January 31, 2010

Bracing for Afghanistan

With 29 deaths in January, US soldiers have suffered an unusually hot winter. 29 is the most since November 2009, which isn't too long ago, but considering that summer is supposed to be Taliban season, a bad January portends to a bloody future.

During January 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007 the Taliban barely scored any kills on US troops. Deaths ticked up to 10 in 2008 and 25 in 2009, calm" before the storm that spiked monthly casualty rates past 70 multiple times.

Summer 2010 is looking to be worse.

Disinformation is also circulating in practically every report that US casualties are rising because of President Obama's surge. This is only true to an extent. Though more US soldiers statistically necessitate more deaths, they're in growing danger because the Taliban is growing stronger.

Not all of Obama's surge has reached Afghanistan, only a portion has hit the ground. Offensive operations have increased, but this trend started several years ago. Proportionately the Taliban does a decent job keeping pace with America's escalation. When US troops numbered 27,000 in 2008 the Taliban had recovered to 10,000.

Now US troops number 95,000 and the Taliban 25,000; its sophistication is also growing. Gathering storm clouds.

January 30, 2010

America and China's Hegemony War: Inevitable?

And the gloves come off. Only two months ago President Obama stepped off a plane with choreography in hand, welcoming China to the world stage while protecting America’s star status.

“The United States does not seek to contain China,’’ he said in Tokyo before landing in China. “On the contrary, the rise of a strong, prosperous China can be a source of strength for the community of nations.’’

So he says in public.

Privately the White House’s strategy for China doesn’t appear so diplomatic and cooperative. Global supremacy isn’t a race to be tied and neither America nor China truly plan to cross the finish line holding hands. Yesterday exposed feelings more in tune with reality.

Voice of America makes clear from the beginning that Obama expected a harsh Chinese response when he informed Congress of the latest Taiwan arms shipment. So for the “growth” of US-Chinese relations.

He and his officials took immediate cover behind the Taiwan Relations Act, signed by Jimmy Carter in 1979, which calls for America, “to provide Taiwan with arms of a defensive character,” and, “to maintain the capacity of the United States to resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security, or the social or economic system, of the people on Taiwan.”

General James Jones, speaking before the official announcement, said relations with China are of the "utmost importance" and a "very, very high priority."

“We all recognize that there are certain things that our countries will do periodically that may not make everybody completely happy,” he said, “but we are bent on towards a new relationship with China as a rising power in the world and influence on a variety of issues that go beyond arms sales and go beyond military confrontation.”

But the convenience of US law has lost its use and US officials know it. America can’t sit back and say of Taiwan arms, “well, we have to do it.” China views the move as a threat against their hegemony, which it is.

Enter the response.

“The US plan will definitely undermine China-US relations and bring about serious negative impact on exchange and cooperation in major areas between the two countries," said Chinese Vice Minister He Yafei, according to Wang Baodong, a spokesman for the Chinese embassy in Washington. "China strongly urges the US side to fully recognize the gravity of the issue, revoke the erroneous decision on arms sales to Taiwan and stop selling any weapons to Taiwan.”

At this point two superpowers sincerely interested in fostering a mutual relationship and avoiding collision would pause and seek to deescalate tensions. Not the case. Less than 24 hours after China warned of serious consequences over Taiwan - as America anticipated and relishes in secret - the White House launched another attack.

Speaking at a French military academy in Paris, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, probably didn’t hear China’s return fire before it was too late.

"As we move away from the engagement track,” she told her audience in reference to Iran, “which has not produced the result that some had hoped for, and move forward on the pressure and sanctions track, China will be under a lot of pressure to recognize the destabilizing impact that a nuclear-armed Iran would have in the Gulf, from which they receive a significant percentage of their oil supplies.”

Many political statements must be planned in advance given the policy debate itself, securing private agreements, analyzing the aftermath, and perfecting the message. If every politician had to speak extemporaneously on every subject the world would be in complete chaos.

And yet, eventually, diplomacy will have to speed up to information because of this example.

Of course none of this applies to Clinton, nothing would stop her from firing her personal missile. She never misses an opportunity - from Pakistan to Palestine, Thailand (where she revealed a nuclear umbrella on Iran), days ago Nigeria and now China.

Bad diplomacy is the front page of every newspaper on Earth opening with the paragraph: “U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton warned China on Friday it risks diplomatic isolation and disruption to its energy supplies unless it helps keep Iran from developing nuclear weapons.”

A question: who is going to isolate China? That’s good for a laugh and nothing more.

Obama’s strategy towards China doesn’t make a lot of sense. He makes a visit promising unity then is manipulated by Google, stamps the seal on Taiwanese weapons, and the following day threatens to isolate China and disrupt its energy supplies from the Middle East, much of it from Iran diplomatically.

Prepare for China’s own second volley - all this path leads towards is confrontation. Is it inevitable?

January 29, 2010

COIN 101

Let’s be clear, MEND did not break its ceasefire with the Nigerian government. Having committed multiple attacks since summer 2009 and shown no real inclination to laying down arms, its latest announcement wasn’t to clarify its position regarding the Niger Delta conflict.

It was to terrify.

"It is sufficiently clear at this point in time the government of Nigeria has no intentions of considering the demands made by this group for the control of the resources and land," MEND said in a statement. “All companies related to the oil industry in the Niger Delta should prepare for an all-out onslaught against their installations and personnel.”

But if any type of terrorism is "good" MEND would qualify. How much the organization actually represents the Niger Delta people is highly debatable, but the reality remains that the region has been stripped of resources and environmentally devastated without seeing any benefit in return.

Shell, Chevron and a multitude of oil companies, in league with Nigeria's government and private sector, would be facing an insurgency in any country after their behavior over the last 50 years.

MEND’s terror is effective too. It has no intention of attacking civilians - the target is Nigeria's vast network of oil pipelines that it knows intricately and is already crippling. Declaring a full-scale war will rattle the state and possibly international oil market; following through and knocking down Nigeria’s output will certainly affect global oil prices.

MEND is also taking advantage of the ongoing presidential crisis with Umaru Yar'Adua, who negotiated the temporary truce. As the country feuds over Yar Adua’s future and legal status, now is the perfect time to drop a psychological bomb.

Obama could have another big headache in Nigeria in a few years should MEND follow through and open a year long campaign. He needs to pay attention too because Hillary Clinton is aggravating it.

Speaking from Washington no less, "The failure of the Nigerian leadership over many years to respond to the legitimate needs of their own young people, to have a government that promoted a meritocracy, that really understood that democracy can't just be given lip service, it has to be delivering services to the people, has meant there is a lot of alienation in that country and others."

Deploring that illiteracy is growing and health standards are falling, "There has to be a recognition that in the last 10 years a lot of the indicators about quality of life in Nigeria have gone in the wrong direction.”

This is not the way to resolve Nigerian’s presidential crisis, engage its leadership, or counter MEND and its offshoots.

If anything go to Nigeria and deliver the message in private. Clinton is hoping to appear tough on an unpopular government, a sound hypothesis, except it will have no effect on MEND. There is likely no way to defeat MEND militarily.

Clinton even acknowledges this, saying, “I do think that Nigeria faces a threat from increasing radicalisation that needs to be addressed, and not just by military means."

Nigeria needs a full-spectrum counterinsurgency spearheaded by diplomacy and government reform; America may be the only external actor capable of influencing the government and holding it to a framework. Clinton should take her own words to heart and stop paying lip service.

Importing almost half of Nigeria’s oil, our third largest source, America is feeding what Clinton criticized as “unbelievable” corruption and propping up failed Nigerian leadership.

Obama must use the threat of a US embargo to bring about reform in Nigeria. This seems to be the only way to force its government to work with oil companies like Shell and Chevron, which is where America especially comes in. Environmental damage must be neutralized and local economies and infrastructure rebuilt. Simultaneously the Delta people and their militant manifestations must be sincerely engaged by coordinated Nigerian leadership.

Unrealistic as this strategy is, slapping Nigeria from 3,000 miles away could leave Clinton without any fingers. MEND cannot be underestimated. This flea has all the advantages and it's about to bite.

America and China's Hegemony War: Moon Master

The experts say don't jump to conclusions so we won’t. Some cry that the world is ending - the moon rather - but most caution President Obama’s budget proposal for NASA must still be vetted.

Regardless, Obama has tipped his hand by revealing a shift from government to private-funded space craft meant to free up NASA’s attention for space exploration and create new jobs during the recession. And the real story: Obama budget to drop US return to Moon.

Space experts offer two opinions. One is that NASA’s Constellation space program, including a manned moon mission and eventual lunar base, just died. The other is that the program is being reorganized after George Bush crashed it.

"The 'vision' to return to the moon that has been guiding NASA since 2004 was always an inadequately funded fantasy," said Joan Johnson-Freese, chair of the Department of National Security Studies at the Naval War College in Newport, R. I. "One of the goals of the Obama space plan appears to be to give NASA the opportunity to build and use enduring hardware - rather than an impulsive and unrealistic return-to-the-moon on a shoestring plan."

