Never Again?

Giulio Meotti’s book about Palestinian terrorism tells a truth many Westerners don’t want to hear.

“A New Shoa: The Untold Story of Israel’s Victims of Terrorism,” is a hard read. Not because it is badly written; it is clear, precise, and eloquent. It is a hard read because it is deeply moving—many times, I had to stop reading and catch my breath, wipe away the tears. Giulio Meotti, an Italian author and journalist, has written a monumental study of pain and grief, of mourning and remembrance, of hatred and love.

The book’s title is well-chosen. From the very first pages, Mr. Meotti makes clear that he considers Palestinian terrorism and Arab hatred of Israel and the Jews the continuation of Nazi anti-Semitism. He shows that Palestinian and Arab rhetoric is focused on Jews—not just Israelis. The dream of the Islamists is to destroy the Jewish people, not just the sliver of land called Israel.

This is not a matter of opinion but of facts, which Mr. Meotti’s well-researched book provides in abundance. Take just this recent example from a public speech by Hamas leader Mahmoud Al-Zahhar, aired on Hamas’ Al-Aqsa TV on November 5, 2010:

“Allah willing, their [the Jews’] expulsion from Palestine in its entirety is certain to come. We are no weaker or less honorable than the peoples that expelled and annihilated the Jews. The day we expel them is drawing near. . . .

“There is no place for you [Jews] among us, and you have no future among the nations of the world. You are headed to annihilation.”

These words move far beyond a conflict about territory—the underlying emotion is genocidal rage. Mr. Meotti’s list of murderous anti-Semitism by Palestinian leaders and media is exhausting. But it is a list the Western media ignore as it would destroy the prevailing narrative that the Mideast conflict is about land and Palestinian suffering. It isn’t. It is about that old sickness, Jew-hatred.

Mr. Meotti’s other great achievement is to record the stories of the Jews who died as a result of this hatred and preserve their memories. He recalls victims who were trying to lead an ordinary life in a unique country. They were on their way to work, to the market, to see friends when the murderers crossed their paths, themselves dying in the fires they unleashed.

The roll of victims is long. “This is the Ground Zero of Israel, the first country ever to experience suicide terrorism on a mass scale,” Mr. Meotti writes, “more than 150 suicide attacks carried out, plus more than 500 prevented. It’s a black hole that in 15 years swallowed up 1,557 people and left 17,000 injured.”

It must have been almost unbearable to write this book. Mr. Meotti gave the Jewish victims names and faces and, amid all that horror, packed his book also with descriptions of hundreds of acts of human kindness and dignity.

“There is a long, heartbreaking list of teenage Jewish girls whose lives were cut off in a moment by a suicide bomber,” Mr. Meotti writes. “Rachel Teller’s mother decided to donate her daughter’s heart and kidneys: ‘That is my answer to the hyena who took my daughter’s life. With her death, she will give life to two other people.’ Rachel wore her hair very short and had a wistful smile. Her friends remembered the last time they saw her. ‘We said bye-bye, a little bit bored, like it was nothing. Instead, it was the last time we said goodbye to Rachel.'”

The book is filled with these moments of intense pain, but this 400-page study of Jewish love of life is indispensable for anybody who wants to understand Israel’s position in the world and the tragic position of the Jews in history.

There is the story of Massoud Mahlouf Allon, who was an observant Jewish immigrant from Morocco. “He was mutilated, bludgeoned and beaten to death while giving poor Palestinians the blankets he had collected from Israelis,” Mr. Meotti recounts.

Or the disabled Arnad, who was blown up in the seat of his motorized wheelchair in Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda market.

Or Nissan Cohen, who was a teenager when he fled from Afghanistan. “During the day he helped handicapped children, and at night he studied the Gemarra, the commentary on the Law. A bomb killed him at the entrance to the Mahane Yehuda market.”

This book doesn’t dumb down evil. It doesn’t try to understand terrorists as victims of their socio-economic circumstances, doesn’t miscategorize them as poor or uneducated (they are often middle class) or driven allegedly to despair by the very same people they murdered. No, in “A New Shoah,” the terrorists remain what they are, the executors of a hate-filled religious ideology. This is a truth too many Westerners still don’t want to hear.

My own Dutch publishing house, the distinguished De Bezige Bij, born out of the Dutch resistance against the Nazis, refused to publish this amazing book. It had no qualms, however, about publishing a book of anti-Zionist rants by Dries van Agt, the former Dutch prime minister and Hamas apologist.

In a Continent stuck in denial about both Palestinian anti-Semitism and Europe’s own resurgent Jew-hatred, hidden behind the label of anti-Zionism, Mr. Meotti’s hard read is a breath of fresh air.

Mr. de Winter is a Dutch novelist. His latest book is “The Right of Return” (De Bezige Bij ,2008).


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The Trouble With Talking to the Taliban

As in Vietnam, compromise is not in the insurgents’ playbook.

So the U.S. has now given safe passage to senior Taliban commanders for parleys with the Afghan government in Kabul. That’s good for Hamid Karzai, who must look to his own post-American world, good for the Obama administration, which wants a politically graceful exit from Afghanistan, and excellent for the Taliban, which seeks to return to power. Too bad it also risks turning Afghanistan into another Vietnam.

By late 1967, the U.S. had been fighting in Vietnam for seven years, combat deaths were at the 10,000 mark, and pundits and policy makers (though not yet the public) were concluding the war was unwinnable. The Johnson administration had undertaken a bombing campaign of the North but had refused to go after communist sanctuaries in neighboring Laos or Cambodia, or to disrupt the supply of Soviet arms. Nor would the U.S. invade the North out of a misplaced fear of Chinese intervention.

Under those restrictive conditions, the war really was unwinnable. But rather than change the military strategy, the administration opted to change the diplomatic one. In September 1967, Johnson announced his willingness to halt the bombing in exchange for “productive discussions” with the North. Productive meaning what? Hanoi’s idea of diplomacy was first to object to the shape of the negotiating table, and then to insist that the U.S. collude in overthrowing the government of South Vietnam.

It would be another five years before an agreement was reached. It was less the product of the talks themselves than of a series of sharp military reversals for the North. And even then the agreement proved meaningless: The North refused to honor its terms, and the U.S. lacked the political will to enforce them. And so Vietnam was lost.

What, then, did the talks accomplish? Politically, they were supposed to demonstrate that the U.S. wanted peace. The antiwar movement was not impressed. Strategically, they were supposed to offer the U.S. an alternative to a victory that U.S. policy makers had concluded was beyond reach. But as Henry Kissinger would later observe, “Hanoi’s leaders had launched their war in order to win, not to cut a deal.”

On the other hand, what the talks did do was provide the North with innumerable opportunities to pocket U.S. concessions, forestall U.S. military actions, and manipulate U.S. public opinion. If negotiations were, for Washington, an effort to end the war, for Hanoi they were a form of warfare by other means.

Now to Afghanistan. Plainly the war there is not Vietnam redux. The Taliban has a more limited base of popular support and no superpower patron. Their sanctuaries in Pakistan are nothing like North Vietnam itself. The U.S. military has internalized the lessons of counterinsurgency doctrine. American combat deaths over nine years of war are barely half of what the U.S. lost in May 1968 alone. The war remains eminently winnable.

But all that is put at risk the moment the U.S. embarks on the same talk-and-fight strategy it adopted in Vietnam. If winning over the Taliban’s “reconcilables” were the goal, we could simply adopt an amnesty strategy on the same generous terms Colombia offered FARC deserters. High-level negotiations are another story.

How shall we expect the Taliban to negotiate? Their first tactic—disavowing that the commanders who went to Kabul speak for the Taliban itself—is straight out of the guerrilla’s playbook: By creating the illusion of a gap between their negotiators and fighters (think Sinn Fein and the IRA), they permit the negotiators to maintain a veneer of credibility without compromising their military options.

Second, they will make maximalist demands, in the expectation that Mr. Karzai or the U.S. will moderate their own negotiating stance. This was the experience of the U.S. in Vietnam, just as it is now between the West and Iran.

Third, they will seek to exploit latent divisions between Mr. Karzai and the Obama administration. What happens in the event that Mr. Karzai is prepared to accept terms unacceptable to the U.S., such as sharing power with Mullah Omar? Ultimately, we are in Afghanistan to defend core U.S. interests, not the whims of its capricious president.

Fourth, the Taliban will create security problems that it will then offer to “solve” at the price of this or that concession. Kim Jong Il is the master of this style of bargaining.

Finally, the Taliban will never honor any agreement it makes. Like most modern insurgencies, its grievances are all pretexts: What it seeks is absolute power, exercised without restraint. We know how that movie ends.

There’s one way—and only one way—the U.S. could get the Taliban to come to terms: a series of decisive military blows that give them no other option. At that point, who would want to rehabilitate them? Surely not an administration intent on avoiding, as this one so keenly is, “another Vietnam.”

Bret Stephens, Wall Street Journal


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Lethal Force Under Law

The Obama administration has sharply expanded the shadow war against terrorists, using both the military and the C.I.A. to track down and kill hundreds of them, in a dozen countries, on and off the battlefield.

The drone program has been effective, killing more than 400 Al Qaeda militants this year alone, according to American officials, but fewer than 10 noncombatants. But assassinations are a grave act and subject to abuse — and imitation by other countries. The government needs to do a better job of showing the world that it is acting in strict compliance with international law.

The United States has the right under international law to try to prevent attacks being planned by terrorists connected to Al Qaeda, up to and including killing the plotters. But it is not within the power of a commander in chief to simply declare anyone anywhere a combatant and kill them, without the slightest advance independent oversight. The authorization for military force approved by Congress a week after 9/11 empowers the president to go after only those groups or countries that committed or aided the 9/11 attacks. The Bush administration’s distortion of that mandate led to abuses that harmed the United States around the world.

The issue of who can be targeted applies directly to the case of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen hiding in Yemen, who officials have admitted is on an assassination list. Did he inspire through words the Army psychiatrist who shot up Fort Hood, Tex., last November, and the Nigerian man who tried to blow up an airliner on Christmas? Or did he actively participate in those plots, and others? The difference is crucial. If the United States starts killing every Islamic radical who has called for jihad, there will be no end to the violence.

American officials insist that Mr. Awlaki is involved with actual terror plots. But human rights lawyers working on his behalf say that is not the case, and have filed suit to get him off the target list. The administration wants the case thrown out on state-secrets grounds.

The Obama administration needs to go out of its way to demonstrate that it is keeping its promise to do things differently than the Bush administration did. It must explain how targets are chosen, demonstrate that attacks are limited and are a last resort, and allow independent authorities to oversee the process.

