Commentary Magazine


Topic: Zalmay Khalilzad

Paying the Price in Afghanistan

Most officers, now deploying to Afghanistan often for their third or fourth time, are far more attuned to political developments and the problems facing that country than the politicians who are ordering them into battle. Based on my experience teaching classes to deploying officers before each unit departs, there is an overwhelming consensus that governance in Afghanistan is fatally flawed. While officers recognize that a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan is inimical to American security, few officers see how propping up Hamid Karzai’s corrupt plutocracy is a U.S. interest.

Alas, the problem that Karzai has become today is the direct result of a strategy that traded short-term gain for long-term ills. Without doubt, it was important that the United States unseat the Taliban. Simply put, the Taliban can never be a partner for peace and it should have no role in Afghanistan’s future; it must be eliminated. The Clinton administration had tried a negotiated solution with Taliban leaders; the same Taliban representatives with whom Obama’s team now engage promised any number of resolutions, but then as now always failed to deliver.

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Most officers, now deploying to Afghanistan often for their third or fourth time, are far more attuned to political developments and the problems facing that country than the politicians who are ordering them into battle. Based on my experience teaching classes to deploying officers before each unit departs, there is an overwhelming consensus that governance in Afghanistan is fatally flawed. While officers recognize that a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan is inimical to American security, few officers see how propping up Hamid Karzai’s corrupt plutocracy is a U.S. interest.

Alas, the problem that Karzai has become today is the direct result of a strategy that traded short-term gain for long-term ills. Without doubt, it was important that the United States unseat the Taliban. Simply put, the Taliban can never be a partner for peace and it should have no role in Afghanistan’s future; it must be eliminated. The Clinton administration had tried a negotiated solution with Taliban leaders; the same Taliban representatives with whom Obama’s team now engage promised any number of resolutions, but then as now always failed to deliver.

When Operation Enduring Freedom began, the problem was not just the Taliban but rather, more broadly, the warlords or, in diplomat-speak, “regional power brokers.” When Operation Enduring Freedom began, Afghanistan had been without an army or professional police force for years. Warlords ruled the country. The United States was not in a position to subdue every single warlord; Afghanistan was not logistically capable of handling the huge numbers of U.S. forces that would be necessary for such a mission; the country did not have the extensive networks of bases such as those Saddam Hussein had left behind in Iraq.

The strategy hatched by Zalmay Khalilzad, an Afghan American on Condoleezza Rice’s National Security Council (and future ambassador to Afghanistan), was to co-opt as many Afghan warlords as possible by giving them posts in the new Afghan government, thereby removing them from their regional power base, all the while building up the new Afghan security forces. To enable this strategy to work, American officials needed a strong central government, with a president able to appoint not only ministers, but also governors and other regional officials.

Karzai certainly did not object to a strong presidency, and played along. He appointed Ismail Khan—a major Iranian-backed warlord from Herat—to be minister of energy. Notorious Afghan Uzbek warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum became chief of staff to commander of the Afghan National Army, a largely ceremonial position.  The new Afghan government transferred Gul Agha Sherzai to be governor, first of Kandahar and then Nangarhar. Initially, the strategy paid off. By the time the warlords recognized their power had been surpassed by the national army, it was too late for them.

The payback, however, is now: The central government has become a major source of grievance. Karzai is mercurial and his family notoriously corrupt. If a basis of the U.S. counterinsurgency is to win hearts and minds at a local level, then Karzai and the centralized model implemented during the Bush years becomes the major problem. Afghan villagers and townsmen want leaders to whom they can turn who look like them, speak like them, and are representative of the population in the district in which they live. But, if the appointees and decisions are coming from above, then ultimately the only way to fight city hall is to fight the central government.

So what to do? The short-term strategy achieved its goal—the power of the warlords was undercut—but the bill is now coming due. Unless there is a concerted effort by all international partners to encourage a new loyal jirga to reconsider the structure of government, then Afghanistan is headed once again to chaos. Success will depend on empowering local officials beneath the banner of a loose central government. Alas, the United States has no standing now to rectify either problem, nor does Karzai have an interest in loosening the grip of his family. Obama’s timeline for withdrawal has undercut what little leverage American policymakers have.

