Commentary Magazine


Topic: North Atlantic Treaty Organization

State Dept: Turkey’s Report on Flotilla ‘Independent and Credible’

You’ve got to be kidding:

QUESTION: I just — on Monday you had some fairly kind words for the Israeli investigation into [the flotilla incident]. I believe you described it as transparent, open, and balanced. If it weren’t — wasn’t those exact words, it was close to it.

MR. CROWLEY: Transparent and independent…

QUESTION: Independent. Would you use the same adjectives to describe the Turkish report?

MR. CROWLEY: I think that Turkey has put forward its own good-faith effort. I have no reason to question that it also has –

QUESTION: But it’s directly at odds with the Israeli report.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, and given the incident and the circumstances, I don’t think that we’re surprised that there are differing views of what transpired. That is expressly why we support the UN panel, so that we can take the Turkish perspective, and it has a valid perspective; we can take the Israeli perspective, it has a valid perspective; and together, try to fully understand what happened. So — but just to reinforce that through the UN panel there’s still work to be done and there’s still, obviously, an effort that will be important to understand fully what happened last year.

QUESTION: So you would not use the same words to describe the Turkish report as the Israelis’?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m saying that Turkey – it is an independent, credible report. I’m not challenging either one … [crosstalk] Both countries are doing what they can to help contribute to a fuller understanding of what happened during this incident last year. [emphasis added]

Actually, the Turkish report, which accused Israel of mowing down civilians from a helicopter before any commandos landed, was neither credible nor independent. There’s a helpful chart up at Daled Amos that compares it with the Israeli investigation that exonerated the commandos, the emphasis being placed on Turkey’s near-total lack of credibility. We don’t know how the Turkish commission was empowered to compel testimony or what testimony it heard, and we can’t reverse-engineer the issue because the public hasn’t been given the report. We don’t even who was on the Turkish commission. Read More

You’ve got to be kidding:

QUESTION: I just — on Monday you had some fairly kind words for the Israeli investigation into [the flotilla incident]. I believe you described it as transparent, open, and balanced. If it weren’t — wasn’t those exact words, it was close to it.

MR. CROWLEY: Transparent and independent…

QUESTION: Independent. Would you use the same adjectives to describe the Turkish report?

MR. CROWLEY: I think that Turkey has put forward its own good-faith effort. I have no reason to question that it also has –

QUESTION: But it’s directly at odds with the Israeli report.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, and given the incident and the circumstances, I don’t think that we’re surprised that there are differing views of what transpired. That is expressly why we support the UN panel, so that we can take the Turkish perspective, and it has a valid perspective; we can take the Israeli perspective, it has a valid perspective; and together, try to fully understand what happened. So — but just to reinforce that through the UN panel there’s still work to be done and there’s still, obviously, an effort that will be important to understand fully what happened last year.

QUESTION: So you would not use the same words to describe the Turkish report as the Israelis’?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m saying that Turkey – it is an independent, credible report. I’m not challenging either one … [crosstalk] Both countries are doing what they can to help contribute to a fuller understanding of what happened during this incident last year. [emphasis added]

Actually, the Turkish report, which accused Israel of mowing down civilians from a helicopter before any commandos landed, was neither credible nor independent. There’s a helpful chart up at Daled Amos that compares it with the Israeli investigation that exonerated the commandos, the emphasis being placed on Turkey’s near-total lack of credibility. We don’t know how the Turkish commission was empowered to compel testimony or what testimony it heard, and we can’t reverse-engineer the issue because the public hasn’t been given the report. We don’t even who was on the Turkish commission.

What we do know is that the Israeli investigation was headed by a former Supreme Court justice and supervised by foreign observers, while Ankara’s commission was an internal government investigation closed to observers. So not so much with the independence either.

Of course, the U.S. government has an obligation to maintain ties with NATO member Turkey. We’ve got nukes there, among other interests. But Turkey’s report is going to be cited to formally condemn Israel in international forums, just like the Goldstone Report is still being cited in ostensibly binding resolutions. Turkey is already trying to mainstream its lies from the other direction, in the form of a vicious anti-Jewish film of the kind not seen on the Continent since the 1940s. The cross-pollination between anti-Semitic venom and international “findings” is a real one — Durban I and II have proved as much — and the Turkish claim is not a “contradictory point of view” or a “valid perspective.” It’s a blood libel.

Eventually, the U.S. will have to decide whether it wants to stop anti-Semitic invective of the kind found in the Turkish report from becoming an international resolution. If it does, U.S. diplomats will need to state the truth, as demonstrated by everything from videos to Turkish journalists on the Mavi Marmara: terrorist supporters backed by the Turkish government attempted to break a legal blockade imposed on a terrorist group seeking a UN member’s annihilation, and those terrorists’ supporters ambushed troops who attempted to nonviolently intercept them. U.S. diplomats will also have to insist that implying otherwise is simply untenable.

Saying the opposite now, even in an attempt to kick the can down the road, will make that task awkward.

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Lebanon: An Inflection Point for the Status Quo

The stakes are as high as they could possibly be in Lebanon: Hezbollah, the terrorist group backed by Iran, has obtained coalition approval to nominate its own candidate for prime minister as a replacement for Saad Hariri. (Hezbollah’s first choice, Omar Karami, declined to accept the nomination, so the group has moved on to another “consensus” candidate, Najib Mikati.) If this nomination goes forward and the installation of a new government can be enforced, the Hezbollah-led coalition will rule Lebanon.

Hezbollah is overlaying the process — in effect, an unfolding coup — with a veneer of parliamentary order. This isn’t fooling the Lebanese, who were out in force Monday protesting the move. But has it muted the Obama administration? We may well wonder. On Thursday, the brief comment on Lebanon by State Department spokesman Philip Crowley featured this disingenuous assessment: “There’s a constitutional process underway.” On Monday, the U.S. issued a narrow ––and pointless — warning about American support being “difficult” to continue if Hezbollah assumes a dominant role in the government.

The crucial element in Lebanon’s current crisis will be what the U.S. and the West do about Hezbollah’s power move. This hinge point is crucial not merely because it affects the future of Lebanon and the stability of the Levant, but because its outcome, one way or another, will be a signal to everyone around the globe who has plans to challenge the status quo. Analogies between the Cold War and today’s confrontation with organized Islamism are notoriously inexact, but Hezbollah’s move this month has many features in common with the political subversion campaigns that were the hallmark of Soviet-backed Marxist factions from the 1940s to the 1970s.

In this context, there is a poignant rumor being reported in Arab press that highlights one particular aspect of the West’s current posture. According to this blogger’s quote of a Kuwaiti daily, two “Western” aircraft carriers have been urgently dispatched from the Persian Gulf to the waters off Lebanon. Citing an EU official, the referenced news report offers completely unrealistic numbers (including “210 fighter jets”) for the force supposedly converging on the Eastern Mediterranean. The only realistic aspect of the report is that there have been, in fact, two Western carriers in the Gulf region: USS Abraham Lincoln and the French carrier Charles de Gaulle. Read More

The stakes are as high as they could possibly be in Lebanon: Hezbollah, the terrorist group backed by Iran, has obtained coalition approval to nominate its own candidate for prime minister as a replacement for Saad Hariri. (Hezbollah’s first choice, Omar Karami, declined to accept the nomination, so the group has moved on to another “consensus” candidate, Najib Mikati.) If this nomination goes forward and the installation of a new government can be enforced, the Hezbollah-led coalition will rule Lebanon.

Hezbollah is overlaying the process — in effect, an unfolding coup — with a veneer of parliamentary order. This isn’t fooling the Lebanese, who were out in force Monday protesting the move. But has it muted the Obama administration? We may well wonder. On Thursday, the brief comment on Lebanon by State Department spokesman Philip Crowley featured this disingenuous assessment: “There’s a constitutional process underway.” On Monday, the U.S. issued a narrow ––and pointless — warning about American support being “difficult” to continue if Hezbollah assumes a dominant role in the government.

The crucial element in Lebanon’s current crisis will be what the U.S. and the West do about Hezbollah’s power move. This hinge point is crucial not merely because it affects the future of Lebanon and the stability of the Levant, but because its outcome, one way or another, will be a signal to everyone around the globe who has plans to challenge the status quo. Analogies between the Cold War and today’s confrontation with organized Islamism are notoriously inexact, but Hezbollah’s move this month has many features in common with the political subversion campaigns that were the hallmark of Soviet-backed Marxist factions from the 1940s to the 1970s.

In this context, there is a poignant rumor being reported in Arab press that highlights one particular aspect of the West’s current posture. According to this blogger’s quote of a Kuwaiti daily, two “Western” aircraft carriers have been urgently dispatched from the Persian Gulf to the waters off Lebanon. Citing an EU official, the referenced news report offers completely unrealistic numbers (including “210 fighter jets”) for the force supposedly converging on the Eastern Mediterranean. The only realistic aspect of the report is that there have been, in fact, two Western carriers in the Gulf region: USS Abraham Lincoln and the French carrier Charles de Gaulle.

But the days when the Western navies had plenty of carriers to move around from crisis to crisis are behind us. Two carriers may be in the Mediterranean shortly, but not because they were urgently dispatched. Abraham Lincoln is tethered to our requirements in Southwest Asia; USS Enterprise, on the way to relieve Lincoln on-station, is transiting through the Mediterranean. Charles de Gaulle, France’s only aircraft carrier, has been scheduled since her deployment in October to return home in February.

