Foreign Policy

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Kerry Castigates Putin For Using US Strategy of Training, Arming Rebels

So far, I have suffered no ill effects from this outdated beer.

So far, I have suffered no ill effects from this outdated beer.

Aside from the fact that the only craft beer served at the National Security Caucus session at Netroots Nation 2014 was an outdated California beer rather than a local Michigan beer, it was a session marked by interesting discussion. I received quite a bit of support during that discussion for noting that the US response to any crisis anywhere, for far too long, has been simply to ask “Which group should we arm?”. Further, I noted, as we had heard in the “Iran: Diplomacy or War?” session, there is reason for optimism among those of us who favor diplomacy over violence in the successful removal and ongoing destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons rather than the missile strikes the US had been planning and in the remaining strong possibility of a diplomatic solution to the Iran nuclear technology issue instead of a war to destroy the technology. I illustrated that point by mentioning the tragic downing of MH17 and how that demonstrated the folly of training and arming rebel groups that often veer into extremist actions that result in atrocities. That point ties to the mad push to arm Syria’s rebels with the shorter range MANPAD antiaircraft missiles even though they are less powerful than the Buk missile that took down MH17. As I noted, will Syrian “moderates” promise us never to take the MANPADS to a site where civilian aircraft are within range, and would there be any reason to believe such a promise?

In executing his Full Ginsburg yesterday, US Secretary of State John Kerry reached new heights of hypocrisy, as he went from Sunday morning talk show to talk show, proclaiming the evils of Russian actions in Ukraine. The evils for which Kerry is castigating Putin are precisely the evils that the US has been unleashing on the world in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria and beyond. From today’s New York Times:

 In presenting the most detailed case yet alleging Russia’s involvement in the Ukraine crisis, Secretary of State John Kerry said on Sunday that Russia had funneled large quantities of heavy weapons to Ukrainian separatists and trained them how to operate SA-11 antiaircraft missiles, the type of system that is believed to have been used to shoot down the Malaysian airliner over eastern Ukraine.

“We know for certain that the separatists have a proficiency that they’ve gained by training from Russians as to how to use these sophisticated SA-11 systems,” Mr. Kerry said on the CNN program “State of the Union.”

Just as when CIA Director John Brennan got his panties in a wad over al Qaeda training death squads in Syria after we had trained our own death squads to send there, Kerry is now saying that Russia choosing a group to arm and train is a horrible thing even though he has been instrumental in helping the Obama administration to do the exact same thing in other areas.

And just as the US now faces problems in its upcoming training of Iraqi troops because of the previous failures in training Iraqi troops, there is reason to believe that the atrocity of MH17 may be due in part to failed training by the Russians. From today’s Washington Post:

Meanwhile, in Kiev, the U.S. Embassy said American intelligence analysts had confirmed the authenticity of recorded conversations in which rebel leaders bragged about shooting down what they thought was a Ukrainian military transport plane moments after the Malaysian jetliner was blown apart.

So even though the separatists are good at using the missiles to blow aircraft out of the sky (the Times article notes they have downed “almost a dozen Ukrainian transport planes, reconnaissance aircraft and helicopters”), it would appear that they haven’t quite worked out that whole target verification thing and that this tragedy may not have been an intentional targeting of civilians as much as it is a training failure. But yes, the Russians own a large portion of this tragedy, as the evidence seems strong that they provided the weapon along with instructions on firing it (if not the full lesson on target verification). And their tactics in doing do were taken directly from the US playbook, all the way down to the training being an abject failure.

Why Challenge the Washington Consensus Now?

A number of outlets are reporting on the BRICS move to establish a competitor to the World Bank.

The so-called BRICS countries agreed to form an international development bank with aspirations to challenge the dominance of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

Leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa said Tuesday that the New Development Bank will start with $50 billion in capital and $100 billion as a currency reserve fund for liquidity crises. Operating details still need to be resolved.

Still, the BRICS bank, which could add more member nations, represents a bid to expand the influence of the BRICS emerging markets and act as a counterbalance to institutions run by the U.S. and other developed nations, experts said.

“This is about the consolidation of BRICS 2.0,” said Marcos Troyjo, professor of international and public affairs at Columbia University and co-director of the BRICLab Center. “If BRICS 1.0 was about capturing investor attention to the scale of their economic relevance, BRICS 2.0 is about embarking on institution building.”