In many ways she’s right.

A committee commissioned by Obama found that, “NASA was severely underfunded to accomplish its vision of replacing its space shuttle fleet with new Orion vehicles and Ares rockets. It also suggested that relying on commercially built spacecraft would allow NASA to focus on more ambitious human space-flight missions, like expeditions to a nearby asteroid or the moons of Mars.”

Bush had planned the mission in at attempt to restore American glory, not with any real objective in mind. Obama has good reason to reorganize America’s space policy if it’s in disarray and allocate resources accordingly. We hope he has no plans of dropping Moon and Mars exploration and the Constellation program.

These are matters of unlimited importance.

Obama must not to drop Moon exploration but develop a realistic, fully funded program to reach the Moon by 2020 and begin construction of a lunar base by 2025. China is making a realistic push towards the same goals and, more importantly, has the political ambition.

The highest echelons of China’s political establishment understand the wealth of the Moon is worth any price. America’s civilian and military leaders must embody that same attitude.

The numbers speak for themselves. NASA was disappointed after expecting a billion dollar raise and receiving less than half. Its budget weighs in at 19$ billion. America’s defense budget saw a small reduction to a base 660$ billion, with additional requests pending.

The Air Force's budget for 2010 is $160.5 billion. With an 111$ billion dollar base, Obama also requested and is expected to receive from Congress an additional $16 billion for “overseas contingency operations” in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Now one question we attempted to answer and have yet to is how much of the US Air Force’s budget goes to its space programs. Having taken the domain as its own billions of dollars now flow into space through this alternative channel, possibly close to NASA’s own budget. Of course the Air Force isn’t primarily focused on exploration, but armament and sub-orbital travel.

But the point remains that the mentality of American leadership is what really needs restructuring, along with rearranged priorities.

Obama’s commission, “also said a worthwhile manned space exploration program would require Obama to budget about $55 billion for human spaceflight over the next five years, some $11 billion more than he included in the 2011-2015 forecast he sent Congress last spring.”

Are we really to give 40$ billion total to Afghanistan and Iraq for this year and not 11$ billion to NASA over five years? How is the first endeavor a better investment than the second, and how has this discrepancy become so wide? America’s military complex has come to dominate itself and yet it cannot see the ultimate military prize in the Moon.

It's not worth another dozen billion or two and Afghanistan is?

Lunar bases are critical for two reasons: jump off points to Mars and other space bodies, either comets or planets, and resource harvesting. While admittedly distance prospects, they are no less relevant than future military and renewable energy technology. Obama wants to lead both revolutions, but seems to have assigned limited value to reaching the Moon ASAP.

Potentially trillions of dollars in minerals, at a modest cost, are being outweighed by the here and now of wars certain to require even more funding next year. If America is to spend several trillion dollars in defense over the next five years, we shouldn’t hesitate for a second to invest 100$ billion towards space exploration.

Money and power that, if used wisely, would come back over and over in the future. We don’t care how America gets to the moon. Public, private, military, just get there - unless the intention is to get ideas as China builds its base.

January 28, 2010

Death of a Realist

As America’s eyes fixate on the death of legendary author J.D. Salinger, another legendary figure passed away in the shadows. Howard Zinn, historian and revolutionary, died of a heart attack last night in Santa Monica, California.

J.D. Salinger is an unquestionable giant in American literature and his death inevitably obscured Zinn's passing. Obviously, with Zinn's personal and political history, his death was low-key for more than one reason. Zinn was a triumph of realism, sometimes crossing the bonds of reality in his investigations, but refusing to accept the US political and historical narrative hypnotized in so many young American minds.

Zinn stayed real to his last 87-year old breathe, imploring the American people to wake up while expressing limited hope. Writing in The Nation on Obama at One:
“I've been searching hard for a highlight. The only thing that comes close is some of Obama's rhetoric; I don't see any kind of a highlight in his actions and policies.

As far as disappointments, I wasn't terribly disappointed because I didn't expect that much. I expected him to be a traditional Democratic president. On foreign policy, that's hardly any different from a Republican--as nationalist, expansionist, imperial and warlike. So in that sense, there's no expectation and no disappointment. On domestic policy, traditionally Democratic presidents are more reformist, closer to the labor movement, more willing to pass legislation on behalf of ordinary people--and that's been true of Obama. But Democratic reforms have also been limited, cautious. Obama's no exception. On healthcare, for example, he starts out with a compromise, and when you start out with a compromise, you end with a compromise of a compromise, which is where we are now.

I thought that in the area of constitutional rights he would be better than he has been. That's the greatest disappointment, because Obama went to Harvard Law School and is presumably dedicated to constitutional rights. But he becomes president, and he's not making any significant step away from Bush policies. Sure, he keeps talking about closing Guantánamo, but he still treats the prisoners there as "suspected terrorists." They have not been tried and have not been found guilty. So when Obama proposes taking people out of Guantánamo and putting them into other prisons, he's not advancing the cause of constitutional rights very far. And then he's gone into court arguing for preventive detention, and he's continued the policy of sending suspects to countries where they very well may be tortured.

I think people are dazzled by Obama's rhetoric, and that people ought to begin to understand that Obama is going to be a mediocre president--which means, in our time, a dangerous president--unless there is some national movement to push him in a better direction.”
It’s tragic that Zinn was lost when he was needed most, right as Obama and his handlers contort US foreign policy back into the Neocon realm. We realists must increase our activity to fill his massive void.

Quote of the Day

"The war-mongering rulers under the leadership of Obama and Brown want to deceive the people of the world by holding the London conference to show that people still support them... this conference will be mere wishful thinking like other conferences.

They announce that they will provide money, employment and opportunity to have a comfortable life abroad for those mujahedeen who agree to part ways with jihad. This is baseless and futile. Had the aim of the mujahedeen of the Islamic Emirate been obtainment of material goals, they would accept dominance of the invaders in the first place."

- Taliban press release


We can’t blame the White House for keeping Afghanistan in the dark. It had every reason to.

President Hamid Karzai’s cabinet has been rejected twice, leading to the delay of parliamentary elections from May to September. President Obama is having trouble deploying his forces and training Afghans, specifically the police, to his potentially unreal expectations. Maybe Blackwater can help.

Rifts have broken out within the White House and Pentagon over Taliban reintegration, a juxtaposition with American self-interests. Reconciliation is also the main topic of conversation surrounding Obama’s summit, inflating the Taliban’s ego. His summit isn’t even in Washington but in London, where it’s being torpedoed as a Gordon Brown political stunt.

Forcing this conference to go international in a country even less approving of the war in Afghanistan is bewildering. Meanwhile Pakistan is holding its own trilateral summit in Turkey, a backhand protest to Indian involvement in London.

Why waste time on this toxic pileup? Why tell anyone if you don't have to?

Unfortunately this logic was too tantalizing for Obama to pass up. The American people were vulnerable to a blackout and he caved to the dark side. Foreign policy was allocated eight paragraphs, only one to Afghanistan. Two minutes on foreign policy corresponds to the level of interest in the country.

A snap CBS poll found that his support for Afghanistan jumped from 58% to 74%, logical if most people are distracted by the economy and health care. The latest Washington Post/ABC poll found that only 2% of Americans are most interested in Afghanistan. Foreign policy failed to register to qualify for zero.

So let’s see what’s improved in his solitary explanation:
“We are increasing our troops and training Afghan Security Forces so they can begin to take the lead in July of 2011, and our troops can begin to come home. We will reward good governance, reduce corruption, and support the rights of all Afghans – men and women alike. We are joined by allies and partners who have increased their own commitment, and who will come together tomorrow in London to reaffirm our common purpose. There will be difficult days ahead. But I am confident we will succeed.”
People might be mistaking this outline for an exit strategy - but this could be a recipe for protracted warfare.

Already his paragraph needs reordering. Obama’s surge begins and ends with Afghanistan’s government at the national and local scale, as successful counterinsurgency demands an accountable host. In one regard General McChrystal is improving, as Obama says, the rights of all Afghans, specifically the right to life.

Occasional air-strike casualties persist, but they've dramatically dropped as a result of McChrystal’s tighter rules of engagement. Now the Taliban is the leading cause of death, a crucial psychological advantage for America.

Except Afghan officials complain night-time raids are replacing air-strikes, and a rash of disputed incidents seem to back their claim up. US soldiers are dissatisfied under so much restriction in the field, which is exposing them to more risk. US casualties are trending up.

Everyone expects a hard fight in the future and unfortunately for them absorbing risk to protect civilians is the essence of counterinsurgency. But if the strategy works Afghans will be happier in the end and they can leave sooner.

Obama’s fatal error is everyone’s problem - riding a counterinsurgency on Hamid Karzai. This could take the whole effort down and force Obama to either rapidly withdrawal, all hope lost, or veto his July 2011 withdrawal date and deploy more troops.

