Tag Archives: Foreign Affairs

Mele WikiLeakmaka Is The Thing To Say

David Rothkopf at Foreign Policy:

The subtitle of this blog has been “How the World is Really Run” since the day it was launched, an editor’s play on the title of a book I wrote. But I am today inclined to lend that subtitle out to the publishers of the most recent tidal wave of information from WikiLeaks. Because the 250,000 State Department cables contained in the release offer up no single revelation as striking as the overall message they contain: The dark shadowy world of diplomacy and international intrigue is working just about precisely as you suspect it is.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

Quote of the year: “Ahmadinejad is Hitler.” This from Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Zayed in July 2009. And then there is this very astute comment from the Crown Prince: “‘Any culture that is patient and focused enough to spend years working on a single carpet is capable of waiting years and even decades to achieve even greater goals.’ His greatest worry, he said, ‘is not how much we know about Iran, but how much we don’t.'” Some of you recall the international kerfuffle that erupted when the U.A.E.’s ambassador to the United States told me at the Aspen Ideas Festival that a military strike on Iran may become a necessity. It turns out he was understating the fear and urgency felt by his government, and other Gulf governments.

3. Since we all know that only Israelis and their neocon supporters in America seek a military attack on Iran’s nuclear program, Bahrain must be under the control of neocons: “There was little surprising in Mr. Barak’s implicit threat that Israel might attack Iran’s nuclear facilities. As a pressure tactic, Israeli officials have been setting such deadlines, and extending them, for years. But six months later it was an Arab leader, the king of Bahrain, who provides the base for the American Fifth Fleet, telling the Americans that the Iranian nuclear program ‘must be stopped,’ according to another cable. ‘The danger of letting it go on is greater than the danger of stopping it,'” he said.

The Saudis, too, are neocons, apparently: The Bahraini king’s “plea was shared by many of America’s Arab allies, including the powerful King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, who according to another cable repeatedly implored Washington to ‘cut off the head of the snake’ while there was still time.”

4. How does Robert Gates know this? In a conversation with the then-French defense minister about the possibility of an Israeli strike on Iran, the defense secretary “added a stark assessment: any strike ‘would only delay Iranian plans by one to three years, while unifying the Iranian people to be forever embittered against the attacker.'” I am not suggesting that I know this is untrue; I’m just puzzled at how someone could reach this conclusion so definitively.

Spencer Ackerman at Danger Room at Wired:

Foreign potentates and diplomats beware: the U.S. wants your DNA.

If that chief of mission seemed a bit too friendly at the last embassy party, it might be because the State Department recently instructed U.S. diplomats to collect biometric identification on their foreign interlocutors. The search for the most personal information of all is contained in WikiLeaks’ latest publication of tens of thousands of sensitive diplomatic cables.

A missive from the Secretary of State’s office in April 2009 asked diplomats in Africa to step up their assistance to U.S. intelligence. Not only should diplomats in Burundi, Rwanda and Congo collect basic biographical information on the people they talk to — a routine diplomatic function — but they should also gather “fingerprints, facial images, DNA, and iris scans.”

There’s no guidance listed on how exactly diplomats are supposed to collect the unique identifiers of “key civilian and military officials.” In recent years, the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan has built storehouses of biometric data to understand who’s an insurgent and who isn’t, all using small, portable eye and thumb scanners. But the State Department’s foray into bio-info collection hasn’t previously been disclosed.

Peter Beinart at The Daily Beast:

The hype-to-payoff ratio approximated Geraldo’s opening of Al Capone’s vaults. “Leaked Cables Uncloak U.S. Diplomacy,” hollered the headline on NYTimes.com. The latest WikiLeaks document dump, instructed the grey lady, offers an “extraordinary look at” American foreign policy that “is sending shudders through the diplomatic establishment, and could strain relations with some countries, influencing international affairs in ways that are impossible to predict.”

Then the Times began summarizing the documents, and the banalities began. Bullet Point 1: The U.S. is worried about loose nuclear materials in Pakistan but can’t do much about it. Bullet Point 2: American leaders are “thinking about an eventual collapse of North Korea” and hoping China will accept a reunified peninsula. Bullet Point 3: Washington is “bargaining [with various allies] to empty the Guantanamo prison.” Bullet Point 4: There are “suspicions of corruption in the Afghan government.” Bullet Point 5: The Chinese regime hacks into foreign computers. Bullet Point 6: Rich Saudis still fund al Qaeda. Bullet Point 7: Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin are tight. Bullet Point 8: Syria arms Hezbollah, but lies about it. Bullet Point 9: The U.S. tried to get Germany not to prosecute CIA agents accused of kidnapping. Bullet Point 10: Ireland is having financial trouble. (OK, I made that one up).

But maybe this isn’t fair. Maybe the cables, while mundane when taken in isolation, combine to provide a fascinating synthesis of America’s position in the world. Or maybe not. Overall, explained the Times, “The cables show that nearly a decade after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the dark shadow of terrorism still dominates the United States’ relations with the world…They depict the Obama administration struggling to sort out which Pakistanis are trustworthy partners against Al Qaeda…They show American officials managing relations with a China on the rise and a Russia retreating from democracy. They document years of painstaking effort to prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon—and of worry about a possible Israeli strike on Iran with the same goal.” Valuable insights—if you’ve been living under a rock all century.

Matt Steinglass at DiA at The Economist:

WikiLeaks’s release of the  “Collateral Murder” video last April was a pretty scrupulous affair: an objective record of combat activity which American armed forces had refused to release, with careful backing research on what the video showed. What we got was a window into combat reality, through the sights of a helicopter gunship. You could develop different interpretations of that video depending on your understanding of its context, but it was something important that had actually taken place.

Diplomatic cables are something entirely different. It’s part of the nature of human communication that one doesn’t always say the same thing to every audience. There are perfectly good reasons why you don’t always tell the same story to your boss as you do to your spouse. There are things Washington needs to tell Riyadh to explain what it’s just told Jerusalem and things Washington needs to tell Jerusalem to explain what it’s just told Riyadh, and these cables shouldn’t be crossed. There’s nothing wrong with this. It’s inevitable. And it wouldn’t make the world a better place if Washington were unable to say anything to Jerusalem without its being heard by Riyadh, any more than it would if you were unable to tell your spouse anything without its being heard by your boss.

At this point, what WikiLeaks is doing seems like tattling: telling Sally what Billy said to Jane. It’s sometimes possible that Sally really ought to know what Billy said to Jane, if Billy were engaged in some morally culpable deception. But in general, we frown on gossips. If there’s something particularly damning in the diplomatic cables WikiLeaks has gotten a hold of, the organisation should bring together a board of experienced people with different perspectives to review the merits of releasing that particular cable. But simply grabbing as many diplomatic cables as you can get your hands on and making them public is not a socially worthy activity.

Conn Carroll at Heritage:

There is nothing positive that can be said about the release of more than a quarter-million confidential American diplomatic cables by the rogue hacker organization WikiLeaks. WikiLeaks has recklessly and inexcusably put lives at risk. Any U.S. person who cooperated with WikiLeaks has committed a crime and should be prosecuted to the maximum extent of the law.

That said, WikiLeaks is not the end of the world. The fundamentals of U.S. relationships with other nations remain unchanged. Leaks are not going to stop nations from cooperating with the U.S., or for that matter sharing secrets with us. Nations cooperate with the U.S. because it is in their interest to do so. And no leak will stop nations from acting in their self-interest.

But what is in our best interest? This has not been a good month for the Obama Doctrine: The President came home empty-handed from Asia, North Korea fired artillery at South Korea just days after revealing nuclear facilities no one knew they had, and Obama failed to get the G-20 to take any action limiting trade imbalances. It was not supposed to be this way. After apologizing for all of our nation’s sins, the world was supposed to swoon at President Obama’s unparalleled charisma. As American military power withered away, President Obama would use soft power and the United Nations to manage world affairs. But like Woodrow Wilson and Jimmy Carter before him, this progressive foreign policy vision has failed.

