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.
There’s a fundamental dishonesty in the debate about Syria derived from treating the authorization to punish Bashar al-Assad for chemical weapons use in isolation from the Administration’s acknowledged covert operations to support the rebels. It results in non-discussions like this one, in which Markos Moulitsas refutes Nicholas Kristof’s call for bombing Bashar al-Assad based on the latter’s claim we are currently pursuing “peaceful acquiescence.”
And war opponents don’t have to deal with arguments like this one, from the New York Times’Nicholas Kristof:
So far, we’ve tried peaceful acquiescence, and it hasn’t worked very well. The longer the war drags on in Syria, the more Al Qaeda elements gain strength, the more Lebanon and Jordan are destabilized, and the more people die.
The administration has gone to great lengths to stress just how limited air strikes will be, and to great pain to reiterate that regime destabilization is not the goal. So I’m not sure where Kristoff gets the idea that such attacks will have any effect on the growing influence of Islamists in the region. But let’s say that by some miracle, the air strikes do weaken the Assad government, it is the “Al Qaeda elements” that stand most to gain, as they are be best placed to pick up the pieces.
Markos is right: the Administration has gone to great lengths to claim this authorization to use force is only about limited bomb strikes, will involve no boots on the ground, and isn’t about regime change. Here’s how the President described it:
I have decided that the United States should take military action against Syrian regime targets. This would not be an open-ended intervention. We would not put boots on the ground. Instead, our action would be designed to be limited in duration and scope.
But both are ignoring that at the same time, the Administration is pursuing publicly acknowledged (!) covert operations with the intent of either overthrowing Assad and replacing him with moderate, secular Syrians (based on assurances from the “Custodian of the Two Mosques” about who is and who is not secular), or at least weakening Assad sufficiently to force concessions in a negotiated deal that includes the Russians.
Yet here’s how the President’s National Security team discussed the other strand of this — lethal support for vetted rebels — from the very beginning of Tuesday’s hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
SEN. CORKER: What I’m unaware of is why it is so slow in actually helping them with lethal support — why has that been so slow?
SEC. KERRY: I think — I think, Senator, we need to have that discussion tomorrow in classified session. We can talk about some components of that. Suffice it to say, I want to General Dempsey to speak to this, maybe Secretary Hagel. That is increasing significantly. It has increased in its competency. I think it’s made leaps and bounds over the course of the last few months.
Secretary Hagel, do you — or General, do you want to –
SEN. HAGEL: I would only add that it was June of this year that the president made a decision to support lethal assistance to the opposition, as you all know. We have been very supportive with hundreds of millions of dollars of nonlethal assistance. The vetting process, as Secretary Kerry noted, has been significant. But — I’ll ask General Dempsey if he wants to add anything — but we, Department of Defense, have not been directly involved in this. This is, as you know, a covert action, and as Secretary Kerry noted, probably to go into much more detail would require a closed or classified hearing.
SEN. CORKER: As he’s answering that, and if you could be fairly brief, is there anything about the authorization that you’re asking that in any way takes away from our stated strategy of empowering the vetted opposition to have the capacity over time to join in with a transition government, as we have stated from the beginning?
Is there anything about this authorization that in any way supplements that?
GEN. DEMPSEY: To your question about the opposition, moderate opposition, the path to the resolution of the Syrian conflict is through a developed, capable, moderate opposition. And we know how to do that.
Secondly, there’s nothing in this resolution that would limit what we’re doing now, but we’re very focused on the response to the chemical weapons. I think that subsequent to that, we would probably return to have a discussion about what we might do with the moderate opposition in a — in a more overt way. [my emphasis]
The President, as part of covert action (that is, authorized under Article II authority), decided to lethally arm vetted rebels in June. Those efforts were already increasing significantly, independent of the spanking we’re discussing for Assad. Nothing related to the spanking will limit those efforts to arm the rebels (no one comments on it here, but elsewhere they do admit that spanking Assad will degrade his defenses, so the opposite will occur). And General Dempsey, at least, is forthright that the Administration plans to return to Congress after the spanking to talk about increased, overt support for the rebels.
So there’s the spanking.
And then there’s the lethal arming of rebels which is not a part of the spanking, but will coincidentally benefit from it and has been accelerating of late.
Spanking without regime change. And regime change (or at least a negotiated solution).