NATO’s non-U.S. carrier force is razor thin. Charles de Gaulle’s departure from France last fall was marred by a breakdown that delayed this very rare deployment by several weeks. Britain, once a reliable dispatcher of aircraft carriers, is in worse shape: just this weekend, the Royal Navy sent its last fighter-jet carrier, HMS Ark Royal, to be decommissioned. Britain won’t have a carrier that can deploy fighter jets again until 2020. In this capability, Italy now outstrips Britain: the Italians have two carriers that can each transport eight Harrier jump-jets. Spain has one.

For the U.S., as for France, putting a carrier off Lebanon entails rigorously prioritizing crises: either leaving some unattended or accepting schedule gaps down the road. With enough effort, the U.S. and France could still seek to affect the outcome in Lebanon with an offshore show of force. But the regional expectation implied by the Arab press rumor — the sense that Western navies can easily bring overwhelming force to a crisis — is outdated today.

Margin and latitude in our force options are casualties of the extended post–Cold War drawdown. At a juncture evocative of previous dilemmas for U.S. presidents, Obama would do better to take his cue from Harry Truman in the late 1940s than from Jimmy Carter in the late 1970s. One way or another, this crisis in Lebanon will have a disproportionate impact on the future.

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Karzai Does the Right Thing

Some of Afghanistan’s wiliest politicos outsmarted themselves in last fall’s parliamentary elections. As usually happens in that part of the world, they committed massive fraud to ensure that their allies would win seats. But — and this is what sets Afghanistan apart — the fraud was detected and corrected by Afghanistan’s own Independent Election Commission, which threw out about a quarter of the ballots and disqualified a number of candidates who thought they were entitled to seats.

The result was that Pashtuns, who are the dominant group politically, actually wound up being underrepresented. President Karzai, himself a Pashtun, was hoping he would have a solid parliamentary majority that would allow him to amend the constitution so he could run for a third term in 2014, but instead wound up facing the prospect of a parliament that would not do his bidding. Karzai then created an extra-constitutional court to review the election results and threatened not to seat the parliament on schedule — even though the election results had been duly certified by the Independent Electoral Commission. A potentially explosive situation was thus created that pit Pashtuns against other ethnic groups.

This led the U.S. and our NATO allies to come together to tell Karzai that he had better seat the parliament–or else. The same message was delivered to the president personally by the winning candidates. So, lo and behold, Karzai has now backed down and agreed to seat the parliament after all. The message of the story? Perhaps we should adapt Winston Churchill’s saying about Americans to Afghans: they eventually do the right thing but only after exhausting all the other alternatives. I do think this shows that Karzai is far from irrational or intractable; he was trying to juggle competing concerns and ultimately came down on what is, I believe, the right side.

The larger message is that holding elections in a war-torn country is not necessarily a smart idea. In Iraq, elections only exacerbated ethnic tensions without conferring any real legitimacy on a government that could not control its own territory. Much the same effect has been visible in Afghanistan, with the added complication that the elections have highlighted the pervasive corruption of the Afghan political class. There ought to be easier ways to choose a parliament, perhaps through a loya jirga — a grand assembly of elders. But at least the Afghan government has muddled through this crisis. For now.

Some of Afghanistan’s wiliest politicos outsmarted themselves in last fall’s parliamentary elections. As usually happens in that part of the world, they committed massive fraud to ensure that their allies would win seats. But — and this is what sets Afghanistan apart — the fraud was detected and corrected by Afghanistan’s own Independent Election Commission, which threw out about a quarter of the ballots and disqualified a number of candidates who thought they were entitled to seats.

The result was that Pashtuns, who are the dominant group politically, actually wound up being underrepresented. President Karzai, himself a Pashtun, was hoping he would have a solid parliamentary majority that would allow him to amend the constitution so he could run for a third term in 2014, but instead wound up facing the prospect of a parliament that would not do his bidding. Karzai then created an extra-constitutional court to review the election results and threatened not to seat the parliament on schedule — even though the election results had been duly certified by the Independent Electoral Commission. A potentially explosive situation was thus created that pit Pashtuns against other ethnic groups.

This led the U.S. and our NATO allies to come together to tell Karzai that he had better seat the parliament–or else. The same message was delivered to the president personally by the winning candidates. So, lo and behold, Karzai has now backed down and agreed to seat the parliament after all. The message of the story? Perhaps we should adapt Winston Churchill’s saying about Americans to Afghans: they eventually do the right thing but only after exhausting all the other alternatives. I do think this shows that Karzai is far from irrational or intractable; he was trying to juggle competing concerns and ultimately came down on what is, I believe, the right side.

The larger message is that holding elections in a war-torn country is not necessarily a smart idea. In Iraq, elections only exacerbated ethnic tensions without conferring any real legitimacy on a government that could not control its own territory. Much the same effect has been visible in Afghanistan, with the added complication that the elections have highlighted the pervasive corruption of the Afghan political class. There ought to be easier ways to choose a parliament, perhaps through a loya jirga — a grand assembly of elders. But at least the Afghan government has muddled through this crisis. For now.

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Send in the Mercenaries

The New York Times reported last week in horrified tones about an apparent plan by Saracen International — a South African security firm — to offer its services to the government of Somalia. According to the Times, Erik Prince, the former SEAL who started Blackwater, is somehow involved in the deal, which is reportedly being financed by the United Arab Emirates.

There is more than a whiff of disapprobation about the entire article, with its mention of apartheid-era connections on the part of one of Saracen’s principals and of the scandals that have plagued Blackwater. But, as far as I’m concerned, it’s good news.

Somalia, after all, is a country with hardly any functioning security force of its own. Its government is hanging on by its fingernails in the face of a concerted assault by the Islamist group known as the Shahab. An 8,000-strong African Union force has been bolstered the government only a little. Battles continue to rage daily in Mogadishu, often only a few hundred yards from the center of government. In those circumstances, what’s wrong with the Somali government looking for outside help? The U.S. and our European allies have no interest in sending in our own troops, so why not send in mercenaries?

In fact, as I’ve argued in the past,  the mercenary option can work when nothing else is viable. Blackwater and other contractors have caused their share of problems in Iraq and Afghanistan. It would undoubtedly have been better to have had their work performed by American troops. But there were not enough American troops to do all that was required. In Somalia, there are no American troops at all (aside from occasional forays by Special Operations Forces).

In this article in the American Interest, I pointed out the successes scored by the closely linked South African firms Executive Outcomes and Sandline:

[I]n their heyday in the 1990s they helped the governments of Papua New Guinea, Liberia, Angola and Sierra Leone, among others, to put down savage insurgencies at a time when the rest of the world stood idly by. In 1995–96, for instance, Executive Outcomes made short work of a rebel movement in Sierra Leone known as the Revolutionary United Front, which was notorious for chopping off the limbs of its victims. As a result, Sierra Leone was able to hold its first free election in decades. Another private firm, MPRI, helped to bring peace to the former Yugoslavia in 1995 by organizing the Croatian offensive that stopped Serbian aggression. Today MPRI provides trainers who operate side by side with local poppy-eradication forces in Afghanistan—a mission that NATO refuses to take on.

Saracen International, as it happens, is the successor to Executive Outcomes.  According to the Times, it is already “training a 1,000-member antipiracy militia in Puntland, in northern Somalia, and plans a separate militia in Mogadishu.” Now, after the Times article, those plans may be endangered. A follow-up account in the Times quotes a Somali official saying, “We need help but we don’t want mercenaries.”

Who, then, is going to help Somalia? Those who sniff at this option should be required to come up with an alternative that could work half as well to prevent Somalia from falling into the clutches of radical Islamists.

The New York Times reported last week in horrified tones about an apparent plan by Saracen International — a South African security firm — to offer its services to the government of Somalia. According to the Times, Erik Prince, the former SEAL who started Blackwater, is somehow involved in the deal, which is reportedly being financed by the United Arab Emirates.

There is more than a whiff of disapprobation about the entire article, with its mention of apartheid-era connections on the part of one of Saracen’s principals and of the scandals that have plagued Blackwater. But, as far as I’m concerned, it’s good news.

Somalia, after all, is a country with hardly any functioning security force of its own. Its government is hanging on by its fingernails in the face of a concerted assault by the Islamist group known as the Shahab. An 8,000-strong African Union force has been bolstered the government only a little. Battles continue to rage daily in Mogadishu, often only a few hundred yards from the center of government. In those circumstances, what’s wrong with the Somali government looking for outside help? The U.S. and our European allies have no interest in sending in our own troops, so why not send in mercenaries?

In fact, as I’ve argued in the past,  the mercenary option can work when nothing else is viable. Blackwater and other contractors have caused their share of problems in Iraq and Afghanistan. It would undoubtedly have been better to have had their work performed by American troops. But there were not enough American troops to do all that was required. In Somalia, there are no American troops at all (aside from occasional forays by Special Operations Forces).

In this article in the American Interest, I pointed out the successes scored by the closely linked South African firms Executive Outcomes and Sandline:

[I]n their heyday in the 1990s they helped the governments of Papua New Guinea, Liberia, Angola and Sierra Leone, among others, to put down savage insurgencies at a time when the rest of the world stood idly by. In 1995–96, for instance, Executive Outcomes made short work of a rebel movement in Sierra Leone known as the Revolutionary United Front, which was notorious for chopping off the limbs of its victims. As a result, Sierra Leone was able to hold its first free election in decades. Another private firm, MPRI, helped to bring peace to the former Yugoslavia in 1995 by organizing the Croatian offensive that stopped Serbian aggression. Today MPRI provides trainers who operate side by side with local poppy-eradication forces in Afghanistan—a mission that NATO refuses to take on.

