Tag Archives: Foreign Policy

So, What Happened Over The Weekend?

Ed Morrissey:

NBC has a fairly comprehensive report on the American attack on Libyan forces this morning, complete with totals thus far on cruise missiles (114 of them) and attacks by stealth bombers on air-defense systems, with 20 of those targeted. Military airstrips around the country have been bombed as well, up to 40 of them. Libya claims that 48 people have died as a result of those attacks, and Moammar Gaddafi gave the usual warning to the Muslim world that this was the start of a “crusader war” against an Arab nation. One piece of news might raise eyebrows — the US has sent fighter jets from Sicily to attack Gaddafi’s ground forces around Benghazi

That would seem to go beyond the UN mandate for a no-fly zone. The Pentagon tells NBC that their interpretation of the mandate is that they need to protect civilians, an interpretation that would leave practically no option off the table. Even without considering a ground invasion, it could mean that the US could attack Tripoli or practically any target they wish from the air or through off-shore cruise missiles. As Jim Miklaszewski reports, it looks as though the intent now is to utterly destroy Gaddafi’s army in an attempt to force him into retreat.

Not for nothing, but wasn’t that more or less our strategy in Iraq in 1990? We had a lot more firepower on target in that case, and it still took a ground invasion to eject Saddam Hussein from Kuwait — and that wasn’t his own territory, either. Had we done this four weeks ago, we could have protected a status quo, de facto liberation of Benghazi and other areas of Libya. Now, the Libyan position is so advanced that Gaddafi can likely abandon his armor in the city and reduce the rebels to destruction. It will just take a little longer. The time to stop Gaddafi from seizing Benghazi and stomping out the rebellion was when Gaddafi was bottled up in Tripoli.

Marc Lynch at Foreign Policy:

President Obama’s decision to join an international military intervention in Libya has met with a largely negative response in the United States across the political spectrum. Critics correctly point to a wide range of problems with the intervention: the absence of any clear planning for what comes after Qaddafi or for what might happen if there is an extended stalemate, doubts about the opposition, the White House’s ignoring of Congress and limited explanations to the American public, the selectivity bias in going to war for Libya while ignoring Bahrain and Yemen, the distraction from other urgent issues.  I have laid out my own reservations about the intervention here and here.

This emerging consensus misses some extremely important context, however. Libya matters to the United States not for its oil or intrinsic importance, but because it has been a key part of the rapidly evolving transformation of the Arab world.  For Arab protestors and regimes alike, Gaddafi’s bloody response to the emerging Libyan protest movement had become a litmus test for the future of the Arab revolution.  If Gaddafi succeeded in snuffing out the challenge by force without a meaningful response from the United States, Europe and the international community then that would have been interpreted as a green light for all other leaders to employ similar tactics. The strong international response, first with the tough targeted sanctions package brokered by the United States at the United Nations and now with the military intervention, has the potential to restrain those regimes from unleashing the hounds of war and to encourage the energized citizenry of the region to redouble their efforts to bring about change. This regional context may not be enough to justify the Libya intervention, but I believe it is essential for understanding the logic and stakes of the intervention by the U.S. and its allies.

Libya’s degeneration from protest movement into civil war has been at the center of the Arab public sphere for the last month. It is not an invention of the Obama administration, David Cameron or Nikolas Sarkozy.  Al-Jazeera has been covering events in Libya extremely closely, even before it tragically lost one of its veteran cameramen to Qaddafi’s forces, and has placed it at the center of the evolving narrative of Arab uprisings.  Over the last month I have heard personally or read comments from an enormous number of Arab activists and protest organizers and intellectuals from across the region that events in Libya would directly affect their own willingness to challenge their regimes. The centrality of Libya to the Arab transformation undermines arguments  that Libya is not particularly important to the U.S. (it is, because it affects the entire region) or that Libya doesn’t matter more than, say, Cote D’Ivoire (which is also horrible but lacks the broader regional impact).

The centrality of Libya to the Arab public sphere and to al-Jazeera carries a less attractive underside, though.  The focus on Libya has gone hand in hand with al-Jazeera’s relative inattention to next-door Bahrain, where a GCC/Saudi  intervention has helped to brutally beat back a protest movement and tried to cast it as a sectarian, Iranian conspiracy rather than as part of the narrative of Arab popular uprisings.  It has also distracted attention from Yemen, where rolling protests and mass government defections might finally today be bringing down the Ali Abdullah Saleh regime. The TV cameras have also largely moved on from the urgent issues surrounding the ongoing transitions in Tunisia and Egypt. Cynics might argue that the GCC and Arab League have been willing to support the intervention in Libya for precisely that reason, to keep the West distracted from their own depradations.

Finally, as I warned last week, Arab support for an intervention against Qaddafi to protect the Libyan people rapidly begins to fray when the action includes Western bombing of an Arab country. It should surprise nobody that the bombing campaign has triggered anger among a significant portion of the Arab public, which is still powerfully shaped by the Iraq war and aggrieved by perceived double standards (one of the most common lines in Arab debates right now is “where was the No Fly Zone over Gaza?”).  Amr Moussa’s flip-flopping on the Arab League’s stance towards the intervention should be seen as part of that tension between the desire to help the Libyan people and continuing suspicion of Western motives.  Skeptical voices matter too —  ignoring or ridiculing influential or representative voices simply because their message is unpalatable is a mistake too often made in this part of the world.

Amy Davidson at The New Yorker:

What are we doing in Libya? “Helping” is not a sufficient answer. President Obama said that, if we didn’t act, “many thousands could die…. The calls of the Libyan people for help would go unanswered.” But that is a motive, a desire—not a plan. Obama also said that America wouldn’t be leading operation Odyssey Dawn, just helping: our allies, particularly the French and British, had this one, and the Arab League would help by cheering. By Sunday, though, there was division in the Arab League, and there was something iffy to start with about making Nicolas Sarkozy the point man on anything. (One of the many, many things I wish I understood was what role French elections played in all of this.) Could Congress and the American people have maybe helped the Obama Administration think this one through?

Members of the Administration, including Tom Donilon, the national-security adviser, and Robert Gates, the Secretary of Defense, keep repeating the phrase “days, not weeks.” But what they are referring to is not the length of the operation but of America’s “leadership” of it. Who will take over? There is more clarity on that point than on the question of who will take over Libya if Qaddafi leaves, but that’s a pretty low bar: as Philip Gourevitch points out in his pointed summary of the questions attending this operation, we have no idea. Hillary Clinton talked about people around Qaddafi deciding to do something—the eternal desire for the convenient coup. Do we care who the plotters are?

Another thing that more people perhaps should have been clear about was the extent of Odyssey Dawn. The Times spoke of discomfort at how it had gone beyond a “simple ‘no-fly zone.’ ” But, despite the blank, pristine quality of the term, imposing a no-fly zone is not a simple, or clean and bloodless, thing, as if one simply turned a switch and the air cleared out. Pentagon spokesmen talked about hitting anti-aircraft installations, aviation centers, and “communication nodes.” Empty skies require rubble on the ground.

Lexington at The Economist:

For what it is worth, I welcome the fact that the world at last seems willing to exercise its so-called “duty to protect” people at risk from their own governments. The failures to do so in Rwanda and Darfur and so many other charnel houses is a blot on its conscience that will never be erased. But there is no escaping the fact that this new entanglement was decided upon behind closed doors at the UN and with very little public debate here in the United States. None of this will matter if the end comes quickly. But if things go wrong and America is drawn deeper in, the domestic consequences for the president could be far-reaching.

Tim Carney at The Washington Examiner:

At once presumptuous and flippant, President Obama used a Saturday audio recording from Brazil to inform Americans he had authorized a third war — a war in which America’s role is unclear and the stated objectives are muddled.

Setting aside the wisdom of the intervention, Obama’s entry into Libya’s civil war is troubling on at least five counts. First is the legal and constitutional question. Second is the manner of Obama’s announcement. Third is the complete disregard for public opinion and lack of debate. Fourth is the unclear role the United States will play in this coalition. Fifth is the lack of a clear endgame. Compounding all these problems is the lack of trust created by Obama’s record of deception.

“Today, I authorized the armed forces of the United States to begin a limited military action in Libya,” the president said. For him it was self-evident he had such authority. He gave no hint he would seek even ex post facto congressional approval. In fact, he never once mentioned Congress.

Since World War II, the executive branch has steadily grabbed more war powers, and Congress has supinely acquiesced. Truman, Johnson, Reagan, Clinton and Bush all fought wars without a formal declaration, but at least Bush used force only after Congress authorized it.

And, once more, the president’s actions belie his words on the campaign trail. In late 2007, candidate Obama told the Boston Globe, “The president does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.”

