News of America’s misadventures in foreign policy and defense.
By all rights, this should be the end of the Anti-Defamation League.
If it ever had a modicum of respectability as an organization that defended civil and human rights—even if it erred, repeatedly in overzealous defense of Israel—the ADL’s despicable intervention in the fight over the construction of a mosque and community center in Lower Manhattan ought to deprive the ADL of its last shred of that respectability.
Thankfully, the powers-that-be in New York City, including Mayor Bloomberg, have slapped down the ADL and its right-wing, Republican allies, giving the green light to the mosque, despite the crass and un-American opposition to it from Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich and a host of GOP hacks.
Let’s start with the ADL’s July 28 statement, in case you haven’t actually read what the organization said. Pompously portraying itself as concerned about the "pain" of victims of the 9/11 attack, the ADL declared:
We believe the City of New York would be better served if an alternative location could be found.
In recommending that a different location be found for the Islamic Center, we are mindful that some legitimate questions have been raised about who is providing the funding to build it, and what connections, if any, its leaders might have with groups whose ideologies stand in contradiction to our shared values. These questions deserve a response, and we hope those backing the project will be transparent and forthcoming. But regardless of how they respond, the issue at stake is a broader one.
Proponents of the Islamic Center may have every right to build at this site, and may even have chosen the site to send a positive message about Islam. The bigotry some have expressed in attacking them is unfair, and wrong. But ultimately this is not a question of rights, but a question of what is right. In our judgment, building an Islamic Center in the shadow of the World Trade Center will cause some victims more pain—unnecessarily—and that is not right.
But in raising illegitimate and unsubstantiated “questions” about the mosque, the ADL itself makes ugly, McCarthyite charges about "connections," about "who is providing the funding," about "ideologies," all of which are profoundly disturbing innuendo.
Yesterday, a city panel approved the plan, despite the opposition from a panoply of anti-Muslim bigots, politicians on the make, and outright kooks such as Pat Robertson. The New York Times, in an editorial, approved the go-ahead, saying:
It was not surprising that Republican ideologues like Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin came out against the mosque. A Congressional candidate in North Carolina has found it to be a good way to get attention and, yes, stoke prejudice against Muslims. We expect this sort of behavior from these kinds of Republicans. They have been shamelessly playing the politics of fear since 9/11.
And a Washington Post editorial added:
Many of the protests used the murderous actions of 19 Muslim fanatics on that awful day to smear the entire religion of Islam. To succumb to that kind of bigotry would be to give in to the extremists who want to finish what those hijackers started.
A number of strong, even lock-step supporters of Israel, even when its wrong, say that the ADL's anti-mosque rabble-rousing is too much, including Peter Beinart and Jonathan Chait, along with Andrew Sullivan. Many, many others, such as Paul Krugman (who called the ADL's position "shameful—and stupid" ) have weighed in, too. And Ha'aretz, the liberal Israeli daily newspaper, took note of the ADL controversy and its leader, Abe Foxman, thusly:
Foxman's words drew a wave of furious criticism in New York. Rabbi Irwin Kula, President of CLAL, the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, responded "The ADL should be ashamed of itself."
Referring to the Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf who is behind the plan to build the mosque, Kula said "Here, we ask the moderate leaders of the Muslim community to step forward, and when one of them does, he is treated with suspicion."
Normally, I’m not a big supporter of projects to build mosques, or, for that matter, churches and synagogues, either. The world has enough of them, and the fewer places people have to pray, the better, as far as I'm concerned. But the New York controversy is about politics, not religion. And it’s worrying, even as the trauma of 9/11 begins to heal, that there are politicians and organizations such as the ADL who keep trying to stoke the fears, paranoia and prejudices that flared up in 2001.
Not fast enough, but I'll give President Obama credit where it's due for the drawdown in Iraq. Still, it's a tragedy when even Obama, during a major speech on US policy in Iraq, won't apologize for the criminal destruction of that country by the United States. Instead, as the White House transcript of Obama's remarks reveals, he spoke only of the US troops that "have borne the burdens of war"—not once mentioning the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who died because of President Bush's wanton and misguided war of aggression.
Obama also spoke of "terrorists [who] try to derail Iraq's progress," but he failed to mention that the vast majority of dead and wounded Iraqis suffered not because of terrorists but because of the unbridled violence by the United States that collapsed Iraq's entire political, social and economic infrastructure, destroyed its state, and unleashed sectarian and ethnic tensions in a Hobbesian struggle for power since 2003.
