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July 19, 2008

McCain campaign responds on Maliki...kind of...
Posted by Moira Whelan

Curious response…kind of.. from McCain’s camp on Maliki

So, we all know that in politics, there’s a need to respond immediately to everything. So here it is, the early evening and we’re just now hearing the first peep from the McCain campaign “speaking on condition of anonymity” to Marc Ambinder about Maliki’s comments:

"His [Maliki’s] domestic politics require him to be for us getting out," said a senior McCain campaign official, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "The military says 'conditions based' and Maliki said 'conditions based' yesterday in the joint statement with Bush. Regardless, voters care about [the] military, not about Iraqi leaders."

An Obama official, also speaking on background, asks:

"So given that al-Maliki said today that it’s time for an official timetable and that Obama “is right when he talks about 16 months,” will McCain honor that commitment and call for withdrawal or change his position that we should leave Iraq if asked?"

So yes, McCain's campaign finally admits that in fact they do not care about the people that were “greeting us as liberators.” More importantly, they don't think you do either.

Note to the McCain campaign: We can like the troops and the Iraqis at the same time...which is why we want to bring our troops home, and give the Iraqis what they've been asking for...and most importantly, MAKE AMERICA SAFER in the process.

War Pundits
Posted by Moira Whelan

Ari Melber's panel...and Samantha Power, McJoan and others.

Now this is a subject I know something about...

Gore at Netroots Nation
Posted by Ari Melber

Al Gore
Originally uploaded by Avelino Maestas
Al Gore made a surprise appearance at the Netroots Nation conference in Texas on Saturday morning, joining Speaker Nancy Pelosi on stage to address progressive activists. "I feel right at home here!" he said as he took the stage, while Pelosi and conference director Gina Cooper looked on. Organizers kept the visit secret all weekend, guarding details as if it were Obama's Middle Eastern CODEL. Rumors only leaked hours before Gore's speech -- and the New York Times Caucus blog picked up chatter on the visit from Twitter updates sent by the tech-savvy crowd.

Gore took open questions from the floor, which focused on climate change, alternative fuels, and the prospect of serving in an Obama administration. He respectfully demurred on the hypothetical of returning to government service, saying "I want to convey my respect for the idea...I really feel the highest and best use of whatever talents and experiences I've gained in my life is to focus on trying to enlarge the political space within which elected officials and cabinet members address this climate crisis." On the other hand, it's hard to imagine a more influential platform to advance those goals than serving as Secretary of State in an Obama administration, where Gore could prioritize climate change in the international portfolio and apply his NSC and VP experience to help end the war responsibly.

Gore also advised against proposals to use coal for automobiles, which would "vastly increase" CO2, in response to a question, drawing more enthusiastic cheers for his wonkery. Pelosi heralded Gore's early work on technology in Congress, saying "without him there would be no Netroots Nation." Anti-war activists also briefly protested during her remarks, saying she should be held accountable for not using her power to end the war.

Gore is in the House
Posted by Moira Whelan

It appears the rumors that Gore would be here at Netroots Nation have now become fact. He is apparently in the house and will speak shortly.

This is actually very cool given a bigger post I hope to write soon...the topic I find myself talking about more than any other issue in the hallways of Netroots Nation is global warming. It's also not like people are talking about it because it's a huge problem, they're talking about it with a sense of urgency usually reserved for a pending bill in Congress, or a political race. This community has forced change and brought attention on a range of issues, and hope to bring it over the finish line in a few months.

But Global Warming is the next big issue upon which we need to create action.

It's reflected when you talk to the Green bloggers, but also in the foreign policy community: Richard Clarke said in his panel that despite the debacle in Iraq, and Afghanistan, and the disaster in New Orleans, we will look back at the missed window to combat global warming as the greatest disaster in the history of American government. In history, Bush will be remembered more for denying the fact that the planet is crumbling around us than he will be for other things. It's hard to believe, but in the big scheme of things, completely true.

This is not to say, by the way, that only now is the clarion call sounded by many being heeded, but there's no doubt that the energy crisis has crossed over into being the most politically critical issue in America today...and it's about damn time.

Update: he's here!!!

It's Over
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Not much to say here.  Other than the fact that this is a huge huge huge deal.  Article speaks for itself.

In an interview with Der Spiegel released on Saturday, Maliki said he wanted U.S. troops to withdraw from Iraq as soon as possible.

"U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama talks about 16 months. That, we think, would be the right timeframe for a withdrawal, with the possibility of slight changes"


Asked if he supported Obama's ideas more than those of John McCain, Republican presidential hopeful, Maliki said he did not want to recommend who people should vote for.

"Whoever is thinking about the shorter term is closer to reality. Artificially extending the stay of U.S. troops would cause problems."


"The Americans have found it difficult to agree on a concrete timetable for the exit because it seems like an admission of defeat to them. But it isn't," Maliki told Der Spiegel.

Is there anything left to say?

July 18, 2008

Clarke on McCain
Posted by Moira Whelan

Also before his panel, Richard Clarke took some time out of his schedule to take on John McCain by documenting his foreign policy shifts...towards Obama's. Gee, wonder where he got this idea...

Yglesias on Iraq
Posted by Moira Whelan

Paraphrasing Yglesias's comments about the evolution of things in Afghanistan and Iraq with radical extremism...

"It's crazy to think that people in the Bush Administration would not grasp the power of combining nationalism with religiosity"

Rand Beers LIVE from Austin
Posted by Moira Whelan

Right before his panel discussion with Richard Clarke, Rand Beers gave his thoughts on Bush's "time horizons" in Iraq.

Ilan is on his panel right now. All in all, the conference has  been great, and the lack of blogging is a result of finding it more fun to talk to everyone than write about the panels. We can always do that afterwards.

Political Consequences of Hamdan Decision
Posted by Patrick Barry

A thoughtful take on yesterday's Hamdan decision by NSN intern Will Rosenzweig.  Dahlia Lithwick, eat your heart out.

Yesterday’s decision in Federal District Court by Judge James Robertson to deny a delay in the first of seemingly many military trials of enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay went by with little fanfare from politicians and pundits.  Yet the consequences of the decision, although not monumental in ultimately deciding the fate of Guantanamo detainees, will ultimately play a prominent role in the political theatre of the fall campaign.  Judge Robertson did what judges often do; he allowed the process to play out before intervening.  In doing so he created the ingredients for a political explosion.

First, it’s important to understand what this decision does and does not do regarding the long legal journey the detainees and the justice department have been on.  The issue before Judge Robertson was whether to delay a military trial of Salim Hamdan that is scheduled to begin this coming Monday.  Hamdan, if you recall, already won a case in 2006 in the Supreme Court in which the court ruled that the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 did not prevent him from filing a petition for habeas corpus, a motion for release on the grounds of unlawful imprisonment. Hamdan will now simultaneously challenge his detention in habeas proceedings following the recent Supreme Court decision in Boumediene v. Bush, which invalidated Section 7 of the MCA and extended habeas corpus rights to Guantanamo detainees.  The military is now ready to put Hamdan, and eventually 20 other detainees who have been formally charged, on trial according to other provisions of the MCA, even as they and as many as 60 others file for habeas relief in the federal court system.

Hamdan’s lawyers had a number of arguments for why the trial should be delayed but the central point was that the military commissions are likely unconstitutional and thus Hamdan should be allowed to challenge said commissions before being tried by them.  Judge Robertson acknowledged the potential problems in the military commission system, specifically pointing out how the commissions allow for hearsay testimony and evidence procured by coercion (i.e. torture).  Yet, he maintained that long-held doctrine dictated that the trial should go first followed by the constitutional challenge.

So, while Hamdan ostensibly “lost,” the decision really only means a greater delay before the Supreme Court resolves the outstanding issues.  As Judge Robertson concluded,
“If the Military Commission judge gets it wrong, his error may be corrected by the CMCR [Court of Military Commission Review]. If the CMCR gets it wrong, it may be corrected by the D.C. Circuit. And if the D.C. Circuit gets it wrong, the Supreme Court may grant a writ of certiorari.”

This quotation, as I suggested in the opening, does more than put in perspective the relative inconsequentiality of the decision for the detainees; it emphasizes the decision’s heightened importance for the remaining months of the presidential election.  Instead of being buried in appeal after appeal (a process that might have worked its way up the federal system a few more times before either being resolved in the detainees favor or allowing for the military commissions to proceed), the trials will take place, and they will begin well before November.  This will generate an intense amount of media attention and require statements, conference calls, and perhaps even debate questions from and for the candidates.  And when Hamdan’s trial ends, no matter the outcome, his case will still have life as it works its way up the long path Judge Robertson outlined. 

