Tag Archives: Laura Rozen

Continuing Egypt Coverage…

Photo from Andrew Sullivan’s blog

Robert Springborg at Foreign Policy:

While much of American media has termed the events unfolding in Egypt today as “clashes between pro-government and opposition groups,” this is not in fact what’s happening on the street. The so-called “pro-government” forces are actually Mubarak’s cleverly orchestrated goon squads dressed up as pro-Mubarak demonstrators to attack the protesters in Midan Tahrir, with the Army appearing to be a neutral force. The opposition, largely cognizant of the dirty game being played against it, nevertheless has had little choice but to call for protection against the regime’s thugs by the regime itself, i.e., the military. And so Mubarak begins to show us just how clever and experienced he truly is. The game is, thus, more or less over.

The threat to the military’s control of the Egyptian political system is passing. Millions of demonstrators in the street have not broken the chain of command over which President Mubarak presides. Paradoxically the popular uprising has even ensured that the presidential succession will not only be engineered by the military, but that an officer will succeed Mubarak. The only possible civilian candidate, Gamal Mubarak, has been chased into exile, thereby clearing the path for the new vice president, Gen. Omar Suleiman. The military high command, which under no circumstances would submit to rule by civilians rooted in a representative system, can now breathe much more easily than a few days ago. It can neutralize any further political pressure from below by organizing Hosni Mubarak’s exile, but that may well be unnecessary.

The president and the military, have, in sum, outsmarted the opposition and, for that matter, the Obama administration. They skillfully retained the acceptability and even popularity of the Army, while instilling widespread fear and anxiety in the population and an accompanying longing for a return to normalcy. When it became clear last week that the Ministry of Interior’s crowd-control forces were adding to rather than containing the popular upsurge, they were suddenly and mysteriously removed from the street. Simultaneously, by releasing a symbolic few prisoners from jail; by having plainclothes Ministry of Interior thugs engage in some vandalism and looting (probably including that in the Egyptian National Museum); and by extensively portraying on government television an alleged widespread breakdown of law and order, the regime cleverly elicited the population’s desire for security. While some of that desire was filled by vigilante action, it remained clear that the military was looked to as the real protector of personal security and the nation as a whole. Army units in the streets were under clear orders to show their sympathy with the people.

Daniel Larison:

The military has not directly participated in the crackdown, which preserves the appearance that the military was not involved in attacking the protesters and keeps the military from being split, but it has stood by while Mubarak’s goons target the protesters. As the new cabinet is filled with figures representing the interests of the military, this ought to have been clear to all a few days ago. If Mubarak is on the way out after the next election, Suleiman will be taking over for him. In Tunisia the uprising prompted a “soft” coup against Ben Ali, and Ben Ali could not stay so long as the military was unwilling to use force to defend his hold on power. As quite a few people expected earlier this month, the alignment of interests between the military and Mubarak mattered more than the outrage and persistence of the protesters. Instead of a “soft” coup approved by the military, there won’t be any sort of coup, but an organized (though perhaps not all that “orderly”) transition from one military-backed strongman to another.

I’m not sure that this means that the “historic opportunity to have a democratic Egypt led by those with whom the U.S., Europe and even Israel could do business, will have been lost, maybe forever.” That assumes a great many things about what would have followed. It could also be that Egypt has avoided even more destructive political upheaval and massive suffering.

Juan Cole:

It might seem surprising that Mubarak was so willing to defy the Obama administration’s clear hint that he sould quickly transition out of power. In fact, Mubarak’s slap in the face of President Obama will not be punished and it is nothing new. It shows again American toothlessness and weakness in the Middle East, and will encourage the enemies of the US to treat it with similar disdain.

The tail has long wagged the dog in American Middle East policy. The rotten order of the modern Middle East has been based on wily local elites stealing their way to billions while they took all the aid they could from the United States, even as they bit the hand that fed them. First the justification was the putative threat of International Communism (which however actually only managed to gather up for itself the dust of Hadramawt in South Yemen and the mangy goats milling around broken-down Afghan villages). More recently the cover story has been the supposed threat of radical Islam, which is a tiny fringe phenomenon in most of the Middle East that in some large part was sowed by US support for the extremists in the Cold War as a foil to the phantom of International Communism. And then there is the set of myths around Israel, that it is necessary for the well-being of the world’s Jews, that it is an asset to US security, that it is a great ethical enterprise– all of which are patently false.

On such altars are the labor activists, youthful idealists, human rights workers, and democracy proponents in Egypt being sacrificed with the silver dagger of filthy lucre.

Mubarak is taking his cues for impudence from the far rightwing government of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, which began the Middle Eastern custom of humiliating President Barack Obama with impunity. Obama came into office pledging finally to move smartly to a two-state solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Netanyahu government did not have the slightest intention of allowing a Palestinian state to come into existence. Israel was founded on the primal sin of expelling hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homes in what is now Israel, and then conniving at keeping them stateless, helpless and weak ever after. Those who fled the machine guns of the Irgun terrorist group to the West Bank and Gaza, where they dwelt in squalid refugee camps, were dismayed to see the Israelis come after them in 1967 and occupy them and further dispossess them. This slow genocide against a people that had been recognized as a Class A Mandate by the League of Nations and scheduled once upon a time for independent statehood is among the worst ongoing crimes of one people against another in the world. Many governments are greedy to rule over people reluctant to be so ruled. But no other government but Israel keeps millions of people stateless while stealing their land and resources or maintaining them in a state of economic blockade and food insecurity.

Marc Lynch at Foreign Policy:

What now?  I would say that the time has come for the Obama administration to escalate to the next step of actively trying to push Mubarak out.  They were right to not do so earlier. No matter how frustrated activists have been by his perceived hedging, until yesterday it was not the time to move to the bottom line.   Mubarak is an American ally of 30 years and needed to be given the chance to respond appropriately.  And everyone seems to forget that magical democracy words (a phrase which as far as I know I coined) don’t work.  Obama saying “Mubarak must go” would not have made Mubarak go, absent the careful preparation of the ground so that the potential power-brokers saw that they really had no choice.   Yesterday’s orgy of state-sanctioned violence should be the moment to make clear that there is now no alternative.

The administration’s diplomacy thus far has been building to this moment. It would have been far preferable if the quiet, patient diplomacy had worked, without an explicit call by the U.S. for Mubarak to be thrown from power.   It shouldn’t be a surprise that Mubarak has preferred to stick with the depressingly familiar playbook of the struggling despot.  The violence unleashed yesterday was as predictable as it was horrific.  But that it happened after a series of highly public American warnings against such violence must now trigger an American response.   After Mubarak violated clear American public red lines — on violence and an immediate, meaningful transition —  there’s really no choice.

The administration has already condemned and deplored yesterday’s violence.   It must now make clear that an Egyptian regime headed by Hosni Mubarak is no longer one with which the United States can do business, and that a military which sanctions such internal violence is not one with which the United Staes can continue to partner.  The Egyptian military must receive the message loudly, directly and clearly that the price of a continuing relationship with America is Mubarak’s departure and a meaningful transition to a more democratic and inclusive political system.   It must understand that if it doesn’t do this, then the price will not just be words or public shaming but rather financial and political.   If Mubarak remains in place, Egypt faces a future as an international pariah without an international patron and with no place in international organizations or forums.  If he departs, and a meaningful transition begins, then Egypt can avoid that fate.

Laura Rozen at Politico:

The Obama White House’s Egypt troubleshooter, former U.S. Amb. to Egypt Frank G. Wisner, abruptly returned to Washington from Cairo Wednesday, as violence sharply escalated and pro-regime mobs attacked demonstrators demanding Hosni Mubarak step down.

Wisner, sent to Cairo Sunday at the suggestion of Hillary Clinton,  found his conversations with Egyptian officials no longer useful,  ABC News reported, supposedly after reports disclosed his meeting wth Mubarak to persuade him to depart. He also met with Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman.

As violence sharply escalated Wednesday, with the army standing by as pro-regime mobs charged anti-Mubarak demonstrators with knives, rocks, and Molotov cocktails, wounding hundreds, Clinton expressed shock at the violence and came close to accusing the Egyptian government of being responsible.

The violence “was a shocking development after many days of consistently peaceful demonstrations,” Clinton told Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman in a phone call Wednesday, the State Department said. “The Secretary urged that the Government of Egypt hold accountable those who were responsible for violent acts.”

The Egyptian military “really blew it today,” Michele Dunne, of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said Wednesday. “Much of the goodwill towards the army inside and outside of Egypt evaporated.”

