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Meanwhile, Over In Turkey . . .

Well isn’t this interesting? From Diplopundit last Friday comes a post with this title: Tillerson Meets Erdoğan in Ankara With Turkish Foreign Minister as InterpreterThe post is a series of tweets from all kinds of media folks, which include some of these gems:

Nicholas Wadhams of Bloomberg News:

Secretary of State Tillerson is currently meeting with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He is the lone US representative and Turkey’s foreign minister is translating.

Rajib Soylu, Washington correspondent for Daily Sabah:

This is the second Erdoğan – Tillerson meeting where all Turkish, American officials, and even the translators excluded.

Turkish FM functions as a translator.

Ihlan Tanir of Washington Hatti US:

Im trying to understand — I never expected Pres Erdogan and Sec Tillerson to have a press conference but they did not even read statements following 200 minutes of a meeting?

Let’s pause here for a moment to let that last one sink in.

It’s one thing if the Turkish Foreign Minister brings Erdogan over to Tillerson at a meet-and-greet and translates some friendly “let me show you pictures of my grandkids” chit-chat between the two. But that’s not what this was. This was a lengthy, official, and private meeting that lasted over three hours between some very high level folks at a time of rather significant tension between the two countries.

You don’t have meetings like this without your own translator. You just don’t. The typical process is that both sides have interpreters. Official A speaks, the interpreter for Official B tells Official B what was said, and the interpreter for Official A says some version of “Yes, that’s correct” to verify the interpretation. Then it all works in reverse when Official B replies. With difficult issues under discussion, the last thing either side wants is confusion about what each side is saying.

Excluding your own interpreter is so far outside of normal protocols it is unreal, and begs the ever-green question about most everything since 1/20/2017: idiot or crook?

As Diplopundit noted in his/her own tweet, someone else was missing from this meeting — an official note taker:

Saving money on translators*, too? And the foreign FM will just share his notes of the T-E discussion with the State Dept. Or EUR can use their Magic 8 ball. 😭 It knows everything and always willing to share.

(* Diplopundit later corrected this to “interpreters”, as a slip of the fingers since “translators” are more precisely those who deal with written documents while “interpreters” handle verbal communications.)

“EUR” in that last tweet is the State Department’s Office of European Affairs, where long ago I was an intern. I can only imagine the reaction in Foggy Bottom was when word of Tillerson’s meeting with Erdogan reached them. It likely involved multiple variations on “He did WHAT?!?!?” with various . . . ahem . . . flavoring words for emphasis added. As former State Department spokesperson and retired Rear Admiral John Kirby told CNN:

“If the meeting is not conducted in English, it is foolhardy in the extreme not to have at his side a State Department translator, who can ensure that Mr. Tillerson’s points are delivered accurately and with the proper emphasis,” said former State Department spokesman and CNN diplomatic and military analyst John Kirby.

“That Mr. Tillerson eschewed this sort of support in what he knew would be a tense and critical meeting with President Erdogan smacks of either poor staff work or dangerous naïveté on his part,” Kirby added.

And that’s what Kirby said about this in public. I’ll leave it to your imagination what he and other current and former State and Defense Department folks said to each other about it in private. Hold onto this for a moment, because we’ll come back to it in a bit.

Eventually, Tillerson and his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu did in fact have a press availability, which the State Department has up on their website. In the statements issued by both, as well as their answers to questions from the reporters, they talked about all manner of increasingly tense topics, from the Kurds to what’s happening in Syria to the failed coup and the Turkish demands for Fethullah Gulen to be extradited back to Turkey, and more.

Two items stood out here. First, there’s this from Tillerson about midway through:

SECRETARY TILLERSON: Well, with respect to how we’re going forward – and that’s what all of the discussion here was about, recognizing where we find ourselves. And I think as the foreign minister indicated, we find ourselves at a bit of a crisis point in the relationship. And we could go back and revisit how we got here, but we don’t think that’s useful. We’ve decided and President Erdogan decided last night we needed to talk about how do we go forward. The relationship is too important, it’s too valuable to NATO and our NATO allies, it’s too valuable to the American people, it’s too valuable to the Turkish people for us to not do anything other than concentrate on how are we going forward.

