A year from now, the Bush Administration will be emptying its desks into cardboard boxes and preparing to hand over to its successor. And, it’s a relatively safe bet that the menu of foreign policy crises and challenges it will leave in the in-trays of its successors will be largely unchanged from that facing the Bush Administration today. A combination of the traditional lame-duck effect of the final year of a presidency, and the decline in relative U.S. influence on the global stage — a product both of the calamitous strategic and tactical mistakes by the Bush Administration and of structural shifts in the global political economy that will limit the options available to his successor — suggest that even as he goes scurrying about the Middle East in search of a “legacy,” very little is going to change in the coming year. Indeed, the recurring theme in many of the crises Washington professes to be managing is the extent to which it is being ignored by both friend and foe. [complete article]
For Americans, 2008 is an important election year. But for much of the world, it is likely to be seen as the year that China moved to center stage, with the Olympics serving as the country’s long-awaited coming-out party. The much-heralded advent of China as a global power is no longer a forecast but a reality. On issue after issue, China has become the second most important country on the planet. Consider what’s happened already this past year. In 2007 China contributed more to global growth than the United States, the first time another country had done so since at least the 1930s. It also became the world’s largest consumer, eclipsing the United States in four of the five basic food, energy and industrial commodities. And a few months ago China surpassed the United States to become the world’s leading emitter of CO2. Whether it’s trade, global warming, Darfur or North Korea, China has become the new x factor, without which no durable solution is possible.
And yet the Chinese do not quite see themselves this way. Susan Shirk, the author of a recent book about the country, “The Fragile Superpower,” tells a revealing tale. Whenever she mentions her title in America, people say to her, “Fragile? China doesn’t seem fragile.” But in China people say, “Superpower? China isn’t a superpower.”
In fact it’s both, and China’s fragility is directly related to its extraordinary rise. Lawrence Summers has recently pointed out that during the Industrial Revolution the average European’s living standards rose about 50 percent over the course of his lifetime (then about 40 years). In Asia, principally China, he calculates, the average person’s living standards are set to rise by 10,000 percent in one lifetime! The scale and pace of growth in China has been staggering, utterly unprecedented in history—and it has produced equally staggering change. In two decades China has experienced the same degree of industrialization, urbanization and social transformation as Europe did in two centuries. [complete article]
To fans he is the “Lion of Gujarat”, saviour of Hindus and the brains behind one of India’s richest states. To critics he is a “merchant of death” with the blood of thousands of Muslims on his hands.
But love or hate Narendra Modi, the Hindu nationalist and Chief Minister of the western state of Gujarat has now staked his claim to leadership of his party – and perhaps his country.
His Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won 117 out of 182 seats in a local assembly election yesterday that became a barometer for the looming national elections. Congress won just 59 seats in the state poll that was spread over two weeks and which revived claims that Mr Modi had encouraged the slaughter of at least 2,000 Muslims in rioting in Gujarat in 2002. [complete article]
The chief justice of Pakistan’s Supreme Court, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, and his family have been detained in their house, barricaded in with barbed wire and surrounded by police officers in riot gear since Nov. 3. Phone lines have been cut and jammers have been installed all around the house to disable cellphones. And the United States doesn’t seem to care about any of that.
The chief justice is not the only person who has been detained. All of his colleagues who, having sworn to protect, uphold and defend the Constitution, refused to take a new oath prescribed by President Pervez Musharraf as chief of the army remain confined to their homes with their family members. The chief justice’s lawyers are also in detention, initially in such medieval conditions that two of them were hospitalized, one with renal failure.
As the chief justice’s lead counsel, I, too, was held without charge — first in solitary confinement for three weeks and subsequently under house arrest. Last Thursday morning, I was released to celebrate the Id holidays. But that evening, driving to Islamabad to say prayers at Faisal Mosque, my family and I were surrounded at a rest stop by policemen with guns cocked and I was dragged off and thrown into the back of a police van. After a long and harrowing drive along back roads, I was returned home and to house arrest. [complete article]
U.S. scientists have discovered traces of enriched uranium on smelted aluminum tubing provided by North Korea, apparently contradicting Pyongyang’s denial that it had a clandestine nuclear program, according to U.S. and diplomatic sources.
