Redefining the war on terror

You recently wrote an op-ed in the Boston Globe that was highly critical of the Bush administration’s foreign policy. And you argued that regardless who is elected in November, moving away from the current president’s policies vis-à-vis terrorism will be difficult. Can you explain this criticism?

The real object of the exercise was less to offer a critique of the Bush administration than to suggest that the legacy of this administration, in my view at least, is really much greater than most people seem to appreciate. In my mind, so much of the debate has been focused on Iraq, narrowly and specifically. I believe that most observers have not fully appreciated the enormity of either the changes that the Bush administration has made or changes they’ve been able to prevent, in terms of both the content of our foreign policy and the apparatus that makes our foreign policy. Now there are some people who may argue that that legacy is a very positive one. If you are a neo-conservative, my guess is you think the Bush doctrine of preventative war is a good thing. If you’re a critic, you think it’s wildly reckless and stupid. But the real point is that there is this great legacy and, in my judgment, it is that larger legacy that we have to have as the focus of the tension in the presidential campaign, not simply [asking], ‘Were you for the surge or were you against the surge?’ That was really the object of the exercise.

500: Deadly U.S. milestone in Afghan war

Not long after Staff Sgt. Matthew D. Blaskowski was killed by a sniper’s bullet last Sept. 23 in eastern Afghanistan, his mother received an e-mail message with a link to a video on the Internet. A television reporter happened to have been filming a story at Sergeant Blaskowski’s small mountain outpost when it came under fire and the sergeant was shot.

Since then, Sergeant Blaskowski’s parents, Cheryl and Terry Blaskowski of Cheboygan, Mich., have watched their 27-year-old son die over and over. Ms. Blaskowski has taken breaks from work to watch it on her computer, sometimes several times a day, studying her son’s last movements.

“Anything to be closer,” she said. “To see what could have been different, how it — ” the bullet — “happened to find him.”

For months, the Blaskowskis felt alone in watching their son die in an isolated and nearly forgotten war. And then, in June, the war in Afghanistan roared back into public view when American deaths from hostilities exceeded those in Iraq. In the face of an expanding threat from the Taliban, the conflict is becoming deadlier and much more violent for American troops, who three weeks ago reached their highest deployment levels ever, at 36,000.

Bin Laden’s former driver is sentenced to 5 1/2 years

Salim Ahmed Hamdan, the convicted former driver for Osama bin Laden, was sentenced Thursday to 66 months in prison by the military panel that convicted him of a war crime Wednesday.

The military judge, Capt. Keith J. Allred of the Navy, had already said that he planned to give Mr. Hamdan credit for the 61 months he had been held, meaning that Mr. Hamdan could complete his criminal sentence in five months. After that his fate is unclear, because the Bush administration says that it can hold detainees here until the end of the war on terror.

The unexpectedly short sentence was far less than military prosecutors had sought. Through more than five years of legal proceedings against Mr. Hamdan, prosecutors had pursued a life sentence, and earlier in the day, faced with Mr. Hamdan’s acquittal on the most serious charge against him, prosecutors recommended a sentence of at least 30 years and said life may be appropriate.

Pakistan’s ruling coalition plans to impeach Musharraf

The feuding leaders of Pakistan’s ruling coalition said Thursday that they’ll impeach President Pervez Musharraf, a move that could trigger political upheaval in a crisis-torn nation that’s crucial to the Bush administration’s war on terrorism and to the conflict in neighboring Afghanistan.

Asif Ali Zardari, the leader of the Pakistan People’s Party and the spouse of assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, and Nawaz Sharif, the head of the Pakistan Muslim League-N, announced after three days of talks that an impeachment motion will be brought before parliament soon.

“The coalition leaders believe that it has become imperative to move for impeachment,” Zardari told a news conference. “We have the votes and the political will.”

Sharif the likely winner of Pakistan’s power play

The news of the potential impeachment of President Pervez Musharraf means further political instability for Pakistan – at least in the short term.

Though a deal has finally been done between the Pakistan People’s party (PPP), effectively led by the late Benazir Bhutto’s husband, Asif Zardari, and Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N), this indicates a very temporary coincidence of interest rather than a new solidarity. The beleaguered president’s decision not to go to China for the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games indicates he is taking the threat seriously.

No Pakistani president has ever been impeached and the procedure laid down in the 1973 constitution is likely to mean a classic drawn-out Pakistani politico-legal wrangle. Impeachment is a political process relying on a two-thirds majority of both houses of parliament deciding to remove the president from office on grounds of gross misconduct, physical or mental impairment or violation of the constitution.

Can Pakistan clean up its intelligence agency?

As Pakistan faces mounting pressure from its neighbors and the United States to clear pro-Taliban elements from its intelligence service, its weak government is struggling to respond in a convincing way.

Last week, American officials alleged that members of Pakistan’s powerful intelligence agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), had helped plan the bombing of the Indian consulate in Kabul, Afghanistan, last month. The claim echoed those lodged by both affected neighbors, India and Afghanistan.

On top of these accusations came reports that a top CIA official had confronted Pakistani leaders with evidence of the ISI’s support for militants that the Pakistani Army has been battling in the country’s restive northwest tribal areas.