PUBLIC GUIDELINES The administration keeps secret its standards for putting people on terrorist or assassination lists. In March, Harold Koh, legal adviser to the State Department, said the government adheres to international law, attacking only military targets and keeping civilian casualties to an absolute minimum. “Our procedures and practices for identifying lawful targets are extremely robust,” he said in a speech, without describing them.

Privately, government officials say no C.I.A. drone strike takes place without the approval of the United States ambassador to the target country, the chief of the C.I.A. station, a deputy at the agency, and the agency’s director. So far, President Obama’s system of command seems to have prevented any serious abuses, but the approval process is entirely within the administration. After the abuses under President Bush, the world is not going to accept a simple “trust us” from the White House.

There have been too many innocent people rounded up for detention and subjected to torture, too many cases of mistaken identity or trumped-up connections to terror. Unmanned drones eliminate the element of risk to American forces and make it seductively easy to attack.

The government needs to make public its guidelines for determining who is a terrorist and who can be targeted for death. It should clearly describe how it follows international law in these cases and list the internal procedures and checks it uses before a killing is approved. That can be done without formally acknowledging the strikes are taking place in specific countries.

LIMIT TARGETS The administration should state that it is following international law by acting strictly in self-defense, targeting only people who are actively planning or participating in terror, or who are leaders of Al Qaeda or the Taliban — not those who raise funds for terror groups, or who exhort others to acts of terror.

Special measures are taken before an American citizen is added to the terrorist list, officials say, requiring the approval of lawyers from the National Security Council and the Justice Department. But again, those measures have not been made public. Doing so would help ensure that people like Mr. Awlaki are being targeted for terrorist actions, not their beliefs or associations.

A LAST RESORT Assassination should in every case be a last resort. Before a decision is made to kill, particularly in areas away from recognized battlefields, the government needs to consider every other possibility for capturing the target short of lethal force. Terrorists operating on American soil should be captured using police methods, and not subject to assassination.

If practical, the United States should get permission from a foreign government before carrying out an attack on its soil. The government is reluctant to discuss any of these issues publicly, in part to preserve the official fiction that the United States is not waging a formal war in Pakistan and elsewhere, but it would not harm that effort to show the world how seriously it takes international law by making clear its limits.

INDEPENDENT OVERSIGHT Dealing out death requires additional oversight outside the administration. Particularly in the case of American citizens, like Mr. Awlaki, the government needs to employ some due process before depriving someone of life. It would be logistically impossible to conduct a full-blown trial in absentia of every assassination target, as the lawyers for Mr. Awlaki prefer. But judicial review could still be employed.

The government could establish a court like the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which authorizes wiretaps on foreign agents inside the United States. Before it adds people to its target list and begins tracking them, the government could take its evidence to this court behind closed doors — along with proof of its compliance with international law — and get the equivalent of a judicial warrant in a timely and efficient way.

Congressional leaders are secretly briefed on each C.I.A. attack, and say they are satisfied with the information they get and with the process. Nonetheless, that process is informal and could be changed at any time by this president or his successors. Formal oversight is a better way of demonstrating confidence in American methods.

Self-defense under international law not only shows the nation’s resolve and power, but sends a powerful message to other countries that the United States couples drastic action with careful judgment.

Editorial, New York Times


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Your move, Mr. Abbas

The prospects are dim but the process is right. The Obama administration is to be commended for structuring the latest rounds of Middle East talks correctly. Finally, we’re leaving behind interim agreements, of which the most lamentable were the Oslo accords of 1993.

The logic then was that issues so complicated could only be addressed step by step in the expectation that things get easier over time. In fact, they got harder. Israel made concrete concessions — bringing in Yasser Arafat to run the West Bank and Gaza — in return for which Israel received growing threats, continuous incitement and finally a full-scale terror war that killed more than a thousand innocent Israelis.

Among the victims was the Israeli peace movement and its illusions about Palestinian acceptance of Israel. The Israeli left, mugged by reality, is now moribund. And the Israeli right is chastened. No serious player believes it can hang on forever to the West Bank.

This has created a unique phenomenon in Israel — a broad-based national consensus for giving nearly all the West Bank in return for peace. The moment is doubly unique because the only man who can deliver such a deal is Likud Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu — and he is prepared to do it.

Hence the wisdom of how the Obama administration has shaped the coming talks: No interim deals, no partial agreements. There are no mutual concessions that can be made separately within the great issues — territory, security, Jerusalem, the so-called right of return — to reach agreement. The concessions must be among these issues — thus if Israel gives up its dream of a united Jerusalem, for example, the Palestinians in return give up their dream of the right of return.

Most important is the directive issued by U.S. peace negotiator George Mitchell: What’s under discussion is a final settlement of the conflict. Meaning, no further claims. Conflict over.

What’s standing in the way? Israeli settlements? Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, one of Israel’s most nationalist politicians, lives in a settlement and has said openly that to achieve peace he and his family would abandon their home. What about the religious settlers? Might they not resist? Some tried that during the Gaza withdrawal, clinging to synagogue rooftops. What happened? Jewish soldiers pulled them down and took them away. If Israel is offered real peace, the soldiers will do that again.

The obstacle today, as always, is Palestinian refusal to accept a Jewish state. That has been the core issue of the conflict from 1947 through Camp David 2000, when Arafat rejected Israel’s extraordinarily generous peace offer, made no counteroffer and started a terror war (the Second Intifada) two months later.

A final peace was there to be had. It remains on the table today. Unfortunately, there’s no more sign today of a Palestinian desire for final peace than there was at Camp David. Even if Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas wants such an agreement (doubtful but possible), he simply doesn’t have the authority. To accept a Jewish state, Abbas needs some kind of national consensus behind him. He doesn’t even have a partial consensus. Hamas, which exists to destroy Israel, controls part of Palestine (Gaza) and is a powerful rival to Abbas’s Fatah even in his home territory of the West Bank.

Indeed, this week Abbas flatly told al-Quds, the leading Palestinian newspaper, “We won’t recognize Israel as a Jewish state.” Nice way to get things off on the right foot.

What will Abbas do? Unable and/or unwilling to make peace, he will exploit President Obama’s tactical blunder, the settlement freeze imposed on Israel despite the fact that Israeli-Palestinian negotiations had gone on without such a precondition for 16 years prior. Abbas will walk out if the freeze is not renewed on Sept. 26. You don’t need to be prescient to see that coming. Abbas has already announced that is what he’ll do.

That would solve all of Abbas’s problems. It would obviate signing on to a final settlement, fend off Hamas and make Israel the fall guy.

The trifecta. Why not walk out? The world, which already condemns Israel even for self-defense, will be only too eager to blame Israel for the negotiation breakdown. And there is growing pressure to create a Palestinian state even if the talks fail — i.e., even if the Palestinians make no concessions at all. So why make any?

The talks are well designed. Unfortunately, Abbas knows perfectly well how to undermine them.

Charles Krauthammer, Washington Post


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Our distracted commander in chief

Many have charged that President Obama’s decision to begin withdrawing from Afghanistan 10 months from now is hampering our war effort. But now it’s official. In a stunning statement last week, Marine Corps Commandant James Conway admitted that the July 2011 date is “probably giving our enemy sustenance.”

A remarkably bold charge for an active military officer. It stops just short of suggesting aiding and abetting the enemy. Yet the observation is obvious: It is surely harder to prevail in a war that hinges on the allegiance of the locals when they hear the U.S. president talk of beginning a withdrawal that will ultimately leave them to the mercies of the Taliban.

How did Obama come to this decision? “Our Afghan policy was focused as much as anything on domestic politics,” an Obama adviser told the New York Times’ Peter Baker. “He would not risk losing the moderate to centrist Democrats in the middle of health insurance reform and he viewed that legislation as the make-or-break legislation for his administration.”

If this is true, then Obama’s military leadership can only be called scandalous. During the past week, 22 Americans were killed over a four-day period in Afghanistan. This is not a place about which decisions should be made in order to placate members of Congress, pass health care and thereby maintain a president’s political standing. This is a place about which a president should make decisions to best succeed in the military mission he himself has set out.

But Obama sees his wartime duties as a threat to his domestic agenda. These wars are a distraction, unwanted interference with his true vocation — transforming America.

Such an impression could only have been reinforced when, given the opportunity in his Oval Office address this week to dispel the widespread perception in Afghanistan that America is leaving, Obama doubled down on his ambivalence. After giving a nod to the pace of troop reductions being conditions-based, he declared with his characteristic “but make no mistake” that “this transition will begin — because open-ended war serves neither our interests nor the Afghan people’s.”

These are the words of a man who wants out. Most emphatically from Iraq, where Obama has long made clear that his objective is simply ending combat operations by an arbitrary deadline — despite the fact that a new government has not been formed and all our hard-won success hangs in the balance — in order to address the more paramount concern: keeping a campaign promise. Time to “turn the page” and turn America elsewhere.

At first you’d think that turning is to Afghanistan. But Obama added nothing to his previously stated Afghan policy while emphatically reiterating July 2011 as the beginning of the end, or more diplomatically, of the “transition.”

Well then, at least you’d expect some vision of his larger foreign policy. After all, this was his first Oval Office address on the subject. What is the meaning, if any, of the Iraq and Afghan wars? And what of the clouds that are forming beyond those theaters: the drone-war escalation in Pakistan, the rise of al-Qaeda in Yemen, the danger of Somalia falling to al-Shabab, and the threat of renewed civil war in Islamist Sudan as a referendum on independence for southern Christians and animists approaches?

This was the stage for Obama to explain what follows the now-abolished Global War on Terror. Where does America stand on the spreading threats to stability, decency and U.S. interests from the Horn of Africa to the Hindu Kush?

On this, not a word. Instead, Obama made a strange and clumsy segue into a pep talk on the economy. Rebuilding it, he declared, “must be our central mission as a people, and my central responsibility as president.” This in a speech ostensibly about the two wars he is directing. He could not have made more clear where his priorities lie, and how much he sees foreign policy — war policy — as subordinate to his domestic ambitions.

Unfortunately, what for Obama is a distraction is life or death for U.S. troops now on patrol in Kandahar province. Some presidents may not like being wartime leaders. But they don’t get to decide. History does. Obama needs to accept the role. It’s not just the U.S. military, as Baker reports, that is “worried he is not fully invested in the cause.” Our allies, too, are experiencing doubt. And our enemies are drawing sustenance.

Charles Krauthammer, Washington Post


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Obama’s ‘Come Home America’ Speech

A dangerous world needs stronger U.S. leadership.

At times Tuesday night, it sounded as if President Barack Obama didn’t know what kind of speech he wanted to give. Was it a foreign policy address aimed at assuring a world-wide audience of America’s resolve in the war against militant Islam? Or was it an election stump speech to confirm to voters that the economy is job No. 1 for this president and his party?

