Constructing a cyber superpower

DefenseNews reports: The site of an Army golf course named for US President Dwight Eisenhower, one long drive from the National Security Agency, is an active construction site, the future of US military cyber.

Where there were once bunkers, greens and tees is a large gray building due to become an NSA-run 600,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art server farm, a skeletal structure that will one day house US Cyber Command’s joint operations center, with plots reserved for individual Marine Corps and Navy cyber facilities.

The plans reflect the growth in ambition, manpower and resources for the five-year-old US Cyber Command. One measure of this rapid expansion is the command’s budget — $120 million at its inception in 2010 rising to $509 million for 2015.

Another measure is the $1.8 billion in construction at Fort Meade, much of it related to Cyber Command. Though Cyber Command’s service components and tactical teams are spread across the country, the headquarters for Cyber Command, the NSA and Defense Information Systems Agency make Fort Meade a growing hub for military cyber.

Earlier this year, Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced a new cyber strategy that acknowledges in the strongest terms that the Pentagon may wage offensive cyber warfare. The strategy emphasizes deterrence and sets up a reliance on the commercial technology sector, hinging on a push to strengthen ties between Silicon Valley and the Pentagon. [Continue reading…]

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Families of American hostages held captive in Syria felt U.S. officials had abandoned them

Lawrence Wright writes: Five American families, each harboring a grave secret, took their seats around a vast dining table at the home of David Bradley, a Washington, D.C., entrepreneur who owns the media company that publishes The Atlantic. It was May 13, 2014, and in the garden beyond the French doors, where magnolias and dogwoods were in bloom, a tent had been erected for an event that Bradley’s wife, Katherine, was hosting the following evening. The Bradleys’ gracious Georgian town house, on Embassy Row, is one of the city’s salons: reporters and politicians cross paths at off-the-record dinners with Supreme Court Justices, software billionaires, and heads of state.

The families weren’t accustomed to great wealth or influence. Indeed, most of them had never been to Washington before. Until recently, they had not known of one another, or of the unexpected benefactor who had brought them together. They were the parents of five Americans who had been kidnapped in Syria. The Federal Bureau of Investigation had warned the families not to talk publicly about their missing children — and the captors had threatened to kill their hostages if word leaked out — so each family had been going to work and to church month after month and reassuring colleagues and neighbors and relatives that nothing was wrong, only to come home and face new threats and ransom demands. After hiding the truth for so long, the families were heartened to learn that others were going through the same ordeal, and they hoped that by working together they might bring their children home. [Continue reading…]

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Rainbow White House

Quartz: The White House was quick to celebrate today’s historic decision by the US Supreme Court that legalized gay marriage in all 50 states of the nation.

Soon after the Supreme Court announced its decision, the White House Facebook page changed its profile photo to a picture of the iconic building’s walls in the colors of the rainbow, the universal symbol of the gay rights movement.

At 11am, the President addressed a crowd in the Rose Garden behind the White House—whose walls, alas, remain white despite the Facebook change—heralding the Supreme Court’s decision as “justice that arrives like a thunderbolt.”

“This ruling is a victory for America,” Obama said. “This decision affirms what millions of Americans already believe in their hearts: When all Americans are treated as equal, we are all more free.”

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Iran nuclear talks: Clearing the final hurdles

Reza Marashi writes: As officials from Iran and the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany (P5+1) negotiate around the clock in Vienna, the self-imposed June 30 deadline steadily approaches to seal a comprehensive nuclear deal. The Obama and Rouhani administrations should be commended: The amount of progress made in the past eighteen months is greater than the preceding decade combined. The two sides are now on the cusp of a historic deal that will be one of the greatest foreign policy achievements in recent memory.

Standing in the way of victory are two key issues, both of which are resolvable: Sanctions relief, and inspections and verification.