Which returns us to the content of the AUMF. Continue reading
Lesson #1: We’re going to war so we don’t lose some friends
John Kerry twice said that if we don’t bomb Assad we’ll lose friends and/or allies. “If we fail to act we’ll have fewer allies.”
That admitted something that has been acknowledged — usually not in print — in DC. We’re doing this not to retain our general credibility, but to retain “credibility” with Saudi Arabia and Israel. Credibility with Saudi Arabia is important, I presume, because they continue to sell oil in dollars and buy lots of military toys — including $640 million of cluster bombs that undermine everything the Administration says about humanity.
Credibility is important with Israel because if they don’t believe we’ll attack Iran if they need us to, they’ll just attack on their own. Here’s confirmation of something that had already been confirmed but somehow is getting trotted out again today: the US had to stop Israel from unilaterally attacking Iran last year. (Update: As Max Blumenthal notes, AIPAC’s statement in favor of war mentions Iran more than Syria.)
Lesson #2: The friends we do have don’t want anyone to know they are our friends
At one point, when Kerry was asked who in the region support us, he deferred to closed session.
He won’t tell us who supports this!
This is likely about protecting Jordan, where we’re staging covert operations, which would make an easy target for Assad. Kerry implied Jordan supported this action, though was pretty coy about it.
Still, back when we attacked Saddam in 1991, he still had WMD. His neighbors knew that. But they were willing to openly support our attack on him. Not this war.
Lesson #3: Bombing another country unilaterally is not war in the “classic sense”
Because the Administration plans not to have boots on the ground and will instead bomb from outside Syria, and even though Kerry seems to readily admit that we may need boots on the ground, he says this is not war “in the classic sense.”
Lesson #4: The Administration promises no boots on the ground except insofar as it anticipates boots on the ground
Kerry was asked specifically about how he felt about explicitly prohibiting boots on the ground. He answered by saying the Administration didn’t want boots on the ground but might need them if Syria imploded and we needed to put people on the ground to secure the CW. He also said, with respect to securing CW, he didn’t want to take any tools away from General Dempsey.
Lesson #5: Whatever comes out of this resolution is separate from effort to oust Assad
Kerry and Obama have both said these attacks will be limited and don’t aim to oust Assad. But it became clear over the course of the hearing (as witnesses tried to balance those, like McCain and Ron Johnson, who wanted more war, and those, like Tom Udall, who wanted limits) that in addition to this strike there’s the pre-existing policy of increasing our support to the rebels, effectively to oust Assad. So while this strike is not about regime change, it exists on top of a strategy that is about regime change.
Lesson # 6: A map showing alleged attacks is physical evidence
No. I don’t understand this one.
Lesson #7: The Administration claims it has evidence “beyond a reasonable doubt” against Assad
Both Menendez and Kerry both claimed we have evidence beyond a reasonable doubt against Assad. Kerry even noted that’s the standard we use to send people away to prison.
Neither one, of course, explained why we weren’t referring (or trying to — it would take a Security Council referral) Assad’s crimes to the International Criminal Court.
But as they did with Anwar al-Awlaki, they believe that declaring something “beyond a reasonable doubt” (though honestly, they never voiced their case against Awlaki that strongly) is sufficient and they don’t need to wait for UN inspectors or real juries.
As the Afghanistan disaster careens closer to the late 2014 end of the NATO mission, the US continues to embarrass itself while it perpetuates the charade of trying to negotiate terms for US forces to remain in Afghanistan beyond 2014. On Monday, the US flew Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Martin Dempsey to Kabul where he had a photo opportunity with Hamid Karzai. Even while the “meetings” were taking place, unfolding events in Afghanistan demonstrate that US plans to keep thousands of troops in Afghanistan under an agreement that has not yet been negotiated show the same lack of situational awareness that has characterized the entire failed military effort there.
As I have been harping for months, a single issue controls the entire concept of whether the US will have troops in Afghanistan after 2014. Just as we saw in Iraq, the US simply will not leave troops in the country if there is no agreement granting criminal immunity to the troops. However, the articles in today’s New York Times and Washington Post on Dempsey’s visit make no reference to the role that immunity will play in whether an agreement is signed. It appears that one has to be retired from the Obama administration to be able to confirm the importance (and unlikelihood of its being granted) of the immunity issue. After blathering that he was making no plans under the zero option (of no US troops in Afghanistan post-2014), Dempsey said that he wants to know where things stand by October of this year and even allowed that there could be a “zero outcome”. That suggests to me that the military at least realizes the very late arrival at a zero outcome in Iraq was so disastrous that a year’s preparation for it will somehow make things better this time.