Nick Kristof in NYT:

I was on Tahrir Square, watching armed young men pour in to scream in support of President Hosni Mubarak and to battle the pro-democracy protesters. Everybody, me included, tried to give them a wide berth, and the bodies of the injured being carried away added to the tension. Then along came two middle-age sisters, Amal and Minna, walking toward the square to join the pro-democracy movement. They had their heads covered in the conservative Muslim style, and they looked timid and frail as thugs surrounded them, jostled them, shouted at them.

Yet side by side with the ugliest of humanity, you find the best. The two sisters stood their ground. They explained calmly to the mob why they favored democratic reform and listened patiently to the screams of the pro-Mubarak mob. When the women refused to be cowed, the men lost interest and began to move on — and the two women continued to walk to the center of Tahrir Square.

I approached the women and told them I was awed by their courage. I jotted down their names and asked why they had risked the mob’s wrath to come to Tahrir Square. “We need democracy in Egypt,” Amal told me, looking quite composed. “We just want what you have.”

But when I tried to interview them on video, thugs swarmed us again. I appeased the members of the mob by interviewing them (as one polished his razor), and the two sisters managed again to slip away and continue toward the center of Tahrir Square, also known as Liberation Square, to do their part for Egyptian democracy.

Thuggery and courage coexisted all day in Tahrir Square, just like that. The events were sometimes presented by the news media as “clashes” between rival factions, but that’s a bit misleading. This was an organized government crackdown, but it relied on armed hoodlums, not on police or army troops.

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Us And Egypt, Egypt And Us

Bruce Riedel at The Daily Beast:

The Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia has sent a shock wave through the Arab world. Never before has the street toppled a dictator. Now Egypt is shaking, Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year-old regime faces its most serious threat ever. The prospect of change in Egypt inevitably raises questions about the oldest and strongest opposition movement in the country, the Muslim Brotherhood , also known as Ikhwan. Can America work with an Egypt where the Ikhwan is part of a transition or even a new government?

The short answer is it is not our decision to make. Egyptians will decide the outcome, not Washington. We should not try to pick Egyptians’ rulers. Every time we have done so, from Vietnam’s generals to Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai, we have had buyer’s remorse. But our interests are very much involved so we have a great stake in the outcome. Understanding the Brotherhood is vital to understanding our options.

The Muslim Brethren was founded in 1928 by Shaykh Hassan al Banna as an Islamic alternative to weak secular nationalist parties that failed to secure Egypt’s freedom from British colonialism after World War I. Banna preached a fundamentalist Islamism and advocated the creation of an Islamic Egypt, but he was also open to importing techniques of political organization and propaganda from Europe that rapidly made the Brotherhood a fixture in Egyptian politics. Branches of the Brotherhood grew across the Arab world. By World War 2, it became more violent in its opposition to the British and the British-dominated monarchy, sponsoring assassinations and mass violence. After the army seized power in 1952, it briefly flirted with supporting Gamal Abdel Nasser’s government but then moved into opposition. Nasser ruthlessly suppressed it.

Andrew McCarthy at National Review on Riedel:

One might wonder how an organization can be thought to have renounced violence when it has inspired more jihadists than any other, and when its Palestinian branch, the Islamic Resistance Movement, is probably more familiar to you by the name Hamas — a terrorist organization committed by charter to the violent destruction of Israel. Indeed, in recent years, the Brotherhood (a.k.a., the Ikhwan) has enthusiastically praised jihad and even applauded — albeit in more muted tones — Osama bin Laden. None of that, though, is an obstacle for Mr. Riedel, a former CIA officer who is now a Brookings scholar and Obama administration national-security adviser. Following the template the progressive (and bipartisan) foreign-policy establishment has been sculpting for years, his “no worries” conclusion is woven from a laughably incomplete history of the Ikhwan.

By his account, Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna “preached a fundamentalist Islamism and advocated the creation of an Islamic Egypt, but he was also open to importing techniques of political organization and propaganda from Europe that rapidly made the Brotherhood a fixture in Egyptian politics.” What this omits, as I recount in The Grand Jihad, is that terrorism and paramilitary training were core parts of Banna’s program. It is by leveraging the resulting atmosphere of intimidation that the Brotherhood’s “politics” have achieved success. The Ikhwan’s activist organizations follow the same program in the United States, where they enjoy outsize political influence because of the terrorist onslaught.

Banna was a practical revolutionary. On the one hand, he instructed his votaries to prepare for violence. They had to understand that, in the end — when the time was right, when the Brotherhood was finally strong enough that violent attacks would more likely achieve Ikhwan objectives than provoke crippling blowback — violence would surely be necessary to complete the revolution (meaning, to institute sharia, Islam’s legal-political framework). Meanwhile, on the other hand, he taught that the Brothers should take whatever they could get from the regime, the political system, the legal system, and the culture. He shrewdly realized that, if the Brothers did not overplay their hand, if they duped the media, the intelligentsia, and the public into seeing them as fighters for social justice, these institutions would be apt to make substantial concessions. Appeasement, he knew, is often a society’s first response to a threat it does not wish to believe is existential.

Ron Radosh:

As bad as Mubarak is, and the Egyptian people have good reason to despise him, he is a lot better than other dictators who have led regimes in the Middle East. Remember Saddam Hussein, and also recall the forces that took power in Iran after the populace ousted the shah in 1979. I vividly remember all those student protesters on U.S. campuses bearing photos of the victims tortured by the shah’s secret police, and demanding the Shah’s ouster and his replacement by the great democratic revolutionaries led by the Ayatollah Khomeini. That was a popular theme as well in precincts of the always wise American left, symbolized by the arguments of Princeton University political scientist Richard Falk, or the comment of Jimmy Carter’s UN Ambassador Andrew Young that Khomeini was a “saint.”

It is most instructive to look back at Falk’s arguments, made a scant two weeks after the shah’s government fell and he fled Iran, and the Grand Ayatollah Khomeini returned to the country. Khomeini, Falk wrote in The New York Times (Feb.16, 1979), “has been depicted in a manner calculated to frighten,” and President Jimmy Carter had “associated him with religious fanaticism.” He was also “defamed” by the news media, some of whose pundits dared to call Khomeini an advocate of “theocratic fascism.”

Rather than being a religious leader who fit any of those dire characteristics made by his enemies, the movement had “a nonviolent record.” In addition, the would-be radical Islamist was a man who pleaded with Iran’s Jews to stay in the country. Certainly, even Falk had to acknowledge that the coming leader was against Israel. But that “of course” was due to the fact that Israel “supported the shah” and had not “resolved the Palestinian question.”

Khomeini was not dissembling, Falk assured his readers, since he expressed “his real views defiantly and without apology.” Moreover, his closest advisers were “uniformly composed of moderate, progressive individuals” and those he sought to lead a new government, all of whom “share a notable record of concern for human rights and see eager to achieve economic development that results in a modern society.” The reason the entire opposition deferred to Khomeini was not due to coercion, but because they knew that he and the Shiite “tradition is flexible in its approach to the Koran and evolves interpretations that correspond to the changing needs and experience of the people.” Its main desire and “religious orientation” was concern “with resisting oppression and promoting social justice.”

He knew that Khomeini sought “not to govern,” but instead simply to “inspire.” That is why he would live in the holy city of Qum, a place removed “from the daily exercise of power.” He would simply be a “guide or, if necessary, …a critic of the republic.” He would thus be able to show the world what “a genuine Islamic government can do on behalf of its people.” Falk assured readers that Khomeini scorned “so-called Islamic Governments in Saudi Arabia, Libya and Pakistan.” Thus one could talk of “Islam’s finest hour,” in which Khomeini had created “a new model of popular revolution based, for the most part, on nonviolent tactics.” Iran, he knew, would” provide us with a desperately needed model of humane governance for a third-world country.”

And you wonder why those of us who have become conservatives no longer trust the great spokesmen of the American left/liberal intelligentsia.

Ross Douthat in NYT:

The memory of Nasser is a reminder that even if post-Mubarak Egypt doesn’t descend into religious dictatorship, it’s still likely to lurch in a more anti-American direction. The long-term consequences of a more populist and nationalistic Egypt might be better for the United States than the stasis of the Mubarak era, and the terrorism that it helped inspire. But then again they might be worse. There are devils behind every door.

Americans don’t like to admit this. We take refuge in foreign policy systems: liberal internationalism or realpolitik, neoconservatism or noninterventionism. We have theories, and expect the facts to fall into line behind them. Support democracy, and stability will take care of itself. Don’t meddle, and nobody will meddle with you. International institutions will keep the peace. No, balance-of-power politics will do it.

