Category Archives: foreign policy

NEWS, ANALYSIS, OPINION & EDITOR’S COMMENT: Pakistan and the failure of American interests

Pakistan’s Plan B deficiency

What is happening today in Pakistan takes me back to the time when the Iranian revolution was brewing, when I was the desk officer for Iran on the National Security Council.

The ultimate reason for the U.S. policy failure then was the fact that the U.S. had placed enormous trust and responsibility in the shah of Iran.

He — and not the country or people of Iran — was seen as the linchpin of U.S. strategy in the Persian Gulf. Everything relied on him. There was no Plan B.

As a consequence, the endlessly mulled-over U.S. response to Iranian instability was that we had no choice except to support the shah. [complete article]

Editor’s Comment — Even though it’s only a few days ago that General Musharraf was described by the Bush administration as an “indispensable” ally in the war on terrorism, it is probably inaccurate to say that the administration has no Plan B. Plan B is Benazir Bhutto. That said, Gary Sick’s point still applies: the U.S. government’s strategy in Pakistan hinges on its reliance on a handful of personal relationships. This is hardly surprising during a presidency in which a handshake has so often served as a substitute for a genuine meeting of minds and the cultivation of mutual understanding.

At the same time, the development of foreign policy — whether in this administration or any other — is invariably hamstrung by an idea that is regarded as axiomatic: that the U.S. government in its conduct of foreign affairs must focus on one thing and one thing alone: the defense and advance of American interests.

This gives rise to a myopic and self-referential attention. The Bush administration has focused on General Musharraf in as much as he is perceived as being helpful to the advance of American interests. In the process his American backers have lost sight of the extent to which their friend operates to the detriment of Pakistan’s interests. Yet if an underlying assumption — understood but rarely expressed — is that America’s interests can only be pursued at the expense of others, perhaps it’s time to entertain an idea that no American politician would ever dare utter: America’s self interest is not worth defending.

It is time for a new foreign policy paradigm. As Barak Obama puts it, “the security of the American people is inextricably linked to the security of all people.” And as James Traub in a New York Times Magazine feature on Obama puts it even more succinctly, “What’s good for others is good for us.”

Pakistanis’ anger at Musharraf extends to U.S.

It takes almost no effort to find people who are angry with Pervez Musharraf on the streets of this bustling city. The Pakistani leader’s name comes up quickly in casual conversation, yoked with unprintable adjectives and harsh denunciations of the emergency rule he has imposed.

But dig just a little deeper and another target of resentment surfaces: Musharraf’s richest, staunchest and most powerful patron, the United States.

“We blame the U.S. directly for keeping us under the rule of the military,” said Arfan Ghani, a 54-year-old professor of architecture. Musharraf, who heads Pakistan’s army, is just “another dictator,” Ghani told an American reporter, “serving the interests of your country.”

Musharraf’s already abysmal popularity has reached a new low after he declared a state of emergency Nov. 3. But sinking alongside it is the public image of the United States, which many Pakistanis see as the primary force propping up an autocratic ruler. [complete article]

Pakistan: inside the storm

The United States and the European Union have made some noises about the restoration of the constitution and the holding of free elections at the earliest opportunity. This is not enough: it must be emphasised that any call to hold elections without the restoration of the judges who have been ousted plays directly into General Musharraf’s hands. Twelve out of sixteen supreme court judges, including the chief justice have been ousted pursuant to the provisional constitutional order (PCO) issued on 3 November by General Musharraf in his capacity as the chief of the army staff. This order has no constitutional validity and is simply an assertion of military power. Only judges with known affiliation to the military junta have lined up to take a fresh oath of office under the PCO, in violation of their original oath to defend the constitution. Independent-minded judges have not been offered the fresh oath and if offered would not have taken it.