The whole situation adds up to a frustrating mess for our soldiers, who are putting their lives on the line for a noble goal betrayed by a diplomatic fiction they all can see through. It is time our politicians treated our troops with the respect they deserve. They are willing to answer the call, but they must see that the problems so glaringly obvious in Afghanistan are being addressed rather than swept under the rug.

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Fighting Corruption in Afghanistan

Just as important as the battle against Taliban militants is the struggle against corrupt officials in the Afghan government, who undermine public confidence and drive Afghans into the arms of the Taliban. U.S. forces know how to carry out security operations. Cleaning up corruption is much harder. How is that struggle going?

The short answer is that it’s too early to tell. There are some positive signs, to be sure, including the fact that General Petraeus has appointed H.R. McMaster — one of the brightest general officers in the entire Army — to run an anti-corruption task force. And today comes word, as noted in this Wall Street Journal article, that “Afghan prosecutors are planning to indict nearly two dozen current and former senior officials — the current mining minister among them — on allegations of taking bribes and stealing government funds.” Those prosecutions are certainly welcome, although it is unclear what impact they will have, since most of the targets are former, not current, officials, and thus by definition hardly members of President Karzai’s inner circle.

It is a small step in the right direction, but much more needs to be done. For an indication of what’s needed, think back to 2004, when Karzai, with the strong aid and encouragement of U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, succeeded in forcing warlord Ismail Khan out of his fiefdom in Herat. This was one of the bravest and most impressive challenges that Karzai has ever mounted against the power brokers and warlords who exercise such a baleful influence on events in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, in recent years Karzai has been more focused on making common cause with abusive politicians than confronting them. This is due in part to his own weakness, and in part to the lack of support from the United States. Khalilzad was a friend of Karzai’s — someone Karzai felt he could count on. Karzai hasn’t had a similar relationship with any ambassador since; his relationship with Karl Eikenberry, the current ambassador, is said to be particularly tense. Karzai has faced public sniping from the Obama administration, which (however justified) has led to a loss of confidence on his part and a tendency to reach accommodation with some of the most corrupt characters in Afghanistan.

To deal corruption a real blow, Karzai will need to remove a major power broker, such as his own brother Ahmed Wali Karzai. That doesn’t necessarily mean criminal prosecution; Ahmed Wali could simply be sent as ambassador to the Seychelles.

But for something dramatic like that to happen, Karzai will need to have more support from, and more confidence in, the U.S. government than he currently does. And the U.S. government, in turn, will have to make a common determination that fighting corruption is actually a real priority. At the moment, too many officials regard it as more important to reach a modus vivendi with the powers that be. There are always practical, short-term arguments for such dealmaking, but the long-run consequence is to squander the trust of the Afghan people, which is our most important asset in the war against the Taliban.

Just as important as the battle against Taliban militants is the struggle against corrupt officials in the Afghan government, who undermine public confidence and drive Afghans into the arms of the Taliban. U.S. forces know how to carry out security operations. Cleaning up corruption is much harder. How is that struggle going?

The short answer is that it’s too early to tell. There are some positive signs, to be sure, including the fact that General Petraeus has appointed H.R. McMaster — one of the brightest general officers in the entire Army — to run an anti-corruption task force. And today comes word, as noted in this Wall Street Journal article, that “Afghan prosecutors are planning to indict nearly two dozen current and former senior officials — the current mining minister among them — on allegations of taking bribes and stealing government funds.” Those prosecutions are certainly welcome, although it is unclear what impact they will have, since most of the targets are former, not current, officials, and thus by definition hardly members of President Karzai’s inner circle.

It is a small step in the right direction, but much more needs to be done. For an indication of what’s needed, think back to 2004, when Karzai, with the strong aid and encouragement of U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, succeeded in forcing warlord Ismail Khan out of his fiefdom in Herat. This was one of the bravest and most impressive challenges that Karzai has ever mounted against the power brokers and warlords who exercise such a baleful influence on events in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, in recent years Karzai has been more focused on making common cause with abusive politicians than confronting them. This is due in part to his own weakness, and in part to the lack of support from the United States. Khalilzad was a friend of Karzai’s — someone Karzai felt he could count on. Karzai hasn’t had a similar relationship with any ambassador since; his relationship with Karl Eikenberry, the current ambassador, is said to be particularly tense. Karzai has faced public sniping from the Obama administration, which (however justified) has led to a loss of confidence on his part and a tendency to reach accommodation with some of the most corrupt characters in Afghanistan.

