Tag Archives: Spencer Ackerman

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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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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Actually, He’s Really Gone Now. No, Seriously. Egypt Just Overthrew Its Government.

Patrick Appel at Sullivan’s place has a round-up of reacts. Video via Appel.

David Kirkpatrick and Anthony Shadid at NYT:

President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt resigned his post and turned over all power to the military on Friday, ending his nearly 30 years of autocratic rule and bowing to a historic popular uprising that has transformed politics in Egypt and around the Arab world.

The streets of Cairo exploded in shouts of “God is Great” moments after Mr. Mubarak’s vice president and longtime intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman, announced during evening prayers that Mr. Mubarak had passed all authority to a council of military leaders.

“Taking into consideration the difficult circumstances the country is going through, President Mohammed Hosni Mubarak has decided to leave the post of president of the republic and has tasked the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to manage the state’s affairs,” Mr. Suleiman, grave and ashen, said in a brief televised statement.

Even before he had finished speaking, protesters began hugging and cheering, shouting “Egypt is free!” and “You’re an Egyptian, lift your head.”

“He’s finally off our throats,” said one protester, Muhammad Insheemy. “Soon, we will bring someone good.”

David Rothkopf at Foreign Policy:

As the jubilation spread across Tahrir Square with the announcement of Hosni Mubarak’s departure, one can only imagine what was running through the minds of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as he watched. Or that of Saudi King Abdullah. Or Jordan’s King Abudllah. Or of any of the region’s autocratic leaders. We know that over the past several days the Saudis, the Emiratis and the Jordanians had urged support for the status quo. So too, for that matter, had Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu.

And while the drama unfolding in Egypt today is profound and powerful, it clearly marks the end of only the first scene of the first act of what will be long twisting drama. Many questions hang in the air about what comes next. What will the transition look like? Will the army truly allow the emergence of a pluralistic, representative model government? Will the interim government have the savvy to present such a road map early enough to placate activists? Will the process be transparent enough? Will international observers be invited to monitor elections? Will real democracy be supported by broader changes than just in election laws?

Jeffrey Goldberg:

The Egyptian people have won a startling and historic victory. It is perhaps the most difficult thing in the world to do, to force a Pharaoh from the palace, but they did it, and without bombs.

Now, though, comes a series of terrible challenges that could undo what the people have achieved. The Egyptian economy needs to grow at least seven percent a year to create the jobs necessary for the masses of underemployed, often-over-educated, young people who have been crowding the streets, and economic power is still in the hands of plutocrats and oligarchs, who are not terribly interested in reforming the system that has made them obscenely rich.

If economic power is in the hands of the oligarchs, political power now is in the hands of the military. In other situations, in other countries, what we’ve seen today is called a military coup.  Egypt has no tradition of democracy, and a strong tradition of military leadership. The people, for the moment, seem to want the military. I don’t think this will last. And because Hosni Mubarak spent 30 years marginalizing and banning secular parties and opposition movements, there is no obvious path toward representative democracy. I am not overly worried, for the moment, in the possibility of a Muslim Brotherhood takeover, but the fortunes of the Brothers could change quickly, and dangerously.

My apologies for being a downer, but Egypt’s crisis has just begun.

Spencer Ackerman at Danger Room at Wired:

Don’t even bother to try keeping up with Egypt on Twitter right now. Using the social networking service that allowed the world to follow the uprising in real time is like drinking from a fire hose. Monasosh, another leading Egypt-tweeter, reports, “Shit! Ppl are going crazy, screaming and running.” Danger Room friend Michael Hanna of the Century Foundation: “I am close by Tahrir and the roar even outside the square is really loud. Some happy people right now.”

On “We Are All Khalid Said,” the Facebook page that galvanized the 18-day mass protests, Nana Mohamed comments (via GoogleTranslate), “Egypt gets the salvation of God.” The mood is the polar opposite of the fury expressed on the page last night after dictator Hosni Mubarak defiantly vowed to stay in power until presidential elections this summer.

