Aside

 

THE BERGDAHL AFFAIR

 

The Obama Administration’s trade of five of the most senior Taliban commanders at Guantanamo Bay for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is a national disgrace for a number of reasons.

First of all, he was not a prisoner of war by any normal definition of the term. Disenchanted with the course of the war in Afghanistan, he snuck away from his post in the middle of the night, armed only with a compass to direct him toward enemy .lines. He was not captured in combat, quite the contrary. But instead of treating him as a possible sympathizer, the Taliban decided to hold him as potential trade bait.

It took several years, but the Taliban’s patience has been rewarded. Actual negotiations, on-and-off again, reportedly began three years ago, before finally coming to fruition. One of the six detainees the Taliban originally demanded in exchange died during the negotiations. But the other five have now been freed, with apparently the only limitation being that they stay in Qatar for one year. Presumably in a hotel with room service. After that?  Guess.

The last time a senior Taliban commander was released from Gitmo, Mullah Abdul Qayyum Zakir, he soon showed up back in Afghanistan as director of military operations.

Secondly, there is a reason American presidents have consistently refused to negotiate with terrorists.  Now terrorists around the world may believe that if they capture or kidnap a US citizen, military or civilian, they can hope to trade for high value prisoners.  And at least during the current Administration, they may have a decent chance of success.

Commented National Security Adviser Susan Rice: “When we are in battles with terrorists and the terrorists take an American prisoner, that prisoner is still a US serviceman or woman.  We still have a sacred obligation to bring that person home.”

Was she not aware of the circumstances of Bergdahl falling into the Taliban’s hands? He reportedly deserted his buddies at 3:30 in the morning, leaving his weapons behind. Or was Rice just trying to convince public opinion of the merits of the case, the facts notwithstanding?

Third, what signal does this grossly uneven swap send to Taliban leadership on the eve of the United States pulling the bulk of its troops out of Afghanistan this year, regardless of the situation on the ground?

President Obama says he wants to keep a small residual force in country for another couple of years after that, but it is absolutely clear he wants to wash his hands of the frustrating, costly, bloody struggle. And after American and NATO men and money are no longer an obstacle, the opportunities for the Taliban to return to power, at least over large swaths of the country, appear promising.

Over the weekend, Mullah Mohammad Omar, the supreme leader of the Taliban, broke his normal silence to declare that the prisoner swap brought the insurgents “closer to the harbor of victory.”  Without question it was a celebratory statement.

And, finally, what signal is being sent to those who depend on the United States to be steadfast in their defense if the need arises?

Some may conclude that America is in a state of retreat from global commitments–in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Syria, it Ukraine. Does that invite more assertive or even aggressive challenges, from Russia, from China, from others?

Let us hope that President Obama does not offer to lead a ticker-tape parade through Times Square to welcome Bergdahl back.

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This blog was also published by the World Policy Institute.

 

 

OBAMA THE PEACEMAKER

Less than two weeks after Barack Obama assumed the Presidency of the United States, he was nominated for the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize. Several months later, primarily on the basis of his eloquent speeches rather than his accomplishments, he was awarded that coveted recognition.

In his acceptance speech, Obama said he was “surprised” and “deeply humbled” by the award, but didn’t really feel deserving of the honor.

Now, after nearly six years of pursuing his strategy of reaching out a friendly hand of accommodation to adversaries, rather than what he considered George Bush’s menacing fist, and of disengaging the United States from increasingly unpopular wars and entanglements, has he lived up to the hopes and expectations of the Nobel Prize Committee or of American voters?

In a word: no.

Let’s briefly review the record:

Early on, he decided to “re-set” relations with Russia.  He fundamentally recast a planned missile defense project in Eastern Europe, which was aimed at defending against a potential Iranian missile threat, but which Russia worried could be expanded to undermine its strategic offensive capability.

He hoped, among other things, that Vladimir Putin would feel grateful and would help broker an end to the civil war in Syria, with Moscow’s ally Bashar al-Assad agreeing to step down, and help achieve a negotiated end to Iran’s nuclear weapons development effort. Putin has been colossally unhelpful in Syria and it is still unclear how helpful he will be with Iran.

