Posts Tagged ‘War on Terror’

Making Headway Against AQ? A Suspiciously Timely Article From The Washington Post

Thursday, October 1st, 2009

By Tommy Brown

An article about efforts against Al Qaeda in AfPak that makes my spider-sense tingle, from the WaPo:

U.S. and international intelligence officials say that improved recruitment of spies inside the al-Qaeda network, along with increased use of targeted airstrikes and enhanced assistance from cooperative governments, has significantly reduced the terrorist organization’s effectiveness.

A U.S. counterterrorism official said that the combined advances have led to the deaths of more than a dozen senior figures in al-Qaeda and allied groups in Pakistan and elsewhere over the past year, most of them in 2009. Officials described Osama bin Laden and his main lieutenants as isolated and unable to coordinate high-profile attacks.
A convenient time for an article to come out extolling the success we are having against Al Qaeda, no? Here’s my problem with just these two paragraphs: First off,  this sounds exactly like what the Bush White House said for years about their campaign against AQ, right up until the point that it was revealed that bin Laden et al. had reconstituted their organization and were back on the grind and better than ever. The last sentence is literally word for word what the Bush administration used to say: UBL and his lieutenants are isolated and cannot coordinate attacks.

Second, the “enhanced assistance from cooperative governments” is rather obviously an allusion to Pakistan, and the reason it is phrased so obliquely is that if they came out and said Pakistan was doing a better job, they would be laughed at. The Pakistani government is coming apart at the seams. They are unable to affect anything in the Federally Administered Tribal Regions where AQ Central is hanging out; even when Musharraf, who at least made a half-assed effort to try to help, sent troops in to FATA and the North-West Frontier, they were beaten by the ragtag tribal militias. And on top of it all, the new head of the military (the real power in Pakistan) is an Islamist and former chief of the ISI-D who is explicitly pro-Taliban.

Third, the body count also harkens back to the days of yore, when Bush would give speeches talking about the number of high- and medium-value AQ targets that had been killed. He stopped giving those for a reason: Al Qaeda now has a pool of trained, combat-tested veterans to move up into managerial positions when one of the top dogs are killed. The phrase “and allied groups” gives me pause too, because this could mean that they’re killing Taliban chiefs, who are significantly easier to get because they actually come into Afghanistan to get killed, and not members of the Al Qaeda shura (ruling council).

A good analogy would be the prosecution of the American Mafia. After every high-profile case that ended in convictions (Lucky Luciano, Murder Incorporated, the Pizza Connection, the Five Families RICO case), US attorneys would crow about how they had killed the mob, or reduced them to unorganized street gangs. And of course, two years after one of these big convictions, the Five Families or the Chicago Outfit had quietly moved their veteran soldiers up into the executive positions and continued on as per usual. And this went on for seventy years, before any real headway was made against Cosa Nostra.

More from the article:

The most important new weapon in the Western arsenal is said to be the recruitment of spies inside al-Qaeda and affiliated organizations, a long-sought objective. “Human sources have begun to produce results,” Richard Barrett, head of the United Nations’ al-Qaeda and Taliban monitoring group, said Tuesday. Barrett is the former chief of Britain’s overseas counterterrorism operations.

Current and former senior U.S. officials, who spoke about intelligence matters on the condition of anonymity, confirmed what one former CIA official called “our penetration of al-Qaeda.” A senior administration official said that success had come “because of, first of all, very good intelligence capabilities . . . to locate and identify individuals who are part of the al-Qaeda organization.”

Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair referred obliquely in an interview with reporters earlier this month to the use of spies, saying that “the primary way” that U.S. intelligence determines which terrorist organizations pose direct threats is “to penetrate them and learn whether they’re talking about making attacks against the United States.”

Now this is the part where I fervently hope that this revelation is psychological warfare against the Taliban and AQ to paralyze them with paranoia over moles in their organizations. It is a very effective tactic, see: James  Jesus Angleton. Given the incredible difficulty of inserting an intelligence officer into AQ, or even getting one of their members to flip and become a double agent, revealing that information for political reasons would border on the criminal.

Recent claims of significant success against al-Qaeda have become part of White House deliberations about U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, centering on a request by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top American and NATO commander there, for an expanded counterinsurgency campaign that will require more U.S. troops. Discussions began in earnest Tuesday as senior national security and military officials met with President Obama.

Those within the administration who have suggested limiting large-scale U.S. ground combat in Afghanistan, including Vice President Biden, have pointed to an improved counterterrorism effort as evidence that Obama’s principal objective — destroying al-Qaeda — can be achieved without an expanded troop presence.

And in the first paragraph we have the reason that the White House leaked this story to WaPo. McChrystal’s public demand for tens of thousands of extra troops, which really are necessary if we are going to nation-build the way the Hillary-Holbrooke axis wants to, has put Obama in an awkward position, because the Congress doesn’t particularly want to do that.  The bright side is, they do seem to be rethinking their strategy of just throwing more soldiers into the meatgrinder. Cyncial as I am, I don’t want to think that this is just a stall to twist arms on Capitol Hill.

I don’t want to give the impression that I believe McChrystal (and Clinton and Holbrooke) are right.  Nation-building will never work in a place like A-stan; I wrote an article about it a few months ago. Joe Biden has the right strategy, though he has so far lost the internecine battles: A smaller number of American troops, mostly composed of Special Operations and Special Forces operators with close air support, in a strictly counterterrorism role. So, despite the fact that this article is disingenuous, if it helps stop a counterproductive and downright disastrous troop escalation, I’m willing to take that.

