As I noted earlier today, the government’s treatment of Fox News reporter James Rosen betrayed the Obama administration’s unhinged obsession with targeting journalists. But as troubling as that is, the problem goes deeper than the attempt by the Department of Justice to eviscerate the First Amendment. The news that one of the reporters who had been aggressively covering the Benghazi scandal had her computer tampered with should alarm more than just her fellow scribes. So, too, should the increasingly shrill attacks from the president’s cheering section on other journalists who have been following the stories about government misconduct.
As Politico reports:
Sharyl Attkisson, the Emmy-award winning CBS News investigative reporter, says that her personal and work computers have been compromised and are under investigation.
“I can confirm that an intrusion of my computers has been under some investigation on my end for some months but I’m not prepared to make an allegation against a specific entity today as I’ve been patient and methodical about this matter,” Attkisson told POLITICO on Tuesday. “I need to check with my attorney and CBS to get their recommendations on info we make public.”
In an earlier interview with WPHT Philadelphia, Attkisson said that though she did not know the full details of the intrusion, “there could be some relationship between these things and what’s happened to James [Rosen].”
Like the IRS’s targeting of Tea Party and other conservative groups, this incident illustrates the old line that said just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you. After what happened to the Associated Press and Rosen, no one should be dismissing out of hand the notion that what’s going on with Attkisson is a matter of foul play.
The White House has clarified Vice President Biden’s comment that he wasn’t aware of security requests, saying he was speaking for himself and President Obama, not the State Department. But they still haven’t explained Biden’s even more troubling claim that the intelligence community told the White House there were protesters outside the Benghazi embassy:
MS. RADDATZ: What were you first told about the attack? Why were people talking about protests? When people in the consulate first saw armed men attacking with guns, there were no protesters. Why did that go on for weeks?
VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Because that’s exactly what we were told —
MS. RADDATZ: By who?
VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: — by the intelligence community. The intelligence community told us that. As they learned more facts about exactly what happened, they changed their assessment.
When the Obama administration rolled out its initial “blame the video” storyline in the days after the attack, they strongly implied that there was a protest outside the Benghazi consulate, but usually avoided stating it explicitly. If you listen to Jay Carney, Hillary Clinton and Susan Rice, they tended to use vague words like “spontaneous reaction” and “unrest.” When they did use the word “protests,” it was usually in reference to the demonstrations across the Muslim world, not Benghazi specifically.
Did the Obama administration reject requests for increased security from the U.S. consulate in Benghazi prior to the 9/11/12 attack, as whistle blowers have reportedly claimed? The White House won’t say. Spokesman Jay Carney declined to comment when asked about the security request during a press briefing today:
White House press secretary Jay Carney declined to comment on an assertion by the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that requests from diplomats in Libya for added security prior to the September 11, 2012 attack on the diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, were denied.
“I’m not going to get into a situation under review by the State Department and the FBI,” Carney said. …
The Office of Management and Budget is now promising to compensate defense contractors for any legal penalties that would stem from violating the WARN Act, a federal law that requires employers to warn employees at least 60 days in advance of mass layoffs. The Obama administration had already been urging contractors to ignore the WARN Act in the case of the looming sequestration cuts, since the 60-day-minimum would mean hundreds of thousands of employees could get notices of pending layoffs just days before the presidential election.
But it’s one thing for the Obama administration to tell contractors that they shouldn’t worry about the law. It’s quite another to promise that the cost of any resulting lawsuits will be covered by the government (read: the taxpayers):
But the Friday guidance from the Office of Management and Budget raised the stakes in the dispute, telling contractors that they would be compensated for legal costs if layoffs occur due to contract cancellations under sequestration — but only if the contractors follow the Labor guidance.
The guidance said that if plant closings or mass layoffs occur under sequestration, then “employee compensation costs for [Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification] WARN act liability as determined by a court” would be paid for covered by the contracting federal agency.
The latest report being prepared by the International Atomic Energy Agency about Iran appears to be a sobering retort to those who have spent the summer trying to claim that Israel’s warnings about the need to act should be ignored. The report, which has not yet been released but whose contents have been leaked, says that Iran has installed hundreds of new centrifuges in recent months and is devoting its efforts to refining uranium to a level of greater than 20 percent, a sign that it is working on a nuclear bomb and not, as it disingenuously contends, on medical research. Of equal concern is that all of this new equipment has been installed in facilities near the holy city of Qum and buried so far under underground that they may be invulnerable to attack.
