News of America’s misadventures in foreign policy and defense.
The Times reports today that President Bush gave an order in July allowing US Special Forces "to carry out ground assaults inside Pakistan without the prior approval of the Pakistani government, according to senior American officials." They'll notify the Pakistani government, but won't ask permission.
Somewhat buried in the story is the report that "the Pakistani government had privately assented to the general concept of limited ground assaults by Special Operations forces against significant militant targets, but that it did not approve each mission." In other words, according to the Times, the Pakistani goverment is winking at the idea.
There could hardly be a worse strategy. It risks inflaming Pakistani public opinion against the United States and boost the religious parties. It will make the new Pakistani government look like pawns or puppets of the United States, which won't exactly make them popular among Pakistanis. And, of course, it won't be successful in eliminating Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Historians of the Vietnam war might compare the strategy to President Nixon's ill-fated decision to expand the war across the border into Cambodia in search of alleged Viet Cong "santuaries." That didn't work out well.
Perhaps some Pakistani officials, under intense US pressure, did "wink" at the idea. But from the public statements, at least, it appears that Islamabad isn't happy:
"Unilateral action by the American forces does not help the war against terror because it only enrages public opinion," said Husain Haqqani, Pakistan's ambassador to Washington, during a speech on Friday. "In this particular incident, nothing was gained by the action of the troops."
"No external force is allowed to conduct operations inside Pakistan," the military chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, said in what amounted to a direct rebuff to the United States by the Pakistanis. "There is no question of any agreement or understanding with the coalition forces whereby they are allowed to conduct operations on our side of the border."
The prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, backed Kayani's statement -- even though General Kayani and Prime Minister Gilani are rivals.
Yesterday, testifying at a House committee, Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs ("frankly, we are running out of time") pretty much confirmed the Times report:
The nation's top military officer issued a blunt assessment yesterday of the war in Afghanistan and called for an overhaul in U.S. strategy there, warning that thousands more U.S. troops as well as greater U.S. military involvement across the border in Pakistan's tribal areas are needed to battle an intensifying insurgency.
Mullen has been the point man in US efforts to put pressure on Pakistan to allow more aggressive American attacks directly into Pakistan, meeting repeatedly with Kayani and other officials to demand that Islamabad surrender its national sovereignty.
Bob Woodward, in "The War Within," has a mysterious passage about the supersecret, high-tech assassination efforts aimed at Iraqi militants. It's all hush-hush, but there is other testimony and reporting (see below) about what, exactly, it might be. Personally, I'm not too sure. Counterinsurgency can't be done from the sky, or from remote locations, at least not without massive collateral damage, civilian casualties, mistaken identities, and the like. Still, there's no doubt that the US forces in Iraq are killing a lot of people, innocent and not-so-innocent. Here's what Woodward writes:
Beginning in about May 2006, the U.S. military and the U.S. intelligence agencies launched a series of TOP SECRET operations that enabled them to locate, target, and kill key individuals in extremist groups such as al Qaeda, the Sunni insurgency, and renegade Shia militias, or so-called special groups. The operations, which were either Special Access Programs (SAP) or part of Special Compartmented Information (SCI), incorporated some of the most highly classified techniques and information in the U.S. government.
Officials at the White House have asked me not to publish the details or the code word names associated with these groundbreaking programs. [They use] every tool available simultaneously, from signals intercepts to human intelligence and other methods, that allowed lightning-quick and sometimes concurrent operations.
There has been speculation about some sort of "secret weapon." An unclassified military briefing by the US Special Operations Command suggests something: a classified program that allows "continuous clandestine tagging, tracking, and locating (CTTL)." It enables counterinsurgency teams the "ability to locate, track and identify human beings" from remote locations, but according to the briefing it's not up and running yet.
So far, Woodward -- in interviews -- hasn't said much more. But there are some hints. The Post itself provided a detailed account of the so-called "fusion cells" of counterinsurgency experts who've conducted deadly operations against suspected militants. It's all run by the Joint Task Force, whose headquarters in Iraq bustles with "long-haired computer experts working alongside wizened intelligence agents and crisply clad military officers." It adds:
Huge computer screens hang from the ceiling, displaying aerial surveillance images relayed from Predator, Schweizer and tiny Gnat spycraft.
