You’ll be hearing these two assertions repeated, made by someone who voted for the Iraq War in the 21st Century, a lot in coming days (see after 0:50).
You just don’t, in the 21st Century, behave in 19th Century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped up pretext so it is a very serious moment.
That’s not the act of somebody who is strong. That’s the act of somebody who is acting out of weakness, who is acting out of a certain kind of desperation.
I guess someone in the Obama White House believed that if we call Vladimir Putin weak after he’s just called our bluff, it will get him to back down, even as Putin knows we have no great options against him.
But it all shows one of the downsides of having so badly spent our moral standing already this century. Whatever the objective of these statements, whether in other circumstances they might have worked, they just come off as a joke. Especially coming from Kerry.
Yesterday, I speculated on whether Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was turning his back on his campaign promise of peace talks with the Taliban so that he could seek US counterterrorism funds suddenly not being used in Afghanistan. Today’s New York Times joins me in pointing out the key role of counterterrorism in an important US-Pakistan meeting in Washington today:
Secretary of State John Kerry is to meet Pakistan’s foreign and national security policy adviser, Sartaj Aziz, here on Monday, and counterterrorism operations are to be a major subject of discussion, a senior State Department official said Sunday.
The Times article, however, centers on a key piece of context that I hadn’t brought into yesterday’s speculation. The growing likelihood that all US troops will be forced to withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of this year in the absence of a signed Bilateral Security Agreement means that the US needs a new home for its drones:
The risk that President Obama may be forced to pull all American troops out of Afghanistan by the end of the year has set off concerns inside the American intelligence agencies that they could lose their air bases used for drone strikes against Al Qaeda in Pakistan and for responding to a nuclear crisis in the region.
The concern has become serious enough that the Obama administration has organized a team of intelligence, military and policy specialists to devise alternatives to mitigate the damage if a final security deal cannot be struck with the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, who has declined to enact an agreement that American officials thought was completed last year.
If Mr. Obama ultimately withdrew all American troops from Afghanistan, the C.I.A.’s drone bases in the country would have to be closed, according to administration officials, because it could no longer be protected.
Oh, the horrors of it all! Who can bear the tragedy of all those poor, homeless drones, wandering around the world with no base close enough for a rapid trip inside the borders of a sovereign nation that has stated in no uncertain terms that it considers drone strikes to be illegal and to be war crimes?
The Times article reminds us that the US once used a base inside Pakistan for drone flights:
Their base inside Pakistan was closed after a shooting involving a C.I.A. security contractor, Raymond Davis, and the raid into Pakistani territory that killed Osama bin Laden, both in 2011.
That bit simplifies the Shamsi Air Base story a bit. While it is true that Pakistan stated that they were kicking the US off the base in June of 2011, not very long after the Osama bin Laden raid (and a bit longer after the Raymond Davis fiasco), the US didn’t actually leave the base until December, after the US killed 24 Pakistani troops at a border station.
So it would seem to me that in today’s talks with Aziz, Kerry will be dangling a couple billion dollars that will be Pakistan’s for the taking, but only if they meet two conditions. Condition one will be to continue Sharif’s new-found enthusiasm for attacking militant groups and condition two will be to re-open Shamsi air base for the US to continue drone operations.
Should such an agreement come to pass, it would completely invalidate the elections that Pakistan held last May, in which Pakistan for the very first time experienced a peaceful transition from one elected government to another. One of Sharif’s main campaign points was the establishment of peace talks with the Taliban. He now is carrying out military actions against them instead. Imran Khan, who came in second in the election, campaigned on a pledge to end US drone strikes. Opening a base inside Pakistan for US drones would render votes cast for Khan meaningless.
Perhaps the only solace that the US would be able to offer Pakistan should they agree to re-open Shamsi to drones would be that after the formal US withdrawal from Afghanistan, the base in Shamsi would almost certainly be used by the US to violate Afghanistan’s sovereignty on a regular basis, just as the US has been doing lately to Pakistan from Afghanistan.
Back in early November, the US carried out one of its most controversial drone strikes in Pakistan, killing TTP head Hakimullah Mehsud just hours before peace talks between the TTP and Pakistan were to begin. This move by the US seems to have pushed the TTP in a more radicalized direction, resulting in many new attacks. Pakistan’s government has responded to these attacks with counterattacks, effectively putting an end to prospects for restarting the talks.
Today, we see Sharif’s government vowing to take on another radical Sunni group, this time in Balochistan:
The government has finally decided to launch an operation against the feared Sunni terrorist outfit, the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, and other militant groups involved in fomenting unrest in Balochistan.
