Foreign Policy

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US Extended Its Special Relations with the Saudis another Decade

Back in 2013, then Saudi Interior Minister and current Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef came to the US for a great coming out party (and, seemingly, to herald Obama’s second term foreign policy team). While here, he signed an extension to the Technical Cooperation Agreement first signed back in 2008.

The TCA is basically a cooperation agreement to get direct help from us–including training and toys–to protect Saudi infrastructure and borders, particularly its oil infrastructure. As part of it, the Saudis are developing a 35,000 person force, including a paramilitary force, with US training. But unlike our other defense agreements with the Saudis (and like theJoint Commission for Economic Cooperation it was explicitly modeled on, which had been in place from the 1970s until 1999), this one includes a special bank account to fund it all.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will establish a dollar disbursement account in the United States Treasury. Any funds required by the United States for agreed-upon projects will be deposited by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in the account in such amounts and at such times as are mutually agreed, and the United States may draw on this account in the amount so agreed. If upon termination of this agreement there are funds remaining in the special account after all expenses have been paid, such funds will be refunded to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

That account could fund contractors and toys. But at least at first, it could not fund US government employees.

The United States will pay for all costs of U.S. Government direct-hire employees assigned to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to perform services under this Agreement.

Less than a year into the agreement, that changed, with MbN agreeing the Saudis would also pay for US personnel salaries.

MbN was grateful for USG efforts and assured us full funding would soon follow the signing of these documents, and reconfirmed the SAG’s commitment to pay all OPM-MOI costs. He also agreed to fund all USG employee costs, concurring with any necessary TCA changes to allow such payments, commenting that “hopefully the lawyers will not cause us any problems.”

And already by the time MbN made that agreement, the US was installing military and State employees to oversee this effort (see more on these personnel here).

After unsuccessfully trying to ask for the TCA, I FOIAed it, which I only finally got yesterday. For the most part, it wasn’t worth the wait, as it was only a formal extension of the deal.

That said, I find it interesting that rather than extend the deal 5 years (the original term of the TCA), they instead extended it over a decade, until May 15, 2023.

Given all the events in the Middle East, January 2013 was an interesting time for MbN to come to the US to preemptively sign this TCA. And it’s interesting they’ve extended it a full decade. I’m also curious about the timing of this release, as MbN just returned to the US (this time as part of the Gulf summit), for the first time as the US-backed heir to the Saudi throne (though maybe it just takes State 2 years to release a totally unclassified document as a matter of course?).

Given Call for War, Pakistan’s Parliament Chose Peace. Will US Congress Ignore Call for Peace, Choose War?

As Congress here in the US creeps ever closer to amassing a veto-proof margin for war with Iran by keeping sanctions in place even after a final P5+1 agreement would end them, it comes as especially refreshing that Pakistan’s Parliament has expressed clear sentiment against committing troops to a foreign exercise in folly. Especially remarkable is that this blunt refusal in the face of the Saudi request for Pakistani troops in Yemen comes only 13 months after the Saudis were found to have been the source of a critical $1.5 billion infusion of support when Pakistan’s economy was teetering.

Tim Craig gives us the essentials of Parliament’s move:

Pakistan’s parliament voted unanimously Friday to remain neutral in the conflict in Yemen, a major blow to Saudi Arabia as it seeks to build support for its offensive against the surging Houthi rebels there.

The parliament’s decision came after five days of debate in which lawmakers expressed major concern that Pakistan’s 550,000-man army could become entangled in an unwinnable conflict.

On Monday, Pakistan’s defense minister, Khawaja Muhammad Asif, said Saudi Arabia had requested that Pakistan send troops, warships and fighter jets to help it battle the Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen. But several Pakistani political leaders were strongly opposed to the request, saying the crisis in Yemen didn’t pose an immediate threat to Saudi Arabia.

The next paragraphs provide sharp contrast between the US Congress and Pakistan’s Parliament:

Instead, the resolution approved by Pakistan’s parliament warned that the Yemen crisis “could plunge the region into turmoil” if a negotiated peace and settlement was not reached soon.

“This bombing needs to be stopped because, as long as this is happening, the peace process can’t be launched,” Mohsin Khan Leghari, a Pakistani senator, said on the floor of parliament Friday.

