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Once Again, US Ratchets Up Rhetoric Against Pakistan

The pattern by now is all too familiar.  Once again, the US is ratcheting up its rhetoric against Pakistan.  Earlier instances included the “crisis” when the US killed three Pakistani soldiers and Pakistan responded by closing strategic border crossings.  This was followed by the Raymond Davis fiasco. Then came exchanges of bluster over the US unilateral action that took out Osama bin Laden.  Now, the target of US ire is the cozy relationship between the Haqqani network and Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the ISI.

Reporting for Reuters, Mark Hosenball and Susan Cornwell tell us this morning that some in the US intelligence community are now assigning a direct role for ISI in the Haqqani network attack on the US embassy in Kabul:

Some U.S. intelligence reporting alleges that Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence directorate (ISI) specifically directed, or urged, the Haqqani network to carry out an attack last week on the U.S. Embassy and a NATO headquarters in Kabul, according to two U.S. officials and a source familiar with recent U.S.-Pakistan official contacts.

The article informs us that the Senate Appropriations Committee has added to the pressure on Pakistan:

The Senate committee approved $1 billion in aid to support counter-insurgency operations by Pakistan’s military, but voted to make this and any economic aid conditional on Islamabad cooperating with Washington against militant groups including the Haqqanis.

A series of high-level meetings between US and Pakistani officials also has taken place over the last week to hammer home these allegations against Pakistan, despite this warning in the Reuters article:

However, U.S. officials cautioned that the information that Pakistan’s spy agency was encouraging the militants was uncorroborated.

A series of articles on the website for Pakistan’s Dawn news agency provides some perspective on the coverage of the issue in Pakistan.  One article provides a forum for Interior Minister Rehman Malik after his meeting with FBI Director Robert Mueller yesterday: Read more

Should David Petraeus Be Replaced With a Computer?

Today’s Washington Post brings an update on the work being done by the Pentagon to develop artificial intelligence to the point that a drone can be automated in its decision on whether to kill.  The article points out that currently, when the CIA is making kill decisions on drone missions, that decision falls to the director, a position recently taken over by retired General David Petraeus.  In other words, then, the project appears to be an effort to develop a computer that can replace David Petraeus in decision-making.

Of course, this prospect raises many issues:

The prospect of machines able to perceive, reason and act in unscripted environments presents a challenge to the current understanding of international humanitarian law. The Geneva Conventions require belligerents to use discrimination and proportionality, standards that would demand that machines distinguish among enemy combatants, surrendering troops and civilians.

More potential problems:

Some experts also worry that hostile states or terrorist organizations could hack robotic systems and redirect them. Malfunctions also are a problem: In South Africa in 2007, a semiautonomous cannon fatally shot nine friendly soldiers.

The article notes that in response to issues surrounding the development of autonomy for weapons systems, a group calling itself the International Committee for Robot Arms Control (ICRAC) has been formed.  On the ICRAC website, we see this mission statement:

Given the rapid pace of development of military robotics and the pressing dangers that these pose to peace and international security and to civilians in war, we call upon the international community to urgently commence a discussion about an arms control regime to reduce the threat posed by these systems.

We propose that this discussion should consider the following:

  • Their potential to lower the threshold of armed conflict;
  • The prohibition of the development, deployment and use of armed autonomous unmanned systems; machines should not be allowed to make the decision to kill people;
  • Limitations on the range and weapons carried by “man in the loop” unmanned systems and on their deployment in postures threatening to other states;
  • A ban on arming unmanned systems with nuclear weapons;
  • The prohibition of the development, deployment and use of robot space weapons.

 

In the end, the argument comes down to whether one believes that computer technology can be developed to the point at which it can operate in the war theater with autonomy.  The article cites experts on both sides of the issue.  On the positive side is Ronald C. Arkin, whose work is funded by the Army Research Office.  Believing the issues can all be addressed, Arkin is quoted as saying “Lethal autonomy is inevitable.”

