January 31, 2012

Propaganda 101: "Al Qaeda benefits from Yemen turmoil"

Professional propaganda from CNN - “correcting” President Barack Obama's rhetoric in Yemen without reviewing his administration's disastrous policy:
When President Barack Obama told Americans last week that al Qaeda operatives in Yemen "are scrambling, knowing that they can't escape the reach of the United States of America," he may have been telling only half the story.

While al Qaeda's Yemen branch has been hit hard - most notably with the killing of American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki - U.S. officials and experts say there are signs that al Qaeda is making significant gains in Yemen as the government's control over outlying regions continues to fray amid political unrest.

Furthermore, they say, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) hasn't given up its goal of striking the United States, though there have been no attempted attacks on American soil by al Qaeda since 2010.

While the death of al-Awlaki by a CIA-operated drone in September eliminated AQAP's external operations commander and chief recruiter of English-speaking militants, key players remain at-large in Yemen.

They include AQAP leader Naser al-Wuhayshi - a close associate of Osama bin Laden - and Ibrahim al-Ashiri, the skilled bomb-maker U.S. officials believe was behind the attempt to blow up a U.S. commercial airliner on Christmas Day in 2009 and a plot to bomb cargo planes belonging to such companies as FedEx the following year.

And while some of al Qaeda's most-wanted members may be "scrambling," as Obama put it during his State of the Union speech Tuesday, AQAP's goal of striking the United States either overseas or at home has not diminished, according to one U.S. official.

"AQAP hasn't changed its two main aims which are to attack the West, while establishing a safe-haven in Yemen. They may have more success at the latter if they continue to take advantage of the political unrest there, which is going to be tense for some time," said the U.S. official, who spoke only on condition of anonymity.

Gregory Johnsen, a Yemen expert at Princeton University, said AQAP members "are taking advantage of the chaos" in Yemen right now.

In addition to the fight against AQAP, Yemen has been wracked with protests throughout the past year, with demonstrators and rival factions demanding the departure of President Ali Abdullah Saleh and calling for elections.

Daniel Green, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, agreed that AQAP has much more room to operate within Yemen, and offered a dire prediction: the group has an incentive to launch a spectacular attack in a presidential election year.

"They have shown a very entrepreneurial ability to get explosives into the U.S.," Green said. "I wouldn't put it past them to try and do something this year."

Most of the group's gains have been in the southern provinces where the government exercises little control, according to the experts. Clashes between suspected militants and security forces have been particularly fierce over the past year in southern Abyan province, where suspected AQAP members held the provincial capital of Zinjibar under siege for months before eventually being flushed out.

The U.S. official agreed AQAP is "particularly strong" in the southern provinces and warned, "they'll most likely try to expand from there to establish themselves as a force in the surrounding provinces."

It appeared they did just that with the recent seizure of Radda only 100 miles south of the capital of Sanaa and considered a key transit route to the south. Suspected militants stormed the town earlier this month, taking over government buildings and mosques and freeing inmates from jails, according to local authorities and residents...
Partial list of errors revolving around the absence of policy discussion:

Withdrawal by Saleh’s Republican Guard and Central Security Organization enabled AQAP’s takeover of Abyan governorate and its capital, Zinjibar. These areas have not been cleared.

This deceptive maneuver was replicated in Rada’a.

Although a U.S. official “cautioned against confusing secessionist violence with AQAP actions,” the Obama administration sacrificed Yemen’s Southern Movement to Saleh’s U.S.-trained counter-terrorism forces.

Overall, CNN documents AQAP’s expansion without any reference to America’s deeply unpopular and unstable presence in Yemen. The word "revolution" is never mentioned, being replaced by "turmoil" and "chaos."

CNN has yet to publish a report on Saleh’s recent arrival in New York City.

January 30, 2012

Syria’s Revolution Enters UNSC Battleground

Two weeks ago The Trench speculated on the possibilities of intervention in Syria. One of these contingencies - organized insurgency against Bashar al-Assad’s regime - is already underway as oppositional representatives and commanders await further assistance from foreign powers. Those governments opposed to al-Assad’s rule can pursue this objective through their own volition, but direct military aid faces a stiff political battle in the UN Security Council. Walid al-Mouallem, Syria’s Foreign Minister, recently alerted the West of Moscow’s “red line."

“Russia cannot accept foreign intervention.”

This battle is set to commence after the Arab League decided to create space between the regime. Accused of cooperating with al-Assad and his security details, the League’s monitors were cornered by oppositional forces demanding material action and given no room for error. al-Assad’s tactical shifts left hundreds of protesters dead since mission commander and Sudanese General Muhammad Ahmed al-Dabi arrived in late December. At least 100 people were killed as the League met over the weekend, with government forces attacking multiple cities (Hama, Homs) from multiple directions. al-Assad also continues to organize mass rallies in praise of his “comprehensive reforms,” another sign that he has no intention of halting his crackdown.

A staunch defender of the regime and his mission, even al-Dabi is now forced to admit, “The situation at present, in terms of violence, does not help prepare the atmosphere” for negotiations. Violence has increased "in a significant way.”

Unable to broker a compromise with al-Assad, a divided League is increasing its pressure to maintain its own credibility with Syria’s opposition and Western capitals. Qatar currently leads the face of Arab intervention, with Riyadh looming in the background, and the withdrawal of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members helped push the debate into the UNSC. Turkey also hosted GCC foreign ministers in Istanbul to declare “unequivocal support” for the League’s decisions, including the recent suspension of its observer mission. This chain of events represents a modest victory for Syria’s opposition, but the UNSC’s battle could exceed the Arab League’s mission in length and casualties.

First circulated on Friday, a preliminary UN draft “calls on al-Assad to hand over authority to his deputy and calls for the formation of a national unity government.” The document also “condemns the continued widespread and gross violations of human rights" and demands an immediate ceasefire. al-Assad would be given 15 days to comply or risk new diplomatic and economic sanctions, with military force reserved for the political endgame. For now the UNSC is prepared to support Arab-led initiative “to facilitate... the transfer of power from the President and transparent and free elections.”

Specific analysis of the League’s initiative will be published shortly. Copied from the GCC’s power-sharing deal in Yemen - an unpopular and unstable agreement - the Arab League’s plan threatens al-Assad and Syria’s opposition alike.

Its secondary target is Moscow, where the UN’s political battle will rage most intensely. Months of pressure from the Obama administration and European powers such as Britain, France, and Germany is gradually encroaching upon Russia’s red-line, generating an unpredictable outcome. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland responded to the UN’s Friday diplomacy by speaking to Moscow: “We now have all of the members of the E.U., the United States, Australia and the Arab League countries making very clear that it's time for Assad to step aside... our question to those who are still protecting him is whether Syria really can go forward under his leadership, given the violence that we've seen."

So far Russia’s response hasn’t been positive. Labeling the current draft “unacceptable,” Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov instead pointed out the “positive aspects” of stopping violence and launching a “national dialogue” to “persuade the Syrian opposition to start a process of reconciliation.” He said Moscow was seeking clarification over future punitive measures. As for al-Assad’s fate, “Any decision about a future political settlement in Syria must be made during the political process without... preliminary conditions, and the demand for Assad’s resignation is a preliminary condition.”

Gatilov insists, “We cannot support a call to support Assad’s departure in any UN Security Council resolution.”

On Sunday Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov expressed his own disapproval of the League’s decisions, lobbying for more observers and time to open negotiations with Syria’s opposition. Lavrov has been a vocal advocate of the GCC’s deal in Yemen, but the Foreign Minister is keeping his cards close in Syria. No draft should be formally considered, in Lavrov’s opinion, until the League’s observer mission submits a report later this week. He might even be going through the trouble of ignoring Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who will attend UN meetings tomorrow and has been trying to reach Lavrov for 24 hours. “He’s in Australia and apparently unavailable,” according to State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.