The decision was taken in a meeting attended by Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar, Balochistan Chief Minister Dr Abdul Malik Baloch, the Quetta corps commander, the Balochistan inspector general (IG) police and the Frontier Corps IG.
Dr Baloch was made in-charge of the operation against Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.
It is important to mention that the decision to launch an operation against terrorists was taken following an attack on Shias in Mastung that killed 29 pilgrims on Tuesday.
Significant government resources were brought in quickly after the attack on the bus:
The Government of Balochistan has suspended buses carrying pilgrims from travelling through the province to neighbouring Iran due to security concerns after a suicide attack killed 28 pilgrims in Mastung this week.
A 700 km highway connecting Quetta and Iran, home to many Shia pilgrimage sites, has seen dozens of suicide and roadside bomb attacks.
“We have temporarily suspended the movement of buses on the highway until the security situation improves,” a senior official of the Balochistan government told Reuters on Friday.
The provincial government then arranged C-130 flights to ferry 301 Shia pilgrims from Dalbandin town in Chagai district to Quetta International Airport for fear of more attacks on the pilgrims on Taftan-Quetta Highway. The pilgrims had entered Pakistan via Iran border in Taftan Town on Wednesday.
“The pilgrims were stopped in Taftan and barred from travelling by passenger buses. They were later shifted to Dalbandin under tight security,” another official said.
FC and Levies personnel escorted the pilgrims from Taftan to Dalbandin.
Although the C-130 flights were provided by the provincial government, the Frontier Corps is under the control of Pakistan’s army and so there appears to be national coordination in this response, as is also indicated by Nisar being mentioned in the Pakistan Today article quoted above (Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, although not mentioned in the article, is in the accompanying photo).
Almost under the radar, we get word that talks begin in Washington, DC tomorrow on the “strategic” relationship between Pakistan and the US. It appears that counterterrorism is high on the list of topics under discussion: Continue reading
Although the P5+1 interim agreement with Iran was first reached in late November, ongoing talks have been required to fill in the details of just how the agreement is to be implemented. Those talks came to fruition yesterday with the announcement that on January 20, the six month period of Iran making concessions on enrichment in return for limited sanctions relief will begin. The hope is that this period of pausing progress in Iran’s development of nuclear technology and the loosening of some sanctions will provide a window to negotiate a broader agreement that provides verifiable prevention of Iran producing nuclear weapons.
US Secretary of State John Kerry noted the significance of the latest negotiating progress:
We’ve taken a critical, significant step forward towards reaching a verifiable resolution that prevents Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
On January 20, in just a few short days, we will begin implementation of the Joint Plan of Action that we and our partners agreed to with Iran in Geneva.
As of that day, for the first time in almost a decade, Iran’s nuclear program will not be able to advance, and parts of it will be rolled back, while we start negotiating a comprehensive agreement to address the international community’s concerns about Iran’s program.
Because of the determined and focused work of our diplomats and technical experts, we now have a set of technical understandings for how the parties will fulfill the commitments made at the negotiating table. These understandings outline how the first step agreement will be implemented and verified, as well as the timing of implementation of its provisions.
Iran will voluntarily take immediate and important steps between now and January 20 to halt the progress of its nuclear program. Iran will also continue to take steps throughout the six months to live up to its commitments, such as rendering the entire stockpile of its 20% enriched uranium unusable for further enrichment. As this agreement takes effect, we will be extraordinarily vigilant in our verification and monitoring of Iran’s actions, an effort that will be led by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
The United States and the rest of our P5+1 partners will also take steps, in response to Iran fulfilling its commitments, to begin providing some limited and targeted relief. The $4.2 billion in restricted Iranian assets that Iran will gain access to as part of the agreement will be released in regular installments throughout the six months. The final installment will not be available to Iran until the very last day.
That last bit is critical. While the war mongers will be crying about the US giving sanctions relief to Iran, that relief will be doled out over time and only provided as Iran continues to live up to its side of the agreement, with the final portion of funds only coming on the very last day of the six months. Central to this agreement, as previously reported, is that Iran will completely halt its enrichment to 20% uranium and, by the end of the six month period, will have no stockpile of 20% enriched uranium that is in a chemical form that could rapidly be enriched further to weapons grade.
Kerry appreciates that the six month period will provide a large window in which Congressional war mongers will be doing their best to disrupt the agreement:
We now have an obligation to give our diplomats and experts every chance to succeed in these difficult negotiations. I very much appreciate Congress’ critical role in imposing the sanctions that brought Iran to the table, but I feel just as strongly that now is not the time to impose additional sanctions that could threaten the entire negotiating process. Now is not the time for politics. Now is the time for statesmanship, for the good of our country, the region, and the world.
