Commentary Magazine


Topic: UAE

Time for Our Allies to Ante Up in Funding Afghan Security Forces

It’s good to hear that the Afghan government and the international community are signing off on a plan to increase the size of the Afghan Security Forces from today’s level of 266,000 soldiers and police up to 378,000 by October 2012. Such an increase is vital if Afghan forces are to have any hope of controlling their own territory. A good rule of thumb, laid out in the Army-Marine Counterinsurgency Field Manual, is that it takes one counterinsurgent per 50 civilians to defeat an insurgency. Given that Afghanistan has a population of 30 million, that suggests the need for 600,000 security personnel — a milestone that Iraq has already passed.

Even with 378,000 personnel, the Afghan security forces will still fall short, but remember that there are also 140,000 foreign troops in the country. Their presence (assuming that current force levels don’t fall) will bring the total to 518,000 — within shooting distance of the benchmark. That should be more than enough, at least for the time being, considering that the insurgency is isolated among the Pashtuns, who make up less than 50 percent of the population. Of course, if foreign force levels fall by the fall of 2012, the anti-Taliban coalition will find itself  hard-pressed to continue recent battlefield gains, which is another reason why it’s important that the administration and its allies not reduce their forces prematurely.

The gains in the size and effectiveness of the Afghan Security Forces are in large measure a tribute to U.S. Lt. Gen. Bill Caldwell and his superb team at the NATO Training Mission–Afghanistan. They have brought newfound vigor and skill to the “train and assist” mission that had been lagging, along with the rest of the war effort, in past years. Their work isn’t cheap, as the Times notes:

[T]he planned increase will mean billions more in spending to train and maintain the security forces, and 95 percent of that cost is borne by the United States. Between 2003 and 2009, the United States spent $20 billion to finance the Afghan Army and police. A growing force, pay increases that were intended to retain soldiers and police officers, and the costs of improved training and equipment drove the total to $9 billion in 2010, and $11.6 billion is budgeted for this year.

But that’s still a lot cheaper than sending more American troops into harm’s way. What irritates me about the whole situation is that it is the U.S. that has to pick up the tab. Our troops are already doing the bulk of the fighting. Why don’t our rich allies — e.g., Japan, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, France, Italy, Germany, Britain — pay for more of the cost of training? Some of those countries have made sizable troop contributions; others haven’t. But the U.S. has done more than any of them in terms of fighting the Taliban directly. Why do we have to do so much more than the rest of them in financing the Afghan Security Forces too?

I should note that their failure to ante up should not be an excuse for us to walk away. This is not an act of altruism; it is very much in America’s national-security interest to have a functional and effective security force in Afghanistan to prevent a Taliban/al-Qaeda takeover. Our security perimeter runs right through the Hindu Kush. But that is also true for many of our allies who would also face severe repercussions from a Taliban takeover. They should be doing more to avert that catastrophe.

It’s good to hear that the Afghan government and the international community are signing off on a plan to increase the size of the Afghan Security Forces from today’s level of 266,000 soldiers and police up to 378,000 by October 2012. Such an increase is vital if Afghan forces are to have any hope of controlling their own territory. A good rule of thumb, laid out in the Army-Marine Counterinsurgency Field Manual, is that it takes one counterinsurgent per 50 civilians to defeat an insurgency. Given that Afghanistan has a population of 30 million, that suggests the need for 600,000 security personnel — a milestone that Iraq has already passed.

Even with 378,000 personnel, the Afghan security forces will still fall short, but remember that there are also 140,000 foreign troops in the country. Their presence (assuming that current force levels don’t fall) will bring the total to 518,000 — within shooting distance of the benchmark. That should be more than enough, at least for the time being, considering that the insurgency is isolated among the Pashtuns, who make up less than 50 percent of the population. Of course, if foreign force levels fall by the fall of 2012, the anti-Taliban coalition will find itself  hard-pressed to continue recent battlefield gains, which is another reason why it’s important that the administration and its allies not reduce their forces prematurely.

The gains in the size and effectiveness of the Afghan Security Forces are in large measure a tribute to U.S. Lt. Gen. Bill Caldwell and his superb team at the NATO Training Mission–Afghanistan. They have brought newfound vigor and skill to the “train and assist” mission that had been lagging, along with the rest of the war effort, in past years. Their work isn’t cheap, as the Times notes:

[T]he planned increase will mean billions more in spending to train and maintain the security forces, and 95 percent of that cost is borne by the United States. Between 2003 and 2009, the United States spent $20 billion to finance the Afghan Army and police. A growing force, pay increases that were intended to retain soldiers and police officers, and the costs of improved training and equipment drove the total to $9 billion in 2010, and $11.6 billion is budgeted for this year.

But that’s still a lot cheaper than sending more American troops into harm’s way. What irritates me about the whole situation is that it is the U.S. that has to pick up the tab. Our troops are already doing the bulk of the fighting. Why don’t our rich allies — e.g., Japan, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, France, Italy, Germany, Britain — pay for more of the cost of training? Some of those countries have made sizable troop contributions; others haven’t. But the U.S. has done more than any of them in terms of fighting the Taliban directly. Why do we have to do so much more than the rest of them in financing the Afghan Security Forces too?

I should note that their failure to ante up should not be an excuse for us to walk away. This is not an act of altruism; it is very much in America’s national-security interest to have a functional and effective security force in Afghanistan to prevent a Taliban/al-Qaeda takeover. Our security perimeter runs right through the Hindu Kush. But that is also true for many of our allies who would also face severe repercussions from a Taliban takeover. They should be doing more to avert that catastrophe.

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Iran: Calculus Changing for the “Force Option”?

There’s more than one way to undermine America’s ability to conduct military strikes on the Iranian nuclear program. Iran has been working hard on one of those methods over the last six months: denying us our use of regional military bases for the attack.

Of the bases we use in the Persian Gulf region, the most significant to an attack campaign are in the small kingdoms of Bahrain and Qatar, which host, respectively, our fleet headquarters and a very large multi-use facility at Al-Udeid Air Base. For security operations in the Strait of Hormuz, we also rely on the use of airfields and ports in Oman.  We have additional facilities in Kuwait and the UAE, but for waging an offensive campaign in any part of the Gulf region, the necessary bases are the ones in Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman.

These are the nations Iran has been concentrating on. The approaches are different for the different nations: in Bahrain, where a majority of the Arab population is Shia and the emir’s government is justifiably concerned about unrest fomented by Tehran, the Iranians have alternated between threats and cajolery. In August their intimidation campaign paid off: the Bahraini foreign minister announced that Bahrain would not allow its territory to be used as a base for offensive operations. Because the U.S. military doesn’t usually operate strike aircraft out of Bahrain, the impact of this is uncertain – but it could well jeopardize the U.S. Navy’s ability to command and supply its fleet during an air campaign.