The speech’s best moments were those praising the commitment, courage and sacrifice of America’s military. The president powerfully said that “our troops are the steel in our ship of state,” and all who serve join “an unbroken line of heroes that stretches from Lexington to Gettysburg; from Iwo Jima to Inchon; from Khe Sanh to Kandahar.”

For someone who had been such a vocal war opponent, he was generous in acknowledging what our troops accomplished—defeating “a regime that had terrorized its people” and helping “Iraq seize the chance for a better future.” Because of our troops, he said, “Iraq has the opportunity to embrace a new destiny, even though many challenges remain.”

As a foreign policy address, however, the speech missed the mark. While Mr. Obama did acknowledge that the U.S. “intends to sustain and strengthen our leadership” in the world, most foreign observers will probably remember the president’s tone of haste, withdrawal and even retreat. His phrase, “It is time to turn the page,” caught many an ear around the world—and not to America’s advantage.

Mr. Obama’s was not the confident voice of Harry S. Truman promising to protect Europe and Japan against “outright aggression and . . . the threat of further armed attack.” Nor did the president sound like the determined Dwight Eisenhower explaining America’s commitment to South Korea’s transition to democracy after the Korean War by saying, “We may not now relax our guard nor cease our quest.”

Instead, Mr. Obama’s address was more reminiscent of Sen. George McGovern’s plea in the 1972 presidential campaign to “Come home, America.” It sounded like he couldn’t head for the Iraq exit door quickly enough.

Imagine if after World War II, America had left Europe in the face of the aggressive Soviet threat. What would Asia look like now if, following the Korean War, the U.S. had set a quick date for withdrawal from the peninsula?

As much as he may wish, Mr. Obama cannot ignore Iraq or withdraw prematurely from Afghanistan. He has ownership of both wars; it’s part of his job description. He will share in the wars’ success or be blamed if they are lost. And he will have a better chance of succeeding if our friends and enemies sense resolve, rather than weariness.

The world needs a determined United States. It is in the security, diplomatic and economic interests of our nation to provide to Iraq and Afghanistan the same patient leadership we provided in Europe and Asia. We face new threats from Iran. China and Russia are both flexing their muscles. Telegraphing to the world that America is no longer a dependable ally is the worst possible message a president can send.

Tuesday might have been better spent visiting not just Fort Bliss but other military installations as well to honor all the services. Then Mr. Obama could have given an Oval Office address when the new Iraqi government is formed, pairing progress on security with political success.

Mr. Obama suggested that a trillion dollars had been squandered to no good purpose in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last decade. Are removing murderous regimes that were threats to peace and stability, catalyzing change in the Arab Middle East by expanding democracy, dealing a brutal blow to al Qaeda, protecting the American homeland, and diminishing the threat of transnational terrorism really of so little value to the president?

Speaking of trillions, have we prospered because of the trillion dollars Mr. Obama is spending on stimulus? Are we more confident of our country’s future because Mr. Obama will lay out two-and-a-half trillion dollars in ObamaCare’s first decade of operation? Do back-to-back-to-back deficits under this president—each of more than a trillion dollars—give us comfort about his fiscal leadership?

All issues pale compared to the question of U.S. leadership. America can either shape the world’s agenda, or wait for direction from international organizations.

Suggesting that only by withdrawing from the world can a president “jump-start industries,” reform education, and make “tough decisions” about issues at home leaves the impression that Mr. Obama has little interest in being commander in chief, that his real passion is domestic issues and his goal to mold America into a European-style social democracy.

Presidents can simultaneously pursue international and domestic agendas. In dangerous times, it is vital that the president use America’s power to shape the world.

Mr. Rove, the former senior adviser and deputy chief of staff to President George W. Bush, is the author of “Courage and Consequence” (Threshold Editions, 2010).


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Time stands still in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Say what you will about the Arab world, it’s hard to earn its gratitude. President Obama went to Egypt and not Israel. He demanded that Israel cease adding new settlements in the West Bank. He treated Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu with a chilling disdain. For all of that, though, Obama’s approval rating in Arab countries has sunk. Unlike almost a fifth of Americans, the Arab world clearly knows Obama is no Muslim.

The polls show some startling numbers. When this spring the Pew Global Attitudes Project asked residents of Islamic countries what they thought about Obama, he got good marks when it came to such matters as climate change. But when the question was the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the numbers not only declined in Indonesia and Turkey, they nearly went through the floor in the three Arab countries polled. In Jordan, 84 percent disapproved of the way Obama was handling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In Egypt, the figure was 88 percent and in Lebanon it was 90 percent.

For Obama, the figures must be disheartening. They strongly suggest that his attempt to woo the Arab world, to convince it that America can be an honest broker between Israel and the Palestinians, has dismally failed. In fact, the extent of this failure is most stark in Lebanon. There, 100 percent of Shiite respondents — in other words, Hezbollah and others — have no faith in Obama and his good intentions. This may be a setback for Obama, but it is paradoxically a success for American values.

What the Arab world seems to appreciate is that America will never agree to what the Arab world most wants — an Islamic state where a Jewish one now exists. This entirely reasonable conclusion is based on what has long been American policy — not what the State Department wanted but what the American people supported. America has always liked the idea of Israel. The Arab world, for totally understandable reasons, has always hated it. Nothing has changed.

A fundamental document in this area — a once-secret CIA analysis from 1947 — was unearthed (to my knowledge) by Thomas W. Lippman and reported in the winter 2007 issue of the Middle East Journal. The CIA strongly argued that the creation of Israel was not in America’s interests and that therefore Washington ought to be opposed. This was no different than what later diplomats and military men (most recently, David Petraeus) have argued and it is without a doubt correct. Supporting Israel hurts America in the Islamic — particularly the Arab — world and, given the crucial importance of Middle Eastern oil, makes no practical sense.

The CIA further argued that the so-called Arab-Israeli conflict would soon widen to become an Israeli-Islamic conflict — another bull’s-eye for what was then an infant intelligence service. That process was already underway, which is why some non-Arabs (Bosnian Muslims, for instance) fought the creation of Israel, and has only intensified as radical Islam, laced with healthy doses of anti-Semitism, has gotten even stronger.

But where the CIA went wrong — and not, alas, for the last time — was in predicting that the Arabs would defeat Israel and that the state would not survive. The CIA was pretty sure of the outcome, what a later CIA figure might have called a “slam dunk.”

What neither the CIA nor, for that matter, the anti-Israel State Department recognized in the late 1940s is that America’s interests are not always measurably pragmatic — metrics, in the jargon of our day. Sometimes, our interests reflect our national ethic, an affinity for other democracies, sympathy for the underdog. These, too, are in America’s interests and they may be modified, but not abandoned, for the sake of mere metrics.

This is why Obama’s overture to the Arab world, clumsily executed, was never going to succeed. America can please some Arab governments — Egypt and Jordan, for instance — but not the Arab people. What they want, and what they have been told repeatedly they deserve, is a return of Palestinian refugees to what is now Israel and control over all of Jerusalem. These are both out of the question as far as Israel is concerned. It is not willing to give up its capital and, in a relatively short time, its Jewish majority.

This week, Palestinians and Israelis will once again talk peace in Washington. But until both sides, particularly the Arab peoples, give up on what they really want, the clock will remain where it has been. Those Pew polls show that’s around 1947.

Richard Cohen, Washington Post


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Defining the Afghan Deadline Down

The president’s advisers agree: We’re not leaving next July.

If you are among those who think Barack Obama gives too many speeches, you may not be tuning in this evening when the president takes to the airwaves to speak to the American people about the end of the combat mission in Iraq.

If you do tune in, and you are hoping for some encouragement about the ongoing fight in Afghanistan, you may go away more alarmed than reassured. For when it comes to war speeches, President Obama likes to combine his firm statements of purpose with even firmer statements about heading for the exits. In other words, expect the usual quotient of wince-inducing moments.

Here’s the good news: The Obama policy is better than the Obama rhetoric.

Only three months ago, President Obama told us that Afghanistan today is “no less important than it was in those days after 9/11.” As a candidate who became a Democratic contender largely because of his opposition to the war in Iraq, however, Mr. Obama has used his speeches to shore up his left flank. He knows that the left doesn’t want to hear anything about Afghanistan unless it has to do with deadlines and departure dates.

That’s probably one reason he simply doesn’t talk about the war unless he absolutely has to. If you want an eye-opening sign of administration priorities, go to the White House website and search in “speeches and remarks” for “health care.” You’ll find 400 items since he took office. Now plug in “Afghanistan” and you’ll find just 202.

The rhetorical detachment is provoking second thoughts among many who otherwise support the president’s surge in Afghanistan. Their logic is unassailable. If the president is not fully committed to victory, does it not become absurd, even immoral, to continue to send Americans there to die?

One answer is that his actions may be a better indicator than his words. Notwithstanding his uncertain oratorical trumpet, President Obama’s Afghanistan policy began with more troops. He has escalated the drone strikes against the enemy hiding in neighboring Pakistan. When the McChrystal flap put him in the position of relieving his top general in Afghanistan, he replaced him with an even stronger one: David Petraeus. As if to underscore the point, he put Gen. Jim Mattis—a Marine’s Marine—at Centcom. It’s hard to think of a better team.

It’s true that these good decisions have been undermined by his rhetorical aloofness, as well as by his announcement that we would begin withdrawing troops next July. Indeed, only a few days ago, Gen. James Conway, the Marine commandant, said that the July 2011 date is “probably giving our enemy sustenance.” Though this president is not likely ever to admit that setting this date was a mistake, he and his team have done the next best thing: defined the deadline down.

It’s not only Gen. Petraeus. Presidential spokesman Robert Gibbs (“conditions on the ground will determine the slope of that withdrawal”), Vice President Joe Biden (“conditions-based transition to Afghan security leadership”), Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (“it’s a conditions-based withdrawal”), and Defense Secretary Bob Gates (“the pace and the number are going to depend on the conditions on the ground”) have all made similar comments walking back the deadline.

The point is that there are withdrawals, and there are withdrawals. Back in 2007, when Gen. Petraeus famously testified before Congress about the progress in Iraq, we forget that the first, post-surge withdrawal of troops—2,200 Marines from Anbar—had already begun. Likewise next July marks only a beginning, and the administration can define that drawdown however it wants.

Gen. Petraeus says we can prevail in Afghanistan. Surely he has earned the chance to try, as well as the trust that he will speak up if he finds himself shortchanged on time or resources. Even Gen. Conway, who was so blunt about how talk of a withdrawal has emboldened the enemy, was quick to add that the Taliban is likely to be extremely disheartened when the date comes and goes and most of our forces are still there.