At the same time that Dempsey and Karzai were smiling for the cameras, the Afghan parliament was voting to remove the interior minister, Mujtaba Patang, from office over the high death rate of Afghan police. Patang announced that over the last four months, 2748 Afghan policemen have died. [I haven't seen any numbers for how many Afghan military lives have been lost during this time, but that number is also likely to be very high.]
An article today by ToloNews regarding Patang’s ouster (although Karzai is referring the move to the Supreme Court to buy more time), however, provides a rare glimpse of how Afghan experts view the status of US efforts to train and arm Afghan defense forces:
Experts feel that due to lack of proper training and shortage of equipments the Security Forces are not able to fight the insurgents in an effective manner, leading to an increased casualty figures.
Several MPs also expressed their concerns over the increasing casualties within the Afghan police forces.
“Afghanistan’s government should work on a plan to reduce police force causalities. Several lives are lost due to lack of proper training and equipment,” said MP Sediq Ahmad Osmani.
Apart from the forces’ casualties, several residents had a different story to tell. They accused the Security Forces and Police of maltreatment and corruption. The residents said that the Security Forces and Police are equally responsible for the current situation in Afghanistan.
Over the past 11 years, one of the aims of the international community was to build a powerful and self-sufficient military force in Afghanistan. There are over 350,000 Afghan security personnel who will take charge of complete security responsibilities from the foreign troops by the end of 2014.
As other explanations of why the US must remain in Afghanistan have faded away, the mission to train and equip Afghan forces to take on responsibility for their own security has stood as the only remaining justification for several years. Despite all those years and all those billions of dollars squandered, the security situation is getting worse and not better. And the reason security is deteriorating is because despite all that training and equipping we claim to have done, Afghan forces remain too poorly trained and too poorly equipped to take on the job we have been preparing them to assume. Does the US really believe that with “just one more year” the deficiencies in training and equipping can be overcome?
The time to hit the zero option is now. There is no need to wait another year while the situation only gets worse.
The situation in Afghanistan is falling apart so quickly and so dramatically that a senior NATO civilian official took it upon himself today to put out an assurance that Afghanistan will not unravel after NATO withdraws its security forces. One can only infer from this statement that NATO can make this assurance because the unraveling is already underway and will be complete prior to the late 2014 date for full withdrawal.
Consider the array of ways in which Afghanistan has forged its way into the news cycle in the last 24 hours at a time when “legitimate rape” should have edged out all other issues. President Obama made an “unscheduled” appearance in the White House Briefing Room yesterday, and Jake Tapper was able to force Obama onto the record on the issue of rapidly escalating green on blue attacks. Yesterday’s brilliant idea from the Defense Department on stemming the tide of green on blue attacks was to claim that Afghanistan now will spy on its own troops to prevent the attacks. Robert Caruso provided the best response to this revelation on Twitter: “riiiiiiiiiiight.” Perhaps the most stunning development, though, is that while General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, was in Kabul for emergency meetings on the green on blue issue, insurgents were able to get close enough to Bagram Air Base to damage his plane (which was unoccupied at the time) in a rocket attack.
I have long maintained that the principal failure in the coalition’s plans for Afghanistan is the abject failure of David Petraeus’ training program that he started in Iraq and moved to Afghanistan. The figure above is taken from the most recent DoD “Report on Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan” (pdf). The bar graph and the figures below it (click on the image for a slightly larger view) show us figures for Afghanistan’s National Army. If we consider the twelve month period from
March April 2011 to April March 2012, we see that the size of the ANA grew from 164,003 to 194,455. However, in order to achieve that growth, it was necessary to recruit a total of 79,501 troops during that time. Such massive recruiting was necessary because the same twelve month period saw attrition of 48,577 troops. Compared to the force size at the end of this period, that is an attrition rate of 25% (actually 24.98%) for the year.
It simply does not make sense to call the ANA a “combat ready” force that can take the lead on security any time in the foreseeable future when it has an annual attrition rate of 25%. Such a high rate of turnover in the force means that the Afghan population from which the force is drawn does not
ascribe subscribe to the idea of a national army. The entire NATO “mission” of preparing Afghan security forces to take responsibility for security is built on a fable that the Afghan people do not support. Green on blue attacks may be dominating the news today, but the failure of the people of Afghanistan to get behind the concept of a national army is what will ultimately end the current NATO strategy.
