Friday, April 30, 2010

So, are we to conclude that Afghanistan is harder that we thought?

LATimes/ here
A Pentagon report presented a sobering new assessment Wednesday of the Taliban-led insurgency in Afghanistan, saying that its abilities are expanding and its operations are increasing in sophistication, despite recent major offensives by U.S. forces in the militants' heartland.
The report, requested by Congress, portrays an insurgency with deep roots and broad reach, able to withstand repeated U.S. onslaughts and to reestablish its influence, while discrediting and undermining the country's Western-backed government.
But the Pentagon said it remained optimistic that its counter-insurgency strategy, formed after an Obama administration review last year, and its effort to peel foot soldiers away from the Taliban will show success in months to come...

"I smell a political breakthrough..."

Chas Freeman: "Israel is useless to US power projection"

What follows is an excerpt of a private email exchange reprinted by permission of the author, Chas Freeman, a former assistant secretary of defense ...

"... Maher's account is far from novel on any score but he is describing Japan's, the UK's, or Qatar's role in US strategy, not Israel's. A few facts to ponder when considering his assertion that Israel is a huge and essential asset for US global and regional strategy:

-- the US has no bases or troop presence in Israel and stores only minimal military supplies in the country (and these under terms that allow these supplies to be used essentially at will by the IDF).

-- Israeli bases are not available for US use.

-- none of Israel's neighbors will facilitate overflight for military aircraft transiting Israeli territory, let alone taking off from there. Israel is useless for purposes of strategic logistics or power projection.

-- Israel is worse than irrelevant to the defense of Middle Eastern energy supplies; the US relationship with Israel has jeopardized these supplies (as in 1973), not contributed to securing them.

-- US relations with Israel do not bolster US prestige in Middle Eastern oil-producing countries or assist the US to "dominate" them, they complicate and weaken US influence; they have at times resulted in the suspension of US relations with such countries.

-- Israel does not have the diplomatic prestige or capacity to marshal support for US interests or policies globally or in its own region and does not do so; on the contrary, it requires constant American defense against political condemnation and sanctions by the international community.

-- Israel does not fund aid programs in third countries to complement and support US foreign or military policy as other allies and strategic partners do.

Japan provides multiple bases and pays "host nation support" for the US presence (though that presence as well as the fact that Japan is paying for a good deal of it are growing political issues in Japan). The air base in Qatar from which the US directs air operations throughout the region (including in both Iraq and Afghanistan) was built and is maintained at host nation expense. So too the ground force and naval facilities we use elsewhere in the Gulf. The US is paid for the weapons and military services it provides to its European and Asian allies as well as its Arab strategic partners. Washington has never had to exercise a veto or pay a similar political price to protect any of them from condemnation or sanctions by the international community. Japan and various Arab countries, as well as European nations, have often paid for US foreign assistance and military programs in third countries or designed their own programs specifically to supplement US activities.

Washington has made Israel our largest recipient of foreign aid, encouraged private transfers to it through unique tax breaks, transferred huge quantities of weapons and munitions to it gratis, directly and indirectly subsidized the Israeli defense industry, allocated military R&D to Israeli rather than US institutions, offered Israeli armaments manufacturers the same status as US manufacturers for purposes of US defense procurement, etc.. Almost all US vetoes at the United Nations and decisions to boycott international conferences and meetings have been on behalf of Israel. Israel treats its ability to command support from Washington as a major tool of diplomatic influence in third countries; it does not exercise its very limited influence abroad in support of US as opposed to its own objectives.

As others have said with greater indirection than I have here, one must look elsewhere than Israel's strategic utility to the United States for the explanation of its privileged status in US foreign policy, iniquitous as Maher considers that policy to be."

"... Nasser's sensibilities were thoroughly bourgeois. He was a secular, modern Arab."