Finding the right formula for sanctions relief will likely be the most challenging issue in Vienna. If Washington offers sanctions relief that does not provide practical value for Tehran, it will correspondingly diminish the practical value for Iranian decision-makers to uphold their end of the bargain. Iran gave more than it received in the interim nuclear deal, and is looking to collect on that investment. The P5+1 believes it must maintain the architecture of sanctions to ensure Iranian compliance. Splitting the difference will require compromise on two fronts: Multilateral sanctions and unilateral sanctions. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. drops prohibition against talks with terrorists under revamped hostage policy

McClatchy reports: The execution of American captives by the Islamic State has driven the U.S. government to overhaul its handling of hostage cases, with President Barack Obama acknowledging Wednesday that longstanding policy was inadequate as “the terrorist threat is evolving.”

In somber remarks at the White House, Obama gave his most extensive public statement of contrition on the issue, acknowledging that his administration had let down the families of American hostages and pledging landmark reforms to make recovery efforts nimble enough to face increasingly sophisticated militant groups that use hostage-taking for profit and propaganda value.

The changes come after intense lobbying by the families and friends of American hostages, three of whom were beheaded in Syria by the Islamic State, including journalists Steven Sotloff, who grew up in Miami, and James Foley, the first of the hostages to be murdered. [Continue reading…]

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How many lives will be saved by flag control?

John Cassidy writes: After living in this country for almost thirty years, I confess I find it hard to write about gun massacres. They are just too familiar, and too depressing. An alienated post-adolescent, almost always white, gets a gun, or guns, and exorcises his demons by killing as many people as he can. Then follows an equally predictable media outpouring, with round-the-clock coverage on cable, lengthy accounts in the serious papers, harrowing profiles of the victims, and why-oh-why editorials aplenty. Flags are flown at half-mast. Politicians, especially those who represent the area in which the massacre occurs, say that something needs to be done about gun control.

Nothing much happens, of course, and, after a while, we move onto the next incident. Back in the nineteen-eighties and -nineties, for some reason, fast-food restaurants and post offices were the sites of some of the deadliest incidents. Then came a series of school massacres, including at Columbine, where Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed twelve high-school students and a teacher, and at Virginia Tech, where Seung-Hui Cho killed thirty-two people before taking his own life. In Newtown, Connecticut, in December, 2012, a twenty-year-old misfit named Adam Lanza murdered twenty elementary schoolchildren, and six of their teachers, before taking his own life, too. Then there were the 2012 shootings in Aurora, Colorado: twelve people gunned down at a midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises.”

Which leads us to Charleston, and the latest atrocity. In this case, of course, we have the complicating and insidious factor of racism to consider. The suspected shooter, Dylann Roof, didn’t choose the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church at random. The evidence suggests that his alienation took the form of embracing white-supremacy claptrap, and that he wanted to kill black people specifically. When Roof reached Emanuel A.M.E., which is one of the oldest and best-known black churches in the country, on Wednesday evening, the members of a prayer group he encountered were so nice to him that he hesitated to go through with his “mission,” he has reportedly told police. Sadly, he managed to overcome his humane impulses.

President Obama, Hillary Clinton, and many others, including my colleagues David Remnick and Jelani Cobb, have pointed out how this tragedy reminds us that, in Obama’s words, “We don’t have to look far to see that racism and bigotry, hate and intolerance, are still all too alive in our world.” Did we really need reminding, though? The United States was partly built on racial cleansing and slavery: racism, and racist violence, have long been a part of its social fabric, as have efforts to root out these evils and eradicate them.

In the wake of last week’s events, attempts to confront racial bigotry need to be renewed and intensified, with particular attention being paid to right-wing groups that propagate hatred on the Internet and elsewhere. But the historic battle against racism and racial subordination shouldn’t distract from the other pressing policy issue at hand. On the death certificates of eighty-seven-year-old Susie Jackson, seventy-year-old Ethel Lance, and the rest of the victims, the cause of death won’t be listed as racism: it will be gunshot wounds. Roof’s despicable views didn’t kill anybody: the weapon he used was a .45 mm Glock handgun, which, according to the police, he bought at a local gun store. [Continue reading…]

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France denounces revelations of spying by NSA

The New York Times reports: The French government on Wednesday reacted angrily to revelations about extensive eavesdropping by the United States government on the private conversations of senior French leaders, including three presidents and dozens of senior government figures.