There is no claim that Moammar Gadhafi poses a threat to the United States. But asking President Obama to explain his change of heart would be a fruitless exercise. This is a president who has repeatedly shredded the clear meaning of words in order to deny breaking promises he has clearly broken — consider his continued blatant falsehoods on tax increases and his hiring of lobbyists.

James Fallows:

Count me among those very skeptical of how this commitment was made and where it might lead.

How it was made: it cannot reassure anyone who cares about America’s viability as a republic that it is entering another war with essentially zero Congressional consultation or “buy-in,” and with very little serious debate outside the Executive Branch itself. And there the debate was, apparently, mostly about changing the President’s own mind. I recognize that there are times when national safety requires an Administration to respond quickly, without enduring the posturing and institutionalized dysfunction that is the modern Congress. Without going through all the arguments, I assert that this is not such a moment. To be more precise: the Administration has not made the public case that the humanitarian and strategic stakes in Libya are so unique as to compel intervention there (even as part of a coalition), versus the many other injustices and tragedies we deplore but do not go to war to prevent. I can think of several examples in my current part of the world.

I didn’t like the “shut up and leave it to us” mode of foreign policy when carried out by people I generally disagreed with, in the Bush-Cheney era. I don’t like it when it’s carried out by people I generally agree with, in this Administration.

Where it might lead: The most predictable failure in modern American military policy has been the reluctance to ask, And what happens then? We invade Iraq to push Saddam Hussein from power. Good. What happens then? Obama increases our commitment in Afghanistan and says that “success” depends on the formation of a legitimate, honest Afghan government on a certain timetable. The deadline passes. What happens then? One reason why Pentagon officials, as opposed to many politicians, have generally been cool to the idea of “preventive” strikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities is that many have gone through the exercise of asking, What happens then?

Launching air strikes is the easiest, most exciting, and most dependably successful stage of a modern war, from the US / Western perspective. TV coverage is wall-to-wall and awestruck. The tech advantages are all on our side. Few Americans, or none at all, are hurt. It takes a while to see who is hurt on the ground.

But after this spectacular first stage of air war, what happens then? If the airstrikes persuade Qaddafi and his forces just to quit, great! But what if they don’t? What happens when a bomb lands in the “wrong” place? As one inevitably will. When Arab League supporters of the effort see emerging “flaws” and “abuses” in its execution? As they will. When the fighting goes on and the casualties mount up and a commitment meant to be “days, not weeks” cannot “decently” be abandoned, after mere days, with so many lives newly at stake? When the French, the Brits, and other allies reach the end of their military resources — or their domestic support — and more of the work naturally shifts to the country with more weapons than the rest of the world combined?  I usually do not agree with Peggy Noonan, but I think she is exactly right in her recent warning* about how much easier it is to get into a war than ever to get out. I agree more often with Andrew Sullivan, and I share his frequently expressed recent hopes that this goes well but cautions about why it might not. (Jeffrey Goldberg has asked a set of similar questions, here.)

Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo:

So let’s review: No clear national or even humanitarian interest for military intervention. Intervening well past the point where our intervention can have a decisive effect. And finally, intervening under circumstances in which the reviled autocrat seems to hold the strategic initiative against us. This all strikes me as a very bad footing to go in on.

And this doesn’t even get us to this being the third concurrent war in a Muslim nation and the second in an Arab one. Or the fact that the controversial baggage from those two wars we carry into this one, taking ownership of it, introducing a layer of ‘The West versus lands of Islam’ drama to this basically domestic situation and giving Qaddafi himself or perhaps one of his sons the ability to actually start mobilization some public or international opinion against us.

I can imagine many of the criticisms of the points I’ve made. And listening to them I think I’d find myself agreeing in general with a lot of it. But it strikes me as a mess, poorly conceived, ginned up by folks with their own weird agendas, carried out at a point well past the point that it was going to accomplish anything. Just all really bad.

Spencer Ackerman at Danger Room at Wired:

As the United Nations-sanctioned war against Libya moves into its third day, no U.S., French or British aircraft have been shot down by Libyan air defenses. Part of the credit should go to the Navy’s new jammer, which is making its combat debut in Operation Odyssey Dawn. But the jammer isn’t just fritzing Moammar Gadhafi’s missiles, it’s going after his tanks.

Vice Adm. Bill Gortney told the media on Sunday that the EA-18G Growler, a Boeing production, provided electronic warfare support to the coalition’s attacks on Libya. That’s the first combat mission for the Growler, which will replace the Navy’s Prowler jamming fleet. Only Gortney added a twist: not only did the Growler go after Libya’s surface-to-air missiles, it helped the coalition conduct air strikes on loyalist ground forces going after rebel strongholds.

According to Gortney, coalition air strikes “halted” the march of pro-Gadhafi troops 10 miles south of Benghazi, thanks to French, British and U.S. planes — including the Marine Corps’ Harrier jump jet — thanks in part to Growler support. There’s no word yet on whether the Growler’s jamming functions disrupted any missiles that the pro-Gadhafi forces carried, or fried any communications the Libyan loyalists attempted to make back to their command. But Robert Wall of Aviation Week notes that the continued “risk from pop-up surface to air missile firings” prompts the need for Growlers above Libya.

And expect the Growler to keep up the pressure. The Pentagon plans to transfer control of Odyssey Dawn from Gen. Carter Ham and U.S. Africa Command to an as yet undetermined multinational command entity — at which point, the U.S. is expected to take a backseat in combat missions. But it’ll continue to contribute “unique capabilities” to the Libya mission. Namely, Gortney specified, “specialty electronic airplanes” such as the Growler. (And refueling tankers, spy planes, cargo haulers and command n’ control aircraft.) No wonder Defense Secretary Robert Gates hearts it so much.

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The Raymond Davis Case

Rick Moran:

Raymond Davis, the alleged CIA contract employee who was charged with murder in Pakistan after gunning down two would be robbers, has been freed by a Pakistani court.

Pakistan’s English language daily Dawn reports:

A Pakistan court on Wednesday freed CIA contractor Raymond Davis, who was accused of murdering two men in Lahore, after blood money was paid in accordance with sharia law, the Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah said.“The family members of the slain men appeared in the court and independently verified they had pardoned him (Davis),” provincial law minister Rana Sanaullah told a private television.

“He has been released from jail. Now it is up to him. He can go wherever he wants,” he added.

The lawyer representing the victims, Asad Manzoor Butt, said he was not allowed to appear for the hearing. The lawyer alleged that Davis possibly escaped from the prison with the consent of the authorities, DawnNews reported.

The lawyer further claimed that he was kept in unlawful confinement, according to DawnNews.

PML-N spokesman Pervez Rasheed the Punjab government was not involved in the release of Davis, DawnNews reported.

Could all of that be true? Anything is possible but Dawn is not the most reliable media outlet. At the time of Davis’ arrests, they reported that the two street thugs he shot were “commuters.”

Spencer Ackerman at Danger Room at Wired:

All it took was cash to end an acrimonious spy standoff between the U.S. and its Pakistani frenemy.

Raymond Davis, a CIA contractor held in a Pakistani jail since late January, is a free man. He reportedly left Kot Lakhpat prison after family members of the two men Davis allegedly killed agreed to accept $700,000 per family in compensation for their losses.  (The exact total is in some dispute.) Blood money: it works.

To say the case inflamed Pakistan is an understatement. Some 47 people signed up to give witness statements in Davis’ scheduled trial, including cops and hospital workers. Little wonder: while Pakistan’s government and military tolerates the CIA’s drone strikes in the tribal areas, popular sentiment is outraged by the presence of American spies roving Pakistani streets, as Davis apparently was.

A Pakistani court charged him with murder — Davis claims he shot the two men in self-defense when they attempted to rob him — and declined to rule on his claims of diplomatic immunity, something Washington insists Davis possesses. But that’s now overtaken by events: the Guardian’s Declan Walsh tweets that Davis is “en route to Kabul, landing shortly.”

Rep. Mike Rogers, the chairman of the House intelligence committee, praised Davis’ release and blasted Pakistan for detaining him in the first place. “If Pakistan wants to be taken seriously as a state based on the rule of law, it must respect its international obligations,” Rogers said in a statement. “Pakistan and the U.S. cooperate on many levels because it is in our mutual interest. Irresponsible behavior like this jeopardizes everything our two nations have built together.”

Huma Imtiaz at Foreign Policy:

As March 16th dawned over Pakistan, perhaps no one except for the powers-that-be realized that Raymond Davis would soon be free.

Earlier in the morning, the Lahore Sessions Court had indicted Davis, a CIA contractor, for murder, after he allegedly shot dead Faizan Haider and Mohammad Faheem in Lahore this past January 27.