Moe Lane:

Accused rapist Julian Assange* continued to justify the upcoming backlash against transparency this weekend by promising to illegally release more classified government documents on the notorious site Wikileaks. These documents in particular are apparently State Department diplomatic cables: up until, oh, today, those documents were typically much more blunt and ambiguity-free than the standard State Department bumpf, mostly because nobody out there considered that anyone would be insane enough to release them even if they had access. This will likely change – quickly – now that the diplomatic corps knows that its private communications are insecure; in other words, from now on the folks in the striped-pants brigade are going to be as mealy-mouthed in private as they are in public. As Allahpundit noted above, the Left should keep this in mind when trying in the future to boost State at Defense’s expense: Assange just made that harder for you.

And I will also note that, while I will happily ding President Obama for both his wrong actions and for not living up to his own side’s previously-established standards of behavior, this line of attack by Wikileaks is made up of pure garbage designed to weaken both my country and my government. The President needs his ambassadors to know what he wants; they need to be able to tell him what he can get. So it’s stupid to not be blunt and forthright in private about matters that require a softer public touch. It’s even more stupid for Wikileaks to keep publicly attacking the USA like this.

Because when the backlash comes, it’s going to splatter.

Steve Benen:

I would, however, like to know more about the motivations of the leaker (or leakers). Revealing secrets about crimes, abuses, and corruption obviously serves a larger good — it shines a light on wrongdoing, leading (hopefully) to accountability, while creating an incentive for officials to play by the rules. Leaking diplomatic cables, however, is harder to understand — the point seems to be to undermine American foreign policy, just for the sake of undermining American foreign policy. The role of whistleblowers has real value; dumping raw, secret diplomatic correspondence appears to be an exercise in pettiness and spite.

I’ve seen some suggestions that diplomats shouldn’t write cables that they’d be embarrassed by later if they were made publicly. I find that unpersuasive. I’m not going to pretend to be an expert in the nuances of on-the-ground international affairs, but I am comfortable with the notion of some diplomatic efforts being kept secret. Quiet negotiations between countries can lead, and have led, to worthwhile foreign policy agreements, advancing noble causes.

If the argument from the leakers is that there should be no such thing as private diplomacy, they’ll need a better excuse to justify this kind of recklessness.

Scott Johnson at Powerline:

The New York Times is participating in the dissemination of the stolen State Department cables that have been made available to it in one way or another via WikiLeaks. My friend Steve Hayward recalls that only last year the New York Times ostentatiously declined to publish or post any of the Climategate emails because they had been illegally obtained. Surely readers will recall Times reporter Andrew Revkin’s inspiring statement of principle: “The documents appear to have been acquired illegally and contain all manner of private information and statements that were never intended for the public eye, so they won’t be posted here.”

Interested readers may want to compare and contrast Revkin’s statement of principle with the editorial note posted by the Times on the WikiLeaks documents this afternoon. Today the Times cites the availability of the documents elsewhere and the pubic interest in their revelations as supporting their publication by the Times. Both factors applied in roughly equal measure to the Climategate emails.

Without belaboring the point, let us note simply that the two statements are logically irreconcilable. Perhaps something other than principle and logic were at work then, or are at work now. Given the Times’s outrageous behavior during the Bush administration, the same observation applies to the Times’s protestations of good faith.

Amanda Carey at The Daily Caller:

Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin took to her favorite mode of communication Monday – Facebook – and harshly criticized the Obama administration’s response to the latest WikiLeaks release.

In a post titled “Serious Questions about the Obama Administration’s Incompetence in the Wikileaks Fiasco,” Palin wrote that the most recent WikiLeaks disclosure of previously classified documents raises serious concerns about the administration’s “incompetent handling of this whole fiasco.”

Palin went on to ask what steps have been taken since the first WikiLeaks release to stop the organization’s director, Julian Assange, from distributing even more harmful material. Palin barely paused long enough for any one of her fans to shout a loud “none!” at their computer screens before going on to classify Assange as an “anti-American operative with blood on his hands”.

“Assange is not a ‘journalist,’ any more than the ‘editor’ of al Qaeda’s new English-language magazine Inspire is a ‘journalist,’” wrote Palin. “His past posting of classified documents revealed the identity of more than 100 Afghan sources to the Taliban. Why was he not pursued with the same urgency we pursue al Qaeda and Taliban leaders?”

Megan Carpentier at TPM

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The Violence In Osh

Michael Hancock at Registan:

As night comes to Kyrgyzstan, the violence in Osh is subsiding according to AKIpress, but the situation in general is heading south as fighting is reported in Jalalabad.  [Apologies for mistakes in translation – they are my own]

В Жалал-Абаде наблюдается 6-7 очагов пожара по улице Ленина между автовокзалом и телекомпанией ЖТР, само здание ЖТР почти сгорело.  По словам очевидцев, каждые пять минут слышны выстрелы, сотрудников милиции вообще нет, 15 машин спецназа направились в Сузакский район.

In Jalalabad 6 or 7 fires were observed burning on Lenin street between the bus station and the ZhTR broadcast station, with the broadcast station nearly consumed.  According to witnesses, every five minutes shots are heard, with still no police response, and fifteen cars of the Spetsnaz (SWAT)  in the Suzak region.

Russia Today has it that a crowd has raided/attacked a local military base.

[…]

The BBC has video (as does Al-Jazeera) of the refugees heading out of Osh into Uzbekistan as part of their story on the interim government’s plans to clamp down on inter-ethnic violence.  The government is discussing the mobilization of peacekeeping forces from the CSTO, meaning the combined response forces of Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

Otunbaeva, I think I should have mentioned this before, has suggested that Bakiyev and his brother are directly responsible for inciting the riots.  Russia is sending aid, which might account for the reported movements of their paratroopers in the area.  Otunbaeva has addressed the nation, calling for peace and a cessation of violence.  As the situation spirals out of control, the interim government’s cries for aid have become more strident.

Nathan Hamm at Registan:

Call it whatever you want, but I name it a massacre of Uzbeks in Osh and Jalalabad (Kyrgyzstan), which is, at the moment, still going on and the Interim government headed by Rosa Otunbaeva cannot do anything to prevent it. I knew of disaffection, I knew of tension, but I never knew there was so much hatred against Uzbeks in the South of Kyrgyzstan. I am blaming the incapable Interim government, and those people, who provoked masses, and especially those stupid Uzbek and Kyrgyz, who are buying it.

Grave reports continue coming from friends in Osh and Jalalabad. Videos and photos of killed Uzbeks, burning houses, restaurants and shops that belonged to Uzbeks started appearing in internet. Thousands of Uzbeks are seeking shelter in Uzbekistan. Today, the Uzbek authorities finally agreed to accept Uzbek refugees. Uzbeks in the South have lost their trust to the interim government and are hoping for Russia’s help, but Russia is not being active.

The emergency situation introduced in several cities in the South including Osh and Jalalabad is not helping. Many police and army institutions were attacked, and great numbers of weapons are now on people’s hands. People say that attacking groups wear police and army uniforms. Therefore, many have lost their trust in law enforcement institutions.

The Interim government is blaming everything on the Bakievs that the latter are intending to disrupt the referendum scheduled for 27th of June, 2010.

The death toll is much much higher than the official figures, as people are still finding dead corpses around Osh, and many were burnt down in their houses in mahallas (Uzbek neighborhoods). While I was writing this, I got several gruesome calls from friends in Jalalabad that some groups seized buildings belonging to army and police. Tonight, Jalalabad will suffer its worst night ever! My heart is with them!