For the Joint Task Force, the CIA provides intelligence analysts and spycraft with sensors and cameras that can track targets, vehicles or equipment for up to 14 hours. FBI forensic experts dissect data, from cellphone information to the "pocket litter" found on extremists. Treasury officials track funds flowing among extremists and from governments. National Security Agency staffers intercept conversations or computer data, and members of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency use high-tech equipment to pinpoint where suspected extremists are using phones or computers.
"The capabilities for high-end special joint operations that exist now only existed in Hollywood in 2001," said David Kilcullen, a terrorism expert and adviser to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Speaking the other day at the Middle East Institute, Bing West -- a counterinsurgency expert who served as assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs under President Ronald Reagan and who was a Marine in Vietnam -- provided a colorful glimpse into part of how this operation works:
What the Sadrists made the huge mistake of was, the last thing you ever do in combat with Americans is to take weapons and fight during the daytime, because that is just suicide. Because with the overhead surveillance we now have, I can see anybody, anywhere, and I can see what kind of weapon he has in his hands. And some of you who've been out there know, every single battalion has a video screen about this size, and they can say, 'Oh, he has an AK-47, he has an RPG [rocket-propelled grenade]. Kill the guy with the RPG first.' You cannot survive in you go out in the daytime on the battlefield against Americans, and sometimes you have a more difficult time at night, because the targets are better at night.
So as a result, the amount of damage that was done to the Sadrists down in Basra, and then in Baghdad, was never really reported to the extent that it should have been. A thousand were killed very quickly in Sadr City. American fire teams are just sitting back there saying, 'Look at all these targets!' and taking them out.
It's easy, if you're a military counterinsurgency type, to get all excited about such capabilities. But it's also easy to see how such techniques can be lead to overconfidence -- and how they can be overused, to deadly effect, against mistaken targets. The gee-whiz factor might be high, but in the end, it doesn't win the "war" on terror.
Reading Bob Woodward's The War Within: A Secret White House History 2006-2008, is like reading raw transcripts of documents and interviews from a sensational murder trial: you know what happens, and you know who the victim and the perpetrator are. But to read their actual words is chilling. It's the In Cold Blood of national security journalism.
I read it last night, cover to cover. Yes, it's written in that frustrating Woodward style, with little or no attribution for much of what he writes. (He does provide sketchy footnotes, but they mostly say: "The information in this chapter comes primarily from background interviews with firsthand sources.")
Still, much of it is astonishing. And I don't just mean the juicy tidbits that Woodward gives us – that the United States spied on Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki, that a supersecret, high-tech assassination program killed large numbers of militants beginning in May, 2006, and so on. I'm talking about the dangerously sycophantic advisers surrounding Bush, the ones who stroked the ego of a know-nothing president as The Decider doubled-down on his failed war in Iraq. And I'm talking about the machinations of a rogue general named Jack Keane and his rump staff of strategists at the American Enterprise Institute who worked with Steve Hadley, the national security adviser, to promote the January, 2007, escalation called "the surge."
How's this for sycophantic? Here's Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice with Bush on the brink of ordering the surge, speaking to a man who most historians consider America's worst president, ever:
I think you probably have to do it. But this is going to be one of the most consequential decisions of all time. You are probably, because of the things you've chosen to do, one of the four or five most consequential presidents--maybe in our history, certainly in the last 100 years, but maybe in our history.
Or take Steve Hadley, who orchestrated the surge plan, on Bush's "greatness":
Those of us who are here believe in him. Believe in him and believe he has greatness. He has greatness in him. … This guy is really strong. And … we're strong because he's strong.