As a consequence, apart from the decimation of the supreme court, nearly 50% of the judges of the provincial high courts have been stripped of their office. This is a virtual demolition of the judiciary in Pakistan. The US and the EU are not talking about it. Elections without the restoration of the sacked judges will amount to throwing a cloak of ratification over the general’s assault. A true demand from outside, one consistent with the democratic ideals these states profess, would be “no elections without the restoration of the judiciary”. It is very clear that there can be no free elections under General Musharraf’s watch with a handpicked docile judiciary looking the other way. [complete article]

Pakistan strife threatens anti-insurgent plan

The political turmoil in Pakistan is threatening to undermine a new long-term counterinsurgency plan by the U.S. military aimed at strengthening Pakistani forces fighting Islamic extremists in the country’s tribal areas, according to senior military officials. The officials said the initiative involves expanding the presence of U.S. Special Forces and other troops to train and advise the Pakistanis, who have been largely ineffective in battling the hard-line militants.

Even as the Bush administration reviews aid to Pakistan in light of Gen. Pervez Musharraf’s declaration of emergency rule last weekend, U.S. military officials are moving forward with the plan — ordering equipment, surveying training facilities outside Islamabad, and preparing to send in dozens of additional military trainers, who are expected to begin arriving early next year.

“This train has already left the station,” said a senior military official familiar with the effort. “We on the ground are moving ahead under the ambassador’s guidance.” [complete article]

See also, Benazir Bhutto is permitted to leave home (NYT).


EDITORIAL: Nuclear risks and nuclear realities

Nuclear risks and nuclear realities

General Musharraf today tossed a bone to his lapdogs in Washington — a promise of elections — and the White House wagged its tail and quickly applauded what it sees as “a good thing” — even while Pakistan’s dictator continued to bludgeon his political opponents. Three Pakistani politicians and a union leader were charged with treason today for making anti-government speeches and now face possible death sentences and in an attempt to thwart a protest rally, 500 members of Benazir Bhutto’s opposition party were arrested.

Having been a steady recipient of US aid — his military receives $100 million monthly in direct cash transfers which Musharraf can use however he pleases — the general is unlikely to be moved by threats that he might not be rewarded with any more F-16s.

Musharraf’s power and the White House’s impotence was further reinforced by the image of Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte appearing on Capitol Hill in defense of Bush’s “indispensable” ally. “No country has done more in inflicting damage on the Taliban,” Negroponte said, yet in a little noticed development, it seems possible that even while Musharraf was instituting martial law in Pakistan and releasing Taliban prisoners, in Afghanistan Pakistan’s intelligence services might have had a role in the assassination of one of the Taliban’s most serious opponents. “The killing of Sayed Mustafa Kazimi, the 45-year-old Hazara Shi’ite leader from Parwan province of Afghanistan, to the northwest of Kabul, bears all the hallmark of a political assassination,” writes M K Bhadrakumar in Asia Times. He continues:

Evidently, those who plotted his assassination had a grand design. The Taliban lack the political sophistication to work with such foresight and planning. Of course, the Taliban have an old feud with the Hazara Shi’ites dating to the murder of Mazari in March 1995, when the Taliban, already approaching Kabul, entrapped him after inviting him for peace talks. He was tortured and murdered before his body was thrown out of a helicopter somewhere near Ghazni.

Observers of the Afghan scene may have forgotten the incident, but what comes readily to mind is that the suspicion still lingers that Mazari’s murder was the handiwork of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

The finger of suspicion must once again turn to the ISI over Kazimi’s killing, which raises the issue of what would be gained by removing him from the political landscape.

First, he comes from a region of Afghanistan which is very sensitive. Those who know the Afghan chessboard would acknowledge the supreme importance of controlling the provinces of Baghlan and Parwan. They form the gateway to the northern Amu Darya region, the Panjshir Valley to the east and the central Hazarajat region respectively.

Control of the mountain passes to the west of Baghlan was bitterly contested between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance. The hub was extremely important strategically. In political terms, it is possible to say that without exercising control of the hub, there can be no effective unity between the non-Pashtun ethnic groups of Tajiks and Hazaras (and even the Uzbekis).

Baghlan connects the predominantly Tajik areas with the Hazarajat region and is also on the main communication line between Kabul and Mazar-i-Sharif in the Amu Darya region. Baghlan itself is a mosaic where Pushtuns, Tajiks and Hazaras have traditionally vied for influence and control.

Kazimi hailed from Parwan and did much of his political work in his early years in Baghlan province, where he was quite popular. There is no better way of creating volatility, if not mayhem, in that sensitive region than through a political assassination. The ISI has used targeted political assassinations with devastating effect in Afghanistan many a time at critical junctures on the battlefield.