In short, what all this means is that there will be a tremendous amount of political theatre with no immediate resolution.  In the context of an election that is largely being weighed on Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and terrorism, these trials will lead to the Administration’s Guantanamo detention policies being a significant campaign issue.  So while it may have been merely procedural for the parties involved, today’s decision has major ramifications for the political world.

"No Credibility"
Posted by David Shorr

I have never been to Iraq or Afghanistan, so according to the new rules, I have no basis to reach a judgment about what is the wise course for the United States to take there. I gather that the facts and commanders on the ground hold the real answer. Which I guess means there isn't really a policy judgment to make. But then again, most Americans have never been to Iraq, which would mean they don't have a basis to decide either. And thinking back a few decades, Most Americans hadn't been to Vietnam either, which left them unequipped to decide about the war there. But come to think of it, I remember hearing something about civilian control of the military. I'm not sure commanders on the ground are supposed to be making decisions about major military missions. Can we be serious, please?

"Aspirational Goals"
Posted by Adam Blickstein

Isn't the "aspirational goal" for a majority of people in both the U.S. and Iraq to have American forces to leave? Just saying...

Feith's Red Herring
Posted by David Shorr

Let's get this straight, because Douglas Feith is either still confused or deliberately trying to confuse. The questions of the status and rights of a prisoner of war are separate from the issue of the treatment and interrogation of detainees. POW status relates to whether someone is a legitimate combatant in a war, or a murderous criminal liable to prosecution. The claim that a captured terrorist is not a POW, in itself, is hardly groundbreaking or barely even controversial. You can't prosecute a POW (assuming they acted in accordance with the laws of war); you can prosecute a terrorist (though this poses other dilemmas). You can't torture either one.

This has been a big red herring in the detainee treatment debate. Because POWs do indeed have special protections, the hard-liner sleight of hand is to warn against the danger that the Geneva Conventions (which basically are the laws of war) would somehow wall off detainees from our counterterrorism efforts. The exact point of Common Article Three is that, being common to multiple of the different Geneva Conventions, it establishes minimum standards of treatment for a prisoner of any kind or status. Not to mention the separate Convention Against Torture, to which the United States is a party. So repeat after me: POW STATUS HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH STANDARDS FOR THE TREATMENT OF DETAINEES.

For an excellent and more extensive discussion of these issues by real experts (Elisa Massimino of Human Rights First and Ken Anderson of AU Law School), buy this excellent book -- which has excellent pieces on other issues too -- or just write me, and I'll send a copy of Elisa and Ken's chapter. You could also read one of the two new journalistic books on the subject by ace foreign policy correspondent Jane Mayer or international law expert Philippe Sands. (Having trouble deciding which to get first myself.)

NSN Daily Update - 7/18/08
Posted by The National Security Network

In Reversals, Bush, McCain Embrace Progressive Positions on Iran and Afghanistan

Will McCain Next Embrace Obama’s Iran Position as Bush Has?

Two long-held progressive positions were embraced this week in stunning foreign policy reversals by George Bush and John McCain. First, the Bush administration will sit down at the negotiating table tomorrow with Iran and is seriously considering establishing a permanent diplomatic presence in Teheran. Second, John McCain - after downplaying  Afghanistan in his campaign and failing to attend a single hearing on Afghanistan the past two years - has reversed himself and embraced Sen. Obama’s plan to increase our troop commitment. The Bush administration has also signaled that, like progressives, it wants to respond to commanders’ in the field and increase U.S. forces in Afghanistan. John McCain has yet to indicate whether he still believes diplomatic talks with Iran represent appeasement, or whether he will join President Bush and embrace Obama’s position on Iran as well.

Bush administration reverses course on Iran, seems to embrace progressive calls for diplomacy.  The Bush administration announced this week that it will send Undersecretary of State William J. Burns, the State Department’s third-ranking official, to international talks in Geneva with Iran about its nuclear program tomorrow. The Bush administration is also considering opening a diplomatic presence in Iran in the form of a so-called interests section, rather than a fully staffed embassy.  However, officials caution, the idea has “not been approved by the White House and could be delayed or blocked by opposition within the administration.” These shifts represent a marked reversal from statements Bush made in the Knesset in May of this year: “Some seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along. We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: ‘Lord, if I could only have talked to Hitler, all this might have been avoided.’ We have an obligation to call this what it is -- the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.” [NY Times, 7/18/08. White House, 5/18/08]

McCain reverses position on Afghanistan, embraces Obama’s proposal to send more troops.
  Initially, McCain thought the war in Afghanistan was won and dismissed the Al Qaeda threat.  In April 2003, despite emerging signs that the Taliban and al Qaeda were reconstituting, McCain said that “nobody in Afghanistan threatens the United States of America.” and in October 2005 McCain said, “we don’t read about [Afghanistan] anymore, because it’s succeeded.” Yet on Tuesday McCain reversed his opposition to sending more troops and endorsed Barack Obama’s plan to increase U.S. force levels in Afghanistan. McCain’s sudden shift was decidedly devoid of specifics and seemed unworkable given his opposition to decreasing forces from Iraq. This, and his redundant proposal to create another War Czar, left one prominent editorial board wondering if McCain was “confused” and left them “wondering how well formed his ideas are.” [NY Times, 7/17/08. LA Times, 7/17/08]

Mideast region shifting from confrontation to diplomacy, in wake of policy failures. The New York Times notes that there has been a “distinct change in direction” in the Middle East, as “Syria is being welcomed out of isolation by Europe and is holding indirect talks with Israel. Lebanon has formed a new government. Israel has cut deals with Hamas.”  Accordingly, “The United States, Israel and some of their European allies have begun to recognize that their policy of trying to defeat their enemies by isolating and vilifying them has failed.” [NY Times, 7/18/08]

Quick Hits

The New York Times reveals that faulty electrical wiring done by contractors at U.S. military bases in Iraq has caused deaths and injuries in greater numbers than the Pentagon has previously acknowledged.

Saudi Arabia is planning for a post-oil economy
by building cities focused on specific economic, educational or research sectors.

Anbar province is facing difficulties
during the U.S. handover of greater authority to Iraqis.  Washington fears that a transfer of power could inflame the rivalry among rival Sunni groups, the Iraqi Islamic Party and the Sons of Iraq, that currently maintain a fragile quiet in the restive Iraqi province.

Saeed Jalili, Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, is cautiously optimistic about this weekends’ Geneva talks among representatives of the EU, United States and Iran.

Al Gore gave an impassioned speech yesterday to advocate a drastic shift in U.S. energy policy, saying that “the survival of the United States as we know it is at risk.”

Bill Clinton’s foundation has made a deal with suppliers of a key malaria-fighting drug in order to stabilize prices and ensure its availability.

Former Attorney General John Ashcroft defended waterboarding
yesterday in testimony before the House Judiciary Committee on the Bush administration’s interrogation rules.

July 17, 2008

Netroots Nation blogging
Posted by Moira Whelan

Just to let our readers know, Democracy Arsenal will be blogging from Austin for the next few days as we participate in Netroots Nation.

Tomorrow, Rand Beers and Richard Clarke will do a panel at 1:30 called "Your Government Failed You: Breaking the Cycle of National Security Disasters." In addition to some Q&A from lifelong friends who left the Bush Administration over their failed policies, participants will be treated to a clip from Clarke's new documentary also called "Your Government Failed You" which will be released in September. He will also be signing his book which you can purchase here.

At 3pm, Ilan Goldenberg will participate in a panel called "Iraq in Strategic Context" moderated by Matt Yglesias and also including Spencer Ackerman and AJ Rossmiller.

Should be good times!

Note to others at Netroots Nation, please make note of the timeswap of these two panels

In Praise of . . . John McCain
Posted by Michael Cohen

Over here at DA we're pretty hard on John McCain's foreign policy and national security views . . . and pretty much everything else. But yesterday in his remarks to the NAACP McCain said something really wonderful about Barack Obama and it bears repeating here:

Let me begin with a few words about my opponent. Don't tell him I said this, but he is an impressive fellow in many ways. He has inspired a great many Americans, some of whom had wrongly believed that a political campaign could hold no purpose or meaning for them. His success should make Americans, all Americans, proud. Of course, I would prefer his success not continue quite as long as he hopes. But it makes me proud to know the country I've loved and served all my life is still a work in progress, and always improving.

