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July 30, 2010

Hard Is Not Hopeless
Posted by Michael Cohen

This week the New Republic has a series of articles on Afghanistan - the aforementioned piece by Anna Badkhen on the perilous situation in the north and Ahmed Rashid's argument for writing off the south and east are focusing US energies on the north and west perhaps the two best. But worthy of mention (not necessarily for the right reasons) is David Rieff's submission. After correctly and cogently summarizing all the reasons why the US endeavor in Afghanistan is likely to fail, Rieff makes the following observation

In all likelihood, God help us, we will be staying in Afghanistan for the foreseeable future. That much seems obvious, and, while I am all for opposing the mission as a matter of conscience, I have no hope at all that this opposition will have any effect. That’s OK. Historically, being on the losing side in such battles has rarely been a dishonorable place to be. 

I am somewhat more hopeful— comparatively, anyway—that the fact that almost everyone knows the Obama administration’s stated goals in continuing to prosecute this senseless war are unachievable will further the American people’s growing disenchantment with expeditionary wars and humanitarian and human-rights-based military interventions. There may be nothing that can be done about Afghanistan, but perhaps its pointlessness will at least serve as a caution when, as will certainly happen, a future administration proposes yet another adventure in imperial idealism somewhere down the road.

This is, to put it mildly, a particularly unhelpful addition to the current national debate on Afghanistan. 

First, it ignores the many pressure points that exit to shift the direction of US policy on Afghanistan. There is the all-important year review that is supposed to take place this December as well as June 2011 when the first contingent of US troops are supposed to come home from Afghanistan. Of course, there is also public opinion, perhaps the most important anti-war lever, which is increasingly moving in opposition to the conflict.

Second, it oddly disregards the shifting national debate on Afghanistan. Over the past few weeks there has been a rising chorus of voices offering alternatives to the current failing policy. I chronicled several of them here; Jack Devine offered another new one yesterday arguing for a CIA-focused, smaller US footprint approach.

Whether you like these alternatives or think they're all bunk the growing and long overdue intellectual ferment on Afghanistan is extraordinarily important. The more that the policy community can provide alternatives to the current COIN-focused course favored by the military the better the opportunity for an actual shift in strategy (ironically this is sort of what happened in Iraq in 2007 with the surge). Moreover, if and hopefully when the Administration shifts course on Afghanistan it will need the support of today's critics to counter what will almost certainly be pushback from the military. Coalescing around alternatives to the current strategy will give that effort more legitimacy and more traction. 

The notion that a critic of the current policy would throw up their hands and argue that all is lost; let's worry about stopping the next humanitarian intervention is both ill-advised and ill-informed.

Thirdly, Rieff's "honorable" course glosses over the national security imperatives - not to mention moral responsibility -- of getting Afghanistan right. Rieff, to his credit, has been a fervent opponent of humanitarian interventions and frankly with good reason. Often when the US intervenes militarily bad things happen, particularly for the civilian population in the country where we determine our national interests are threatened. (The first Iraq War and I suppose Kosovo are obvious modern exceptions).

But the issue in Afghanistan is not whether we go in - it's how we get out. And how we leave Afghanistan matters a great deal. I fear that if we continue on the same course that we are currently headed the calls for withdrawal will increase and we will depart hastily from Afghanistan. That's why a national debate about Afghanistan right NOW is so important; because it will hopefully offer ideas for how we can get out while also leaving our interests protected and the Afghan state in as stable a place as possible. 

I don't believe - and never have - that we can transform Afghanistan into anything other than a slightly less failed state than it already is. Nation building in the Hindu Kush is nothing more than a fool's errand - and our responsibility to Afghanistan only stretches so far as our actual and rather limited ability to affect it's long-term development trajectory (Peter Bergen's argument in TNR that we must "fulfill our promise" to the Afghan people with New Deal-style works programs is as a rather Panglossian take on this theme). 

But if we can ensure that a Taliban takeover is not possible (and that already seem pretty unlikely); that a somewhat stable functioning government in Kabul can take hold; that the potential for a return to the horrible civil war of the 1990s is minimized; that a healthy percentage of Afghans will not have to live under the Taliban's medieval edicts; that al Qaeda will not be able to use the country as a base for operations . . . well frankly that makes for a smarter approach than the current policy and one that might actually further US interests and help the Afghan people. And that's a rather minimal goal that seems achievable and realistic.

