Category Archives: international relations

OPINION: Welcome to the post-American world

The fearful superpower

For the past few years, America has been alienated from the world. We have all read the yearly polls with the same damning numbers. But on one issue, the United States and the world agree: majorities everywhere expect things to improve markedly after George W. Bush. Whether it’s in Europe or Asia, the refrain from politicians, businessmen and intellectuals is the same. “We don’t hate America,” one of them told me recently. “We hate Bush. When he’s gone, it will be a new day.”

But will it? The question will be put to the test in a year, when a new president enters the White House.

There’s little doubt that the style and substance of U.S. foreign policy over the past seven years has provoked enormous international opposition. What is less clear is that the style and substance were unique products of the Bush administration. Some part of the global response was surely the product of longstanding unease with U.S. dominance. After all, France’s foreign minister coined the term “hyperpuissance” to describe America under Bill Clinton, not George W. Bush.

Then came 9/11. Ever since the attacks, the United States has felt threatened and under siege and determined to carve out maximum room to maneuver. But where Americans have seen defensive behavior, the rest of the world has looked on and seen the most powerful nation in human history acting like a caged animal, lashing out at any and every constraint on its actions. [complete article]


NEWS & ANALYSIS: The Persian process

The myth of a bargain with Iran

Unless Iran does something really stupid, Mr Bush will not be able to bomb. Much tougher sanctions are also out. So that leaves talking.

That could be a very good thing. For years, those who have opposed the drive to war have urged America to strike a “grand bargain” with Iran. This would involve Iran forswearing nuclear weapons in a convincing and verifiable way and generally promising to behave better in the region. In return Iran would get full diplomatic recognition from the US, the lifting of sanctions (such as they are) and all manner of economic and technological benefits.

But there are two obvious snags. First, America’s intelligence re-assessment will probably be a boon to hardliners in Tehran. President Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad will be able to say that Iran has stood firm and faced down the world. In such a climate, why should the Iranians make concessions?

Second, there may be no “grand bargain” to be had. Most of the evidence suggests that the determination to get a nuclear bomb is a national project in Iran – uniting different political factions. The Iranians are not necessarily in a hurry. They might be deterred for a while. But the nuclear programme has become a symbol of national machismo – and is also widely regarded as a strategic necessity, given that Iran is surrounded by hostile powers.

Iran also has ambitions in the region. It is the biggest country in the Gulf area – or, as the Iranians insist on calling it, the Persian Gulf area – and it wants its “natural role” to be recognised. If Iran is to be the regional hegemon, then the US military presence must be greatly diminished. The US army is in Iraq, the navy is in Bahrain, the air force is in Qatar. There are US bases in Saudi Arabia. There is no way that the Americans are going to cede the dominant security role in the Gulf – a region that sits on top of 60 per cent of the world’s known oil reserves and 40 per cent of its natural gas.

That is the basic reason why a grand bargain will be so hard to achieve. The US and the Iranians are strategic rivals in the Gulf region. They are not going to become friends. The best that can be hoped for is an uneasy modus vivendi.

As for the Iranian nuclear programme: the message that the American public risks being left with is that it would be impossible to live with an Iranian bomb – but fortunately Iran is no longer pursuing nuclear weapons. The reality is the complete opposite. Iran probably will get nuclear weapons. And the west will probably have to learn to live with it. [complete article]

Khatami publicly assails Ahmadinejad

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s policies were attacked Tuesday at Tehran’s major university in an unusual speech by his predecessor, who warned that political suppression, questionable economic policies and defiance on the nuclear issue were leading Iranians in the wrong direction.

The speech, by Mohammad Khatami, attracted more than 1,000 students at Tehran University, which has been a center of vocal protest against Mr. Ahmadinejad, who was elected in 2005.

Mr. Khatami’s criticism of Mr. Ahmadinejad has long been known. But his public denunciation of Mr. Ahmadinejad’s policies was unusual because of its high visibility at a site of youthful dissent. [complete article]

Report on Iran may scupper future sanctions

Britain and France, President Bush’s chief European allies, fear that last week’s US intelligence report stating that Iran had abandoned its nuclear weapons programme will be “counter-productive” in securing tighter UN sanctions against the Tehran regime.

A draft Security Council resolution being discussed yesterday by officials from the US, Britain, France, China, Russia and Germany would extend punitive measures – including travel bans and the seizure of assets – to the 15,000-strong Quds force, as well as dozens of named individuals.