A unanimous resolution against involvement in a foreign conflict that points out that Pakistan’s involvement “could plunge the region into turmoil”. Just wow. The US has sown turmoil on so many fronts throughout the Muslim world recently and yet Congress not only doesn’t see their own role in that turmoil but instead are doing their best to overcome the one opportunity we have there of establishing a peace process. I can’t think of a more damning indictment of Congress now than to put this move by Pakistan’s Parliament alongside Congress’ attempt to derail the Iran nuclear agreement. Given a call for war, Pakistan’s Parliament chose peace. Given a call for peace, the US Congress may still choose war.

For more details on the various forces at play in Yemen, this piece by Sophia Dingli at Juan Cole’s blog lays things out clearly.

The full text of the resolution can be found here.

Iran, P5+1 “Succeeded in Making History”

It has been a very long road since the announcement in November of 2013 that a preliminary agreement between Iran and the P5+1 group of nations had been made on Iran’s nuclear technology. There have been extensions along the way and times when a permanent deal appeared imminent along with times when no such deal seemed possible. Despite tremendous pressure from Israel and the neocon lobby who lust after a war with Iran, the outlines for a permanent deal are now in place. What remains is to nail down the details by the June 30 deadline when the extensions of the interim agreement expire. Laura Rozen and Barbara Slavin capture the historic significance of what has been achieved:

We have “found solutions,” Iran Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif first proclaimed on Twitter on April 2, “Ready to start drafting immediately.”

We have “succeeded in making history,” Zarif said at a press conference here April 2. “If we succeed, it is one of the few cases where an issue of significance is solved through diplomatic means.”

We have “reached a historic understanding with Iran, which, if fully implemented, will prevent it from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” US President Barack Obama said from the White House rose garden after the deal was announced April 2.

What stands out about the agreement is just how much Iran was forced to give up on issues that had been seen by most observers as non-negotiable. Jonathan Landay interviewed a number of nuclear experts on the agreement:

On its face, the framework announced Thursday for an agreement that limits Iran’s nuclear program goes further toward preventing Tehran from developing a nuclear weapon than many experts expected it would, including requiring an international inspection system of unprecedented intrusiveness.

The Agreement

The version of the agreement as released by the US can be read here. Let’s take a look by sections.

The first section addresses the general concept of uranium enrichment. Although hardliners in the US want all enrichment in Iran stopped, it was clear that Iran would never have agreed to stop. But what has been achieved is staggering. Iran will take two thirds of its existing centrifuges offline. Those centrifuges will be placed in a facility under IAEA inspection, so there is no concern about them winding up in an undisclosed facility. Further, only Iran’s original IR-1 centrifuge type will be allowed. That is a huge concession by Iran (everybody knows the IR-1’s suck), as they had been developing advanced centrifuges that are much more efficient at enrichment. Many critics of a deal with Iran had suspected that advanced centrifuges would be a route that Iran would use to game any agreement to increase their enrichment capacity if only the number and not the type of centrifuge had been restricted. Further, Iran will not enrich uranium above 3.67% for a period of 15 years. And the stockpile of 3.67% uranium will be reduced by 97%, from 10,000 kg to 300 kg. This reduction also will apply for 15 years. This section also carries an outright statement of targeting a breakout time of 12 months to produce enough enriched uranium for a bomb. [But as always, it must be pointed out that merely having enough enriched uranium for a bomb does not make it a bomb. Many steps, some of which there is no evidence Iran has or could develop under intense international scrutiny, would remain for making a bomb.]

The next section of the agreement is titled “Fordo Conversion”. Iran’s Fordo site is the underground bunker built for uranium enrichment. Iran has agreed not to enrich uranium at Fordo or to have uranium or any other fissile material present for 15 years. While many have advocated a complete shutdown of Fordo, the agreement provides a very elegant alternative. Fordo will now become a research site under IAEA monitoring. Had the site shut down, where would all of the scientists who work there now have gone? By keeping them on-site and under IAEA observation, it strikes me that there is much less concern about those with enrichment expertise slinking into the shadows to build a new undeclared enrichment facility.