President François Hollande called an emergency meeting of the Defense Council on Wednesday morning to discuss the revelations published by the French news website Mediapart and the left-leaning newspaper Libération about spying by the National Security Agency.

He spoke with President Obama on Wednesday afternoon and made clear “the principles that must govern relations between allies on intelligence matters,” the Élysée Palace said in a statement, adding that senior French intelligence officials would soon travel to the United States for discussions. [Continue reading…]

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Obama administration restates its commitment to shelter war criminals

UPI reports: The Obama administration opposes bringing a United Nations report on the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip to the Security Council for a vote, the State Department said.

State Department spokesman John Kirby said Tuesday the United States continues to review the U.N. report that found evidence of war crimes on the part of both the Israeli and Hamas-led Palestinian forces. Kirby said the United States calls into question the U.N. Human Rights Council’s process of appointing the investigative committee because of a “very clear bias against Israel.”

“We challenge the very mechanism which created it. And so we’re not going to have a readout of this. We’re not going to have a rebuttal to it. We’re certainly going to read it, as we read all U.N. reports,” Kirby said. “But we challenge the very foundation upon which this report was written, and we don’t believe that there’s a call or a need for any further Security Council work on this.”

The 200-page report found, among other things, 1,462 Palestinian civilians were killed by Israeli fire, noting over one-third were children. It added a large number of families lost three or more members in airstrikes against residences. Six Israeli civilians died during the conflict. [Continue reading…]

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Former U.S. military personnel urge drone pilots to walk away from controls

The Guardian reports: Forty-five former US military personnel, including a retired army colonel, have issued a joint appeal to the pilots of aerial drones operating in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria and elsewhere, calling on them to refuse to carry out the deadly missions.

In a joint letter, the retired and former military members call on air force pilots based at Creech air force base in Nevada and Beale air force base in California to refuse to carry out their duties. They say the missions, which have become an increasingly dominant feature of US military strategy in recent years, “profoundly violate domestic and international laws”.

“At least 6,000 lives have been unjustly taken by US drone attacks in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, the Philippines, Libya and Syria. These attacks are also undermining principles of international law and human rights,” the authors write. [Continue reading…]

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Arming Iraq’s Sunni militias to fight ISIS might only add fuel to the fire

Benjamin Bahney, Patrick B. Johnston, and Patrick Ryan write: In the weeks since the Islamic State captured the Iraqi city of Ramadi, a loud and diverse chorus of voices, including the New York Times editorial board, has called for the Iraqi government and the United States to arm Sunni militias to fight the extremist group’s advance. The administration increased the number of U.S. trainers last week, adding an additional 450 as early as this summer to the 3,100 American troops already in Iraq. Regardless, current political and military dynamics on the ground may merit giving arms to Sunni fighters if the Islamic State can’t be pushed back soon.

But the decision to hand weapons over to the Sunni militias also poses risks. Before directly arming more ethnic- or sectarian-aligned militias, both U.S. policymakers and the public should have a deeper understanding of our potential allies’ past and their possible future interests. And what the unintended consequences of arming these Sunni militias might be.

Newly declassified documents from the Islamic State’s predecessor, captured during a U.S.-Iraqi raid in 2010 and published by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, suggest that some of Iraq’s most prominent Sunni politicians collaborated with the Islamic State’s predecessor in 2009, when the group faced its darkest hour. Some of these senior figures may have worked with the Islamic State to benefit themselves, some to benefit the Sunnis, and some to weaken the hand of the Kurds in Iraq’s ethnically mixed areas in the country’s north. While the threat of the Islamic State has moved these dynamics to the back burner today, they will likely reemerge if and when the security environment improves. And now some of these same politicians are lobbying the United States to send money and weapons to the militias from their territories.