As I pointed out when Robert Menendez put together his bill for further sanctions, that particular bill goes far beyond a mere promise of further sanctions if a final agreement is not reached. Instead, it promises these sanctions even if a final agreement is reached that allows Iran to retain the right of enrichment of uranium below 5%. It has been clear to me from the start that Iran will insist on retaining the right to low level enrichment, and today’s Washington Post story on implementation of the agreement makes that point very strongly: Continue reading
Last Thursday, the US announced that it was adding more companies and more people to its blacklist of those banned from making deals with Iran as part of the overall sanctions aimed at Iran developing nuclear weapon technology. Iran responded the same day by withdrawing its personnel from the technical talks that were underway in Vienna that were aimed at implementing the interim agreement that Iran had signed with the P5+1 group of nations last month in Geneva.
Fredrik Dahl and Adrian Croft of Reuters described those developments in a Friday article:
The United States on Thursday black-listed additional companies and people under sanctions aimed at preventing Iran from obtaining the capability to make nuclear weapons, U.S. officials said. Iran says its atomic work is purely peaceful.
Treasury and State Department officials said the move showed the Geneva deal “does not, and will not, interfere with our continued efforts to expose and disrupt those supporting Iran’s nuclear program or seeking to evade our sanctions.”
The somewhat unexpected move by the US provoked anger in Iran:
One diplomat said the Iranian delegation suddenly announced late on Thursday evening – hours after Washington made its decision public – that it was returning to Tehran.
The Iranians said “they had received instructions from Tehran to stop the discussions and fly back to Tehran,” the diplomat said. “It was quite unexpected.”
It seems quite possible that the move by the US was meant to toss a bit of red meat to the war monger crowd. Rumors had been building for some time that new sanctions bills would be introduced in both the House and the Senate. Adding to the harsh economic sanctions on Iran just after they have signed a promising agreement would seem a sure-fire way to prevent a final agreement being reached. True to form, one of the leading war mongers, John McCain, appeared on CNN on Sunday and managed to get headlines such as the one in the Washington Post reading “McCain says Iran sanctions bill ‘very likely’“.
But, if we look a little closer, we see room for a bit of hope. It turns out that the sanctions bill McCain now advocates would not add new sanctions unless the six month negotiating period with Iran laid out in last month’s agreement expires without a final agreement being reached. By delaying any new sanctions so that they would only be implemented if the talks fail, McCain and the other war mongers actually have a chance to help rather than hinder the negotiations. Knowing that failed talks mean even worse economic hardships rather than merely continuing the current set of sanctions would seem to place more pressure on Iran to come to agreement with the P5+1 powers.
The weekend saw discussion by telephone between US Secretary of State John Kerry and Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. They discussed how to move the talks ahead.
On the very same day that a member Congress stated that Middle Eastern cultures routinely lie during negotiations, several US senior officials suggested dishonest ways of working around Hamid Karzai’s conditions for signing the Bilateral Security Agreement by getting someone other than Karzai to sign it.
Granted, Duncan Hunter, Jr. is batshit crazy and also was arguing for the use of tactical nuclear weapons in a war with Iran, but his statements on honesty yesterday provide a supremely ironic context for John Kerry and Chuck Hagel suggesting someone other than Karzai could sign the agreement. TPM has Hunter’s comments:
Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) said Wednesday that it is in the Middle Eastern culture to lie during negotiations.
“In the Middle Eastern culture, it is looked upon with very high regard to get the best deal possible no matter what it takes — and that includes lying,” Hunter said in an interview with C-SPAN. “That’s one reason that these Gulf states like to work with the United States — because we’re honest and transparent and we have laws that we have to live by.”
Hunter and his ilk, of course, would point to Karzai’s new conditions imposed after the loya jirga approved the BSA and urged Karzai to sign it. But is the US acting any differently than the actions Hunter criticizes in its attempt, at any cost, to get a work-around?
From the Washington Post:
The Obama administration is looking for ways to work around Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s new demands concerning a key security agreement with the United States, a senior U.S. official close to the negotiations said Wednesday.
“One of the things we’re trying to do quietly is design, engineer, imagine ways that we could get ourselves out of this fix,” the official said in an interview, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to describe the emerging strategy on the record. “One of those ways might be to find a mechanism, a technique where Karzai could abide by his loya jirga pledge not to sign it but still give us the document we need.”
Secretary of State John F. Kerry suggested this week that someone other than Karzai might sign the security deal. Possibilities include the top Afghan and U.S. defense officials, although U.S. officials played down that option after Kerry spoke.