But history makes fools of us all. We make deals with dictators, and reap the whirlwind of terrorism. We promote democracy, and watch Islamists gain power from Iraq to Palestine. We leap into humanitarian interventions, and get bloodied in Somalia. We stay out, and watch genocide engulf Rwanda. We intervene in Afghanistan and then depart, and watch the Taliban take over. We intervene in Afghanistan and stay, and end up trapped there, with no end in sight.

Sooner or later, the theories always fail. The world is too complicated for them, and too tragic. History has its upward arcs, but most crises require weighing unknowns against unknowns, and choosing between competing evils.

The only comfort, as we watch Egyptians struggle for their country’s future, is that some choices aren’t America’s to make.

Justin Logan at Cato on Douthat:

The fact that theories are imperfect does not make them any less necessary.  We take refuge in foreign policy theories because there is no alternative.  As Ben Friedman pointed out in responding to Douthat previously, it is impossible to have foreign policies without foreign-policy theories.  The same goes for economics, domestic politics, and a whole range of human behavior.  People take (or oppose) various actions based on their expectations about what outcomes the actions will (or will not) produce.  Whether people are conscious of it or not, our expectations are products of our theories.  People disagree about which theories are good and which are bad, but we all have them.

Laura Rozen at Politico:

Just got late word that Dunne, Kagan and others from their group including former Bush NSC Middle East hand Elliott Abrams, as well as George Washington University Middle East expert Marc Lynch, and the National Security Network’s Joel Rubin, formerly a U.S. Egypt desk officer, have been invited to the White House Monday.

“We do think-tank sessions on an almost weekly basis,” a senior administration official told POLITICO’s Playbook. “The goal is to bring in some of the top opinion leaders and thinkers on a given subject and have a candid conversion. We’ve done it with China, Afghanistan, Iraq, etc. Today’s topic is Egypt.”

 

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What The Hell Is Going On In Egypt?

The guest bloggers at Andrew Sullivan’s place are covering it.

Scott Lucas at Enduring America’s live blog.

Robert Mackey at NYT

Foreign Policy’s photo essay

Mark Thompson at Time

Paul Behringer at The National Interest:

The protests in Egypt against President Hosni Mubarak might be snowballing into something big. The New York Times reports “tens of thousands of people” protested in “several Egyptian cities,” tearing down posters of their autocratic leader in what organizers called the “Day of Revolution.” But, though there were clashes between protestors and security forces, and the government shut down Twitter access, Time magazine quotes one police captain as saying with a shrug: “We can contain them at any time.” See the Times‘s Lede blog for several video clips of the hubbub. The Washington Post is now saying that calm has returned to Cairo’s streets.

New York Times correspondent Mark Landler reports that the unrest across the region—Tunis, Lebanon and Egypt—has thrown a monkey wrench into the administration’s foreign-policy approach, downplaying the Bush administration’s “freedom agenda.” Brookings fellow Shadi Hamid agrees that Washington “is—at least in the short term—stuck,” and urges the Obama administration to “to ride with, rather than against, the tide of Arab popular rule.” Mother Jones‘s Nick Baumann gives a thumnail sketch of what’s going on here.

In the latest development, the Times of India is repeating a story that it says surfaced on a “US-based Arabic website,” that Mubarak’s son and potential successor, Gamal, and his family have fled to Britain along with Mubarak’s wife.

Juan Cole:

CNN estimates that at the height, the rally was 15,000 to 20,000 strong in Liberation Square (Maydan al-Tahrir), downtown Cairo. The rallies protested the high unemployment rate, high price of food, and long years of ‘emergency rule’ by President Hosni Mubarak, under regulations that suspend most civil and human rights on grounds of national security.

The pan-Arab London daily, al-Hayat [Life], wrote: Thousands of youth in Egypt yesterday disappointed expectations that the call for a “Day of Rage” put out on the internet last week would fail. Numerous big demonstrations were mounted in the center of Cairo and a number of provinces. This, even though the streets were thick with security personnel. Their attempts to disperse the demonstrators failed, but two bystanders were killed by gunfire in a provincial city. When demonstrators in Cairo started throwing stones at the parliament building, Egyptian police intervened with tear gas.

Egypt is of the utmost geopolitical importance. In one recent year, 7.5 % of all the world’s trade passed through the Suez Canal (and a much higher percentage of seaborne trade). Over 4% of world petroleum trade went through the canal. Egypt, with a population of 81 million, is the 15th largest in the world. A middle income country, it has the world’s 36th largest GDP in nominal terms, putting it ahead of Malaysia, Nigeria, Israel, and the Czech Republic. Egypt’s soft power in the Arab world, as its cultural center, and its peace treaty with Israel, make it a crucial ally of the United States. Unrest in Egypt puts a great many things in doubt that are important to the US. Were a government to come to power that was more hostile to Israel and more committed to the Palestinians, that development could roil the region.

I lived in Cairo for altogether about three years, off and on, know Egyptian Arabic, and have written two monographs and lots of articles and book chapters about modern Egypt. I was there in January, 1977, the last time the country was shaken by demonstrations on this scale. Seeing these events reminded me of the late afternoon I came out of a public lecture at the American University in Cairo onto Liberation Square, to find throngs in the streets and the sky darkened with debris. People were throwing rocks, bottles, pieces of wood. Young men were carrying friends on their shoulders. They taunted then President Anwar El Sadat. The demonstrations were caused by Sadat’s decision to listen to the International Monetary Fund and to cut subsidies on bread, other staples, and natural gas canisters, making all of them shoot up in price and harming the working and middle classes. After three days of rallies and fruitless government attempts to impose order, Sadat announced he was restoring subsidies, and Egypt calmed back down. Because it was purely a food price protest, it suddenly evaporated when the government met its demands.

Hundreds or thousands also came out in other cities yesterday. In Alexandria, a crowd of 1,000 called for President Hosni Mubarak to leave the country, as Zine Ben Ali departed Tunisia for Saudi Arabia. They taunted Mubarak “Saudi Arabia is waiting for you.”

The US embassy denied rumors that the president’s wife, Suzanne Mubarak, and his son Gamal and his daughter-in-law had fled the country on private jets.

Alexis Madrigal at The Atlantic:

After reports this morning that Facebook and Twitter were blocked in Egypt, Facebook’s spokesperson Andrew Noyes says that they have not seen the signs of such an effort.

“We are aware of reports of disruption to service but have not seen any major changes in traffic from Egypt,” Noyes wrote in an email.

Of course, as we learned from the Tunisian riots, the government could have something else in mind altogether. In that case, the government had slipped malware in-between users and Facebook to steal their passwords.

I got one anonymous report that appeared to claim a similar operation was in the works in Egypt. A source wrote in saying “the ministry of Interior wanted to record all activist personal data” on Facebook and that “all activist information is now on the ministry server.” I’m digging in to see what else I can find.

Laura Rozen at Politico:

The Obama administration needs to “seize the moment” to grapple with the wave of anti-government protests sweeping through Egypt and other parts of the Middle East, several foreign policy scholars urged on Wednesday.

“My impression is that the administration has been basically closing its eyes and praying that it all works out, because anything else seems too hard and too risky,” said Robert Kagan, a foreign policy scholar at the Brookings Institution and co-chair of a bipartisan Egypt working group of former officials which has been urging the Obama administration to prepare for what comes after the regime of Egypt’s octogenarian ruler Hosni Mubarak.

“They can still swing to right side of this thing, but one thing I have been most struck by in meeting with [U.S. officials] at all levels over the past year is that as of yesterday, they have no plan in any direction” for how to deal with the anti-government movements sweeping through the Middle East, Kagan continued.

The official U.S. response to the remarkable events in Egypt and Tunisia – where the president of more than two decades, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, fled the country earlier this month amid a wave of anti-government street protests – has thus far been cautious.

“Our assessment is that the Egyptian government is stable and is looking for ways to respond to the legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian people,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told journalists Tuesday, as Egyptian police continued cracking down on anti-government protests.

Marc Lynch at Foreign Policy:

The end of the Tunisian story hasn’t yet been written. We don’t yet know whether the so-called Jasmine Revolution will produce fundamental change or a return to a cosmetically-modified status quo ante, democracy or a newly configured authoritarianism. But most of the policy community has long since moved on to ask whether the Tunisian protests will spread to other Arab countries — Egypt, of course, but also Jordan, Yemen, Algeria, Libya, and almost every place else. Most experts on each individual country can offer powerful, well-reasoned explanations as to why their country won’t be next. I’m skeptical too.