The section on the Natanz facility follows Continue reading

Move Afoot to Get UN Security Council Action to Prevent GOP Meddling After Iran Deal

Although Israel’s Netanyahu and the 47 Senate Republicans who signed Tom Cotton’s letter to Iran are suffering badly in public opinion after their most recent foot-stomping over a potential P5+1 deal on Iran’s nuclear technology, there is still a genuine concern that Republicans in Washington could muster support across the aisle from AIPAC-besotted Democrats to circumvent any deal. The concern is especially strong that there would be an effort to prevent lifting economic sanctions on Iran or even to impose new and even harsher sanctions after a deal is enacted.

Fortunately, despite the strong possibility that these war mongers could well get the legislation that they want put into law over a Presidential veto, unilateral sanctions from only the US would be likely to have little effect. To help drive home that point to the learning-challenged MEK-lovers, there is a new move to get the existing sanctions against Iran lifted once a P5+1 deal is reached. Louis Charbonneau reports for Reuters:

Major world powers have begun talks about a United Nations Security Council resolution to lift U.N. sanctions on Iran if a nuclear agreement is struck with Tehran, a step that could make it harder for the U.S. Congress to undo a deal, Western officials said.

/snip/

Some eight U.N. resolutions – four of them imposing sanctions – ban Iran from uranium enrichment and other sensitive atomic work and bar it from buying and selling atomic technology and anything linked to ballistic missiles. There is also a U.N. arms embargo.

There is a strong legal argument for this move:

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told Congress on Wednesday that an Iran nuclear deal would not be legally binding, meaning future U.S. presidents could decide not to implement it. That point was emphasized in an open letter by 47 Republican senators sent on Monday to Iran’s leaders asserting any deal could be discarded once President Barack Obama leaves office in January 2017.

But a Security Council resolution on a nuclear deal with Iran could be legally binding, say Western diplomatic officials. That could complicate and possibly undercut future attempts by Republicans in Washington to unravel an agreement.

This could be a lot of fun. The same crew who based their illegal invasion of Iraq on not needing a “permission slip from the UN” are likely to have a total meltdown if they are bypassed in this way.

While the Reuters article on first skimming almost seems to suggest that the Security Council move might involve removing all of the Iran-related resolutions, what seems most likely to me is that in the end, the current sanctions on Iran would be lifted (perhaps over a timetable from the agreement?) but that a number of prohibitions on weapons-related technology would remain in place. Also, any moves seem likely to be coupled with warnings that sanctions would return quickly in the event of any breach of the agreement by Iran.

Often lost in discussion of the sanctions on Iran is the devastating impact of these sanctions on Iranian citizens. The economy in Iran is in tatters, and people are suffering mightily from it. In February of last year, PBS actually touched on the effects for everyday citizens:

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: But as we saw on our recent visit, many Iranians believe sanctions have impacted them in ways beyond just their wallets.

At the Dr. Sapir Hospital in South Tehran, a Jewish charity hospital that cares for mostly poorer Iranians, we met Dr. Ciamak Moresadegh. He runs the hospital and also represents Iran’s Jewish community in the Iranian Parliament. Though his hospital got a donation of several hundred thousand dollars from the Rouhani government a few weeks after our visit, Moresadegh told us because of inflation and Iran’s sagging economy, which he blamed in part on sanctions, his hospital was deep in debt.

DR. CIAMAK MORESADEGH, Dr. Sapir Hospital: Since last year, our loss was something about $1 million per year.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: One million U.S. dollars?

DR. CIAMAK MORESADEGH: Yes.

This year, we are more than two million U.S. dollar loss, because we want to protect the patients who cannot pay.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Dr. Moresadegh says those patients are the real victims. He says sanctions have hurt his ability to get crucial medicines for them. He says drugs for geriatric patients, those with multiple sclerosis and those with certain cancers, including childhood leukemia, are extremely hard to get.

Even though the U.S. Treasury Department, which oversees sanctions in the U.S., specifically allows for the sale of humanitarian goods like food and medicine, Moresadegh says that repeated warnings and crackdowns about violating sanctions like the ones announced just last week have scared many companies away from doing any business with Iran.