But the fatalist approach advocated above is quite obviously not the way to get there. It's a useful reminder to the progressive community - and those who believe that the current effort will not succeed - that this is precisely the moment when we should be placing even more pressure on the Administration to shift course on Afghanistan. None of this will be easy - and the pushback both from the military and the GOP - will be furious, but hard is not hopeless.

Like Rieff I hope that the lesson from Iraq and Afghanistan will be to never again attempt what he calls "adventures in imperial idealism." But in the mean time, there's a war going on.

The Trouble Up North
Posted by Michael Cohen

If one wants further evidence of how misguided the current focus of US military efforts in southern and eastern Afghanistan has become, today's NYT piece about the worsening security situation in Baghlan province is a good place to start:

Almost unnoticed, this strategic northern province is slipping away from government control. Baghlan Province contains two of the crucial north-south routes inAfghanistan. As night falls on this provincial capital, the city turns dark and silent. The Taliban have decreed that the cellphone signals go down at night so the main cellphone companies switch off the signals from dusk to dawn.

Men with guns and rocket-propelled grenade launchers guard illegal checkpoints just north of the capital, waiting for convoys of trucks or other lucrative prey. Shootings erupt almost every day across the province. Deprived of jobs and local government services, people here are turning to Taliban courts for speedy justice and drifting toward those who will pay them — either local strongmen or the Taliban.

In the New Republic, Anna Badkhen tells a similar tale of Taliban encroachment in Afghanistan's northern provinces. The story line here is one that we've been seeing for several months. As the US devotes more energy and resources to a losing battle in the south and east the security situation in previously stable (ish) parts of the country is beginning to suffer. As Badkhen notes, the US is spending six times more capita in Helmand province than in the northern Takhar province. 

Yet, with a withdrawal deadline looming, a population sympathetic to the Taliban, a security situation that undermines any development efforts and the lack of any real government influence on the ground, there is little possibility that the US efforts in Helmand will produce any sort of dramatic pay-off. Quite simply, continued US engagement in areas where there is virtually no hope of the ANSF taking over any time soon is just an example of throwing good money after bad. 

But in the north, more aid and improved security would almost certainly bring tangible results. The Times mentions that the in recent weeks the 10th Mountain division was moved to Baghlan, which is a step in the right direction. As I've written here recently the US efforts in Afghanistan seem to be moving toward an exit strategy-focused approach (i.e. from winning to getting out). But to really shift the mission it means shifting the regional orientation of US troops. 

Improving security in places like Baghlan or Kunduz - and improving aid delivery - is a good way to start. Calling off military operations in Kandahar would definitely be another.

July 29, 2010

Back to Engagement?
Posted by Patrick Barry

Ahmadinejad Just when you thought diplomacy with Iran was on life-support, the last 24 hours have seen potentially game-altering developments regarding international negotiations over its nuclear program.  First, yesterday afternoon Haaretz reported the following:

"Iran has given an assurance that it would stop enriching uranium to 20 percent purity if world powers agreed to a proposed nuclear fuel swap, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said on Wednesday."

Haaretz added that Iran has also re-stated its offer to export 2,646 pounds of its supply of low enriched uranium. 

Next, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs PJ Crowley told reporters yesterday that, “We hope to have the same kind of meeting coming up in the coming weeks that we had last October.”

At a minimum, these developments indicate a positive alignment of intentions that could resuscitate the engagement track many thought had been abandoned. With the caveat that "[i]t's difficult to know how seriously to take Iran's offer to halt its program of enriching medical-grade uranium in exchange for a nuclear fuel swap," The Atlantic's Max Fisher makes a strong case for why the time is right for a return to more active diplomacy between Iran and the West.

"If Iran is sincere and the deal goes through, it would not be a definitive solution to Iranian nuclear proliferation, as the country would continue to enrich fuel-grade uranium. It would, however, be a very big step towards reducing Iran's capacity for implementing a sudden "breakout" to weapons-grade uranium. Just as importantly, it would be an important trust-building opportunity that, if successful, could pave the way for winding down Iran's nuclear program and finally engaging the nation that Jimmy Carter once called an ally and 'oasis of stability.'"

I hope Fisher is right, though I suspect there's both more and less reason for optimism than his piece indicates. First, the good stuff. One of the less-scrutinized difficulties posed by the Turkey-Brazil deal proposed earlier this summer was that whatever merit it had as a confidence building measure, it was a very difficult political sell. In addition to the almost certain outcry a deal would have provoked on the right, Congress would have moved forward with its sanctions package (perhaps an even harsher version), and the President would have had little ability to stop it. Any confidence developed through the Turkey-Brazil agreement would have been dead in the water the moment Congress forced the President to sign "crippling sanctions" into law.