But I found it unsatisfying to settle for such skepticism as I watched the massive demonstrations unfold in Egypt on my Twitter feed while moderating a panel discussion on Tunisia yesterday (I plead guilty). As I’ve been arguing for the last month, something does seem to be happening at a regional level, exposing the crumbling foundations of Arab authoritarianism and empowering young populations who suddenly believe that change is possible. There are strong reasons to expect most of these regimes to survive, which we shouldn’t ignore in a moment of enthusiasm. But we also shouldn’t ignore this unmistakable new energy, the revelation of the crumbling foundations of Arab authoritarian regimes, or the continuing surprises which should keep all analysts humble about what might follow.

The arguments for skepticism are strong ones. Without belaboring the obvious, every Arab country is different. Each has a distinct political history and culture, a distinct political economy, a distinct demographic profile and urban geography. Many compelling articles have now shown precisely why Tunisia was different — its robust middle class, its highly educated population, its relatively small size, its ties to Europe through labor migration and remittances, its vulnerability to the global financial crisis, its particularly censored media, its relatively small and under-nurtured military, its relative insignificance to U.S. strategic interests. But those aren’t the only reasons to doubt that the Tunisian model can spread.

Another argument for skepticism is authoritarian learning. Simply put, most Arab regimes are quick studies when it comes to their own survival, and quickly adapt when challenged. Unlike tightly controlled Tunisia, states such as Egypt and Jordan have been grappling with protests movements for going on a decade now and have an all-too-rich experience with how to repress, divide, and defeat the new protest movements. Yesterday’s massive demonstrations in Cairo may have shocked everyone — outsiders, Egypt’s government, even the protestors — but in a country which has been rocked by pro-Palestine and anti-Iraq war protests, the Kefaya movement, the April 6 movement, the judges and lawyers protests, and massive labor unrest, the difference is in scale, not type. The same is true across many of the Arab countries which have struggled with restive societies over the last decade.

Dictators learn from each other, not just from the past. The Arab Summit last week displayed this very clearly. Every Arab leader is on red alert at the moment, determined not to repeat Ben Ali’s mistakes. They are frantically offering concessions on economic issues, reversing price rises and increasing subsidies. And of course they are ramping up the repressive apparatus, on the streets and online, to try to stop any snowballs from rolling before they get too big. The lesson most seem to have learned is not “be more democratic,” it is “be tougher.” No Arab leader seems likely to be taken by surprise, or to disregard the early signs of trouble. The success of Egypt’s protestors yesterday doesn’t mean that they won’t be violently crushed today.

And then, of course, there’s the international context. Where Tunisia may be relatively insignificant to the great international strategic issues in the region — Israel, Iran, Iraq, oil — other potential dominoes have a greater claim on the support of the world’s Realists. These authoritarian regimes are the foundation of the America-led regional order. For all the U.S. talk about democracy promotion, the goal has always been to strengthen and legitimize these allies — to prevent, not to nurture, the kind of popular mobilization exploding today. It’s not the least bit surprising that the Washington Post, which has obsessively focused on democracy in Egypt, today finds itself deeply worried by instability there and the strength of Islamists.

Finally, most of the regimes seem to retain the foundations of their overt strength. Oil prices are tolerably high, security services loyal, elections thoroughly manipulated, Islamists repressed, international support strong. In short, there are plenty of reasons to see Tunisia as a one-off.

And yet… it doesn’t feel that way. The scenes in Cairo yesterday stand as a sharp rebuke to any analytical certainty. The Egyptian regime was fully prepared, its security forces on alert and deployed, the internet disrupted and al-Jazeera largely off the table… and yet tens of thousands of people still poured into the streets and put together one of the largest demonstrations in contemporary Egyptian history.

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The End?

Laura Rozen at Politico:

In Morning Defense, POLITICO’s Jen DiMascio and Gordon Lubold make sense of the somewhat confusing drama last night as a convoy of troops from the 4th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division crossed from Iraq into Kuwait:

OVERNIGHT — More than seven years after the U.S. invasion, the last U.S. combat troops rolled out of Iraq and into Kuwait in the early-morning darkness. That’s two weeks ahead of Barack Obama’s schedule, but it ain’t over ’til it’s over: A U.S. Army spokesman tells CBS that the U.S. still has “plenty of trigger-pullers there.”

THE PRESIDENT, IN OHIO: “We are keeping the promise I made when I began my campaign for the presidency. By the end of this month we will have removed 100,000 troops from Iraq and our combat mission will [end].”

THE AP’S REBECCA SANTANA IN KHABARI CROSSING, KUWAIT: “For these troops of the 4th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, it was a moment of relief fraught with symbolism. As their convoy reached the barbed wire at the border crossing out of Iraq on Wednesday, the soldiers whooped and cheered. Then they scrambled out of their stifling hot armored vehicles, unfurled an American flag and posed for group photos.” http://yhoo.it/dcT5Wj

It’s Thursday morning, and this is Morning Defense.

IRAQ BY THE NUMBERS, from Stars and Stripes:
U.S. troops killed: 4,414
U.S. troops wounded in action: 31,897
Number of U.S. troop amputees: 1,135
Iraqi civilian deaths: 113,166
War’s operating cost: $747.6 billion
Per American: $2,435; Per Iraqi: $25,828
Estimate of the total cost of the war: $3 trillion
Cost of maintaining 50,000 troops from now to end of 2011: $12.75 billion
Cost of medical care and disability compensation for Iraq war veterans over their lifetimes: $500 billion.

Max Fisher at The Atlantic with the round-up

Grim at Blackfive:

4/2 SBCT rides out.

The 4th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, which left Iraq this week, was the final U.S. combat brigade to be pulled out of the country….”Operation Iraqi Freedom ends on your watch!” exclaimed Col. John Norris, the head of the brigade.

“Hooah!” the soldiers roared, using an Army battle cry.

Shortly before midnight Saturday, a group of infantrymen boarded Stryker fighting vehicles, left an increasingly sparse base behind and began scanning the sides of a desolate highway for bombs. For many veterans, including some who made the same trip in the opposite direction years ago under fire, it was a fitting way to exit.

“They’re leaving as heroes,” Norris said of his soldiers. “I want them to walk home with pride in their hearts.”

They are heroes.  The advise and assist brigades, and the strong Special Operations contingent, remain behind for a time.  It’s a strange war that ends this way; but as Clausewitz said, war is the continuation of politics by other means.  We’re moving from war to a very tense political environment.  That’s more or less what we should expect.  What comes next?  Either compromise arises that allows tensions to ramp down, so that the political takes over from the war; or it goes the other way, and war blooms anew from the failure of politics.

Victor Davis Hanson at The Corner:

The departure of the last combat brigade from Iraq is full of symbolic weight.

1. President Obama, to his credit, dropped the nonsense from his candidacy about promising withdrawal by March 2008 and stuck to the Bush-Petraeus plan.

2. While there is violence in Iraq (as there is in Pakistan and in many nations of the Arab Middle East), the surge worked, broke the back of the resistance, and allowed some sort of consensual government to survive.

3. We are reminded by the departure that the campaign-constructed “bad” war in Iraq become okay in late 2008, while the okay war in Afghanistan turned bad, something candidate “Let me at ’em in Afghanistan” Obama probably never anticipated, as his post-campaign surprise seems to suggest.

4. We should remember that while the surge coincided with a booming economy, the departure is taking place against the backdrop of a deep recession, and borrowed money is now as big a consideration as grand strategy (e.g., it will be difficult to ever reinsert the troops at their former levels should the terrorists return) . . .

5. . . . but the 50,000-something troops left in Iraq are not weaponless, and with air support can in extremis aid the Iraqi security forces.

6. If the calm holds, George Bush will be seen in a rather different light than when he left in January 2009, not just because Iraq miraculously has functioned under a constitutional system for years now, but because we have seen how different governance is from perpetual campaigning. In the latter, the rhetorical choices are always good and bad, rather than bad and worse, as is the case when one must be responsible for consequences. In short, despite all the “war is lost,” the “surge is not working,” and the “General Betray Us,” Bush’s persistence paid off — and now Joe Biden, of erstwhile “trisect Iraq” fame, thinks that Iraq could be one of the Obama’s administration’s “greatest achievements.”

James Jay Carafano at The Corner:

In the waning days of World War II, the OSS gave FDR a briefing that would have turned his hair white, if it hadn’t been white already. The president was told to expect a sea of German saboteurs and assassins running rampant through post-war Europe. They would number in the tens of thousands. It might take years to quell the havoc.

The briefers were wrong. The Nazis did, indeed, have a “Werewolf” campaign to continue the fight after armistice, but it largely fizzled. Hundreds of thousands of American troops flooded back home sooner than expected.