Sadly, this same piece by PBS gave Mark Dubowitz, one of the worst of the Iran war mongers, an outlet to brag about the utility of these sanctions, despite their devastating effects on ordinary citizens far removed from the government figures who ostensibly should be the targets of our actions:

MARK DUBOWITZ, Foundation for the Defense of Democracies: I think that sanctions always disproportionately impact the most disadvantaged people in a society.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Mark Dubowitz heads the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington, D.C. He believes that economic pain has served a purpose. He points out that Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, was elected in large part to fix the economy and to reduce sanctions.

And while Iranian leaders deny it, Dubowitz argues it was the pain from sanctions that brought Iran to the negotiating table in Geneva over its nuclear program and Dubowitz argues sanctions should be increased.

MARK DUBOWITZ: The goal of these sanctions in Iran is to put Iran’s supreme leader at a fundamental choice between the survival of his regime and a nuclear weapon. And at the very least, those sanctions have now gotten the Iranians to the table. And I think most people agree that but for those tough sanctions, Iran’s leader wouldn’t be negotiating with the United States and our allies right now.

It is so sad that Dubowitz and his allies acknowledge the severe impact of sanctions on Iranian citizens but are now quickly moving their goalposts to try to keep sanctions in place even after a deal is reached.

Insanity Continues to Build Around Prospect of Iran Nuclear Pact

From the nature of the political feeding frenzy surrounding the ongoing P5+1 negotiations with Iran on Iran’s nuclear technology, it is hard to believe that the Joint Plan of Action under which the countries are now operating was extended last November through the end of June of this year. At the time of that extension, the US announced a goal of having the political framework of the final agreement worked out by March 1. That date has now slipped to March 31, but current negotiations are still aimed at getting the political framework in place before the final details get ironed out. But with Benjamin Netanyahu making a speech to a Joint Session of Congress next week and other assorted madness, one would think that we are in the last few hours of the negotiating window.

Of course, one of the groups most upset by the possible outcome of removing the US sanctions against Iran is the MEK. Their latest tantrum, yesterday, in which they tried to claim that they had discovered a new, secret uranium enrichment site, was mostly ignored by the world. Jeffrey Lewis was quick to dismiss the accusation.

I had noted yesterday that Dianne Feinstein and Richard Durbin had tried to give Netanyahu some bipartisany-ness during his visit by inviting him to a closed-door meeting with Senate Democrats, but Netanyahu declined the invitation, inexplicably claiming that meeting would lend a partisan nature to his nonpartisan appearance before Congress. Bibi also got slapped down, though, as his bid to get several Arab ambassadors to show up for his speech has been rejected outright.

Just as the US military hates to see peace break out somewhere where they could otherwise be arming and training freedom fighters, Iran’s military seems especially upset by the prospect of a deal with the West. The IRGC is so upset about what is going on that today they broke one of their biggest toys in a fit of rage. Just under a year ago, word came out that Iran was building a replica of a Nimitz-class US aircraft carrier:

Intelligence analysts studying satellite photos of Iranian military installations first noticed the vessel rising from the Gachin shipyard, near Bandar Abbas on the Persian Gulf, last summer. The ship has the same distinctive shape and style of the Navy’s Nimitz-class carriers, as well as the Nimitz’s number 68 neatly painted in white near the bow. Mock aircraft can be seen on the flight deck.

The Iranian mock-up, which American officials described as more like a barge than a warship, has no nuclear propulsion system and is only about two-thirds the length of a typical 1,100-foot-long Navy carrier. Intelligence officials do not believe that Iran is capable of building an actual aircraft carrier.

/snip/

Navy and other American intelligence analysts surmise that the vessel, which Fifth Fleet wags have nicknamed the Target Barge, is something that Iran could tow to sea, anchor and blow up — while filming the whole thing to make a propaganda point, if, say, the talks with the Western powers over Iran’s nuclear program go south.

Marcy had a bit of fun with the barge at the time, comparing it to our F-35 program.