Today, the political climate in the U.S. is more favorable to negotiations. Though the right has not let up in the slightest, pushing hard for a more militaristic posture toward Iran, the Obama administration can now credibly say to a domestic audience that its strategy of balancing pressure and inducements has compelled Iran to negotiate. Following the passage of a new Security Council resolution, the engagement track is more politically defensible than it was before.

But there are also reasons for skepticism. As Haaretz and a Reuters story from earlier this week show, Iran's top negotiators have made positive gestures, which bode well for future talks.  The problem is that those gestures have been undercut by the statements of leadership elements back in Tehran. In an interview with PressTV Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad insisted there would be conditions on any negotiations over Iran's nuclear activities, even though Iran's envoy to the IAEA said just the opposite on the very same day, committing Iran to talks "without any conditions." This difference may prove to be less of an obstacle than it would appear, but it is still unclear whether future negotiations toward a deal enjoy the full support of the Iranian regime.  As we saw last October, political divisions in Iran are a potent, disruptive variable.

That said, what is true for Middle East peace is true for Iran negotiations: 'It's summertime, and we can perform miracles if we set our sights to them.'

July 28, 2010

When the Washington Post Doesn't Verify
Posted by Kelsey Hartigan

The State Department’s recently released Compliance Report—a 95 page document that devotes roughly two pages to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty—finds that “Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Ukraine were in compliance with the START strategic offensive arms (SOA) central limits for the 15-year term of the Treaty.”

Apparently that doesn’t make for a good headline, though—let alone a story.  The hysterical pieces put out today by the Washington Post and Washington Times left out quite a few items—namely, facts.  

In an exclusive interview with The Cable, Rose Gottemoeller, State's lead negotiator for New START and Assistant Secretary of State for Verification, Compliance, and Implementation, explains that the findings of the report were positive.  “‘We think [the compliance report] actually tells a good story about Russia and its willingness to resolve compliance and verification issues and should help ratification,’ said Gottemoeller, citing a now-resolved dispute over re-entry vehicles as one example of constructive U.S.-Russia dealing over compliance.”

The original START agreement contained a complex and intrusive verification regime with detailed provisions—a lot of them—so the negotiators established a Joint Compliance and Inspection Commission to deal with issues that popped up throughout the life of the treaty.  According to the State Department’s Compliance Report, through the duration of the treaty, “the Parties worked through diplomatic channels and in the JCIC to ensure smooth implementation of the Treaty and effective resolution of compliance issues and questions.”   

As the report noted, Russia was “in compliance” with START and a majority of the issues that came about were successfully addressed. A few unresolved questions about “how to implement the complex inspection and verification provisions of the START Treaty” remained, but many of the long-standing issues were agreed upon.

The verification regime in the New START Treaty incorporates the lessons learned over the past fifteen-plus years.  Its streamlined verification provisions restore the transparency and predictability that the START 1 agreement provided and in a manner that is consistent with the technological advancements of the 21st century.  As STRATCOM Commander General Kevin Chilton testified before Congress, “New START will re-establish a strategic nuclear arms control verification regime that provides access to Russian nuclear forces and a measure of predictability in Russian force deployments over the life of the treaty.”

State’s Compliance Report should reassure Senators who are concerned with Russian cheating, however suddenly this “concern” came about.  As Gottemoeller noted during her interview, "Cheating implies intent to undermine a treaty. There's no history of cheating on the central obligations of START; there's a history of abiding by the treaty.  Generally the record for the major conventions is a good one. With regard to START, the Russians have been very serious and it has been a success."

Without the New START Treaty, there is no standard with which to judge Russian compliance.  The Russians can do anything they please with their force structure, and the United States won’t have the verification and monitoring provisions in place to know a thing about it.  Our diplomatic channels will be shot and our strategic stability will hang in balance.  With the original START agreement having already expired on December 5, 2009, we are already on thin ice.  If the Senate chooses to deliberately reject this treaty, the good faith and stability this Administration has worked to rebuild will disintegrate. 