While most of the U.S. public hadn’t heard of the Islamic State before its breakout last summer, the group declared an “Islamic State of Iraq” back in 2006 and maintained a presence in the northern city of Mosul through the U.S. military’s withdrawal in 2011. Conventional wisdom says that the Islamic State’s place in Iraq’s sectarian political strife rose out of the disarray that followed the U.S. withdrawal. It was at that moment that Iraq’s Sunnis were left to fend for themselves against the domineering, Shiite-oriented central government. The Islamic State’s resurgence in Iraq in 2013 and 2014 came at a time when the country’s Sunni minority was ripe to accept the group as a bulwark against political marginalization and crackdowns at the hands of then-Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government.

In this telling, which has dominated U.S. media and policy circles, Maliki and his Shiite allies in the Iraqi government bear the brunt of the blame for inciting the renewed sectarian tensions that enabled the Islamic State to reemerge and unleash the brutal campaign that has arrested the world’s attention.

The new documents published by the CTC suggest the need to approach this conventional wisdom with caution. They have important implications for understanding Iraq’s sectarian schism and for informing the ongoing policy debate on how to stabilize the war-torn country.

A key document sent to Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, who preceded Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as the group’s leader, suggests that the Islamic State established cooperative relationships with key Sunni politicians by 2009 that gave it access to extortion opportunities, kickbacks, and other revenue-generating activities in and around Mosul. Assuming the document is authentic — for the moment, there is no evidence to suggest it is not — these revelations should give pause to those recommending that the Iraqis train and equip local Sunni forces under the auspices of the provincial governments in Nineveh and Anbar. Reporting from Mosul indicates that similar ties between Sunni government officials and the Islamic State likely continued after U.S. troops withdrew from Iraq, and Maliki’s government began to intensify its repression of Sunni political leaders.

It is impossible to know the specific motivations of these officials — Sunni politicians may simply have been buying themselves protection in an environment where no other party was able or willing to provide it. But what is clear is this: For the Islamic State, these relationships enabled the group to access tens of millions of dollars to finance its operations in 2009 and after, some of which may have been diverted from Western reconstruction aid through political favors and phony contracts. The Islamic State likely used these funds to expand its extortion and intimidation networks in Mosul even prior to the 2011 U.S. withdrawal. This would go far in explaining how it had become so rich, even before it seized over $400 million from Mosul’s bank vaults last June. [Continue reading…]

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Attack gave Chinese hackers privileged access to U.S. systems

The New York Times reports: For more than five years, American intelligence agencies followed several groups of Chinese hackers who were systematically draining information from defense contractors, energy firms and electronics makers, their targets shifting to fit Beijing’s latest economic priorities.

But last summer, officials lost the trail as some of the hackers changed focus again, burrowing deep into United States government computer systems that contain vast troves of personnel data, according to American officials briefed on a federal investigation into the attack and private security experts.

Undetected for nearly a year, the Chinese intruders executed a sophisticated attack that gave them “administrator privileges” into the computer networks at the Office of Personnel Management, mimicking the credentials of people who run the agency’s systems, two senior administration officials said. The hackers began siphoning out a rush of data after constructing what amounted to an electronic pipeline that led back to China, investigators told Congress last week in classified briefings.

Much of the personnel data had been stored in the lightly protected systems of the Department of the Interior, because it had cheap, available space for digital data storage. The hackers’ ultimate target: the one million or so federal employees and contractors who have filled out a form known as SF-86, which is stored in a different computer bank and details personal, financial and medical histories for anyone seeking a security clearance.

“This was classic espionage, just on a scale we’ve never seen before from a traditional adversary,” one senior administration official said. “And it’s not a satisfactory answer to say, ‘We found it and stopped it,’ when we should have seen it coming years ago.” [Continue reading…]

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Scott Ritter explains why Iran shouldn’t accept ‘no notice’ inspections of its nuclear sites