As everyone knows, Washington can only focus its attention on one thing at a time and with all eyes now on Pakistan, opportunities for reckless maneuvers present themselves elsewhere. Yet there are compelling reasons why Pakistan now looks like the most dangerous country in the world. Washington’s confidence in the security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is largely invested in its confidence in one man: Lt. Gen. Khalid Kidwai, head of the special branch of the military known as the Strategic Plans Division in charge of operations and security. Kidwai represents what one former State Department official describes a the only “safe box within Pakistan’s army.” Irrespective of Kidwai’s close ties to U.S. military officials, the inherent vulnerability of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons has long been understood.

In October 2001, nuclear weapons expert, David Albright wrote:

Several observers have suggested that if Pakistan suffers a coup by forces hostile to the United States, the US military should be ready to provide security over the nuclear weapons (or even to take the weapons out of Pakistan entirely) without the permission of the Pakistani authorities.13 Others have raised the possibility of asking President Musharraf to allow the United States or China to take possession of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons during a coup.

Although such responses appear possible in theory, their implementation could be extremely difficult and dangerous. A U.S. military action to seize or cripple Pakistan’s strategic nuclear assets may encourage India to take similar action, in essence to finish the job. Even if India does nothing, a new Pakistani government may launch any remaining nuclear weapons at U.S. forces or against India.

In addition, removing the nuclear weapons would not be enough. The new government would inherit the facilities to make nuclear weapons. Extensive bombing would thus be required at several nuclear sites, including the relatively large Khushab reactor and New Labs reprocessing plant. These types of attacks risk the release of a large amount of radiation if they are to ensure that the facility is not relatively quickly restored to operation.

No wonder Washington is now in a state of paralysis. The administration’s fears will only be reinforced as critics such as Senator Biden compares Pakistan to Iran when in 1979 it shook off its own US-backed dictator.

As for present-day Iran, President Ahmadinejad’s announcement that Iran has 3,000 working uranium-enriching centrifuges is leading to renewed fears that Israel might respond by bombing the country’s nuclear facilities. In a familiar pattern, this warning was reported in The Times and then echoed around the Israeli press. Israel’s Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, who is also a former defense minister and IDF chief of General Staff, told the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish organizations in New York, “Iran’s nuclear program is proceeding like an express train. The diplomatic efforts to thwart Iran are like a slow train. If we cannot derail the Iranian train from the tracks, we are on the verge of a nuclear era that will totally alter the regional reality.” Yet the longer the crisis in Pakistan continues, the more widely it will be recognized that, as Ariel Sharon might have put, the nuclear realities on the ground are more significant than those that lie beyond the horizon.

Indeed, as one observer astutely notes:

An Iranian-instigated chemical or biological attack against Israel or the United States has been within the capability of the Iranian regime for at least a decade, and yet they have not launched one. Nor have the Iranians committed 9/11-style terrorist spectaculars against the U.S. homeland despite the relative ease and low cost of such attacks.

All this suggests that Iran understands, and respects, the limits of its aggression. Despite the end times rhetoric issuing forth from its demagogic president, the country has assiduously avoided acts that would invite a massive military retaliation. This is not indicative of a nation longing for a nuclear conflagration.

If Washington is to develop a new way of approaching Iran, the substance of one such means of engagement was outlined in Congress yesterday by Flynt Leverett. Testifying to the House Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs, Leverett said:

…when one asks Iranian diplomats, academics and officials what is required from the United States to condition a fundamental improvement in U.S.-Iranian relations, these Iranian interlocutors routinely talk about American acceptance of the Islamic Republic and recognition of a legitimate Iranian role in the region—and it is precisely American acceptance of the Islamic Republic and recognition of legitimate Iranian interests that is the core of what I describe as a “security guarantee”.

If in the eyes of President Bush, Pakistan’s military dictator can appear “indispensable,” is Iran’s desire for recognition of its own legitimacy really such a tall order? For this or any future administration to undergo such a shift in its alignments it needs to put aside the prism through which only strategic threats and assets can be seen and recognize that it is dealing with people and with nations. America’s interests can ultimately only be served by respecting the interests of others.