“I’ve worked my whole life to see the power of the people come to the fore,” activist Rabab Al Mahdi told Al Jazeera through tears.  “I never thought I would be alive to see it. It’s not just about Mubarak. It’s a protest that brought about the people’s power to bring about the change that no one, no one thought was possible.”

The euphoria is unimaginable. Peaceful protests, propelled but by no means determined by social media, dislodged a 30-year dictatorship in one of the most important Middle Eastern countries. Neither violent repression nor an Internet shutdown nor mass arrests of Facebook-fueled human rights activists could stop what’s become the #Jan25 revolution. Al Jazeera was blamed for the protests by Suleiman and its reporters were physically attacked and detained, but the network went to round-the-clock coverage that kept pressure on Mubarak.

Steven Taylor:

It sounds a bit ugly to say, but it is still true:  the removal of Mubarak and the transfer of power to the high command has to be understood as a coup d’etat.  Indeed, I will not be surprised if we learn at some point in the future that Mubarak did not “decide” to “step down” and to then “transfer” power to the military but rather that he was told by the military that that was what he was going to do.  The lack of a statement from Mubarak, and his removal from Cairo seems to support this notion (as did the dour pronouncement of the Vice President about the resignation—a stark contrast to his more defiant statements after Mubarak’s speech last night).

The constitution has been set aside as there are no provisions for a military takeover of this type.  And I would expect to see other extraconstitutional moves in the days to come (like, perhaps, a dissolution of parliament and/or the cabinet).

It is worth noting that while the protestors prompted these events that the state is under the control of the military, not the protestors.   The real question now is whether this abrogation of the constitution will lead to its replacement with a more liberal system or whether the military will consolidate power in its own hands.

In the coming days it will be most fascinating to see whether the military reaches out to opposition figures or whether it remains quiet about its intentions.

I would note, by the way, that to date there is no evidence whatsoever that there is a threat of an radical Islamic takeover in Egypt.

By the way:  to call it a coup is not to assign a negative assessment to the events.  Indeed, this may have been the best way to move things forward.  Still, it seems clear that Mubarak was not going to resign on his own and to foster a transition on his own (which he could have done).  Still, we do not even know what the military high command’s dispositions are at the moment in regards to reform.  No doubt they figured out that something had to be done to restore order and to forestall a movement towards greater chaos.  Beyond that, we do not know what will happen next.

Tom Maguire:

My instant, uninformed reaction – if Mubarak had announced last night that he was stepping aside in favor of Suleiman and a group of generals, the popular reaction would have been that the faces had changed but the regime remains the same.

Today, since he is stepping aside in response to overwhelming public rejection of his speech, the public response seems to be a sense of empowerment and change.

Slick marketing by the regime, if this flies.

OR, IF YOU DON’T LIKE THAT IDEA I HAVE OTHERS:

Upon booth review, we are considering the possibility that Mubarak is secretly from Missouri, the “Show Me” state.  Yesterday his aides greased the skids and tried to get him to gdepart gracefully, without success.  Today, having seen how well he is loved and how successful his speech was, he is prepared to move on.

Joshua Keating at Foreign Policy:

There’s been a fair amount of speculation in recent days about now ex-President Mubarak’s preperations for departure. I just spoke with Christopher Davidson, a professor of Middle East studies at Britain’s Durham University who focuses on the economic interests of Arab rulers. He cast doubt on the $70 billion figure which has been floated widely by the media recently, but said Mubarak undoubtedly has interests throughout the world to fall back on:

 

There would be something wrong with the people he paid if we knew much about this. A lot of the figures we’ve seen in the press are really just speculation.  As with gulf ruling family, his wealth his hidden abroad very carefully with layer upon layer of shell companies in London and the States. There’s also a big question about his numbered bank accounts in Europe, whether he will be able to recover those or not.