The Huffington Post:

The Kremlin says it won’t immediately send Russian troops to Kyrgyzstan, which has asked Moscow for military assistance to help quell ethnic violence.

But Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s spokeswoman, Natalya Timakova, said Saturday that Russia would offer humanitarian assistance and help evacuate those wounded in rampages that swept Kyrgyzstan’s second-largest city of Osh.

More than 60 people have been reported killed and nearly 850 wounded in the violence.

Steve LeVine at Foreign Policy:

Before Kyrgyzstan turned to Russia, it informally asked Washington for military assistance including a supply of rubber bullets to quell ethnic bloodletting in the south of the country, but was turned down, I am told by people privy to the situation. Russia says it may deploy troops if it’s a collective regional decision.

Kyrgyz President Rosa Otunbayeva made the request of Washington for troops and rubber bullets after Kyrgyz and Uzbeks living in the city of Osh began to fight on Friday. She formally asked for Russian help yesterday, putting the timing of the request to the U.S. sometime in between.

A senior Obama administration official, speaking to me on condition of anonymity, denied that the U.S. has received any formal Kyrgyz request for military assistance.

To the degree that the fighting — at least 100 people have already died and more than 1,000 have been injured in the fighting — destabilizes the fragile Kyrgyz government, it’s a security concern for the U.S., which maintains an important Air Force base near the capital of Bishkek that serves Afghanistan.  In addition, Kazakhstan — with its enormous oil, uranium, copper and other natural resources  — is right next door.

So in deferring to Russia for the security of its traditional backyard, Washington puts further distance between itself and Kyrgyzstan. It’s another signal of Washington’s policy reversal, known as “reset,” in which the Obama administration is attempting to have a more cooperative relationship with Moscow than did the Bush administration.

The Economist:

In an immediate sense, it is unclear what caused the violence. Kyrgyzstan has been on a low boil since Kurmanbek Bakiyev was forced from power in April. National police killed at least 83 protesters on April 7th, losing several of their own men too; less deadly clashes have broken out several times in the months since. The leader of the interim government, Roza Otunbayeva, has said that the latest fighting may have been sparked by a “local conflict”.

In another sense though, the cause of this week’s fighting is all too easy to guess. Ms Otunbayeva’s government, struggling to maintain order on a national scale, may well be right in its initial assessment that this began as an isolated fight in a casino. But it seems likely that the violence was caused by an explosion of the broader tensions between the ethnic groups that predominate in southern Kyrgyzstan. In the chaotic days and weeks after Mr Bakiyev surrendered his seat in Bishkek, opportunistic mobs indulged in looting and score-settling across the country. In the north, around Bishkek, Kyrgyz gangs attacked enclaves of Russians and Meshketian Turks. What had been latent became manifest.

But the real show was in the south, where Mr Bakiyev fled with his entourage, taking brief refuge in his family stronghold. One of our correspondents was travelling with him at the time: a major theme of the diary he kept was of the anxiety felt by both sides of the ethnic divide. A majority of the country is ethnically Kyrgyz, perhaps 70%, with large minorities of ethnic Uzbeks, Russians and other groups spread throughout. Uzbeks comprise perhaps 15% of the country’s population, a plurality among the minorities. But around Kyrgyzstan’s bit of the Fergana valley—the eastern rim surrounding the ethnically mixed heartland of modern Uzbekistan—Uzbeks form a narrow majority. (Ethnolinguistic maps of the region reward close study, though the figures from the best Soviet-era research are out of date.) Mr Bakiyev’s departure aggravated the anxieties felt by both of the peoples there: that in a vacuum, the other side would seize power. There was fighting in Jalalabad, the other major city of the south; our correspondent sheltered with Uzbeks in a university courtyard.

In June 1990, during the last days of the Kyrgyz and Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republics, street brawling around the oblast of Osh took a turn for the bloody. A state of emergency and curfew were imposed for the whole of the summer. That’s when Kyrgyzstan got its first president, Askar Akayev, who held country’s ethnic frictions in check while governing with increasing brutality—until Mr Bakiyev displaced him in the “tulip revolution” of 2005

UPDATE: Max Fisher at The Atlantic

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Yet Again, Life Imitates “The West Wing”

Sibylla Brodzinsky at The Christian Science Monitor:

The airport security guard’s wand squealed when it passed over the pocket of presidential candidate Antanas Mockus’s trousers as he prepared to embark on a recent campaign trip.

Puzzled, Mr. Mockus reached in and pulled out a No. 2 pencil with a metallic band around the eraser.

“They discovered my weapon,” he says, recalling the incident with an impish smile. The pencil is one of the symbols of his campaign, which emphasizes education as a tool to transform society.

A few months ago, no one thought Mockus – a mathematician, philosopher, and former mayor of Colombia‘s capital, Bogotá – had much of a chance in the elections, but his unorthodox campaign style has turned Col­ombia’s race for the presidency on its head.

Rising from a distant 3 percent in opinion polls in March, Mockus has surged over 30 percent, placing him in a dead heat with former Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos, considered the heir to the legacy of the famously popular president, Álvaro Uribe.

The latest Ipsos-Napoleon Franco poll gives Mr. Santos 34 percent of the vote in the first round, compared with 32 percent for Mockus. But if neither candidate secures the 50 percent of the vote needed to win outright in the first round, Mockus would win a run-off with 45 percent to Santos’ 40 percent on June 20, according to the May 23 poll.

Renard Sexton:

Quite a number of observers and journalists are content in even calling Mockus the “front-runner” in the race, though the numbers point to a neck-and-neck finish in the first round of voting. If no candidate receives a majority — which at this point is the probable result — there will be a run-off second round on 20 June between the top two candidates.

Gallup’s polling from 10 days ago still puts Juan Manuel Santos on top with 37.5 percent of the vote to Antanas Mockus’ 35.4 percent. While this would give a nominal victory to Santos, he would be well short of a majority, leaving it wide open in the run-off.

Gallup polling thus far puts Mockus in command position in the event of a run-off, even as Santos pulls the most in the first round. This polling, however, does not account for politicking in the interim between first and second rounds, such as the possible alliance between Santos and fellow conservative Sanin. It could be that second round voters are already shaking out this way (Santos 19 May share in the run-off is just about the sum of Santos and Sanin in the first round), or that some Sanin voters are undecided between the two at this point. Supporters of the conservative-liberal (free market) German Vargas Lleras are more likely to split between the two major candidates.

Ipsos polling relays a slightly more detailed, and generally complementary storyline. The main difference between the data sets (both obtained from interviews with 1200 adults) is that the Gallup numbers show continued improvement for Mockus since March, whereas Ipsos indicates that Mockus peaked at the end of April, while Santos has regained ground since April, possibly from defecting Sanin voters.

The second round numbers tell a similar tale, with Mockus’ lead falling slightly since its peak at the end of last month from 13 points during the week of 26 April to 5 points when Ipsos published its last numbers on 22 May.

One major downside to the Colombian law that prevents electioneering during the final week of the campaign is that no polling numbers have been collected or published since 22 May. As a result, we do not know whether Mockus has rebounded in the run-off numbers, or if Santos has further consolidated his position at the top of the first round.

Even further, it is possible, though quite unlikely, that one candidate or another has had a major influx of undecideds or minority candidate supporters such that they will win an outright majority. Without recent enough numbers, we have to conjecture based on qualitative reports, which indicate well-consolidated support for both Santos and Mockus.

As such, we can project that neither candidate is likely to break 40 percent of the national vote, and that a Santos v. Mockus run-off on 20 June is the probable outcome. The question will be whether Santos can pull together enough of the right and center-right to win in the run-off, or if 40 to 45 percent is the ceiling for his national support, one point both Gallup and Ipsos numbers agree upon.