The closest Obama came to a critique of war in Iraq was pure pablum: "Our nation has had vigorous debates about the Iraq War," he said. "There are patriots who supported going to war, and patriots who opposed it."
Patriots who supported going to war? Does he mean the deluded fools, the nonproliferation freaks and human rights extremists who joined Bush's crusade? Does he mean the Zionist lobby tools who believed that eliminating Saddam Hussein was a useful step in protecting Israel? Does he mean the oil companies who couldn't wait to get their clutches on Iraq's vast pools of oil? Does he mean the defense contractors who relished the idea of making vast profits supporting the war? Or the right-wing ideologues who felt it necessary to slam Americas's fist down in the Middle East to show the world who's boss? Maybe these are "patriots" in Obama's book, but not in mine.
Those who supported the war in Iraq, whether they were bloodthirsty neocons in Dick Cheney's camp, useful idiots such as Peter Beinart of The New Republic, or iconoclastic weirdos such as Christopher Hitchens, weren't patriots. They were regime change addicts, imperialists, and worse.
"When invasion gave way to insurgency, our troops persevered, block by block, city by city, from Baghdad to Fallujah," said Obama. Yes, slaughtering Iraqis by the thousands, in a war launched on false pretenses, built on a search for WMD that didn't exist, in a country that had never attacked the United States, and whose authoritarian leader had nothing to do with either 9/11 or terrorism.
The White House points out that when Obama took office, there were 140,000 troops in Iraq, and that by the end of August there will be 50,000. And it adds: "Consistent with our agreements with the Iraqi government, all US troops are scheduled to leave Iraq by the end of 2011." Maybe—or maybe not. But in their wake, they're leaving behind a shattered nation, filled with hundreds of thousands of fresh graves, and millions of psychologically destroyed families and children who will grow up disturbed, depressed, and traumatized. Not one word of this made it into Obama's sanctimonious speech! Instead, Obama focused on the wounds, physical and mental, of American soldiers: "We're directing unprecedented resources to treating the signature wounds of today's wars—traumatic brain injury and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.… And as so many of you know, PTSD is a pain like no other," he said. Any for the Iraqis, a population of 25 million far more likely to suffer brain injuries and PTSD? It's their problem now.
The reality of Iraq today is that its broken economy and bitterly divided politics isn't going to heal soon. Since Iraq's March 7 election, nearly five months ago, the polarized political parties haven't budged an inch toward creating a government. Iraq's neighbors, especially Iran, are lining up to bolster their influence at the expense of the others. There are no services: no health care, no electricity, no trash collection. According to the CIA, Iraq is ranked 160th on the world scale for poverty and underdevelopment, even though Iraq in the 1970s—under Saddam—was a surging regional power nearing economic takeoff, in which women had vast opportunities, young Iraqis were flocking to universities, and more.
But Obama says: "This summer, tens of thousands of our troops in Iraq are coming home. Last week, Vice President Biden was at Fort Drum to help welcome back members of the legendary 10th Mountain Division. Families are being reunited at bases across the country, from Fort Bragg in North Carolina to Fort Riley in Kansas to Fort Lewis in Washington. And in this season of homecomings, every American can show their gratitude to our patriots who served in Iraq."
Legendary, yes. That would be the 10th Mountain Division that unleashed hell in Iraq, for no good reason.
Jay Bookman, writing in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, says that Newt Gingrich's speech last week at the American Enterprise Institute was full of "hateful, vile garbage [that] makes Joe McCarthy look measured and responsible." Joe Klein, in Time, notes wryly: "Newt Gingrich is clearly running for President. How do I know? He gets dumb and angry when running for office [and] pander[s[ to the yahoos." Amy Sullivan, also in Time, suggests that Gingrich might be encouraged by the "Burn a Koran Day" organized by a kooky, right-wing church in Florida.
All this reaction, and more, was sparked by the AEI remarks, pompously entitled "Camus, National Security, and Afghanistan." (Camus, in fact, has very little to do with it.) Widely touted as a major address on the failings of the Obama administration on national security, Gingrich's remarks in fact veered weirdly into outright craziness and near-drooling paranoia.
If his speech at AEI is a sign that Gingrich is running for president in 2012, then the only role he can play to make Sarah Palin look moderate by comparison.
