Commentary Magazine


Topic: Islamabad

Morning Commentary

President Obama’s decision to tap former banker William Daley as his next chief of staff is angering all the right people: “This was a real mistake by the White House,” [Adam] Green, the co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, said in a statement. “Bill Daley consistently urges the Democratic Party to pursue a corporate agenda that alienates both Independent and Democratic voters. If President Obama listens to that kind of political advice from Bill Daley, Democrats will suffer a disastrous 2012.” Other liberals grumbling over the president’s choice are Jane Hamsher, Ezra Klein, and MoveOn.org’s executive director, Justin Rubin.

The filibuster rule changes wouldn’t just weaken the minority party by lowering the vote threshold. According to Ramesh Ponnuru, the alterations would also weaken the minority by handing the majority more control over the Senate calendar — a major source of power in the chamber.

Could the anti-Israel delegitimization activities on college campuses have a long-term impact on America’s relationship with Israel? While most students are opposed to the delegitimization campaign, the David Project’s David Bernstein is concerned that it may prompt students to become less supportive of the Jewish state: “While young people and particularly mainstream Democrats exposed to hostility on campus may not now or ever join the movement to boycott Israel, over time they may feel less sympathetic toward the Jewish state and more ambivalent about the special relationship between the U.S. and Israel. When these young leaders become the next generation of Democratic Party representatives, it may become much tougher to garner those large bipartisan majorities.”

Michael Moynihan discusses how significantly the fight for free speech has changed since Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses elicited calls for his death from the Ayatollah: “In 1989, when Iran’s theocracy suborned the murder of novelist Salman Rushdie for having written a supposedly blasphemous book, The Satanic Verses, only a handful of intellectuals, habitués of both left and right, attacked the author for being impolite to ‘a billion’ religious adherents. Author Roald Dahl whimpered that ‘In a civilized world we all have a moral obligation to apply a modicum of censorship to our own work in order to reinforce this principle of free speech.’ Twenty years ago this was a shockingly contrarian sentiment, today it’s depressingly de rigueur.

Supporters of the man who assassinated Salman Taseer cheered him as he was transferred inside a courthouse on Thursday. The traitorous bodyguard has been hailed as a hero by many across the Muslim world, including a group of 500 Islamic scholars: “For a second day, sympathizers showed their support for Mumtaz Qadri by chanting slogans, with some throwing rose petals when police finally brought him to the Anti-Terrorism Court in Rawalpindi. Authorities had tried to bring Qadri to the court from the nearby capital of Islamabad earlier Thursday, but sympathizers prevented his transfer.”

President Obama’s decision to tap former banker William Daley as his next chief of staff is angering all the right people: “This was a real mistake by the White House,” [Adam] Green, the co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, said in a statement. “Bill Daley consistently urges the Democratic Party to pursue a corporate agenda that alienates both Independent and Democratic voters. If President Obama listens to that kind of political advice from Bill Daley, Democrats will suffer a disastrous 2012.” Other liberals grumbling over the president’s choice are Jane Hamsher, Ezra Klein, and MoveOn.org’s executive director, Justin Rubin.

The filibuster rule changes wouldn’t just weaken the minority party by lowering the vote threshold. According to Ramesh Ponnuru, the alterations would also weaken the minority by handing the majority more control over the Senate calendar — a major source of power in the chamber.

Could the anti-Israel delegitimization activities on college campuses have a long-term impact on America’s relationship with Israel? While most students are opposed to the delegitimization campaign, the David Project’s David Bernstein is concerned that it may prompt students to become less supportive of the Jewish state: “While young people and particularly mainstream Democrats exposed to hostility on campus may not now or ever join the movement to boycott Israel, over time they may feel less sympathetic toward the Jewish state and more ambivalent about the special relationship between the U.S. and Israel. When these young leaders become the next generation of Democratic Party representatives, it may become much tougher to garner those large bipartisan majorities.”

Michael Moynihan discusses how significantly the fight for free speech has changed since Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses elicited calls for his death from the Ayatollah: “In 1989, when Iran’s theocracy suborned the murder of novelist Salman Rushdie for having written a supposedly blasphemous book, The Satanic Verses, only a handful of intellectuals, habitués of both left and right, attacked the author for being impolite to ‘a billion’ religious adherents. Author Roald Dahl whimpered that ‘In a civilized world we all have a moral obligation to apply a modicum of censorship to our own work in order to reinforce this principle of free speech.’ Twenty years ago this was a shockingly contrarian sentiment, today it’s depressingly de rigueur.

Supporters of the man who assassinated Salman Taseer cheered him as he was transferred inside a courthouse on Thursday. The traitorous bodyguard has been hailed as a hero by many across the Muslim world, including a group of 500 Islamic scholars: “For a second day, sympathizers showed their support for Mumtaz Qadri by chanting slogans, with some throwing rose petals when police finally brought him to the Anti-Terrorism Court in Rawalpindi. Authorities had tried to bring Qadri to the court from the nearby capital of Islamabad earlier Thursday, but sympathizers prevented his transfer.”

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Combatting the Plague of Religious Extremism in Pakistan

The murder of Salman Taseer by one of his own bodyguards shows how perilous the situation in Pakistan is. We all know about how Islamist extremists have taken root in Pakistan’s tribal territories. But Taseer was governor of the Punjab, the country’s largest province, and one that is (or perhaps I should say was) far removed from the kind of violent extremism found on the frontier. Events of recent years — from the 2007 murder of Benazir Bhutto to the siege the same year of the Red Mosque in Islamabad, and now Taseer’s assassination — show how the plague of extremism is spreading and infecting Pakistan’s population centers.

The army and in particular its Inter Services Intelligence Agency have long played a double game, trying to preserve an essentially secular regime in Islamabad while also funding and training extremists operating in Afghanistan and Kashmir and even farther afield (e.g., the Mumbai attacks). Taseer’s death — for the sin of protesting the fundamentalist “blasphemy” laws that permit the persecution of anyone deemed offensive to the most conservative religious sensibilities — shows yet again how untenable that double game is. Sooner or later the army, which is the real power in Pakistan, must choose between the paths of moderation and extremism.

The United States can influence the choice only at the margins, but we must do what we can to signal to the army leadership that we will stand behind them if they decide to do more to take on the radicals. In this connection, it is highly useful that President Obama has agreed to NATO’s timeline not to transition security responsibility in Afghanistan until 2014. That should put to rest some immediate concerns about America’s fickleness as an ally and reassure the Pakistani army that we will stand with the forces of moderation in Pakistan should they do more to battle the growing religious extremism that threatens the very survival of the state.

The murder of Salman Taseer by one of his own bodyguards shows how perilous the situation in Pakistan is. We all know about how Islamist extremists have taken root in Pakistan’s tribal territories. But Taseer was governor of the Punjab, the country’s largest province, and one that is (or perhaps I should say was) far removed from the kind of violent extremism found on the frontier. Events of recent years — from the 2007 murder of Benazir Bhutto to the siege the same year of the Red Mosque in Islamabad, and now Taseer’s assassination — show how the plague of extremism is spreading and infecting Pakistan’s population centers.

The army and in particular its Inter Services Intelligence Agency have long played a double game, trying to preserve an essentially secular regime in Islamabad while also funding and training extremists operating in Afghanistan and Kashmir and even farther afield (e.g., the Mumbai attacks). Taseer’s death — for the sin of protesting the fundamentalist “blasphemy” laws that permit the persecution of anyone deemed offensive to the most conservative religious sensibilities — shows yet again how untenable that double game is. Sooner or later the army, which is the real power in Pakistan, must choose between the paths of moderation and extremism.

The United States can influence the choice only at the margins, but we must do what we can to signal to the army leadership that we will stand behind them if they decide to do more to take on the radicals. In this connection, it is highly useful that President Obama has agreed to NATO’s timeline not to transition security responsibility in Afghanistan until 2014. That should put to rest some immediate concerns about America’s fickleness as an ally and reassure the Pakistani army that we will stand with the forces of moderation in Pakistan should they do more to battle the growing religious extremism that threatens the very survival of the state.

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Changing of the Ambassadorial Guard

With Richard Holbrooke’s death, questions will inevitably be asked about the fate of the post he held: Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. The job was created expressly for him on the theory that Afghanistan and Pakistan (“AfPak”) were a related problem set that required the appointment of a high-level diplomatic coordinator to handle. The expectation was that Holbrooke would emerge as a dominant force in AfPak policy to rival the NATO commander in Kabul. It never happened. In fact, by the time of his death, it was generally agreed that Holbrooke had largely been marginalized in the policy process.

Part of this was due to some missteps on his part, but the larger problem was that there is not really much of a role for an “SRAP”: it was always a theory more than an actual job description. What we need are capable ambassadors in Islamabad and Kabul who can work closely with our military commander in Kabul, General Petraeus. The model  here is the special relationship that Petraeus had with Ryan Crocker, who was ambassador in Baghdad during the surge. Their close collaboration greatly maximized the impact of the surge forces and convinced Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki  to make hard decisions to cut off sectarian actors.

There is nothing similar in Kabul. General Stanley McChrystal famously feuded with Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, leading to the elevation of the NATO representative, Mark Sedwill, to become McChrystal’s chief diplomatic partner. Sedwill is still in place, and he is a capable and shrewd diplomat, but he would be the first to acknowledge that, as a Brit, he cannot speak with the authority of the United States. Eikenberry also remains in place and has not gotten into any public dust-ups with Petraeus, but he has also burned his bridges to Hamid Karzai with the leak of numerous cables deprecating the Afghan president.

By April, Eikenberry will have completed two years in the job — longer than many last in such pressure-packed assignments. The priority now should not be to replace Holbrooke as the SRAP but rather to ensure that Eikenberry’s replacement will perform in Crocker-like fashion. In this regard, I can’t help but note that Crocker has also previously served as ambassador to Pakistan, so he is familiar with the region. Is there, I wonder, some way that President Obama could lure him out of retirement (he is currently dean of the Bush School at Texas A&M) for one more assignment to work with Petraeus to rescue another troubled war effort?

With Richard Holbrooke’s death, questions will inevitably be asked about the fate of the post he held: Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. The job was created expressly for him on the theory that Afghanistan and Pakistan (“AfPak”) were a related problem set that required the appointment of a high-level diplomatic coordinator to handle. The expectation was that Holbrooke would emerge as a dominant force in AfPak policy to rival the NATO commander in Kabul. It never happened. In fact, by the time of his death, it was generally agreed that Holbrooke had largely been marginalized in the policy process.

Part of this was due to some missteps on his part, but the larger problem was that there is not really much of a role for an “SRAP”: it was always a theory more than an actual job description. What we need are capable ambassadors in Islamabad and Kabul who can work closely with our military commander in Kabul, General Petraeus. The model  here is the special relationship that Petraeus had with Ryan Crocker, who was ambassador in Baghdad during the surge. Their close collaboration greatly maximized the impact of the surge forces and convinced Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki  to make hard decisions to cut off sectarian actors.

There is nothing similar in Kabul. General Stanley McChrystal famously feuded with Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, leading to the elevation of the NATO representative, Mark Sedwill, to become McChrystal’s chief diplomatic partner. Sedwill is still in place, and he is a capable and shrewd diplomat, but he would be the first to acknowledge that, as a Brit, he cannot speak with the authority of the United States. Eikenberry also remains in place and has not gotten into any public dust-ups with Petraeus, but he has also burned his bridges to Hamid Karzai with the leak of numerous cables deprecating the Afghan president.

By April, Eikenberry will have completed two years in the job — longer than many last in such pressure-packed assignments. The priority now should not be to replace Holbrooke as the SRAP but rather to ensure that Eikenberry’s replacement will perform in Crocker-like fashion. In this regard, I can’t help but note that Crocker has also previously served as ambassador to Pakistan, so he is familiar with the region. Is there, I wonder, some way that President Obama could lure him out of retirement (he is currently dean of the Bush School at Texas A&M) for one more assignment to work with Petraeus to rescue another troubled war effort?

