July 29, 2009
Luckily the story is unraveling right across the border in Turkey.
Whether planned or by accident, imprisoned PKK chief Abdullah Öcalan has spurred the Turkish government into action by promising a “road map for a democratic solution” by August. His organization already renewed its ceasefire with the government, which expired in July, until the end of September to promote the “spirit of peace.” PKK official Murat Karayılan claims the group, “places great importance on the road map and already officially declares that it will stand behind it.”
Taken at face value, an enormous window has opened in the Middle East. Turkish officials likely began drafting proposals the instant they received the information on Öcalan, a wise strategy but one without choice. An anomaly in America, the “terrorists” are playing nice and government officials can’t deride them. The result has been a series of high profile statements for peace.
To his credit President Abdullah Gül has been advocating a peaceful resolution to the conflict for months. This weekend, on the eve of the debate in Parliament, Gül reiterated, “Problems will be automatically solved once the democratic standards are raised. What’s important is to strengthen every citizen’s belonging to the Turkish Republic.”
Glowing terms were reciprocated from Iraq. Safin Dizayee, spokesman for Iraq’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), told the Hürriyet, “This era is giving me very much hope. I should be able to visit Turkey just as citizens of European Union member states. Turkish citizens should be able to visit here whenever they want. We are directly extending our hand to Turkey. Turkey is an indispensable part of our future.”
Now everything is sounding too good to be true. Even without Iranian support, which could come at any moment, the random cries from and around Kurdistan are becoming harmonious. But underneath opportunity lies risk. How much change does the region want, and how much can it handle? Is the answer political and social rights, regional autonomy, or secession?
At first the Kurds have little incentive to stop at legal rights. They’ve historically demonstrated their desire for self rule, whether in Iraqi and Turkish politics or mountain warfare. But Turkey, Iraq, and Iran have a low tolerance for regional autonomy and outright secession. Settling for equal rights in their respective states is the most practical solution, though it may not satisfy Kurdish desire.
Regional autonomy would shake the grounds of the Middle East; examined closer and this may not be the case. If political and cultural equality could be granted, self-governing is a natural progression. Economic factors would stay in the respective states and allow Kurds to contribute the overall society while keeping their culture intact. Now the advantage turns to the Kurds. Turkey, Iraq, and Iran would be wise to choose regional autonomy over secession.
The dream is not dead, and may never be completely. The call for a Kurdistan will never die so long as it doesn’t exist. Respective governments have few options aside from placating separatists with regional autonomy if they want to lay a Kurdistan to rest. Turkey won the tactical battle against the PKK in 2007-08, but did no damage strategically.
The PKK isn’t going away by force. Murat Karayılan warned that if the Turkish and Iraqi governments, “insist on policies of annihilation, I would like to emphasize that our movement is stronger than ever and in a position to defend itself.”
Whether Abdullah Öcalan is bluffing on peace will be revealed in time. He’s released similar statements before, though his movement is acting convincingly enough to sway the Turkish government. Not only should his proposal be seriously considered if it’s reasonable, he must be deeply involved in the process to ensure he doesn’t backtrack. The PKK must be heard or it will return to militancy and fight harder than ever.
Resolution to the Kurdish plight would soothe countless tensions in the Middle East. While Kurdistan lacks the profile of Palestine or Kashmir, the dividends of inspiration could spread to other regions. Now is the time to strike.
July 28, 2009
Obama is possibly taking the advice of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who advised him to commit to the Arab Peace Initiative when he took office, or else Obama realized his current strategy is taking on water. Either way, the Initiative appears to be back in action after being endorsed by key players as the best opportunity for two states.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently told a reception for Egyptian ambassador Mohamed Asem Ebrahim, “We appreciate the efforts by Arab states to advance the peace initiative. If these proposals are not final, they can create an atmosphere in which a comprehensive peace can be reached.”
Special envoy George Mitchell then alluded to the Initiative on his recent trip to Syria and Israel, saying all his discussions, “are intended to help what we share in common: a desire for comprehensive peace in the Middle East and that includes Israel and Palestine, Israel and Syria, Israel and Lebanon and normal relations with all countries in the region.”
British Foreign Minister David Miliband later shadowed Mitchell to Syria and claimed the Initiative is the best strategy to normalize relations in the Middle East. The road to peace seems clear when these three individuals are combined with approval from the PA. Unanimity is a relief compared to the diplomatic sideshow currently on stage, but it poses one question: can the Arab Peace Initiative truly succeed?
For anyone still wondering why Syria is being vigorously wooed by the West, the first demand of Israel is a, “Complete withdrawal from the occupied Arab territories, including the Syrian Golan Heights, to the 4 June 1967 line and the territories still occupied in southern Lebanon.”
Israeli officials, including former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, have expressed a willingness to cede part of the territory, but they suffer right-wing fallout every time. Netanyahu declared in May, “Remaining on the Golan will ensure Israel has a strategic advantage in cases of military conflict with Syria.” Presumably he must change his position to implement the Arab Peace Initiative.
The second clause of the Initiative is to, “Attain a just solution to the problem of Palestinian refugees to be agreed upon in accordance with the UN General Assembly Resolution No 194.” Netanyahu very publicly declared that refugees and their descendants, “must once and for all give up the demand to resettle inside of Israel.”
Presumably he must change this position as well.
Finally Israel must, “Accept the establishment of an independent and sovereign Palestinian state on the Palestinian territories occupied since 4 June 1967 in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as its capital.” Netanyahu has endorsed a two-state solution, but skeleton would be a better word. Along with 300,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank, Israel is unyielding on Jerusalem. Netanyahu wants the whole city under Israeli authority and isn’t willing to negotiate.
Netanyahu must shift on every policy to accord with the Arab Peace Initiative, which promises to, “Consider the Arab-Israeli conflict over,” and, “Establish normal relations with Israel within the framework of this comprehensive peace.” Now it's clear why Netanyahu stressed that peace is only possible “if these proposals are not final,” and he has President Obama on his side.
While praising the Arab Peace Initiative for its “courage”, Obama intends to incorporate only parts of it into his own plan. So the real question becomes: can a rewritten Arab Peace Initiative succeed? The answer depends on editing, but it’s looking like a negative.
During a campaign trip to the Middle East in 2008, Obama reportedly told Abbas that, “The Israelis would be crazy not to accept this initiative,” but he must really think the Arab demands are crazy. Soon after coming to office, Obama submitted amendments to the Arab League that watered down the right of return and emphasized a demilitarized Palestinian state. Until he officially renounces his former statements to AIPAC in a speech of equal magnitude, Obama has also gifted an “undivided” Jerusalem to Israel.
The Arab Peace Initiative was designed to defend Palestinians when no one else would. Obama is revising the terms to make them more acceptable to Israel, a sign of desperation more than optimism.
President Obama must decide whether he wants the job done fast or done right; right now he’s choosing fast. While his own version of the Initiative may please Israel and thus have a higher probability to being initially agreed upon, the outcome will lack staying power. Forcing a weak hand on Abbas will dry up what’s left of his popular support and provoke Palestinian militants.
A two-state solution cannot be sacrificed for convenience. It will take time - time Obama doesn’t have. There’s no real need to finish by the end of his term, only his personal needs. He should, as music producers advise, let the track breathe.
July 27, 2009
Actually, Lt. General David Deptula, deputy chief of staff for the Air Force Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Agency (ISR), boasts, “We can do that today.”
The Pentagon fired up its media and rolled out its newest inventions in a news briefing with Deptula, Vice Chief of Staff for the Air Force General William Fraser, and Colonel Eric Mathewson, commander of the Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) task force. Supplemental press releases praised the system’s potential to change modern warfare.
For those wondering how 1984 could become reality, the answer may lie on the battlefields of tomorrow. America’s future enemies better prepare themselves for a Truman Show theatre; its military is developing the most sophisticated Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) matrix the world has ever seen.
This isn’t the future, Operation Big Brother is in progress. An army of Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle's (UCAV) just left for Afghanistan.
A “large fleet of missile-carrying Reaper drones are being readied,” according to Michael Vickers, Assistant Secretary of Defense and chief of Special Operations, who added that a Predator shipment just left. They will coordinate with what is only known as the "Kandahar Beast," a prototypical, high-altitude UAV that looks like a bomber.
During the briefing, General Deptula highlighted the synergy between the RQ-4 Global Hawk, an unmanned surveillance aircraft, and the Predator/Reaper combo. He raved that 95% of targets are hit and that UAV operations have increased 600% in last 6 years, a statistic with room to run.
“We're a 1920 equivalent,” said Deptula. “So I would suggest to you that there's still much discovery that lies ahead that.”
For examples into the near future, General Deptula explained, “we have a 1-G cockpit where I can always have a fresh crew, which enables any sort of persistence. I can design an aircraft that can stay airborne for five years, and I can man it that entire five years with little fatigue.”