Stripped to its basics, Gingrich sounded like a psychotic Paul Revere as he warned his listeners—who, it seemed, watching the tape, applauded only sporadically and politely—that "sharia" is on the verge of taking over America. Yes, sharia. "I believe sharia is a mortal threat to the survival of freedom in the United States," Gingrich thundered. Not only Obama, but the entire American establishment, is "willfully blind" to the existential threat unfolding right before our eyes. To Gingrich, it's so obvious that it's like saying "two plus two is four," yet the Orwellian monsters who control our government insist that the answer is five, or three, or something else! The threat is so dire that Gingrich even proposed a new law to protect Americans who are one-step away from having full-bearded, scimitar-waving, Koran-thumping Taliban jurists ordering their very limbs to be chopped off and their women stoned. Gingrich, warning that the "fight against sharia" is the defining struggle of our time, intends to propose a law "that no court anywhere in the United States will be allowed to substitute sharia for American law."
Last I checked, that wasn't happening. But, you never know. "Many of our elites are sleepwalking," warned Gingrich. "It's time we had a national debate on this."
A key plank in Gingrich's planned War on Sharia is his apoplectic outrage over the plan to build a harmless mosque and community center in the general vicinity of Lower Manhattan, the non-controversy that has stirred up Fox News, Glenn Beck, Palin, and other fear mongers as the monstrous "Mosque at Ground Zero." It would be fine, Gingrich said, if they built the mosque in the South Bronx, because "they need the employment." But to "suggest [it] a few blocks from the site where Islamist extremists killed more than 3,000 Americans" is a "political act" of "triumphalism," he warned, and it can't be tolerated. How to stop it? Ah, there's the rub, given the pesky and persistent freedoms that Americans enjoy. But Newt has an idea. Because the area is the site of the 9/11 attack, it is a battlefield in the war on terrorism. Thus (he actually said this!): "Congress can declare the area a national battlefield area and control what's built there."
In his speech, Gingrich allowed that there are wars happening overseas. But, he said, Obama is wrong to say that Afghanistan is the "central front" in the struggle against Al Qaeda. In fact, Islamists and sharia-imposers are far more insidious than that. "The central front is the United States," he intoned, sounding like an over-excited Chicken Little. It is there—along with the "second front," in Europe—that the final battle against Islam will be fought and won. If not, lovers of sharia will impose their will and values on peace-loving Americans.
Above all, he warned, it's the American left that doesn't get it. It's the left, he said, under the "destructive influence of a secular, socialist system," that sympathizes with radical Islamists and "prefers our opponents to us." It is the left, said Gingrich, which inexplicably fails to understand that sharia "is a direct, mortal threat to every value that the left has." Doesn't the left get it, that women shouldn't be stoned to death? Gingrich wondered. Luckily, we on the left have Gingrich to remind us of the values we hold dear.
So of course Gingrich called for a new cold war, a long struggle against radical Islam, the toppling of regimes in Iran and in North Korea (where, no doubt, sharia is making huge gains), and so on. He railed against Obama's deadline of July 2011 for Afghanistan. He suggested that there are seven simultaneous fronts in the Middle East for his cold war, in this order: Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt and Israel's "borderlands."
And there is more to come. Concluded the Newtster: "This speech is the beginning." Uh-oh.
Talks on Iran's nuclear program will resume in September, and despite the war bluster from neocons and the far right, the Obama administration seems prepared to try once again.
From discussions with US officials, here's what I've gleaned about the administration's policy on Iran. First, there is no appetite whatsoever, and no serious consideration, being given to a military attack on Iran. Not even Dennis Ross, the hawkish aide at the National Security Council, brings up the possibility of a military strike, US officials tell me. Second, they say, sanctions against Iran may or may not impact Iran's decision-making over its nuclear program, and it's unlikely that sanctions can work effectively, but in any case sanctions are designed for their long-term impact, over years and not weeks or months, so the latest round of sanctions isn't designed to have immediate impact on how Iran approaches talks later this summer. Which means that hawks who call for setting a tight deadline for the sanctions to work are simply trying to use the sanctions as a stepping-stone to war. Obama isn't listening.
Finally, US officials say, Obama has consistently supported engagement with Iran since the campaign of 2008. He didn't abandon the policy of engagement and diplomacy under withering attacks from Hillary Clinton in 2008, and he didn't abandon under the firestorm of criticism by the likes of the American Enterprise Institute and The Weekly Standard in 2009. Problem is, Iran didn't or couldn't respond positively to Obama's offer to engage, beyond the October, 2009, breakthrough in which Iran agreed to ship most of its enriched uranium to France and Russia for reprocessing. That accord broke down when Iran's fractured political system proved incapable of implementing it.