Massive Surprise: Taliban-Pakistan Truce Not What It’s Cracked Up To Be

Monday, February 23rd, 2009

In Sunday’s New York Times there was a great article on the recent truce between the Taliban and the Pakistani government in the semi-lawless tribal region of Swat. From the article:

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — A provincial government official in the disputed area of Swat announced details of what he called a “permanent cease-fire” with the Taliban on Saturday.

But hours later, the most powerful Taliban leader in Swat, Maulana Fazlullah, said over his FM radio station that he had only agreed to a 10-day truce and would consider an extension at the end of that period.

The different positions suggested that the truce agreed to five days ago by the national government, under which the army would stop hostilities in exchange for being allowed to put in place a system of Islamic law, remained in flux.

That deal was widely criticized by Western governments and moderate Pakistanis who described it as a government surrender to ruthless militants. Now it appears that Mr. Fazlullah, whose forces have swept through the territory in the past six months, has not signed on to it.

The national government said Monday that it had agreed to a deal with another Taliban leader, Maulana Sufi Muhammad, who lacks the powerful forces of Mr. Fazlullah, his son-in-law. Mr. Fazlullah has the backing of the umbrella group of Pakistani Taliban, Tehrik-e-Taliban.

Read the rest of this disturbing article here.

Does It Count If It’s Not Screaming Pundits? Actual Interrogators On The Torture Ban

Thursday, February 19th, 2009

By Tommy Brown


Music to Your Humble Author’s ears. From an article on HuffPo:

Interrogators are lauding President Obama for signing an executive order that will shut down secret CIA prisons and place the use of coercive interrogation techniques completely off limits.

“[The order] closes an unconscionable period in our history, in which those who knew least, professed to know most about interrogations,” said Joe Navarro, a former special agent and supervisor with the FBI.

“Some die-hards on the right — who have never interrogated anyone — are already arguing that forcing interrogations to be conducted within army field manual guidelines is a step backward and will result in ‘coddling’ dangerous terrorists,” retired Colonel Stuart Herrington, who served for more than 30 years as a military intelligence officer, said soon after the order was signed. “This is a common, but uninformed view. Experienced, well-trained, professional interrogators know that interrogation is an art. It is a battle of wits, not muscle. It is a challenge that can be accomplished within the military guidelines without resorting to brutality.”

The way interrogation works is largely misunderstood by the general public and some senior policy makers, according to Navarro, Herrington and other intelligence professionals.

“Interrogation is not like a faucet that you can turn on – and the harder you turn, the more information will pour out,” explains Herrington, who conducted a classified review of detention and interrogation practices in Iraq for the U.S. Army.

I wrote an article about the origin of our “enhanced interrogation techniques” last year, but long story short: The techniques were “reverse-engineered” from SERE, a military program that teaches select soldiers how to resist torture. The problem is, the torture used in the program is based on Communist Russia and Chinese methods designed to elicit false confessions. So, bad news all around.

As everyone within radio range of Earth in the last month has heard, President Obama signed an order prohibiting any torture by American personnel or on prisoners in American custody (keep in mind, though, this does not make extraordinary renditions to third-party countries like Egypt for torture illegal). Now that torture in America is once again illegal-a phrase I never thought I’d type-and whistleblowers are safe from retribution, actual military and intelligence interrogators are emerging to side with the President as the Right screams bloody murder about it.

Like this fellow here:

Getting a suspected terrorist to talk is much more subtle than what one typically sees in the movies or on TV. A new book, How to Break A Terrorist by Matthew Alexander (a pseudonym), provides an inside look at how interrogation can yield more information if it is done humanely.

Alexander developed the intelligence that led U.S. forces to al-Zarqawi, the former chief of Al Qaeda in Iraq. While some were using abusive techniques to try to crack detainees, Alexander used a smarter, more sophisticated approach. He learned what the detainees cared about and then used that information to get what he wanted.

And this guy:

Another recently published book, Mission: Black List #1 by Staff Sergeant Eric Maddox, shows how the author, an interrogator stationed in Tikrit, developed the intelligence that led to the capture of Saddam Hussein. Maddox was hunting one of the most wanted men in Iraq. Like Alexander he did not try to “break” detainees by beating them up; he talked to them.

Maddox was an information junkie who patiently interrogated hundreds of detainees and slowly pieced together a picture that led him to Saddam. He also intuitively understood that, if possible, you want the detainees to not only answer your questions, but also tell you which questions to ask. He induced a detainee who was a close friend (and former driver) of one of Saddam’s closest confidants to join his “team.” The former driver joined Maddox in interrogations. Detainees “broke” the moment that Maddox and the former driver started interrogating them.

Indeed, this is exactly what the FBI has been saying since literally 9/11 plus one, that interrogation is an art and information obtained under torture is not reliable. FBI agents walked out of interrogation permanently at the brand-new Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo shortly after they started, knowing that any association with torture would destroy the Bureau’s credibility in the courtroom for years to come.

And they were right. Ironically, this is the dilemma that now faces the American government with the GTMO detainees, because of the Bush Administration’s unwillingness to give them the minimal level of Geneva protections.

A Gun To His Own Head: How Pervez Musharraf Played America

Monday, February 9th, 2009

By Tommy Brown

“Pakistan now negotiates with its allies and friends by pointing a gun to its own head,” an anonymous diplomat is quoted as saying in Stephen Cohen’s The Idea of Pakistan, and there is probably not a more pithy and accurate perception of America’s relationship with the turbulent Muslim nation and its former generalissimo, the wily and unpredictable Pervez Musharraf. For seven-plus years Pakistan has been one of America’s key strategic allies in the “War on Terror,”, and from 9/11 until his resignation as president on 18 August 2008, Musharraf ruthlessly pursued what he perceived to be his own nation’s interests while paying naught but lip service to his benefactors in Washington. The severity of the situation is little-known outside of political circles, but the consequences could be catastrophic (and possible apocalyptic) for the entire region between Kazakhstan and India.