To deal corruption a real blow, Karzai will need to remove a major power broker, such as his own brother Ahmed Wali Karzai. That doesn’t necessarily mean criminal prosecution; Ahmed Wali could simply be sent as ambassador to the Seychelles.

But for something dramatic like that to happen, Karzai will need to have more support from, and more confidence in, the U.S. government than he currently does. And the U.S. government, in turn, will have to make a common determination that fighting corruption is actually a real priority. At the moment, too many officials regard it as more important to reach a modus vivendi with the powers that be. There are always practical, short-term arguments for such dealmaking, but the long-run consequence is to squander the trust of the Afghan people, which is our most important asset in the war against the Taliban.

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What to Do About Pakistan?

In the New York Times, Zalmay Khalilzad, former U.S. ambassador to Kabul and Baghdad, suggests getting “tough” with Pakistan. Good idea, but how? He writes: “The United States should demand that Pakistan shut down all sanctuaries and military support programs for insurgents or else we will carry out operations against those insurgent havens, with or without Pakistani consent.”

That is, in fact, pretty much what the U.S. has been threatening since 2001. By now such threats ring hollow because we haven’t carried them out — and for good reason. How are we to suppose to clear out “insurgent havens” without Pakistani consent? Are we going to send tens of thousands of troops into the Federally Administered Tribal Areas? Not likely. Maybe step up drone strikes? That we can do, but Predators would hardly clear out the terrorists. And in return for violating Pakistani sovereignty, we would be vulnerable to Pakistani counter-pressure, from closing the supply routes for U.S. forces in Afghanistan to ending cooperation with the drone strikes against al-Qaeda.

Khalilzad proposes sweeteners for the Pakistanis, such as providing “long-term assistance to Pakistan, focused on developing not only its security apparatus, but also its civil society, economy, and democratic institutions” and facilitating “a major diplomatic effort … to improve relations between India and Pakistan.” Again, been there and done that.

Last year Congress approved a five-year, $7.5 billion package of nonmilitary aid to Pakistan. Now the Obama administration is asking for $2 billion more in military aid. That’s a lot of money in a place like Pakistan, and yet there is no sign that it has done or will do much good. Given how U.S. foreign aid is routinely stolen or used for inappropriate projects (Afghanistan and Iraq are both textbook examples), we can have little confidence that all this money is going to lead to a fundamental reorientation of Pakistani foreign policy. Nor will U.S. efforts to mediate between Pakistan and India — something we’ve done before — affect the fundamental calculations of Pakistan’s army, which views the Taliban and Haqqani Network as instruments of Pakistani statecraft in Afghanistan.

I don’t know how to reorient Pakistani policy; I don’t think anyone does. It would help, however, if President Obama made it clear that we’re not leaving Afghanistan next July. As Khalilzad rightly notes, “Pakistani military leaders believe that our current surge will be the last push before we begin a face-saving troop drawdown next July. They are confident that if they continue to frustrate our military and political strategy — even actively impede reconciliation between Kabul and Taliban groups willing to make peace — pro-Pakistani forces will have the upper hand in Afghanistan after the United States departs.”

In the New York Times, Zalmay Khalilzad, former U.S. ambassador to Kabul and Baghdad, suggests getting “tough” with Pakistan. Good idea, but how? He writes: “The United States should demand that Pakistan shut down all sanctuaries and military support programs for insurgents or else we will carry out operations against those insurgent havens, with or without Pakistani consent.”

That is, in fact, pretty much what the U.S. has been threatening since 2001. By now such threats ring hollow because we haven’t carried them out — and for good reason. How are we to suppose to clear out “insurgent havens” without Pakistani consent? Are we going to send tens of thousands of troops into the Federally Administered Tribal Areas? Not likely. Maybe step up drone strikes? That we can do, but Predators would hardly clear out the terrorists. And in return for violating Pakistani sovereignty, we would be vulnerable to Pakistani counter-pressure, from closing the supply routes for U.S. forces in Afghanistan to ending cooperation with the drone strikes against al-Qaeda.