Now the talks are back on track, it appears.
The State Department announced yesterday that it is prepared to re-engage and restart the aborted talks over the deal reached last October concerning the enriched uranium for Tehran's research reactor. This is a big deal. Said P.J. Crowley, the State Department spokesman:
"We obviously are fully prepared to follow up with Iran on specifics regarding our initial proposal involving the Tehran research reactor…as well as, you know, the broader issues of trying to fully understand the nature of Iran's nuclear program. We hope to have the same kind of meeting coming up in the coming weeks that we had last October."
According to US officials, the new talks are likely to begin at the technical level. But they could quickly escalate to more senior officials.
Catherine Ashton, the chief negotiator for the European Union, also said that the EU—which is represented by the UK, France and Germany in the so-called P5 + 1—is ready to start talking again, and she raised the possibility that the talks could expand to broader issues:
"I've made it clear…that we would like those talks to resume quickly and that we would be very clear that the issue on the table is Iran's nuclear weapons capability and approach. That is the issue. All other issues can be discussed later."
Significantly, Iran has reportedly told Turkey that it is prepared to halt further enrichment of uranium from 3-5 percent to 20 percent (the level needed for the Tehran medical research reactor) in hope of restarting the accord reached last October in Geneva. If so, that's a big deal, too, since Turkey and Brazil have been actively engaged in trying to broker a deal with Iran. The hard work by those two countries was disparaged by many in the United States, but it seems to have paid off. Reports AFP:
Iran pledged to halt enriching uranium if world powers agree to a nuclear fuel swap deal it signed with Turkey and Brazil, a newspaper on Thursday quoted Turkey's foreign minister as saying.
The assurance came after Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki held talks with his Turkish and Brazilian counterparts Ahmet Davutoglu and Celso Amorim on Sunday in Istanbul, Milliyet newspaper reported on its website.
The Iranians have also agreed to start talking again in September. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran, who supported the October deal but failed to get backing either from Ayatollah Khamenei or from the reformist opposition for it, says that Iran will re-enter talks, as CNN reports:
Iran is ready for "effective cooperation" to resolve the dispute over its nuclear program, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in an interview with state media.
"We said that we will talk with P5+1 as of early September, but there are some conditions," Ahmadinejad told Press TV on Monday. "One of the conditions is that others should be present in the discussions as well."
What does this all mean? It means that despite the huffing and puffing from some quarters, diplomacy is back on track. In both Iran and the United States, there are powerful voices being raised against the idea of accommodating the other side, so talks won't be easy. As I've written consistently since 2009, the talks may go on for many months, if not years. But the administration, so far, seems prepared to see it through.
The United States has suddenly veered sharply in the direction of a military confrontation with China.
Nothing could be stupider. But stupid is happening right before our eyes.
On July 23 in The Dreyfuss Report, I wrote about the Obama administration's announcement that it has decided to resume military support for Indonesia's blood-soaked, genocidal Special Forces, Kopassus, in what the Washington Post reported as part of a strategy to "strengthen ties in East Asia as a hedge against China's rise."
But President Obama and his secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, aren't stopping there. At a meeting of ASEAN, a group of Asian nations, in Hanoi, Vietnam, the United States suddenly discovered that it has an urgent interest in interfering in China's claim to two strings of islands in the South China Sea in which China, Vietnam and several other nations—including, most explosively, Taiwan, which isn't actually a nation—hold competing claims. Clinton's move was seen as a direct challenge to China and to Beijing's preeminence in East Asia, and it drew immediate fire from the Chinese and, of course, satisfied praise from American right-wing and neoconservative chatterers.
To make matters worse, against the backdrop of the dispute over the sinking of a South Korean vessel, allegedly torpedoed by North Korean saboteurs, then United States and South Korea have begun huge, joint military maneuvers in the sea east of Korea, involving 200 aircraft, twenty ships and an aircraft carrier. Originally, the provocative exercise was supposed to have taken place just off the coast of China, in the Yellow Sea, but at the last minute it was moved to its current locale. While slightly less in-your-face to China, the sea exercises are still a daunting and unnecessary action that can only worsen US-Chinese tension and boost the strength of Chinese hawks, the Chinese military and ultra-nationalists.
Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi of China expressed concern over the US actions. "What will be the consequences if this issue is turned into an international or multilateral one?" he said, speaking of the issue of the islets in the South China Sea. "It will only make matters worse and the resolution more difficult." As the New York Times pointed out, the official Chinese media were "far less diplomatic." The People's Daily editorialized: America hopes to contain a China with growing military capabilities. And the Global Post, a People's Daily edition, added: "China will never waive its right to protect its core interest with military means."
The Times also quoted a prominent Chinese foreign policy expert, Xu Liping, who said: "The U.S. feels like this is the time to play the political and military card since it's very difficult for them to compete with China in the economic sphere."
Ouch. And, true. With few cards to play in the economic area, given the startling economic rise of China, the military domain is one place where the United States still possesses huge—in fact, overwhelming—superiority. And, as time passes, it will be increasingly tempting for the United States to try to use its armed forces to put pressure on China.
The Associated Press took note of the controversy:
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's thinly veiled criticism of Chinese territorial claims in the South China Sea has angered Beijing's leadership and quietly pleased Asian countries concerned about China's expanding military power.
Clinton spoke less than 48 hours before American and South Korean warships started high-profile military exercises in the Sea of Japan and the Yellow Sea, and the criticism is raising fears that long-dormant tensions between China and the U.S. could spike.
Just what Obama needs, in the middle of two wars and a vast economic crisis: tension with China.
Of course, as China gets stronger economically, it is certain to add to its military might. As AP reports:
The Chinese navy has developed or bought—chiefly from Russia—new submarines, destroyers and frigates, many outfitted with sophisticated missiles and stealth capabilities.
The expansion has made the 225,000-strong naval force into Asia's largest and allowed it to expand its mission beyond retaking Taiwan, for 60 years one of China's core goals. Now it's focused on projecting the country's power deeper into the Pacific and protecting sea lanes vital for trade and energy imports.
None of this has gone down well in many parts of southeast and south Asia, where the U.S. is seen more and more as a counterweight to growing Chinese power.
But since the 1990s China has bent over backwards to maintain good strategic relations with the United States. As recounted in Susan Shirk's brilliant book, China: Fragile Superpower, the Chinese leaders have carefully avoided fueling anti-China sentiment in the United States by refraining from criticism of US hegemonism, even during the bullyboy days of the George W. Bush administration, when Beijing was careful not to slam Washington over its adventurism in Iraq—even though US ham-handedness in the Persian Gulf threatened to disrupt a key source of China's energy imports.
The neocon-dominated Wall Street Journal weighs in today with an editorial praising Clinton for her efforts to contain China, calling China's claims to sovereignty in the South China Sea "laughable." It concludes by welcoming "friction" with China:
Only U.S. involvement can give ASEAN enough confidence to insist on Beijing submitting to international law. After years of Washington placating Beijing, it appears that the dangers of allowing China to bully its neighbors is sinking in. Undoubtedly more friction is to come, but ASEAN and its friends have an opportunity to unite to show Beijing that its claims are unacceptable.
A companion piece in the Journal by an unreconstructed right-winger, Daniel Blumenthal of the American Enterprise Institute, is even more bloody-minded:
The first order of business is to put American military might behind diplomatic efforts. The Pentagon should come up with a plan that adequately balances China's rising military presence in the region. It is an open secret within defense circles that America's military posture in the Pacific is eroding. It is time to level with, and build support among, the Congress and the American public about the costs and necessity of underwriting Asia's stability.
Unfortunately, even Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, seems to have come unglued. Not long ago, as US commander in the Pacific, Mullen worked patiently to build better ties with the Chinese military. Now, listen to Mullen:
China seems to be asserting itself more and more with respect to the kinds of territorial claims in islands like the Spratlys. They seem to be taking a much more aggressive approach [in terms of economic and strategic interest,and I am curious] about where China is headed militarily.
The Pentagon, of course, has been near-hysterical for years about the supposed threat to the United States posed by the slow and responsible growth of the Chinese military, including its fledgling navy.
Let's give the last word to a commentary today from Xinhua, the Chinese news agency:
By claiming U.S. national interests in the South China Sea, Washington intends to expand its involvement in an ocean area tens of thousands of miles away from America.
Obviously, Washington's strategy is to play the old trick again in the South China Sea, in its bid to maintain America's "long-held sway" in the western Pacific Ocean.
For decades, the United States has regarded itself as a dominant power in the Pacific Ocean, and the Pentagon deems any change of the status quo as a severe challenge to it.