What Woodward unfolds, page after horrifying page, is the story of how Hadley, Keane, John McCain, and the gang from AEI rode roughshod over the widespread establishment opposition to the surge. Keane, in particular, emerges as the principal advocate and facilitator of the surge strategy and as a sneaky, back-channel operator working at the behest of Dick Cheney's office and General Petraeus. When Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, tries to "get Keane back in the box," and tells him point blank to stop his secret meetings with Cheney and Petraeus:
Keane called John Hannah in Cheney's office to report what had happened. … Vice President Cheney had noticed Admiral Mullen putting the hammer down on Keane. He didn't agree, so he had sent a note and talked to [Defense Secretary] Gates about how important Keane's assistance had been. The president had also requested that Keane be allowed back in Iraq.
During 2006, Woodward makes clear, the overwhelming consensus, both among the public and in Washington was to end the war, to start the drawdown of U.S. forces. That was the belief of General George Casey, the U.S. commander in Iraq, General John Abizaid, the CentCom commander, and nearly all of the uniformed military. It was the view of the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group, the State Department, and members of Congress on both sides of the aisle. In 487 pages, Woodward details how all of them were steamrolled. Consider this: had they not been rolled over, today, two years later, the war would largely be over.
The picture of Bush that emerges is not a flattering one. He is portrayed as a man convinced of his utter righteousness. "Not one doubt," says Bush. And: "We're killin' ‘em. We're killin' ‘em all." Yet at the same time, Bush is blissfully detached, relying on Hadley for everything. His decision to order the surge, taken in November-December, 2006, was a tough one, Bush told Woodward. "Now, this is a period of time where I've got, I don't how many, holiday receptions."
In case you've forgotten that the war in Iraq was about something real, about the extension of American power into the heart of the world's oil region, here's an account of Condi Rice outlining the whole thing:
"Let's say that we have to live with the Iranian revolutionary state for some time," she said. "Would I rather live with the Iranian revolutionary state with American forces in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Gulf and Central Asia. You bet. When I hear the Iranians are just sitting pretty, I think, well, how does their neighborhood look to them? What has really happened is that starting with Gulf War I, but really after 9/11, the center of American power has moved." Following World War II, the United States had moved the epicenter of its military power to Europe. … Now American power had shifted to the Middle East.
Woodward asks Bush about that, about United States "hegemony" in the region. Hadley, sitting nearby, warns Bush about "the implications of the word ‘hegemony,'" which Woodward notes "carries "overtones of empire." Then this exchange:
"It's a loaded word, as you know very well," the president said.
"It is a loaded word," I agreed.
"It's a very tricky, Washington loaded word. It was very tricky, Woodward. Very tricky," Bush said.
Last night, John McCain went on at length about his imprisonment in Vietnamese POW camps, and indeed his time as a captive in Vietnam has been the spark to his political career since the 1970s. But both McCain -- and the video that introduced him -- glosses over an earlier event that might have shaped his approach to military affairs: the disastrous 1967 fire aboard the USS Forrestal.
Way back in 2000, I wrote a piece called McCain's Vietnam for The Nation, in which I described the significance of that event in McCain's life:
Like many potentially life-altering experiences, McCain's came as the result of a brush with death. On July 29, 1967, while preparing for his sixth bombing run over North Vietnam in his A-4 Skyhawk aboard the deck of the USS Forrestal, an accidentally fired Zuni missile ripped into his plane's fuel tank. Within moments, a chain reaction swept the deck of the carrier, triggering fires and explosions, setting off 1,000-pound bombs and engulfing planes, killing 134 men. McCain, slightly wounded, saw body parts fly and watched blistered comrades die before his eyes.
A few months later, sipping Scotch in a Saigon villa with Johnny Apple of the New York Times, McCain reflected on the trauma. "It's a difficult thing to say," he said, "but now that I've seen what the bombs and the napalm did to the people on our ship, I'm not so sure that I want to drop any more of that stuff on North Vietnam." (In 1972, a significant number of B-52 pilots and crew engaged in exactly that kind of heroic insubordination, refusing orders to fly missions in the midst of President Nixon's carpet-bombing of North Vietnam.)