Russian analysts also point out the realities of an election year, and Vladimir Putin’s desire to avoid being outmaneuvered by the West in Libya and Syria.

As mentioned earlier, Syria’s opposition is now in danger of being squeezed by international forces, a process that inevitably weakens the control over a democratic transition. Most oppositional forces - including Syria’s National Council (SNC) and Local Coordination Committees - support international intervention on various levels, either humanitarian (no-fly) corridors into Turkey or military assistance to the national resistance. After receiving assurances from Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal that the Kingdom will recognize the SNC “as the official representative of the Syrian people," the council expects action to eventually replace diplomacy.

Bassma Kodmani, a Syrian-French member of the SNC’s 10-member executive board, explained, “I grew up hating NATO. I was taught it was the devil. It was unimaginable for decades for any Syrian to even think about asking for [help] from the West... But now people on the ground want humanitarian intervention. They want to be rescued.”

However the SNC still faces resistance from the Syrian National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change, which the group has unsuccessfully attempted to link with. Unlike the SNC, the NCC adheres to non-intervention and supports Russian diplomacy; spokesman Haitham Mannaa told the AFP “we hope to see Arab League Secretary General Nabil al-Arabi head to Moscow before New York.” Although Mannaa reasonably argues that “sidelining” Russia will increase its support for al-Assad, this policy relies on two authoritarian forces to reach a democratic outcome.

Giving Russia “a bigger role” in the political process will bring disaster upon Syrians of all backgrounds.

Conversely, Kodmani stands firm on the SNC’s demand that al-Assad “move out before the transition can occur… he has no intention of having dialogue.” She said the opposition rejects open dialogue, instead favoring “a discussion on the modalities of [Assad’s] departure.” As a counterweight to the NCC, SNC chairman Burhan Ghalioun is wooing Moscow to let go of al-Assad and continue its “historic relationship” with Syria’s people. At the same time, the SNC has allegedly rejected an invite to Moscow. Whether the SNC and LCC will accept one of al-Assad’s vice presidents, Farouk al-Sharaa or Najah Al-Attar, remains uncertain, but the streets may take the decision out of their hands. Popular revolutionaries across the region are committed to regime change, not “sharing power” with the regime.

Another executive minister, Abdel Baset Seda, just clarified, "I say clearly that our position has not changed and it is that there is no dialogue with (President Bashar al-Assad).”

The council’s plan is to move forward in the UNSC and hope “the Arab League has the clout to convince the Russians to change their position.” Kodami says that Syrians expect “a serious Security Council resolution that says the council looks to blame the regime and then sets a period of time after which it will take other measures.” Meanwhile the SNC is mapping, coordinating with, and financing military groups operating in Syria and Turkey. Defected military commanders and experts are busy “linking them into some form of command chain."

In short, preparations are being made to infuse a long-term insurgency with foreign assistance.

January 29, 2012

Paris Threatens NATO’s Afghan Umbrella

At first Nicholas Sarkozy’s rhetoric sounded relatively harmless.

Pressured by an impending election, challenger Francois Hollande and chronically low approval for war in Afghanistan, France’s incumbent Prime Minister needed to make up some ground. Hollande has pledged to withdrawal all troops from Afghanistan and, sensing an opportunity to close the gap, Sarkozy utilized the deaths of four French soldiers (shot by a Taliban infiltrator) to float his own accelerated withdrawal. The premier initially backed off from his expedient reaction last Tuesday, when Foreign Minister Alain Juppe told Parliament that Sarkozy would make a decision after meeting Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Paris.

Pointing out a “clear distinction” between “organized withdrawal and rushed withdrawal," Juppe promised that his government “will not give in to panic.” Except Sarkozy is now generating this sensation in Afghanistan, Washington and NATO capitals after closing ranks with Karzai. His current plan would bring 1,000 of France’s 3,900 troops home in 2012 and accelerate the final withdrawal from 2014 to 2013. "A few hundred" advisers would remain in the country.

"The pursuit of the transition and this gradual transfer of combat responsibilities will allow us to plan for a return of all our combat forces by the end of 2013," he said on Friday.

What Sarkozy fails to address in depth is the disproportionate effects of his words and actions. The immediate military upshot could first manifest in Kapisa, where Sarkozy promised to transfer French control by March instead of late 2012. The Taliban is almost certain to mount an offensive in the vulnerable province, a possibility that could dampen NATO’s overall transfer of the country. Afghanistan’s provincial and national levels could then become trapped in a mutual cycle of violence and propaganda typical of fourth-generation warfare (4GW).

For their part, U.S. officials realize that Sarkozy’s primary damage was inflicted in the political sphere, not on the battlefield. Withdrawal is already unpopular with conservatives and President Barack Obama cannot accelerate based on French politics - even if both capitals may share the same political boat. Reactions range from terse to approving; U.S. Army Lt. Col. Jimmie Cummings insisted that "ISAF sees no effects to our current campaign plan.” Similarly, the State Department’s Victoria Nuland argued that Washington knew about Sarkozy’s change of course prior to the incident in Kapisa. Citing Sarkozy’s meeting with Karzai, she claimed that “this timetable was worked through both with the Afghans and with NATO as part of our collective process...”

“So this was a national decision of France. It was done in a managed way. We will all work with it. As the President has said with regard to our own presence, we are working on 2014. The alliance as a whole is working on 2014, but we are also going to work within this French decision.”

These comments indicate that the Obama administration is more worried than it publicly admits. An honest reaction was delivered by NATO’s own Secretary General, who warned Paris to make its decision “following consultations with commanders and ISAF partners.” Anders Fogh Rasmussen also told reporters, "It's important to the success of the operation that we maintain a commitment to this agreed plan.” The main threat of Sarkozy’s plan is overwhelmingly political in nature, and a textbook example of the dilemmas created by guerrilla warfare. Unwilling to be seen as acting in isolation, France’s premier also says he will use next month's NATO summit to accelerate its entire transfer.

"We have decided in a common accord with President Karzai to ask NATO to consider a total handling of NATO combat missions to the Afghan army over the course of 2013," Sarkozy said.

As the situation currently stands, France’s government would undertake a politically expedient decision with no basis in reality. Although the transfer of authority should occur as quickly as possible - many Afghans want foreign troops out of the country ASAP - much of Afghanistan remains unprepared for authorities to govern or police. This exchange cannot occur within two years. Of equal importance, Afghans won’t be leading Special Forces raids when 2014 dawns on the horizon. Karzai did qualify his conditions, saying 2013 marked the “earliest” deadline, but Sarkozy’s political damage is already being felt in Afghanistan’s provinces and capital.

Time will reveal the effects of Sarkozy’s reaction on NATO’s own coalition. Intense U.S. pressure is already being applied in order to keep the coalition from openly dividing, while British Prime Minister David Cameron attempted to establish a middle ground by relating to Paris: “Obviously, between now and 2014 there will be opportunities for different countries to reduce their troop numbers. Britain has reduced our troop numbers over the last year.”

However Cameron advised Sarkozy to act within NATO’s common perimeters, saying the rate of withdrawal and provincial transfers “should be the same for all of the members of NATO.”

Problematically for NATO, no contributing country enjoys a majority consensus on Afghanistan. The war is particularly unpopular in France, England, Germany, Italy, Spain and Australia, unnerving other contributors such as Poland. Sarkozy has effectively poisoned the well by unilaterally announcing a divisive proposal, one with significant approval in Western households. This damage is left to expand in all directions, starting with Afghanistan's provincial security and reverberating nationally by impairing the perceptions of Afghans. Boosting Taliban morale in the field is likely to be dwarfed by a propaganda campaign directed at NATO’s “weakness.”

Sarkozy’s rhetoric has opened Pandora’s Box a little wider. A concerted NATO effort is required to prevent France’s actions from becoming a systemic threat to the mission in Afghanistan.