The Council on American Islamic Relations is making noise about the fact that an extremist, right-wing anti-Muslim rabble rouser was "invited to offer training to state and federal law enforcement officers." It sounds like something that might have happened under the administration of President Bush, but no—this happened on Obama's watch.
Robert Spencer, co-founder of the group Stop the Islamization of America (SIOA), is the culprit.
According to CAIR, Spencer was called in recently to pontificate to the Tidewater Joint Terrorism Task Force. (The JTTFs are law enforcement and intelligence coalitions that began Washington. Soon every jurisdiction wanted the federal dough for a JTTF, and after 9/11 the number of JTTFs exploded.)
"Our nation's law enforcement personnel should not receive training from the head of a hate group that seeks to demonize Islam and to prevent American Muslims from exercising their rights as citizens," said CAIR national communications director Ibrahim Hooper. "Robert Spencer is the same individual who claims in his new book that President Obama is waging 'war on America.' "
He noted that Spencer recently co-authored the book, "The Post-American Presidency: The Obama Administration's War on America," that sounds a "wake-up call for Americans to stop the Obama administration from limiting our hard-won freedoms, silencing our democratic voices, and irreparably harming America for generations to come."
According to Loonwatch, the SIOA is so extreme that it seems almost satirical. Like a Tea Party phalanx of radical anti-Muslim bigots, the SIOA says that its goal is educate Americans "about about the threat that Islamic doctrine and those who support it present to our freedoms, and the future of our democracy and country." Its organizers call themselves "scholar warriors/ideological warriors in the cause of American freedom and Constitutional government," as well as in "the defense of…our society of liberty, knowledge, and human decency."
Spencer's co-founder, Pamela Geller, is a piece of work, too. Notes CAIR:
Geller has posted images on her blog that include a fake photograph of Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan in a Nazi uniform, another fake image of President Obama urinating on an American flag and drawings purporting to depict Islam's Prophet Muhammad as a pig. In a June 25 blog entry, Geller posted a video claiming that Muslims engage in bestiality.
This needs repudiation—or, as Sarah Palin would say, refudiation—from the Justice Department, and quick.
The WikiLeaks release of nearly 100,000 Afghanistan war documents has created its own firestorm. It’s a massive database, and on line WikiLeaks has created a handy guide to its compilation, suitable for browsing. It also links to reports on the documents that were published by the New York Times, the Guardian and Der Spiegel, each of which had access to the trove of classified data weeks ago, on condition that they not release them until Sunday.
It is, as the founder of WikiLeaks asserted with only a little exaggeration, the “Pentagon Papers” of 2010. (One major difference, of course, is that the Vietnam-era Pentagon Papers involved a detailed analytical study of that misguided war, while the WikiLeaks papers are for the most part raw data and intelligence reports, not yet vetted.)
As WikiLeaks notes:
Most entries have been written by soldiers and intelligence officers listening to reports radioed in from front line deployments. However the reports also contain related information from Marines intelligence, US Embassies, and reports about corruption and development activity across Afghanistan.
It’s interesting that in its report, the Times emphasizes the involvement of Pakistan, its army and its intelligence service, the ISI, in support of the Taliban. Not that ISI’s support of the Taliban has been much of a secret, of course, since it’s been widely known and reported for years, and since it was the ISI that created, armed, and trained the Taliban in the early 1990s. But the Times and WikiLeaks database helpfully reinforce that concept. Reports the Times:
Taken together, the reports indicate that American soldiers on the ground are inundated with accounts of a network of Pakistani assets and collaborators that runs from the Pakistani tribal belt along the Afghan border, through southern Afghanistan, and all the way to the capital, Kabul.…
The reports suggest, however, that the Pakistani military has acted as both ally and enemy, as its spy agency runs what American officials have long suspected is a double game—appeasing certain American demands for cooperation while angling to exert influence in Afghanistan through many of the same insurgent networks that the Americans are fighting to eliminate.
The Washington Post, grumpy no doubt that WikiLeaks didn’t give it preferred access to the data, has its own report that quotes an Obama administration official thusly:
The key thing to bear in mind is that the administration is not naive about Pakistan. The problem with the Pakistanis is that the more you threaten them, the more they become entrenched and don't see a path forward with you.