Obama rewarded mediocre governance and indisputable fraud with a second term; in a way he rewarded himself for bad judgment. Karzai can’t get a cabinet passed and he’s already blaming the West. Five months have passed since the presidential election.

It’s conceivable that Karzai’s government could take over six months to form. If elections in September 2010 suffer a similar fate as August 2009, Obama might not have an official government to work with until the November or December. At that point he’ll have six months to implement his counterinsurgency.

He should know by now that times flies.

Obama is admittedly locked between a deceptive horse and cart, needing immediate security to provide good governance and reconstruction. However, failing to hold Karzai and his circle accountable and postponing the next election will deaden Obama’s surge.

He needs clean pipes to funnel all of McChrystal’s projects: training Afghan security forces, humanitarian and nation-building projects, counter-narcotics, and “reconciliation” with the Taliban. If he alienates Karzai, who then fails to reform his power base (Dostum’s already back), Obama could end up with one big mess of a war.

Not counterinsurgency.

And don’t expect much backup from our “allies and partners,” they think this is America’s war. Britain is tapped. German’s pledge of 850 troops was met with 80% disapproval by the German people. France is out. India, the one country that is bringing hope to Afghanistan, will bring a lot more trouble to Pakistan and China.

Obama’s gamble seems to depend on Afghan security forces and Taliban reconciliation: can McChrystal train enough capable soldiers and policemen before July 2011 to hold back what’s left of the Taliban?

Failure to fund either program to its maximum effect cannot be allowed, but even still this war ultimately boils down to the Taliban. The insurgency, while unpopular, is so advanced that it cannot be dispersed by a foreign force. Somehow it must be reintegrated into the local society.

Yet the foot soldiers might not be so quick to defect in droves. Nationalism cannot be underestimated nor should the sway of Mullah Omar. American officials oppose bringing him into the process, making their efforts feel hollow.

We’re worried that America really thinks “reconciliation” means pounding the Taliban into submission. This is no exit strategy, Obama will need a lot more time than 16 months. We aren’t sure why any of this causes a jump in approval, though lack of attention is probable.

But we’re certain that the American people will wish they cared more now if Obama can’t pull Afghanistan out of its tailspin by the time he promised.

January 27, 2010

Sri Lanka's Election Commissioner Quits

That can't be a good sign.

Silence Not So Golden

Worst speech ever? Maybe not. But close. OK, we can’t really speak for President Obama’s economic policies. And health care got dropped. They could ultimately work, we don’t know. Actually we can’t really speak of his foreign policy either - because he never did.

So here are some other things we found interesting in his national security sliver.

Obama doesn’t want to “re-litigate the past” in reference to the Bush era torture doctrine, Iraq war crimes, and all the other things his various officials were accused of.

He then claims, “We will have all of our combat troops out of Iraq by the end of this August... This war is ending and all of our troops are coming home.” Both statements are hard to believe and confusing when put together. America is leaving up to 50,000 US troops as a residual force, something Obama only seems to muddle.

That’s probably the point.

He boasts of increased isolation on North Korea and Iran, a policy more likely to bring war. He warned of growing consequences, “that is a promise.” Attacking Iran is a check Obama can’t cash.

He also didn't mention the following words: Israel, Palestine, Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan, Kashmir.

And no offense to him personally, but he didn’t stutter at all in his domestic agenda and too many times to count during national security. He also used stupid hand gestures taught at some communication workshop on a strip mall.

Don’t blame us for being cynical, for blacking out a foreign policy without direction. Everything went as expected. We aren’t cynical, the White House is cynical.

But the GOP response was no different and just as easy to reduce. Gov. Bob McDonnell of Virginia said in his speech, after calling Iraq a success, devoted one paragraph to Afghanistan, none to any other foreign policy issue. Just like Obama.

"We applaud President Obama's decision to deploy 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan," said McDonnell. "We agree that victory there is imperative for national security."

This hardly matters to him though, there are more pressing concerns at hand.
"We have serious concerns over the recent steps the administration has taken regarding suspected terrorists. Americans were shocked on Christmas Day to learn of the attempted bombing of a flight to Detroit. This foreign terror suspect was given the same legal rights as a U.S. citizen and immediately stopped providing critical intelligence. As Sen.-elect Scott Brown has said, we should be spending taxpayer dollars to defeat terrorists, not to protect them."

The GOP seems to have learned a clever trick - replacing torture with "defeat terrorists." Other than that, Obama's foreign policy is fine by them. The less said the better.

Not for us.

Life in the Trench

Though the importance of the economy and health care isn’t lost on us, justification to blackout on foreign policy it is not. People may not care about Afghanistan right now, but they should realize the forces at work.

No longer a matter priorities, President Obama and his officials have used a sputtering economic recovery and health care pileup to dim the lights on Pakistan, Israel-Palestine, and Yemen. He couldn’t be happier the attention is off his foreign policy and he’s not going to change.

Obama aids claim he’ll coming out swinging in his State of the Union address. With campaign manager of the year David Plouffe back in the saddle, Obama is expected to be “feisty,” aggressive, and uncompromising - in his move to the center. All to razzle the spirit, dazzle the eye and capture the mind.

"In this speech, what he'll discuss more than anything is getting our economy moving again," Robert Gibbs, the White House spokesman, said matter-of-factly.

One of the main initiatives to lower the budget deficit seems designed to consume every ounce of oxygen in the national debate. Obama is set to announce a three year spending freeze, “on many domestic spending programs and outline other measures to rein in the U.S. budget deficit.” A spending freeze is perfect because it sounds heavy and like it may work, but is difficult to understand.

Other topics will include new ways to regulate banks, reform Wall Street, and reverse deepening unemployment.

The White House has deftly manipulated their mistakes to great effect. No, Obama officials haven’t and aren’t going to admit their mistakes, but they will make sure you’re focused on particular mistakes, the ones at home and not overseas. And for the first time in recent memory they’ve perfectly hyping and controlled the US media.

The Wall Street Journal, whose “fiscal responsibly” doesn’t apply to America’s defense budget, isn’t talking foreign policy. Neither is the Washington Post, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, or Christian Science Monitor. Take a look at this Business Insider report.

The one thing Obama must say tonight isn't Afghanistan.

And these are just samples; go to any mainstream news site and you will see very little foreign policy discussed in editorial boards and op-eds. America is consumed by the economy and health care, and rightfully so, but Obama is also playing us.

Leftover space will be devoted to explaining the way forward on health care. This, however, isn’t so certain. Obama is said to be undecided on what to do: push ahead, scale down, or overhaul. His advisers say the time allocated to health care is unclear “because of its diminishing prospects.”

Not so different from foreign policy in the end. Ironically this could be our one hope, that Obama is so paralyzed on health care that he has no choice but to drop it and speak of something else. We have to figure he spends a little time on foreign policy.

He has nothing except leaked cables and General Dostams’s return in Afghanistan, so he has to beat the drum a few times before jetting to London. We expect hostility towards Iran as well.

But the bottom of a Reuter’s report fittingly states, “The foreign policy portion of Obama's speech is not expected to be lengthy and will probably focus on U.S. involvement in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.” Forget about Palestine.

And so us bottom dwellers will be left with crumbs.

Sri Lanka's COIN shortage

Sri Lanka’s election has a foul smell to it. Maybe President Mahinda Rajapaksa really did secure 58.8% of the vote and defeat his former general Sarath Fonseka. He just won a war, right? But the election is already sounding like a coronation.

"By all accounts, His Excellency Mahinda Rajapaksa has won the presidential elections as one only needs over 50 per cent of the votes," said sources from his presidential office.

Mobilization of state resources against him, combined with a quick count, has General Fonsek alleging a conspiracy. Either he would be arrested, he warned beforehand, or violence might break out. A peaceful and robust turn out, over 70% of Sri Lanka’s electorate coincided with Fonseka’s hotel being surrounded by his former soldiers.

A stand-off would make for a riveting spectacle and suggests some underhanded dealing did indeed occur. Rumors of a coup have circulated state media, propaganda for sure, and Rajapaska’s explanation for surrounding Fonseka - a search for army deserters - sounds sketchy. But Fonseka has a problem.

He had been expecting his final swing of momentum from the Tamil minority, who had mostly backed him. The AP reports, “turnout among the minority was dismal.”

This was our real worry going into the election, the Tamils either being harassed from voting or succumbing to apathy. Rajapaksa seems to believe the insurgency is over. It is not, and the surest way to keep it alive is political marginalization.

Naturally we’re keeping a few eyes on Colombo, being especially curious of the international reaction to any foul play.

January 26, 2010

al-Qaeda's Future Front: Nigeria

Images from Jos aren’t for the faint hearted. In contrast to the blasted out, charcoaled landscape of modern warfare, riots leave a grotesque imprint on the body and mind. News from Nigeria progresses in horror as the death toll rises, criminal rings emerge, corruption allegations leak out, and religious, ethnic, geopolitical tensions refuse to dissipate.

This is not where we find the real story.