Understanding why Musharraf acted the way he did is impossible without first grasping the two most important factors in his political life: the military and the disputed region of Kashmir. The military and its attendant secret police, the Inter-Service Intelligence Directorate, have run Pakistan virtually since its inception, even when civilian governments were putatively in charge.  And unlike the “Deep State” Turkish military, which turns the Ankara government’s rudder in a more secular direction when radical Islam occasionally pops up, the Pakistani armed forces rely on the support of a coalition of Islamist political parties.  The fact that the army and ISI are popularly perceived (in America at any rate) as the secular bulwark against the rising tide of Islamic extremism is probably the most successful propaganda operation of the 21st Century, because nothing could be further from the truth.

This Is How He Balled

The answer to Musharraf’s support for violent extremists inside his own country lies in Kashmir, the majority-Muslim province straddling the border between Pakistan and India. Every single political issue in Pakistan must be seen through the lens of Kashmir, from their terse nuclear standoff with India to the ISI’s active support of the Taliban. Indeed, Musharraf first gained international prominence in the late Nineties as the general who recklessly started the Kargil War in Kashmir, which came within a hair’s-breadth of leading to atomic winter over South Asia, and cemented his reputation as both an ardent nationalist and being capricious and unpredictable

When questioned about why Pakistan had done a total one-eighty on their relationship with America following 9/11, Musharraf simply replied, “Our national interest has changed.” But it hadn’t changed that much. Cracking down on radical Islamist terrorists was a total nonstarter for the self-styled Chief Executive: His own intelligence service had basically created and put the Taliban into power, and his power base was very keen to continue the proxy war in Kashmir with extremist groups in the south.  So after the requisite bowing and scraping to the Bush Administration before and during the Afghan War, Musharraf freely allowed the Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters to cross the border into the hinterlands of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. At the same time, he was assuring Washington and the world that he was sealing off the escape routes, which was ludicrous on its face, because an actual border between Afghanistan and Pakistan only existed in the mind of a long-dead Englishman named Durand.

The general played the game very shrewdly: The Islamist-dominated ISI assisted the CIA in hunting down AQ operatives south of the borderlands, for which Musharraf received billions of dollars in aid and military support, a good portion of which ended up financing the Taliban for its insurgency in Afghanistan, all the while denying that they existed in FATA at all. Almost every single time before he met with Americans, Afghanis or the United Nations, there would always be a much-hyped “crackdown on insurgents” to allow him to keep face. It was also a good excuse to disappear or jail nationalist Baloch and Sindhi rebels who were giving his regime a headache in the southwest.

All Fall Down

Of course, while Musharraf happy-talked the international community, the Islamists were pursuing totally different interests. Mullah Omar set up his Taliban shura (ruling council) in the city of Quetta, with no government interference as long as he kept it a non-Arab, non-AQ organization, at least officially.  These rules did not apply to FATA; Al Qaeda led the efforts to “Talibanize” the Pashtun border regions from South Waziristan to the North-West Frontier Province. Eventually, they forged links with the Kashmir groups and even the nationalist insurgencies that were not explicitly Islamist. Islamic extremism in Pakistan had become, in the words of journalist Ahmed Rashid, a “multilayered terrorist cake,” starting with the Talibanized Pashtun tribesmen in FATA, who provided a bolthole and logistics; the Afghan Taliban who settled there after the war; Sunni militants from the Middle East, Central Asia, Chechnya and Kashmir who wanted to be where the jihad was; and finally the Arabs, from Al Qaeda’s shura (bin Laden et al.) to those trusted to protect them.

The jihadists, as per usual, weren’t very grateful, still viewing Musharraf as a secular apostate leader along the lines of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak. Despite his largesse towards jihadists in general, there were two assassination attempts against him in 2003, one of which was narrowly foiled by American-supplied signal jammers. This did not derail his long-term strategy of mostly talk and some ceremonial action, despite the irony of the fact his intelligence service and military were assisting the same people trying to kill him. Any criticism of his weak counterterrorism policies was itself countered with the “devil you know” argument: Better a man like Musharraf in charge, then an unknown quantity, and if he was pushed too hard, his regime would collapse.

By 2006, the Afghan Taliban and Al Qaeda had reconstituted their strength to the point that they launched an all-out offensive in southern Afghanistan, focusing on the city of Kandahar and the opium-rich Hemland Province. While they were repulsed in the end, and it was a significant tactical defeat by any measure, it was a propaganda coup on par with Tet that shocked both the global media and the Afghans into realizing that the Taliban was much more powerful, and much more of a threat, than the conventional wisdom held them to be. Musharraf, pushed into action by White House pressure and world opinion, moved the Pakistani military (what little he was willing to spare from the Indian border) into the borderlands, but met with very little success. The Taliban continued to strike into Afghanistan and then retreat across the borderlands, and the occasional Hellfire missile strike from a Predator or Special Forces team crossing into Pakistan was not going to make much of a difference.

Lawyers > Guns And Money

It was few months later that Musharraf made the first serious mistake that eventually led to his downfall: He spat in the eye of the legal profession. On 13 March 2007, he suspended the Chief Justice of the Pakistani Supreme Court on the traditional Third World charge of Attempted Judicial Enforcement In A Banana Republic. A dangerously honest Court might have prevented Musharraf from winning the upcoming presidential election in which he hoped to legitimize his rule. Across the country, lawyers and judges formed a protest group, Judicial Activism, boycotting all court proceedings and rallying in the streets of Islamabad, Lahore, Karachi and even fundamentalist Quetta. Four months later, amid these massive protests, the Chief Justice was reinstated.