Saracen International, as it happens, is the successor to Executive Outcomes.  According to the Times, it is already “training a 1,000-member antipiracy militia in Puntland, in northern Somalia, and plans a separate militia in Mogadishu.” Now, after the Times article, those plans may be endangered. A follow-up account in the Times quotes a Somali official saying, “We need help but we don’t want mercenaries.”

Who, then, is going to help Somalia? Those who sniff at this option should be required to come up with an alternative that could work half as well to prevent Somalia from falling into the clutches of radical Islamists.

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Al-Qaeda Training New Wave of Western Terrorists

Al-Qaeda is making progress on its plan to train and unleash Islamic terrorists that it’s recruited from Western countries, Asia Times Online reports today:

With the Afghan war entering its 10th year, completely undeterred by the American drone strikes in the Pakistani tribal region, al-Qaeda is putting the final touches to plans to recruit, train and launch Western Caucasians in their countries; the aim is to spread the flames of the South Asian war theater to the West.

Al-Qaeda began planning the operation in 2002, after the fall in late 2001 of the Taliban in Afghanistan, where the group had been given sanctuary. Al-Qaeda had regrouped in Pakistan’s South Waziristan tribal area on the border with Afghanistan, and used this base to developed propaganda media structures to recruit in the West.

Taliban sources told Asia Times that there are currently 12 Canadians training in North Waziristan, on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Jihadis from the U.S., Britain, and Germany can also reportedly be found in the training grounds of North Waziristan.

Not only is this a discouraging bit of news for the progress in Afghanistan; it’s also another worrisome sign that NATO countries have been unable to prevent terror recruitment on their own soil:

According to available information, the Canadians joined the Egyptian militant organization Jihad al-Islami (JAI), which then helped them reach Afghanistan. The head of the group goes by the alias of Abu Shahid. The 30-year-old, who sports a golden beard, converted to Islam in 2007 and joined the JAI, with which he works to collect funds for the organization. Shahid is responsible for all of the activities of the Canadians in North Waziristan. According to Taliban sources, the 12 will remain in the tribal belt until it is felt that they are sufficiently trained to successfully carry out terror activities in Canada. Shahid apparently is confident he can recruit more Canadians.

Al-Qaeda has become extremely creative with its recruitment methods since the Sept. 11 attacks. From Anwar al-Awlaki’s YouTube videos to Inspire magazine, it’s made extensive use of online media platforms to get its message across to impressionable young people. So far, our response to this type of radicalization has been reactive, which is only useful in cases where the terrorist is caught before the attack is carried out. Stories like this one are just further evidence that we need to increase our focus on the prevention of homegrown radicalization.

Al-Qaeda is making progress on its plan to train and unleash Islamic terrorists that it’s recruited from Western countries, Asia Times Online reports today:

With the Afghan war entering its 10th year, completely undeterred by the American drone strikes in the Pakistani tribal region, al-Qaeda is putting the final touches to plans to recruit, train and launch Western Caucasians in their countries; the aim is to spread the flames of the South Asian war theater to the West.

Al-Qaeda began planning the operation in 2002, after the fall in late 2001 of the Taliban in Afghanistan, where the group had been given sanctuary. Al-Qaeda had regrouped in Pakistan’s South Waziristan tribal area on the border with Afghanistan, and used this base to developed propaganda media structures to recruit in the West.

Taliban sources told Asia Times that there are currently 12 Canadians training in North Waziristan, on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Jihadis from the U.S., Britain, and Germany can also reportedly be found in the training grounds of North Waziristan.

Not only is this a discouraging bit of news for the progress in Afghanistan; it’s also another worrisome sign that NATO countries have been unable to prevent terror recruitment on their own soil:

According to available information, the Canadians joined the Egyptian militant organization Jihad al-Islami (JAI), which then helped them reach Afghanistan. The head of the group goes by the alias of Abu Shahid. The 30-year-old, who sports a golden beard, converted to Islam in 2007 and joined the JAI, with which he works to collect funds for the organization. Shahid is responsible for all of the activities of the Canadians in North Waziristan. According to Taliban sources, the 12 will remain in the tribal belt until it is felt that they are sufficiently trained to successfully carry out terror activities in Canada. Shahid apparently is confident he can recruit more Canadians.

Al-Qaeda has become extremely creative with its recruitment methods since the Sept. 11 attacks. From Anwar al-Awlaki’s YouTube videos to Inspire magazine, it’s made extensive use of online media platforms to get its message across to impressionable young people. So far, our response to this type of radicalization has been reactive, which is only useful in cases where the terrorist is caught before the attack is carried out. Stories like this one are just further evidence that we need to increase our focus on the prevention of homegrown radicalization.

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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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Morning Commentary

Despite the beltway chatter about President Obama’s recent “moves to the center,” Charles Krauthammer points out that the “shift” was just for show. Far from embracing a more moderate course, the president has instead used administrative power to stealthily impose several unpopular left-wing policies: “Now as always, Obama’s heart lies left. For those fooled into thinking otherwise by the new Obama of Dec. 22, his administration’s defiantly liberal regulatory moves — on the environment, energy and health care — should disabuse even the most beguiled.”

The U.S. military’s recent crackdown on the Taliban in the Kunduz province of Afghanistan is paying dividends. Officials confirmed this morning that NATO forces took out the Taliban’s shadow governor of Kunduz, Mullah Mawlawi Bahadur, last night. But the Washington Examiner’s Sara Carter reports that the region has also seen a steady increase in insurgents over the past year.

The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board looks back on the 111th Congress — and the assessment is not pretty: “The real story of 2010 is that the voters were finally able to see and judge this liberal agenda in its unvarnished form. For once, there was no Republican President to muddle the message or divide the accountability.”

At the New Republic, Eric Weinberger wonders whether academic freedom will be protected at Yale’s new college in Singapore. The idea seems unlikely given the trial of Alan Shadrake, a British journalist facing prison in that country for publishing an allegedly “defamatory” book about Singapore’s justice system.

M. Zuhdi Jasser throws his support behind Rep. Peter King’s plans to hold hearings on Islamic radicalization before the House Homeland Security Council next year: “Our national inability to discuss religious issues honestly is keeping American Muslims from having to accept the reforms needed to defeat political Islam and bring our faith into modernity. The victimization mantra feeds more Muslim isolation and radicalization.”

Secret papers released by the National Archives reveal how strained was the relationship between Margaret Thatcher and Menachem Begin, who clashed over Begin’s support of the settlements in the West Bank. According to the papers, “Margaret Thatcher believed that Menachem Begin was the ‘most difficult’ man she had to deal with in the early years of her premiership, and thought his West Bank policy ‘absurd.’”

Despite the beltway chatter about President Obama’s recent “moves to the center,” Charles Krauthammer points out that the “shift” was just for show. Far from embracing a more moderate course, the president has instead used administrative power to stealthily impose several unpopular left-wing policies: “Now as always, Obama’s heart lies left. For those fooled into thinking otherwise by the new Obama of Dec. 22, his administration’s defiantly liberal regulatory moves — on the environment, energy and health care — should disabuse even the most beguiled.”

The U.S. military’s recent crackdown on the Taliban in the Kunduz province of Afghanistan is paying dividends. Officials confirmed this morning that NATO forces took out the Taliban’s shadow governor of Kunduz, Mullah Mawlawi Bahadur, last night. But the Washington Examiner’s Sara Carter reports that the region has also seen a steady increase in insurgents over the past year.

The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board looks back on the 111th Congress — and the assessment is not pretty: “The real story of 2010 is that the voters were finally able to see and judge this liberal agenda in its unvarnished form. For once, there was no Republican President to muddle the message or divide the accountability.”

At the New Republic, Eric Weinberger wonders whether academic freedom will be protected at Yale’s new college in Singapore. The idea seems unlikely given the trial of Alan Shadrake, a British journalist facing prison in that country for publishing an allegedly “defamatory” book about Singapore’s justice system.

M. Zuhdi Jasser throws his support behind Rep. Peter King’s plans to hold hearings on Islamic radicalization before the House Homeland Security Council next year: “Our national inability to discuss religious issues honestly is keeping American Muslims from having to accept the reforms needed to defeat political Islam and bring our faith into modernity. The victimization mantra feeds more Muslim isolation and radicalization.”

Secret papers released by the National Archives reveal how strained was the relationship between Margaret Thatcher and Menachem Begin, who clashed over Begin’s support of the settlements in the West Bank. According to the papers, “Margaret Thatcher believed that Menachem Begin was the ‘most difficult’ man she had to deal with in the early years of her premiership, and thought his West Bank policy ‘absurd.’”

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Not So Fast with the “1962” Allusions

The news that Iran is shipping Shahab and Scud missiles to Venezuela has the blogosphere going full throttle, and for good reason. The introduction of medium-range ballistic missiles in Latin America will mark a threshold of dangerous destabilization for the region. Iran’s current crop of operational missiles can’t hit U.S. territory from Venezuela, but they can hit Colombia, Panama, Honduras, and Mexico, among others. With Iran successfully testing longer-range missiles, it’s only a matter of time before Iranian missiles launched from Venezuela could hit the U.S.