Senator Obama talks about making history, and he's made quite a bit of it already. And the way was prepared by this venerable organization and others like it. A few years before the NAACP was founded, President Theodore Roosevelt's invitation of Booker T. Washington to dine at the White House was taken as an outrage and an insult in many quarters. America today is a world away from the cruel and prideful bigotry of that time. There is no better evidence of this than the nomination of an African-American to be the presidential nominee of his party. Whatever the outcome in November, Senator Obama has achieved a great thing -- for himself and for his country -- and I thank him for it.

Well said Senator McCain.

NSN Daily Update – 7/17/08
Posted by The National Security Network

McCain has a lot of unanswered questions on Iraq, Afghanistan

John McCain’s incoherent views on foreign policy are becoming increasingly apparent. A New York Times editorial noted that John McCain has never laid out a clear strategy for Iraq and has never defined what he means by “winning.” On McCain’s Afghanistan reversal, the Times describes McCain as being “confused” leaving the Times “wondering how well informed his ideas are.” It is past time for John McCain to clarify his positions on Iraq and Afghanistan and lay out in detail how he plans to achieve what he is claiming.

McCain still does not have a coherent plan for Iraq and has never defined what “winning” in Iraq means.
A New York Times editorial this morning explains that John McCain has never laid out a coherent plan for Iraq. The New York Times writes McCain “is still tied in knots, largely adopting Mr. Bush’s blind defense of an unending conflict.”  Further noting, “it was distressing to hear Mr. McCain still talking about ‘winning’ the war in Iraq and adopting the tedious tactic of accusing Mr. Obama of ‘giving up’ when he talks about a careful withdrawal of troops,” the Times added , “We have no idea what winning means.” [NY Times, 7/17/08]

McCain reverses course on Afghanistan, but confusion remains over his plan.
Initially, McCain thought the war in Afghanistan was won and dismissed the Al Qaeda threat.  In April 2003, despite emerging signs that the Taliban and al Qaeda are reconstituting, McCain said, “nobody in Afghanistan threatens the United States of America,” and in October 2005 McCain said, “we don't read about [Afghanistan] anymore, because it's succeeded.” Yet on Tuesday McCain reversed his position and endorsed Barack Obama’s plan of sending more troops to Afghanistan. As the New York Times explains, “he seemed confused about whether they would be American forces drawn from Iraq or an American-NATO mix, leaving us wondering how well formed his ideas are.” Rosa Brooks adds in the LA Times, “On Tuesday, McCain released a ‘comprehensive strategy for victory in Afghanistan.’ Previous claims of success were forgotten. ‘The status quo is unacceptable,’ McCain's campaign declared, but ‘McCain will turn around the war.’ Right! Until we move on to the next country!” [NY Times, 7/17/08. LA Times, 7/17/08]

The military is increasingly concerned about the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently said he wants to send more troops to Afghanistan “sooner rather than later.” Additionally, Adm. Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who recently returned from meetings with commanders in Afghanistan, said more troops were needed.  “It's a tougher fight, it's a more complex fight, and they need more troops to have the long-term impact that we all want to have there,” said Mullen. [AFP, 7/17/08. AP, 7/16/08]

Quick Hits

A car bomb killed 12 people in Northern Iraq
, following a series of attacks in past days that left 35 army recruits dead. Meanwhile, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Michael Mullen continues to advocate withdrawing more U.S. troops from Iraq this fall.

A Wall Street Journal article uncovers America’s dangerous reliance on security contractors in Iraq, highlighting the dangers of privatizing security efforts and instances of corruption and mercenary tactics without adequate oversight.

The Guardian reports that the US plans to station diplomats in Iran after almost 30 years of severed relations. The permanent American diplomatic presence there is attributed to President Bush’s conviction to leave with a “positive legacy that he can point to.”

The NY Times analyzed the Administration’s apparent shift in policy towards Iran.
While the White House seeks to evade “flip-flopping” charges, their recent change in tact has raised the ire of John Bolton.

The War Pundits: Sam Power, McJoan, Danner, Mitchell
Posted by Ari Melber

This panel at Netroots Nation may interest the DA crowd, and it will air live on Ustream...

The media's coverage and advocacy of the Iraq war remains one of the most vexing problems in our politics. While many now agree that the traditional press overstated the case for war, underplayed opposition and tapped a decidedly unrepresentative and often biased punditocracy to debate our foreign policy, there's little consensus about how to fix the problems. And while the Internet has increased the political and business pressures on the traditional press, we don't know yet if new media will improve or further fracture our foreign policy debates. To tackle these questions, the Netroots Nation conference is convening an unusual panel this Saturday, which I'm moderating, with some important experts (and critics) on foreign policy, human rights and the media:

Continue reading "The War Pundits: Sam Power, McJoan, Danner, Mitchell" »

The Thaw in Tehran
Posted by Adam Blickstein

So not only is the Bush administration making minimal diplomatic overtures towards Iran over its nuclear program, but there are reports that the U.S. is also setting into motion plans to "station diplomats in Iran for the first time since the 1979 revolution:"

The US plans to establish a diplomatic presence in Tehran for the first time in 30 years as part of a remarkable turnaround in policy by President George Bush.

The Guardian has learned that an announcement will be made in the next month to establish a US interests section - a halfway house to setting up a full embassy. The move will see US diplomats stationed in the country.

Of course last month the White House denied any such speculation, spurred by Condi Rice's call for a diplomatic presence in Tehran, but if true would represent a major shift by the Administration.  We'll have to wait an see what is actually announced, but between this and the William Burns announcement, we could actually be seeing diplomatic sensibility winning out over unproductive bellicosity when it comes to our policies towards Iran. That said, while a welcome possible development, as with anything with President Bush's tenure, we shouldn't hold our breath too long.

July 16, 2008

Amb. Holbrooke on Afghanistan/Pakistan: McCain has never made clear what he believes
Posted by Adam Blickstein

The National Security Network and the Center for American Progress Action Fund held a conference call today examining Sen. John McCain's record on and plan for Afghanistan with Amb. Richard Holbrooke, Larry Korb, and NSN President Rand Beers. The audio can be found here, and below are some quotes from the call:

"First of all, by now everyone recognizes that the Administration made a grievous miscalculation on Afghanistan, a combination of mismanagement miscalculation and simply bad implementation. Even the Administration has admitted it...Sen. Obama has called for two more brigades. Suddenly, Sen. McCain, who's never called for any, has tried to leapfrog him with three new brigades."

"What is absolutely critical is that the next President of the United States create a new strategy for the theater of war that you might call AfPak: Afghanistan and Pakistan...In order to do this, we have to have a very sophisticated mix of
political, military and diplomatic strategies. None exists in the current Administration and Sen. McCain has never made clear what he believes. He has been very dismissive of this. Sen. Obama has laid out his positions much more clearly."
-Amb. Richard Holbrooke

I think it's great that Sen. McCain has recognized that we need more forces in Afghanistan, however he still has not made the transition to realize that you cannot put those forces into Afghanistan as long as you have significant numbers of troops in Iraq...I think if you go back and look at  the statements that Sen. McCain has made up until his most recent statement yesterday on Afghanistan, he has continually said that Afghanistan is going well and that Iraq was more important.
-Larry Korb, Center for American Progress Action Fund

The DA Diversion of the Day
Posted by Michael Cohen

Every once in a blue moon there is a non-foreign policy story that merits attention on Democracy Arsenal. Today is one of those days:

Apparently Ron Wood, lead guitarist for the Rolling Stones is going into rehab for alcohol abuse. I know, shocking right?

But here's the best part of the story:

"Wood, who has had a history of substance abuse, told Reuters in an interview last year that his wife and Rolling Stones singer Mick Jagger had persuaded him to enter rehab before the band’s 2002 tour.

Before then, it was fellow guitarist Keith Richards who tried to help him sober up, he said, sometimes drawing a knife or wielding a pistol in the process."

It's a wonder that didn't work.

You know, it seems to me that if Ron Wood wants to sober up his best bet might be NOT TO HANG OUT WITH KEITH RICHARDS.

And just to show that I can bring this around to politics: it's like trying to be a uniter not a divider . . . and then selecting Dick Cheney as your Vice President.