But now, instead of waiting for the P5+1 talks to “go south”, the IRGC has chosen to destroy their target barge in war games that were launched today. And, just as predicted a year ago, the destruction of the barge was televised. From AP via the Washington Post:

State TV showed footage of missiles fired from the coast and the fast boats striking the mock U.S. aircraft carrier. The drills, which also included shooting down a drone and planting undersea mines, were the first to involve a replica of a U.S. carrier.

“American aircraft carriers are very big ammunition depots housing a lot of missiles, rockets, torpedoes and everything else,” the Guard’s navy chief, Adm. Ali Fadavi, said on state TV, adding that a direct hit by a missile could set off a large secondary explosion. Last month Fadavi said his force is capable of sinking American aircraft carriers in the event of war.

Here is a PressTV segment on the war games, complete with some footage of torpedoes hitting the barge:

Additional footage with more direct hits on the barge can be seen in this PressTV story.

The US Navy has now been sternly warned not to tow any barges into the Strait of Hormuz.

Meanwhile, more negotiations are scheduled for Monday.

Bibi Lied to UN in 2012, Likely to Lie to US Next Week

Look carefully. Are his lips moving?

Look carefully. Are his lips moving?

Benjamin Netanyahu overstated Iran’s nuclear technology in 2012 when he used his bomb cartoon in an address to the United Nations. The Guardian and Al Jazeera have released a trove of documents relating to Iran’s nuclear program and one of the key documents was prepared by Mossad to brief South Africa just a few short weeks after the famous speech. From The Guardian:

Binyamin Netanyahu’s dramatic declaration to world leaders in 2012 that Iran was about a year away from making a nuclear bomb was contradicted by his own secret service, according to a top-secret Mossad document.

/snip/

Brandishing a cartoon of a bomb with a red line to illustrate his point, the Israeli prime minister warned the UN in New York that Iran would be able to build nuclear weapons the following year and called for action to halt the process.

But in a secret report shared with South Africa a few weeks later, Israel’s intelligence agency concluded that Iran was “not performing the activity necessary to produce weapons”. The report highlights the gulf between the public claims and rhetoric of top Israeli politicians and the assessments of Israel’s military and intelligence establishment.

As The Guardian notes, although Bibi’s darling little cartoon makes little to no distinction between the steps of enriching uranium to 20% and enriching it to the 90%+ needed for a bomb, the Mossad document (pdf) states that Iran “is not ready” to enrich to the higher levels needed for a bomb:

enrichment

Despite that clear information that Mossad surely already had at the time of the UN speech (h/t Andrew Fishman for the link), Netanyahu chose to portray Iran as ready to zip through the final stage of enrichment:

Now they’re well into the second stage. And by next spring, at most by next summer, at current enrichment rates, they will have finished the medium enrichment and move on to the final stage. From there, it’s only a few months, possibly a few weeks, before they get enough enriched uranium for the first bomb.

So Netanyahu described a step that the Mossad described Iran as not even ready to start and turned it into something Iran was eager to accomplish in a few weeks. Simply put, that is a lie.

Of further note in the document is information relating to the heavy water reactor under construction at Arak. Although it doesn’t appear that Netanyahu mentioned it in the UN speech, it often is portrayed as another rapid route to a nuclear weapon for Iran, because, when finally functioning, it could produce plutonium that could be used in a bomb. Mossad found, however, that Iran was still a couple of years away from having the reactor functioning. Further, Mossad realized that Iran needs a fuel reprocessing facility (that it does not have) in order to use the plutonium in a bomb:

Arak

It should also be noted that those two years have elapsed and the reactor still has not been powered up. Further, there are proposals that the reactor can be modified to make it produce a dramatically lower amount of plutonium.

These documents have been released with very important timing. As I noted last week, Netanyahu aims to destroy the P5+1 negotiations with Iran. By pointing out his lies two years ago, we should be in a better position to see through whatever obfuscation he delivers next week. But with a new air of bipartisany-ness, to his visit, don’t look for Washington politicians to be the ones to point out his next round of lies.

Postscript: I am significantly behind on my homework. I owe Marcy a careful reading of the technical documents from the Sterling trial and need to follow up more fully on the suggestions that false documents (including the Laptop of Death?) were planted with Iran for the IAEA to discover. Now with this new trove of documents and the looming date of Netanyahu’s visit, I need to get busy (on something other than planting blueberries)!