The Chief Executive knew that his grip on power was slipping away; shortly after his legal woes, the Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) incident occurred. The week-long siege, organized by Talibanized students who had declared an alternate sharia-based legal system, showed the world that Islamists were much more powerful in Pakistan than had been believed. Musharraf himself was now besieged on all sides, with the legal system calling for his resignation as army chief, Chief Executive or both, and the return of his two mortal political enemies, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, all the while trying to win the upcoming presidential election

Still, on 28 September 2007, Pervez Musharraf was elected President of Pakistan by plebiscite. Several days later, he stepped down as head of the armed forces, appointing his right hand man. But hopes for a return to normalcy were dashed when he declared a state of emergency in November, suspending the Constitution, putting the Supreme Court under house arrest and taking control of the media outlets. Unrest was further intensified by the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, whom he had deposed as prime minister in the 1999 coup, about a week before general elections were to be held. The elections were delayed until March.

Musharraf spoke of “an era of democracy” and putting Pakistan “on the track of development,” but the 2008 elections destroyed any authority he had left. The Pakistan People’s Party of the martyred Bhutto and Sharif’s Pakistani Muslim League-N combined to win sixty-three percent of the votes, putting their coalition in the governmental driver’s seat. Under threat of impeachment by the new government, President Musharraf resigned his position after only five months of legitimate rule, replaced by Bhutto’s widower, Asif Ali Zardari.

The Perfect Storm

In the final analysis, Musharraf’s rule from the start of the “War on Terror” until his resignation can only be deemed a failure, not just for American interests but for Pakistani ones also. Secure in the tribal hinterlands, the Taliban and Al Qaeda have not only reconstituted, but have spun off a Pakistani Taliban franchise and forged close links with the Kashmiri terrorist groups like Lashkar-e-Toiba. Lashkar and the Taliban, once fully-owned subsidiaries of the ISI and the military, have turned on their former masters with a vengeance, vowing to destroy the secular apostate government. The recent Mumbai attacks may signal that they are attempting to provoke a full-out war with India to accomplish this, which could very easily turn into a nuclear exchange.

America’s prospects in Pakistan are even bleaker, from the standpoint of terrorism. Through our willful blindness concerning Musharraf and our bafflingly counterproductive actions, we have turned a semi-stable, secular military dictatorship into a country whose government is on the brink of dissolution, thanks to a homegrown Islamist movement assisted by sympathizers in military/intelligence circles; where the president and the majority party are the ones who funded the Afghan Taliban movement in the first place; where Al Qaeda has reconstituted to pre-9/11 strength and has rebuilt its training-camp network and leadership. And while the average person had little idea that any of these events were occurring, the Bush Administration and both the State and Defense Departments were well aware of these developments and turned a blind eye to them..

In short, Pakistan makes Iran, with its ruthless but pragmatic mullahs attempting to build a nuclear weapon, look like Canada in comparison. Pakistan has become the nightmare nexus we have been warned about since 9/11: nuclear weapons, a government on the verge of an Islamist revolution, and terrorist groups working unchecked inside its borders

The Five-State Solution: Idealism Trumps Reality Yet Again Concerning Israel

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2009

by Tommy Brown

The New York Times‘ Thomas Friedman,  he of the fabled Friedman Unit (“The next six months in Iraq. . . .”), has written yet another slightly creepy op-ed where he pretends to be a foreign leader writing to the American president. This time he’s pretending to be Saudi Arabia’s King ‘Abdullah:

Dear President Obama,

Congratulations on your inauguration and for quickly dispatching your new envoy, George Mitchell, a good man, to the Middle East. I wish Mitchell could resume where he left off eight years ago, but the death of Arafat, the decline of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, the 2006 Hezbollah-Israel war in Lebanon, the 2009 Hamas-Israel war in Gaza, the continued expansion of colonial Israeli settlements and the deepening involvement of Iran with Hamas and Hezbollah have all created a new reality.

Specifically, the Palestinian Authority is in no position today to assume control of the West Bank, Hamas is incapable of managing Gaza and the introduction of rockets provided by Iran to Hamas has created a situation whereby Israel won’t turn over the West Bank to any Palestinians now because it fears Hamas would use it to launch rockets on Israel’s international airport. But if we do nothing, Zionist settlers would devour the rest of the West Bank and holy Jerusalem. What can be done?

I am proposing what I would call a five-state solution:

I’d like to tackle each part of the solution he proposes separately. They are idealistic, noble and totally unconnected from reality.

1. Israel agrees in principle to withdraw from every inch of the West Bank and Arab districts of East Jerusalem, as it has from Gaza. Any territories Israel might retain in the West Bank for its settlers would have to be swapped — inch for inch — with land from Israel proper.

Total withdrawal for the West Bank, for one, is a total nonstarter. Israel relies on the headwaters of the Jordan River (inconveniently located within the Occupied Territories) for the majority of its water. This is naturally a major security interest for the Israelis; they fought a war with the Arab League over the attempted damming of the Jordan, water being a big deal in the desert, go figure.

The other two are just as fantastic. While there is the chance that Israel would recognize mostly-Arab East Jerusalem as the ceremonial capital of a Palestinian state, there is no way in hell they are going to give up control of probably the most holy city in the world, or let it be divided Berlin-style that way it was between Israel and Jordan before the Six Day War of 1967.