Colonel Mathewson theorized on, “hypersonic, low-observable, made to be extremely long- endurance, you know, five years.” He discussed future refilling tankers and the nuclear capabilities of UAV’s. The officials admitted that while the option must be considered and is in design, the technology hasn’t progressed to that point.
Their enthusiasm for their project then evaporated when quizzed on Pakistan. During an interview session after the slide-show, Deptula and Mathewson shot down three separate questions on political backlash. Killing is their area of expertise, not politics or culture, and apparently the topic made them thirsty, as if in an interrogation room.
Why be nervous or skittish, aren’t UAVs a triumph?
Several reporters unsuccessfully pressured the officials on Pakistan and their insistence was warranted. Not only do current drone operations have political consequences that may run contrary to counterinsurgency, a whole new wave of operations is being planned. Afghanistan is evolving into the testing ground of America’s UAS for the next 5 years at the minimum.
According to the AP report, "A combination of unmanned aerial vehicles and sensor-laden aircraft with links to ground forces will give commanders an 'unblinking eye' over the war-torn country.”
“Systemically taking apart the network through intelligence-led operations is a very important feature of modern counterinsurgency,” Vickers said.
Is an "unblinking eye" really counterinsurgency though, or just counter-terrorism? Afghanistan needs nation-building no matter how much President Obama wants to wiggle out of it. America could monitor every inch of the country, but that blanket won’t matter if the country doesn't imrpove and Afghans continue to resist.
“We want to bring every available technology we can to bear,” said Vickers, before throwing in the necessary caveat, “but ultimately it will be won and lost on the ground, and it will be won and lost by the Afghan people.”
The question then becomes how will Afghans and Pakistanis react to being watched 24 hours a day. Americans disapprove of the Big Brother concept and relish privacy, yet the government is apparently willing to subject other countries to it. Oddly drones have operated over a period of Taliban resurgence.
How much longer will security be placed above individual rights, and how long before the individual fights back?
The all-seeing eye can be a dark path. The level of monitoring outlined by Secretary Vickers may violate cultural laws in Afghanistan and Pakistan, then again much of their populations may not know. They certainly won’t be told 2047 that is upon them.
July 25, 2009
Audacious has two definitions: showing a willingness to take bold risks, and an impudent lack of respect. Mullen’s latest interview to Al Jazeera fits the second definition.
His opening sentence on Afghanistan makes this clear enough, declaring, “We're not an occupation force and it's up to us to make sure that message is loud and clear.” Mullen would find few Muslims who believe Afghanistan isn’t an occupation. Many Americans and Europeans aren't sure either, but this is just the beginning of Mullen’s propaganda bombardment.
During her trip to India, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton claimed that al-Qaeda’s leadership is hiding in Pakistan’s tribal areas. Not relishing the extra attention, Pakistani officials countered before and after her visit that al-Qaeda’s leadership is in Afghanistan. Evidently this denial didn’t sit well with American military officials. Mullen re-countered that al-Qaeda is both in Pakistan and plotting attacks on America.
Asked why America won’t militarily invade Pakistan if he knows where al-Qaeda is, Mullen replied, “Because FATA is in Pakistan and Pakistan is a sovereign country and we don’t go into sovereign countries. And we don't go into sovereign countries unless we're invited in.”
This scripted answer from a man who visited Pakistan twelve times last year. Mullen implies that sovereignty is purely physical, and even then confusingly applied. Drone strikes don’t count, having been approved by Pakistan’s government. American special forces have also crossed into Pakistan, but since these occurrences are rare they must not count either.
Forget the physical though. Overblown panic on nuclear weapons, economic carrots to steer Pakistani leadership, and a continual flow of CIA officers are basic infringements of sovereignty. American popularity among Pakistanis remains low largely because of perceived interference. Though economic and psychological influence defines hegemony, Mullen ignored questions of political backlash.
Next came an especially shocking statement: “Indeed, we sometimes forget that there’s actually been well over a 1,000 Pakistani soldiers who’ve been lost in this fight.” Does "we" mean Americans? Mr. Mullen doesn’t speak for this author and hopefully isn’t referring to himself or anyone in the American government. Pakistani soldiers are dying so that Americans don’t have to, and forgetting would be callous and offensive.
Mullen then turned on Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the ISI, as he often does.
“I believe that in the long run the ISI has to change its strategic thrust which has been to foment chaotic activity in its border countries," he said, referring to India. “What I mean is that they have clearly focused on support historically of militant organizations both east and west. I mean that's been a focus of theirs in Kashmir historically as well as in FATA. And I think that fundamentally has to change.”
Never mind that America has used some of the same militant organizations, Mullen voiced not a word of concern about Indian rule in Kashmir. It’s surprising to hear an American official to speak the word Kashmir, so silent have they been. Instead of forcing the ISI out of Kashmir and off the Indian border, America should devote itself to resolving the conflict. Right now it's being covered up.
Mullen also issued confusing repetitions like, “I think the border represents a very, very complex environment and history.” Later on, “One of the things I have learned in my frequent visits to Pakistan over the last year is again that it is another extraordinarily complex relationship.” War in Afghanistan isn't complex, there's war because Afghanistan is complex. When told Afghanistan is a graveyard for foreign armies, Mullen replied that America must be aware of that fact.
Mr. Mullen seems to take pleasure in peculiar statements. A good general keeps silent so no fault can be found for doing so, but this advantage degrades into disadvantage. A general is as good as his results; failure in Afghanistan will turn secrecy into incompetence. Silence reveals itself to be a lack of strategy. Mullen refused to answer any questions about future troop deployments, insisting that the next 12 to 18 months will decide the war.
He didn't say what will happen if Afghanistan remains unstable, however he does believe, “the strategy that President Obama has laid out is exactly right.” As if it were his own.
The audacity of hope and propaganda collide.
July 24, 2009
Now can the same be said for his father?
President Obama’s self-stated victory in Afghanistan is to “disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al-Qaeda,” a goal that doesn’t clarify whether Osama bin Laden must be killed. Obama has stated his intent to bestow justice upon bin Laden for 9/11. While the spectacle would psychologically boost the American public, al-Qaeda has a high chance of surviving without him. He’s likely designing it to do just that.
But al-Qaeda is one of many terrorist groups that construct themselves to sustain inevitable assassinations in the future. Dozens of examples can be culled from the 1950’s through the 80’s, but the 1990’s and beyond will suffice to demonstrate that targeted assassinations have a deep history of tactical success and strategic failure.
In 1992, Israeli helicopters destroyed the motorcade of Abbas al-Musawi, the leader of Hezbollah at the time. Weeks later Hezbollah chose its new leader, a young Hassan Nasrallah, who would expel Israeli forces from Lebanon in 2000 and 2006. Nasrallah’s deputy Imad Mughniyah was then killed in 2008. Both Israel and Syria were blamed for the assassination, an inconsequentiality. Hezbollah, by Israel’s own admission, is rapidly strengthening.
A parallel story was written with blood in the Palestinian territories. Hamas lost both of its co-founders in 2004 when Israel assassinated Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and his replacement, Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi, a month later. The killings were widely condemned in the Arab world and Western states like the UK, but America and Israel defended the killings. Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz called Yassin “the Palestinian bin Laden.”
Two years later Hamas emerged victorious in the Palestinian legislative election and subsequently overthrew Fatah in the Gaza Strip. Though Israel managed to kill additional high-ranking officials during the Gaza war, Hamas shows no signs of military weakness. Again, Israel fears that Hamas is more entrenched than ever before.
Hezbollah and Hamas have proven that leaders can be replaced and that targeted assassinations empower insurgencies, not end them.
After a while the cycle becomes nauseating. Fathi Shaqaqi, head of Palestine Islamic Jihad, was killed in 1995; Islamic Jihad continues to operate. Abu Ali Mustafa, Secretary General of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, was supposedly killed by Israeli agents in July of 2000; the PFLP continues to operate. Jamal Abu Samhadana, founder of the Popular Resistance Committee, was killed in 2006; PRC continues to operate.
The Taliban and al-Qaeda have exhibited the same resilience.
Aden Hashi Farah, the alleged military chief of al-Qaeda, was killed in 2001 by a US drone, but his death had negligible effects. Aden Hashi Farah, head al-Qaeda in Somalia and leader of al-Shabab, was killed in 2008 by a US drone; al-Shabab surged and now controls most of Mogadishu. The Taliban lost their senior military commander, Mullah Dadullah, when American forces raided his house and killed him in 2007.
The Taliban exploded the following year and forced President Obama to commit new troops before he reviewed the war.
Given the survival of all these groups, Al-Qaeda isn’t likely to crumble upon bin Laden’s execution. This isn’t Sauron and Mordor. Like most other Islamic militant groups, Al-Qaeda is only guided by bin Laden, not fueled. Al-Qaeda powers itself on the universal energy of all militants - poverty, oppression, and imperialism. Assassinations do absolutely nothing to improve these conditions.