January 28, 2012

White House Directs Sneak Attack Against Bahraini Opposition

President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address made minor headlines in Bahrain by ignoring its 11-month uprising. Pro-democracy protesters expected nothing less, having vocalized their realization of America’s double-standard for months. This new batch of silence, though, turns out to be particularly potent.

Not only did Obama refuse to tell Bahrainis or Americans what his administration is up to - he won’t even tell Congress.

Hoping to polish U.S.- Bahraini relations through arms, the White House and Pentagon carried their weapons package straight into the unwelcome obstacle of democracy. A small coalition of Senators (allegedly six) opposed to the deal, first leaked in September, would briefly raise Bahrain’s profile high enough to temporarily block the delivery. Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon knows the odds are stacked against Bahrain’s pro-democracy movement and hasn’t stopped lobbying the cause.

“Imagine if everyone in Congress had kept quiet and this arms sale had been completed,” Wyden wondered in December. “What kind of message would this have sent the world or to the people aspiring for freedom and democracy? America should NOT be rewarding brutal regimes with arms. It’s that simple.”

Instead of encouraging true reform in Bahrain, the Obama administration decided to respond by expanding the island’s political vacuum and media blackout. Copying the process of his “National Dialogue,” which collapsed in less a month, King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa’s Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) took center stage as the administration defended its actions. All questions related to the arms sale and daily state-sponsored violence were redirected to the impending BICI, ultimately highlighting the regime’s willingness to reform. By offering silence and inaction to Bahrain’s opposition, the Obama administration telegraphed its intent to deploy arms under the BICI’s cover.

"There is merit in naming and shaming and embarrassing, in pushing, in enlisting public opinion, domestic and international,” said Cherif Bassiouni, who chaired and initially defended the King’s inquiry. “This is not the style of Secretary Clinton or President Obama, and I'm not sure they are necessarily doing the right choice.”

Nevertheless, the administration has decided that Bahrain’s profile dipped enough to smuggle the arms past Congress - using the most duplicitous means available. As Foreign Policy reports, “the State Department has not released details of the new sale, and Congress has not been notified through the regular process.” The administration “simply briefed a few congressional offices and is going ahead with the new sale,” disregarding the need for formal notifications and a public explanation. Congressional sources said the State Department found a “legal loophole” around $1 million notifications; the $50+ million package will be broken down into “multiple sales of less than $1 million” to “avoid the burden.” The packages’ contents (reportedly Humvees, missiles and other technology) are now being kept secret.

"The Bahraini government has shown little progress in improving their human rights record over the last few months and in some ways, their record has gotten worse," Wyden told The Cable in response to the administration's actions. "Protesters are still being hurt and killed, midnight arrests are still happening and the government continues to deny access to human rights monitors. The kingdom of Bahrain has not shown a true good faith effort to improve human rights in their country and the U.S. should not be rewarding them as if they have."

Naturally, U.S. officials continue to base their argument precisely on the “recommendations” of King Hamad’s BICI. They will likely hedge their language along a similar line as one of Foreign Policy’s anonymous sources, who welcomed the King’s “important initial steps” before urging him “to take action on the full range of recommendations that we believe will help lay the foundation for longer-term reform and reconciliation." After exploiting the BICI’s torture findings and rejecting its superficial reforms, Al Wefaq and a growing majority of street protesters no longer trust the King’s ability to reform.

"This message of ‘business as usual' will only strengthen the regime's belief that there will continue to be lack of consequences to their human rights violations internationally," Maryam al-Khawaja, the head of the foreign relations office at the Bahrain Center for Human Rights BCHR, told Foreign Policy. "At a time when the United States is already being criticized for practicing double standards when it comes to the so-called Arab spring, to the protesters in Bahrain, the U.S. selling any arms to the government of Bahrain is exactly like Russia selling arms to Syria. Bahrain has become the United States' test on how serious they are about standing against human rights violations, and they are failing miserably."

The administration’s impending shipment comes three weeks after the State Department’s Victoria Nuland insisted that Bahrain hasn’t “fallen off Washington’s radar.” Of course not - the administration is actively minimizing its uprising. More weeks of silence would elapse as funerals were dispersed with ubiquitous tear gas and protesters died of “mysterious” circumstances. No U.S. response followed the government’s assault on Al Wefaq’s office, while Nabeel Rajab’s confrontation with security forces prompted both concern and praise for the King. The BCHR chairman is a vocal critic of U.S. policy in Bahrain and has directed his energy towards its double-standard. These factors generate a jarring experience: the Obama administration seeks to restore public confidence in U.S.-Bahraini relations, but must do so in secret.

The same juxtaposition is unfolding at a policy level. Maria McFarland, deputy Washington director at Human Rights Watch, predicted in September, "By continuing its relationship as if nothing had happened, the US is furthering an unstable situation."

January 27, 2012

White House Propaganda Machine Set On Turbo

Following his interview with Zbigniew Brzezinski, former National Security Advisor and one of Washington’s highest ranking Ministers Without Portfolio, Charlie Rose keeps the spotlight on Iran and China by interviewing Tom Donilon. President Barack Obama's National Security Adviser also praised his boss as a “natural executive,” before engaging in some PR on behalf of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF).

If only U.S. foreign policy was as comprehensive as its accompanying propaganda campaign.

And speaking of Ministers Without Portfolios - a common position in Israel’s government, the State Department has clarified Dennis Ross’s status in Washington. The former Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for the Central Region was never going to embrace private life after resigning in November 2011, instead wading back into the Beltway until a position opened in the next administration. However Ross never officially left Obama’s White House, despite his formal declaration, and retains his security clearance. He visits every week and meets regularly with Obama’s National Security Council.

Yesterday a senior Israeli official confirmed that Ross met Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after requesting a “private” meeting to jumpstart Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. The State Department's Victoria Nuland would tell reporters on Friday, "Dennis has been a good partner to administrations of all kinds, whether he was in government or out of government, and always remains in close touch."

“We have done everything we can to recruit and retain Dennis in the government,” Donilon remarked upon Ross's "resignation." “He is one of those rare individuals who has global reach.”

Ross also represents a key piece of the U.S. mainstream narrative that Obama has been overly harsh to the Israelis, and too soft on the Palestinians. The opening paragraphs of his recent Washington Post op-ed placed all of the blame on Mahmoud Abbas instead of Netanyahu; “changing the realities on the ground” functions as a codeword for allowing Israel to dictate these realities on its terms. Ross presumably lobbied Netanyahu to offer the Palestinians as little as possible in order to build their confidence in the Israeli government, a process that is likely to yield a lopsided final-status agreement.

So goes life for the point-man of backchannel negotiations between Washington and Jerusalem - another “foreign policy success” for the Obama administration.

January 26, 2012

Egypt’s School of Revolution

What has changed since protesters first massed in Cairo’s streets demanding the end of Hosni Mubarak’s regime? Everything or nothing remains the same, depending on the respondent. Wednesday’s scene in Tahrir Square unfolded as if hurled through a parallel dimension, with cautious peace replacing anxious violence and Egypt’s political parties joining the youth-induced civil movement.

Most noticeable of all, the revolution’s main opponent has reversed polarity from the weaker Mubarak to his mighty Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF).

Wednesday's calm was a product of this strength, a “goodwill gesture” designed to cast Egypt’s military council as the revolution’s eternal guardian (security forces lurked on Tahrir’s outskirts). Egypt’s SCAF launched a variety of counter-revolutionary initiatives after Mubarak collapsed in February, but few more pivotal than its information warfare against pro-democracy protesters. Exploiting its media powers to spin the revolutionaries as Egypt’s new enemy, the SCAF has manipulated all aspects of society by oscillating between condemnation and praise. State media “repeatedly warned the public of a foreign-financed plot to undermine Egypt on Wednesday.”

The previous week, during a setup speech for January 25th, Field Marshall Hassan Tantawi declared, "Egypt is facing grave dangers it has not seen before. The armed forces is the backbone that protects Egypt. These schemes are aimed at targeting that backbone. We will not allow it and will carry out our task perfectly to hand over the nation to an elected civilian administration."