In Syria, for three years the Obama Administration refused to provide arms to the insurgents. And, finally, after threatening that if Assad crossed a “red line” and employed chemical weapons against his people, Obama would make him pay dearly. But instead of pulling the trigger on punitive drone strikes, he decided to accept an eleventh hour proposal by Moscow to allow Assad to surrender his “declared” stocks of chemical weapons.

That left Assad free to use tanks, planes, helicopter gunships, artillery, barrel bombs, starvation and, most recently, chlorine gas, against his enemies. Without question chlorine gas is a chemical weapon. What was the reaction from the Administration? “We’re tryng to run this down,” said U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power,

In his first campaign for the presidency, Obama asserted that Iraq was the “wrong war,” while Afghanistan was the “right one.”

Three years into his first term, he declared that all US troops wold be out of Iraq by the end of 2011.  He made a half-hearted and predictably unsuccessful effort to negotiate to keep an American residual force in Iraq thereafter. So after a nine year conflict, in which 4,400 GIs lost their lives and 32,000 were wounded, Obama relinquished any hope of influencing the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whose near dictatorial policies may pave the way to an all-out civil war.

As for Afghanistan, while not repeating the mistake of abandoning the country without a residual force, Obama decided to pull out all combat forces by the end of this year, without regard to the situation on the ground. A bloody civil war triggered by the resurgent Taliban is quite possible, even likely.

When the entirely unexpected “Arab spring” erupted in Egypt, Obama was urged to seize the opportunity to actively support historic change. Instead he stood back, aloof. It now appears likely that another military autocracy will take charge once again.

Obama obviously judged the world safe enough in Europe and the Middle East to slash the size of US armed forces and “pivot” to confront the mounting Chinese threat in Asia.

But a newly aggressive Putin has demonstrated that the situation is anything but calm and quiescent in Europe. No one can accuse Obama of “losing” Crimea or of encouraging further Russian threats in eastern Ukraine. But no doubt Obama’s feeble imposition of sanctions against Russia has done nothing to curb Putin’s adventurism.

With the time left in his second term, would it be prudent for Obama to revisit his rose-colored view of the world stage? One would hope ao.

 

This blog was also published in the blog of the World Policy Institute.

OBAMA SAVES ASSAD

Early in the uprising against Bashar Assad in Syria, President Barack Obama insisted that he must go. But by grasping Vladimir Putin’s audacious proposal that Assad surrender his stocks of chemical weapons, and Assad’s even more surprising immediate assent, Obama has in effect enabled the Syrian dictator’s hold on power for years to come.

Some skeptics have warned that neither Putin nor Assad can be trusted and that the United states must hold out the threat of military retaliation if the deal is evaded.  But that misses the point: it is in  Assad’s interest to go along, at least partially, because in so doing he will in all likelihood remain in power while his armed forces continue to pound the insurgents.

In a word, Putin and Assad suckered Obama into assuring the latter’s retention of power while the war rages and the insurgents and their civilian supporters continue to be bloodied.

Obama seems to be playing a simple-minded game of checkers while Putin is playing a more complex game of chess. Guess who’s outclassed?

Recall that until Putin raised the prospect of eliminating Syria’s humongous stores of poison gas weapons–estimated at 1,000 metric tons–Assad insisted that he had none. Then suddenly, he not only admitted it, but also agreed to join the Chemical Weapons Convention, vowing not to manufacture, store or use poison gas.

Why the abrupt about face? Was he muscled by Moscow? Or did he realize that it would take years for UN inspectors, during a raging war, to attempt to locate, tag, and destroy or remove such weapons?

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is the world body charged with the responsibility for enforcing the chemical arms ban. It has 125 inspectors on its payroll at present. Who would protect them in a raging war zone while they attempt to do their work? Would UN troops be assigned that role?

The world body is supposed to check out only those sites identified by the host government. Can one not imagine that Assad might conceivably hold out certain weapons with the Israeli threat in mind? That’s why he built up his stocks to begin with.

And more important in terms of his staying power, even for those stocks he identifies, it would probably take years and billions of dollars to destroy VX, Sarin and mustard gas weapons in place and remove the rest for destruction elsewhere.