Although the document does not go as far as the US Administration – which recently imposed sweeping sanctions against the entire 125,000-member Revolutionary Guard Corps, the Quds Force, and three banks – it would represent a significant escalation in the diplomatic pressure being exerted on Iran. [complete article]

See also, Olmert: Iran still dangerous, we must continue int’l pressure (Haaretz) and Bush demands Iran explain nuke program (AP).


NEWS & OPINION: How to engage Iran; Iraq seeks Gulf security pact including Iran

How to defuse Iran

Iran has tried tactical cooperation with the United States several times over the past two decades — including helping to secure the release of hostages from Lebanon in the late 1980s and sending shipments of arms to Bosnian Muslims when the United States was forbidden to do so.

Yet each time, Tehran’s expectations of reciprocal good will have been dashed by American condemnation of perceived provocations in other arenas, as when Iranian support for objectives in Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks was rewarded by President Bush’s inclusion of Iran in the “axis of evil.” Today, incremental engagement cannot overcome deep distrust between Washington and Tehran — certainly not rapidly enough to address America’s security concerns.

From an Iranian perspective, serious engagement would start with American willingness to recognize Tehran’s legitimate security and regional interests as part of an overall settlement of our differences. But neither Republicans nor Democrats have been willing to consider such an approach, because of the pursuit of a nuclear weapons option and support for terrorist organizations that Iran employs to defend what it sees as its fundamental security interests. Successful United States-Iran engagement requires cutting through this Gordian knot by undertaking comprehensive diplomacy encompassing the core concerns of both sides.

From the American side, any new approach must address Iran’s security by clarifying that Washington is not seeking regime change in Tehran, but rather changes in the Iranian government’s behavior. (While Secretary Rice has said recently that overthrowing the mullahs is not United States policy, President Bush has pointedly refused to affirm her statements.) To that end, the United States should be prepared to put a few assurances on the table. [complete article]

Iraq wants Iran in Gulf security pact

Iraq’s national security adviser yesterday called on Gulf states to form a regional security pact, which would include Iran, while he reassured the area’s US allies that Baghdad is “heading West” in its foreign policies. But Mouaffak al-Rubaie also criticised Saudi Arabia and Iran for what he called settling scores on Iraqi soil and called for regional reconciliation that put sectarian differences aside.

“It is extremely important to have a regional reconciliation rather than having this heightened sectarian tension in the region,” he told delegates at a security conference held in the Bahraini capital.

“That is why Iraq is looking seriously to call for a regional security pact like the good old (1954 anti-Soviet alliance) Baghdad Pact or a Nato-style pact, with a set agenda: counter terrorism, counter narcotics, counter religious extremism and counter sectarianism,” he said. [complete article]



Make Iran an offer it might refuse

The National Intelligence Estimate on Iran has upended the Bush administration’s policy toward that country. This could be a good thing, if it leads to some creative rethinking. Over the past two years the administration has made several intelligent moves in its effort to isolate Iran—keeping the Europeans onboard, rallying the Arab states—but it’s been unwilling to make a simple choice. Do we want policy change in Iran or regime change?

Imagine, for a moment, what the world looks like to Iran. The country is surrounded by powerful states with nuclear weapons—Israel, India, Pakistan, China and Russia. Across one of its borders stand some 170,000 American troops (in Iraq), across another are more than 50,000 NATO troops (in Afghanistan). The United States has been bitterly opposed to the Iranian regime for three decades. The current American president has made clear time and again that he regards the Tehran government as evil and wishes that it would fall, and Congress set aside $75 million last year to “promote democracy” in Iran. Now, if you were in Tehran, wouldn’t you buy some insurance? And in the world of international politics, a nuclear program is the ultimate insurance policy.

For Washington to threaten a regime with extinction and simultaneously expect it to disarm is a policy doomed to failure. Were we to be clear that what we seek from Tehran is only a change in behavior, a policy of sticks and carrots might actually produce results. [complete article]

CIA has recruited Iranians to defect

The CIA launched a secret program in 2005 designed to degrade Iran’s nuclear weapons program by persuading key officials to defect, an effort that has prompted a “handful” of significant departures, current and former U.S. intelligence officials familiar with the operation say.

The previously undisclosed program, which CIA officials dubbed “the Brain Drain,” is part of a major intelligence push against Iran ordered by the White House two years ago.