Certainly McCain could not have been unaware of the havoc unleashed by his bombing missions over Vietnam. Though Pentagon war planners and Defense Secretary Robert McNamara preferred to emphasize the antiseptic nature of aerial bombardment against carefully chosen targets, a highly publicized series of articles in late 1966 by Harrison Salisbury in the New York Times described the widespread devastation of civilian neighborhoods around Hanoi by American bombs. "Bomb damage...extends over an area of probably a mile or so on both sides of the highway" near one target, he wrote, noting that "small villages and hamlets along the route [were] almost obliterated." Several years ago, a chastened McNamara acknowledged that Operation Rolling Thunder, which unloaded 800 tons of bombs a day over North Vietnam, caused more than a million deaths and injuries in Vietnam each year from 1965 to 1968.
Standing stiffly in the sun outside a New Hampshire high school after a campaign appearance, McCain curtly rejects the idea that he had any second thoughts about his role in Rolling Thunder. He denies the accuracy of the quotation from 1967, stumbling briefly over his words before barking, "That wasn't the exact statement." Instead, he says, he was simply referring to the "terrible power we had" and reacting to the horror of war. And perhaps it is too much to expect McCain, born on a naval air station in the Panama Canal Zone and programmed virtually since birth for his part in the war, to have let his conscience get the better of him. In any case, within weeks of the '67 incident, McCain made the fateful decision to plunge back into combat, getting himself assigned to the carrier Oriskany, where he joined an A-4 squadron called "the Saints." On October 26, 1967, on his twenty-third bombing mission, this one against a thermal power plant in what McCain described in his book as "a heavily populated part of Hanoi," he was shot down, plunging into a lake just blocks away from Ho Chi Minh's presidential palace, and taken to prison.
"Nobody made me fly over Vietnam," McCain says now, as quoted in John McCain: An American Odyssey, the biography by Robert Timberg. "That's what I was trained to do and that's what I wanted to do.
McCain often says that he understands how hellish war is, and he said that again last night. Yet while he talks, once in a while, about the Forrestal tragedy, he never mentions his reaction to it.
PS Sorry to those who read an earlier post, which has been removed. I hit the wrong button.
Leave aside the fact that it's hard to imagine how to invest $1 billion in aid to the tiny rogue nation of Georgia. Dick Cheney, scowl and bluster on display, is cruising through the FSU [former Soviet Union] looking for oil, promising to push NATO up against Russia's southern and southwestern border, and otherwise making aggressive mischief.
As USA Today reported, Russia is already accusing Cheney of trying to bully his way into security oil and gas riches:
Russia was watching the trip with suspicion, and a top Russian security official accused Cheney of an ulterior motive: seeking to secure energy supplies in the South Caucasus in exchange for U.S. support.
No wonder. During his visit to Baku, Azerbaijan, yesterday, Cheney's first meeting was with representatives of BP Azerbaijan and Chevron, the two big oil companies representing Western interests in Caspian Sea and Central Asia oil and gas. Said Dick:
"The United States strongly believes that, together with the nations of Europe, including Turkey, we must work with Azerbaijan and other countries in the Caucasus and Central Asia on additional routes for energy exports that ensure the free flow of resources. Energy security is essential to us all, and the matter is becoming increasingly urgent."
So much for all that democracy stuff. Cheney thundered against Russia's brilliant coup de main in Georgia, and he said that he was conveying President Bush's determination. "President Bush has sent me here with a clear and simple message to the people of Azerbaijan and the entire region: The United States has deep and abiding interests in your well-being and security." Umm, and your oil.
After lumbering through Azerbaijan, Cheney hoofed it into Georgia, where he met President Saakashvili, whom the Russians call a nonperson. The walking-corpse Saakashvili was no doubt gratified to hear Cheney's promise of $1 billion in US aid, but he shouldn't count the money just yet. (Much of it isn't even appropriated by Congress yet, and I don't think Congress is going to do any appropriating before the election.) Of course, if Saakashvili needs someone to lobby Congress on his behalf, there's always Randy Scheunemann, John McCain's top foreign policy adviser, the rabid neocon and Iraq War promoter who until earlier this year was a lobbyist for Saakashvili.