Just today, seven retired Commanders of STRATCOM, the combatant command center responsible for America's strategic deterrence, wrote to the Chairmen and Ranking Members of both the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Senate Armed Services Committee, saying, “The New START Treaty contains verification and transparency measures—such as data exchanges, periodic data updates, notifications, unique identifiers on strategic systems, some access to telemetry and on-site inspections—that will give us important insights into Russian strategic nuclear forces and how they operate those forces. We will understand Russian strategic forces much better with the treaty than would be the case without it."

As the Commanders concluded, "The New START Treaty will contribute to a more stable U.S.-Russian relationship. We strongly endorse its early ratification and entry into force." 

As does nearly every other national security expert

Nothing New on Afghanistan - Situation Remains FUBAR
Posted by Michael Cohen

Matt Yglesias flags this smart post from Amy Davidson:

What does it mean to tell the truth about a war? Is it a lie, technically speaking, for the Administration to say that it has faith in Hamid Karzai’s government and regards him as a legitimate leader—or is it just absurd? Is it a lie to say that we have a plan for Afghanistan that makes any sense at all? If you put it that way, each of the WikiLeaks documents—from an account of an armed showdown between the Afghan police and the Afghan Army, to a few lines about a local interdiction official taking seventy-five-dollar bribes, to a sad exchange about an aid scam involving orphans—is a pixel in a picture that does, indeed, contradict official accounts of the war, and rather drastically so.

Well sure this is true; but it's not altogether surprising. One could argue that that we have an actual strategy for Afghanistan and we're working to carry it out. Sure it's a terrible strategy that isn't working and isn't going to work - but it's not a lie.

Yet there is one pretty big whopper that these leaks exposed, which isn't getting nearly enough attention. The same country (Pakistan) that Hillary Clinton recently said was joined with the US in "common cause" against extremists is actually not. But as the Beltway crowd helpfully reminds us, "everyone knows" the Pakistani military and its intelligence services are actively supporting the Afghan Taliban. Yawn, nothing to see here.

Yet, as Jon Stewart presciently noted last night; what's interesting is not the "new" part of the story, but rather the "f***ed-up-it-ness" of it.

Why isn't a bigger story when one of the biggest recipients of US foreign aid and our nominal ally in the fight against extremism is actively undermining that goal? Why isn't it a bigger deal, that this Administration has been less than forthright with the American people about Pakistani involvement in supporting the Taliban insurgency?

In his West Point speech last December President Obama dangerously and wrongly conflated the Afghan Taliban and Pakistan Taliban, intimating that they were somehow one and the same. While such a conclusion is, to put it in the most charitable terms, a dubious one what the President didn't mention is that the Pakistani government has very different "attitudes" toward these two groups.

Yesterday National Security Advisor Jim Jones again adopted the same rhetorical trick; praising Pakistan for going after "extremists" that threaten the national security of the Pakistani state and have killed countless Pakistanis. But the role of the Pakistanis in supporting the Afghan Taliban well that goes unmentioned. 

Also little mentioned is the very basic fact that the Taliban insurgency would not exist in its current form without the tacit and active support of the Pakistani government - a government that is receiving $1.5 billion a year in financial assistance. Or how about the fact that nearly nine years after 3,000 Americans were killed on September 11th the Pakistani government still can't seem to find Osama bin Laden or the top al Qaeda operatives that have found shelter in their country. And if anyone believes they can't rather than won't find him . . . well I got some swampland for sale that you might enjoy. Apparently all of Washington "knows" this, but feels it that isn't quite important enough in judging the effectiveness of the current US policy in Afghanistan.

A few years ago there were calls in Congress to get tough with Iran because it was supporting Shiite insurgents in Iraq, who as the nomenclature went at the time had the blood of US troops on their hands. How is the behavior of the Pakistani government demonstrably different? They are not only giving safe haven to insurgent groups that are directing the insurgency in Afghanistan, but they are providing sanctuary for anti-American terrorist groups.  

And why exactly are we looking the other way? Why is it again that billions in US assistance dollars are being directed toward improving the image of the United States in Pakistani eyes? Because supposedly we "need" Pakistan; because they are such a key ally in the fight against extremists; because we can't risk the Pakistani government falling to jihadist groups - even thought we seem a heck of a lot concerned about this than they do. When will the United States learn that the Pakistani government and its military is not just that into us?

And reading news reports of US officials yesterday engaging in fervent damage control with the Pakistanis was enough to turn ones stomach. 

But, the Administration's obfuscation on Pakistan's role in feeding and supporting the Afghan Taliban insurgency is hardly surprising. If it turns out that the Pakistani government is not an ally in the fight against extremism, but indeed a willing participant in aiding and abetting it, well then it shows how bankrupt - and likely to fail - our policy in Afghanistan really is. 