Intelligence gathered as part of that campaign provided much of the basis for a U.S. report released last week that concluded the Islamic Republic had halted its nuclear weapons work in 2003. Officials declined to say how much of that intelligence could be attributed to the CIA program to recruit defectors. [complete article]

Meet ‘the decider’ of Tehran. He’s not the hothead you expect

In the past, [Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei has not been averse to talking to Washington. He gave tacit support to an ill-fated memo offering direct U.S.-Iranian talks in 2003, and a year later, he publicly endorsed discussions over Iraq. But times changed after Iran dug in its heels over the nuclear issue and found itself looking down the barrels of U.S. guns. The threat of war has abated after this dramatic week, but for the man who rules Iran, two overriding concerns linger: ensuring that his regime survives and ensuring that he remains at the head of it. As the National Intelligence Estimate itself put it, “Tehran’s decisions are guided by a cost-benefit approach rather than a rush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic, and military costs.” But Tehran’s decisions are also guided by one man, and anyone serious about understanding the sources of Iranian conduct needs to keep an eye on him. [complete article]

Iran snub of atomic pacts is denied

A former nuclear negotiator for Iran dismissed reports that the country’s current negotiator had brushed off previous agreements with Europe over the Iranian nuclear program.

Ali Larijani, the former nuclear negotiator, who is now the representative of the supreme religious leader at the Supreme National Security Council, said Thursday that Western news media had fabricated the comments, the news agency ISNA reported. [complete article]

See also, A smart side to US intelligence (Kaveh L Afrasiabi), Just 18% believe Iran has stopped nuclear weapons development program (Rasmussen Reprots), Bolton calls report on Iran ‘quasi-putsch’ (Reuters), and What we didn’t learn from the hunt for Iraq’s phantom arsenal (veteran CIA case officer, Arthur Keller).


ANALYSIS: Foreign policy shift

Bush engages foreign foes as policy shift accelerates

The White House said that President Bush sent a letter directly to North Korean leader Kim Jong Il seeking cooperation in implementing a pact to dismantle its nuclear arms in exchange for full normalized relations.

The move is the latest example of the White House accelerating its reversal on numerous foreign-policy fronts.

Earlier in his presidency, Mr. Bush designated Pyongyang a member of an “axis of evil” and expressed loathing for the communist state’s dictator. In recent months, however, contacts have picked up amid an accord on dismantling Pyongyang’s nuclear program.

On other fronts — particularly Iran, Syria and Lebanon — the Bush administration is also shifting tactics in ways that could affect American interests long-term, say U.S. officials and foreign policy analysts. President Bush is generally receiving praise for engaging Pyongyang and Damascus, but he is also risking alienating the Republican Party’s conservative wing, which believes the U-turns will undermine U.S. standing around the world.

“Our foreign policy is in free-fall at the moment,” said John Bolton, Mr. Bush’s former ambassador to the United Nations and an ally of Vice President Dick Cheney. Mr. Bolton argues that engaging dictators will only “diminish our prestige and influence.” [complete article]

At least he didn’t call him ‘Dear Leader’

Don’t call him “North Korea’s leader”. Call him “Chairman” – or “Dear Chairman”.

That seems to be the first lesson in etiquette that President George W Bush was persuaded to follow when he acquiesced to suggestions that he personally sign a letter to Kim Jong-il appealing to him to come clean on all he’s got going in nuclear weapons program by the end of the year.

Kim comes by the “chairman” title as chairman of North Korea’s National Defense Commission, the wellspring of his “military first” policy that leaves no doubt the armed forces, under his control, hold ultimate power over the Workers’ Party, of which Kim is general secretary.

The decision for Bush to address him as “Chairman” rather than “Excellency” or the simple “Mr” alone symbolizes the climb-down from the hard line that Bush had made the hallmark of his policy on North Korea for the first two or three years of his presidency. [complete article]