Davidson speculated that Mubarak’s ability to recover funds from his Swiss bank accounts, and the difficulties his now partner-in-exile Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier has had in recovering his own assets, may have played a role in his delayed departure:

I would imagine that he’ll struggle to recover everything. A few weeks ago we had the Baby Doc ruling in Switzerland so that will clearly be playing on his mind. I suspect that this one of the reasons why he was trying to hold on as long as possible, so he could portray himself as having resigned peacefully as a legitimate president rather than having been ousted.

Despite having now holed up at his “Winter Residence” in Egypt — which is less a palace than a floor of a luxury hotel and golf resort —  and his earlier promise to die on Egyptian soil, Davidson believes that Mubarak is not long for Egypt:

 

He’ll be headed to the Gulf for sure. Perhaps not to Saudi like Ben Ali, but I think he’ll go to the UAE. [UAE Foreign Minister] Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed visited Cairo quite publicly and likely put a plan on the table to give him refuge.

Update: Sure enough, we now have reports that Switzerland is freezing Mubarak’s assets.

Jonathan Bernstein:

And so Mubarak is done.

How has Barack Obama done during this major foreign policy challenge? I don’t know, and you don’t know, and the people talking about it on TV and in the blogs don’t know; too much of what’s happened (and what may have happened) is behind the scenes. Not just what Obama and the Americans are doing, but it’s going to take some time for us to really know what many of the key Egyptians have been up to. If I had to guess, at this point, I’d say that at the very least he’s avoided any significant egregious blunders, but even that is extremely provisional. We won’t be able to really say much for a while.

In the meantime, I want to steer you to some very useful analysis of the presidency in foreign affairs from political scientists. Over at the Monkey Cage, read two excellent posts from Elizabeth Saunders (first one, second one), who studies the ways that presidents personally make a difference in foreign policy. And I also highly recommend a post by presidential scholar Matthew Dickinson, who emphasizes the constraints presidents work under in foreign and security issues. For those interested in more, read a journal article by Saunders on JFK and LBJ in Vietnam.

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Egypt, In Our Eyes

ABC News:

We’ve compiled a list of all the journalist who have been in some way threatened, attacked or detained while reporting in Egypt.  When you put it all into one list, it is a rather large number in such a short period of time.  (UPDATED as of 2/4 – send us more stories if you get them)

APTN had their satellite dish agressively dismantled, leaving them and many other journalists who rely on their feed point no way to feed material.

 

ABC News international correspondent Christiane Amanpour said that on Wednesday her car was surrounded by men banging on the sides and windows, and a rock was thrown through the windshield, shattering glass on the occupants. They escaped without injury/ (wires)

Another CNN reporter, Hala Gorani, said she was shoved against a fence when demonstrators rode in on horses and camels, and feared she was going to get trampled/ (wires) 

A group of angry Egyptian men carjacked an ABC News crew and threatened to behead them on Thursday in the latest and most menacing attack on foreign reporters trying to cover the anti-government uprising. Producer Brian Hartman, cameraman Akram Abi-hanna and two other ABC News employees / (link)

ABC/Bloomberg’s Lara Setrakian also attacked by protesters

CNN’s Anderson Cooper said he, a producer and camera operator were set upon by people who began punching them and trying to break their camera. Cooper and team were targeted again on Thursday. “Situation on ground in Egypt very tense,” Cooper tweeted Thursday. “Vehicle I was in attacked. My window smashed. All OK.” /  (wires)

A photojournalist for CNN-IBN, Rajesh Bhardwaj, was detained in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the site of bloody clashes between supporters and opponents of President Hosni Mubarak. He was taken away by the Egyptian Army and later released, but only after his identification card and tapes were destroyed / (link)

 

 

Fox Business Network’s Ashley Webster reported that security officials burst into a room where he and a camera operator were observing the demonstration from a balcony. They forced the camera inside the room. He called the situation “very unnerving” and said via Twitter that he was trying to lay low    / (wires)

Fox News Channel’s foreign correspondent Greg Palkot and producer Olaf Wiig were hospitalized in Cairo after being attacked by protestors.