But in Washington on Wednesday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel also suggested to reporters at the Pentagon that the signature of an Afghan leader other than Karzai might suffice.
And Martin Dempsey has also joined the Coalition of the Working-Around:
Dempsey said it was important that any agreement be binding. “As long as the document is considered legally binding by both parties and credible internationally, then I think it will be a matter of who they decide signs it,” he said.
The attempts to bypass Karzai are not being received well in Kabul. From Khaama Press:
Aimal Faizi, spokesman for president Hamid Karzai has said that the Afghan ministers will not be authorized to sign the security pact unless the demands are met.
Mr. Faizi further added that president Hamid Karzai remains committed to his two main demands to sign the agreement. “President Karzai wants an absolute end to the military operations on Afghan homes and a meaningful start to the peace process, and we are certain that the Americans can practically do that within days or weeks,” Faizi quoted by Reuters said.
He also added, “As long as these demands are not accepted, President Karzai will not authorize any minister to sign it.”
There is one more very important tidbit buried near the end of this article. It turns out that the US didn’t merely mention getting someone other than Karzai to sign the agreement, it has already approached the Afghan defense minister to try to persuade him to sign it:
According to reports, US officials have also approached Afghan defense minister Gen. Bismillah Mohammadi during the NATO foreign ministerial meeting in Brussels to discuss such a possibility.
Hunter couldn’t have said it any better. The US wants this document signed, no matter what it takes.
Fars News reports that Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Catherine Ashton, chief negotiator for the European Union, will meet for lunch tomorrow just before the next round of P5+1 talks with Iran kick off in Geneva later in the afternoon. But even though an interim agreement that would freeze Iran’s current nuclear work in return for a release of some impounded funds to Iran while a longer term agreement is finalized seems more likely than not, those who oppose any deal are desperately lashing out at the last minute. This morning, two bomb blasts near the Iranian embassy in Beirut killed more than twenty and injured well over a hundred. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ramped up his rhetoric even further, making the outrageous claim that Iran has on hand sufficient uranium enriched to 5% to make up to five bombs within a few weeks of a “breakout”. Meanwhile, US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry seem to have quelled for now any Congressional attempts to ratchet up sanctions ahead of this week’s negotiations, but should no agreement emerge this week, look for Washington politicians to race one another to see who can introduce the most severe new sanctions.
Although Beirut has seen several attacks back and forth recently with various Sunni and Shia groups attacking one another, the timing of today’s blasts suggest that the nuclear negotiations may be a target, as well. The Reuters article informs us that an al Qaeda group has claimed responsibility:
A Lebanese-based al Qaeda-linked group known as the Abdullah Azzam Brigades claimed responsibility for what it described as a double suicide attack on the Iranian mission in southern Beirut.
Lebanon has suffered a series of bomb attacks and clashes linked to the 2-1/2-year-old conflict in neighboring Syria.
Security camera footage showed a man in an explosives belt rushing towards the outer wall of the embassy before blowing himself up, Lebanese officials said. They said the second explosion was caused by a car bomb parked two buildings away from the compound.
But the Syrian information minister goes further, blaming Israel and Saudi Arabia for supporting the attack:
Syrian Information Minister Omran Zoabi implicitly blamed Saudi Arabia and Qatar for supporting radical militants, who have been accused for previous attacks against Shi’ite targets.
Just as they have been working together to arm and fund Sunni fighters for Syria, Israel and Saudi Arabia have joined together to fight against any agreements between the West and Iran on nuclear technology.
I had seen several indications this morning that Obama planned to call for a diplomatic approach to the ongoing conflict in Syria despite the earlier indications that he intended to pursue a military strike even if the UK did not join and the UN did not provide a resolution authorizing force. I was hopeful that this new-found reliance on diplomacy would go all the way to calling for a ceasefire to provide safe conditions for the gathering and destruction of Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons.
Alas, my hopes were once again dashed as Obama fell far short of proposing a ceasefire and he wound up delivering very convoluted remarks as he tried to maintain the fiction that Bashar al-Assad’s forces have been proven to have carried out the August 21 chemical weapons attack and that he favors diplomacy over military action. The quotations I will use here are from the Washington Post’s transcript of his speech.
In a move that approaches Colin Powell’s historic spinning of lies before the invasion of Iraq, Obama stated that there is no dispute that Syrian forces are responsible for the August 21 attack:
The evidence is overwhelming that the Assad regime used such weapons on August 21st. U.N. inspectors gave a clear accounting that advanced rockets fired large quantities of sarin gas at civilians. These rockets were fired from a regime-controlled neighborhood and landed in opposition neighborhoods.