A "Celebration" for Kantar
Posted by Michael Cohen

I try to avoid getting in the middle of debates about the Arab-Israeli conflict, but some times it's worth reminding ourselves of the types of enemies that Israel is facing.

Today, the Israeli government freed Samir Kantar, a convicted Palestinian terrorist, and four others in exchange for the bodies of two Israeli soldiers who had been killed in Southern Lebanon. For those of you unfamiliar with Mr. Kantar, this round-up sums up his exploits:

In the dead of night on April 22, 1979, Kantar and three other gunmen made their way in a rubber dinghy from Lebanon to the sleepy Israeli coastal town of Nahariya, 5 miles south of the Lebanese border.

There, in a hail of gunfire and exploding grenades, they killed a policeman who stumbled upon them, then burst into the apartment of Danny Haran, herding him and his 4-year-old daughter outside at gunpoint to the beach below, where they were killed.

An Israeli court found that Kantar shot Danny Haran in front of his child, then smashed her head with his rifle butt.

Haran's wife, Smadar, who had fled into a crawl space in the family apartment with her 2-year-old daughter, accidentally smothered the child with her hand while trying to stifle her cries.

Kantar has never expressed remorse for his actions or for the deaths of Haran and his children. Apparently, he's not alone.

Kantar . . . wiped away tears as he stood before hundreds in the coastal border town of Naqoura in southern Lebanon. An honor guard escorted the men to a stage as a brass band played martial music and rows of uniformed fighters saluted.

"We knew that you were waiting for the resistance and it reached you. You came back free and heroes," said Ibrahim Amin al-Sayed, head of Hezbollah's political bureau.

The five later flew to Beirut, where they received an official welcome from the president and his government.

"Lebanese President Michel Suleiman called the five "freed heroes." Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora and members of major political factions, including Hezbollah's rivals, were also on hand to welcome the men in a show of unity and opposition to Israel." In fact, the Lebanese government declared Wednesday a day of national celebration.

But the Lebanese government was not alone in expressing support for Kantar. Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh hailed Kuntar as "a great hero." Even Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas got in the act congratulating the families of the "liberated prisoners."

Finally, there is this quote from Kuntar's former cell mate and . . . wait for it . . . the deputy director of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights in Gaza.

"Today is a true day of joy for all Palestinians and all freedom lovers across the world."

Not to take sides here, but when people wonder about the recalcitrance of Israeli leaders to enter peace agreements with their neighbors this revolting episode serves as a worthwhile reminder.

NSN Daily Update
Posted by The National Security Network

Bush Administration sends top US diplomat to EU meeting with Iran but continues same failed strategy.  According to a senior State Department official, the Bush administration will send Undersecretary of State William J. Burns, the State Department’s third-ranking official, to international talks in Geneva with Iran about its nuclear program.  The announcement is described by U.S. officials as a “‘one-time deal’ designed to demonstrate a serious desire to negotiate a solution to the impasse over Tehran’s ambitions.”  Burns will not negotiate with the Iranians and will not hold separate meetings.  Rather, “Burns will advance the White House’s position that serious negotiations can begin only after Iran suspends uranium enrichment.” However, the Administration continues a failed policy of confrontation and threats.  This policy has produced no real progress while Iran has moved from zero to 3,800 centrifuges.  The U.S. needs a coherent and comprehensive security strategy to deal with Iran.  That strategy should include direct and tough negotiations without preconditions.  [Washington Post, 7/16/08]

Senators Biden and Lugar push bill to increase civilian aid to Pakistan and refocus American policy.
  Yesterday Democratic Sen. Joe Biden, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Sen. Richard Lugar, the committee’s ranking Republican, unveiled a new bill to triple civilian aid to Pakistan to $7.5 billion.  The money would go to building roads, schools, and medical facilities.  The bill seeks to correct the Bush Administration’s skewed emphasis on strictly military aid to Pakistan, a policy that Biden called an “unsteady balancing act in one of the ... most dangerous spots in the world.”  The bill is a good first step toward refashioning the Bush Administration’s wrong-headed priorities with regard to Pakistan.  Bush has long declared Iraq the central front in the fight against terrorism despite the fact that the Pakistan-Afghanistan border is the most critical region in the world in winning that fight.  Furthermore, an over reliance on military aid to Pakistan has been both ineffective and has failed to consider the underlying roots of terrorist recruiting.  [Reuters, 7/15/2008; AP, 7/15/2008]

Kurds protest Iraqi election law.
   The entire bloc of Kurdish lawmakers, roughly a fifth of Parliament’s 275 members, walked out of the Iraqi parliament on Tuesday in protest over the proposed provincial elections law, contending that part of it was unconstitutional.  The dispute could imperil the provincial council elections scheduled to take place across Iraq this fall and delay them to next year, and may affect progress on the hydrocarbon law and broader political reconciliation as well.  [NY Times, 7/16/08]

Quick Hits

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates called yesterday for increasing spending on diplomacy and foreign aid,
and stated that criticism of the “creeping militarization” of the U.S. international aid programs and foreign policy is "not an entirely unreasonable sentiment."  Gates also said “that the government's civilian institutions, especially those with the tasks of diplomacy and development, had been undermanned and underfunded since the end of the Cold War.”

U.S. troops have withdrawn from the outpost in Afghanistan where nine U.S. soldiers were killed in an attack by militants on Sunday, while NATO “insisted that international and Afghan troops will ‘retain a strong presence in that area with patrolling and other means.’”

Multiple bombs killed at least 40 people in Iraq yesterday.  Twin suicide bombs in Baqubah, capital of the strategic Diyala Province, killed 28.  In Mosul, 12 died in two unrelated bombings, while three other bombs wounded 15.  These attacks follow the massive double suicide bomb that killed 35 Iraqi recruits in Baqubah yesterday.

The Israeli-Hezbollah prisoner exchange began today, with Hezbollah releasing coffins confirmed to be containing the remains of two Israeli soldiers abducted in 2006.  It is anticipated that Israel will release five Hezbollah prisoners in return.

The Senate Banking Committee is considering a bill tomorrow to impose new, wider sanctions on Iran.”

Russian President Medvedev indicates continued problems in relations with the United States.  In particular he attacked the U.S. plan to put a missile defense system in the Czech Republic and Europe.

Salim Ahmed Hamdan faces the first military commission conducted by the United States in more than fifty years next week, and testified Tuesday about his experiences.   Hamdan’s lawyers plan to ask a district court tomorrow to postpone the military trial until he has a habeas hearing.

Obama, The Military & The People - Peas in a Pod
Posted by Michael Cohen

To follow on David Shorr's post below, I wanted to flag a new poll of military officers by the Center for US Global Engagement. James Martin over at the Plank has the goods:

According to a majority of those polled, the overriding foreign policy concern of the nation--after "forcefully" defending itself from serious security threats--must be to "restore respect for U.S. around [the] world." What's more, according to the armed forces' top brass, the second highest national security priority (behind improved counter-insurgency training) must be to strengthen our diplomatic standing around the globe and to improve our efforts to "cooperate" with others.This is, of course, for strategic, not sentimental, reasons: According to more than three-quarters of the officers queried, the level of respect for the U.S. abroad makes "a lot of difference" to its ability to achieve military objectives.

As Obama makes clear this isn't about being liked; it's about strengthening America's national interests. And it's not just the military, according to a new Washington Post poll, a whopping 82% of voters think the United States' image in the world has been "badly damaged" during the Bush years -- and "by 2 to 1, Americans think that Obama would do more to improve the country's image abroad than McCain would."

It's good to see that there is broad consensus in the country about the value of having good relations with the rest of the world.

July 15, 2008

An Amen, And A Quibble
Posted by David Shorr

I've said it before and before, but now that a presumptive nominee is saying the exact same thing, I'll say it again. The United States' out-of-sync-ness with the rest of the world is a foreign policy theme with powerful resonance. Obama's speech was tremendous (about which more below), but for these purposes, his Fareed Zakaria interview was even better:

ZAKARIA: You are going to Europe and the Middle East. You know that in places like France you have 85 percent approval ratings. Isn't that going to make some Americans very suspicious? If all of Europe likes you, if France likes you, there must be something wrong.

OBAMA: Well, I tell you what. You know, it's interesting. As I travel around the country, here in the United States, I think people understand that there has been a price to the diminished regard with which the world holds the United States over the last several years.