Regarding a land-swap, settler territory for actual Israeli land to become part of the Palestinian Authority: The fundamentalist right wing in Israel, the characters who are the force behind the attempt to settle the entire area that was once ancient Judea and Samarra, will never ever let an inch of Israeli territory be given to the Palestinians. They’re not even that hot on giving them land in the Occupied Territories. And they have never shied away from violence to prevent this; Yitzhak Rabin signed the Oslo Accords and was assassinated shortly afterward by a “lone gunman” right-wing Zionist; Ariel Sharon withdrew the settlements from the Gaza Strip and shortly afterwards fell victim to a mysterious stroke (I’m no conspiracy theorist, but still).

2. The Palestinians — Hamas and Fatah — agree to form a national unity government. This government then agrees to accept a limited number of Egyptian troops and police to help Palestinians secure Gaza and monitor its borders, as well as Jordanian troops and police to do the same in the West Bank. The Palestinian Authority would agree to five-year “security assistance programs” with Egypt in Gaza and with Jordan in the West Bank.

With Egypt and Jordan helping to maintain order, Palestinians could focus on building their own credible security and political institutions to support their full independence at the end of five years.

The ground truth is that Hamas and Fatah are locked in a civil war for control of the Occupied Territories (leaving America in the bizarre position of financially backing Fatah when we pushed for the elections that knocked them out of power and started the war in the first place). Hamas is a fundamentalist Islamist group, while Fatah, the former Palestinian Liberation Organization, is a secular nationalist organization composed of Muslims. Huge difference. There is pretty much zero chance of the two reaching any sort of power-sharing agreement, as Hamas considers Fatah to be apostate rulers.

The idea that the Israelis letting Jordanian security forces into the West Bank is similarly insane; the Israelis took the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan in the first place. It’s never ever ever going to happen. And despite the Camp David Accords with Egypt, letting them put guys with guns into the Territories is another fantasy. Despite their mutual diplomatic recognition and the return of the Sinai to Egypt, the received wisdom in Israel is that President Hosni Mubarak pays but lip service to the agreement, while turning a blind eye to the smugglers supplying Gaza despite the blockade.

3. Israel would engage in a phased withdrawal over these five years from all of its settlements in the West Bank and Arab Jerusalem — except those agreed to be granted to Israel as part of land swaps — at the same pace that the Palestinians meet the security and governance metrics agreed to in advance by all the parties. The U.S. would be the sole arbiter of whether the metrics have been met by both sides.

Removing the settlements is not a bad idea at all, but, as noted above, attempting to give the Palestinians their own land or withdraw the settlements seems to lead to the death or incapacitation of Israeli prime ministers. And if Bibi Netanyahu of the Likud Party becomes PM, this will become another fantasy.

The real issue with this one is that it somehow assumes that either the Palestinians or the Israelis will somehow view America as some kind of impartial judge after eight years of abandoning the role of mediator and siding with the Israelis entirely. Not to mention the aforementioned elections that made Hamas the legitimate government of the Territories. Less than a few weeks ago, during the Gaza War, Prime Minister Olmert actually demanded to speak with President Bush and convinced him not to sign onto to a UN-brokered ceasefire that Condi Rice, his Secretary of State, had drafted the majority of. Something tells me Israel is going to attempt to continue this kind of relationship, though with the new administration it’s totally up in the air. And both Fatah and Hamas view America as betrayers of their interests more than ever.

4. Saudi Arabia would pay all the costs of the Egyptian and Jordanian trustees, plus a $1 billion a year service fee to each country — as well as all the budgetary needs of the Palestinian Authority. The entire plan would be based on U.N. Resolutions 242 and 338 and blessed by the U.N. Security Council.

This one is my favorite suggestion of Friedman’s, for a couple reasons. One, Saudi Arabia is already the major funder of both Fatah and Hamas. They have financed the PLO and other resistance groups since the creation of Israel in 1948, financed the Arab League in both the Six-Day War and the Yom Kippur War, and their resident religious nuts (which is most of the country) strongly supported and backed Hamas during the still-smoldering Gaza War.

Despite King ‘Abdullah’s profession that he wants peace, and it is little known that in 2003 he offered diplomatic recognition of Israel in return for the US dropping its planned invasion of Iraq, his proposals always contain enough caveats that make them basically impossible to implement. This is remarkably similar to former President Bush’s “road map for peace,” in which Israel quietly logged seventeen “reservations” about the plan that effectively scuttled it.

And “basing the entire plan” on UN Resolutions 242 and 338 is the problem to begin with, because they call for Israel’s total withdrawal to its pre-1967 borders, which would include returning the Golan Heights to Syria (not a huge deal) and returning the West Bank and East Jerusalem to the Jordanians. As discussed in detail above, the West Bank is too important to Israel’s strategic interests and they will never accept a divided Jerusalem again. It also means that the Jordanian security forces Friedman proposes would not just be there to help the Palestinians, but would be a precursor to Jordan’s eventual reintegration of the territory into their country.

And this is from supposedly one of the finest foreign policy minds in the country?

The Grim Market For Historical Revisionism: “Bush Won Iraq” Begins In Earnest

Tuesday, January 27th, 2009

by Tommy Brown

Your Humble Author’s jaw damn near hit the ground when I saw this article by the Wall Street Journal‘s William McGurn, titled, of all things, “Bush’s Real Sin Was Winning In Iraq.” From the article:

In a few hours, George W. Bush will walk out of the Oval Office for the last time as president. As he leaves, he carries with him the near-universal opprobrium of the permanent class that inhabits our nation’s capital. Yet perhaps the most important reason for this unpopularity is the one least commented on.