Khalilzad proposes sweeteners for the Pakistanis, such as providing “long-term assistance to Pakistan, focused on developing not only its security apparatus, but also its civil society, economy, and democratic institutions” and facilitating “a major diplomatic effort … to improve relations between India and Pakistan.” Again, been there and done that.

Last year Congress approved a five-year, $7.5 billion package of nonmilitary aid to Pakistan. Now the Obama administration is asking for $2 billion more in military aid. That’s a lot of money in a place like Pakistan, and yet there is no sign that it has done or will do much good. Given how U.S. foreign aid is routinely stolen or used for inappropriate projects (Afghanistan and Iraq are both textbook examples), we can have little confidence that all this money is going to lead to a fundamental reorientation of Pakistani foreign policy. Nor will U.S. efforts to mediate between Pakistan and India — something we’ve done before — affect the fundamental calculations of Pakistan’s army, which views the Taliban and Haqqani Network as instruments of Pakistani statecraft in Afghanistan.

I don’t know how to reorient Pakistani policy; I don’t think anyone does. It would help, however, if President Obama made it clear that we’re not leaving Afghanistan next July. As Khalilzad rightly notes, “Pakistani military leaders believe that our current surge will be the last push before we begin a face-saving troop drawdown next July. They are confident that if they continue to frustrate our military and political strategy — even actively impede reconciliation between Kabul and Taliban groups willing to make peace — pro-Pakistani forces will have the upper hand in Afghanistan after the United States departs.”

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Disarming Liars

“In the last four months, in particular, we have made quite good progress in clarifying the outstanding issues that had to do with Iran’s past nuclear activities,” said Mohammed ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, yesterday in conjunction with the release of his latest report on Tehran. “However, that is not, in my view, sufficient.”

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was even less impressed with Iran. “It hasn’t answered questions about past activities in covert programs that they say they didn’t have,” she noted. Zalmay Khalilzad, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, was even more to the point: “They did not come clean.” Reports indicate that the Iranians have failed to explain, among other things, their possession of warhead designs and plans to shape uranium metal as well their conducting tests of high explosives.

Who else is reluctant to owning up to past nuclear weapon fibs? Well, that would be our friends the North Koreans. For almost two months they have failed to make a complete declaration of their nuclear programs, as required by an agreement hammered out at the Beijing-sponsored six-party talks, and have contradicted themselves on a number of occasions. Best we can tell, the North Koreans appear to be attempting to hide somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 kilograms of plutonium. More important, they are refusing to acknowledge the existence of their efforts to start a program to make bombs with uranium cores—something they boasted about in 2002.

What makes Iran and North Korea so hard to disarm? There are many reasons, of course. Yet this year has added one more: in order for there to be any further progress, they must make admissions that they have lied to the international community. And when will we know that they have made the critical decisions to give up their nuclear weapons programs? When they start talking candidly about their respective activities. Up to now, both Tehran and Pyongyang have made blanket denials and have refused to address the particulars of allegations made against them. Confession may be good for the soul, but it is absolutely essential for peaceful resolution of these two matters.
So all of this leads to one conclusion. If Iran and North Korea cannot tell the truth as to what they have done in the past, there will be only one other way to disarm them. Whether we like it or not, at some point we will have to face the implications of their mendacity.

“In the last four months, in particular, we have made quite good progress in clarifying the outstanding issues that had to do with Iran’s past nuclear activities,” said Mohammed ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, yesterday in conjunction with the release of his latest report on Tehran. “However, that is not, in my view, sufficient.”

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was even less impressed with Iran. “It hasn’t answered questions about past activities in covert programs that they say they didn’t have,” she noted. Zalmay Khalilzad, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, was even more to the point: “They did not come clean.” Reports indicate that the Iranians have failed to explain, among other things, their possession of warhead designs and plans to shape uranium metal as well their conducting tests of high explosives.

Who else is reluctant to owning up to past nuclear weapon fibs? Well, that would be our friends the North Koreans. For almost two months they have failed to make a complete declaration of their nuclear programs, as required by an agreement hammered out at the Beijing-sponsored six-party talks, and have contradicted themselves on a number of occasions. Best we can tell, the North Koreans appear to be attempting to hide somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 kilograms of plutonium. More important, they are refusing to acknowledge the existence of their efforts to start a program to make bombs with uranium cores—something they boasted about in 2002.