AP’s Matt Lee: US Officials Say Netanyahu Trying to Destroy Iran Negotiations

I haven’t chimed in yet on the political drama that has been building around the approaching deadline in the P5+1 negotiations with Iran and the massive breach of protocol by John Boehner in inviting Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress just before the deadline (and just before elections in Israel). More recent rumblings on that front had the US already stating Obama would not meet with Netanyahu, along with suggestions that both John Kerry and Joe Biden are likely to be out of the country when Netanyahu is in Washington. Further, hints were coming out that the US is becoming increasingly irritated with Bibi over his leaking of information that the US has shared on how negotiations with Iran are proceeding.

AP’s Matt Lee shed much more light on these issues yesterday. He forced State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki to confirm that the US has now started withholding “classified” parts of the negotiations from Israel. Lee went beyond what he was able to pry out during Psaki’s briefing, producing confirmation that the US now feels that Netanyahu is determined to prevent any final deal between the P5+1 and Iran:

The Obama administration said Wednesday it is withholding from Israel some sensitive details of its nuclear negotiations with Iran because it is worried that Israeli government officials have leaked information to try to scuttle the talks — and will continue to do so.

In extraordinary admissions that reflect increasingly strained ties between the U.S. and Israel, the White House and State Department said they were not sharing everything from the negotiations with the Israelis and complained that Israeli officials had misrepresented what they had been told in the past. Meanwhile, senior U.S. officials privately blamed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself for “changing the dynamic” of previously robust information-sharing by politicizing it.

Working behind the scenes, Lee was able to get unnamed officials to fill in more detail:

But while Earnest and Psaki said the limitations on information sharing were longstanding, U.S. officials more directly involved in the talks said the decision to withhold the most sensitive details of the negotiations dated back only several weeks.

Those officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly, said the administration believes Netanyahu, who is facing a March 17 election at home, has made a political decision to try to destroy the negotiations rather than merely insist on a good deal. This, they said, had led to politically motivated leaks from Israeli officials and made it impossible to continue to share all details of the talks, particularly as Netanyahu has not backed down on his vow to argue against a nuclear deal when he speaks to Congress.

And here’s where it gets really interesting. Pushing on the issue of just what Israel has been leaking, Lee has this:

Neither Earnest nor Psaki would discuss the details of the leaks, but senior U.S. officials have expressed consternation with reports in the Israeli media as well as by The Associated Press about the number of centrifuges Iran might be able to keep under a potential agreement. Centrifuges are used to enrich uranium and diplomats familiar with the talks have said Iran may be allowed to keep more of them in exchange for other concessions under current proposals that are on the table.

Oh my. There is only one person we could be talking about when it gets to leaks from Israel on anything to do with the Iranian nuclear program. That would be none other than George Jahn, noted transcriber of Israeli leaks since they whole debate began. And just two days ago, Jahn regaled us with a piece titled “Good or bad Iran nuke deal? Israel vs the US administration“. And just look what detailed information about centrifuge numbers Jahn managed to obtain: Continue reading

Russia’s Sabre-Rattling: Not Just Bluster About Banks and Ukraine Unrest


Last Friday, CNBC interviewed Andrey Kostin, CEO of Russia’s second largest bank, following the EU’s decision to extend economic sanctions against Russia, ostensibly to punish Russia for hostilities against Ukraine. Kostin’s comments were combative.

“You know, we have quite a strong opinion on sanctions. Sanctions, in other words, is economic war against Russia. Economic war will definitely have and will have very negative implications on the Russian economy, but more than that it will have very negative implications on the political dialogue and on security in Europe. And who wants to live in a less secure world? I think nobody. I think it’s the wrong way to treat Russia like this. I think it will never to lead to any other consequences as to less stability and less secure Europe.” [sic]

“”You can’t treat any country like this. You know you can’t say, if you behave rightly, that’s a small [weep*] for you, if you behave wrongly, that’s a big [weep*] for you.’ That’s not a dialog, that’s a threat. … I think we should talk. I mean, politicians should talk, like business men. Business men do talk, and they are interested in working together. …”

In short, Russia feels the sanctions are warfare, and they want to deal. They’d really like the asymmetric attack on finance to stop short of terminating Russian banks’ access to SWIFT (the impact of which WaPo spells out).

