One of the underlying assumptions for folks who joined the rush to claim that the UN report on the August 21 chemical weapons attack in the suburbs of Damascus proved the attack was carried out by Syrian government forces was that only government forces had access to the refined versions of chemical weapons that the Assad regime had amassed. That aspect of the story began to crumble quickly once the accidental diplomacy kicked in and it became clear that chemical weapons inspectors would need cooperation from both the Syrian government and rebel forces to gain access to all sites where chemical weapons are present. Today’s New York Times presents the clearest indication yet that it isn’t just access routes to chemical weapons sites that the rebels control, but that the rebels control some of the sites themselves:
A Western diplomat in the Arab world said that though the Syrian government was legally responsible for dismantling its chemical weapons under an international agreement, its opponents should also cooperate in the process, because several chemical weapons sites were close to confrontation lines or within rebel-held territory.
Somehow, though, the Times only discusses this very important piece of information in light of the need for rebels to grant access to the sites to the OPCW without noting that the rebels had direct access to chemical weapons (or their immediate precursors) previously belonging to the Syrian government. This admission by a “Western diplomat” completely invalidates the assumption that rebels had access only to crude, “home-made” versions of chemical weapons.
Today’s news fully underscores the need for a true ceasefire (as I have been shrilly pointing out for some time now):
“The international community also expects full cooperation from the opposition,” the diplomat said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss a delicate issue. “However divided the opposition might be, it would look very bad if the government was seen to be cooperating fully, while inspections were held up because of problems with the opposition.”
The inspection team from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the watchdog group in charge of implementing the agreement along with the United Nations, has not publicly cited any specific instance of opposition fighters’ impeding access to chemical weapons sites. As with agencies that deliver relief aid, the inspectors face a complicated and uncertain process that requires cease-fires with multiple parties among fluid lines of combat.
Clearly, a general ceasefire by all parties would be much better than the current, piecemeal arrangement where it appears that localized agreements are put into place for individual excursions by the inspectors.
Finally, it should also be noted that however the Obama administration got to the diplomatic route involving the OPCW, we got new details over the weekend on how the Bush administration orchestrated the removal of the previous head of OPCW because he wanted to send inspectors into Iraq in 2001-2002 to verify that Iraqi chemical weapons had been destroyed in the 1990′s:
More than a decade before the international agency that monitors chemical weapons won the Nobel Peace Prize, John R. Bolton marched into the office of its boss to inform him that he would be fired.
“He told me I had 24 hours to resign,” said José Bustani, who was director general of the agency, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague. “And if I didn’t I would have to face the consequences.”
But Mr. Bustani and some senior officials, both in Brazil and the United States, say Washington acted because it believed that the organization under Mr. Bustani threatened to become an obstacle to the administration’s plans to invade Iraq. As justification, Washington was claiming that Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi leader, possessed chemical weapons, but Mr. Bustani said his own experts had told him that those weapons were destroyed in the 1990s, after the Persian Gulf war.
“Everybody knew there weren’t any,” he said. “An inspection would make it obvious there were no weapons to destroy. This would completely nullify the decision to invade.”
What a different place the world would be today if Bolton and his neocon buddies hadn’t held such sway during the George W. Bush presidency.
The disgusting bullying of former Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE) during his hearing yesterday on his nomination to be Secretary of Defense is demonstrated clearly in the short clip above where Senator Lindsey Graham (R-Closet) asks Hagel to “Name one person, in your opinion, who’s been intimidated by the Israeli lobby.” Hagel said he couldn’t name one. A quick look at this word cloud from the hearing, though, or at this tweet from the Washington Post’s Rajiv Chandrasekaran: “At Hagel hearing, 136 mentions of Israel and 135 of Iran. Only 27 refs to Afghanistan. 2 for Al Qaida. 1 for Mali.” shows that Hagel should be at the top of the list of those intimidated by the Israeli lobby, which yesterday was embodied by the SASC.
Hagel did himself no favors when he stumbled badly on one of the few substantive and relevant topics brought up. On Iran’s nuclear program, even after being handed a note, he bungled the Obama administration’s position of prevention, stating first that the US favors containment. [His bungled statement of the Obama administration's position should be considered separately from the logic of that position, where containment of an Iran with nuclear weapon capability is seen by some as a stabilizing factor against Israel's nuclear capabilities, while prevention could well require a highly destabilizing war.]