As the only candidate to receive 50 percent or more in any published polling of the second round (the Centro Nacional de Consultoría put his highest run-off figure at 53 percent), Antanas Mockus seems to be in a relatively strong position going into today’s voting. But the race remains wide open and we eagerly tonight’s results.

Doug J.:

It really looks like mathematician/philosopher Antanas Mock may end up as president. I may as well say up front that I am deeply suspicious of anyone who would describe himself as both a mathematician and philosopher, but he certainly sounds like a candidate we at Balloon-Juice could get behind:

As mayor of Bogotá, he made a name for himself with his wacky antics, such as dressing up in spandex tights as “Super Citizen.” But he is also recognized for his uncompromising honesty and zero tolerance for corruption.I don’t follow Colombian politics at all, so I have no idea who I would vote for if I lived there. Given how poorly my foreign friends understand American politics, I’m loath to express opinions about other countries’ politics. But the idea of using jokes and stunts to fight bullshit and lies has a deep, deep appeal to me. Of course, the clown who tells the truth is something of a literary cliché, but it’s a cliché that I like.

Steven Taylor:

The election this Sunday is the first step in replacing the sitting President, Álavro Uribe.  Uribe is one of the longest serving President in Colombian history and the first since Rafael Núñez in the late 1800s to be re-elected to the post to consecutive terms.  Núñez, a key historical figure in Colombia politics (considered, in many ways, to be the father of the 1886 constitution, which was in force until it was replaced in 1991), but who was not elected (or re-elected) via a popular vote process.   Alfonso López Pumarejo was the last president elected to two terms, although they were non-consecutive terms (1934-1938 and 1942-1946) and López did not serve to completion his second term.  The 1886 constitution forbad consecutive terms, while the 1991 constitution limited the president to only one term until Uribe’s allies were able to reform the document during his first term so as to allow one re-election.  As such, Uribe acquired a unique place in Colombian history for his tenure in office alone.

[…]

Uribe has had a vey successful run as president, and he and his policies do deserve credit for substantial gains on the policy-front.  However, not only are there a number of issues pertaining to transparency, corruption, and violence that his administration also has to answer for, it is a mistake to elevate Uribe to the position of the Indispensible Man (an idea that fueled his bid for a third term).   An example of this point of view can be found in the following WSJ headline:  The Man Who Saved Colombia.  The piece is quite positive and includes lines like “Mr. Uribe has salvaged democracy in a part of the world where criminality is on the rise”.  Such statements are a bit of hyperbole for a variety of reasons.

First, it reflects a tendency that is all too common (see, for example, here) that reduces governments to the chief executives alone, as if all that is good or bad about a given stretch of time is the president (or PM or whomever).  There have been others involved in Colombia governance for the past 8 years.

Second, such statements ignore Colombia’s rather long history with political violence.  Yes, the time during which Uribe took office was an especially bad period, although it was not the first such bad period and it likely will not be the last (or, based solely on historical patterns, that’s the sad safe money).  Casting Uribe as the savior ignores a few simply facts:  the current political violence can be seen as part of an unbroken legacy of conflict that dates back tot he 1940s (at least).  That is not to say is it a continuation of the exact same conflict, but rather that a) there has been some form of ongoing political violence since that time, and that b) some parts of the current violence can trace back its roots (the founder, recently deceased, of the FARC) back that far.  Other elements can have their origins traced to the 1960s (the FARC, the ELN and other small guerrilla groups that still operate) while others to the 1970s/1980s (drug cartels) or 1980s/1990s (paramilitary groups).

Third, there is no reason that the efficacious portions of the Uribe approach can’t be continued.  Indeed, both of the front-runners (Santos and Mockus) have pledged to do just that.

Fourth, we shouldn’t go too far in proclaiming Uribe a pure paragon of all things democratic.  He has demonstrated autocratic tendencies (not the least of which being his clear desire to alter the political system to allow him to stay in office a rather long time—something that is considered anathema to those who praise Uribe in the US when the exact same behavior is exhibited by Hugo Chávez).  Indeed, there were issues of vote manipulation that emerged in the amendment process that allowed the first re-election which led to the arrest and conviction on bribery charges of congresswoman Yidis Medina and some impropriety issue

Further, there are credible accusations that Uribe has had ties to paramilitary groups—certainly his family has, including his political ally and cousin, Mario Uribe, as well as his brother (via the AP:  Colombia’s President Uribe defends brother against death squad charge, blames criminals).

Aldo Civico at The Huffington Post:

The next president of Colombia will have to make sure not only that false positives and illegal wiretapping and alliances of politicians with illegal armed groups will not be tolerated, but that the cases will not be left with impunity. In these days in Washington different views and opinions are debated on the opportunity to grant to Colombia next August the certification on human rights. At stake is the continued financial support for the so-called consolidation strategy, the updated version of Plan Colombia, which has always met the convinced and almost uncritical support of both the republican as well as the democratic administrations.

It is not a secret that nobody in Washington supported and wanted a second reelection of president Uribe. A matter of principle, rather then a statement against Uribe, whose government has found in general wide and bipartisan support. And Washington has looked with sympathy at the present electoral process, at its healthy dynamic and plurality. And certainly the unexpected enthusiasm for Antanas Mockus, the eccentric former mayor of Bogota, has surprised also Washington that thought the victory of Uribe’s political heir, Juna Manuel Santos, was a done deal. But Washington has not bend towards either Santos or Mockus.

The attention of the United States will certainly increase in the upcoming weeks, as the second round approaches. Sure, in Washington Santos is not only well known, but in general also appreciated. The Obama administration and several members in Congress don’t blame him for the false positive. They are aware of his attempts to reform from within the Colombian military and to promote among the ranks a culture and a practice of human rights. They have been always supportive of the military strategy against the FARC and are deeply convinced about the consolidation strategy that was designed under Santos’ leadership. If Santos wins, Washington sees it as an opportunity to continue and to strengthen with him and his men a good collaboration. Santos is well known and will not represent any surprise.

Antanas Mockus is certainly less known, but the judgment of his mayoralty in Bogota and of Sergio Fajardo in Medellín is very positive in Washington. Washington knows that Mockus will be tough with the FARC and that he will not be shy in using the military when needed. To Washington, moreover, the message of a culture of legality is appealing and it might help lowering the tension that sometimes exists between the administration and Congress on issues related on human rights. This could have positive effects on the approval in 2011 of the Free Trade Agreement with Colombia (stocked in Congress) and an easy approval of the human rights certification.

In any case, Washington is aware that a president will be elected who will be a friend of the United States and that Colombia will continue to be a good partner in the region. Either with Santos or Mockus, it will be a fresh start, one that is needed to refresh the political air made heavy by the scandals. The visit of Hillary Clinton to Colombia on June 9, at a very sensitive date, will possibly offer an interesting preview of the road ahead in the dealing with an important ally in the region.

Jose DeCordoba at Wall Street Journal:

Colombia’s tough former defense minister picked up a commanding lead in the country’s presidential race, but he will have to face off in a second electoral round against the eccentric former mayor of Bogota next month.

Neither former defense minister Juan Manuel Santos, the candidate of popular, outgoing President Alvaro Uribe’s Party of the U nor the Green Party’s Antanas Mockus, a bearded mathematician turned former two-term mayor of Bogota, were able to get more than 50% of the vote needed to avoid a run off election. But with 99% of the vote counted, Mr. Santos seemed almost certain to win the runoff scheduled for June 20 after picking up 47% of the vote against Mr. Mockus 21%. Seven other candidates split the rest of the vote.

Colombian presidential candidate Juan Manuel Santos casts his vote at a polling station in Bogota, Colombia, on Sunday.

Mr. Santos did much better than predicted by the polls which said he and Mr. Mockus were in a dead heat. The election results could open a hectic, three week period of frantic campaigning and even more frenzied political horse trading as the two men left standing from the crowded nine candidate field scramble for votes.