And out of the meetings last night – and much of our staff was up through the night to memorialize how we’re going to go about this, and we’ll share a little bit of that in the joint statement. We’re going to reserve a lot of the details because there’s a lot of work yet to be done, and we – and our working teams need to be allowed to do that work in a very open, frank, honest way with one another so that we can chart the way forward together.

I’ll bet the staff was up through the night. If no staff were allowed in the three hour meeting, then the only one who can tell them what was said, what kind of emphasis it was given, what threats were made, what promises were made, and what kind of nuance there was to each of the exchanges was Tillerson. No offense to the Secretary, but that makes the work of the staff very very difficult. To begin with, they had to interview Tillerson just to get all the information about the meeting (and pray he didn’t leave anything out), before they could even think about “how we’re going forward.”

But the larger item that stood out to me came in the very last pair of question asked, reprinted in full below but with emphasis added:

QUESTION:[ed: to Tillerson] Did you warn Turkey that they could be subject to sanctions under CAATSA legislation if they go ahead with the purchase of the S-400 system? [ed: CAATSA is the Russian sanctions legislation that Congress passed but Trump refuses to implement with any teeth.]

And for you, Mr. Foreign Minister, would the threat of U.S. sanctions stop you from going ahead with the purchase of the S-400 system? And if you do buy the system, do you still want to remain in NATO if you’re obtaining the weapons from Russia?

SECRETARY TILLERSON: We did discuss the impact of the CAATSA law that was passed by the Congress last summer that deals with purchases of Russian military equipment. I discussed it last night with President Erdogan; we had further discussions this morning about it. And indeed, it’s in the first group of issues that the foreign minister is referring to. We need to put a group of experts together, and we’ll look at the circumstances around that, as we’ve done with governments all over the world, not just Turkey, because the intent of that legislation was not to harm our friends and allies. But it is directed at Russia for its interference in our elections. So we’ve been advising countries around the world as to what the impact on their relationship and purchases that they might be considering with Russia, and many have reconsidered those and have decided to not proceed with those discussions.

Every case is individual on its own. We want to consult with Turkey and at least ensure they understand what might be at risk in this particular transaction. We don’t have all the details yet, so I can’t give you any kind of a conclusion, but it’ll be given very careful scrutiny, obviously, and we’ll fully comply with the law. And we are – we are now implementing CAATSA and fully applying it around the world.

FOREIGN MINISTER CAVUSOGLU: Thank you very much. First and foremost, I need to underline that I am against the terminology that you use. You used the threat terminology. That is not a correct terminology to be used because it is true for all countries and states. We never use the language of threat and we deny if it is used against us, because this is not correct.

But as Rex has also indicated, this was not something that we talked just yesterday and today. When we met in Vancouver, we talked about this, and from time to time when we have phone conversations, we talk about such issues. This was again brought to the agenda in one of those talks. Of course, there is a law that was enacted by the United States Congress, and they explained this legislation to us. But on the other hand, this is our national security, and it’s important for our national security. I have emergency need of an air defense system. We want to purchase this from our allies, but this does not exist. So even when we are purchasing small-scale arms, the Congress or some other European parliaments, we have – we have and we had difficulty in purchasing these because of these excuses, and I have an emergency need. And the Russian Federation came up with attractive proposals for us. We also talked to other countries, not just with Russia, but we talked about this issue of emergency need with many countries and we had bilateral talks.

Also, in the mid-term, we talked about joint production and technology transfer. We focused on this because this is important for Turkey. And lastly, during the Paris visit of our president – with Eurosam – this is a French-Italian partnership – there was a pre-agreement signed, a memorandum of understanding signed with these groups. So we do not have any problems with our allies. Why should we not meet this requirement with NATO? But, of course, when it is not met within this platform, we need to look for alternative resources. Otherwise, some batteries – some Patriot were withdrawn from our frontier. Some European allies withdrew them. We have (inaudible) of the Italians and Patriots of Spain, and we do not have any other air defense. And we need to meet this requirement as soon as possible. And when we talked to Russia, this was actually an agreement that we reached before the legislation in Congress was enacted. And the remaining part was about the details of loans, et cetera.

Of course, we talked about all of these, and we will take into consideration this – within this working group the commission, but all of us need to understand each other and respect each other. Thank you very much.