Hours later, the news broke that Davis was a free man, after he paid blood money to the families of Faizan and Faheem. According to Geo News, Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah announced that the families had forgiven Davis, and been paid blood money under the Shariah law of Qisas and Diyat.  Another report aired on the channel said that 18 members of both families had announced in front of the judge in Kot Lakhpat jail that they had forgiven Raymond Davis, after which cash was handed over to the families. However, the families’ lawyer Asad Manzoor Butt told Geo News that they were forcibly made to forgive Davis, after being led to jail by a man without identification.

Munawar Hasan, leader of the right-wing religious party Jamaat-e-Islami, reacted to the news by accusing the government of being slaves of the United States. “They should know that traitor governments do not last for very long,” he said. “They have mocked the law, and the families were forcibly made to sign the Diyat document. Davis was involved with terrorist organizations, and yet they have let him go. The ISI claims to love the country, but they sell people to the States in exchange for dollars, they have failed in their love for the nation today.” Hasan says protests against the release of Raymond Davis will be held in the major cities of Pakistan.

Conflicting reports have emerged about how much money has been paid to the families. Sources on various TV channels aired figures ranging from Rs. 60 million to Rs. 200 million (approximately $700,000 to $2,350,000). Davis’ whereabouts are also unknown – Dunya News said he had flown to the United States, whereas Geo News claimed he had flown to Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. Another story attributed to “sources” on Geo News also said that Faizan’s widow Zehra had allegedly left for the United States.

Omar Waraich at Time:

Under Pakistani law, “blood money” is a legal means of securing forgiveness from the victims. Under the qasas and diyat laws, derived from Islamic jurisprudence, a court can release an accused person if the victim’s family agrees to a satisfactory cash settlement. The Shari’a-based laws are invoked in the majority of murder cases, Pakistani legal experts say. According to government officials in Punjab, Davis was charged with murder on Wednesday but then acquitted after the families of the two victims said in court that they forgave the CIA contractor and submitted documents attesting to that. Senior Pakistani officials told TIME that each victim’s family received $700,000 in compensation — for a total of $1.4 million.

David Ignatius at WaPo:

This deal had four principal architects: Hussein Haqqani, Pakistan’s ambassador to Washington, who shared the “blood money” idea with Sen. John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Kerry then traveled to Pakistan, where me met with President Asif Ali Zardari, with the leaders of the Punjab government that was holding Davis, and with top officials of the ISI. Haqqani also visited CIA Director Leon Panetta the evening of Feb. 28 to share the “blood money” idea with him, according to a U.S. official. The final details were worked out by Panetta and ISI Director-General Ahmed Shuja Pasha.

U.S. and Pakistani sources said the process that led to Davis’s release Wednesday included a series of steps: First, the U.S. agreed to pay compensation to the families of the two Pakistanis Davis killed on Jan. 27. A Pakistani lawyer quoted by the Associated Press said the total payments amounted to $2.3 million. Another Pakistani source told me the payments were less than $1 million for each family. According to a U.S. official, the actual negotiations were conducted by Pakistanis, but the U.S. has agreed to pay the bill.

After the families reached the private financial agreement and formally forgave Davis, the settlement was recognized by the trial court in Punjab, which could then dismiss the murder charges under what is described as a standard process in Pakistani murder cases. With the murder charges dismissed, the Punjabi court resolved lesser charges against Davis, and he was freed.

An important aspect of the settlement, for the U.S., was that the principal of diplomatic immunity was never formally challenged in Pakistani courts. The Pakistani High Court refused to rule on the question and the trial court didn’t make a finding, either. That was crucial for the U.S., which feared that a legal challenge to its claim of immunity for Davis would expose hundreds of other undercover agents around the world who rely on the legal protection of their formal status as “diplomats.

John Ellis at Business Insider:

The ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, emerged the winner in the show-down over the fate of CIA operative Raymond Davis.

The US position was that Mr. Davis was in Pakistan on a diplomatic passport, that he enjoyed all the privileges of that status and that the charges of murder lodged against him (he shot two Pakistanis, he says, in self-defense, which is almost certainly true) were therefore null and void.

[…]

Officially, Pakistan gets nearly $2 billion annually in foreign aid from the US.  And that figure is the public number. The actual number is much higher.  How it is that the American government can get jerked around by a government that enjoys such vast US support is a mystery.  But that’s what happened.

Lisa Curtis at Heritage:

Despite years of working closely to target al-Qaeda and other terrorists in Pakistan, the ISI and CIA had seen their relationship begin to fray, partly over Pakistan’s handling of terrorist group Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LeT), which was responsible for the November 2008 Mumbai attacks. Pakistani-American David Headley, who was arrested in Chicago in October 2009 and later charged by a U.S. court with facilitating the Mumbai attacks as well as a planned terror attack in Denmark, revealed to interrogators that he was in close contact with Pakistani intelligence. As a result, the families of the six American victims of the Mumbai attack filed charges in a New York court against the head of Pakistan’s intelligence service, General Shujah Pasha, for involvement in the attacks. Pasha’s tenure as Director General of the ISI was recently extended by one year by Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani.

Adding fuel to the fire, the CIA station chief in Islamabad was forced to leave the country last December after his cover was blown in the Pakistani media.

While resolution of the Davis case may help to cool tempers between the ISI and CIA in the immediate term, so long as Pakistan resists taking serious action against terrorist groups like the LeT, tensions in the relationship will persist.

Washington is increasingly and rightly concerned about the global reach of the LeT and the potential for the group to conduct a Mumbai-type of attack on U.S. soil. It is highly likely that the CIA had recently sought to develop independent sources of secret information on the group in Pakistan to avert such a possibility. Many analysts argue that the LeT is focused primarily on India and thus has little motivation to attack the U.S. directly. However, the skill with which U.S. citizen David Headley operated in close collaboration with the LeT for so many years has raised concern about the LeT’s level of sophistication and its potential capability to conduct an attack in the U.S. if it so chooses.

The Pakistani authorities must now brace for the public reaction to the release of Davis. The religious parties held numerous protests over the past several weeks against Davis’s release. Whether the Pakistani security establishment will be able to use their links to the religious parties to temper their response remains to be seen. Following the Pakistani military storming of the Red Mosque in Islamabad in July 2007, the religious parties strongly criticized the operation, but their public protests were muted. The Pakistani Taliban, which has conducted numerous suicide attacks inside Pakistan over the last three years, will almost certainly react with further violence in retaliation for Davis’s release.

While the release of Raymond Davis is indisputably good news for the U.S and may temporarily improve ties between our two intelligence agencies, it could also heighten anti-American sentiment in Pakistan, especially if the initial news reports that the families were pressured into accepting the blood money gain traction. While one diplomatic dispute between the U.S. and Pakistan has found resolution, the fundamental challenges to the relationship certainly remain.

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Looking Away From Japan For One Moment..

The Week:

Saudi Arabia sent 1,000 soldiers into neighboring Bahrain on Monday to help quell increasingly violent anti-government protests. While Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Issa al-Khalifah, a Sunni Muslim, has offered to start a dialogue with the mostly Shiite protesters, opposition leaders have refused, demanding that the government step down, and calling the arrival of foreign troops an invasion. Saudi Arabia has problems with its own Shiite minority, and fears the unrest in Bahrain could spill over into its own oil-rich kingdom. Will the Saudis be able to quash the unrest in Bahrain?

Bruce McQuain:

Yes it’s another fine mess.  Of course while the Japanese tragedy and the struggles with their nuclear power plants has sucked all the air out of news elsewhere, there is, in fact much news elsewhere.  And not the least of it is coming out of the Middle East where Saudi troops, as a part of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), moved into Bahrain ostensibly to “guard government facilities”.

The GCC is composed of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE, Bahrain, Oman and Kuwait.   It was created in 1991 (think Iraq invasion of Kuwait), the 6 members share common borders and are committed by their charter to help each other in times of need.

The action by the GCC, as you might imagine, is in direct conflict with how the White House has indicated it would prefer the situation in Bahrain be resolved.  Obviously that’s not carried much weight with the GCC.

The move created another quandary for the Obama administration, which obliquely criticized the Saudi action without explicitly condemning the kingdom, its most important Arab ally. The criticism was another sign of strains in the historically close relationship with Riyadh, as the United States pushes the country to make greater reforms to avert unrest.

Other symptoms of stress seem to be cropping up everywhere.

Saudi officials have made no secret of their deep displeasure with how President Obama handled the ouster of the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, charging Washington with abandoning a longtime ally. They show little patience with American messages about embracing what Mr. Obama calls “universal values,” including peaceful protests.

The GCC move has prompted both Robert Gates, Secretary of Defense and Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State, to cancel upcoming visits to Saudi Arabia.