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The Bracing Realism of Richard Holbrooke

Richard Holbrooke was, as the obits have it, a “giant of diplomacy.” Indeed, he has a claim to being one of the most influential diplomats in American history who never became secretary of state — a job he should have been given by President Clinton. He is edged out by George Kennan in the annals of American diplomatic history, but his achievement in hammering out the 1995 Dayton Accords ending the war in Bosnia is as impressive as any feat of negotiations in the post–World War II era.

He was much less successful in his latest job as the administration’s chief “AfPak” envoy. Why is that? Part of the reason was his mistake in alienating Hamid Karzai; an American envoy’s job is to talk tough behind the scenes but to preserve relations with an important allied head of state. Holbrooke, inexplicably, failed to do that. But most of the blame does not accrue to Holbrooke. The problem was that in Bosnia, the skillful use of force had set the conditions for diplomatic success — something that has not yet occurred in Afghanistan.

By the time Holbrooke was called upon to negotiate an end to the Bosnian fighting, the combatants had been exhausted and Serbian attempts at aggrandizement had been stymied, first by a Croatian offensive, then by NATO bombing. They were ready to cut a deal. Not so the Taliban and their sponsors in Islamabad. General David Petraeus has only now launched in earnest the military operations necessary to frustrate Taliban designs and compel elements of the group to negotiate or face annihilation. Without the effective use of force, not even a diplomat as supremely skilled as Holbrooke could achieve success.

A personal note: I knew Holbrooke slightly and liked him. I realize he had a reputation in Washington for being abrasive and egotistical; that reputation probably cost him the secretary of state job that he coveted and had earned. But effective diplomats can’t afford to be shrinking violets. Sure, Holbrooke had an outsize personality, but so did Dean Acheson, Henry Kissinger, and other diplomatic superstars. Like them, Holbrooke also had enormous reservoirs of intelligence , savvy, and learning. And like them, he was a skilled writer; his memoir of the Dayton peace process was a classic. One of many regrets about his premature passing is that the world will be denied his memoirs.

He was a liberal but a tough-minded one — one of the last prominent hawks in the Democratic Party. He was, in short, a “neo-liberal,” which isn’t so far removed from a “neo-conservative,” a label that I teased him with and that he naturally resisted. The country as a whole will miss him, and so in particular will the Democratic Party, which could use more of his bracing realism in its counsels.

Richard Holbrooke was, as the obits have it, a “giant of diplomacy.” Indeed, he has a claim to being one of the most influential diplomats in American history who never became secretary of state — a job he should have been given by President Clinton. He is edged out by George Kennan in the annals of American diplomatic history, but his achievement in hammering out the 1995 Dayton Accords ending the war in Bosnia is as impressive as any feat of negotiations in the post–World War II era.

He was much less successful in his latest job as the administration’s chief “AfPak” envoy. Why is that? Part of the reason was his mistake in alienating Hamid Karzai; an American envoy’s job is to talk tough behind the scenes but to preserve relations with an important allied head of state. Holbrooke, inexplicably, failed to do that. But most of the blame does not accrue to Holbrooke. The problem was that in Bosnia, the skillful use of force had set the conditions for diplomatic success — something that has not yet occurred in Afghanistan.

By the time Holbrooke was called upon to negotiate an end to the Bosnian fighting, the combatants had been exhausted and Serbian attempts at aggrandizement had been stymied, first by a Croatian offensive, then by NATO bombing. They were ready to cut a deal. Not so the Taliban and their sponsors in Islamabad. General David Petraeus has only now launched in earnest the military operations necessary to frustrate Taliban designs and compel elements of the group to negotiate or face annihilation. Without the effective use of force, not even a diplomat as supremely skilled as Holbrooke could achieve success.

A personal note: I knew Holbrooke slightly and liked him. I realize he had a reputation in Washington for being abrasive and egotistical; that reputation probably cost him the secretary of state job that he coveted and had earned. But effective diplomats can’t afford to be shrinking violets. Sure, Holbrooke had an outsize personality, but so did Dean Acheson, Henry Kissinger, and other diplomatic superstars. Like them, Holbrooke also had enormous reservoirs of intelligence , savvy, and learning. And like them, he was a skilled writer; his memoir of the Dayton peace process was a classic. One of many regrets about his premature passing is that the world will be denied his memoirs.

He was a liberal but a tough-minded one — one of the last prominent hawks in the Democratic Party. He was, in short, a “neo-liberal,” which isn’t so far removed from a “neo-conservative,” a label that I teased him with and that he naturally resisted. The country as a whole will miss him, and so in particular will the Democratic Party, which could use more of his bracing realism in its counsels.

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More Long-Term Repercussions of WikiLeaks

According to some media reports, the U.S. government is exaggerating the security threat of the latest WikiLeaks document dump. Take this McClatchy article, for instance. First the paper chides U.S. officials for “overstating the danger from WikiLeaks,” and then it commends reporters for their “unprecedented act of self censorship” by withholding information that could have put innocent lives in danger.

“[D]espite similar warnings ahead of the previous two massive releases of classified U.S. intelligence reports by the website, U.S. officials concede that they have no evidence to date that the documents led to anyone’s death,” reported McClatchy.

The paper said that Julian Assange and the reporters he leaked to took all the proper precautions to “ensure nothing released could endanger lives or national security.”

And French newspaper Le Monde, one of the initial five media organizations to receive the documents, added that “All the identities of people the journalists believed would be threatened were redacted.” News outlets apparently even coordinated with WikiLeaks to “ensure sensitive data didn’t appear on the organization’s website.”

I suppose stories like these may help WikiLeaks’s defenders sleep well at night. But they shouldn’t. People who think that vulnerable human rights activists and journalists were the only ones endangered by the release of the documents are sadly mistaken. The leak doesn’t pose a threat just to the individuals directly mentioned in the cables; it puts all Americans (and our allies in the war on terror) in danger. As James Gordon Meek notes at the New York Daily News, WikiLeaks may have severely compromised the ability of U.S. officials to obtain intelligence about future terrorist attacks on our soil and around the world:

Allies in countries with populations that aren’t pro-U.S. may simply let Americans die rather than pass on tips about terror suspects if they think their secret role will wind up in the public eye.

Leaks that keep the government honest are good — but not if they ultimately put innocents in the terrorists’ cross hairs.

Preventing attacks in the U.S. isn’t just about eavesdropping with high-tech gadgets, invisible ink and undercover ops. It’s about relationships with tenuous allies from Islamabad to Sana’a. These disclosures may choke off critical intelligence to thwart terrorism, such as last month’s attempted bombings of U.S.-bound cargo planes from Yemen. That plot was stopped after a tip from Saudi Arabia — not long ago an unreliable partner against Al Qaeda.

These closet allies have little to lose if they neglect to warn the U.S. of a potential terror attack. But if their covert cooperation with our government is exposed, they run the risk of losing political capital within their own countries. Add that to the WikiLeaks-fueled perception that the U.S. can’t keep a handle on its own secret documents, and this could hinder our national security intelligence-gathering for years to come.

According to some media reports, the U.S. government is exaggerating the security threat of the latest WikiLeaks document dump. Take this McClatchy article, for instance. First the paper chides U.S. officials for “overstating the danger from WikiLeaks,” and then it commends reporters for their “unprecedented act of self censorship” by withholding information that could have put innocent lives in danger.

“[D]espite similar warnings ahead of the previous two massive releases of classified U.S. intelligence reports by the website, U.S. officials concede that they have no evidence to date that the documents led to anyone’s death,” reported McClatchy.

The paper said that Julian Assange and the reporters he leaked to took all the proper precautions to “ensure nothing released could endanger lives or national security.”

And French newspaper Le Monde, one of the initial five media organizations to receive the documents, added that “All the identities of people the journalists believed would be threatened were redacted.” News outlets apparently even coordinated with WikiLeaks to “ensure sensitive data didn’t appear on the organization’s website.”

I suppose stories like these may help WikiLeaks’s defenders sleep well at night. But they shouldn’t. People who think that vulnerable human rights activists and journalists were the only ones endangered by the release of the documents are sadly mistaken. The leak doesn’t pose a threat just to the individuals directly mentioned in the cables; it puts all Americans (and our allies in the war on terror) in danger. As James Gordon Meek notes at the New York Daily News, WikiLeaks may have severely compromised the ability of U.S. officials to obtain intelligence about future terrorist attacks on our soil and around the world:

Allies in countries with populations that aren’t pro-U.S. may simply let Americans die rather than pass on tips about terror suspects if they think their secret role will wind up in the public eye.

Leaks that keep the government honest are good — but not if they ultimately put innocents in the terrorists’ cross hairs.

Preventing attacks in the U.S. isn’t just about eavesdropping with high-tech gadgets, invisible ink and undercover ops. It’s about relationships with tenuous allies from Islamabad to Sana’a. These disclosures may choke off critical intelligence to thwart terrorism, such as last month’s attempted bombings of U.S.-bound cargo planes from Yemen. That plot was stopped after a tip from Saudi Arabia — not long ago an unreliable partner against Al Qaeda.

These closet allies have little to lose if they neglect to warn the U.S. of a potential terror attack. But if their covert cooperation with our government is exposed, they run the risk of losing political capital within their own countries. Add that to the WikiLeaks-fueled perception that the U.S. can’t keep a handle on its own secret documents, and this could hinder our national security intelligence-gathering for years to come.

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Afghanistan: Moscow to the Rescue

I’m almost always in agreement with Max Boot’s assessments of the tactical situation in Afghanistan, and I think he’s correct when he says Hamid Karzai is, to invoke the Margaret Thatcher phrase, “someone we can do business with.” He is right to point out that these factors are not cause for despair — that there are, in fact, positive signs to be seen in them. I would never accuse Fouad Ajami, whose opinion piece Max references, of a disingenuous approach to the Karzai question. But naysayers do seem to be latching on to every tactical setback and unsavory development in Afghanistan to encourage a growing sense that the conflict is unwinnable.

It’s not. That said, however, there are major factors mounting against it: not on the battlefield but in the halls of state power and diplomacy. I’m not sure Americans appreciate the extent to which the other nations no longer see this war as ours to win or lose — or victory as ours to define.

Once it became obvious that President Obama did not intend to pursue the focused, determined counterinsurgency course proposed by General McChrystal, the other players’ alternate views of the situation crystallized. Our NATO allies are eager to cut a deal with the Taliban because they perceive that Obama does not, in fact, have the will to reshape the situation on the ground through military action. European NATO is concerned about its troops ending up surrounded and on the defensive in a Central Asian redoubt. But that danger adds a vulnerability to Europe’s relations with Russia and the other Asian nations that concerns Europeans even more. These concerns are amplified by the increasing recalcitrance of Pakistan, which is based partly on Islamabad’s fear that the U.S. and NATO are seeking a “separate peace” with certain factions of the Taliban. The map is inexorable: if Pakistan is an unreliable path into Afghanistan, and Iran is not an option, then what’s left is the Central Asian land route under Russia’s security umbrella. Read More

I’m almost always in agreement with Max Boot’s assessments of the tactical situation in Afghanistan, and I think he’s correct when he says Hamid Karzai is, to invoke the Margaret Thatcher phrase, “someone we can do business with.” He is right to point out that these factors are not cause for despair — that there are, in fact, positive signs to be seen in them. I would never accuse Fouad Ajami, whose opinion piece Max references, of a disingenuous approach to the Karzai question. But naysayers do seem to be latching on to every tactical setback and unsavory development in Afghanistan to encourage a growing sense that the conflict is unwinnable.