I absolutely understand the reason for the move. These large countries have been demanding more influence over the World Bank for years, to no avail. And US policies like Quantitative Easing have been really damaging to some of the countries, particularly Brazil. Though, this move may well come too late for Brazil and certainly for Dilma Roussef.

“I don’t think that if Brazil was now to be thinking about these plans from the drawing board, it would really be thinking about a Brics development bank,” says James Lockhart-Smith, a Latin America risk analyst at Maplecroft in New York. “It would be more focused on restarting growth in the country.”

But at a time of slow growth, Brazil probably needs these economies on side more than ever. Add to that, trade with economically troubled Argentina – traditionally one of its biggest trading partners – has become more difficult in recent years.

So while I understand the move, I wonder why now — aside from the fact that the World Cup provided a handy excuse for a meeting in Rio de Janeiro. It may be too late for Dilma, and India’s new neoliberal Prime Minister Narenda Modi seems like an odd fit for the group.

Meanwhile, consider this. While Russia won’t get any of the big perks in the new bank (it will be headquartered in Shanghai, India will pick the first President, Brazil will pick the first Chairman, and the bank will be denominated in — really! — dollars), Putin was also making other interesting moves in the hemisphere, at least according to RT (definitely click through for Putin’s expression, which surely is staged to be that stern).

Moscow and Havana have reportedly reached an agreement on reopening the SIGINT facility in Lourdes, Cuba – once Russia’s largest foreign base of this kind – which was shut down in 2001 due to financial problems and under US pressure.

[snip]

Russia considered reopening the Lourdes base since 2004 and has sealed a deal with Cuba last week during the visit of the Russian President Vladimir Putin to the island nation, reports Kommersant business daily citing multiple sources.

Russia shut down the base to more easily reschedule debt held by the US. Along with reopening the base, Russia will forgive a bunch of outstanding Cuban debt to Russia.

The timing of this — a year after Snowden’s disclosures, but more importantly, as the US continues to try increasingly unilateral sanctions against Russia’s involvement in Ukraine — makes a ton of sense. The US refuses to believe it can’t impose its will in Ukraine, in spite of increasing reluctance from our European partners, especially Germany, to ratchet up the pressure. Reopening a front in America’s back yard as the US bunkers down on Ukraine makes perfect sense.

For some reason, the US appears to have believed it could simply impose its will indefinitely on the rest of the world. They appear not to have considered that, at some point, such behavior would provide the rest of the world cause to fight back.

Kerry, UN Fail to Resolve Afghan Election Crisis

Two photos from Reuters today sum up the status of the Afghan presidential election. Ghani appears confident and ready to work with Kerry, while Abdullah gives Kerry the side eye.

Two photos from Reuters today sum up the status of the Afghan presidential election. Ghani appears confident and ready to work with Kerry, while Abdullah gives Kerry the side eye.

Three short weeks from tomorrow marks the date on which Afghanistan’s new president is to be sworn in. The problem, though, is that Abdullah Abdullah refuses to believe that he could have beaten Ashraf Ghani by a million votes in the first round and then lost to him by a million votes in the runoff a few weeks later. Both US Secretary of State John Kerry and the UN have tried to defuse the crisis, but neither effort has had any effect whatsoever.

No words are needed to describe Kerry’s failure. In their story on Kerry’s visit to Kabul today, Reuters carried photos of Ghani and Abdullah with Kerry in front of the same backdrop of US and Afghan flags. The photo of Ghani and Kerry could pass as a propaganda photo handed out jointly by the two governments to promote a continued relationship between the US and Afghanistan with Ghani as the new president. The photo with Abdullah, on the other hand, shows a deeply distrustful Abdullah casting a sideways glance at Kerry, who seems not to have the courage to look Abdullah in the eye, let alone shake hands as he did with Ghani. Perhaps Abdullah and Kerry did shake hands, but photographer Jim Bourg seems to have captured the essence of the crisis perfectly.

Meanwhile, the UN proposal for additional auditing has fallen flat. From the New York Times:

The United Nations proposal centered on a special audit of suspected fraudulent votes, and it appeared to be a winner when the office of President Hamid Karzai called reporters shortly after midnight Friday, the beginning of the Afghan weekend, to spread the news of the new plan.