It's something that bothers people. It's something that's brought up. You know, when I'm doing a town hall meeting in some rural community, invariably, somebody will raise their hand and they'll say, "When are we going to restore the respect that the world had for America?"

And, you know, the American people's instincts are good. It's not just a matter of wanting to be liked. It's the fact that, as a consequence of that diminished standing, we have less leverage on a whole host of critical issues that have to be dealt with. So, I think the American people are ready for a president who is not alienating the world. And if that president is liked a little bit, well, that's just a bonus.

There you have it: the loss of America's international standing, sympathy, and confidence and how it makes it harder to gain cooperation and help with serious threats and challenges. Now go talk to voters. [More on the speech below the fold.]

Continue reading "An Amen, And A Quibble" »

Big Picture
Posted by Michael Cohen

Today, Barack Obama gave a great foreign policy speech. He placed Iraq in the larger context of missed foreign policy opportunities over the past 8 years; and he presented a legitimate definition of what success could potentially look like in Iraq - a far cry from John McCain's call for undefined "victory."

Over at TPM, Greg Sargent had a nice round-up:

Now that Barack Obama has just wrapped up his big Iraq speech, it's worth noting how big a gamble he's taken at key moments during this race -- by insisting on elevating the discussion to a higher plane than the ordinary tit-for-tat of campaigns.

When Obama was under fire for Reverend Wright, Obama gave a speech in which he asked his audience to think bigger, to rise above the narrow, gaffe-driven debate about Wright and have a real and meaningful discussion about the larger social and historical forces at play.

Now Obama has again done something very similar on Iraq.

Obama did not back off his commitment to withdrawal one bit today. Rather, he doubled down on it. In a big, big way.

Greg nails this. So does Tim Fernholz at TAPPED. Same with Steve Benen over at Carpetbagger Report. It's moments like these that should allow us to put all the recent FISA silliness behind us. We have heard from various voices on the left that Barack Obama has betrayed progressives because he supported a compromise by nearly half the Democratic caucus and much of its leadership. As I've made clear repeatedly on DA, I disagree with this opinion.

But the back and forth on FISA risks clouding the enormous areas of agreement in the progressive community on Iraq - and Obama's steadfast support, through thick and thin, for what is basically an anti-war position. Barack Obama wants to end this war and bring the troops home. Even in the face of a general election campaign where national security issues generally favor Republicans; even in the face of security improvements in Iraq, Obama has maintained his overall strategy, which calls for us to begin drawing troops from Iraq (even if he is wisely giving himself some wiggle room on tactics). Not only is he not running away from that position; he's running for President on it.

Those who have criticized Obama on FISA should spend as much time praising his position on Iraq. He deserves it.

The Real Story Behind Offshore Drilling
Posted by The Editors

From NSN Intern Max Stoiber, who highlights the blatant nod to oil companies contained within the Bush-McCain policy of expanding off-shore drilling.

One of John McCain’s biggest flip-flops yet has been his reversal on offshore drilling, which he opposed as late as May, but has now dedicated his full blown support to. His arguments have supported the wide-spread misconception that the ban is strangle-holding the energy companies, who so desperately want to drill oil and help poor Americans escape their financial malaise. This assertion is totally wrong. A report by the committee of Natural Resources clears up a few overlooked facts about the issue:

“Combined, oil and gas companies hold leases to nearly 68 million acres of federal land and waters that they are not producing oil and gas. Oil and gas companies would not buy leases to this land without believing oil and gas can be produced there, yet these same companies are not producing oil or gas from these areas already under their control.”

On the Outer Continental Shelf, 79% of federal oil is located in areas that have been open for leasing and production for years. The same goes for natural gas, 82% of which has been open for exploration and development. The statistics get even better:

“If we extrapolate from today’s production rates on federal land and waters, we can estimate that the 68 million acres of leased but currently inactive federal land and waters could produce an additional 4.8 million barrels of oil and 44.7 billion cubic feet of natural gas each day. That would nearly double total U.S. oil production, and increase natural gas production by 75%.”

This means that the oil companies are sitting on a giant reserve of oil and gas and are choosing not to develop it.

What is John McCain complaining about? If the energy companies started producing the oil that is already available to them, they could cut US oil imports by a third. So why give them even more land for free? All that lifting the ban would do is give the oil companies more land at less expense for them! Not to add the fact that it would take upwards of 20 years to fully extract and develop oil from these sites, which would, if at all, affect the price of oil 5 presidential terms from now. Lifting the offshore drilling ban has absolutely no discernible merit to anyone except the oil companies, who would save costs and make more profits as a result.

Beyond Judgment
Posted by Max Bergmann

Greg Sargent is right that:

The inescapable fact is this: On the biggest and most consequential decision, Obama got it right, and McCain got it wrong.

But it is actually more than this. When contrasting Obama and McCain - it is not the same as contrasting say Hillary Clinton and John Edwards with Obama. Clinton, Edwards, etc. voted and supported the war, but they weren't advocates for it. In other words, it wasn't their idea, and there is little question that if President neither Edwards, nor Clinton, nor Biden, would have invaded Iraq.

But this is not the case with John McCain. While he presents himself as a war critic and a reluctant war supporter, the fact is that if McCain were President there is NO doubt we would have invaded Iraq.

McCain was not just a supporter of the war, but was perhaps the most vocal advocate of invading Iraq in the congress. He was a sponsor of the 1998 Iraq liberation act, he called repeatedly for invading Iraq in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 and, as this remarkable Economist piece noted, invading Iraq and the concept of the axis of evil were ideas inspired from John McCain's rogue state rollback foreign policy in 2000. For John McCain there WAS NO decision to invade Iraq because it was his IDEA in the first place.

But he did not just agree with the principle of taking out Saddam, he was a supporter and advocate of the ENTIRE Bush administration approach toward Iraq. From linking Bin Laden to Saddam, to disregarding allies and the UN in favor of a "coalition of the willing," to supporting Rumsfeld's military approach that relied on high tech weaponry in favor of boots on the ground, to believing that Chalabi could simply be installed as Iraq's leader allowing U.S. troops to come home (or begin targeting others) almost immediately.

This doesn't simply represent bad judgment. It represents someone who possessed a completely bankrupt view of the world.

(See more evidence after the jump)

Continue reading "Beyond Judgment" »

Oh, So Now He Tells Us?
Posted by Patrick Barry

John McCain fancies himself an expert on national security, but looking at his policy for Afghanistan - outlined in today's NYSun - I just don't understand how he can still make that claim with a straight face.  It should be clear to anyone who follows this issue or cares about the threat that instability in Afghanistan poses to Americans, that John McCain's policy is an absolute sham.

Just a cursory look at some of his main points exposes John McCain's total lack of understanding of the challenges we face.  First, he calls for an Afghanistan surge:

"There will be a surge for Afghanistan. It will be moving combat troops in and applying the lessons from Iraq and the strategy that was successful in Iraq and taking that to Afghanistan,"

Great.  I'm glad John McCain has finally seen the light, even though progressives have been there FOR OVER SIX YEARS calling for a change in direction.  Afghanistan does need more troops, but it also needs a policy for bringing them there; it's not enough to just hope that they will arrive. Barack Obama has said repeatedly that he will redeploy troops from Iraq to confront the grave terrorist threat building in Afghanistan, but John McCain has never explicitly stated his policy. It's entirely possible that he will clarify his position, but I'm not holding my breath.

The second crux of John McCain's policy is to appoint an Afghanistan War Tsar to coordinate efforts in the country.  A War Tsar? Are you serious?  On this point, it's less that the policy is absent as it is just plain dumb.  I'm not sure if John McCain realizes this, but Afghanistan not only has a Tsar, General Lute, who coordinates war efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq, but it also has a special envoy, Kai Eide, who's tasked with coordinating ISAF efforts.   So I'm not sure what another coordinator would add besides a massive amount of confusion, even as the Pentagon is working to streamline the chain of command and consolidate operations under the ISAF.   Here John McCain's policy isn't just redundant, it is deeply harmful to U.S. strategy.   

When looking at these candidates' national security credentials, it's important to look at their actual policies, not just their rhetorical flare.  On Afghanistan, Barack Obama has been clear at every turn.  John McCain cares so little about the issue that his strategy for the country doesn't even make his website.

Surging from where?
Posted by Max Bergmann

Apparently McCain has come around to the long held position of progressives that we need more troops in Afghanistan. McCain's change in positions is welcome. But there is a big question McCain needs to answer: Where are the troops going to come from?

