I must confess that I repeatedly put off writing this post. Similarly, the P5+1 countries and Iran now have repeatedly put off finalizing a deal that assures the West that Iran’s nuclear program has no chance to quickly move to a nuclear weapon. I had been operating under the assumption that a final deal would be announced at the November 24 deadline. After all, everything seemed aligned to make a deal seem necessary for both sides. Iran’s economy has been reeling under sanctions for years, but Rouhani’s push for “moderation” had silenced hardliners in his country who see any deal as capitulation. How long Rouhani can hold them back, however, seems to be the biggest mystery. Barack Obama has been waging war seemingly all over the planet, so a deal to avoid another one would be a huge accomplishment for him. And with a new Republican majority set to take over the Senate, meddling by Senate hawks is assured.
But no agreement was reached on Monday’s deadline. Even worse, rumblings that at least a “framework” would be announced also proved to be false. In fact, the framework target is now four months away, with another three months built in to iron out the technical details within that framework.
Jeffrey Lewis sees this long timeframe as delusion:
One wonders what the parties are thinking. Is there any reason to believe that this problem will be easier to solve in four months’ time? Is there any reason to think that, in fact, the parties have four months? Allow me to be the bearer of two items of bad news.
First, the 114th Congress will pass new sanctions legislation. This year, the White House held off the Menendez-Kirk sanctions bill in the Senate by the narrowest of margins. (The House passing sanctions is a formality at this point.) Proponents had the votes — 60 co-sponsors, including 16 Democrats — but then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid refused to let it come to the floor.
Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell won’t be so accommodating.
Second, Iran is continuing research and development on a new generation of centrifuges. A few weeks ago, there was a minor kerfuffle when the International Atomic Energy Agency reported that Iran was test-feeding a new centrifuge under development called the IR-5. The issue was that Iran had not previously fed uranium hexafluoride into that type of machine. The Iranians denied this was a violation. (The definitive answer depends on “technical understandings” in the implementation agreement that the EU will not make public.)
With another extension, though, Iran is free to continue its R&D work on new generations of centrifuges — including resuming testing of the IR-5 and eventually the IR-8.
Oh, yes, the IR-8. The IR-5 is a prelude to this much bigger problem. Iran has declared a new centrifuge model called the IR-8 to the IAEA. (One of these bad boys is sitting at the “pilot” enrichment facility, saying, “Feed me, Seymour.”) The IR-8 is about 16 times more capable than the existing centrifuge types installed at the Natanz fuel enrichment plant.
The Obama Administration continues to hold onto the fantasy that training and equipping a group of “moderate” rebels in Syria will allow threading the gap between the Bashar al-Assad regime that continues to relentlessly attack its own citizens and the ISIS fighters who behead many of the folks in their path. After all, Obama and his minions seem to want us to to think, the “moderates” only occasionally eat a victim’s heart or behead people after posing for photos with John McCain.
The press in Turkey is reporting that Obama’s centerpiece of the “moderate” rebel movement, the Free Syrian Army, has fled the strategic city of Aleppo where battles have taken place since early in the Syrian civil war. The reports say that within the past two weeks, the new leader of the FSA, Jamal Marouf (previous FSA leader Salem Idris was among those in the famous photo with McCain) fled to Turkey where he is being protected. Iranian news is repeating these reports, with stories in both Fars News and PressTV. Both Iranian stories cite this report from Turkey:
The Free Syrian Army (FSA), the recognized armed opposition group against the Bashar al-Assad in Syria, has ceased its resistance in Aleppo, Syria’s second biggest city, withdrawing its 14,000 militia from the city, a ranking Turkish security source told the Hürriyet Daily News on Nov. 17.
“Its leader Jamal Marouf has fled to Turkey,” confirmed the source, who asked not to be named. “He is currently being hosted and protected by the Turkish state.”
The source did not give an exact date of the escape but said it was within the last two weeks, that is, the first half of November. The source declined to give Marouf’s whereabouts in Turkey.