Terrorism has been made into its own cause to conceal how little America has improved the well being of the oppressed. America exports the most humanitarian aid on earth, but this aid pales in comparison to its military expenditures. For instance, 7$ billion in economic aid was just allocated to Pakistan over the next five years, while military operations in Afghanistan are over 200$ billion and counting.
The war would be better off if these figures were balanced out.
Assassination is barely counterinsurgency and rarely terminates a terrorist organization. Ideologies are only inflamed. The real cause of terrorism is political, economic, and social inequality. A Palestinian or Kashmiri state, or less absolute relations with Israel, would inflict far greater damage to al-Qaeda than killing bin Laden or his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri. Global jihad is self-sustaining. Its regenerating heads are mirages, lures down an endless path of waste and violence.
Osama bin Laden would rather die than see Third World countries improve. America can't fall for the trap.
July 23, 2009
Clinton declared, “I want to send a very clear message that the United States is back, that we are fully engaged and committed to our relationships in Southeast Asia.”
Immediately an implication was drawn to the lack of attention devoted to Asia by the Bush administration, but political distractions have little value. Clinton listed poverty, refugees, disaster relief, human trafficking, and counter-narcotics as areas America should rightfully continue supporting in Thailand. Asia, minus China, still looks to America for leadership and President Obama must make good use of the opportunity.
But Clinton soon shifted into war mode after dispensing with pleasantries, revealing her ulterior motives.
“We know there are also growing concerns about military cooperation between North Korea and Burma which we take very seriously,” she said at a news conference in Bangkok. “It would be destabilizing for the region, it would pose a direct threat to Burma's neighbors.”
Then Clinton opened the bomb bay doors - “We worry about the transfer of nuclear technology.”
Intelligence agencies have spent years monitoring North Korea and Myanmar’s military alliance. Someone uninterested in politics might be able to make the nuclear connection, it’s a 1+1 equation. Think Myanmar is building an underground, reinforced military city for fun? The way it treats its people suggests their safety wouldn’t be a deterrent.
Nonetheless Clinton made a bold move by dropping the nuclear card because it stinks like Iraq. An American intelligence official quickly clarified that no positive link has been established, but a strong case can be built against North Korea, already nuclear, and Myanmar’s friendship. They’re freaks, outcasts, rebels, and those types join forces. The question remains unanswered: what if peaceful means fail to prevent proliferation between North Korea and Myanmar?
Diplomacy can’t even save one woman. “We expect fair treatment of Aung San Suu Kyi,” Clinton somehow said straight-faced, knowing the odds aren’t high.
Nothing short of a military blockade has the long-term potential to limit military transfers between the rogue states. Unfortunately such a tactic would only escalate tensions instead of foster a neutral environment to resolve disagreements. Thus if all else fails, would an international coalition led by America launch a land assault into North Korea or Myanmar? Doubtful, but Clinton is laying the foundation.
Nuclear weapons must also be considered as bait for regime change. Nuclear accusations trigger fear and vigilance, but also suspicion. Iraq’s story is known, North Korea is the next bad boy, and Myanmar continues a theme that only Iran could end.
"We want Iran to calculate what I think is a fair assessment,” Clinton warned, “that if the United States extends a defense umbrella over the region, if we do even more to develop the military capacity of those in the Gulf, it is unlikely that Iran will be any stronger or safer because they won't be able to intimidate and dominate as they apparently believe they can once they have a nuclear weapon."
Clinton's ultimate purpose in Asia disclosed itself as she laid the hammer down - America’s plan B for Iran is global isolation. There is more to President Obama's praise and encouragement of Europe, Russia, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and the rest of Asia. He wants them to grow stronger so he can form a “defense umbrella,” a concept partially designed by the Israeli lobby.
So what if the umbrella collapses from a downpour? Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan maintain positive diplomatic relations with Iran. Russia and China are reluctant to isolate Iran into oblivion. Israel denounced the idea and only has faith in the military option, which will jeopardize European support. Continental isolation will take near superhuman unanimity on strategy and tactics; the four estimated years before Iran builds a bomb may not be enough time.
Such a strategy, long considered but seldom discussed publicly, has no promise of success even if the world does unite. Iran’s leadership is already feeling the pressure as evident in its last election. Suffocating Tehran won't prevent nuclear weapons, only drive it further to them. Ostracizing Iran could lead to a North Korea in the Persian Gulf and spark an arms race in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria, and Turkey.
All future details though. Clinton dropped her own bombs and successfully completed her mission. She's earn her day at the resort.
July 21, 2009
“I think that the United States, as you know, is very supportive of steps that the governments take,” Clinton said during a symbolic press conference at the Taj Palace Hotel, “but we are not in any way involved in it or promoting any particular position. We respect the sovereignty of the decisions that lie in the hands of the Indian Government.”
But respect didn't stop her from responding at one point, “You raised the questions about other terrorist organizations that are focused on India. Clearly, we believe that they have to be rooted out, that they must be defeated and dismantled, and we have made that very clear and we will continue to do so.”
America is rightfully active behind the scenes and has particular positions to promote - and should feel no shame. Political backlash is inevitable, why worry? Clinton didn’t randomly visit Mumbai during a diplomatic flurry between India and Pakistan. Her agenda was to promote India’s super power status and secure defense, trade, and energy agreements.
Among other things, “I am also pleased that Prime Minister Singh told me that sites for two nuclear parks for US companies have been approved by the government.”
Hopefully that wasn’t the reason for Clinton’s silence on Kashmir. The disputed territory, ironically the source of anti-Indian terrorism she spoke so passionately about eliminating, was absent from her remarks. But Clinton's white noise concealed another irregularity hidden within her public relations web.
Already pressuring Pakistan to come clean on 11/26, Clinton stated as American officials often do, “With respect to the location of those who were part of the planning and execution of the attack of 9/11 against our country, we firmly believe that a significant number of accused who were involved in the planning and execution of 9/11 live in the border areas of Pakistan and we have informed Pakistan about them.”
Interesting, because Pakistan disagrees.
“According to our information Osama is in Afghanistan,” Information Minister Rehman Malik told reporters before Clinton arrived in Mumbai, “probably Kunar, as most of the activities against Pakistan are being directed from Kunar. They’re [America] getting mid-level people not big fish. And they are counterproductive because they are killing civilians and turning locals against our government.”
The facts are as hidden as bin Laden. Pakistan is a midway of disinformation games and truth is a rare prize.
First, who’s being honest: Clinton, Malik, both, or neither? Unfortunately any choice could be correct. Al-Qaeda’s leadership may move between Pakistan and Afghanistan, affirming all possibilities simultaneously. They could even be in Iran or Sudan. Americans, Pakistanis, and Afghans have a faint chance at guessing correctly.
Clinton’s assertion appears to be a potential “slap in the face” to Pakistan, as the Times of India labeled it, but assuming so would forget the similarly cryptic matrix America and Pakistan have adopted over drones. Both states are well trained at pointing fingers in public and shaking hands in private. There’s a good chance the newest propaganda is a collaboration, theoretically to confuse al-Qaeda. A confounding scenario, but benign.
Options quickly sour though. If America and Pakistan truly disagree on al-Qaeda’s whereabouts then Malik is doing his best to limit American operations and attention on Pakistan’s side of the border. President Obama has chosen to escalate the war in Afghanistan; Pakistan legitimately believes more American troops in Afghanistan equals more chaos for Pakistan, which Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen admitted. President Obama has staked his relationship with Pakistan on his surge.
Pinpointing al-Qaeda’s leadership goes beyond propaganda, politics, and military. Behind the guessing lies a fundamental disagreement between America and Pakistan. America believes it must stay in Afghanistan, possibly for 20 years, until the militancy is defeated, whereas Pakistanis and Afghans believe the militancy exists because America occupies the region.
Neither America nor Pakistan have an answer to this core dispute so they've hidden it by escalating the war before public opinion reverses, hoping to eliminate al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan in the next 18 months by synchronizing surges. President Obama and President Zardari are hiding from their publics and each other. Their strategy may work but if the insurgency doesn’t die as planned, and they usually don’t, one day America and Pakistan will be forced to confront their ideological polarity.
They can hide for now - not in 2011.
July 20, 2009
Can Israelis and Palestinians share Jerusalem, or is there only room for one at the top of the Mount?
History’s opinion is an emphatic no. According to Eric H. Cline, author of Jerusalem Besieged, the city has been destroyed at least twice, besieged 23 times, attacked 52 seperate times, and captured 44 times as recently as 1948 and 1967. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu likely dwells deeply on these stats.