In Cavusoglu’s answer, he is pushing back hard on attempts to isolate Turkey. He’s being polite about it, but the very public message is clear: “You know, the Russians seem very interested in making a deal with us, and if you persist in trying to pressure us and don’t back us with the Kurds and cause problems in Syria and don’t return that coup-instigating terrorist you are harboring, the Russians seem pretty clearly ready to help us out where you will not.”

Which makes Tillerson’s earlier comment above sound like he got that message loud and clear. To repeat: “The relationship is too important, it’s too valuable to NATO and our NATO allies, it’s too valuable to the American people, it’s too valuable to the Turkish people for us to not do anything other than concentrate on how are we going forward.”

But there were also some private messages being sent here, too.

Let’s go back to that no-staff-allowed element of the meeting once more. In general, it is in the interests of both parties to a conversation like that to have interpreters and notetakers present, so that in the public discussions that follow (like the one above), everyone agrees on the basic facts of what was said and you don’t getting into a “but you said . . .” and “no I didn’t” back-and-forth. For the meeting to exclude such staffers means that there is something else that overrides this interest.

In this case, the Turks had to have demanded that Tillerson not bring anyone with him to this meeting. There’s no way he would have told his staff “I got this – you take a break while I talk with Erdogan” on his own. The question is why, and all the possible answers I can come up after reading the Turkish Foreign Minister’s reply to that last question involve Vladimir Putin wanting Erdogan to pass on some kind of message to Trump — a message that he did not wish to be delivered within earshot of interpreters and notetakers.

It reminds me very much of that May 2017 Oval Office meeting that Trump had with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and outgoing Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak. That was the meeting where we later learned that Trump revealed Israeli intelligence to the Russians about their source inside ISIS and told them that he just fired “that nut job” James Comey which took the pressure off of him because of Russia.

Oh, and the US press were kept out of that meeting as well, with the only reports of it coming after the Russians told us about it. As Politico’s Susan Glasser noted about that Oval Office meeting, it came at the specific request of Putin:

The chummy White House visit—photos of the president yukking it up with Lavrov and Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak were released by the Russian Foreign Ministry since no U.S. press was allowed to cover the visit—had been one of Putin’s asks in his recent phone call with Trump, and indeed the White House acknowledged this to me later Wednesday. “He chose to receive him because Putin asked him to,” a White House spokesman said of Trump’s Lavrov meeting. “Putin did specifically ask on the call when they last talked.”

Kind of makes me wonder if the reason Tillerson left the interpreter back at the embassy is because Putin asked him to in a phone call last Monday. From CNN:

Washington (CNN) President Donald Trump spoke Monday with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to express condolences for a weekend plane crash outside Moscow, according to a US official.

The phone call came amid ongoing Washington-Moscow tensions over policy in the Middle East and Russia’s attempts to meddling in US elections.

Russian news agencies reported the phone call also included discussion of the situation in Israel. . . .

Again we’re hearing about this via Russian news agencies? I’m sensing a pattern here . . .

Did Obama Order Total Information Shutdown on Afghanistan?

In a stunning and blatantly obvious move to try to hide its failed efforts in Afghanistan, the military suddenly decided back in October that they would classify any and all information on the capabilities of Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) despite data having been provided to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) for the 24 quarterly reports that preceded the one dated October 30, 2014 (pdf). Initial digging on that classification decision appeared to put the classification decision in the hands of ISAF Joint Command. The head of ISAF Joint Command then broke his own classification of ANSF capability a few days later when he proclaimed that ANSF is a “hugely capable fighting force” in a news briefing.

The timing for this classification couldn’t have been worse. US forces were in the final stages of the handoff of Afghan security to ANSF and Barack Obama eventually relied on butchered semantics to proudly proclaim that the war was over, despite a residual fighting force to which he had secretly given expanded combat powers.