Again, the apparent genesis of these tensions appear to be related to the way the US handled Egypt.  It has caused the Saudis and other GCC nations to trust the US less than before:

The latest tensions between Washington and Riyadh began early in the crisis when King Abdullah told President Obama that it was vital for the United States to support Mr. Mubarak, even if he began shooting protesters. Mr. Obama ignored that counsel. “They’ve taken it personally,” said one senior American familiar with the conversations, “because they question what we’d do if they are next.”

Since then, the American message to the Saudis, the official said, is that “no one can be immune,” and that the glacial pace of reforms that Saudi Arabia has been engaged in since 2003 must speed up.

Obviously the Saudi’s have their own ideas of how to handle this and apparently aren’t taking kindly to the US attempting to dictate how it should handle it’s internal affairs.  And, given the treatment of Mubarak, the Saudi rulers can’t help but feel that they’re just as likely to be thrown under the bus if protests were to escalate as was Mubarak.

Consequently, they’ve decided to go their own way and handle it with force within the GCC  while throwing money at the problem within the Saudi Kingdom.  Speaking of the latter:

One of President Obama’s top advisers described the moves as more in a series of “safety valves” the Saudis open when pressure builds; another called the subsidies “stimulus funds motivated by self-preservation.”

Saudi officials, who declined to comment for this article to avoid fueling talk of divisions between the allies, said that the tensions had been exaggerated and that Americans who criticized the pace of reforms did not fully appreciate the challenges of working in the kingdom’s ultraconservative society.

Of course the difference between their “stimulus funds” and ours is they actually have the money.   But it is ironic to see the adviser describe “stimulus funds” in those terms isn’t it?  The actual point here should be evident though.  The GCC has rejected the “Bahrain model” as the desired method of addressing the unrest.  As you recall that was the “regime alteration” model, v. the regime change model.

Spencer Ackerman at Danger Room at Wired:

It’s a move that undercuts the Obama administration’s rosy portrayal of the monarchy. Despite a paroxysm of violence in February when security forces attacked protesters in the capitol city of Manama, “today, the Pearl Roundabout in Bahrain is a place of nonviolent activism,” Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, assured reporters on March 1. After a visit last week to Bahrain, home to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, Gates said he was convinced the royals “are serious about real reform.”

If so, that lasted until about when Gates’ plane went wheels-up. Security forces are now trying to clear Manama’s financial district of protesters, firing tear gas canisters into demonstrators’ chests. About 1000 Saudi troops entered Bahrain on Monday, ostensibly to protect government installations, but protesters at the Pearl Roundabout set up barricades in preparation for the Saudis attacking them. The leading Shia opposition party, Wefaq, called it a “declaration of war and an occupation.”

And it’s not just the Saudis. Hussein Ibish of the American Task Force on Palestine tweeted that forces from the United Arab Emirates are also entering Bahrain, fulfilling a mandate from the Gulf Cooperation Council to protect the royals.

Matthew Yglesias:

I wish folks urging the United States to start a war in Libya would think a bit more about the situation in Bahrain: “The king of Bahrain declared a three-month state of emergency on Tuesday as more than 10,000 protesters marched on the Saudi Arabian embassy here to denounce a military intervention by Persian Gulf countries the day before.”

I don’t think the US military should attack Bahrain’s forces or Saudi Arabia’s any more than I think we should attack Libyas. But it seems overwhelmingly likely to me that if the Secretary of Defense were to call the relevant royal families and say that the United States does not intend to sell weapons in the future to countries that use them to crack down on peaceful democratic protestors, that this would be an important spur to political change. It’d be radically cheaper than a war with Libya and more effective than a war with Libya. If the answer is “well, America likes its client states just fine and doesn’t actually care about human rights in Arab countries” then maybe that’s all there is to say about it, but for people to run around the op-ed pages talking about no-fly zones in North Africa seems to me like it’s dodging the real question here. My view is that despotism can hardly be expected to last in the Gulf forever so getting on the right side of inevitable change will serve any meaningful conception of interests just as well as trying to prolong the inevitable will.

Ed Morrissey:

This will put a new wrinkle in the American reaction to the unrest.  Bahrain has a constitutional monarchy, as noted above, with a more liberal political environment than Saudi Arabia.  Both, however, are American allies; Bahrain has a free-trade agreement with the US.  Women have the right to vote and to seek education, which is much different than the Saudis.  The people have demonstrated peacefully for the most part in the Pearl Roundabout in the capital of Manama, but government forces used live ammunition to attempt to drive them out on at least two occasions last month.  They claim to want a republic based on representative democracy, exactly as protesters in Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia demanded — and which the US endorsed in those instances, to vacillating and varying degrees.

Now that one US ally has more or less invaded another, Grenada-style, at the request of a monarchy that has fired on its own people to maintain its power, what will Barack Obama do?  The Saudis clearly see the threat in Bahrain as a potential destabilizing force in their own country as well as fearing a growth of Shi’ite power in the region with the takeover of Bahrain.  Will Obama tell the Saudis to stand down and let the people of Bahrain settle their own accounts despite their probably-legitimate fears, or will he side with the Saudis for the status quo while the rest of the Arab world gets turned upside down?  Frankly, there aren’t a lot of great options here.

Dov Zakheim at Foreign Policy:

It should come as no surprise that Saudi Arabia has come to the aid of Bahrain’s royal family with about one thousand troops crossing the causeway between the two countries. If more troops are needed to ensure that the al-Khalifa regime does not fall, the Saudis will oblige. Put simply, Riyadh cannot tolerate Shiite domination of its offshore island, whether or not the al-Khalifas remain in power.

A Bahrain that is ruled by its Shiite majority is one-third of the ultimate nightmare for the Sunni rulers of the desert kingdom. The other two-thirds are a revolt by the Shiite majority in Saudi Arabia’s oil-rich Eastern Province, which could spill over from the troubles in neighboring Bahrain and a massive influx of Yemenis, many of whom are adherents of the Zaidi branch of Islam, and have little in common with Saudi Wahhabism.

Stability in Bahrain is therefore crucial for the long-term future of the al-Saud family as rulers of their eponymous kingdom. Indeed, Saudi Arabia’s rulers fully recognize that because memories in the Middle East are very long, the fact that the Hejaz was a separate Arabian kingdom as recently as the 1920s until it was conquered by Ibn Saud and merged with his kingdom of the Nejd means that the break-up of their country is hardly impossibility.

Other Gulf States, notably Kuwait, whose rulers are close to the al-Khalifa, may join the Saudi effort to stabilize Bahrain. So might the UAE, which shares Saudi fears of Iranian domination of the island, which was once an Iranian province, and which continues to smart over the Iranian seizure of its islands of Abu Musa and the Tunbs in 1971.

Blake Hounshell at Foreign Policy:

But outside of Tunisia and Egypt, Arab dreams are fast becoming Arab nightmares. In Libya, a spontaneous popular uprising is turning into a civil war — one that the rebels are rapidly losing. In Bahrain, protests that began as a call for civil rights and constitutional reform have devolved into ugly sectarian street battles; and as Saudi forces intervene to protect the ruling Sunni monarchy, the situation risks sparking a proxy struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Yemen is kicking out foreign journalists as tribes cowboy up and activists talk of an impending bloodbath. Iraq’s hapless government is clamping down on political freedom. And all of this is taking place against the backdrop of rising oil prices, a hopelessly stalled Middle East peace process, and an epic natural disaster in the world’s No. 3 economy.

There are some bright spots: Morocco’s King Mohammed VI seems to understand at some level that he needs to embrace change lest he be swept up by it; Jordan has remained surprisingly calm even though its monarch, King Abdullah II, has thus far only pretended to get it; Kuwait already had a relatively vibrant political scene; and quiescent Qatar and the go-go United Arab Emirates don’t seem at risk of any unrest whatsoever. But in general, the region’s autocrats are responding as they always have to popular anger: with a combination of brute force, comically half-baked reforms, and economic bribes.

What will happen next is anybody’s guess, but I find it hard to be optimistic in the short term. Much depends on how the democratic transitions in Tunisia and especially Egypt go, but it will be many months before the dust settles there. In the meantime, the rest of the region is ablaze. And as they did with Iraq, Arab leaders will now eagerly point to Libya and Bahrain as cautionary examples of what happens when citizens to the streets.