Nine years after Libya’s Moammar Kadhafi agreed to the destruction of 13 tons of mustard gas weapons, the job is not yet complete.  (And, it turned out, he hid some chemical weapons from inspectors.) The task in Syria is vastly more challenging, with about 30 times more chemical weapons.

Since 1999, under terms of the Chemical Weapons Convention, Japan is required to dispose of chemical weapons abandoned in China at the end of the Second World War. Fourteen years later that job is not nearly complete and is expected to cost about $9 billion. And, of course, that is not a war zone.

Meanwhile, not only would Assad’s forces continue their assaults, but al Qaeda-linked jihadists would continue to build up their area of control in northern Syria, near the Turkish border.

Will Obama finally provide combat elements identified as moderate secularists with the kinds of weapons in sufficient numbers to more than hold their own, perhaps even to turn the tide? We’re talking of such things as shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles and anti-tank rockets. Not just field food rations and bandages. Haven’t seen a sign of such urgently needed combat supplies from the US thus far.

Assad appears to be in robust health. But, of course, he could always suffer a heart attack, or his inner circle could turn on him, or a car bomb could snuff him out.

But otherwise, it appears that Obama has co-signed his life insurance.

_________________

This also ran in the blog of the World Policy Institute. 

OBAMA, THE COWARDLY LION

It’s one thing to be a reluctant warrior.  Given his natural instincts and the American public’s war-weariness, that’s understandable under the circumstances.

But after checking with Congressional leadership in both parties, and being told there may well not be sufficient support for military action against the Syrian government’s horrific use of nerve gas, and then going ahead and daring Congress to take the Commander-in-Chief’s war powers out of his hands, that’s not leadership. That’s sophistry.

President Barak Obama, in withholding military action at the eleventh hour, and shocking his own closest aides in the process, is risking telling the American body politic and an amazed world of friend and foe, that he does not have the inner strength to be a leader in crisis.

He gives a new meaning to the expression “red line.” If you dare cross it, who knows what might befall you?   If anything.

Putting aside the  reactions at home for the moment, how do you think the ayatollahs in Iran will react to his repeated threats not to allow Tehran to possess nuclear weapons?

How will Vladimir Putin react to the warnings that Obama will make Russia pay a price for harboring Edward Snowden and not cooperating in US efforts in Syria and Iran?

How will the leaders of France, who deployed warships alongside those of the US navy offshore Syria, react to the appearance that Obama has lost his courage?  In point of fact, it was shaping up as merely a military slap on Bashar Assad’s wrist–in the President’s words, “a shot across the bow” not aimed at weakening his hold on power.

How will Israeli planners, who wanted to believe that Obama was not bluffing when he warned Iran that “all options” are on the table if it proceeds to build nuclear weapons? Will the Israelis, who have existential worries, decide to go it alone–and soon?

This is America that is supposed to be a world leader?

This is how the Leader of the Free World exercises his leadership?

Or, is this the personification of the cowardly lion in the Wizard of Ox?

The civil war in Syria started two-plus years ago as a spontaneous challenge to a brutal regime. But without meaningful intercession by the United States and other Western powers, it has increasingly evolved into a sectarian war pitting Sunnis against Shiites, with Kurds and Christians caught in the crossfire.

And within the Sunni community, where outside jihadi extremists aligned with al-Qaeda have introduced fighters with better weapons, the long-term outcome becomes increasingly problematic. The struggle has already spread into Lebanon, and could readily expand into Jordan, Iraq and Turkey.

Before she retired at Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, supported  by the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Director of Central Intelligence, went to Obama and and tried to convince him it was in both our strategic and humanitarian interests to provide arms to moderate Syrian secularists. He rejected their argument, contending the insertion of more arms into the conflict would only add to the bloodshed.

Now the bloodshed tops 100,000, with millions of Syrians displaced.  Now Assad has unleashed all the weapons in his arsenal, including poison gas, against his own people.

By revealing details of the planned military operation, Obama has allowed Syria to hide or relocate the principal delivery systems of terror–including missiles, helicopter gunships and jet bombers–so they will not be destroyed. When the President says he’s been assured it makes no difference when an attack may occur–whether in a few days or weeks–that’s poppycock.  The jets and helicopters could be temporarily moved to Iran , for example.  Missiles could be hidden under highway overpasses.