Wow, so not only did the leader apparently leave, but 14,000 fighters abandoned Aleppo, too? That’s huge. The only Western news story I see so far on this is an AFP story carried by Yahoo News in the UK. The story opens by describing how desperate the refugee problem will be in Turkey if Aleppo has indeed fallen:
Turkey fears another two to three million Syrian refugees could cross its borders if the region of Syria’s second city of Aleppo is overrun either by Islamist extremists or regime forces, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Tuesday.
Turkey is already hosting at least 1.5 million refugees displaced by the Syrian conflict and has repeatedly warned that its capacities are being strained by the numbers.
It takes another sixteen paragraphs or so before getting to the news about Marouf:
Meanwhile the Turkish online newspaper Radikal reported that the chief of the moderate anti-Assad group the Syrian Revolutionary Front, Jamal Maarouf, had fled to Turkey two weeks ago.
There was no confirmation of the report and no further details were immediately available.
But never fear! The article gives us this rosy news as a conclusion:
Media reports said at the weekend that Turkey and the United States have agreed a plan under which some 2,000 FSA fighters would be trained on Turkish soil.
Let’s see, 14,000 troops fled, and now we’re going to train a whopping 2000 to take their place.
Political and military leaders in the US are hopelessly addicted to the idea of training an Iraqi military. Never mind that it fails every time a “new” initiative on training is introduced. As soon as the situation in Iraq deteriorates, the only idea that Washington can put forward is train more Iraqi security forces. As soon as genius Paul Bremer disbanded the Iraqi military and banned Saddam’s Baath party, training a new force became central to US activities in Iraq even though Bremer’s move had made it impossible.
David Petraeus, the ass-kissing little chickenshit himself, first led the training effort and was given several Mulligans. He burst on the political scene in 2004, penning an op-ed in the Washington Post in which he spouted fictitious numbers on accomplishments in training and perhaps helped Bush to re-election. He then was hailed again by the press as the perfect leader to train Iraqi forces in 2007, with no discussion of what happened to all those forces he “trained” earlier. And now that Iraqi forces fled their posts in droves ahead of ISIS, the only solution our fearless leaders can imagine is for us to once again train Iraqi forces.
Not only are we getting another fix for our training junkies, but Chuck Hagel is accelerating the effort:
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said on Sunday the Pentagon will accelerate its mission to train Iraqi forces to combat Islamic State militants, using troops already in Iraq to start the effort while funding is sought for a broader initiative.
The quest for more funding had been announced earlier by Obama:
Hagel’s announcement follows President Barack Obama’s Nov. 7 decision to roughly double the number of U.S. troops in Iraq, adding 1,500 military personnel to establish sites to train nine Iraqi brigades and set up two more centers to advise military commands.
Obama also sought $5.6 billion in funding from Congress for the initiative, including $1.6 billion to train and equip Iraqi forces. Officials initially said the funding would have to be approved by Congress before the new effort could begin.
Translating from military-speak, nine brigades in US forces means between 27,000 and 45,000 troops. So Obama wants $1.6 billion to train a few more tens of thousands of Iraqi troops. We have already spent many more billions to train several hundreds of thousands of Iraqi security forces. Several times. Why on earth would anyone think it will go any better this time?
Of course, one bit of information feeding the desire for the junkies is that Iran now openly admits that they have advisors in Iraq helping the military:
A senior Iraqi official lauded Iran’s assistance to Iraq in fighting terrorist groups, including the ISIL, and said the Iranian military advisors played an important role in freeing Jarf Asakhr in the Musayyib district in the North of Babylon province.
“The Iranian advisors were present in the battle ground during the Jarf Asakhr operations and provided excellent counselling to the fighters of popular front,” Governor-General of Karbala province Aqil al-Tarihi told FNA on Sunday.
Stressing that the cleanup and liberation operations in Jarf Asakhr were all carried out by the Iraqi forces, he said, “Iran helped the success of the operations with its useful consultations.”
Late September, Deputy Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces Major General Gholam Ali Rashid announced that Iran’s military advisors were present in Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine to provide those nations with necessary military recommendations.
Besides bragging about their advisors in Iraq, Iran is having a lot of fun trolling the US on its misadventures in Iraq. We know, of course, that ISIS has come into possession of large amounts of US-provided weaponry as Iraqi bases have been seized and that there have been reports of US airdrops of supplies and weapons missing their targets. Iran provided this hot take on those developments today:
Iraqi intelligence sources disclosed that US military planes have been supplying the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant Takfiri terrorists with weapons and foodstuff under the guise of air raids on militants’ positions.