When it comes to war rhetoric, manifestly Barack Obama is no Winston Churchill. Yet having arrived at the Oval Office, he appears to have discerned a truth that continues to elude other members of his administration: However weary Americans may be of long wars, they don’t like losing them. In the same vein, whether this president goes down as a new FDR or a new LBJ will likely be determined by how the U.S. leaves Afghanistan.

On issue after issue, President Obama stands accused of a huge gap between word and deed. In the long run, this contradiction is not sustainable, especially for a war president. At least for the short term in Afghanistan, however, it’s our best case for hope.

William McGurn, Wall Street Journal


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Jimmy Carter in Pyongyang

Back to the same old North Korean games.

The first time Jimmy Carter travelled to North Korea, in 1994 to negotiate a nuclear deal, we wrote that “every demarche from Pyongyang will be entertained by other governments in light of the fear that North Korea wields a nuclear threat.” Fast forward 16 years to the second Carter visit, and we may be at the beginning of another such cycle.

Mr. Carter and Obama Administration officials were quick to call last week’s trip to rescue 31-year-old Aijalon Gomes, a prisoner of the North Korean regime since January, a “private” humanitarian visit. The U.S. had legitimate concerns about his health, given the North’s infamous prisons.

But Mr. Carter wouldn’t have been able to travel to North Korea without official permission, and he stuck around for an extra day in the hopes of seeing Kim Jong Il, who was travelling in China with his third son, his presumed heir. Kim snubbed Mr. Carter, yet his number two told the former President the North wants to resume the six-party talks. China’s nuclear envoy carried the same message to Seoul, and U.S. doves like former State Department official Joel Wit echoed that call in the New York Times.

Aijalon Gomes and former President Jimmy Carter

This sudden outbreak of diplomatic fervor isn’t a coincidence; the North and its allies are good at preaching the virtues of negotiation when Pyongyang is at its most vulnerable. The Clinton Administration was preparing sanctions on the North when Mr. Carter negotiated what became the 1994 Agreed Framework. In that deal, the U.S. gave the North financing for two light-water nuclear reactors, security guarantees and energy. In return, Pyongyang continued its nuclear weapons program.

In 2006, when Bush Administration financial sanctions started to bite, North Korea tested a nuclear device, and the U.S. again caved, agreeing to return the dirty money in exchange for more talks. In return, Pyongyang continued its nuclear weapons program. See a pattern here?

Returning to the six-party talks now would again reward bad behavior. Unlike the U.S., the North has shown no willingness to keep its promises. Since talks stalled the North has conducted another nuclear test; launched missiles near Japan; sunk a South Korean naval vessel, killing 46 sailors; seized political prisoners; expropriated South Korean assets and threatened a nuclear attack.

This is a sign of vulnerability, not strength. On the economic front, a botched currency reform last year created hyperinflation and resulted in rare public protests. Floods this month have devastated agriculture. On the political front, Kim is reportedly getting ready to transfer power to his son at next month’s rare party conference, even though Kim Jong Eun is seen as young, inexperienced and possibly unable to control the military.

All of this raises questions about what diplomacy might achieve. The six-party talks benefit the North by giving Pyongyang global legitimacy and a sanctions reprieve, and they benefit China by giving Beijing free diplomatic leverage in a process in which it is the North’s main enabler. Do the U.S. and its allies really want another Agreed Framework?

Rather than entertain fantasies about the North’s intentions, the better strategy is to keep the sanctions pressure on with the goal of hastening the regime’s demise and, as South Korea is already doing, preparing for the collapse.

Editorial, Wall Street Journal


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Special Forces Ratchet Up Fight Against Taliban

Aggressive Tactics in Afghanistan

US Army Special Operations Forces: Progress reported in fight against Taliban

Through nighttime attacks and drone strikes, special forces led by the United States have massively ratcheted up their hunt for Taliban. In the past three months alone, the highly secretive forces have eliminated 365 insurgent commanders.

The international troops in Afghanistan this year, under the command of the United States, have massively stepped up the hunt for top Taliban by special forces. The units, which operate secretly and are kept apart from the normal troops, have conducted hundreds of operations in recent months in an intensity not seen before in an effort to breakdown the Taliban’s resistance, weaken its leadership ranks and to eliminate networks of bomb planters.

Insiders have long known about the increased deployment of the special forces, but for the first time in the history of the nine-year war in Afghanistan, concrete figures about the deployments — which neither NATO nor the US military speaks about publicly — have been named. During the second week of August, leaders of the NATO troops under ISAF Commander David Petraeus were given a classified briefing on the massive anti-Taliban offensive, which began at the end of 2009, and progress that has been made.

SPIEGEL ONLINE has learned from reliable sources that the four-star general and his staff informed diplomats and top military officials that in the past three months alone, at least 365 high-ranking and mid-level insurgent commanders have been killed — mostly through targeted operations by the special forces, comprised of heavily armed elite soldiers from all branches of the US military. In addition, 1,395 people, including many Taliban foot soldiers, have been arrested.

The briefing on the latest progress in the war, which covered the period between May 8 and August 8, provides a rare glimpse into an aspect of the Afghanistan war that up until know has only been known by the US government and a few top politicians from other NATO member states. The military officials reported that the commanders and those arrested had been “taken out of the game.”

Special Forces Mostly Strike at Night

Since the briefing, the details have driven internal discussions about the future of the mission within the international community present in Kabul. Although the military leadership is speaking in a conspicuously cautious manner about its first small successes in the fight against the Taliban, the special forces’ actions could complicate cooperation with the Afghan government. Diplomats are concerned that the elimination of the Taliban hierarchy could conflict with the declared goal of reintegrating some members of these groups.

Above all, the spectacular statistics show one thing: The will of the military leadership to reach a turning point in Afghanstan in the coming months. The sheer number of the operations strikingly underscores that General Petraeus, like his predecessor Stanley McChrystal, wants to use the special forces to gain the upper hand in Afghanistan.

It’s the first time in the US military-led invasion of the country in which Taliban leaders have been sought in such a targeted manner. It’s also the first time so many insurgents have been arrested or assassinated in targeted killings. Western diplomats who have been briefed in recent days say that the current force of 145,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan is acting “with maximum force” right now.

For their part, military officials are taking a more sober view of the progress. Since US President Barack Obama approved an increase of 30,000 troops and announced a new strategy for the Afghanistan war in December 2009, the number of clandestine troops in the special forces has increased massively. By the summer of 2010, the number of special forces soldiers had tripled, according to the military progress report. Other details in the briefing included:

  • the fact that, in almost all instances, 82 percent, the elite soldiers struck at night
  • the special forces’ main target were Taliban structures in the southern part of the country, Jalaluddin Haqqani’s terror network in the east and foreign fighters with connections to al-Qaida
  • regional Taliban commanders, heads of so-called IED-cells (who attack alliance troops with explosives) and al-Qaida contact persons, have been the subject of targeted air strikes or they have been killed during arrest attempts.
  • the special forces, including the successor to the US military’s notorious Task Force 373, always act together with Afghan soldiers they had trained.

There are differences of opinion over the success of the special forces’ offensive. High-ranking US officers and NATO commanders are cautiously stating that they have had their first successes in limiting the freedom of movement of the Taliban leadership ranks. But it is still too early to draw any qualitative conclusions, an intelligence officer on Petreaus’ staff said.

In the district of Baghlan in northern Afghanistan, intelligence workers say, no one has been willing to step up into the role of at least one Taliban shadow governor who was targeted and eliminated by the special forces. “The leaders of the Taliban shura had appointed a successor, but the man is remaining in Pakistan,” one officer reported.

Karzai Criticizes Hunting of Taliban

But diplomats have expressed doubts over whether the robust military strategy can be reconciled with the one agreed to at a number of international conferences to find a solution through negotiating politically with the Taliban. “In the military leadership, people like to say that the best way to negotiate with the Taliban is when they are at rock bottom,” one European diplomat said after a meeting with the ISAF leadership. “But perhaps the operations have the effect of providing additional motivation for the insurgency movement.”

Most operations take place in southern and eastern Afghanistan, Taliban strongholds. But another important battleground is the Kunduz area in the north where Germany’s armed forces, the Bundeswehr, are in command. In Kunduz, where Germany has a base with 1,400 soldiers, and in Baghlan, the special forces were and continue to be deployed on missions almost every night. Dozens of insurgents have been captured or killed in targeted killings. Military officials recently reported that a senior member of al-Qaida had also been eliminated.

So far, German troops have not taken part in the deadly hunt against top Taliban. Germany’s own special elite force, the KSK, has also stayed out of the operations by the American units. But that doesn’t mean the Germans aren’t aware of what is going on. In Mazar-i-Sharif, an American serves as the deputy head of the regional command for the north. He informs his boss, Brigadier General Hans-Werner Fritz of the Bundeswehr, of his plans and the execution of the missions. German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg has also been briefed in detail. So far, the German troops have merely looked on as the US forces have gone into battle.

The aggressive approach has already stirred up resentment at the Presidential Palace in Kabul. In talks with European politicians in recent days, President Hamid Karzai has regularly criticized the robust hunt for Taliban. Karzai has warned that the battle against the Taliban must not be waged in the villages and he claims that he regularly receives reports of dishonorable behavior amongst the units.

But military officials say they are doing everything they can to prevent civilian casualties. According the progress briefing, civilians in the period observed only died in 1 percent of the special forces actions. But that is the kind of collateral damage the Karzai likes to use as an opportunity to criticize the foreign troops and win public support.

The bloody progress made by the special forces could trigger similar reflexes in Karzai.


Full article and photo:,1518,714016,00.html

The Twenty Years’ War

Defeating Saddam took 19 years too long.

Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait on Aug. 2, 1990. Two decades later, on Aug. 18, 2010, the U.S. withdrew its last combat brigade from Iraq. Throughout those years U.S. military operations went under a variety of names—including Desert Storm, the Gulf War, Operations Northern and Southern Watch, Operation Iraqi Freedom, the War in Iraq—but over time they will be seen as part of an unbroken thread.

It ought to be called the Twenty Years’ War. That was probably 19 years too long.

It matters what we call our wars, lest we fail to understand them—and lest we repeat them, because we failed to understand. When the Great War came to be spoken of as “the war to end all wars” (a line variously attributed to David Lloyd George, H.G. Wells and Woodrow Wilson) it underscored how ill-prepared that generation was to prevent the next great conflict.

Similarly in Iraq. In 1991, the first Bush administration failed to understand that its war was not against what Saddam had done in Kuwait. It was against Saddam himself, his regime, and the forces of Arab radicalism he typified and championed. Desert Storm, it turned out, proved an apt name for a military operation that had been blinded to its own real purposes.