Nowhere was it reported that Cheney told Saakashvili that his provocative, rogue attack on the pro-Russian breakaway republic of South Ossetia -- the action that sparked the crisis -- was a reckless, bad idea. Instead, Cheney seemed intent on encouraging Saakashvili in his adventurism. Instead, reports the Wall Street Journal:
Vice President Dick Cheney sought to rally the international community behind embattled Georgia and its president, Mikheil Saakashvili, in a brief visit aimed at underscoring U.S. support for its ally in the strategically important Caucasus.
Adds the Journal:
He planned to meet over lunch with Georgian military officials to get an assessment of the vulnerability of the situation, and was widely expected to take back recommendations for hardening Georgia's weakened defenses in the wake of last month's destructive Russian incursion.
Mr. Cheney also said the U.S. is "fully committed" to a NATO membership action plan and eventual membership for Georgia. "Georgia will be in our alliance," he said, citing a promise by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization earlier this year, before fighting broke out between Georgia and Russia over the breakaway region of South Ossetia.
By the way, the road from the airport into town in Georgia is called "George W. Bush Street."
Arnaud de Borchgrave, the ultra-conservative, realist-minded pundit, wrote a column reminding us that Georgia is attached at the hip to the Israeli military establishment, too:
Georgia also had a special relationship with Israel that was mostly under the radar. Georgia's Defense Minister Davit Kezerashvili is a former Israeli who moved things along by facilitating Israeli arms sales with U.S. aid. ...
The Jerusalem Post on Aug. 12 reported, "Georgian Prime Minister Vladimir Gurgenidze made a special call to Israel Tuesday morning to receive a blessing from one of the Haredi community's most important rabbis and spiritual leaders, Rabbi Aaron Leib Steinman. "I want him to pray for us and our state," he was quoted.
Israel began selling arms to Georgia seven years ago. U.S. grants facilitated these purchases. From Israel came former minister and former mayor of Tel Aviv Roni Milo, representing Elbit Systems, and his brother Shlomo, former director-general of Military Industries. Israeli UAV spy drones, made by Elbit Maarahot Systems, conducted recon flights over southern Russia, as well as into nearby Iran.
In a secret agreement between Israel and Georgia, two military airfields in southern Georgia had been earmarked for the use of Israeli fighter bombers in the event of preemptive attacks against Iranian nuclear installations. This would sharply reduce the distance Israeli fighter bombers would have to fly to hit targets in Iran. And to reach Georgian airstrips, the Israeli Air Force (IAF) would fly over Turkey.
Cheney then flew to Kiev, the capital of Ukraine (the country formerly known as The Ukraine). As he arrived, the Ukraine government (former known as the Orange Revolution) began collapsing into itself, as the president and the prime minister were bitterly engaged in a tiff that could collapse the regime. The prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, has apparently thrown her lot in with the powerful, pro-Russian opposition bloc:
On Thursday, the independent daily Gazeta 24, quoting unnamed lawmakers in Tymoshenko's parliamentary bloc, said the prime minister and the leader of the pro-Moscow Regions Party had already agreed to form a new coalition.
For Republicans, having Cheney bumbling through the Caucasus is probably better than having him sitting on top of the GOP convention in St. Paul. But his heavy-handed tour of the region won't do anything to reverse the nearly complete change in the political climate there since the Russian invasion of Georgia and Moscow's recognition of the breakway states of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Like iron filings, the realists in that region, and throughout much of Central Asia and the Middle East, will start slowly gravitating toward a new center of gravity. Sorry, Dick.
The zealots and zombies of the Christian right, those dark armies of the night, are girding for battle behind Sarah Palin's flag and, to be sure, she has credentials to lead them. But it's been hilarious this week watching Republican spokesmen trying to put a positive spin on Palin's utter lack of foreign policy experience.
Even funnier is watching cable TV pundits, trying to be even-handed, because if they were even the least bit honest they'd be cackling out loud about McCain's pick, live on national television.
Some GOP pundits and strategists have suggested -- as Jon Stewart has noted -- that Palin has a good grasp of foreign policy because her state is up there someplace near Russia. Perhaps the funniest commentary of this sort comes from one of the most rabid neocons, Frank Gaffney of the Center for Security Policy. Gaffney titled it: "Sarah Palin's experience."