Yet some stayed and, for reasons that shifted over the years, American troops remain there today. They remain in Japan and South Korea, too.

This history is not recited to suggest that Iraq is on the road to becoming the next South Korea, but it is a reminder of how the future unfolds. There is no predictable linear path, and in matters of war, everybody gets a vote — enemies as well as allies. Anyone who tells you today just how many troops will be in Iraq ten years hence and just what shape the country will be in is guessing just as much as the OSS agents who briefed FDR on the post-war nightmare that never came.

Here is what we know for sure. 1) Given the state of Iraq in 2006, the country is in a much better place today that any reasonable observer then dared hope. 2) Iraq is better off than it was in the age of Saddam. Now the country has a future, and it rests in the hands of its people. Bonus: The world is rid one of its most dangerous and bloodthirsty thugs. Yes, it was a heavy price. Freedom rarely comes cheap. 3) The surge worked. The surge never promised a land of “milk and honey.” It just promised to break the cycle of continuous, unrelenting violence, to give the new Iraqi political process a chance, and to allow the Iraqis time to build the capacity for their own security. It did that. 4) Things didn’t turn out the way Bush planned. But the vision — a free Iraq without Saddam — was achieved. Remember, things didn’t turn out the way FDR planned either. He said all the troops would be out of Europe in two years.

Here is what we don’t know. How much longer will U.S. troops need to stay there? The fact that the “combat” troops are gone does not mean that the mission is done or that U.S. troops won’t see some kinds of combat. While troops don’t and should not remain permanently in Iraq, they will obviously need to stay longer than one or two more years. Withdrawing U.S. forces too fast would jeopardize progress. Freedom may lose its momentum. Everything is contingent on events on the ground. There cannot even be serious discussions about the long-term U.S. presence until after an Iraqi government is formed.

John Negroponte at Foreign Policy:

Having landed in Baghdad as U.S. ambassador to Iraq at the end of June 2004, I find it a truly remarkable and positive accomplishment that we are able to look to the day not too far off when Iraqi security forces will be able to assume full and complete responsibility for their country’s security. At the time of my arrival, Iraqi security forces were, for all practical purposes, nonexistent. There was, for example, only one — yes, one — Iraqi army battalion and it was composed of various ethnic and sectarian elements. Today, there are some 600,000 Iraqi security forces and important strides have been made toward giving Iraq’s security organizations a national rather than partisan character. This is no small achievement; it has taken seven years to accomplish and only after some false starts and perilous moments.

In the wake of the Samarra Mosque bombing in 2006 and the ensuing sectarian strife, those of us concerned with Iraq could not have imagined the dramatic reversal of fortunes that would occur in the ensuing two years — the death of al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the liberation of Basra by the Iraqi army, and the extension of the government’s authority to the country as a whole. By 2008, these improvements had given the government of Iraq the necessary self-assurance to negotiate the withdrawal arrangements that are now being implemented.

But can Iraq really remain stable once U.S. troops have completely withdrawn? While there are no guarantees, the prospects for Iraq’s security and stability beyond 2011 look as good or better than they have at any time in the recent past. The Iraqi army now has close to 200 trained combat battalions, a formidable increase from the somber days when I arrived in 2004, and they are spread throughout the country. The specter of sectarianism poisoning the ranks of Iraqi military and police forces remains the single most serious threat to be guarded against. But progress since the 2007 surge in nurturing the army and police as truly national institutions has been encouraging. Vigilance and political maturity will be needed to ensure that this positive trend continues.

Conn Carroll at Heritage

Max Boot at The Wall Street Journal:

Americans can take pride in how Iraq has developed. But have we truly “won” the war? That is a hard question to answer.

Opponents of the war effort—including Barack Obama and Joe Biden—once had an interest in saying that the war was unwinnable. Now they claim that we should sit back, relax and prepare for a smooth on-time departure. If only.

Iraq has made tremendous strides, but it still has a long way to go. Violence has fallen more than 90% since 2006. Al Qaeda in Iraq has lost most of its leadership. The Jaish al Mahdi, Moqtada al-Sadr’s militia, has been silenced. But this uneasy peace is still broken by too many acts of terrorism. One still reads headlines like this one, from earlier this week: “61 Killed in Bomb Attack on Iraqi Army Recruits.” Baghdad is considerably safer than it once was but is still more dangerous than Kabul, where I’ve also visited recently. Iraq had clean elections in March but still has no new government. Investors are holding off committing funds, the Iranians are licking their chops, and various militias are nervously fingering the triggers of their AK-47s.

Iraq’s future is still to be determined: Will it continue on the path of prosperity and democracy? Will it emerge as a key American ally in the Middle East? Or will it regress into civil war or dictatorship? U.S. forces still have a vital mission: to ensure that a newly sobered Iraq does not fall off the wagon and once again imbibe the deadly brew of ethno-sectarian violence.

The primary remaining military mission is to continue providing support to the Iraqi security forces. There are now 440,000 Iraqi police and 220,000 Iraqi soldiers, but they still lack the capacity to defend their own borders. The U.S. plans to deliver M-1 tanks and F-16 fighters to Iraq, but it will be many years before the Iraqis can operate such sophisticated weapons systems on their own. In the meantime they cannot even control their own air space; that will remain the job of American personnel. The U.S. Navy will continue to safeguard Iraq’s main oil export terminal near the southern city of Basra.

The remaining political mission is even more important—to reassure all sides in Iraq’s fractious politics that their opponents will not resort to the car bomb or the powerdrill-through-the-temple to get their way. Iraq is still recovering from the trauma of internecine bloodletting—as are, for example, Bosnia and Kosovo. In Bosnia it has been 15 years since the guns went silent; in Kosovo 11 years. In both places thousands of foreign troops remain to safeguard a fragile peace.

It would be the height of hubris—the kind once displayed by George W. Bush’s prematurely proclaimed “Mission Accomplished”—to suggest that Iraq, a country of more than 25 million, needs less help in its post-conflict transition than did the micro-states of the former Yugoslavia.

Allah Pundit:

The last combat troops are out and now 50,000, er, “advisors” remain. It’s not the end of the war, in other words, but as a not-so-grim milestone for a lot of guys who are no longer in harm’s way, it’s a moment worth celebrating. Rather than waste your time by blathering at you, let me give you some reading and viewing material. Watch the two clips below from NBC, which, to its credit, did a bang-up job in covering the occasion. And note well Col. Jack Jacobs’s reminiscence about being sent to Vietnam after combat had supposedly ended there too. The fighting isn’t over yet; the question is who’ll be doing it from now on. And the NYT has an answer sure to please liberals of all stripes: “Mercenaries.”

To protect the civilians in a country that is still home to insurgents with Al Qaeda and Iranian-backed militias, the State Department is planning to more than double its private security guards, up to about 7,000, according to administration officials who disclosed new details of the plan. Defending five fortified compounds across the country, the security contractors would operate radars to warn of enemy rocket attacks, search for roadside bombs, fly reconnaissance drones and even staff quick reaction forces to come to the aid of civilians in distress, the officials said…

The department’s plans to rely on 6,000 to 7,000 security contractors, who are also expected to form “quick reaction forces” to rescue civilians in trouble, is a sensitive issue, given Iraqi fury about shootings of civilians by American private guards in recent years. Administration officials said that security contractors would have no special immunity and would be required to register with the Iraqi government. In addition, one of the State Department’s regional security officers, agents who oversee security at diplomatic outposts, will be required to approve and accompany every civilian convoy, providing additional oversight.

It’s the State Department’s show now, on an “unprecedented” scale for such a dangerous area. But can they run it with so few troops left in the country if the electoral stalemate between Maliki’s and Allawi’s factions blows up? (Ryan Crocker: “Our timetables are getting out ahead of Iraqi reality.”) That’s the story you want to read if you’re interested in the “what now?” angle. If you’re looking for something more human, i.e. troop reactions on finally getting to leave, MSNBC’s and WaPo’s pieces are the way to go.

UPDATE: James Joyner

Andrew Berdy at Tom Ricks place at Foreign Policy

Chris Bodenner at Andrew Sullivan’s place

UPDATE #2: Max Fisher at The Atlantic with another round-up

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Filed under Iraq

Now That’s What I Call A Document Dump

Wikileaks

Nick Davies and David Leigh at The Guardian:

A huge cache of secret US military files today provides a devastating portrait of the failing war in Afghanistan, revealing how coalition forces have killed hundreds of civilians in unreported incidents, Taliban attacks have soared and Nato commanders fear neighbouring Pakistan and Iran are fuelling the insurgency.