Of equal concern, moreover, is the mere presence of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard in Latin America. Hezbollah is already there in growing numbers, operating freely in Brazil and Venezuela and often detected along narcotics-trafficking routes all the way to the U.S. border with Mexico. Earlier hints that Iran’s paramilitary Qods force has already deployed to Venezuela are now the harbinger of a greater and more complex threat.

American commentators are quick to point out the obvious similarities of the “Venezuelan Missile Crisis” to the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962. Their complaint is understandable: the Obama administration doesn’t seem to be acting vigorously — or even paying attention — as John F. Kennedy did. But the truth is that we shouldn’t long for a Kennedy-style resolution to the missile incursion of 2010. The record of Kennedy’s actions during the crisis shows that he bargained the Soviet missiles out of Cuba by agreeing to remove American missiles from Turkey.

Kennedy admirers have been at pains to minimize this aspect of the deal and depict it as a collateral, low-cost gesture. It was certainly presented in that light in the 2000 movie Thirteen Days. As summarized at the above link, however, the actual significance of the quid pro quo was sufficient to cause editors and historians to excise references to it in the early accounts of the missile crisis. Making such a deal didn’t reflect well on Kennedy’s public profile. It could not do so: the missiles removed from Turkey were a key element of the NATO defense posture in 1962, and Kennedy’s agreement to remove them was made without NATO consultation. The question about the missiles was not whether they were “obsolete” — they were liquid-fueled, and the U.S. was transitioning to a solid-fueled missile force — but whether the alliance was depending on them at the time. And the answer to that question was yes.

The Iran-Venezuela situation of today is more complex; as it unfolds, its features will increasingly diverge from the profile of the 1962 crisis. Today’s impending crisis involves much more of Latin America. We should address it on its own terms. I don’t wish for a Kennedy-esque approach from President Obama. I’m apprehensive about what he would be prepared to trade away in missile negotiations with Iran.

The news that Iran is shipping Shahab and Scud missiles to Venezuela has the blogosphere going full throttle, and for good reason. The introduction of medium-range ballistic missiles in Latin America will mark a threshold of dangerous destabilization for the region. Iran’s current crop of operational missiles can’t hit U.S. territory from Venezuela, but they can hit Colombia, Panama, Honduras, and Mexico, among others. With Iran successfully testing longer-range missiles, it’s only a matter of time before Iranian missiles launched from Venezuela could hit the U.S.

Of equal concern, moreover, is the mere presence of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard in Latin America. Hezbollah is already there in growing numbers, operating freely in Brazil and Venezuela and often detected along narcotics-trafficking routes all the way to the U.S. border with Mexico. Earlier hints that Iran’s paramilitary Qods force has already deployed to Venezuela are now the harbinger of a greater and more complex threat.

American commentators are quick to point out the obvious similarities of the “Venezuelan Missile Crisis” to the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962. Their complaint is understandable: the Obama administration doesn’t seem to be acting vigorously — or even paying attention — as John F. Kennedy did. But the truth is that we shouldn’t long for a Kennedy-style resolution to the missile incursion of 2010. The record of Kennedy’s actions during the crisis shows that he bargained the Soviet missiles out of Cuba by agreeing to remove American missiles from Turkey.

Kennedy admirers have been at pains to minimize this aspect of the deal and depict it as a collateral, low-cost gesture. It was certainly presented in that light in the 2000 movie Thirteen Days. As summarized at the above link, however, the actual significance of the quid pro quo was sufficient to cause editors and historians to excise references to it in the early accounts of the missile crisis. Making such a deal didn’t reflect well on Kennedy’s public profile. It could not do so: the missiles removed from Turkey were a key element of the NATO defense posture in 1962, and Kennedy’s agreement to remove them was made without NATO consultation. The question about the missiles was not whether they were “obsolete” — they were liquid-fueled, and the U.S. was transitioning to a solid-fueled missile force — but whether the alliance was depending on them at the time. And the answer to that question was yes.

The Iran-Venezuela situation of today is more complex; as it unfolds, its features will increasingly diverge from the profile of the 1962 crisis. Today’s impending crisis involves much more of Latin America. We should address it on its own terms. I don’t wish for a Kennedy-esque approach from President Obama. I’m apprehensive about what he would be prepared to trade away in missile negotiations with Iran.

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EU Prepares to Repeat Its Cyprus Mistake in the Middle East

If insanity means doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, then many leading European officials are certifiably insane.

A new WikiLeaks cable reveals that in January 2010, then-French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner proposed that the West promise “to recognize a Palestinian state within a defined timeline, regardless of the outcome of negotiations.” Nor is he alone. This month, 26 former senior European officials, including several former presidents and prime ministers, advocated recognizing a Palestinian state as an alternative to negotiations. And in July 2009, then-EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana proposed that the UN Security Council set a deadline for negotiations, and then, if no agreement were reached, dictate its own final-status arrangement and recognize a Palestinian state in those parameters.

But the EU has tried unilateral recognition before, in Cyprus. And it proved disastrous.

In April 2004, Cyprus voted on a UN-brokered deal to reunite its Greek and Turkish halves. The deal overwhelmingly favored the Greeks: it required Turks to cede 22 percent of their territory after evicting all Turkish residents; let half the 200,000 Greek refugees return to their former homes in Turkish Cyprus; and gave Greeks a two-thirds majority on the united island’s presidential council. Yet 75 percent of Greeks rejected the deal, while 65 percent of Turks approved it.

Why? Because Greek Cyprus was promised immediate EU membership regardless of how it voted, while Turkish Cyprus was offered admission only if both Turks and Greeks approved the deal. Since the Greeks would pay no penalty for voting no, they had every incentive to hold out for an even better deal. Specifically, they wanted all their refugees returned to Turkish Cyprus, so they could outnumber and outvote Turks even in the federation’s Turkish half.

But the decision to admit Greek Cyprus regardless didn’t just scuttle the peace deal. Next, it destroyed the credibility of EU promises because Greek Cyprus, now a member, vetoed promised moves to ease the Turkish half’s economic isolation in reward for its vote. Then it scuttled accession negotiations with Turkey because Nicosia quickly vetoed further progress due to its ongoing dispute with Ankara over Turkish Cyprus — a rejection some have blamed for Turkey’s subsequent turn eastward. Finally, it effectively killed EU-NATO cooperation because NATO member Turkey won’t recognize EU member Cyprus until the Cyprus dispute is resolved, and therefore vetoes cooperative initiatives.

The EU’s Palestine plan would clearly have the same result. By promising recognition without negotiations, it would certainly scuttle any chance of peace: if Palestinians can get most of what they want without an agreement and still keep agitating for the rest, they would have no incentive to make any concessions, even on such deal breakers as the “right of return.”

But since Israelis and Palestinians, unlike Greek and Turkish Cypriots, aren’t already separated into two de facto states, it might also spark a war — thereby fomenting precisely the kind of bloodshed that Europeans claim to want to prevent. In short, the consequences could be even worse than they were in Cyprus.

Unfortunately, the EU seems incapable of learning from past mistakes. And Israelis and Palestinians will pay the price.

If insanity means doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, then many leading European officials are certifiably insane.

A new WikiLeaks cable reveals that in January 2010, then-French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner proposed that the West promise “to recognize a Palestinian state within a defined timeline, regardless of the outcome of negotiations.” Nor is he alone. This month, 26 former senior European officials, including several former presidents and prime ministers, advocated recognizing a Palestinian state as an alternative to negotiations. And in July 2009, then-EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana proposed that the UN Security Council set a deadline for negotiations, and then, if no agreement were reached, dictate its own final-status arrangement and recognize a Palestinian state in those parameters.

But the EU has tried unilateral recognition before, in Cyprus. And it proved disastrous.

In April 2004, Cyprus voted on a UN-brokered deal to reunite its Greek and Turkish halves. The deal overwhelmingly favored the Greeks: it required Turks to cede 22 percent of their territory after evicting all Turkish residents; let half the 200,000 Greek refugees return to their former homes in Turkish Cyprus; and gave Greeks a two-thirds majority on the united island’s presidential council. Yet 75 percent of Greeks rejected the deal, while 65 percent of Turks approved it.

Why? Because Greek Cyprus was promised immediate EU membership regardless of how it voted, while Turkish Cyprus was offered admission only if both Turks and Greeks approved the deal. Since the Greeks would pay no penalty for voting no, they had every incentive to hold out for an even better deal. Specifically, they wanted all their refugees returned to Turkish Cyprus, so they could outnumber and outvote Turks even in the federation’s Turkish half.

But the decision to admit Greek Cyprus regardless didn’t just scuttle the peace deal. Next, it destroyed the credibility of EU promises because Greek Cyprus, now a member, vetoed promised moves to ease the Turkish half’s economic isolation in reward for its vote. Then it scuttled accession negotiations with Turkey because Nicosia quickly vetoed further progress due to its ongoing dispute with Ankara over Turkish Cyprus — a rejection some have blamed for Turkey’s subsequent turn eastward. Finally, it effectively killed EU-NATO cooperation because NATO member Turkey won’t recognize EU member Cyprus until the Cyprus dispute is resolved, and therefore vetoes cooperative initiatives.