Any military planner worth his salt will tell you that surprise is crucial to potential success. By telegraphing the full panoply of his intentions, presumably he was trying to convince Iran, and its proxy Hezbollah, not to overreact.

It’s possible, of course, that a majority in Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, will decide after considerable debate, that they cannot vote in effect to sanction the use of poison gas. But if not, would Obama order the cruise missiles to fire anyway?  Not very likely.

—————————–

William Beecher is a Pulizter Prize-winning former Washinigton correspondent for the Boston Globe, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. He also served as an Assistant Secretary of Defense.  This was also carried in the blog of the World Policy Institute.

The KGB Hoax, a novel

“The KGB Hoax”  is my fifth novel. It centers around an illicit coupling in a Moscow hotel between a well known Washington correspondent, who previously had served in a high government post, and the wife of a rising star in British military intelligence.  The KGB had some photos and snippets of pillow-talk and was determined to exploit the situation.  One group wanted to blackmail the pair into doing unspecified future “favors.”  But higher level officials had a more devious scheme in mind. They wanted to con the reporter into discovering and writing an amazing “exclusive” designed to persuade the US to squander tens of billions of dollars on a needless military space race. A very clever and well orchestrated Russian gambit backfired, however, with huge negative historic consequences for Moscow. 

Commented Ivan Selin, former Under Secretary of State and Assistant Secretary of Defense:

“A wonderful yarn that is so plausible that experts have to pinch themselves to remember that this is fiction. For a moment of suspended disbelief I thought that I finally understood the confusing events that were my everyday affair 35 years ago–a great story that I couldn’t put down.”

Commented Kevin Klose, President of Radio Free Europe and former Moscow bureau chief for the Washington Post: “You won’t put it down. A mystery inside a thriller inside an adventure.”

Reintroduce Tactical Nukes in South Korea

In face of the almost daily escalation of bellicose rhetoric from North Korea, the United States might consider reintroducing tactical nuclear weapons in South Korea as a means of both taming the North and calming the South.

An ancillary affect might also be to strengthen rather than weaken nuclear non-proliferation in the region.

Most analysts tend to dismiss the threatening war chants of Kim Jong-Un, North Korea’s impetuous new 28-year-old dictator, as designed to increase his stature as a tough leader with his military establishment, and to entice the United States and others to provide new quantities of food and fuel in order to placate Pyongyang, just as his father and grandfather did repeatedly before him.

While that analysis might be spot on, there’s always the danger of a sudden miscalculation that could trigger another bloody chapter in the Korean War.

Chung Mong-joon, a leading member of the South Korean ruling party and a former presidential candidate, declared recently: “Nuclear deterrence can be the only answer. We have to have nuclear capability.”

And a public opinion poll only last month found that 66 percent of South Koreans said they favor developing nuclear weapons.

Now the government of South Korea, long a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, insists it wants no such weapons program. However, it is currently renegotiating its 1972 nuclear cooperation pact with the United States.  It is strenuously arguing for permission to acquire both uranium enrichment technology and spent fuel reprocessing technology from the US for its 22 nuclear power reactors.

It contends it wants the enrichment capability so it won’t be wholly reliant on outside suppliers for  reactor fuel.  And it says it wants reprocessing capability to deal with the growing pile of nuclear reactor waste which it says presents an environmental problem.

Lest anyone raise the point that enriched uranium can be used to make nuclear weapons, and that reprocessing of spent fuel produces weapons-grade plutonium, South Korean negotiators say they would be happy to allow intensive monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

But there has been a long history in South Korea of secretly pursuing a nuclear option.  The US has repreatedly used its leverage to tamp down such efforts.

The United States first introduced tactical nuclear weapons in South Korea in 1958 when, because of severe budgetary pressure after the Korean War, it was decided to reduce our conventional force levels there from about 300,000 at the time of the armistice to 50,000. The nukes were thought to represent an equalizer to deter an attack from North Korea

But in 1991, as part of a global initiative, President George H. Bush withdrew tactical nuclear weapons from most overseas deployments.  It was hoped that would also strengthen the objective of keeping the Korean Peninsula nuclear-free.