With Qatar and Oman, Iran has sought bilateral defense-cooperation agreements. That approach introduces ambivalence in the host nation’s strategic orientation – and hence in the status and purpose of the U.S. forces on its territory. Last week, for example, Qatar hosted a visit by three Iranian warships and a military delegation. The unprecedented event concluded with an announcement of Qatar’s readiness for joint military exercises with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

And in August, Oman signed a defense-cooperation agreement with Iran. The pretext focused on by the media was the explosion that rocked a Japanese oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz on July 28, an event that remains unexplained. But the agreement, ratified by the Iranian parliament in December, portends joint defense drills, intelligence sharing, and cooperative administration of security in the Strait of Hormuz. This is no mere technicality: Oman has signed up to make difficult choices if Iran seeks to shut down the strait in response to a U.S. strike. The new agreement posits a definition of security in the strait that excludes U.S. oversight. At the very least, Oman is now more likely to deny the use of its airfields and port refueling facilities to American forces.

These consequences are not inevitable. But Washington’s latitude to “calibrate” force against Iran is effectively gone. If we hope to operate from bases in Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman now, we will have to be “all in”: we will almost certainly have to guarantee to our hosts – who would be breaking agreements by siding with us – that they won’t be caught in a protracted cycle of retaliation from a still-dangerous Iran. Perceiving that prospect themselves, they have started hedging their bets. We may validly perceive benefits in waiting to take action, but doing so always carries costs. This is one of them.

There’s more than one way to undermine America’s ability to conduct military strikes on the Iranian nuclear program. Iran has been working hard on one of those methods over the last six months: denying us our use of regional military bases for the attack.

Of the bases we use in the Persian Gulf region, the most significant to an attack campaign are in the small kingdoms of Bahrain and Qatar, which host, respectively, our fleet headquarters and a very large multi-use facility at Al-Udeid Air Base. For security operations in the Strait of Hormuz, we also rely on the use of airfields and ports in Oman.  We have additional facilities in Kuwait and the UAE, but for waging an offensive campaign in any part of the Gulf region, the necessary bases are the ones in Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman.

These are the nations Iran has been concentrating on. The approaches are different for the different nations: in Bahrain, where a majority of the Arab population is Shia and the emir’s government is justifiably concerned about unrest fomented by Tehran, the Iranians have alternated between threats and cajolery. In August their intimidation campaign paid off: the Bahraini foreign minister announced that Bahrain would not allow its territory to be used as a base for offensive operations. Because the U.S. military doesn’t usually operate strike aircraft out of Bahrain, the impact of this is uncertain – but it could well jeopardize the U.S. Navy’s ability to command and supply its fleet during an air campaign.

With Qatar and Oman, Iran has sought bilateral defense-cooperation agreements. That approach introduces ambivalence in the host nation’s strategic orientation – and hence in the status and purpose of the U.S. forces on its territory. Last week, for example, Qatar hosted a visit by three Iranian warships and a military delegation. The unprecedented event concluded with an announcement of Qatar’s readiness for joint military exercises with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

And in August, Oman signed a defense-cooperation agreement with Iran. The pretext focused on by the media was the explosion that rocked a Japanese oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz on July 28, an event that remains unexplained. But the agreement, ratified by the Iranian parliament in December, portends joint defense drills, intelligence sharing, and cooperative administration of security in the Strait of Hormuz. This is no mere technicality: Oman has signed up to make difficult choices if Iran seeks to shut down the strait in response to a U.S. strike. The new agreement posits a definition of security in the strait that excludes U.S. oversight. At the very least, Oman is now more likely to deny the use of its airfields and port refueling facilities to American forces.

These consequences are not inevitable. But Washington’s latitude to “calibrate” force against Iran is effectively gone. If we hope to operate from bases in Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman now, we will have to be “all in”: we will almost certainly have to guarantee to our hosts – who would be breaking agreements by siding with us – that they won’t be caught in a protracted cycle of retaliation from a still-dangerous Iran. Perceiving that prospect themselves, they have started hedging their bets. We may validly perceive benefits in waiting to take action, but doing so always carries costs. This is one of them.

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To Get Arab Support on Iran, Take a Leaf from Bush Sr.

As Jennifer noted yesterday, the latest WikiLeaks revelations definitively refute Barack Obama’s “linkage” theory: that Israeli concessions to the Palestinians were necessary to persuade Arab states to oppose Iran’s nuclear program. But what the documents reveal about the profound strategic misconception behind this theory is frightening.

The list of Arab states urging America to bomb Iran, and the forcefulness with which they urged it, is astonishing. It includes Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Jordan, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates; virtually the only exception was Qatar. Clearly, no Israeli concessions were needed to persuade these countries that strong action against Iran was desirable.

But both Obama and his predecessor George W. Bush insisted that this behind-the-scenes urging wasn’t enough; they needed Arab states to go public with it. As CENTCOM commander Gen. John Abizaid told UAE officials in 2007, “we need our friends to say that they stand with the Americans.”

If Bush had any strategy for achieving this goal, it doesn’t emerge from the reports I’ve seen. But Obama did: linkage. If America showed that it’s on the Arabs’ side by extracting Israeli concessions, the theory went, then Arab states would no longer be reluctant to stand publicly beside the U.S.

But the idea that “soft power” could solve a quintessentially hard-power problem is a profound misconception, because the issue wasn’t the Arabs’ view of Washington as too pro-Israel; that never stopped them from supporting America if it served their interests before.

The real issue was their fear, given the visible reluctance to attack Iran displayed by both Bush and Obama, that if they publicly urged America to bomb Iran, and then America didn’t do it — they would be left alone to face the wrath of a nuclear-armed neighbor. And no amount of arm-twisting directed at Israel could possibly assuage that fear.

Indeed, only one thing could have done so: a clear American determination to attack Iran. You needn’t look far to find the model; it’s the one used by the first President George Bush in the Gulf War.

When Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990, Arab states also initially refused to publicly back American action against Iraq. The day after the invasion, the Arab League even passed a resolution warning against outside intervention in the conflict.

But Bush, ignoring the verbiage, took swift action to assure Iraq’s neighbors that America wouldn’t leave them to face Iraq alone. Within a week, two naval battle groups had deployed to the area and more than 80 fighter jets had begun patrolling Saudi Arabia’s border. More forces arrived subsequently.

Only then did he start forming his coalition to invade Iraq. And with their protection assured, nine Arab states ultimately joined it.

Today, too, Arab states won’t publicly support attacking Iran without the surety that America will follow through. Nor can you blame them: they’re the ones who will have to live with a vengeful nuclear neighbor if America punts.

But you can certainly blame Washington for the delusion that gestures on an unrelated issue would suffice to allay a well-grounded existential fear — and be deeply worried that American leaders could misread the situation that profoundly.

