Jim White

Iraq Crisis Puts US on Same Side With Assad, Iran Quds Force

As I pointed out two weeks ago, US foreign and military policy is now so muddled that the primary response to any ongoing crisis is to choose a side to arm without thought to the inevitable blowback that will come from trying to pick winners and losers in otherwise internal affairs of far-flung countries. As the meltdown of the US-trained Iraqi military accelerates, we now see a situation whose supreme irony would be hilarious if only so many lives were not senselessly caught in the crossfire. Two developments of that sort stand out today.

First is the news that Syrian aircraft have carried out a strike against ISIS targets inside Iraq. Because Iraq has been pleading with the US to carry out attacks of this sort, it appears that early reports first assumed that US drones had been involved:

Syrian government aircraft bombed Sunni militant targets inside Iraq on Tuesday, further broadening the Middle Eastern crisis a day after Israeli warplanes and rockets struck targets inside Syria.

Iraqi state media initially reported that the attacks near Iraq’s western border with Syria were carried out by U.S. drones, a claim that was quickly and forcefully denied by the Pentagon.

Think about that one for a minute. Last fall, the US was agonizing over how to find and arm only those groups fighting the Assad government in Syria that are “moderate” so that we didn’t arm the then fledgling ISIS group. But now, inside Iraq, state media is initially unable to distinguish an action taken by Assad from one taken by the US. That is, Assad, whom we are fighting inside Syria, is on our side inside Iraq.

The second development is a pairing of US interests with one we have been fighting for a much longer time. The New York Times brings us the latest on Iranian assistance to Iraq in its struggle against ISIS. The initial part of the report seems routine:

Iran is flying surveillance drones over Iraq from an airfield in Baghdad and is secretly supplying Iraq with tons of military equipment, supplies and other assistance, American officials said. Tehran has also deployed an intelligence unit there to intercept communications, the officials said.

The secret Iranian programs are part of a broader effort by Tehran to gather intelligence and help Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s government in its struggle against Sunni militants with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

But when the Times drills down to detail on how the assistance is being delivered, we get into more strange times:

Gen. Qassim Suleimani, the head of Iran’s paramilitary Quds Force, has visited Iraq at least twice to help Iraqi military advisers plot strategy. And Iran has deployed about a dozen other Quds Force officers to advise Iraqi commanders, and help mobilize more than 2,000 Shiite militiamen from southern Iraq, American officials said.

Wait. Iran’s IGRC, and especially its Quds Force, is supposed to be still absolutely opposed to the US and even drops comments trying to disrupt the P5+1 negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program now and then. And yet, here they are, sending their head to Iraq to prop up al-Maliki as well as sending “about a dozen other Quds Force officers to advise Iraqi commanders”. Hmm. Advisers. That sounds familiar. Returning to the Washington Post story cited above: Continue reading

The Petraeus Failure Legacy in Iraq Grows

There are of course many people to blame for the war crime of US invasion of Iraq, but David Petraeus’ role as the falsely constructed hero of Iraq who in reality was the author of some of its most profound failures stands out. Recall the heady days of the fall of 2007 when Washington was paralyzed by the Congressional hearings on Iraq. Washington had already forgotten Petraeus’ false claims of training prowess in his September, 2004 Washington Post op-ed that launched his career in a political direction and helped Bush get re-elected. Instead, Petraeus was granted a mulligan on troop training and was promoted to head US troops in Iraq to preside over the surge so that his vaunted “new” COIN strategy could be implemented. Petraeus then of course was given credit for that COIN strategy being behind the decline in violence, even though we learned from Lt. Col. Daniel Davis and others that the drop in violence was more likely due to Iraqi Sunnis turning to the US because of the excessive brutality of al Qaeda in Iraq.

Sadly, with all the Washington circus atmosphere surrounding the hearings and the Move-On Betrayus ad, a key document prepared by the GAO (pdf) was all but ignored during the hearings.  There were in fact 18 benchmarks for the Iraq war effort outlined in the legislation passed in January of 2007 authorizing the surge. The opening of the document provides the most telling one sentence summary of what the US hoped to achieve at the time:

The January 2007 U.S. strategy seeks to provide the Iraqi government with the time and space needed to help Iraqi society reconcile.