Here’s a hint: It’s not because of his failures. To the contrary, Mr. Bush’s disfavor in Washington owes more to his greatest success. Simply put, there are those who will never forgive Mr. Bush for not losing a war they had all declared unwinnable.

Here in the afterglow of the turnaround led by Gen. David Petraeus, it’s easy to forget what the smart set was saying two years ago — and how categorical they all were in their certainty. The president was a simpleton, it was agreed. Didn’t he know that Iraq was a civil war, and the only answer was to get out as fast as we could?

The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — the man who will be sworn in as vice president today — didn’t limit himself to his own opinion. Days before the president announced the surge, Joe Biden suggested to the Washington Post he knew the president’s people had also concluded the war was lost. They were, he said, just trying to “keep it from totally collapsing” until they could “hand it off to the next guy.”

This is the kind of crazy political revisionism one would expect from Bushie partisans desperate to salvge some kind of legacy for the former President, who-with the exception of tax cuts that look monumentally stupid in retrospect-doesn’t have much have much to hang his hat on. Most of the items snidely referred to as untruths by Mr. McGurn are in fact true. To wit:

George Bush is indeed despised by the Beltway chattering class, but also by the great majority of the American populace; the former because of Bush’s utter disdain for them, and the latter because his administration can be only charitably described as a resounding disappointment. Americans love the underdog, but in the end, they love winners more. And for all the talk of “how history will view him” aside, so far Bush equals massive fail, especially on Iraq.

As I commented on in my article A Tale of Three Cities, conservative partisans have decided that because after five-plus years we managed to get a handle on the very  basics of the security situation (as in, a significant reduction in jihadists driving suicide truck bombs into crowded markets), we have “won” Iraq. Now this is just a rhetorical trick based off of the “What does victory in Iraq mean?” talking point bandied about by the Left, but it seems to me that there was a pretty simple scenario for victory: We would overthrow Saddam Hussein, and Iraq would become a secular Western-style democracy, multiethnic and nonsectarian, that would serve as a beacon of hope for the rest of the autocratic Middle East.

We have not come close to accomplishing any of these objectives. And yet, because basic security has been partially restored (even though basic services like water and electricity haven’t) we’ve won in Iraq? What am I missing?

Also, one might wonder that if there was no civil war, what was up with all the Sunnis abducted by cops and soldiers and murdered? The people who had power drills stuck through their foreheads and then were dumped in the street with their ID card plainly visible to show their religious affiliation? The fact that in less than three years, Baghdad went from being fifty percent Sunni to seventy-five percent, or that mixed-sect neighborhoods no longer exist there?

And the fact is, Joe Biden was right. The point of the surge was to wrap Iraq in duct tape, with troop levels they knew couldn’t be maintained for more than a couple of years, until it could be passed onto the next administration. The political benchmarks laid out by the author of the surge plan, Frederick Kagan, never even came close to fruition. The Iraqi central government remains paralyzed even on important issues like oil-revenue sharing and the status of the city of Kirkuk (the Kurdish Jerusalem); the Iranian-allied theocratic Shi’ites that run the central government are fighting the nationalist theocratic Shi’ites that want to run the country; the Sunnis have formed their own militias, funded and supplied by us, and have no intention of playing nice with the Shi’a; and the Kurds are one vote they don’t like away from declaring independence.

If this is victory, I would hate to see what defeat would have looked like.

Pride Before The Fall: Expanding Nation Building Efforts In Afghanistan

Friday, January 23rd, 2009

by Tommy Brown

Apparently, we have decided to double down our bet on building a “new democratic” Afghanistan. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why. From Newsweek International:

The U.S. has some 33,000 troops in Afghanistan battling a resurgent Taliban, but Obama is expected to send up to 30,000 more this year as his administration shifts its focus from the war in Iraq to Afghanistan.

Speaking in Pakistan, NATO’s Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said the new troops will take the fight to “places where it was not, or insufficiently, possible up till now.”

Scheffer said other NATO allies should also boost troop levels in Afghanistan if possible, but also increase the number of civilian experts to help with reconstruction and development in a country brought to its knees by decades of war.

“I do see the need for the military surge President Obama is proposing, but it should be met with a civilian surge,” he told reporters. “Let us not be under the illusion that extra U.S. force (alone) will do the trick.”

Now, I’m not happy at all with the whole idea of an Afghanistan surge, which is basically pointless and counterproductive. But to attempt to try to form Afghanistan into some kind of pluralistic Western democracy not only tops the stupidity meter, it causes it to explode. Now, don’t get me wrong, I have no issue with MEDCAPS (medical civic action programs, where the natives are given free medical care by our military) or Provincial Reconstruction Teams as long as American troops are in-country, to help tamp down the inevitable explosion. But the fact is, and always has been, that the Afghans, whether Pashtun, Uzbek, Kazakh or whatever, are probably the most antiauthoritarian people on Earth. They are not down with the whole good governance ideal, outside of being a good warlord for your people. The idea of a central Afghani government, even before the Soviet War, was always more theoretical than actual.

So the idea of a creating a democratic Afghanistan is sheer folly at best. President Karzai is basically the mayor of Kabul and the Afghan National Army is loyal to him, not to the country. The minute we pull our troops out, there will be a big throwdown between the major warlords and the Karzai government to see who gets to run the nicest parts of the country. It will be settled the traditional Afghan way, with one warlord emerging on top after killing his rivals to the throne. This is going to happen no matter what, and there’s really no point in delaying it with American lives. Really, if we were smart, we would let Karzai eliminate his rivals before we leave, to give him a better shot at staying El Presidente.