ANALYSIS & OPINION: A new approach to Iran

Why containing Iran won’t work: Washington’s flawed new Middle East strategy

The Middle East is a region continuously divided against itself. In the 1960s, radical Arab regimes contested the legitimacy and power of traditional monarchical states. In the 1970s, Islamic fundamentalists rejected the prevailing secular order and sought to set the region on the path to God. In the 1980s, much of the Arab world supported the genocidal Saddam Hussein as he sought to displace Iran’s theocratic regime. Today, the Middle East is fracturing once more, this time along sectarian and confessional lines, with Sunnis clamoring to curb Shiite ascendance. Again and again, in the name of preserving the balance of power, U.S. policy has taken sides in the region’s conflicts, thus exacerbating tensions and widening existing cleavages. Beyond the Arab-Israeli conflict, the United States has shown limited interest in mediating conflicts, settling disputes, or bringing antagonists together. Washington sided with the conservative monarchies against Arab socialist republics, acquiesced in the brutal suppression of fundamentalist opposition by secular governments, buttressed Saudi power and the Iraqi war machine to temper Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s Islamist rage. It is now courting Sunni regimes to align against Iran and its resurgent Shiite allies. Every time, as Washington has become mired in the Middle East’s rivalries, its goal of stabilizing the region has slipped further away.

Instead of focusing on restoring a former balance of power, the United States would be wise to aim for regional integration and foster a new framework in which all the relevant powers would have a stake in a stable status quo. The Bush administration is correct to sense that a truculent Iran poses serious challenges to U.S. concerns, but containing Iran through military deployment and antagonistic alliances simply is not a tenable strategy. Iran is not, despite common depictions, a messianic power determined to overturn the regional order in the name of Islamic militancy; it is an unexceptionally opportunistic state seeking to assert predominance in its immediate neighborhood. Thus, the task at hand for Washington is to create a situation in which Iran will find benefit in limiting its ambitions and in abiding by international norms.

Dialogue, compromise, and commerce, as difficult as they may be, are convincing means. An acknowledgment by the U.S. government that Tehran does indeed have legitimate interests and concerns in Iraq could get the two governments finally to realize that they have similar objectives: both want to preserve the territorial integrity of Iraq and prevent the civil war there from engulfing the Middle East. Resuming diplomatic and economic relations between Iran and the United States, as well as collaborating on Iraq, could also be the precursor of an eventual arrangement subjecting Iran’s nuclear program to its obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. If Iran enjoyed favorable security and commercial ties with the United States and was at ease in its region, it might restrain its nuclear ambitions. [complete article]

After the Iran NIE

Since the NIE’s release, Bush has emphasized the passages of the report that continue to sound warning bells. But this effort will be dismissed as—and, in fact, will be—lame propaganda unless he also acknowledges, and embraces, the positive passages.

If Bush wants the rest of the world to acknowledge the caveats, he has to acknowledge—and act on—the main message. In other words, if he wants Russia, China, and the European Union to continue the diplomatic pressure on Iran, he has to offer Iran diplomatic inducements. Pressure may be needed to keep the Iranians from resuming their nuclear-weapons program. But negotiations should be started, as a reward for halting their program—and the prospect of further rewards should be held out if they unwind their program still further.

Bush should have started serious talks with Iran two years ago, for a variety of reasons. The NIE offers two additional, compelling reasons for starting them now. [complete article]

The zero-sum fiasco

Bush’s woefully misguided invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003, carried out under false pretences, has not only drained the United States treasury, but reduced Washington’s standing in the Middle East in a way not yet fully grasped by most commentators. Whereas Washington once played off Tehran against Baghdad, while involved in a superpower zero-sum game with the Soviet Union, the Bush administration is now engaged in a zero-sum game, as a virtual equal, with Iran. That is, America’s loss has become Iran’s automatic gain, and vice-versa. [complete article]

A new Chinese red line over Iran

The highly respected former Australian foreign minister Gareth Evans has assessed after a recent visit to Tehran and meetings with top Iranian officials that the outlines of a deal are emerging and the NIE “gives us the chance to break out of this impasse [of Iran insisting on its right to enrich]”. He suggested that the “red line” should no longer be the issue of enrichment, but could be between the “civilian and military capability” of NPT signatories, and if such a new red line would hold, “it would not matter whether Iran was capable of producing its own nuclear fuel”.

Evans added, “That [red] line will hold if we can get Iran to accept a highly intrusive monitoring, verification and inspection regime” with additional safeguards, and if Iran could be persuaded to “stretch out over time the development of its enrichment capability and to have any industrial-scale activity conducted not by Iran but by an international consortium”.