Somewhere in Saudi Arabia lies the root, in the hospital or retreat where Nigerian president President Umaru Yar'Adua has allegedly received treatment for a heart condition for the past two months. A Federal High Court ruled that his cabinet must decide whether he’s fit for office in the coming week.

Nigerians have been worried since early December and are reaching a panic. Protests have become a common occurrence. Count White House and Pentagon officials among those biting their fingernails over Adua’s future.

Nigeria would make an ideal future front for al-Qaeda and Adua’s absence could open the door.

Al-Qaeda already operates in West and North Africa to recruit and smuggle arms and drugs into Europe, and it’s looking for new spots in case President Obama invades Yemen and Somalia. But Nigeria, a substantial country with a massive population, offers a mixed bag to al-Qaeda.

Nigerian officials reacted harshly to US airport security put in place after failed Chistmas bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. Authorities will fully cooperate with America in its war against al-Qaeda, they pledge, while they defend Nigerians as peaceful and pro-American. Indiscriminately profiling 150 million of them is no way to repay their loyalty and kindness.

Abnormally pro-American, Nigerians are the only African people that believe US troops play a positive role in the Middle East. Their enthusiasm is barely limited by the fact that America is the leading exporter of Nigerian oil and thus indirectly contributes to the Niger Delta conflict.

al-Qaeda faces a formidable barrier if it’s to enter Nigeria, a rare destabilized state that likes America. The question is whether it can counter this disadvantage by taking advantage of Nigeria’s many weaknesses.

We're observing an unhealthy state, one too tempting for al-Qaeda to pass up. No one problem lures al-Qaeda - the sum of Nigeria’s chaos transcends the hotspots.

Riots in Jos, perpetuated by land feuds and political discrimination and infused with religious undertones, show no signs of ending. More than 300 suspects were rounded up after rioting left 400 people dead, many of them jailed in the 2008 riots. Federal authorities are worried of a repeat in this pattern.

Jos will remain unstable until significant political reform can be enacted regardless of the legal outcome to a specific riot.

The Niger River Delta is in no better condition. Having reached a dead-end in negotiations, MEND renounced its ceasefire and is again operating a war against all oil companies operating in Nigeria and the government for supporting them. MEND, one of the world’s strongest insurgencies, is said to take inspiration from the Taliban.

President Adua’s absence has crippled efforts to these solve these problems. Proper negotiations with MEND and other militant groups and a political response to Jos cannot be formulated. Nigeria is a poor country in general, which doesn’t help the situation, nor did a Nigerian’s failed attempt to blow up a US airplane.

Up to 95% of Nigerians believe their government doesn’t respond to them.

The outbreak in Jos was merely the symptom of a weak state, one that can be exploited by al-Qaeda and that America would have a hard time defending without its lofty popularity. Obama must to take advantage of that favor and provide diplomatic assistance to mediate a political resolution.

Here's an opportunity to deploy political and diplomatic power within a comprehensive, global strategy and without military operations.

Letting Adua paralyze Nigeria for the next months or years is almost certain to lure al-Qaeda to Nigeria. The break-in has already begun, but popular revolt could create a distraction to enter en masse. Nigeria is big and there must be enough anti-American Nigerians to support sleeper cells.

If Nigeria keeps to its present course, al-Qaeda just might find sanctuary in mangroves and huts in the Plateau State in the future.

[Update: This is not what we mean.]

January 25, 2010

Stuck In a Loop

Why wait until January 2010? Why not start last year? Right, an unbroken circle can’t start, and campaign season can’t “begin.” Every second in America is campaign season.

President Obama and his officials deny he watches the polls or governs based on the next election. His health care plan, Israel/Palestine, and Afghanistan strategies coincide with election cycles by chance. Immigration, deemed a third rail, has fallen out of favor for no reason.

And David Plouffe, Obama’s campaign manager, is back in the circle because, you know, it felt like a good time. David Axelrod, senior White House adviser called the recent focus on Plouffe “overblown.”

Also, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs replied when asked about Plouffe, “He will help supplement an already good political staff in helping us watch the 2010 elections, the gubernatorial, the Senate and the House elections.”

Election season officially “starts,” like a smoldering fire that finally catches a house ablaze. Plouffe’s book tour and triumphant return was planned from the beginning, when he became Obama’s campaign manager in 2008.

"David Plouffe has been a regular adviser to the president throughout the course of the year,” gushed Valerie Jarrett, senior White House and part of the inner Chicago sanctum. “He ran a magnificent campaign. He's been off writing a book and on a book tour, and now that that's running to a close the president asked him to come back. The president has full support of his team, and that team will work closely with David Plouffe. He's value added, and we're delighted to have him back.”

The White House has a new word too. Axelrod, when not busy downplaying Plouffe’s return, explained, "David is value added, we love him and... we are happy to have his talents back with us on a more regular basis.”

Plouffe’s effect has already been felt. A collaborative message with White House officials and the Democratic National Committee, essentially his message, urges, “no retreat in the face of polling that shows opposition to the president's push to overhaul health care and discontent with his economic efforts.”

"Instead of fearing what may happen, let's prove that we have more than just the brains to govern—that we have the guts to govern. Let's fight like hell," Mr. Plouffe wrote in the Washington Post on Sunday, more war cry than op-ed.

The same day Obama spoke in a similar vein, rally the troops on jobs and health care. The media is reporting a confrontational State of the Union address on Wednesday. What does all this mean for US foreign policy?

"The president has always gotten the message," Axelrod said. "The message is, we need to grow this economy in a way that allows hardworking people who are meeting their responsibilities to get ahead instead of falling behind."

Means foreign policy is back on the chopping block.

We were anticipating one of two State of the Union speeches. One would rouse the nation for war before he jets off to London’s Afghan conference. The other would gloss over foreign policy like it didn’t exist, playing right to Afghanistan’s 5% of national importance.
Sounds like Obama’s preparing the silent treatment.

Obama won’t place less attention on foreign policy - he’ll try to get away with more while talking about it less. This is where Axelrod and Plouffe, best buddies, really shine through. “It’s the economy stupid” - forget failed airport security, forget Israel and Afghanistan and China.

“We need to make our case on the economy and jobs,” Plouffe writes and points out in multiple cases. “and yes, we can remind voters where Republican policies led us - and if we do, without apology and with force, it will have impact.”

The word Afghanistan isn’t found in his article.

The American people are smart enough, and domestic policy complex enough, that foreign policy cannot be justified as outside the realm of the common citizen. Axelrod and Plouffe are keeping us few in the dark so Obama can a smoother political campaign.

A never-ending political campaign naturally trends towards disaster in foreign policy, which demands long-term decisions. We can clearly observe Obama trying to smash the Israel-Palestinian peace process into a two or three year box, Afghanistan into an 18-month frame, and not talk about it.

The official return of Plouffe doesn’t seem to add much value to Obama’s foreign policy.

January 24, 2010

COIN 101

Strategic significance lies in the flaming pile of wreckage cratered in the North Waziristan mountains. Long-term implications of insurgent drone capability tend to overshadow the short-term, unlikely scenario that insurgents will soon acquire functioning drones.

But an immediate threat is catching up.

“It is our big success against our enemy today,” an excited militant commander told The News International. “Now they will shoot down more such planes.”

We have no way of knowing for certain whether TTP militants shot down an MQ-1 Predator and recovered the remains. They’ve made this claim once before after a drone crashed in South Waziristan in 2008, but the Pakistani army and intelligence officials quarantined the area.

So is this time different? The crash occurred around 6 p.m. in the Hamdhoni area of North Waziristan, 2.5 miles northwest of Miran Shah. With the Pakistani army hung up in South Waziristan, the TTP has mostly had to contend with US drones, putting them in position to secure a crash.

"I saw that the aircraft was coming down and finally crashed in an open area a distance from me," said Saudur Rehman, a local. "Tribesmen are celebrating and congratulating each other for shooting it down."

A unlikely outcome, statistically speaking. Over 70 Predators have been lost since 1997, over 15 in the last 18 months. According to the US military, only rarely are drones shot down by enemy fire; mechanical failure and weather is often the cause. One just went down a week ago in Afghanistan, a semi-routine occurrence. Usually the crash site is blanketed by US or allied forces.

Consequently most analysts doubt insurgents are capable of shooting down Predators and their offspring, the MQ-9 Reaper. If anything they get lucky.

Yet several drones have been downed by confirmed fire, proving it can be done. The TTP is also stocked with Man-portable air-defense systems (MPADS) - RPGs and allegedly FIM-92 Stingers, so it has the means. But we must look past military hardware.

Despite doubts over insurgent tactics and equipment, the strategic battlefield has inevitably shifted since 2000. Though the principle of drones isn’t hard to grasp, they also take time to adapt to, affording America a decade of advantage. Now any intelligent insurgent has wised up, alert that while the sky may appear empty, a Predator could be lurking in any inch of Earth’s atmosphere.

Even as big fish keep landing in the net, the whales continue swimming freely through adroit movement, stationary command, and national or local political protection. At the lower levels, terrified militants have take to concealed paths and forego foreign cars, slowing their movements. Their element of surprise has been chiseled away with the skies manned day and night.