Scott Ritter writes: Nuclear negotiations between Iran and what’s known as the P-5 + 1 group of nations (the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia, China and Germany) are scheduled to conclude on 30 June. A ‘framework agreement’ was set out in April, but still at issue is what kind of access inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency will have. Iran has agreed to inspections of all the sites it has declared are being used to develop its nuclear power programme. The US insists that any agreement must also address what it calls ‘possible military dimensions’ – that is, allegations that Iran has pursued an undeclared nuclear weapons capability – and is demanding the right to conduct ‘no notice’ inspections of nuclear sites, and to interview Iranian nuclear scientists. ‘It’s critical for us to know going forward,’ the US secretary of state, John Kerry, said in June, that ‘those activities have been stopped, and that we can account for that in a legitimate way.’ France has said that any agreement that doesn’t include inspections of military sites would be ‘useless’. Iran has been adamant that it won’t allow them and that its nuclear scientists are off-limits. These positions seem irreconcilable and unless something changes a nuclear accord is unlikely.

My first experience as a weapons inspector was in implementing the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty between the US and the former Soviet Union, and I’m a firm believer that on-site inspections should be part of any arms control agreement. As a United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq, I worked closely with the IAEA to investigate Iraq’s past nuclear weapons programme, and I have confidence in the IAEA’s ability to implement the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The provisions of the NPT are at the heart of the framework agreement with Iran, and the measures contained in it – which include sophisticated remote monitoring, and environmental sampling at undeclared facilities – should be more than adequate to establish whether or not it has diverted any nuclear material to a weapons programme. The framework agreement also calls for a range of verification measures beyond those required by the NPT. These cover centrifuge production and aspects of the uranium fuel cycle such as mining and processing, and are needed to verify that Iran isn’t engaged in covert uranium enrichment using a secret cache of centrifuges and unaccounted-for stocks of uranium ore. No notice inspections to investigate ‘possible military dimensions’, however, go far beyond anything required by the NPT. The question is whether such an intrusive measure is warranted or whether, as Iran argues, the inspections would infringe its legitimate security interests.

The facts appear to support Iran’s position. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. nuclear weapons could soon return to Europe

Der Spiegel reports: It’s been more than three decades since the vast peace protests took over Bonn’s Hofgarten meadow in the early 1980s. Back then, about half a million protesters pushed their way into the city center, a kilometer-long mass of people moving through the streets. It was the biggest rally in the history of the German Federal Republic.

Today, the situation isn’t quite that fraught, but it seems feasible that a similar scene may soon play out in front of the Chancellery in Berlin. For some time now, the Americans have once again been thinking about upgrading Europe’s nuclear arsenal, and in the past week, a rhetorical arms race has begun that is reminiscent of the coldest periods of the Cold War.

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier warned of an “accelerating spiral of escalating words and then of actions.” He described them as “the old reflexes of the Cold War.” [Continue reading…]

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New U.S. standards will improve fuel efficiency for trucks and cut pollution

Union of Concerned Scientists reports: Unlike passenger cars and other light-duty vehicles, the fuel economy of heavy-duty vehicles has been largely unregulated for decades. Tractor trailers, delivery vans, and other heavy-duty trucks have kept roughly the same fuel economy since the 1970s — just 6 miles per gallon. Years of non-regulation and slow investment now mean that heavy-duty vehicles consume 25 percent of all fuel, despite only accounting for 7 percent of vehicles on the road.

First-ever standards were finally passed in 2011, putting in place a series of fuel economy targets for different types of vehicles — but more can be done.

Using existing, affordable technology, new trucks could be up to 40 percent more efficient compared to today, reducing annual fuel consumption by billions of gallons and preventing millions of metric tons of global warming emissions. For truckers, fleet operators, and America’s largest companies — including Walmart, Coke, Pepsi, UPS, and FedEx—a strong federal standard also means good business: annual shipping costs could fall by at least $135 per American household, and likely much more. [Continue reading…]

The Guardian reports: The Obama administration is issuing new rules intended to improve fuel efficiency for medium and heavy-duty trucks and cut pollution blamed for global warming.

The proposed standards are expected to lower carbon dioxide emissions by about 1bn metric tons, cut fuel costs by about $170bn and reduce oil consumption by up to 1.8bn barrels over the lifetime of vehicles sold under the rule.