Meanwhile, the region’s two traditional problem children — Lebanon and Palestine — haven’t even joined the fray yet. Burgeoning youth protest movements in both places are calling on their bickering, ineffective leaders to get their acts together in the name of national unity, but the forces of the status quo are far stronger. It’s hard to imagine Hezbollah and Lebanon’s March 14 movement in Lebanon, or Fatah and Hamas in Palestine, putting aside their differences and coming together for the common good. And Iran and its pal Syria haven’t begun to make trouble yet. Now that Saudi Arabia has thrown down the gauntlet in Bahrain, the gloves may come off — especially if the U.N. special tribunal ever gets around to indicting Hezbollah figures for the murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri.

None of this is to say that there is some magic formula that the United States could have employed to avoid this dangerous state of affairs. U.S. influence in the region is fast evaporating, as evidenced by the fact that its ostensible allies — Israel and Saudi Arabia — are now flaunting their rejection of Washington’s advice: Benjamin Netanyahu is reportedly about to debut an absurdly disingenuous peace initiative, and Saudi troops just rolled into Bahrain a day after U.S. Defense Secretary Bob Gates urged King Hamad to compromise and embrace political reform. The Pentagon didn’t even get a courtesy call.

But what happens next will have huge repercussions for U.S. national security, and will present President Obama will terrible dilemmas in the region. If Saudi troops kill Shiites in Bahrain using American weapons, what will he say or do? Iran wasn’t behind any of these uprisings, but if it starts creating mischief, how should he respond? What if Yemen turns into another Somalia? What if Palestinians rise up against Israel in a third intifada? If Egypt’s transition goes badly? Right now, coming up with tough questions is a lot easier than providing answers.

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Ah, Paging Mike Kinsley…

Chris Rovzar at New York Magazine:

Speaking to a small group at MIT, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said that accused WikiLeaker Bradley Manning is “in the right place” in federal custody, but the way he has been treated is “ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid.” Just now, ABC News’ Jake Tapper asked President Obama about the comments in the White House Briefing Room. “With respect to Private Manning, I have actually asked the Pentagon whether the procedures that have been taken in terms of his confinement are appropriate and are meeting basic standards,” Obama replied. “They assured me that they are. I can’t go into details about some of their concerns, but some of that has to do with Private Manning’s safety as well.” In other news, apparently Manning’s no longer sleeping naked: Now he gets to have a “suicide-proof” sleeping smock.

Hilary Clinton:

Resignation of Philip J. Crowley as Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs

Press Statement

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
March 13, 2011

It is with regret that I have accepted the resignation of Philip J. Crowley as Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs. PJ has served our nation with distinction for more than three decades, in uniform and as a civilian. His service to country is motivated by a deep devotion to public policy and public diplomacy, and I wish him the very best. Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary (PDAS) Michael Hammer will serve as Acting Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs.

STATEMENT BY PHILIP J. CROWLEY

The unauthorized disclosure of classified information is a serious crime under U.S. law. My recent comments regarding the conditions of the pre-trial detention of Private First Class Bradley Manning were intended to highlight the broader, even strategic impact of discrete actions undertaken by national security agencies every day and their impact on our global standing and leadership. The exercise of power in today’s challenging times and relentless media environment must be prudent and consistent with our laws and values.

Given the impact of my remarks, for which I take full responsibility, I have submitted my resignation as Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs and Spokesman for the Department of State.

I am enormously grateful to President Obama and Secretary Clinton for the high honor of once again serving the American people. I leave with great admiration and affection for my State colleagues, who promote our national interest both on the front lines and in the quiet corners of the world. It was a privilege to help communicate their many and vital contributions to our national security. And I leave with deep respect for the journalists who report on foreign policy and global developments every day, in many cases under dangerous conditions and subject to serious threats. Their efforts help make governments more responsible, accountable and transparent.

Josh Rogin at Foreign Policy:

Crowley’s Twitter personality mirrored his real-life personality — affable, edgy, sometimes sarcastic, and occasionally a little off-message. Crowley’s energy and willingness to take measured risks by going beyond the Obama administration’s standard talking points is what endeared him to the reporters he worked with each day. It was that same openness that cost him his job, after he admitted that he believed the Marine Corps’ treatment of alleged WikiLeaks source Private Bradley Manning was “ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid.”

Crowley’s last tweet before resigning was a gem, but he deleted it. “We’ve been watching hopeful #tsunami sweep across #MiddleEast. Now seeing a tsunami of a different kind sweep across Japan,” read the March 11 tweet.

Of the remaining 400-plus tweets he sent out to his 24,000-plus followers, here are The Cable‘s top 10, in reverse chronological order:

  1. March 1, 7:08 a.m.: “#Qaddafi tells #ABCNews: All my people with me, they love me. They will die to protect me. The #Libyan people tell Qaddafi: You go first!”
  2. Feb. 26, 7:37 a.m.: “Despite #Qaddafi‘s hardly sober claim that the protesters are on drugs, the people of #Libya are clear-eyed in their demand for change.”
  3. Feb. 22, 7:28 p.m.: “We are surprised that #Argentina has chosen not to resolve a simple dispute involving training equipment. And we still want our stuff back.”
  4. Feb. 16, 7:56 a.m.: “#KimJongIl‘s son attended an #EricClapton concert in Singapore? Actually, the #DearLeader himself would benefit from getting out more often.”
  5. Jan. 22, 5:40 a.m.: “The claim by the lawyer for #JulianAssange that his client could go to #Guantanamo is pure legal fantasy. Save it for the movie.”
  6. Dec. 24, 12:40 p.m.: “The legal export of popcorn, chewing gum, cake sprinkles and hot sauce is not propping up the Iranian government. #Iran
  7. Oct. 28, 4:30 p.m.: “Happy birthday President #Ahmadinejad. Celebrate by sending Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer home. What a gift that would be. #Iran
  8. Aug. 27, 5:38 p.m.: “Americans should heed our #travel warning and avoid North Korea. We only have a handful of former Presidents. http://go.usa.gov/cAO #DPRK
  9. Aug. 20, 11:34 a.m.: “North #Korea has joined #Facebook, but will it allow its citizens to belong? What is Facebook without friends?”
  10. May 18, 10:37 p.m.: “It doesn’t take a reading test to recognize misguided legislation. I have read the #Arizona law. Comprehensive reform is the right answer.”

Mike Konczal at Rortybomb:

This argument is the liberal argument.  This is what distinguishes liberals from conservatives in this space.   The liberal argument isn’t that we have an extensive, unaccountable security state and feel really bad about it (while the conservative argument is that we cheerlead it), it’s that this kind of state is a bad deal.  The machine Cheney et al were operating in the dark, away from any oversight gave us no useful intelligence, corrupted offices, people and practices, and left us less safe than had we not done anything.   This is the argument I find convincing.  That Obama campaigned as the constitutional law professor from Chicago who could push back on the 8-year power grab was one reason I found him so compelling as a candidate.

P.J. Crowley has a distinguished career, retiring from the Air Force as a Colonel, and it’s good to see him stand by his statement after resigning. When I combine things like this with the administration’s aggressive war on whistleblowers it makes me think this has been a complete disaster at reform in the security-surveillance state.   What can be done about this?

Three related: 1. Kudos to the people who cover this material. Glenn Greenwald, FDL, Adam Serwer, etc. I can link to an unemployment number to tell you what you already know – things are bad in the economy. That Obama has an aggressive war on whistleblowers when he campaigned to expand their protections is a tough narrative to establish, especially since everyone has wanted to believe otherwise in the liberal space.

2. Emptywheel has a post about the Brothers Daley and torture, relating Bill Daley’s comment – “he’s done” – to the sordid history of Richard Daley’s time as a prosecutor and Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge’s torture of African-American residents of Chicago during interrogations. I’ve talked with people who know the Burge situation well from Chicago, and when I ask how could it happen I always get some variety of “that’s how things were done back then.” I worry that a “that’s how things are done” is taking to the surveillance state now that Obama hasn’t broke it but instead established and, in some cases, expanded it.

3. Robert Chlala at Jadaliyya has a post – Of Predators and Radicals: King’s Hearings and the Political Economy of Criminalization – that gives a disturbing look at where all this can go. Discussing “From Super Predator to Predator Drone” Chlala argues that the current work done on Muslim so-called radicalization in America looks very similar to the African-American “youth gang” hysteria of the 1990s, an argument that lead to a massive expansion of the incarceration state along with a political ideology of making “state violence the only solution to social questions…while nurturing a broader racialized political economy of fear that entwines media, police, military, prisons, urban “entrepreneurs,” and security/crime “experts” towards the solidification of the neoliberal punitive state.” We’ve seen where this hysteria leads. Serious leadership and mechanisms for accountability when it fails is needed.

David Weigel:

It sounds even stranger when you type it out: the spokesman for the Secretary of State resigned over comments he made at a seminar of around 20 people at MIT. It sounds so strange that the Guardian muddled it a bit in one of the first stories on the matter.