It becomes evident that the massive “success” of drones in Pakistan, measured solely by kill rate, also conceals an evolutionary process to overcome them.

Defense has dominated this struggle as insurgents are primarily concerned with evading drones and staying alive. But it’s only a matter of time before the mind of a soldier and commander tires of defense and craves offense. A defensive position cannot be maintained indefinitely even for a guerilla - eventually an offensive strategy must be developed.

The TTP is feeling the urge to shoot back after a five-year intimate relationship with drones, and since the CIA is increasing drone operations as fast as possible, the TTP will have many chances.

Strategy and tactics will determine the success of its weapons. Cruising at altitudes of 20,000 feet and propelled by ever-quieting motors, Predators and Reapers have no chance at being shot down while on patrol. SAM’s are designed for helicopters and low-flying aircraft, meaning the time to attack a plane or drone is at take off and landing.

Flying out of Afghanistan and the Pakistan wilderness, the TTP doesn’t enjoy that opportunity.

Thus the method of targeting drones will attempt to bring them down to the surface. As Predators usually drop their altitude during firing situations, the TTP is likely to develop its plan to lure them into range of heavy-weapons - machine guns and MPADS. Using themselves as bait, insurgents could attempt to lead drones near valleys with rocket teams positioned and concealed on the mountain heights. Or they could utilize more obscured, covered paths in attempt to draw the drones lower.

Waziristan's topography could be reanalyzed and crafted to manipulate Predator flight paths, attempting to turn them into prey.

The game will change from not being seen to being intentionally hard to see, from defending to attacking. Though the TTP isn’t in the best position to concentrate on an elaborate drone offensive while having to deal with the Pakistani army, neither can the possibility be ruled out in the coming years.

The military value of shooting down a drone is relatively low until the system to operate them is created. At most it can begin stockpiling drone parts and search for weaknesses to target, as long-term understanding slowly progresses in the background. But the TTP also knows the propaganda and morale value is sky-high.

As the CIA buffs up its robotic flying army, shooting a few Predators down would go a long way towards combating the impression of defeat. The CIA shouldn't doubt the potential of a counterattack in the near-distant future.

Time Keeps on Slipping

They always get what they want in the end, just in time for London too. Now, is what the West wants good for Afghanistan?

Today, after months of back-room tug-of-war between Western and Afghan officials, Independent Election Commission member Zekriya Barakzai announced Afghanistan's parliamentary election would be postponed from May 22nd to September 19th.

The reason: "problems and constraints to get the proper budget, and also security concerns, logistical obstacles and also to improve the electoral procedures."

Translation: America, NATO, and the UN are withholding the funds until president Hamid Karzai obeys their orders to clean up corruption in his political circle.

On the surface President Obama’s plan to secure Afghanistan before the election appears to be the correct order of operations; another unsecured, fraudulent election would cripple his surge. Done properly, America could stabilize southern Afghanistan enough to hold an acceptable turnout, increasing the chances of long-term success.

But postponing the parliamentary election is a gamble, not what one diplomat, "a pragmatic and sensible decision which will allow time for reform of the key electoral institutions to enable cleaner parliamentary elections."

Obama is already out of time according to his own watch. He must pay to play - at some point he must publicly alter his strategy. Time is ticking on both his surge and how long before he postpones America’s exit from Afghanistan.

Getting a feel for Afghan public opinion is never easy. Outcry over a delay might be minimal when considering half of Afghans don’t believe Karzai is legitimate and don’t care either. Almost all Afghans believe corruption is a daily problem and should welcome measures to police it.

Afghans are the pragmatic ones here, and they might not care about a few months if it means their whole future. But delaying the election can ricochet back in a number of ways.

Western interference still resurfaces as a political and propaganda factor, potentially more than in the presidential election. America is using an election as a carrot, a risky maneuver. Postponing the election reveals a collapsed political system, exhausted and overloaded by excessive demands.

First Obama wanted to build democracy, then he didn’t, know he wants to again, but only enough for America to leave. Afghanistan needs a few months of R&R after all this surgery.

War is not so forgiving though and neither is reality. By postponing the election Obama is tacitly admitting to a flawed presidential election. If Karzai is the problem then America is the real problem for shielding him into power. Obama, then, needs time to correct his own mistakes. Two failed cabinet nominations later and it’s easy to understand a panicking White House.

It didn’t get the outcome it had hoped for.

Karzai could favor delaying the election as it gives him time to reorganize; in this way he’s borrowing Obama’s time. Yet postponing the election is unlikely to, as Reuters puts it, “remove a source of friction between President Hamid Karzai and his Western backers who wanted time for electoral reforms.”

Friction is only beginning. US officials will be riding Karzai for the next 10 months, and previous year hasn’t been encouraging. Feeling and chafing at the pressure, Karzai recently blamed the West for his “weak government.” Obama expects to put even more pressure on him without causing backlash.

With Obama’s political strategy off to a weak start it’s natural to assume this weakness will continue, but evidence is presented as well.

Delaying the election in favor of his surge once again assigns priority to the military dimension of counterinsurgency. Like pushing Karzai into power despite an illegitimacy Western officials now cite as one reason to delay the parliamentary election.

The AP reports, “Some nations also are concerned that having to guard polling stations in May would be a distraction for the 30,000 U.S. reinforcements and thousands of other foreign troops recently deployed with orders to stall the Taliban's momentum.”

This suggests, at some level, that America simply doesn’t want to worry about Afghanistan’s politics. It doesn’t want to think about August or November or May - fight now and figure everything else out later. But won't a fragile government sap the energy from Obama's surge?

He's already discovered that the ground fails to move even if the strategy looks good on a Washington table. September might not be enough time to install a capable central government that can carry out Afghan training, Taliban reconciliation, and local infrastructure projects.

Combined with a failure to secure southern Afghanistan and contain a Taliban offensive in the north, the possibility of a big pay off is remote.

Obama has a problem. With parliamentary elections on schedule in September, Karzai might not have a fully-functioning government in place until October or later, nine months away from July 2011 at the minimum. This gives Obama nine months with a real Afghan government to look like he’s "winning."

Considering the stalemate he fought in one year, “momentum” is likely two years away from permanently shifting in America’s favor, providing the plan goes perfectly or near-perfectly. We have yet to see anything close to perfection from Obama.

Elsewhere Gates and Mullen have been talking momentum since 2008 and here we are in 2010, talking momentum. 2012 will creep up fast and seems a more likely best case scenario than July 2011. Obama is leaving himself no room for error, betting on the perfect strategy when 18 months isn’t enough time for it to unfold.

Eventually he must ask for a postponement. It wouldn’t be the first time he misjudged.

January 23, 2010

Gates McGwire

How many times before a US official talks the right talk in Pakistan?

Defense Secretary had the advantage. He’d watched Pakistan’s public spit up and chew out State Secretary Hillary Clinton and envoy Richard Holbrooke, the Ugly American. He knew exactly what does and doesn’t play - but it showed way too much.

In Holbrooke fashion, Gates systematically wiped out his list with concocted statements like:
“I fully understand why some of you may be skeptical about the U.S. commitment to Pakistan.”
"The leadership will make the decisions... That's just fine with me.”

"The Pakistani leadership will make its own decisions about what the best timing for their military operations is, about when they are ready to do something or whether they are going to do it at all."

"So let me say, definitively, that the United States does not covet a single inch of Pakistani soil, we seek no military bases here, and we have no desire to control Pakistan's nuclear weapons."
We get the feeling Gates spent sleepless hours perfecting his presentation rather than trusting his heart. Everything was honed to the smallest detail and delivered with the feeling that a very limited debate, if any, will follow. His words sounded like they were made in a factory.

The product is a managed impression, not a real one, and the difference doesn’t fool many Pakistanis, intimate as they are with American doublespeak.

A double-edge sword cuts deep. Gates’ rhetoric, if sincere, would be a welcome boost to the region. But like Clinton and Holbrooke, cracks in his image shattered the mission. Gates brought more of the same: no excuses, do more.

The statement which consumed the most attention in Pakistan was the threat of Indian retaliation to an al-Qaeda attack. Today at National Defense University, Gates countered the outcry by cautioning his words as “misunderstood” and part of a ‘candid conversation.”

When he said an al-Qaeda-led "syndicate" is trying, "to destabilize not just Afghanistan, not just Pakistan, but potentially the whole region,” and that India won’t hold back in retaliating against Pakistan, apparently he’s speaking hypothetically. He doesn’t expect an attack any time soon.

But India issued a terror alert the next day, citing a plot by al-Qaeda and Lashkar-e-Taiba to hijack an Air India or Indian Airlines plane. Nice “misunderstanding.”

At least Gates speaks frankly. Frankness can be wonderfully informative, but it’s not synonymous with intelligence. Gates acknowledged there were understandable reasons for “skepticism” and “tainted perceptions” of the United States in Pakistan.