CBS News’ Katie Couric harassed by protesters   (link)

CBS newsman Mark Strassman said he and a camera operator were attacked as they attempted to get close to the rock-throwing and take pictures. The camera operator, who he would not name, was punched repeatedly and hit in the face with Mace.  / (wires)

CBS News’ Lara Logan, was detained along with her crew by Egyptian police outside Cairo’s Israeli embassy. / (link)

Two New York Times journalists have been arrested. (A Times spokeswoman said that the two journalists were “detained by military police overnight in Cairo and are now free.” )     (link)

Washington Post foreign editor Douglas Jehl wrote Thursday that witnesses say Leila Fadel, the paper’s Cairo bureau chief, and photographer Linda Davidson “were among two dozen journalists arrested this morning by the Egyptian Military Police.  They were later released.”   /   (link)

Max Fisher at The Atlantic:

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, whose overthrow the U.S. began actively seeking exactly one week after deploying Vice President Joe Biden to publicly defend him, is not the first national leader to lose U.S. patronage. Philippines strongman Ferdinand Marcos alienated Jimmy Carter and then Ronald Reagan with years of brutal rule. Indonesia’s Suharto, Zaire’s Mobutu Seko, and others found that the Americans stopped returning their calls once there was no more Soviet Union against which they could act as bulwarks. Perhaps most famously, South Vietnam’s Ngo Dinh Diem ended up in the back of a military personnel carrier where he and his brother were shot, stabbed, and photographed as part of a sudden and U.S.-approved military coup. In all of these cases, the client leaders fell without their patron. But Mubarak, of whose rule U.S. support has been a pillar for 29 years, could yet cling to power. If he does, it’s impossible to know how he will behave, but the rapidly changing internal and external pressures are likely to transform his foreign and domestic policies, and probably not for the better.

The Obama administration, by first calling for Mubarak’s “immediate transition” and then working with the Egyptian military to make that happen, has gone from the Egyptian president’s most important foreign ally to his greatest threat. If Mubarak holds on, he will reemerge into a diplomatic climate nearly the polar opposite of what it was only a week ago. Many in the U.S. and Israel are rightly concerned about where the Muslim Brotherhood, were it to come to power in a post-Mubarak democracy, would steer Egyptian foreign policy. But Mubarak, for whom the U.S. now poses a direct and possibly mortal threat, is virtually guaranteed to move away from the pro-U.S., pro-Israel policies that have been so central to his leadership.

If anything, Mubarak will be tempted to seek out other pariah states and anti-U.S. actors — fortunately for him, the Middle East has a few — to help him bolster against the West’s efforts for his removal. Mubarak could look to Syria, where President Bashar al-Assad is working to suppress the country’s own protest movement, which he is likely concerned the U.S. might support if it comes close to his ouster. Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has shown some support for the Egyptian protesters, calling them an “Islamic uprising” in the unlikely hope that’s what they will become. But if Mubarak holds on, some sort of Egypt-Iran partnership could serve the security and economic of both states. If Israel starts to look like a threat, Mubarak could push back by opening its border with Gaza, making it easier for groups such as Hamas to import whatever supplies it might be seeking.

Barry Rubin:

Consider the following chart:

Who in the Middle East could the United States depend on five years ago to support its basic policy goals?
Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Turkey

Who in the Middle East can the United States basically depend on today?
Israel, Iraq (?), Jordan (until next week?), Saudi Arabia

Who in the Middle East is likely to oppose basic U.S. policy goals today?
Egypt (soon), Gaza Strip (Hamas), Iran, Lebanon (Hizballah), Libya, Sudan, Syria. Turkey

Might there be a trend here?

The United States is running out of friends in the Middle East who it can overthrow. I’d love to use the 1930s Germany analogy but it is so excessively cited as to have lost effectiveness. So let’s go to the Soviet analogy. “We were overly spooked by the Soviet takeover of Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Romania….” Well, you get the idea.