Although the vaunted Petreaus COIN strategy paid lip service to winning “hearts and minds”, the sad reality is that the US spent zero effort on achieving any sort of social reconciliation in Iraq. The huge Sunni-Shia schism remained intact and was even further fed by the US’ hand-picked Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki. On the list of benchmarks from the legislation, unlucky number 13 held the key:

Reducing the level of sectarian violence in Iraq and eliminating militia control of local security.

Needless to say, the GAO found that particular benchmark unmet in September, 2007 and it remains unmet today as Sunni extremist ISIS troops gain territory throughout Iraq while al-Maliki’s Shia forces melt away. A tremendous window opened for reconciliation when the Sunni militias abandoned al Qaeda in Iraq and joined with the US, but these groups were given no standing by al-Maliki, who even continued to send his Shia-dominated military into Sunni regions, laying groundwork for local support once ISIS came into the picture.

But it is Petraeus’ failure as the leading figure behind the training of Iraq’s forces that stands out today. From the New York Times:

Recent assessments by Western officials and military experts indicate that about a quarter of Iraq’s military forces are “combat ineffective,” its air force is minuscule, morale among troops is low and its leadership suffers from widespread corruption.

As other nations consider whether to support military action in Iraq, their decision will hinge on the quality of Iraqi forces, which have proved far more ragged than expected given years of American training.

The Washington Post piles on with more bad news:

After tens of thousands of desertions, the Iraqi military is reeling from what one U.S. official described as “psychological collapse” in the face of the offensive from militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

The desperation has reached such a level that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is relying on volunteers, who are in some cases receiving as little as a week’s military training, to protect his ever-shrinking orbit of control.

“Over time, what’s occurred is that the Iraqi army has no ability to defend itself,” said Rick Brennan, a Rand Corp. analyst and former adviser to U.S. forces in Iraq. “If we’re unable to find ways to make a meaningful difference to the Iraqi army as they fight this, I think what we’re looking at is the beginning of the disintegration of the state of Iraq.”

In the end, all of the years and the billions of dollars spent on “training” Iraqi forces has given a force that is “combat ineffective’, “far more ragged than expected” and melts away at the first sign of resistance.  But wait. Any day now, we will see that those 300 “advisers” we are sending into Iraq will magically train a new force that will get it right this time. Who knows, maybe Petraeus will be given yet another chance to lead that training. What could go wrong?

US Foreign Policy in a NUTshell

This partial screen capture from the “World” section of today’s New York Times really needs no further explanation of the incompetence of US diplomats and military strategists:

What could go wrong.

There simply are no words to adequately describe the insanity at work here. Even as each misadventure winds down in disastrous fashion, the new ones follow the same perverted script.

Breaking Point: Media Finally Reporting on Violence Tied to Right Wing Extremism

In April of Barack Obama’s first year in office, right wing America had a collective meltdown when the Department of Homeland Security dared to write a report (pdf) on right wing extremism and the domestic terrorists that could be tied to the movement. Michelle Malkin went into a full mouth froth, declaring that the report was an Obama DHS hit job on conservatives. ABC was quick to join in, documenting more of the responses of “conservatives”. Sadly, Obama and the DHS backed down meekly and the concept was quickly scrubbed from public debate.

But attacks carried out by the very types of right wing radicals described in the report have continued. The toll from these attacks appears to have gotten high enough that the media finally has found its voice again and is willing to document the carnage while connecting the dots. After the deadly shootings at a Jewish center in the Kansas City area in April of this year, Peter Bergen and David Sterman penned an op-ed piece carried by CNN. They dared title the piece “U.S. right wing extremists more deadly than jihadists” and produced documentation to back up their damning headline:

In fact, since 9/11 extremists affiliated with a variety of far-right wing ideologies, including white supremacists, anti-abortion extremists and anti-government militants, have killed more people in the United States than have extremists motivated by al Qaeda’s ideology. According to a count by the New America Foundation, right wing extremists have killed 34 people in the United States for political reasons since 9/11. (The total includes the latest shootings in Kansas, which are being classified as a hate crime).

By contrast, terrorists motivated by al Qaeda’s ideology have killed 21 people in the United States since 9/11.