As Jennifer noted yesterday, the latest WikiLeaks revelations definitively refute Barack Obama’s “linkage” theory: that Israeli concessions to the Palestinians were necessary to persuade Arab states to oppose Iran’s nuclear program. But what the documents reveal about the profound strategic misconception behind this theory is frightening.

The list of Arab states urging America to bomb Iran, and the forcefulness with which they urged it, is astonishing. It includes Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Jordan, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates; virtually the only exception was Qatar. Clearly, no Israeli concessions were needed to persuade these countries that strong action against Iran was desirable.

But both Obama and his predecessor George W. Bush insisted that this behind-the-scenes urging wasn’t enough; they needed Arab states to go public with it. As CENTCOM commander Gen. John Abizaid told UAE officials in 2007, “we need our friends to say that they stand with the Americans.”

If Bush had any strategy for achieving this goal, it doesn’t emerge from the reports I’ve seen. But Obama did: linkage. If America showed that it’s on the Arabs’ side by extracting Israeli concessions, the theory went, then Arab states would no longer be reluctant to stand publicly beside the U.S.

But the idea that “soft power” could solve a quintessentially hard-power problem is a profound misconception, because the issue wasn’t the Arabs’ view of Washington as too pro-Israel; that never stopped them from supporting America if it served their interests before.

The real issue was their fear, given the visible reluctance to attack Iran displayed by both Bush and Obama, that if they publicly urged America to bomb Iran, and then America didn’t do it — they would be left alone to face the wrath of a nuclear-armed neighbor. And no amount of arm-twisting directed at Israel could possibly assuage that fear.

Indeed, only one thing could have done so: a clear American determination to attack Iran. You needn’t look far to find the model; it’s the one used by the first President George Bush in the Gulf War.

When Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990, Arab states also initially refused to publicly back American action against Iraq. The day after the invasion, the Arab League even passed a resolution warning against outside intervention in the conflict.

But Bush, ignoring the verbiage, took swift action to assure Iraq’s neighbors that America wouldn’t leave them to face Iraq alone. Within a week, two naval battle groups had deployed to the area and more than 80 fighter jets had begun patrolling Saudi Arabia’s border. More forces arrived subsequently.

Only then did he start forming his coalition to invade Iraq. And with their protection assured, nine Arab states ultimately joined it.

Today, too, Arab states won’t publicly support attacking Iran without the surety that America will follow through. Nor can you blame them: they’re the ones who will have to live with a vengeful nuclear neighbor if America punts.

But you can certainly blame Washington for the delusion that gestures on an unrelated issue would suffice to allay a well-grounded existential fear — and be deeply worried that American leaders could misread the situation that profoundly.

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The Administration’s Incoherence on Iran

The comments of our top national security officials on the topic of Iran are becoming alarmingly incoherent. A case in point comes from Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. He cautions that the mullahs are liars:

Asked whether he believed Tehran’s vows that its nuclear program was for peaceful purposes, Mullen said: “I don’t believe it for a second.”

“In fact, the information and intelligence that I’ve seen speak very specifically to the contrary,” he said.

“Iran is still very much on a path to be able to develop nuclear weapons, including weaponizing them, putting them on a missile and being able to use them.”

Yet what does Mullen propose we do? Well, we should talk to them. But we have to be realistic, because the Iranian regime can’t be trusted:

“I still think it’s important we focus on the dialogue, we focus on the engagement, but also do it in a realistic way that looks at whether Iran is actually going to tell the truth, actually engage and actually do anything.”

But didn’t he say that we know they aren’t telling the truth? You can see why Iran’s Arab neighbors are petrified that there is no “plan B” for stopping the Iranian regime. Or, as one of the WikiLeaks cables (highlighted by a frequent reader) explains:

On July 15, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner joined Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan (MBZ) and Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al Nahyan (ABZ) for a dinner covering a range of regional issues.  MBZ expressed serious concern over Iran’s regional intentions and pleaded for the U.S. to shorten its decision-making timeline and develop a “plan B.” He encouraged the U.S. to clearly communicate “red lines” to the Iranian Government, on nuclear and regional stability issues, with direct consequences for transgressions. He painted to a nuclear Iran as an existential threat to the UAE and invoked the well being of his grandchildren while urging the U.S. to act quickly. MBZ asked for close coordination between the U.S. and UAE to deal with the Iranian threat.

If Iran has military capabilities far beyond what we imagined (“The cables … reveal for the first time that the United States believes that Iran has obtained advanced missiles from North Korea that could let it strike at Western European capitals and Moscow and help it develop more formidable long-range ballistic missiles”), the Arab states are supportive of military action, and we know the mullahs are professional deceivers, why in the world are we still babbling about engagement? I honestly don’t know. Members of Congress should find out — before a national security failure of unprecedented dimensions occurs. It would be on Obama’s watch — but on the lawmakers’ as well. And it will be a disaster for the savvy and the dull-witted alike.

The comments of our top national security officials on the topic of Iran are becoming alarmingly incoherent. A case in point comes from Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. He cautions that the mullahs are liars:

Asked whether he believed Tehran’s vows that its nuclear program was for peaceful purposes, Mullen said: “I don’t believe it for a second.”

“In fact, the information and intelligence that I’ve seen speak very specifically to the contrary,” he said.

“Iran is still very much on a path to be able to develop nuclear weapons, including weaponizing them, putting them on a missile and being able to use them.”

Yet what does Mullen propose we do? Well, we should talk to them. But we have to be realistic, because the Iranian regime can’t be trusted:

“I still think it’s important we focus on the dialogue, we focus on the engagement, but also do it in a realistic way that looks at whether Iran is actually going to tell the truth, actually engage and actually do anything.”

But didn’t he say that we know they aren’t telling the truth? You can see why Iran’s Arab neighbors are petrified that there is no “plan B” for stopping the Iranian regime. Or, as one of the WikiLeaks cables (highlighted by a frequent reader) explains:

On July 15, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner joined Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan (MBZ) and Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al Nahyan (ABZ) for a dinner covering a range of regional issues.  MBZ expressed serious concern over Iran’s regional intentions and pleaded for the U.S. to shorten its decision-making timeline and develop a “plan B.” He encouraged the U.S. to clearly communicate “red lines” to the Iranian Government, on nuclear and regional stability issues, with direct consequences for transgressions. He painted to a nuclear Iran as an existential threat to the UAE and invoked the well being of his grandchildren while urging the U.S. to act quickly. MBZ asked for close coordination between the U.S. and UAE to deal with the Iranian threat.