Evan assesses that Iran is “capable of being persuaded” if incentives include the lifting of sanctions and normalization of relations with the US. Evans concluded: “This is a country seething with both national pride and resentment against past humiliations, and it wants to cut a regional and global figure by proving its sophisticated technological capability. One only wishes that something less sensitive than the nuclear fuel cycle had been chosen to make that point.” [complete article]


EDITORIAL: When reason prevails

When reason prevails

To some political observers there is something vaguely disappointing about witnessing events shaped by reason. Reasonable behavior is somewhat predictable and lacks the zest and drama of the unexpected.

In as much as news-watching is driven by the stimulating effect of the shock of the new, there is then a tendency for one revelation to trigger a desire that this be followed by a cascade of revelations. In the current context, this is provoking a notion that now, anything could happen.

In a game of whack-a-mole, as soon as the National Intelligence Estimate had knocked down the notion of the “mad mullahs”, the image of “mad dog” Israel popped up.

For the past several years, U.S. intelligence analysts have doubted hawkish U.S. and Israeli rhetoric that Iran is dominated by “mad mullahs” — clerics whose fanatical religious views might lead to irrational decisions. In the new NIE, the analysts forcefully posit an alternative view of an Iran that is rational, susceptible to diplomatic pressure and, in that sense, can be “deterred.”

“Tehran’s decisions are guided by a cost-benefit approach rather than a rush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic and military costs,” states the NIE. Asked if this meant the Iranian regime would be “deterrable” if it did obtain a weapon, a senior official responded, “That is the implication.” He added: “Diplomacy works. That’s the message.”

But not so fast, says Seymour Hersh — “there’s always Israel… Israel can always decide to take military action.” And on CNN last night, Hersh continued. “I’m told that Olmert had a private discussion with Bush about it during Annapolis — before Annapolis. Bush briefed him about it.” This contradicts National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley’s claim that Bush was not briefed on the NIE until Wednesday — the day after the Annapolis Conference. Indeed, there is further evidence that the Israelis were informed well before the conference.

In today’s Haaretz, Amos Harel writes:

Israel has known about the report for more than a month. The first information on it was passed on to Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and to Shaul Mofaz, who is the minister responsible for the strategic dialog with the Americans. The issue was also discussed at the Annapolis summit by Barak and U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and it seems also between Bush and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

What surprised Israel is the sharp turn from the previous line presented by the DNI [Director of National Intelligence, Mike McConnell], and the fact the report was made public. Based on his short comments yesterday, it seems Barak, like Olmert, is trying to avoid open disagreement with the U.S. government.

But the issue of the NIE is expected to create tension on two levels. It will cloud the tight cooperation between the two countries intelligence agencies, since now it will no longer look as if it is only a disagreement over timing, but a fundamental disagreement over Iran’s intentions. It will also cause a feeling of distress on the Israeli side, as now it will seem that the U.S. is abandoning Israel to fight alone.

But is there really much likelihood that Israel would take on the fight alone?

Some would argue that Israel’s September 6 strike on Syria was intended as a warning shot — a signal to Tehran that “mad dog” Israel can, if it chooses, just as easily strike Iranian targets. At the time, it was certainly easy to accept such an interpretation. Now, things look different.

It seems more reasonable — in accordance with the principle of Ockham’s razor (cleaving to the simplest explanation) — to believe that bombs dropped on Syria were intended to send a message to Syria, not Iran. The message? Just because of last summer’s mess in Lebanon, don’t get the idea that you’d stand a chance in a military confrontation with Israel. We can hit you whenever we want, wherever we want. Now we’ve made that clear, we’re ready to talk.

When it comes to Iran, the political challenge now is for those who until very recently were hysterically presenting Iran as the greatest threat to the world, to make an about face without losing face and say that Iran can now effectively be engaged.

Those still feeling the sting of the NIE’s claims will predictably revive Rumsfeld’s line of reasoning that the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. But this always was, and remains, a faultless yet deceptive line of reasoning since the absence of evidence is not evidence of concealment. Just as there are still those who believe that Saddam Hussein’s WMD were never found because they were so well hidden, the same line is being used again: “The Israelis interpret the evidence to mean the Iranians have almost certainly continued to conduct their military nuclear program in secret.”

That’s all well and good, but while the masters-of-secrecy argument might have some limited value in sustaining the image of Iran’s government as a nefarious and deceptive entity, at the same time, it’s hard to plausibly argue in favor of missile strikes on targets so well hidden that their locations are unknown.