What makes Iran and North Korea so hard to disarm? There are many reasons, of course. Yet this year has added one more: in order for there to be any further progress, they must make admissions that they have lied to the international community. And when will we know that they have made the critical decisions to give up their nuclear weapons programs? When they start talking candidly about their respective activities. Up to now, both Tehran and Pyongyang have made blanket denials and have refused to address the particulars of allegations made against them. Confession may be good for the soul, but it is absolutely essential for peaceful resolution of these two matters.
So all of this leads to one conclusion. If Iran and North Korea cannot tell the truth as to what they have done in the past, there will be only one other way to disarm them. Whether we like it or not, at some point we will have to face the implications of their mendacity.

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Our No-Contact Policy

On Wednesday, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said that the United States had not changed its no-contact policy with regard to Iran. The statement was prompted by Zalmay Khalilzad, who sat next to Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki at a panel at Davos on January 26. Khalilzad, Washington’s U.N. ambassador, neither greeted the Iranian nor shook his hand. Yet the American diplomat broke State Department practice by not seeking permission before appearing at the discussion session. McCormack implied that the Bush administration would have preferred that Khalilzad not have participated in the panel discussion.

Should American diplomats shun their Iranian counterparts? Our ultimate goals are not to isolate Iran and make it an enemy for generations. Our goals are to stop Tehran’s nuclear weapons program, end its support for Iraqi insurgents, and prevent it from closing the Persian Gulf. In all probability, we will not accomplish these objectives until the fanatical theocracy that rules the country falls. As Michael Ledeen of the American Enterprise Institute points out, since the 1979 revolution every American administration has tried to negotiate with Iran and all have failed. That’s because the ayatollahs wish to destroy those with whom they disagree and especially Americans. “They are not like us, and they do not share our dreams,” he has written. “Diplomacy will not tame them. Only our victory will.”

There are many routes to victory, and not all of them require American diplomats like Khalilzad to run for cover whenever a mullah approaches the room. The problem with American policy toward Iran—apart from the fact that it is achieving little—is that it is more petulant attitude than comprehensive plan. A no-contact rule only makes sense when it is part of a coordinated effort that actually has a chance of succeeding. We have no such plan. Not only do we look weak, we appear hardheaded and intransigent.

So the big story is how Condoleezza Rice is losing control of her diplomats, as evidenced by Khalilzad’s participation at Davos. Nobody is talking about how she is prevailing over the theocrats in Iran. Until the Secretary of State can come up with a credible policy, American diplomats will be prohibited from standing their ground in forums where Iranians are present. And, more important, we will lose even more time in the existential struggle against Tehran.

On Wednesday, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said that the United States had not changed its no-contact policy with regard to Iran. The statement was prompted by Zalmay Khalilzad, who sat next to Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki at a panel at Davos on January 26. Khalilzad, Washington’s U.N. ambassador, neither greeted the Iranian nor shook his hand. Yet the American diplomat broke State Department practice by not seeking permission before appearing at the discussion session. McCormack implied that the Bush administration would have preferred that Khalilzad not have participated in the panel discussion.

Should American diplomats shun their Iranian counterparts? Our ultimate goals are not to isolate Iran and make it an enemy for generations. Our goals are to stop Tehran’s nuclear weapons program, end its support for Iraqi insurgents, and prevent it from closing the Persian Gulf. In all probability, we will not accomplish these objectives until the fanatical theocracy that rules the country falls. As Michael Ledeen of the American Enterprise Institute points out, since the 1979 revolution every American administration has tried to negotiate with Iran and all have failed. That’s because the ayatollahs wish to destroy those with whom they disagree and especially Americans. “They are not like us, and they do not share our dreams,” he has written. “Diplomacy will not tame them. Only our victory will.”

There are many routes to victory, and not all of them require American diplomats like Khalilzad to run for cover whenever a mullah approaches the room. The problem with American policy toward Iran—apart from the fact that it is achieving little—is that it is more petulant attitude than comprehensive plan. A no-contact rule only makes sense when it is part of a coordinated effort that actually has a chance of succeeding. We have no such plan. Not only do we look weak, we appear hardheaded and intransigent.

So the big story is how Condoleezza Rice is losing control of her diplomats, as evidenced by Khalilzad’s participation at Davos. Nobody is talking about how she is prevailing over the theocrats in Iran. Until the Secretary of State can come up with a credible policy, American diplomats will be prohibited from standing their ground in forums where Iranians are present. And, more important, we will lose even more time in the existential struggle against Tehran.