The Iraqi forces have found out that the US aircraft usually airdrop arms and food cargoes for ISIL militants who collect them on the ground, Asia news agency quoted Iraqi army’s intelligence officers as saying.
“The Iraqi intelligence sources reiterated that the US military planes have airdropped several aid cargoes for ISIL terrorists to help them resist the siege laid by the Iraqi army, security and popular forces,” added the report.
On Saturday, Iraqi security sources disclosed that the ISIL terrorist group is using the state-of-the-art weapons which are only manufactured by the US and each of their bullets are worth thousands of dollars.
“What is important is that the US sends these weapons to only those that cooperate with the Pentagon and this indicates that the US plays a role in arming the ISIL,” an Iraqi security source told FNA.
The source noted that the most important advantage of the US-made weapons used by the ISIL is that “these bullets pierce armored vehicles and kill the people inside the vehicle”.
He said each of such bullets is worth $2,000, and added, “These weapons have killed many Iraqi military and volunteer forces so far.”
Well, gosh. If ISIS has all those sophisticated weapons we originally gave to Iraq, the only answer is to send more of those sophisticated weapons to Iraq and train more Iraqi troops. Who will once again abandon their posts, leaving the weapons for the next opponent to seize…
A combination of factors is forcing the issue of US torture back into the international spotlight and there are even hints that progress on some fronts is occurring. Consider, for instance, James Risen’s report this morning that the American Pyschological Association, greatly embarrassed by the revelations in Risen’s just-published book, has re-opened an investigation into the role the association played in giving cover to pyschologists who lent their credentials to the torture program in an effort to pronounce it medically ethical. We also have gotten the first official hint from Mark Udall himself that he has not ruled out using the Senate’s speech and debate clause to enter the Senate Intelligence Committtee’s report on torture into the record (the way that Mike Gravel disclosed the Pentagon Papers), bypassing the two year old debate about redactions.
We should pay special attention, though, to word filtering out of Geneva as the United Nations Committee Against Torture reviews the report submitted by the US. As a signatory to the Convention Against Torture, the US is required to make periodic reports to the committee. The process, however, is exceedingly slow. The current report from the US (pdf) is finally getting around to answering questions submitted to the US in 2006 and 2010. A New York Times story from Charlie Savage shows that the committee has been paying close attention both to what the US is saying and to what the US is doing. Consider this blockbuster:
Alessio Bruni of Italy, a member of the United Nations committee, pressed the delegation to explain Appendix M of the manual, which contains special procedures for separating captives in order to prevent them from communicating. The appendix says that prisoners shall receive at least four hours of sleep a day — an amount Mr. Bruni said would be sleep deprivation over prolonged periods and unrelated to preventing communication.
Brig. Gen. Richard C. Gross, the top legal adviser to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that reading the appendix as intended to permit sleep deprivation was a misinterpretation. Four hours is “a minimum standard; it’s not the maximum they can get,” he said, adding that the rule had to be read in the context of the rest of the manual, including a requirement for medical and legal monitoring of treatment “to ensure it is humane, legal and so forth.”
Mr. Bruni was not persuaded. He said that calling the provision a minimum standard still meant four hours a night for long periods was “permissible.” He suggested that Appendix M “be simply deleted.”
This exchange counts as a huge victory for the community of activists who have fought hard to abolish all forms of torture by the US. When it comes to the Appendix M battle, though, perhaps nobody has been more determined to expose the torture still embedded in Appendix M practices than Jeff Kaye, and he is to be congratulated for the support he provided in getting this question to the forefront.
The most important part of the proceedings, though, pertains to the questions about US investigation of torture since it now openly admits torture took place. Returning to Savage’s report:
A provision of the treaty, the Convention Against Torture, requires parties to investigate and provide accountability for past instances of torture. The American delegation said that the United States had investigated the C.I.A. program, and that the coming publication of a Senate Intelligence Committee report would add to the public record.