NEWS, OPINION & EDITOR’S COMMENT: An American awakening?

Picking up after failed war on terror

Given that Bush’s version of global war has proved such a costly flop, what ought to replace it? Answering that question requires a new set of principles to guide U.S. policy. Here are five:

* Rather than squandering American power, husband it. As Iraq has shown, U.S. military strength is finite. The nation’s economic reserves and diplomatic clout also are limited. They badly need replenishment.

* Align ends with means. Although Bush’s penchant for Wilsonian rhetoric may warm the cockles of neoconservative hearts, it raises expectations that cannot be met. Promise only the achievable.

* Let Islam be Islam. The United States possesses neither the capacity nor the wisdom required to liberate the world’s 1.4 billion Muslims, who just might entertain their own ideas about what genuine freedom entails. Islam will eventually accommodate itself to the modern world, but Muslims will have to work out the terms.

* Reinvent containment. The process of negotiating that accommodation will produce unwelcome fallout: anger, alienation, scapegoating and violence. In collaboration with its allies, the United States must insulate itself against Islamic radicalism. The imperative is not to wage global war, whether real or metaphorical, but to erect effective defenses, as the West did during the Cold War.

* Exemplify the ideals we profess. Rather than telling others how to live, Americans should devote themselves to repairing their own institutions. Our enfeebled democracy just might offer the place to start.

The essence of these principles can be expressed in a single word: realism, which implies seeing ourselves as we really are and the world as it actually is. [complete article]

Editor’s Comment — “Seeing ourselves as we really are and the world as it actually is” — yes indeed, wouldn’t that be a welcome change? But it would also amount to a profound transformation in the American psyche.

Few people in the world have a realistic self-image — what distinguishes Americans is that their lack of self-understanding has such a destructive impact on others.

As occupants of a continent with vast oceans to either side, there is a geographic realism to America’s sense of isolation. The gulf that now needs to be crossed is psychological — it requires that Americans acquire the conviction that the world matters. Yet the world as “other” — as somewhere else — is something from which we have set ourselves apart. Having distasterously ventured into this other, discovered that we are often unwelcome and even reviled, the natural response is to retreat.

The pompous advocates of engagement assert that the world needs American leadership. The message that Americans and the world really need to hear is the reverse: America needs the world. We cannot afford to isolate ourselves. We cannot afford to remain ignorant. The world that seems other is simply a world in which we have yet to understand our place. It is a world in which we should neither assert preeminence nor project our fear.

Next president urged to fix global image

The next US president must expand American involvement in the United Nations and other international bodies and dramatically increase foreign aid – especially among Muslim countries – to reverse the steep decline in American influence and enhance national security, a bipartisan group of politicians, business executives, and academics said in a report yesterday.
more stories like this

The report, titled “A Smarter and Safer America,” also condemned what it called the American “exporting of fear” since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and criticized the use of “hard power,” military might, as the main component of US foreign policy instead of the “soft power” of positive US influences.

But the authors – including Richard Armitage, former deputy secretary of state under President Bush, retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, and Harvard professor Joseph S. Nye Jr. – said their recommendations, issued one year ahead of Election Day, is a foreign policy blueprint for Democratic and Republican presidential hopefuls. [complete article]


NEWS ANALYSIS OPINION & EDITOR’S COMMENTS: Iran, war, prisoners, oil, nuclear advances

The Iranian challenge

Iran will be the top foreign policy challenge for the United States in the coming years. The Bush Administration’s policy (insistence on zero enrichment of uranium, regime change and isolation of Iran) and the policy of the radicals around President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (unlimited civilian nuclear capability, selective inspections and replacing the United States as the region’s dominant power) have set the two countries on a collision course. Yet the mere retirement of George W. Bush’s neocons or Ahmadinejad’s radicals may not be sufficient to avoid the disaster of war.

The ill-informed foreign policy debate on Iran contributes to a paradigm of enmity between the United States and Iran, which limits the foreign policy options of future US administrations to various forms of confrontation while excluding more constructive approaches. These policies of collision are in no small part born of the erroneous assumptions we adopted about Iran back in the days when we could afford to ignore that country. But as America sinks deeper into the Iraqi quicksand, remaining in the dark about the realities of Iran and the actual policies of its decision-makers is no longer an option.