Today, though, the classification of ANSF capability last quarter looks less like an arbitrary move by the Commander of ISAF Joint Command and more like a total information shutdown on Afghanistan. Perhaps Lt. Gen. Anderson just got the call for a shutdown before everyone else. In the SIGAR quarterly report released today (pdf), we learn that the military now has classified “nearly every piece of data used by the inspector general to assess the Afghan security forces.” In an appendix to the report, SIGAR lists the more than 140 questions that the military previously responded to openly but now says the answers are classified. Here is a sampling that SIGAR provided in the email sent out releasing the report:

–The over 140 SIGAR questions that received classified or otherwise restricted responses are listed starting on page 211. Sample of questions:
–Please provide a broad definition of the terms “unavailable” and “present for duty.” (page 211)
–Total amount of funding that the United States has expended on Afghan National Army food from Afghan Security Forces Fund (ASFF) for the current year. (page 211)
–How has the $25 million authorized by Congress for women in the Afghan army been used? (page 212)
–Total amount of funding that the United States has expended on Afghan National Police salaries from ASFF for the current year. (page 212)
–Please provide details of DOD/NATO-funded contracts to provide literacy training to the ANSF, including: a. the cost of the contract(s) and estimated cost(s) to complete (page 213)
–Please confirm that the Combined Joint Interagency Task Force-Afghanistan (CJIATF-A) is dissolved. (page 215)
–Please offer an assessment of the anticorruption initiatives of Afghan Ministry of Defense and Afghan Ministry of Interior (page 215)

As the New York Times article linked above points out, the military also initially tried to classify the number of US forces present in Afghanistan and only relented on that point when it was pointed out that the number had already been released by the Obama Administration.

The “explanation” offered by the Commander of US troops in Afghanistan, General John F. Campbell, is far from satisfactory. Here is an excerpt from his letter to SIGAR explaining the sudden expansion of classification:

Campbell

Campbell then had the temerity to add later in his letter that he is “committed to maximum transparency in our operations”. Just wow. That sounds like Obama declaring himself the most transparent President ever, and then going on to rely on expanded classification coupled with unprecedented levels of prosecution of whistleblowers.

But instead of just looking like a move Obama would make, perhaps it did come at his behest. Not only is the military clamming up on virtually all information out of Afghanistan, it appears that the State Department is as well. From page 147 of SIGAR’s report:

Despite the requirement of Public Law 110-181 that federal agencies provide requested information or assistance to SIGAR, the State Department did not answer any of SIGAR’s questions on economic and social-development this quarter, and failed to respond to SIGAR’s attempts to follow up.

Had only one Federal agency, the Defense Department, suddenly shut down the flow of information, it would have been easy to believe that they were ones trying to hide their own failures. But now that a second agency, the State Department, has shut down information flow at the same time, and won’t even provide an explanation for their move, it seems clear to me that the order to shut down information flow had to come from above. With both the Defense Department and State Department going silent, could such an order have come down from anyone other than Obama himself? The failure that is our Afghanistan war has entered its fourteenth year, has spanned two presidents and is now being summarily swept under the rug by the Most Transparent Administration Ever®.

Postscript: For more evidence on just how failed the Afghanistan effort has been, recall that John Kerry’s brokered extra-constitutional National Unity Government was over three months late in finally announcing a full slate of 19 cabinet nominees. Sadly, the slate included poorly screened candidates and the Afghan Parliament yesterday rejected 10 of those nominees while voting to confirm only 9.

For John Kerry’s State Department, Constitutions Matter Only on One Side of Durand Line

John Kerry has made not one, but two trips to Afghanistan to pursue his extra-constitutional “power sharing” agreement between Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah that creates the completely new position of chief executive within the Afghan government. As was easily predicted, that plan now teeters near total failure. Clearly, Afghanistan’s constitution means nothing to John Kerry in his pursuit of US goals in that country.

In the daily press briefing yesterday at Kerry’s State Department headquarters, spokesperson Marie Harf had this remarkable exchange with a reporter, where we suddenly see that next door, in Pakistan, the constitution is of prime importance*:

QUESTION: One more quickly. What Imran Khan is saying and others in the country, including hundreds of thousands or millions of people in Pakistan, they are not happy with the current government, and Imran Khan is saying that those elections by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif were fraud and fake and they were not legitimate or he’s calling that he should step down. That’s what I’m asking. I’m saying —

MS. HARF: He’s the prime minister, period.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: So you’re not calling for Prime Minister Sharif to step down?

MS. HARF: I in no way am calling on that.

QUESTION: Does the United States support regime change in Pakistan?

MS. HARF: We support the constitutional and electoral process in Pakistan, which produced the Prime Minister of Nawaz Sharif. That was a process they followed, an election they had, and we are focused on working with Pakistan. And we do not support any extra-constitutional changes to that democratic system or people attempting to impose them.