As the two men head for the runoff, Mr. Santos, an experienced political infighter and political horse trader is likely to have an insurmountable edge over Mr. Mockus, a philosopher and mathematician turned antipolitician who has made his personal honesty and a refusal to do business as usual one of his top campaign issues.

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The Lack Of Preparation And Focus On The Imminent Zombie Problem Is Disturbing

Max Fisher at The Atlantic with the round-up.

Josh Rogin at Foreign Policy:

In unveiling his first formal National Security Strategy Thursday, U.S. President Barack Obama called for “a strategy of national renewal and global leadership,” emphasizing U.S. economic strength as the foundation of American power and promising to deepen U.S. alliances and partnerships around the world.

The Cable has obtained the text of the 52-page document, which the White House is planning to roll out later today.

The NSS was the product of months of deliberation and consultation inside the administration. Its lead author is Ben Rhodes, the president’s lead foreign-policy speechwriter and a deputy national security advisor. It represents both a repudiation of some of the most controversial aspects of the Bush-era strategy and a continuation of many of its key elements.

The opening letter from President Obama begins with a call to arms:

“Time and again in our nation’s history, Americans have risen to meet — and to shape — moments of transition. This must be one of those moments,” it starts. “We live in a time of sweeping change. The success of free nations, open markets, an social progress in recent decades has accelerated globalization on an uprecedented scale.”

He then pivots sharply to the tense national security atmosphere and the war against Islamic extremism — though the word “Islamic” is no longer in the document, as the administration seeks to head off concerns that the United States is at war with the Muslim world:

“For nearly a decade, our nation has been at war with a far-reaching network of violence and hatred,” it reads. “Moreover, as we face multiple threats — from nations, non-state actors, and failed states — we will maintain the military superiority that has secured our country, and underpinned global security, for decades.”

Daniel Drezner:

Through the magic of the search function, here’s a short list of what’s hot and what’s not in the NSS:  Here are the number of mentions for the following words:

Russia:  12

China:  9

Europe:  7

Japan:  2

Brazil:  3

India:  7

Africa:  12

Israel:  9

Palestine:  1

Al Qa’ida:  21

North Korea:  3

Iran:  9

Iraq:  19

Afghanistan:  16

Pakistan:  11

nonproliferation: 13

terrorism:  14

pandemic:  7

volcano:  0

cyber:  11

Doha round:  1

zombies:  0

Peter Feaver at Foreign Policy:

The roll-out of President Obama’s National Security Strategy tries to frame the strategy as a repudiation of his predecessor’s. But the reality is that the new strategy is best characterized as “Bush Lite”, a slightly watered down but basically plausible remake of President Bush’s National Security Strategy. If you only read the Obama Team’s talking points, or only read the mainstream media coverage, which amounts to the same thing, this assessment may come as a big surprise. But if you actually read the Obama’s NSS released today, and President Bush’s most recent NSS released in 2006, the conclusion is pretty obvious.

  • President Bush’s NSS emphasized effective, action-oriented multilateralism to address the challenges of the day: to “strengthen alliances to defeat global terrorism and work to prevent attacks against us and our friends” and to “develop agendas for cooperative action with the other main centers of global power.” Obama’s NSS emphasizes “comprehensive engagement” built on the “cornerstone” of our traditional allies but expanding outwards to include “more effective partnerships with other key centers of influence.”
  • Bush’s NSS emphasized that our national security did not rest solely on material factors (eg., the balance of military forces) but also on the strength and appeal of our moral values, especially America’s commitment to defend and advance “human rights protected by democratic institutions.” Obama’s NSS makes the same point: “The United States rejects the false choice between the narrow pursuit of our interests and an endless campaign to impose our values.”
  • Bush’s NSS recognized that international institutions were flawed but essential and thus needed to be reformed. Obama’s NSS makes the exact same point: “we need to be clear-eyed about the strengths and shortcomings of international institutions that were developed to deal with the challenges of an earlier time and the shortage of political will that has at times stymied the enforcement of international norms. Yet it would be destructive to both American national security and global security if the United States used the emergence of new challenges and the shortcomings of the international system as a reason to walk away from it. Instead, we must focus American engagement on strengthening international institutions and galvanizing the collective action that can serve common interests…”
  • Bush’s NSS identified the most urgent threat to be the nexis of WMD proliferation (especially nuclear), terrorists, and state sponsors of terrorism. Obama’s NSS makes the same determination, “there is no greater threat to the American people than weapons of mass destruction, particularly the danger posed by the pursuit of nuclear weapons by violent extremists and their proliferation to additional states.”
  • Bush recognized that the war on terror would require all elements of national power, from military to law enforcement to soft power, and Obama’s NSS makes the same point.
  • Obama’s NSS even explicitly endorses America’s prerogatives to use military force well before it is a last resort — “While the use of force is sometimes necessary, we will exhaust other options before war whenever we can (emphasis added)” — and unilaterally — “The United States must reserve the right to act unilaterally if necessary to defend our nation and our interests.” (emphasis added)

Perhaps the most striking continuity is in the recognition that America must lead. This was an important theme of Bush’s NSS. Effective action depended on American leadership – “the international community is most engaged in such action when the United States leads.

Marc Lynch at Foreign Policy:

It’s an impressive document, and goes a long way towards providing a coherent framework for American foreign policy and national security which makes sense of what the administration has been doing and offers a roadmap to where it wants to go. From my perspective, the most interesting — and strongest — part of the NSS deals with the administration’s new approach to al-Qaeda. The most problematic is the gap between its strong commitment to civil liberties and the rule of law and its practice thus far with regard to things like drone strikes.

The NSS lays out “a comprehensive strategy” in what it repeatedly calls a war against al-Qaeda and its affiliates, one “that denies [al-Qaeda and its affiliates] safe haven, strengthens front-line partners, secures our homeland, pursues justice through durable legal approaches, and counters a bankrupt agenda of extremism and murder with an agenda of hope and opportunity.” It defines this in narrow terms: “this is not a global war against a tactic — terrorism or a religion — Islam. We are at war with a specific network, al-Qa’ida, and its terrorist affiliates.” It places this war within the perspective of broader foreign policy concerns, and warns against overreaction to terrorist provocations — pointing out, correctly, that al-Qaeda’s strategy hopes to trigger such American overreactions, leading to counterproductive political responses and interventions which drain our resources, alienate our friends, and radicalize Muslims around the world. Much of the NSS can be read as a multi-level, robust strategy to prevent such self-defeating responses, while doing everything actually necessary to disrupt and defeat the threat which actually exists.

Spencer Ackerman at Washington Independent:

There’s a certain caricature of Obama on the right that holds he only accepts American exceptionalism — the view that America has an outsize role to play in global affairs — in the sense that he finds America exceptionally blameworthy. The responsible exercise of U.S. foreign policy for Obama, goes this view, is to restrain it until it withers away. Charles Krauthammer offered that thesis. Mitt Romney put it in hardcover. Sarah Palin put it on Facebook. And it won’t go away with the National Security Strategy, because it was never tethered to reality. But the National Security Strategy demonstrates how it’s the exact opposite of what the Obama presidency is about.

Every single focus outlined in the National Security Strategy is about the maintenance of American power on the international stage in an era when the international order is less tethered to the traditional power of big alliances of states than ever, thanks to global financial destabilization, super-empowered individual extremists or proliferating nuclear weapons. American power, Obama argues, rests on insolvent foundations if it doesn’t invest in domestic priorities, principally “the long term growth of our economy and competitiveness of our citizens.” It won’t rally global actors to a common purpose if it doesn’t pursue “comprehensive engagement” with the world, predicated on the international institutions that represent and reflect the world’s forums for expression of consensus standards of behavior. And it won’t possess credibility if it violates “respect for universal values at home and around the world.”