Between them, the NYT and the Daily Beast published over 10,000 words on Obama’s drone assassination program yesterday. Both stories rolled out the new acronym the Administration wants us to use: terrorist-attack-disruption strikes, or TADS. Neither of them, in those over 10,000 words, once mentioned Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, Anwar al-Awlaki’s 16 year old American citizen son also killed in a drone strike last year.
And while both stories break important new ground and challenge the Administration’s narrative in key ways, the prioritization of TADS over Abdulrahman in them is a pretty clear indication of the success with which the Administration pushed a certain agenda in these stories.
As I suggested at the end of this post, I think John Brennan hoped to use them to reframe recent changes to the drone program to make them more palatable.
Drone Strikes before They Got Worse
Before I lay out the new spin these stories offer on the signature strikes and vetting process rolled out last month, let’s recall what was included in the drone program before these recent changes, in addition to the killing of a 16-year old American citizen.
According to the NYT, the Administration assumed that, “people in an area of known terrorist activity, or found with a top Qaeda operative, are probably up to no good” and therefore all military age males in a strike zone could be targeted. A former senior counterterrorism official calls earlier drone targeting, “guilt by association.” Of signature strikes in Pakistan, a senior (apparently still-serving) official joked “that when the C.I.A. sees ‘three guys doing jumping jacks,’ the agency thinks it is a terrorist training camp.” And one of Obama’s top political advisors, David Axelrod, was attending targeting meetings, injecting a political taint on the program.
Even with all of that, these stories don’t explain how the intense vetting process they describe resulted in the al-Majala strike that made Jeh Johnson think about going to Catholic confession and “shook” John Brennan and President Obama. Or, of course, how we came to kill a 16 year old American citizen.
So all of that was in place before the recent changes to the drone assassination program made it worse. Don’t worry, though, it’s TADS now.
With all that in mind–Abdulrahman and the guilt by association and the three guys doing jumping jacks–let’s look at how these stories reframe signature strikes in Yemen and White House consolidation of the vetting.
Assassination Czar John Brennan’s Drone Shop
Consider the way the articles describe the targeting process. The NYT–relying on a single source, “an administration official who has watched [Obama] closely”–describes a very aggressive vetting process led by the DOD, then nods to a “parallel” process at CIA in countries where it leads the vetting.
The video conferences are run by the Pentagon, which oversees strikes in those countries, and participants do not hesitate to call out a challenge, pressing for the evidence behind accusations of ties to Al Qaeda.
“What’s a Qaeda facilitator?” asked one participant, illustrating the spirit of the exchanges. “If I open a gate and you drive through it, am I a facilitator?” Given the contentious discussions, it can take five or six sessions for a name to be approved, and names go off the list if a suspect no longer appears to pose an imminent threat, the official said. A parallel, more cloistered selection process at the C.I.A. focuses largely on Pakistan, where that agency conducts strikes.
The nominations go to the White House, where by his own insistence and guided by Mr. Brennan, Mr. Obama must approve any name. He signs off on every strike in Yemen and Somalia and also on the more complex and risky strikes in Pakistan — about a third of the total.
Since for the most part, DOD has managed the Yemen and Somalia strikes, while CIA managed the Pakistan ones, this conflates the vetting for personality strikes targeted at known people and the signature strikes the CIA has targeted against men doing jumping jacks in Pakistan. Somehow, al-Majala and Abdulrahman still got through that vetting process, but the exhaustive DOD one was, for the most part, far more rigorous than the CIA one.
Now compare that description of the DOD vetting process with the one the AP gave on May 21, which it says is “mostly defunct.”
The previous process for vetting them, now mostly defunct, was established by Mullen early in the Obama administration, with a major revamp in the spring of 2011, two officials said.
Under the old Pentagon-run review, the first step was to gather evidence on a potential target. That person’s case would be discussed over an interagency secure video teleconference, involving the National Counterterrorism Center and the State Department, among other agencies. Among the data taken into consideration: Is the target a member of al-Qaida or its affiliates; is he engaged in activities aimed at the U.S. overseas or at home?
If a target isn’t captured or killed within 30 days after he is chosen, his case must be reviewed to see if he’s still a threat. [my emphasis]
That is, that free-ranging discussion, the process by which targets could come off the list as well as get put on it? At least according to the AP, it is now defunct–or at least “less relevant.” Continue reading
I had meant to link to and comment on the Danger Room piece on the group of officers teaching “total war” against Islam at the Joint Staff War College.