With Sunday’s killing of two policemen and a “good guy with a gun” in Las Vegas by another pair of right wing extremists, Paul Waldman was able to take to the blog pages of the Washington Post to tie these violent attacks to the venom-filled rhetoric of the right:

But what I am saying is this: there are some particular features of conservative political rhetoric today that help create an atmosphere in which violence and terrorism can germinate.

The most obvious component is the fetishization of firearms and the constant warnings that government will soon be coming to take your guns. But that’s only part of it. Just as meaningful is the conspiracy theorizing that became utterly mainstream once Barack Obama took office. If you tuned into one of many national television and radio programs on the right, you heard over and over that Obama was imposing a totalitarian state upon us. You might hear that FEMA was building secret concentration camps (Glenn Beck, the propagator of that theory, later recanted it, though he has a long history of violent rhetoric), or that Obama is seeding the government with agents of the Muslim Brotherhood. You grandfather probably got an email offering proof that Obama is literally the antichrist.

Writing over at the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Charles Blair brings us the sobering math on the recent growth of these radical groups: Continue reading

NY Times, Reuters Whitewash US Drone Strike Killing of Mehsud From Taliban Reasons for Karachi Airport Attack

Karachi’s Airport has resumed operations today, but a deadly late night attack shut it down for many hours overnight. It appears that ten militants entered the airport Sunday night, most likely uniformed as airport security personnel, and killed up to 18 people before they were killed by airport security and rapidly responding military units. The TTP, Pakistan’s Taliban, has claimed responsibility for the attack. The New York Times and Reuters, however, chose to be very selective in how they reported the TTP’s claim of responsibility. Both news outlets left out the TTP’s prominent mention of the US drone strike in November that killed TTP leader Hakimullah Mehsud in describing the TTP’s reasons for the attack. By contrast, AP and the Washington Post included the TTP’s reference to the drone strike.

Here is how the Post article opens:

Heavily armed gunmen disguised as security forces attacked Karachi’s international airport Sunday night, killing at least 18 people before government troops regained control early Monday. The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the assault, which appeared to dash hopes for peace talks.

The government said all 10 of the attackers were killed in more than five hours of fighting at the airport, which would bring the total number of deaths to 28. A doctor at Karachi’s Jinnah Hospital said 18 bodies were brought to the morgue there and that 11 of the dead were airport security personnel, the Associated Press reported. The bodies of the attackers remained in police custody.

In a statement Monday, Shahidullah Shahid, a spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban, said the attack was in response to recent Pakistani military airstrikes in northwestern Pakistan and to a U.S. drone strike in November that killed Hakimullah Mehsud, the leader of the radical Islamist group.

Shahid added the attack should be viewed as a sign that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s efforts to engage the group in peace talks had failed.

“The message to the Pakistani government is that we are still alive to react to the killings of innocent people in bomb attacks on their villages,” said Shahid, adding the attack followed months of intensive planning.

The AP article twice mentions the attack as in response to the drone killing of Mehsud, and although it mentions Pakistan’s airstrikes in the tribal regions after peace talks broke off, it doesn’t tie those air strikes to the TTP reasons for the attack. The Times and Reuters, in contrast, only tie the attack to the air strikes and not to the Mehsud drone strike. From the Times:

 The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility Monday for a ferocious overnight assault in Karachi that stretched into the morning in which gunmen infiltrated Pakistan’s largest international airport and waged an extended firefight against security forces that resulted in 29 deaths and shook the country’s already fragile sense of security.

The attack “was a response to the recent attacks by the government,” Shahidullah Shahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, said by telephone. “We will continue carrying out such attacks.” He insisted, however, that the group was seeking to resuscitate peace talks with the government.

And from Reuters:

The Pakistani Taliban, an alliance of insurgent groups fighting to topple the government and set up a sharia state, said they carried out the attack in response to air strikes on their strongholds near the Afghan border and suggested their mission was to hijack a passenger plane.

“It is a message to the Pakistan government that we are still alive to react over the killings of innocent people in bomb attacks on their villages,” said Shahidullah Shahid, a Taliban spokesman.

“The main goal of this attack was to damage the government, including by hijacking planes and destroying state installations.”