Hillary Clinton‘s spokesman has launched a public attack on the Pentagon for the way it is treating military prisoner Bradley Manning, the US soldier suspected of handing the US embassy cables to WikiLeaks.

Not really; it was a non-reported, non-televised talk to a small group that happened to be blogged. He wasn’t saying he spoke for the administration, much less that he knew the facts of the case. It was a comment in confidence; that was enough to embarrass the administration and boost him out.

John Hinderaker at Powerline:

Reflexive leftism is pretty common at State, and I suppose this was a classic gaffe, i.e., Crowley said what he actually believed. Still, it is hard to understand how Crowley could have thought it would be OK to slam the Defense Department. Isn’t the State Department supposed to be all about diplomacy? Isn’t it a bit weird that they can’t come up with a spokesman who is diplomatic enough not to insult the guys on his own side?

Rick Moran:

The military says that Manning is on suicide watch which necessitates his being stripped to make sure he can’t harm himself. If Crowley thinks that’s “ridiculous” he also thinks the Defense Department are violating the law by enforcing common sense procedures to make sure we have a live suspect to stand trial and not a dead martyr.

Crowley’s position simply became untenable.

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And The Verdict Is… Open!

Eli Lake at The Washington Times:

President Obama on Monday lifted the ban he imposed two years ago on military trials for detainees at the Guantanamo Bay prison, ending his bid to move most terrorism trials to civilian courts and pushing his already busted deadline for shuttering the island prison indefinitely forward.

The reversal came as Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates visited Afghanistan and indicated that he was willing to keep a presence of U.S. forces in the war-torn country beyond the Obama administration’s 2014 pullout goal, highlighting again the difficulty the president has had moving from the policies of President George W. Bush.

Mr. Obama announced the Guantanamo decision in an executive order that also sets forth a periodic review process for detainees who have not been charged or convicted but are still considered threats to the U.S.

White House aides stressed that Mr. Obama remains committed to closing the prison, which he has described as a key recruiting tool for terrorist groups, and pursuing some cases in civilian courts. Mr. Obama vowed during the campaign to close the prison by the end of 2009, his first year in office.

Massimo Calabresi at Swampland at Time:

All of this responds to Obama’s archives speech of May 2009, where he walked back his more progressive January 2009 position but tried to retain a bulwark of detention and prosecution principles for terrorism detainees. Since then, Congress has passed laws blocking the closure of Gitmo by preventing the transfer of detainees by the executive branch. House and Senate Republicans (McKeon and Graham) are expected to introduce bills further blocking detainee access to U.S. courts in the coming week.

On a conference call Monday, Obama senior advisors said the president remains committed to closing Gitmo by diminishing the number of detainees held there. But the moves announced today could have the opposite effect, admits a senior White House official. The Bush and Obama administrations have faced repeated habeas corpus challenges to their detention of alleged terrorists at Gitmo. Last I checked, detainees bringing habeas cases were winning by a 4-to-1 ratio. By increasing due process at Gitmo, the new measures make it more likely judges will defer to the executive branch and rule against detainees claiming they are being held unfairly at Gitmo. One administration official argued that judges would not be affected by the new procedures.

The habeas releases remain the only way that Gitmo’s numbers can decrease these days. The administration is still debating how to comply with the Congressional ban, but as long as it is in place even a detainee who uses his new due process rights to challenge his detention in military commissions and wins will stay in Gitmo forever… or until Congress changes its mind about closing it down.

Amy Davidson at The New Yorker:

Who wins in this? Do we think that “American system of justice” means whatever it is Americans do, as long as some court-like trappings are present? The order acknowledges that the “privilege of the writ of habeas corpus” is available to inmates, but also sets up a routine for holding prisoners indefinitely without charges (what the order calls “the executive branch’s continued, discretionary exercise of existing detention authority”). In statements today, Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder, and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates all mentioned how highly they thought of the federal court system. Gates said,

For years, our federal courts have proven to be a secure and effective means for bringing terrorists to justice. To completely foreclose this option is unwise and unnecessary.

So this order doesn’t “completely foreclose” on the rule of law—is a partial foreclosure supposed to count as a moral stand? Given all the nice things the Administration has to say about the federal court system, one would think that it might find it wise, and even necessary, to actually use it a bit more. Instead, the statements seem more concerned to note that the President is not giving up any options or powers—as if bringing accused murderers to court were a prerogative, rather than an obligation. No doubt, Republicans, and some Democrats, have made it hard for Obama to close Guantánamo. But it might be easier if he wanted to do it; the order today makes it sound like he considers it a somewhat useful place. It is not.

Speaking of questionable detention measures: Can someone in the Administration explain, slowly and clearly, why Bradley Manning, the soldier accused of leaking the WikiLeaks cables, is required to stand naked in front of his cell in the morning and sleep naked, ostensibly for his own protection? The military’s explanations so far—that he could somehow harm himself with underwear (though he is not on suicide watch and is being monitored by video) so he can’t sleep in any, and then there is just no time for him to put underwear on in the morning before they get him out of the cell—are just not plausible. (By coincidence, a case about Americans being strip-searched after being arrested for minor offenses may be coming before the Supreme Court.) A naked man who hasn’t been convicted of a crime—that shouldn’t be what American justice looks like.

Josh Rogin at Foreign Policy

Bryan Preston at PJ Tatler:

Only two years into his presidency, Barack Obama has learned that there are no easy answers to dealing with captured transnational terrorists. It’s easy to create sound bites decrying the evils of holding terrorists at Gitmo, and it’s easy to create sound bites about how awful it is to try them in military tribunals (even though that’s where illegal enemy combatants should rightfully be tried), but it’s very hard to change reality. So bowing to reality, Obama has authorized the re-start of military trials for captured terrorists.

John Yoo at Ricochet:

The Obama administration’s anti-war campaign rhetoric and naive first-year promises continue to collide with reality.  And happily, reality continues to prevail.  The Obama administration has finally admitted, I think, that the Bush administration’s decision to detain al Qaeda operatives and terrorists at Gitmo was sensible.  It wasn’t driven by some bizarre desire to mistreat terrorists, but instead was the best way to address security concerns without keeping them in Afghanistan or inside the United States.

It also turns out that the military commission trials too were a sensible decision.  Civilian trials threaten the revelation of valuable intelligence in a covert war where hostilities are still ongoing. Military commissions allow a fair trial to be held but one that does not blow our wartime advantages.  Meanwhile, the Obama administration’s track record has been poor — it was lucky to get the limited convictions that it has.  Obama folks owe an apology to the Bush administration for their unjust criticism of military trials.

It should also be noted that Obama did not come to this turnabout after reasoned consideration alone.  I think there are significant figures in the administration that would still love to close Gitmo tomorrow and give every terrorist the same exact trials reserved for Americans who commit garden-variety crimes.  Congress dragged the administration kicking and screaming to this destination by cutting off funds for the transfer of any detainees from Gitmo to the U.S.  This effectively used Congress’s sole power of the purse to prevent Obama from making a grievous national security mistake.  The new Congress should continue to keep the ban in its Defense spending bills to prevent Obama from another 180 degree turn.

Adam Serwer at Greg Sargent’s place:

Conservatives committed to burnishing Bush’s legacy were quick to claim vindication, arguing that the decision proved that the detention camp at Gitmo was a good idea all along. But Obama’s decision doesn’t prove this at all.

The administration also released an executive order outlining its new indefinite detention policy. Not much has changed from when I first wrote about it a few months ago — the new procedures formally adopt what Karen Greenberg referred to as “the heart of Bush policy” while making the process marginally fairer by allowing individuals detained indefinitely who have lost their habeas cases to be represented by counsel during periodic reviews every six months.

The president and the secretary of defense also reiterated the importance of trying terrorists in federal courts, but they might as well be shouting into the wind. The ban on funds for transfers of Gitmo detainees to federal court won’t be going away any time soon, but it’s worth remembering that ban actually ensures that fewer terrorists would be brought to justice than would be otherwise. Only six terrorists have ever been convicted in military commissions, compared to hundreds in federal court.

Failing to close Gitmo remains the most visible symbol of the president’s failure to reverse the trajectory of Bush-era national security policy, but the reality, as Glenn Greenwald notes this morning, is that most of the substantive decisions adopting Bush policies were made long ago. The new policies don’t amount to a “reversal” on the issue of whether Gitmo should be closed. Republicans are eager to portray Gitmo staying open as a “vindication” of the prison’s usefulness, but the fact that the indefinite detention order is limited to detainees currently at Gitmo means that the administration won’t be reopening the facility to new detainees, as Bush apologists have suggested doing.