The disclosures come from more than 90,000 records of incidents and intelligence reports about the conflict obtained by the whistleblowers’ website Wikileaks in one of the biggest leaks in US military history. The files, which were made available to the Guardian, the New York Times and the German weekly Der Spiegel, give a blow-by-blow account of the fighting over the last six years, which has so far cost the lives of more than 320 British and more than 1,000 US troops.

Their publication comes amid mounting concern that Barack Obama’s “surge” strategy is failing and as coalition troops hunt for two US naval personnel captured by the Taliban south of Kabul on Friday.

The war logs also detail:

• How a secret “black” unit of special forces hunts down Taliban leaders for “kill or capture” without trial.

• How the US covered up evidence that the Taliban have acquired deadly surface-to-air missiles.

• How the coalition is increasingly using deadly Reaper drones to hunt and kill Taliban targets by remote control from a base in Nevada.

• How the Taliban have caused growing carnage with a massive escalation of their roadside bombing campaign, which has killed more than 2,000 civilians to date.

Spiegel

New York Times

Spencer Ackerman at Danger Room at Wired:

Turns out “Collateral Murder” was just a warm-up. WikiLeaks just published a trove of over 90,000 mostly-classified U.S. military documents that details a strengthening Afghan insurgency with deep ties to Pakistani intelligence.

WikiLeaks’ release of a 2007 Apache gunship video sparked worldwide outrage, but little change in U.S. policy. This massive storehouse has the potential to be strategically significant, raising questions about how and why America and her allies are conducting the war. Not only does it recount 144 incidents in which coalition forces killed civilians over six years. But it shows just how deeply elements within the U.S.’ supposed ally, Pakistan, have nurtured the Afghan insurgency. In other words, this has the potential to be 2010’s answer to the Pentagon Papers — a database you can open in Excel, brought to you by the now-reopened-for-business WikiLeaks.

Now, obviously, it’s not news that the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligences has ties to the Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani network and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hezb-e-Islami That’s something that pretty much every observer of the Afghanistan war and the Pakistani intelligence apparatus has known for the better part of a decade.

But as the early-viewing New York Times reports, WikiLeaks presents a new depth of detail about how the U.S. military has seen, for six years, the depths of ISI facilitation of the Afghan insurgency. For instance: a three-star Pakistani general active during the 80s-era U.S.-Pakistani-Saudi sponsorship of the anti-Soviet insurgency, Hamid Gul, allegedly met with insurgent leaders in South Waziristan in January 2009 to plot vengeance for the drone-inflicted death of an al-Qaeda operative. (Gul called it “absolute nonsense” to the Times reporters.)

Other reports, stretching back to 2004, offer chilling, granular detail about the Taliban’s return to potency after the U.S. and Afghan militias routed the religious-based movement in 2001. Some of them, as the Times notes, cast serious doubt on official U.S. and NATO accounts of how insurgents prosecute the war. Apparently, the insurgents have used “heat-seeking missiles against allied aircraft,” eerily reminiscent of the famous Stinger missiles that the U.S., Saudi Arabia and Pakistan provided to the mujahideen to down Soviet helicopters. One such missile downed a Chinook over Helmand in May 2007.

Typically, NATO accounts of copter downings are vague — and I’ve never seen one that cited the Taliban’s use of a guided missile. This clearly isn’t just Koran, Kalashnikov and laptop anymore. And someone is selling the insurgents these missiles, after all. That someone just might be slated to receive $7.5 billion of U.S. aid over the next five years.

That said, it’s worth pointing out that the documents released so far are U.S. military documents, not ISI documents, so they don’t quite rise to smoking-gun level.

Blake Hounshell at Foreign Policy:

I’ve now gone through the reporting and most of the selected documents (though not the larger data dump), and I think there’s less here than meets the eye. The story that seems to be getting the most attention, repeating the longstanding allegation that Pakistani intelligence might be aiding the Afghan insurgents, offers a few new details but not much greater clarity. Both the Times and the Guardian are careful to point out that the raw reports in the Wikileaks archive often seem poorly sourced and present implausible information.

“[F]or all their eye-popping details,” writes the Guardian‘s Delcan Welsh, “the intelligence files, which are mostly collated by junior officers relying on informants and Afghan officials, fail to provide a convincing smoking gun for ISI complicity.”

The Times‘ reporters seem somewhat more persuaded, noting that “many of the reports rely on sources that the military rated as reliable” and that their sources told them that “the portrait of the spy agency’s collaboration with the Afghan insurgency was broadly consistent with other classified intelligence.”

Der Spiegel‘s reporting adds little, though the magazine’s stories will probably have great political impact in Germany, as the Wikileaks folks no doubt intended. One story hones in on how an elite U.S. task force charged with hunting down Taliban and Al Qaeda targets operates from within a German base; another alleges that “The German army was clueless and naïve when it stumbled into the conflict,” and that northern Afghanistan, where the bulk of German troops are based, is more violent than has been previously portrayed.

Otherwise, I’d say that so far the documents confirm what we already know about the war: It’s going badly; Pakistan is not the world’s greatest ally and is probably playing a double game; coalition forces have been responsible for far too many civilian casualties; and the United States doesn’t have very reliable intelligence in Afghanistan.

I do think that the stories will provoke a fresh round of Pakistan-bashing in Congress, and possibly hearings. But the administration seems inclined to continue with its strategy of nudging Pakistan in the right direction, and is sending the message: Move along, nothing to see here.

Stephen F. Hayes at The Weekly Standard:

Expect this story from the New York Times to restart the discussion on U.S. policies and strategies in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Under the headline “Pakistani Spy Service Aids Insurgents, Reports Assert,” a team of Times reporters summarize and analyze a huge batch of secret U.S. intelligence reports on the war in Afghanistan. Those reports show, in compelling detail, that Pakistan’s ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) has been actively – and regularly – aiding insurgents fighting Americans in Afghanistan.

[…]

The central claim in the piece is not new. Tom Joscelyn and Bill Roggio have written about ISI’s duplicity for years. See here, here and here for examples.

The Times report – along with the public examination of the trove of WikiLeaks documents – will almost certainly reignite the public debate over the war in Afghanistan, and the Obama administration’s strategy there. The president’s already soft support in his own party will probably soften further. The key question is whether nervous Republicans will join them.

Michael Scherer at Swampland at Time:

The White House has reacted in full damage control mode to the release of classified documents detailing the U.S. military’s struggles in Afghanistan, which the New York Times calls “in many respects more grim than the official portrayal.”

To see the New York Times summary of the documents, click here. To see the Guardian’s coverage, click here. (Advance copies of the documents were provided to both the Times and Guardian, on the condition that they not be released until Sunday.) For more on Wikileaks and its founder, read this excellent New Yorker profile here.

In response, the White House press office is emphasizing two facts. First, the documents concern a time period (2004 to 2009) that precedes the Presidents latest new strategy for Afghanistan. Second, government officials have not exactly been secretive in the past about the connection between the Pakistani ISI and radical elements in the region that are working against U.S. interests. “In the past, there have been those in Pakistan who’ve argued that the struggle against extremism is not their fight, and that Pakistan is better off doing little or seeking accommodation with those who use violence,” President Obama said, when he announced his latest strategy in December of 2009. (Indeed, in recent months, as TIME has noted, there has been some good news on this front, with the Pakistan government, including the ISI, taking more aggressive actions.)

Laura Rozen at Politico:
“It is important to note that the time period reflected in the documents is January 2004 to December 2009,” National Security Advisor ret. Gen. Jim Jones said in a statement Sunday.”On December 1, 2009, President Obama announced a new strategy with a substantial increase in resources for Afghanistan, and increased focus on al Qaeda and Taliban safe-havens in Pakistan, precisely because of the grave situation that had developed over several years,” he continued. “This shift in strategy addressed challenges in Afghanistan that were the subject of an exhaustive policy review last fall.”

Some 180 of the war logs and raw intelligence reports concern previously reported allegations that the Pakistani intelligence services have been providing covert support to Afghan insurgents.

“Taken together, the reports indicate that American soldiers on the ground are inundated with accounts of a network of Pakistani assets and collaborators,” the New York Times reports.

But, the paper cautions, many of the raw intelligence reports and field threat assessments “cannot be verified,” while “many … rely on sources that the military rated as reliable.”

“The records also contain firsthand accounts of American anger at Pakistan’s unwillingness to confront insurgents who launched attacks near Pakistani border posts, moved openly by the truckload across the frontier, and retreated to Pakistani territory for safety,” the paper said.