That’s a good point. The administration has no choice but to deal realistically with Pakistan, the real one—the one that exists—and not with the happy, sunny Pakistan that they wished existed. President Hamid Karzai has already figured that out, to the consternation of his former chief of intelligence, Amarullah Saleh, who’s running a political pressure operation against Karzai’s efforts to strike a deal with the Taliban and with Pakistan.
The Pakistanis are angry and upset about the Wikileaks report, and of course they deny everything, declaring that they are shocked, shocked to hear allegations of a Pakistan-Taliban connection. Amid all the huffing and puffing, however, the Post quotes one Pakistan official as follows:
"It is our war that we are fighting. If the Americans don't think they can support us, sorry. Tough luck. We will continue to do what we are doing.”
And so they will. Pakistan is not going to change its Afghanistan policy, not its Kashmir policy, because the United States provides economic aid for development in the tribal areas.
Let’s call it SPITTO! That would be the all-Asia/Pacific military alliance that the United States would dearly love to have to contain China, the way it created NATO to contain the Soviet Union in the post-World War II era. The “South Pacific Treaty Organization” (SPITTO) has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?
Yesterday’s announcement by the Obama administration that it is resuming military ties with the mass-murdering war criminals of Indonesia’s special forces ought to give us pause. Because the new relationship with Kopassus, the Indonesian thugs, has little or nothing to do with concrete U.S. interests in Indonesia – do we have any, anyway? – and everything to do with building a Great Wall around China.
Indeed, the headline in John Pomfret’s perceptive analysis in the Washington Post today says it all: “U.S. continues effort to counter China.” He reports that the administration is strengthening or rebuilding security ties with a wide range of countries surrounding China, including Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, and Malaysia, and adds:
“The Obama administration's announcement Thursday that it will resume relations with Indonesia's special forces, despite the unit's history of alleged atrocities and assassinations, is the most significant move yet by the United States to strengthen ties in East Asia as a hedge against China’s rise.”
Indeed, while the American public is worried about the fearsome threat allegedly posed to U.S. national security by a few hundred ragged Al Qaeda operatives hiding in Pakistan, the real action in the long term will be U.S. efforts to inaugurate a new Cold War with China.
The deal with Indonesia’s Kopassus drew fire from critics instantly. Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy direction for Human Rights Watch, told the Post:
“In the Bush administration we saw them seek military allies regardless of human rights abuses in pursuit of the war on terror. [Obama] will seek military alliances regardless of human rights abuses – in response to China.”
Adding to the Red China paranoia, the New York Times helpfully points out that Indonesia was dropping hints “that the unit might explore building ties with the Chinese military if the [U.S.] ban remained.”
The Times notes that Kopassus is still a bad actor, even though Geoff Morell, the Pentagon spokesman, says that Kopassus has cleaned up its “dark past”: “Clearly,” he said, “it had a very dark past, but they have done a lot to change that.” Reported the Times:
“Indonesian rights organizations say that the unit has continued to commit abuses, especially in Papua, a mineral-rich island with a secessionist movement, since Indonesia began democratizing in 1998. They say that Kopassus has also been behind the kidnapping of human rights activists since 1998.”
The simple fact is that as China grows stronger, it will emerge as the hegemonic force in East Asia, and there’s not much that the cash-strapped, declining power of America can do about that. Far better than to engage in misguided efforts to “contain” China, the United States ought to try to figure out what steps it can take to encourage China to loosen its internal system of political authoritarianism. I don't think that surrounding China with U.S. military allies will do much to convince China’s leaders that they ought to think about liberalizing. Just a hunch.
The following letter to the editor appeared in the Washington Post, and it says it all about the obscenely bloated U.S. intelligence community and its expansion to combat Al Qaeda:
"I retired as a senior intelligence officer from the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) in 1995 (when, incidentally, Gen. James R. Clapper Jr. was the agency's director). Since then, I have not kept up very much with intelligence community issues or programs. Thus I was truly shocked to read of the out-of-control sprawl described in Dana Priest and William Arkin's series, Top Secret America.
"This was not the intelligence community that I remember, which during my career was focused on the Cold War. While no model of efficiency or coordination, the community seemed to handle Cold War problems without anything like the sprawl and redundancy that the articles described. During my career, the DIA workforce, in particular, varied from 4,000 to 5,000 people. You can imagine my consternation when I read that the agency had ballooned to 16,500 people. That figure is virtually beyond the realm of imagination.
"It is hard to imagine why the struggle against al-Qaeda requires three times as many people in one major intelligence agency as were engaged against the Soviet Union during the Cold War. It seems to me that Republicans and Democrats have a shared interest in bringing this monster under control, particularly when the issue of soaring government deficits is on so many people's minds."