Aimal Faizi, the spokesman for Mr. Karzai, said the president was backing the proposal, which involved a deeper audit of votes from 8,000 polling stations, or about 43 percent of the 8.1 million ballots cast. The plan had been presented to Mr. Karzai on Thursday evening by Jan Kubis, the special United Nations envoy for Afghanistan, who was to brief Mr. Abdullah and Mr. Ghani about it later on Friday, Mr. Faizi said.

But within minutes, Mr. Abdullah’s campaign said it had already made clear to United Nations officials that the plan was not acceptable during discussions on Thursday about possible ways out of the crisis. A senior aide to Mr. Abdullah said the campaign had its own plan, which would entail audits of votes from about 11,000 of the roughly 22,000 polling stations.

Western reports on the election crisis that I have read have danced around a very important central issue without ever addressing it. The huge problem that Afghanistan faces is that there is no real way to audit this election after the fact. Elections in Afghanistan do not take place in the way that elections in the West are conducted. Once outside of Kabul, Afghan society is structured around village life and women often live their entire lives without going outside the walls of the family compound. Village elders carry huge influence for all residents of the village.

In his book No Good Men Among the Living, Anand Gopal provided a couple of very informative vignettes of previous presidential elections. On page 156, we have this from the 2004 election: Continue reading

Abdullah Supporters Reject Preliminary Results, Urge Parallel Government

A few numbers will serve to highlight both the rage of Abdullah Abdullah’s supporters and the extent of the fraud which they believe to have been perpetrated on behalf of Ashraf Ghani in Afghanistan’s presidential election. In the first round of the election, there were 7,018,049 votes cast and Abdullah fell just short of winning outright (which would have occurred had he topped 50% of the vote) with 45% of the vote. Ghani finished well behind him, at 31.6%. Yesterday, the preliminary results of the June 14 runoff were announced. This time, there were 8,109,403 votes cast, an increase of just over 15% from the first round. It should also be noted that turnout in the first round represented about a 50% increase from the 2009 election. Ghani somehow surged to 54% of the vote this time, leading Abdullah by 1,024,249 votes.

In yesterday’s announcement, we learned that some votes have been thrown out over suspected fraud:

In Monday’s announcement, Mr. Nuristani said that the Independent Election Commission, while tallying the preliminary results, had already thrown out more than 11,000 votes from 1,930 polling stations. About 60 percent of the disqualified votes had been cast in favor of Mr. Ghani, with the reminder cast for Mr. Abdullah.

While 11,000 fraudulent votes sounds like a lot, note that Abdullah’s camp was already suspicious of the huge increase in turnout for the runoff compared to the first round. While there still is additional review of the voting planned which could eliminate more votes, the 11,000 votes discarded falls far short of the 2009 election and the first round this year:

In contrast to 2009, when more than 1.2 million votes were found to be fraudulent and were discarded, the two commissions threw out only 375,000 votes this time.

In the eyes of Abdullah supporters, it is easy to question how Ghani could have more than doubled the number of votes he received in the runoff (going from about 2.2 million votes to over 4.4 million) while Abdullah, who had been far ahead, only added about three hundred thousand votes (going from 3.2 million to 3.5 millon). Somehow, we are supposed to believe that Abdullah has the support of only 44-45% of the Afghan electorate, no matter how many show up and that Ghani was able to magically obtain the vote of every Afghan who voted for someone other than Ghani or Abdullah in the first round while also getting 56% of those new more than one million voters who turned up for the runoff.

It is little wonder, then, that Adbullah’s supporters completely reject the results announced yesterday:

Presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah’s team said it would reject preliminary results from the runoff election unless fraudulent votes were excluded from the count, his running mate Mohammad Mohaqeq said in an interview with TOLOnews on Monday evening.

/snip/

Mohaqeq warned that if their team denounces the results, so to will people in various provinces, and then the government and the election commission will be responsible for the consequences.

“We want to say to the people of Afghanistan that if our conditions aren’t accepted and the assigned commission doesn’t reach an outcome and our condition that invalid votes be distinguished from genuine votes is not accepted, we will not accept the results and consequences will follow and responsibility will be on the government, the rigging commission and rigging team,” Mohaqeq said.

Abdullah has declared himself the victor, but for now is holding off on announcing a parallel government:

Embattled Afghan presidential contender Abdullah Abdullah defiantly mobilized thousands of his supporters in the heart of the capital Tuesday, vowing to challenge preliminary election results that show him trailing his rival, amid accusations of massive fraud.