The American officials pointed to a criminal investigation by John H. Durham, an assistant United States attorney in Connecticut, whom Michael B. Mukasey, then attorney general, appointed in 2008 to look at whether the C.I.A. had broken the law by destroying videotapes of its interrogations of Qaeda suspects.
In 2009, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. expanded Mr. Durham’s mandate to look at C.I.A. torture that went beyond what the Justice Department had said was legal. Mr. Durham eventually closed the investigation without indicting anyone.
Another member of the United Nations panel, Jens Modvig of Denmark, pressed for details. He asked if Mr. Durham’s team had interviewed any current or former detainees.
It is clear from Modvig’s question that he feels the US investigation fell short of what is required. To get a good feel for that, we can look to this terrific “shadow report” (pdf) to the UNCAT prepared by “Advocates for US Torture Prosecutions” at Harvard Law School.
The report does an excellent job of framing the questions at hand, beginning with the observation that “The U.S. Government’s criminal program of torture was authorized at the highest levels” (fitting nicely with Marcy’s post earlier today about it being authorized by the President). But when we get to inadequacy of Durham’s investigation, we see this (footnotes removed): Continue reading
In the historic city of Isfahan in Iran yesterday, several thousand protesters gathered in front of the judiciary building and shouted slogans against assailants who have thrown acid on a number of women in recent weeks. Even though a spokesman for the Iranian judiciary announced Monday that four attackers had been arrested and that the harshest possible punishment will be handed out, the protesters appeared to feel that not enough is being done.
The Guardian describes the situation that led to the protests:
Assailants riding on motorbikes, in a similar sequence of events, have thrown acid in the face of at least eight women who were driving in the street with their windows pulled down. Local media say the number of victims could be higher. The attacks have so far claimed one life, an opposition website said.
Many Iranians believe that victims were targeted because they were women wearing clothes that could be deemed inappropriate in the eyes of hardliners – a claim vehemently denied by the authorities.
Isfahani citizens, horrified by the scale of vicious assaults, gathered in front of the city’s justice department on Wednesday, calling on the authorities to put an end to the crimes which has highlighted the striking challenges women face in Iran, where hijab is obligatory.
A number of protesters in Isfahan chanted slogans that described the attackers as Iran’s own version of Isis, the extremist group that has committed many atrocities in Iraq and Syria.
Somehow, I suspect that these opposition groups will be very unhappy with Thomas Erdbrink’s coverage of the protest, though. Erdbrink notes that the protest appears to have been organized through social media, which may be a hint that he thinks the opposition groups helped to organize it. The opposition groups would go along with Erdbrink’s coverage of a proposed new law at the heart of the controversy:
The acid attacks have prompted a heightened resistance to the new law, which Parliament passed on Sunday. The law is aimed at protecting citizens who feel compelled to correct those who, in their view, do not adhere to Iran’s strict social laws. The details of the law, which would officially empower the government and private citizens to give verbal or written statements on social mores, have yet to be completed.
While strict rules on dress, alcohol, sexual relations and much more are not new, the law is aimed at defining crimes against propriety or decency, which in the past would often be corrected informally. In Iran, where most people live in cities and many are highly educated, conservatives are trying to avert changes in attitudes by enforcing traditions.
But Erdbrink points out that Hassan Rouhani spoke out very forcefully against the law, providing a stark contrast to the image the opposition paints of him going along with harsh punishment meted out by conservatives:
President Hassan Rouhani strongly criticized the new law on Wednesday, saying that he feared it would divide society because, as many observers have pointed out, in reality it offers the country’s small but influential faction of hard-liners more power.
“The sacred call to virtue is not the right of a select group of people, a handful taking the moral high ground and acting as guardians,” Mr. Rouhani said during a trip to the provincial city of Zanjan. “It is upon all Muslims to exhort love, respect for others and human dignity.”
“May such a day never come that some lead our society down the path to insecurity, sow discord and cause divisions, all under the flag of Islam,” he said, his voice shaking with emotion.
What a powerful statement. Imagine if Barack Obama said “May such a day never come that some lead our society down the path to insecurity, sow discord and cause divisions, all under the flag of Christianity”. And imagine if he said it with a voice shaking with emotion.