That creates an interlocking series of obligations for implementing the strategy. “National security draws on the strength and resilience of our citizens, communities, and economy,” Obama argues, so that requires the maintenance and integration of not only military, diplomatic, development, intelligence and economic power, but also of domestic prosperity and justice. This is a blueprint for investing in health and education as much as it is a blueprint for investing in the military. When you think about it, how can you really separate the two? The military is worried about the security implications of the obesity epidemic, after all. This is a broad expansion of a military concept known as “interdependent capabilities,” where the assets within one service or branch or department can support and magnify those of others — applied across the government, and across governments.

Second, it requires a “a rules-based international system that can advance our own interests by serving mutual interests. International institutions must be more effective and representative of the diffusion of influence in the 21st century. Nations must have incentives to behave responsibly, or be isolated when they do not.” International power isn’t a “zero-sum game,” Obama argues — a central refutation of Bush’s insistence that the U.S. ought to never allow a new superpower to develop — with one major conceptual exception. Isolated nations and actors really do face zero-sum situations against an international community united around common norms. And that’s how Obama argues American leadership can marshal institutions for common objectives over the long term.

Eli Lake at The Washington Times, before the release, on John Brennan’s speech about the NSS:

The new strategy, according to Mr. Brennan, will continue the George W. Bush administration strategy of seeking to distinguish al Qaeda terrorism from the religion of Islam. Mr. Brennan specifically said the Obama administration would no longer use the terms “Islamist” and “jihadist” “because jihad is holy struggle, a legitimate tenet of Islam, meaning to purify oneself or one’s community.”

At the same time, the new strategy states that the United States remains on a war footing against al Qaeda and seeks to destroy the group and its affiliates, Mr. Brennan said. He further noted that the group behind the Sept. 11 attacks is different from other Muslim terrorist groups that might have local grievances.

The emphasis on homegrown radicals reflects the recent trend of attacks and attempted attacks in the United States by U.S. citizens or residents who were inspired to wage terrorism as a result of information posted on the Internet.

The latest such attempt was purportedly made by Faisal Shahzad, a Pakistan-born naturalized American arrested in connection with an unsuccessful attempt to detonate a homemade car bomb in New York City’s Times Square.

Andrew Exum:

In summary, I would have liked to have seen a more ruthless prioritization of efforts. If I were a reporter working the national security beat and could ask Sec. Clinton just one question today, my question would be, “Madam Secretary, this strategy lays out some very ambitious goals for the United States. But if we could only do three of the things on the list of activities, what would they be? What, in other words, are this nation’s top priorities in national security — whereby if we get other stuff wrong but get these specific things right, we can sleep soundly at night?”

UPDATE: A couple of my friends have written some good dissenting opinions in reply to my comments. The first objection (written by my officemate, the GZA aka The Genius, and soon-to-be-posted in full on Tom’s blog) is basically, “Exum, as usual, you’re complaining too much. The NSS is not meant to match ends, ways and means. It is intended to outline the broader way in which the administration thinks about the contemporary security environment. The NSS can’t allot resources because we have this thing called the legislative branch — you may have heard of it? — which does that. The QDR and QDDR are the documents that should then identify ends, ways and means.”

My response to that is, uh, first off, the QDR preceded the NSS. Which, we can all agree, is as f***ed up as a football bat. Also, the QDR also punted on setting priorities, something that has frustrated both allies with whom I have spoken as well as key legislators. (See, Abe! I am aware of the Congress!) I will note my major complaint about all of this, though, after I cover the second objection.

The second objection is that these kinds of “strategies” are really just long political speeches focused on national security. There is a little in there for everyone, and everyone’s activities and opinions are at least acknowledged if not promoted. The document is, at the end of the day, intended more for external consumption than for internal use.

The problem with this is the internal leadership vacuum that results. Like it or not, people in the Departments of Defense, National Intelligence and State — not to mention USAID and the combatant commands — will refer back to this document to justify their programs and budget requests before both the administration and the Congress. And who can blame them? It’s an official document signed off on by POTUS himself. All of those good progressive voices who fret the military has too much power and is dictating strategy from below need to take note here: when you produce something-for-everyone documents like this NSS and the QDR which do not set firm priorities, you’re essentially asking departments and commanders below you in the food chain to set their own priorities. Or, at best, you are forcing them to constantly be seeking guidance as to what your true priorities are.

I may be asking for too much — I don’t know. But both the QDR and this NSS strike me as thoughtful, intelligent, comprehensive and … kinda empty. Because these documents do not establish clear priorities or recommendations, I am left studying the budget like everyone else for clues as to what the U.S. government’s real priorities are for national security.

UPDATE: More Drezner

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Yes, We Had To Use A Bob Marley YouTube For This Post

Alex Eichler at The Atlantic:

Kingston, Jamaica exploded in violence this week as local police and Jamaican soldiers tried to locate and apprehend Christopher Coke, an alleged drug lord wanted for trial in the United States. Coke, whom the U.S. considers one of the world’s most dangerous drug traffickers, is thought to be walled up in a housing complex in West Kingston. More than 1,000 soldiers and police officers have been deployed to the area in recent days, but Coke’s gunmen have returned fire, killing at least three. Violence has spread to other parts of the city, more than two dozen civilians have died, and the government has declared a state of emergency in Kingston. Meanwhile, the bloodshed has occasioned a number of observations about the role of the drug trade in Jamaican society.

Robert Mackey at NYT:

Before she left for work on Tuesday, Laura Redpath, a reporter for The Jamaica Gleaner, a Kingston newspaper, gave this summary of the latest reports from Television Jamaica on her Twitter feed:

Weapons have been confiscated and security personnel are going door-to-door to “flush out the gunmen”: TVJ

5 persons shot in ‘Monkey Town’ in Spanish Town #Jamaica: TVJ

Another Twitter user aggregating news reports is Chris Mills, the chief executive of Chrysalis Communications, a new media firm based in Jamaica. On his feed, Mr. Mills noted two hours ago that a local television journalist said some of those killed had been taken to a hospital in the capital:

Reporter on @CVMTV reports seeing a truck with human bodies parked outside/near the Kingston Public Hospital, Downtown Kingston

Within the past hour Mr. Mills posted a link to a graphic image uploaded to TwitPic this morning, which is said to show the bodies of three people killed in the violence.

As Janine Mendes-Franco of Global Voices Online pointed out in a post on Jamaican bloggers on Monday, Annie Paul, a Jamaican writer and critic, is also using her Twitter feed to aggregate reports and comment on the siege, although she is following events from outside the country while attending a conference in Barbados. On Monday, among snatches of information derived from online news sources, she posted this observation on what the chaos in the prime minister’s district of west Kingston means:

The pact between the criminals and the state has been broken, we are being shown the consequences of that rupture…

My colleague Marc Lacey explains that the criminal gangs are so powerful that “Jamaican politicians, no matter their party, know that their political survival often depends on the men Jamaicans call ‘dons,’ inner-city emperors who hold enormous sway over their communities and pull in huge sums from both legitimate and illegitimate means.”

Steven Taylor at PoliBlog:

First off, this is from the “You Can’t Make this Stuff Up” File:  a drug boss named Christopher Coke.

Second, the above would be more amusing if the current situation wasn’t so violent:

As hundreds of troops and police officers close in on alleged drug lord Christopher Coke, explosions and steady gun fire can be heard throughout the Tivoli Gardens neighborhood of Kingston, Jamaica. Plumes of smoke are rising from the barricaded community and journalists are hearing reports of as many as 15 dead, but caution that at this time they are unable to confirm that tally.

[…]

As many as 700 troops from the Jamaica Defence Force have been deployed in West Kingston, with 200 or more at the barricaded community, and according to authorities as many as 1000 police officers are also mobilized.