The Dawn reports the absurd: “Mr Gates said he was in the US government in the early 1990s when Russia left the region and the US abandoned Afghanistan and cut off defence ties with Pakistan.”

Now imagine Gates - self-proclaimed Ultimate CIA Insider - walking into a room and explaining he was in the US government, as if no one knew. Mark McGwire’s image appears before us. He didn’t just take steroids, he created the steroid era and remains in denial.

Neither is Gates any old US official. He’s the CIA old guard and creator of the Taliban.

Every Pakistani knows it so almost anything he says outside a total mea culpa will fail to convince. Excuses that leaving the region after Russia withdrew from Afghanistan was a “strategic mistake driven by some well-intentioned but short-sighted US legislative and policy decisions," pop like balloons.

A short-sighted, strategic mistake of self-interest is anything except well-intentioned.

"Frankly, we all had links with various groups that are now a problem for us today," Gates told an interview with Pakistani TV. "And some have maintained those links longer than others... That is largely the reason for a very real, and very understandable, trust deficit - one that has made it more difficult for us to work together to confront the common threat of extremism.”

There’s a McGwire parallel at work in all of this, but at least McGwire showed remorse. Gates has shown none. Yet like McGwire, he fails to take responsibility for his actions and spreads the blame around as a concealer agent. Forced admissions crafted out of half-truths expose the show as a fraud.

Like McGwire, it’s hard to tell whether Gates has made up his own mind, possibly suffering from flashbacks of his own creation.

First he denigrates the entire Taliban umbrella and encourages its total destruction: “You can't say one's good and one's not good. They're all insidious, and safe havens for all of them need to be eliminated.”

Then he adds, “The Taliban we recognize are part of the political fabric of Afghanistan at this point,” and affirms his support for the reconciliation program. It’s safe to assume he wants Mullah Omar dead, which explains the rest of his policy in our opinion.

Perhaps Gates feels a true premonition that leaving the Taliban alive will come back to haunt him again.

But the ultimate McGwire moment comes when Gates outs Blackwater and throws it under the US war machine. After admitting it operates in Pakistan, Gates was delusional enough to claim Blackwater is operating “privately” in the country - and was quickly outed.

McGwire only took steroids for 10 years to heal, not enhance his performance.

Blackwater's developing scandal also proves once more that America interferes with Pakistan’s foreign and domestic policy. Information Minister Rehman Malik swore his job on Blackwater not operating in Pakistan. He’s probably not going to last, though to be fair it seems Pakistanis want him gone anyway.

And the New York Times wonders why Pakistan won’t obey America’s orders. They’ll be happy to know Pakistan is now open to dialogue with all levels of the Taliban. Unfortunately if the NYT is buying Gates’ performance then so is the whole mainstream US media - we’ll get into that later too.

If you don’t believe our review of Gates’ performance, there’s always the Nation, the News International, and the Dawn, which is especially interesting as it focuses on Indian influence in Afghanistan.

It seems, once again, that a US official will leave more questions than answers - like Mark McGwire - and the response is the same too.

January 22, 2010

Real Hope for Haiti

We understand that raising hope is metaphorical for raising money and awareness. If you want to literally hope and/or pray then get down to it. Now is not the time to tell people not to Hope for Haiti.

While Pairing President Obama's campaign slogan, now currently a liability, with a disaster seems cheesy, don't think twice about giving - except to reconsider Dr. Paul Farmer’s Partner’s In Health.

But in Haiti’s case getting up might be falling down, while getting down amounts to raising up. So we don’t consider raining on Hope for Haiti as negative, we feel that digging up dirt is exactly the positivity Hope for Haiti is lacking.

Hope for Haiti? Absolutely - as long as that means 50 years minimum of sustained reconstruction and a fundamental change in US and Western political circles.

Blaming governments alone isn’t enough though when the American people ignored their government's prison mentality of Haiti for decades. The island hovered in irrelevance except for its level of poverty, periodically but briefly exposed by riots, foot shortages, and hurricanes.

The earthquake accomplished what no US-backed coup or economic exploitation could - attract global, focused awareness to the island.

Unfortunately this awareness hasn’t translated into education, and a one-track response was set up where there should be two rails. This one track appeals to your heart to save the dying and support the surviving - without giving any information back. Helping Haiti isn’t a one way street, Americans must understand why they’re help is abnormally necessary.

Bill Clinton and George Bush won’t tell you. President Obama and his officials won’t tell you. The US media won’t tell you. The hundred celebrities at Hope For Haiti won’t tell you.

They wouldn’t get as much funding.

Without making a blanket statement, the majority of reports and op-eds on Haiti either skip America’s interference completely or whitewash it. Real talk on Haiti is often pyrite. As of this moment the cover up continues. They want your dollars and minds.

So after you give, make sure to look into US political and economic policies in Haiti and their effects. Read a few Paul Farmer books. You’ll want to help even more. Don’t let Washington and the media keep the lights off. Only by holding them accountable through educated awareness will future Haitis be prevented.

That is the only real hope.

Quotes of the Day

"Mitchell said that if we want help to achieve a final settlement we must resume the negotiations. This was the main point of discussion. We do not share a common point of view on this issue. We want the resumption of negotiations. We are not obstructing negotiations. We urge them to have the Netanyahu government drop its conditions in order for us to resume negotiations."

- Saeb Ereket, chief Palestinian negotiator

"Never before have the Palestinians placed so many preconditions on resuming talks. They are new preconditions that are only to make restarting the talks difficult."

- Mark Regev, Israeli government spokesman

Obama's Time

As recorded earlier, President Obama nominated former CNN CEO and Time managing editor Walter Isaacson to the Board of Broadcasting Governors. So when Joe Klein of Time softballs a Q & A minus the Q, to Obama we know exactly what’s going on. It’s not Klein up to his usual tricks - the connection goes to the top.

On the plus side, Klein epitomizes the demise of foreign policy discourse.

At the bottom of the 5th page of a 6 page transcript, Klein complements, “Let me ask you one foreign policy question. My sense is that - just my own personal sense, but also from people I talk to - the overall conception of your foreign policy has been absolutely right. Necessary, corrective. Subtle, comprehensive.”

“We have a good team,” replies Obama.

The conversation turn more confusing when Klein states, “But there have been some problems in execution.”

“Well, I would not deny that,” Obama initially concedes, “but let me say that given what's on our plate - and you know the list. I don't need to tick them off.”

Klein cracks a joke: “I've been to most of them in the past year.”

To which Obama responds - after “not denying” problems in execution - “I actually think that our execution has been sound as well.” Joe Klein blinks and stares off to the side. Luckily Obama holds himself slightly more accountable and actually obliges those of us wondering what he’s talking about.

“I'll give you the examples of where I think our foreign policy team has gotten the right strategy and has executed well even though the outcomes are still uncertain - because these are tough problems that aren't subject to easy solutions.”

He starts by citing Iraq as his success, without mentioning opposition to the surge or that Iraq’s government demanded America withdraw. Turning to Afghanistan, Obama says it was the “toughest decision that I’ve made,” and reassures us his surge is on pace.

As if this were the reason his voters are worried.

Obama claims, “We are probably ahead of schedule so far in terms of recruiting and training Afghans,” when they’re behind schedule according to Senator Carl Levin. He also reinforces, “we should set very modest expectations of what's sustainable to transfer to an Afghan government.”

This is his definition of correct strategy and execution - making the war longer and ignoring that Afghanistan has no government in place. Today Karzai told the BBC, "Unfortunately our election was very seriously mistreated by our Western allies."

Obama then calls Iran, “one of our trickiest foreign policy challenges, we have held the international community together, both in our engagement strategy, but also now as we move into a dual-track approach. Which is, If they don't accept the open hand, we've got to make sure they understand there are consequences for breaking international rules.”

Assuming one track is peace, the other is war. Success, then, is moving the international community onto the war track.

He mentions North Korea: “everybody was skeptical at the beginning of this year that we could get serious sanctions. Not only have we gotten serious sanctions, but they've actually been implemented.”

Do sanctions have a goal though? Are they supposed to disarm North Korea’s nuclear program or to bring it back to Six Party talks? Or just starve North Koreans by starving their leaders. Fulfilling economic promises might work better.

But Obama saves his haymakers for the end.

He informs us in Voice of America style, as if we didn’t know, “when it comes to counterterrorism, this Administration has taken out more al-Qaeda high-level operatives, has been more aggressive in pinning them down, not just in the border regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan, but also working with our international partners in places like Yemen and Somalia, than a lot of what's taken place previously.”

Obama is actually boasting of his drone score nearing 60. As his voters lament a foreign policy no different than Bush's, he's hearing a compliment.

But conflicts in Yemen and Somalia have widened, not contracted, after assassinating al-Qaeda operatives. He’s really admitting to a single-minded, counter-terrorism response. A lack of political, economic, and social strategy - Obama’s strategy is the opposite of “comprehensive.”

Military aid to Yemen doubled, non-military aid did not. US forces are targeting several Yemeni clerics deemed “global terrorists,” in addition to being political and tribal leaders, which could cause revolts. al-Qaeda is already moving on.