Tantawi would build on these statements in another nationally-televised address by “partially” lifting Egypt’s emergency law, arguing “we've never deviated from the aims of the revolution.” He also deployed the blanket label of “thuggery” to defend future crackdowns against pro-democracy protesters; Mohamed Attiya, a member of the Jan. 25 Youth Coalition, said that “thuggery” has become Egypt’s equivalent of “terrorism.” Shaping negative public opinion around the revolutionaries facilitates the SCAF’s political hegemony and cushioned its heavy-handed crackdown.

Yasser Ramadan of the April 6 Youth Movement explained, "People began to hate the revolution and thought it only made the economic situation bad. It's been hard to make the people believe in the revolution again."

Armed with this impression, the SCAF took preemptive action to solidify its authority after a new constitution is drafted, and subsequently leveraged political parties to keep these powers when a civilian government is sworn in. The SCAF’s totalitarian tendencies - Tantawi and his generals obeyed Mubarak for decades - eventually alienated Mohamed ElBaradei, one of Egypt’s liberal presidential candidates. Although ElBaradei lacks widespread popularity inside Egypt, he is viewed as a relatively honest and capable leader.

He recently warned that the SCAF "has insisted on going down the same old path, as if no revolution took place and no regime has fallen.”

The SCAF, on the other hand, isn’t overly concerned with ElBaradei’s decision (even though he was reportedly urged to delay his announcement). Tantawi immediately perceived the division between Tahrir and Egypt’s political opposition, especially the Muslim Brotherhood, and has capitalized on their parliamentary gains to widen this gap. Either unwilling to confront the SCAF or awaiting a later opportunity, the Brotherhood is playing along by mirroring the council’s double-sided rhetoric. Days ago the group’s secretary-general, Mohammed Badie, told a televised audience that parliament “will scrutinize the military's budget and hold the army accountable for mistakes made during the transition.”

"We respect and appreciate the army but the military council must be held accountable for any mistakes," he promised. "No one is above accountability."

Other officials, such as spokesman Mahmoud Ghozlan, then apply a counter-spin: “The army is the army of the people. Some of its activities must be surrounded with secrecy and we respect that.”

Parts of the Brotherhood’s behavior can be rationalized in a beneficial way; no group possesses as much leverage to check the SCAF, leaving some protesters comfortable with the dual track of political and street pressure. This is all they can reasonably hope for in a pluralistic Egypt. However the SCAF expects much from the Brotherhood in return for political favoritism in a post-Mubarak world, a dangerous prospect for the revolutionaries. The Brotherhood regularly abstained from demonstrations against the SCAF and flooded national protests, and its Freedom and Justice Party now holds a near-majority when the 100-member drafting committee meets on a new constitution.

The SCAF will attempt to dominate this process directly and indirectly, as control over Egypt’s parliament and constitution will shield investigations into its commercial assets. Already expecting immunity for crimes committed by the military and police since Mubarak’s fall, Tantawi’s ultimate goal is finding a suitable President before June 30th.

The SCAF has further streamlined its operations by maintaining the support of Western powers, notably America. With Gulf states keeping their relations intact - the Saudi-bankrolled Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) sent Bahrain’s King to reel in Tantawi - Washington completes the international community’s buffer around Egypt’s generals, allowing them to act with minimal consequences. The SCAF is viewed as the key to every door: preserving Israel’s treaty, controlling the Muslim Brotherhood and Al-Nour Party, inking economic deals and sidelining the youth movement. Days of violence often passed before Washington expressed “concern,” even holding the military and protesters equally responsible. Raids on NGOs, a tactic specifically designed to test Washington’s limits and manipulate Egyptians, generated private discussions and eventual praise from Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.

Unconcerned with his image in Egypt’s streets, “President Obama called Egyptian Field Marshal Tantawi today [Jan. 20th] to reaffirm the close partnership between the United States and Egypt and to underscore the United States’ support for Egypt’s transition to democracy.” When Tantawi announced a partial end to Egypt’s emergency law, the State Department’s Victoria Nuland welcomed these “good steps” before taking a question on Tantawi’s use of the word “thuggery.”

“Well, there was a little footnote on this, as I understand it, that it would continue to be applied in the case of thuggery and other small cases... We are seeking some clarification from the Egyptian Government what they mean by that. But the fact that they are finally, after these many, many months of demands, taking the major step is very important for Egypt and for its future.”

As if Tantawi’s constant use of “thuggery” requires clarification.

Facing overwhelming forces, Egypt’s revolutionaries have persevered beyond any expectations outside of themselves and their supporters. The energy of youth can only accomplish so much in the face of overwhelming historic and financial powers. These groups inevitably lack experience in the political arena, contrasting the savvy veterans within the SCAF and organized parties, and need years to equalize the playing field. This inexperience is why revolution still affords the ultimate school to Egypt’s youth, strengthening them through education and by forcing them to engage on the national level. These groups will mature through a trial of fire and gradually expand their role in a new Egypt.

Wael Ghomen, one of Egypt’s high-profile revolutionaries, was recently asked by The New York Times, “As there was no clear alternative to Mubarak, was it unwise to encourage revolution?

“I’m fully aware of a lot of opinions that this was a very big downside of the revolution — that it had no leadership to take over after Mubarak stepped down. Only history will judge. Regardless, a lot of Egyptians are now empowered.”

Consequently, revolutionaries mobilized to check anti-democratic forces throughout 2011 and will continue for as long as necessary. Many outsiders perceive their actions as a failure, but their absence would allow the SCAF to delay and manipulate Egypt’s democratic transition with relative impunity. Some revolutionaries admit to temporary defeat, or else concede a return to square one, before affirming their determination to continue organizing. Others believe that their revolution isn’t back in square one, never went away, and isn’t starting anew.

They will tell you that 2012 marks the second year of Egypt’s democratic revolution.

January 25, 2012

White House Welcomes “President Saleh” to America

According to a State Department press release, "Ali Abdullah Saleh is still the President of Yemen and will be accorded those privileges and immunities accorded to any head of state until a new Yemeni president is sworn in following elections on February 21."

This "landmark presidential election," in Voice of America's words, has been predetermined by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and UN at the direction of Washington and Riyadh. The Wall Street Journal observes (possibly prematurely) that Saleh will "be formally stripped of his title as president on Feb. 21, when his deputy, Vice President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, will become head of state."

Saleh himself is reportedly stuck in Oman, having refused to board a Saudi plane and now in the process of securing a jet from another Gulf state.
The Yemeni Embassy in Washington has already confirmed that Saleh will return to Yemen after receiving medical treatment in New York.

SOTU: Inside Washington’s Propaganda Machine

This Foreign Policy “grading session” of President Barack Obama is typical of the shallow, mainstream analysis leading up to and following his State of the Union address. Most laud the use of drones and offer generous praise of his administration’s response to the Arab revolutions. Nine graders are also excessive given that eight take on one Glenn Greenwald - but still atoms in the propaganda campaign that has spun Obama’s foreign policy into pyrite.