 

On the negative side of the argument is Johann Borenstein, head of the Mobile Robotics Lab at the University of Michigan.  Borenstein notes that commercial and university laboratories have been working on the issue for over 20 years, and yet no autonomy is possible yet in the field.  He ascribes this deficiency as due to the inability to put common sense into computers: “Robots don’t have common sense and won’t have common sense in the next 50 years, or however long one might want to guess.”

 

As HAL said in 2001: A Space Odyssey: “Dave, I’m scared.”

The Death Squads “Protecting” Our Country

There was an odd pair of stories in the WaPo last week. On Thursday, there was a story by two reporters on the CIA’s increased focus on killing its targets, whether by drone or paramilitary strike.

In the decade since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the agency has undergone a fundamental transformation. Although the CIA continues to gather intelligence and furnish analysis on a vast array of subjects, its focus and resources are increasingly centered on the cold counterterrorism objective of finding targets to capture or kill.

Then, on Friday, there was an excerpt of the chapter from Dana Priest and Will Arkin’s book on JSOC. In addition to describing JSOC’s own lethality…

JSOC’s lethality was evident in its body counts: In 2008, in Afghanistan alone, JSOC commandos struck 550 targets and killed roughly a thousand people, officials said. In 2009, they executed 464 operations and killed 400 to 500 enemy forces. As Iraq descended into chaos in the summer of 2005, JSOC conducted 300 raids a month.

…. It also described how JSOC has been infiltrating DC’s bureaucracy.

Then he gave access to it to JSOC’s bureaucratic rivals: the CIA, NSA, FBI and others. He also began salting every national security agency in Washington with his top commandos. In all, he deployed 75 officers to Washington agencies and 100 more around the world. They rotated every four months so none would become disconnected from combat.

Some thought of the liaisons as spies for an organization that was already too important.

Both stories were good additions to earlier reports that have already laid this groundwork. But I found them notable for the way they were featured at the WaPo with nary a nod at each other. Sure, the CIA story noted that it has collaborated with JSOC. And the JSOC story talks about them feeding targeting information to CIA. Both stories claim their paramilitary force has the greater authority. Both at least mention Leon Panetta; the CIA one mentions David Petraeus; neither mentions Panetta and Petraeus swapping agencies.

But what we’re really talking about is an increasing focus on paramilitary approaches to security, using both JSOC and CIA, with the reporting agency seemingly chosen based on which offers the neatest legal cover.

The point, though, is to have super-lethal organizations unbound by the bureaucracy or law that puts limits to them.

And, as the CIA story admits, the civilian leadership–the President–matters less and less, at least in terms of receiving analysis (and presumably making decisions based on that analysis) or judging efficacy.

“We were originally set up with a more singular focus on policymakers,” said Moore, the head of the CIA’s analytic branch. But for a growing number of analysts, “it’s not just about writing for the president. It’s about gaining leads.”

[snip]

“When CIA does covert action, who does the president turn to to judge its effectiveness?” a former senior U.S. intelligence official. “To the CIA.”

Which brings us to this David Swanson piece, relating an exchange Susan Harman had with Berkeley’s Law School Dean, Chris Edley. When asked why the Obama Administration had not prosecuted torture or wiretapping, Edley revealed the Administration was worried about the CIA, NSA, and military “revolting.”

“Then Dean Chris Edley volunteered that he’d been party to very high level discussions during Obama’s transition about prosecuting the criminals. He said they decided against it. I asked why. Two reasons: 1) it was thought that the CIA, NSA, and military would revolt, and 2) it was thought the Repugnants would retaliate by blocking every piece of legislation they tried to move (which, of course, they’ve done anyhow).

“Afterwards I told him that CIA friends confirmed that Obama would have been in danger, but I added that he bent over backwards to protect the criminals, and gave as an example the DoJ’s defense (state secrets) of Jeppesen (the rendition arm of Boeing) a few days after his inauguration.

“He shrugged and said they will never be prosecuted, and that sometimes politics trumps rule of law.

Now I’ve long suspected that Obama backed off all rule of law for both the national security establishment and the banks out of fear he’d end up like John F. Kennedy. And Edley’s comments, at least, don’t suggest Obama was worried the “revolt” would involve physical threats to himself.

Nevertheless, these three developments together really ought to be a worry.