“You are the victorious; you have won the vote — there is no question,” Abdullah shouted to a cheering crowd at a spacious conference hall in western Kabul. “We would rather be torn into pieces than accept this fraud,” he said. “We reject these results . . . and justice will prevail.” The former foreign minister alleges election officials rigged the vote in favor of his opponent, former finance minister Ashraf Ghani, in a June 14 presidential runoff.

There were fears that Abdullah and his team would use the rally to declare a parallel government, which would have aggravated Afghanistan’s political crisis and raised the risk of bloodshed. But Abdullah stopped short of announcing his own cabinet Tuesday, drawing jeers from the audience, which urged him to declare himself president.

“Long live Abdullah!” his supporters cried. “Announce your government!”

John Kerry is slated to visit Kabul on Friday and is warning that the US will withdraw support for Afghanistan if a parallel government is announced. Given the speed at which events seem to be unfolding, Friday could well be too late for Kerry to have any impact (if that ever had been possible anyway). Does Kerry’s announcement signal that the US will only accept Ghani as the winner?

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

Will Obama Treat Victoria Nuland More Leniently than PJ Crowley?

Over three years ago, State Department spokesperson PJ Crowley had to resign after he called Chelsea Manning’s treatment “ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid.”

In a bizarre NYT story suggesting that Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland’s husband, Robert Kagan, had influenced Obama with a critique of his foreign policy, it quotes Nuland suggesting she agrees with her husband’s critique.

His wife and unofficial editor, Victoria Nuland, is an assistant secretary of state and one of the country’s toughest and most experienced diplomats, whose fervor for building democracy in Ukraine recently leaked out in an embarrassing audio clip.

[snip]

Ms. Nuland declined to comment on her husband’s critique of her current boss’s foreign policy. “But suffice to say,” she said, “that nothing goes out of the house that I don’t think is worthy of his talents. Let’s put it that way.”

Nuland is not going to comment but she thoroughly agrees with Kagan’s attack on her boss’ foreign policy, I guess.

This dig probably won’t be noted, but it does seem remarkably aggressive, even if Nuland is only slamming Obama’s policies second-hand.

Nevertheless, she won’t pay a price for calling out her boss. That’s true, I’m guessing, because John Kerry seems to love being a NeoCon and he likely has some discretion over her role. And because the NeoCons don’t get held to account in DC for their dangerous provocations.

Still, it appears that it’s a firing offense to call out inhumane treatment inconsistent with our values, but not one for calling out insufficient imperial designs.

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.

What If the Democratic Response to Snowden Is to Expand Surveillance?

I got distracted reading two pieces this morning. This great Andrew O’Hehir piece, on how those attacking Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald ought to consider the lesson of Justice Louis Brandeis’ dissent in Olmstead.

In the famous wiretapping case Olmstead v. United States, argued before the Supreme Court in 1928, Justice Louis Brandeis wrote one of the most influential dissenting opinionsin the history of American jurisprudence. Those who are currently engaged in what might be called the Establishment counterattack against Glenn Greenwald and Edward Snowden,including the eminent liberal journalists Michael Kinsley and George Packer, might benefit from giving it a close reading and a good, long think.

Brandeis’ understanding of the problems posed by a government that could spy on its own citizens without any practical limits was so far-sighted as to seem uncanny. (We’ll get to that.) But it was his conclusion that produced a flight of memorable rhetoric from one of the most eloquent stylists ever to sit on the federal bench. Government and its officers, Brandeis argued, must be held to the same rules and laws that command individual citizens. Once you start making special rules for the rulers and their police – for instance, the near-total impunity and thick scrim of secrecy behind which government espionage has operated for more than 60 years – you undermine the rule of law and the principles of democracy.

“Our Government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher,” Brandeis concluded. “For good or for ill, it teaches the whole people by its example. Crime is contagious. If the Government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy. To declare that in the administration of the criminal law the end justifies the means — to declare that the Government may commit crimes in order to secure the conviction of a private criminal — would bring terrible retribution.”

And this more problematic Eben Moglen piece talking about how Snowden revealed a threat to democracy we must now respond to.

So [Snowden] did what it takes great courage to do in the presence of what you believe to be radical injustice. He wasn’t first, he won’t be last, but he sacrificed his life as he knew it to tell us things we needed to know. Snowden committed espionage on behalf of the human race. He knew the price, he knew the reason. But as he said, only the American people could decide, by their response, whether sacrificing his life was worth it.