It’s not. That said, however, there are major factors mounting against it: not on the battlefield but in the halls of state power and diplomacy. I’m not sure Americans appreciate the extent to which the other nations no longer see this war as ours to win or lose — or victory as ours to define.

Once it became obvious that President Obama did not intend to pursue the focused, determined counterinsurgency course proposed by General McChrystal, the other players’ alternate views of the situation crystallized. Our NATO allies are eager to cut a deal with the Taliban because they perceive that Obama does not, in fact, have the will to reshape the situation on the ground through military action. European NATO is concerned about its troops ending up surrounded and on the defensive in a Central Asian redoubt. But that danger adds a vulnerability to Europe’s relations with Russia and the other Asian nations that concerns Europeans even more. These concerns are amplified by the increasing recalcitrance of Pakistan, which is based partly on Islamabad’s fear that the U.S. and NATO are seeking a “separate peace” with certain factions of the Taliban. The map is inexorable: if Pakistan is an unreliable path into Afghanistan, and Iran is not an option, then what’s left is the Central Asian land route under Russia’s security umbrella.

A quiet announcement by NATO’s secretary-general on Monday indicates that the NATO nations, approaching this unpleasant reality head-on, have decided to do what they can to make a partnership out of the necessity of Russian involvement. The UK Independent reports that NATO (with full U.S. participation) is inviting Russia into Afghanistan in a military role. The acceptance from the Russians comes with strings, of course; as the Independent puts it, “Moscow is seeking what it terms as more cooperation from NATO.” Not defining this cooperative quid pro quo in advance would seem to indicate a colossal breakdown in NATO’s bargaining skills; what we can be sure of is that the price of Russian involvement will be political — and high.

With this agreement, Russia positions itself as a nexus of independent influence in the Afghan settlement: a new option for Pakistan — and Iran and India — to play Russia off against the U.S. These factors combine to produce a bottom line that is quickly outracing the American people’s lagging idea of our role Afghanistan. We have much the largest military commitment there, but we are dealing away the latitude to define victory and decide what the strategy will be.

No political leader ever announces he is doing this. Don’t expect Obama to be explicit about it. NATO has been working on the Russian accord without fanfare and will probably announce it as something of an afterthought in Lisbon, where the public emphasis is expected to be on missile-defense cooperation with Moscow. But this will be a decisive turn in the Afghan war. Assuming we proceed with this agreement, the war will, in fact, no longer be ours to wage as we see fit. Whatever his precise intentions, Obama probably couldn’t have found a better way to induce the war’s American supporters to want to get out of it on his timetable.

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What the India-Pakistan Conflict Should Teach the West About the Middle East

A New York Times analysis yesterday discussed how the 63-year-old India-Pakistan conflict is undermining a vital American interest, one to which Washington has committed almost 100,000 soldiers: stabilizing Afghanistan so that it won’t revert to being a base for anti-American attacks. Pakistan’s fear of India, the report explained, spurs Islamabad to support the Taliban — the very people America is fighting in Afghanistan — as a bulwark against Indian influence in Kabul.

In short, resolving the India-Pakistan conflict could be vital to achieving America’s aims in Afghanistan. So why is Washington making no effort whatsoever to do so? Because, the Times explained, the conflict is not currently resolvable:

“It’s unfixable,” said C. Christine Fair, assistant professor at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. “That’s why we’ll be working on this for the next 50 years. …

“If there was an easy way out of this, someone would have figured it out,” Professor Fair said. “But I don’t think it’s possible to untie this Gordian knot.”

It’s not that outside experts haven’t proposed various solutions, from formally dividing the disputed province of Kashmir (which is already divided de facto) to letting Kashmiris decide their own fate via a referendum. It’s just that none of the proposed solutions has ever proved acceptable to the parties that actually have to sign the deal: India and Pakistan.

The parallels to another conflict of almost identical duration, the Israeli-Arab one, are obvious. Here, too, outside experts have proposed various solutions, but none has yet proved acceptable to the parties that must actually sign the deals: Israel, the Palestinians, and Syria. That’s why, despite years of intensive negotiations and massive international involvement — both far exceeding anything ever tried with India-Pakistan — no agreement has yet been signed.

But there’s one huge difference between the two conflicts. In India-Pakistan, the West has recognized its inability to effect a solution and is therefore not wasting any time, money, or prestige on fruitless efforts. In the Israeli-Arab conflict, the delusion persists that it’s easily resolvable; indeed, “everyone knows the solution.” That this “solution” has repeatedly proved unacceptable to the parties themselves is somehow dismissed as unimportant. Therefore, massive amounts of Western time, money, and prestige continue to be spent on it to no avail.

Ironically, the one party spending almost no time, money, or prestige on this conflict is the Arab world — that same Arab world that, according to Western pundits, deems the Israeli-Palestinian conflict its No. 1 priority. That’s because Arab countries, unlike the West, are willing to acknowledge the facts: that the conflict is currently unsolvable, and that despite all the rhetoric about its importance, it actually matters little to the real regional problems.

Thus far, the peace-process fixation has caused nothing but harm: thousands of Israeli and Palestinian casualties, and for Palestinians, an economic tailspin from which they have yet to fully recover. But the price has also been paid by millions of other people worldwide — all those to whom the time, money, and prestige the West has squandered on this conflict might actually make a difference.

A New York Times analysis yesterday discussed how the 63-year-old India-Pakistan conflict is undermining a vital American interest, one to which Washington has committed almost 100,000 soldiers: stabilizing Afghanistan so that it won’t revert to being a base for anti-American attacks. Pakistan’s fear of India, the report explained, spurs Islamabad to support the Taliban — the very people America is fighting in Afghanistan — as a bulwark against Indian influence in Kabul.

In short, resolving the India-Pakistan conflict could be vital to achieving America’s aims in Afghanistan. So why is Washington making no effort whatsoever to do so? Because, the Times explained, the conflict is not currently resolvable:

“It’s unfixable,” said C. Christine Fair, assistant professor at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. “That’s why we’ll be working on this for the next 50 years. …

“If there was an easy way out of this, someone would have figured it out,” Professor Fair said. “But I don’t think it’s possible to untie this Gordian knot.”

It’s not that outside experts haven’t proposed various solutions, from formally dividing the disputed province of Kashmir (which is already divided de facto) to letting Kashmiris decide their own fate via a referendum. It’s just that none of the proposed solutions has ever proved acceptable to the parties that actually have to sign the deal: India and Pakistan.

The parallels to another conflict of almost identical duration, the Israeli-Arab one, are obvious. Here, too, outside experts have proposed various solutions, but none has yet proved acceptable to the parties that must actually sign the deals: Israel, the Palestinians, and Syria. That’s why, despite years of intensive negotiations and massive international involvement — both far exceeding anything ever tried with India-Pakistan — no agreement has yet been signed.

But there’s one huge difference between the two conflicts. In India-Pakistan, the West has recognized its inability to effect a solution and is therefore not wasting any time, money, or prestige on fruitless efforts. In the Israeli-Arab conflict, the delusion persists that it’s easily resolvable; indeed, “everyone knows the solution.” That this “solution” has repeatedly proved unacceptable to the parties themselves is somehow dismissed as unimportant. Therefore, massive amounts of Western time, money, and prestige continue to be spent on it to no avail.

Ironically, the one party spending almost no time, money, or prestige on this conflict is the Arab world — that same Arab world that, according to Western pundits, deems the Israeli-Palestinian conflict its No. 1 priority. That’s because Arab countries, unlike the West, are willing to acknowledge the facts: that the conflict is currently unsolvable, and that despite all the rhetoric about its importance, it actually matters little to the real regional problems.

Thus far, the peace-process fixation has caused nothing but harm: thousands of Israeli and Palestinian casualties, and for Palestinians, an economic tailspin from which they have yet to fully recover. But the price has also been paid by millions of other people worldwide — all those to whom the time, money, and prestige the West has squandered on this conflict might actually make a difference.

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The Pakistan Problem

There are many “problems from hell” that confront U.S. policymakers, but none is more complicated or more important than our relationship with Pakistan. It is once again in the news because of Pakistan’s harsh reaction to a NATO helicopter firing a couple of missiles into Pakistani territory after it came under fire from across the border. The result has been the closing of Torkham Gate, one of the main supply routes for NATO forces in Afghanistan, and the torching of a number of trucks carrying NATO supplies through Pakistan. This is Islamabad’s way of signaling its displeasure with what it views as a violation of its sovereignty. American officials, for their part, are growing increasingly and understandably exasperated with Pakistan’s double game: while receiving copious American aid and turning a blind eye to American drone strikes primarily directed against foreign jihadists, it is also continuing to support the Taliban and the Haqqani network as they target American and allied troops in Afghanistan.

I wish I knew how to solve this conundrum, but I don’t. No one does. We can’t simply cut off Pakistan, because its government does provide vital assistance in the war against terrorism, and we cannot permit a jihadist takeover of a nuclear-armed state. But nor can we simply live with Pakistan’s continuing role as supporter of terrorist groups that we (and other nations, including India) are fighting. That means we are stuck in a muddle — as we have been for a decade or more. We provide aid to the Pakistani military and try to bolster more moderate elements while realizing that we cannot press too hard because we lack sufficient leverage and risk sparking a destructive backlash.

The Obama administration has gotten slightly more muscular in its approach by stepping up drone strikes — a good idea. But at the same time, the president has made it harder to woo Pakistan because he has given credence to the notion that we are on our way out of Afghanistan. If that’s in fact the case — and I don’t believe it is — then Pakistan has no choice but to look after its own interests, and in the view of the Pakistani military, that means supporting jihadist proxy forces such as the Taliban. There is probably no way to wean the Pakistanis entirely off this strategy in the foreseeable future, but at least if Obama were to clarify his muddled rhetoric regarding a deadline for withdrawal and make it clear that the U.S. is in the region for the long term, he may change the incentive structure for the Pakistani officer corps and make it more palatable for them to take tougher action against terrorist groups, secure in the knowledge that we will not leave them in the lurch.

There are many “problems from hell” that confront U.S. policymakers, but none is more complicated or more important than our relationship with Pakistan. It is once again in the news because of Pakistan’s harsh reaction to a NATO helicopter firing a couple of missiles into Pakistani territory after it came under fire from across the border. The result has been the closing of Torkham Gate, one of the main supply routes for NATO forces in Afghanistan, and the torching of a number of trucks carrying NATO supplies through Pakistan. This is Islamabad’s way of signaling its displeasure with what it views as a violation of its sovereignty. American officials, for their part, are growing increasingly and understandably exasperated with Pakistan’s double game: while receiving copious American aid and turning a blind eye to American drone strikes primarily directed against foreign jihadists, it is also continuing to support the Taliban and the Haqqani network as they target American and allied troops in Afghanistan.

I wish I knew how to solve this conundrum, but I don’t. No one does. We can’t simply cut off Pakistan, because its government does provide vital assistance in the war against terrorism, and we cannot permit a jihadist takeover of a nuclear-armed state. But nor can we simply live with Pakistan’s continuing role as supporter of terrorist groups that we (and other nations, including India) are fighting. That means we are stuck in a muddle — as we have been for a decade or more. We provide aid to the Pakistani military and try to bolster more moderate elements while realizing that we cannot press too hard because we lack sufficient leverage and risk sparking a destructive backlash.