Overall, however, the combative nature of Republican questioning of Hagel was just as hostile as the questioning last week of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton over the Benghazi incident. Why would Republicans turn on one of their own with a vengeance equal to that shown to their long-term nemesis? Writing at Huffington Post, Jon Soltz provides an explanation with which I agree when he frames yesterday’s hearing as a referendum on neocon policy (emphasis in original):
“Tell me I was right on Iraq!”
Essentially, that’s what Sen. McCain said during most of his time in today’s confirmation hearing for Chuck Hagel. And that sums up why the die had been cast on the Hagel nomination, before we even got to these hearings today, which I am currently at. This vote, I believed (and now believe more than ever) is a referendum on neocon policy, not on Chuck Hagel.
Much of McCain’s bullying of Hagel was centered on McCain trying to get Hagel to admit that he had been wrong to oppose the Iraq surge. This clinging to the absurd notion that the Iraq surge was a success sums up the bitter attitude of the neocons as the world slowly tries to emerge from the global damage they have caused. And that this view that the surge was a success still gets an open and unopposed position at the Senate Armed Services Committee highlights the dangerous dysfunction of one of the most influential groups in Washington.
A functional SASC would have spent much time in discussion with Lt. Col. Daniel Davis, who provided a meticulous debunking of the myth that the Iraq surge was a success. His report, however, has been quietly ignored and allowed to fade from public view. Instead, this committee has essentially abandoned its oversight responsibilities in favor of pro-war jingoism. That Hagel refuses to engage in their jingoism is at the heart of neocon hatred of him.
Hagel would have done himself and the world a favor by turning the tables on the Committee during the hearing. A report (pdf) released Wednesday by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction highlights a massive oversight failure by the Senate Armed Services Committee that lies at the juxtaposition of US defense policy in both Iran and Afghanistan. Despite long-standing sanctions against US purchases of Iranian goods, the Committee has allowed the Department of Defense to purchase fuel for use in Afghanistan that could well have come from Iran. Here is the conclusion of the report (emphasis added):
DOD’s lack of visibility—until recently—over the source of fuel purchased for the ANSF raises some concerns. DOD lacked certification procedures prior to November 2012 and had limited visibility over the import and delivery sub-contracts used by fuel vendors. As a result, DOD is unable to determine if any of the $1.1 billion in fuel purchased for the ANA between fiscal year 2007 and 2012 came from Iran, in violation of U.S. economic sanctions. Controls—recently added by CJTSCC to the BPAs for ANSF fuel—requiring vendor certification of fuel sources should improve visibility over fuel sources. To enhance that visibility, it is important that adequate measures are in place to test the validity of the certifications and ensure that subcontractors are abiding by the prohibitions regarding Iranian fuel. Recently reported steps to correct weaknesses in the fuel acquisition process may not help U.S. officials’ in verifying the sources of fuel purchased with U.S. funds for the ANSF. Given the Afghan government’s continued challenges in overseeing and expending direct assistance funds, it will become more difficult for DOD to account for the use of U.S. funds as it begins to transfer funds—in March 2013—directly to the Afghan government for the procurement and delivery of ANSF fuel. In light of capacity and import limitations of the Afghan government, the U.S. government may need to take steps to place safeguards on its direct assistance funding—over $1 billion alone for ANSF fuel from 2013-2018—to ensure that the Afghan government does not use the funds in violation of U.S. economic sanctions.
Imagine the sputtering that would have ensued if Hagel had managed to ask Graham or McCain why the committee had failed to enforce the sanctions against purchasing Iranian fuel by the Defense Department. While he was busy singing “Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran” on the campaign trail in 2008, McCain was failing in his responsibility to see that Iranian fuel wasn’t purchased by the Defense Department.
On January 7, I noted that the Washington Post’s Joby Warrick had allowed the neocon think tank Foundation for the Defense of Democracies to frame his discussion of the newest round of sanctions set to take effect against Iran. It now is clear that the article from Warrick was meant to prepare the ground for the unveiling, one week later, of David Albright’s new working group developed precisely for the purpose of furthering the neocon position on Iran sanctions. By taking on additional policy members in this working group, Albright is now branching out from his usual area of commentary on technical issues (where Moon of Alabama has dubbed his Institute for Science and International Security the “Institute for Scary Iran Stories“) all the way into policy and now promotes the full neocon position that Iran is dangerously close to having a nuclear weapon and therefore sanctions must be ratcheted up further.