Pakistan’s Dawn News gives the broader range of TTP explanations:

The TTP further said: “It’s just the beginning, we have taken revenge for one (Mehsud), we have to take revenge for hundreds.”

/snip/

Shahidullah Shahid moreover dismissed the Pakistani government’s peace talks methodology as a “tool of war”.

Shahidullah Shahid said the attack was planned much earlier but had been postponed due to the peace talks.

The TTP spokesman in a statement issued to the media said that the attack was also carried out to avenge the killing of Hakimullah Mehsud in a US drone strike.

“We carried out this attack on the Karachi airport and it is a message to the Pakistani government that we are still alive to react over the killings of innocent people in bomb attacks on their villages,” TTP spokesman Shahidullah Shahid said.

Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was revenge for the army’s air strikes in areas along the Afghan border where the insurgents are based.

By citing only Pakistan’s air strikes against the TTP, the New York Times and Reuters portray the Karachi airport attack as a problem that is solely due to politics internal to Pakistan. That is a gross misrepresentation of the situation, as the US drone strike on Hakimullah Mehsud came at an extremely critical time when the peace talks first began to look like a concrete possibility. That US strike was a huge external intervention by the US and clearly put Pakistan on a path to even more bloodshed. At least the Washington Post and AP allow their readers to see that blowback for US intervention played a significant role in this attack.

Dunford Declares Taliban’s Political Space “Significantly Reduced” on Day of Their Biggest Propaganda Win

I often note how the US military, throughout its nearly 13 year quagmire in Afghanistan, continues to spout “we’re winning” messages when it is clear that the entire effort has been an utter failure from the start. Juxtaposing a story in today’s Washington Post with another in today’s New York Times shows how the military’s rosy statements are devoid of all connection to reality on the ground.

The Post story centers on the military, with Joseph Dunford in the lead, filling in more details on projected troop staffing levels in Afghanistan beyond the end of this year. The article ends with this gem:

U.S. and NATO officials described a Taliban force that has been greatly debilitated since the beginning of this year and pointed to the successful first round of Afghanistan’s presidential election in April as a defeat for the militants. The top two vote-getters are competing in next week’s runoff to succeed President Hamid Karzai, who has refused to sign the bilateral security and status-of-forces agreements.

“In the wake of the election, for the first time . . . the Taliban are on the defensive in the information space,” the senior military official said. For 10 years, he said, the Taliban has had two messages — that the United States was occupying their country and ultimately would abandon it. In the wake of the turnover of combat operations to Afghan national forces over the past year, and Obama’s announcement for the future, those messages have less resonance, the official said. The coalition has made clear, the official said, that we “won’t fall off the cliff at the end of 2014.”

Dunford described “friction” within the Taliban and said that although the militants are still carrying out lethal attacks against Afghan forces, “if you compare the political space of the Taliban, it’s significantly reduced.”

Okay, then. The Taliban is “greatly debilitated”, are “on the defensive in the information space” and are “significantly reduced” in “the political space”. Yet, on the very day that Dunford and a “senior military officer” made such outrageous claims, the Taliban were happily scoring their biggest propaganda victory of the entire war in Afghanistan. From the Times:

The Taliban seem loose, almost offhand, on camera as they wait for the American Black Hawk to land. Two fighters walk their hostage, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, out to American troops, greeting their enemies eye to eye as they quickly shake hands. They wave as the Americans retreat back to the chopper.

In their viral video to the world on Wednesday, framing dramatic images of their transaction with the United States with music, commentary and context, the Taliban scored their biggest hit yet after years of effort to improve their publicity machine — one bent on portraying them as the legitimate government of Afghanistan in exile.

Within hours of the video’s release, the Taliban website where it was posted was overwhelmed with traffic and the page hosting it crashed, according to Zabiullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the insurgents. The video has since been uploaded in dozens of different versions on YouTube.

It is the product of a Taliban propaganda effort that has grown increasingly savvy.