We’re expanding two lethal paramilitary forces–death squads–that (taken together, especially) evade normal oversight. It’s not clear whether the civilian leadership controls them–or vice versa.

Is it really a good idea to make them even more lethal?

Corporate Fairy Tales in Afghanistan

It’s a corporate fairy tale: working class boy joins the military, goes into banking, brings the joys of mineral exploitation to exotic locales.

From Congo to Colombia, from Iraq to Sierra Leone, [Ian] Hannam [the JP Morgan banker overseeing the development of a gold mine in Afghanistan] and his small team of soldiers-turned-bankers and advisers did business with oligarchs, gem dealers, and former mercenaries. He could be bracingly direct. When he landed in Baghdad for a meeting with Iraq’s oil minister, the minister asked, “What are you here for?”

“I’m here to make five new Iraqi billionaires every year for the next 10 years,” Hannam said with a twinkle in his eyes.

And it ends, I guess, as corporate fairy tales do: with the mineral riches finally being liberated from the oppressive soil.

But at least someone will have begun releasing the wealth trapped in Afghanistan’s stones.

It’s all the bits in between that raise eyebrows about the viability of our little project in Afghanistan and the structure of our empire. While the story focuses on Hannam, the JP Morgan banker, it’s as much a story about General Petraeus.

Then, in 2009, mining in Afghanistan got the push it needed — from the U.S. military. Petraeus had been appointed commander of U.S. Central Command, which had ultimate authority over Afghanistan. He realized that a U.S. exit from Afghanistan depended on getting the country’s economy running.

[snip]

Realizing that conventional foreign-aid organizations weren’t getting the job done, Petraeus moved a crack economic stabilization team from Iraq into Afghanistan. That team quickly realized that mining would be key.

And Deputy Under Secretary for Defense Paul Brinkley.

Hannam was at the banquet hall for a reception thrown by the Trade Bank of Iraq to honor J.P. Morgan. Also at the reception was Paul Brinkley, a deputy under secretary of defense charged with jump-starting Iraq’s stalled economy. A former tech company executive, Brinkley served as a matchmaker of sorts between Iraqi entrepreneurs and foreign businessmen. With the blessing of Defense Secretary Robert Gates, he operated outside normal bureaucratic channels, eschewing the bulletproof vests and helmets his civilian colleagues wore in combat zones. In three years he had secured some $8 billion in private investment contracts for Iraq, helping start textile mills, cement factories, and electronics companies. Hannam and Brinkley had heard about each other’s work. J.P. Morgan had been one of the first Western companies to plant the flag in Iraq, overseeing the country’s currency and setting up a big oil project in Iraqi Kurdistan. Hannam and Brinkley fell into conversation about Afghanistan, which was to be Brinkley’s next posting.

These men, of course, were prominently seen last June pushing James Risen to report a breathless story on Afghanistan’s $1 trillion mineral riches the night before Petraeus would testify to Congress.

[Risen] explained that he based his report on the work of a Pentagon team led by Paul Brinkley, a deputy undersecretary of defense charged with rebuilding the Afghan economy. Using geological data from the Soviet era and USGS surveys conducted in 2006, Brinkley dispatched teams to Afghanistan last year to search for minerals on the ground. The data they’ve come back with, combined with internal Pentagon assessments that value the deposits at more than $900 billion, constitute news, according to Risen. (Those surveys are still under way, according to a briefing Brinkley gave yesterday.)

[snip]

So was the story a Pentagon plant, designed to show the American public a shiny metallic light at the end of the long tunnel that is the Afghan war, as skeptics allege? Risen said he heard about the Pentagon’s efforts from Milt Bearden, a retired CIA officer who was active in Afghanistan in the 1980s. The men co-authored a book, “The Main Enemy,” in 2003, and Bearden is now a consultant working with Brinkley’s survey team.

“Several months ago, Milt started telling me about what they were finding,” Risen said. “At the beginning of the year, I said I wanted to do a story on it.” At first both Bearden and Brinkley resisted, Risen said, but he eventually wore them down. “Milt convinced Brinkley to talk to me,” he said, “and Brinkley convinced other Pentagon officials to go on the record. I think Milt realized that things were going so badly in Afghanistan that people would be willing to talk about this.” In other words, according to Risen, he wasn’t handed the story in a calculated leak. Calls and emails to Brinkley and to Eric Clark, a Pentagon public relations contractor who works with him, were not immediately returned.

