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May 13, 2011

Looking Past the 'Orchestra Pit' on China
Posted by The Editors


This post by Nina Hachigian, who is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.

I went to an interesting exhibit yesterday, called 91 92 93, on display at the Schindler house in Los Angeles. In it, three artists, Andrea Fraser, Simon Leung and Lincoln Tobier, each revisited a work they had done some 20 years earlier. Tobier’s piece documented the political impact of Roger Ailes, long before Rupert Murdoch hired him to create Fox News. Tobier told the story of how Roger Ailes fathered the “orchestra pit” theory of the media with this question: “If you have two guys on a stage and one guy says, 'I have a solution to the Middle East problem,' and the other guy falls in the orchestra pit, who do you think is going to be on the evening news?”

Ailes has certainly taken his theory to new heights with Fox News.  But it is pervasive now, and no more so than with China.   Only certain issues with China make the headlines—the value of its currency, the new jet fighter, the recent brutal crackdown on artists and political activists.  While those issues are each very important, what the media coverage of the US-China relationship does not tend to reveal is how broad it has become.

In addition to the mother of all bilateral forums, the annual Strategic & Economic Dialogue that was just held in Washington, D.C. , where the big issues like trade imbalances are on the agenda, look below at the list of over 40 other formal dialogues or cooperative efforts that exist or soon will between the US and Chinese governments.  This is far from a complete list, and it does not include the multilateral fora where the US and China are always interacting, like the G-20, IMF, East Asia Summit and APEC, among others.  Non-government cooperative efforts are not listed either.

All this exchanging can lead to tangible change.  The deliverables from this week’s S&ED were not breakthroughs, but were progress nonetheless.  And we cannot expect much more when two massive nations with different systems of government, history and values are trying to work things out. 

There is no G-2.  The US and China, even if they did see eye-to-eye, could not solve global problems on their own.  But deepening the very broad working relationship is a step in the right direction.

Continue reading "Looking Past the 'Orchestra Pit' on China" »

May 12, 2011

New Middle East Speech: Is there one story the President Can Tell Americans and the World?
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Even leaving aside the thorny problem of a Middle East peace plan, the White House has set itself a very difficult challenge in putting a "New Middle East speech" on the agenda:  too much demand.  Americans are still struggling to decide what to make of events from Tunisia and Egypt to Libya to Syria to Pakistan.  The political jockeying over them has paused, well, no, it hasn't, with Mitch Daniels wrapping himself in the flag of Syrian protestors today.  Meanwhile, the peoples of the region mix hope, skepticism, and some well-deserved indifference -- the Egyptians made their own revolution, after all -- our way.  Speaking to one audience in a way that is intelligible and doesn't trip on the internal quirks of the other audience will be enormously difficult.  Herewith, four themes that should cross the divide:]

Aligning U.S. interests with values.  Americans cheered with Egyptians --and Syrians -- in the streets and prayed for Ghaddafi's victims as they did for bin Laden.  time to remind everyone that Muslims suffered greatly from Al Qaeda terrorism, and to re-amplify the Administration's words about the rights of peoples everywhere.  Time also to explain to Americans how, long-term, this will be in our security interest.

No cookie-cutters, no short-term fixes, no naivete.  My "three nos" for the Middle East.  Arab peoples themselves, and their well-wishers abroad, will have to invest in economic growth, institutional reform and rule of law.  The US will have to be patient and get used to partners who speak their own minds and take their time -- and sometimes take decisions that we don't like.  Equally, our core interests -- including Israel's security but also our economic and terrorism cocnerns -- will still be our core interests.  And, tragically, there are no quick fixes.

The civilian toolkit comes of age.  American and Arab audiences alike can profitably hear the US make a new commitment to leading with diplomatic, economic, social and communications tools -- from Twitter to debt relief -- and to spell out how, if the US invests in those tools, and in partnerships that let other countries and institutions do some of the work, we'll reap rewards even in a time of sparse budgets.

Understanding the challenges ahead.  Firm messages to Al Qaeda and other estremist groups that they will not be allowed to grow strong at the expense of weak new governments; to Iran that efforts to gain in the region will further expose its government's own weakness as its people seek the freedom of Egyptians.  And a down payment on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process -- unfortunately, perhaps the thing the Arab world wants most to hear -- a pledge of unshakable support for Israel, and greater engagement with the Israeli people (ie, a trip date...) combined with plain language about how Israel must prepare itself to make peace and live in a world of newly- and legitimately-empowered Arab citizens; and a pledge of continued support for legitimately elected Palestinian authorities that meet the conditions previously set out (ie, who is in government and how matters, even under a Fatah-Hamas unity government) and that use the public legitimacy conferred by teh unity government to take, as well, the hard steps to get ready for peace.