Thus Kuwait was liberated but Saddam stayed on for another 12 years, supposedly—as Madeleine Albright notoriously put it—”in a box.” In that box, he killed tens of thousands of Iraq’s Shiites, caused a humanitarian crisis among the Kurds, attempted to assassinate George H.W. Bush, profited from a sanctions regime that otherwise starved his own people, compelled a “no-fly zone” that cost the U.S. $1 billion a year to police, defied more than a dozen U.N. sanctions, corrupted the U.N. Secretariat, evicted U.N. weapons inspectors and gave cash prizes to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers.

All this was war by another name, which meant that when the question of invading Iraq arose after 9/11, the choice was not between war and peace. Rather, as former Democratic Sen. Bob Kerrey wrote in these pages at the time, it was “between sustaining a military effort designed to contain Saddam Hussein and a military effort designed to replace him.” For Mr. Kerrey, “the case for the second choice [was] overwhelming.”

It says something that the invasion was called Operation Iraqi Freedom—a better approximation of its aims than the ill-founded claims about WMD that nearly proved the war’s political undoing. Still, war aims are not only what a nation fights for, which, as Lincoln discovered, could change with the course of war. War aims are also about what a nation fights against.

In that sense, Iraq was invaded so that Saddam and his henchmen, Iraq’s ultimate weapons of mass destruction, would hang. To hang them meant serving the interests of justice, and satisfying a justified impulse for revenge. It also meant making an example of a uniquely aggressive Arab tyrant who thought he could defy and manipulate the West with impunity.

One of the more popular raps against the war is that it discredited the United States and the exercise of American power. That’s unlikely, since the world has a way of constantly re-discovering the benefits of that power: Think of the Balkans in the 1990s, or East Asia today in the face of China’s assertiveness.

What the war did accomplish was to discredit a cult-of-personality style of Arab politics pioneered in the 1950s by Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser. (His pharaonic successor, Hosni Mubarak, is on the way out.) More, the war led to what has been called “the eclipse of the Arab world.” Today the world’s leading Muslim states—Indonesia, Iran, Pakistan and Turkey—are all non-Arab. Not since the 1930s have the Arabs counted geopolitically for so little.

Ironically, this eclipse has somewhat dimmed the broader significance of Iraq’s democracy, at least for the time being. The U.S. has bequeathed Iraqis exactly what the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia bequeathed Americans: A republic, if they can keep it. If they do, it could be a Muslim model of democratic governance and ethnic and sectarian pluralism. It may be achievement enough to have an Iraqi government that threatens neither its own people nor its neighbors, and for the rest of the Arabs to be on their guard against future Saddams.

For the U.S., the achievement would be greater if it led to a military and diplomatic alliance with Baghdad as a counterweight to Iran. But that depends on whether the Obama administration chooses to interpret the war as a complete misadventure or as a potentially fruitful opportunity.

One thing is clear: The Twenty Years’ War lasted as long as it did because the first Bush administration failed to finish it when it could, and because the Clinton administration pretended it wasn’t happening. Should we now draw the lesson that hesitation and delay are the best policy? Or that wars are best fought swiftly to their necessary conclusion? The former conclusion did not ultimately spare us the war. The latter would have spared us one of 20 years.

Bret Stephens, Wall Street Journal


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Mideast Sirens

Grounds for a durable Israeli-Palestinian peace don’t seem to exist.

Henry Kissinger once wrote that “when enough bureaucratic prestige has been invested in a policy it is easier to see it fail than to abandon it.” So it is with the Obama Administration’s latest efforts to revive peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. The prospects for success are bleak, but everyone still wants to give it that old State Department try.

The hopeful news, to the extent some exists, is that both sides will engage in “direct” talks after nearly two years of “proximity” sparring. The U.S. will host and presumably midwife the early September talks in which the two sides will have to confront their major differences face to face. Optimists suggest that this could be another 1979 moment, when Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat both took an unlikely leap against their own histories and signed an Israeli-Egyptian peace.

The fundamentals today argue against such a joint leap. Israel is less secure now than it was then, especially with the rise of Iran as a menacing regional power. Tehran has supplied its proxy, Hezbollah, with 45,000 rockets aimed at Israel from across the border in Lebanon—despite Condoleezza Rice’s assurances that the U.N. would stop the rocket supply after the 2006 Lebanon-Israel war.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

Iran also arms Hamas, which now controls Gaza and is sworn to Israel’s destruction. Syria is as much part of Iran’s orbit as it was two years ago, despite much U.S. pleading and high-profile visits to Damascus by John Kerry and Nancy Pelosi.

These realities understandably make Israel determined to keep a military presence on the West Bank border with Jordan as part of any new Palestinian statehood—to prevent the West Bank from becoming another Lebanon or Gaza. Israel also wants a long phase-in of any withdrawal from the West Bank, again as a way of building confidence in long-term security.

This will all be difficult for Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority (PA) to accept. Even if he does, Hamas will denounce any peace treaty and use violence to sabotage it. Hamas abruptly ceased its reconciliation talks with Fatah and the Palestinian Authority, which runs the West Bank, merely because the PA agreed to participate in the September direct talks with Israel.

Mr. Abbas also wants a Palestinian exile “right of return” to Israel that no Israeli government can accept, lest it guarantee a majority Palestinian future on its soil. Then there’s the dispute over dividing Jerusalem, the Israeli capital that Israelis also won’t cede to the PA to the extent Mr. Abbas is seeking.

The U.S. will no doubt try to squeeze both sides to compromise, especially Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has the kind of hawkish credibility that might let him sell concessions to the Israeli public. But he also leads a balky left-right coalition that could break apart if he concedes too much.

Rather than squeeze peace from these stones, the U.S. might make more progress with both Israel and Mr. Abbas if it stopped Iran’s march toward becoming a nuclear power. Israelis and Arabs saw on the weekend that Iran began loading fuel into its (ostensibly civilian) nuclear reactor at Bushehr, with the help of Russian fuel rods and no objection from the U.S. Russia says it will control the rods and return them to Russia, but any rods that disappear could be turned into weapons-grade plutonium.

Iran’s march to nuclear status is the security threat that dominates the region because it would instantly transform every nation’s strategic calculations. Israel is less likely to cede more territory for promises of peace if it knows that Hamas and Hezbollah are suddenly backed by an Iranian bomb. A diminished Iran with a shuttered or damaged nuclear program wouldn’t guarantee that Israel and the Palestinians could agree to a peace, but it would improve the chances.

The White House and U.N. officials argue that, whatever the long odds, there is no harm in trying. But sometimes there is harm in trying and failing. Mr. Obama is putting his own prestige on the line, and that supply is not unlimited. A loud failure might weaken Mr. Abbas’s political position among the Palestinians, while inflaming anti-Israel sentiment in Europe, Turkey and elsewhere. We certainly hope for the best, but the White House and Pentagon should prepare for the consequences of failure.

Editorial, Wall Street Journal


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‘The Invasion of Iraq Was Wrong, Unjust and Damaging’

The World from Berlin

A column of armored vehicles belonging to the last combat unit to leave Iraq approaches the border with Kuwait on Thursday morning

Has American credibility been severely damaged by the Iraq War? One day after the last US combat unit left the country, some in the German press say that it has. Commentators are pessimistic about Iraq’s ability to cope alone.

It has been seven and a half years since Shock and Awe, the military campaign launched by US and UK forces to topple Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. On Thursday, the last US combat unit crossed the border into Kuwait with far less fanfare than when those first coalition forces arrived in March 2003.

Just before dawn on Thursday morning the 4th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division passed through the border posts at the Khabari Crossing to Kuwait. One soldier, Luke Dill, now a staff sergeant, had been part of the initial invasion back in 2003 when he was just 18 years old. Now aged 25, he told the Associated Press that he would proud for the rest of his life that “I came in on the initial push and now I’m leaving with the last of the combat units.”

Yet the cost of the war has been enormous both financially and in terms of human lives. Over 4,400 US troops and 100,000 Iraqi civilians died during the conflict. And the country is by no means completely pacified, with sectarian and ethnic tensions still present and insurgents thought to be regaining strength.

US President Barack Obama had pledged to bring the troops home during his election campaign. And by Aug. 31 there will be just 50,000 US troops in the country, a contingent which is to take on a non-combat role. Yet doubts persist that Obama can fulfil his promise to have all the soldiers out of the country by the end of 2011.

Filling the Vacuum

While the violence that raged during the sectarian warfare of 2006-2007 has dropped significantly, there are still suicide bombings and attacks by Islamist insurgents. And five months after the elections in March, there is still no sight of a stable government. There are fears that sectarian violence, pitting Sunnis against Shiites and Arabs against Kurds, could return to fill the vacuum left by the Americans’ departure.

According to a US-Iraq military pact from 2009, US troops must be out of the country by Jan. 1, 2012 yet last week Robert Gates, Obama’s defense secretary, said that if a new Iraqi government is formed “and they want to talk about beyond 2011, we’re obviously open to that discussion.”

Those comments are not likely to have been welcomed by much of the Democratic party, which faces tough midterm elections in November. The US public is weary of almost a decade of war in Afghanistan and Iraq and Obama, who is up for re-election in 2012, will have to tread carefully.

Just last week Iraq’s military commander, Lieutenant-General Babakir Zebari, caused consternation when he said his troops would not be in a position to protect the country until 2020 and that Washington should keep its forces in Iraq until then.

The German press on Friday takes a look at the costs and consequences of the war, both for Iraq and for the US.

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

“The US could wage this war because after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 the country was prepared for and even expected a large armed conflict. … The Bush administration believed that a war would give the country back its authority as the global super power. But the US could only wage the war because Iraq was so weak and easy to defeat.”

“The invasion of Iraq was wrong, unjust and damaging.”

“For the Iraqi people one inscrutable, violent regime has been replaced by another. And the promises of freedom and democracy are worthless if they can’t run a generator or help buy food.”

“This practical disillusion is paired with the strategic defeats that America has suffered… Because the invasion of Iraq broke international law, it reduced the meaning of that law for regulating how states deal with one another and damaged the UN’s legitimacy, which is responsible for enforcing it.”

“But the US has also weakened itself, where it was classically strong: as a hard power. America showed itself to be helpless during the worst years of the Iraq civil war and incapable of dealing with the complex insurgency. … America still plays an important role in the Middle East but Iran’s intractability and the polarization of the Sunni and Shiite worlds can be blamed on the Iraq War.”

“America’s claim to leadership is broken, its credibility severely damaged. The world has become more confusing and less safe. That is the legacy of this war.”