Now, reporters are scrambling to find out of Palin has ever -- yes, ever -- even been to Europe. Gaffney says: No matter. "Listening to her critics, one might think that John McCain's chosen running-mate is a complete ignoramus when it comes to matters of national security." Well, yes, Frank, that about says it.
Here are a few highlights of Gaffney's essay:
Napoleon is said to have declared that "Geography is destiny." That certainly is true of Gov. Palin. Her state is adjacent to Russia, a nation that has in recent years demonstrated a rising aggressiveness towards its neighbors.
And that is significant why, Mr. Gaffney? Well:
As it happens, the best of [our] defenses – including a squadron of America's state-of-the-art interceptors, the F-22 Raptor – are stationed at Elmendorf Air Force Base near Anchorage. Governor Palin would not only be intimately familiar with that facilities' vital role in protecting U.S. territory. She would also appreciate its importance in the projection of American power in Asia and beyond as much of the nation's long-range transport aircraft supplying our military operations around the world transit through Elmendorf. Every Commander-in-Chief should have such insights.
Let's assume that Palin even knows that F-22's are stationed there. So her foreign policy experience involves some vague understanding about "the projection of American power in Asia and beyond"? It gets better:
Speaking of geography, Alaskan territory is also along the trajectory of ballistic missiles launched eastward out of Stalinist North Korea. For that reason, among others, Alaska's Fort Greely was selected as the site for the principal U.S. ground-based defense against such missiles. As that state's governor, Sarah Palin would know more by osmosis – if nothing else – about the necessity for U.S. anti-missile systems than either Messrs. Obama or Biden.
Umm, so her "experience" comes by "osmosis." Wait, there's more:
At present, one can only infer Sarah Palin's grasp of the danger posed by today's principal enemy: adherents to the brutally repressive and seditious program the Islamists call Shariah, a program they seek to impose worldwide through violent means and "soft jihad."
So besides osmosis, we can "infer" that she understands the insidious dangers of "soft jihad." Gaffney goes on:
America is only beginning to get to know Sarah Palin. ... It is not only wrong but foolish to portray her as totally unprepared to contend with the epochal foreign and defense policy issues we are confronting.
The above quotations are not, repeat not, satire. Gaffney really wrote this nonsense. As Casey Stengel said, You can look it up.
If you watched the Democratic convention closely -- very closely -- you caught a brief glimpse of former President Jimmy Carter on stage, looking decidedly unhappy.
No surprise: Carter was snubbed deliberately by Obama Inc. Reports the Forward:
The sidelining of Carter was driven by recognition in the Obama camp and among Democratic leaders that giving the former president a prominent convention spot might alienate Jewish voters.
Carter, of course, had dared use the word "apartheid" is discussing Israel's abysmal treatment of the Palestinians. Carter was gracious about the snub: "I didn't want to intrude…. I didn't need to get on the stage and make a speech."
The Jewish Telegraph Agency reports:
Democrats were determined not to allow the former president to spoil their Denver party with talk of evenhanded policies in the Middle East. No mention, please, of "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid," the book whose title set off a firestorm in the pro-Israel community.
Adds the Forward:
"What more could we do to diss Jimmy Carter?" said a Democratic official who was involved in deliberations on how to handle the former president's presence at the convention. The treatment Carter received, the official added, "reflects the bare minimum that could be done for a former president." ...
"I think it's hard to ask a political party to take a former president and say, ‘We're not going to hear you at all,'" said Ira Forman, executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council. "The party is very sensitive to the American Jewish community, and it's very sensitive to ever conveying that this is anything but a pro-Israel party."
Here's the statement that Barack Obama issued within hours of the Russian decision to recognize the independence of two separatist regions of Georgia:
I condemn Russia's decision to recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states and call upon all countries of the world not to accord any legitimacy to this action. ... Senator Biden and I have called for $1 billion in reconstruction assistance to help the people of Georgia in this time of great trial. I also welcome NATO's decision to establish a NATO-Georgia Commission. ... If Russia's government continues to violate the norms and practices of the international community, the United States and our allies must review all aspects of relations with Russia. ... Russia's recent choices -- not American or European decisions -- are ... reminding us all that peace and security in Europe cannot be taken for granted.