May 09, 2011

9/11-Style Commission Needed to Review US Policy on Pakistan
Posted by The Editors

AbbattobadThis post by Scott Bates, the former senior policy advisor for the U.S. House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee. Bates is currently vice-president of the Center for National Policy and can be reached at

In a world full of national security challenges, none demands more urgent focus than the conundrum that is Pakistan. For at least a decade, Pakistan has consistently been one of the top three national security worries for the United States with issues ranging from being a center of nuclear proliferation to its inability to prevent its territory from serving as a sanctuary for the Taliban/Al Qaeda alliance launching attacks against US troops in Afghanistan.

The recent killing of Osama Bin Ladin revealed at best, a Pakistani regime either unwilling or unable to be an effective ally in our ongoing battle against Al Qaeda.  Troubling questions need to be answered. What did Pakistani officials know about Bin Ladin’s presence and when did they know it? How effectively have Pakistani national security officials used $20 Billion in US aid to combat Al Qaeda and the Taliban? Why is the main debate in Pakistan today focusing on the US “violation” of their sovereignty in attacking Bin Ladin instead of on their own failure to find him? Is Pakistan worthy of the designation of major non-NATO ally and the steady stream of financial assistance provided by the American people? 

To answer these questions and fashion a long term and sustainable approach to relations with Pakistan, Congress should authorize and the President should support the creation of a “Commission on US-Pakistan Relations”.  Precedents are available for quickly moving forward with just such an effort. 

The 9/11 Commission served as a thorough and credible fact finder concerning the events of 9/11. Its factual findings provided a necessary narrative on the events and raised questions that then could be answered with future policy action.  The Iraq Study Group trained consistent attention on one national security challenge and provided a series of potential options for policy makers. In each of these instances the national security challenge to be confronted needed sustained focus and bi-partisan engagement. In a world of rapidly changing events demanding many responses, the President and the US Congress need the assistance of just such a Commission to provide the answers and options regarding our past and future relationship with Pakistan.

A “Commission on US Pakistan-Relations” should be provided with sufficient resources to gain a high level expert staff that is able to conduct interviews, investigations and support hearings that could culminate in a Final Report to be delivered within six months.  The Commission Membership should be appointed by a combination of the President and Congress; two from the Speaker of the House, one from the Democratic Leader of the House, two from the Senate Majority Leader, one from the Senate Minority Leader, and five from the President of the United States. 

Our relationship with Pakistan is too important for the security of our nation, and for the peace of South Asia region to let be shaped by the pressures of cable talk shows and the necessarily shifting attention of senior policy makers.  The creation of a “Commission on US-Pakistan Relations” can go far toward letting the American people know that policymakers are not satisfied with the status quo, are committed to finding answers and charting a new and sustainable way forward for protecting our interests in this most challenging part of the world.

The Pakistani Conundrum
Posted by Michael Cohen

One of the more interesting elements of the OBL post-mortem is the emerging criticism of Pakistani behavior in allowing the world's most wanted terrorist to stay hidden for years in its country. American policymakers and analysts now seem shocked, shocked to discover that Pakistan is an uncertain and unhelpful ally to the United States.

Forgive me for saying: where have these people been? Let's step back for a second and remember what we basically knew about Pakistan before last Sunday. 

1) Pakistan has actively harbored remnants of al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, for years. The basic assumption in the higher reaches of the US government is that bin Laden and other top lieutenants escaped across the Afghan-Pakistani border in the wake of the battle of Tora Bora and have been there ever since. Now whether elements in the Pakistani government or military knew where bin Laden is and were helping him or even if they didn't know where he was - it was not exactly a secret that bin Laden has called Pakistan home for much of the past 9 1/2 years. And it's also not a secret that Pakistan wasn't expending much of any effort to help the US find him.