William K. Schultz, Silver Spring
My own comments on the Post series appeared in this blog on Monday, under the headline: "Huge Fly Swatter, No Flies."
Perhaps she's angling for a political campaign in 2012, as farfetched and unlikely as that might be, but Hillary Clinton continues to pretend as if the war in Afghanistan is about women's rights. Yesterday, Clinton used part of her time at the Kabul conference on the future of Afghanistan to proclaim that a settlement of that country's war "can't come at the cost of women and women's lives," adding: "We are aware of the concerns that many of you have expressed about the reconciliation process and we understand why you would have those concerns."
Well, of course, enlightened Afghans have those concerns, because the integration of the Taliban and its allies into Afghan governance, whatever form it may ultimately take, will not boost women's rights—which, Clinton might have noticed, aren't exactly proliferating in much of the region, from Saudi Arabia, where morality police run rampant, to Pakistan, to India, where caste and honor killings of woman occur by the thousands, and in Iran, where women are sometimes stoned and live under the oppression of morality police, too. If Clinton thinks that Americans will support a war in Afghanistan to defend the right of girls to go to school, she's badly mistaken.
That's not to say that the United States shouldn't support women's rights in Afghanistan, and elsewhere. But changing the culture and social mores of backward, benighted Pashtun villages isn't something imposed from the top. And it's more urgent than ever that Afghanistan, the Taliban, its allies, and its sponsors in Pakistan strike a deal to end the war, with or without US support. Getting the Taliban to forsake Al Qaeda is the big prize, while getting the Taliban to endorse the goals of the National Organization for Women is less likely. Clinton may or may not know that.
Meanwhile, at the Kabul conference, President Karzai once again defended his scheme to make a deal with the top Taliban leadership, an idea that may be attracting more support (finally) from elements of the US administration. Yesterday, I spoke with one insider who confirmed that Richard Holbrooke, the US special envoy, is more actively engaged these days in exploring the possibility of an Afghan-Taliban deal brokered by Pakistan. In the end, though such a deal would require artful diplomacy to rope in India, Iran and Russia, a Pakistan-Afghanistan deal is the key to ending the war as the United States starts withdrawing next July.
At the conference, Karzai threw out the year 2014 as the timeframe for Afghan security forces to take over responsibility for all of the country's provinces, thus for the first time suggesting a timetable that looks like this: the United States starts withdrawing in July 2011, and completes that withdrawal by 2014. That's far too long, and it seems unsustainable in terms of American political and public opinion, but it's roughly in line with the current drawdown in Iraq, which began in 2008 and which is scheduled to end with the removal of all US forces by the end of 2011. A concrete deal with the Taliban, its allies (such as Gulbuddin Hekmatyar), and Pakistan would help accelerate Karzai's Afghan timetable, though Karzai would probably like to have the United States stick around for at least that long as a guarantee, among other things, against his being beheaded.
The latest news report on the growing ties between Afghanistan and Pakistan is in the Washington Post today, which headlined it: "Afghanistan builds up strategic partnership with Pakistan." Says the Post:
There has also been accelerated diplomacy at the highest levels, with Karzai traveling to Islamabad in March and recent visits to Kabul by Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani, the head of the Pakistani army, and Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, Pakistan's intelligence chief, to discuss potential cooperation on jump-starting negotiations with the Taliban.
Those developments have raised concern that Karzai is moving faster than many Afghans would like to try to broker a political deal that could bring the Taliban back into the government. Some officials in Karzai's office say they fear that Pakistan might not negotiate sincerely and will use its influence with the Taliban in ways that hurt Afghans.
[Pakistan Foreign Minister] Qureshi said Monday that Pakistan wants the modest role of "facilitator." During Karzai's visit to Islamabad in March, Pakistani officials asked the Afghan president to develop a "strategic framework"—including proposals for negotiating with the Taliban. They are now waiting for the Afghans "to share their plans and programs with us," Qureshi said.
Last month, Karzai fired two top Afghan security officials, his interior minister and the head of the Afghanistan's intelligence service, both of whom were opposed to the closer relationship with Pakistan (and who were sympathizers of the mostly Tajik, anti-Pashtun Northern Alliance). Since then, Afghanistan's ties with Pakistan have accelerated.
I don't think women's rights are at the top of their agenda. But if it ends the war, I'm all for it.