How about that? In Pakistan, the State Department does “not support any extra-constitutional changes to that democratic system or people attempting to impose them”, while just across the border in Afghanistan, the Cabinet member in charge of the State Department is putting a huge amount of his own energy into an extra-constitutional change to the democratic system there.

Just three days ago, Kerry included this snippet in his letter of congratulations to Afghanistan on their independence day:

With millions of Afghans across your great nation braving violence and intimidation to cast their ballots, it is critical that all parties honor those voters’ aspiration for a democratic, peaceful transfer of power that unifies the country. We will continue to strongly support the democratic process and the agreement reached between the two candidates concerning the formation of a national unity government.

So Kerry claims he supports the democratic process and yet he wants it to produce a “national unity government” that is described nowhere in the constitution that enabled the voting. His real aim appears near the end of the letter:

With a timely resolution of the election and the signing of a Bilateral Security Agreement, I am confident that the next year will open an important new era in U.S.-Afghan relations.

For John Kerry, as well as the rest of the US government, it always has been and always will be about keeping those troops going (and those military contracts running).

Postscript: Did you notice the *asterisk above? I felt compelled to add it when I said that for the US, the constitution in Pakistan is of prime importance. There is a huge exception to that statement. The democratically elected government of Pakistan, whose constitutionality Harf is praising in her briefing, means absolutely nothing to the US when the US wishes to carry out a drone strike inside Pakistan’s borders, even when that same democratically elected government has made it clear that such actions are a violation of sovereignty.

Delay in Publishing Afghan War “Progress” Report Forces Panetta Into “Clarification” Mode re Safe Havens in Pakistan

By law, the Department of Defense is required to prepare reports on “progress” in the war in Afghanistan twice a year. The first report for 2012 was published (pdf) in April, so one would expect the second report to follow in October. Even though this second report was provided to Congress around that time, it was not published (pdf) until yesterday. It seems likely to me that the Obama administration did not want the public to be reminded so close to the November elections just how big a failure the war effort in Afghanistan has become, and so release of the report was significantly delayed, first by the election and then presumably to allow time for more panty-sniffing in the Petraeus-Broadwell-Allen-Kelley scandal.

It turns out that delaying important reports before releasing them has consequences. Pakistan took exception to a claim in the report regarding safe havens for terrorists in Pakistan and whether Pakistan is cooperating in taking action against those terrorists. From the Express Tribune:

Pakistan on Tuesday rejected as ‘baseless’ the latest US report accusing Islamabad of undermining security in Afghanistan by allowing safe havens for insurgents.

A Pentagon report released on Monday said that Pakistan is persistently undermining security in Afghanistan by permitting safe havens for insurgents and its failure to effectively combat the flow of improvised explosive devices (IED) materials.

The October 2012 report, published by the US Department of Defense (DoD), is from the period of April to October of this year. The report says, “The insurgency’s safe havens in Pakistan, the limited institutional capacity of the Afghan government, and endemic corruption remain the greatest risks to long-term stability and sustainable security in Afghanistan.”

However, a senior security official told The Express Tribune on Tuesday on condition of anonymity that “as the drawdown approaches, the US appears to make Pakistan a scapegoat to cover up its own failures in Afghanistan.”

The accusations and Pakistan’s response continue:

The DoD report stated that the insurgency in Afghanistan receives support including sanctuary, training infrastructure, operational and financial support from within Pakistan. “The availability of sanctuary inside of Pakistan enables key elements of the insurgency to remain potent and threatening, including the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Taliban Network.”

But Taliban havens across the border in Pakistan, the limited capacity of the Afghan government and “endemic corruption” posed the greatest risks as the US prepares to pull out troops by the end of 2014, the Pentagon said.

Reacting to the Pentagon assessment, the official insisted that Pakistan had not permitted any “terrorist sanctuaries” on its soil. “If they (US) have any evidence about safe heavens, they should share with us,” he added.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was forced into issuing the equivalent of a Nixon-era “that statement is no longer operational” response to Pakistan. From Dawn: Read more

ABC, Reuters Parrot Deceptive State Department Spin on Terrorism Data

Yesterday, the State Department released its annual Country Reports on Terrorism and held a briefing regarding the findings. Both ABC and Reuters covered the report and crafted their stories around a single finding from it: world-wide terror attacks decreased from 11,641 in 2010 to 10,283 in 2011. Both outlets decided (as the State Department dictated to them) that this decline was due to the death of Osama bin Laden just before the midpoint of 2011. ABC chose to use “Sharp Decline in Terror Attacks After Bin Laden Death” as their headline and Reuters went with “Al Qaeda decline hard to reverse after Bin Laden killing: US“.