FP/ here

"... Faisal proved to be an enigmatic and highly autocratic ruler. He was in some ways the most cosmopolitan of the al-Sauds. In 1919, at the age of 14 he became the first Saudi royal to visit London and Paris, acting as his father's de facto foreign minister. In 1945 at age of 41 he attended the founding conference of the United Nations in San Francisco. He had seen the industrialized West and understood the attraction of its cosmopolitan pleasures. On occasion, he drank alcohol, until a stomach operation in 1957 led him to forswear it altogether. In 1945 British police saw him emerge from a Bayswater brothel. For most of his life he was a chain-smoker. But aside from a few youthful indiscretions, Faisal was at his core a man of steely character, conscientious in his daily work habits, clever and decisive. With the passing of the years he also became austere and ever more puritanical. Unlike many royals, he never kept concubines. During his lifetime he had only three wives concurrently, and after divorcing his first two wives, from 1940 he lived alone with his third and favorite wife, Iffat bint Ahmed al Thunayan. She convinced him to allow his daughters to be educated at schools in Riyadh. He sent his sons to the Hun School, an elite preparatory school in Princeton and then to a variety of Western universities. But if he was a modernizer, Faisal was also a political conservative. With Saud's abdication there was no more talk about introducing a Consultative Council or an elected assembly. Faisal placed senior princes -- his closest half-brothers -- in key cabinet posts. He was a stickler for details and found it nearly impossible to delegate authority. Far from liberalizing the political process, he gathered all authority to himself. As he aged, Faisal became increasingly suspicious of a host of perceived enemies: Jews, Nasserites, Baathists, Shiites -- and even the Americans. His deep-seated anti-Semitism was overt; he often lectured foreign dignitaries about the international Zionist conspiracy, and he routinely handed out copies of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a 19th-century Russian forgery that purported to describe a Jewish conspiracy to dominate the world.

Gamal Nasser,

Suave and articulate, Nasser exuded a quiet intelligence. Always well mannered and impeccably dressed, he had a commanding presence. In 1944 he married Thiya Kazem, a young, upper-middle class woman of Persian ancestry who spoke fluent English and French. They had five children and lived in a modest house. He was in the habit of buying one suit each year -- and he had a collection of several hundred bright, gaudy ties, almost all of them striped. His colleagues knew him to be incorruptible. He had no personal peccadilloes aside from smoking three packs of cigarettes a day. He loved American films, which he rented from MGM's Cairo office. He liked Elia Kazan's Viva Zapata!, starring Marlon Brando. "Colonel Nasser used to watch it over and over again," said the woman who rented him the film. "[He was] fascinated with the Mexican Revolution and the peasant's uprising of 1910." His good friend, the newspaper editor Mohammad Heikal, claimed that Nasser's all-time favorite American film was Frank Capra's syrupy Christmas tale, It's a Wonderful Life. His favorite American writer was Mark Twain. He liked classical music. He spent an hour or two each evening reading American, French and Arabic magazines. His sensibilities were thoroughly bourgeois. He was a secular, modern Arab.

Leila Khaled, Palestinian

As a teenager, some of Khaled's teachers were Americans, including an African-American woman, Miss McNight. She told Khaled about Martin Luther King and his non-violent struggle to overturn segregation. Khaled soon grew to think of the vivacious, quick-witted black woman as her big sister. "But our politics differed," Khaled wrote. "She was surprised when I expressed deep hatred of the Jews and taught me not to make sweeping declarations. She pointed out that not all Jews were Zionists; some were, in fact, anti-Zionist. I reflected on her distinctions and tried to adopt them into my thinking."

Khaled spent the academic year 1962-63 enrolled at the American University of Beirut, where she had further encounters with Americans. She arrived at AUB with 50 Lebanese pounds to her name, roughly $100. She lived in Jewett Hall, the women's dormitory, and her roommate was an American, Judy Sinninger. "Her social life never ceased to amaze me," wrote Khaled in her 1973 memoirs. "One week she had three different dates, with three different men and she kissed each one of them with the same passion in the grand room at Jewett in front of a lot of other girls. I asked Judy how she could do it. She passed it off: ‘It was all nice, clean American fun with no strings attached.' I laughed and admired her for her amorality."..."

Americans consider withholding veto protecting Israel at UN if building goes ahead at Ramat Shlomo

"...An Offer TO consider, ... at least for now ... not clear what constitutes..." Am I the only one thinking that this is something that looks like a Brooklyn bridge sale?

"... The US has given private assurances to encourage the Palestinians to join indirect Middle East peace talks, including an offer to consider allowing UN security council condemnation of any significant new Israeli settlement activity, the Guardian has learned.
The assurances were given verbally in a meeting a week ago between a senior US diplomat and the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas. Since then – and after months of US diplomacy – it appears Israeli and Palestinian leaders are close to starting indirect "proximity" talks, which would be the first resumption of the Middle East peace process since Israel's war in Gaza began in late 2008.
There was no official confirmation of the details of the meeting and Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, denied assurances were given. "It's not true," he said. "We are still talking to the Americans."
But a Palestinian source, who was given a detailed account of the meeting, said David Hale, the deputy of the US special envoy, George Mitchell, told Abbas that Barack Obama wanted to see the peace process move forward with the starting of indirect talks. The diplomat said Washington understood there were obstacles and described Israeli settlement construction as "provocative".
He told Abbas the Americans had received assurances from the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, that one particular settlement project in East Jerusalem, at Ramat Shlomo, would not go ahead, at least for now. ...
Hale then told Abbas that if there was significantly provocative settlement activity, including in East Jerusalem, Washington may consider allowing the UN security council to censure Israel. It was understood that meant the US would abstain from voting on a resolution rather than use its veto. Any US decision not to veto a resolution critical of Israel would be very unusual and a rare sign of American anger towards its long-time ally. However, it was not clear what may constitute significantly provocative activity. Palestinian officials asked in the meeting, but were not given an explicit definition, the source said...."