All of which makes you wonder about the provenance of this story…

And of course, in addition to Hannam, Petraeus, and Brinkley, there is JP Morgan itself, which seems to be investing a lot of time in a project they don’t expect to be profitable and won’t put their own money into.

In late September, J.P. Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon, Brinkley, and Mining Minister Wahidullah Shahrani met at J.P. Morgan’s headquarters in Manhattan. Dimon pledged J.P. Morgan’s support. On the way down in the elevator, Dimon told Shahrani, “You’re in good hands with Ian. He’s eccentric, but he gets things done.”But soon Brinkley’s team was wondering. On the day the deal signing was to take place, Hannam’s team stopped acting like former warriors and began behaving like, well, nervous investment bankers. Hannam, after talking about how rich he was going to make his clients, suddenly began to complain that there was no way to make a profit. The 26% royalty rate for the mine, his team claimed, was way too high. Mining Minister Shahrani was bewildered — the rate had been agreed upon years before, when the Naderi family had first bid for the mine. Nothing had changed.

Brinkley’s Pentagon team was deeply frustrated. They felt the bankers had pulled a fast one. Had Hannam’s group not done its homework? Or were they just being bankers, trying to squeeze more money out of the deal with some 11th-hour brinkmanship?

Brinkley lit into the J.P. Morgan group: “When are you going to get this done? You’ve told people you’re going to do it!” The bankers, in turn, felt they were being unfairly pressured by the government, which seemed desperate to get the deal done even if it was uneconomical.

[snip]

J.P. Morgan says it isn’t putting any of its own money into the project. Hannam secured $40 million from investors in the U.S., Asia, and Europe. They included Enso Capital founder Joshua Fink, son of BlackRock’s Larry Fink; British mining titan Peter Hambro; and Thai businessman Pairoj Piempongsant. Hannam created an investment vehicle, Central Asian Resources, to enter into a joint venture with Naderi’s new mining company, Afghan Gold.

Which in turn makes you wonder about the off-and-on relationship between the President and Jamie Dimon, particularly in the months leading up to JP Morgan playing hardball on the gold mine in Afghanistan. Have there been other considerations involved in the government’s relationship with JP Morgan? When Dimon boasts about JP Morgan being a good bank–in spite of the fact that they practice some of the same reprehensible policies as their rivals–is he saying something more?

Mind you, it’s not that Petraeus is wrong: Afghanistan needs something besides poppies if it’s ever going to become a viable nation-state.

I’d just like a bit more transparency about the public-private endeavors our government builds to make that happen. And I’d like a lot more information about all the favors being exchanged to make that happen.

When Militaries Conspire to Ignore the Will of the People

The story of the day is from Michael Hastings, fresh off winning a Polk Award for his reporting on the insubordination of key members of Stanley McChrystal’s staff. In today’s story, he describes how Lieutenant General William Caldwell ordered a PsyOp unit to manipulate Senators–including John McCain, Carl Levin, Jack Reed, and Al Franken–to support increased troops and funding for training Afghan soldiers. When the commander of that unit objected, he was investigated and disciplined. (See Jim White’s post on it here.)

It’s a troubling picture of the extent to which individual members of our military will push the war in Afghanistan, knowing how unpopular it is in the States.

But there’s an equally troubling story reporting on the disdain with which our military treats public opinion. Josh Rogin reports on a regularly scheduled meeting between the Pakistani and American military in Oman that took place on Tuesday; because of the Raymond Davis affair, the meeting had heightened importance. The US was represented by, among others, Admiral Mullen and Generals Petraeus, Olson (SOCOM) and Mattis (CENTCOM).

As Rogin describes it, the Americans, whose views were represented in a written summary from General Jehangir Karamat with confirmation from another Pakistani participant, believed the two militaries had to restore the Pakistani-American relationship before it got completely destroyed by the press and the public.