But wait! The United States is not refusing to allow “Islamists to participate in democratic society,” the local regimes are doing so. Perhaps they know something about their own societies.

But wait again! Islamists do participate in elections in Jordan. Of course, the regime there makes sure they lose. So perhaps the United States should step in anhelp the Islamic Action Front wins the next election, all the better to moderate them!  I’m sure (sarcasm) that it will keep the peace treaty with Israel. Then we can keep experimenting until there are no more victims left.

“Obviously, Islam needs to make its peace with modernity and democracy. But the only way this is going to happen is when people speaking for Islam take part in the system.”

Oh, obviously. Except that it is not necessarily obvious to the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, Hizballah, Iran, and the Iraqi insurgents, nor to non-Islamist-member-of-the- pack Syria. Why should one believe that taking part in the system will make them moderate. Is there any evidence for this? Any at all? And, no, Turkey doesn’t prove that. Quite the contrary.

But what really riles me is when Westerners write a sentence like this one:

“It’s incumbent on Islamists who are elected democratically to behave democratically.”

Please contemplate those dozen words. What if they don’t? What are you going to do about it after they are in power? What if they take your concessions but not your advice? The United States conditioned the Muslim Brotherhood’s participation in Egypt’s next government on that group’s abandoning violence and supporting “democratic goals.” There is no chance that it will meet those conditions and also no chance that the United States would try to enforce them.

Scott Johnson at Powerline:

The Obama administration is promoting the participation of the Muslim Brotherhood. Here, for example, is President Obama’s veiled reference to it in his remarks earlier this week on the “orderly transition” he is pursuing in Egypt: “[T]he process must include a broad spectrum of Egyptian voices and opposition parties.”

The Washington Post reports on the administration’s promotion of the Muslim Brotherhood in “U.S. reexamining its relationship with Muslim Brotherhood opposition group.” It is the Obama administration’s “smart diplomacy” in action, the kind that dismays friends (like Barry Rubin) and heartens enemies (pick your choice). Richard Cohen somewhat unrealistically advises that “Obama should just shut up,” but you get his point.

In his categorization of the types of regimes, Aristotle classifies tyranny as a degraded form of monarchy. The Middle East has thrown up refinements in despotism such as the hereditary thugocracy (Syria) and the mullahcracy (Iran). Indeed, Mubarak’s desire to engineer the succession of his son to the presidency was one of the straws that broke the camel’s back, so to speak. if there is a decent way out of here, it will not be assisted by the foolish optimism that Rubin mocks or by the willful blindness from which Obama suffers.

Juan Cole:

Recently appointed prime minister, Air Force Gen. Ahmad Shafiq, expressed regret for the violence on Thursday and seemed to blame it on partisans in the Interior Ministry of ousted domestic surveillance czar Habib El Adly.

Mubarak also said he was sad to see the violence, in an interview with Christiane Amanpour. Without a trace of irony he said he was ready to retire but was afraid that if he stepped down it would cause chaos.

How stupid do they think we are? Mubarak, Shafiq and VP Omar Suleiman almost certainly sat down in a room and authorized the Ministry of Interior to try out that brutal assault on peaceful protesters.

Proof 1: The Interior Ministry in a dictatorship doesn’t go off on rogue missions; these things are tightly controlled from the top.

Proof 2: The regular army stood aside and allowed the goons to attack the demonstrators, allowing them through checkpoints for their murderous mission. Soldiers do what they are ordered to do.

But, what the apologies do suggest is that the government is attempting to distance itself from the Ministry of Interior tactics.

Adm. Mike Mullen on Jon Stewart’s Daily Show referenced Shafiq’s ridiculous ‘apology,’ apparently delivered precisely so that the wool could be pulled over the eyes of the public. The usually canny and astute Stewart did not challenge the absurd ‘apology’ meme.