The business daily Handelsblatt writes:

“The Iraqi Army is hardly in a position to provide security. The people will have to suffer much bloodshed in the future because the roots of terrorism have not been dealt with. Iraq is not able to deal with this by itself. It still doesn’t have a functioning government after the elections in March. This double vacuum provides a fertile breeding ground for extremist groups.”

“Washington has suffered terrible damage to its image in the Middle East. Iraq is not pacified and the Taliban is resurgent in Afghanistan because the US concentrated its military capacity in Iraq. Neighboring Iran is playing cat and mouse on the nuclear issue while peace between the Israelis and Palestinians is out of reach.”

“The Iraqis have few grounds for optimism. The US is not only leaving behind a security gap, but also a political mess. The institutional structures are too weak and the army too inexperienced to prevent the country from descending into chaos and anarchy.”

The Financial Times Deutschland writes:

“President Barack Obama wants to make clear that he is sticking to one of his most important election promises and is bringing the troops back home. There is nothing much more to it. The war is far from over, never mind won.”

“Around 50,000 American soldiers are staying in Iraq and contrary to what the government seems to be suggesting, they are fullfledged soldiers who will attack if need be.”

“The Iraqi soldiers and police are not able to provide security everywhere in the country … and the number of terrorist attacks has increased recently, while five months of attempts to form a government have failed so far.”

“In such a volatile situation, the US cannot simply stubbornly stick to its withdrawal plans. … Instead of fixating on a date, the US should set concrete goals. The Iraqi security forces need better training so that they will be able to cope one day without American help.”

“Above all the Americans have to ensure that the Sunni minority is protected and well integrated in the political system. Otherwise there is a danger that radical Shiites — possibly with support from Iran — could take sole control.”

The conservative Die Welt writes:

“After years of being on the defensive and of strategic drift the US military proved itself capable of learning and turned around a war that hardly anyone thought was winnable. An amazing achievement.”

“It is now up to the Iraqis to make this experiment in Arab democracy work. The political elite are not creating a good image at the moment due to their inability to reach a compromise. And one of the region’s favorite sports is blaming the Americans for every ill in the Arab world. The Iraqis will not have this excuse if they waste this opportunity for freedom that the Americans have given them — one that many Iraqis have paid for with their lives. Freedom means deciding one’s own fate. And Iraq’s politicians must finally accept this responsibility.”

The left-leaning Die Tageszeitung writes:

“The Anglo-American war in Iraq and the subsequent occupation was a severe breach of international law. The collected justifications by the Bush and Blair governments for the war were lies from the beginning. A later attempted justification was the deposing of Saddam Hussein, a dictator who the West and the Soviet Union had backed in the late 70s and armed for his war against the Islamic revolutionary regime in neigboring Iran.”

“What price was paid for the overthrow of Saddam? Over 100,000 civilians have died as a direct consequence of the war and other acts of violence since March 2003.”

“In Iraq 4,419 US soldiers lost their lives and tens of thousands came home injured or with terrible trauma. The Pentagon budget since 2003 for the war and occupation was over $740 billion. Some experts put the actual cost for the US economy at $3 trillion. Yet despite these huge costs and victims, Iraq is neither pacified in the long-term nor politically stable.”


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‘The War in Afghanistan Reveals Obama’s Impotence’

Anti-war activists could have a longer wait for the end of the deployment in Afghanistan than expected: The commander of the US troops believes 2011 may be too soon to leave.

General David Petraeus was supposed to perform the same magic in Afghanistan as he did in Iraq, and turn the course of the seemingly endless war. But now the US general has suggested that Barack Obama was too optimistic in setting a 2011 withdrawal date. German commentators argue that Petraeus is simply being realistic.

When United States President Barack Obama appointed General David Petraeus as the US commander in Afghanistan, he was hoping that the man widely credited with turning around Iraq could perform the same job in Afghanistan, where America and its allies have been at war for almost nine years.

But if the president was hoping for quick results, then he will likely be disappointed. In a series of interviews given at the weekend, Petraeus suggested that Obama’s July 2011 target for beginning to withdraw troops from the war-torn country might be premature. “I think the president has been quite clear in explaining that it’s a process, not an event, and that it’s conditions-based,” Petraeus told NBC television, referring to the possible drawdown. He also left open the possibility that he might advise the president to delay the withdrawal.

Obama set 2011 as a target date for the withdrawal in December 2009 when he approved the deployment of 30,000 extra troops to Afghanistan. In his NBC interview, Petraeus said progress in the country had only begun this spring, when the extra forces arrived in Afghanistan.

Observers have interpreted Petraeus’ remarks as something of a broadside aimed at Obama. The commander, who knows he is indispensable to the president, may be wary of tarnishing his dazzling reputation gained in Iraq through failure in Afghanistan, and is therefore pushing for more time to finish the job.

In a further sign of what may turn into an intense political battle in the US over the future of the Afghanistan war, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates told the Los Angeles Times there was “no question in anybody’s mind” that the US would begin reducing troop levels in 2011. Gates also suggested in a separate interview with the magazine Foreign Policy that he would leave office in 2011.

Petraeus took over as commander of the US and NATO forces in Afghanistan at the beginning of July, after his predecessor, General Stanley McChrystal, was fired over unflattering remarks he had made about the Obama administration to Rolling Stone magazine.

Taking a look at Petraeus’ remarks on Tuesday, commentators in Germany’s main newspapers argue that the commander’s attempt to manage expectations is a shrewd move. They are divided, however, over the question of whether Obama or Petraeus will prove to be right about the actual withdrawal date.


“Petraeus’ call for a conditions-based withdrawal instead of a rigid timetable almost seems like a truism about the future of the international mission in Afghanistan. Any layperson can understand that the NATO force will hardly be able to withdraw if the situation in Afghanistan does not significantly improve. … Nevertheless, Petraeus’ comments have made headlines. The date 2011 had become so deeply entrenched in many people’s minds as the beginning of the withdrawal that the general’s assessment of the situation appears sensational.”

“In reality, Petraeus is simply a realist. He knows that the military situation in Afghanistan looks bleak.”

“Just as during his time as commander of the US forces in Iraq, he is looking for the turning point, and he wants to begin the withdrawal at some point. But he does not want to take responsibility for a withdrawal if it means that the whole country will shortly afterwards slide back into chaos.”

The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

“The White House is unlikely to find Petraeus’ comments amusing. The new commander in Afghanistan doubts whether the withdrawal can start next year. … The general has taken a stance in direct opposition to the president.”

“But General Petraeus is in a strong position. His reputation as a strategist is enviable, and he has strong support in Congress. In the struggle for power within the US administration, he will take advantage of the fact that Obama can not afford to lose another commander in Afghanistan — especially not one of Petraeus’ stature.”

The conservative Die Welt writes:

“The timeframe originally set by Obama was unrealistic and overly ambitious. It is therefore correct if Petraeus gets the war-weary public in America used to the idea that the current sophisticated strategy in Afghanistan, which combines military, political, diplomatic and civilian efforts, needs more time to bear fruit. In addition, the American withdrawal date is currently the most persuasive reason for Afghans to not side too clearly with the Western allies.”

“It is becoming increasingly clear that it was also a risk for Obama to send this intelligent and politically savvy general to Afghanistan. The president cannot afford to lose another commander, especially one of such caliber. Petraeus therefore knows that Obama is depending on him, and he clearly already stipulated when he was appointed that he should be able to stretch the withdrawal schedule a little. … Petraeus is apparently willing to use all his political weight in order to get what is needed to bring the war to a successful end. That is also good news for America’s allies in Afghanistan.”

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

“Petraeus has his own interests which are totally reasonable. He does not want to leave Afghanistan as the commander of an unsuccessful force. He wants a military victory. Additionally, he had forged political plans even before his deployment to Kabul — his success in Iraq has created political opportunities for him. After a shameful withdrawal from Afghanistan, those chances would be lost. Hence, he has let the president know that he needs more time and that he can do without a debate over withdrawal dates. If Obama decides to go ahead and pull out, then the president will bear part of the responsibility.”

“But Petraeus will not succeed with his strategy. The withdrawal will begin, because the voters want it. That may be unwise, but it’s too late to change the general public’s opinion. Mistakes were made in Afghanistan over a period of years. It’s now time to pay the price.”

The left-leaning Die Tageszeitung writes:

“Petraeus and other members of the military have always called the withdrawal date into question. Many Republicans see the general, who does not belong to a political party, as their preferred candidate for the 2012 presidential election. Obama had cleverly removed him from politics by making him the US commander in Afghanistan. But the troubleshooter is now firing broadsides at Obama from Afghanistan. And the president can not defend himself.”

“The war in Afghanistan doesn’t just reveal the impotence of the Americans — It also shows the impotence of President Obama.”


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Netanyahu’s warning

When Israel declared independence in 1948, it had to use mostly small arms to repel attacks by six Arab armies. Today, however, Israel feels, and is, more menaced than it was then or has been since. Hence the potentially world-shaking decision that will be made here, probably within two years.

To understand the man who will make it, begin with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s belief that stopping Iran’s nuclear weapons program is integral to stopping the worldwide campaign to reverse 1948. It is, he says, a campaign to “put the Jew back to the status of a being that couldn’t defend himself — a perfect victim.”

Today’s Middle East, he says, reflects two developments. One is the rise of Iran and militant Islam since the 1979 revolution, which led to al-Qaeda, Hamas and Hezbollah. The other development is the multiplying threat of missile warfare.

Now Israel faces a third threat, the campaign to delegitimize it in order to extinguish its capacity for self-defense. After two uniquely perilous millennia for Jews, the creation of Israel meant, Netanyahu says, “the capacity for self-defense restored to the Jewish people.” But note, he says, the reflexive worldwide chorus of condemnation when Israel responded with force to rocket barrages from Gaza and from southern Lebanon. There is, he believes, a crystallizing consensus that “Israel is not allowed to exercise self-defense.”

From 1948 through 1973, he says, enemies tried to “eliminate Israel by conventional warfare.” Having failed, they tried to demoralize and paralyze Israel with suicide bombers and other terrorism. “We put up a fence,” Netanyahu says. “Now they have rockets that go over the fence.” Israel’s military, which has stressed offense as a solution to the nation’s lack of strategic depth, now stresses missile defense.

That, however, cannot cope with Hamas’s tens of thousands of rockets in Gaza and Hezbollah’s up to 60,000 in southern Lebanon. There, U.N. Resolution 1701, promulgated after the 2006 war, has been predictably farcical. This was supposed to inhibit the arming of Hezbollah and prevent its operations south of the Litani River. Since 2006, Hezbollah’s rocket arsenal has tripled and its operations mock Resolution 1701. Hezbollah, learning from Hamas, now places rockets near schools and hospitals, certain that Israel’s next response to indiscriminate aggression will turn the world media into a force multiplier for the aggressors.