Rice: US won’t tell Israel yes or no

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Thursday that the US would not “say yes or no” to an Israeli military strike on Iran. In an interview with Yahoo News and Politico, she also said that Iran’s answer to the incentives package offered by world powers “is not a really serious answer”, and warned that new economic sanctions were the next likely step if the country continued to refuse to freeze its nuclear program.

“We don’t say yes or no to Israeli military operations. “Israel is its own sovereign. We are in close contact with Israel and we talk about the diplomatic track we’re on… They’ve said diplomacy can work here, and I know they’re doing their part to talk with all countries with which they have diplomatic relations to explain why it is important to have a tough edge to our diplomacy,” Rice said.

“We were basically hiring terrorists”

Donning pale yellow shirts with Iraqi flags stitched on the chest, Alah al-Janabi and Mahmoud al-Samorai stood recently in the blistering sun at the crowded entrance to the bustling Dora Market. Al-Janabi, 30, proudly displayed a shiny black pistol on his hip; al-Samorai, 25, slung his Kalashnikov assault rifle over his shoulder as he patted down a shopper entering the market. Nine months ago, the two men joined the Sons of Iraq — the U.S.-funded, mostly Sunni organization of 103,000 armed guards that functions as part neighborhood security watch and part paramilitary force, and has been instrumental in tamping down violence in Iraq.

What these men did prior to this work — when sectarian militias and Iraqi security forces fought pitched battles through the Dora neighborhood, killing and wounding scores of people — is unclear. When asked, the two looked at each other and shrugged. “There were no jobs,” al-Samorai finally said. Maybe he and his colleague hid in their homes while sectarian fighting raged outside. But it is also possible that they fought alongside the Sunni militias, as did many Sons of Iraq members, according to American forces that patrol the area.

“When the SOIs stood up, we were basically hiring terrorists,” said Lt. Justin Chabalko, using the military acronym for the Sons of Iraq. Chabalko’s 2-4 Infantry Battalion of the 4th Brigade, 10th Mountain Division frequently patrols the Dora Market.

Iraqis fail to agree on provincial election law

Iraqi lawmakers adjourned for the summer on Wednesday without passing a crucial election law that many here hoped would solidify the recent, still fragile gains in security. The failure seemed likely to mean the postponement of provincial elections, originally set for October, until next year — polling seen as vital to reconciling the deep-seated tensions among Iraq’s political and sectarian groups.

The decision to go on vacation rather than settle the issue underscored how little progress had been made on the most important recent political question to confront Iraqi leaders, in contrast to the military strides in making Iraq safer than it had been in years. The law was seen as so important to prevent new outbreaks of violence that President Bush, eager to leave office claiming lasting progress in Iraq, had called several Iraqi lawmakers urging them to pass it.

The elections would be the first provincial balloting in almost four years. Negotiations broke down over the politically explosive issue of who controls the ethnically mixed and oil-rich northern city of Kirkuk. The last elections were boycotted by many Sunni Muslims, the minority in Iraq who held power for decades under Saddam Hussein and were the prime engine for the deadly insurgency during this war.

A glossary of Iraq euphemisms

Christopher Hitchens, critiquing his friend Martin Amis, once casually referred to “the moral offense of euphemism.” It’s a beautiful and cutting phrase. The inability to call something what it is represents an opening salvo in an assault on the truth. An early acquiescence to the moral offense of euphemism is nothing less than the first stage of surrender to corruption. Whether the rot is manifested or merely intellectual is a distinction that will erode with time.

Few governments have relied more on euphemism than the Bush administration. Euphemism is different from spin. Spin puts the best face forward on a given policy; euphemism uses its opposite to describe itself. Hence the Clear Skies Initiative to weaken the Clean Air Act; the Freedom Agenda to describe military domination of the Middle East; or Enhanced Interrogation to discuss torture.

The Iraq War has been characterized by euphemism since its inception. The name “Operation Iraqi Freedom” denotes a foreign military occupation of Iraq endlessly described as liberation — a term that, in practice, means the absolute opposite of any common-sense definition of “freedom.” For over five years, foreign troops have enjoyed the legal right to kill any Iraqi whom commanders deem fit to kill; to search any house commanders deem fit to search; and to detain any Iraqi whom commanders deem fit to detain. This is, clearly, a condition Americans would never accept for themselves. Debate can reasonably occur over whether the war is worth it or whether the rules of engagement are appropriate. But no one can responsibly call this condition “freedom” for Iraqis.

Gates’s next mission

Defense Secretary Bob Gates has been talking recently about how to rebuild America’s national security architecture so that it fits the 21st century. The next president should think about assigning Gates to fix what he rightly says is broken.

Gates is an anomaly in this lame-duck administration. He is still firing on all cylinders, working to repair the damage done at the Pentagon by his arrogant and aloof predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld. Gates has restored accountability in the military services by firing the secretaries of the Army and Air Force when they failed to respond forthrightly to problems. And he has been an early and persuasive internal administration critic of U.S. military action against Iran.

Amazingly for a defense secretary, Gates has been arguing against the “creeping militarization” of foreign policy. In a speech last month, he urged more funding for the State Department and other civilian agencies, saying they have been “chronically undermanned and underfunded for far too long.” In Washington, that’s almost unheard of — sticking your neck out for the other guy — and it’s one reason Gates’s reputation has been steadily rising.

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