The long-expected rules were announced on Friday, one day after Pope Francis issued a teaching document calling for the world to take action to slow climate change. [Continue reading…]

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The West’s betrayal of Egypt will reap a bitter harvest

Amr Darrag writes: When the former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi was sentenced to 20 years in April, in a trial internationally condemned as unconstitutional, unfair and deeply politicised, many saw it as a test of the international community’s resolve to stand up to the series of show trials currently under way in Egypt. For those who back democracy and human rights, the wall of silence from the international community was as predictable as it was tragic. At that time, I predicted that such silence would be interpreted by the Sisi regime as a green light to a death sentence for Morsi.

Where once politicians from Downing Street to the White House lauded the ideals and actions of the 2011 revolutionaries, now they were rendered mute as Egypt’s first democratically elected president was effectively sentenced to a life behind bars. Many also saw the sentence as a nail in the coffin for the ideals and dreams of the Arab Spring.

This week, the gradual purge of this first democratic government in Egypt took a darker turn. The Sisi regime, buoyed by the clear apathy of its international partners, upheld a death sentence handed down in May to Morsi and more than 100 people. The trial was nothing but a farce. Amnesty International called it a grossly unfair charade, which demonstrated a “complete disregard for human rights”. [Continue reading…]

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Obama’s humble approach to drone warfare

Following the death of Nasser al-Wuhayshi, the leader of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula who was killed by a drone strike in Yemen a few days ago, a spokesman for the group made a surprise announcement:

Although there remain several candidates for his replacement, our first choice is a senior fellow from the Brookings Institution who for obvious reasons will henceforth only be referred to by his nom de guerre, al-Moderation.

Much as al-Wuhayshi’s loss is regrettable, it opens up new opportunities for fresh blood, allowing younger, more liberally-minded members of AQAP to now explore non-violent avenues to achieve our objectives.

Hard to imagine that drone strikes might have this effect? No doubt, but what’s equally lacking in credibility is the kind of claim that predictably followed the latest strike.

With a triumphalist tone, the spokesman for the National Security Council, Ned Price, said al-Wuhayshi’s death was a “major blow” to the militant group. He said it “removes from the battlefield an experienced terrorist leader and brings us closer to degrading and ultimately defeating these groups.”

Seriously?

In an effort to perpetuate the grandiose spirit with which Obama began his drone warfare campaign, Price said: “The president has been clear that terrorists who threaten the United States will not find safe haven in any corner of the globe.”

Yet in Yemen, that corner of the globe where Obama’s drone campaign has largely been focused, the assessment of the former U.S. ambassador, Stephen Seche, is that: “If you’re looking for logic here, you’re not going to find much.”

Why? Because as the U.S. launches occasional drone strikes against AQAP, it is also offering logistical support to Saudi Arabia in its attacks against the group’s principal opponents, the Houthi rebels.

With the promotion of Qasim al-Raymi, the group apparently had no trouble in choosing a new leader.

Orlando Crowcroft writes:

“I think if you were going to guess who would replace al-Wuhayshi, this would [be] the guy. It makes a lot of sense,” said Adam Baron, a visiting fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

Although the loss of four key figures in as many months is a blow for AQAP, the group is having a great deal of success in Yemen in the wake of Saudi Arabia’s war against the Houthi rebels. That conflict has largely affected the north and west of the country, allowing al-Qaeda to seize huge swathes of the east, its traditional Sunni tribal heartland.

“It is a great time for AQAP […] when you look at the situation on the ground. As long as the war continues, as long as Yemen continues inching further and further into the abyss of being a failed state, AQAP and other groups will continue to capitalise,” said Baron.

“Celebrating the death of al-Wuhayshi as if it means the death of AQAP is a very flawed way to look at this.”

If the Al Qaeda central leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, was ever to come into the sights of an American drone operator, the wisest response would be to hold fire, and yet the simplistic assumption behind President Obama’s strategy of eliminating so-called high value targets, is that terrorist groups suffer potentially crippling blows whenever their leaders are eliminated — an assumption that is nothing more than an exercise in wishful thinking.