If Iran has military capabilities far beyond what we imagined (“The cables … reveal for the first time that the United States believes that Iran has obtained advanced missiles from North Korea that could let it strike at Western European capitals and Moscow and help it develop more formidable long-range ballistic missiles”), the Arab states are supportive of military action, and we know the mullahs are professional deceivers, why in the world are we still babbling about engagement? I honestly don’t know. Members of Congress should find out — before a national security failure of unprecedented dimensions occurs. It would be on Obama’s watch — but on the lawmakers’ as well. And it will be a disaster for the savvy and the dull-witted alike.

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Bureaucracy 101

A college course could be built around the new UN report on North Korea’s continuing proliferation activities. The report, released on Friday, was ready for publication in May 2010 but was delayed for six months by China’s Security Council veto. That veto having been lifted, the report is now available to the public.

The news stories surrounding the report are focused on North Korea’s attempts to ship weapons and their components to Iran and Syria, in the months after the “tough” sanctions adopted by the UN in mid-2009. (Pyongyang’s underground nuclear test in May 2009 prompted the newest sanctions.) The UN report cites four instances of cargo being interdicted by other nations, including episodes in Thailand and the UAE that were widely reported in the Western media.

But the real story in this report is its dryly precise account of the implementation of sanctions. Read More

A college course could be built around the new UN report on North Korea’s continuing proliferation activities. The report, released on Friday, was ready for publication in May 2010 but was delayed for six months by China’s Security Council veto. That veto having been lifted, the report is now available to the public.

The news stories surrounding the report are focused on North Korea’s attempts to ship weapons and their components to Iran and Syria, in the months after the “tough” sanctions adopted by the UN in mid-2009. (Pyongyang’s underground nuclear test in May 2009 prompted the newest sanctions.) The UN report cites four instances of cargo being interdicted by other nations, including episodes in Thailand and the UAE that were widely reported in the Western media.

But the real story in this report is its dryly precise account of the implementation of sanctions. As of April 30, 2010, for example, the panel compiling the report found that only 48 UN member nations had submitted their “national implementation reports” for the provisions of the 2009 round of sanctions. The national reports, according to the panel, “vary considerably in content, detail, and format.” The panel acknowledges that this is at least partly because the original UN resolutions didn’t specify that certain significant measures be reported (e.g., withholding pier services from North Korean ships or refusing training to North Korean specialists).

The UN panel observes – without editorializing – that North Korea basically remains free to operate shell companies in a number of other nations. As outside investment in North Korea declines, however, Pyongyang’s economic reliance on China is growing. It’s evident from the incidents recounted in the report that the typical maritime shipment of prohibited cargo from North Korea makes its first stop in China – but the report doesn’t explicitly make that point.

It does, on the other hand, convey the good news that vigilant officials in Japan and Italy have been able to prevent the delivery of two yachts, four Mercedes-Benzes, and 37 pianos to North Korea. Unfortunately, these are rare instances; the UN panel states, on a regretful note, that the interdiction of luxury goods “continues to lag.” In general, successful interdiction of goods both into and out of North Korea is hampered, in the panel’s view, by a lack of uniformity in shipping documentation and the lack of a single, all-encompassing list of prohibited items. Apparently, member states have to consult multiple lists to determine what is prohibited.

The wonder here is that any cargo interdiction happens at all. The bottom line is something we knew already: G-8 governments are acting with some level of vigilance, but there are big, unplugged holes in the sanctions; China is an unacknowledged vulnerability; and there are large swaths of territory in Asia and Africa where no attempt at enforcement is being made. This is our approach, as a collective of nations, to preventing the proliferation of WMD.

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The UAE No Fan of the Blackberry — or Intellectual Freedom

The link between political freedom and economic prosperity is by now well-established. It is no coincidence that capitalism and democracy developed at roughly the same time and in the same place — 18th-century Great Britain and to a lesser extent the 17th-century Netherlands. It is hard for a country to prosper if it has a political system intolerant of the kind of intellectual freedom needed to generate good ideas and to attract freethinkers.

That news doesn’t seem to have reached the United Arab Emirates, which has announced plans to ban Blackberry e-mails and text messages because the state-security services find them hard to monitor. Perhaps as a Crackberry addict. I’m biased, but I have to say that this is one of the dumber decisions that the UAE could make given that Dubai — its principal city — has built its wealth on its reputation for being freer and more business-friendly than the surrounding Arab states.

If this decision stands, Dubai’s long-term future, already endangered by reckless real-estate speculation, could be further put at risk.

The link between political freedom and economic prosperity is by now well-established. It is no coincidence that capitalism and democracy developed at roughly the same time and in the same place — 18th-century Great Britain and to a lesser extent the 17th-century Netherlands. It is hard for a country to prosper if it has a political system intolerant of the kind of intellectual freedom needed to generate good ideas and to attract freethinkers.

That news doesn’t seem to have reached the United Arab Emirates, which has announced plans to ban Blackberry e-mails and text messages because the state-security services find them hard to monitor. Perhaps as a Crackberry addict. I’m biased, but I have to say that this is one of the dumber decisions that the UAE could make given that Dubai — its principal city — has built its wealth on its reputation for being freer and more business-friendly than the surrounding Arab states.

If this decision stands, Dubai’s long-term future, already endangered by reckless real-estate speculation, could be further put at risk.

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RE: UAE Ambassador: The Benefits of Attacking Iran Outweigh the Risks

Jeffrey Goldberg provides the full remarks:

I asked him, Do you want the U.S. to stop the Iranian nuclear program by force?

And he answered: “Absolutely, absolutely. I think we are at risk of an Iranian nuclear program far more than you are at risk. At 7,000 miles away, and with two oceans bordering you, an Iranian nuclear threat does not threaten the  continental United States. It may threaten your assets in the region, it will threaten the peace process, it will threaten balance of power, it will threaten everything else, but it will not threaten you.”

He went on to say, “I am suggesting that I think out of every country in the region, the U.A.E. is most vulnerable to Iran. Our military, who has existed for the past 40 years, wake up, dream, breathe, eat, sleep the Iranian threat. It’s the only conventional military threat our military plans for, trains for, equips for, that’s it, there’s no other threat, there’s no country in the region that is a threat to the U.A.E., it’s only Iran. So yes, it’s very much in our interest that Iran does not gain nuclear technology.”

It is not an attack on Iran that the moderate Arab states fear the most; it is American reticence and a nuclear-armed Iran. The Obama team has dawdled and evaded the most pressing national-security issue of our time: is the U.S. willing to use military force to prevent the emergence of a new nuclear threat to the West? Eighteen months into his presidency, it is not clear that Obama is. That the UAE ambassador should have a more robust and reasoned position than the U.S. president is one more sign of how dismal a job this president has done on the most important issue he faces.

Jeffrey Goldberg provides the full remarks:

I asked him, Do you want the U.S. to stop the Iranian nuclear program by force?

