is the fact that it believed it had cultivated close ties with Karzai. India has opened four consulates in Afghanistan, even though relatively few Indian citizens live there, and invested $1.3 billion in development projects – far more than Pakistan has.

“The Indians are shell-shocked,” said a Western diplomat involved in Afghanistan policy. “They went in with more than a billion dollars, and now Pakistan is eating their lunch.”

US officials are trying to persuade the Indians to abandon their traditional zero-sum logic that what’s good for Pakistan must be bad for them. “You cannot stabilise Afghanistan without the participation of Pakistan as a legitimate concerned party,” Holbrooke said at a meeting with Indian journalists here.

Speaking to reporters on his flight here, Mullen said that “the whole region has a role to play” in Afghan reconciliation but that the Kabul government must take the lead.

In his meetings, Mullen sought to assure Indian officials that the US-led counterinsurgency strategy was on track and that the United States has a long-term commitment to assist Afghanistan. “India, perhaps more than any outside country, has the greatest stake in our success in Afghanistan,” one US official said.

The United States, Mullen told reporters, is not “looking for the door out of Afghanistan or out of this region.”

But Indian officials remain deeply mistrustful of Pakistan’s motivations in Afghanistan. The Pakistanis, officials here contend, have deftly capitalized on Karzai’s fears of abandonment by the United States – fueled in part by his misinterpretation of President Obama’s pledge to begin drawing down forces by July 2011 – by offering to help forge a deal with an insurgency that his army, and Nato forces, have been unable to defeat.

“Pakistan wants to be able to control the sequence of events in Afghanistan,” a second senior Indian official said. “We don’t want a situation that would entail a revision to pre-2001, with backward-looking people taking the reins of power in Kabul.”

Iran, which is predominantly Shiite Muslim, is also worried about any greater political role for leaders of the almost exclusively Sunni Taliban. Diplomats in New Delhi say Iran has encouraged India to send more of its assistance to provinces in northern and western Afghanistan that are under the control of people who were part of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance. The diplomats said India has not shifted its efforts.

Whether the Taliban is genuinely interested in reconciliation is questionable. CIA Director Leon Panetta said last month that he saw no clear indications that insurgent leaders wanted to engage in peace talks with the Afghan government. Mullen echoed that assessment, saying he does not believe reconciliation is imminent. “We’ve got to be in a position of strength,” he said. “We’re just not there yet.”


US pledges to strengthen Pakistan, help overcome challenges

April 20, 2010

WASHINGTON - Hailing recent progress in the US-Pakistani strategic partnership as “tremendous step foward,” the Obama Administration on Monday assured Islamabad of robust cooperation in dealing with the key regional country’s economic, water and energy challenges. Richard Holbrooke, the United States’ Special Representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan, also praised Pakistan’s vital efforts in curbing miliant activity along the Afghan border including the capture of Afghan Taliban figures and expressed understanding of Islamabad’s regional security concerns.

“I want to assure that led by President (Barack) Obama and the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, we are putting more and more emphasis on energy and water issues and we will continue to do that up to absolute limits of what Congress will fund. It is a big issue,” Holbrooke said, recognizing the priority Pakistani people assign to addressing immediate economic, energy and water problems.

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