For now Jerusalem is Israel’s by Basic Law, citing a thorough case for historic-religious precedent, but history has demonstrated how fickle ownership is. Netanyahu is doing everything possible to buck the trend as evident in his recent speeches on Palestine, and was quick to draw after the US State Department summoned Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren to protest a building project developed by Irving Moskowitz in East Jerusalem.
“I was surprised by the U.S. move,” Netanyahu told his cabinet. “In my conversation with Obama in Washington, I told him that I could not accept any limitations on our sovereignty in Jerusalem. I told him Jerusalem is not a settlement, and it has nothing to do with discussions on a freeze. I won't cave in on this matter.”
Netanyahu defended the right of private Israeli citizens to buy any property they want in Jerusalem and he has a point while the city remains in diplomatic limbo. Of course the same argument is used for prohibiting settlements. Netanyahu likened Jerusalem to New York, London, Paris, or Rome, cities he knows possess a fraction of Jerusalem’s ethnic and religious divisions.
Palestinians would wish away Netanyahu if they could. Senior negotiator Saeb Erekat quickly complained, “All this means dictations and not negotiations.” Following the lead of Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who recently urged President Obama to draft a new peace plan, Erekat warned Obama “to speed up the implementation of commitments on all parties.”
But Obama has yet to create a positive atmosphere and is a suspect Palestinian ally. The day after securing the Democratic nomination, he told AIPAC, “Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided.” He recanted the next day from political pressure, more proof of his real position, and it's too late to pretend otherwise. Obama's pressure to halt Israeli expansion in East Jerusalem has only raised demand for property and spurred a buying rush.
The past, present, and future suggests that peace in Jerusalem is forever elusive. Both Israelis and Palestinians are more unyielding over Jerusalem than any other final status issue. The Holy City is the crown jewel, the one present a child wants more than all the others combined and won’t be happy with anything less. Jerusalem’s history has been obliteration more often than cohabitation, but war is not a viable option for Israelis or Palestinians.
A raw deal for either side will sink both their futures and the current road leads down this direction. Palestinians, realizing this, have no motive to negotiate final status issues if the end is Jerusalem and that end has already been decided in Israel’s favor. A permanent two-state solution is impossible unless Jerusalem is equitably resolved.
Three vague terms desperately need examination: undivided, sovereignty, and capital.
A “divided” or “undivided” Jerusalem is a great source of confusion. Is a wall necessary to carve the city in two or would a border suffice? If a border was drawn, could Israelis and Palestinians transit freely like in the EU, or will the ridiculously slow process of travel visas persist? Security walls and strict border control are long-term disasters, not solutions. A divided Jerusalem is unstable.
Both a divided or undivided Jerusalem would compromise Israel’s sovereignty. Netanyahu says he’ll take no orders from Palestinian authorities; can this be done in tandem with Palestine taking no orders from Israel? Sovereignty will likely be compromised on both sides, as they cannot share an undivided throne while Jerusalem is controlled by remains or the other.
Therefore peace depends on whether Jerusalem can double as a capital for separate states, a daunting logistics and security challenge. Israel often allows that Jerusalem can be Palestine’s “spiritual capital” so long as Israel maintains physical control, an intolerable arrangement for Palestinians. Authority must be equal if Jerusalem is to be successfully administered by two states.
But Netanyahu couldn't help boasting, "In my previous term, I built thousands of apartments in the Har Homa neighborhood of Jerusalem, defying the entire world." He seems bent on yielding no ground, as if Obama is testing his manhood.
Initially assume that Jerusalem can have only one king of the hill. It’s nice to dream that Israelis and Palestinians could share the crown, but realistically Jerusalem remains a zero-sum game where each side gains at the other's expense. Special envoy George Mitchell regularly declares a two-state solution is the “only viable political solution.”
If Netanyahu and Palestinians can’t be persuaded to share Jerusalem, neither President Obama nor anyone else has a chance of finalizing one.
July 19, 2009
"We condemn the use of this video and the public humiliation of prisoners. It is against international law," U.S. military spokesman Colonel Greg Julian said, who denounced the video as "propaganda" like he had never heard of the word. "We are doing everything we can to return this soldier to safety... Basically they would like us to go home. That is just simply not going to happen."
No one expects America give into the Taliban's demand, an ill omen for Private Bergdah. Maybe the Taliban is violating international laws of war with its propaganda, but what about guerrilla law? Colonel Julian validated the success of the Taliban's propaganda with his own. Propaganda battles are endlessly entertaining.
[Update: America wasn't done either. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would claim the next day on Good Morning America, "We are attempting to do everything we can to locate him and free him. It's a real sign of desperation and inappropriate criminal behavior on the parts of these terrorist groups, so we are going to do everything we can to get him." Yes, the Taliban is desperate, so desperate that it's sending at least 17,000 extra soldiers to Afghanistan, probably more.]
July 18, 2009
India and Pakistan will likely go tête-à-tête like they always have, but outside assistance could prove beneficial. President Obama must have thought so when he allegedly considered Bill Clinton as special envoy to Kashmir. But India, on the short list of states that can order America around, immediately objected.
After expressing his desire during the election to resolve Kashmir's discord, Obama reversed position and stated last month, “we want to be helpful in that process, but I don’t think it’s appropriate for us to be the mediators in that process. I think that this is something that the Pakistanis and Indians can take leadership on.”
Weeks before he had left Kashmir out of his Cairo speech, yet there seems to be no difference between Kashmir and Palestine, where Obama dispatched George Mitchell to. And did Obama notice Pakistan has a leadership crisis?
Staying out of Indian-Pakistani relations would only be wise if America began on the outside, but it’s already deep inside all areas of South Asia. During the NAM conference, Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen met with Pakistani COAS General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and reportedly encouraged him to continue total war against the Taliban.
America has done some “dictating,” as Obama called it, to Pakistan so why not pressure India? American-Pakistani relations and Indian-Pakistani relations may have been separate entities before, but they’re converging now.
“We believe durable peace in South Asia is achievable,” Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Gilani said after meeting with Manmohan Singh, India’s Prime Minister. “It will be facilitated by the resolution of all standing disputes, including Jammu and Kashmir. The peace dividend for 1.5 billion people in the region would be enormous.”
Officials publicly deny that America has any influence on the dialogue. Robert Blake, assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia, reinforced neutrality by telling reporters, “I can assure you we are not going to appoint a special Kashmir envoy. This is long-standing US policy that this is an issue that needs to be worked between India and Pakistan, and we do not have plans to appoint an envoy.”
Because of Indian opposition. And when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, due to land in Mumbai soon, was asked whether America had pressured India to negotiate with Pakistan, she replied, "No, not at all." The Times of India fortunately claims otherwise.
Gilani and Obama both believe that bringing peace to Kashmir would have dramatic effects in Afghanistan which justifies American involvement. National Security Adviser James Jones thought so when he told Gilani during a recent visit to Pakistan, “The U.S. government would help in every possible way for the resumption of dialogue between Pakistan and India and for resolution of the core issues.”
Jihad in Kashmir affects America’s national security. India and Pakistan need help navigating a peace process that has tripped them up for decades and America is the most plausible mediator if one is required. Obama officials are working behind the scenes, an encouraging sign, so it doesn’t matter if they say otherwise. They can facilitate negotiations with the right touch.
A weakened Pakistan is no match for India one on one. India holds the leverage: a richer economy, possession of Kashmir and its water sources, influence in Afghanistan, and Mumbai terrorism. Singh told reporters after meeting Gilani, "So long as Pakistani territory continues to be used for perpetrating acts of terrorism directed against India, I think the dialogue process even if it starts cannot move forward."
Pakistan needs America’s soft power, what Secretary Clinton so often speaks of developing, to tone down India's circular coupling of terrorism to negotiations. India spawns that terror by suppressing Kashmiris.
The risk of alienating India shouldn’t be valued above alienating Pakistan. Pakistan did almost everything America demanded after 9/11 and no state has suffered more from the pursuit of al-Qaeda, including America itself. Over 5,000 civilians have been killed since 2004 alone. India is an emerging superpower while Pakistan is battling for its sovereignty, and Obama is losing popularity because of his perceived Indian bias.
Pakistanis don’t think he’s being fair, they think he ditched them.
American officials claims Pakistan needs all the help it can get or the Taliban could march on Islamabad. Keeping negotiations balanced is crucial to resolving Kashmir and Obama shouldn’t hesitate to dance. The payoff in Afghanistan and Pakistan could outweigh any amount of American blood and treasure.
July 17, 2009
If no change comes to Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, China could regret letting the embers burn.
Xinjiang has a long history of civil unrest spawned by ethnic tensions and religious undertones; over 8 million Uyghur’s feel repressed in a region in which they form the largest minority. Most recently a series of terrorist attacks stole the spotlight from Tibet during the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The latest riots are certainly part of a trend, but beyond this only Chinese authorities know the full story of Ürümqi.