Adrian Chen at Gawker:

This is going to be huge. And Wikileaks’ strategy to collaborate with mainstream media this time around should heighten the impact of this data. The Guardian is using the log to argue that it presents “a very different landscape” than the one put forward by coalition leaders. Meanwhile, the Times picks out military concerns that Pakistani intelligence is directly aiding insurgents. That “real” journalists are in charge of these reports should move focus off the biases of Wikileaks and Julian Assange—as happened with their “Collateral Murder” video—and onto the leak itself. (Wikileaks agreed to not have any input into the stories built around their leak.)

It’s unclear at this time if this leak is related to the case of army intelligence specialist Bradley Manning, the alleged source of the Apache video. But this leak should cause a similar-sized uproar and deliver a more pointed impact than even that graphic video did. The elaborate packages put together by the Times, Der Spiegel and The Guardian are only the beginning of this story.

Andrew Bacevich at TNR:

The leaks are unlikely to affect the course of events on the ground. However, they may well affect the debate over the war here at home. In that regard, the effect is likely to be pernicious, intensifying the already existing inclination to focus on peripheral matters while ignoring vastly more important ones. For months on end, Washington has fixated on this question: what, oh what, are we to do about Afghanistan? Implicit in the question are at least two assumptions: first, that something must be done; and, second, that if the United States and its allies can just devise the right approach (or assign the right general), then surely something can be done.

Both assumptions are highly dubious. To indulge them is to avoid the question that should rightly claim Washington’s attention: What exactly is the point of the Afghanistan war? The point cannot be to “prevent another 9/11,” since violent anti-Western jihadists are by no means confined to or even concentrated in Afghanistan. Even if we were to “win” in Afghanistan tomorrow, the jihadist threat would persist. If anything, staying in Afghanistan probably exacerbates that threat. So tell me again: why exactly are we there?

The real significance of the Wikileaks action is of a different character altogether: it shows how rapidly and drastically the notion of “information warfare” is changing. Rather than being defined as actions undertaken by a government to influence the perception of reality, information warfare now includes actions taken by disaffected functionaries within government to discredit the officially approved view of reality. This action is the handiwork of subversives, perhaps soldiers, perhaps civilians. Within our own national security apparatus, a second insurgent campaign may well have begun. Its purpose: bring America’s longest war to an end. Given the realities of the digital age, this second insurgency may well prove at least as difficult to suppress as the one that preoccupies General Petraeus in Kabul.

UPDATE: Richard Tofel at ProPublica

Allah Pundit

Jay Rosen

James Joyner

Andrew Sullivan has a round-up

Andrew Exum at NYT

UPDATE #2: Marc Ambinder

Fred Kaplan at Slate

Marc Lynch at Foreign Policy

UPDATE #3: Richard Fernandez at Pajamas Media

Uncle Jimbo at Blackfive

UPDATE #4: Anne Applebaum at Slate

Ed Morrissey

UPDATE #5: Marc Thiessen at WaPo.

Eva Rodriguez responds at WaPo

Thiessen responds to Rodriguez

Michael Scherer at Swampland at Time

Mark Thompson at The League

UPDATE #6: Joshua Cohen and Jim Pinkerton at Bloggingheads

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Filed under Af/Pak, GWOT, New Media

We Talked, We Laughed, We Quoted A Bit Of Mark Twain…

Benjamin Weinthal at The Corner:

Today’s meeting between Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama has the potential to repair the U.S. administration’s frosty posture toward Israel. In March, Obama publicly snubbed America’s only democratic ally in the Mideast by rejecting a joint Bibi-Obama press conference at the White House. Now Obama has an amazing opportunity to refill U.S.-Israeli relations with meaning and content.

What issues are front and center on Israel’s diplomatic agenda? Stopping Iran’s accelerated quest to obtain nuclear weapons; preserving Israel’s nuclear-ambiguity policy; securing U.S. pressure on Turkey so that it recoils from its threats to sever relations with Israel; and a peace process with the Palestinians that does not entail terror attacks and violent anti-Semitic propaganda.

The president’s decision to single out Israel for criticism at the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference, while not mentioning Iran’s illicit atomic program, was one of the lowlights of his administration so far. After nearly unanimous congressional votes in favor of new energy and financial sanctions on Iran, Obama signed the robust anti-Iran legislation last Thursday. One of the litmus tests of a restart in U.S.-Israel relations would be a hard-hitting enforcement of these sanctions.

Allison Hoffman at Tablet:

How often do you hear Mark Twain quoted at a high-level diplomatic summit? Not often enough, but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to do his part to fix that: In his brief appearance today at the Oval Office with President Obama, Netanyahu announced that, pace Twain, rumors of the demise of the U.S.-Israel relationship are greatly exaggerated. In fact, they’re “flat wrong.” (Video here; transcript here.)

It was the first joint appearance by the two men in months, and a departure from their recent pattern of press blackouts and leaked reports of snubs. But with Israeli-Turkish relations maybe on the (slow) mend and both the Israelis and the Palestinians making refreshingly positive noises about the prospects for moving from proximity talks to direct peace negotiations, whatever topics Netanyahu and Obama needed to discuss, in “robust” fashion, in private—settlements, Iran, nuclear non-proliferation, the World Cup—were evidently overshadowed by the importance, for both, of giving off the impression of being copacetic.

So, in front of an audience limited to the American and Israeli press pool, they sat side by side, Bibi in a black-and-white striped tie and Obama in a red one, tag-teaming to give sunny responses. Is Netanyahu a partner for peace? “I believe that Prime Minister Netanyahu wants peace. I think he’s willing to take risks for peace,” Obama assured. How quickly will things move now that we’re heading into the last few months of the settlement-construction freeze? “When I say the next few weeks, that’s what I mean. The president means that, too,” Netanyahu insisted.

Greg Sargent:

For many hawkish and pro-Israel commentators, there are few events that are more infamous than Obama’s speech in Cairo last summer. Though he reaffirmed in that speech that the U.S.’s bond with Israel is “unbreakable,” many analysts have simply ignored this fact and pointed to Obama’s outreach to the Muslim world as proof of anti-Israel intent.

So it’s a bit surprising that at their joint press availability today, Netanyahu actually praised that Cairo speech, specifically citing it as proof that the President does not harbor ill will towards Israel. From the White House transcript, just out:

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU:

[…]

So I think there’s — the President said it best in his speech in Cairo. He said in front of the entire Islamic world, he said, the bond between Israel and the United States is unbreakable. And I can affirm that to you today.

Hard to square that with the conservative interpretation of that speech, isn’t it?

Also key: Jake Tapper asks whether Netanhayu’s suggestion that the two men talked about moving the peace process forward in the coming weeks means that there could be peace talks on the agenda.

Laura Rozen at Politico:

“We’re nowhere near [former President Bill] Clinton and [former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak] Rabin,” veteran U.S. diplomat Aaron Miller commented on the warm body language of today’s meeting between Obama and Netanyahu, their fifth since taking office in early 2009. But still, Miller said, the concerted demonstration of good will today between two leaders who have had more strained encounters in the past “was impressive.”

“Obama and Bibi have set the parameters for their friendship pact for awhile,” Miller said. “There was no reason for a fight and every reason to do the proverbial reset. Still, lurking below the surface is an expectations gap that will test each leader. In the end, everyone will want to know how do we get to an agreement, given the gaps, particularly the Palestinians who have got to be wondering what the game really is.”

But the American Task Force for Palestine’s Hussein Ibish said he was encouraged by Obama’s comments during the press conference.

“The most significant thing said during the presser was support for state and institution building led by Abbas and [Palestinian Prime Minister Salam] Fayyad, and a clear indication from the president of the United States that the area of their control needs to be expanded in the West Bank,” Ibish said. “This is highly significant.”

Jennifer Rubin at Commentary:

It’s never a bad thing for the U.S. president and the Israeli prime minister to be chummy in public. Nevertheless, it’s apparent that whenever Israel is the topic, Obama’s focus is on the “peace process” and not on the mullahs’ nuclear program. That is a central, but certainly not the only, failing in Obama’s Middle East policy.

Peter Beinart at The Daily Beast:

Don’t listen to what Benjamin Netanyahu and Barack Obama said at their buddy, buddy press conference Tuesday afternoon. Listen to what they didn’t say. Netanyahu volunteered that “I very much appreciate the President’s statement that he is determined to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.” The only problem: Obama didn’t say that. He said Iran must “cease the kinds of provocative behavior that has made it a threat to its neighbors and the international community.” That’s a whole lot vaguer, and it points to the crux of the dispute between the two men. Netanyahu wants Obama to do whatever it takes to prevent an Iranian nuke, including going to war. Obama doesn’t want to box himself into that corner. But putting Obama in a box is exactly Netanyahu was trying to do.