Sadly, both Iran and the United States have already reached that point where religious conservatives have caused insecurity, sown discord and caused divisions. And that is what makes Rouhani’s statement so dangerously courageous and prevents Obama from ever contemplating doing the same.
NBC News’ Ann Curry interviewed Iranian President Hassan Rouhani yesterday in her second extended interview with him. She had been the first Westerner to interview Rouhani after his election. Remarkably, the story put up by NBC on their website to accompany the video seen above did not mention the part of the interview that Mehr News chose to highlight in Iran. From Mehr News:
Iran’s president has denounced ISIL terrorist group for its savagery and said US presence in the region has exacerbates [sic] the terrorism crisis since 2001.
That comment about US presence in the region exacerbating the terrorism crisis appears nowhere in the NBC article. The article does, however carry Rouhani’s accusation that the US approach to fighting ISIS is cowardly:
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, in an exclusive interview with NBC News’ Ann Curry, denounced ISIS for its savagery but also branded the U.S.-led coalition against the terror group as “ridiculous.” Speaking from the presidential palace in Tehran ahead of his visit to the United Nations, Rouhani questioned President Obama’s decision to go after ISIS with airstrikes.
“Are Americans afraid of giving casualties on the ground in Iraq? Are they afraid of their soldiers being killed in the fight they claim is against terrorism?” Rouhani said.
“If they want to use planes and if they want to use unmanned planes so that nobody is injured from the Americans, is it really possible to fight terrorism without any hardship, without any sacrifice? Is it possible to reach a big goal without that? In all regional and international issues, the victorious one is the one who is ready to do sacrifice.
Rouhani’s accusation that the US wants to carry out this fight without sacrifices seems to be a very accurate description of the approach by the Obama Administration.
Further evidence for the “ridiculous” charge comes in this Huffington Post story about a Congressional briefing on US strategy:
One Democratic member of Congress said that the CIA has made it clear that it doubts the possibility that the administration’s strategy could succeed.
“I have heard it expressed, outside of classified contexts, that what you heard from your intelligence sources is correct, because the CIA regards the effort as doomed to failure,” the congressman said in an email. “Specifically (again without referring to classified information), the CIA thinks that it is impossible to train and equip a force of pro-Western Syrian nationals that can fight and defeat Assad, al-Nusra and ISIS, regardless of whatever air support that force may receive.”
He added that, as the CIA sees it, the ramped-up backing of rebels is an expansion of a strategy that is already not working. “The CIA also believes that its previous assignment to accomplish this was basically a fool’s errand, and they are well aware of the fact that many of the arms that they provided ended up in the wrong hands,” the congressman said, echoing intelligence sources.
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, already in New York for the beginning of talks on the nuclear deal and the opening of the UN General Assembly, told NPR that he still favors a deal with the P5+1 group of nations:
On the subject of negotiations over Iran’s nuclear weapons program, Zarif said all the “wrong options” have already been tried and that “we are ready” for an agreement.
Zarif is fully cognizant of the forces allied against reaching a deal, though:
“The only problem is how this could be presented to some domestic constituencies, primarily in the United States but also in places in Europe,” because “some are not interested in any deal,” he said.
“If they think any deal with Iran is a bad idea, there is no amount of — I don’t want to call it concession — no amount of assurance that is inherent in any deal because they are not interested in a deal, period,” Zarif said.
In sharp contrast with what U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other political leaders have said about no deal being better than a bad one, Zarif said: “I think if you compare any deal with no deal, it’s clear that a deal is much preferable.”
Gosh, considering how the US is working closely with anti-Iran groups, even to the point of interfering in lawsuits to prevent disclosure of how the government shares state secrets with them, Zarif seems to have a very clear grasp of the problem a deal faces.
Despite his harsh comments about the US (and harsh comments about ISIS, as well), Rouhani also held out hope that the P5+1 final agreement can be reached.
A central part of Barack Obama’s prime-time disclosure that he is authorizing air strikes in Syria was his call for half a billion dollars to train and equip “moderate” rebels in Syria. Proving that bipartisanism in Washington is not dead, John Boehner was quick to show his support for this nifty plan:
Congressional leaders rallied behind President Obama’s call to combat the Islamic State, vowing Thursday to back his request for funding to arm Syrian rebels as early as next week.
Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said he expects the House to pass Obama’s $500 million funding request to train and equip Syrian rebels who are fighting the militant group, also known as ISIL or ISIS.
“We only have one commander in chief,” Boehner said. “At this point in time, it is important to give the president what he is asking for.”
Remarkably, though, even this USA Today article notes that there might be a slight problem or two with this brilliant plan to stop ISIS, otherwise known as “the personification of evil in the modern world“:
Sen. Mark Begich of Alaska, another endangered Democrat, said he was opposed to arming Syrian rebels. “We must have greater assurance that we aren’t arming extremists who will eventually use the weapons against us,” he said.
House Republicans are divided into two camps, according to Rep. John Fleming of Louisiana. He told the Associated Press after a closed-door caucus meeting that one side hopes to hold Obama “accountable for doing the right thing.” The other group — that includes himself, Fleming said — believes Obama’s plans amount to an “insane strategy to go out there and depend on people that are proven undependable” to take down the Islamic State.
Wow. I think I just became a big fan of a Republican congressman from Louisiana.
So where could Begich have gotten the idea that if we arm extremists they might eventually use those arms on us? I mean, besides folks like Osama bin Laden and the death squads we have armed in Iraq and Afghanistan? And how could Fleming think the groups we plan to train and arm might be undependable? That is, besides the Iraqi troops we trained who then abandoned their posts and US-supplied weapons as soon as ISIS entered the picture or the Afghan troops that routinely give territory back to the Taliban as soon as US forces withdraw?
And about that half billion dollar budget. Note that back in June, SIGAR’s latest figures (pdf) showed that the US has already disbursed over $48 billion to the Afghan Security Forces Fund which provides funding for the training and support of Afghanistan’s troops. Despite those billions, of course, no one doubts that these forces will be completely unable to function once US troops and US funding are gone, just as we saw when Iraqi forces faded away in the face of ISIS.
So yes, we are still stuck in that version of the movie Groundhog Day where we just end up training and equipping groups to take on our latest enemy, only to have the effort fail. But who should lead this august effort? Our most accomplished failure on this front, hands down, is David Petraeus. How could we possibly not use the author of this brilliant prose, penned in September, 2004, claiming that his second attempt at training troops in Iraq was a smashing success: Continue reading
Polls taken almost exactly one year apart show a remarkable reversal in US opinion regarding the prospect of air strikes on Syria. Last year, in a poll conducted September 6-8, (pdf) there were a number of questions regarding action in Syria. By a margin of 59% to 39%, Americans overwhelmingly said they thought Congress should not pass the then pending resolution authorizing “military action for 60 to 90 days” that also banned use of US troops in a combat role. Further, 55% of those polled stated that even if Congress passed the resolution, they opposed US air strikes in Syria while only 43% favored them. In the hypothetical of no Congressional authorization, opposition to the air strikes rose to 71% with only 27% favoring them. Just one year later, those numbers have reversed. In a poll conducted September 4-7, 65% of Americans now say they support expanding US air strikes against the Sunni insurgents into Syria, while only 28% oppose them. Checking the crosstabs, support for the strikes jumps to 74% for Republicans but still is 60% for Democrats.
So why is this year’s Drum-Up-War week working, when last year’s failed?
Despite the heinous nature of last year’s sarin attack, it seems to me that most Americans did a good job of recognizing that what is underway in Syria is a civil war in which the US has no vital interest other than humanitarian concern for widespread death and displacement of citizens. Having failed to paint Bashar al-Assad as an evil-doer on the level of Saddam Hussein (or perhaps after Americans rejected such an obvious campaign to do so) Obama and his fellow war hawks now consider ISIS “the focus of evil in the modern world“.
The beheading of US journalists in Syria got huge play in the press. And yet, if we drill down a bit, the rate of journalists being killed in Syria is going down from its peak in 2012.