In one way what actually happened is irrelevant. Al-Qaeda aftershocks would follow the quake regardless.
Uyghurs are Sunni Muslims and al-Qaeda feeds on Muslim oppression. In the waning days of the riots, Algerian-based al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) vowed retaliation by threatening Chinese workers and interests in Algeria. China has 50,000 workers in Algeria alone, and AQIM’s threat metaphorically extends across Africa.
According to an intelligence report compiled by Stirling Assynt, “There is an increasing amount of chatter among jihadists who claim they want to see action against China.”
Doubts persist about whether AQIM is actually real. It may not be. Similar rumors question the existence of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, an Uyghur separatist movement; both groups are alleged ploys by Algeria and China to curry favor with America after 9/11. But the East Turkestan Liberation Organization (ETLO) is real and China claims it too has connections to al-Qaeda, to scapegoat Uyghurs the ETLO argues.
These theories mesh with the Ürümqi riots, which some claim were instigated by outsiders. A Pakistani government spokesman blamed the riots on "foreign elements" meant to disrupt Chinese-Pakistani relations. Al-Qaeda’s presence is real, if not physically then psychologically. If any kind of militancy takes root in Africa, it could spread to China.
Think again if the thought of al-Qaeda battling China sounds nonsensical. The idea isn’t to immediately infiltrate Xinjiang, where China can be as heavy handed as it pleases. Scant regard for human rights is an advantage when pursuing suspected terrorists at home, but this advantage evaporates in the Sahara.
China’s vast African investments would make easy targets for al-Qaeda, which operates a potent network across the continent. With over 400 million Muslims spanning the world’s deadliest conflicts, al-Qaeda maintains training camps in Sudan and Somalia at the minimum, with members in every north African state. China has nothing to gain by defending against and chasing Islamic militants 4,000 miles away.
China seems militarily intelligent, avoiding wars and steadily building its army for the 21st century. The seas will change when China launches its first nuclear powered aircraft carrier and one day it will plant its flag on the moon, crowding the space arms race. So it would be foolish if China overlooked the best time to defeat an insurgency: before it happens.
Stop the small from becoming great, that would be Sun Tzu’s advice.
China cannot let al-Qaeda progress to the 9/11 stage. Still off the government’s radar in 1991, few Americans had heard of Osama bin Laden. He had no network in America, but left to fester for a decade and the consequences became gruesomely evident. Al-Qaeda is serious when it threatens to attack in the name of persecuted Muslims, the only justification it has left, and cracking down on Uyghurs will attract Islamic militants over time.
Al-Qaeda and China’s long-term horizons are becoming entangled and tensions will escalate if perception and reality remains stagnant. Uyghur language is supposedly being phased out and Islamic worship stigmatized. Uyghurs complain of political exclusion and ethnic persecution. The Ürümqi riots allegedly started with a rumor that two Uyghurs laborers had raped a Chinese woman. A fight left two Uyghurs dead, sparking a protest and eventually martial unrest.
Uyghurs may exaggerate their treatment from China, but the situation would not be what it is now if their every claim was false. China needs to give more attention and freedom to the Uyghurs’ political aspirations. Engaging them won’t ruin China, but refusing to tempts disaster. China can’t give Islamic militants any reason to declare jihad.
Al-Qaeda is hunting for a new host for the 2010’s and Xinjiang fits the requirements. Working with the Uyghurs is China's best preventive strategy.
July 16, 2009
But another game between President Obama and the American people is nearing an end.
Most of Obama’s supporters were thrilled as he assumed office despite his stated campaign intentions to escalate the Afghan war by two combat brigades. His 80% approval resisted negativity as the war sagged below 50%, depending on the poll. Only 34% of respondents favored increasing American troops, according to a ABC News/Washington Post, and a majority of Democrats favored a drawn down.
Yet they cheered louder than ever on January 20th. Americans mostly took Obama at his word, assuming he would turn at least part of his rhetoric into reality. With health care, the economy, and the overall tone of the White House, Obama has done reasonably well under unrealistic expectations.
Americans had to trust Obama when it came to Afghanistan, just as with education or energy reform. The likely thinking was that 17,000 troops and 4,000 Marine trainers are part of the bargain, ignoring that Obama had previously considered only 7,000. No candidate is perfect, he’s still smart, and Afghanistan is burning. One redeployment can be stomached. Maybe another smaller deployment, but that’s final.
With that trust, not in the war but in Obama’s leadership and military delegation, he claimed in an AP interview that his goals in Afghanistan “can be achieved without us increasing our troop levels.”
With that trust the game began. Pawns spread out, rooks to the corners, officers flanking the king. Now nothing is known beyond the upcoming summer, nothing can be predicted until the next 17,000 troops make their effects felt. Was Obama telling the truth or will America still need more troops? It’s too early to know.
One by one the pieces fell.
Suspicion that General David McKiernan, the former commander in Afghanistan, was fired for requesting 30,000 troops served as a prelude for the future. Michael E. O'Hanlon, a senior fellow at Brookings Institute, asserts that as recently as last month, National Security Advisor James Jones told commanders in Afghanistan that Obama “would likely react badly to any near-term troop request.”
The American people will soon discover how President Obama reacts. Less than a week after he claimed no more troops would be needed, his counterinsurgency bishop, David Kilcullen, told the UK’s Independent that America will be in Afghanistan for 10 more years “at the least,” with 5 years of “pretty major combat.” Meaning more troops.
Then one of Obama’s rooks stirred in the Helmand province. Marine General Larry Nicholson, commander of the ongoing Operation Khanjar, admitted he desperately needs more Afghan forces. Nicholson added that more American troops would be nice, but “I don't necessarily need more.” Sounds like a silent plea for more.
While a strategy could be developed to counter these losses, such as citing other military officials who disagree, the game suddenly leapt ahead with the capture of Obama’s queen, Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Today during remarks to soldiers stationed at Fort Drum, New York, Gates said, “I think there will not be a significant increase in troop levels in Afghanistan beyond the 68,000, at least probably through the end of the year. Maybe some increase, but not a lot.”
Meaning more troops this year and definitely more next year. Though he claims to have underestimated the need, Gates inwardly wants more troops, whether transfers from Iraq, redeployments from other countries, or fresh blood from home.
Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Michael Mullen both refer to Afghanistan as “the long war” to brace Americans for the inevitably protracted struggle ahead. This strategy is preferred over false confidence and premature victory celebrations, so why did Obama back himself into a corner instead of being similarly upfront? He’s too constrained by political ramifications, worried that further escalation could damage his own reputation. This is both the effect of an insurgency and the wrong approach to counterinsurgency.
At first President Obama had protection. Now he’s alone, vulnerable. No one voted for Obama based on his military expertise and going against his military advisers would be political suicide. His final move is a formality; Obama must admit more troops are necessary for Afghanistan or stick to a position abandoned by his advisers. He’s the last man standing between us and the truth. It’s checkmate.
Rejoice America, if but briefly. This fleeting victory is ours.
July 15, 2009
President Obama has a brief moment, maybe only one shot, to exploit Dasht-i-Leili, the alleged site of a Taliban massacre in 2001. He’s taken the first step by ordering a review of the case, which was never fully investigated, but the harder part will the following through. It’s time to put Rahm Emanuel's philosophy to use.
Obviously Obama would incur a strike in the Muslim world were he to refuse an investigation, more proof that America isn’t really changing. Obama has no room to maneuver after George Bush covered up the incident and stifled an investigation. Doing the same would invite comparisons to Bush, which is why Obama made a U-turn.
Initially Marine Corps Colonel David Lapan, a Pentagon spokesman, told the AP, “There is no indication that U.S. military forces were there, or involved, or had any knowledge of this. So there was not a full investigation conducted because there was no evidence that there was anything from a DoD (Department of Defense) perspective to investigate.”
But the next day, Obama said in an interview with CNN, “If it appears that our conduct in some way supported violations of the laws of war, then I think that, you know, we have to know about that.”
Obama and his staff realized the feebleness of denying U.S. military involvement; denial is futile. Northern Alliance General Rashid Dostum, who reportedly ordered the massacre, was on the CIA payroll and acting under the name, or at least dollars, of America. Who the CIA pays is America's problem and Obama has a responsibility to fully investigate Dasht-i-Leili, to preserve America’s image and his own.
The results are likely to be disadvantageous, otherwise the incident wouldn't have been covered up. Anticipating this, President Obama must formulate a strategy while the investigation is being carried out.
High media attention should be generated for the investigation’s findings, though this won’t be a problem. Obama will have to be careful not to get carried away because the drawback of exploiting a crisis is appearing too eager. But he can't hide the facts either because they’ll be publicized regardless. Obama can potentially gain respect by admitting to the truth upfront.