Thursday, April 29, 2010

"... If I do, I will be rabbi 'emeritus emeritus,... '"


Earlier this week, the Atlantic's Jeff Goldberg reported that an unnamed leader of a Jewish American organization tells him Petraeus is right:

"General Petraeus is right. We can't get around that. He is, essentially, the American ambassador to the Arab world, and to the Muslim world beyond it. The State Department has ambassadors on the ground, but Petraeus is something above ambassador, and when he goes around the Middle East he meets ferquently with heads of state, and from what I understand, he hears quite often about settlements on the West Bank and about what the Arabs call Israeli intransigence, and occasionally his interlocutors answer his requests for help on various issues by saying, 'Let's see what you guys do on the Palestinian question and then we'll see what we can do for you on your problems.'

"Is there hypocrisy here? Of course there's hypocrisy. Does the average Arab leader care about the Palestinians? If they cared, they would have bought them new houses with their oil money a long time ago. But they know that their people, thanks to Al-Jazeera, care, and are aware of the situation on the ground, and they know that America is Israel's prime benefactor. The point is, the perception of israeli intransigence makes it seem like the deck is stacked against the Arabs and considering that we need the Arabs for oil, to stand against Iran, for all kinds of things, it's Israel's job to help its main ally unstack that deck a little. Petraeus was just telling the truth about the on-the-ground reality."

Consensus would seem to be emerging that this is not a radical analysis, although the leader preferred not to go on the record, Goldberg says, because it may be a bit advanced for members of his organization. Just to add, I had a call from a retired conservative synagogue rabbi in the heartland the other day, who articulated much the same sentiment, and he also wished not to go on the record, for similar reasons. "If I do, I will be rabbi 'emeritus emeritus,'" he joked.

Former Sharon adviser Dov Weisglass observed something similar in an interview with Israeli daily Haaretz last month. The American Jewish community "will defend Israel in the face of the administration only on matters where there is a real threat to Israel," Weisglass told the paper. "I have serious doubt that U.S. Jews see the Netanyahu government's territorial aspirations in Judea and Samaria [West Bank] and the Palestinian neighborhoods in Jerusalem as an existential matter."

"Today it's Scuds, yesterday other kinds of rockets ... the aim is one..."

"... Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has refused to confirm or deny Israeli allegations his group has obtained long-range Scud missiles from Syria. Nasrallah, in an interview with Kuwait's al-Rai television broadcast on Thursday, said the claims were an attempt to "intimidate" the armed Lebanese political organization, but he did not see a repeat of the 2006 Israeli-Hezbollah war on the horizon.
"I cannot say that it is close. Myself and brothers in Hezbollah see that all this intimidation does not hide behind it a war. On the contrary, if there was silence and quietness, then everyone must be vigilant," he said. "But when you see all this American and Israeli noise, this means they want to use this noise to achieve political, psychological and certain security advantages without resorting to the step of war.
"Today it's Scuds, yesterday other kinds of rockets ... the aim is one, and that is to intimidate Lebanon, to intimidate Syria and to put pressure on Lebanon, Syria, the resistance movement and the Lebanese and Syrian people," Nasrallah said. "Regardless of whether Syria gave Hezbollah this type of rockets ... of course Syria denied, and Hezbollah as usual does not comment."

Egypt gases Palestinians to death

WaPo/ here
"... Egypt has been under pressure to seal off the hundreds of tunnels that are a key economic lifeline for the blockaded Palestinian territory ..."

"...Customers for the Club-K system include Iran ..."

Here & in the Compass/ here

"This one's a nightmare for anyone planning adequate and robust homeland security defenses - Reuters reports from Moscow that a Russian company is marketing a new cruise missile system which can be hidden inside a regular shipping container, potentially giving any merchant vessel the capability to wipe out an aircraft carrier.