The neocons know the game is up and some of them are being surprisingly quick to concede the fact. Norman Podhoretz sees the intelligence community engaged in a scheme to “head off the possibility that the President may order air strikes on the Iranian nuclear installations.” But even if the father of neoconservatism doesn’t like what he sees, he concedes that the plot has worked.

Robert Kagan, perhaps the most nimble-minded among the neocons, says, “With its policy tools broken, the Bush administration can sit around isolated for the next year. Or it can seize the initiative, and do the next administration a favor, by opening direct talks with Tehran.” Part of Kagan’s motive for advocating talks now is that this “would give the United States a better chance to frame the discussion, at home and abroad.” Which is to say, a better chance for Kagan and his friends to frame the issues.

Be that as it may, the opportunity that has now opened up needs to be grasped. The question is, who is going to quickest off the mark in becoming the strongest advocate of a bold and strategic policy shift? Those who have nothing to advocate will do no more than sustain the culture of political reactivity in which nothing really gets said and nothing much gets done.

So far there are no signs that inside Bush’s brain there are any new neuronal pathways being tickled by an action potential. It’s time for Iran to “come clean” he says — and Ahmadinejad could say just the same. If the absence of cunning is a precondition for U.S.-Iranian talks, they’re not going to happen.

But Bush’s isn’t the only voice that needs to be heard right now. There are a bunch of folks waltzing around America at the moment claiming they want to lead the nation. OK. Now’s the time to show your mettle. And just in case anyone needs reminding: whether or not Iran has an active program for developing nuclear weapons, it does remain the strategically most important country in the Middle East.

The release of the NIE may have the effect of making presidential candidates think that Iran can quietly be dropped from the political agenda. This would be a mistake. The opportunity here is not limited to finding a new way to approach Iran; with some courage and imagination the conversation could actually start to shift away from its myopic focus on national security threats and towards a new focus on engagement. Instead of talking about how America must lead the world, save the world or protect itself from the world, it’s time to start talking about working together and raising America’s awareness of a convergence of national and global interests.


NEWS: Iran, Russia and Venezuela feel benefits of rising oil price

Oil price rise causes global shift in wealth

High oil prices are fueling one of the biggest transfers of wealth in history. Oil consumers are paying $4 billion to $5 billion more for crude oil every day than they did just five years ago, pumping more than $2 trillion into the coffers of oil companies and oil-producing nations this year alone.

The consequences are evident in minds and mortar: anger at Chinese motor-fuel pumps and inflated confidence in the Kremlin; new weapons in Chad and new petrochemical plants in Saudi Arabia; no-driving campaigns in South Korea and bigger sales for Toyota hybrid cars; a fiscal burden in Senegal and a bonanza in Brazil. In Burma, recent demonstrations were triggered by a government decision to raise fuel prices.

In the United States, the rising bill for imported petroleum lowers already anemic consumer savings rates, adds to inflation, worsens the trade deficit, undermines the dollar and makes it more difficult for the Federal Reserve to balance its competing goals of fighting inflation and sustaining growth. [complete article]


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.
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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]


ANALYSIS: Russia did not lose the Cold War

Losing Russia

Faced with threats from al Qaeda and Iran and increasing instability in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States does not need new enemies. Yet its relationship with Russia is worsening by the day. The rhetoric on both sides is heating up, security agreements are in jeopardy, and Washington and Moscow increasingly look at each other through the old Cold War prism.

Although Russia’s newfound assertiveness and heavy-handed conduct at home and abroad have been the major causes of mutual disillusionment, the United States bears considerable responsibility for the slow disintegration of the relationship as well. Moscow’s maladies, mistakes, and misdeeds are not an alibi for U.S. policymakers, who made fundamental errors in managing Russia’s transition from an expansionist communist empire to a more traditional great power.

Underlying the United States’ mishandling of Russia is the conventional wisdom in Washington, which holds that the Reagan administration won the Cold War largely on its own. But this is not what happened, and it is certainly not the way most Russians view the demise of the Soviet state. Washington’s self-congratulatory historical narrative lies at the core of its subsequent failures in dealing with Moscow in the post-Cold War era. [complete article]


NEWS & ANALYSIS: Iran and its neighbors

Caspian summit a triumph for Iran

Few regional summits have drawn closer attention, by both the media and world governments, than this week’s summit of leaders of Caspian littoral states in Tehran.

The two day summit, coinciding with twin nuclear crises and escalating US-Iran tensions relating to Iraq and the Middle East, is bound to be regarded as a milestone in regional cooperation, with serious ramifications for a broad array of issues transcending the Caspian Sea region.