Robert Kagan is senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
The Obama administration has fortunately ignored the "realists'" call for standing by the collapsing dictatorships in the Middle East. (How people can call themselves "realists" when advocating such hopelessly unrealistic policies is a source of wonderment.)
Anne-Marie Slaughter is the Bert G. Kerstetter '66 University Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University. She served as director of Policy Planning at the U.S. State Department from 2009-2011.
Call it the private equity approach to American foreign policy: nimble, flexible, adaptable, and responsive are all essential characteristics for success in the continually accelerating, complex system we call international affairs.
Danielle Pletka is vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute.
The answer, of course, is politics. Politics matters to any sane politician; but when politics suffers no competition from principle, the nation's foreign policy is rudderless. It is why our allies mistrust us, our adversaries underestimate us, and why we no longer seek to shape a better world, but instead to retreat from it.
Aaron David Miller is public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
On balance, Obama has been credible and able in foreign policy, but neither the brilliant foreign transformer nor transactional negotiator and crisis manager he wanted to be. He shouldn't take it personally; it's a cruel world out there.
Ted Galen Carpenter, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute.
President Obama has amassed a decidedly mixed record on foreign policy. He can boast of several worthwhile achievements during his first 3 years. He fulfilled the commitment to withdraw all U.S. forces from Iraq by the end of 2011, repaired much of the damage that the Bush administration had caused to America's relationship with the European democracies, and put the United States -- at least rhetorically -- on the right side of history regarding the Arab Awakening. His campaign to eliminate al Qaeda's leadership achieved numerous successes, most notably the killing of Osama Bin Laden.”
Jamie M. Fly is executive director of the Foreign Policy Initiative.
In his first three years in office, Obama has made several correct tactical decisions, but he seems to lack an appreciation of America's unique role in the world and a coherent vision for the use of U.S. power and influence. What the country needs from its next president is a leader who can shape world events rather than be shaped by them. There is little to indicate that this is Barack Obama's interest or aptitude.
Heather Hurlburt is executive director of the National Security Network.
Achievement 10). Keeping the United States relevant to the Arab Spring. By choosing to ease out Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, play a key enabling role in the Libya intervention, and work hard if not so successfully behind the scenes in Bahrain and Yemen, Washington kept itself relevant to the conversation in a changing Arab world -- no small achievement, despite how far short it falls of hopes both there and here.
Glenn Greenwald is a contributing writer at Salon.com.
In sum, Obama has deftly and intelligently pursued ignominious and ignoble foreign-policy goals.
Bonus propaganda: 36 government responses to Obama’s State of the Union and only one mention of foreign policy - to praise his leadership in Iraq, Afghanistan and OBL’s raid.

January 24, 2012

Obama Assaults His Foreign Policy Critics

Anyone holding low expectations for the foreign policy segment of President Barack Obama’s State of the Union probably weren’t disappointed. Washington tradition says that foreign policy is “reserved” for the end, but seven paragraphs felt like sticking an unwanted stepchild at the end of a dinner table. Obama would mill through a predictable roll-call as he crescendoed from domestic issues to the teamwork of Osama bin Laden’s raid. Yet this perfunctory atmosphere doesn’t stop U.S. foreign policy from being on track across “the globe,” from Europe and Asia to everywhere in between: Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Egypt, Israel.

Obama insists, “when we act together, there is nothing the United States of America can't achieve, that we've learned from our actions abroad over the last few years.”

The “lessons” of the President’s speech don’t warrant an extensive reaction beyond the conclusion that U.S. foreign policy will remain unchanged. One wouldn’t know that Iraq is experiencing a U.S.-infused political crisis with no end in sight; Sunni officials were “shocked” to hear Obama’s praise for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Meanwhile the Taliban’s momentum has been conclusively “broken,” although the only established metric for this claim is body counts and Pentagon statements. Obama also defended his “withdrawal” from a position of strength (60,000+ troops will remain into 2013), instead of running low on resources and time to fight a war that could persist long after 2014.

So audacious as to begin “from Pakistan to Yemen,” Obama efficiently transitioned from victorious war rhetoric to unconditionally supporting the Arab revolutions. Here America’s double-standard springs to life as he name-drops Gaddafi and al-Assad while ignoring Mubarak and Saleh. The latter is due into New York City at any moment for medical treatment after the U.S. Embassy approved his visit. Undaunted by the popular repercussions of Saleh’s visit, the White House has sacrificed Yemen’s pro-democracy movement to chase al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and preserve joint-hegemony with Saudi Arabia. Despite the high-profile death of cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, AQAP has only grown since Obama took office in 2009. He also condoned the death-by-drone of Abdulrahman, al-Awlaki’s 16 year old son who had gone to look for him.

In Yemen, Egypt, Bahrain and even Syria, the Obama administration has failed to “support policies that lead to strong and stable democracies and open markets, because tyranny is no match for liberty.”

All of these statements were readily predictable beforehand. However Obama’s address takes a more amusing turn when he begins to directly target critics of his foreign policy: “The renewal of American leadership can be felt across the globe. Our oldest alliances in Europe and Asia are stronger than ever. Our ties to the Americas are deeper. Our iron-clad commitment to Israel's security has meant the closest military cooperation between our two countries in history. We've made it clear that America is a Pacific power, and a new beginning in Burma has lit a new hope."

Some of these claims border on the truth; Washington has successfully manipulated European powers to follow its lead in Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain and Syria. Hard-line rhetoric against Iran, followed by a last-minute olive branch, hedges U.S. policy on a realistic (if insincere) position. The “shift” back into Asia is naturally welcomed by America’s Pacific allies. Conversely, Chinese and Middle East underpinnings of this “Asian shift” resulted in a massive propaganda campaign with an appetite for global hegemony. Israeli-Palestinian negotiations are blocked by ongoing favoritism towards Israel - not the Palestinians, as many U.S. foreign policy pundits argue. Iraq is a crisis waiting to happen, Afghanistan is mired in stalemate and Washington’s response to the Arab revolutions has highlighted the very double-standard that Osama bin Laden declared jihad against.

America’s global presence remains an undisputed fact, but the “renewal of American leadership” skipped the Middle East. So what lessons have been learned after OBL’s triumphant killing?

Obama paradoxically declares, “From the coalitions we've built to secure nuclear materials, to the missions we've led against hunger and disease; from the blows we've dealt to our enemies; to the enduring power of our moral example, America is back. Anyone who tells you otherwise, anyone who tells you that America is in decline or that our influence has waned, doesn't know what they're talking about.”

Apparently us "cynics" don’t know what we’re talking about - so does that mean we do?

Yemen’s Gears of Counter-Revolution

The rise of asymmetric warfare has suspended the possibility of entrenched conflicts fought between conventional armies, bringing dreaded “meat grinders” to a halt. Now entire populations are subjected to the political gears of fourth-generation warfare (4GW), and the fear of uncertainty is drawn equally from their own governments and fellow citizens. Yemenis currently find themselves smashed between enormous grinders: Ali Abdullah Saleh’s regime, the oppositional Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) and foreign powers holding interests in their country.

These forces recently collided amid al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s (AQAP) high-profile “capture” of Rada’a, a modest town located 100 miles south of the capital. Like Yemen’s southern governorates and the local capital of Zinjibar (Abyan), Rada’a serves as a microcosm for everything wrong with international policy in Yemen. While headlines blared “AQAP takeover,” JMP officials and democratic activists busied themselves detailing Saleh’s mastery of sacrificing a town. The process combines a number of factors to simulate chaos: opportunistic militants, government-controlled “jihadists,” and the withdrawal of Saleh’s Republican Guard, which is later redeployed to the scene. Yemen’s strongman feeds on instability to maintain his rule, perversely arguing that only he is capable of stabilizing the country.

Saleh also understands - far too well - that al-Qaeda provides the quickest means of manipulating the international community. Emboldened by his immunity but still refusing to cede executive power under the Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) terms, Saleh continues to exploit his cooperation against AQAP to sustain influence in Washington. The group also doubles as his go-to bogeyman in the Western audience; Rada’a produced more media coverage than Saleh’s political resistance.

Given that AQAP has increased its activities since U.S. forces escalated their operations in December 2009, the Obama administration is holding onto Saleh’s regime beyond the point of security or democracy. The longer the international community obstructs Yemen’s pro-democracy movement through an unrepresentative GCC deal, the longer Saleh will direct his energy towards survival and allow AQAP to expand. His son also sits on the military commission that is supposed to decommission his relatives; Ahmed commands the Republican Guard, a U.S.-trained “counter-terrorism” that spent 2011 terrorizing anti-government protesters and tribesmen. Concerned neither with democracy nor stability, U.S. policy is pursuing control of the Arabian Peninsula at any cost - even a stateside vacation for a potential war criminal.