2) Terrorist attacks against the US have been actively plotted from Pakistan. Just as one small example, we know that Faisal Shahzad, the convicted terrorist who sought to blow up a bomb in Times Square was trained in bomb-making techniques in Waziristan, Pakistan. So not only was Pakistan home to some of the most wanted terrorists in the world, but it's terrain served as a training ground for other terrorist groups intent on killing Americans - and of course was also a staging ground for larger attacks, like the Mumbai massacre, in India.

3) Pakistan is aiding and abetting the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan. Lastly, we know that Pakistan is actively supporting and providing safe haven to Afghan Taliban insurgents that are killing American soldiers on an almost daily basis. We know that the Quetta Shura continues to serve as a sanctuary for Afghan Taliban leaders and the movement's political leadership - and remains unmolested by Pakistan. We know that Pakistan has a long-standing relationship with the Haqqani network. We know that the Pakistani foreign minister is actively encouraging the Karzai government to abandon United States support. We know that Pakistan while the recipient of large amounts of US aid has since 2009 actively sought to undermine US military and political aims in Afghanistan.

So to sum up, well before Osama bin Laden's body was dumped in the Arabian Sea, we knew that the Pakistani government is a state sponsor and abettor of international and regional terrorism; we know that it is assisting groups with the blood of American soldiers on its hands and we know that it harbored and provided safe haven for al Qaeda members - either on purpose or via incompetence - for nearly 10 years.  Now we can quibble over whether these were active decisions of the Pakistani government or whether they being carried out by rogue elements of the country's military and in particular its intelligence services (an issue that Mosharraf Zaidi tackles with great brilliance today) - but we do know that the Pakistani government has expended little to no effort in dealing with these issues. And we know that billions in US assistance has done little to influence Pakistani behavior either in shedding ties with jihadist terror groups or acting in support of direct US national interests.

So why again is everyone surprised to discover that bin Laden was living a hop, skip and jump from Pakistan's capital? If anything it only serves to confirm what we already knew about Pakistan but for some reason, had long denied.

May 06, 2011

Killing Osama bin Laden Was a Legal Act
Posted by Michael Cohen

I’ve been a bit out of the loop for a few days but I’ve watching with almost stunned fascination the debate that has unfolded over the past few days about the legality of killing Osama bin Laden. 

In fairness, part of the problem is with how badly the White House has bungled the public information part of this job.  I give the White House and the President credit for the execution of this operation and the manner in which they have pursued bin Laden since taking office. But their behavior since Sunday night - and their public narrative on what happened then - has only added to the confusion.

I will forgive the President for getting some basic elements of the story wrong the night the attack happened, but the fact that John Brennan went before the cameras on Monday and offered a briefing that had key facts wrong and was corrected by White House press spokesmen Jay Carney the next day is not only embarrassing but it also fed the sense that the White House is not being honest. (Although at the same time credit must be given for correcting the record after the fact).  

In a sense though, none of this should be terribly surprising. First reports on an incident like this, where you’re likely dealing with a host of contradictory eyewitness reports, are going to get some basic facts wrong.  It’s a bit like a game of telephone. However, the White House should have waited before putting the whole story out and considering the sensitivity of the matter they should have gotten their facts straight. Still, while this certainly seems to have been badly handled I’m having a hard time seeing it as conspiratorial. 

The problem, however, is that others hold a different view. The White House’s mistakes have led to a bizarre cottage industry of claims about what did happen – and some rather exaggerated arguments about he legal ramifications.  Today for example, Glenn Greenwald argues that many people, including Democrats, are indifferent about how Osama bin Laden was killed because they just view his death as an unadulterated good – legality be damned. This is what he calls the bin Laden exception. I am sympathetic to this argument because I'm sure it accurately reflects the views of many people. But it rather clearly ignores an entirely reasonable position regarding OBL’s killing – that he was a legitimate military target and everything that happened in Pakistan on Sunday night was legal and proper.

From that perspective it is important to remember that based on the 2001 Authorization of the Use of Military Force (AUMF) it is the view of the US Congress – and the President – that the US was at war with al Qaeda.

Here’s the key phrase from the AUMF:

That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.

This is a legal argument that has been consistently upheld by the US Congress; by Presidents Bush and Obama, by the Supreme Court and by the United Nations.

Now I understand that some may not support this legal opinion, but it is vitally important to acknowledge that viewing bin Laden as a legitimate military target – and no different from any solider on a battlefield – is not only a completely reasonable argument, it is one that is firmly grounded in US and international law and is supported by a wide array of legal scholars both inside and outside of government. So this isn’t just a case of victor’s justice or revenge. It is legally appropriate to believe that the US had the right to go into this compound and kill Osama bin Laden, even if he wasn’t carrying a weapon.