We don't have any spare capacity in our ground forces. A few months ago the Vice Chief of Staff of the Army, General Cody noted that:

The combat readiness of the total Army (active units, the National Guard, and the Army Reserve) is in tatters... The simple fact is that the United States currently does not have enough troops who are ready and available for potential contingency missions in places like Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, or anywhere else…

The only way to significantly increase troops in Afghanistan is to reduce our forces in Iraq - as Senator Obama is proposing. So is McCain proposing a drawdown from Iraq - and if so by how much? If he isn't - then this is just another vapid and incoherent policy proposal from John McCain.  

NSN Daily Update - 7/15/08
Posted by The National Security Network

A New Approach to Iraq Will Better Serve America’s National Security

“This war distracts us from every threat that we face and so many opportunities we could seize. This war diminishes our security, our standing in the world, our military, our economy, and the resources that we need to confront the challenges of the 21st century. By any measure, our single-minded and open-ended focus on Iraq is not a sound strategy for keeping America safe.” Sen. Barack Obama, 7/15/08

A new approach will focus resources on the fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban. America’s 16 intelligence agencies say that al Qaeda is growing stronger and that the threat emanating out of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border is the single biggest danger to American security.  However, the New York Times reports that, “the White House shifted its sights, beginning in 2002, from counterterrorism efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan to preparations for the war in Iraq.” According to current and former military and intelligence officials the war in Iraq has consistently diverted resources and high-level attention from the fight against al Qaeda. Intelligence officials report that by 2006 the Iraq war had drained away most of the C.I.A. officers with field experience in the Islamic world. “You had a very finite number” of experienced officers, said one former senior intelligence official. “Those people all went to Iraq. We were all hurting because of Iraq.” In fact, “when American military and intelligence officials requested additional Predator drones to survey the tribal areas, they were told no drones were available because they had been sent to Iraq.” [New York Times, 6/30/08. NIE, 4/06. NIE, 7/07]

A new approach will rebalance the U.S. military. Gen. George Casey stated that “The cumulative effects of the last six-plus years at war have left our Army out of balance, consumed by the current fight and unable to do the things we know we need to do to properly sustain our all-volunteer force and restore our flexibility for an uncertain future.”  [Reuters, 2/26/08]

A new approach will give the U.S. more leverage with adversaries such as Iran. “A recent survey of 3,400 military officers found that a majority thought that either China or Iran were the big winners of the war in Iraq.” [Center for New American Security, 2/08]

A new approach will rebuild respect for the United States. Only 30 percent of Germans now have a positive view of the United States, down from 78 percent before Bush took office in January 2001. In Turkey, a Muslim democracy and NATO ally, only 9 percent now have a favorable view, down from 52 percent in late 2001. Most alarming is that just 51 percent of Britons – our partner in Iraq and our most reliable ally - now hold favorable views of the United States, down from 75 percent before the Iraq invasion. [IHT, 6/27/07. Pew Global Attitudes Project, 6/27/07. NY Times, 2/07/08]

Quick Hits

A majority of Americans believe the war in Afghanistan should take priority over the war in Iraq, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. Americans believe that the Afghanistan war effort was “worth fighting for” and that the US needs to win the war in Afghanistan for it to be a success, which is not true for Iraq.

European and Asian markets slumped today
despite the US government’s intervention in favor of the sinking mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The money boost was not able to end “a much broader assault of investor uncertainty on the financial markets.”

Ahead of his trip to Europe and the Middle East, Senator Barack Obama will reiterate his
national security goals in a major address today
. The emphasis will lie on “ending the war in Iraq, wrapping up the fight against al Qaeda, securing nuclear weapons from rogue states, achieving energy security and rebuilding alliances.”

The first video footage of Guantanamo interrogations was released by the lawyers of the Canadian inmate Omar Khadr. The 7-hour video provides unprecedented insight into the methods and effects of prolonged, intense questioning.

A senior member of the homeland advisory council was videotaped selling favors to Central Asian politicians and ex-presidents for donations to the Bush library.
This raises strong concerns over the ability of foreign governments to influence the administration through funds.

Two suicide bombers simultaneously detonated their charges in the middle of a crowd of army recruits in Iraq, killing 28-35 people. Despite fierce measures to counter insurgent attacks, the bombing demonstrates the continued violence taking place in Iraq.

The Taliban attack on a remote NATO outpost on Sunday marked the first instance where Taliban fighters breached the base.
The base’s defenses were not fully operational, which was exploited by the Taliban in their two-front assault, leaving 9 Americans dead and 15 wounded.

China reacted strongly against the ICC’s condemnation of the Sudanese president, saying that “the ICC's move should be conducive to safeguarding the stability of Sudan's situation and the proper resolution for the Darfur region rather than the contrary." China buys two thirds of Sudan’s petroleum exports and has been criticized for its apathetic stance on the genocide in Darfur.

Polling on Iraq Vs. Afghanistan
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

The post seems to have missed the most important number in its national security poll

Do you think the U.S must win the war in [Country] in order for the broader war on terrorism to be a success, or do you think the war on terrorism can be a success without the U.S. winning?

Iraq: 34% must win. 60% can succeed without it
Afghanistan:  51% must win.  42% can succeed without it

This is the most important part of the debate.   It is not about the short-term tactics of timelines.  16,18,20 months.  What matters is the big strategic difference.  McCain thinks that we need to put all of our efforts into Iraq because we can't afford to lose, even if it means sacrificing other security concerns.  Obama says we can't sacrifice everything for Iraq and have to focus on the other threats.  That is the point that he and Democrats have been making for years now.  And on this point the American public overwhelmingly agrees with Obama by a margin of 17 points.  But naturally, as the press always does it misses the big point.

PS.  I'm glad Michael saved me the time of having to take Mike O'Hanlon to task for his comments in the article.

Polling Iraq
Posted by Michael Cohen

According to new numbers from the Washington Post/ABC poll Barack Obama and John McCain are basically tied on the issue of Iraq:

Despite broad, longstanding dissatisfaction with the war, just 50% of Americans prefer Obama's plan to withdraw most U.S. forces within 16 months of taking office. Essentially as many, 49%, side with McCain's position -- setting no timetable and letting events dictate when troops are withdrawn.

A couple of thoughts here. First, look at how the question was framed:

Obama has proposed a timetable to withdraw most U.S. forces from Iraq within 16 months of his taking office. McCain has opposed a specific timetable and said events should dictate when troops are withdrawn. Which approach do you prefer - a timetable or no timetable?

I'd be pretty pleased if I were Obama - "events should dictate" sounds pretty good; if you don't also know that John McCain wants to keep troops in Iraq for 100 years. Considering the improved security situation in Iraq, I'm not so sure I wouldn't go along with McCain's position (if, of course, that was actually his position).

Second, if Obama is tied with McCain on Election Day, Michelle and Barack can start measuring the drapes in the Oval Office. On every other major political issue (with the possible exception of terrorism) Obama has the advantage. Considering the Democrat's usual liability on national security issues -- and John McCain's almost single-handled focus on Iraq -- a tie sounds like a win to me.

But then there was this: a quote from the ever reliable Michael O'Hanlon who continues his try out to be John McCain's national security advisor:

Michael E. O'Hanlon, a Democratic defense analyst at the Brookings Institution who has been an outspoken supporter of the war in Iraq, said he could not believe that Obama would put such a definitive timeline into print before a trip to Iraq, where he is to consult with Iraqi leaders and U.S. commanders.

"To say you're going to get out on a certain schedule -- regardless of what the Iraqis do, regardless of what our enemies do, regardless of what is happening on the ground -- is the height of absurdity," said O'Hanlon, who described himself as "livid." "I'm not going to go to the next level of invective and say he shouldn't be president. I'll leave that to someone else."

Huh? Hasn't Barack Obama pretty much been backing a 16-month timeline since he began running for President. Why in God's name is Michael O'Hanlon surprised by this? But here's the really bizarre part - O'Hanlon expresses surprise that Obama would consider getting out on a certain schedule "regardless of what the Iraqis do." But what about the fact that Iraqi leaders are now pushing for the US to put in place a timetable for withdrawal:

Iraqi political leaders "are all telling us the same thing . . . Iraqis want to know that foreign troops are not going to be here forever."