This doppelgänger policy requires instability to justify hegemony.

"Neither Vice President Hadi nor anyone else will succeed in ruling and implementing real reforms if they do not preside over a unified and obedient army,” Tawakel Karman, Yemen’s resident Nobel laureate, warned upon her return. “If this doesn't happen the next president will be nothing but a pawn of the old regime.”

Despite local reports of friction between Abdo Rabbo Mansour Hadi, Yemen's Vice President of 17 years, Saleh continued to oversee government functions and communicate through Hadi until leaving for New York City on Monday. The Vice President speaks regularly with GCC Secretary General Abdullatif al-Zayani, whose bloc negotiated a power-sharing agreement between Saleh and the JMP, and al-Zayani recently praised himself for “putting an end to the Yemeni crisis according to the initiative and the United Nations resolution 2014.” Ending Yemen’s “political crisis” is a constant theme amongst Western and Gulf diplomats - a theme that will prolong the Revolution. Many protesters want to complete their quest with minimal bloodshed, making Saleh’s exile appear bearable, but the GCC’s deal is too undemocratic to achieve a popular consensus.

Washington, Riyadh, their satellites and the UN are also viewed with widespread suspicion after ignoring the streets' demands. Accordingly, Hadi is responsible for hosting veto-wielding members of the UN Security Council, even allowing them to attend meetings with Yemen’s cabinet and security officials. All parties are looking to drum up financial support the GCC-controlled election in February, an "election" that will feature Hadi as a consensus candidate of Saleh’s General People’s Congress (GPC) and the JMP.

Meanwhile the JMP’s Salem Basindwa, Yemen’s new Prime Minister, just concluded a GCC tour to raise his own political and financial support. Fearful of irreversibly alienating Yemen’s pro-democracy movement, the JMP continues to hedge itself around the divisive issues of Saleh’s legal status and exile. Basindwa would tell Reuters from the United Arab Emirates, "I'm hopeful he will leave (before February 21)... but let us wait and see.” A week before, the Prime Minister defended Saleh’s immunity while urging those “who think a revolution can force Saleh out of power” to “try.” Considering the repeated delays over approving Saleh’s immunity, JMP officials could be accumulating their resources for a gradual takeover after February’s election. However the umbrella organization appears most interested in securing political and financial capital, a process that would divert foreign aid from its intended recipients.

The JMP may have sincere intentions of removing Saleh’s family, but their track record prior to and during Yemen’s revolution suggests that oppositional figures desire power for themselves. Basindwa’s office later denied his statements, nor does he leave any room for Yemen’s protesters when saying things like, "the Kingdom [of Saudi Arabia] agrees to play a major and leading role in the development of Yemen. This is not surprising from the Kingdom that always has stood by us.”

The only foreign entity more unpopular or meddlesome than America is Saudi Arabia.

Those protesters “looking forward” to Yemen’s referendum of Hadi are easily outnumbered by Saleh’s men, the JMP and foreign powers. Last week UN envoy Jamal Benomar highlighted the Security Council's commitment to “ending the crisis in Yemen" during meetings with Hadi and Foreign Minister Abu Bakr al-Qirbi. Another UN report will be released on January 25th, when Benomar is due to note Yemen’s political progress as all parties steam toward February 21st. Some UNSC members (Germany, France) have mounted sporadic resistance against the GCC's undemocratic process - now Benomar is lamenting Saleh's “blanket immunity” - but these are the same countries that unanimously approved Resolution 2014 in late October.

Every part of the international plan is in working order except for Saleh himself. Shortly after Rada’a went viral, al-Qirbi told Al Arabiya that the country’s deteriorating security could delay the UN-GCC sponsored election (an excuse that can be used indefinitely). U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would respond in passing that Yemen’s election must be held on schedule to ensure a “peaceful transition,” comments that temporarily knocked al-Qirbi back into line. However the situation’s odds indicate that Washington’s efforts to remove Saleh will continue to fail in the absence of a sincere disconnect.

After multiple itineraries had him stopping in Dubai or Riyadh, the Obama administration's latest flight plan would send him through Oman on his way to New York City. This “plan” suffers from an extensive list of flaws, starting with a general lack of transparency. Putting John Brennan, the White House’s counter-terrorism adviser, anywhere near Yemen’s diplomacy is an automatic red-flag; although considered friendly, Brennan has been routinely outmaneuvered by Saleh. Bringing him to America after a month of international warnings - and during Obama’s State of the Union address - also demonstrates the administration’s continual insensitivity, and running him through a middle party won't prevent his return.

His son will reportedly hold down the presidential palace until he returns.

While the White House has theoretically banned Saleh from engaging in political activity, what are the consequences of resistance? Keeping him in America? Shipping him back to a Gulf state? Little of U.S. policy makes sense beyond the need to maintain influence in Yemen and keep Saleh from testifying on Washington’s military cooperation. Both the White House and State Department deny that his trip to NYC is for "political purposes," calling the timing "fortuitous" for completing the GCC’s unpopular transition. Such rhetoric prompted one reporter to ask the State Department,
"why are you playing this game with him on semantics? I mean, he’s doing what you want him to do."

Saleh may be willing to play along now that he possesses immunity at the national and international level, but his trip is simultaneously relevant and irrelevant. He and the Obama administration are treading opposite paths to the same end: one would ideally keep Hadi as Vice President, the other wants February’s election to “keep the transition on track." Saleh naturally desires to remain in Yemen while the White House plans to secure influence through his exile. Saleh has allegedly requested permanent sanctuary in neighboring Oman, a sensible choice that facilitates quick access back into Yemen, or perhaps the administration will accept a compromise along his lines. After promising to lead his party when the ballot boxes open, Saleh triumphantly declared upon his exit, “We will inaugurate Abdo Rabbo Hadi as head of state after February 21st in the Presidential Palace.”

Any outcome based on the GCC's initiative leaves the JMP to scrap for power and locks Yemen’s pro-democracy movement out of the political process. Revolutionaries demand a representative transition and a clean break from Saleh’s regime, not ongoing impunity and cooperation with a tyrant.

January 23, 2012

Bahrain’s King Hamad Suffocating Himself

The complex and often paradoxical nature of warfare is known to flip weakness into strength, and strength into weakness. Any actor, whether conventional or unconventional, must learn to limit or convert its deficiencies into a resource, and protect its strengths from dulling. Comfortably shielded by a thick international bubble, King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa now embodies this strategic decay as some of his main advantages becomes liabilities. Not just Manama’s Fifth Fleet, which simultaneously keeps Washington in his pocket and international attention on his island.

After transiting through the nexus of politics and business - complacency is bad for both - the King’s low-intensity response to Bahrain’s uprising is incrementally suffocating his own kingdom.

Every Arab regime threaten by revolution has utilized tear gas to disrupt protesters from moving or gathering en masse. No government, however, relies more extensively on gas canisters than Bahrain’s security apparatus. The King’s small military, limited armaments and use of his police force, combined with the savvy to stay low profile, dictates a non-lethal response of rubber bullets and gas waves. Smoke clouded Manama throughout last week as Al Wefaq, Bahrain’s leading Shia oppositional party, attempted to organize a secession of rallies in the capital. Determined to crush the uprising, the monarchy rejected Al Wefaq’s permit request on the grounds of disrupting traffic and quickly smothered all dissenters.

As they often do, security forces also moved north for a funeral job in Muharraq. Here protesters had gathered to attend the burial of Yousif Muwali, whose body washed up in on January 13th. Al Wefaq alleges that Muwali was being held by police at the time of his death, while the government claims that he suffered from “psychological issues.” The government also rejected a petition to protest at Muwali’s funeral, but even authorized demonstrations require indiscriminate force to scatter. Those protesters who broke for a street outside Muharraq’s graveyard were first confronted with gas and violent force by police (likely foreign) and plain-clothes men. Police later intervened and restored order through more peaceful means.