This evidence would mean the alarms being sounded in Israel in recent months were entirely justified. If the Iranians have dramatically increased their stockpile of refined uranium and are now transferring more of their work into hardened bunkers, they may be close to what Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Barak have called a “zone of immunity”: the point at which their program can no longer be halted by force. But rather than taking this as a sign that their complacent attitude toward Iran needs to be revised, the Obama administration remains in denial. Despite the obvious failure of the P5+1 talks and Iran’s determination to run out the clock on its nuclear program before the West acts, a White House spokesman said Friday there is still “time and space” for a diplomatic solution to the standoff. Indeed, as the New York Times noted, the administration seemed more intent on trying to undermine Israel’s stance on the nuclear peril than it was on actually doing anything about the problem.
The Cable’s Josh Rogin has more on the Obama administration’s decision to allow non-profit groups to send hundreds of thousands of dollars each in cash to Iran as part of earthquake relief efforts. Rogin reports that the White House was initially worried about the optics of temporarily relaxing sanctions so close to the election, but eventually agreed after getting support from the State Department:
State Department officials argued in favor of granting the license, while the White House resisted the move, worried about how even a temporary and limited relief of sanctions against Iran would play in the media so close to the presidential election. Eventually, with the support of top State Department officials, the White House was persuaded to agree to the move, these sources said.
The National Iranian American Council, a group that has advocated for weaker sanctions and other pro-regime policies, also played a major role in lobbying the administration (the organization touts a conference call it set up with the White House about this issue on its website).
Unsurprisingly, Rogin also reports there are concerns on Capitol Hill over whether the cash will make it to the people who need it, or whether it will intercepted by the Iranian government.
A few days ago, I speculated in my occasional Kurdistan Tribune column that Turkey might be losing its fight against the Kurdistan Workers Party, better known by its acronym, the PKK. Considered by the United States, European Union, and Turkey to be a terrorist group, the PKK has waged a bloody insurgency since 1984, which has claimed the lives of 45,000.
I have been a vocal critic of the PKK in the past, and was held up at gunpoint by the group once in Iraqi Kurdistan. The PKK—like many Kurdish political parties—trends toward the personality cult and is intolerant of dissent. Make no mistake: I still find the group to be noxious and, so long as the U.S. government considers the PKK to be a terrorist group, I will as well. But, as an analyst rather than an advocate, it is important to consider what events bode. Frankly, it seems as if Turkey could now lose its fight against the PKK:
Afghan President Hamid Karzai acquiesced to the impeachment of both Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak and Interior Minister Besmillah Mohammadi. The Washington Post and New York Times dutifully reported the parliamentary allegations of corruption and passivity in the face of Pakistani provocations.
The reality is different. As my colleague Ahmad Majidyar pointed out, the “Afghan ministers’ impeachment is not a move against corruption; it’s a political game by some in the presidential palace.” Had the parliament been serious about corruption, then Karzai and many of his close allies, not to mention many of the parliamentarians voting for impeachment, would have been first on the chopping block.
The fact is that Wardak was probably the toughest, most independent, and competent minister in the cabinet. He was a close ally in the fight against the Taliban, and paid little heed to attempts by the Iranians and Pakistanis to buy him off. He was not a proponent of the Obama administration’s efforts to talk to the Taliban, but then again, hardly anyone is outside the White House and State Department.
Yesterday, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Counterterrorism Daniel Benjamin unveiled the State Department’s latest “Patterns of Global Terrorism” report. Benjamin declared that al-Qaeda was “on a path of decline that will be difficult to reverse,” and explained:
We saw millions of citizens throughout the Middle East advance peaceful public demands for change without any reference to al-Qaeda’s incendiary world view. This upended the group’s long-standing claim that change in this region would only come through violence… These men and women have underscored in the most powerful fashion the lack of influence al-Qaeda exerts over the central political issues in key Muslim-majority nations.