It’s hard to imagine a better example of how the US has lost all credibility when it comes to describing conditions in Afghanistan. Granted, the statements in the Post stem initially from claims made around the election going “smoothly“, but the sweeping statements quoted clearly are meant to apply to the Taliban’s situation generally, not just regarding the election. But the Taliban even covered that:

And they suggested that they had purposefully held back on attacking civilians on election day in April, and that Afghans should trust the Taliban over a government being chosen by Western ways.

We can only wonder how Dunford and his associates will ever be able to top this one.

Will Successful Bergdahl Negotiations Get US-Taliban Peace Negotiations Going Again?

This weekend’s swap of Bowe Bergdahl for five Afghan Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo has triggered responses on a large number of fronts. For now, I will leave it to others to sort through whether Obama was required to inform Congress, whether the move provides incentive to the Taliban to capture more prisoners and whether Bergdahl was a deserter. Instead, I want to focus on the fact that this prisoner exchange stands as a significant accomplishment in negotiation among parties who have seen previous attempts at negotiation fail.

Recall that back in early 2012, we first learned that the Afghan Taliban was opening an office in Qatar:

The Taliban said in a surprise announcement last week they had reached a preliminary agreement to set up a political address in Qatar and asked for the release of prisoners held by the U.S. military at Guantanamo Bay.

So the release of Afghan Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo was at the top of the list for setting up the office in Qatar and beginning negotiations. It is also important to note that the Haqqani Network, who held Bergdahl in Pakistan, was also to be included in the talks at the same time that the opening for negotiations was first noted and that Pakistan helped to move things along:

The US has taken Pakistan into confidence over the unprecedented development of allowing the Taliban a political office in Qatar to advance the Afghan reconciliation process, sources revealed.

A senior Pakistani official stated that the Obama administration not only sought Pakistan’s consent over the Taliban office but had also given a ‘green light’ to allow the deadliest Afghan insurgent group, the Haqqani network, to be a part of the reconciliation process.

The move by Washington was a clear deflection from its previous policy of keeping Islamabad at bay over its peace overtures with the Afghan Taliban.

“Yes, we were onboard,” said the senior Pakistani official referring to the latest push by Washington to seek a political settlement of the Afghan conflict.

The process suffered a major setback when the office was found to be flying the flag the Taliban used when they ruled Afghanistan and when the sign on the door seemed to suggest that the Taliban felt they were still the legitimate governing body. Hamid Karzai threw a huge fit over that development, and even though his government hadn’t been invited to the talks, he managed to stall the process. About a year and a half later, things settled down a bit and the provocative sign and flag were removed.

In today’s New York Times, we are warned not to infer that the prisoner swap means that additional talks look likely: Continue reading

Graphing the Afghanistan Surge Out of Existence

On Wednesday, Jason Leopold tweeted this image that had been released by the White House:

What surge?

What surge?

Marcy quickly responded, “Funny how you can graph surge out of existence.” 

So how did the White House make Obama’s surge of troops into Afghanistan disappear? Consider this graph of troop levels in Afghanistan, where we see the surge of US troops into Afghanistan standing out clearly:

Afghanistan troop levels.

Afghanistan troop levels.

This graph shows what we are used to seeing for Afghanistan, where troop levels were only around 35,000 when Obama took office in 2009 and surged to almost 100,000 in 2010, remaining at that level through most of 2011, as well. So how did the White House hide this surge in their feel-good “bringing home the troops” message? They did it by making the graph include both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Here are the troop levels for Iraq:

Iraq troop levels.

Iraq troop levels.

There were around 150,000 US troops in Iraq when Obama took office and by the time his Afghanistan surge (remember, Obama campaigned about Afghanistan being the “good war”) reached its peak in late 2010, Iraq troop levels had dropped to around 50,000 (although Obama waved his hand and declared that these were no longer “combat troops”). So, with a net loss of 100,000 troops  in Iraq during the same time period, the White House was able to make it appear that the surge of about 65,000 troops into Afghanistan never happened.

Maybe next week the White House can graph that pesky inequality of capital distribution out of existence. I’m sure it will make us all feel richer.