Obama must shy away from George Bush’s administration even though it tried to whitewash the incident. Obama shouldn’t elevate himself by pushing Bush down or he’ll appear disingenuous. American errors in Afghanistan are attributed to no single president. Playing politics is a useless game that the Taliban will see through.
Obama should own Dasht-i-Leili, portray it as an American mistake, and vow that America will take every possible measure to prevent future atrocities. Doing so may restore some dignity to the battlefield. War is merciless, lawless, without feeling, but must it be completely devoid of humanity? Codes of honor have been observed between enemies throughout history; sadly Afghanistan appears to lack one.
It’s dangerous for America to get too comfortable with fighting “terrorists,” who have no rights and aren’t protected from assassination by international laws of war. There are no laws when fighting “terrorists.” Anything goes, a corruptible philosophy. While al-Qaeda may deserve such treatment, it’s still questionable whether Taliban militants qualify as “terrorists.”
Skepticism will likely follow a suggestion of dignity and ask what respect the Taliban pays to America, but America has already lost if it wants to fight at the Taliban’s level. America must reassert itself as the bigger person and Dasht-i-Leili could be used to that end.
President Obama must confront Dasht-i-Leili head on and ensure it’s an anomaly. There’s no telling how many militants were discouraged from surrendering because of that massacre; its effects could be pervasive even if it were only a rumor. Obama must make explicitly clear that it’s safe to defect and persistently encourage desertion by offering a viable alternative. Welcome the enemy.
This tactic was especially favored by Julius Caesar, good company for Obama.
July 14, 2009
Rescue is still far off and the two sides, weary of vying for survival, are running out of time before another storm gathers.
President Obama and his appointment of special ambassador George Mitchell hasn’t revitalized the peace process like he probably hoped. America already faced low odds to alter Israel's behavior and improve the perceptions among Palestinians, and the rise of Benjamin Netanyahu as Israeli Prime Minister nullified whatever leeway Obama had left. Formal negotiations remain stalled six months later over settlements, the very first final status issue, and seem unlikely to restart soon. Jerusalem could take four years itself.
Israelis and Palestinians don’t appear to have made progress on any issue since Obama came to office and negativity is taking over. After unleashing one previous barrage at a future Palestine, Netanyahu loaded and fired again.
“I am convinced that the root of the solution is in the refusal to recognize the Jewish state," he said, speaking in Jerusalem to mark the death of Theodor Herzl, founder of Zionism. “Therefore, the key to peace is the explicit recognition by the Palestinians of Israel as a Jewish state. They must once and for all give up the demand to resettle inside of Israel the descendants of the refugees.”
Netanyahu's demands have no chance of being met. Egypt and Saudi Arabia oppose a strictly Jewish state; Hamas is willing to recognize the state of Israel, but not as a Jewish state. As for the refugees - give up? Is this really Netanyahu’s message? Is he intentionally sabotaging a two-state solution?
“I call again on the Palestinian leadership in Judea and Samaria [the West Bank], to the leaders of the Palestinian Authority,” he said, “let us meet. Let us make peace, diplomatic peace and economic peace. There is no reason for Abu Mazen [Abbas] and myself not to meet anywhere in the country,”
Apparently there is. Responding to Netanyahu’s speech, Abbas said no negotiations will be held until Israel ceases all settlement construction and vowed to “never give up” on refugee right of return.
"Israel must recognize the two-state solution and stop all settlement activities in order to resume peace talks over final status issues,” Abbas said. “The final status issues are settlements, Jerusalem, borders, refugees, water, security and prisoners."
But final status issues are sinking into the icy water, leaving less flotsam to hold onto. According to Netanyahu, settlements will continue to allow natural growth, Jerusalem is property of Israel, refugees need to find another home, and a Palestine military may be vetoed. What's there to negotiate? The Israeli government is openly mocking Abbas.
Quick to jump in a political fight, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told Israel Radio, “When we signed agreements with the Palestinian Authority, we signed with the PA that represented all the Palestinians - today you have Fatah in Judea and Samaria [the West Bank], and Hamastan in Gaza. Whom does Abu Mazen represent exactly? In the best case scenario, half of his people.”
While Lieberman has a point, he doesn’t seem at all eager to negotiate with Abbas, who’s term expires in 2010. Scratch at least one wasted year from President Obama’s first term.
Obama is trying to sway the currents and bring Israelis and Palestinians back to the same area. His efforts, lacking the necessary force, have kept them barely within eye sight. Their shouts can still be heard, but those too weaken. Israelis and Palestinians are drifting apart. Obama needs to stage a special rescue operation before the hour has passed, not just meet Jewish leaders.
“There can be no half-solutions with regards to the settlements, including so-called natural growth there,” said chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat. “If the US administration can't force Israel to stop the settlements, how will it force Israel to abide by any agreement regarding final status issues such as Jerusalem, borders, refugees, water, security and settlements?”
An international conference to negotiate final status issues has been shopped around diplomatic circles; now is the time. What’s left of the peace process has devolved into a media circus where each side shouts the loudest, or back room dealing between Israel and America that marginalizes the Palestinians. As the process stalls further, Gaza will weaken accordingly and test the trigger of Hamas rockets. Current negotiations are a ghost ship - haunted by past agreements, without a captain, lost at sea.
Israelis and Palestinians still don't seem ready to negotiate their differences, but if President Obama wants to re-establish control of the situation he needs a daring, radical plan like a Peace World Cup. Fortes fortuna adiuvat.
July 13, 2009
The debate has become so heated in London, and public opinion so precarious, that President Obama felt the need to back the British army. Good thing he's so popular in Britain, but Afghanistan could quickly weigh him down.
And how effective has Britain really been? Afghans in Helmand, where its forces are concentrated, complain that British soldiers are heavy handed. At a numerical disadvantage throughout their deployment, operations have been reduced to clearing without holding. The result is endless battle without success, and an unhappy Afghan population. British soldiers are angry too for being left under-equipped and outmanned in one of Afghanistan's most dangerous provinces.
The lack of security and oversight naturally extended to the corrupt Afghan police force (ANP). To what degree Pankela, a village in Lashkar Gah in Helmand, is a trend remains unknown, but it's not an isolated event. The story in Pankela is interesting enough, but Major Al Steele's statements are most disturbing.
The commander of Bravo Company of 3 SCOTS, the Black Watch, met elders in Pankela during Operation Khanjar and pleaded, "We have heard a lot of complaints about the ANP, but the Coalition Forces and the ANA are working together well, and the ANP are getting better."
Gul Mohammad, a village elder, listened halfheartedly. Of all the things Afghans don't need to told by an Army official, it's that the situation is improving when it's really not.
"Every time we heard that new ANP would come," sighed Mohammad. "But the old ANP would come back and it would be just like in the past. The people here trust the Taliban. If the police come back and behave the same way, we will support the Taliban to drive them out."
Meanwhile the propaganda mill is still working out the bugs. Senator Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, like Senator Feinstein, appears to have missed the memo of staying silent on drones. Levin claims America wouldn't have authorized the project if Pakistan didn't privately agree.
"For them to look the other way or to give us the green light privately and then to attack us publicly leaves us, it seems to me, at a very severe disadvantage and loss with the Pakistani people," he said.
He would have made this statement a year or two ago if he was sincere.
Senator Levin might be laying another web, the deceit is already so deep that it's hard to tell. Wasn't part of the agreement that Islamabad, already sweating under a new civilian government, would publicly condemn the drones to maintain face? If this was the strategy it failed to foresee the public outcry, or maybe they thought American popularity couldn't go lower.
The possibility remains that there was no formal agreement on drones, only an ad hoc strategy that inevitably produced instability. But if Levin is setting a trap, the next stage could be a Pakistani statement denying Levin's testimony. Both sides subtly paint the other as the liar to please their populaces and the show goes on.
Few will be fooled.
July 12, 2009
"These terrorist attacks are hard to prevent, can be carried out by a few individuals, and do not require a military force capable of confronting the Marines," said Arturo Munoz, an expert on the tribal environment in Helmand province with RAND Corp. "I would expect the Taliban to avoid pitched battles with the Marines in order to avoid a large number of casualties. This does not mean they will avoid violence."
Is this supposed to count for "expert" counterinsurgency advice for the American people? RAND, originally created to provide analysis for the American government, must keep its good stuff for the military. Civilians get propaganda, the use of "terrorist attack" to describe a military on military attack.
Terrorism is when IED's kill civilians, not when they kill American or NATO forces, the intended target. Evidently an IED killing an American soldier is also terrorism, not war, and hence illegal, while an American air-stirke on the Taliban is legal even though civilians could be unintentionally killed. Apparently the Taliban's military operations are outside the laws of war.
But not guerrilla war.
July 11, 2009
Too bad his adviser blew the dirt off this trap. Then again, counterinsurgency expert David Kilcullen’s job is to expose deception.