First, it’s important to give credit where credit is due: President Obama deserves credit for the death of bin Laden, and numerous other terror masters. Nevertheless, it would be wrong to take an aspirin and then claim to have cured the common cold. An election may be coming up, but predicting al-Qaeda to be both down and out is woefully premature.
The “surge” which turned around the situation in Iraq in 2007-2008–at a time when the war appeared lost–is now history, but the debate about what actually happened continues. It is indeed heating up because of the recent resurgence of al-Qaeda in both Iraq and Syria. Does this mean that the “success” of the surge was overhyped? Short answer: Not really.
To see why the surge worked, there is no better source than this article by political scientists Stephen Biddle (my colleague at the Council on Foreign Relations), Jeffrey Friedman, and Jacob Shapiro in the new issue of International Security. They reject the commonly heard arguments of surge skeptics that violence declined because insurgents were bribed into joining the Sunni Awakening and that violence had run its course anyway because of sectarian cleansing. They write:
This evidence suggests that a synergistic interaction between the surge and the Awakening is the best explanation for why violence declined in Iraq in 2007. Without the surge, the Anbar Awakening would probably not have spread fast or far enough. And without the surge, sectarian violence would likely have continued for a long time to come—the pattern and distribution of the bloodshed offers little reason to believe that it had burned itself out by mid-2007. Yet the surge, though necessary, was insufficient to explain 2007’s sudden reversal in fortunes. Without the Awakening to thin the insurgents’ ranks and unveil the holdouts to U.S. troops, the violence would probably have remained very high until well after the surge had been withdrawn and well after U.S. voters had lost patience with the war.
The Obama administration has been bragging about the strength of the international coalition it has assembled against Iran and the “crippling sanctions” it has imposed on the Islamist regime. But the dirty little secret about the sanctions is they are riddled with loopholes. Not only has the Treasury Department issued thousands of exemptions to companies that wish to do business with Iran, but President Obama has also specifically granted permission to China and India to go on importing oil from it. Though the sanctions have caused pain to the ordinary Iranian, the government is still raking in more cash from oil sales than it did a decade ago before the sanctions took effect.
This gives some important context to the debate going on in Congress right now about the imposition of a new sanctions bill that takes aim at insurance companies that underwrite Iranian investments. The legislation is vital if a major loophole is to be closed that will make it even more difficult for Iran to conduct commerce. But lobbying from insurance companies that don’t wish to have their businesses impeded are working against the bill. Even more seriously, as the Washington Free Beacon reports, they’ve got Majority Leader Harry Reid on their side.
Yesterday, I noted the resurrection of al-Qaeda in Iraq in no small part because of the U.S. troop pullout after the Obama administration failed to get Iraqi agreement on a status of forces agreement. Today, the question I want to consider is: What, if anything, can the U.S. still do to prevent Iraq from going totally off the rails?
Sadly, with the loss of our troop presence and with it much of our intelligence-gathering capacity, our options are vastly diminished. If we don’t have a good handle on what’s going on in the country–and we don’t, having lost much of our situational awareness at the end of last year–it is hard to figure out how to shape developments. Heck, we can’t even be sure of the number of Iraqis killed in terrorist attacks; the U.S. military no longer compiles independent figures, and it’s hard to fully trust the numbers produced in Baghdad.
The events of recent weeks in Syria have finally made some of the optimistic predictions about the fall of the Assad regime coming out of the Obama administration a bit more believable. The terrorist attack that decapitated the defense establishment as well as the defections of prominent supporters of President Bashar al-Assad has contributed to the idea that his government must soon collapse. The conventional wisdom of the day is that it is only a matter of time until he will be forced out, ase his bloody efforts to eradicate domestic opponents has failed to destroy a movement that began as peaceful protests in the spring of 2011 and has now evolved into an armed and potent insurgency.