In an attempt to mollify dissidents, the Shafiq government did move against some former high-level officials, freezing their bank accounts forbidding them to flee abroad. Those former cabinet members (until last week) included Interior Minister Habib Adly, Muhammad Zuhair Girana, former tourism minister, Ahmad al-Maghribi, the former minister of housing, and Ahmad Izz, former high official in the ruling National Democratic Party (the name of which is made up of three lies).

Iason Athanasiades on Aljazeera is speculating that loyalists to these figures in the Interior Ministry and among the street gangs it runs were behind Thursday’s attacks.

Spencer Ackerman at Danger Room at Wired:

Usually, when mass uprising scrambles the politics of a U.S. ally, politicians blame the nation’s spy apparatus for missing the warning signs. Only when it comes to Egypt, the CIA isn’t having it, vowing that it’s had its watchful eye on potential destabilization for decades. They just might not have known what exactly it would take to loosen Hosni Mubarak’s hold on the country.

“The ingredients of upheaval were there for a long time,” says Paul Pillar, who was the intelligence community’s top Mideast analyst from 2000 to 2005, “but it was impossible to predict in advance what particular catalyzing events would set stuff off.”

Publicly available information, like rapidly expanding opposition Facebook pages, hinted that popular anger in Egypt was bubbling over. The CIA declined to tell Danger Room what specifically it told the Obama administration about the Egyptian protests before last week. But Stephanie O’Sullivan, a longtime CIA official nominated to be intel chief James Clapper’s deputy, told a Senate panel yesterday that the agency secret warned Obama last year that anger at Mubarak’s regime was growing.

Echoing Pillar, Sullivan told senators, “We didn’t know what the triggering mechanism would be for that. And that [warning] happened at the end of the last year.” Back then, the agency concluded Mubarak was in an “untenable” situation.

Real talk: the spy service is supposed to provide big warnings when some huge geopolitical development is brewing. But it’s unfair to expect analysts to provide specific dates for when, say, Mubarak faces a breaking point. It also passes the buck away from the Obama administration, which is struggling to figure out exactly what its response to the upheaval is. If the CIA told Obama last year that Mubarak was going to have to fight to stay in power, the obvious follow-up question is what he did with that information.

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Things Fall Apart

Anthony Shadid, David Kirkpatrick and Kareem Fahim at NYT:

The Egyptian government struck back at its opponents on Wednesday, unleashing waves of pro-government provocateurs armed with clubs, stones, rocks and knives in and around Tahrir Square in a concerted effort to rout the protesters who have called for an end to President Hosni Mubarak’s near-30-year rule.

After first trying to respond peacefully, the protesters fought back with rocks and Molotov cocktails as battles broke out around the square. A makeshift medical clinic staffed by dozens of doctors tended to a steady stream of anti-government protesters, many bleeding from head wounds.

The Egyptian health minister, Ahmed Sameh Farid, said that 596 people have been injured in the battles in Tahrir Square and that one man was killed when he fell off a bridge, The Associated Press reported.

As the two sides to the fight exchanged volleys, the military restricted itself mostly to guarding the Egyptian Museum and using water cannons to extinguish flames stoked by the firebombs. And on Wednesday night, state media broadcast an order from the government for all protesters to leave the square.

Spencer Ackerman at Danger Room at Wired:

A plume of thick white smoke is emerging right now in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, an epicenter of Egypt’s massive protests, as “running battles” have broken out between the anti-regime protesters and pro-government forces. The Egyptian Army has yet to intervene. It would appear the government of Hosni Mubarak, on the ropes for the past eight days, has begun its crackdown.

Even as he pledged to step down in September, Mubarak told his police forces, the bulwark of his 30-year rule, to “shoulder its responsibilities” and “arrest the outlaws” yesterday. Within the hour, previously unseen supporters of Mubarak fought with protesters in Alexandria. Now it’s spread to the massive crowds at Tahrir Square in Cairo, where the demonstrators weren’t placated by Mubarak’s speech.