The American people have never received a time frame for Afghanistan. Though any war is difficult to measure, an open-ended war is a recipe for disaster. While Obama’s White Paper briefly delved into nation-building, no price or time limit was cited. Maybe the Obama administration doesn’t know, or maybe it does.
Kilcullen, one of Obama’s top war advisers, claimed in an interview with the UK’s Independent, “We are looking at ten years at least in Afghanistan, and that is the best case scenario and at least half of that will be pretty major combat. This is the commitment needed, and this is what people in America and Britain should be told, and they should be told that there will be a cost involved.”
A 19 year counterinsurgency as the best case scenario.
Questions pop up like mushrooms after a rain storm. One immediately wonders why Kilcullen, if he felt a need to inform the American people, didn’t give this same interview to the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, or other major American newspaper, or to C-Span. Instead the Independent story was more likely found in the international Muslim media, not exactly mainstream America.
The veracity of Kilcullen’s statements must then be examined. Kilcullen, considered a leading counterinsurgency expert in the world, is a student of General David Petraeus and highly trusted by Obama. During General Stanley McChrystal’s Senate confirmation, he was asked if he would consult Kilcullen during his command in Afghanistan.
“Yes I will,” McChrystal responded. “David Kilcullen is a friend of mine, I think he talks a lot of sense.”
Yet Kilcullen’s advice on drone strikes was ignored even though Obama implemented his strategy to push Pakistan deeper into the war. After publishing an editorial in the NYT, Kilcullen told the Independent, “These strikes are totally counter-productive. It is a strategic error to personalize the conflict in this way, it’ll strengthen the enemy and weaken our friends. How can one expect the civilian population to support us if we kill their families and destroy their homes.”
Why was Kilcullen’s advice on drone strikes ignored if he is so visionary? Is he really against drones or is this a propaganda ploy to create the appearance of debate in the White House? It’s strange that Kilcullen would be so respected and yet so ignored; Obama has launched five drone strikes in the last two weeks and shows no signs of letting up.
Another oddity was Kilcullen’s defense of McChrystal, whom he claims, “realizes that this is not just a military matter, it is a matter of governance and reconstruction. We now have more troops in the south in Helmand and Kandahar. This gives us the opportunity to build, to some constructive, on our military gains.”
That Afghanistan is more than just a military matter is a ridiculous truism to state after eight failed years. Kilcullen doesn’t sound like he means reconstruction when he speaks of an opportunity to build on military gains; rather, those military gains will be militarily reinforced. Only then can America begin nation-building, but this phase is years away in Helmand and Kandahar provinces, the core of the insurgency.
Webs of information to trap Americans, Pakistanis, and Afghans grow ever thicker. Contradictions are normal, disinformation the standard. Perhaps Kilcullen is playing his part. He has been known to exaggerate, most infamously that al-Qaeda could steal a Pakistani nuke within six months, but Kilcullen could also be sincere. If so he must be thanked for springing a trap. Obama is laying statements like IED’s - inconspicuous until they explode.
There is simply no middle ground between “10 years at least” and “I think those goals can be achieved without us increasing our troop levels.” One of these statements is false. If America stays in Afghanistan for another decade, many more troops than presently deployed will be necessary, possibly beyond Iraq's level. More troops are already needed.
President Obama will likely be gone before the war ends, though he still didn’t want to hear 10 years. He doesn’t want Americans or Pakistanis to hear 10 years, but no matter how deep he buries the truth, it’s going to be uncovered sooner or later.
July 10, 2009
"I'm not going to sugarcoat it," Nicholson said in a briefing from Camp Leatherneck in Helmand. "The fact of the matter is, we don't have enough Afghan forces. And I'd like more."
Asked whether he'll be getting more any time soon, he responded, "they're just not available right now."
The shortage of troops has already manifested itself. During what is assumed to be the first confrontation under General McChrystal's new rules of engagement, Marines chased a group of militants into a housing complex. Drone surveillance spotted over 20 civilians mixed with the Taliban. After negotiating the release of the civilians, Marines entered to find an empty house and courtyard.
The Taliban, disguised with burqas, had sneaked out with the civilians. Nicholson said no women were part of the Marine force and so couldn't inspect female civilians without violating Afghan culture. This story isn't a success that civilian casualties were prevented, but a failure in that America lacked the resources necessary to complete the mission.
Nicholson said he would like more forces for Afghanistan, but claimed, "I don't necessarily need more troops." He just admitted he did; 21,000 reinforcements aren't going to be enough. President Obama recently told the AP that his goals "can be achieved without us increasing our troop levels," a statement destined to become a lie.
The odds favor another deployment next year and how Obama explains this will be amusing. The debate on Afghanistan is still predominately military, a bad sign in counterinsurgency.
July 9, 2009
A day after making similar comments in Ohio, Obama declared in his victory speech after the Wisconsin primary, “We're going to have to parent better, and turn off the television set, and put the video games away, and instill a sense of excellence in our children, and that's going to take some time.”
He repeated this one-liner for education throughout the election and separately summoned video games to tout his health plan during a speech to the American Medical Association. Obama wants, “our children to step away from the video games and spend more time playing outside.”
Gamers can be passionate and many pointed out that video games can improve the brain in a variety of ways. Some argued Obama was implying censorship, others that the whole controversy was overblown. Those who found fault pointed to the last game he played, which could explain a few things. Then again, Sasha and Malia are gaming along with 97% of America’s children.
President Obama’s statements are relatively harmless, at most revealing a displeasure for video games. He probably meant that children should play less games, not abstain completely. The casual way he flipped the phrase, “putting the video games away,” was his main fault. Vagueness naturally attracts criticism.
But irony is more educational than politics and another curiosity went unnoticed - until it grew into a monster coincidence. If Obama were to somehow regulate video games, one group of gamers will still be playing day and night - American soldiers and potential recruits.
If only America’s military adapted to counterinsurgencies like it did to 21st century technology and recruiting. Army pod-casts and apps are available on iTunes while official recruitment pages are equipped for every social network. They’re also linked to games and more games. Put down GTA 4 and try piloting your very own MQ-9 Reaper drone.
In case teens are actually watching TV instead of gaming, glamorous commercials from all four branches broadcast late at night on Sci Fi, Cartoon Network, FX, Spike TV and V.S. - an 18-35 male demographic gold-mine. And what bait is used to hook the young male mind? Drones.
Evidently the American military is bursting with pride over its new creation, so why does it continue denying drone strikes in Pakistan?
National security is no longer plausible, if it ever was. Everyone knows America launches drone strikes in Pakistan, from Pakistan, including teenagers. America publicly admits to drone operations in Afghanistan and Iraq; doing so in Pakistan seems to have no consequence by now.
Maybe President Obama believes he would give ammunition to America’s enemies by admitting to what was previously denied. So much for transparency. Or maybe he's worried about exposing Pakistan's government, but the secret's already out. Might as well come clean, especially if Obama believes the territory under attack isn't under Pakistan law.
Obama could be worried that Pakistanis don’t welcome drones, but this excuse doesn’t go far either. Pakistan’s sovereignty has been so routinely violated that Pakistanis outside the FATA have stopped caring. One of the best and worst attributes of humans is the ability to acclimate.
Evidence also suggests that drone strikes are popular in Taliban territory, which is logical. The Taliban doesn’t control every inch of the tribal regions in Pakistan and could be opposed by 60% of the population. Take the credit instead of denying it.
Could there be inner doubts about the limits of drones? Their acclaimed success and growing fame make such a question sound preposterous, all the better reason to ask. Counterinsurgency demands questioning established truths.
The objective of drone strikes appears to be demoralizing the Taliban and al-Qaeda, not defeating them outright or killing their commanders. The region’s raw numbers ensure a potentially unlimited supply of militants and future leaders. Mullah Dadullah, the Taliban’s senior commander in Afghanistan, was killed in 2007 only for the Taliban to surge in 2008. Almost anyone is replaceable in guerrilla warfare.
Instead America is stacking bodies to show potential militants what awaits them, similar to Genghis Khan’s strategy of forming pyramids out of heads to deter future enemies. But can the Taliban be intimidated? What would America do, surrender? No, it would fight back as hard as possible, just like the Taliban and al-Qaeda will.
War in Afghanistan is still young.
No one is certain what America is trying to accomplish in Pakistan with drones or why it denies what it publicizes. More certain is that the future generations of humanity will pilot robotic planes, tanks, ATVs, bomb detectors, and miniatures against each other. Military technology is evolving towards an age where savvy gamers are in demand.
President Obama’s going to need them. Don’t keep them outside too long.
[Update: As if he would adjust]
July 8, 2009
People have begun to question whether Obama can actually pass health care, right the economy (by spending too much or too little, depending on who you ask), or close Guantánamo, let alone do all three at once. Approval of his policies is falling and weighing down Obama’s personal approval.