For the better part of the last decade, a small cabal of self-anointed counterterrorism experts has been working its way through the U.S. military, intelligence and law enforcement communities, trying to convince whoever it could that America’s real terrorist enemy wasn’t al-Qaida — but the Islamic faith itself. In his course, Dooley brought in these anti-Muslim demagogues as guest lecturers. And he took their argument to its final, ugly conclusion.
“We have now come to understand that there is no such thing as ‘moderate Islam,’” Dooley noted in a July 2011 presentation (.pdf), which concluded with a suggested manifesto to America’s enemies. “It is therefore time for the United States to make our true intentions clear. This barbaric ideology will no longer be tolerated. Islam must change or we will facilitate its self-destruction.”
If I had, though, I would have said largely what Human Rights First wrote in a letter to General Martin Dempsey emphasizing that the disdain for the Geneva Convention must get as much attention as the Islamophobia exhibited in the training materials.
Publicity surrounding this incident has rightly centered on the discriminatory nature of the materials. But we are equally distressed by an aspect that has received less attention: the cavalier and ignorant dismissal of the principles and rules of distinction and proportionality reflected in the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols. In a nation committed to equality under the rule of law, this aspect of the materials is as disturbing as their anti-Islamic nature. Military personnel are supposed to be well trained in the applicability of the law of armed conflict, even if the military cannot train away their personal prejudices. The military must also reinforce the point that law trumps any personal religious beliefs of members of the military.
President Bush made clear his understanding that the United States was not at war with Islam, but rather with violent extremists. Unfortunately, we are still living with the toxic legacy of his determination that the Geneva Conventions are an irrelevant nuisance.
We are still trying to undo all the damage Bush’s decision to ignore the Geneva Conventions did. But up until a few months ago, top officers were still being taught the Geneva Conventions didn’t apply to our current wars against Muslims. (I really wonder whether any of these instructors was involved in Falluja?)
And until HRF sent this letter, I really hadn’t seen anyone talking about how problematic it was that the military was still teaching that Bush’s rules remained in effect.
As I noted just under two weeks ago, NATO used the occasion of the Taliban attacks across Afghanistan on April 15 to enhance the image of Afghan troops and emphasize the role that they played in ending the attacks. This followed only a week after the US and Afghanistan signed an agreement on night raids, putting Afghan special forces in charge of night raids, with US forces playing a “support role”.
Although the agreement on night raids was one of the first times Afghan special forces entered the news, it appears that their training began about two years ago. Earlier this week, Joint Chiefs Chair General Martin Dempsey visited the training facility for Afghan special forces and posed for the photo above. He talked glowingly:
Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey told American Forces Press Service while en route here for a meeting of NATO defense chiefs that he was especially impressed by yesterday’s visit to NATO Training Mission Afghanistan’s Special Forces Training Center at Camp Morehead in Kabul.
“I spent the better part of the day with the [Afghan] commandos and special forces and my counterpart, General [Sher Mohammad] Karimi, just to get their sense of how they feel about themselves,” the chairman said, noting that he also talked with the U.S. service members who mentor them. “I was encouraged on a couple of fronts.
“Their self-esteem is increasing,” he continued. “They’re very proud. They’ve got not only a good equipping and training model, but they’re building in a sense of purpose and values to the force … That part of the force is part of it that I hadn’t really confronted before, and I found it to be very capable, and, I think, moving apace to become a very important part of their security apparatus.”
The visit by Dempsey and his glowing statement about Afghan special forces now appears to have been very ill-timed:
An elite Afghan soldier shot dead an American mentor and his translator at a U.S. base, Afghan officials said on Friday, in the first rogue shooting blamed on the country’s new and closely vetted special forces.
The soldier opened fire at an American military base on Wednesday in Shah Wali Kot district, in volatile Kandahar province, said General Abdul Hamid, the commander of Afghan army forces in the Taliban’s southern heartland.
“The shooting took place after a verbal conflict where the Afghan special forces soldier opened fire and killed an American special forces member and his translator,” Hamid told Reuters.
In discussing the increasing frequency of these green on blue killings, NATO until now has taken the attitude that they are “isolated incidents” while dong their best to ignore the study (pdf) released last May, and then retroactively classified, which detailed the cultural incompatibilities that lead to the killings. In response to this latest incident of fratricide, however, NATO’s response is changing. Returning to the Reuters article: Continue reading
The other day, Teddy Partridge noted a second instance of someone in the military–the previous one being the Commander-in-Chief–weighing in on Bradley Manning’s guilt.