The Obama administration has gotten slightly more muscular in its approach by stepping up drone strikes — a good idea. But at the same time, the president has made it harder to woo Pakistan because he has given credence to the notion that we are on our way out of Afghanistan. If that’s in fact the case — and I don’t believe it is — then Pakistan has no choice but to look after its own interests, and in the view of the Pakistani military, that means supporting jihadist proxy forces such as the Taliban. There is probably no way to wean the Pakistanis entirely off this strategy in the foreseeable future, but at least if Obama were to clarify his muddled rhetoric regarding a deadline for withdrawal and make it clear that the U.S. is in the region for the long term, he may change the incentive structure for the Pakistani officer corps and make it more palatable for them to take tougher action against terrorist groups, secure in the knowledge that we will not leave them in the lurch.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Worst press secretary in recent memory? Chris Cillizza says he is at least the winner of the “worst week” designation: “It took only 17 words [‘there is no doubt there are enough seats in play that could cause Republicans to gain control’ of the House] for White House press secretary Robert Gibbs to set off the circular firing squad. … Republicans, meanwhile, could barely contain their glee at seeing their message — ‘We can take the House back, really, we can’ — seconded by the official White House mouthpiece.”

Worst Middle East diplomacy rebuke to date? “Fatah spokesperson Muhammad Dahlan announced that Fatah had rejected the U.S.’s offer Saturday to broker direct talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.”

Worst political advice to Obama? Mark Penn suggests: “Between now and the midterms, the administration has to focus on what it can do to provide a sense of economic recovery. Perhaps the best arena for that is in an energy bill that creates a wide array of incentives to produce new forms of energy.” You understand how Hillary lost the nomination.

Worst column ever from James Fallows? He hopes Dick Cheney recovers so he can change his mind and undermine all his prior views.

Worst political problem for Obama? Howard Fineman says it’s the loss of independent voters: “The Democrats’ support among this group has fallen to as low as 35 percent in some polls. The reasons are clear. They do not believe that Obama’s actions have produced results — and for these practical voters, nothing else matters. The $787 billion stimulus bill is widely regarded as an expensive, unfocused dud, even when measured against the cautious claims the Obama camp originally made for it. Health-care reform remains, for most voters, a 2,000-page, impenetrable, and largely irrelevant mystery. The BP oil spill has hurt Obama’s ability to fend off GOP charges that he’s ineffective as a leader.”

Worst thing Israel could do regarding Iran? In a definitive analysis of Israel’s options, Reuel Marc Gerecht argues it would be to do nothing: “Without a raid, if the Iranians get the bomb, Europe’s appeasement reflex will kick in and the EU sanctions regime will collapse, leaving the Americans alone to contain the Islamic Republic. Most of the Gulf Arabs will probably kowtow to Persia, having more fear of Iran than confidence in the defensive assurances of the United States. And Sunni Arabs who don’t view an Iranian bomb as a plus for the Muslim world will, at daunting speed, become much more interested in ‘nuclear energy'; the Saudis, who likely helped Islamabad go nuclear, will just call in their chits with the Pakistani military.” The best option, of course, would be for the U.S. to act, but that seems unlikely.

Worst time to have an electoral wipe-out? In a Census year: “Big Republican gains in November [in state legislative races] could have lasting consequences. Legislators elected in the fall will redraw congressional boundaries next year. Control over the redistricting process could sway outcomes in dozens of districts over the next decade. ‘If you’re going to have a good year, have it in a year that ends in zero,’ says Ed Gillespie, a former Republican Party chairman who is heading up the GOP’s state-level efforts this year.”

Worst Justice Department in history? No contest. The latest: “One of the nation’s leading producers of X-rated videos, John Stagliano, was acquitted on federal obscenity charges Friday afternoon after a series of stumbles by the prosecution. U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon ordered the acquittal of Stagliano and two companies related to his Evil Angel studio on a defense motion before the defense presented any rebuttal to several days of evidence from the Justice Department. Leon called the government’s case ‘woefully lacking’ or ‘woefully inadequate,’ depending on whose account you follow.”

Worst press secretary in recent memory? Chris Cillizza says he is at least the winner of the “worst week” designation: “It took only 17 words [‘there is no doubt there are enough seats in play that could cause Republicans to gain control’ of the House] for White House press secretary Robert Gibbs to set off the circular firing squad. … Republicans, meanwhile, could barely contain their glee at seeing their message — ‘We can take the House back, really, we can’ — seconded by the official White House mouthpiece.”

Worst Middle East diplomacy rebuke to date? “Fatah spokesperson Muhammad Dahlan announced that Fatah had rejected the U.S.’s offer Saturday to broker direct talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.”

Worst political advice to Obama? Mark Penn suggests: “Between now and the midterms, the administration has to focus on what it can do to provide a sense of economic recovery. Perhaps the best arena for that is in an energy bill that creates a wide array of incentives to produce new forms of energy.” You understand how Hillary lost the nomination.

Worst column ever from James Fallows? He hopes Dick Cheney recovers so he can change his mind and undermine all his prior views.

Worst political problem for Obama? Howard Fineman says it’s the loss of independent voters: “The Democrats’ support among this group has fallen to as low as 35 percent in some polls. The reasons are clear. They do not believe that Obama’s actions have produced results — and for these practical voters, nothing else matters. The $787 billion stimulus bill is widely regarded as an expensive, unfocused dud, even when measured against the cautious claims the Obama camp originally made for it. Health-care reform remains, for most voters, a 2,000-page, impenetrable, and largely irrelevant mystery. The BP oil spill has hurt Obama’s ability to fend off GOP charges that he’s ineffective as a leader.”

Worst thing Israel could do regarding Iran? In a definitive analysis of Israel’s options, Reuel Marc Gerecht argues it would be to do nothing: “Without a raid, if the Iranians get the bomb, Europe’s appeasement reflex will kick in and the EU sanctions regime will collapse, leaving the Americans alone to contain the Islamic Republic. Most of the Gulf Arabs will probably kowtow to Persia, having more fear of Iran than confidence in the defensive assurances of the United States. And Sunni Arabs who don’t view an Iranian bomb as a plus for the Muslim world will, at daunting speed, become much more interested in ‘nuclear energy'; the Saudis, who likely helped Islamabad go nuclear, will just call in their chits with the Pakistani military.” The best option, of course, would be for the U.S. to act, but that seems unlikely.

Worst time to have an electoral wipe-out? In a Census year: “Big Republican gains in November [in state legislative races] could have lasting consequences. Legislators elected in the fall will redraw congressional boundaries next year. Control over the redistricting process could sway outcomes in dozens of districts over the next decade. ‘If you’re going to have a good year, have it in a year that ends in zero,’ says Ed Gillespie, a former Republican Party chairman who is heading up the GOP’s state-level efforts this year.”

Worst Justice Department in history? No contest. The latest: “One of the nation’s leading producers of X-rated videos, John Stagliano, was acquitted on federal obscenity charges Friday afternoon after a series of stumbles by the prosecution. U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon ordered the acquittal of Stagliano and two companies related to his Evil Angel studio on a defense motion before the defense presented any rebuttal to several days of evidence from the Justice Department. Leon called the government’s case ‘woefully lacking’ or ‘woefully inadequate,’ depending on whose account you follow.”

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Riding the Rails

The success of certain sanctions on Iran will always depend on the cooperation of Iran’s neighbors as to their enforcement. Major railway developments in 2010 are aligning to present Turkey and Pakistan, in particular, with decision points in that regard. With cargo and passengers moving in both directions, Iran’s reach in support of terrorists has the prospect of being significantly extended as well.

Turkey, Iran, and Pakistan have been working on a continuous railway link since 2007. Variously known as the Istanbul-Islamabad line or the “Zahedan corridor” — for the hub transits in Iran — the link was completed in mid-2009. With the three nations planning to inaugurate regular passenger and freight service on August 1, the obvious questions are whether the security arrangements in Turkey and Pakistan will reflect the intent of the UN sanctions, and whether they will be brokered with transparent honesty.

Turkey has a heavily-trafficked railway link to Europe as well as domestic concerns about the Kurdish insurgency. The Turks are certain to exercise a high level of vigilance over passengers and cargo at their borders. But that doesn’t mean they will enforce UN sanctions in brokering cargo passage to Iran, nor does it mean they will interdict shipments from Iran destined for Syria (and, ultimately, for Hezbollah). Indeed, light cargo can be transported to Syria with particular ease now, rail service having been restarted between Mersin, Turkey, and Aleppo in June 2010. An additional transport hub is scheduled to open in December between Gaziantep, Turkey, and Aleppo — this one linked with a new rail service between Turkey and Iraq that transits through northern Syria.

On the Pakistani side, railway security will operate according to Islamabad’s domestic priorities; the primary effort will be interdicting foreign support to internal insurgencies. If the Pakistani authorities don’t act as reliable enforcement agents, it won’t be difficult (although it will probably be expensive) to move UN-prohibited cargo to Iran through Pakistani ports and the national rail system. Moreover, given the extent of the emerging rail network — by which passengers will be able to move continuously on rail between Syria, Iraq, and Pakistan –terrorist operatives will have the ability to travel more directly and conveniently than by sea, but still avoid the international law-enforcement vulnerability of commercial air travel.

Iran’s options for evading sanctions are many; it has three other long borders besides the one on the Persian Gulf. Russia’s trade access to Iran across the Caspian Sea has long given Moscow a central position in multilateral negotiations with the mullahs. But with the new rail service joining Turkey and Pakistan, Iran will have a modern, convenient transport option that doesn’t involve Russia. On the Pakistani end, the influence of the EU will be less of a factor than it is with Turkey — and the useful “cover” of a thriving regular trade with China will be more important. For both Iran’s nuclear program and Islamist terror logistics, much will shortly depend on how Ankara and Islamabad handle security and law enforcement on the rails.

The success of certain sanctions on Iran will always depend on the cooperation of Iran’s neighbors as to their enforcement. Major railway developments in 2010 are aligning to present Turkey and Pakistan, in particular, with decision points in that regard. With cargo and passengers moving in both directions, Iran’s reach in support of terrorists has the prospect of being significantly extended as well.

Turkey, Iran, and Pakistan have been working on a continuous railway link since 2007. Variously known as the Istanbul-Islamabad line or the “Zahedan corridor” — for the hub transits in Iran — the link was completed in mid-2009. With the three nations planning to inaugurate regular passenger and freight service on August 1, the obvious questions are whether the security arrangements in Turkey and Pakistan will reflect the intent of the UN sanctions, and whether they will be brokered with transparent honesty.

Turkey has a heavily-trafficked railway link to Europe as well as domestic concerns about the Kurdish insurgency. The Turks are certain to exercise a high level of vigilance over passengers and cargo at their borders. But that doesn’t mean they will enforce UN sanctions in brokering cargo passage to Iran, nor does it mean they will interdict shipments from Iran destined for Syria (and, ultimately, for Hezbollah). Indeed, light cargo can be transported to Syria with particular ease now, rail service having been restarted between Mersin, Turkey, and Aleppo in June 2010. An additional transport hub is scheduled to open in December between Gaziantep, Turkey, and Aleppo — this one linked with a new rail service between Turkey and Iraq that transits through northern Syria.

On the Pakistani side, railway security will operate according to Islamabad’s domestic priorities; the primary effort will be interdicting foreign support to internal insurgencies. If the Pakistani authorities don’t act as reliable enforcement agents, it won’t be difficult (although it will probably be expensive) to move UN-prohibited cargo to Iran through Pakistani ports and the national rail system. Moreover, given the extent of the emerging rail network — by which passengers will be able to move continuously on rail between Syria, Iraq, and Pakistan –terrorist operatives will have the ability to travel more directly and conveniently than by sea, but still avoid the international law-enforcement vulnerability of commercial air travel.

Iran’s options for evading sanctions are many; it has three other long borders besides the one on the Persian Gulf. Russia’s trade access to Iran across the Caspian Sea has long given Moscow a central position in multilateral negotiations with the mullahs. But with the new rail service joining Turkey and Pakistan, Iran will have a modern, convenient transport option that doesn’t involve Russia. On the Pakistani end, the influence of the EU will be less of a factor than it is with Turkey — and the useful “cover” of a thriving regular trade with China will be more important. For both Iran’s nuclear program and Islamist terror logistics, much will shortly depend on how Ankara and Islamabad handle security and law enforcement on the rails.