Albright Drops Pretense of Neutrality, Goes All In With MEK Terrorists

I have long criticized David Albright for his behavior in helping those who have tried to fan the flames over the years for a war with Iran. His role usually consists of providing technical “analysis” that somehow always works to support the latest allegations from sources (most often identified as diplomats) who selectively feed information to either AP reporter George Jahn or Reuters reporter Fredrik Dahl. As the P5+1 group of countries and Iran have moved closer and closer to achieving a final deal on Iran’s nuclear program, the Iran war hawks are growing more and more desperate. That desperation this week has resulted in David Albright dropping all pretense of being a neutral technical analyst and joining forces with the terrorist group MEK in slinging new, unsubstantiated allegations about Iran’s nuclear program.

On Tuesday, Albright published a strange document (pdf) on Iran’s nuclear program at his Institute for Science and International Security website. Also on Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal published an editorial that included a quote from Albright.

The reason I say that Albright’s document at the ISIS website is strange is that the document is simply titled “Spin, Spin, Spin” and, after the author list (Andrea Stricker joins him in the byline), the document puts a very strange quotation right after the dateline:

“The bigger the lie…”

The “Spin, Spin, Spin” title could be excused as a clever pun if the article’s topic were the centrifuges that Iran uses for enrichment of uranium. Instead, the topic is exploding bridge wire detonators. The title is a complete dismissal of everything that Iran has to say about the detonators, ascribing it to spin rather than fact. But then Albright and Stricker move beyond the mere spin accusation all the way to accusing Iran of lying–before they lay out a single bit evidence to support their allegation.

The document opens by attacking press coverage of Iran beginning to discuss EBW’s with the IAEA:

Media reporting immediately following the release of the IAEA’s safeguards report focused on Iran’s willingness to discuss the exploding bridge wire (EBW) detonators. That is certainly good news, but did Iran resolve the IAEA’s concern? The answer has to be no or probably not. This fact was only lightly covered in the media over the weekend. Some misinterpreted Iran’s willingness to discuss the issue with making progress on it. One group at least even went so far as to declare that Iran had “halted nuclear activities in the areas of greatest proliferation concern and rolled back its program in other key areas.” But if Iran continues to work on aspects of nuclear weapons, as the IAEA worries, then it is necessary to reserve judgment on that question.

After a while, the document moves on to the accusation that Iran is lying:

So, while it is significant that Iran has been willing to talk about this issue for the first time since 2008 when it unilaterally ended cooperation over the matter, the key consideration is whether Iran is actually addressing the IAEA’s concerns. More plainly, is it telling the truth? The EBW issue must be taken in the context of the large amount of evidence collected by Western intelligence agencies and the IAEA over many years, detailed in the annex to the November 2011 safeguards report, indicating EBWs were part of a nuclear weapon design effort and military nuclear program. From that perspective, Iran has not answered this issue adequately and appears to have simply elevated the level of its effort to dissemble.

Ah, so Albright is basing the accusation of lying on the “evidence…detailed in the annex to the November 2011 safeguards report”. Okay then. Never mind that the annex, based almost exclusively on the “laptop of death” has been pretty thoroughly debunked and seems likely to be a product of forgery. About seven and a half years ago, some dirty hippie figured out that the most likely source of this forgery was the MEK. One can only wonder how Albright has gone from being enough of a scientist to seeing the holes in the forgery to even be quoted by Gareth Porter in a 2010 debunking of the data to now throwing his entire weight (while apparently deciding to throw away his entire reputation) behind the allegations.

The full extent of Albright’s loss of intellectual honesty becomes clear when we look at the Wall Street Journal editorial. At least the Journal is open about its latest round of accusations coming directly from the MEK: Continue reading

Did Obama’s Handling of Karzai When Visiting Kabul Put Bilateral Security Agreement at Risk?

Demonstrating once again that electoral politics trumps all other considerations for his administration, Barack Obama mostly went along with the military’s recommendation (successful US political campaigns NEVER contradict the military) on troop levels in Afghanistan after this year, announcing a force size of 9800 after the military had requested 10,000 to 12,000 troops. Even the one instance of bucking military hawks comes from an electoral standpoint, as he announced that the force size will be cut in half after a year and then taken to only a handful by the end of 2016, which magically coincides with when Obama expects to triumphantly ride off into the sunset. Republicans are upset about an announced end to the troop presence, rather than allowing “conditions on the ground”, which is shorthand for letting the military do what it damn well pleases, to dictate force levels, but Obama seems to think that putting the end of our troop presence just before the next presidential election will get troops out at the one time electoral blowback will be minimized.