Note how the press release from the working group opens:
Warning that time is running out as Iran accelerates its nuclear program, the non-partisan Project on U.S. Middle East Nonproliferation Strategy called on President Obama to use current U.S. sanctions laws to implement a “de facto international embargo on all investments in, and trade with, Iran (other than provision of humanitarian goods)” before Iran achieves “critical capability” – the point at which it could produce enough weapon-grade uranium (or separated plutonium) for one or more bombs so rapidly that neither the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) nor Western intelligence agencies could be able to detect the move before it was too late to respond.
Let’s unpack the lies just in that opening sentence.
First, the group chooses to label itself as “non-partisan”. Nothing could be further from the truth. Of the five co-chairs of the group, two have direct ties to the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, which SourceWatch documents to be a primary force for the furtherance of neocon views, describing it as both a think tank and a lobbying organization. Mark Dubowitz, the Executive Director of the foundation, is one of the working group co-chairs and was the one chosen by Warrick to voice the neocon position earlier in January. Another co-chair is Orde Kittre, described in the press release as a Professor of Law at Arizona State University. The press release fails to note that Kittre also is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. Co-chair Leonard Spector is listed as Deputy Director of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies. I see that he has been a featured speaker by the “non-partisan” AIPAC. The final co-chair besides Albright is Michael Yaffe of the National Defense University, whose own biography (pdf) notes: “In the immediate aftermath of the attack on September 11, 2001, he served as a coordinator on the counter-terrorism task force in support of “Operation Enduring Freedom.”” With a lineup composed of Albright and four people hand-selected for backgrounds likely to promote neocon positions, this working group is nothing close to non-partisan.
Next, the flat statement that Iran now “accelerates its nuclear program” is so misleading as to border on falsehood as well. Iran is expanding its enrichment capability, but there also are indications that portions of the 20% enriched uranium Iran is producing are being converted into chemical forms that are harder to submit to further enrichment to weapons grade. Further, the US stated in its 2007 National Intelligence Estimate that Iran ceased all nuclear weapons work in 2003. That NIE has been a target for neocons ever since, but there has been no definitive evidence provided that Iran has re-started weapons work or that it intends to enrich uranium beyond 20% to the 90%+ level required for weapons. All of the fear-mongering over Iran being able to have a weapon soon relies on a major step forward in enrichment for which there is zero evidence that Iran has either the capability or desire.
The biggest falsehood in the opening of the press release, though, is that the existing and expanded Iran sanctions don’t extend to humanitarian goods. As I pointed out in the January 7 post, there already are reports of critical medical shortages as a result of the sanctions, so claiming that ratcheting up the sanctions even further can be done along with the “provision of humanitarian goods” is pure bunk. I had noted back in October the economic devastation of Iranian citizens by the sanctions and also linked to a report in January on the possible impact of the sanctions on recent acute air pollution in Tehran. The Iran sanctions are a humanitarian disaster of huge proportions and any claim that only Iran’s government is affected is an outright lie.
The timing of Albright’s release of the working group’s findings also is not a coincidence. Today, the IAEA and Iran are meeting, with a primary focus on finalizing the framework that would allow IAEA access to the Parchin site which Albright has been claiming Iran has cleansed of decade-old work to develop an explosive trigger device. Also, Iran and the P5+1 group are very close to re-starting their negotiations, so the neocons are afraid that peace just might break out despite their best efforts to promote a war in Iran.
Despite crippling smog in Tehran that may well derive from sanctions aimed at refined gasoline and the UN noting several months ago that US sanctions against Iran “appear to be affecting humanitarian operations in the country”, Joby Warrick chose to frame the newest round of US sanctions against Iran in language provided directly by the neocon “think tank” Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.
Warrick does briefly note in his opening paragraphs that the sanctions against Iran have its “economy already reeling”, but he doesn’t dwell on the impact to Iranian citizens of that reeling economy. Instead, he moves directly into neocon “think” with this passage (and Warrick doesn’t even get the group’s name correct):
While some previous U.S. sanctions targeted individuals and firms linked to Iran’s nuclear industry, the new policies are closer to a true trade embargo, designed to systematically attack and undercut Iran’s major financial pillars and threaten the country with economic collapse, the officials say.