A successful policy on Iran must begin by reassessing some basic assumptions:

1. Iran is ripe for regime change.

Not true. Although the ruling clergy in Iran are very unpopular, they are not going anywhere anytime soon. [complete article]

Editor’s Comment — At a moment when numerous contrasts and comparisons are being drawn between Iran and Pakistan, this is one among many that deserves underlining: non-nuclear Iran is more politically stable than nuclear Pakistan.

Noun + verb + 9/11 + Iran = Democrats’ defeat?

… there is nonetheless a method to all the mad threats of war coming out of the White House. While the saber- rattling is reckless as foreign policy, it’s a proven winner as election-year Republican campaign strategy. The real point may be less to intimidate Iranians than to frighten Americans. Fear, the only remaining card this administration still knows how to play, may once more give a seemingly spent G.O.P. a crack at the White House in 2008.

Whatever happens in or to Iran, the American public will be carpet-bombed by apocalyptic propaganda for the 12 months to come. Mr. Bush has nothing to lose by once again using the specter of war to pillory the Democrats as soft on national security. The question for the Democrats is whether they’ll walk once more into this trap.

You’d think the same tired tactics wouldn’t work again after Iraq, a debacle now soundly rejected by a lopsided majority of voters. But even a lame-duck president can effectively wield the power of the bully pulpit. From Mr. Bush’s surge speech in January to Gen. David Petraeus’s Congressional testimony in September, the pivot toward Iran has been relentless. [complete article]

See also, Inexorable march toward war with Iran? (Joseph L. Galloway).

U.S. ‘to release’ Iranians in Iraq

The US military in Iraq says it intends to release nine Iranians being held there, including two detained on suspicion of helping Shia militias.

They were among five Iranians who Tehran insists are diplomats seized in the Kurdish city of Irbil in January.

The announcement came as Iran opened two consulates in northern Iraq to improve ties with the Kurdish region.

Iran’s ambassador said the detention of the five men was an “illegal act against Iraqi sovereignty”. [complete article]

Editor’s Comment — Hmmm…. I wonder whether Centcom commander Admiral Fallon came back from Pakistan with word that this would be a good time to slip this one under the radar while Bush and Cheney were distracted?

US faces dilemma in targeting Iran’s oil

With oil above $95 a barrel, there are limits to how much pressure the U.S. is willing to place on Iran’s petroleum sector to influence a persistent nuclear standoff, analysts say.

The dilemma is pretty clear for the world’s largest energy consuming nation, which last week announced sanctions against several Iranian oil-services firms. Taking more aggressive action risks hurting America’s economy, while enriching Iran’s.

Washington is also limited by the reality that, even if it wanted to take a more bellicose stance, it can do little — short of military action — to hinder Iran’s oil sales at a time when global demand is bulging. [complete article]

See also, Oil passes $98 on weaker dollar (BBC).

Poll finds Americans split on taking military action in Iran

Americans are concerned about Iran’s nuclear program but split on whether military action should be undertaken if diplomacy and economic sanctions fail to stop it, according to a new USA TODAY/Gallup Poll.

The findings underscore public concern about an Iranian threat and a partisan divide over how to respond. Iran has emerged as a key issue in the presidential race, especially among Democrats.

While 46% of those surveyed say military action should be taken either now or if diplomacy fails, 45% rule it out in any case. Republicans are twice as likely as Democrats to endorse taking military steps. [complete article]

Experts: No firm evidence of Iranian nuclear weapons

Despite President Bush’s claims that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons that could trigger “World War III,” experts in and out of government say there’s no conclusive evidence that Tehran has an active nuclear-weapons program.

Even his own administration appears divided about the immediacy of the threat. While Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney speak of an Iranian weapons program as a fact, Bush’s point man on Iran, Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns, has attempted to ratchet down the rhetoric.

“Iran is seeking a nuclear capability … that some people fear might lead to a nuclear-weapons capability,” Burns said in an interview Oct. 25 on PBS.