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Has the U.S. Intelligence Community Been Penetrated Yet Again?

Zalmay Khalilzad, Bush’s UN ambassador and a straight-shooter if there ever was one, spoke the truth yesterday when he called the new National Intelligence Estimate of Iran’s suddenly non-existent nuclear-weapons program “a goal against ourselves.”

Why, after countless reforms, and so much handwringing, is U.S. intelligence in such sad shape? More importantly, what should be done about it?

On December 6, Donald Kerr, the PDDNI, that is, the Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence, laid out his agency’s 500-day plan to set things right. “What is required, first and foremost,” he said in congressional testimony, “is integrating the foundational elements and removing the barriers — in the areas of policy, management/budgeting, technology and acquisition, information, collection and analysis, and culture.” To this end, we need “to promote and build an intelligence community (IC) identity or sense of ‘jointness’ by creating programs that provide for cross-agency work assignments and training.”

The 500-day plan enters almost immediately into a discussion of the vital importance of “Equal Opportunity and Diversity.” It offers high praise for the intelligence community’s Diversity Strategy Implementation Workshop, an event held this past October that was an “an important step in the accomplishment of the IC-wide EEO and Diversity Cross-Cutting Emphasis Area Plan (CCEAP) by providing each of the IC Agencies with the mechanisms and direction. . . .”

I won’t bore you with the rest, but it is an astonishing compendium of bureaucratic gibberish guaranteed either to put you to sleep if you simply read it, or to give you nightmares if you pause to think about its implications.

What do we really need to do about the CIA? The memoirs of Secretary of Defense (and former CIA director) Robert Gates, From the Shadows, a significant book for understanding our present dilemmas, has some passages about Bill Casey, Ronald Reagan’s first CIA director, that should hit a nerve in anyone thinking about what do about U.S. intelligence today:

What truly set Bill Casey apart from his predecessors and successors as DCI . . . was that he had not come to CIA with the purpose of making it better, managing it more effectively, reforming or improving the quality of intelligence. What I realized only years later was that Bill Casey came to CIA primarily to wage war against the Soviet Union.

Above all, Casey wanted information and analysis that informed or provoked action. Nor for him assessments that simply were “interesting” or educational. He wanted information that would help target clandestine operations better, or be useful for U.S. propaganda, or assist military operations, or put ammunition in the hands of negotiators. For Casey, the United States and CIA were at war . . . and speed and relevance were his benchmarks for effective analysis.

Casey had his undeniable and glaring faults as a CIA director. But how does he stack up against the current crew, who may more accurately be called moles from the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission disguised as spies?

Gates has another passage in his memoir describing what he found in the CIA when he became chief of staff to Casey in 1981. This is what he wrote in a memo to his boss:

As a result of the lack of innovative and creative personnel management, I believe this agency is chock full of people simply awaiting retirement: some are only a year or two away and some are twenty-five years away, but there are far too many playing it safe, proceeding cautiously, not antagonizing management, and certainly not broadening their horizons, especially as long as their own senior management makes it clear that [risk-taking] is not career enhancing. How is the health of CIA? I would say that at the present time it has a case of advanced bureaucratic arteriosclerosis: the arteries are clogging up with careerist bureaucrats who have lost the spark. It is my opinion that it is this steadily increasing proportion of intelligence bureaucrats that has led to the decline in the quality of intelligence collection and analysis over the past fifteen years — more so than our declining resources . . . or congressional investigations or legal restrictions. CIA is slowly turning into the Department of Agriculture.

That was twenty-six years ago, and to judge by the intelligence-community’s 500-day plan to fix itself, things have only gotten worse in the interim.

If the United States gets clobbered again as we were on September 11, we are not going to even see it coming unless we toss out, or “re-educate,” Chinese style, our current PDDNI, Donald Kerr, and all the other bureau-technocrats who signed on to the preposterous “500 Day Plan for Integration and Collaboration,” which more appropriately might be called a “500-Day Plan to Turn the Entire Intelligence Community Into the U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission and Possibly Get A Lot of Americans Killed Along the Way.”