The United States has long pointed to North Korea’s acquisition of thousands of aluminum tubes as evidence of such a program, saying the tubes could be used as the outer casing for centrifuges needed to spin hot uranium gas into the fuel for nuclear weapons. North Korea has denied that contention and, as part of a declaration on its nuclear programs due by the end of the year, recently provided the United States with a small sample to demonstrate that the tubes were used for conventional purposes.
The discovery of the uranium traces has been closely held by senior U.S. officials concerned that disclosure would expose intelligence methods and complicate the diplomatic process. North Korea has steadfastly refused to open up about its past practices, simply asserting that it is not engaged in inappropriate activities. However, the uranium finding will force U.S. negotiators to demand a detailed explanation from Pyongyang. [complete article]
The CIA chief who ordered the destruction of secret videotapes recording the harsh interrogation of two top Al-Qaeda suspects has indicated he may seek immunity from prosecution in exchange for testifying before the House intelligence committee.
Jose Rodriguez, former head of the CIA’s clandestine service, is determined not to become the fall guy in the controversy over the CIA’s use of torture, according to intelligence sources.
It has emerged that at least four White House staff were approached for advice about the tapes, including David Addington, a senior aide to Dick Cheney, the vice-president, but none has admitted to recommending their destruction.
Vincent Cannistraro, former head of counterterrorism at the CIA, said it was impossible for Rodriguez to have acted on his own: “If everybody was against the decision, why in the world would Jose Rodriguez – one of the most cautious men I have ever met – have gone ahead and destroyed them?” [complete article]
Shortly after he arrived as CIA director in 2004, Porter J. Goss met with the agency’s top spies and general counsel to discuss a range of issues, including what to do with videotapes showing harsh interrogations of Al Qaeda detainees, according to current and former officials familiar with the matter.
“Getting rid of tapes in Washington,” Goss said, according to an official involved in the discussions, “is an extremely bad idea.”
But at the agency’s operational levels — especially within the branch that ran the network of secret prisons — the idea of holding on to the tapes and hoping their existence would never be leaked to the public seemed even worse.
Citing what CIA veterans regard as a long record of being stranded by politicians in times of scandal, current and former U.S. intelligence officials said the decision to destroy the tapes was driven by a determination among senior spies to guard against a repeat of that outcome. [complete article]
The controversy over destroyed CIA videotapes has highlighted weaknesses in American intelligence agencies’ methods of interrogation of Al Qaeda suspects, according to current and former officials and experts, who say those methods are compromising the ability to extract critically important information about the threat from Islamic extremism.
Congress, the Justice Department and the CIA inspector general are investigating why the CIA destroyed tapes of its 2002 interrogations of two alleged senior Al Qaeda leaders, Abu Zubaydah and Abd al Rahim al Nashiri. Investigators think Zubaydah was recorded being waterboarded — a controversial tactic that mimics the experience of drowning. The tapes were destroyed in 2005.
By their own accounting, the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies have not videotaped the interrogations of potentially hundreds of other terrorism suspects. That indicates an outmoded level of secrecy and unprofessionalism, the interrogation experts contend.
They say that the U.S. is behind the curve of current best practices, and that videotaping is an essential tool in improving the methods — and results — of terrorism interrogations. And the accountability provided by recording is needed to address international concerns about the United States’ use of harsh, potentially illegal techniques, these experts add. [complete article]
So the CIA did indeed torture Abu Zubaida, the first al-Qaeda terrorist suspect to have been waterboarded. So says John Kiriakou, the first former CIA employee directly involved in the questioning of “high-value” al-Qaeda detainees to speak out publicly. He minced no words last week in calling the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation techniques” what they are.
But did they work? Torture’s defenders, including the wannabe tough guys who write Fox’s “24,” insist that the rough stuff gets results. “It was like flipping a switch,” said Kiriakou about Abu Zubaida’s response to being waterboarded. But the al-Qaeda operative’s confessions — descriptions of fantastic plots from a man who intelligence analysts were convinced was mentally ill — probably didn’t give the CIA any actionable intelligence. Of course, we may never know the whole truth, since the CIA destroyed the videotapes of Abu Zubaida’s interrogation. But here are some other myths that are bound to come up as the debate over torture rages on. [complete article]
The Iranian government has decided “at the most senior levels” to rein in the violent Shiite militias it supports in Iraq, a move reflected in a sharp decrease in sophisticated roadside bomb attacks over the past several months, according to the State Department’s top official on Iraq.