“The US had to point out that once beyond a tipping point the situation would be taken over by political forces that could not be controlled,” Karamat wrote about the meeting, referring to the reported split between the CIA and the Pakistani Inter-services Intelligence (ISI) that erupted following the Davis shooting.

[snip]

“[T]he US did not want the US-Pakistan relationship to go into a free fall under media and domestic pressures,” Karamat wrote. “These considerations drove it to ask the [Pakistani] Generals to step in and do what the governments were failing to do-especially because the US military was at a critical stage in Afghanistan and Pakistan was the key to control and resolution.”

“The militaries will now brief and guide their civilian masters and hopefully bring about a qualitative change in the US-Pakistan Relationship by arresting the downhill descent and moving it in the right direction.” [my emphasis]

In short, the US military wants to make sure that military intervenes to counteract the fury of the people and the press over the Davis affair.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’d rather have the military ensure close relations with this nuclear-armed unstable state. I’m cognizant of how, in different situations (notably the Egyptian uprising), close ties between our military and others’ have helped to foster greater democracy. As Dana Priest’s The Mission makes clear our military has increasingly become the best functioning “diplomatic” service we’ve got. And though I think a great deal of stupidity and arrogance got Davis into the pickle he’s in, I certainly back our government’s efforts to get him returned to our country (Rogin also provides details of the plan to do that).

But particularly coming as it does in the same theater and on the same day as news of PsyOps being waged against my Senator, I’m troubled that our military isn’t more concerned with reining in the behavior that has rightly ticked off so many Pakistanis, rather than coordinating with the Pakistani military to make sure the people of Pakistan’s concerns are ignored.

Will a Role in Afghan Peace Negotiations Trump Indefinite Detention?

The Telegraph reports that a High Peace Council convened by Hamid Karzai may request that some Gitmo detainees be freed so they can participate in peace talks. (h/t Carol Rosenberg)

Taliban prisoners would be freed from Guantánamo Bay to potentially join peace negotiations under a proposal from the Afghan council appointed to find a settlement to the insurgency.

[snip]

The 68-strong High Peace Council was inaugurated by Hamid Karzai last month to pursue a twin-track strategy of reaching out to Taliban leaders while coaxing foot soldiers from the fight.

Mullah Rahmani, an education minister in the Taliban regime, heads a group of former Taliban on the council and chairs a subcommittee on political prisoners.

[snip]Mullah Rahmani said he wanted influential prisoners freed from American and Pakistani custody as a confidence-building gesture and potentially to join talks.

[snip]

He said: “We could use these people in negotiation. They have good contacts and are trusted by the Taliban.” Khairullah Khairkhwa, Taliban governor of Herat province until 2001, and Mullah Mohammad Fazl, deputy chief of staff in the Taliban army, were among those who should be freed from Guantánamo he said.

Khairkhwa is “a hardliner in terms of Taliban philosophy”, with “close ties to Osama bin Laden” according to his Guantánamo case file. Fazl was second-in-command of the Taliban’s army at the time of the United States’ invasion.

As these peace talks have developed, I’ve been suspecting something like this would happen. In particular, I’m curious whether this request would need to — and would — trump the US government’s decision that Khairkhwa and Fazl needed to be indefinitely detained.

I asked Rosenberg whether she knew if Khairkhwa was among the 40-some detainees slotted for indefinite detention, and she responded that she did not recall his name submitted for trial.

I asked that question because the Gitmo Task Force Report (pdf) had included top Taliban leaders among those who had been picked for indefinite detention.

In contrast to the majority of detainees held at Guantanamo, many of the detainees approved for detention held a leadership or other specialized role within al-Qaida, the Taliban, or associated forces.

[snip]

Others were Taliban military commanders or senior officials, or played significant roles in insurgent groups in Afghanistan allied with the Taliban, such as Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin.

Khairkhwa and Fazl would certainly qualify as “military commanders or senior officials.”

Now, if Khairkhwa and Fazl are senior enough members of the Taliban and legitimate and necessary peace partners, doesn’t that suggest they were not illegal combatants, but rather legitimate political leaders? And doesn’t that mean they should have been treated as POWs from the start?