For some reason, it's imperative to maintain the fiction that Pakistan is a willing partner in the fight against extremism and that US diplomacy will have a positive impact in shifting Pakistani attitudes toward Afghanistan. But after nine years of the US acting like Charlie Brown to Pakistan's Lucy I'm at a loss at understanding why anyone believes this.

More and more our Afghanistan policy looks like a game of Jenga: pull out enough pieces (incompetent and corrupt Afghan government) or (poorly trained and unmotivated police and Army) or (lack of time and resources for a COIN fight) or (nominal ally in Pakistan that is actually providing safe haven for Taliban insurgency) and the whole policy comes crumbling to the ground.

As official Washington solemnly debates the appropriateness of the Wikileaks disclosure and tut-tuts that this is a "non-story" the real revelation from these documents is actually a further and vivid reminder of how screwed up and unrealistic the mission in Afghanistan has become - based on a set of assumptions that are both dubious and counter-productive to US interests. 

Perhaps the foreign policy establishment should spend a bit more time chewing over that part of the story. 

Daniel Schorr -- An Appreciation
Posted by David Shorr

Schorr200
To have the last name that I have and work on US foreign policy issues means being asked regularly whether you're related to Daniel Schorr. The short answer is no. The longer version is that for both of our (slightly different) family names, they are shortened versions of what used to be longer Eastern European Jewish names. Dan once called me "the guy who doesn't know how to spell his own name."

To work in the Washington foreign policy community has also meant the good fortune of crossing paths with Dan Schorr a handful of times over the years. In that context, I just want to remark on what an unusual person he was. To begin with, Dan was a one-man institutional memory of US diplomacy and national security. In some ways, journalism is an inherently ephemeral business. You know what they say about yesterday's papers. So I mean it as the highest praise to say that Daniel Schorr's commentary and reporting combined insight into the current moment as well as the many moments that preceded it.

That insight came from someone who toiled in the news media for all the right reasons. Notwithstanding Schorr's famous quote about the importance of sincerity, for me, he personified journalism's cardinal virtue: curiosity. Even to someone who's only 'up-close' vantage was to be together at a foreign policy briefing or dinner event, it was clear that Schorr saw his professional mission as a constant challenge to figure out what was going on. For some journalists who reach the heights of the Washington media elite -- not the best, mind you -- the reward is the ability to deal exclusively with a narrow circle of sources in similarly high places. Dan Schorr's restless curiosity immunized him against any such myopia; I doubt it would ever even have occurred to him

July 26, 2010

NSN at Netroots Nation
Posted by The Editors

The National Security Network hosted The Obama Doctrine:  Successes, Challenges and the Future during the 2010 Netroots Nation Convention in Las Vegas, NV. 

Watch it now:


PANELISTS: Max Bergmann, Wendy Chamberlin, Paul Eaton, Lawrence Korb, Adam Serwer

The Obama administration faced a daunting foreign policy agenda when it came to office. Two wars, a sagging economy and bruised American prestige overseas translated into diminished global influence. Nevertheless, the Administration undertook a daunting foreign policy agenda intended to clean-up the mess the Bush administration left behind. This agenda did not lack ambition, as the President’s commitment to seek a world free of nuclear weapons was made clear. Nor was it going to be easy. As the ongoing struggles to move past the Bush-era mindset on terrorism toward a new strategy based on resilience and fortitude showed, the Administration’s agenda has not been not free of obstacles or controversies. A key question is whether President Obama will be remembered for his foreign policy accomplishments that make the front page—such as his approach to Iran—or those which don’t always make the headlines, such as the effort to rebalance America’s instruments of power so that its economic, diplomatic and development instruments are on par with military power. This panel, comprised of leading foreign policy experts and commentators will assess the emerging Obama ‘doctrine,’ analyzing its major successes, its persistent challenges and what the future has in store.

Swiftboating Sestak on Israel
Posted by Joel Rubin

A new right-wing neoconservative attack group on Israel policy has been formed by the same ideologues that brought you the war in Iraq. This group — the Emergency Committee for Israel — has decided to make Pennsylvania’s upcoming Senate race its pivotal moment to enter national politics. It has done so by running television ads against Democratic Senate candidate Joe Sestak that turn Israel into a political wedge issue, cynically playing on the worst fears of Americans who do not share their policy views on Israel.