Tehran’s decision does not necessarily mean the flow of those weapons from Iran has stopped, but the decline in their use and in overall attacks “has to be attributed to an Iranian policy decision,” David M. Satterfield, Iraq coordinator and senior adviser to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, said in an interview.
U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan C. Crocker said that the decision, “should [Tehran] choose to corroborate it in a direct fashion,” would be “a good beginning” for a fourth round of talks between Crocker and his Iranian counterpart in Baghdad. Although the mid-December date scheduled for the talks was postponed, Crocker said he expects that the parties will convene “in the next couple of weeks.” [complete article]
The thin teenage boy rushed up to the patrol of American soldiers walking through Dora, a shrapnel-scarred neighborhood of the capital, and lifted his shirt to show them a mass of red welts across his back.
He said he was a member of a local Sunni “Awakening” group, paid by the American military to patrol the district, but he said it was another Awakening group that beat him. “They took me while I was working,” he said, “and broke my badge and said, ‘You are from Al Qaeda.’”
The soldiers were unsure of what to do. The Awakening groups in just their area of southern Baghdad could not seem to get along: they fought over turf and, it turned out in this case, one group had warned the other that its members should not pay rent to Shiite “dogs.”
The Awakening movement, a predominantly Sunni Arab force recruited to fight Sunni Islamic extremists like Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, has become a great success story after its spread from Sunni tribes in Anbar Province to become an ad-hoc armed force of 65,000 to 80,000 across the country in less than a year. A linchpin of the American strategy to pacify Iraq, the movement has been widely credited with turning around the violence-scarred areas where the Sunni insurgency has been based.
But the beating that day was a stark example of how rivalries and sectarianism are still undermining the Americans’ plans. And in particular, the Awakening’s rapid expansion — the Americans say the force could reach 100,000 — is creating new concerns. [complete article]
After the United States has spent more than $5 billion in a largely failed effort to bolster the Pakistani military effort against Al Qaeda and the Taliban, some American officials now acknowledge that there were too few controls over the money. The strategy to improve the Pakistani military, they said, needs to be completely revamped.
In interviews in Islamabad and Washington, Bush administration and military officials said they believed that much of the American money was not making its way to frontline Pakistani units. Money has been diverted to help finance weapons systems designed to counter India, not Al Qaeda or the Taliban, the officials said, adding that the United States has paid tens of millions of dollars in inflated Pakistani reimbursement claims for fuel, ammunition and other costs.
“I personally believe there is exaggeration and inflation,” said a senior American military official who has reviewed the program, referring to Pakistani requests for reimbursement. “Then, I point back to the United States and say we didn’t have to give them money this way.”
Pakistani officials say they are incensed at what they see as American ingratitude for Pakistani counterterrorism efforts that have left about 1,000 Pakistani soldiers and police officers dead. They deny that any overcharging has occurred. [complete article]
Israel’s prime minister pledged Sunday to continue attacking Gaza militants, ruling out truce negotiations with Hamas amid widespread skepticism about the Islamic group’s ability to halt rocket attacks.
An Israeli cabinet minister, meanwhile, angered moderate Palestinians with another plan for new Jewish housing in a disputed part of Jerusalem, complicating renewed peace talks.
There have been almost daily reports of truce feelers from the embattled Islamic Hamas regime in Gaza, and Israeli defense officials have said they are examining the proposals.
But at the weekly cabinet meeting Sunday, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert rejected negotiations with Hamas because it has rebuffed international demands that it recognize Israel, renounce violence and endorse past peace accords. [complete article]
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Friday held out the prospect of improved relations with the remaining two members of President Bush’s “axis of evil,” Iran and North Korea, as long as they meet international demands over their nuclear programs.
Rice said the Bush administration in its remaining year would welcome fundamental changes in its dealings with the two countries, as well as with Syria, and as an example pointed to warming ties with Libya, which renounced weapons of mass destruction in 2003. [complete article]