Billed as a “great leap toward progress” by Mehdi Safari, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister in charge of Iran’s Caspian affairs, the summit has been a great success for Iran as well as Russia and the other participants (Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan), and Tehran is likely to capitalize on it as a stepping stone for full membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), considered a security counterweight to NATO and US “hegemony”. [complete article]

Putin stands by Iran

Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, appearing side by side with his Iranian counterpart at a five-nation summit here Tuesday, made a powerful show of support for America’s regional archenemy, drawing the line against any attack on Iran and reaffirming Tehran’s right to a civilian nuclear program.

At the same time, Putin stopped short of unconditional support for the Iranian regime, although the tenor of his remarks appeared at odds with earlier suggestions from the Bush administration that Putin might take a more pro-Western stance. [complete article]


NEWS: Turkish-U.S. ties threatened

Turkish general warns of irreversible damage to U.S. ties if genocide resolution passes

Turkey’s top general warned that ties with the U.S., already strained by attacks from rebels hiding in Iraq, will be irreversibly damaged if Congress passes a resolution that labels the World War I-era killings of Armenians a genocide.

Turkey, which is a major cargo hub for U.S. and allied military forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, has recalled its ambassador to Washington for consultations and warned that there might be a cut in the logistical support to the U.S. over the issue. [complete article]


OPINION: The courage to chart new ground and take bold steps

‘Failure risks devastating consequences’

The Israeli-Palestinian peace conference announced by President Bush and scheduled for November presents a genuine opportunity for progress toward a two-state solution. The Middle East remains mired in its worst crisis in years, and a positive outcome of the conference could play a critical role in stemming the rising tide of instability and violence. Because failure risks devastating consequences in the region and beyond, it is critically important that the conference succeed.

Bearing in mind the lessons of the last attempt at Camp David seven years ago at dealing with the fundamental political issues that divide the two sides, we believe that in order to be successful, the outcome of the conference must be substantive, inclusive, and relevant to the daily lives of Israelis and Palestinians. [complete article]

See also, Only Bush can (Akiva Eldar), Egypt suggests delaying Mideast peace meet (AFP), and Rice says time for a Palestinian state (AFP).


NEWS & OPINION: The global warming that leaves America in the cold

The Sino-Russian embrace leaves the U.S. out in the cold

It has become a commonplace of international diplomacy that Russia and China often work together on key issues. They have frustrated western hopes for sanctions or other tough action on disputes ranging from Burma and Darfur to Iran. They are blocking a solution on Kosovo. What few in the west have spotted is that Sino-Russian rapprochement has reached such a point that the two huge countries’ relations with each other are far warmer than either US-Russian or US-Chinese relations. In other words, the famous US-Russia-China triangle Nixon and Kissinger created by their path-breaking overtures to Beijing in the early 1970s is completely reversed.

China, in those Maoist days, was mired in a mixture of international quarantine and self-imposed isolation, feared by the Soviet Union and hated by the US. The two Americans dramatically broke the mould. They cleverly manipulated Mao’s ideological rivalry with Moscow to bring China back into the global arena and thereby infuriate and put pressure on the Soviets. This helped to ease the US retreat from Vietnam.

Now Russia and China are together and the US is out of the loop. It is a stark fact that Condoleezza Rice and defence secretary Robert Gates cannot ignore today as they start two days of talks in Moscow. No more easy concessions from Moscow and Beijing. Both powers are big boys and can bargain as hard as anyone from Washington, whether neocon or “realist”. [complete article]

Putin threatens withdrawal from cold war nuclear treaty

President Vladimir Putin warned today that Russia was considering withdrawal from a major cold war arms treaty restricting intermediate range nuclear missiles unless it is expanded to include other states.

Mr Putin said that Moscow is planning to dump the intermediate range nuclear forces treaty (INF) – signed in a landmark deal between the US and Soviet Union in 1987 – unless countries like China are included in its provisions.

His comments came just before talks in Moscow today between the US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, and the US defence secretary, Robert Gates, with Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, and the defence minister, Anatoly Serdyukov. [complete article]


NEWS: It takes a liar to spot a liar

Rice cites ‘lying’ by Iran about nuclear program

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice took issue Thursday with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s statement that there is no evidence Iran is trying to build nuclear weapons, asserting that Tehran has prevaricated about its nuclear activities. At the same time, she held out hope that the White House and the Kremlin might bridge their differences over U.S. plans to deploy a missile defense system in the heart of Eastern Europe.