As for Netanyahu, he didn’t utter the word “Gaza.” Obama praised Israel’s easing of the blockade on Gaza Strip, but signaled that it wasn’t enough. “We believe,” the president declared, “that there is a way to make sure that the people of Gaza are able to prosper economically while Israel is able to maintain its legitimate security needs.” All well and good, except that Netanyahu doesn’t want the people of Gaza to prosper economically. For public relations reasons, he’s willing to allow more goods into the Palestinian enclave. But he’s still banning virtually all exports, which means that most Gazans can’t afford to buy the goods Israel is now allowing in. The truth is that Israel is still punishing the people of Gaza for having elected Hamas; it’s just doing in a more subtle, less cruel way.

The second words Netanyahu didn’t mention: “Palestinian state.” Obama not only used the “S” word, he doubled it; referring to a “sovereign state” that the Palestinians “call their own.” Netanyahu, by contrast, talked about a “political settlement for peace” but not a state. In other words, he wouldn’t even go as far as he went last summer, under intense U.S. pressure, at Bar Ilan University.

Which raises a question: what kind of schmuck does Netanyahu think Obama is?

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Russia And The U.S., Together Against Those Whippersnappers

David Sanger and Mark Landler at NYT:

The Obama administration announced an agreement on Tuesday with other major powers, including Russia and China, to impose a fourth set of sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program, setting the stage for an intense tug of war with Tehran as it tries to avoid passage of the penalties by the full United Nations Security Council.

The announcement came just a day after Iranian leaders announced their own tentative deal, with Turkey and Brazil, to turn over about half of Iran’s stockpile of nuclear fuel for a year, part of a frantic effort to blunt the American-led campaign for harsher sanctions.

“This announcement is as convincing an answer to the efforts undertaken in Tehran over the last few days as any we could provide,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, describing the agreement as a “strong draft.”

Laura Rozen at Politico:

The UN Iran sanctions draft has been unusually closely held, first as it was negotiated between the U.S., UK, and France, and in recent weeks with Russia and China.

A key section of the draft to be circulated to the full Council Tuesday will resemble a resolution passed against North Korea last summer after it conducted a nuclear test, the New York Times reports.

Consultations on the draft resolution were underway Monday, including in a meeting between visiting Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergey Ivanov and Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Bill Burns, who has served as the U.S. point man to international negotations on Iran’s nuclear program.

Clinton dropped by the Burns-Ivanov meeting yesterday, and spoke with her Russian counterpart Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov this morning, she told the Senate panel today.

While Beijing welcomed the fuel swap agreement negotiated by the Turks and Brazilians, it did not tip its hand on a UN Security Council resolution. “China has always believed that dialogue and negotiations are the best channel for resolving the Iran nuclear issue,” a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman told a press conference in Beijing.

“The overall assessment that we already have is that we have much less difficulties with the Russians than with the Chinese” on a new UN Security Council resolution on Iran, a European diplomat said.

Turkey and Brazil are currently two of the ten non-permanent members of the UN Security Council. Several other Security Council non-permament members are expected to vote for the resoution, including Austria, Bosnia, Gabon, Japan, Mexico, Nigeria, and Uganda. One European diplomat said Turkey and Brazil would vote for the resolution if China supported it.

A resolution needs 9 votes to pass, but three past UN Security Council resolutions on Iran have passed by overwhelming margins, with no members voting against.

Max Fisher at The Atlantic:

In the past year, Russian leadership, particularly President Dmitri Medvedev, has made a concerted effort to strengthen diplomatic and economic ties to Europe and the U.S., slowly reversing the country’s nearly century-long antagonism with the West. Russia has pursued rapprochement with Poland, economic ties with France, a key military partnership with the Ukraine, and the historic nuclear non-proliferation treaty with the U.S. Last week, the Russian edition of Newsweek reprinted a secret government document stating a new policy of abandoning Putin-era isolationism for greater engagement and cooperation with the West. Russia had opposed anti-Iran sanctions because the Russian government did not wish to establish precedents of a strong UN and of punishing states that pursued globally unpopular security policies. But, in its new role of international cooperation, Russia has less to fear from those precedents and more reasons to support them.

Russia also stands to make both economic and security gains from Iran sanctions. Because President Obama has rolled back President Bush’s pledge for Eastern European missile shields, Russia is less protected from the potential threat of Iranian weaponry. Ironically, the missile shields were designed to protect Europe from Russia as well as from Iran, but they indirectly benefited Russia by providing a layer of defense against possible Middle East-based missiles. With Russia more vulnerable to such attacks, it has a security interest in not just curbing Iranian nuclear weapons, but in preventing the Middle Eastern arms race that would likely result from a nuclear Iran. Economically, Russia and Iran are increasingly tense competitors in the natural gas market, which is central to both their economies. They are the world’s two greatest producers of natural gas. Iran’s 2001 deal to sell Turkey 10 billion cubic meters of natural gas was likely just the beginning. Iran has laid its pipeline into Central Asia. By extending its Turkey pipeline into Europe, Iran could compete with Russia in one of the world’s largest and most profitable energy markets. But economic sanctions against Iran would likely block it from selling in Europe and make Iran more reliant on its own energy, leaving it with less to export.

Economic concerns may also be key for China’s decision to join in sanctions. Obama has looked the other way on currency manipulation, delaying a report which was expected to denounce Chinese currency policy and could have been a blow to the country’s vital trade income. Though China and the U.S. may experience periods of diplomatic tension, the fact is that the two states’ economic ties are essential for both economies. If China felt it had to choose between the benefits of U.S. trade and the unwanted international precedent of Security Council-led sanctions, the former likely won out. While China was happy to join with Russia in opposing sanctions, Medvedev’s months of cooperation with the West and his supportive signals on sanctions plausibly made it clear that China would have to stand alone or follow Russia’s support.

Critics of Obama’s sanctions plan have persistently argued that sanctions don’t change state behavior, will not effectively deter Iran, or that Iran’s nuclear program is at this point inevitable. Whether or not they are right, China and Russia joining on sanctions could become a watershed moment for Obama’s mission to make rogue nuclear states synonymous with pariah states — and for the United Nations’ ability to take collective, multinational action. Even if this moment of international cooperation does not work, the precedent will make future cooperation easier and more likely.

Daniel Drezner:

Why was Russia unpersuaded?  To date, Russia and China have taken advantage of any Iranian feint towards conciliation as an excuse to delay sanctions.   What’s different now?

I’d suggest three possibilities, which are not mutually exclusive:

1)  Russia is genuinely unpersuaded that Monday’s deal is anything more than marginally useful;

2)  Russia is just as annoyed as the United States at the young whipperrsnapper countries rising powers of the world going rogue in their diplomacy.  Russia is, in many ways, more sensitive to questions about prestige than the United States;

3)  Cynically, there’s little cost to going along with the United States on sanctions that will have very little impact on the Russian-Iranian economic relationship.

Jennifer Rubin at Commentary:

Swell, now what’s in it? And will the Obama administration stop its effort to delay and water down additional congressional sanctions?

Maybe they really are crippling and Obama convinced the Chinese and Russians to go after petroleum sanctions, perhaps the only meaningful tool available that would impact Iran. And maybe it will sail through the Security Council, have a swift impact, and halt the mullahs in their tracks. Or then again, maybe the sanctions aren’t even biting, will only provide cover and more time for the mullahs to work away on their nuclear program, will silence criticism from Jewish groups (OK, they were already silent), will help Obama stave off unilateral sanctions by Congress, and will provide him with further leverage to squash an Israeli military strike. I hope I’m wrong about which alternative will play out.

Doug Mataconis:

There are two problems with this new sanctions regime right off the bat.

First, vigorous enforcement would clearly require stopping a lot of ships coming in and out of the Persian Gulf and, specifically the Strait of Hormuz. Leaving aside the logistics of such an operation, the disruption to shipping alone would seem to be something that few of the “major powers” would really be willing to withstand for a sustained period of time.

Second, it’s not at all clear that Iran really needs all that much more help from the outside to complete it’s nuclear program, and if it does, there are plenty of routes into the Islamic Republic that would bypass any effort to restrict shipping.

If these sanctions are intended to prevent Iran from acquiring crucial technology, it’s likely to be too late for that. If they’re meant to persuade the Iranians to come to the table, they don’t seem to be anywhere near strong enough. All of which brings up the question of whether it’s even possible at this point to stop the Iranians from developing a nuclear weapon if that’s what they’re intent on doing.

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