But the banks’ discomfort with the sanctions and continued incursions against Ukraine aren’t the only signs of Russian belligerence. By year end, there had been forty events characterized as “close military encounters” during 2014, according to European Leadership Network, a non-partisan, nonprofit think tank. Continue reading

Brilliant New Iraq Strategy Unveiled: Promote Sunni-Shia Reconciliation

Once again, the brilliant leaders of the US military have shown a complete ignorance of both the centuries-long Sunni-Shia rift in Islam and more recent US failed efforts to deal with it.

Think back to those heady days in the fall of 2007, when the ass-kissing little chickenshit David Petraeus returned from Iraq to Washington to defend his vaunted Iraq surge and to convince Congress to keep up the effort (while also shoring up political support for the Bush Administration, a long tradition for Petraeus). Perhaps because of all the false furor stirred up over the inane “General Betrayus” ad, Congress and the American public gave Petraeus and the military a pass despite a report card from GAO showing that by meeting only 3 of 18 benchmarks (pdf), the surge was an utter failure. As that document and other materials of the day pointed out repeatedly, the aim of the surge was to provide space for political reconciliation.

That effort, of course, failed miserably. Despite a relative stretch of peace, the Iraqi government that the US proudly hailed turned out to be brutally repressive and sectarian. And when the Sunni-led Islamic State invaded, Iraq’s military that Petraeus proudly trained (several times!) melted away, leaving as the final line of defense the Shia militias that Iraq never disbanded. Those militias promptly set about committing atrocities.

And so what is to be done now? The geniuses at the Pentagon have decided that all we have to do is to mend the Sunni-Shia rift in Iraq:

The U.S.-led air war against Islamic State militants has frozen the immediate threat from that group, and now is the time for Iraq’s Shi’ite-dominated government to mend its rift with disenfranchised Sunnis, U.S. military officials said on Tuesday.

“Quite frankly, we need to see in Iraq political outreach that addresses the fact that some 20 million Sunnis are disenfranchised with their government,” Lieutenant General William Mayville told a hearing on global threats facing the United States.

Inexplicably, not only did the next speaker, with an “intelligence” affiliation, not laugh at Mayville, he agreed with him:

Mark Chandler, acting director for intelligence for the Joint Staff, agreed, saying “one of the things that really concerns me going forward is if the Shi’ite forces believe that they can control ISIL (Islamic State) without reconciliation with the Sunnis.”

Okay, maybe it is too much for me to expect these guys to know that the Sunni-Shia rift started in 632 and has ebbed and flowed in the intervening thirteen hundred and eighty-some years. But these guys really should be aware of the kerfuffle just seven and a half years ago. Even paying just a tiny bit of attention to what the military and the Bush Administration were saying in the fall of 2007 and then following the thread of what happened on the reconciliation front in the intervening years should show them that this idea has zero chance of success.

Pinning hopes for success in Iraq on reconciliation didn’t work in 2007. Simply calling for it again while changing no other parts of US policy for the region is doomed to the same outcome.

Afghan Cabinet: Nominate First, Screen Later

Just under two weeks ago, it appeared that one of the final hurdles in getting the Afghan government functioning after the disputed election may have been cleared, as a full slate for the cabinet was announced. Sadly, even though Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah took over three months to come up with the list of nominees to run their “Unity Government”, it is clear that no screening of these candidates took place, as many are now falling by the wayside. One turns out to have an Interpol red notice, as many as eleven may have dual citizenship (a direct violation of the Afghan constitution) and one may not meet the minimum age requirement.

Rod Nordland describes some of the problems that have been encountered:

Choosing the Afghan cabinet is to government what the national sport of buzkashi is to polo: a wild and woolly version with uniquely local characteristics and notably more carnage.

President Ashraf Ghani’s presentation of new cabinet nominees to Parliament on Tuesday was a case in point. One proposed nominee had just pulled out after revelations of an Interpol warrant for his arrest. Another dropped out, complaining that he did not have enough money and jobs to bribe Parliament into approving him. A third was subject to a social media smear campaign alleging that she had just gotten a new identity card so she could add a few years to her age to qualify for the job.