We have seen this script before, particularly when the national security credibility of Sen. John Kerry was impugned during the 2004 presidential campaign. The term used to describe that episode was “swiftboating,” which created the impression that Kerry, a decorated Vietnam veteran, was not to be trusted on national security while George W. Bush, who served but never deployed, was better qualified to defend the nation.

Now, the same forces are threatening to swiftboat Sestak as “weak” on Israel because he supports active American diplomacy to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, never mind the fact that he is a retired three star admiral and the highest-ranking former military officer currently serving in the U.S. Congress.

The motivations for these attacks are similar to 2004, when these same neoconservatives attacked Kerry’s strength — his military service record — in order to block his ascent to the presidency and his desire to change course in Iraq. They won that battle, and the country is still recovering from the consequences of that disastrous war.

What is shamelessly clear from these cynical attacks against Sestak is that Israel policy is being used for harsh political purposes, with the ultimate goal of dealing President Obama a devastating foreign policy setback while blocking his attempts to promote Middle East peace. Unfortunately, these ideological warriors have little care for the real world consequences of such actions, which if successful, would undercut American interests in the Middle East for narrow partisan gain.

So let’s examine some of the myths about these ads.

These ads would have you believe that Sestak’s opponent, Pat Toomey, is stronger on Israel than Sestak. Yet Toomey voted against military aid to Israel when he was in Congress while Sestak has consistently supported it. In addition, Sestak personally helped to protect Israel at the start of the 2003 Iraq war when he was in the Navy, while Toomey was sitting safe in Congress, voting for that war.

These ads would also have you believe that Sestak doesn’t recognize Israel as an ally because he signed a congressional letter earlier this year — along with 53 other members of Congress — that asked President Obama to ask the Israeli government to, among other items, provide access to clean water, medicine and sanitation supplies to the Palestinians in Gaza. Yet the ad failed to criticize Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, despite the fact that his government now supports these same positions.

These ads would also have you believe that Sestak refused to show sufficient support for Israel because he didn’t sign a congressional letter on Israel that the ad failed to describe. However, the ad neglected to mention that Sestak just signed a major bipartisan congressional letter that expressed its “ … strong support for Israel’s right to defend itself” after the flotilla incident. The letter was strongly backed by AIPAC and attracted 338 bipartisan signatures, yet the ad never criticized AIPAC for asking the alleged anti-Israel Sestak to sign it.

Lastly, these ads would have you believe that Sestak, the retired three star admiral, is a terrorist sympathizer because he spoke at an event organized by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) in 2007, even though the FBI had used this group for outreach to the Muslim community during that time and up until 2009. Not surprisingly, the ad somehow failed to criticize the FBI and the Bush Administration for having dealt with CAIR at the same time that Sestak did.

Fortunately, we already have evidence of how Jewish voters in Pennsylvania — the apparent target of these ads — react to this type of political chicanery. In the Democratic primary, Sestak defeated Sen. Specter in almost every suburban Pennsylvania community that has a substantial Jewish population, despite similar smears made at the end of their campaign.

There is a lesson in this, as the hard right partisans that use Israel policy as a political wedge may find that not only is it not to their advantage to make such attacks, but that it can actually backfire. It certainly contradicts America’s most celebrated military officers, Gen. David Petraeus, who is firmly on the record in stating that resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is in America’s interest. Perhaps someone should remind the Emergency Committee for Israel about this fact, before they do more damage.

My bet is that it will be Pennsylvania’s voters.

(This article first appeared in the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle and reflects the author's personal views, not necessarily those of the National Security Network.)

Who Will Tell the People? UPDATED
Posted by Michael Cohen

If you want a picture perfect example of the disconnect between Washington elites and the American people the reaction to the massive leak of 92,000 pages of secret intelligence regarding the war in Afghanistan is a good place to start.

Here is the New York Times on the close relationship between Pakistan and are nominal enemy in Afghanistan, the Taliban:

The documents suggest that Pakistan, an ostensible ally of the United States, allows representatives of its spy service to meet directly with the Taliban in secret strategy sessions to organize networks of militant groups that fight against American soldiers in Afghanistan, and even hatch plots to assassinate Afghan leaders.

Taken together, the reports indicate that American soldiers on the ground are inundated with accounts of a network of Pakistani assets and collaborators that runs from the Pakistani tribal belt along the Afghan border, through southern Afghanistan, and all the way to the capital, Kabul.