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his political allies have come under intense domestic pressure to reject any perceived infringement on Iraqi sovereignty. Maliki, who last week publicly insisted on a withdrawal timeline, wants to frame the agreement as outlining the terms for "Americans leaving Iraq" rather than the conditions under which they will stay, said the U.S. official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity because U.S.-Iraqi negotiations are ongoing.

I wonder if the fact that John McCain doesn't seem to be listening to the Iraqis makes O'Hanlon equally "livid."

July 14, 2008

Pakistan's Vicious Circle
Posted by Adam Blickstein

Because we have no cohesive policy for the Pakistan/Afghanistan frontier, where both a reconstituted al Qaeda and Taliban continue to assert themselves, the situation there has devolved into a vicious circle of blame and unaccountability devoid of progress or substantive solutions:

North West Frontier Province governor Owais Ghani said such actions could make it impossible for the government to keep struggling against militancy.

The US is frustrated with what they see as insufficient efforts by Islamabad to fight militants on the Afghan border.

That has fuelled Pakistani concerns of increased US intervention.

We are really at a point of strategic stalemate there where neither side knows exactly how to act without angering one-another or endangering an area of tactical importance. We can't attack militants there without undermining the Pakistani government. And the Pakistani government can't act because their political situation is so precarious to begin with. And yet when we do try to act and pick up the slack, this happens:

[North West Frontier Province governor Owais Ghani] said that he would be "deeply concerned" about any increase in unilateral US airstrikes in tribal areas.

"This has a great backlash in the public sentiment, public opinion," he said. "It seriously undermines the much needed backing of the population.

And that's just trying to deal with the Pakistani aspect of the problem:

"Today Afghanistan is a narco-state, that itself is a huge contributor of instability in Afghanistan."

Mr Ghani said Afghanistan was "a failed state now, which means it's a long term problem."

"Placing all the blame at Pakistan's doorstep is wrong."

Stability between the two countries was linked, he argued, and there would be no peace in the tribal areas without peace in Afghanistan, which required talking to the Taleban.


NSN Daily Update: Shifting from Iraq to Afghanistan- 7/14/08
Posted by The National Security Network

This weekend saw additional signs that Afghanistan and Pakistan - the region of the world that presents the greatest direct threat to the United States will demand at least as much attention as Iraq.  For years the Bush Administration has ignored calls for a change in strategy that addresses Afghanistan first, and it is only now that we are finally seeing the costs of the Administration’s strategic myopia.  With a major attack against American and NATO forces in Afghanistan this weekend, a new Pentagon study group report that may propose reducing U.S. forces in Iraq to 50,000 by the spring of 2009, and news that the military is in fact planning a further reduction of American forces in Iraq the requirement to focus on Afghanistan and Iraq is more clear than ever.   

Nine U.S. troops were killed in the worst attack against Americans in Afghanistan in three years. Taliban rebels carried out the deadliest attack on American forces in three years on Sunday in Afghanistan’s Kunar province, killing nine U.S. soldiers.  The assault was the latest round of fighting between American troops and Taliban militants in the areas along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.  The situation has been deteriorating for months.  General David McKiernan, head of operations in Afghanistan since June, said that some kind of attack had been carried out “almost every day I have been here.”  Also on Sunday, a suicide bomber killed 24 people in the southern Afghanistan province of Uruzgan.  [NY Times, 7/14/08. AP, 7/13/08]

The Administration is weighing the withdrawal of additional combat forces from Iraq.   According to administration and military officials, the Bush Administration is considering bringing more troops home from Iraq beginning in September.  Officials report that by the time Bush leaves office, “at least one and as many as 3 of the 15 combat brigades now in Iraq could be withdrawn or at least scheduled for withdrawal.”  A prominent factor in the consideration of increasing the pace of the pullout is the need for additional American troops in Afghanistan, where fighting has intensified.  This news comes as there are new reports that the Administration will likely not sign a long-term Status of Forces Agreement with the Government of Iraq because of Iraqi objections and that part of the negotiations now include a “time horizon” for American withdrawals.  [NY Times, 7/13/08.  Washington Post, 7/13/08]

Military analysis says it is time to begin leaving Iraq and put more focus on Afghanistan.
  A forthcoming Pentagon-sponsored report by a defense analysis group at the Naval Postgraduate School is to, “recommend that U.S. forces be reduced to as few as 50,000 by the spring of 2009, down from about 150,000 now.”  The report reflects a significant sentiment within the military that more U.S. troops are needed in Afghanistan to help control an increasingly active insurgency but, due to the war in Iraq, insufficient forces are available for such action. As Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mullen has said "I don't have troops I can reach for, brigades I can reach to send into Afghanistan until I have a reduced requirement in Iraq," Mullen said. [Washington Post 7/2/08. Newsweek, 7/21/08]

Quick Hits

The International Criminal Court charged Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir with genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. He is the first sitting head of state to be so charged, and concerns have arisen over whether the indictment will negatively affect efforts to stem violence and instability in the region.

Ahead of his reported trip to the Middle East and Europe next week, Senator Barack Obama outlined today in The New York Times his plan for a responsible withdrawal from Iraq.  The piece follows an interview Sunday with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria.

The New York Times reports that the Taliban have taken control of a large marble quarry in Pakistan’s Tribal Region, which is providing a financial base for their resurgent presence there.

India's national security adviser has said Pakistan's intelligence service, ISI, was behind a suicide car-bomb attack on the Indian embassy in the Afghan capital of Kabul last week that killed 41 people.

French President Nicholas Sarkozy launched the summit of the Mediterranean Union on Sunday, with a strong focus of forging better relations between Israel and its neighbors.  Focus was especially strong on renewing efforts towards forging an Israeli-Syrian accord and as well as bettering relations between Israelis and Palestinians.

Sunday’s New York Times featured an op-ed by Frank Rich examining Jane Mayer’s new book The Dark Side, in which he compares the end of George W. Bush’s presidency to the end of Richard Nixon’s, concluding that “the Bush White House’s corruption in the end surpasses Nixon’s.”

Flip-Flopping Absurdity
Posted by Michael Cohen

The New Republic has a great editorial today on the absurd notion that is somehow developing around Barack Obama's "refinement" of his Iraq policy:

Flip-flopping has become the most damning accusation against a politician speaks to the poverty of the political process. Here's how the system currently works: As candidates prepare to enter the race, they devise a foreign policy platform. Then, for the next two years, they must resolutely defend that platform. Any deviation from their original position papers will be treated by their opponents--and, in turn, by the press--as a deep character flaw, evidence that a candidate will do whatever it takes to win the presidency.

. . . . And, while Obama has clearly reframed his Iraq position with an eye toward November, he also has good substantive reasons for backing away from some of his past rhetoric. The improvements within Iraq are real. Although they may not presage a liberal democracy or justify the permanent presence of our troops, Obama would be a fool if he didn't take these new trends into account. The dynamic within Iraq has changed since he initially conceived his policy during the bloodiest days of sectarian warfare. And there's certainly no reason why he should be rewarded for continuing to argue his Iraq stance as if nothing is different.

This is so precisely, spot-on correct it just pains me that I didn't write it first. As yesterday's revelation that under pressure from the Maliki government the Bush Administration is preparing to countenance a timetable for withdrawal makes clear; the person with the Iraq problem is John McCain. And it's not because he's a flip-flopper (whatever that incredibly silly expression actually means); it's because he's taken a position that is so out of touch with the current political reality in Iraq - namely staying in Iraq for potentially 100 years, which is completely unacceptable to the Iraqi leaders and their people.

Only in our screwed up political world can Barack Obama be criticized for adapting his Iraq position to changing facts on the ground while John McCain can bear no criticism for maintaining an Iraq policy that has little chance of being implemented and runs counter to not only the desires of the Iraqi leadership, but in fact his own Republican Administration.

So basically a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds - unless you are running for President, in which case, it's a requirement.

A Paradoxical Take on Iraq
Posted by Michael Cohen

The word today that the Bush Administration is "talking about (withdrawal) dates" with Iraqi leaders raises number of fascinating paradoxes.

Paradox #1:
The Bush Administration's is Embracing Obama's Position on Iraq.

Yes, you read it here first: the Bush Administration is begrudgingly coming around to Barack Obama's position on Iraq; namely supporting a timetable for withdrawal of troops. Now of course, the Bush folks have not adopted this position for all the same reasons that Sen. Obama did last year, but two points are particularly revealing:

The Bush administration is considering the withdrawal of additional combat forces from Iraq. One factor in the consideration is the pressing need for additional American troops in Afghanistan . . .