Pakistan still has hang-ups with the Kerry-Lugar bill, military reimbursements, and trade issues. A true carrot and stick policy, freezing Islamabad’s aid until it does more. Defense Secretary Robert Gates just passed through Pakistan without lightening US airport security.

US weapons are falling into al-Shabab’s hands.

All of this is apparently irrelevant because Obama finds only two faults in his foreign policy. One is Umar Abdulmutallab, failed Christmas bomber.

“The other area which I think is worth noting is that the Middle East peace process has not moved forward. And I think it's fair to say that for all our efforts at early engagement, it is not where I want it to be.”

Finally Klein decides to wake up and ask his question: “Why is that? My sense of it is that Mitchell spent a number of months negotiating a settlement deal and saw some progress from the Israelis and kind of got blinded by that, because he didn't see that it wasn't sufficient progress for the Palestinians.”

“I'll be honest with you,” Obama assures us.

“A) This is just really hard. Even for a guy like George Mitchell, who helped bring about the peace in Northern Ireland. This is as intractable a problem as you get.”

“B) Both sides - the Israelis and the Palestinians - have found that the political environment, the nature of their coalitions or the divisions within their societies, were such that it was very hard for them to start engaging in a meaningful conversation. And I think that we overestimated our ability to persuade them to do so when their politics ran contrary to that.”

He gives no C), besides Hamas. Insisting he put all his effort into early engagement, he blames, “I think, an environment generally within the Arab world that feels impatient with any process.” This from someone said to be impatient with any process.

Obama stays true to presidential form, taking no responsibility for his own actions by using bad English.

“And so what we're going to have to do - I think it is absolutely true that what we did this year didn't produce the kind of breakthrough that we wanted, and if we had anticipated some of these political problems on both sides earlier, we might not have raised expectations as high.”

Sounds like Obama is blaming the Palestinians, and to a lesser extent Israel, for raising his expectations and for him raising our expectations. It’s Israeli and Palestinian politics, not US politics, spoiling negotiations. Right.

Suffice to say, we’ll be diving deeper into Obama’s testimonial since Time won’t. The show is over when headlines read, US envoy starts Mideast tour amid Obama pessimism.

January 21, 2010

The Bible Codes

What do they mean? With so many angles trained on Biblical gun sights, where exactly does the end of this story lie? Is a Taliban propaganda victory or US crusade the main issue? Is it the lack of awareness in the US government?

Each of these problems could negatively impact Afghanistan and anywhere else America wages war in a predominantly Muslim country, but today we’re more concerned with ourselves. Whether right or wrong in principle, America’s internal response to this mini-scandal leaves much to be desired.

Today everything seems in order. Two days after the story broke, both the Army and Marines released statements distancing themselves from the gun sights produced by Trijicon.

The army said in a statement Thursday that it was, “unaware of these coded biblical references until several days ago... It is not the policy of the Army or the Department of Defense to put religious references of any kind on its equipment.”

The Marine Corps also denied knowledge of the references and ensured, “We are making every effort to remove these markings from all of our scopes and will ensure that all future procurement of these scopes will not have these types of markings.”

But the strength of these statements was diminished after NATO, the UK, and New Zealand preempted America in denouncing the practice and calling for clean replacements. Immediately America was cast in a lesser light as the slowest to react; all, however, used the same excuse. That they were unaware of the Biblical references is extremely difficult to believe.

Trijicon admits it has imprinted Biblical verses for over 30 years. Tom Munson, Trijicon's director of sales and marketing, responded when the story initially broke, "We don't publicize this. It's not something we make a big deal out of. But when asked, we say, 'Yes, it's there.'"

He’s basically saying the US military “never asked.” Did it already know and not need to ask? Did it not care? Did it not want to know? The most harmless excuse is complete ignorance, but incompetence is a counterproductive excuse in the military. It seems impossible that the US government was unaware of these Biblical references.

Munson said the inscriptions "have always been there" and that there was nothing wrong or illegal about them. He said the issue was being raised by a group that is "not Christian."

We aren’t sure whether this statement is meant to be an insult or not, but it encapsulates the irony pervading this story: what is Christian about lying and scapegoating, or arguing Islamic militants are guilty of similar offenses? When did two wrongs make a right in the Christian world? When did ignoring one’s mistakes become faithful?

On the outside we’re told by CENTCOM commander David Petraeus, "This is of serious concern to me and to the other commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan because indeed it conveys a perception that is absolutely contrary to what it is that we have sought to do."

On the inside we’re told by Major John Redfield, CENTCOM spokesman, "The perfect parallel that I see is between the statement that's on the back of our dollar bills, which is 'In God We Trust,' and we haven't moved away from that."

Refield argues that no laws are being violated because the weapons aren’t distributed outside US military personal, even though the gun sights were given to Afghan and Iraqi security forces.

On the outside we’re told, “US officials say no one in the military leadership noticed the references.” On the inside video proof was available on YouTube since 2006, making it impossible for US commanders not to know and turning every protest and denial into a lie.

On the outside we’re told the US military has halted orders of the sights in question and requested kits to remove the numbers from existing weapons. On the inside we’re told by Stephen Bindon, Trijicon’s president, “Our decision to voluntarily remove these references is both prudent and appropriate.”

Trijicon is actually trying to spin itself as sensitive and responsible when there’s nothing voluntarily about Bindon’s “decision.” His hand was forced and now he’s lying to coverup and save face. Trijicon still sees nothing wrong with its actions - valid in a vacuum, delusional in reality.

What we have is a scandal that no one is owning up to. Both the US military and Trijicon want to have their cake and eat it too. The irony is how many Christian principles this fallout seemingly violates, and that it creates a propaganda defeat not in Afghanistan, but right here at home.

Behind the Curtain

Several weeks ago a new White House peace initiative appeared around the corner. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a startlingly generous speech to the Palestinians that left Israel seething. The topic evaporated from public view, plagued by poor communication and threats of war.

Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store wondered why during his meeting with Israeli President Simon Peres at the Presidential palace. Store told Peres that Israel should do more to support Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

"Abu Mazen is vulnerable and feels hurt, and his position needs to be bolstered by American support," Store said. "You have the best psychologists. How do we read the personality and political mind of Abu Mazen? What will make him move?”

Not a boastful admission that President Obama has taken Israel’s side.

"I am a friend of Abu Mazen,” Peres replied. “He says the Americans put him in a high tree and took the ladder away. Some of the mistakes were made by him. His expectations of Obama were created by him. He thought that Obama would take the Palestinian side... I can understand his feelings of disappointment.”

Or forcing Abbas to take the short end of the stick. Peres said Israel has accepted Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's “plan” and "I told Abu Mazen to accept it too."

But we’re seriously concerned that Israeli Benjamin Netanyahu drove a stake into the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by demanding a security force inside the West Bank section of a Palestinian state.

“We cannot afford to have that across from the centre of our country," he told a news conference in Jerusalem. "In the case of a future settlement with the Palestinians, this will require an Israeli presence on the eastern side of a prospective Palestinian state.”

Not only does an Israeli security force inside a sovereign Palestinian state continue the occupation, Netanyahu berates Abbas for setting preconditions then makes an entirely new demand. The curtain has come up. Nothing is behind the front of Obama’s “initiative."

And at the same time that Hamas reportedly agrees to recognize Israel.

2010 in the Middle East begins like 2009 - upside-down - for the second time in Obama's presidency. Netanyahu is ruining his show.

Quotes of the Day

"As I meet with Pakistan’s civilian and military leaders during my visit, I will emphasize that the United States wishes to relinquish the grievances of the past – grievances held by both sides – and instead focus on the promise of the future. I will repeat President Obama’s message that the United States is fully committed to a stable, long-term, strategic partnership with a democratic Pakistan – an enduring relationship based on shared interests and mutual respect that will continue to expand and deepen in the future on many levels, from security cooperation to economic development."

"It is important to remember that the Pakistani Taliban operates in collusion with both the Taliban in Afghanistan and al-Qaida, so it is impossible to separate these groups."

- Defense Secretary Robert Gates, in an op-ed to The News International

January 20, 2010

Haiti As Counterinsurgency

One day, hopefully not too far in the future, America is going to respond differently to natural disasters. Split into two categories, one reaction assists any international disaster relief effort, if possible, to promote US goodwill and overall world peace.

The second reaction will quickly recognize those disasters that fall under counterinsurgency and respond with this in mind.

Disaster relief has long been considered part of military operations by the US military as it creates a good image to fight with. When warfare transitioned out of the conventional and into the asymmetric, disaster relief was subsumed into counterinsurgency operations.

So did the US military see the golden opportunity in Haiti or not? If it did, was there force applied on Obama? Did Obama reject or not if so? These are difficult questions to answer.

Of more certainty is that America’s response, while seemingly vigorous, was average at best. Obama appears not to have realized that Haiti is a counterinsurgency first and disaster relief second, with the potential to directly influence Palestine and Afghanistan. Haiti isn’t an arbitrary disaster to help and leave, but a political and media battle to wage and win.