But the problem with this faith in his imminent departure is that we’ve been hearing this talk for more than a year and yet the murderous ophthalmologist is still on his throne, albeit with a far shakier hold on it. Even though things look bad for Assad, Americans who assume that he can’t go on killing people in this manner and retain legitimacy don’t understand him or the political culture that created his regime. The variables in Syria are many, but the iron rule of history about despotism remains that tyrants lose power when they lose their taste for shedding blood. Assad’s willingness to commit atrocities seems intact. Just as important, the descent of the country into chaos with fighting in the streets of the capital and thousands of refugees fleeing the country is also putting President Obama’s “lead from behind” strategy into question. Those who assume Assad is doomed believe that by staying out of the maelstrom, the United States will succeed in avoiding responsibility for the Syrian mess. But if Assad has far more staying power than Washington thinks, the result will be even messier than President Obama imagines, and he will bear much of the blame.
The day after the terror attack on Israeli tourists in Bulgaria, a senior U.S. official admitted to the New York Times that what Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said publicly yesterday was true: Hezbollah did it at the behest of its Iranian sugar daddy. This was, according to the Times, confirmed by two other U.S. government figures who also declined to speak on the record. But if you don’t want to take the word of these anonymous Americans, all you have to do is listen to what Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said about it on Iranian television yesterday.
As the Times of Israel reports, when speaking of the bombing in Bulgaria, Ahmadinejad said the following:
“The bitter enemies of the Iranian people and the Islamic Revolution have recruited most of their forces in order to harm us,” he said in a speech reported by Israel’s Channel 2 TV. “They have indeed succeeded in inflicting blows upon us more than once, but have been rewarded with a far stronger response.”
He added: “The enemy believes it can achieve its aims in a long, persistent struggle against the Iranian people, but in the end it will not. We are working to ensure that.”
His bragging about the slaughter of five Israeli tourists (including a pregnant woman) and a Bulgarian bus driver contradicted the indignant official denials that were issued yesterday by the Iranian government in the wake of Netanyahu’s accusations. Yet one thing said by the senior U.S. official was almost as bad as Ahmadinejad’s appalling candor. The official described the atrocity as a case of “tit for tat,” meaning that the United States merely considered the slaughter as merely retaliation for Western and/or Israeli efforts to halt Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons. By rationalizing the terrorist attack in this manner, the official, who was clearly speaking on behalf of the administration (and to the newspaper which has served as the primary outlet for a series of leaks about policy and secret operations concerning Iran), demonstrated President Obama and his foreign and defense policy team don’t really understand the nature of the Iranian regime. Just as dangerously, the statement betrays a certain annoyance with Israel’s concerns about a genocidal terror-sponsor obtaining nuclear weapons.
No question, the bombing that killed three top members of the Assad regime has accelerated that regime’s downfall. Now, with reports of fighting in Damascus and of the president’s family being evacuated from the capital, the whole governing clique might be gone far faster than anyone would have predicted even a few days ago.
That might be seen as vindication of the Obama administration’s go-slow approach which has consisted of providing some communications and intelligence support to the rebels—but no arms—all the while hoping against hope that Russia might allow the UN Security Council to endorse a more vigorous intervention. That strategy was dealt another blow yesterday when Russia and China vetoed a resolution piling more sanctions on Syria. But does any of that matter if the Assad regime is doomed to fall soon anyway? I believe it does, because, without greater U.S. involvement now, our ability to shape the post-Assad country will be severely limited and the odds of sheer chaos or an extremist takeover go up.
The U.S. withdrawal from Iraq certainly has taken a toll in terms of influence. A day after a bomb killed the Syrian defense minister and the hated Assef Shawkat, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani has sent his condolences (google translation here) to Bushra Assad, Bashar Assad’s sister. That’s right: After years of terror sponsorship—including helping orchestrate an underground railroad for suicide bombers into Iraq, Assad and his inner circle now orchestrate a campaign of massacres and sectarian cleansing. After the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians, a bomb kills one of the chief perpetrators. And Talabani sends condolences on the death of the man who competes to have the most blood on his hands.
Talabani’s actions are par for the course but, alas, it is a course that Obama and his top Middle East advisers do not understand. It does not matter how pro-American someone says they are, nor does it matter how pro-American they may be in their hearts. If the United States indicates that it is weak, it does not have staying power, or that it is afraid to stand up to evil, then everyone who lives in the region will begin to make their accommodation with evil simply because they will do what they need to do to survive. Obama washes his hands of Iraq? Then it is only natural Talabani will do what it takes to stay on the good side of Iran and Assad.