And he answered: “Absolutely, absolutely. I think we are at risk of an Iranian nuclear program far more than you are at risk. At 7,000 miles away, and with two oceans bordering you, an Iranian nuclear threat does not threaten the  continental United States. It may threaten your assets in the region, it will threaten the peace process, it will threaten balance of power, it will threaten everything else, but it will not threaten you.”

He went on to say, “I am suggesting that I think out of every country in the region, the U.A.E. is most vulnerable to Iran. Our military, who has existed for the past 40 years, wake up, dream, breathe, eat, sleep the Iranian threat. It’s the only conventional military threat our military plans for, trains for, equips for, that’s it, there’s no other threat, there’s no country in the region that is a threat to the U.A.E., it’s only Iran. So yes, it’s very much in our interest that Iran does not gain nuclear technology.”

It is not an attack on Iran that the moderate Arab states fear the most; it is American reticence and a nuclear-armed Iran. The Obama team has dawdled and evaded the most pressing national-security issue of our time: is the U.S. willing to use military force to prevent the emergence of a new nuclear threat to the West? Eighteen months into his presidency, it is not clear that Obama is. That the UAE ambassador should have a more robust and reasoned position than the U.S. president is one more sign of how dismal a job this president has done on the most important issue he faces.

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UAE Ambassador: Benefits of Attacking Iran Outweigh Risks

President Obama, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullins, and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates have all pooh-poohed the use of force to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. The Obami have relied on ”linkage” to justify their fixation on the “peace process” — i.e., the idea that progress there is needed to make progress in stopping the Iranian nuclear program. But Israel’s neighbors have a different idea. The prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran is “unacceptable” to them — and they really mean it — just as it is to the Jewish state. The latest indication comes in this report from Eli Lake:

The United Arab Emirates ambassador to the United States said Tuesday that the benefits of bombing Iran’s nuclear program outweigh the short-term costs such an attack would impose.

In unusually blunt remarks, Ambassador Yousef al-Otaiba publicly endorsed the use of the military option for countering Iran’s nuclear program, if sanctions fail to stop the country’s quest for nuclear weapons.

“I think it’s a cost-benefit analysis,” Mr. al-Otaiba said. “I think despite the large amount of trade we do with Iran, which is close to $12 billion — there will be consequences, there will be a backlash and there will be problems with people protesting and rioting and very unhappy that there is an outside force attacking a Muslim country, that is going to happen no matter what.”

“If you are asking me, ‘Am I willing to live with that versus living with a nuclear Iran?,’ my answer is still the same: ‘We cannot live with a nuclear Iran.’ I am willing to absorb what takes place at the expense of the security of the UAE.”

John Bolton, as well as many other Middle East hands who regularly visit the region, confirms that in private, a number of other Arab leaders have said the same thing. So perhaps we can dispense with the fruitless “peace process,” round up a coalition of the willing (it is a catchy term), and make clear to Iran that if it does not voluntarily give up its nuclear program, it will face an alliance that will “disarm” it.

Indeed, it is the absence of such activity and the fixation on a “peace progress” that is going nowhere that should concern Jewish groups. Instead they cheer loudly that Obama is shaking Bibi’s hand in public and that Bibi is offering something or other in the proximity talks with Palestinians, who lack the will and ability to make peace. Don’t get me wrong — having Obama confirm that the bond between the countries is “unbreakable” is better than nothing. But what real content does it have? Does that bond extend to guaranteeing that Israel does not face an existential threat?

Unfortunately, Jewish groups and pro-Israel lawmakers have been suckered into the peace-process obsession, calling for more negotiations after the flotilla incident, after the Jerusalem housing spat,  and as Iran continues its quest to acquire nuclear weapons. It is more than a nervous tic — it is a wrongheaded attachment to a process that is going nowhere at the expense of focusing on dire issues.

The UAE ambassador has his eye on the ball. Maybe he can have a chat with Mullins and explain what is truly destabilizing, and unimaginable, for the moderate Arab states of the region.

President Obama, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullins, and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates have all pooh-poohed the use of force to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. The Obami have relied on ”linkage” to justify their fixation on the “peace process” — i.e., the idea that progress there is needed to make progress in stopping the Iranian nuclear program. But Israel’s neighbors have a different idea. The prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran is “unacceptable” to them — and they really mean it — just as it is to the Jewish state. The latest indication comes in this report from Eli Lake:

The United Arab Emirates ambassador to the United States said Tuesday that the benefits of bombing Iran’s nuclear program outweigh the short-term costs such an attack would impose.

In unusually blunt remarks, Ambassador Yousef al-Otaiba publicly endorsed the use of the military option for countering Iran’s nuclear program, if sanctions fail to stop the country’s quest for nuclear weapons.

“I think it’s a cost-benefit analysis,” Mr. al-Otaiba said. “I think despite the large amount of trade we do with Iran, which is close to $12 billion — there will be consequences, there will be a backlash and there will be problems with people protesting and rioting and very unhappy that there is an outside force attacking a Muslim country, that is going to happen no matter what.”

“If you are asking me, ‘Am I willing to live with that versus living with a nuclear Iran?,’ my answer is still the same: ‘We cannot live with a nuclear Iran.’ I am willing to absorb what takes place at the expense of the security of the UAE.”

John Bolton, as well as many other Middle East hands who regularly visit the region, confirms that in private, a number of other Arab leaders have said the same thing. So perhaps we can dispense with the fruitless “peace process,” round up a coalition of the willing (it is a catchy term), and make clear to Iran that if it does not voluntarily give up its nuclear program, it will face an alliance that will “disarm” it.

Indeed, it is the absence of such activity and the fixation on a “peace progress” that is going nowhere that should concern Jewish groups. Instead they cheer loudly that Obama is shaking Bibi’s hand in public and that Bibi is offering something or other in the proximity talks with Palestinians, who lack the will and ability to make peace. Don’t get me wrong — having Obama confirm that the bond between the countries is “unbreakable” is better than nothing. But what real content does it have? Does that bond extend to guaranteeing that Israel does not face an existential threat?

Unfortunately, Jewish groups and pro-Israel lawmakers have been suckered into the peace-process obsession, calling for more negotiations after the flotilla incident, after the Jerusalem housing spat,  and as Iran continues its quest to acquire nuclear weapons. It is more than a nervous tic — it is a wrongheaded attachment to a process that is going nowhere at the expense of focusing on dire issues.

The UAE ambassador has his eye on the ball. Maybe he can have a chat with Mullins and explain what is truly destabilizing, and unimaginable, for the moderate Arab states of the region.

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Playing with Fire in the Levant

The National, a paper in the UAE, fleshes out the Scud missile story:

Although US officials contacted by The National could not completely confirm that such technology had been transferred to Hizbollah by Syria, one official privy to intelligence briefings confirmed a story previously reported in the Israeli press that in the weeks before Senator John Kerry’s visit to Damascus on April 1, Israel almost bombed what it claimed was a convoy of advanced weaponry headed from Syrian military bases to Hizbollah along the shared border with Lebanon.

