Ten rules for the US in the Middle East

Discussions of US policy in the Middle East mostly focus on Iraq and Iran these days. Yet Americans who follow their country’s Middle East policy ask about their posture throughout the region. The question comes up regularly in discussions on the Middle East in Washington and in other parts of the United States: What should the US do differently in the Middle East? I’ve discussed this often with colleagues and friends in recent months, generating my list of 10 principles and policies that I believe should define American policies in the Middle East:

First, politically engage all legitimate actors. The American tendency to boycott or try and destroy major players in the region, like Hizbullah and Hamas, is childish and counter-productive. All those whom the US has held at arms’ length have tended to become stronger in the region, partly by garnering public support for defying and resisting the US.

Legitimacy should be the main criterion for engaging major players in the region, and legitimacy should be defined as emanating from two sources: validation from the people in the Middle East (especially through elections), and adherence to international norms and standards. Where a locally legitimate and powerful player comes up short on one of these (such as Hamas’ occasional terror bombs in Israel), the response should be to bring them into a process that leads to their stopping such deeds and achieving their legitimate goals peacefully, as the United States, the United Kingdom and others did with the Irish Republican Army in Northern Ireland so deftly.

Second, seek peace, security and prosperity for all according to a single standard. Foreign powers in the Middle East must give Arabs, Israelis, Iranians and Turks fully equal weight in terms of their rights and interests, rather than giving some countries priority or even exclusivity in areas like security, nuclear technology and others.

‘Bomb bomb Iran’? Not likely

Analysts speculate about the danger of a U.S. or Israeli military attack on Iran before the Bush administration departs office next January. But if you read the tea leaves carefully, the evidence is actually pointing in the opposite direction.

One sign that the diplomatic track is dominant for now is that the administration plans to announce late this month that it will open an interest section in Tehran, a senior official disclosed Thursday. This will be an important symbol, as it will be the first American diplomatic mission in Iran since the U.S. Embassy there was seized in 1979. The official described it as an effort to “reach out to the Iranian people.” The Iranian government has long had an interest section in Washington.

The administration’s wariness of military options is also clear from recent efforts to dissuade Israel from attacking Iranian nuclear facilities. Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, traveled to Israel in early June; he was followed in late June by Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Both officials explained to their Israeli counterparts why the United States believes an attack isn’t necessary now, because the Iranians can’t yet build a nuclear weapon, and why an attack would damage U.S. national interests.

Why Pakistan is unlikely to crack down on Islamic militants

The Bush administration and its allies are pressing Pakistan to end its support for Afghan insurgents linked to al Qaida, but Pakistani generals are unlikely to be swayed because they increasingly see their interests diverging from those of the United States, U.S. and foreign experts said.

The administration sought to ratchet up the pressure last month by sending top U.S. military and intelligence officials to Pakistan to confront officials there with intelligence linking Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence to the Taliban and other militant Islamist groups.

When that failed to produce the desired response, U.S. officials told news organizations about the visit, and then revealed that the intelligence included an intercepted communication between ISI officers and a pro-Taliban network that carried out a July 7 bombing of the Indian Embassy in Kabul, the Afghan capital.

Behind the Indian Embassy bombing

According to U.S. intelligence sources, Pakistan’s intelligence service provided support to pro-Taliban insurgents responsible for the July 7 bombing of the Indian Embassy in Kabul, which killed more than 40 people. Shocking though Pakistani involvement may seem to some, it is thoroughly predictable, given the worldview and interests of Pakistan’s Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). Unless we address what’s angering the ISI, we won’t be able to stabilize Afghanistan or capture al-Qaeda leaders inside its borders.

The war in Afghanistan is part of Pakistan’s larger struggle with India. Afghanistan has been a prize that Pakistan and India have fought over directly and indirectly for decades. To Pakistan, Afghanistan represents a strategic rear base that would (along with the Islamic nations of ex-Soviet Central Asia) offer a united front against Hindu-dominated India and block its rival’s access to energy-rich regions. Conversely, for India, a friendly Afghanistan would pressure Pakistan on its western border—just as India itself pressures Pakistan on its eastern border—thus dealing Pakistan a strategic defeat.

Pakistan concedes some ISI spies sympathetic to Taliban

Stung by U.S. allegations that elements in its premier spy agency colluded with Islamic militants in last month’s bombing of the Indian Embassy in Afghanistan, Pakistan acknowledged Friday that there “probably” were Taliban sympathizers within the ranks of its powerful intelligence establishment.

The Pakistani government, which immediately and indignantly denied the reports of its spies’ involvement in the bombing, reiterated that there was no evidence that members of its Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence had aided Taliban militants in the July 7 attack on the embassy in the Afghan capital, Kabul, which left about 60 people dead.

But by Friday evening, senior Pakistani officials were offering a more nuanced response to U.S. intelligence officials’ allegations of ISI complicity, which were first reported Thursday by the New York Times.

Afghan bombings kill 5 soldiers and interpreter

Roadside bombs killed five soldiers, at least four of them Americans, and an interpreter in eastern Afghanistan on Friday, allied and Pentagon officials said.

Four United States Army soldiers and their Afghan interpreter were killed in Kunar Province by what the Taliban claimed was a remote-controlled bomb, Reuters reported.

Anthrax scientist Bruce Ivins stood to benefit from a panic

Bruce E. Ivins, the government biodefense scientist linked to the deadly anthrax mailings of 2001, stood to gain financially from massive federal spending in the fear-filled aftermath of those killings, the Los Angeles Times has learned.

Ivins is listed as a co-inventor on two patents for a genetically engineered anthrax vaccine, federal records show. Separately, Ivins also is listed as a co-inventor on an application to patent an additive for various biodefense vaccines.

Ivins, 62, died Tuesday in an apparent suicide in Maryland. Federal authorities had informed his lawyer that criminal charges related to the mailings would be filed.

MI5 misled MPs over Briton’s secret rendition, court told

MI5 misled MPs about what it knew of the whereabouts of Binyam Mohamed, a British resident who says he was tortured before being secretly rendered to Guantánamo Bay, the high court was told yesterday.

Mohamed’s lawyers also accused MI5 of not looking “too hard” at what was being done to him. The claims were made as the government came under renewed pressure after a former senior American official told Time magazine that the US imprisoned and interrogated at least one terrorist suspect on Diego Garcia, the UK territory in the Indian Ocean, contradicting repeated assurances by David Miliband, the foreign secretary.

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