However, even a cursory look beyond the comparison of the attack totals for 2011 compared to 2010 shows that drawing the conclusions stated by these headlines is completely unwarranted. First, take a look at the “noise” in the annual numbers for worldwide attacks. Data have only been collected for four years, 2007-2011 and the number jumps considerably from year to year:

I don’t think bin Laden also died in 2008 and 2009, so there must be some other reason the worldwide attack numbers went down in those years.

Looking further into the data, we see that the NCTC did break out the attacks that could be directly attributed to al Qaeda. Neither ABC nor Reuters chose to present this information in their stories, perhaps because it directly contradicts the narrative that the State Department wanted delivered:

Attacks by AQ and its affiliates increased by 8 percent from 2010 to 2011. A significant increase in attacks by al-Shabaab, from 401 in 2010 to 544 in 2011, offset a sharp decline in attacks by al-Qa‘ida in Iraq (AQI) and a smaller decline in attacks by al-Qa‘ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and al-Qa‘ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

That’s right. Attacks by al Qaeda actually went up in 2011, and yet the State Department and our subservient press are happily chirping that we have them on the run. From ABC Read more

I Was Wrong About The Chen Affair

I am in the unenviable position of having to say I was wrong and am sorry. This is in relation to the issue of US diplomacy vis a vis China as relates to Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng. In case anybody has forgotten, I wrote a rather harsh article toward the US government, by the State Department, conduct within 24 hours or so of it hitting the news wires:

Hillary Clinton, and the State Department under President Obama, have been far from perfect, to be sure; but, overall, one of the stronger, if not strongest, departments in Obama’s cabinet. But this is way ugly, and ought to, by all rights, leave a very permanent mark. It is a stain fairly earned in every sense of the word. Hard to imagine a more cravenly constructed pile of PR bullshit since the Jessica Lynch affair. Yet here it is in living steaming brownish color. All painted with Madame Secretary conveniently in Beijing, China. Awkward!

In a nutshell, I was extremely critical of the entire show, and especially the press manipulation component thereof.

I was wrong. I still have pretty strong issues with the opportunistic way in which the press was contacted by Chen on the way from the embassy to the hospital, which was completely aided and abetted by the US diplomatic officials with him, but this is, at this point, kind of a minor quibble it seems. And, heck, who knows, maybe it was even part of the plan.

Whatever, it seems to have worked out.

Here is today’s lead from the Washington Post:

Blind legal activist Chen Guangcheng, who had been at the center of a diplomatic row between the U.S. and Chinese governments, left Beijing on Saturday afternoon on a United Airlines flight bound for Newark and an uncertain life in the United States, after Chinese officials and American diplomats worked out of the public view to arrange for him and his family to travel out of the country.

In the past two weeks, while waiting for movement on the Chinese side, senior staff in the State Department had been laying the groundwork for Chen’s departure, including the logistics of his transportation, according to a senior administration official who was not authorized to give his name.

Listen, this is still very far from ideal in a number of respects, and it will be a long time, if ever, before we know all the facts and circumstances surrounding this mess. But fair is fair, my initial criticism, even if correct in some lesser elements, was dreadfully wrong overall.

Hat’s off to Hillary Clinton, the State Department and the Obama Administration. It is far from perfect, but it is looking pretty good. I was wrong to be too critical, too soon.

UPDATE: The Washington Post has a pretty fleshed out tick tock on the gig. It actually does look like fairly decent work by State. Would love to see an honest version of the same on the flip side, from the Chinese perspective. That would be fascinating.

Chen Guangcheng: The Hollow Core of a Press Manipulation Presidency

I live in the Pacific time zone, a full three hours behind the news makers and breakers on the east coast. I woke up early yesterday, by my time, and found an apparent great story occupying my Twitter stream: Chinese dissident and activist Chen Guangcheng had not only, through the miracle that is United States benevolence, been sheltered in the US Embassy (as had been theorized) from his daring blind man’s escape from house arrest, but had been represented in a breathtakingly humanitarian deal with the oppressive Chinese government that resulted in his proper medical care, reunion with his family and a safe and fulfilling life from here on out.