The desire to move more quickly reflects the view of many in the Pentagon who want to ease the strain on the military but also to free more troops for . . . other missions.

Of course, the need to send more troops to Afghanistan and deal with the remnants of the Taliban and Al Qaeda (as well as relieve the burden on the military) are two of the key reasons why Obama has been calling for troop withdrawals from Iraq. The approach of the Bush Administration is moving closer to that of the Obama.

Paradox #2: John McCain has a More Extreme Position on Troop Withdrawals from Iraq than President Bush.

Here is the first line of John McCain's Iraq plan on his web site:

John McCain believes it is strategically and morally essential for the United States to support the Government of Iraq to become capable of governing itself and safeguarding its people. He strongly disagrees with those who advocate withdrawing American troops before that has occurred.

Well since the criteria that the Bush Administration is using to reduce troop levels in Iraq is that they are needed in Afghanistan (and the Iraqis are demanding it) John McCain seems to be taking a position that is decidedly different from the one being advocated by George Bush - but here's the crazy part; it's actually worse.

McCain's plan puts all the cards in the hands of the Iraqis by only considering withdrawal when the Iraqis get around to enacting political reform and training their security forces. The lever of US troop withdrawals is not even considered; nor for that matter the views of the Iraqis themselves. (Of course the Bush Administration position in not much better: getting browbeat by the Iraqis into conceding the need for a withdrawal timetable. But at least they are entertaining the notion. Only in the Bush Administration could this qualify as progress).

Paradox #3: If Taken Literally, John McCain's 100-Year Comment Now Looks Even Worse Than Before.

For quite a while now, John McCain has been using the South Korea model as the basis for his policy in Iraq. Namely American troops will stay in Iraq for as long as necessary to secure the peace and remain even after peace is achieved as a semi-permanent presence in the country -- even for "100 years" if necessary. 

Now to anyone with a basic familiarity with the Arab world and in particular the attitude of Iraqis toward the United States occupation (their word not mine) this always seemed like a hare-brained notion. The Iraqis were never going to stand for a permanent US presence; even permanent military bases. The breakdown of SOFA negotiations shows precisely why McCain's plan was so out of whack. According to a Bush Administration official quoted by the Washington Post:

Iraqi political leaders "are all telling us the same thing . . . Iraqis want to know that foreign troops are not going to be here forever."

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his political allies have come under intense domestic pressure to reject any perceived infringement on Iraqi sovereignty. Maliki, who last week publicly insisted on a withdrawal timeline, wants to frame the agreement as outlining the terms for "Americans leaving Iraq" rather than the conditions under which they will stay, said the U.S. official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity because U.S.-Iraqi negotiations are ongoing.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't this very seriously undermine one of the key elements of McCain's Iraq plan?

Paradox #4: If the Bush Administration Accepts a Timetable for Withdrawal, John McCain Has No Iraq Policy

Now this one is a little tougher, but if you read John McCain's Iraq policy on his web site the crux of it is resisting withdrawal of American troops from Iraq until we have accomplished "victory" (whatever that actually means). But if even the Iraqis are demanding for withdrawal than John McCain has an untenable Iraq policy; one that will not be accepted in any way by the Iraqis and one that is divorced from reality on the ground.

But let's say McCain takes these recent moves and decides to "refine" his policy on Iraq and support a move toward withdrawal - how is he going to protect US interests in the region and in Iraq?

This raises two key differences between McCain's approach to Iraq and that of his opponent - Senator Obama wants to open negotiations with Iran and Syria in part to discuss the future of Iraq. McCain wants "the international community to apply real pressure to Syria and Iran to change their behavior." Good luck with all that. In addition, Obama wants to use the lever and timing of further troop withdrawals to put pressure on the Iraqi government to move forward with political reform; McCain wants to push for political reconciliation, but offers no thoughts on how he hopes to achieve this goal. This of course leads to the final paradox . . .

Paradox #5: John McCain is far more likely to flip flop on Iraq if he becomes President.

This is a rather easy one - McCain's plan is divorced from political reality both in the US and Iraq. He will have virtually no levers for affecting US interests in the region; and if he follows through on his policy prescriptions he will be running counter to the desires of the Iraqi leaders and their people.

The direction of the Bush Administration on Iraq is actually moving closer to that of Barack Obama - to such an extent that the outmoded notion of Obama's plan will not be that it will take longer than 16 months to withdraw troops; but that it might take less time.

July 13, 2008

50K by Spring 2009?
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

No.  It's not Dennis Kucinich's plan.  It's not Barack Obama's plan.  It appears to be coming from the Defense Analysis Group at the Naval Post Graduate School in Monterey, which is proposing it as part of a Pentagon sponsored study.

Expected to be completed in about a month, it will recommend that U.S. forces be reduced to as few as 50,000 by the spring of 2009, down from about 150,000 now. The strategy is based on a major handoff to the increasingly successful Iraqi Army, with platoon-size U.S. detachments backing the Iraqis from small outposts, with air support. The large U.S. forward operating bases that house the bulk of U.S. troops would be mostly abandoned, and the role of Special Forces would increase.

Is this plan likely to get adopted?  I'd be pretty surprised.  Petraeus opposes it and I can't see Bush supporting it.  But still.  When you have serious military experts inside the Pentagon saying that this is a possibility it sure as hell blows a hole in the argument that somehow Obama's plan, which would take a whole year longer than this is somehow logistically impossible. 

Taking Yes for an Answer
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

So last week John McCain was doing an interview with the Pittsburgh Tribune Gazette and had this exchange.

Trib: Senator, with Iraqi leaders now calling for a timetable for U.S. troop withdrawals ...

McCain: Actually the Iraqis are not. The Iraqis widely reported as short a time ago as a couple of weeks ago that there would be no status of forces agreement, and Maliki would say that, and it got headlines, and of course it turned out not to be true.

Except ummm... Well it turns out that there will be no SOFA agreement.  So is it also possible that despite McCain's protestations that Iraqis really do want a timetable?  Sure looks that way

Although President Bush has repeatedly rejected calls for a troop withdrawal timeline, "we are talking about dates," acknowledged one U.S. official close to the negotiations. Iraqi political leaders "are all telling us the same thing. They need something like this in there. . . . Iraqis want to know that foreign troops are not going to be here forever."

Hi Quality Interview
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

If you want to watch an interesting interview on foreign policy.  You know the type of interview we should be seeing more of, I'd suggest Fareed Zakaria interviewing Barack Obama today.  Good stuff

Naturally Good News for McCain
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Sometimes the press's political judgment just boggles my mind.  The Times has a big story today about how the worsening situation in Afghanistan is forcing the Administration's hand and will likely lead to a faster drawdown out of Iraq.  Yet, somehow, despite the fact that this is exactly what Obama has been arguing for over a year and exactly what McCain has opposed the Times in its wisdom concludes that it's a political winner for...  McCain!!!

Let's be clear.  The Bush Administration and McCain are going to claim that that the withdrawals are happening because of the improved security situation in Iraq.  But for months and months, they have been arguing that the situation is too fragile in Iraq and that by withdrawing troops we risk suffering major setbacks.  What caused the sudden shift to a potentially more accelerated withdrawal?  Could it possibly be the fact that Admiral Mullen is saying he needs more troops in Afghanistan, attacks are up 40% in the volatile Eastern part of the country that borders Pakistan's tribal areas, and American troop casualties have risen dramatically?

One would think that from a political perspective this would reinforce Obama's national security argument.  From the start of the campaign he has emphasized moving our focus away from Iraq to Afghanistan and Pakistan.  You know, where Al Qaeda central is currently located.  You know, the group that actually planned and executed the 9/11 attacks.  The group that the Intelligence Community believes in the process of planning future attacks against the United States.

Meanwhile McCain has been very clear about the fact that according to him Iraq is the central front in the war on terror.  He has attacked Obama for being willing to conduct air strikes against high value targets like Osama Bin Laden without Pakistani consent if we had actionable intelligence (A policy that the Bush Administration has now adopted).   And he has said some relatively silly things lately about the "improving relationship" between Karzai and the Pakistanis.  Karzai's government recently accused ISI of being involved in an assassination attempt against him.

So naturally the Times concludes

The political benefit might go more to Mr. McCain than Mr. Obama. Mr. McCain is an avid supporter of the current strategy in Iraq. Any reduction would indicate that that strategy has worked and could defuse antiwar sentiment among voters.

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