“This is effectively blacklisting whole sectors of the Iranian economy,” said Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracy[sic], a think tank. “The goal is to create a chilling effect on all nonhumanitarian commercial trade with Iran.”
By broadening the focus to entire industries, the new effort is intended to make it harder for Iran to evade sanctions through front operations, a time-honored practice in the Islamic republic, said Dubowitz, author of several studies on sanctions policy. “It was a game of whack-a-mole that the United States could never win,” he said.
Dubowitz’s framing casts those crafty Iranians as creating a game of “whack-a-mole” as they try to evade the sanctions, which he whitewashes as being aimed at “chilling all nonhumanitarian aid”. No less an authority than the UN, in a report titled “Situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran” and dated August 22, 2012, demonstrates that Dubowitz’s characterization of the sanctions is a lie, since even before this newest round, there are humanitarian effects from the sanctions:
The sanctions also appear to be affecting humanitarian operations in the country. Even companies that have obtained the requisite licence to import food and medicine are facing difficulties in finding third-country banks to process the transactions. Owing to payment problems, several medical companies have stopped exporting medicines to the Islamic Republic of Iran, leading to a reported shortage of drugs used in the treatment of various illnesses, including cancer, heart and respiratory conditions, thalassemia and multiple sclerosis.
Despite Dubowitz’s attempt to paint the sanctions as merely economic, we learned last fall that the severe impact on Iran’s economy has been devastating to its citizens. More from the UN report: Continue reading
There are two separate major developments coming out of Pakistan in the last 24 hours. First, US negotiators have left Pakistan without reaching an agreement on reopening NATO supply routes. Both sides appear to be trying to gloss over the obvious conclusion that this represents a major breakdown in the process, but since it appears that Pakistan is insistent on a real apology over the killing of 24 Pakistani troops last November and a stop to US drone strikes in Pakistan, there is no reason to continue the lower level talks on details of route reopening until the larger political issues are settled.
On a separate front, the commission appointed by Pakistan’s supreme court has finally delivered its report and it places blame squarely on former ambassador Husain Haqqani for authoring the memo that sought US help in avoiding a military coup days after the US raid that killed Osama bin Laden. Haqqani has been ordered to return to the country, but he is rightly pointing out that the commission’s findings are not the result of a judicial process and that he has not yet presented his defense.
Dawn provides a summary of the breakdown in negotiations:
The Pentagon said on Monday the United States was pulling its negotiators from Pakistan but the State Department said the team could go back at an appropriate time.
Pakistan’s Ambassador in Washington, Sherry Rehman, also indicated that the talks would continue.
But diplomatic observers in the US capital noted that “no spin can hide the fact that relations between the two countries are at their worst now”, as one of them said on an American news channel.
“I believe that some of the team left over the weekend and the remainder of the team will leave shortly,” Pentagon Press Secretary George Little told a briefing in Washington. “This was a US decision.”
The Express Tribune offers more details:
Officials familiar with the development said the two sides have almost worked out technical details on the resumption of Nato supply lines but the deal could not be finalised due to political issues, including the US refusal to offer an explicit apology for the Salala raid and halt drone strikes.
“Unless the US offers something that resembles an apology, it is very difficult for Pakistan to reopen Nato supplies,” said an official familiar with the development.
“We want to have a package deal and the issue of apology is still included … there will be no compromise on it,” the official added.
Fresh on the heels of the “leak” to the New York Times two weeks ago of an already public report on Afghan troops killing US troops, another NATO report casting a bad light on the current war effort in Afghanistan has been leaked. This time the report was made available to the British press, with BBC and the Times of London (behind a paywall and therefore not getting a link) being shown copies of the report. Interestingly, most news stories on the leaked report concentrate on the report’s claim that Pakistan, and especially Pakistan’s ISI, is helping the Taliban in Afghanistan, a fact which is already known and which was dismissed by Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Hina Khar as “old wine in an even older bottle.” Reuters hits on another, likely more important aspect of the report, however, even including it as their headline: “Taliban ‘poised to retake Afghanistan’ after NATO pullout“.
The information contained in this new leak gives further support for my thinking on the reasoning behind the information fed to the New York Times for their January 20 article, when I said “The story appears to me to be presented from the angle of military higher-ups who don’t want to withdraw from Afghanistan and point to the failed training of Afghan forces to support their argument that we must stay there.” In much the same way, this report, which points out that the Taliban will retake Afghanistan shortly after we leave, supports the conclusion that we must stay there to “win” what President Obama has called our “war of necessity“.