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We’re Not to Blame for Pakistani Terrorists

No doubt we will soon be hearing, if we aren’t already, that CIA drone strikes in Pakistan are responsible for the aborted Times Square bombing, which is linked to the Pakistani Taliban. If only we weren’t targeting the terrorists, some will argue, they wouldn’t target us.

This Los Angeles Times article provides good insight into how the operations have been ramped up under the Obama administration, which has given the CIA authority to eliminate suspected terrorists even if their names were not entered into a vetted list:

The new rules have transformed the program from a narrow effort aimed at killing top Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders into a large-scale campaign of airstrikes in which few militants are off-limits, as long as they are deemed to pose a threat to the U.S., the officials said.

Instead of just a few dozen attacks per year, CIA-operated unmanned aircraft now carry out multiple missile strikes each week against safe houses, training camps and other hiding places used by militants in the tribal belt bordering Afghanistan. … Of more than 500 people who U.S. officials say have been killed since the pace of strikes intensified, the vast majority have been individuals whose names were unknown, or about whom the agency had only fragmentary information. ‬

Has this enraged the Pakistani Taliban? No doubt. But it has also hurt them — as similar attacks have hurt other extremist groups. It is fanciful to imagine that we could ever do anything to appease such fanatical groups. The very fact that we support moderate governments in Islamabad and Kabul is enough to earn us their undying enmity. Curtailing the drone strikes won’t earn their gratitude; it would simply signal to them that we can be intimidated. The best response to the Times Square attempted attack is to keep sending our robotic aircraft after the bad guys. This is by far the most effective program we have to address the terrorist threat inside Pakistan.

No doubt we will soon be hearing, if we aren’t already, that CIA drone strikes in Pakistan are responsible for the aborted Times Square bombing, which is linked to the Pakistani Taliban. If only we weren’t targeting the terrorists, some will argue, they wouldn’t target us.

This Los Angeles Times article provides good insight into how the operations have been ramped up under the Obama administration, which has given the CIA authority to eliminate suspected terrorists even if their names were not entered into a vetted list:

The new rules have transformed the program from a narrow effort aimed at killing top Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders into a large-scale campaign of airstrikes in which few militants are off-limits, as long as they are deemed to pose a threat to the U.S., the officials said.

Instead of just a few dozen attacks per year, CIA-operated unmanned aircraft now carry out multiple missile strikes each week against safe houses, training camps and other hiding places used by militants in the tribal belt bordering Afghanistan. … Of more than 500 people who U.S. officials say have been killed since the pace of strikes intensified, the vast majority have been individuals whose names were unknown, or about whom the agency had only fragmentary information. ‬

Has this enraged the Pakistani Taliban? No doubt. But it has also hurt them — as similar attacks have hurt other extremist groups. It is fanciful to imagine that we could ever do anything to appease such fanatical groups. The very fact that we support moderate governments in Islamabad and Kabul is enough to earn us their undying enmity. Curtailing the drone strikes won’t earn their gratitude; it would simply signal to them that we can be intimidated. The best response to the Times Square attempted attack is to keep sending our robotic aircraft after the bad guys. This is by far the most effective program we have to address the terrorist threat inside Pakistan.

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How to Treat Allies

I was struck by this Wall Street Journal article today, which reports on the visit to the United States of Pakistan’s foreign minister and military chief of staff:

The top U.S. foreign-policy officials gave their Pakistani counterparts a full public embrace Wednesday, even as some senior Obama administration officials say they still need to be convinced that Islamabad is fully committed to eradicating Islamic militants based in the tribal regions bordering Afghanistan.

The public praise from the U.S., made as part of high-level bilateral talks at the State Department and in Capitol Hill testimony, acknowledged some continuing differences. But the praise was otherwise almost unreserved—highlighting how central gaining Pakistani cooperation has become to the administration’s highest-risk foreign policy challenges.

Now that’s how you are supposed to treat allies: praise in public, pressure in private.

Consider, by contrast, the treatment now being meted out to Israel, which is being publicly condemned by senior administration officials, and whose prime minister was hustled out of an Oval Office meeting without even a photo-op or a word of praise from the president — the kind of treatment afforded to disreputable Third World dictators rather than to the duly elected leader of one of our closest allies.

The contrast is all the more striking because Pakistan has been a greater thorn in our side than Israel could ever be. Israel’s critics claim its policies are responsible for killing American soldiers. Even if you accept their arguments at face value, they are engaging in hyperbole. But in the case of Pakistan, this is no exaggeration — Pakistan has provided arms and training to Taliban terrorists who really have killed many American soldiers in Afghanistan.

True, Pakistan has been cracking down more on the Taliban recently, but administration officials are well aware that this cooperation is partial and incomplete. Pakistan has by no means totally divorced itself from the Taliban or other Islamist terrorist groups that it has used as instruments of statecraft. Nevertheless, it is moving in the right direction. So the public praise, while fulsome, is well-warranted.

The diplomatic approach to Pakistan makes the administration’s punitive approach to Israel all the more striking. As Jackson Diehl of the Washington Post has aptly observed, when it comes to Israel, Obama “appears ideological – and vindictive.”

I was struck by this Wall Street Journal article today, which reports on the visit to the United States of Pakistan’s foreign minister and military chief of staff:

The top U.S. foreign-policy officials gave their Pakistani counterparts a full public embrace Wednesday, even as some senior Obama administration officials say they still need to be convinced that Islamabad is fully committed to eradicating Islamic militants based in the tribal regions bordering Afghanistan.

The public praise from the U.S., made as part of high-level bilateral talks at the State Department and in Capitol Hill testimony, acknowledged some continuing differences. But the praise was otherwise almost unreserved—highlighting how central gaining Pakistani cooperation has become to the administration’s highest-risk foreign policy challenges.

Now that’s how you are supposed to treat allies: praise in public, pressure in private.

Consider, by contrast, the treatment now being meted out to Israel, which is being publicly condemned by senior administration officials, and whose prime minister was hustled out of an Oval Office meeting without even a photo-op or a word of praise from the president — the kind of treatment afforded to disreputable Third World dictators rather than to the duly elected leader of one of our closest allies.

The contrast is all the more striking because Pakistan has been a greater thorn in our side than Israel could ever be. Israel’s critics claim its policies are responsible for killing American soldiers. Even if you accept their arguments at face value, they are engaging in hyperbole. But in the case of Pakistan, this is no exaggeration — Pakistan has provided arms and training to Taliban terrorists who really have killed many American soldiers in Afghanistan.

True, Pakistan has been cracking down more on the Taliban recently, but administration officials are well aware that this cooperation is partial and incomplete. Pakistan has by no means totally divorced itself from the Taliban or other Islamist terrorist groups that it has used as instruments of statecraft. Nevertheless, it is moving in the right direction. So the public praise, while fulsome, is well-warranted.

The diplomatic approach to Pakistan makes the administration’s punitive approach to Israel all the more striking. As Jackson Diehl of the Washington Post has aptly observed, when it comes to Israel, Obama “appears ideological – and vindictive.”

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A Big Fish Caught in Afghanistan

No one should be fooled into thinking that the capture of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban’s No. 2 commander, will end the insurgency in Afghanistan — any more than the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in 2006 ended al-Qaeda in Iraq’s reign of terror. In fact (a sobering thought!), violence in Iraq only intensified after Zarqawi’s death, which occurred at the hands of the secretive Joint Special Operations Command, containing America’s top commando units. Nevertheless, Baradar’s capture, which was apparently carried out in Karachi by the CIA in cooperation with Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence, will deal a major blow to the Taliban, at least over the short term. His importance is summed up in this Newsweek article:

Baradar appoints and fires the Taliban’s commanders and governors; presides over its top military council and central ruling Shura in Quetta, the city in southwestern Pakistan where most of the group’s senior leaders are based; and issues the group’s most important policy statements in his own name. It is key that he controls the Taliban’s treasury — hundreds of millions of dollars in narcotics protection money, ransom payments, highway tolls, and “charitable donations,” largely from the Gulf. “He commands all military, political, religious, and financial power,” says Mullah Shah Wali Akhund, a guerrilla subcommander from Helmand province.

No doubt Baradar will be replaced but that will take a while and, in the meantime, Taliban operations will be disrupted just as the U.S. troop surge is getting underway and the offensive aimed at Marjah, a major Taliban stronghold in Helmand Province, is nearing the completion of its initial stages. The timing couldn’t be better. We can only hope that his interrogators make Baradar talk, which is probably more likely given that the ISI is not bound by the sort of restrictions on interrogation that the Obama administration has imposed on our own spooks. Nor, it should be added, will Baradar be read his Miranda rights — a sign of how differently we treat terrorists captured abroad compared with those who manage to make it to American soil.

Perhaps the most hopeful thing about Baradar’s capture is what it portends not about the future of Afghanistan but rather of Pakistan. Until now, Pakistani officials have been willing to go after the Pakistani Taliban, who pose a direct threat to their rule, while ignoring, or even subsiding, their Afghan brethren, who are seen as a tool of Pakistani foreign policy. Thus the Afghan Taliban have been allowed to operate with impunity in Quetta and other Pakistani cities. Let us hope that this operation signals a lasting change of attitude on the part of Islamabad. If it does, that will make the threat in Afghanistan much more manageable while also increasing the long-term prospects of defeating the Islamist insurgency in Pakistan.

No one should be fooled into thinking that the capture of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban’s No. 2 commander, will end the insurgency in Afghanistan — any more than the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in 2006 ended al-Qaeda in Iraq’s reign of terror. In fact (a sobering thought!), violence in Iraq only intensified after Zarqawi’s death, which occurred at the hands of the secretive Joint Special Operations Command, containing America’s top commando units. Nevertheless, Baradar’s capture, which was apparently carried out in Karachi by the CIA in cooperation with Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence, will deal a major blow to the Taliban, at least over the short term. His importance is summed up in this Newsweek article:

Baradar appoints and fires the Taliban’s commanders and governors; presides over its top military council and central ruling Shura in Quetta, the city in southwestern Pakistan where most of the group’s senior leaders are based; and issues the group’s most important policy statements in his own name. It is key that he controls the Taliban’s treasury — hundreds of millions of dollars in narcotics protection money, ransom payments, highway tolls, and “charitable donations,” largely from the Gulf. “He commands all military, political, religious, and financial power,” says Mullah Shah Wali Akhund, a guerrilla subcommander from Helmand province.

No doubt Baradar will be replaced but that will take a while and, in the meantime, Taliban operations will be disrupted just as the U.S. troop surge is getting underway and the offensive aimed at Marjah, a major Taliban stronghold in Helmand Province, is nearing the completion of its initial stages. The timing couldn’t be better. We can only hope that his interrogators make Baradar talk, which is probably more likely given that the ISI is not bound by the sort of restrictions on interrogation that the Obama administration has imposed on our own spooks. Nor, it should be added, will Baradar be read his Miranda rights — a sign of how differently we treat terrorists captured abroad compared with those who manage to make it to American soil.

Perhaps the most hopeful thing about Baradar’s capture is what it portends not about the future of Afghanistan but rather of Pakistan. Until now, Pakistani officials have been willing to go after the Pakistani Taliban, who pose a direct threat to their rule, while ignoring, or even subsiding, their Afghan brethren, who are seen as a tool of Pakistani foreign policy. Thus the Afghan Taliban have been allowed to operate with impunity in Quetta and other Pakistani cities. Let us hope that this operation signals a lasting change of attitude on the part of Islamabad. If it does, that will make the threat in Afghanistan much more manageable while also increasing the long-term prospects of defeating the Islamist insurgency in Pakistan.