By this point Yassin Asfour, a 14-year old asthmatic, had died of asphyxiation after being gassed at a separate protest. Several other recent casualties suffered fatal trauma to the head after being struck by gas canisters, a tactic employed in Egypt and Yemen.

So goes daily life in Bahrain, a week after King Hamad articulated a list of reforms during his “keynote” address. His changes to parliament and the constitution fell short of all established oppositional parties, along with street protesters demanding total regime change. Hamad has downplayed the island’s civil strife throughout 11-months of low-intensity conflict, whether blaming Iran for instigating a revolt or denying systematic abuses by the government. His “National Dialogue” and Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) took the cosmetic route to reform, a dead end in the Arab revolutionary wave, and the King remains determined to restore “normality” to his kingdom. Royal officials regularly meet with U.S. officials such as CENTCOM commander James Mattis and Ambassador Thomas Krajiski, resulting in official state propaganda.

“During the meeting, the Minister welcomed the US ambassador and reviewed with him existing bilateral military cooperation relations between the Kingdom of Bahrain and the friendly United States of America in addition to discussion of a number of issues of mutual concern.”

The King already defied pro-democracy protesters by holding his air show on schedule, bringing in nearly $1 billion of "business deals" while conjuring a false sense of progress. Although U.S. and British buyers were reportedly leery of Bahrain’s security environment, the conference drew high praise from Lockheed Martin’s regional president and U.S. Vice-Admiral. Charles Moore, a former commander of the Fifth Fleet, called Bahrain’s International Air Show (BIAS) “one of the best international aviation exhibitions” before touching on the uprising - and the King’s “wisdom.” His son, Crown Prince Salman Bin Hamad Bin Isa al-Khalifa, is equally eager to hold Bahrain’s F-1 Grand Prix in April after 2010’s event was canceled in solidarity with the February 14th movement.

Both of these events are highlighted for their economic boost, when the developed and internationally subsidized island isn’t in dire need for cash. Although 11 months of unrest cost Bahrain’s economy an estimated $2 billion in lost revenue and foreign investments, King Hamad desires the perception of “order” above all else. Order maintains political and economic control abroad, whereas disorder scares away both sets of parties. The stronger and weaker forces of an asymmetric conflict wage a constant battle over the perception of stability.

“The reinstatement of our BIC colleagues is part of an important initiative towards national reconciliation and unity for the kingdom as a whole,” Sheikh Salman bin Isa Al-Khalifa, chief executive of the Bahrain International Circuit, told reporters. “I therefore welcome back our colleagues into the BIC family as we now look to focus on the future and the important job at hand.”

Foreign Affairs Minister Shaikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa greeted BIAS in similar fashion: “We are looking forward and ahead and sparing no effort in bringing the country together."

The odds of Bahrain’s political collapse remains the lowest of any active uprising. Buttressed by a loyal Sunni minority and unflinching foreign support, King Hamad may be able outlast six years of determined resistance (the length of Bahrain’s last uprising) in the streets, political arena and international media. Except these odds received a boost from the regional phenomena and will continue to increase in proportion to his failed reforms. King Hamad and his foreign allies are slowly asphyxiating themselves. Trapped in their cocoon, the smoke of uprising could eventually ignite into an open blaze - to a point where Al Wefaq and Waad have no choice except to support regime change.

The King may brush aside Human Rights Watch, but deputy direct Joe Stork offers a realistic prediction of the future: “Since the crackdown on the protests authorities have violently suppressed peaceful demonstrations and silenced dissident voices through arrests, torture, and job dismissal. But people in Bahrain, and throughout the region, have made it clear that violent suppression isn’t going to make the issues go away. People want their rights.”

A wise King would give the people what they want before they demand his crown.

January 21, 2012

Syrians Face Another Month of “Monitoring”

Cairo’s arena is set for another battle royal on Sunday, when the Arab League will convene to discuss its endangered mission in Syria. As Bashar al-Assad continues to direct his lethal crackdow
n with precise choreography, the League must choose between keeping its monitors in place and transitioning to a new strategy. This political orientation pits League members against themselves, al-Assad’s regime, Syria’s pro-democracy movement and international powers.

Since the Arab League is incapable of functioning as a neutral organization or appeasing all involved parties, who will be selected for priority status?

The League’s mission has yielded a minor split in Syria’s opposition after producing an disproportionate ratio of risk and reward. Facing a shortage of options from the international community, some protesters and activists appear to favor the League’s presence in the absence of substitute measures. Their position is understandable given al-Assad’s blackout prior to the League’s arrival; select Western journalists have accessed to the monitors’ media circles. Those protesters who already lost faith in the League’s mission agree that urban demonstrations are escalating. The minority and majority share common ground, viewing the League as a deceptive but manipulatable tool.

However current reports and rumors indicate that oppositional protesters should brace for another round of disappointment. Arab officials are holding their line - "the killings are less, the protests increase” - as the League considers extending its mission under Sudanese General Mohammed Ahmed al-Dabi. Although chaired by Qatar’s Foreign Minister (the Gulf state has vocalized support for a peacekeeping mission), multiple League sources are predicting an indecisive outcome to Sunday’s meeting. One official told Reuters, "The closer Sunday's meetings of the Arab committee and the Arab foreign ministers get, the more the conviction grows that the Arab monitoring mission in Syria should be extended.”

"Yes, there is not complete satisfaction with Syria's cooperation with the monitoring mission. But in the absence of any international plan to deal with Syria, the best option is for the monitors to stay."

The League is prepared to stand on this defense until someone knocks it off. Counter-arguing at face value proves unrealistic; the international consensus that spearheaded Libya’s intervention is lacking in Syria. Arab and Western states remain divided on how to pursue intervention, and unsure of Russia and Iran’s military intentions. General Knud Bartels, head of NATO's Military Committee, also continues to downplay the possibility of intervention, saying, "There is no planning and we are not thinking about an intervention.” This rhetorical false front is calculated to avoid provoking al-Assad, but the center contains a large kernel of truth.

The inescapable danger of this reasoning lies in protracting Syria’s revolution; both the Arab League and Western powers prefers to remove al-Assad “at the lowest cost,” an approach that favors his survival. One official said the League’s “presence offers assurance to the people because the observers can spot any violations,” but protesters report numerous incidents where AL monitors refused to meet them or ignored the regime’s atrocities. The official added, “If there is a decision to extend the mission of the observers, we are ready to send more monitors after training them in three days.” Three days of training are vastly insufficient for the task at hand, and the League’s mission would still be undermanned at 300 monitors.

"Without the correct tools, without the correct authority … we can't do the job," said one observer who requested anonymity. "Which is sad because people are dying on both sides every day."

Arguing a reduction in Syria’s casualties slides down the same slippery slope of relativity. While large-scale massacres have temporarily subsided, daily bloodshed indicates that al-Assad has no intention of halting his crackdown. He’s simply finding new ways to disguise his forces, suppress demonstrations and cover up deaths. Building on UN estimates and local sources, estimates range near 600 since the League’s first monitors landed in late December; Saturday’s death toll swings between 30 and 100. Activists now fear another vicious crackdown in Zabadani, located roughly 20 miles northwest of Damascus, after Syrian forces withdrew to the town’s perimeter.

Mohammed al Dais, of the Syrian Revolution General Commission, predicted that Damascus was waiting until after the Arab League’s meeting to attack. In the meantime Zabadani is being spun as a “hub of resistance,” where several hundred soldiers from the Free Syrian Army (FSA) are fighting to save their defected comrades from prison. Their intent to rally so close to the capital is sure to attract an iron-fisted response.

The Arab League argues, “there is a conviction even among Syria opponents that the extension is better than withdrawal,” when the street opinion demands that Syria’s case be referred to the UN Security Council. Syria’s National Council (SNC) gradually withdrew to this position after greeting the League’s monitors with hesitant approval, while the FSA has openly criticized their presence as an enabler to al-Assad’s crackdown. Extending the League’s mission with superficial improvements may provide long-term gains for the opposition, but the League’s short-term position hardens Syria’s status quo.