David Petraeus’ Escalation(s)

Le Monde did this graphic of the what kind of deaths the Wikileaks document dump records happening when (blue are American soldiers killed–darker–or injured; green are civilians killed or injured).

In an article on another revelation in the Wikieaks document–tracing several more incidents of civilian deaths caused by a helicopter using the same call sign as the helicopter that killed some Reuters journalists–Al Jazeera makes this note:

The documents also reveal that the use of airstrikes increased dramatically in 2007, after General David Petraeus took over as the commander of US forces in Iraq, despite his public statements that airstrikes often “provide insurgents with a major propaganda victory.” The US dropped 229 bombs in 2006, a number that surged to 1,447 in 2007.

A similar trend is happening now in Afghanistan, where airstsrikes have increased by 172 per cent since Petraeus took command.

And as the Guardian notes, a lot of more of these deaths–over 15,000–are civilians than previously known (see also their analysis of deaths here). Al Jazeera notes that Iraq Body Count is about to raise its count accordingly, to 122,000.

We’re about to get a rather different understanding of what the surge was all about.

Military Encroachment On Civilian Authority & Seven Days In May

Via Digby comes this unsettling article by David Wood in Politics Daily about the growing militant contempt among military leadership for civilian authority and control.

The military officer corps is rumbling with dissatisfaction and dissent, and there are suggestions from some that if officers disagree with policy decisions by Congress and the White House, they should vigorously resist.

Officers have a moral responsibility, some argue, to sway a policy debate by going public with their objections or leaking information to the media, and even to sabotage policy decisions by deliberate foot-dragging.

This could spell trouble ahead as Washington grapples with at least two highly contentious issues: changing the policy on gays and lesbians in the military, and extricating U.S. forces from Afghanistan. In both cases, senior officers already have disagreed sharply and publicly with Defense Secretary Robert Gates and President Barack Obama, and in some cases officers have leaked documents to bolster their case.

…..

“The military officer belongs to a profession upon whose members are conferred great responsibility, a code of ethics, and an oath of office. These grant him moral autonomy and obligate him to disobey an order he deems immoral,” writes Marine Lt. Col. Andrew R. Milburn in Joint Forces Quarterly, an official journal published by the National Defense University under the aegis of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

That is especially true if his civilian leaders are incompetent, writes Milburn, who currently is assigned to the U.S. Special Operations Command in Stuttgart, Germany.

….

“When the results of bad decision-making are wasted lives and damage to the Nation; when the customary checks laid down in the Constitution — the electoral voice of the people, Congress, or the Supreme Court — are powerless to act in time; and when the military professional alone is in a position to prevent calamity, it makes little sense to argue that he should not exercise his discretion,” Milburn writes.

Read the entire article; please.

Now, there is no sense of any direct coup type of trend afoot in all this so much as an accelerating trend to the militarization of government and resigned acceptance by the Read more

“The law enforcement approach … mucks up our strategic interests.”

I’ve been tracking the debate within the Administration over whether we should tolerate corruption in Afghanistan in the name of sustaining a war against someone–anyone–in Afghanistan or not for some weeks. Underlying the entire debate is the fact that our goals in Afghanistan–which started as a pursuit of those who struck us on 9/11 and now, having achieved that in Afghanistan, appears to be “not lose”–are totally unclear and apparently divorced from national interest. The debate pits those who believe corruption discredits the Karzai regime and creates support for the Taliban against those who rely on corrupt members of the Karzai regime who claim cracking down on corruption (which is, effectively, the removal of our aid money to private bank accounts in Dubai) will hurt the goal, which they’ve redefined, without Congressional buy-off, as defeating the Taliban.

Here’s how today’s installment, from  By Rajiv Chandrasekaran, captures the debate:

The debate turns largely on how various administration officials view the connection between corruption and the insurgency.

Some officials, principally at the staff level, contend that government venality and incompetence is the principal reason Afghans are joining, supporting or tolerating the Taliban. Other administration and military officials, particularly those at senior levels, maintain that graft is just one of many factors – along with sanctuaries in Pakistan, historical tribal grievances and anger at the presence of foreign forces on Afghan soil – that fuel the conflict.