So our most important effort is to understand the message: to understand its context, purpose, and meaning, and to experience the consequences of having received the communication.

Even once we have understood, it will be difficult to judge Snowden, because there is always much to say on both sides when someone is greatly right too soon.

I raise them in tandem here because both address the threat of spying to something called democracy. And the second piece raises it amid the context of American Empire (he compares the US to the Roman decline into slavery).

I raise them here for two reasons.

First, because neither directly notes that Snowden claimed he leaked the documents to give us a choice, the “chance to determine if it should change itself.”

“For me, in terms of personal satisfaction, the mission’s already accomplished,” he said. “I already won. As soon as the journalists were able to work, everything that I had been trying to do was validated. Because, remember, I didn’t want to change society. I wanted to give society a chance to determine if it should change itself.”

“All I wanted was for the public to be able to have a say in how they are governed,” he said. “That is a milestone we left a long time ago. Right now, all we are looking at are stretch goals.”

Snowden, at least, claims to have contemplated the possibility that, given a choice, we won’t change how we’re governed.

And neither O’Hehir nor Moglen contemplates the state we’re currently in, in which what we call democracy is choosing to expand surveillance in response to Snowden’s disclosures.

Admittedly, the response to Snowden is not limited to HR 3361. I have long thought a more effective response might (or might not!) be found in courts — that if, if the legal process does not get pre-empted by legislation. I have long thought the pressure on Internet companies would be one of the most powerful engines of change, not our failed democratic process.

But as far as Congress is concerned, our stunted legislative process has started down the road of expanding surveillance in response to Edward Snowden.

And that’s where I find Moglen useful but also problematic.

He notes that the surveillance before us is not just part of domestic control (indeed, he actually pays less attention to the victims of domestic surveillance than I might have, but his is ultimately a technical argument), but also of Empire.

While I don’t think it’s the primary reason driving the democratic response to Snowden to increase surveillance (I think that also stems from the Deep State’s power and the influence of money on Congress, though many of the surveillance supporters in Congress are also supporting a certain model of US power), I think far too many people act on surveillance out of either explicit or implicit beliefs about the role of US hegemony.

There are some very rational self-interested reasons for Americans to embrace surveillance.

For the average American, there’s the pride that comes from living in the most powerful country in history, all the more so now that that power is under attack, and perhaps the belief that “Us” have a duty to take it to “Them” who currently threaten our power. And while most won’t acknowledge it, even the declining American standard of living still relies on our position atop the world power structure. We get cheap goods because America is the hegemonic power.

To the extent that spying on the rest of the world serves to shore up our hegemonic position then, the average American might well have reason to embrace the spying, because it keeps them in flat screen TVs.

But that privilege is just enjoyed by some in America. Moglen, tellingly, talks a lot about slavery but says nothing about Jim Crow or the other instruments of domestic oppression that have long used authoritarian measures against targeted populations to protect white male power. American history looked at not against the history of a slavery that is past, but rather against the continuity of history in which some people — usually poor and brown and/or female — don’t participate in the American “liberty” and “privacy” Moglen celebrates, our spying on the rest of the world is more of the same, a difference in reach but not in kind. Our war on drugs and war on terror spying domestically is of a piece with our dragnet internationally, if thus far more circumscribed by law (but that law is expanding and that will serve existing structures of power!).

But there’s another reason Americans — those of the Michael Kinsley and George Packer class — might embrace surveillance. That’s the notion that American hegemony is, for all its warts, the least bad power out there. I suspect Kinsley and (to a lesser extent) Packer would go further, saying that American power is affirmatively good for the rest of the world. And so we must use whatever it takes to sustain that power.

It sounds stupid when I say it that way. I’m definitely oversimplifying the thought process involved. Still, it is a good faith claim: that if the US curtails its omnipresent dragnet and China instead becomes the dominant world power (or, just as likely, global order will dissolve into chaos), we’ll all be worse off.

I do think there’s something to this belief, though it suppresses the other alternative — that the US could use this moment to improve the basis from which US exercises its hegemony rather than accept the increasingly coercive exercise of our power — or better yet use the twilight of our hegemony to embrace something more fair (and also something more likely to adequately respond to the global threat of climate change). But I do believe those who claim US hegemony serves the rest of the world believe it fairly uncritically.