His average on RealClearPolitics peaked at 65% in February and still hovers in the high 50’s, but his disapproval ran from 20% to 36% over the same period. Democrats and Republicans are static; Independents who were waiting to give Obama a chance are getting worried. Losing them would be devastating because Obama is having trouble passing his ambitious agenda.
Against the American backdrop stands world public opinion, crucial in the global age.
At first glance of the newest WorldPublicOpinion.org poll, President Obama is riding high around the world, topping all other leaders polled at 61%. Re-energizing Europe is an important feat, but twist the kaleidoscope and red mixes with the blue. Obama's 90% approval in Europe, East Asia, and Africa predictably bolsters the low 40's and 30’s in Turkey, Iraq, Egypt, Russia, Palestine, and Pakistan, where America has more than friendship at stake.
Nor can Somalia or Sudan be forgotten, two Islamic states with no hope at all in the global community.
But Palestine and Pakistan are the linchpins of Obama's popularity with Muslims, and failure in these regions will plummet his status in the Muslim world. Unfortunately the actions he's already taken are dangerously contradictory. The WorldPublicOpinion.org poll occurred before his speech in Cairo, but likely has minimal effect.
3% of Palestinians expressed a lot or some confidence in America in 2008. The good news is that 63% of the 79% who expressed no confidence shifted to little confidence in 2009, pushing the latter category into some confidence and yielding a 33% approval rating for Obama overall. However, the 1% who had a lot of confidence in 2008 have only increased to 2%. Those with some confidence could easily lose it.
Meanwhile only 6% of Israelis view President Obama as pro-Israeli according to a Jerusalem Post poll. He’s managed to irritate both Palestinians and Israelis.
Palestinians chafe when Obama mentions his non-debatable bond with Israel every time he speaks about Palestine. They get it. They see him surrounded by the Israeli lobby, high profile proponents like Rahm Emanuel, Hillary Clinton, James Steinberg, Dennis Ross, and no Muslims of equal stature. His fixation on settlements has come off trite and support for Israel and Palestine remains in favor of Israel.
Cairo wouldn’t have changed much. A two-state solution is now standard and recognizing Palestinian suffering was more necessary than bold. Obama skirted the blockade of Gaza, deploring the humanitarian crisis while ignoring the cause. Change would have been touring the Palestinian territories.
Besides perceiving weakness on Iran, Israelis believe, somewhat irrationally, that Obama's ganging up on Israel. They were already scared that Obama will concede too much to Palestinians when Cairo plunged his popularity. But Obama hasn’t promised that much, only a Palestine without Jerusalem and maybe an army. Israel’s primal fear is being displaced from the top, while Palestinians worry that Obama will abandon them like everyone else has.
Neither side believes his promises to the other are sincere yet his reputation still takes damage, and that’s all Obama has in the Middle East. His window is smallest in Palestine.
While experiencing a similar positive shift as in Palestine, Obama suffers his highest “no confidence” rating in Pakistan at 41%. Islamabad’s pattern corresponds to the 80% approval Obama holds in India; Pakistanis believe Obama abandoned them. Pronouncing Pakistan correctly is nice and an aid bill is appreciated, but negatives are outpacing the positives.
After claiming he’ll pressure India, Obama left Kashmir out of his Cairo speech and later claimed the dispute should be resolved by Pakistan and India - without American "dictating." But Pakistan needs American leverage because it has none to negotiate with. Pakistanis have come to empathize with Palestinians as they watch Indian lobbyists spread their tentacles across Washington D.C.
Pakistanis are tired of being told that India isn’t a threat when they believe its intelligence agency, RAW, is stoking tensions in Balochistan province and Afghanistan. They lament that Obama has escalated the war next door and wonder why he can’t see its obvious futility. The parade of American officials through Islamabad is another act wearing dangerously thin.
Drones are an afterthought compared to such concerns.
President Obama’s problem with Pakistan in particular isn’t failing to act, but already making wrong moves spurred by extreme pressure to do everything, everywhere. He’s still on top of the world, but only until he spins around to the bottom. Reality begins to emerge when they swirl together.
George Bush did too little, too late for Muslims; Obama is trying to do too much at once. Change and hope have a built-in dark side that can turn Obama into his own worst enemy. Declaring the future will be different then leaving problems unresolved is his common weakness at home and wherever disapproval peaks.
Obama can pursue one free, immediate strategy to placate his opposition and maintain the high support he has. In fact, this strategy cannot be bought for any price: confidence without overconfidence. Lower expectations, promise and deliver moderate progress instead of chasing grand visions that collapse under their own weight.
President Obama simply has too many problems to solve at once. Distraction is unavoidable, but he has a little Icarus in him. Staying grounded could be more productive than soaring.
July 7, 2009
Sounds too good to be true.
Russia’s decision isn’t so surprising after President Obama prodded Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on his way to Moscow. Obama took a risky approach by speaking out before meeting Putin, who doesn’t back down and enjoys a fight. Analysts have no doubt that Putin‘s influence weighed heavily on approving the weapons shipments. This was him pulling his foot out of the past, his way of hitting back. From Russia, with love.
President Obama hopefully knows better. Russia has many games in play and it clearly wants to create leverage that it can later use against America. The agreement is a bargaining chip and also pressure on America to reciprocate. But Obama isn’t budging from a missile shield in Poland or from influence on Russia’s former satellites.
As Putin hosts Obama, Vice President Joe Biden will swing by Georgia to let President Mikheil Saakashvili know he’s not forgotten. Biden’s trip is another swipe at Russia, while the missile shield is destined to get uglier. Diplomatic wrestling is already intense and the mood will explode if construction begins. But Russia’s goodwill is unlikely to influence either issue. Obama would rather trade an arms reduction instead, even if Russia disagrees.
President Obama wants to bury the Cold War forever, and with good reason. While threats were real, the Cold War was often based on irrational fear and extreme ideology. Unfortunately these ill roots of conflict remain, as do legitimate sources of contention.
"It's not, in our view, a zero-sum game," claims Michael McFaul, Obama's Russian adviser, "that if it's two points for Russia it's negative two for us, but there are ways that we can cooperate to advance our interests and, at the same time, do things with the Russians that are good for them, as well." As if McFaul would ever admit otherwise. Between America and Russia lies supremacy of Europe and Asia, ownership of global energy reserves, influence over China, Iran, Israel, Venezuela, and former East bloc states. Geopolitically what’s good for one is usually bad for the other.
"The pursuit of power is no longer a zero-sum game," Obama said, trying to spin repetition into reality. "There is the 20th-century view that the United States and Russia are destined to be antagonists, and that a strong Russia or a strong America can only assert themselves in opposition to one another. And there is a 19th-century view that we are destined to vie for spheres of influence, and that great powers must forge competing blocs to balance one another. These assumptions are wrong."
He's right, destiny has nothing to do with it. Antagonism stems from land, energy, history, ideology, hegemony. A missile shield threatens and weakens Putin even if it's honestly not intended for Moscow. Good intentions go awry in areas of conflict. Russia may no longer wish to pose an existential threat, but it still has every reason to wear America down.
Why agree now to allow weapons over Russia when it has rejected the request for so long? Why would Russia want to help America with no guarantee of any return? Does it expect a favor, or wish to dangle its assistance as punishment or reward? And why would Russia want America to expand its operations in Afghanistan, inside its sphere of influence?
Something deeper is bubbling. The ghosts of Ronald Reagan and Charlie Wilson, the images of Jimmy Carter adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski and CIA officer Michael G. Vickers, of a fledgling Taliban and a young Osama bin Laden begin to swirl. Modern conflict in Afghanistan began with Soviet influence and occupation. History spins full circle.
America tried to bog Russia down in Kabul as long as possible and funded every jihadist necessary. It looks like Russia is finally returning the favor. Putin may have come to the conclusion that Afghanistan can’t be won in the near future, or possibly at all. America needs guns for its incoming reinforcements, but guns aren’t the answer. Putin knows this. Time to flood Afghanistan with additional weapons, the more the merrier.
Then cut the cord and watch America waste?
America desperately needs alternative supply routes into Afghanistan. Militant attacks haven’t come close to permanently severing the chain through Khyber, but losing supplies daily is still a drain on American resources. Nor should America risk transporting an infusion of weapons through Khyber if they can enter through non-hostile Russia. President Obama claims the agreement will save America $133 million per year, but first it must spend additional hundreds of billions.
They say not to look a gift horse in the mouth, but what about a Trojan horse? Afghanistan is creating parallel dimensions - America and Russia are like twins with a slightly different shade of hair. America should look in the mirror, into the past. America was so eager to trap Russia in its own Vietnam. Russia is trying to sink America into another Vietnam.
Perhaps Putin is just being nice to Obama, but you can almost catch the glint of, as an ancient Chinese proverb warns, a dagger behind his smile.