Several other would-be ministers were reportedly headed to the exits before Parliament got a chance to vote on them, as revelations tumbled out about dual citizenships, frowned on by the Afghan Constitution, or even, in one case, allegedly not being fluent in any national language.

It’s impossible to make this stuff up. Nordland continues:

“The candidate for rural development studied urban development, and the candidate for urban development studied rural development,” said Ramazan Bashardost, an anticorruption crusader and member of Parliament, famous for his outspokenness.

Corruption is running rampant in the confirmation process:

A more prominent nominee, Jilani Popal, a well-regarded former government official, withdrew his name from nomination as finance minister. While he is believed to have dual United States and Afghan citizenship, Mr. Popal told friends that he had pulled out when members of Parliament asked him for a total of 400 jobs in exchange for their votes, most of them in the lucrative customs service, leaving him with no slots for unstained candidates.

We get more on bribes from ToloNews:

However, a number of MPs have told TOLOnews that presidential advisor Mohammad Akram Akhpalwak has made promises of gifts to lawmakers if they vote in favor of the nominees. MPs said they had been promised IPHONE 6 mobile sets and 5-10,000 USD. Mr. Akhpalwak has meanwhile rejected the allegations.

That same ToloNews article informs us that seven of the nominees believed to have dual citizenship have been rejected by the Foreign Affairs Commission of Parliament. But over at Khaama Press, we learn that the rejection was quite the event:

The Lower House of the Parliament – Wolesi Jirga on Thursday witnessed brawl among the lawmakers over the issue of cabinet nominees holding dual citizenship.

/snip/

In the meantime, a number of the lawmakers insisted that the nominees holding dual citizenship should also be called in the session so that they can present their plans.

The lawmakers said the cabinet nominees have signed documents to surrender their second citizenship and the decision to reject the nominees with dual citizenship was not taken by the house of representatives.

Brawl among the Afghan lawmakers started after MP Shukria Barekzai critized the recent decision by joint parliamentary commission to reject the nominees insisting that the Parliament House is not authorized to deprive the rights of an Afghan national from election and voting.

The article goes on to describe a pathway through which the nominees might be brought back into eligibility. Given the slow, argument-filled route that has brought the Afghan “government” to its present state, I wouldn’t expect these questions about potential cabinet ministers to be resolved any time soon.

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Emptywheel Twitterverse
emptywheel @granick So that's the fault of whom? Hell, there's FAR MORE than was confirmed in 2011 than that lets on. @normative
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emptywheel @normative First confirmation was NSL IG report released in August. https://t.co/pbO9QjMv6y Maybe I'm only one who read report? @granick
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emptywheel .@granick That's false. It was confirmed (also by DOJ IG) in August. https://t.co/pbO9QjMv6y
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emptywheel @regretblues AAG NSD. But she's a former USA. She should know these authorities bc she has had to approve them.
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emptywheel @KenDilanianAP Yup or providers may have already said they won't comply & Admin want to avoid challenge @froomkin @RachelBLevinson @granick
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emptywheel @KenDilanianAP @froomkin @RachelBLevinson They may have legal reasons not to want to: like a guarantee from providers they'll sue. @granick
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emptywheel @froomkin @PressSec may be trying to do say, "we're no longer going to ask for it. Either authorize us to get it way we want or we'll die"
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emptywheel DC Press: Ho hum. Rand Paul is running for President on same plank our forefathers revolted against King George. How cynical of him!
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emptywheel @granick There is one tiny area where DiFi's bill improves on USA F-ReDux tho (but I'm laying low about it) @jakelaperruque
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emptywheel RT @attackerman: After a decade reporting on "Guantanamo's Child," @shephardm interviews Omar Khadr. http://t.co/5CecJG8teO
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emptywheel @JakeLaperruque Bingo. 1) FISC has ALREADY approved 2) we have examples of summaries fr Vaughn 3) FISC proven unreliable arbiter @granick
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emptywheel @JakeLaperruque Once you've defined bulk as "all" then it's very easy for IC to get to "not-bulk" w/in terms of law. @granick
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