The Club-K was put on the market at the Defense Services Asia exhibition in Malaysia for $15 million. At the exhibition, the marketing film showed the Club-K being activated from an ordinary truck and from an ordinary merchant vessel. The missiles, which have a range of 350 km (approx. 210 miles), are launched without further preparation and are targeting what looks like American ground and sea-based forces.

Defense analysts say that potential customers for the Club-K system include Iran and Venezuela – and, potentially, terrorist groups. Reuters quotes Robert Hewson of Jane’s Defense Weekly to say that “at a stroke, the Club-K gives a long-range precision strike capability to ordinary vehicles that can be moved to almost any place on earth without attracting attention. The idea that you can hide a missile system in a box and drive it around without anyone knowing is pretty new,” said Hewson, who is editor of Jane’s Air-Launched Weapons. “Nobody’s ever done that before.” Hewson estimated the cost of the Club-K system, which packs four ground or sea-launched cruise missiles into a standard 40-foot shipping container, at $10-20 million. “Unless sales are very tightly controlled, there is a danger that it could end up in the wrong hands,” he said

"...It's time for Syria's neighbors to follow its example"

The WSJ/ here
" ... Earlier this month, Syria passed Legislative Decree 24 to stamp out the distribution of bogus medicines. This marked the culmination of three years' work which has so far included the prosecution of a network of more than 70 Middle Eastern Arabs, responsible for untold needless deaths ..."

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Gates' message to those in the office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff & CENTCOM: "clam it on Israel..."

Laura Rosen/ here
"... “Don’t forget that the office of the Secretary of Defense [sees its role as to] ride herd on the uniformed personnel,” the Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s Patrick Clawson said. Part of their job "is to keep the uniformed military [from] speak[ing] out on policy issues.”
The suggestion is that Gates’s showing of high honor to the Israeli defense chief may have been a message to those specifically in the office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Central Command to, in essence, clam it. ......
...... At a joint Gates-Barak media appearance at the Pentatgon Tuesday, Israeli Channel 10’s Gil Tamari asked ... “Secretary Gates and Minister Barak, …. if you can just explain us, why do you host this press availability now?" Tamari asked. "Is it because this administration would like to portray a feeling of business as usual with the Israeli government when the general perception, as you well know, is that business is not so usual between Israel and the United States right now?“
“And … is the real perception of the Pentagon -- that, like [Centcom commander] General [David] Petraeus suggested, that the United States is paying a price with the life of American soldiers when Israel is not reaching peace with the Palestinians?” Tamari continued.

Gates jumped in to answer the second question.

“First of all, General Petraeus did
not say that the lack of progress in the peace process is costing American lives,” Gates said. “And no one in this department, in or out of uniform, believes that.”

“.... Lebanon is really f****d,”

Blurred visions of Israel's intentions...
Daily Star/ here

Israel not happy, while Turkey & Syria hold joint armed drill

JPOst/ here
"... The military exercise, which will focus on border protection – Syria and Turkey share a land border – is the latest step in attempts by Ankara and Damascus to strengthen diplomatic and military ties. The countries last held joint military maneuvers in April 2009......
Israel is concerned that the border-protection exercises between Syria and Turkey will lead to full-fledged defense ties between the countries and to the possible transfer of Israeli technology from Turkey to Syria...."

"... It is easier to produce nice-sounding diplomatic documents than to take major steps toward advancing American security ..."

Dimitri Simes in TIME/ here

President Obama has presented the new arms control treaty he signed in Prague on April 8 as a "historic accomplishment" in both nuclear security and U.S. relations with Russia. But there are disturbing signs that the Obama Administration is overselling its progress with Russia, raising unrealistic hopes that Moscow would genuinely help in addressing the danger from Iran, the most likely nuclear threat to America and its allies.

The administration, eager to show foreign policy successes, argues that the new treaty with Russia, which calls on both sides to reduce their nuclear forces to 1500 warheads, reflects a significantly improved relationship that will help to deliver Moscow's support for strong sanctions against Tehran. But it is not clear that ties between the White House and the Kremlin have improved quite that much. Russian President Dmitri Medvedev's performance in Argentina, right after the nuclear summit, demonstrates that ties between Washington and Moscow fall well short of partnership. "If somebody is bothered" in America by Moscow seeking a greater role in Latin America, he said, "we want to spit on that." His statement led the news on Russian state television. Later in his "Spit Speech," the Russian President made clear that his government does not favor "paralyzing, crippling sanctions" — the only sanctions that could deter an Iranian regime determined to have a nuclear weapons capability.....