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Zardari Growing Weaker

The Washington Post has two articles on its website about Pakistan that are, on the surface, about different subjects but actually are closely related. One article reports on the Pakistani Supreme Court striking down an amnesty that had allowed Asif Ali Zardari to become president without facing a raft of corruption charges going back many years. The other article reports that Zardari “has resisted a direct appeal from President Obama for a rapid expansion of Pakistani military operations in tribal areas and has called on the United States to speed up military assistance to Pakistani forces and to intervene more forcefully with India, its traditional adversary.”

What is the connection? Both are evidence of Zardari’s weakness. That he may now face criminal prosecution undermines his standing and makes it harder for him to direct Pakistan’s military and intelligence forces to move against the Taliban and other Islamist terrorist groups. Whether Zardari would move against them if given more power is a matter of conjecture, but there is little doubt that he is more personally committed to battling these groups — which killed his wife, Benazir Bhutto — than his predecessor, Pervez Musharraf, was. One result of his commitment was the Pakistani army offensive this year into South Waziristan and the Swat Valley — both strongholds of the Pakistani Taliban that represent a direct threat to the Pakistani state.

The Afghan Taliban, on the other hand, have not been targeted by the Pakistani military even though their strongholds are in Pakistan, too. Although closely allied with their Pakistani cohorts, the Afghan Taliban are seen by the ruling circles in Islamabad as more of an asset than a problem. In Pakistan’s strategic calculus, the Afghan extremists represent a useful hedge for Pakistan to make sure that its interests are respected by Afghanistan, especially because it sees the U.S. involvement in that country waning. President Obama’s talk of pulling U.S. forces out of Afghanistan starting in July 2011 only strengthens that tendency — especially when Vice President Biden is heard promising (hat tip: Weekly Standard), as he was today, that “you’re going to see that [troop numbers] chart coming down as rapidly over the next two years.”

Bottom line: with Zardari growing weaker, there is even less chance of meaningful Pakistani action against the Quetta Shura or the Haqqani Network. If the U.S. wants to target the Afghan Taliban leaders, it will have to do so itself, thereby risking a diplomatic spat with Pakistan and possibly decreased cooperation in the fight against al Qaeda. That’s a difficult decision to make, but it’s one that, unfortunately, President Obama won’t be able to duck.

The Washington Post has two articles on its website about Pakistan that are, on the surface, about different subjects but actually are closely related. One article reports on the Pakistani Supreme Court striking down an amnesty that had allowed Asif Ali Zardari to become president without facing a raft of corruption charges going back many years. The other article reports that Zardari “has resisted a direct appeal from President Obama for a rapid expansion of Pakistani military operations in tribal areas and has called on the United States to speed up military assistance to Pakistani forces and to intervene more forcefully with India, its traditional adversary.”

What is the connection? Both are evidence of Zardari’s weakness. That he may now face criminal prosecution undermines his standing and makes it harder for him to direct Pakistan’s military and intelligence forces to move against the Taliban and other Islamist terrorist groups. Whether Zardari would move against them if given more power is a matter of conjecture, but there is little doubt that he is more personally committed to battling these groups — which killed his wife, Benazir Bhutto — than his predecessor, Pervez Musharraf, was. One result of his commitment was the Pakistani army offensive this year into South Waziristan and the Swat Valley — both strongholds of the Pakistani Taliban that represent a direct threat to the Pakistani state.

The Afghan Taliban, on the other hand, have not been targeted by the Pakistani military even though their strongholds are in Pakistan, too. Although closely allied with their Pakistani cohorts, the Afghan Taliban are seen by the ruling circles in Islamabad as more of an asset than a problem. In Pakistan’s strategic calculus, the Afghan extremists represent a useful hedge for Pakistan to make sure that its interests are respected by Afghanistan, especially because it sees the U.S. involvement in that country waning. President Obama’s talk of pulling U.S. forces out of Afghanistan starting in July 2011 only strengthens that tendency — especially when Vice President Biden is heard promising (hat tip: Weekly Standard), as he was today, that “you’re going to see that [troop numbers] chart coming down as rapidly over the next two years.”

Bottom line: with Zardari growing weaker, there is even less chance of meaningful Pakistani action against the Quetta Shura or the Haqqani Network. If the U.S. wants to target the Afghan Taliban leaders, it will have to do so itself, thereby risking a diplomatic spat with Pakistan and possibly decreased cooperation in the fight against al Qaeda. That’s a difficult decision to make, but it’s one that, unfortunately, President Obama won’t be able to duck.

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The Real Threat to Middle East Peace

David Ignatius’s account of a war game involving the United States, Israel, the Europeans, and Iran (and Gary Sick’s addendum) is a good guide to how the struggle over the Iranian nuclear program might play out:

The U.S. team — unable to stop the Iranian nuclear program and unwilling to go to war — concluded the game by embracing a strategy of containment and deterrence. The Iranian team wound up with Russia and China as its diplomatic protectors. And the Israeli team ended in a sharp break with Washington.

Let me try to flesh out what the “sharp break with Washington” might consist of.

It’s clear at this point that the Obama administration has reconciled itself to a nuclear Iran and even, I think, convinced itself that this won’t be such a bad thing. After all, China opened up to the West after it went nuclear. We dealt with the Russians after they went nuclear. The Indians and Pakistanis haven’t nuked each other, despite Kashmir and all the terrorism. Neither has Israel used nukes, for that matter.

In fact, Iran going nuclear might help remove the chip on the shoulder of the Islamic Revolutionaries by making them feel as important as they hope to be — because as we all know from our Iran experts, there’s an important psychological dimension to all of this; one must understand the legacy of colonialism and imperialism. The nuclear program will really be a socialization program, in other words. It is how Iran will be broken to the saddle of the international system.

So, if you’ve reconciled yourself to all of that, the next step is ensuring the smooth transition of the Middle East into a region with two, not one, nuclear powers. This is where the Israelis, and Israeli power, become a huge problem. Such a problem, I think, that the real challenge for Obama over the next year isn’t going to be dealing with the Iranians, it’s going to be deterring the Israelis.

The Iranians probably won’t test a nuke, so there will be no above-the-fold three-alarm headline when Americans suddenly will be forced to confront the fecklessness of their president. There will be no Soviet-tanks-rolling-into-Afghanistan moment. There will be ambiguity, enough of it for Obama to be able to maintain for a long time that we just don’t know whether Iran has gone nuclear because they’re still considering our latest offer to build reactors for them on the Galapagos Islands and they’ve requested another three weeks for deliberations.

The president is perfectly capable of muddling through the nuclearization of Iran. What would create huge problems is an Israeli strike. Obama would have to use the military to keep the Strait of Hormuz open. The “Arab street,” which he has worked so hard to befriend, would burn him in effigy from Algiers to Islamabad. The Zionist-Crusader axis would be denounced around the world. “Optics” are very important to Obama, quite more so than substance, and he would look as though he had completely lost control of the Middle East (which would be true). And once again, the world would descend into the kind of brutal struggle for power that is not supposed to happen during the Obama Era.

Yes, this is the real problem — the Israelis and their dangerous, rigid feelings of insecurity. So in my estimation, expect to see a major effort by the administration to keep the Israelis, not the Iranians, in check. It’s the logical thing to do.

David Ignatius’s account of a war game involving the United States, Israel, the Europeans, and Iran (and Gary Sick’s addendum) is a good guide to how the struggle over the Iranian nuclear program might play out:

The U.S. team — unable to stop the Iranian nuclear program and unwilling to go to war — concluded the game by embracing a strategy of containment and deterrence. The Iranian team wound up with Russia and China as its diplomatic protectors. And the Israeli team ended in a sharp break with Washington.

Let me try to flesh out what the “sharp break with Washington” might consist of.

It’s clear at this point that the Obama administration has reconciled itself to a nuclear Iran and even, I think, convinced itself that this won’t be such a bad thing. After all, China opened up to the West after it went nuclear. We dealt with the Russians after they went nuclear. The Indians and Pakistanis haven’t nuked each other, despite Kashmir and all the terrorism. Neither has Israel used nukes, for that matter.

In fact, Iran going nuclear might help remove the chip on the shoulder of the Islamic Revolutionaries by making them feel as important as they hope to be — because as we all know from our Iran experts, there’s an important psychological dimension to all of this; one must understand the legacy of colonialism and imperialism. The nuclear program will really be a socialization program, in other words. It is how Iran will be broken to the saddle of the international system.

So, if you’ve reconciled yourself to all of that, the next step is ensuring the smooth transition of the Middle East into a region with two, not one, nuclear powers. This is where the Israelis, and Israeli power, become a huge problem. Such a problem, I think, that the real challenge for Obama over the next year isn’t going to be dealing with the Iranians, it’s going to be deterring the Israelis.

The Iranians probably won’t test a nuke, so there will be no above-the-fold three-alarm headline when Americans suddenly will be forced to confront the fecklessness of their president. There will be no Soviet-tanks-rolling-into-Afghanistan moment. There will be ambiguity, enough of it for Obama to be able to maintain for a long time that we just don’t know whether Iran has gone nuclear because they’re still considering our latest offer to build reactors for them on the Galapagos Islands and they’ve requested another three weeks for deliberations.

The president is perfectly capable of muddling through the nuclearization of Iran. What would create huge problems is an Israeli strike. Obama would have to use the military to keep the Strait of Hormuz open. The “Arab street,” which he has worked so hard to befriend, would burn him in effigy from Algiers to Islamabad. The Zionist-Crusader axis would be denounced around the world. “Optics” are very important to Obama, quite more so than substance, and he would look as though he had completely lost control of the Middle East (which would be true). And once again, the world would descend into the kind of brutal struggle for power that is not supposed to happen during the Obama Era.

Yes, this is the real problem — the Israelis and their dangerous, rigid feelings of insecurity. So in my estimation, expect to see a major effort by the administration to keep the Israelis, not the Iranians, in check. It’s the logical thing to do.

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Iran in India

Today, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad arrived in New Delhi on his first official visit there. On the agenda is the 1,625-mile gas pipeline that will connect supplier Iran to consumers India and Pakistan. Yesterday, the Iranian president was in Islamabad, where he and his Pakistani hosts said they had resolved “all issues” regarding the proposed link.

Iran is making headway in implementing its “Look East” strategy, and in India Tehran has found a willing partner. The Bush administration, to put pressure on Iran, has opposed the pipeline, but New Delhi, famed for its independence, is pushing back. “India and Iran are ancient civilizations whose relations span centuries,” the Indian foreign ministry said last week. “Neither country needs any guidance on the future conduct of bilateral relations.”

Of course. There are many reasons why New Delhi wants to improve ties with Tehran. Among them are New Delhi’s desire to show that it is not dependent on Washington, India’s need for Iran’s energy, and the Indian government’s concern about the country’s Shiites, who look to Tehran.

Fortunately for Washington, Iran and India have yet to settle their differences over the pipeline. Among the outstanding problems is something that Tehran has no power to solve: New Delhi’s concern about relying on energy that has to travel through archrival Pakistan. Nonetheless, some believe construction on the US$7.6 billion project could begin next year. Consequently, the Bush administration does not have much time to figure out how to keep India from joining Iran.

I don’t think the solution for Washington to this particular problem can be found in New Delhi, however. As the Indians see it, they cannot afford to help the Americans in opposing the Iranians as long as the Iranians retain the support of the Chinese. This same dynamic drives India’s unattractive policy of assisting the junta in Burma-it does so to counter China’s influence there.

So if Washington wants to stop Iran with diplomacy, it will have to work magic in Beijing. If it fails to do so soon, the pipeline will reach India and extend crucial support to the mullahs-and their nuclear weapons program.