Tough words--not quite a resounding call for a new cold war, but close to it. Obama suggested that he would review Russia's OSCE membership, its applications to the WTO and OECD, the US-Russian civil nuclear agreement, and the Russia-NATO Council. Not too different from McCain's proposal (made pre-Georgia war) to kick Russia out of the G-8.
Obama has also called for military aid to Georgia: "The United States and Europe should immediately commit the resources necessary to ... restore [Georgia's] ability to manage its security."
Georgia's Ambassador Vasil Sikharuldize has been everywhere at the Democratic National Convention, the Weekly Standard lets us know, meeting with Obama's advisers, including former Secretary of State Madeline Albright and adviser Susan Rice, opnely making the point that Georgia's security is about "protect[ing] Europe's energy security, which depends on the safe transfer of oil and gas from the Caspian Sea through Georgia."
Biden thumped the war drums, too, in his speech to the DNC, but as the Christian Science Monitor noted, his less-than-nuanced Georgia war-whoops weren't exactly well received:
Applause fell off considerably when Biden proposed anything like more US involvement overseas. The line "We will hold Russia accountable for its actions, and we'll help the people of Georgia rebuild" sent the decibel level in the Pepsi Center markedly south.
What we didn't hear: no warnings that sending Dick Cheney to Georgia might not be a good idea. No comment on McCain's grand-standing decision to send his wife, Cindy, and, earlier, Senator Joe Lieberman, to Georgia. Not a mention (after the initial comments, weeks ago) about McCain adviser Randy Scheunemann's business ties to Georgia as a lobbyist for including that rogue nation in NATO, with its breakaway regions included. Of course, just before Obama announced his selection for the No. 2 spot on the ticket, Biden himself made a high-profile visit to Georgia.
In fact, Biden's Georgia visit was probably pre-arranged with the Obama campaign:
According to Biden spokeswoman Elizabeth Alexander, Biden spoke to Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili on Monday [August 11], and on Wednesday, the Georgian embassy conveyed to the Foreign Relations chairman that Saakashvili wanted Biden to come as soon as possible, as the former Soviet republic sought a ceasefire with Russia.
Biden and Obama staffers discussed the proposed trip and Obama officials said they were glad Biden was considering it. One source familiar with the discussions added that had the Obama team opposed the idea, the senator would likely not have gone.
Some of Obama's advisers -- notably Bill Perry and Richard Danzig -- were reportedly saying in Denver that it's important to talk to Russia and to avoid pushing Moscow into a corner, to treat Russia with respect, according to Bloomberg. That's hopeful, but there's no sign of that sort of realist-influenced rationality from Obama and Biden themselves.
So how, exactly, did the United States come to slaughter nearly a hundred Afghans, two-thirds of whom were children aged three months to sixteen years, while they slept? And what does it mean?
US officials say they're investigating, while staunchly maintaining that the raid killed twenty-five "militants." But Afghan officials, local residents, and the United Nations are counting scores of bodies, and it is feared that many more might be buried udner the rubble. (It's not unusual for American planes to bomb civilian gatherings and wedding parties in Afghanistan, but the many dead this time may represent the highest single toll in any atrocity since the start of the war.)
What happened? The Post, happily carrying water for the Bush administration, quotes a US official -- who provides zero evidence for his claim -- saying that the Taliban deliberately fed bogus intelligence to the United States:
A U.S. official in Washington, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the Taliban has become adept at spreading false intelligence to draw U.S. strikes on civilians. "The fact is that the Taliban now has pretty good insight into where we're picking up information and how we're developing it into actionable intelligence," the official said. "They've figured out a way to misguide us."