There is of course an exception -- as there would be an exception in any battlefield engagement – was Osama trying to surrender?  To date the only “evidence” that he was is a report passed along by an anonymous Pakistani intelligence officials (the same people who were either lying about OBL’s whereabouts in Paksitan or unaware of them) claiming that OBL’s daughter says he was held captured for 10 minutes and then killed. This hardly qualifies as evidence and I find remarkable that Greenwald, for one, considers it as legitimate a source as what is announced publicly by US officials. However, it should be noted that if this story is true it would be an illegal act and absolutely worthy of further investigation: and it would represent an extrajudicial execution.

The fact is, only if Osama was in the act of surrendering or had been captured and killed is there any real legal question here. Otherwise this is the legitimate killing of an appropriate military target. This is in fact, very similar to the killing of Admiral Yamamoto during WWII, an unarmed, but legitimate military target shot down by US bombers

Now the argument has also been made that after some initial armed resistance no other shots were fired at the Navy Seals thus suggesting that OBL wasn’t resisting. That is Monday morning quarterbacking. There is simply no way for the US troops involved in this engagement to know that resistance had ended; that they had taken fire suggested that they were being violently opposed and they every reason to fear further attack. Thus any individual in the compound would likely – and rightly - have been considered a threat.

Second, the fact that Osama didn’t have a weapon is irrelevant. A soldier can be killed on the battlefield even if they are unarmed. Osama is no different. Also the fact that soldiers allegedly saw him pop his head out and retreat deeper into his compound is, in fact, an act of resistance and again makes him a legitimate target.

There is one issue here – was Osama trying to surrender? Were his arms raised in the air; was he waving a white flag etc?  If not, the US Navy Seals in question had every legal right to kill him.

Lastly, one of the further problems with this debate is we also get into the question of second guessing decision made by soldiers on the ground, in highly stressful situations. Should the Seals have given bin Laden an opportunity to surrender? Did they misread his actions coming into his bedroom? Perhaps, but I’m not sure any of us are in a position to say otherwise or question with any veracity on the ground decision-making during a military engagement. That these troops were instructed to kill bin Laden - and only capture him if he surrendered - is not only not suspicious, it's completely appropriate. After all, he was a legitimate military target. That the US soldiers encountered initial resistance and retreat of that target only increased the likelihood that he would be killed on the spot.

The very fact that so many of us are gleeful over the fact that this monster is dead doesn’t change any of those basic facts or obviate the legality of what happened. Osama got what he deserved; both legally and morally.

May 05, 2011

UPDATED**: Experts Comment on Collecting Effective Intelligence
Posted by The Editors

In the aftermath of the killing of Osama bin Laden and the rampant speculation on the nature of the intelligence used to plan the raid, the National Security Network and the Center for American Progress held a press call this morning with Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Paul Eaton, NSN Senior Advisor; Ken Gude, Managing Director for National Security at CAP; Matthew Alexander, Air Force interrogator who led the team that tracked down the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq; and Glenn L. Carle, former CIA Clandestine Service officer and Deputy National Intelligence officer for Transnational Threats, to examine the methods used by military and intelligence officials -- what these practices and policies are and how they fit into the United States' overall counterterrorism and foreign policy.

Listen to the call here .

Read the transcript here.


Selected highlights from the call (more after the jump):


MATTHEW ALEXANDER: I’ll be the person to go on record and say that we do know that other interrogation techniques would have worked and produced more info definitively.  And why do I say that?  Because we have Saddam Hussein, who was captured without using them, and we have Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who my team tracked down and killed, without using them.


QUESTION: I was wondering if [...] what this demonstrates is – what we know now is that actually there was more information left, you know, undiscovered because of torture rather than discovered because of torture?

GLENN CARLE:  [...] The answer to that is yes, that I’m convinced that that’s the case from personal, first-hand experience.


MAJ. GEN. (RET.) PAUL D. EATON: Enhanced interrogation techniques has a corrosive effect on the good order and discipline [of American troops] to the point where the commanding general at the time, General Petraeus, had to issue a letter that set a higher standard for the conduct of the American soldier than was set by the president and the vice president and secretary of defense of the United States.

EATON: This is a war of ideas and I will not allow the Taliban to set the moral standard for America. 