“I can’t promise you that planes were actually in the air, but it was close, very close,” said the official. “The White House had to talk them down from the attack and promised that Kerry would use strong language” with the Syrian president, Bashar Assad.

When asked about the outcome of the meeting between Mr Kerry and Mr Assad on the issue, the source tartly responded: “In light of where we are now, what do you think?”

As Tony Badran points out, Bashar Assad “is known to have a penchant for brinksmanship.” In this case, he appears to have been saved from the consequences of a particularly foolish gambit by the Obama administration.

But this doesn’t mean the red line hasn’t been crossed. Syria is in fact now in more danger than the Israelis. The IDF’s Arrow missile-defense system can knock Scuds out of the sky with great reliability, so they don’t pose a tremendous a threat. What they do provide to Israel is an opportunity — and they impose a requirement. The fact that they were transferred to Hezbollah in violation of tacit but well-understood red lines gives Israel clear and credible casus belli, should hostilities break out, to expand any conflict to Syria.

The crossing of the Scud-missile red line carries its own inexorable logic: since Syria has chosen to become a provider of military-grade weapons to Hezbollah, Israel has little choice but to include Syria in any future war with Hezbollah. And if Israel goes to war with Syria, there will be little rationale, given the risks involved and the immense reward of ridding the region of Iran’s only ally, from going for regime change.

Badran:

The Syrian president made a telling remark at the last Arab League summit to the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas. He observed that “the price of resistance is not higher than the price of peace.” And therein lays the problem. Assad has not been made to feel that the costs of continued destabilization can be prohibitive. Instead, all he gets from Washington are weak statements in response to his actions.

What Barack Obama appears not to understand is that the harder he presses Israel and the more he protects Syria, the more self-reliant Israel has to become — and that is going to involve things that Obama might discover he dislikes more than close relations with the Jewish state.

The National, a paper in the UAE, fleshes out the Scud missile story:

Although US officials contacted by The National could not completely confirm that such technology had been transferred to Hizbollah by Syria, one official privy to intelligence briefings confirmed a story previously reported in the Israeli press that in the weeks before Senator John Kerry’s visit to Damascus on April 1, Israel almost bombed what it claimed was a convoy of advanced weaponry headed from Syrian military bases to Hizbollah along the shared border with Lebanon.

“I can’t promise you that planes were actually in the air, but it was close, very close,” said the official. “The White House had to talk them down from the attack and promised that Kerry would use strong language” with the Syrian president, Bashar Assad.

When asked about the outcome of the meeting between Mr Kerry and Mr Assad on the issue, the source tartly responded: “In light of where we are now, what do you think?”

As Tony Badran points out, Bashar Assad “is known to have a penchant for brinksmanship.” In this case, he appears to have been saved from the consequences of a particularly foolish gambit by the Obama administration.

But this doesn’t mean the red line hasn’t been crossed. Syria is in fact now in more danger than the Israelis. The IDF’s Arrow missile-defense system can knock Scuds out of the sky with great reliability, so they don’t pose a tremendous a threat. What they do provide to Israel is an opportunity — and they impose a requirement. The fact that they were transferred to Hezbollah in violation of tacit but well-understood red lines gives Israel clear and credible casus belli, should hostilities break out, to expand any conflict to Syria.

The crossing of the Scud-missile red line carries its own inexorable logic: since Syria has chosen to become a provider of military-grade weapons to Hezbollah, Israel has little choice but to include Syria in any future war with Hezbollah. And if Israel goes to war with Syria, there will be little rationale, given the risks involved and the immense reward of ridding the region of Iran’s only ally, from going for regime change.

Badran:

The Syrian president made a telling remark at the last Arab League summit to the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas. He observed that “the price of resistance is not higher than the price of peace.” And therein lays the problem. Assad has not been made to feel that the costs of continued destabilization can be prohibitive. Instead, all he gets from Washington are weak statements in response to his actions.

What Barack Obama appears not to understand is that the harder he presses Israel and the more he protects Syria, the more self-reliant Israel has to become — and that is going to involve things that Obama might discover he dislikes more than close relations with the Jewish state.

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Jason Bourne, Call Your Office

Another day, and another Western government chastises Israel for the use of non-Israeli passports in the assassination of Hamas terrorist mastermind Mahmoud al-Mabhou. This time it’s Australia’s turn. Australia’s PM, Kevin Rudd, was quoted as saying that

Any state that has been complicit in use or abuse of the Australian passport system, let alone for the conduct of an assassination, is treating Australia with contempt and there will therefore be action by the Australian government in response.

Clearly, one needs to believe Dubai’s police on the revelations about the forged passports. There is no smoking gun yet about Israel’s responsibility. And hopefully, Israel will keep quiet about this. As Yossi Melman indicates in today’s Haaretz, the investigation is rising to comical levels, even as the evidence against Israel is thin.

Look, anyone familiar with James Bond, Jason Bourne, and the Mission Impossible franchise knows that secret agents travel on forged passports. And even assuming Israel is responsible, what did anyone expect — a bunch of Israelis to show up at Dubai airport waving their Israeli passports? Just imagine the conversation.

UAE immigration officer: Nationality?

Agent: Israeli.

Immigration officer: Occupation?

Agent: Mossad agent.

Immigration officer: Purpose of your visit?

Agent: Targeted killing of a top Hamas terrorist.

Immigration officer: Welcome to our country, sir, and have a nice day.

Sure, it would have been preferable that those involved were not caught on camera and belatedly identified — although every new release of suspects by Dubai’s police makes their involvement look less credible. How many people does it takes to kill one Hamas terrorist, even in Dubai?

There would not have been so much grief in London, Paris, or Canberra. Countries are more likely to turn a blind eye when friendly secret services do not get caught abusing or violating their laws. The problem with the outrage is not the deed itself, then, but the embarrassment resulting from the exposure.

Finally, the international outrage has forgotten to take into account the obvious: Mahmoud al-Mabhou deserved to die. He was a terrorist. He was involved in something sinister and potentially very big — which had to do with arms-smuggling from Iran to Gaza. He had personally killed Israeli hostages. There should be little sorrow expressed about sending him to delight with heavenly virgins long before he had planned.

Another day, and another Western government chastises Israel for the use of non-Israeli passports in the assassination of Hamas terrorist mastermind Mahmoud al-Mabhou. This time it’s Australia’s turn. Australia’s PM, Kevin Rudd, was quoted as saying that

Any state that has been complicit in use or abuse of the Australian passport system, let alone for the conduct of an assassination, is treating Australia with contempt and there will therefore be action by the Australian government in response.