One more thing. Those who believe that American power is affirmatively benign power may be inclined to think the old ways of ensuring that power — which includes a docile press — are justified. As much as journalism embraced an adversarial self-image after Watergate, the fundamentally complicit role of journalism really didn’t change for most. Thus, there remains a culture of journalism in which it was justified to tell stories to the American people — and the rest of the world — to sustain American power.

One of those stories, for example, is the narrative of freedom that Moglen embraces.

That is, for those who believe it is worth doing whatever it takes to sustain the purportedly benign American hegemon, it would be consistent to also believe that journalists must also do whatever it takes to sustain purportedly benign system of (white male) power domestically, which we call democracy but which doesn’t actually serve the needs of average Americans.

And for better or worse, those who embrace that power structure, either domestically and/or internationally, expanding surveillance is rational, so long as you ignore the collateral damage.

Update: Tempered critique of Packer because I agree he’s not embracing this journalist as narrative teller as much.

US Fails Miserably to Hold Egypt Accountable, Continues Aid Despite Abuses

On the very day that Egypt’s Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy is in Washington to meet with John Kerry, a court in Egypt, for the second time in just over a month, has sentenced hundreds citizens to death in proceedings that lasted only minutes. Proving the moral depravity of the Obama administration in its dealings with Egypt, the mass death sentence issued a month ago had no impact, as the administration announced only a few short weeks later that it was ending the slight delay that the US had imposed last October on delivery of ten Apache attack helicopters.

Last August, when Egypt’s military ousted the government of Mohamed Morsi, I noted how our government was too cowardly to use the approximately $1.5 billion in aid it gives Egypt annually for the full leverage it could achieve in attempting to force Egypt to cease the atrocities which at that time were mostly killings of civilians but have now moved on to a complete banning of the Muslim Brotherhood and outrageous levels of suppression of the press through arrests of journalists.

Here is the weak tea last October on the delay in military assistance (and note that the Post insists on including disruptions in aid that were applied during Morsi’s rule to inflate the numbers here):

U.S. officials on Wednesday sought to characterize the suspension of some forms of aid as temporary and said they aspire to maintain a robust military and diplomatic partnership with Egypt. Besides F-16 fighter jets, whose delivery was suspended in July, Washington will not be sending Apache helicopters, M1 tanks or Harpoon missiles under existing contracts, officials told reporters in a conference call. In addition, $260 million in cash payment promised to Egypt’s previous government will continue to be suspended. The money was to go for debt relief and general expenses, and been held up over the Morsi government’s failure to come to an agreement with the International Monetary Fund on economic reforms.

“This is not meant to be permanent,” one senior official said during the call, which was conducted on the condition of anonymity for unspecified reasons. “This is meant to be continuously reviewed.”

Considering that the first mass death sentence case verdict was rendered on March 24 and the announcement that shipment of the Apache helicopters would be resumed was announced April 22, it seems likely that the bit about continuously reviewing the disruption in shipment wasn’t aimed at looking for improved behavior on Egypt’s part. Instead, we are left to wonder whether the review was aimed at finding a time when the public’s attention is elsewhere (Russian sanctions!), so that resuming aid will generate little of the outrage it deserves.

Of course, resuming the aid required bending some rules: Continue reading

Latest Parchin Accusation: Centrifuges!

At long last, a conspiracy theory on Iran’s Parchin site has surfaced that is too crazy to have come from David Albright and his merry band at the Institute for Science and International Security. Recall that Iran has played the ISIS folks expertly on Parchin, giving them a series of interesting things to look at in satellite images of the site. Iran’s manipulations hit their high point when they covered a number of buildings in pink tarp, provoking an especially cute level of concern over just what those tarps might be hiding.

The folks at Debka.com, though, have put themselves firmly into the position of world leaders when it comes to Parchin conspiracy theories. You remember the Debka folks, they are the ones who initially claimed that Israel’s Iron Dome had successfully shot down two incoming missiles when it turns out that the explosions that were heard were actually just Iron Dome misfiring in the absence of any incoming fire earlier this month.