The EU’s Palestine plan would clearly have the same result. By promising recognition without negotiations, it would certainly scuttle any chance of peace: if Palestinians can get most of what they want without an agreement and still keep agitating for the rest, they would have no incentive to make any concessions, even on such deal breakers as the “right of return.”

But since Israelis and Palestinians, unlike Greek and Turkish Cypriots, aren’t already separated into two de facto states, it might also spark a war — thereby fomenting precisely the kind of bloodshed that Europeans claim to want to prevent. In short, the consequences could be even worse than they were in Cyprus.

Unfortunately, the EU seems incapable of learning from past mistakes. And Israelis and Palestinians will pay the price.

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Good Thing Bush the Unilateralist Is Gone

Now the Democrats can focus on rebuilding all those broken international alliances. Here’s Barney Frank doing his part, earlier today: “And the liberal community’s got to focus more on Afghanistan, Iraq, NATO,” he said. “NATO is a great drain on our treasury and serves no strategic purpose.”

Does he know how to reassure our skittish friends or what?

Now the Democrats can focus on rebuilding all those broken international alliances. Here’s Barney Frank doing his part, earlier today: “And the liberal community’s got to focus more on Afghanistan, Iraq, NATO,” he said. “NATO is a great drain on our treasury and serves no strategic purpose.”

Does he know how to reassure our skittish friends or what?

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Biden’s Talk of Withdrawal in Afghanistan Makes Troops’ Task Harder

In this week’s Weekly Standard, I have an editorial praising President Obama for the toughness and resolution he has shown in Afghanistan by refusing to waver from the surge. The latest sign of his willingness to hang tough was the AfPak review released last week, which suggested that the Petraeus counterinsurgency strategy is on track. But then on Sunday, Joe Biden — a never-ending source of ill-advised comments — muddied the waters with his appearance on Meet the Press.

When asked about Afghanistan, the vice president said that July 2011 — which increasingly looks irrelevant — will result in a real drawdown of U.S. troops: “It will not be a token amount.” He then went on to say something even more damaging: “We’re going to be totally out of there come hell or high water by 2014.” Huh? Biden claimed that this is what was agreed on at the NATO summit in Lisbon last month. But he is wrong. This is what the Lisbon summit declaration actually said:

The process of transition to full Afghan security responsibility and leadership in some provinces and districts is on track to begin in early 2011, following a joint Afghan and NATO/ISAF assessment and decision. Transition will be conditions-based, not calendar-driven, and will not equate to withdrawal of ISAF-troops. Looking to the end of 2014, Afghan forces will be assuming full responsibility for security across the whole of Afghanistan. [italics added]

In other words, 2014 is not a deadline for the withdrawal of U.S. and other NATO forces; it is strictly a deadline for transitioning “full responsibility for security” to Afghan forces. Even if Afghan forces take “full responsibility,” however, there is little doubt that they will need plenty of outside support. A similar transition has already occurred in Iraq, and we still have 50,000 troops there.

The question that administration spokesmen must now answer, unfortunately, is whether Biden’s statement accurately represents the president’s views — or whether the NATO summit declaration that Obama signed is a more faithful guide to American policy. I bet it is the latter, but it is beyond frustrating that Biden has made another comment that casts doubt on American resolve just when our staying power was finally being established in the minds of the Afghan people — and in the minds of the Taliban and their sponsors in Pakistan.

Doesn’t Biden realize that the best way to ensure an expeditious, “conditions-based” drawdown of U.S. forces is by not talking about any withdrawals? The more we signal our determination, the more we talk about our willingness to stay forever if that is what it takes to crush the Taliban, the more Afghans will trust us and abandon the Taliban. And then our troops will be able to come home sooner. Whereas if Biden insists on talking about withdrawals, he makes our troops’ job harder and more likely they will have to fight longer and harder than necessary.

In this week’s Weekly Standard, I have an editorial praising President Obama for the toughness and resolution he has shown in Afghanistan by refusing to waver from the surge. The latest sign of his willingness to hang tough was the AfPak review released last week, which suggested that the Petraeus counterinsurgency strategy is on track. But then on Sunday, Joe Biden — a never-ending source of ill-advised comments — muddied the waters with his appearance on Meet the Press.

When asked about Afghanistan, the vice president said that July 2011 — which increasingly looks irrelevant — will result in a real drawdown of U.S. troops: “It will not be a token amount.” He then went on to say something even more damaging: “We’re going to be totally out of there come hell or high water by 2014.” Huh? Biden claimed that this is what was agreed on at the NATO summit in Lisbon last month. But he is wrong. This is what the Lisbon summit declaration actually said:

The process of transition to full Afghan security responsibility and leadership in some provinces and districts is on track to begin in early 2011, following a joint Afghan and NATO/ISAF assessment and decision. Transition will be conditions-based, not calendar-driven, and will not equate to withdrawal of ISAF-troops. Looking to the end of 2014, Afghan forces will be assuming full responsibility for security across the whole of Afghanistan. [italics added]

In other words, 2014 is not a deadline for the withdrawal of U.S. and other NATO forces; it is strictly a deadline for transitioning “full responsibility for security” to Afghan forces. Even if Afghan forces take “full responsibility,” however, there is little doubt that they will need plenty of outside support. A similar transition has already occurred in Iraq, and we still have 50,000 troops there.

The question that administration spokesmen must now answer, unfortunately, is whether Biden’s statement accurately represents the president’s views — or whether the NATO summit declaration that Obama signed is a more faithful guide to American policy. I bet it is the latter, but it is beyond frustrating that Biden has made another comment that casts doubt on American resolve just when our staying power was finally being established in the minds of the Afghan people — and in the minds of the Taliban and their sponsors in Pakistan.

Doesn’t Biden realize that the best way to ensure an expeditious, “conditions-based” drawdown of U.S. forces is by not talking about any withdrawals? The more we signal our determination, the more we talk about our willingness to stay forever if that is what it takes to crush the Taliban, the more Afghans will trust us and abandon the Taliban. And then our troops will be able to come home sooner. Whereas if Biden insists on talking about withdrawals, he makes our troops’ job harder and more likely they will have to fight longer and harder than necessary.

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WikiLeaks Debunks History for Stupid People

Gideon Rachman at the Financial Times says WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange deserves a medal rather than prison. “He and WikiLeaks have done America a massive favour,” he writes, “by inadvertently debunking decades-old conspiracy theories about its foreign policy.”

He’s right. And I suspect Rachman’s tongue is firmly planted in cheek when he says Assange should be rewarded. If the United States wanted all that information made public, the government hardly needed his help getting it out there.

Anyway, Rachman points out that many rightists in China and Russia, and leftists in Europe and Latin America, assume that whatever American foreign-policy officials say in public is a lie. I’d add that Arabs on both the “left” and the “right” do, too. Not all of them, surely, but perhaps a majority. I’ve met people in the Middle East who actually like parts of the American rationale for the war in Iraq — that the promotion of democracy in the Arab world might leech out its toxins — they just don’t believe the U.S. was actually serious.

And let’s not forget the most ridiculous theories of all. Surely somewhere in all these leaked files there’d be references to a war for oil in Iraq if the war was, in fact, about oil. Likewise, if 9/11 was an inside job — or a joint Mossad–al-Qaeda job — there should be at least some suggestive evidence in all those classified documents. If the U.S. government lied, rather than guessed wrong, about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, or if NATO invaded Afghanistan to install a pipeline, this information would have to be written down somewhere. The State and Defense department bureaucracies are far too vast to have no records of what they’re up to.

Conspiracy theories, though, as someone once said, are history for stupid people. Those who actually believe this stuff — whether about American foreign policy, the president’s birth certificate, or whatever — think the historical record is part of the con job, that anyone who debunks the conspiracy is either deluded or in on it.

So Assange is accused of working for the CIA.

Rachman points out other silly theories that are debunked, or at the very least unsupported, by the leaked cables. “The Americans say, in public, that they would like to build a strong relationship with China based on mutual interests,” he writes, “but that they are worried that some Chinese economic policies are damaging American workers. This turns out to be what they are saying in private, as well. In a cable predicting a more turbulent phase in US-Chinese relations, Jon Huntsman, the US ambassador, insists: ‘We need to find ways to keep the relationship positive,’ while ensuring that American workers benefit more. Many Chinese nationalists and netizens have developed elaborate theories about American plots to thwart China’s rise. There is not a hint of this in WikiLeaks.”

Julian Assange is stridently anti-American. He is not trying to boost the government’s credibility by leaking thousands of cables, and he almost certainly would refuse a medal if one were offered. He should not have done what he did for a number of reasons, and the least rational among our species won’t be persuaded of anything by this material, but that doesn’t mean the rest of us can’t still feel a little bit satisfied.

Gideon Rachman at the Financial Times says WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange deserves a medal rather than prison. “He and WikiLeaks have done America a massive favour,” he writes, “by inadvertently debunking decades-old conspiracy theories about its foreign policy.”

He’s right. And I suspect Rachman’s tongue is firmly planted in cheek when he says Assange should be rewarded. If the United States wanted all that information made public, the government hardly needed his help getting it out there.

Anyway, Rachman points out that many rightists in China and Russia, and leftists in Europe and Latin America, assume that whatever American foreign-policy officials say in public is a lie. I’d add that Arabs on both the “left” and the “right” do, too. Not all of them, surely, but perhaps a majority. I’ve met people in the Middle East who actually like parts of the American rationale for the war in Iraq — that the promotion of democracy in the Arab world might leech out its toxins — they just don’t believe the U.S. was actually serious.