Over the years, a number of agreements were reached with North Korea to severely restrain its nuclear efforts, focusing on its plutonium extraction facility at Yongbyon, which Kim now threatens to reopen. Pyongyang long denied it had a s separate uranium enrichment program.

But it’s now apparent that it was pursuing both weapons efforts in parallel.

If South Korea were to get access to either uranium enrichment technology or plutonium-producing spent fuel reprocessing technology, there would likely be pressure from influential leaders in both Japan and Taiwan to bring whatever nuclear weapons programs might be in the closet out in the open. For Japan is worried about both North Korea and China, and Taiwan is worried about a Chinese threat.

The United States has long argued that our nuclear umbrella is sufficient guarantee of the security of our friends and allies against a nuclear threat.

If the US now reintroduced a small number of tactical nuclear weapons into South Korea, it would strengthen our argument about extended deterrence and undermine the case for the South leaving the non-proliferation treaty. At the same time, it would undermine the sub-rosa pro-nuclear movements in Japan and Taiwan.

As for North Korea, at that juncture, to threaten to rain nuclear weapons onto South Korean cities would clearly be seen as an empty, self-defeating threat.

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This blog was also published on the blog of the World Policy Institute.

 

The Iraq War in Retrospect

Ten years after the start of the Iraq War, the general perception of American public opinion is that it was the wrong war fought for the wrong reasons. It cost more than $800 billion, cost the lives of 4,400 brave young US troops and left 3200 wounded.

And today, instead of an essentially democratic, pro-American nation, Iraq verges on being a Shiite dictatorship under Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, lording it over the minority Sunni and Kurdish peoples, and leaning toward Iran in its foreign policy.

Whether one thinks the war was good or bad, however, had Saddam Hussein remained in power to this day, the world would likely be facing two incipient nuclear threats in the Persian Gulf, from both Iraq and Iran.

Retrospective logic holds that while President George Bush won public support for the war by falsely claiming that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq possessed threatening stocks of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), it turned out that none could be found in post-war Iraq.

And yet in the run up to hostilities, it was not only the Central Intelligence Agency that felt Iraq’s possession of such worrisome weapons was “a slam dunk,” in the words of CIA Director George Tenet, but that also was the widespread consensus in the Western intelligence community, including that of Britain, France and Israel.

US intelligence had identified a specific list of 946 suspected locations for various kinds of weapons of mass destruction, primarily chemical and biological weapons (CW and BW).

Among the leaders of the Democratic Party in the Senate, concern was also raised about his having reconstituted his WMD programs.  For example, Sen. Al Gore declared in September of 2002 that Iraq had “stored secret supplies of biological and chemical weapons throughout his country.” Sen. Hillary Clinton asserted that Saddam Hussein hoped to increase his supply of BW and CW and “to develop nuclear weapons.”  Sen. John Kerry claimed that “a deadly arsenal of weapons of mass destruction in his hands is a real and great threat of our security.” And Sen. Jay Rockefeller, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, expressed the conviction that Saddam Hussein would “likely have nuclear weapons within the next five years.”

As he was preparing public opinion for his decision to go to war, President Bush declared: “Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof–the smoking gun–that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.”

It turns out that Saddam Hussein wanted others to believe he possessed stocks of such weapons and was prepared to use them, as he had against Iran in their seven year war, and against Iraqi Kurds who were not involved in the war.  It was a strategic deception on his part, and he refused to give United Nations inspectors access to prove otherwise. Eventually that deception cost him his country and his life.

The US lacked supportive evidence of the threat. What it did have was the evidence of what had been found 12 years earlier after Desert Storm, the Persian Gulf War to drive Iraq out of Kuwait.

UN inspectors had found hundreds of gallons of VX nerve gas and hundreds of liters of such biological weapons as anthrax and botulinum toxin–all loaded into bombs and artillery shells.

It was not even suspected that Iraq had a relatively advanced nuclear weapons development program underway at that juncture. The Israelis believed that after their destruction of Iraq’s lone nuclear reactor at Osirak in 1981, that had essentially eliminated the program.

But UN inspectors were amazed to discover that Iraq had a sophisticated crash program, involving about 5,000 physicists and engineers, testing and building the wherewithal for a nuclear bomb. This included cal citrons, centrifuges, neutron initiators, high-explosive lenses and enriched uranium bomb cores.