When it comes to the leadership of terrorist organizations, more often than not, it tends to be a case of better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.

As much as politicians and pundits would prefer terrorists to be seen as extraterrestrial beings, they do in reality exhibit many traits common to their fellow men, one of which is that aging quite often has the effect of curtailing aggression. And even if aging doesn’t lead to moderation, it almost always diminishes the capacities of adaptation.

Even so, over the last decade and a half, a constant refrain from America’s military leaders has been that they struggle against highly adaptable foes. No one seems to recognize that this adaptability is not simply a challenge; it is also an effect of U.S. counter-terrorism strategy.

If Obama’s own mysterious strategy extends further than crossing dates off the calendar as he looks forward to leaving office, it is perhaps one of conflict maintenance — to keep the war on terrorism on a slow simmer. Not too hot, nor too cool, but just hot enough to ensure that national security has its required prominence during the 2016 presidential campaign and that whoever enters the White House in January, 2017, will be able to continue with business as usual in America’s ongoing wars.

If 9/11 was the product of a failure of imagination, so is the war on terrorism.

And if for Obama, drone warfare once looked like a magic bullet whose power derived from its precision, it now represents the impotence of a strategy leading nowhere.

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Michael Oren’s wildly unconvincing, deeply trivial attack on Obama

Peter Beinart writes: Former Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren has published a book that he summarized in a Wall Street Journal op-ed this week entitled, “How Obama Abandoned Israel.”

Strong words. “Abandon” means “cease to support” or “give up completely.” So in what way has Obama abandoned Israel? By eliminating or even reducing military aid? No. Oren acknowledges that Obama “significantly strengthened security cooperation with the Jewish state.” By withdrawing diplomatic support? No. The Obama administration has so far not only vetoed every United Nations resolution critical of Israel, it has expended enormous energy pressuring other countries to oppose them.

In 2011, when Mahmoud Abbas was seeking UN approval for a Palestinian state, a source close to the White House told me that he personally lobbied 150 foreign diplomats against the Palestinian bid. “Sometimes,” he mused, “I feel like I work for the Israeli government.”

So how has Obama “abandoned” Israel? According to Oren, by violating “the two core principles of Israel’s alliance with America.” What are they? “The first principle was ‘no daylight.’ The U.S. and Israel always could disagree but never openly.”

Really? Like when Ronald Reagan called Israel’s attack on Iraq’s Osirak nuclear facility a “tragedy,” instructed American diplomats to condemn it at the UN and withheld the sale of U.S. warplanes in retaliation? Or when George H.W. Bush not only denounced Israeli settlement building but withheld loan guarantees in an effort to force Israel to comply? Or when, in December 2000, Bill Clinton laid out parameters for a final peace agreement that, on Jerusalem, refugees and the size of a Palestinian state, went further than Ehud Barak felt comfortable? Or when the George W. Bush administration abstained rather than veto a 2004 resolution condemning Israel for demolishing Palestinian homes and a 2009 resolution calling on Israel to end its war in Gaza?

If Obama has “abandoned” Israel by publicly disagreeing with its government, then so have all his predecessors. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. could lift sanctions before Iran accounting

The New York Times reports: Secretary of State John Kerry signaled for the first time on Tuesday that the United States was prepared to ease economic sanctions on Iran without fully resolving evidence suggesting that Iran’s scientists have been involved in secret work on nuclear weapons.

In his first State Department news conference since breaking his leg last month in a bicycling accident, Mr. Kerry suggested major sanctions might be lifted long before international inspectors get definitive answers to their longstanding questions about Iranian experiments and nuclear design work that appeared aimed at developing a bomb. The sanctions block oil sales and financial transfers.

“We’re not fixated on Iran specifically accounting for what they did at one point in time or another,” said Mr. Kerry, who appeared by video from Boston. Instead, he said: “It’s critical to us to know that going forward, those activities have been stopped, and that we can account for that in a legitimate way. That clearly is one of the requirements in our judgment for what has to be achieved in order to have a legitimate agreement.” [Continue reading…]

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