Zalmay Khalilzad, Bush’s UN ambassador and a straight-shooter if there ever was one, spoke the truth yesterday when he called the new National Intelligence Estimate of Iran’s suddenly non-existent nuclear-weapons program “a goal against ourselves.”

Why, after countless reforms, and so much handwringing, is U.S. intelligence in such sad shape? More importantly, what should be done about it?

On December 6, Donald Kerr, the PDDNI, that is, the Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence, laid out his agency’s 500-day plan to set things right. “What is required, first and foremost,” he said in congressional testimony, “is integrating the foundational elements and removing the barriers — in the areas of policy, management/budgeting, technology and acquisition, information, collection and analysis, and culture.” To this end, we need “to promote and build an intelligence community (IC) identity or sense of ‘jointness’ by creating programs that provide for cross-agency work assignments and training.”

The 500-day plan enters almost immediately into a discussion of the vital importance of “Equal Opportunity and Diversity.” It offers high praise for the intelligence community’s Diversity Strategy Implementation Workshop, an event held this past October that was an “an important step in the accomplishment of the IC-wide EEO and Diversity Cross-Cutting Emphasis Area Plan (CCEAP) by providing each of the IC Agencies with the mechanisms and direction. . . .”

I won’t bore you with the rest, but it is an astonishing compendium of bureaucratic gibberish guaranteed either to put you to sleep if you simply read it, or to give you nightmares if you pause to think about its implications.

What do we really need to do about the CIA? The memoirs of Secretary of Defense (and former CIA director) Robert Gates, From the Shadows, a significant book for understanding our present dilemmas, has some passages about Bill Casey, Ronald Reagan’s first CIA director, that should hit a nerve in anyone thinking about what do about U.S. intelligence today:

What truly set Bill Casey apart from his predecessors and successors as DCI . . . was that he had not come to CIA with the purpose of making it better, managing it more effectively, reforming or improving the quality of intelligence. What I realized only years later was that Bill Casey came to CIA primarily to wage war against the Soviet Union.

Above all, Casey wanted information and analysis that informed or provoked action. Nor for him assessments that simply were “interesting” or educational. He wanted information that would help target clandestine operations better, or be useful for U.S. propaganda, or assist military operations, or put ammunition in the hands of negotiators. For Casey, the United States and CIA were at war . . . and speed and relevance were his benchmarks for effective analysis.

Casey had his undeniable and glaring faults as a CIA director. But how does he stack up against the current crew, who may more accurately be called moles from the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission disguised as spies?

Gates has another passage in his memoir describing what he found in the CIA when he became chief of staff to Casey in 1981. This is what he wrote in a memo to his boss:

As a result of the lack of innovative and creative personnel management, I believe this agency is chock full of people simply awaiting retirement: some are only a year or two away and some are twenty-five years away, but there are far too many playing it safe, proceeding cautiously, not antagonizing management, and certainly not broadening their horizons, especially as long as their own senior management makes it clear that [risk-taking] is not career enhancing. How is the health of CIA? I would say that at the present time it has a case of advanced bureaucratic arteriosclerosis: the arteries are clogging up with careerist bureaucrats who have lost the spark. It is my opinion that it is this steadily increasing proportion of intelligence bureaucrats that has led to the decline in the quality of intelligence collection and analysis over the past fifteen years — more so than our declining resources . . . or congressional investigations or legal restrictions. CIA is slowly turning into the Department of Agriculture.

That was twenty-six years ago, and to judge by the intelligence-community’s 500-day plan to fix itself, things have only gotten worse in the interim.

If the United States gets clobbered again as we were on September 11, we are not going to even see it coming unless we toss out, or “re-educate,” Chinese style, our current PDDNI, Donald Kerr, and all the other bureau-technocrats who signed on to the preposterous “500 Day Plan for Integration and Collaboration,” which more appropriately might be called a “500-Day Plan to Turn the Entire Intelligence Community Into the U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission and Possibly Get A Lot of Americans Killed Along the Way.”

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Friedman’s Folly

Thomas Friedman is the second- or third-best columnist at the New York Times. Admittedly that’s damning with faint praise. But he does know a fair amount about the Middle East and some other topics, and even if he repeats himself far too often (especially on the need for ending oil dependency), and gets a lot of things wrong (such as his support for the Oslo Peace Process), and exaggerates in those areas where he’s basically right (his support of globalization), I find him often worth a read, which is more than I can say for some of his colleagues. But in yesterday’s newspaper, Friedman sounded more like a talk-radio blowhard than the Pulitzer Prize-winning foreign-affairs columnist for the Newspaper of Record. (Read his column free here.)