By some estimates, it was on the verge of successfully developing a weapon.

Had Bush not gone to war in 2003, but banked on UN economic sanctions effectively dealing with the Iraqi threat, at some point it’s likely the sanctions would have been lifted, as Russia and others had long advocated.  And then Saddam Hussein would have been free to use his oil income to reconstitute his costly WMD programs.

We don’t have to speculate; that was indeed his expectation. After he was pried from his spider hole, Saddam Hussein was interviewed at length by an Arabic-speaking FBI interrogator.  He bragged that he was banking on the UN eventually ending its sanctions, after which he intended to “reconstitute” all of his weapons of mass destruction programs. For his dream was to become the hegemon of the Persian Gulf and thus a world power.

Had that result come to  pass, instead of Israel worried about Iran’s oft-repeated threat to wipe it off the face of the earth, and President Barak Obama’s vow not to allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon, leaving all options including the military one on the table, the world would today in all likelihood face two incipient nuclear threats in the volatile Middle East.

This analysis also was published in the blog of the World Policy Institute.

Commentary

What Pundits Miss about Gaza

 

The punditocracy, in analyzing the mounting belligerence between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, misses its larger strategic significance.

The TV talking heads and the amen chorus of columnists start by conceding that no nation need placidly tolerate the firing of hundreds of rockets directed at its citizens.

But they warn that Israel tried a ground assault on Gaza four years ago, only to see the threat rebuild in spades. They note also that this time, the Hamas government has a larger base of political support after the Arab Spring in Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab/Muslim world. They conclude that the two sides would be much better to agree to an extended cease fire.

All that is true. However it misses several salient points. Among them:

+ Israel is largely eliminating the retaliatory capacity from Gaza should it decide to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities within the next six months or so.

+ Ahmed al-Jabari, the top military commander of Hamas, was targeted and killed. He had cleverly planned and orchestrated the surreptitious supply of relatively sophisticated missiles from Iran through Sudan and the Sinai Peninsula and thence by way of underground tunnels into Gaza. He is also credited with helping create a weapons fabrication and assembly industry.

+ The dust up has provided Israel with the opportunity to thoroughly test its so-called Iron Dome missile defense system, designed to intercept weapons that might hit population centers and ignore those destined to fall harmlessly on vacant desert.

+ Through heavy air strikes (and potentially ground operations) Israel is attempting to eliminate most of Gaza’s stock of missiles, rockets, storage depots and manufacturing facilities. Those rockets, that is, which aren’t being fired off in anger every day.

+ No doubt strategic planners in Iran comprehend the significance of what’s underway. Conceivably, that could increase the chances, combined with biting economic sanctions, of convincing its leaders to seriously consider a diplomatic deal to hold off construction of nuclear weapons.

+ If that turns out to be the case, that would obviate the need for a preemptive assault on Iran’s nuclear infrastructure.

But Iran, which time and again has feigned a reasonable willingness to accommodate the world’s concerns about its uranium enrichment (and its accompanying missile and warhead development), only to back off and harden its stance, must be persuaded that time is running out.

There are plausible rumors that Washington and Tehran are secretly conferring on this score, outside the multilateral grouping of interested parties.  Whether the Obama Administration is believably warning that if all else fails, it will back Israel’s military preemption is hard to say.

Iran must be persuaded to accept a firm arrangement in which international inspectors would have free access to all enrichment facilities to ensure that no enrichment beyond five percent is permitted, and that stocks above that level be maintained outside its borders.

If Iran is allowed to develop an arsenal of deliverable nuclear weapons, however, this will no doubt trigger a nuclear arms race by those nations feeling threatened by Tehran or jealous of its supposed enhanced global standing as a new member of the nuclear club.

It is impossible to predict whether Iran seeks, as its rhetoric suggests, to obliterate Israel, especially given Israel’s undoubted capacity to turn Iran into an irradiated moonscape.

Countless contingencies notwithstanding, this is the larger landscape that current events in Gaza underscore.

This blog was published on Nov. 19 on the World Policy Institute blog, prior to the negotiated ceasefire. 
 