And let’s not forget the most ridiculous theories of all. Surely somewhere in all these leaked files there’d be references to a war for oil in Iraq if the war was, in fact, about oil. Likewise, if 9/11 was an inside job — or a joint Mossad–al-Qaeda job — there should be at least some suggestive evidence in all those classified documents. If the U.S. government lied, rather than guessed wrong, about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, or if NATO invaded Afghanistan to install a pipeline, this information would have to be written down somewhere. The State and Defense department bureaucracies are far too vast to have no records of what they’re up to.

Conspiracy theories, though, as someone once said, are history for stupid people. Those who actually believe this stuff — whether about American foreign policy, the president’s birth certificate, or whatever — think the historical record is part of the con job, that anyone who debunks the conspiracy is either deluded or in on it.

So Assange is accused of working for the CIA.

Rachman points out other silly theories that are debunked, or at the very least unsupported, by the leaked cables. “The Americans say, in public, that they would like to build a strong relationship with China based on mutual interests,” he writes, “but that they are worried that some Chinese economic policies are damaging American workers. This turns out to be what they are saying in private, as well. In a cable predicting a more turbulent phase in US-Chinese relations, Jon Huntsman, the US ambassador, insists: ‘We need to find ways to keep the relationship positive,’ while ensuring that American workers benefit more. Many Chinese nationalists and netizens have developed elaborate theories about American plots to thwart China’s rise. There is not a hint of this in WikiLeaks.”

Julian Assange is stridently anti-American. He is not trying to boost the government’s credibility by leaking thousands of cables, and he almost certainly would refuse a medal if one were offered. He should not have done what he did for a number of reasons, and the least rational among our species won’t be persuaded of anything by this material, but that doesn’t mean the rest of us can’t still feel a little bit satisfied.

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We Are Winning in Afghanistan, Though Work Remains to Be Done

In the L.A. Times today, Pete Mansoor and I have an op-ed reporting on our recently completed trip to Afghanistan. (Mansoor is a retired army colonel who served two combat tours in Iraq and now teaches history at Ohio State). In brief, our message is that we are now winning in Afghanistan, at least in Helmand and Kandahar, the heartland of the Taliban, where we have focused most of our resources. But don’t take our word for it. The New York Times runs a fantastic article by Carlotta Gall and Ruhullah Khapalwak that quotes an unnamed mid-level Taliban commander conceding that “the government has the upper hand now” in and around Kandahar — a message confirmed by local residents they spoke with. The article explains:

“The people are not happy with us,” the Taliban fighter said. “People gave us a place to stay for several years, but we did not provide them with anything except fighting. The situation is different now: the local people are not willingly cooperating with us. They are not giving us a place to stay or giving us food.”

NATO’s announcement that it would remain until a transfer to Afghan forces in 2014 has also convinced people that it will not withdraw quickly, he said.

“The Americans are more serious, and another thing that made people hopeful was when they said they would stay until 2014,” the Taliban commander said. “That has made people change their minds.”

Naturally, the article reports that the Taliban will plan to return to their old stomping grounds in the spring, but “in a dozen interviews, Afghan landowners, tribal elders and villagers said they believed that the Taliban could find it hard to return if American troops remained.”

That was exactly what Mansoor and I found. But isn’t there a danger that the insurgency, after setbacks in the south, will simply move to the north or east? That’s what another New York Times article claims.

Alissa Rubin reports from Kunduz in the north — an area garrisoned primarily by Germans — where she finds security conditions have deteriorated. No doubt that’s true, but there is scant chance that the Taliban could re-create strongholds in other parts of the country after being chased out of the south. That’s because the Taliban have essentially no appeal outside the Pashtun community, and there are few Pashtuns in the north or west. True, the Taliban have made some inroads among Pashtun pockets in those areas, but let’s not exaggerate. Most days, there are no reported attacks at all in the north or west. The Taliban may be spreading some fear and intimidation, but there is a natural limit on their appeal. The odds of their gaining support in the Tajik or Hazara communities are about as great as the odds of Hamas winning supporters in Jewish neighborhoods of Israel.

I do not, by any means, suggest that all the news from Afghanistan is great. As Mansoor and I note, governance and Pakistan sanctuaries remain difficult challenges, and the eastern part of the country — where there are a lot of Pashtuns — has not yet seen the kind of concerted counterinsurgency campaign that has taken place in the south. (There simply aren’t enough troops even now to pacify both south and east at the same time.) But overall, we are making great progress with the surge, which, after all, has only just been completed.

In the L.A. Times today, Pete Mansoor and I have an op-ed reporting on our recently completed trip to Afghanistan. (Mansoor is a retired army colonel who served two combat tours in Iraq and now teaches history at Ohio State). In brief, our message is that we are now winning in Afghanistan, at least in Helmand and Kandahar, the heartland of the Taliban, where we have focused most of our resources. But don’t take our word for it. The New York Times runs a fantastic article by Carlotta Gall and Ruhullah Khapalwak that quotes an unnamed mid-level Taliban commander conceding that “the government has the upper hand now” in and around Kandahar — a message confirmed by local residents they spoke with. The article explains:

“The people are not happy with us,” the Taliban fighter said. “People gave us a place to stay for several years, but we did not provide them with anything except fighting. The situation is different now: the local people are not willingly cooperating with us. They are not giving us a place to stay or giving us food.”

NATO’s announcement that it would remain until a transfer to Afghan forces in 2014 has also convinced people that it will not withdraw quickly, he said.

“The Americans are more serious, and another thing that made people hopeful was when they said they would stay until 2014,” the Taliban commander said. “That has made people change their minds.”

Naturally, the article reports that the Taliban will plan to return to their old stomping grounds in the spring, but “in a dozen interviews, Afghan landowners, tribal elders and villagers said they believed that the Taliban could find it hard to return if American troops remained.”

That was exactly what Mansoor and I found. But isn’t there a danger that the insurgency, after setbacks in the south, will simply move to the north or east? That’s what another New York Times article claims.

Alissa Rubin reports from Kunduz in the north — an area garrisoned primarily by Germans — where she finds security conditions have deteriorated. No doubt that’s true, but there is scant chance that the Taliban could re-create strongholds in other parts of the country after being chased out of the south. That’s because the Taliban have essentially no appeal outside the Pashtun community, and there are few Pashtuns in the north or west. True, the Taliban have made some inroads among Pashtun pockets in those areas, but let’s not exaggerate. Most days, there are no reported attacks at all in the north or west. The Taliban may be spreading some fear and intimidation, but there is a natural limit on their appeal. The odds of their gaining support in the Tajik or Hazara communities are about as great as the odds of Hamas winning supporters in Jewish neighborhoods of Israel.

I do not, by any means, suggest that all the news from Afghanistan is great. As Mansoor and I note, governance and Pakistan sanctuaries remain difficult challenges, and the eastern part of the country — where there are a lot of Pashtuns — has not yet seen the kind of concerted counterinsurgency campaign that has taken place in the south. (There simply aren’t enough troops even now to pacify both south and east at the same time.) But overall, we are making great progress with the surge, which, after all, has only just been completed.

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RE: The Bracing Realism of Richard Holbrooke

Max Boot’s appreciation of Richard Holbrooke called to mind a sense among the military officers working the Balkans problems in 1995 that Holbrooke was “old school.” Most of us had come of age professionally in the Reagan and the Bush 41 years. We were accustomed to dealing with diplomatic envoys of awe-inspiring preparedness and a certain very American style: hard to describe in few words, but entailing a reliable and irreducible simplicity when it came to our common objectives. That quality could be combined with crustiness and high-handedness, but it was not unwelcome: you could do business with it.

Clinton appointees were a different story. With their penchant for triangulation and interpolation, they tended to produce shifting objectives and temporary principles. Guidance changed regularly. There were times when the U.S. forces working the Balkans problem — I was stationed at a headquarters in Italy from 1992 to 1995 — had the unnerving sense that our political leaders in Washington didn’t have our backs.

Holbrooke, however, seemed to embody the style of an older generation of U.S. diplomats and negotiators. “Scoop Jackson Democrat” was a popular shorthand for describing him. He knew, understood, and appreciated the military way of perceiving a geopolitical problem — unlike many Clinton officials who were actively offended by the “military mindset.”

A good friend of mine went with him as a briefer on a helicopter tour of Bosnia and Croatia, early in Holbrooke’s lengthy orientation from the U.S. and NATO chains of command in the Balkans theater. When I asked afterward how the briefing went, my friend laughed and said, “Well, basically, he briefed me.” Expanding on that, he recounted that Holbrooke had broken into his spiel in the first few minutes, preferring to explain what he considered important and then engaging my friend in a level of discourse that picked his brain on complex topics.

“Guy knows what he’s doing,” concluded my friend. Not every civilian diplomat leaves that impression with the military. I haven’t agreed with all of Holbrooke’s ideas on “AfPak” since he took on that portfolio, but I am very sorry to see the Obama administration lose him. His entry onto the stage in the Balkans conflict brought a sense of order and purpose that was very welcome to the U.S. military in Europe, weary from several years of experimental and ineffective multilateralism. Richard Holbrooke was old school, in the best sense, and he will be missed.