“I don’t think that anyone right today thinks they’re working on a bomb,” said another U.S. official, who requested anonymity because of the issue’s sensitivity. Outside experts say the operative words are “right today.” They say Iran may have been actively seeking to create a nuclear-weapons capacity in the past and still could break out of its current uranium-enrichment program and start a weapons program. They too lack definitive proof, but cite a great deal of circumstantial evidence. Bush’s rhetoric seems hyperbolic compared with the measured statements by his senior aides and outside experts. [complete article]

Defiant Iran reaches key nuclear target

Iran has reached a key target of 3,000 centrifuges for uranium enrichment, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Wednesday, vowing to ignore UN resolutions calling for a halt to Tehran’s sensitive nuclear work.

“We have now reached 3,000 machines,” a defiant Ahmadinejad told a rally in the northeastern city of Birjand.

It was not the first time that the president had boasted that Iran had 3,000 centrifuges up and running. [complete article]


FEATURE: What’s good for others is good for us

Is (his) biography (our) destiny?

The United States has had only one foreign policy and one national-security strategy since the transforming events of 9/11 — and this set of doctrines has been shaped by the very distinctive worldview of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney and the men and women around them. The great project of the foreign-policy world in the last few years has been to think through a “post-post-9/11 strategy,” in the words of the Princeton Project on National Security, a study that brought together many of the foreign-policy thinkers of both parties. Such a strategy, the experts concluded, must, like “a Swiss Army knife,” offer different tools for different situations, rather than only the sharp edge of a blade; must pay close attention to “how others may perceive us differently than we perceive ourselves, no matter how good our intentions”; must recognize that other nations may legitimately care more about their neighbors or their access to resources than about terrorism; and must be “grounded in hope, not fear.” A post-post-9/11 strategy must harness the forces of globalization while honestly addressing the growing “perception of unfairness” around the world; must actively promote, not just democracy, but “a world of liberty under law”; and must renew multilateral instruments like the United Nations.

In mainstream foreign-policy circles, Barack Obama is seen as the true bearer of this vision. “There are maybe 200 people on the Democratic side who think about foreign policy for a living,” as one such figure, himself unaffiliated with a campaign, estimates. “The vast majority have thrown in their lot with Obama.” Hillary Clinton’s inner circle consists of the senior-most figures from her husband’s second term in office — the former secretary of state Madeleine Albright, the former national security adviser Sandy Berger and the former United Nations ambassador Richard Holbrooke. But drill down into one of Washington’s foreign-policy hives, whether the Carnegie Endowment or the Brookings Institution or Georgetown University, and you’re bound to hit Obama supporters. Most of them served in the Clinton administration, too, and thus might be expected to support Hillary Clinton. But many of these younger and generally more liberal figures have decamped to Obama. And they are ardent. As Ivo Daalder, a former National Security Council official under President Clinton who now heads up a team advising Obama on nonproliferation issues, puts it, “There’s a feeling that this is a guy who’s going to help us transform the way America deals with the world.” Ex-Clintonites in Obama’s inner circle also include the president’s former lawyer, Greg Craig, and Richard Danzig, his Navy secretary. [complete article]



Attack Iran and you attack Russia

The apparent internal controversy on how exactly Putin and the Supreme Leader are on the same wavelength belies a serious rift in the higher spheres of the Islamic Republic. The replacement of Larijani, a realist hawk, by Jalili, an unknown quantity with an even more hawkish background, might spell an Ahmadinejad victory. It’s not that simple.

The powerful Ali Akbar Velayati, the diplomatic adviser to the Supreme Leader, said he didn’t like the replacement one bit. Even worse: regarding the appalling record of the Ahmadinejad presidency when it comes to the economy, all-out criticism is now the norm. Another former nuclear negotiator, Hassan Rowhani, told the Etemad-e Melli newspaper, “The effects of the [UN] sanctions are visible. Our situation gets worse day by day.”

Ahmadinejad for the past two months has been placing his former IRGC brothers-in-arms in key posts, like the presidency of the central bank and the Oil, Industry and Interior ministries. Internal repression is rife. On Sunday, hundreds of students protested at the Amir-Kabir University in Tehran, calling for “Death to the dictator”.