The underlying flaw of the Arab League’s policy remains a lack of confidence; protesters will exploit its monitors out of necessity, but they are widely viewed as pawns on al-Assad’s chessboard. This trust gap casts doubt on the League’s entire mission, from its monitors’ abilities to its opposition against al-Assad’s regime. Another month also provides no time to complete an observer mission. Syria’s view will improve slightly when al-Dabi releases his team’s findings; a harsh report could generate new friction with the regime, but oppositional groups expect a clear-cut report that places full responsibility on Damascus.

"The report must document the atrocities committed by the Syrian regime against civilians in all cities and towns," the SNC said in a statement. "Ongoing human rights violations include direct orders by the regime to kill civilians using snipers, and executions by firing squad, in public squares. The SNC delegation will stress that the report must contain clear language indicating genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes committed by the regime against unarmed civilians."

A biased report will gnaw away at the lingering hope for accountability.

The Arab League’s monitors may or may not last another month in the field, but the upshot of a failed mission remains unchanged since the bloc introduced its initiative in November. Although al-Assad’s staunch international allies have announced their readiness to block any subsequent proposal, the League’s monitors are guiding Syria towards the UNSC. Here the political battle will intensify as Syria’s armed opposition continues their preparations for a national campaign.

At least one outcome appears guaranteed: the collective international community will confront the possibility of intervention sooner than their ideal deadlines allow.

January 20, 2012

NATO’s Misguided Info-Assault On Mullar Omar

Generally speaking, the insurgent’s job is to manipulate information and the counterinsurgent’s job is to clarify information. Many governments blur or ignore this division as they attempt to fight fire with fire, but the basic notion urges a counterinsurgency force to become the accurate source on the information battlefield. U.S. and NATO officials find themselves trapped within this dilemma, spinning civilian deaths as unavoidable accidents and countering Tweets from the Taliban.

Apparently U.S. military officials believed they scored a propaganda victory after a suicide bomber blew himself up in a Helmand bazaar. As potential signs of the Taliban’s desperation in its heartland, suicide bombings are ripe material for NATO’s own propaganda campaign; General John Allen, the commanding officer of America’s international coalition, announced that the Taliban had "declared outright war" on the Afghan people. However the latest bombing in Kajaki Sofla doesn’t qualify as a pure civilian target. While NATO wouldn’t disclose details, its statement conceded that civilians, Afghan security forces and coalition troops were all injured or killed in the blast.

Allen ultimately crossed the line from believable to unbelievable propaganda when he confronted Taliban leader Mullah Omar, saying he "has lost all control over Taliban insurgents.”

That Taliban attacks continue to claim civilian lives, whether indirectly or directly, is evident across Afghanistan's war-zone. By violating Omar’s “code of conduct,” the unbroken trend provides ample opportunity to criticize the Taliban’s target selection, and many Afghans wish to live in a country free of militant influence. Yet numerous studies conducted over the years indicate an equal burden of responsibility between foreign and Taliban forces, regardless of who starts the firefight. This distribution of blame obstructs NATO efforts to paint the Taliban as Afghanistan's only aggressor.

It isn’t difficult to picture a well-off Taliban foot soldier armed with his cell phone, viewing Allen’s statements and another explosive video in secession. Timing is a key ingredient of propaganda and the general overshot his bullseye, choosing urinating Marines as his backdrop to attack. Although they weren’t ordered to desecrate Taliban corpses, the incident still underscores the challenge of keeping every last soldier in line. Separately, the Taliban’s bombing in Kajaki came one day after NATO helicopters “accidentally” killed six civilians in Kunar’s Chawkay district.

Provincial governor Fazlullah Wahidi told the AFP, "The raid was not coordinated with us.”

Although the difference between an “accidental” and “intentional” bombing cannot be rendered irrelevant, NATO obliterates its share of civilians despite its public rhetoric. Foreign forces remain willing to trade two militants for six civilians in the same way that the Taliban will sacrifice 10 Afghans to kill a U.S. soldier. After voicing their obligatory regret, night raids are staunchly defended as integral to America’s “success.” Coalition commanders haven’t lost “all control” of their soldiers due to these incidents, and neither has the Taliban’s semi-mythical leader.

Insurgencies can reach a sophisticated level of organization that enables them to finish the cycle as a semi-conventional force (such as the Vietcong), or maintain relatively strict discipline (Hezbollah). They can also thrive in looser formations that encourage personal initiative within the group’s ideological boundaries. The bottom and peripheries of an asymmetric force don’t always respond to its vertical hierarchy for countless reasons; in the Taliban’s case, thousands of part-time fighters operating under minimal oversight form the insurgency's local nervous system. Individual initiative is required to survive and rogue elements are common, whether at the local or regional level. Additionally, the Taliban utilizes netwar to maintain a degree of independence between hubs.

Omar and the Haqqanis’ mutual survival could be better served through isolated coordination.

The Wall Street Journal produced a more accurate account from recent interviews with provincial commanders, reaching the conclusion that most soldiers are loyal to Omar. The Taliban has suffered undeniable losses in men and territory, generating friction between lower and mid level commander, but none are thinking surrender. They argue that rogue elements exist just like U.S. forces and, in their minds, civilian deaths are the inevitable consequences of occupation. Maulvi Darwish, a Taliban commander in the eastern Logar province, tried to explain, “There are some groups in Karzai's government that disobey government guidelines. The Taliban are also a group of people, and there are bad people and good people. The bad people are few and they won't be in the favor of peace—but the Taliban will follow whatever the Leader of the Believers decides."

As for the Haqqanis, Jalaluddin joined Omar soon after his rise and maintained loyalty ever since. His son, Sirajuddin, has made numerous attempts on Omar’s behalf to reign in Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). The semi-independent network is tasked to Kabul and Jalalabad, keeping each branch of the Taliban plugged into its local and regional connections. The WSJ offers a common definition of netwar: “the insurgency isn't a coherent and tightly organized movement, and its foot soldiers and local commanders sometimes contradict the top leadership's edicts.”

More disturbingly, preliminary negotiations between Washington and Taliban liaisons are spooking some hard-line jihadists and those who have done “wrong things,” in the words of one commander. Not every foot soldier understands the need to build political capital and outmaneuver foreign powers on the international stage, as the Vietnamese leadership did. Allen’s statements appear designed to strike the insurgency’s pressure points by addressing Afghanistan's reconciliation: "These attacks against the people of Afghanistan have no effect on the progress we are together making here with our Afghan partners and will only further isolate the Taliban from the process of peace negotiation."

Thus the general is simultaneously ridiculing Omar’s inability to control his troops, and antagonizing the less-controllable areas of his network.

One commander from Paktia laid down his own red lines: "Islamic laws are implemented, there will be no foreign interference and nobody will impose this Western democracy on Afghans." This commander predicted that the Haqqanis could continue fighting at the direction of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). Another commander from Khost, Mullah Ayubi, outlined a plausible mindset among the Taliban’s lower and middle ranks, explaining, "Whatever the Taliban leadership and the Leader of the Believers decides will be in accordance with Islam and Afghanistan's national interests. He is our guide and we are obligated to obey his orders. But if he makes a decision against Islam we won't follow him and he wouldn't be our guide anymore."

Allen’s rhetoric provoke the Taliban’s more independent elements, or turn into glue as Omar attempts to demonstrate his authority. As for his negotiating position, the insurgency can’t that isolated when Western sources are publicizing their negotiating progress - when the Taliban’s leadership is pleased with their results. Washington is also isolating itself by leaving out Hamid Karzai, Islamabad, and Afghanistan’s minority ethnicities.

Afghans remain fortunate that U.S. night-raids, imprecise as they can be, are more accurate than American propaganda.