Max Boot’s appreciation of Richard Holbrooke called to mind a sense among the military officers working the Balkans problems in 1995 that Holbrooke was “old school.” Most of us had come of age professionally in the Reagan and the Bush 41 years. We were accustomed to dealing with diplomatic envoys of awe-inspiring preparedness and a certain very American style: hard to describe in few words, but entailing a reliable and irreducible simplicity when it came to our common objectives. That quality could be combined with crustiness and high-handedness, but it was not unwelcome: you could do business with it.

Clinton appointees were a different story. With their penchant for triangulation and interpolation, they tended to produce shifting objectives and temporary principles. Guidance changed regularly. There were times when the U.S. forces working the Balkans problem — I was stationed at a headquarters in Italy from 1992 to 1995 — had the unnerving sense that our political leaders in Washington didn’t have our backs.

Holbrooke, however, seemed to embody the style of an older generation of U.S. diplomats and negotiators. “Scoop Jackson Democrat” was a popular shorthand for describing him. He knew, understood, and appreciated the military way of perceiving a geopolitical problem — unlike many Clinton officials who were actively offended by the “military mindset.”

A good friend of mine went with him as a briefer on a helicopter tour of Bosnia and Croatia, early in Holbrooke’s lengthy orientation from the U.S. and NATO chains of command in the Balkans theater. When I asked afterward how the briefing went, my friend laughed and said, “Well, basically, he briefed me.” Expanding on that, he recounted that Holbrooke had broken into his spiel in the first few minutes, preferring to explain what he considered important and then engaging my friend in a level of discourse that picked his brain on complex topics.

“Guy knows what he’s doing,” concluded my friend. Not every civilian diplomat leaves that impression with the military. I haven’t agreed with all of Holbrooke’s ideas on “AfPak” since he took on that portfolio, but I am very sorry to see the Obama administration lose him. His entry onto the stage in the Balkans conflict brought a sense of order and purpose that was very welcome to the U.S. military in Europe, weary from several years of experimental and ineffective multilateralism. Richard Holbrooke was old school, in the best sense, and he will be missed.

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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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Saudis and Lebanon

Among the many things confirmed by the latest WikiLeaks data dump is Saudi Arabia’s concern about the inroads of Iran in Lebanon. Moreover, a U.S. diplomatic cable from May 2008 confirms that Saudi thinking has been centered on a military response to the Iranian encroachment. These facts reinforce thoughts I voiced earlier this year about the purpose of Saudi Arabia’s $60 billion military shopping list. But the apparent progress of Saudi thinking, from May 2008 to the summer of 2010, may be even more informative.

What the Saudis proposed in 2008 was a combined Arab peacekeeping force, deployed to Lebanon under UN auspices and supported with air cover and logistics by NATO. Having Arab forces on the ground in Lebanon — supplanting Hezbollah and Iran — was clearly the motivating factor. A force of this kind would have been lightly armed and dependent on the firepower of NATO, but it would have been Arab.

The arms sought by Riyadh in the $60 billion deal this year represent vastly more capability for an offensive military campaign than would be appropriate for a peacekeeping force. The Arab nations could have put together a peacekeeping force without buying anything new. Meanwhile, as I discussed in September, the Saudis face no threat for which the strike aircraft and assault helicopters in the new arms deal would fill a defensive role. The particulars of the deal indicate that offensive action is envisioned. And the campaign the hardware is best suited for is armed action against the Levant.

Concern about Iran (and, I suspect, about Turkey) increases the urgency of these preparations for the Saudis. The $60 billion arms deal was announced within months of a February meeting in Damascus — between Bashar Al-Assad, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah — which was widely touted in the region as a “war council.”Arming up is not the Saudis’ only reaction: they sponsored a rare summit with Syria’s Al-Assad in Beirut in July and have kept a steady stream of senior Saudis going through Lebanon for one conference after another throughout the latter half of 2010. Establishing the Saudis — and, by extension, an Arab coalition — as leaders in resolving Lebanon’s internal instability is a central motivation for Riyadh.

The $60 billion arms deal indicates that the Saudis are not planning to leave the outcome to diplomacy, chance, or the United States. Population and geography mean the Saudis cannot launch an offensive strike without a coalition; it’s not something they foresee doing soon. It’s undoubtedly contingent on other developments. But what Americans should keep in mind is that the joust over Lebanon is a central front, not a sideshow, for the factions of the Middle East. This applies in the military as well as in the political realm. Lebanon, the most vulnerable nation bordering Israel, is key terrain — and it’s in dispute. Given the advanced state of Iran’s proxy campaign there — and the declining decisiveness of U.S. power — it’s also becoming urgent.

Among the many things confirmed by the latest WikiLeaks data dump is Saudi Arabia’s concern about the inroads of Iran in Lebanon. Moreover, a U.S. diplomatic cable from May 2008 confirms that Saudi thinking has been centered on a military response to the Iranian encroachment. These facts reinforce thoughts I voiced earlier this year about the purpose of Saudi Arabia’s $60 billion military shopping list. But the apparent progress of Saudi thinking, from May 2008 to the summer of 2010, may be even more informative.

What the Saudis proposed in 2008 was a combined Arab peacekeeping force, deployed to Lebanon under UN auspices and supported with air cover and logistics by NATO. Having Arab forces on the ground in Lebanon — supplanting Hezbollah and Iran — was clearly the motivating factor. A force of this kind would have been lightly armed and dependent on the firepower of NATO, but it would have been Arab.

The arms sought by Riyadh in the $60 billion deal this year represent vastly more capability for an offensive military campaign than would be appropriate for a peacekeeping force. The Arab nations could have put together a peacekeeping force without buying anything new. Meanwhile, as I discussed in September, the Saudis face no threat for which the strike aircraft and assault helicopters in the new arms deal would fill a defensive role. The particulars of the deal indicate that offensive action is envisioned. And the campaign the hardware is best suited for is armed action against the Levant.

Concern about Iran (and, I suspect, about Turkey) increases the urgency of these preparations for the Saudis. The $60 billion arms deal was announced within months of a February meeting in Damascus — between Bashar Al-Assad, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah — which was widely touted in the region as a “war council.”Arming up is not the Saudis’ only reaction: they sponsored a rare summit with Syria’s Al-Assad in Beirut in July and have kept a steady stream of senior Saudis going through Lebanon for one conference after another throughout the latter half of 2010. Establishing the Saudis — and, by extension, an Arab coalition — as leaders in resolving Lebanon’s internal instability is a central motivation for Riyadh.

The $60 billion arms deal indicates that the Saudis are not planning to leave the outcome to diplomacy, chance, or the United States. Population and geography mean the Saudis cannot launch an offensive strike without a coalition; it’s not something they foresee doing soon. It’s undoubtedly contingent on other developments. But what Americans should keep in mind is that the joust over Lebanon is a central front, not a sideshow, for the factions of the Middle East. This applies in the military as well as in the political realm. Lebanon, the most vulnerable nation bordering Israel, is key terrain — and it’s in dispute. Given the advanced state of Iran’s proxy campaign there — and the declining decisiveness of U.S. power — it’s also becoming urgent.

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Gross Diplomatic Malfeasance on Turkey

Halting donations to the JNF undoubtedly ranks high on the list of unhelpful responses to Israel’s Carmel fire. But it pales beside that of Israel’s own prime minister: using the fact that Turkey was one of 18 nations that helped extinguish the blaze as an excuse to “mend relations” with Ankara by apologizing and paying compensation for May’s raid on a Turkish-sponsored flotilla to Gaza.

The deal may yet fall through, since Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan still insists that Israel “apologize” for the raid, in which nine Turks were killed, while Benjamin Netanyahu wants merely to “regret” the deaths. But Israel has already reportedly agreed to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in compensation to the killed and wounded “activists.”

Netanyahu claims that this will be “humanitarian” compensation, not an admission of fault. That’s tommyrot. When you apologize and pay compensation, you’re admitting fault, whether you say so explicitly or not. That means Israel is tacitly implying either that it was wrong to enforce its naval blockade of Gaza — established to keep Hamas from shipping in boatloads of arms with which to attack it — or that its soldiers were wrong to fire in self-defense when brutally assaulted by the flotilla’s passengers.

Even worse, Israel would thereby absolve the real culprits: the Turkish organization IHH, whose “activists” deliberately laid an ambush, and the Turkish government, which, according to information that emerged after the raid, was involved in the flotilla at the highest levels. None of the numerous other flotillas to Gaza has produced any casualties, because their passengers didn’t attack Israeli soldiers. The Turkish flotilla would have been similarly casualty-free had its “activists” not launched a violent assault.

Indeed, since IHH sent most noncombatants below deck before beginning its assault, the passengers Israel would be compensating were almost certainly active participants in the attack. As Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman correctly said (via his aides), this is “surrendering to terror,” pure and simple.

But it gets even worse — because Israel would also thereby whitewash Turkey’s turn toward Islamic extremism under Erdogan, when it should be leading the effort to get the West to acknowledge this about-face and respond appropriately.

By crawling to Erdogan in this fashion — after six months of correctly insisting that Israel would neither apologize nor pay compensation — Netanyahu implies that Turkey is still a valued ally, both for Israel and, by implication, for other Western countries. Yet in reality, Ankara openly works against Israeli interests in every possible forum (for instance, regarding NATO’s missile defense system); it had halted joint military exercises even before the flotilla; and Jerusalem no longer trusts it not to share Israeli secrets with Iran. Thanks to WikiLeaks, we now know that even America’s ambassador to Turkey concluded that “Erdogan simply hates Israel.” So what could Israel possibly gain by “mending ties” with it?