Any Israeli self-defense anywhere is automatically judged “disproportionate.” Israel knows this as it watches Iran.

Last year was Barack Obama’s wasted year of “engaging” Iran. This led to sanctions that are unlikely to ever become sufficiently potent. With Russia, China and Turkey being uncooperative, Iran is hardly “isolated.” The Iranian democracy movement probably cannot quickly achieve regime change. It took Solidarity 10 years to do so against a Polish regime less brutally repressive than Iran’s.

Hillary Clinton’s words about extending a “defense umbrella over the region” imply, to Israelis, fatalism about a nuclear Iran. As for deterrence working against a nuclear-armed regime steeped in an ideology of martyrdom, remember that in 1980, Ayatollah Khomeini said:

“We do not worship Iran, we worship Allah. For patriotism is another name for paganism. I say let this land burn. I say let this land go up in smoke, provided Islam emerges triumphant in the rest of the world.”

You say, that was long ago? Israel says, this is now:

Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, says that Israel is the “enemy of God.” Tehran, proclaiming that the Holocaust never happened and vowing to complete it, sent an ambassador to Poland who in 2006 wanted to measure the ovens at Auschwitz to prove them inadequate for genocide. Iran’s former president, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who is considered a “moderate” by people for whom believing is seeing, calls Israel a “one-bomb country.”

If Iran were to “wipe the Zionist entity off the map,” as it vows to do, it would, Netanyahu believes, achieve a regional “dominance not seen since Alexander.” Netanyahu does not say that Israel will, if necessary, act alone to prevent this. Or does he?

He says that CIA Director Leon Panetta is “about right” in saying Iran can be a nuclear power in two years. He says that 1948 meant this: “For the first time in 2,000 years, a sovereign Jewish people could defend itself against attack.” And he says: “The tragic history of the powerlessness of our people explains why the Jewish people need a sovereign power of self-defense.” If Israel strikes Iran, the world will not be able to say it was not warned.

George F. Will, Washington Post


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Netanyahu, the anti-Obama

Two photographs adorn the office of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Together they illuminate a portentous fact: No two leaders of democracies are less alike — in life experiences, temperaments and political philosophies — than Netanyahu, the former commando and fierce nationalist, and Barack Obama, the former professor and post-nationalist.

One photograph is of Theodor Herzl, born 150 years ago. Dismayed by the eruption of anti-Semitism in France during the Dreyfus Affair at the end of the 19th century, Herzl became Zionism’s founding father. Long before the Holocaust, he concluded that Jews could find safety only in a national homeland.

The other photograph is of Winston Churchill, who considered himself “one of the authors” of Britain’s embrace of Zionism. The Balfour Declaration of 1917 stated: “His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.” Beginning in 1923, Britain would govern Palestine under a League of Nations mandate.

Netanyahu, his focus firmly on Iran, honors Churchill because he did not flinch from facts about gathering storms. Obama returned to the British Embassy in Washington the bust of Churchill that was in the Oval Office when he got there.

Obama’s 2009 speech in Cairo, courting the Arab world, may have had measurable benefits, although the metric proving this remains mysterious. The speech — made during a trip when Obama visited Cairo and Riyadh but not here — certainly subtracted from his standing in Israel. In it, he acknowledged Israel as, in part, a response to Jewish suffering in the Holocaust. Then, with what many Israelis considered a deeply offensive exercise of moral equivalence, he said: “On the other hand, it is also undeniable that the Palestinian people — Muslims and Christians — have suffered in pursuit of a homeland.”

“On the other hand”? “I,” says Moshe Yaalon, “was shocked by the Cairo speech,” which he thinks proved that “this White House is very different.” Yaalon, former head of military intelligence and chief of the general staff, currently strategic affairs minister, tartly asks, “If Palestinians are victims, who are the victimizers?”

The Cairo speech came 10 months after Obama’s Berlin speech, in which he declared himself a “citizen of the world.” That was an oxymoronic boast, given that citizenship connotes allegiance to a particular polity, its laws and political processes. But the boast resonated in Europe.

The European Union was born from the flight of Europe’s elites from what terrifies them — Europeans. The first Thirty Years’ War ended in 1648 with the Peace of Westphalia, which ratified the system of nation-states. The second Thirty Years’ War, which ended in 1945, convinced European elites that the continent’s nearly fatal disease was nationalism, the cure for which must be the steady attenuation of nationalities. Hence the high value placed on “pooling” sovereignty, never mind the cost in diminished self-government.

Israel, with its deep sense of nationhood, is beyond unintelligible to such Europeans; it is a stench in their nostrils. Transnational progressivism is, as much as welfare state social democracy, an element of European politics that American progressives will emulate as much as American politics will permit. It is perverse that the European Union, a semi-fictional political entity, serves — with the United States, the reliably anti-Israel United Nations and Russia — as part of the “quartet” that supposedly will broker peace in our time between Israel and the Palestinians.

Arguably the most left-wing administration in American history is trying to knead and soften the most right-wing coalition in Israel’s history. The former shows no understanding of the latter, which thinks it understands the former all too well.

The prime minister honors Churchill, who spoke of “the confirmed unteachability of mankind.” Nevertheless, a display case in Netanyahu’s office could teach the Obama administration something about this leader. It contains a small signet stone that was part of a ring found near the Western Wall. It is about 2,800 years old — 200 years younger than Jerusalem’s role as the Jewish people’s capital. The ring was the seal of a Jewish official, whose name is inscribed on it: Netanyahu.

No one is less a transnational progressive, less a post-nationalist, than Binyamin Netanyahu, whose first name is that of a son of Jacob, who lived perhaps 4,000 years ago. Netanyahu, whom no one ever called cuddly, once said to a U.S. diplomat 10 words that should warn U.S. policymakers who hope to make Netanyahu malleable: “You live in Chevy Chase. Don’t play with our future.”

George F. Will, Washington Post


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Portrait of a revolutionary

Locked up in an Egyptian prison in the early 1960s, Sayyid Qutb wrote a book that has inspired succeeding generations of radical Islamists

Sayyid Qutb and the Origins of Radical Islamism. By John Calvert. Hurst & Co; 256 pages; £25.

PRE-EMINENTLY among the pioneers of 20th-century Islamism, Sayyid Qutb has come to be seen as the evil genius who inspired today’s global jihad. As John Calvert argues in a persuasive new biography, Qutb’s reputation is not entirely undeserved, but it does less than justice to a complex and enigmatic figure.

One of the challenges any biographer faces is to explain Qutb’s evolution from romantic nationalist to mainstream Islamist, and finally to ardent revolutionary. Mr Calvert’s answer is to place his subject firmly on Egyptian soil. Like countless others in the years that followed the first world war, Qutb was a child of rural Egypt who migrated to Cairo as a young man to join the swelling ranks of the effendiyya, the new urban educated class. An intense, proud, rather melancholy man, he worked as a civil servant. In his spare time he struggled to establish himself as a writer of poetry, fiction and literary criticism.

In this early phase Qutb, a Muslim who had come under the spell of Sufism, subscribed to the essentially secular nationalism of the day, the focus of which was opposition to British rule in Egypt and to Zionist colonisation in Palestine. But by the late 1940s, disillusioned with the failings of the nationalist parties, he had become an Islamist and—as exemplified in his first important book, “Social Justice in Islam”—an Islamist of originality and power.

Shortly after finishing the manuscript, Qutb set off for the United States on a visit that was to last almost two years. The trip affected him deeply. Although he was impressed by America’s material accomplishments (and confessed to liking “Gone with the Wind”), he felt an abiding contempt for the materialism, racism and sexual promiscuity of what he saw as a debased Western culture. Was the encounter with America, as some have argued, the turning-point in Qutb’s radicalisation? Did the sight of scantily-clad women on the dance floors of Greeley, Colorado, turn the sexually repressed Egyptian into an Islamist zealot? Mr Calvert doubts it; the visit, he believes, confirmed the radical turn in Qutb’s thinking, rather than inspiring it.

On his return home, Qutb openly identified with Egypt’s main Islamist movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, although he did not formally join it until 1953. Two years after his homecoming, nationalist army officers led by Gamal Abdel Nasser seized power, overthrowing the British-backed monarchy. Qutb and the Brotherhood initially welcomed the coup and worked enthusiastically with its leaders. But after an assassination attempt against him in 1954, Nasser cracked down on the Brotherhood, and Qutb was caught up in the mass arrests that followed.

Imprisonment and torture turned him into an impassioned and embittered revolutionary. His book “Milestones”, written in prison to chart a future course for his crushed and demoralised movement, became an internationally influential manifesto of the Islamic revolution—not least because in 1966, two years after it was published, Qutb was hanged for treason, becoming a martyr for the cause.

Part of the originality of “Milestones” was Qutb’s use of the term jahiliyya to depict the abject condition of the Muslim world. Literally meaning ignorance, the term was originally used to describe the benighted condition of Arabia prior to the advent of Islam. But Qutb used it to condemn Muslim governments and societies which, in his eyes, had been corrupted by Western culture and secularism to the point where they had abandoned Islam.

Mr Calvert does not disguise the crudely Manichean character of Qutb’s worldview. He believed in an all-out global struggle between a noble vanguard of true Muslims and the massed ranks of jahiliyya. He depicted Islam’s external enemies as an insidious alliance of “Crusaders and Jews”—the same phrase that is used by al-Qaeda and the global jihadists of today.

But he was not, as has been suggested, an “Islamo-fascist” or an advocate of indiscriminate violence. Qutb opposed the killing of innocents and would have been appalled by what his followers, from the Egyptian radicals of the 1970s and 1980s to the current jihadist groups, have carried out in his name. This rich and carefully researched biography sets Qutb for the first time in his Egyptian context, rescuing him from caricature without whitewashing his radicalism. It is no small achievement.


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The Enemy of My Enemy

Facing the threat of a nuclear Iran, the hostile Arab-Israeli relationship is giving way to a more complex picture

An Israeli F-16i jet fighter.

Being an Arab leader has its rewards: the suite at the Waldorf-Astoria during the United Nations General Assembly, travel in your own plane, plenty of cash, even job security—whether kings, sheiks or presidents, with or without elections, most serve for life.

But the advantages must seem dwarfed by the problems that face the Arab world this summer. The Shia in Iran seem to be building a bomb, Iran’s ally Syria is taking over Lebanon (again), Yemen is collapsing (again), Egypt’s President Mubarak is said to be dying and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is back on the front pages.

George Mitchell, U.S. Special Envoy to the Middle East, with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas

Mr. Abbas with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri

Mr. Hariri with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Mr. Mitchell with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Mr. Netanyahu with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia with Mr. Assad.