. . . While current and former American officials interviewed could not corroborate individual reports, they said that the portrait of the spy agency’s collaboration with the Afghan insurgency was broadly consistent with other classified intelligence.

Der Spiegel goes even further:

The documents clearly show that the Pakistani intelligence agency is the most important accomplice the Taliban has outside of Afghanistan. The war against the Afghan security forces, the Americans and their ISAF allies is still being conducted from Pakistan.

The country is an important safe haven for enemy forces -- and serves as a base for issuing their deployment. New recruits to the Taliban stream across the Pakistan-Afghan border, including feared foreign fighters -- among them Arabs, Chechnyans, Uzbekis, Uighurs and even European Islamists.

According to the war logs, the ISI envoys are present when insurgent commanders hold war councils -- and even give specific orders to carry out murders. These include orders to try to assassinate Afghan President Hamid Karzai. For example, a threat report dated August 21, 2008 warned: "Colonel Mohammad Yusuf from the ISI had directed Taliban official Maulawi Izzatullah to see that Karzai was assassinated." 

The Guardian uncovers evidence that the Afghan and Pakistani Army - nominal allies in the fight against the Taliban - are engaging in regular firefights along the Durand Line.

To the laymen this might seem like a pretty big deal; one of the largest recipients of US foreign assistance - and the country whose stability is a big part of the stated reason why we are in Afghanistan - is actually working against US goals and directly supporting insurgent forces. 

But if you look at the reaction of your foreign policy community - nothing to see here. Andrew Exum, jokes that this is about as shocking as finding out Afghanistan has four syllables. The bottom line seems to be; that we knew this already - Pakistani support for the Taliban is old news.

But these documents don't exactly jibe with what President Obama had to say about Pakistan in December at West Point:

In recent years, as innocents have been killed from Karachi to Islamabad, it has become clear that it is the Pakistani people who are the most endangered by extremism. Public opinion has turned. The Pakistani Army has waged an offensive in Swat and South Waziristan. And there is no doubt that the United States and Pakistan share a common enemy.

In the past, we too often defined our relationship with Pakistan narrowly. Those days are over. Moving forward, we are committed to a partnership with Pakistan that is built on a foundation of mutual interests, mutual respect, and mutual trust. We will strengthen Pakistan's capacity to target those groups that threaten our countries, and have made it clear that we cannot tolerate a safe-haven for terrorists whose location is known, and whose intentions are clear. 

America is also providing substantial resources to support Pakistan's democracy and development. We are the largest international supporter for those Pakistanis displaced by the fighting. And going forward, the Pakistani people must know: America will remain a strong supporter of Pakistan's security and prosperity long after the guns have fallen silent, so that the great potential of its people can be unleashed.

Hmm, for something that everyone seemed to know was true, it's funny how President Obama didn't seem fit to mention it in his public remarks explaining why he was sending 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan. And I'm genuinely curious if any of the various supporters of escalation felt urged to mention at the time that the American people were receiving a rather incomplete picture of the war their country was fighting in Afghanistan - and the role of Pakistan in prosecuting that conflict. 

Just as President Obama inaccurately conflated the Pakistan Taliban and the Afghan Taliban in his West Point speech (the former is a target of the Pakistani military; the latter is protected by it), the White House continues to confuse this point, “The Pakistani government — and Pakistan’s military and intelligence services — must continue their strategic shift against violent extremist groups within their borders,” noted White House spokesman Ben Rhodes.

Which violent extremist group? Praising the Taliban for going after enemies of the Pakistani state doesn't really deal with the larger issue of Pakistani support for the Afghan Taliban, not to mention the continued protection of top al Qaeda leaders. This is not a semantic point; it speaks to the very duplicity practiced daily by the Pakistani government and its military.

In his statement on the Wikileaks disclosures, National Security Advisor Jim Jones congratulates the Pakistani military for going after Taliban forces that killed hundreds of Pakistani civilians, but fails to mention the protection provided by Pakistan for the insurgent forces that are killing Afghan civilians and, of course, US troops. 

Indeed, take one look at the fact sheets put forward by the White House on this: lots of quotes from US officials decrying Pakistani support for "extremists" or lumping all Taliban groups under an al Qaeda umbrella. But far fewer make the connection between the ISI's support for the Afghan Taliban or describe the divergent ways in which the Pakistani government deals with the Pakistan Taliban and Afghan Taliban. But not to worry, "everyone knows" about that.

