NOVEL: ARABELLA UNDERCOVER

My sixth novel focuses on Arabella, a beautiful, adventurous young blonde, who was recruited by the FBI. After two boring years of routine assignments,she finally is given an important undercover mission:to infiltrate a Hezbollah terrorist ring being established for the first time in the United States. Hezbollah is based in Lebanon, but is funded and in part directed by Iranian intelligence. She is extensively prepared for the assignment academically and even has her appearance dulled down to be able to get a job as a teaching assistant to a Muslim professor,suspected of being the ringleader.

Being headstrong and determined to succeed in her first major assignment, she takes risks against the advice of her superiors and very nearly loses her life when her cover is blown. But being fast-thinking and resourceful, she manages to help bring down the terrorist cell before it can implement its bloody plans, which could have produced far more casualties than the 3,000 lost on 9/11.

Arabella was first introduced in my fourth novel, NUCLEAR REVENGE. Several readers were so intrigued, they urged me to further explore her character in a future book. Thus ARABELLA UNDERCOVER.

GAZA THROUGH A STRATEGIC PRISM

Viewed through a strategic prism, the Israeli military campaign against Hamas in Gaza may be much more ambitious than appears in the public dialogue.

Publicly, the Israelis say they must halt the firing of rockets aimed at their population centers. This requires destroying rocket factories, arms depots and launch sites. An ancillary objective is to demolish tunnels from Gaza that allow gunmen to sneak into Israel, and tunnels from Sinai that allow fresh weapons and key supplies into Gaza.

Were it not for the Iron Dome air defense system, the 1500 rockets that have already been fired from Gaza would by now have caused hundreds if not thousands of casualties.

The Israelis have felt forced to stage Gaza military operations repeatedly but that only buys a respite of two or three years.

They need to attempt a strategic game-changer. Although Israeli leaders do not say so, it appears they may have decided to stay in Gaza long enough to decimate the Hamas leadership and infrastructure so decisively, that the Palestinian Authority might be capable of winning popular control over the Gaza Strip as it already possesses over the
West Bank.

If that could be accomplished, not only would there not be a periodic threat of massive rocket launches, but it conceivably might open the way in time to a two-state negotiated peace settlement.

There are three new factors that have not been in play during previous Israeli campaigns in Gaza.

First, there was the attempted establishment of a unity government between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, which some Western states were beginning to pressure Israel to work with. But the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers, allegedly by Hamas, undermined that prospect, and the retribution killing of a Palestinian youngster helped to trigger the war that is currently underway.

Secondly, for the first time in history, the Egyptian government is neither neutral toward or actively supportive of Hamas. The new government in Cairo is attempting to obliterate the Moslem Brotherhood and regards Hamas as an offshoot of the Brotherhood and thus an enemy.

And finally, the downing of a Malaysian commercial airliner by a sophisticated Russian surface-to-air missile over eastern Ukraine has understandably taken the focus of the news and world attention away from the bloodshed in Gaza. Who would have imagined that this week’s Sunday New York Times would not have a single story on the Gaza operation on page one?

What that means is that as world leaders and opinion makers argue about what additional economic and diplomatic pressures can be applied against Vladimir Putin to attempt to get him to pull in his horns in Ukraine, there will be considerably less pressure on Israel to cut short its operations in Gaza. Thus it may be afforded more time to try to accomplish its strategic objectives.

Is this the course that Israeli military and political leaders are covertly following? They can’t say so publicly, because if they fall short, the whole campaign would be labeled a serious defeat. But to pursue a game=changing strategy would seem to make a lot of sense.
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This blog was also published in the blog of the World Policy Institute.

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.

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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.

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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.”