Compounding the challenge is that many Afghan officials who are regarded as corrupt also provide valuable assistance to U.S. forces, including sensitive intelligence. Some, including the palace aide, are on the CIA’s payroll – a fact not initially known to investigators working on the case.

And while this debate seems to be still raging among those in Afghanistan, Chandrasekaran reports that top officials in the Obama Administration have decided to set aside the law enforcement approach for back room deals.

President Obama’s top national security advisers, who will meet with him this week to discuss the problem, do not yet agree on the contours of a new approach, according to U.S. civilian and military officials involved in Afghanistan policy. But the officials said there is a growing consensus that key corruption cases against people in Karzai’s government should be resolved with face-saving compromises behind closed doors instead of public prosecutions.

Once again, the anonymous official embracing corruption does so in the name of our “principal goals.”

“The current approach is not tenable,” said an administration official who, like others interviewed, agreed to discuss internal deliberations only on the condition of anonymity. “What will we get out of it? We’ll arrest a few mid-level Afghans, but we’ll lose our ability to operate there and achieve our principal goals.”

I’m beginning to believe “our ability to operate there” is our “principal goal.”

All of which discussion sets up this quote from an official in Kabul who has concluded we need to abandon a law enforcement approach.

There is a growing view at the U.S. and NATO headquarters in Kabul that “the law enforcement approach to corruption mucks up our strategic interests,” said the U.S. official there.

Of course, this comment pertains solely to rooting out corruption in Afghanistan. Not detention of captives. Not corruption of American contractors. Not targeting terrorists.

But it sure reveals, in stark fashion, how far we’ve come from our “principal goal” of governance, which is at least partly to support and defend the Constitution, otherwise known as a law enforcement approach.

America Picks and Chooses Among Extra-Legal Entities Destabilizing the World

I wanted to add to what David Dayen had to say about these two stories.

Last week, the WaPo quoted at least two military figures stating, as fact, that the Taliban was a bigger threat to the US mission in Afghanistan than corruption. Based on that judgment, the WaPo suggests “military officials” are now pursuing a policy of tolerating some corruption among Afghan allies.

Military officials in the region have concluded that the Taliban’s insurgency is the most pressing threat to stability in some areas and that a sweeping effort to drive out corruption could create chaos and a governance vacuum that the Taliban could exploit.

“There are areas where you need strong leadership, and some of those leaders are not entirely pure,” said a senior defense official. “But they can help us be more effective in going after the primary threat, which is the Taliban.”

[snip]

Kandahar is not just a Taliban problem; it is a mafia, criminal syndicate problem,” the senior defense official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject. “That is why it is so complicated. But clearly the most pressing threat is the Taliban.”

Now, the WaPo headline suggests this is definitely the plan, but the story itself admits that it is unclear whether everyone in the Obama Administration agrees with the plan.

It was not immediately clear whether the White House, the State Department and law enforcement agencies share the military’s views, which come at a critical time for U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

Indeed, the WaPo piece anonymously quotes an adviser (apparently, but not certainly, civilian) advocating for a crackdown on corruption. And it acknowledges that earlier this year some diplomats and military leaders called to arrest Ahmed Wali Karzai, but Stanley McChrystal scuttled the effort.

So it seems this initiative may come from the DOD side, and if this represents Administration (as opposed to DOD) policy, then clearly not everyone has bought off on it. Which makes it worth cataloging those in the story who might qualify as the “senior defense official” endorsing this new policy. The story quotes the following:

  • Robert Gates, introduced in an apparent non-sequitur between two quotes from the “senior defense official,” visiting two Army units fighting around Kandahar
  • David Petraeus talking about efforts to stem the US contract funds that fuel corruption
  • Lieutenant General David Rodriguez, hailing efforts to set up councils of elders who can decide how to spend reconstruction funds

(Stephen Biddle, of the Council on Foreign Relations, is also quoted supporting this policy.)

Assuming the WaPo is following accepted practice about anonymous quotations, I’d bet a few pennies that the “senior defense official” declaring that the Taliban is a bigger threat than corruption or drugs is Robert Gates.

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