Today, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad arrived in New Delhi on his first official visit there. On the agenda is the 1,625-mile gas pipeline that will connect supplier Iran to consumers India and Pakistan. Yesterday, the Iranian president was in Islamabad, where he and his Pakistani hosts said they had resolved “all issues” regarding the proposed link.

Iran is making headway in implementing its “Look East” strategy, and in India Tehran has found a willing partner. The Bush administration, to put pressure on Iran, has opposed the pipeline, but New Delhi, famed for its independence, is pushing back. “India and Iran are ancient civilizations whose relations span centuries,” the Indian foreign ministry said last week. “Neither country needs any guidance on the future conduct of bilateral relations.”

Of course. There are many reasons why New Delhi wants to improve ties with Tehran. Among them are New Delhi’s desire to show that it is not dependent on Washington, India’s need for Iran’s energy, and the Indian government’s concern about the country’s Shiites, who look to Tehran.

Fortunately for Washington, Iran and India have yet to settle their differences over the pipeline. Among the outstanding problems is something that Tehran has no power to solve: New Delhi’s concern about relying on energy that has to travel through archrival Pakistan. Nonetheless, some believe construction on the US$7.6 billion project could begin next year. Consequently, the Bush administration does not have much time to figure out how to keep India from joining Iran.

I don’t think the solution for Washington to this particular problem can be found in New Delhi, however. As the Indians see it, they cannot afford to help the Americans in opposing the Iranians as long as the Iranians retain the support of the Chinese. This same dynamic drives India’s unattractive policy of assisting the junta in Burma-it does so to counter China’s influence there.

So if Washington wants to stop Iran with diplomacy, it will have to work magic in Beijing. If it fails to do so soon, the pipeline will reach India and extend crucial support to the mullahs-and their nuclear weapons program.

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The Moderate Supermajority

My CONTENTIONS colleague Abe Greenwald takes a gloomy view of a new Gallup survey that shows 93 percent of the world’s Muslims are moderates. “We need to find out from one billion rational human beings why they largely refuse to stand up for humanity and dignity instead of cowering in the face of fascist thugs,” he wrote.

First of all, I’d like to agree with Abe’s point that even this sunny survey suggests we still have a serious problem. If seven percent of the world’s Muslims are radical, we’re talking about 91 million people. That’s 65 times the population of Gaza, and three and a half times the size of Iraq. One Gaza is headache enough, and it only took 19 individuals to destroy the World Trade Center, punch a hole in the Pentagon, and kill 3,000 people.

Some of the 93 percent supermajority support militia parties such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah and the West Bank’s Fatah. So while they may be religious moderates, they certainly aren’t politically moderate.

I’m less inclined than Abe to give the remaining Muslims — aside from secular terror-supporters — too hard a time. I work in the Middle East, and I used to live there. I meet moderate Muslims every day who detest al Qaeda and their non-violent Wahhabi counterparts. I know they’re the overwhelming majority, and a significant number are hardly inert in the face of fascists.

More than one fourth of the population of Lebanon demonstrated in Beirut’s Martyr’s Square on March 14, 2005, and stood against the Syrian-Iranian-Hezbollah axis that has been sabotaging their country for decades. When I lived in a Sunni Muslim neighborhood of Beirut, the overwhelming majority of my neighbors belonged to that movement. The international media gave them lots of exposure, but moderate, liberal, secular, and mainstream conservative Muslims elsewhere rarely get any coverage. They are almost invisible from a distance, but it isn’t their fault.

Journalists tend to ignore moderate Muslims, not because of liberal bias or racism, but because sensationalism sells. At least they think that’s what sells.

And reporters often assume extremists are mainstream and “authentic” when they are not. Somehow, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has been designated the voice of American Muslims. But CAIR is, frankly, an Islamic wingnut organization with a minuscule membership that has declined 90 percent since September 11, 2001. (More people read my medium-sized blog every day than are members of CAIR.)

The coalition of Islamist parties in Pakistan got three percent of the vote in the recent election. Pakistan’s radicals have made a real mess of the place, but they can’t get any more traction at the polls than Ralph Nader can manage in the United States.

Riots in the wake of the publication of Danish cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammad was one of the most pathetic “activist” spectacles I’ve ever seen, but the press coverage blew the whole thing way out of proportion. The same gaggle of the perpetually outraged have been photographed over and over again, like the bussed-in and coerced Saddam Hussein “supporters” at rallies in the old Iraq who vanished the instant television cameras stopped rolling. Take a look at the excellent 2003 film Live from Baghdad, written by CNN producer Robert Weiner, and you will see a dramatization of this stunt for yourself.

Last July in Slate Christopher Hitchens busted his colleagues. “I have actually seen some of these demonstrations,” he wrote, “most recently in Islamabad, and all I would do if I were a news editor is ask my camera team to take several steps back from the shot. We could then see a few dozen gesticulating men (very few women for some reason), their mustaches writhing as they scatter lighter fluid on a book or a flag or a hastily made effigy. Around them, a two-deep encirclement of camera crews. When the lights are turned off, the little gang disperses. And you may have noticed that the camera is always steady and in close-up on the flames, which it wouldn’t be if there was a big, surging mob involved.”

Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah has been quoted in tens of thousands of articles, but hardly any journalists have ever mentioned, let alone profiled, Sayyed Mohammad Ali El Husseini, the liberal Lebanese cleric who outranks Nasrallah in the Shia religious hierarchy and is an implacable foe of both Hezbollah and the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Every suicide and car bomber in Iraq gets at least a passing mention in newspapers all over the world while far fewer reporters have ever told their readers about the extraordinary anti-jihadist convulsion that swept the entire populations of Fallujah and Ramadi last year.

Almost no mention is given to the Kurds of Iraq who are just as Islamic as the Arabs in that country, and who purged Islamists root and branch from every inch of their autonomous region. “We will shoot them or break their bones on sight,” one Kurdish government official told me. More people have been murdered by Islamists in Spain than in their region of Iraq in the last five years. Such people can hardly be thought of as passive.

Let us also not forget the mass demonstrations and street battles with government thugs that have been ongoing all over Iran for several years now.

There is, I suppose, a dim awareness that the world’s newest country – Kosovo – has a Muslim majority. But who knows that the Kosovar Albanians are perhaps the most staunchly pro-American people in all of Europe, that they chose the Catholic Mother Theresa as their national symbol, that there was a cultural-wide protection of Jews during the Holocaust? Their leaders told Wahhabi officials from Saudi Arabia to get stuffed when help was offered during their war with the genocidal Milosovic regime in Belgrade.

Radical Islamists are more densely found in parts of the Arab world than most other places, but Arab countries as diverse as Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates are nearly Islamist-free. “Nothing Exploded in Tunis or Dubai Today” isn’t a headline, but I think it’s safe to infer from the utter dearth of sensationalist stories from such places that radical Islamism there isn’t much of a problem. It isn’t exactly clear to me what more the people in those countries ought to be doing. I have met hundreds of brave Iraqis who joined the police force and the army so they can pick up rifles and face the Islamists, but the moderate Muslims of countries such as Turkey, Kazakhstan, Mali, and Oman have few resident radicals to stand up against.

There certainly were radicals in Algeria. 150,000 people were killed there during the Salafist insurgency during the 1990s, and the government, military, police, and civilian watch groups have since all but annihilated the jihadists.

The world could use more moderate Muslims who push back hard against the Islamists, but huge numbers already do wherever it is necessary and possible. So far with the exception of Gaza, mainstream Muslims everywhere in the world risk arrest, torture, and death while resisting Islamist governments and insurgencies whenever they arise.

My CONTENTIONS colleague Abe Greenwald takes a gloomy view of a new Gallup survey that shows 93 percent of the world’s Muslims are moderates. “We need to find out from one billion rational human beings why they largely refuse to stand up for humanity and dignity instead of cowering in the face of fascist thugs,” he wrote.

First of all, I’d like to agree with Abe’s point that even this sunny survey suggests we still have a serious problem. If seven percent of the world’s Muslims are radical, we’re talking about 91 million people. That’s 65 times the population of Gaza, and three and a half times the size of Iraq. One Gaza is headache enough, and it only took 19 individuals to destroy the World Trade Center, punch a hole in the Pentagon, and kill 3,000 people.

Some of the 93 percent supermajority support militia parties such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah and the West Bank’s Fatah. So while they may be religious moderates, they certainly aren’t politically moderate.

I’m less inclined than Abe to give the remaining Muslims — aside from secular terror-supporters — too hard a time. I work in the Middle East, and I used to live there. I meet moderate Muslims every day who detest al Qaeda and their non-violent Wahhabi counterparts. I know they’re the overwhelming majority, and a significant number are hardly inert in the face of fascists.

More than one fourth of the population of Lebanon demonstrated in Beirut’s Martyr’s Square on March 14, 2005, and stood against the Syrian-Iranian-Hezbollah axis that has been sabotaging their country for decades. When I lived in a Sunni Muslim neighborhood of Beirut, the overwhelming majority of my neighbors belonged to that movement. The international media gave them lots of exposure, but moderate, liberal, secular, and mainstream conservative Muslims elsewhere rarely get any coverage. They are almost invisible from a distance, but it isn’t their fault.

Journalists tend to ignore moderate Muslims, not because of liberal bias or racism, but because sensationalism sells. At least they think that’s what sells.

And reporters often assume extremists are mainstream and “authentic” when they are not. Somehow, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has been designated the voice of American Muslims. But CAIR is, frankly, an Islamic wingnut organization with a minuscule membership that has declined 90 percent since September 11, 2001. (More people read my medium-sized blog every day than are members of CAIR.)

The coalition of Islamist parties in Pakistan got three percent of the vote in the recent election. Pakistan’s radicals have made a real mess of the place, but they can’t get any more traction at the polls than Ralph Nader can manage in the United States.

Riots in the wake of the publication of Danish cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammad was one of the most pathetic “activist” spectacles I’ve ever seen, but the press coverage blew the whole thing way out of proportion. The same gaggle of the perpetually outraged have been photographed over and over again, like the bussed-in and coerced Saddam Hussein “supporters” at rallies in the old Iraq who vanished the instant television cameras stopped rolling. Take a look at the excellent 2003 film Live from Baghdad, written by CNN producer Robert Weiner, and you will see a dramatization of this stunt for yourself.

Last July in Slate Christopher Hitchens busted his colleagues. “I have actually seen some of these demonstrations,” he wrote, “most recently in Islamabad, and all I would do if I were a news editor is ask my camera team to take several steps back from the shot. We could then see a few dozen gesticulating men (very few women for some reason), their mustaches writhing as they scatter lighter fluid on a book or a flag or a hastily made effigy. Around them, a two-deep encirclement of camera crews. When the lights are turned off, the little gang disperses. And you may have noticed that the camera is always steady and in close-up on the flames, which it wouldn’t be if there was a big, surging mob involved.”

Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah has been quoted in tens of thousands of articles, but hardly any journalists have ever mentioned, let alone profiled, Sayyed Mohammad Ali El Husseini, the liberal Lebanese cleric who outranks Nasrallah in the Shia religious hierarchy and is an implacable foe of both Hezbollah and the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Every suicide and car bomber in Iraq gets at least a passing mention in newspapers all over the world while far fewer reporters have ever told their readers about the extraordinary anti-jihadist convulsion that swept the entire populations of Fallujah and Ramadi last year.

Almost no mention is given to the Kurds of Iraq who are just as Islamic as the Arabs in that country, and who purged Islamists root and branch from every inch of their autonomous region. “We will shoot them or break their bones on sight,” one Kurdish government official told me. More people have been murdered by Islamists in Spain than in their region of Iraq in the last five years. Such people can hardly be thought of as passive.