Afghanistan–A failing Strategy

By William Beecher

It is time to rip the cobwebs from our eyes and recognize that our current strategy in Afghanistan is failing miserably.

It is time to recognize that to continue on our current course will not only squander scores of additional lives of our courageous young men and billions of dollars, but also lead almost inevitably to a bloody civil war in Afghanistan after the US and NATO troops pull out in 2014.

In the eleventh year of war, it is long past due to revamp the model of Afghanistan ruled from Kabul to a more traditional,decentralized, tribal-oriented system that has characterized the country’s experience for centuries.

And it is time to bring other interested nations, which have a stake in the evolution to a more stable Afghanistan, to the planning table.

This is not a partisan matter.

Barack Obama, when he was running for president, declared that Iraq was the wrong war, but that Afghanistan was the right one. Consistent with his assertion, when he came into office he doubled down on US troop levels, twice surging additional forces into the fray.

Mitt Romney, the likely Republican challenger for the White House, contends that Obama was wrong to put a deadline on our combat presence, because that only encourages the Taliban to wait us out before vigorously pressing to reassert control.

But neither man is calling for us to transform the mission and our role in it.

In supporting the current war strategy, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney recently told reporters: “(The President) does not want American troops to be in Afghanistan any longer than they need to be to complete the mission.  It’s a clear policy with very clear goals. And it is a policy that is very clear-eyed about what our objectives are, and what can be achieved in Afghanistan.”

Really?  Clear-eyed?

Why are we there?  What national interest compelled us to war?

Clearly we’re there because al Qaeda planned, mounted and carried out the horrendous attacks of 9/11 on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. And had valiant passengers not downed a fourth hijacked airliner, that plane was destined to crash into either the White House or the Congress.

And when Mullah Mohammed Omar, the leader of the Taliban, refused our entreaties to turn over Osama bin Laden and his henchmen to the US, President George H.W. Bush decided to employ the CIA and Special Operations forces, together with tribes of the Northern Alliance, to drive not only al Qaeda but also the Taliban out of the country, into Pakistan. The premise was that we didn’t want to see al Qaeda allowed to train and scheme once again from Afghan territory.

However, since then al Qaeda has established significant bases in Pakistan, Yemen and Sudan. So that rationale makes a lot less sense.

When and why did the short-term mission become transformed into one of nation building? And why, once again, did we ignore the history, the customs, and the culture of another nation in crafting our strategy?

Initially we installed Hamid Karzai as Afghan president.  We hoped he would be the focus of a strong central government, appealing to members of the four major tribes–the Pashtun, the Tajiks, the Uzbeks and the Hazaras–to help combat the generally unpopular and feared Taliban forces and keep them from reasserting control. But the Karzai government is rife with corruption and nepotism and its minions around the country have generally not garnered public support.

Afghanistan traditionally has not had a strong central government, instead being run by militias of regional governors and warlords. Most of the Taliban’s forces come from the Pashtun tribe, which is the largest in Afghanistan, and has a strong presence as well across the border in Pakistan. The other three make up the so-called Northern Alliance, which in the fall of 2001 played the dominant role in routing the Taliban.

We ought to help the tribes reestablish local defensive militias to protect their people from a resurgent Taliban in preparation for the departure of Western troops.  In Iraq we belatedly convinced the Sunnis in Anbar province that they would be better off rejecting and defending against the al Qaeda in Iraq organization–a move that helped turn the tide of that war.

And we ought to actively explore with Pakistan, Iran, China, Russia and India–all countries with significant interest in how Afghanistan evolves–how they might contribute.

Pakistan,which we accuse of playing a double game, believes it has a strategic interest in an Afghanistan on its western border which is not only friendly but somewhat hostile to its traditional enemy, India. It originally organized, trained and armed the Taliban, largely from Pashtun students in its religious schools or madrassas. Taliban means “students” in Pashto.

Russia is especially concerned about the stream of heroin and opium from Afghanistan north. There are an estimated 2.5 million heroin addicts in Russia, with an annual overdose death toll of about 30,000. China has invested $3 billion in a copper mine in Afghanistan. Iran sees the Taliban as a threat and in the past has supported the Hazaras in Herat province on its border. India is concerned about suspected militant training camps in Afghanistan for fighters destined for Kashmir and has developed relations with some of the northern tribes.