Gitmo isn’t open because the administration doesn’t want to close it, although its efforts in this area are ripe for criticism. It’s still open because Republicans in Congress successfully frightened Democrats in Congress out of giving the administration the necessary funds to close it when they had control of Congress. In the process, they’ve managed to obscure the original reason detainees were brought to Gitmo — to keep them away from the scrutiny of the federal courts. Once the Supreme Court held that federal courts had jurisdiction and even habeas rights, the facility was useless for that purpose. Republicans are determined to keep it open not because we can’t safely imprison terrorists in the U.S., but because they feel its ongoing presence vindicates Bush in the eyes of history.

Glenn Greenwald

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Superfly, No Fly, The Fly, Fly Girls, Fly The Friendly Skies

Eliot Spitzer at Slate:

From the spokesman for the new provisional Libyan government formed in Benghazi to the resistance fighter holed up in her apartment in Tripoli, the message from anti-Qaddafi Libyans to the West—and the United States in particular—is uniform: Help us!

Qaddafi is not Hosni Mubarak. The Libyan forces arrayed against the insurgency, unlike the Egyptian army, will show no restraint. This will be, indeed has already become, a bloody fight to the finish involving mercenaries and soldiers whose loyalty to the Qaddafi family is based on money and brute force.

Saif Qaddafi predicted “rivers of blood,” and we are now seeing them flowing from the streets of Tripoli to Libya’s other key coastal cities.

Yet the White House has offered little but antiseptic words, followed up by nothing meaningful.

However, the spectrum of options—both multilateral and unilateral—is quite broad, ranging from the creation and enforcement of a no-fly zone, to targeted attacks to take out what little remains of the Qaddafi air force, to covert efforts to keep the Qaddafi air force on the ground, to the provision of communication infrastructure to the resistance, to the provision of armaments so that they can fight on an equal footing.

Not only would our actual assistance be of great actual help, but the emotional impact of our intervention could sway many who remain with Qaddafi and bring them over to the side of the resistance.

Christopher Hitchens at Slate:

Far from being brutalized by four decades of domination by a theatrical madman, the Libyan people appear fairly determined not to sink to his level and to be done with him and his horrible kin. They also seem, at the time of writing, to want this achievement to represent their own unaided effort. Admirable as this is, it doesn’t excuse us from responsibility. The wealth that Qaddafi is squandering is the by-product of decades of collusion with foreign contractors. The weapons that he is employing against civilians were not made in Libya; they were sold to him by sophisticated nations. Other kinds of weaponry have been deployed by Qaddafi in the past against civil aviation and to supply a panoply of nihilistic groups as far away as Ireland and the Philippines. This, too, gives us a different kind of stake in the outcome. Even if Qaddafi basked in the unanimous adoration of his people, he would not be entitled to the export of violence. Moreover, his indiscriminate barbarism, and the effect of its subsequent refugee crisis on neighboring countries such as Egypt and Tunisia, ipso facto constitutes an intervention in the internal affairs of others and a threat to peace in the region. In arguing that he no longer possesses legal sovereignty over “his” country, and that he should relinquish such power as remains to him, we are almost spoiled for choice as to legal and moral pretexts.

And yet there is a palpable reluctance, especially on the part of the Obama administration, to look these things in the face. Even after decades of enmity with this evil creep, our military and intelligence services turn out not even to have had a contingency plan. So it seems we must improvise. But does one have to go over all the arguments again, as if Rwanda and Bosnia and Kurdistan had never happened? It seems, especially when faced with the adamancy for drift and the resolve to be irresolute of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, that one does. Very well, then. Doing nothing is not the absence of a policy; it is, in fact, the adoption of one. “Neutrality” favors the side with the biggest arsenal. “Nonintervention” is a form of interference. If you will the end—and President Barack Obama has finally said that Qaddafi should indeed go—then to that extent you will the means.

Libya is a country with barely 6 million inhabitants. By any computation, however cold and actuarial, the regime of its present dictator cannot possibly last very much longer. As a matter of pure realism, the post-Qaddafi epoch is upon us whether we choose to welcome the fact or not. The immediate task is therefore to limit the amount of damage Qaddafi can do and sharply minimize the number of people he can murder. Whatever the character of the successor system turns out to be, it can hardly be worsened if we show it positive signs of friendship and solidarity. But the pilots of Qaddafi’s own air force, who flew their planes to Malta rather than let themselves be used against civilians, have demonstrated more courage and principle than the entire U.S. Sixth Fleet.

There’s another consequence to our continuing passivity. I am sure I am not alone in feeling rather queasy about being forced to watch the fires in Tripoli and Benghazi as if I were an impotent spectator. Indifference of this kind to the lives of others can have a coarsening effect. It can lower one’s threshold of sympathy. If protracted unduly, it might even become brutalizing.

Thomas Ricks at Foreign Policy:

To help the president nudge the JCS in the ensuing discussion, here are the options he should ask to be put on his desk:

1. Best option: Give the Libyan rebels the aid they need to win. This may be no more than some secure communications gear and a couple of thousand rocket-propelled grenades to deter Qaddafi’s tanks and SUVs. (This may be already happening in some form.) Can we start flying discreet charter flights of stuff into some airports in the east? This needs to be ready to go ASAP — like yesterday.

2. More aggressive, riskier option: It is not in the interests of the United States, or the Libyan people, to see Qaddafi put down the rebels. So if Option 1 doesn’t work, what more do we need to do? I think here we want to think about direct action: Using Special Operations troops to corner and then capture or (if he insists) kill Col. Qaddafi. You do need tactical air on tap for this, both to finish off Qaddafi if he holes up and also to cover the extraction helicopters. This needs to be ready to kick off in 72 hours.

3. Third: And yeah, sure, let’s look at what a no-fly zone would look like. This is my least favorite option, because it is a half measure — which by definition is an act that is enough to get us involved but by itself is not enough to promise to determine the outcome. Still, is there any way to do it quickly and with less risk? I’ve heard things like stating “you fly, you die,” and not conducting extensive air strikes, just popping whoever flies. I am doubtful of this. Sen. Kerry’s simplistic “cratering” of runways is a non-starter — it is very easy to quickly fill in holes. Imposition of an American-led no-fly zone effectively would be a promise to the Libyan people, and it should not be an empty promise that allows Qaddafi to get aircraft in the air even occasionally to bomb rebellious cities. But it might be worthwhile to throw up a no-fly zone if only as a cover for Option 2, because it would have the effect of throwing sand in Qaddafi’s eyes. So the NFZ also needs to be ready to go in 72 hours.

Joe Klein at Swampland at Time:

This is what a worst case scenario looks like: Qaddafi is ramping up the use of airpower against the rebels, increasingly confident that NATO and the U.S. won’t intervene. Actually, this is a next-to-worst case scenario: the real horror would be if Qaddafi breaks out the mustard gas. Either way, we have the spectacle of the Obama Administration standing by as freedom fighters are slaughtered from the air–prime fodder for shoot-first John McCain (yet again, and still, the headliner on a Sunday morning talk show–will wonders never cease?), Mitch McConnell and even for John Kerry.

There are several problems with the conventional wisdom. The biggest problem is that we have no idea whether the rebels in Libya are freedom fighters at all. Some are, especially the English-speaking, western-educated young people who are prime targets for visiting journalists. But how relevant are they to the real power struggle? Who are the non-English-speaking tribal elders? Are they democracy loving freedom fighters…or just Qaddafis-in-waiting? It’s a question to be asked not only in Libya, but also in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen and Bahrain. One hopes for the best–especially in Egypt, where there are signs that the Army is allowing at least a partial transition away from autocracy. But who knows, really? Even Iraq’s democracy is looking shaky these days as Nouri al-Maliki seems intent on consolidating his power.

Only a sociopath would have any sympathy for Qaddafi. And we should do what we can to calm the situation down…but I have this growing fear that the tribal/civil war in Libya may be as representative of what’s happening in the Middle East as the exhilarating people-power revolution in Egypt. This is truly a diplomatic conundrum: we can’t continue to support the autocrats in power…but by opposing them, we may be aiding and abetting the birth of a more chaotic, brutal Middle East. Those who express vast confidence about one side or the other–or who want to shoot first, as the inevitable McCain does–shouldn’t inspire much confidence. We should provide what humanitarian help we can; we should try to mediate, if possible…but we should think twice–no, three times–before taking any sort of military action.

David Frum at CNN:

Let’s do a quick tally of the Middle East’s nondemocratic leaders.

America’s friend Hosni Mubarak? Gone.

America’s friend Zine El Abidine Ben Ali? Gone.

America’s friend the king of Bahrain? Wobbling.

America’s friend the king of Jordan? Shaken.

On the other side of the ledger:

America’s enemy, the Iranian theocracy? The mullahs unleashed ferocious repression against democratic protesters in the summer of 2009 and kept power.