Thus, on every possible front, Netanyahu’s overture to Turkey sends exactly the wrong message. This is gross diplomatic malfeasance. And Israel’s friends should make that clear to him before it’s too late.

Halting donations to the JNF undoubtedly ranks high on the list of unhelpful responses to Israel’s Carmel fire. But it pales beside that of Israel’s own prime minister: using the fact that Turkey was one of 18 nations that helped extinguish the blaze as an excuse to “mend relations” with Ankara by apologizing and paying compensation for May’s raid on a Turkish-sponsored flotilla to Gaza.

The deal may yet fall through, since Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan still insists that Israel “apologize” for the raid, in which nine Turks were killed, while Benjamin Netanyahu wants merely to “regret” the deaths. But Israel has already reportedly agreed to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in compensation to the killed and wounded “activists.”

Netanyahu claims that this will be “humanitarian” compensation, not an admission of fault. That’s tommyrot. When you apologize and pay compensation, you’re admitting fault, whether you say so explicitly or not. That means Israel is tacitly implying either that it was wrong to enforce its naval blockade of Gaza — established to keep Hamas from shipping in boatloads of arms with which to attack it — or that its soldiers were wrong to fire in self-defense when brutally assaulted by the flotilla’s passengers.

Even worse, Israel would thereby absolve the real culprits: the Turkish organization IHH, whose “activists” deliberately laid an ambush, and the Turkish government, which, according to information that emerged after the raid, was involved in the flotilla at the highest levels. None of the numerous other flotillas to Gaza has produced any casualties, because their passengers didn’t attack Israeli soldiers. The Turkish flotilla would have been similarly casualty-free had its “activists” not launched a violent assault.

Indeed, since IHH sent most noncombatants below deck before beginning its assault, the passengers Israel would be compensating were almost certainly active participants in the attack. As Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman correctly said (via his aides), this is “surrendering to terror,” pure and simple.

But it gets even worse — because Israel would also thereby whitewash Turkey’s turn toward Islamic extremism under Erdogan, when it should be leading the effort to get the West to acknowledge this about-face and respond appropriately.

By crawling to Erdogan in this fashion — after six months of correctly insisting that Israel would neither apologize nor pay compensation — Netanyahu implies that Turkey is still a valued ally, both for Israel and, by implication, for other Western countries. Yet in reality, Ankara openly works against Israeli interests in every possible forum (for instance, regarding NATO’s missile defense system); it had halted joint military exercises even before the flotilla; and Jerusalem no longer trusts it not to share Israeli secrets with Iran. Thanks to WikiLeaks, we now know that even America’s ambassador to Turkey concluded that “Erdogan simply hates Israel.” So what could Israel possibly gain by “mending ties” with it?

Thus, on every possible front, Netanyahu’s overture to Turkey sends exactly the wrong message. This is gross diplomatic malfeasance. And Israel’s friends should make that clear to him before it’s too late.

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Reason to Slow Down START

Sen. Jon Kyl is enjoying an “I told you so” moment. He’s been trying to slow the rush to a New START ratification vote, pleading that additional time is needed to explore serious concerns about the treaty’s implications. And now we learn:

The U.S. believes Russia has moved short-range tactical nuclear warheads to facilities near North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies as recently as this spring, U.S. officials say, adding to questions in Congress about Russian compliance with long-standing pledges ahead of a possible vote on a new arms-control treaty.

U.S. officials say the movement of warheads to facilities bordering NATO allies appeared to run counter to pledges made by Moscow starting in 1991 to pull tactical nuclear weapons back from frontier posts and to reduce their numbers. The U.S. has long voiced concerns about Russia’s lack of transparency when it comes to its arsenal of tactical nuclear weapons, believed to be many times the number possessed by the U.S.

Russia’s movement of the ground-based tactical weapons appeared to coincide with the deployment of U.S. and NATO missile-defense installations in countries bordering Russia. Moscow has long considered the U.S. missile defense buildup in Europe a challenge to Russian power, underlining deep-seated mistrust between U.S. and Russian armed forces despite improved relations between political leaders.

In short, Russia isn’t living up to its existing obligations, and there is nothing in New START to deal with tactical weapons. Moreover, this confirms what many conservative critics have long suspected, namely that reset is a one-way street. In order to keep up the facade of improved relations, the Obama team is forced to ignore serious challenges to the U.S. and its allies:

U.S. officials believe the most recent movements of Russian tactical nuclear weapons took place in late spring. In late May, a U.S. Patriot missile battery was deployed in northern Poland, close to Kaliningrad, sparking public protests from Moscow.

Some officials said the movements are a concern but sought to play down the threat. Russian nuclear warheads are stored separately from their launching systems, U.S. officials say.

Maybe it’s time for some serious oversight hearings. At the very least, the senators should resist being hurried to vote on a treaty before they understand the true state of U.S.-Russian relations.

Sen. Jon Kyl is enjoying an “I told you so” moment. He’s been trying to slow the rush to a New START ratification vote, pleading that additional time is needed to explore serious concerns about the treaty’s implications. And now we learn:

The U.S. believes Russia has moved short-range tactical nuclear warheads to facilities near North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies as recently as this spring, U.S. officials say, adding to questions in Congress about Russian compliance with long-standing pledges ahead of a possible vote on a new arms-control treaty.

U.S. officials say the movement of warheads to facilities bordering NATO allies appeared to run counter to pledges made by Moscow starting in 1991 to pull tactical nuclear weapons back from frontier posts and to reduce their numbers. The U.S. has long voiced concerns about Russia’s lack of transparency when it comes to its arsenal of tactical nuclear weapons, believed to be many times the number possessed by the U.S.

Russia’s movement of the ground-based tactical weapons appeared to coincide with the deployment of U.S. and NATO missile-defense installations in countries bordering Russia. Moscow has long considered the U.S. missile defense buildup in Europe a challenge to Russian power, underlining deep-seated mistrust between U.S. and Russian armed forces despite improved relations between political leaders.

In short, Russia isn’t living up to its existing obligations, and there is nothing in New START to deal with tactical weapons. Moreover, this confirms what many conservative critics have long suspected, namely that reset is a one-way street. In order to keep up the facade of improved relations, the Obama team is forced to ignore serious challenges to the U.S. and its allies:

U.S. officials believe the most recent movements of Russian tactical nuclear weapons took place in late spring. In late May, a U.S. Patriot missile battery was deployed in northern Poland, close to Kaliningrad, sparking public protests from Moscow.

Some officials said the movements are a concern but sought to play down the threat. Russian nuclear warheads are stored separately from their launching systems, U.S. officials say.

Maybe it’s time for some serious oversight hearings. At the very least, the senators should resist being hurried to vote on a treaty before they understand the true state of U.S.-Russian relations.

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NATO Considering Peacekeeping Force in Middle East

Speaking at a press conference in Lisbon during NATO’s summit, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen announced that the alliance is prepared to consider sending a peacekeeping force to enforce an agreement between Israelis and Palestinians. Now, that is both very commendable and easy to say. Commendable, because it is a real commitment to invest resources to make a peace deal succeed; easy, because the likelihood of a peace deal is very remote.

Still, for skeptics, take a look at a paper produced by Florence Gaub, a scholar attached to the NATO Defence College in Rome. According to Gaub:

Independently from local security forces, the NATO force in Palestine … would, if it follows the example of the successful cases of Bosnia and Kosovo, need forces ranging from 43,700 to 76,000 men, including the police forces. Of these, between 16,100 and 28,000 would patrol Gaza, and between 27,600 and 48,000 the West Bank.

Gaub gives a long and detailed explanation as to how she gets to that number — an explanation that is worth reading because it is based on sound number-crunching from previous experiences of peacekeeping. She also confronts the unpleasant scenarios that putting boots on such ground would result in.

But quite aside from her assessment (which leads her to conclude that “NATO’s mission in Palestine would have slim chances of success and a high probability of failure”), what are the chances that NATO countries that found it hard to contribute an additional few thousand men to Afghanistan would give 76,000 for Palestine?

Speaking at a press conference in Lisbon during NATO’s summit, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen announced that the alliance is prepared to consider sending a peacekeeping force to enforce an agreement between Israelis and Palestinians. Now, that is both very commendable and easy to say. Commendable, because it is a real commitment to invest resources to make a peace deal succeed; easy, because the likelihood of a peace deal is very remote.

Still, for skeptics, take a look at a paper produced by Florence Gaub, a scholar attached to the NATO Defence College in Rome. According to Gaub:

Independently from local security forces, the NATO force in Palestine … would, if it follows the example of the successful cases of Bosnia and Kosovo, need forces ranging from 43,700 to 76,000 men, including the police forces. Of these, between 16,100 and 28,000 would patrol Gaza, and between 27,600 and 48,000 the West Bank.

Gaub gives a long and detailed explanation as to how she gets to that number — an explanation that is worth reading because it is based on sound number-crunching from previous experiences of peacekeeping. She also confronts the unpleasant scenarios that putting boots on such ground would result in.

But quite aside from her assessment (which leads her to conclude that “NATO’s mission in Palestine would have slim chances of success and a high probability of failure”), what are the chances that NATO countries that found it hard to contribute an additional few thousand men to Afghanistan would give 76,000 for Palestine?

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