Let us also not forget the mass demonstrations and street battles with government thugs that have been ongoing all over Iran for several years now.

There is, I suppose, a dim awareness that the world’s newest country – Kosovo – has a Muslim majority. But who knows that the Kosovar Albanians are perhaps the most staunchly pro-American people in all of Europe, that they chose the Catholic Mother Theresa as their national symbol, that there was a cultural-wide protection of Jews during the Holocaust? Their leaders told Wahhabi officials from Saudi Arabia to get stuffed when help was offered during their war with the genocidal Milosovic regime in Belgrade.

Radical Islamists are more densely found in parts of the Arab world than most other places, but Arab countries as diverse as Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates are nearly Islamist-free. “Nothing Exploded in Tunis or Dubai Today” isn’t a headline, but I think it’s safe to infer from the utter dearth of sensationalist stories from such places that radical Islamism there isn’t much of a problem. It isn’t exactly clear to me what more the people in those countries ought to be doing. I have met hundreds of brave Iraqis who joined the police force and the army so they can pick up rifles and face the Islamists, but the moderate Muslims of countries such as Turkey, Kazakhstan, Mali, and Oman have few resident radicals to stand up against.

There certainly were radicals in Algeria. 150,000 people were killed there during the Salafist insurgency during the 1990s, and the government, military, police, and civilian watch groups have since all but annihilated the jihadists.

The world could use more moderate Muslims who push back hard against the Islamists, but huge numbers already do wherever it is necessary and possible. So far with the exception of Gaza, mainstream Muslims everywhere in the world risk arrest, torture, and death while resisting Islamist governments and insurgencies whenever they arise.

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Trouble in Afghanistan

Wretchard at the Belmont Club runs a long, insightful piece today on the Robert Gates/NATO fracas. Wretchard’s closing paragraphs make an excellent point:

Robert Gates’ remarks ripped have the lid off a simmering disagreement between NATO allies and the US over Afghan strategy. The differences are not simply over troop levels and counterinsurgency competencies but at the level of basic national interest. For some NATO countries there is nothing in Afghanistan worth fighting at all for except the maintenance of good diplomatic relationships with America and the preservation of the Atlantic Alliance. But that will only go so far; and at any rate America can be counted on to carry the load alone because in contrast, the United States which directly suffered the September 11 attacks, sees a victory in the Afghan/Pakistani theater as a matter of vital interest. Therefore the US will carry on regardless. Even Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama periodically declare their commitment to winning in that theater. The US and the European NATO countries may differ even in their conception of victory. For the US, victory is defined as creating and maintaining friendly governments in both Kabul and Islamabad by defeating al-Qaeda and its allies. For the Europeans it may mean bringing the Taliban to power in exchange for giving up its support of al-Qaeda.

Which side of the debate is correct I leave the reader to decide. But so far as I can tell this is what the debate is about.

You can read the whole thing here.

Wretchard at the Belmont Club runs a long, insightful piece today on the Robert Gates/NATO fracas. Wretchard’s closing paragraphs make an excellent point:

Robert Gates’ remarks ripped have the lid off a simmering disagreement between NATO allies and the US over Afghan strategy. The differences are not simply over troop levels and counterinsurgency competencies but at the level of basic national interest. For some NATO countries there is nothing in Afghanistan worth fighting at all for except the maintenance of good diplomatic relationships with America and the preservation of the Atlantic Alliance. But that will only go so far; and at any rate America can be counted on to carry the load alone because in contrast, the United States which directly suffered the September 11 attacks, sees a victory in the Afghan/Pakistani theater as a matter of vital interest. Therefore the US will carry on regardless. Even Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama periodically declare their commitment to winning in that theater. The US and the European NATO countries may differ even in their conception of victory. For the US, victory is defined as creating and maintaining friendly governments in both Kabul and Islamabad by defeating al-Qaeda and its allies. For the Europeans it may mean bringing the Taliban to power in exchange for giving up its support of al-Qaeda.

Which side of the debate is correct I leave the reader to decide. But so far as I can tell this is what the debate is about.

You can read the whole thing here.

Read Less

Smoking Out China

Today, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill said the six-party talks to disarm North Korea could resume this month. Hill, America’s chief representative at the long-running negotiations, is in Moscow in an effort to save the Bush administration’s faltering campaign to take away Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons. Kim Jong Il’s militant state failed to honor an agreement to make a declaration of all its nuclear programs by the end of 2007.

This is a particularly bad moment for Kim to stiff the international community. He is set to lose his most valuable ally, the other Korea. Elections last month ended a decade of “progressive”—actually leftist—rule in the South. A conservative, Lee Myung-bak, is set to take over on February 25. After his victory, Lee’s spokesman stated that he would review Seoul’s policies and programs that have supported its northern neighbor. The potential loss of assistance is critical because the North Korean economy largely failed to respond to a package of restructuring measures announced in July 2002, and since then aid from China and South Korea is the primary reason why the regime has remained afloat. Kim Jong Il’s one-man government appears so shaky that some American and South Korean officials think that North Korea could collapse in the near future.

These and other developments suggest that Kim should be even more amenable to giving up his arsenal for immediate financial assistance and the promise of admission into the international community. On the contrary, he is digging in his heels.

Read More

Today, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill said the six-party talks to disarm North Korea could resume this month. Hill, America’s chief representative at the long-running negotiations, is in Moscow in an effort to save the Bush administration’s faltering campaign to take away Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons. Kim Jong Il’s militant state failed to honor an agreement to make a declaration of all its nuclear programs by the end of 2007.

This is a particularly bad moment for Kim to stiff the international community. He is set to lose his most valuable ally, the other Korea. Elections last month ended a decade of “progressive”—actually leftist—rule in the South. A conservative, Lee Myung-bak, is set to take over on February 25. After his victory, Lee’s spokesman stated that he would review Seoul’s policies and programs that have supported its northern neighbor. The potential loss of assistance is critical because the North Korean economy largely failed to respond to a package of restructuring measures announced in July 2002, and since then aid from China and South Korea is the primary reason why the regime has remained afloat. Kim Jong Il’s one-man government appears so shaky that some American and South Korean officials think that North Korea could collapse in the near future.

These and other developments suggest that Kim should be even more amenable to giving up his arsenal for immediate financial assistance and the promise of admission into the international community. On the contrary, he is digging in his heels.

Why is he doing that? Hill provided one clue yesterday when he was in Beijing. There the American envoy told reporters that Pyongyang was delaying the issuance of its declaration because “to acknowledge certain activities would invite additional questioning on our part and further scrutiny on things.” By “certain activities,” Hill was primarily referring to North Korea’s efforts to develop a program to build nukes with uranium cores.

There is, in all probability, great concern in Beijing that a complete North Korean declaration would reveal the Chinese origin of Pyongyang’s uranium program. Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, the head of a global black-market ring in nuclear weapons technology, said he began working with North Korea around 1991. Khan agreed to transfer Chinese-designed equipment to Pyongyang, and China helped him deliver it. When Khan’s proliferation activities were exposed in the early part of this decade, Beijing persuaded Islamabad to end its investigation, pardon Khan, and keep him away from American interrogators. Beijing has steadfastly professed that it has been “completely in the dark” about Kim Jong Il’s uranium program when it is clear that it had substantial knowledge.

These denials are, as intelligence analyst John Loftus notes, “a real signal of partnership.” Some speculate that the Chinese may even have developed the long-term master plan that contemplated Pyongyang giving up its visible plutonium weapons program and keeping its covert uranium one. In any event, on Monday Agence France-Presse reported that China has developed contingency plans to grab North Korea’s nukes if that is necessary. Such an exercise would, of course, eliminate evidence of Beijing’s nuclear assistance to Pyongyang. In light of all the evidence, it appears that China recently ordered North Korea not to provide its promised declaration of its nuclear activities.

Another round of six-party talks, which Christopher Hill wants, will not help persuade North Korea to give up its arsenal. Yet insisting on a complete declaration and dragging out the disarmament process may help smoke out the world’s most dangerous proliferator. And I’m not referring to North Korea.

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Covertly Raiding Pakistan

Today, Islamabad issued a warning that it will not allow any other country to conduct military operations inside Pakistan’s borders. “This has been conveyed at the highest level,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Sadiq.

Conveyed to whom? The assertion of sovereignty follows yesterday’s New York Times story that senior American officials are debating whether to increase the authority of the Central Intelligence Agency and the military’s special operations forces to operate covertly in Pakistan’s tribal areas. The paper notes that the Bush administration is concerned that al Qaeda and the Taliban are stepping up their efforts against the Pakistani government. Condoleezza Rice, Dick Cheney, and top White House security officials met on Friday to consider the proposal. According to the Times, “Several of the participants in the meeting argued that the threat to the government of President Pervez Musharraf was now so grave that both Mr. Musharraf and Pakistan’s new military leadership were likely to give the United States more latitude, officials said.”

Well, Islamabad has now said “no thanks” to the proposed raids, and it’s not hard to see why. News of the deliberations in Washington is bound to further inflame public opinion in Pakistan. “At the moment when Musharraf is extremely unpopular, he will face more crisis,” predicts Hasan Askari Rizvi, a Pakistani military and political analyst, commenting on American plans to intervene. In short, secret American raids could lead to the downfall of the leader Washington is trying to protect.

So it’s time for the Bush administration to accept Islamabad’s “no” and move on. Covert military action for the purpose of changing the internal situation inside Pakistan was never a good idea, especially in light of Washington’s miserable track record in meddling in the country over the course of decades—and over the course of the last two weeks.

Yet we should not let the terrorists run free in Pakistan. Afghanistan has a right to defend itself, and that right includes capturing and killing militants on Pakistani soil if Islamabad cannot prevent its territory from being used as a base for attacks. There’s nothing wrong with helping Kabul destroy al Qaeda and the Taliban in their Pakistani sanctuary. Yet we should do so openly—and not for the wrong reasons.

Today, Islamabad issued a warning that it will not allow any other country to conduct military operations inside Pakistan’s borders. “This has been conveyed at the highest level,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Sadiq.

Conveyed to whom? The assertion of sovereignty follows yesterday’s New York Times story that senior American officials are debating whether to increase the authority of the Central Intelligence Agency and the military’s special operations forces to operate covertly in Pakistan’s tribal areas. The paper notes that the Bush administration is concerned that al Qaeda and the Taliban are stepping up their efforts against the Pakistani government. Condoleezza Rice, Dick Cheney, and top White House security officials met on Friday to consider the proposal. According to the Times, “Several of the participants in the meeting argued that the threat to the government of President Pervez Musharraf was now so grave that both Mr. Musharraf and Pakistan’s new military leadership were likely to give the United States more latitude, officials said.”

Well, Islamabad has now said “no thanks” to the proposed raids, and it’s not hard to see why. News of the deliberations in Washington is bound to further inflame public opinion in Pakistan. “At the moment when Musharraf is extremely unpopular, he will face more crisis,” predicts Hasan Askari Rizvi, a Pakistani military and political analyst, commenting on American plans to intervene. In short, secret American raids could lead to the downfall of the leader Washington is trying to protect.

So it’s time for the Bush administration to accept Islamabad’s “no” and move on. Covert military action for the purpose of changing the internal situation inside Pakistan was never a good idea, especially in light of Washington’s miserable track record in meddling in the country over the course of decades—and over the course of the last two weeks.

Yet we should not let the terrorists run free in Pakistan. Afghanistan has a right to defend itself, and that right includes capturing and killing militants on Pakistani soil if Islamabad cannot prevent its territory from being used as a base for attacks. There’s nothing wrong with helping Kabul destroy al Qaeda and the Taliban in their Pakistani sanctuary. Yet we should do so openly—and not for the wrong reasons.

Read Less




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