The goal of the operation is Coke’s arrest so that he can be extradited to the United States.  He has vowed that he will not surrender.

The Economist:

The risk of such mayhem is precisely why the prime minister had stalled on Mr Coke’s case, ever since the United States filed its extradition request last August. He only acted after being caught in a flip-flop over the hiring of Manatt, Phelps and Phillips, an American law firm, in the case. Mr Golding initially denied retaining the firm and subsequently admitted doing so, albeit using funds from his political party rather than the taxpayer. Facing calls to resign, he announced the government would comply with the order. Mr Coke laid low at first. But seemingly with an eye to the history books, he went for broke on Sunday: Labour Day commemorates the start of strikes and unrest in 1938, which left 46 dead and 429 injured.

The standoff could be resolved peacefully, as some reports claim Mr Coke’s lawyers are talking to American officials. He might feel safer in American hands than in the local prison where his father, from whom he is believed to have inherited control of the Shower Posse gang, burnt to death in 1992 while awaiting his own extradition. If he doesn’t surrender, however, more bloodshed is likely to ensue. Mr Coke could escalate the conflict by calling on armed backers elsewhere in the country, like the Stone Crusher gang in Montego Bay, a tourist haven, to stage further attacks.

The only other way for Mr Golding to restore calm without Mr Coke’s consent is legal acrobatics. The courts will hear a challenge to the extradition will be heard on May 31st. Before acceding to the request, the prime minister had contended that the wiretapping evidence on which it was based was illegal. Peter Phillips, a leading opposition member, said last Thursday that Mr Golding’s about-face could “by chance or design” undermine the legal case for sending Mr Coke to America—thus letting the prime minister off the hook.

Jane Engle at The LA Times:

The U.S. State Department is warning Americans against travel to Kingston, Jamaica, and surrounding areas “because of escalating violence, shootings and unrest” related to attempts to arrest Christopher “Dudus” Coke, an alleged trafficker of drugs and weapons.

On Tuesday, thousands of police and soldiers in the capital clashed with Coke’s defenders, and at least 30 people were reported killed, according to the Associated Press.

The State Department’s travel alert, issued Monday as an update to its May 21 alert, states that access to Kingston’s Norman Manley International Airport (KIN) “has been blocked on an intermittent basis by gun battles between criminal elements and police” and that some flights have been canceled.

UPDATE: Bob Mackey at NYT

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Break Out The Still, Hawkeye, It Looks Like You Have To Go Back

Streiff at Redstate:

At approximately 9:30pm local time on March 26 a ROK Navy Pohang class, the Cheonan, corvette was patrolling off Baengnyeong Island when it was torn in half by an underwater explosion. The explosion killed 46 ROK sailors and a diver died during subsequent recovery operations.

Suspicion immediately focused on the rogue regime now ruling North Korea, the DPRK. Today that suspicion was borne out.

South Korea will formally blame North Korea on Thursday for launching a torpedo at one of its warships in March, causing an explosion that killed 46 sailors and heightened tensions in one of the world’s most perilous regions, U.S. and East Asian officials said.

South Korea concluded that North Korea was responsible for the attack after investigators from Australia, Britain, Sweden and the United States pieced together portions of the ship at the port of Pyeongtaek, 40 miles southwest of Seoul. The Cheonan sank on March 26 after an explosion rocked the 1,200-ton vessel as it sailed on the Yellow Sea off South Korea’s west coast.

The officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because South Korea has yet to disclose the findings of the investigation, said subsequent analysis determined that the torpedo was identical to a North Korean torpedo that South Korea had obtained.

Rep. Ed Royce (R-California) at Heritage:

Will North Korea’s Kim Jong-il get away with murder?  That’s a question Koreans, and many in the region, are asking a month and a half after a South Korean naval vessel was sunk, killing 46.

An investigation, assisted by U.S. naval intelligence, and other international partners, is still ongoing.  Yet it’s all but certain that the Cheonan was torpedoed, an act of war.  While North Korean motives (escalation for aid? Kim Jong-il consolidating his power base? rogue captain?) remain the subject of debate, the destruction is clear.

What to do?  To read the press, the conventional wisdom is that South Korea would not dare retaliate, for fear of sparking a wider war and that any effort to take the issue to the U.N. Security Council for sanctions would meet China’s veto (Beijing just hosted Kim Jong-il on a state visit).  Some see the most likely scenario as the status quo – public condemnation, Beijing continuing to enable Pyongyang with aid and Washington happy not to rock the boat.  Watching the State Department spokesman dance around this issue, it’s pretty clear that Foggy Bottom wouldn’t be too bothered if the investigation was permanently “ongoing.”

Laura Rozen at Politico:

Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has asked Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to put North Korea back on the list of countries that sponsor terrorism.

The request comes as South Korea briefed diplomats today on the findings of an investigation into the sinking of the South Korean naval vessel, the Cheonan, in which 46 South Korean sailors died. Reports said the investigation implicated North Korea in launching the torpedo that sank the vessel in March.

“As the recent sinking of the Republic of Korea warship Cheonan has demonstrated, North Korea is, in fact, intent on pursuing the opposite policy of ours, namely, undermining peace and increasing tensions in northeast Asia,” Ackerman wrote Clinton in a letter.

“The apparently unprovoked sneak attack on the Cheonan, by North Korea, and the murder of 46 Republic of Korea sailors sailing in home waters, is a clear potential causus belli, and unquestionably the most belligerent and provocative incident since the 1953 armistice was established,” he continued.

Ackerman, chairman of the House Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, also said Pyongyang’s sales of ballistic missiles, artillery rockets and conventional arms to Hamas and Hezbollah warrant returning it to the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism.

The Bush administration removed North Korea from the list in 2008.

Michael C. Moynihan in Reason:

Former South Korean President Kim Dae Jung won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2000 for his efforts at reconciliation with the criminal regime in Pyongyang (the so-called Sunshine Policy), which provided North Korea with significant aid while getting almost nothing in return. The policy was abandoned in 2008 by President Lee Myung-bak, having done nothing to alleviate the squalid conditions suffered by the hostages of the Juche dictatorship. Now, how will President Lee respond to news that Cheonan naval ship was likely, though not definitively, sunk by a North Korean torpedo?

Joshua Stanton at The New Ledger:

The sinking of the Cheonan and North Korea’s recent attempt to assassinate a high-ranking defector inside South Korea suggest that we’ve entered a dangerous new phase of the dormant Korean War.  This unstable dormancy began with a 1953 cease fire, which North Korea unilaterally renounced last year.  North Korea appears to have chosen a strategy of provocation like the one it pursued in the late 196o’s, when it seized the U.S.S. Pueblo, killed several American soldiers and dozens of South Koreans in cross-DMZ raids, sent a team of commandos to Seoul kill the President of South Korea, and shot down an American surveillance aircraft, killing all 31 members of its crew.

This precedent suggests that Presidents Lee and Obama will soon face greater tests.  The question of how to respond to the sinking of the Cheonan may be only the first of these.  The last-minute cancellation of U.S. Forces Korea’s annual Noncombatant Evacuation Operation exercise, ostensibly to avoid the appearance of panic, suggest that both governments understand the gravity of the danger.  No one wants the people of Korea to hear “White Christmas” in May.

I’ve already explained why a direct military response would create an unacceptable risk of a catastrophic war and, most likely, would be precisely what Kim Jong Il needs to reconsolidate his rule and bequeath it to his unaccomplished son, Kim Jong Eun, at a time of rising discontent. Just about everyone agrees that a military response would be a bad idea. Here, the agreement ends.  The same foreign policy clique that has long advocated (as Christopher Badeaux has brilliantly put it) “managing” Kim Jong Il out of headlines, inevitably by paying him until he provokes us again, is now extending the argument that we lack good military options into the false contention that we have no options at all, except the one to which they are inextricably wedded:  appeasement.