The wily, ultimate pragmatist Hashemi Rafsanjani, now leader of the Council of Experts and in practice a much more powerful figure than Ahmadinejad, took no time to publicly reflect that “we can’t bend people’s thoughts with dictatorial regimes”. [complete article]

Editor’s Comment — A possibility that doesn’t seem to fit into Washington’s calculations is that Ahmadinejad may go faster than they expect or would even want. Faced then with a more pragmatic Iranian government which may at the same time be just as unwilling to bow to American demands, Iran could score some major victories in the international arena, leaving the neocon rhinos with nothing more than can do than snort and kick up dust. (Semantic note: It’s time to stop applying the hawk metaphor to the Cheney gang. Hawks have excellent sight, superb flying skills and know how to launch a precision strike with perfect timing. Dick Cheney and Norman Podhoretz are not hawks.)

U.S. imposes new sanctions against Iran

The Bush administration announced an unprecedented package of unilateral sanctions against Iran today, including the long-awaited designations of its Revolutionary Guard Corps as a proliferator of weapons of mass destruction and of the elite Quds Force as a supporter of terrorism.

The package, announced jointly by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr., marks the first time that the United States has tried to isolate or punish another country’s military. It is the broadest set of punitive measures imposed on Tehran since the 1979 takeover of the U.S. Embassy, and included a call for other countries and firms to stop doing business with three major Iranian banks.

The sanctions recognize that financing for groups like the Revolutionary Guard have become closely entwined with Iran’s economy, making it difficult to disrupt the one without targeting the other. [complete article]

Bomb Iran? U.S. requests bunker-buster bombs

Tucked inside the White House’s $196 billion emergency funding request for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is an item that has some people wondering whether the administration is preparing for military action against Iran.

The item: $88 million to modify B-2 stealth bombers so they can carry a newly developed 30,000-pound bomb called the massive ordnance penetrator, or, in military-speak, the MOP.

The MOP is the the military’s largest conventional bomb, a super “bunker-buster” capable of destroying hardened targets deep underground. The one-line explanation for the request said it is in response to “an urgent operational need from theater commanders.” [complete article]

Iran becomes an issue in Democratic contest

Edwards, who, like Clinton, supported the 2002 Iraq war resolution, said she failed to learn a lesson from that episode. “I think it’s an enormous mistake to give George Bush the first step in the authority to move militarily on Iran,” Edwards said in a telephone interview from Iowa yesterday. “My view is that the resolution on the Iranian Revolutionary Guard did that.”

Biden, in a session with Washington Post editors and reporters yesterday, said labeling the IRGC as a terrorist group was a “serious, serious mistake” because it could force the United States to back up the designation with action. “Big nations can’t bluff,” he said.

Clinton has been steadfast in her contention that the amendment to the defense authorization bill was not a vote for war but, instead, a call for robust diplomatic action to deal with Iran. “I oppose any rush to war but also believe doing nothing is not acceptable — diplomacy is the right path,” she said in her campaign mailer. [complete article]


ANALYSIS: Selling death and destruction

Arms sales: How the U.S. is not winning friends

The United States sells death and destruction as a fundamental instrument of its foreign policy. It sees arms sales as a way of making and keeping strategic friends and tying countries more directly to US military planning and operations.

At its simplest, as Lt Gen Jeffrey B Kohler, director of the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, told the New York Times in 2006, the United States likes arms deals because “it gives us access and influence and builds friendships”. South Asia has been an important arena for this effort, and it teaches some lessons the United States should not ignore.

A recent Congressional Research Service report on international arms sales records that last year the United States delivered nearly $8 billion worth of weapons to Third World countries. This was about 40% of all such arms transfers. The US also signed agreements to sell over $10 billion worth of weapons, one-third of all arms deals with Third World countries. [complete article]


OPINION & EDITOR’S COMMENT: The Democrats’ failure to challenge Bush’s Mideast policies

How the Democrats blew it

The fact that Democrats have eagerly participated in Bush and the neocons’ campaign to demonize Iran shows that they have learned nothing from Iraq. The Democrats know that Bush lives in his own world outside the “reality-based community,” one in which rational behavior is not a given. They know that the neocon nut jobs in Dick Cheney’s circle want another war. They know that Bush is engaging in exactly the same kind of propaganda campaign against Iran that he did against Iraq, with “explosively shaped charges” replacing the “mushroom clouds” that Saddam Hussein was going to release from a secret chain of demonic falafel stands located in the “east, west, north and south” of the country. And they know that war with Iran would be a disaster. That’s why last March the Democratic leadership proposed a resolution that would prevent Bush from attacking Iran without congressional authorization. But when what the neoconservative New York Sun called “a group of conservative and pro-Israel Democrats” objected, the Democrats caved — in effect, putting the decision on whether to launch a third Mideast war in Bush’s capable hands.