It’s an insult to human reason and to the legitimacy of this institution to suggest that anyone other than the regime carried out this attack.
As I stated shortly after the UN report came out, the report did not show that the rockets for which they determined trajectories carried sarin. That argument is strengthened further by the subsequent realization by others that not one of the environmental samples from the Moadamiyah site came back as positive for sarin. So now one of the famous lines that cross at a Syrian military installation has to be disregarded entirely because there is no evidence of sarin at the point of rocket impact. [Look for the website and reporters for the linked post to be attacked mercilessly. Both the Global Research site I linked to in one questioning post and the Mint Press site which suggested a Saudi false flag operation have been attacked savagely as to their credibility. Remarkably, I have yet to see any of those attacks actually contradict the questions that have been raised.*]
Let’s take a look at Obama’s logical gymnastics as he tried to justify both his initial intent to attack Syria and then his rediscovery that he prefers a diplomatic approach. Early in his Syria comments, he claimed “ A peace process is stillborn.” He gave no evidence of what, if any, role the US played in the peace process. In fact, his next sentence provides a partial clue to just how the peace process died: “America and others have worked to bolster the moderate opposition, but extremist groups have still taken root to exploit the crisis.”
You see, those moderate groups that we are arming are not able to defeat the extremists that others are arming. Sounds like a child caught fighting who says “he hit me back first”.
So that background of a stillborn peace process is why, even before the weak evidence from the UN that the US is misrepresenting came out, Obama insisted that he had to attack Assad. Obama’s ploy to support his actions approached a George W. Bush administration level of disdain for the UN itself as he supplied his rationalization: Continue reading
It is wealth inequality day, in which, on the same day, the Census Bureau releases information on poverty and CQ releases the list of richest members of Congress.
As for poverty: things didn’t get statistically worse, but things didn’t get better at all, not even with decreasing unemployment (which, admittedly, is largely about labor market participation). (In good news, President Obama today extended minimum wage and overtime protections to home healthcare workers, though he bizarrely delayed implementation of the rule until 2015.)
As for wealth, 50 members of Congress are worth $6.67 million or more.
No wonder they seem so distant from the worries of their constituents.
But the truly mind-blowing detail from CQ’s wealthiest list is the remarkable luck Darrell Issa had in the last year. In just the last year, his net worth has increased from $140.55 million to $355.38 million — or a net worth increase of 152.8%. (He also became the richest member, but would have anyway on account of John Kerry’s retirement.)
No wonder he gins up factually problematic attacks on the IRS.
Here’s how CQ describes Issa managed such a feat:
The longtime denizen of the 50 Richest list finally reached the No. 1 spot after making about $135 million in 2012, mostly from investments that swelled in a bull market.
Issa appears to make his money in the stock market. He ended 2012 with at least $390 million in bonds and stocks. His true worth, however, could be far greater. Members of Congress aren’t obligated to disclose exact figures, only ranges, and Issa has seven accounts with a minimum of $50 million, which is the highest category available on standard disclosure forms.
Issa also has about $75 million in outstanding loans, owing at least $50 million to Merrill Lynch and $25 million to Union Bank. Whether he truly is the richest member of Congress actually depends on precisely how much money he owes to Merrill Lynch.
So in the last year in which insider trading was legal for members Congress, Darrell Issa managed to make at least $100 million.
And yet he believes Benghazi is the most urgent matter facing this country.
This report — second-hand from Jane’s — has shocked a lot of commentators.
Opposition forces battling Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria now number around 100,000 fighters, but after more than two years of fighting they are fragmented into as many as 1,000 bands.
The new study by IHS Jane’s, a defence consultancy, estimates there are around 10,000 jihadists – who would include foreign fighters – fighting for powerful factions linked to al-Qaeda..
Another 30,000 to 35,000 are hardline Islamists who share much of the outlook of the jihadists, but are focused purely on the Syrian war rather than a wider international struggle.
There are also at least a further 30,000 moderates belonging to groups that have an Islamic character, meaning only a small minority of the rebels are linked to secular or purely nationalist groups.
After all, House Homeland Security Committee Chair Mike McCaul has directly challenged John Kerry’s claims that only 15 to 25% of the rebels are extremists. McCaul says intelligence he has seen says 50% are “bad actors.” He actually suggested either Kerry’s claims were wrong (he got them from Elizabeth O’Bagy, who subsequently got fired for lying about having a PhD) or the intelligence he had received previous was.
In other words, our intelligence community has told a key National Security Chair that half the rebels are extremists. It should not be a surprise that Jane’s agrees.