And as Les Gelb helpfully points out, one of the key rationales that US policymakers have used to support our presence in Afghanistan is to stabilize Pakistan - yet as "everyone knows" the Pakistanis are actively undermining our stabilization efforts in Afghanistan. As Gelb points out, these documents further demonstrate that US goals in Afghanistan are not quite the same as the Pakistani government - even if Secretary of State Clinton declares the US and Pakistan are "partners joined in common cause."

Now to be fair the Pakistani government doesn't have complete control over the actions of the ISI, which is the key supporter in Pakistan of the Taliban - but that hardly exonerates the Pakistani's for their behavior or for their failure to go after al Qaeda and Afghan Taliban safe havens at the same time they are receiving billions in US aid.

Of course, the disconnect between these words and the reality in Afghanistan has been well-known among many in the foreign policy establishment for some time. So in a sense, the shoulder shruggers are right - for those who have followed this conflict closely nothing in these documents is new . . . as it pertains to the war itself. 

But what it tells us about the incomplete information being fed to the American people about the war being fought in their name - and the arrogance of official Washington in pooh-poohing these revelations - well that's something else altogether. 

UPDATE: Over at his eponymous blog my colleague Bernard Finel makes a similar point:

If these documents paint an accurate picture, it reveals a troubling disconnect between public pronouncements and private assessments.  Ultimately, democratic governance and accountability requires giving the public sufficient information to make informed decisions. Keep doubts and concerns private may serve legitimate strategic objectives, but we need to acknowledge that our strategic objectives in Afghanistan may be at odds with the requirements of democratic governance at home.  In short, is it ever worth fighting a war that requires your to compromise and weaken accountability at home? 

July 23, 2010

Cooperation, Not Isolation
Posted by James Lamond

Just watched a Netroots panel that goes along with the theme addressed in Heather’s and Alex’s posts below.  The panel topic was on spying, surveillance and other counterterrorism policies, focusing on efforts at home.  One topic that came up is the need a for two way discussion between local communities and law enforcement and counterterrorism officials.

Farhana Khera, President and Executive Director of Muslim Advocates, pointed out that Muslim communities want to get out more and talk more, but there are limited ways to do so and that many are not sure how to even enter the conversation.  This echoes comments made earlier this month by Nadia Roumani, of the American Muslim Civic Leadership Institute at an NSN/CAP event on domestic radicalization.  She pointed out that Muslim Americans want to do more, but that most Muslim Americans know little about terrorists' recruiting methods and that they could learn a great deal from law enforcement and intelligence officials.  These communities are under a lot of pressure and, as Nadia pointed out, there is a lack of “safe places” for Muslim Americans to engage on this issue.  Many would like to learn more but are hesitant to visit certain websites out of fear of being associated with it.  DHS has made some good progress, reaching out to Muslim American leaders.  But much more remains to be done. 

Yet, despite the delicacy of the issue and the need for two-way cooperation, conservatives have continued with inflammatory rhetoric that only serves to isolate and demonize an important part of American society.  Perhaps the worst offense came just yesterday, from Newt Gingrich.  Gingrich is fueling the divisive frame that the building of an Islamic cultural center at ground zero is an imposition of Islamic culture on the United States.  He gave a stark warning this week that: “America is experiencing an Islamist cultural-political offensive designed to undermine and destroy our civilization. Sadly, too many of our elites are the willing apologists for those who would destroy them if they could.”  Concluding with a strong, even hysterical finish,  he said, “No mosque. No self deception. No surrender.”  Gingrich’s comments are only the most recent on this topic.  Sarah Palin last week tweeted: “Peace-seeking Muslims, pls understand. Ground Zero mosque is UNNECESSARY provocation; it stabs hearts. Pls reject it in the interest of healing,” and “Peaceful New Yorkers, pls refute the Ground Zero mosque plan if you believe catastrophic pain caused @ Twin Towers site is too raw, too real.” 

What is ironic is the Gingrichs and Palins of this world like to think that they are the tough ones on national security.  But as we have seen time and again, working with local communities is one of the best tools to combat domestic radicalization and terrorism.  From CAIR’s cooperation that led to the arrest of the five northern Virginia men who were just sentenced in a Pakistani court to Aliou Nasse, the Senegalese Muslim immigrant who saw smoke coming from an unattended SUV parked in Times Square, we have repeatedly seen the important role that Muslim American play in helping to keep America secure.  But with the extreme rhetoric coming from the Right, they are only isolating millions of Americans, reducing the chances of future cooperation.

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