While they abet Bush’s Iran madness, the Democrats treat the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, which is by far the greatest cause of anti-American sentiment in the Arab-Muslim world, as if it were a municipal garbage-jurisdiction dispute in Peoria. The Bush administration is doing almost nothing to prepare the ground for the November peace summit, a window-dressing exercise destined to go nowhere. But none of the major Democratic candidates seem to care. None have insisted that Washington and Tel Aviv must put final-status issues on the table, even though without that stipulation the talks are doomed to fail, with potentially grave consequences for Israel, the Palestinians, the region and U.S. interests. Certainly none have dared join that raving radical, Colin Powell, in suggesting that Hamas must be a part of the negotiations. No one endorses Hamas’ use of terrorism — but just as after 9/11, the fetishization of terrorism as pure evil is preventing America from acting in its own interests. From the ANC’s guerrilla struggle with South Africa to the IRA’s urban war against the British in Northern Ireland, the lesson of history is that peace can only be attained by talking to the men with the guns.

Ironically, reality has forced the Bush administration to accept this moral relativism in Iraq. We are in a looking-glass world, where Bush befriends Sunni Baathists in Iraq who yesterday were blowing up American troops, but the Democrats, who are supposedly less prone to moralistic myopia than Bush, rule out talking to Hamas, which took office in elections the U.S. insisted on, and sing from Bush’s far-right song sheet on Iran. Indeed, the only issue on which congressional Democrats are routinely more conservative than Bush is the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. In 2006, the House overwhelmingly approved a sanctions bill against the Palestinians that was opposed by the White House. [complete article]

Editor’s Comment — As Taylor Marsh recently noted, “There’s only one thing Clinton and others who voted in favor of Lieberman’s Iran amendment fear more than Iran’s possible involvement in Iraq, or them going nuclear, and that’s standing up to the Israel lobby at large. It’s not going to happen.”

Even so, now that Clinton has made a course correction and announced the she will co-sponsor the Webb legislation prohibiting the use of funds for military operations in Iran, Taylor describes this as a “critically important and a progressive move.” It is no such thing.

Why? Because it is increasingly clear that action against Iran will not start with a fanfare. All the administration needs is a pretext for opening fire and in its original form, the Webb legislation provides Bush with all the room for maneuver he needs:

Specifically, the amendment requires that the President seek congressional authorization prior to commencing any broad military action in Iran and it allows the following exceptions: First, military operations or activities that would directly repel an attack launched from within the territory of Iran. Second, those activities that would directly thwart an imminent attack that would be launched from Iran. Third, military operations or activities that would be in hot pursuit of forces engaged outside the territory of Iran who thereafter would enter Iran. And finally, those intelligence collection activities that have been properly noticed to the appropriate committees of Congress.

I can already hear the presidential address:

In the early hours of this morning, I was informed by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mullen, that our intelligence services had discovered that Quds forces in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, operating close to the Iraqi border, were at the advanced stage of launching a stealth attack on a United States military base in Iraq. I therefore ordered U.S. naval and air forces to take all necessary measures to thwart this imminent attack and we have informed the Iranian government that we will not hesitate to take any further necessary action to defend American soldiers who are currently serving their country in Iraq.

Would we get to see the intelligence? Almost certainly not. Would Congress be shouting out in protest? Fat chance! Because if this was to happen, the president would of course be acting in strict compliance with the Webb legislation — in the extremely unlikely event that he had actually signed it into law.

The war against Iran won’t start with shock and awe; it will start with an incident. And while the commentariat is still arguing over who started it, one incident will have led to another and in the unfolding escalation the MSM will be wringing their hands as they earnestly ask: is this war?

But for now, don’t expect the Democrats to take any meaningful action that might help avert this war — they’ll be too busy playing strong and cautious, fishing for the antiwar vote without antagonizing the Israel lobby.