The proverbial “and everybody lived happily ever after”.

By the time I got my second eye open, and focused, I realized what I was reading something more akin to a Highlights Magazine “What’s Wrong With This Picture?” puzzle.

And so it was. What a difference a day makes. The initial report I read this morning at the source Washington Post article appears to be pushed aside from their website, supplanted by a more honest report.

The first report at the WaPo depicted an incoming call to the reporter from US Ambassador to China, Gary Locke:

What I was not prepared for was when Locke said, “I’m here with Chen Guangcheng. Do you speak Chinese? Hold on.”

And then passed the phone over.

“Hello, this is Chen Guangcheng,” came a matter-of-fact, almost cheerful voice.

I introduced myself in halting Chinese, using my Chinese name and the Chinese name for The Washington Post. I asked how Chen was, and where. I asked him to speak slowly, to make sure I could understand.

“Washington Post?” Chen repeated, his voice sounding generally happy. Chen said he was fine and was in the car headed to the hospital, Chaoyang Hospital. He repeated the name slowly, three times.

And that was it. Chen handed the phone back to the ambassador, who said they were stuck in traffic, but promised a full briefing later.

Following the old “two source” rule for journalists, I definitely had my story. Chen was indeed under U.S. diplomatic protection, as we and other news outlets had been reporting. He was now leaving the embassy on his way to the hospital. In a vehicle with the American ambassador. The first word would go out soon after that, in a blast to our overnight editors, and via my Twitter account.

I learned later that I was just one in a succession of calls U.S. diplomats made from the van at Chen’s request — they also spoke to Chen’s lawyer and to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, recently arrived in Beijing for an important two-day summit.

That was the “happily ever after” story which was too good to be true.

It was indeed too good to be true. A mere twelve hours later, and even the Washington Post Read more

Rohrabacher Chairs Hearing on Balochistan, Pronounces it “Balookistan”

Ethnic regions in and around Pakistan. (1980 map from Wikimedia Commons)

Demonstrating the tact, cultural sensitivity and deep research skills of today’s Congressional Republicans, Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) chaired a hearing Wednesday for the House Committee on Foreign Affairs’ Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigation and throughout the hearing he mispronounced the name of area being discussed. Proper pronunciation would be described as “Baloochistan” and yet Rohrabacher repeatedly said “Balookistan”.

The topic of the hearing was listed as “Baluchistan” on the committee’s website. The Pakistani press uniformly uses “Balochistan” for its spelling of the province where ethnic Balochs reside. As with many languages and dialects from the region, transliteration of vowels varies, so the “Baluchistan” vs. “Balochistan” spelling matters little. In this case the proper pronunciation puts that vowel sound as more like the English “oo”, so using the “u” spelling makes a bit of sense. What Rohrabacher mangled is that the “ch” is never pronounced as a “k” sound.

Needless to say, Rohrabacher’s pronunciation became a part of Pakistan’s coverage of the hearing:

The House Committee on Foreign Affairs has declared Balochistan a troubled area and said that the Baloch have seen little benefit from the development of natural gas and other natural resources that are produced in their province.

The US House Committee conducted a hearing on Balochistan on Wednesday under the chair of Congressman Donna Rohrbacher.

Rohrbacher, who kept pronouncing Balochistan as “Balookistan”, said that Islamabad has refused to concede any legitimacy to Baloch nationalism, or to engage the Baloch leadership in serious negotiations. “Its response has been based on brute force, including extra-judicial killings.”

[Emphasis added.]

I’m guessing that the editors at The News were having a bit of fun at Rohrabacher’s expense with their variant spelling of both his first and last names.

Although the hearing was dressed up as a “serious” discussion of the rights of Balochs who seek independence, it seems much more likely that Rohrabacher’s true intent was to disrupt the planned Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline. From Dawn’s coverage of the hearing:

Dr. M. Hosseinbor, a Baloch nationalist scholar, assured the Americans that the Balochs were natural US allies and would like to share the Gwadar port with the United States, would not allow the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline through their lands and will fight the Taliban as well.