Clearly, one needs to believe Dubai’s police on the revelations about the forged passports. There is no smoking gun yet about Israel’s responsibility. And hopefully, Israel will keep quiet about this. As Yossi Melman indicates in today’s Haaretz, the investigation is rising to comical levels, even as the evidence against Israel is thin.

Look, anyone familiar with James Bond, Jason Bourne, and the Mission Impossible franchise knows that secret agents travel on forged passports. And even assuming Israel is responsible, what did anyone expect — a bunch of Israelis to show up at Dubai airport waving their Israeli passports? Just imagine the conversation.

UAE immigration officer: Nationality?

Agent: Israeli.

Immigration officer: Occupation?

Agent: Mossad agent.

Immigration officer: Purpose of your visit?

Agent: Targeted killing of a top Hamas terrorist.

Immigration officer: Welcome to our country, sir, and have a nice day.

Sure, it would have been preferable that those involved were not caught on camera and belatedly identified — although every new release of suspects by Dubai’s police makes their involvement look less credible. How many people does it takes to kill one Hamas terrorist, even in Dubai?

There would not have been so much grief in London, Paris, or Canberra. Countries are more likely to turn a blind eye when friendly secret services do not get caught abusing or violating their laws. The problem with the outrage is not the deed itself, then, but the embarrassment resulting from the exposure.

Finally, the international outrage has forgotten to take into account the obvious: Mahmoud al-Mabhou deserved to die. He was a terrorist. He was involved in something sinister and potentially very big — which had to do with arms-smuggling from Iran to Gaza. He had personally killed Israeli hostages. There should be little sorrow expressed about sending him to delight with heavenly virgins long before he had planned.

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The Dubai Effect

Max Boot is quite right that the Middle East needs Dubai, and not only because it embraces modernity and flouts the region’s taboos. It’s also an example of good government, at least by the Arab world’s standards, and good economics if you look past its excesses.

The United Arab Emirates’ most extravagant city-state has a more or less transparent market economy and a degree of personal freedom rarely found elsewhere in the Middle East outside Israel and Lebanon. The government doesn’t micromanage the personal lives of its citizens as in Iran and Saudi Arabia, nor does it smother the economy with heavy state socialism as in Egypt and Syria. Its bureaucracy is efficient — investors don’t spend years acquiring permits and filling out paperwork before they can open a shopping center, a hotel, or a Starbucks. The Islamic religion is respected as it is everywhere else in the Middle East, but clerics don’t make the rules. Read More

Max Boot is quite right that the Middle East needs Dubai, and not only because it embraces modernity and flouts the region’s taboos. It’s also an example of good government, at least by the Arab world’s standards, and good economics if you look past its excesses.

The United Arab Emirates’ most extravagant city-state has a more or less transparent market economy and a degree of personal freedom rarely found elsewhere in the Middle East outside Israel and Lebanon. The government doesn’t micromanage the personal lives of its citizens as in Iran and Saudi Arabia, nor does it smother the economy with heavy state socialism as in Egypt and Syria. Its bureaucracy is efficient — investors don’t spend years acquiring permits and filling out paperwork before they can open a shopping center, a hotel, or a Starbucks. The Islamic religion is respected as it is everywhere else in the Middle East, but clerics don’t make the rules.

Lebanon and Iraq have both been hailed as possible models for the rest of the region, but they aren’t really. Maybe they will be someday, but they aren’t today. Freewheeling Lebanon is more or less democratic, but it’s unstable. It blows up every year. The Beirut Spring in 2005 ousted the Syrian military dictatorship, but shaking off Iran and its private Hezbollah militia has proved nearly impossible. Iraq is likewise still too violent and dysfunctional to be an inspiring model right now.

Many of the skyscrapering steel and glass cities of the Persian Gulf feel like soulless shopping malls. It wouldn’t occur to anyone to suggest that one of these places is “the Paris of the Middle East,” as Beirut has often been called. Dubai’s outrageous attractions and socially liberal atmosphere, however, makes it something like a Las Vegas of the Middle East as a traveler’s destination. And it really is something like a Hong Kong or Singapore as a place to do business.

It features prominently in Vali Nasr’s compelling new book Forces of Fortune, where he argues that the Middle East may finally liberalize politically after it has first been transformed economically by a middle-class commercial revolution. Most in the West haven’t noticed, but that revolution has already begun. And what he calls “the Dubai effect” is a key part of it.

“People in the region who visit Dubai,” he writes, “return home wondering why their governments can’t issue passports in a day or provide clean mosques and schools, better airports, airlines and roads, and above all better government.”

He’s right. Most Beirutis I know look down on Dubai as artificial and gimmicky, but just about everyone else in the region who isn’t a radical Islamist thinks it’s amazing.

It’s different geopolitically, too. The government is more sincerely pro-American than the nominally pro-American governments of Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Michael Yon put it this way when he visited in 2006 on his way to Iraq: “Our friends in the UAE want the Coalition efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan to succeed, and they are vocal about it. While much of the west, including many of our oldest allies, postures on about how the war on terror is a horrible mistake, the sentiment in the UAE is that it would be a horrible mistake not to face the facts about our common enemy, an enemy that might be just as happy to destroy the UAE as America.”

Its leadership has also stepped a long way back from the Arab-Israeli conflict. Neither Dubai nor any of the other UAE emirates have gone so far as to sign a peace treaty with Israel, but they also aren’t participating in the conflict or making it worse. Israeli citizens can and do visit, which is unthinkable almost everywhere else in the Arab world. A rotating tower designed by an Israeli architect is slated to be completed next year. There isn’t a chance that even Egypt or Jordan, both of which have signed peace treaties, would let an Israeli design one of their architectural set pieces.

Dubai has problems, of course, aside from the inevitable bursting of its financial bubble. Its government is a fairly benign dictatorship, especially compared with the likes of Syria and Iran, but it’s a dictatorship all the same. Many of its imported laborers live and work in ghastly conditions, and some are lured there under false pretenses.

It’s flawed, it’s weird, and its overall model of development can’t be ported everywhere else. Only so many cities can build ski resorts in the desert and underwater hotel rooms that go for $5,000 a night. But Dubai’s model needn’t be copied and pasted as-is, and Nasr’s “Dubai effect” is a powerful thing. The city proves to everyone who goes there that when an Arab Muslim country opens up its economy, keeps the clerics out of the saddle, and eschews radical causes, it can build places that are impressive not just by local standards but by international standards as well. If even half its foreign and domestic policies are adopted by its neighbors, the region will be a much nicer place for the people who live there, and less of a headache for everyone else.

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Must. Surrender. Somewhere.