Disaster relief is an active weapon, a non-military operation of war. And considering America’s 700$ billion Defense budget, Haiti is a bargain counterinsurgency compared to Afghanistan.

Comparing the two countries doesn’t present Obama in a good light. Haiti was the anti-Afghanistan, demanding quick and confident decisions. Deliberation might have been necessary in Afghanistan, but it’s open to debate whether he could have decided quicker. Most think he could but didn’t want him to.

Now he looks like he can’t make a quick decision at all.

Obama made one wrong move, either out of ignorance or bad advice, and doomed every next step. He saw the 2004 tsunami and automatically limited his thinking, when Haiti is an unlimited disaster requiring unlimited thinking. After the first phone call he needed to visualize an entirely new response.

10,000 troops should have been readied for launch immediately with another 10,000 on standby. Another 2,000 Marines were just ordered to deploy, bringing the total US commitment to 11,500. 16,000 US troops and seamen are supposed to be deployed by the week’s end.

A contingent of 3,500 paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Brigade was also supposed to land this weekend, but many of them are still loading up on disaster relief at their North Carolina base.

Clearly Obama’s initial reaction of 2,000 Marines was under-estimated. He needed up to 20,000 troops from the start. Possibly afraid of over-reacting and the political consequences of doing so, he should have known this was impossible.

"Troops on the ground” is the solution to every problem, reports CBS.

The most valid argument against a rapid buildup is aftershocks as seen by yesterday. But that risk was incurred by the 10,000 troops already deployed. They should have been there faster, that way security could have stayed tight in the immediate aftermath, smoothing the security over the coming weeks and opening up disaster and humanitarian efforts.

If 10,000 Marines had been in Haiti in 48 hours they would have been greeted as liberators and been in place for the ensuing rescue effort. Instead their late arrival contributed to bottle-necking the airports, violating counterinsurgency by giving military flights priority over aid.

Obama also came up short financially, pledging only 100$ million in initial relief. Why, if that number will eventually cross 1$ billion, not pledge it immediately? This would place America in front, demonstrating its determination and assuming coordination over relief efforts militarily and financially. Obama should’ve utilized the UN instead of allowing it to take his place.

Now other countries are pledging billions of dollars. America should have lead that charge.

Free thinking, quick reaction, and sincerity could have turned Haiti into a massive America counterinsurgency victory. All the debate about whether the response is too slow or not, too coordinated or not, would instead be how America, and Obama in particular, are doing a great job.

American success is beamed into billions of people’s homes, and hundred of millions of Muslims. They’re talking about Haiti from Africa to the Middle East to Asia - huge markets for a successful US counterinsurgency and the resulting propaganda fruits.

Instead Obama is relatively silent and in his place stand Bill Clinton and George Bush, both complicit in crimes against Haiti, above all the perpetuation of the status quo. With Bush you get statements like, "I fully understand the anguish that the people of Haiti feel.”

"I was involved with Haiti," he told VOA. "I did care deeply about those who are suffering from AIDS. PEPFAR has spent about $320 million in Haiti to get anti-retrovirals [anti-retroviral drugs] and prevention programs to the people Haiti."

Yes, to keep them alive for cheap labor.

Obama should dump Clinton and Bush and assume the face of American relief efforts in Haiti. He needs to admit to America’s wrongs, otherwise the effort can never be sincere, and to do so he must break with the past.

He must also pledge billions of dollars like any other war. He must realize he’s waging a counterinsurgency in Haiti, not just saving lives, and pursue it as vigorously as Afghanistan and Pakistan. Success would reverberate throughout America’s engagement with the Muslim world.

Voice of Obama

The Voice of America is a propaganda factory so it’s hard to blame VOA for pumping out propaganda. And yet, VOA is so hard to ignore. Is the US taxpayer supposed to pay for a media outlet that sells President Obama back to them at a higher grade than currently valued?

The headline itself causes raises an eyebrow: President Obama Praised for Sticking to American Values on Counter-Terrorism.

Does anyone believe that? How about the wake of disenchanted Obama voters is leaving behind as his foreign policy sinks back to the Bush days? Even NPR and the New York Times are shifting in their seats.

Now the opening paragraph: “As President Obama completes his first year in office, security experts give him high marks for sticking to American values and trying to win the hearts of Muslims while taking steps to avert terrorist attacks. But they also say the U.S. must not wait to fix a weakness until after it is exposed by an attack.”

This statement sounds like it was written by a Neocon.

Aside from the end of torture, and no one knows whether this practice is truly over, it’s hard to find any area where Obama receives “high marks."

But to the VOA’s security experts, indiscriminate airport security in 13 Muslim countries isn’t a problem. Failure to close Guantánamo and legislate Bagram? Who cares? Drone strikes? Perfectly legal - moral too. Falling hearts and minds from Palestine to Pakistan? Who needs them. Why care, so long as Obama is allowing terrorists no respite?

Brilliant counterinsurgency from the VOA.

Few on the left believe Obama is “sticking to American values” while expanding US military operations and emphasizing counter-terrorism. VOA’s “two-source rule” requires two independent sources to confirm a story, but this seems to mean finding four sources who agree.

Three of the four sources aren’t particularly important, despite one being former CIA official Paul Pillar. Pillar has an axe to grind with Bush, and though possibly deserved, this makes for a questionable “expert” opinion on Obama. Typical propaganda though. Jacob Shapiro of Princeton adds a paragraph in defense of Obama,

Michael German of the American Civil Liberties Union’s neutrality shakes when he toes the line, “Our policies and procedures do express American values - tolerance, transparency, respect for rule of law and due process.”

His own organization isn’t so sure - mixed grades aren’t high grades.

It’s the first source we’re concerned with though. “Clark Irwin,” of the Aspen Institute, is placed at the top of the story and used as the lead source. The reason is clear.

"People don't realize that President Obama has really intensified the effort to go after al-Qaeda central in Afghanistan and Pakistan,” Irwin says. “The drone strikes have really intensified under his tenure. He famously, after much deliberation, is increasing the number of troops in Afghanistan.”

This statement is jaw-dropping. The American people may have been fooled what Obama was planning to do in Afghanistan, but they’re starting to realize it. Irwin’s sound-bites are belittling.

Trying to wrap us in a contradiction, Obama has engaged in, "The struggle for the hearts and minds of the Muslim community here in the U.S. and around the world,” unlike Bush, according to Irwin.

We can’t dispute that Bush ignored the Muslim world. Obama, however, continues unilateral support of Israel, ignores Kashmir, and escalates Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen. Disappointment over Obama’s Cairo speech is mounting and his reaction to Abdulmutallab is fomenting additional opposition in targeted Muslim countries.

Mixing his foreign policy with “hearts and minds” is like oil and water.

Speaking of Abdulmutallab, Mr. Irwin happens to also believe, “The recent failed airplane bomb attack makes clear Mr. Obama's administration must do more to combat terrorism.”

We’re attending a complete propaganda workshop. Obama admirably avoids, “comparing the war on terrorism to conventional war between nations,” while taking “several steps to contain the threat” to keep Americans safe. Escalate wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan is the way to win over Muslim hearts and minds.

And by the way, do more counter-terrorism.

Mr. Irwin could float on by if this were the end of his story, but we’d be left stuck in the rabbit hole. We need to go all the way down.

Irwin works for the Aspen Institute, a powerful think-tank/lobbyist group. Walter Isaacson is the chairman of the Aspen Institute. He’s also the former chief of CNN and managing editor of Time, recently tapped by Obama for the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which operates VOA.

Isaacson recently asked Obama to “reset” the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and suggests what should be done, without one mention of why “things are a mess.”

Obama hires Isaacson, the former head of CNN, to direct America’s propaganda efforts abroad and at home. Isaacson taps a pro-Obama staff, many from Harvard and Yale, a mix of Democrats and pseudo-Democrat Republicans, at the Aspen Institute and Washington think tanks, for pro-Obama stories on VOA.

Obama is patting himself on the back through proxy “experts” on the US taxpayer payroll. Then again, people are used to him grading himself - maybe he can’t control his inner professor.

But “Clark Irwin” might not be Clark Irwin. When searching Aspen’s website Clark Irwin doesn’t come up. There is a Clark Ervin though, Director of the Aspen Institute’s Homeland Security Program.

Probably a simple editing error.

But just out of curiosity, Ervin is another former Bush employee that allegedly left dissatisfied, not unlike Pillar. A Bush employee none the less, he was appointed first Inspector General of the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Ervin previously worked under Bush I, with Bush II during his governorship in Texas, and served on the Broadcasting Board of Governors himself.

A nice little circle of friends Obama has defending his hawkish foreign policy, one now frequently compared to Bush’s. One last relevant fact: Obama nominated former Bush spokeswoman Dana Perino to the Board of Governors in November 2009.

Maybe he just wants Obama’s Voice to be fair and balanced.