Somehow, Obama’s war gang has managed to convince ordinary Americans that ISIS represents a real threat to the US. That same poll that favors attacks on ISIS in Syria found that a staggering 91% of Americans find ISIS to be a serious threat to the US (59% said “very serious” and 31% said “somewhat serious”). Sadly, there is no reality behind this fear on the part of Americans. Even Time, in doing its best to support the hysteria, winds up undercutting the concept in a story today. In a piece creatively titled “Understanding the ISIS Threat to Americans at Home“, we learn:
On the one hand, Attorney General Eric Holder has said western fighters joining ISIS and returning home radicalized are the national security danger he worries about most. “We are seeing, I would say, an alarming rise in the number of American and European Union nationals who have been going to Syria to help extremist groups,” Holder told TIME last month. “This represents a grave threat to our security,” he said.
But in a thorough presentation on Sept. 3 at the Brookings Institution, outgoing director of the National Counterterrorism Center, Matthew Olsen, presented a less scary picture. ISIS has no cells in the U.S., Olsen said, “full stop.” Further, Olsen said, “we have no credible information” that the group “is planning to attack the U.S.” ISIS, Olsen said “is not al Qaeda pre-9/11.”
At most, the article concludes, quoting Obama in his “exclusive” with Chuck Todd, he needed “to launch air strikes to ensure that towns like Erbil were not overrun, critical infrastructure, like the Mosul Dam was protected, and that we were able to engage in key humanitarian assistance programs that have saved thousands of lives.”
The links Holder is hyping about ISIS and AQAP simply do not exist:
Holder says the danger comes from the combination of westerners joining ISIS and the expert bomb-makers working for the al Qaeda affiliate in Yemen, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). It is not clear what if any evidence exists of such collaboration yet. On the one hand, AQAP has issued statements in support of ISIS, and both groups are active in Syria and Iraq; on the other, al Qaeda and ISIS split in the last year after a debate over tactics and territory.
Several senior administration officials tell TIME they have seen no evidence of direct contact between individual members of AQAP and ISIS.
In the end, the article concludes, Obama’s war team has deduced that we must attack ISIS because at some point in the future, they will turn their sights on us. Never mind that in this case, attacking ISIS in Syria winds up helping Assad, whom we wanted to attack last year:
Jane Harman, the president of the Woodrow Wilson Center, said that while the Assad government was a major topic of discussion, she and other participants told Mr. Obama that he could order military action in Syria without fear of helping Mr. Assad, since ISIS was occupying ungoverned territory that his forces were unlikely to reconquer.
I guess that Harman and Obama know that Assad won’t be able to reconquer those once ISIS is gone because of the bang-up job we will do training and equipping our famous “moderate” rebels, but hey, what could go wrong on any of this?
In the end, though, the apparent support for this version of strikes on Syria seems to me to have come about because of the shift in focus on the “enemy” from a president oppressing the citizens of his country to an international terror group that we must fear and that represents true evil. As far as the average American is concerned, meddling in another country’s civil war is out of bounds, but when it comes to protecting the homeland against evil-doers, anything goes.
And it doesn’t even need Congressional approval.
In a press conference completed only about an hour ago, Abdullah Abdullah has declared himself the winner of Afghanistan’s presidential election and said that he will not accept the result of the audit that has been taking place since the June runoff election. Khaama Press appears to be the first to come out with a story on Abdullah’s statements, although there were Twitter updates from several sources as he spoke:
Afghanistan’s controversial presidential election was once again taken towards a deadlock after the Reform and Partnership tem led by Dr. Abdullah Abdullah announced their stance regarding the election process.
Abdullah said the political process has now entered to a deadlock and claimed that his team was the winner and will be the winner of the presidential election, accusing the electoral bodies for being involved in industrial scale fraud.
Abdullah criticized the vote audit and invalidation process and said the process had problems since the beginning and his team’s complaints and concerns were not considered by concerned parties involved in the process.
He claimed that his rival team had the support of government and the electoral bodies during the election and vote audit process.
Although Abdullah did speak out against violence, there appears to be widespread concern that if the audit and power-sharing process have indeed broken down, fighting could break out along ethnic lines.
It appears that Obama was still pushing last night for Abdullah and Ghani to work out a deal, but that effort clearly failed.
By declaring himself the winner, Abdullah seems to be setting the stage for both candidates to declare themselves winners. From this morning’s Washington Post:
Daoud Sultanzoy, a top aide to Ghani, said the Ghani campaign hopes that Abdullah will not announce he’s abandoning the process. But if he does, Ghani appears prepared to assume power unilaterally.