In yesterday’s Times, Friedman went for cheap and easy populist point-scoring. He excoriated Iraqi parliamentarians for taking August off while our troops swelter in the Iraq heat wearing body armor. “Here’s what I think of that: I think it’s a travesty,” he exclaimed—words you can easily imagine coming out of the mouth of Lou Dobbs or Bill O’Reilly or someone else not normally to be confused with Tom Friedman.

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Thomas Friedman is the second- or third-best columnist at the New York Times. Admittedly that’s damning with faint praise. But he does know a fair amount about the Middle East and some other topics, and even if he repeats himself far too often (especially on the need for ending oil dependency), and gets a lot of things wrong (such as his support for the Oslo Peace Process), and exaggerates in those areas where he’s basically right (his support of globalization), I find him often worth a read, which is more than I can say for some of his colleagues. But in yesterday’s newspaper, Friedman sounded more like a talk-radio blowhard than the Pulitzer Prize-winning foreign-affairs columnist for the Newspaper of Record. (Read his column free here.)

In yesterday’s Times, Friedman went for cheap and easy populist point-scoring. He excoriated Iraqi parliamentarians for taking August off while our troops swelter in the Iraq heat wearing body armor. “Here’s what I think of that: I think it’s a travesty,” he exclaimed—words you can easily imagine coming out of the mouth of Lou Dobbs or Bill O’Reilly or someone else not normally to be confused with Tom Friedman.

The rest of Friedman’s column was equally simplistic. He proposes that we “draft the country’s best negotiators—Henry Kissinger, Jim Baker, George Shultz, George Mitchell, Dennis Ross, or Richard Holbrooke” and send them to Baghdad to either force the Iraqi factions to reach a political deal to settle all their problems, or report back that no such deal is possible. Friedman gives no reason to think that any of these gentlemen would have any better luck than the negotiators we’ve had in Baghdad before—diplomats of formidable accomplishment such as John Negroponte and Zalmay Khalilzad.

While it’s true that the long-term solution in Iraq must be political, we won’t achieve a political deal unless we can create a more secure environment in which to negotiate. Thus, as I argued on the Times op-ed page in an article designed to deflate the very argument that Friedman now makes, our focus at the moment has to be military, not political or diplomatic.

We need above all to defeat Shiite and Sunni extremists who are holding the more moderate elements of their communities hostage. In this endeavor, U.S. troops are hardly alone. Iraqi cops and soldiers are fighting alongside them and actually suffering higher casualties—two to three times more killed and wounded. So much for Friedman’s offensive inference that Americans are dying to save Iraq while Iraqis won’t lift a finger to help their own country.

His attempted analogy between U.S. troops (“fighting in the heat”) and Iraqi legislators (“on vacation in August so they can be cool”) is bogus in any case. The better parallel is between Iraqi and American legislators. The Iraqis could certainly do better, but they are also risking their lives and their relatives’ lives to serve, not something that could be said of American senators and congressmen.

For the past few weeks—before they take off on their own August recess—our legislators have hardly been a profile in courage or perspicacity. Democrats and some Republicans have been loudly screaming to “end the war” even while showing scant interest in what will happen after U.S. troops are gone.

This Los Angeles Times story features some hair-raising quotes from the advocates of withdrawal about the consequences of their preferred strategy:

“I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s horrendous,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairman David R. Obey (D-Wis.), who has helped spearhead efforts against the war. “The only hope for the Iraqis is their own damned government, and there’s slim hope for that.”

“I believe, if we leave, the region will pull together,” said Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Petaluma), a founding member of the influential House Out of Iraq caucus. “It’s important to them that Iraq stabilize.”

“The Out of Iraq caucus really has not looked beyond ending military involvement,” acknowledged Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), a caucus leader and Pelosi ally. “Now that the environment is changing pretty significantly . . . everybody may be starting to look at what happens after the United States leaves.”

In their combination of naiveté, ignorance, and irresponsibility, our lawmakers almost make the Iraqis look good.

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