Turkey is currently considering bids to upgrade its air defense system. While a member of NATO since 1952, the Islamist leadership in Turkey has made clear it no longer sees itself bound by the responsibility to protect NATO secrets nor the Turkish leadership factor into its decisions NATO’s security requirements.
Should Turkey decide to go with the Russian S-300 or Chinese HQ-9 it will have two choices: either have its air defense system disconnected from systems involved in NATO, or perhaps betray NATO secrets. If Turkey will not commit to protect sensitive information impacting U.S. defense, it remains curious why the Obama administration seems intent to go ahead with a sale of the next generation F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to Turkey. Alas, as always, the Congressional Turkey Caucus remains silent.
For five grim years, from approximately 2003 to 2008, Iraq faced the greatest onslaught of terrorism in the history of any state. Many of the worst attacks were perpetrated by suicide bombers, often driving vehicles packed with explosives. By mid-2008, suicide bombers had killed at least 10,000 Iraqis. A disproportionate share of those suicide bombers were foreign Sunnis who arrived in Iraq via Syria. The U.S. government remonstrated with the Assad regime to stop the flow of the fanatics, but Bashar al-Assad consistently played dumb. If the U.S. could not control its border with Mexico, the Syrians disingenuously argued, how could they control their border with Iraq? This ignored the rather major difference that Syria is a police state. The networks that recruited, organized, and passed on the suicide bombers could not have operated without the knowledge of the regime’s all-pervasive secret police. Assad and his cronies were not jihadist fanatics, but they were willing to make use of jihadist fanatics to inflict harm on American interests in Iraq–even if the overwhelming majority of victims were Iraqis, not Americans.
Fast forward to today. Now comes news that Syrian Defense Minister Daoud Rajha and Deputy Military Chief of Staff Asef Shawkat (who is also the president’s brother-in-law) have been slain by a suicide bomber in the heart of Damascus. The interior minister–the man in charge of the notorious secret police–was also wounded but is said to be alive. Quite possibly the bomber, who was rumored to be a bodyguard, was connected to the very organization that Syria once did so much to help–al-Qaeda in Iraq. It is hard not to see some element of cosmic justice here: what goes around comes around, ye reap what ye sow, if you play with fire, and all that. It is certainly a sign the Assad regime is getting ever more embattled, and the civil war many had warned would come if the U.S. provided arms to the rebel fighters has arrived anyway.
There’s no question the automatic budget cuts set to take place next January will have major national security implications, but what about the economic fallout? Sequestration doesn’t just mean a reduction in military readiness, it also means reductions in defense and non-defense jobs. According to a new study by the Aerospace Industries Association, the unemployment rate would reach 9 percent or higher under these cuts (h/t Rob Bluey):
“The results are bleak but clear-cut,” said [Dr. Stephen S.] Fuller. “The unemployment rate will climb above 9 percent, pushing the economy toward recession and reducing projected growth in 2013 by two-thirds. An already weak economy will be undercut as the paychecks of thousands of workers across the economy will be affected from teachers, nurses, construction workers to key federal employees such as border patrol and FBI agents, food inspectors and others.”
The analysis concludes that the automatic spending cuts mandated in the Budget Control Act of 2011 affecting defense and non-defense discretionary spending in just the first year of implementation will reduce the nation’s GDP by $215 billion; decrease personal earnings of the workforce by $109.4 billion and cost the U.S. economy 2.14 million jobs.
This is about more than national security. A sudden reduction in defense-sector jobs could devastate whole communities, flooding the already-oversaturated job market with masses of newly unemployed. These aren’t unnecessary or obsolete jobs, they’re ones that are still critical for national defense.
During the weekend, the only remaining POW in Afghanistan, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl of Idaho, marked three years in captivity.
The details of his capture are still a mystery. In a recent Rolling Stone article, the Bergdahl family released previously unseen emails which detailed Bowe’s discontent with his service in Afghanistan. Many of his fellow soldiers told Rolling Stone they believe he was captured because he deserted his post. The White House and Pentagon have both refused to comment on how the Taliban captured Bergdahl and have given few details about how they have worked to return him to his family. The Pentagon has not classified him as a deserter and gave him promotions while in captivity.