Now, I’m sure this idea will be met with a hue and cry about how Afghanistan is the real war and we need to finish it. The fact remains, though, that as long as the Taliban and Al Qaeda have contiguous safe haven in the Pakistani border regions and the Afghan government is a bunch of competing warlords whose allegiances shift with the wind, they are basically untouchable. And the real fact of the matter is, with David Petraeus taking over the Afghan occupation as well, it is pretty much a guarantee that he is going to cut a deal with the Taliban to force a wedge between them and Al Qaeda, just like he did with the Sunni Arabs and Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia in Iraq.

And it’s not just a good idea, it’s a great idea. The Taliban harbored AQ before 9/11, but having bad house guests is no reason to kill people for almost a decade, and it’s pretty much a guarantee that if they would retake southern Afghanistan, they will not be building any camps there (because they already have plenty in Pakistan). And for those filled with moral outrage about brokering a truce with the Taliban, if we can deal with the secular Sunnis in Iraq (read: former Ba’athists) against the Islamists, we can deal with the Talis.

The only way I could ever buy that the Afghan surge is a good idea is if it will be run along the lines of the Iraqi surge: Giving the American military the upper hand, however briefly, to have a better bargaining position with the locals. A surge for that purpose would be worth the cost; one simply to expand our nation-building presence is unacceptable. Pakistan is the real issue, the real central front of the “War on Terror,” and the sooner people realize it the better off we’ll be.<–>

Mike Vickers’ War

Monday, September 1st, 2008

From Newsweek on the successful rescue of hostages in Columbia:

But Colombia’s dramatic shift in strategy over the last two years also has much to do with a quiet U.S. effort to school allies in counterinsurgency and Special-Operations tactics. Even the strategy of infiltration used against the FARC—a turncoat guerrilla working with the Colombian military was key to the hostage ruse—is one that has been promoted inside the Pentagon against Al Qaeda and other terror groups. While U.S. officials stress that every insurgency and terror group presents unique challenges, similar principles are being applied in Iraq’s Anbar province and now by the new Pakistani government in its Taliban- and Qaeda-infested tribal regions.

American-style counterinsurgency, in other words, is going global. “Colombia has done a really masterful job,” says Michael Vickers, the Pentagon’s assistant secretary of Defense for Special Operations. Vickers gives Uribe’s government “the lion’s share” of the credit for the hostage ruse and anti-FARC strategy in general. But he acknowledges that “the Colombians are very close partners of ours and we’ve provided the training and other things.”

Mike Vickers, of course, has achieved some notoriety due to the book and movie Charlie Wilson’s War, wherein he was recruited by borderline-renegade CIA officer Gust Avrakotos to be the logistical brains behind supplying the mujahideen during the Afghan-Soviet War. Even though he was a junior officer at Langley, he had been a noncom and an officer in the Special Forces and ended up being responsible for the largest covert action program in American history, coordinating the fractuous muj insurgency and about a dozen foreign governments, with a budget in excess of two billion dollars. By all accounts, Vickers is without doubt an absolute genius at counterinsurgency. Having him as the coordinator for special ops and low-intensity conflicts is a Very Good Thing.

The story behind the story is that Colombia is just one example of a grand counterinsurgency strategy that is occurring all over the world, from Pakistan to Djibouti to the Philippines. Small teams of  American SF operators are teaching the indigenous armed forces how to fight the dirty, asymmetrical “small wars” of the twenty-first century, while at the same time providing civil services to the population in a hearts-and-minds campaign. Despite the much-publicized setbacks in stabilizing and building a competent military in Iraq and to a lesser extent Afghanistan, in many other countries incredibly small numbers of American soldiers are revolutionizing how Third World militaries combat terrorism and insurgencies.

It always amazes me that so many people are ignorant of the fact that the Afghan War was fought and won by a few hundred Special Forces soldiers, CIA paramilitary officers and Air Force close air support controllers acting in concert with the native anti-Taliban forces, not the thousands of conventional troops responsible for SASO (security and stability operations, or “nation building”) that arrived afterwards. Despite the constant media hullabaloo about “a new kind of war,” the fact that the first American war of this century was prosecuted by a handful of men leading Uzbek and Pashtun guerillas on horseback seems to have slipped under the national radar.

The downside to this strategy is that it basically replicates how the British Empire functioned in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, which raises the hackles of conservative isolationists and liberal internationalists alike. The British always liked to control their vassal states by proxy, like the “Arab facade” of the Hashemite kings that ruled large swaths of the Middle East after World War One, with military and colonial “advisors” directing the native governments.

Our strategy is certainly much less heavy-handed than the often-brutal English, but it may be much more effective due to an emerging fact in the globalized world: As many Third World countries are transitioning from repressive regimes to weak, unstable democracies, the politicians come and go, voted out of office or overthrown in coups, but the people responsible for the military and security apparatuses stay in power behind the scenes for years and years. Indeed, in most developing nations and failed states, the military is the only stable institution in the whole country, which means a little training and advice from the finest military in the history of time goes a long, long way.

The American public seems to be happy to pretend that this country has not been relentlessly expansionistic throughout its entire history, but at the same time demand the constant economic expansion that in today’s world almost always comes at the expense of weaker countries. This cognitive dissonance, allowing for a “soft imperialism” while pretending it doesn’t exist, is perhaps the most dangerous issue facing the United States in an increasingly multipolar world, as it prevents any meaningful discussion of our role in the world.

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by Tommy Brown

“The fact is that a man who wants to act virtuously in every way necessarily comes to grief among so many who are not virtuous.”