Here is the “full biography” of Dr. Bor from the website of the New York City law firm where he is employed: Read more

Not So Great Expectations: Paying the Price of Hubris in Iraq, Afghanistan

Developments over the past few days on several different fronts are coming together in a way that outlines just how arrogantly the US conducted the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and how the consequences of that hubris are now diminishing the previously dominant role for the US in the region going into the future. At the same time, these developments drive home the message of the terrible waste of lives and money the war efforts have been.

In today’s New York Times, we learn that the staff at the gargantuan US embassy in Baghdad is about to be cut in half. It appears that one of the driving forces behind these cuts is that the Iraqis are not making it easy for embassy personnel to move freely into and out of the country:

At every turn, the Americans say, the Iraqi government has interfered with the activities of the diplomatic mission, one they grant that the Iraqis never asked for or agreed upon. Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s office — and sometimes even the prime minister himself — now must approve visas for all Americans, resulting in lengthy delays. American diplomats have had trouble setting up meetings with Iraqi officials.

Perhaps Mr. al-Maliki should study the activities of the US Customs Service if he really wants to learn how to make it even clearer to selected foreigners that he doesn’t want them in his country.

But al-Maliki is not the only elected Iraqi official who sees an opportunity to repay the US for the hubris it has shown the region, as the Times quoted Nahida al-Dayni, whom they described as “a lawmaker and member of Iraqiya, a largely Sunni bloc in Parliament” with regard to the embassy compound:

The U.S. had something on their mind when they made it so big. Perhaps they want to run the Middle East from Iraq, and their embassy will be a base for them here.

That US actions in the Middle East would have prompted such an attitude among local officials should have been foreseen, but the Times article informs us that the State Department seems to have been hit by a bit of shock and awe: Read more

The Material Support of Hillary Clinton and Tarek Mehanna

18 USC 2339(A) and 18 USC 2339(B) proscribe the material support of terrorism and designated foreign terrorist organizations. In short, it is the “material support” law:

the term “material support or resources” means any property, tangible or intangible, or service, including currency or monetary instruments or financial securities, financial services, lodging, training, expert advice or assistance, safehouses, false documentation or identification, communications equipment, facilities, weapons, lethal substances, explosives, personnel (1 or more individuals who may be or include oneself), and transportation, except medicine or religious materials;

During oral argument on the now seminal defining case as to the astounding reach of this statute, Holder v. HLP, now Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan argued, as Solicitor General, that even humanitarian lawyers could be charged and convicted under the wide ranging provisions:

JUSTICE KENNEDY: Do you stick with the argument made below that it’s unlawful to file an amicus brief?

GENERAL KAGAN: Justice Kennedy —

JUSTICE KENNEDY: I think I’m right in saying it that that was the argument below.

GENERAL KAGAN: Yes, I think that would be a service. In other words, not an amicus brief just to make sure that we understand each other. The Petitioners can file amicus briefs in a case that might involve the PKK or the LTTE for themselves, but to the extent that a lawyer drafts an amicus brief for the PKK or for the LTTE, that that’s the amicus party, then that indeed would be prohibited.

Kagan argued for an interpretation so broad that even the filing of an amicus brief would be violative of the material support prohibitions and the Supreme Court so held.

So, surely, the DOJ is going to heed the words and intent of the right honorable Justice Kagan over this report then, right?

The Iraqi government has promised to shutter Camp Ashraf — the home of the Iranian dissident group Mujahedeen e-Khalq (MEK) — by Dec. 31. Now, the United Nations and the State Department are scrambling to move the MEK to another location inside Iraq, which just may be a former U.S. military base.

The saga puts the United Nations and President Barack Obama’s administration in the middle of a struggle between the Iraqi government, a new and fragile ally, and the MEK, a persecuted group that is also on the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations.

The Marxist-Islamist group, which was formed in 1965, was used by Saddam Hussein to attack the Iranian government during the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, and has been implicated in the deaths of U.S. military personnel and civilians. The new Iraqi government has been trying to evict them from Camp Ashraf since the United States toppled Saddam in 2003. The U.S. military guarded the outside of the camp until handing over external security to the Iraqis in 2009. The Iraqi Army has since tried twice to enter Camp Ashraf, resulting in bloody clashes with the MEK both times. (emphasis added)

Well, no, there will be no prosecution for aiding and abetting these terrorists. Now, in all Read more