Echoing his commander in chief in issuing statements that provide improper command influence in the trial of Bradley Manning, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, stated unequivocally that Manning broke the law.
To review, here’s what Barack Obama said when asked about Bradley Manning in April 2011:
And if you’re in the military… And I have to abide by certain rules of classified information. If I were to release material I weren’t allowed to, I’d be breaking the law.
We’re a nation of laws! We don’t let individuals make their own decisions about how the laws operate. He broke the law.
It appears that President Obama’s highest military officer agrees with him:
The Joint Chiefs chairman also was asked about Manning, the alleged WikiLeaks contributor, and whether Dempsey thought Manning should be viewed as a political prisoner, whistle-blower or traitor.
“We’re a nation of laws. He did violate the law,” Dempsey said.
Meanwhile, Staff Sergeant Robert Bales has not even been charged yet–his lawyer, John Henry Browne, says the military has neither forensics nor a confession incriminating him!–but Generals are sending Browne messages wishing him the best in his defense of Bales.
Browne added that he has received hundreds of emails, including from some generals and other military figures, who wished him luck in the case.
Don’t get me wrong. I hope Browne does his best to give Bales a robust defense. And as I’ve noted repeatedly, I’m not at all convinced that the killings occurred as the military currently claims they did; if so I hope Browne proves that, too.
But I would be shocked if any generals wrote David Coombs, Bradley Manning’s lawyer, to wish him luck in defending a tough, unpopular client. Yet both men–Manning and Bales–are alleged to have violated military discipline in ways that hurt our efforts.
Update: Fixed my misspelling of Bales’ name.
Gary Sick speculates that all the seeming confusion in the Obama Administration’s policy on Iran may be an attempt to create political space to shift our policy on Iran. After laying out some Leon Panetta flip-flops in December and the latest scientist assassination and the “False Flag” response, he describes Obama’s political problem with trying to shift relations with Iran.
The Obama administration has three problems with the Iran issue.
First, it is an election year, and the Congress is determined to impose total sanctions against Iran’s petroleum sector. In a sense, this is the ultimate stage of the sanctions process. For 16 years, the United States and its allies have piled more and more sanctions on Iran for the avowed purpose of getting Iran to change course on its nuclear program. It didn’t work. When the sanctions started, Iran had zero centrifuges. Sixteen years and many sanctions later, Iran has about 8,000 operational centrifuges and a substantial stock of low enriched uranium.
In this process of ever-accelerating sanctions, we have arrived at a point where sanctions begin to blur into actual warfare. If the sanctions succeed in their purpose of cutting off nearly all oil exports from Iran, that is the equivalent of a blockade of Iran’s oil ports, an act of war.
It was always said that the failure of sanctions would leave nothing but war as an option. It was not always appreciated that, at a certain level, sanctions and warfare would converge. With the latest sanctions rider on the Defense Authorization Bill, reluctantly signed into law by President Obama, the Congress has maneuvered the executive branch into a tacit declaration of war.
Second, it is my judgment that the Obama administration has looked hard at the potential effects of getting dragged into a war with Iran and has decided that a return to the negotiating track is essential.
But third, the Netanyahu government distrusts the diplomatic track. Israel signals as strongly as possible that it is prepared to strike unilaterally if necessary; and it uses those threats as leverage to keep the situation at a constant crisis pitch, while pressing for the most extreme sanctions. Israel’s influence is not to be underestimated, particularly in an election year and with an Israeli prime minister who makes no attempt to conceal his disdain for President Obama.
As illuminating as I think Sick’s speculation to be, even there the story is muddled. He links to Jim Lobe’s post describing that an Israeli-US joint defense operation planned for March has been delayed. The CNN story reporting that suggests the US postponed the operations just before Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey visited Israel. But as Laura Rozen reported, Israel, not the US, postponed the exercise.
A major U.S.-Israeli missile defense exercise that had been planned to take place in the spring has been postponed due to a request by the Israeli Defense Ministry, American and Israeli officials told Yahoo News Sunday.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak issued a request to the Pentagon last month that the planned joint exercise be postponed, a U.S. official told Yahoo News Sunday.
“It was Barak,” the U.S. official said on condition of anonymity.