It’s all happening right now, live on Al Jazeera, and it’s not pretty. Protesters are throwing rocks at one another, and eyewitnesses report that people they believe are plainclothes police are wielding knives, sticks and “daggers.” The past week of anti-regime protests has been notable for their nonviolence. Now, pro-regime demonstrators are charging the square on horseback and camelback — two protesters even pulled someone off a camel. It’s worth noting that the regime has turned the Internet back on, as Renesys reports, right in time for its supporters to mobilize.

People are rushing one another near the square, where “pro-and anti-Mubarak forces are coming face to face in the side streets,” according to Al Jazeera’s on-scene correspondent. “I can see people running past me with blood on their shirts… No one knows where to go, who’s with who.” No one seems to know what caused the white smoke.

What about the Egyptian Army, which won accolades from the U.S. for not suppressing the anti-government demonstrations? It’s taking a hands-off approach, telling demonstrators that since everyone involved is a civilian, soldiers are not going to take sides. That’s according to anti-regime demonstrator Salma Eltarzi, who told Al Jazeera that she sees Mubarak’s game plan at work.

“We are in disbelief. We cannot believe [Mubarak] is so low,” she told the network. “The Army is very clear: you are both civilians and you cannot beat civilians. This is the game. He wants it to seem like the people are fighting each other so he has an excuse — ‘I was going to leave, but the people’s needs demand that I stay.”

Max Fisher at The Atlantic with the live-blog

Taylor Marsh:

The contrast to Pres. Obama’s speech last night and what has erupted the last two hours in Egypt is stark and reveals the lack of control the American President has over the situation.

Coming after Mubarak’s speech yesterday, what’s been playing out this morning has been frightening to watch.

Curfew is approaching, “a very intense battle” is how it’s being described on Al Jazeera English.

One person interviewed in the last half hour used the words “investigations” for Pres. Mubarak.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has condemned the violence.

…but on it rages.

Patrick Appel at Sullivan’s place:

Sonia Verma of the Globe and Mail is tweeting from the scene. Her most recent tweets, blocked into paragraphs:

Pro mubarak supporters jumping onto tanks. I am watching one have a very long talk with a soldier. Standing at one of the exits to tahrir. pro mubarak supporters standing on army tanks.

Hundreds of pro dem protesters pouring out of tahrir as things heat up. Groups of men mobilizing, arming themselves with bricks and sticks. Crowds pushing to get out of tahrir square. People saying they will use bricks as weapons. People digging up bricks in tarhir square. Everyone on edge today. Very different vibe than yesterday.

The Guardian:

Very ominous information coming out of Cairo, with reports of gunfire. Al Jazeera suggests they might be warning shots to keep people away from the museum, which is being defended by a number of military vehicles.

Mackey flags the reaction of an Egyptian blogger:

In a biting, angry and harrowing commentary on the clashes unfolding in Cairo on Wednesday, the Egyptian blogger who writes as Sandmonkey has called the appearance of regime supporters on Cairo’s streets, igniting violent clashes, a ploy by President Hosni Mubarak to create chaos and justify his continued rule.

Doug Mataconis:

Additionally, al-Jazeera and other news sources have posted pictures of police ID’s taken from the “pro-Mubarak” demonstrators, lending credibility to the theory that this is little more than a police operation designed to break the back of the protest and, of course, inflict bloodshed.

The pro-Mubarak crowd has also apparently turned its violence on journalists covering the protests:

Anderson Cooper and his crew have been attacked by supporters of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, according to CNN.

CNN’s Steve Brusk tweeted that “Anderson said he was punched 10 times in the head as pro-Mubarak mob surrounded him and his crew trying to cover demonstration.”

This is only going to get worse. More to come, I’m sure.

Ed Morrissey:

Amanpour says that Barack Obama will continue to push for a quick resolution, but that may have to change. She points out that the nation’s mainstream isn’t necessarily out on the streets. The Egyptian middle class may well want a more orderly transition, perhaps especially after seeing the violence in the streets today, and may end up backing Mubarak’s plan to restore order, at least in the short term. The White House had better take care not to get too far ahead of itself.

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