KEN GUDE: It [the decision by the Bush administration in 2005 to shut down its bin Laden unit in the black sites in Eastern Europe] seems to indicate that the Bush administration itself did not view information that was being produced from those interrogations as in any way decisive or critical in the hunt for bin Laden.


Continue reading "UPDATED**: Experts Comment on Collecting Effective Intelligence" »

Pakistani Military
Posted by David Shorr

Hogans heroes2

May 04, 2011

Decision Points: Tora Bora vs. Abbottabad
Posted by Jacob Stokes

Decision Points As deluge of news coverage on the death of Osama bin Laden continues, and some go to great lengths to credit George Bush with putting policies in place that ultimately led to bin Laden's death, it’s worth reminding ourselves that President Bush and his administration had an opportunity to nab bin Laden at Tora Bora, Afghanistan, in 2001. But their decision-making during that episode failed. The opportunity was squandered. In contrast, in Abbotabad, Pakistan, President Obama’s clear-eyed choices and ability to effectively multi-task in the last few weeks made all the difference. Three key decisions illustrate the difference between the meek, unfocused choices Bush made and what ultimately caught bin Laden.

Prioritizing competing demands

Peter Bergen’s definitive account of the battle for Tora Bora explains how the Bush administration’s attention was distracted by the planning process for Iraq. “In late November, Donald Rumsfeld told Franks that Bush ‘wants us to look for options in Iraq.’… Franks points out in his autobiography that his staff was already working seven days a week, 16-plus hours a day, as the Tora Bora battle was reaching its climax. Although Franks doesn’t say so, it is impossible not to wonder if the labor-intensive planning ordered by his boss for another major war was a distraction from the one he was already fighting.” It’s a well-worn story but one worth repeating: President Bush botched a golden opportunity for a quick, early, relatively decisive victory in the war on terror in favor of pursuing the ultimate war of choice in Iraq.

In contrast, President Obama – while managing the uprising in the Middle East, the war in Afghanistan and a government on the brink of shutdown – could have been too distracted to pay attention to what were surely incomplete intelligence reports saying the CIA had located bin Laden. He could have followed the advice of members of Congress and put the U.S. in the lead of the war in Libya, which would have occupied a significant portion of the national security apparatus’s attention. All of those things could have taken President Obama’s eye off the goal of capturing bin Laden. This opportunity could have been squandered. (Of course, most presidents will take any opportunity – even a risky one – to score a foreign policy victory of this nature. And rightfully so, but that makes President Bush’s failure at Tora Bora all the more stunning.)

Continue reading "Decision Points: Tora Bora vs. Abbottabad" »

May 02, 2011

Global War on Terror RIP
Posted by Michael Cohen

Let me start off by saying that I am really glad Osama bin Laden is dead. He attacked my hometown, he murdered my good friend, Brock Safronoff and his actions led to the deaths of many more Americans and far more Muslims. Good riddance to him and the blight that he represented on humanity.

Now with that out of the way, here's my hastily crafted piece for World Politics Review on why the death of bin Laden could mean an end to the war on terrorism:

While the death of Osama bin Laden represents the long overdue demise of one man, its impact on the long-term trajectory of American foreign policy is likely to be more profound: Along with bin Laden, so too dies the "global war on terrorism." This does not mean that there are no longer any terrorists who want to kill Americans and other Westerners. Neither does it mean that al-Qaida will simply disappear overnight. And another major attack could return the U.S. and its allies to a war footing.

But bin Laden's death does mean that the exaggerated role that terrorism has played in America's foreign policy discussions for the past 10 years can finally come to an end. Osama bin Laden, for better or worse, was the face of the terrorist threat to America. As long as he was at large, not only would the war on terrorism remain seemingly unfinished in the eyes of the American people, but the threat would remain viscerally real -- even though from all accounts his operational role in al-Qaida had diminished. With his death, the terrorism narrative that has held this country in its thrall for 10 terrible years has taken a rather significant and perhaps fatal hit.

. . . For 10 long years the American people allowed the deaths of 3,000 of their fellow citizens -- and the possibility of additional deaths -- to justify squandering blood, treasure and policymaking attention on a breathtaking scale. Sunday night, the life of a nihilistic, pyschopathic and deranged terrorist came to an end. That his death might signal the beginning of the end of our own national bloodletting makes the news all the better.

Read the whole thing here

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