The Times, on the other hand, quotes members of the Afghan parliament saying that bitter tribal rivalries, not the Taliban, fed false intelligence to the trigger-happy US Air Force:
How the military came to call in airstrikes on a civilian gathering is unclear. Two members of Parliament, Mr. Safi and Maulavi Gul Ahmad, who is from the area, said the villagers blamed tribal enemies for giving the military false intelligence on foreign fighters gathering in the village.
My own guess is that US intelligence in Afghanistan is so ridiculously bad that blaming either the Taliban (which isn't that clever) or tribal rivalries won't wash. Somewhere, a US Air Force commander ordered planes carrying dumb, 2000-pound bombs into action based on, well, pretty much nothing. And they've done that repeatedly.
The Guardian says that the death of the sixty children and other civilians is the "final straw" for the government of Hamid Karzai. We'll see. Karzai fired two top Afghan army commanders for their role in the attack, and he says he will demand a status-of-forces agreement with the United States that will provide greater Afghan control over the US bombing campaign. Meanwhile the entire country is in an uproar, and there are demonstrations against the United States. According to Xinhua, "The gruesome incident prompted hundreds of Afghans in the affected area to take to the streets, chanting anti-America slogans." In other words, rather than killing dozens of Taliban, the attack may have created scores of recruits for the movement.
By all rights, this ought to be a turning point for the Afghan war. The solution? It has two parts: first, the new government in Pakistan has to chip away at the Taliban bases in that country, and cut off the covert ties between subversive Pakistani military officials and the Islamic fundamentalists among the Pashtun in both countries, and second, the United States and NATO should get out and let the regional powers help Afghanistan deal with its problems--that means Pakistan, India, Russia, and Iran.
Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki continues to make headlines by posing as an Iraqi nationalist. Don't buy it.
Unfortunately, much of the media has swallowed Maliki's posturing without questioning it. The usually astute Leila Fadel, writing for McClatchy, has an article today headlined: "Maliki Demands 'Specific Deadline' for US Troop Pullout," which says:
Maliki said that the United States and Iraq had agreed that all foreign troops would be off Iraqi soil by the end of 2011. "There is an agreement actually reached, reached between the two parties on a fixed date, which is the end of 2011, to end any foreign presence on Iraqi soil," Maliki said.
Other newspapers and electronic media pick up Maliki's statement that Iraq wants all US forces out, not just combat troops. The Times headlines its story: "Maliki Pushes for Troop Withdrawal Date," and it barely questions Maliki's sincerity, though it does glancingly take note of the nationalist pressure on the Iraqi leader, reporting that "graffiti can be seen on the walls in Shiite districts of Baghdad saying, 'Iraq for sale: See Maliki.'" The Post headline ("Maliki Demands All U.S. Troops Pull Out by 2011") says as much, too, portraying Maliki as resolute and unyielding in talks with the United States over a security accord.
But underneath the radar, the Iraqi government and Maliki are sending another signal. The Post makes a greater effort to report the real story, making clear that the tough stand by Maliki is political showmanship designed to play to a nationalist Iraqi public that is tired of the US occupation:
Underlying Maliki's remarks is the political reality that he must sell the accord to a fractious political establishment and the Iraqi public, which to a large extent views the U.S. military presence as an occupation that should end as soon as possible.
"The agreement will be met with significant public discomfort," said an aide to Maliki. "So Iraqi officials will resort to using the dates mentioned in the agreement to sell it to the public, even though they might be intended to be used in a guidance way."
Note the reference to Maliki's need to "sell it to the public," even though the 2011 date will be used only as "guidance."
The reality is that there isn't much daylight between the Bush administration's position, which says that US forces will stay in Iraq until "conditions" allow a withdrawal, and Maliki's proposed 2011 date. Iraqi officials are making it clear that even the 2011 date is flexible and subject to conditions-based reevaluation. The Post quotes an Iraqi official: "If you ask the prime minister, 'What happens if the situation on the ground changes before 2011?' then he would obviously say that the dates might need to be changed."
Of course, that's equally true of Barack Obama's Iraq policy, though Obama (like Maliki) would suffer enormously from the domestic political reaction if he wavered on his commitment to withdraw US forces.