Tom Ricks in Foreign Policy:

John Byron, our chief contrarian correspondent, recently wrote about stopping what he sees as the runaway military welfare train. The North Korean navy recently has provided an counter-example of what happens when a military is starved for support. North Korean patrol ships are getting pushy in contested waters, apparently because the crab season is about to begin, and (according to proven provider John McCreary) Pyongyang’s military mariners survive in part by crabbing and so in late spring start laying claim to crustacean-rich waters. I have this image in my head of the USS Harry S Truman cruising the Med with seine nets out.

UPDATE: Ed Morrissey

Joe Gandelman at Moderate Voice

Josh Rogin at Foreign Policy

Peter Worthington at FrumForum

UPDATE #2: Charli Carpenter and Daniel Drezner at Bloggingheads

More Drezner

UPDATE #3: Dave Schuler

UPDATE #4: Daniel Larison

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The Blog Posts Of Henry Kissinger

Peter Kornbluh at Politics Daily:

On the morning of Sept. 21, 1976, former Chilean foreign minister Orlando Letelier and two young colleagues drove to work in the scenic Washington neighborhood known as Embassy Row. As Letelier’s Chevrolet Chevelle passed the residency of the Chilean ambassador and rounded Sheridan Circle, a bomb placed under the driver’s seat by agents of the Chilean secret police detonated. Letelier, a vocal critic of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, died at the scene. His 26-year-old colleague, Ronni Karpen Moffitt, bled to death from a shard of metal that struck her jugular vein. Her husband, Michael Moffitt, was blown out the back window of the vehicle and survived.

Now, a newly declassified cable from then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger sheds more light on the action, and lack of action, taken by the U.S. government in the days leading up to that act of international terrorism in the capital city of the United States.

Five days before the Letelier-Moffitt assassination, Kissinger called off a planned warning to Pinochet and other South American military leaders against orchestrating “a series of international murders” of their opponents around the globe.

The secretary “has instructed that no further action be taken on this matter,” stated a September 16, 1976 cable sent from Africa, where Kissinger was traveling, to his Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American affairs, Harry Shlaudeman back in Washington. Using identical language, Shlaudeman passed on these instructions four days later to his deputy to be transmitted to U.S. ambassadors in Chile, Argentina and Uruguay.

That communication was obtained by The National Security Archive, a public interest research center specializing in the Freedom of Information Act and declassified documentation on U.S. foreign policy. The document and others previously obtained under the FOIA by the Archive have reopened a 34-year-old controversy about what Kissinger’s office and the CIA knew about “Operation Condor” — a clandestine rendition and assassination program among the Latin American military regimes led by Pinochet’s Chile.

The Kissinger communique, for the first time, ties the former secretary of state to a decision to withdraw a warning to Chile and its co-conspirators against international political assassination. But the documents offer few clues that would explain why Kissinger called off diplomatic pressure that, if delivered in a timely fashion, might have deterred the Washington, D.C., car bombing.

An inquiry to Kissinger’s spokesperson was not answered.

Jeff Kaye at Firedoglake:

According to a cable to FBI headquarters from FBI agent Robert Scherrer, who previously had worked with Paraguayan police in intelligence gathering on leftists, Operation Condor was work of “cooperating services in South America in order to eliminate Marxist terrorists and their activities in the area…. Chile is the center for Operation Condor, and in addition it includes Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay and Uruguay. Brazil has also tentatively agreed to supply input for Operation Condor.”

Scherrer, who later captured Letelier and Moffitt’s killer, continued:

A third and more secret phase of Operation Condor involves the formation of special teams from member countries to travel anywhere in the world to non-member countries to carry out sanctions, [including] assassination, against terrorists or supporters of terrorist organizations from Operation Condor member countries. For example, should a terrorist or a supporter of a terrorist organization from a member country be located in a European country, a special team from Operation Condor would be dispatched to locate and surveil the target. When the location and surveillance operation has terminated, a second team from Operation Condor would be dispatched to carry out the actual sanction against the target. Special teams would be issued false documentation from member countries of Operation Condor.

According to a 2005 BBC story, greater documentary evidence came to light in 1992, thanks to the chance discovery of a Paraguayan judge. “The archives counted 50,000 persons murdered, 30,000 “desaparecidos” and 400,000 incarcerated” (link).

The participation of U.S. military and intelligence agencies in facilitating Condor have been slow to surface, but there are some. In October 1978, a State Department cable from U.S. Ambassador to Paraguay Robert White, to Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, noted that the intelligence chiefs in Condor kept in touch with each other through encrypted messages sent through keep in touch with one another through “a U.S. communications installation in the Panama Canal Zone which covers all of Latin America.” White told Vance that since “there is [a] likelihood Condor will surface during Letelier trial in the U.S…. it would seem advisable to review this arrangement to insure that its continuation is in U.S. interest.”

Further declassifications of the Scherrer memo have shown that the Pentagon had quite detailed information about the mobilizations behind Condor operations.

Charles Johnson at Little Green Footballs

Matthew Yglesias:

The fact that this stayed classified for so long is yet another data point for the principle that we have far too much formal government secrecy in the United States. Recently there’s been a lot of emphasis on “transparency” in things like fundraising, earmarks, etc. And that’s all to the good. But the most important powers of the government are the life-and-death powers wielded by the national security establishment and they remain largely shrouded in secrecy. What operational danger would revealing the truth about this cable have created for the United States? It was just a decades-long effort to help Kissinger and the Ford administration evade democratic accountability for their policies.

Ken Silverstein at Harper’s:

You’d think that might merit a little bit of news pick-up and outrage. But so far most major outlets have ignored or downplayed the story. On Sunday, the Washington Post ran a short version of the AP story. It probably helps that Kissinger has had so many close friendships over the years with top Post editors and executives.

Scott Horton at Harper’s:

In 2001, former Harper’s Washington editor Christopher Hitchens published the essential facts in “The Case Against Kissinger,” describing the essential role that Kissinger played in the events that brought Pinochet to power and held him there. Kissinger’s relationship to “Operation Condor” is discussed at some length.

A “Condor” team also detonated a car bomb in downtown Washington, D.C., in September 1976, killing the former Chilean foreign minister, Orlando Letelier, and his aide, Ronni Moffitt. United States government complicity has been uncovered at every level of this network. It has been established, for example, that the FBI aided Pinochet in capturing Jorge Isaac Fuentes de Alarcon, who was detained and tortured in Paraguay, then turned over to the Chilean secret police and “disappeared.” Astonishingly, the surveillance of Latin American dissident refugees in the United States was promised to “Condor” figures by American intelligence.

As Hitchens notes, “a rule of thumb in Washington holds that any late disclosure by officialdom will contain material that is worse than even the cynics suspected.” The new documents clearly put Kissinger close to the scene of the crime, with greater knowledge and a more readily discernible wink to the assassination squads than even many of his enemies imagined. There is almost certainly more yet to come. In the meantime, Kissinger continues to face the prospect of arrest and prosecution when he travels abroad.

Chris Floyd at Empire Burlesque:

Poor old Henry Kissinger. All that botheration, all those lies, all the years of gut-churning anxiety about scandal, even prosecution — and for what? Mere complicity in state murder of foreigners carried out by a foreign government? Why, nowadays, we have U.S. presidents openly ordering the murder of American citizens, and nobody bats an eye. There is no scandal, no prosecution — there is not even any debate. It’s just a fact of life, ordinary, normal, unchangeable: the sun rises in the east, cows eat grass, rain is wet, American presidents murder people. What’s the big deal?

Anyway, thank God good old Hank is still with us, and that this honorable public servant has lived to see the day when honorable public servants (and so are they all, all honorable public servants) no longer have to worry about the petty snares of law as they go about their sacred duty of keeping us safe.

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