-Niccolo Machiavelli

Fateful Triangle: Pakistan, India and Afghanistan

Monday, September 1st, 2008

From a recent Newsweek article on the suicide bombing of the Indian embassy in Afghanistan:

Afghan authorities wasted little time in assigning blame. With blood and debris still littering the streets of Kabul after a suicide bomb at the Indian embassy killed 41 and injured 150 on Monday, an Afghan defense spokesman promptly pointed an accusatory figure at Pakistan. “The sophistication of this attack, and the kind of material that was used and the specific targeting, everything has the hallmark of a particular intelligence agency that has conducted similar attacks inside Afghanistan in the past. We have sufficient evidence to say that,” the spokesman told reporters Tuesday morning, refusing to mention Pakistan by name but acknowledging the reference as “pretty obvious.”

The “obvious reference” is, of course, to the Inter-Service Intelligence Directorate (ISI-D), Pakistan’s intelligence agency and secret police. While Pakistan is nominally one of our biggest allies in the “war on terror,” in reality only President Pervez Musharaff and the military are pro-American, and it is borne out of strategic neccessity rather than genuine affection. Almost everyone else is lined up against us: The ISI-D is full to bursting with Islamists and maintains strong ties to the Afghan insurgency; the Bhutto movement, while paying lip service to the American obsession with democracy, are the people who created and funded the Taliban in the first place; and the general population is becoming increasingly radicalized.

The most disturbing part of the whole incident is that the Karzai government is openly blaming Pakistan, supposedly their biggest ally after America, in a public forum. I’m not entirely sure what to make of it, but it bespeaks some serious behind-the-scenes maneuvering in both countries.

Just because ISI-D was behind it, and they are the definition of a rogue intelligence service, that doesn’t mean that the suicide bombing in Afghanistan wasn’t approved at the highest levels of the Pakistani government. It goes like this: India and Pakistan are mortal enemies in a nuclear standoff, with Kashmir as the flashpoint. The last three times they went to war, the Pakistanis got their asses kicked badly, and are understandably pretty nervous about it happening again. Alot of the reason Pakistan funded the Taliban movement was that they couldn’t afford to have hostile states on either side of them.

So the Indians, naturally, are investing heavily in Afghanistan, including building the new parliament and a road that would connect Afghanistan to the Middle East without going through Pakistan. An allied Afghanistan would allow them to pull the old pincer move, preventing Musharraf from committing the bulk of his military to the Indian border and putting Pakistan in an even more precarious strategic position (which wasn’t that great to begin with). At the very least, the Pakistanis consider Afghanistan to be their little buddy, and don’t want the Indians horning in.

Pakistan is not going to take this lying down. Even Musharraf knows the danger to his country posed by Indian influence in Afghanistan. The actual actors in the bombing were almost definitely one of the three groups who are collectively called “the Taliban” by the media: Mullah Omar’s people operating out of Quetta, the Haqqani, who are so zealous they think Omar is a big softy, or the “Afghan Arab” foreign fighters. Standing behind them organizing and financing the attack was the ISI-D, whose Islamist connections go all the way back to the Afghan-Soviet War.

So the million dollar question is, was it a rogue operation or did the Musharraf government approve it? Most likely no one will ever know, but I would give good odds it was at least tacitly condoned by our biggest ally in the region.

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by Tommy Brown

“The fact is that a man who wants to act virtuously in every way necessarily comes to grief among so many who are not virtuous.”

-Niccolo Machiavelli

A Word About Torture

Monday, September 1st, 2008

The United States tortures people. Time to just accept it. The endless wrangling over what the word “torture” means for the last seven years has become a largely pointless semantic debate. The administration legally redefined what “torture” means (has to cause lasting damage, like organ failure or death) so the principals can keep a straight face when telling the media that we don’t torture anyone, but it’s time to face facts. Call it “enhanced interrogation techniques” or whatever you want, the intent is clear.

Here’s how I know: There is a program that soldiers and Marines go through called SERE (Survival Evasion Resistance Escape) training where they are waterboarded, put in stress positions, berated, put in sensory deprivation, etc., in order to build their resistance to enemy interrogation. And after 9/11, when looking around for what new harsh interrogation techniques they could use against enemy combatants (having thrown the classic interrogation approach out the window), the administration decided to “reverse-engineer” the SERE techniques.

The crazy part? SERE was developed after the Korean War, because of the captured pilots who were used in Communist propaganda films, confessing to crimes and so forth. They were mentally broken but not physically abused in any way, and it looked bad, and the idea was of SERE was to specifically counteract these Manchurian Candidate-type techniques. So the fact is, America is basically using Communist Chinese torture methods on their prisoners to break them mentally and physically.

A perfect example of how insane this has really gotten is Jose Padilla. Padilla, an American citizen arrested on American soil, was declared an “enemy combatant” and locked in a naval brig for more than three years. According to a court brief filed on behalf of Padilla in 2006, he was kept totally isolated in a windowless cell in an otherwise empty brig, spent most of his incarceration sleeping on a steel bunk with no mattress, was placed in “stress positions” for hours at a time, was hooded and shackled, the temperature of his cell was kept below freezing for hours, threatened with execution, and given “truth serum” drugs among other things.

Who can claim that is not torture? Have we really become so existentially terrified of the Evil Terrorist Threat that we are literally willing to use techniques that the Soviets and ChiComs pioneered? What does this say about “American values” in the new millenium?

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by Tommy Brown

“The fact is that a man who wants to act virtuously in every way necessarily comes to grief among so many who are not virtuous.”

-Niccolo Machiavelli