When the US begins to squawk about both candidates abandoning Afghanistan’s constitution to declare themselves winners, don’t forget that it was the US who first brought up the extra-constitutional “power-sharing” government idea. There seems to be a very good chance that the situation will get worse very quickly at this point.
Well, that didn’t take long. On Friday, John Kerry made a second pass at getting Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani to make nice. This time he even produced a signed document (probably) to go along with the happy photos. And then yesterday the Washington Post announced that Ghani already is backing down on the whole shared power concept:
Ashraf Ghani, one of two candidates competing to become Afghanistan’s president, said Tuesday that the deadline to finish a vote recount is slipping and that a U.S.-brokered agreement for the rivals to form a joint government afterward does not mean the winner will fully share power with the loser.
Speaking to foreign journalists at his fortified compound in the capital, Ghani appeared to be trying to tamp down a surge of discontent among his supporters and allies, many of whom are reportedly upset that he agreed under U.S. pressure to a full recount of ballots from the troubled presidential runoff in June and the formation of a “unity” government with his rival.
On Friday, Ghani restated those pledges during a visit by Secretary of State John F. Kerry. But on Tuesday, he sought to clarify that he has not agreed to a power-sharing agreement with former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah. Ghani said the winner will appoint the loser “by decree” as a chief executive to serve “at the discretion of the president.” Abdullah has demanded more authority if he loses.
After a false start earlier, the work on developing the real power sharing agreement was slated to start today:
The joint committee assigned by the two presidential candidates and expected to hash out the details of their power-sharing agreement is expected to begin its work on Wednesday, according to representatives of both campaigns.
The joint committee was initially expected to start work last Saturday, a day after the three article declaration about the broad structure of the national unity government was signed by both candidates. However, disagreements over the join committee were said to have stalled the start of negotiations until now.
Abullah Abdullah’s First Vice President, Mohammad Khan, has said on that the committee will have a total of thirty members representing both candidates. According to Fizullah Zaki, a spokesman for Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai’s team, both teams nominated 15 representatives on Tuesday.
With 15 negotiators on each side, I would expect that the first week or two of the negotiations will resolve such crucial issues as the shape of the table and the length of the breaks between sessions. They might also want to make a “no punching” rule, as there appears to have been another fight today while ballots were being reviewed. It’s hard to see how Kerry could make a third trip to put the power sharing back on course since the first two have been such spectacular failures.
Combining the poor outlook for a power sharing agreement with the continued disruptions in auditing ballots puts the next “deadline” in a huge amount of doubt:
The NATO coalition will be forced to make a decision on its continued role in Afghanistan without a Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) in place if the Afghan presidential election does not meet a conclusion soon, NATO Secretary-General Andres Fog Rasmussen warned on Monday.
The senior NATO official indicated continued military support, including a post-withdraw troop presence for training and advising purposes, as well as broader financial aid to Afghanistan, would likely be impossible if the BSA is not signed by a new Afghan president before the NATO summit begins on September 4.
“Soon we will have to take tough decisions, because if there is not a legal basis for our continued presence in Afghanistan, we will have to withdraw everything by the end of this year and to do that we will have to start planning … very soon,” Rasmussen told Reuters on Monday.
Obama has a very easy way out here. If there still is no resolution to the election by the time of the NATO summit, he can paint the decision to withdraw completely from Afghanistan as a NATO decision rather than a US decision. Yes, a number of earlier deadlines in this process have been ignored, but it is very hard to see how NATO would agree to remain in Afghanistan without a BSA signed by a new president. Although the neocons likely would return to Iraq-era “no permission slip needed” rhetoric urging Obama to keep troops there even without any other NATO allies, I don’t seen how he would do that.
We are less than a month away from what almost certainly will be a decision to withdraw fully from a war that has been one of the most badly managed efforts in our country’s history. We have squandered about a trillion dollars, killed untold numbers of civilians, lost far too many troops and will leave a country that is wracked by devastation and a huge increase in corruption. Obama will be blamed for losing Afghanistan just as surely as he is now being blamed for losing Iraq, but in both cases, the entire country should share the blame for empowering amoral leaders who know only death, destruction and corruption.