Obama’s announcement came with a large helping of arrogance in the handling of his invitation to meet with Karzai during the surprise visit to Kabul over the weekend. Although Obama fully intended his poor treatment of Karzai, he seems to have raised the ire of many more Afghans with his actions. Will that put the Bilateral Security Agreement, on which his troop size plan depends, at risk? From Khaama Press:

President Hamid Karzai was praised by Afghans for rejecting the invitation by President Barack Obama to meet him in Bagram air base.

A last-minute invitation was sent to President Karzai to come to Bagram air base as Obama arrived to Afghanistan on Sunday following an unannounced visit to meet with the US troops.

White House officials said, “We did offer him the opportunity to come to Bagram, but we’re not surprised that it didn’t work on short notice.”

Obama’s plan on troop levels is fully dependent on the winner of next month’s presidential runoff signing the Bilateral Security Agreement that Karzai has refused to sign. Although both Abdullah and Ghani have said they will sign it, their responses to the handling of Karzai are very interesting. Returning to the same Khaama Press article:

In the meantime, Abdullah Abdullah, one of the leading candidates in Afghanistan’s presidential race, said the decision by President Karzai not to go to Bagram was “respectful to the people of Afghanistan.”

Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, one of the other leading candidates, told Wall Street Journal in an interview that he wasn’t privy to the security discussions surrounding Mr. Obama’s visit.

Some Afghans saw the episode as a deliberate snub and said the U.S. leader didn’t respect diplomatic protocol.

Ghani said, “We do understand security concerns, but adhering to protocol helps cementing relationships.”

Obama has set himself up for a huge problem here. It looks as though both Abdullah and Ghani are indicating that they expect to be treated with the respect due to the office of President. Should Obama continue his cavalier attitude of simply assuming the BSA will be signed once the winner is sworn into office, he could be in for a big surprise.

On the other hand, there are still the four billion US dollars every year that come with our continued presence (and all the attendant opportunities for embezzlement), so perhaps in the end Obama can continue his arrogance without fear of consequences. With that in mind, the role of that final handful of military personnel to be left in Afghanistan after 2016 stands out. From the Washington Post article linked above:

At the end of that year, the force will shrink to the size of a regular armed forces assistance group, largely to handle military sales, under the authority of the U.S. ambassador.

Even after our troops are gone, the US will do everything it can to keep enriching military contractors.

Emptywheel Twitterverse
emptywheel OOPs: Euro Court of Human Rights ruled POLAND facilitated US torture of Abu Zubaydah. http://t.co/1UovGixH2n (Earlier tweet deleted).
7mreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz Skimmed by Olbermann on ESPN2. Gotta say, Frank Caliendo is still the least funny guy in sports today. He has never been funny. #Stop
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bmaz @LittleMsHaldol @ThisIsJoshSmith Well, right back at you, you human pig.
7hreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz @espinsegall @rickhasen @MikeSacksEsq Are you new to Kozinski?? That is not a shocker at all.
8hreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz RT @themarkberman: Account by @azcentral reporter who witnessed the execution: "I counted about 660 times he gasped." http://t.co/fjvkp0vA6r
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bmaz @Greg651 @rickhasen Seemingly, but it is not inconsistent if you go back even further into the 90's Kozinski navel gazing on DP. Still same.
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bmaz @rickhasen @espinsegall @MikeSacksEsq Heh, yeah, I didn't think so! Kozinski has always had a complex view, but never anti. Still not anti.
8hreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz @Greg651 Thank you for sending that my way. Pretty much exactly what I expected.
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bmaz I warned people not to take Alex Kozinski's words in Wood dissent as evincing new anti-DP stance. I was right. http://t.co/6sGNEaOqmH
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bmaz @ericghill Please, don't confuse "All Things Considered" with this twit's stuff
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bmaz @afc1969 @ThisIsJoshSmith Yeah, maybe not. Not sure what happened, but the tweet was asinine and crass. To be kind.
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bmaz @afc1969 I have no idea why Twitter reflected it was dead. I don't think I miscopied it, but it is certainly possible.
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