.... Although United Nations Security Council sanctions seem increasingly likely (even the Bush Administration succeeded three times at that), there is a difference between getting a deal and getting results. The new arms control treaty demonstrates that it is easier to produce nice-sounding diplomatic documents than to take major steps toward advancing American security. Iran will be the key test of U.S.-Russian relations and, unfortunately, watered-down sanctions from a divided Security Council are unlikely to move Tehran to abandon its nuclear ambitions."

STATE's IG Report-Syria: "Engagment with Syria remains 'poor'..."

In the CABLE/ here
What good are sanctions if the people on the ground don't know how to implement them?

That's a question lawmakers are sure to ask at today's opening of the conference on new Iran sanctions legislation, and that's the criticism levied in a new State Department inspector general's report on Syria.

"The most immediate issue requiring greater clarity concerns economic sanctions," reads the IG's latest report on the U.S. Embassy in Damascus. "There is no front-channel guidance on the issue. The inspection team reviewed email and informal traffic regarding sanctions and waiver policy, and found several areas in which the guidance appeared to be contradictory."

The major U.S. sanctions against Syria are laid out in the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act of 2003, which limits U.S. exports there to food, water, and a select list of items approved by the Commerce Department. And while the embassy staff in Damascus, who have been without an ambassador since 2005, is great about reporting on the Syrian government's wide-ranging efforts to subvert the sanctions, the report found there was "inadequate guidance regarding how embassy officers should advise potential U.S. exporters of sanctions and possible waivers."

The report also states that although the Obama administration's initial announcement last summer that it was restoring an ambassador to Syria yielded some diplomatic benefits, those benefits have trailed off and the Syrian government's engagement remains poor almost one year later.

Although the embassy has noticed some increased access to Syrian officials, for the most part, they avoid contact with U.S. diplomats for any reason, the report explained. For example, the chargé d'affaires, Charles F. "Chuck" Hunter is not able to meet with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Mouallem. "Economic officers have no access to officials in key ministries such as the finance, energy, or industry ministries, and the situation is similar for officers elsewhere in the Embassy," the report states. "Most Embassy business, routine and otherwise, is conducted through diplomatic note or during visits by senior Washington officials and congressional delegations, when access is granted."

One of the problems could be the fact that since 2005, there have "excessive changes" in the embassy's front office personnel, including five chargés d'affaires and seven acting deputy chiefs of mission. "However, this situation can be expected to improve with the return of an ambassador to Damascus," the report says.

And if and when Obama's ambassador nominee, Robert Ford, ever gets to Damascus, he faces a herculean task in resurrecting an embassy that has taken a series of beatings over the last few years. "Embassy Damascus operates in an exceptionally difficult political and physical environment," the report notes, citing Syrian government activities to thwart the embassy's attempts to conduct public diplomacy as well as security threats, such as the car bombing of the embassy in 2006.

Our sources report that the State Department hasn't been pushing hard recently for Ford's nomination to move forward. Several GOP senators have placed holds on the nomination, partly because they want more information about alleged Syrian weapons shipments to Hezbollah......

The inspector general is calling on the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, headed by former U.S. ambassador to Lebanon Jeffrey Feltman, to "initiate an interagency review of all sanctions-related issues and provide the embassy with explicit, formal guidance on how to address them, including specific clarification regarding the rules of engagement."...

Obama Sticks to a Deadline in Iraq

NYTimes/ here
"... The situation presents a test for Mr. Obama’s vow to end the war, perhaps the most defining promise he made when he ran for president. While Mr. Obama has proved flexible about other campaign promises and deadlines, his plan to pull out combat forces by August and the remaining 50,000 trainers and advisers by December 2011 has been the most inviolate of policies.

By sticking to the deadline, Mr. Obama effectively is abandoning the thesis he adopted on the recommendation of military and civilian advisers in February 2009 that a large American military presence was needed long enough to provide stability during the post-election transition.

Instead, the president is now relying on the conclusion that Iraqis are stepping up to the challenges of governing and security that for too long depended on Americans...."

" strike Egypt's economy, destroy the bonds between its people & create chaos & instability throughout the country..."

Reuters/ here
"... Egypt on Wednesday convicted 26 men it linked to Lebanon's Hezbollah of planning attacks inside the country ... Egypt has used "exceptional" courts like emergency and military courts to secure guilty verdicts and point to swift and often harsh sentences passed by the courts against Islamist militants in the 1990s. Egypt's relations with Hezbollah have been strained since the group called Egypt a "partner in crime" with Israel against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip..."