Hezbollah? It brought down the Lebanese government to forestall a U.N. investigation into the terrorist murder of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Hamas? Last month it banned male hairdressers in Gaza from cutting women’s hair, the latest zany ordinance from the self-described Islamic movement.

If Gadhafi and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad still rule territory in a month’s time, and if Hezbollah and Hamas continue to rely on their armed presence to back up the militant policies they impose, the promises of Middle Eastern democracy will look very hollow. And the incentive structure of the Middle East will acquire a sinister new look.

Gadhafi’s departure from power in other words is not just a requirement of humanity and decency. It’s not only justice to the people of Libya. It is also essential to American credibility and the stability of the Middle East region.

Obama already has said that Gadhafi “must” go. Gadhafi is not cooperating — and to date, the insurgents have lacked the strength to force him.

The United States paid a heavy price for encouraging Iraqis to rebel against Saddam Hussein in 1991, then standing by as the Iraqi leader slaughtered rebels from the air. We still pay that price, for the memory of the slaughter is a crucial element in the distrust that so many ordinary Iraqis felt for the United States after Hussein’s ouster in 2003.

The president must not repeat that mistake. He’s already committed himself. Now the only choice he faces is whether his words will be seen to have meaning — or to lack it.

Daniel Larison:

The argument that we need to intervene in Libya for the sake of protesters elsewhere isn’t remotely credible, not least because no one is proposing that the U.S. make armed intervention against internal crackdowns a standing policy to be applied in all cases. If intervention in Libya were to deter other unfriendly governments from trying to crush protest movements with violence, Washington would have to make these governments believe that it was prepared and willing to do the same thing to them. Pushing unnecessary war with Libya is bad enough, but if it were just the first in a series of unnecessary wars it becomes even more undesirable.

The U.S. can lend assistance to Tunisia and Egypt in coping with refugees from Libya, and it is appropriate to provide humanitarian aid for the civilian population in Libya where it is possible to deliver it, but there is no reason to become more involved than that.

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Solution: Muammar Qaddafi Joins The Cast Of “Two And A Half Men”

The Guardian liveblog

Scott Lucas at Enduring America

John Hudson at The Atlantic:

After reviewing Col. Muammar Qaddafi’s interview with ABC’s Christiane Amanpour, UN ambassador Susan Rice had one word to describe the Libyan dictator: “delusional.” The sit-down chat between Qaddafi, Amanpour and two British journalists revealed a leader stridently disconnected with the world around him. “They love me. All my people with me, they love me,” he said, as Libyan rebels clashed violently with military for the 11th day. The best moments of the interview come when Amanpour and the BBC’s Jeremy Bowen try to pin him down on basic facts: it gets pretty surreal.

Richard Adams at The Guardian with a quiz: Sheen or Qaddafi?

Rebecca N. White at The National Interest:

In Geneva today at a meeting of the UN Human Rights Council, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi to be “held accountable” for his violent suppression of protestors. Qaddafi’s acts, Clinton said, “violate international legal obligations and common decency.” Before departing yesterday, the secretary of state made it clear that Washington is also prepared to give those trying to overthrow the regime “any kind of assistance,” as the U.S. administration wants the bloodshed to end and Qaddafi to get out “as soon as possible.”

Today, the EU decided to impose sanctions on the Libyan regime, including an arms embargo and a targeted asset ban and visa freeze (aimed at Qaddafi’s closest family and associates). U.S. senators John McCain and Joe Lieberman are meanwhile traveling in the regionand calling for a no-fly zone over Libya. Both said that it wasn’t quite time to use ground forces.

Benjy Sarlin at Talking Points Memo:

Some Senate Republicans, less than enthused by saber-rattling from Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and John McCain (R-AZ) on Libya, warned on Monday that sending military aid to anti-Qadaffi rebels could draw the US into all-out war.

“Dependent upon the method of delivery and what we decide to do we could decide to have a war in Libya to join the war in Afghanistan and Iraq,” Sen. Dick Lugar (R-IN) told reporters, saying he opposed arming the Libyan resistance or imposing a no-fly zone. “You know, people need to be very thoughtful about entering wars without a declaration and without much more congressional scrutiny of what’s involved.”

Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told reporters that a no-fly zone as part of a multinational effort could be effective, but warned that talk of arms shipments was very premature.

“I’m not sure who’s who yet,” he said of the nascent movement to overthrow Muammar Qadaffi. “Anything we can do to expedite his departure and get him off the world stage would be good, but you have to think these things through. One thing I’ve learned from Iraq and Afghanistan, you have to think these things through.”

David Kenner at Foreign Policy:

Fighter jets and ground troops loyal to Libyan leader Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi attacked cities held by the rebel forces on Monday, but leaders of the anti-Qaddafi movement dismissed the attacks as ineffective.

The two Libyan MIG-23s took off from near Qaddafi’s stronghold of Sirte and bombed a number of sites, including a weapons depot and a water pipeline. Troops loyal to Qaddafi were also reportedly shelling the city of Misurata, which is controlled by anti-Qaddafi forces. And in the city of Zawiya, residents said that they rebuffed an attack from pro-Qaddafi militiamen, killing approximately 10 soldiers and capturing around 12 more.

However, there are few signs that the rebels are preparing a force that could threaten Qaddafi’s hold on Tripoli. The security services have brutally suppressed expressions of dissent within the Libyan capital, firing into crowds of demonstrators from the back of pick-up trucks or even ambulances.

The United States, meanwhile, escalated its political and military pressure on the Qaddafi regime by freezing $30 billion of its assets and moving U.S. Navy warships closer to the Libyan coast. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also told reporters that “no option is off the table” in terms of a U.S. response to the crisis, including the implementation of a no-fly zone.

Spencer Ackerman at Danger Room at Wired:

After two weeks of revolution and the deaths of thousands of Libyans, the Obama administration is starting to contemplate military action against the brutal Libyan regime of Moammar Gadhafi.

The United Nations Security Council has already sanctioned Gadhafi and referred him to the International Criminal Court following his violent suppression of Libya’s revolutionary movement, creating the contours of a hardening international position against Gadhafi. And now most U.S. nationals in Libya have now fled, removing what the Obama administration has considered an impediment to action.

So here comes the Navy. The Enterprise carrier strike group, last seen hunting pirates, is in the Red Sea — and may sail through Suez to the Mediterranean — and the New York Times reports that an “amphibious landing vessel, with Marines and helicopters” are there as well. The Financial Times adds that the British are considering the use of the air base at Akrotiri in Cyprus as a staging ground to enforce a no-fly zone. Any envisioned military action is likely to be a multilateral affair, either blessed by the U.N. or NATO.

That seems to be the harshest policy yet envisioned — one explicitly discussed today by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. (No one’s discussing a ground invasion.) For the time being, the Navy is simply moving assets into place in case President Obama decides to take more punitive measures against Gadhafi. Marine Col. Dave Lapan, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters today, “We are re-positioning forces in the region to provide options and flexibility.”

Jennifer Rubin:

The New York Times reports:

The United States began moving warships toward Libya and froze $30 billion in the country’s assets on Monday as the administration declared all options on the table in its diplomatic, economic and military campaign to drive Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi from power.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the administration was conferring with allies about imposing a no-fly zone over Libya. Such a move would likely be carried out only under a mandate from the United Nations or NATO, but Mrs. Clinton’s blunt confirmation that it was under consideration was clearly intended to ratchet up the pressure on Colonel Qaddafi and his dwindling band of loyalists.

But then some eager anonymous staffers couldn’t resist assuring the Times that this was mostly a bluff (“officials in Washington and elsewhere said that direct military action remained unlikely, and that the moves were designed as much as anything as a warning to Colonel Qaddafi and a show of support to the protesters seeking to overthrow his government”). Thanks, guys.

I asked some Middle East and military gurus what the Obama administration might be up to.

Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies told me via e-mail last night:

We’ve seen marked changes in the administration’s approach to Libya since U.S. citizens left Libya three days ago. From timidity, to direct calls for Qaddaffi’s departure, to announcing that we would provide direct support to anti-government forces, and now the arrival of warships. This is a rapid escalation. I have serious doubts that this White House would deploy troops on Libyan soil. However, I do see this as a means to enforce a no-fly zone. It could also be a means to ensure the safe passage of humanitarian aid to areas that NGOs report have been near-impossible to reach. This is also a bit of psychological warfare, of course. The mere threat of US firepower will not be lost on Qaddaffi, who remembers the U.S. bombing raid on Libya, ordered by President Ronald Reagan in 1986, that killed his adopted daughter.

“Psychological warfare” might work better if Obama officials would keep their traps shut.

dd

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