“There’s an Iranian history of obfuscation and indeed lying” to international nuclear inspectors, Rice told reporters traveling on the plane with her to Moscow for meetings with Putin and other officials. “There’s a history of Iran not answering important questions about what is going on. And there is Iran pursuing nuclear technologies that can lead to nuclear weapons-grade material.” [complete article]

The IAEA escape route

following intense negotiations, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) announced in late August a new work plan reached with Iran, aimed at resolving all outstanding issues in Iran’s nuclear file by the end of the year.

The agreement was branded as “a significant step forward” by the Agency’s Director General, Dr Mohamed El-Baradei. It was also hailed as a move in the right direction by most of the 118 nations of the Non-Aligned Movement who have consistently recognised Iran’s right to a nuclear energy program. [complete article]


OPINION: Korean lessons

The lessons of North Korea

“To get something in this world, you’ve got to give something,” Chris Hill told reporters on Wednesday. That pretty much sums up why Hill, a veteran State Department negotiator and no ideologue, may be on the verge of achieving the Bush administration’s biggest diplomatic success to date. Almost exactly a year after North Korea roiled all of Asia by testing a nuclear device, Hill led a team that managed to extract a pledge from Pyongyang to disable the country’s nuclear facilities at Yongbyon (including its plutonium-reprocessing and fuel-rod fabrication plants) by Dec. 31. Pyongyang also committed itself to revealing all its nuclear programs by that date and pledging not to proliferate to other countries. In return North Korea will get 950,000 tons of heavy fuel oil and, just as important to Kim Jong Il, the prospect of having his country removed from the U.S. list of terror-supporting states and “normalizing” its relations with Washington.

Sounds like a fairly routine negotiation. Except that for the Bush administration this kind of pragmatic tit-for-tat talking with the enemy has been anything but routine. Indeed, a year ago, when North Korea tested and its vice minister of foreign affairs, Kim Gye Gwan, huffed that “we are a nuclear power,” such a negotiation would have been all but impossible. The hard-liners in the administration still had the upper hand—among them U.N. ambassador John Bolton and counterproliferation chief Bob Joseph. Both are now gone from office, and private citizen Bolton in particular is unhappy about the deal Hill made. “This is classic State Department zeal for the deal,” Bolton snapped recently, proceeding to compare Chris Hill to a criminal: “You know, it reminds me of John Erlichman’s comment about the Watergate cover-up: save the plan, whatever it takes.” The difference this time is that Bolton said that as an outsider on Fox News, to little effect, rather than working to quietly torpedo the agreement, as he certainly would have if he were still Dick Cheney’s man on the inside. [complete article]

See also, Koreas to seek a formal peace treaty (WP).

Editor’s Comment — Bolton’s efforts might ultimately have been to little effect, but it wasn’t for lack of trying and his efforts seem to have extended well beyond being a Fox News loudmouth. Whatever the ultimate purpose of Israel’s attack on Syria, it was clearly something that Bolton thought he could use in his attempt to prevent the US reaching an agreement with North Korea.


FEATURE: Israel’s attack on the USS Liberty

New revelations in attack on American spy ship

The Johnson administration did not publicly dispute Israel’s claim that the attack [on June 8, 1967, the fourth day of what would become known as the Six-Day War,] had been nothing more than a disastrous mistake. But internal White House documents obtained from the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library show that the Israelis’ explanation of how the mistake had occurred was not believed.

Except for McNamara, most senior administration officials from Secretary of State Dean Rusk on down privately agreed with Johnson’s intelligence adviser, Clark Clifford, who was quoted in minutes of a National Security Council staff meeting as saying it was “inconceivable” that the attack had been a case of mistaken identity.

The attack “couldn’t be anything else but deliberate,” the NSA’s director, Lt. Gen. Marshall Carter, later told Congress.

“I don’t think you’ll find many people at NSA who believe it was accidental,” Benson Buffham, a former deputy NSA director, said in an interview.

“I just always assumed that the Israeli pilots knew what they were doing,” said Harold Saunders, then a member of the National Security Council staff and later assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern and South Asian affairs.

“So for me, the question really is who issued the order to do that and why? That’s the really interesting thing.” [complete article]

See also, USS Liberty Memorial.