Let’s consider what Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama might now be saying if over the past six years George Bush had done precisely what the Democrats claim he should have regarding Afghanistan and Iraq. If the U.S. had beefed up forces in Afghanistan and ignored Saddam Hussein, I imagine the Democratic argument (as extrapolated from current policy positions) might go something like this:

We have now spent six years bogged down in George Bush’s Afghan war, while Saddam Hussein continues to build his palaces on the graves of innocent Iraqis. We’re locked into an endless commitment in Afghanistan, refusing to let the Afghan people shape their own post-Taliban futures, while intelligence reports continue to come in that Saddam Hussein is not only working on weapons of mass destruction, but associating with and even training the types of people who attacked us on September 11. We have leveled to dust a nation without the resources or operational knowledge to attack the U.S., while we’ve let Saddam Hussein’s Iraq build its deadly arsenal and expand its lethal network of associates. How does this make the U.S. look in the eyes of the world? And why should our allies tolerate it? Why should you, the voting public? I intend to restore our standing in the global community by beginning immediate troop drawdowns in Afghanistan and facing the real threat represented by dangerous regimes such as Iraq. America needs a real leader, not someone who won’t go into Iraq because his father had thought it would be too tough for America to handle.

As is happened, things took a different course. We went into Iraq while continuing to fight in Afghanistan. We’ve had our formidable challenges in both theaters, but the point is the Democrats can always plug in proper nouns as needed and make an argument like the one above. Which they’ve done. We know from Hillary that it’s too late to win in Iraq, and from Obama that we need to withdraw from Iraq immediately and pick up the pace in Afghanistan. We must, you see, stop fighting somewhere.

But how is this surrender argument to be maintained in the face of continued success in Iraq? This question will get tougher and more crucial for whichever Democrat is nominated to go up against John McCain. Well, today Ted Rall has a piece at Yahoo News which may suggest a new direction in such surrender mad-libs: We need to pull out of Afghanistan after all.

By any measure, U.S. troops and their NATO allies are getting their a–es kicked in the country that Reagan’s CIA station chief for Pakistan called “the graveyard of empires.” Afghanistan currently produces a record 93 percent of the world’s opium. Suicide bombers are killing more U.S.-aligned troops than ever. Stonings are back. The Taliban and their allies, “defeated” in 2001, control most of the country–and may recapture the capital of Kabul as early as this summer.

And, anyway, Afghanistan is the wrong place to fight the war on terror:

Afghanistan’s connection to 9/11 was tertiary. At the moment the first plane struck the South Tower of the World Trade Center, most of Al Qaeda’s camps and fighters were in Pakistan. As CBS News reported on January 29, 2002, Osama bin Laden was in a Pakistani military hospital in Rawalpindi on 9/11. The Taliban militia, which provided neither men nor money for the attacks, controlled 90 percent of the country.

Ta-da!

So, it’s time to pull out of Afghanistan and fight in Pakistan. And then when we’re there? Well, we’d be ignoring Saudi Arabia, naturally. And once we’re in Saudi? We’d be insensitive cowboys treading on holy sand and ignoring the terror financing that comes from the UAE. And once there? We’d be turning against a “non-political” ally and economic partner. And on, and on, and on. The arguments will continue to chase the U.S. around the globe, and the U.S. will continue to act prudently, if imperfectly, to marginalize or destroy the enemies of liberal democracy. The very fact that America prevents the worst threats from materializing is what allows for this silly rhetorical fill-in-the-blanks game to begin with.

Let’s consider what Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama might now be saying if over the past six years George Bush had done precisely what the Democrats claim he should have regarding Afghanistan and Iraq. If the U.S. had beefed up forces in Afghanistan and ignored Saddam Hussein, I imagine the Democratic argument (as extrapolated from current policy positions) might go something like this:

We have now spent six years bogged down in George Bush’s Afghan war, while Saddam Hussein continues to build his palaces on the graves of innocent Iraqis. We’re locked into an endless commitment in Afghanistan, refusing to let the Afghan people shape their own post-Taliban futures, while intelligence reports continue to come in that Saddam Hussein is not only working on weapons of mass destruction, but associating with and even training the types of people who attacked us on September 11. We have leveled to dust a nation without the resources or operational knowledge to attack the U.S., while we’ve let Saddam Hussein’s Iraq build its deadly arsenal and expand its lethal network of associates. How does this make the U.S. look in the eyes of the world? And why should our allies tolerate it? Why should you, the voting public? I intend to restore our standing in the global community by beginning immediate troop drawdowns in Afghanistan and facing the real threat represented by dangerous regimes such as Iraq. America needs a real leader, not someone who won’t go into Iraq because his father had thought it would be too tough for America to handle.

As is happened, things took a different course. We went into Iraq while continuing to fight in Afghanistan. We’ve had our formidable challenges in both theaters, but the point is the Democrats can always plug in proper nouns as needed and make an argument like the one above. Which they’ve done. We know from Hillary that it’s too late to win in Iraq, and from Obama that we need to withdraw from Iraq immediately and pick up the pace in Afghanistan. We must, you see, stop fighting somewhere.

But how is this surrender argument to be maintained in the face of continued success in Iraq? This question will get tougher and more crucial for whichever Democrat is nominated to go up against John McCain. Well, today Ted Rall has a piece at Yahoo News which may suggest a new direction in such surrender mad-libs: We need to pull out of Afghanistan after all.

By any measure, U.S. troops and their NATO allies are getting their a–es kicked in the country that Reagan’s CIA station chief for Pakistan called “the graveyard of empires.” Afghanistan currently produces a record 93 percent of the world’s opium. Suicide bombers are killing more U.S.-aligned troops than ever. Stonings are back. The Taliban and their allies, “defeated” in 2001, control most of the country–and may recapture the capital of Kabul as early as this summer.

And, anyway, Afghanistan is the wrong place to fight the war on terror:

Afghanistan’s connection to 9/11 was tertiary. At the moment the first plane struck the South Tower of the World Trade Center, most of Al Qaeda’s camps and fighters were in Pakistan. As CBS News reported on January 29, 2002, Osama bin Laden was in a Pakistani military hospital in Rawalpindi on 9/11. The Taliban militia, which provided neither men nor money for the attacks, controlled 90 percent of the country.

Ta-da!

So, it’s time to pull out of Afghanistan and fight in Pakistan. And then when we’re there? Well, we’d be ignoring Saudi Arabia, naturally. And once we’re in Saudi? We’d be insensitive cowboys treading on holy sand and ignoring the terror financing that comes from the UAE. And once there? We’d be turning against a “non-political” ally and economic partner. And on, and on, and on. The arguments will continue to chase the U.S. around the globe, and the U.S. will continue to act prudently, if imperfectly, to marginalize or destroy the enemies of liberal democracy. The very fact that America prevents the worst threats from materializing is what allows for this silly rhetorical fill-in-the-blanks game to begin with.

Read Less