Here is Debka’s glorious new theory, which follows on their recounting of the recent news that Iran has actually moved faster than the initial schedule in the interim agreement with the P5+1 powers on removing its stock of 20% enriched uranium and that they will redesign the Arak reactor to produce less plutonium:

But only on the face of it: This scenario ignore Tehran’s duplicity and conveniently passes over the sudden spurt in Iran’s production of low, 5-percent grade enriched uranium and the covert smuggling of the surfeit to the Parchin military facility of near Tehran for its secret upgrade to 20 percent, a level which can be rapidly enriched to weapons grade.
So with one hand, Tehran has reduced its low-grade enriched uranium stocks, but with the other, has smuggled a sizable quantity of those stocks for further enrichment to a facility barred to nuclear watchdog inspectors.

DEBKAfile’s intelligence sources reveal that 1,300 kilos of low-grade material has been transferred to Parchin and 1,630 advanced centrifuges have been installed there for rapid upgrade work.

Okay, then. Even though every single report from the IAEA has shown that every bit of uranium enriched by Iran has been accounted for and that none has been diverted (see this article from 2012 fear-mongering that grudgingly admits no diversion of material), Debka now wants us to believe that since Iran is removing its stock of 20% enriched uranium, it is doing so as a way to hide their diversion of over a ton of uranium that has been enriched to 5%. Oh, and at the same time, they have secretly installed 1630 centrifuges at Parchin.

But then the Debka conspiracy really starts to fall apart. It appears that they are only claiming that Iran will use these 1600 secret centrifuges to enrich the 5% uranium to 20%, rather than taking it to weapons grade of more than 90%. If we use the standard figures of approximately 25 kg of weapons grade uranium for one bomb and the numbers in this article (where one ton of natural uranium feed leads to up to 130 kg of 5% uranium and then 5.6 kg of weapons grade material), then 1300 kg of 5% uranium could be enough for two bombs.

It’s a good thing Debka is only claiming that conversion from 5% to 20% enrichment would be carried out with these secret centrifuges at Parchin, because getting to weapons grade with so few centrifuges in any sort of reasonable time frame is problematic. If we consult this document from Albright’s group, Figure 1A (on page 5 of the pdf), we see graphs for the amount of time needed to get to 25 kg of weapons grade uranium under scenarios of various numbers of centrifuges and various amounts of 20% enriched uranium. With Debka’s new conspiracy, if they were positing breakout to weapons grade, then we need to start at zero 20% uranium available and look between the 1000 and 2000 centrifuge scenarios. For 1000 centrifuges, ISIS calculates just over 24 months to produce one bomb’s worth of material, while for 2000 centrifuges, that time drops to 14 months. Interpolating for 1600 centrifuges would give us about 20 months of secret work with these 1600 secret centrifuges using 1300 kg of material secretly hidden from a previously perfect mass balance of Iran’s enrichment work.

Iran has already responded to this wild claim by Debka: Continue reading

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Emptywheel Twitterverse
emptywheel @nickmanes1 A claim that Ellis is "moderate." I kid you not. @wizardkitten
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emptywheel @wizardkitten I heard certain Dems pushing Ellis, so maybe that's what they've got. @nickmanes1
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bmaz @JoshMBlackman @MikeSacksEsq @dsc250 @steve_vladeck @imillhiser Yeah, I am not so sure SCOTUS is as eager to take this as you are.
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JimWhiteGNV Finally figured it out: people can't come off the watch list because they are so pissed at not being allowed off they might do terra.
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bmaz @imillhiser @JoshMBlackman @steve_vladeck @dsc250 @MikeSacksEsq One other thought: I can see Edwards or another judge sua sponte requesting.
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emptywheel @wizardkitten God, sounds like it's even stupidly made. Are they just wasting donors money at this point? @nickmanes1
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emptywheel Actually, I think they need a name with your gait. So "Wheeler walker" might fly.
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emptywheel RT @MikeScarcella: 'DOJ tries to hide the Blue Book behind a veil of privilege, trumpeting a laundry list of doom-and-gloom outcomes.' http…
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JimWhiteGNV Horse people know it's easy to get wrong lead on some gaits. RT @emptywheel: Apparently your gait or DNA can be nominated as a terrorist.
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emptywheel Apparently your gait or DNA can be nominated as a terrorist.
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emptywheel @wizardkitten I'm just hoping they roll out Mike Rogers to beat up Amash before this is out, bc that would be popcorn-worthy. @nickmanes1
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emptywheel @wizardkitten Maybe GOPers think that by having a Real Live Politician say it, it'll sound like a real policy issue. @nickmanes1
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