For a President who has put so much effort into punishing those who leak sensitive information (well, at least whistleblowers who leak), Obama now appears to me to be faced with a military that is engaged in the selective release of information that is designed to make it impossible for him to continue his plan to withdraw troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014. Will there be any punishment for these two recent leaks, or are they some “multidimensional chess” setting the stage for Obama to throw up his hands and declare that we can’t leave after all?
Multiple news outlets in Iran are reporting that Iran has asked Interpol to prosecute former General Jack Keane (co-author of the Iraq surge) and former CIA operative Reuel Marc Gerecht on the basis of their open calls for the assassination of Iranian figures during a meeting of two House Homeland Security Subcommitttees on October 26.
From Mehr News:
In a letter to Interpol, Iranian National Prosecutor General Gholam Hossein Mohseni-Ejei has called for the prosecution of the U.S. officials, IRNA reported on Monday.
According to the online magazine Firstpost, at a session of the committee, Jack Keane, a retired four-star general who helped plan the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq, called for the assassination of the leaders of Iran’s Qods Force in retaliation for their alleged role in a plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to Washington, a claim vehemently denied by Iranian officials.
“Why don’t we kill them? We kill other people who are running terrorist organizations against the United States,” he said.
The other witness, Reuel Marc Gerecht, a former CIA officer who is now a senior fellow at the neoconservative think tank the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told the committee, “I don’t think that you are going to really intimidate these people, get their attention, unless you shoot somebody.”
The article then goes on to report that Congressmen Peter King, Michael McCaul and Patrick Meehan signed a November 22 letter stating “that the U.S. should undermine Iranian officials and damage the country’s infrastructure through increasing covert operations”.
Fars News Agency claims that Interpol stands ready to help in the effort:
Iran’s Deputy Police Chief Brigadier General Ahmad Reza Radan announced that the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol) has promised to help Tehran prosecute the two former US officials who had called on the Obama administration to assassinate Iran’s top military commanders.
“The Interpol will take the steps for the prosecution of two Americans who sponsor terrorism,” Radan told FNA on Tuesday. Continue reading
As I noted yesterday, Josh Rogin has been doing outstanding work on the issue now rocking Pakistan, a memo purportedly sent from the highest levels of the Pakistani civilian government seeking US support for shutting down the branch of Pakistan’s ISI that deals with the Taliban and the Haqqani Network and weakening Pakistan’s military. Now that Rogin has confirmed existence of the memo (and today has even provided a copy of it), I’d like to return to the figure who got this whole scandal started, Mansoor Ijaz. Here is information Rogin dug up regarding Mansoor Ijaz back on November 8, when Michael Mullen was still denying existence of the memo:
This is only the latest time that Ijaz has raised controversy concerning his alleged role as a secret international diplomat. In 1996, he was accused of trying to extort money from the Pakistani government in exchange for delivering votes in the U.S. House of Representatives on a Pakistan-related trade provision.
Ijaz, who runs the firm Crescent Investment Management LLC in New York, has been an interlocutor between U.S. officials and foreign government for years, amid constant accusations of financial conflicts of interest. He reportedly arranged meetings between U.S. officials and former Pakistani Prime Ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif.
He also reportedly gave over $1 million to Democratic politicians in the 1990s and attended Christmas events at former President Bill Clinton‘s White House. Ijaz has ties to former CIA Director James Woolsey and his investment firm partner is Reagan administration official James Alan Abrahamson.
In the mid-1990s, Ijaz traveled to Sudan several times and claimed to be relaying messages from the Sudanese regime to the Clinton administration regarding intelligence on bin Laden, who was living there at the time. Ijaz has claimed that his work gave the United States a chance to kill the al Qaeda leader but that the Clinton administration dropped the ball. National Security AdvisorSandy Berger, who served under Clinton, has called Ijaz’s allegations “ludicrous and irresponsible.”
Those are some pretty damning allegations. Before moving to the detail from the source Rogin linked on Ijaz’s attempt to get $15 million from Pakistan in return for securing a positive vote in the House of Representatives for the Brown Amendment back in 1995, it’s worth getting the context for this bill. From the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation: Continue reading