Why not gather these countries, which have significant interests in the future of Afghanistan, to see how they might play a constructive role in a peaceful future?  When they see the entire concept for Afghanistan’s future is changing, and that they are invited to help shape that future, and at the same time serve their national self-interests, it stands to reason they would at least want to seriously explore the possibilities.

The result conceivably could be an Afghanistan made up of regional power centers, protecting and providing for the needs of their people. The government in Kabul could deal with foreign policy and other functions that the decentralized system would find useful.

Might this not promise a better outcome than seems destined today?

This blog also ran in the World Policy Council blog.

Review of William Beecher’s “Nuclear Revenge”

By David A. Andelman

If there’s one individual uniquely qualified to write about nuclear espionage, purloined dirty bombs and the post-Soviet blakmail of a paranoid American establishment, it’s William Beecher. His most recent novel, Nuclear Revenge, (Amazon/Kindle), transports us into a world of high-stakes intrigue that seems to have sprung fully-formed from Beecher’s fertile imagination.

Beecher is a veteran journalist and nuclear expert. His long career in journalism includes stints as a Pentagon and national security correspondent for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Boston Globe. Along the way, he earned a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on the nuclear arms race. Later, he served in the Defense Department and worked for ten years at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.  From spending time on the outside, then the inside, Beecher came to understand how the U.S. protects and defends its nuclear arsenal–and the awesome power that it is capable of unleashing.  In the end, however, he also came to appreciate the underside of nuclear weapons technology.

Now it’s time for him to unpack this wisdom, using it at once to educate and entertain in books intended to serve as cautionary tales. His previous novel, The Acorn Dossier, (Dailey Swan Publishing 2009) , tells the story of a bitter former Soviet military- intelligence agent who managesa to filch a file pinpointing the locations of nuclear weapons buried in various locations in America–and already known to a succession of deep-cover Soviet moles who’d waited patiently for their activation. The gripping tale proved to be disturbingly prescient, foreshadowing the saga of red-headed bombshell Anna Chapman and the handful of other Russian agents scattered across the US–in innocuous locales like Camden, New Jersey–who were unmasked for real just this part June. The damage inflicted by Chapman and her band of merry-moles appeared to consist of little more than infiltrating a few entirely banal cocktail parties and high-school soccer games.  Fortunately for the reader, Beecher’s vision is far more deadly.

Nuclear Revenge opens on the tree-lined campus of a fictioinal university in surburban Washington, DC. From the humble classroom of the narrator, a professor of journalism, the story quickly spirals into a transnational al-Qaeda plot to introduce a nuclear weapon into the United States. Beecher just happens to be an adjunct professor of journalism at the University of Maryland, teaching two interpretive writing seminars and a lecture course on the history of the Vietnam and Iraq wars. His fictional counterpart is drawn into an international conspiracy when a stunningly beautiful student, Arabella Davidov, takes a fancy to her fatherly instructor. From there, Beecher’s nuclear thriller unspools with a clever plot I won’t spoil by unraveling its many tiwsts and turns.

Suffice it to say that Nuclear Revenge revolves around the threat of a dirty bomb attack–one of the true nightmares of those who, in real life, try to keep America safe from a nuclear terrorist assault. The technology is far more primitive than a conventional, full-scale atomic weapon, and it requires far less technical sophistication to build and deploy–witness the years of ultimately unsuccessful work by such goernments as Libya, Iran and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, each with the ability to call on the vast financial resources available to oil-producing nations.

The concept of a dirty-bomb attack is far from original in the annals of contemporary spy fiction. But Beecher’s background allows him to treat the subject with more depth and accuracy than others. In the words of Leslie H. Gelb, the veteran national security columnist and later president of the Council on Foreign Relations, “The best Pentagon correspondent ever (for the New York Times) has written the best book yet about a nuclear attack on the United States. And I mean best book, fiction or non-fiction.

David A. Andelman is the editor of the  World PolicyJournal. A former foreign correspondent for The New York Times and CBS News, he is author of A Shattered Peace:Versailles 1919 and, with the Count de Maranches, longtime head of French intelligence, of The Fourth World War: Diplomacy and Espionage in the Age of terrorism.