King Abdullah with Mr. Hariri.

King Abdullah with Mr. Mubarak.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with Mr. Assad.

What’s more, no one is sure who’s in charge these days. The American hegemony, in place at least since the British left Aden in 1967 and secured through repeated, massive military operations of its own and victories by its ally Israel, seems to be fraying. Who will stop the Iranian nuclear weapons program, the Arabs wonder; they place no faith in endless negotiations between earnest Western diplomats and the clever Persians.

Israel is the enemy of their enemy, Iran. Now, the usual description of Arab-Israeli relations as “hostile” or “belligerent” is giving way to a more complex picture. Following the joint Arab military efforts to prevent the formation of the Jewish State in 1948, and the wars that followed in 1956, 1967 and 1973, this is a bizarre turn of events. Israel is as unpopular in the Arab street as it has been in past decades (which is to say, widely hated), but for Arab rulers focused on the Iranian threat all those the Israeli Air Force jets must now appear alluring. The Israeli toughness the Arabs have complained about for over a half century is now their own most likely shield against Iran.

The Arab view that someone should bomb Iran and stop it from developing nuclear weapons is familiar to anyone who meets privately with Arab leaders, especially in the Gulf. Now, the curtain is being pulled back: Just last month, the United Arab Emirates’ ambassador to the United States, Yousef Al Otaiba, spoke publicly of a “cost-benefit analysis” and concluded that despite the upset to trade that would result and the inevitable “people protesting and rioting and very unhappy that there is an outside force attacking a Muslim country,” the balance was clear. The ambassador told an Aspen audience, “If you are asking me, ‘Am I willing to live with that versus living with a nuclear Iran?’ my answer is still the same: ‘We cannot live with a nuclear Iran.’ I am willing to absorb what takes place.” By speaking of “an outside force,” Ambassador Al Otaiba did not specifically demand U.S. action; he left the door open for volunteers.

And two weeks ago, the Israeli press carried reports of a visit to Saudi Arabia by Gen. Meir Dagan, chief of Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency; Gen. Dagan is the point man on Iran for the Israeli government. This follows stories in the Times of London two months ago claiming that the Saudis would suspend their air defense operations to permit Israeli fighter planes to cross Saudi air space en route to an attack on Iran.

All this will be denied, of course, as it has always been, but Arab-Israeli (and for that matter, Arab-Palestinian) relations remain far more complicated than headlines suggest. Even in states where there are no politics as we know it—there are no elections or the outcomes are decided by fiat in the presidential palace—all politics is local, and concerns about the Palestinians take a back seat to national and personal interests. The minuet now being conducted by Arab foreign ministers with the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, is illuminating.

The issue is whether the Palestinians should move to direct negotiations with Israel, in place of the desultory “proximity talks” that have been led by U.S. envoy George Mitchell. Mr. Abbas has been very reluctant to make this decision, fearing venomous criticism from Hamas and wondering if direct talks would actually lead anywhere except to a further crisis down the road if and when they break down. Mr. Abbas has been laying down preconditions that make talks harder and harder to begin, asking in essence that the U.S. guarantee an outcome he likes on the central matters (refugees, borders, Jerusalem) before he will sit down at the table. Despite heavy American and European pressure, Mr. Abbas has been unwilling to decide anything. In fact, reversing years of effort by his predecessor Yasser Arafat to escape the tutelage of Arab states, he threw the ball to them. He would do whatever the Arab League told him to do.

But the Arab foreign ministers, meeting two weeks ago in Cairo, proved to be as wily as he. They decided to endorse direct talks, but with preconditions—and they left the timing to the Palestinians, thus leaving Mr. Abbas on his own. Their decision was to make Mr. Abbas bear any blame associated with the decision, while they ducked and returned to their hotel suites. They are for peace and talks with Israel, and they are helping the Americans, and they are backing their Palestinian brothers, unless of course things go sour, in which case it will be clear that Mr. Abbas made the wrong decision to enter (or not to enter) direct talks. All this under the guise of “Arab solidarity.”

There isn’t much solidarity this summer. For Syria, the only issue right now is regaining hegemony in Lebanon, and Syria is aligned with Iran and Hezbollah. Syrian President Bashar Assad visited Beirut a week ago for the first time since Syrian troops withdrew from Lebanon in 2005—a fitting symbol of the return of Syrian power.

But Syria’s border with Israel remains dead quiet, for the regime seeks no direct confrontation. The last time it moved to assert a leadership role in the region, by the secret construction of a nuclear reactor with designs supplied by North Korea, Israel bombed the site to smithereens in September 2007. So Syria arms Hezbollah, menaces the Lebanese and watches to see how the Americans will handle Iran. There will be no serious negotiations over the Golan Heights until the Iran issue is settled, for any Golan deal would require that Syria break with Iran—and such a move depends entirely on whether the regime there is rising or falling in influence.

For Lebanon, divided as ever among Sunni, Shia, Christian and Druze, the main concern is the forthcoming decision of the international tribunal investigating the murder of former prime minister Rafik Hariri in 2005. Will it name Syria or Hezbollah, the Shia terrorist group that controls much of the country? And how will Hariri’s son Saad, now prime minister, balance the need for stability against the desire for justice?

The fact that Mr. Assad of Syria arrived a week ago in a Saudi jet and accompanied by the Saudi King, Abdullah, shows Lebanese that Saudi support for their independence is a thing of the past. The Saudi message was clear: Make your own arrangements with Damascus and do not count on us. Until this week, the Lebanese border with Israel had been quiet since the 2006 war—Hezbollah and its Shia supporters were hurt badly enough to avoid a repetition. For months there have been rumors of war this summer along the Israeli-Lebanon border, but that was never in the cards. Hezbollah, whose well-trained terrorists and rockets aimed at Israel’s cities are supplied or financed by Iran, could attack Israel if Israel bombs Iran’s nuclear sites. Thus Hezbollah’s forces are both a deterrent to an Israeli attack, and a way for Iran to strike back at Israel if an attack occurs—an Iranian second-strike capability. The ayatollahs need Hezbollah intact and ferocious to scare the Israelis, so another Israel-Hezbollah war that might badly wound the Shia group is the last thing Tehran wants right now.

The incident last Tuesday, when Lebanese Army snipers shot into Israel, killing one Israeli officer and wounding another, is still not fully understood. It appears to be the work of the Lebanese commander in that area, a Shia considered close to Hezbollah. Perhaps the attack was his own nasty idea; perhaps Hezbollah ordered him to do it, using the Lebanese Army to change the subject away from the tribunal. Either way it is a reminder that Lebanon is not a normal country with an army under government control. It is a battlefield largely controlled by Syria and Hezbollah, and unable to determine its own fate.

For Egypt, there is one worry: Mr. Mubarak’s health. With a presidential election coming in the fall of 2011, will his 30 years in power (since Sadat’s assassination in 1981) end with a free election, or will the ill, 82-year-old Mr. Mubarak demand another term or the installation of his son Gamal as his successor? Meanwhile, Egypt’s dominance of Arab diplomacy and its overall influence in the region are declining steadily. The Arab League is still headquartered there, but it was symbolic of Egypt’s diminished status that the key figure in the foreign ministers’ meeting held there last week was Hamad bin Jassem of Qatar, the rich Gulf sheikdom with about 350,000 citizens, not Ahmed Aboul Gheit of Egypt, with a population of 80 million.

At stake in the succession crisis in Egypt is not simply who will rule the country, but whether a new president will maintain Egypt’s chilly but reliable peace with Israel. Here too there are shared enemies, in this case Hamas and other Palestinian radical and terrorist groups; Israel and Egypt have maintained together (though with Israel shouldering 99% of the blame) a blockade on Gaza since the Hamas coup there in 2007.

The Egyptian regime feels no love for the Israelis, but there is significant security cooperation between the two countries; Egypt’s rulers see the Shia in Iran, not the Jewish state, as the more dangerous threat to Arab power in the region. Egypt’s decisions in late July to bar an Iranian Red Crescent ship carrying aid to Gaza from entering the Suez Canal and to prevent four Iranian parliamentarians from crossing the border into Gaza are the most recent proof of this Egyptian attitude.

Whatever Egypt’s concerns about Iran, fears are far greater in the Gulf. Seen from those shores, the Palestinians are a constant drain on the pocketbook and, with Al Jazeera stirring things up through constant broadcasts depicting Israeli violence and Palestinian misery, a source of popular dissatisfaction. Israeli-Palestinian violence is poison for regimes that are concerned above all else with survival, and the “peace process” is a much-sought antidote. Everyone loves conferences that suggest “progress,” though as the decisions at the recent Arab League meeting show, everyone will seek to avoid the hard decisions that serious negotiations might necessitate.

The Palestinian issue has been with them for decades and may last decades more; the rise of Iran is new and pressing, given its proximity—and the existence of a Shia majority in Bahrain and a significant Shia population in Saudi Arabia’s oil-rich Eastern province. It is not difficult to think of Iranian pressure, money and even guns leading to riots and violent uprisings.

The Gulf regimes have long relied on American protection, and the U.S. maintains large bases in the UAE, Bahrain (the Fifth fleet’s headquarters), Qatar and Kuwait. For these regimes and for the Saudis, Iran is a constant threat and the issue of the day is who will be, to use the old British phrase, “top country” in the region. Repeated American offers to negotiate with Iran, and statements from Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates respectively that an attack on Iran would be “incredibly destabilizing” or “disastrous” do not reassure them. They want Iran stopped. They are not sure the need to do that is understood as well in Washington as it is in Jerusalem—and at Israel Defense Forces headquarters in Tel Aviv.

Perhaps the enemy of my enemy is not my friend, if he is an Israeli pilot. In that case, all gestures of friendship will be forsaken or carefully hidden; there will be denunciations and UN resolutions, petitions and boycotts, Arab League summits and hurried trips to Washington. But none of that changes an essential fact of life well understood in many Arab capitals this summer: that there is a clear coincidence of interests between the Arab states and Israel today, in the face of the Iranian threat. Given the 60 years of war and cold peace between Israel and the Arabs, this is one of the signal achievements of the regime in Tehran—and could prove to be its undoing.

Elliott Abrams is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.


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Iran starts feeling heat

They [the United States and Israel] have decided to attack at least two countries in the region in the next three months.

— Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, July 26

President Ahmadinejad has a penchant for the somewhat loony, as when last weekend he denounced Paul the Octopus, omniscient predictor of eight consecutive World Cup matches, as a symbol of decadence and purveyor of “Western propaganda and superstition.”

But for all his clownishness, Ahmadinejad is nonetheless calculating and dangerous. What “two countries” was he talking about? They seem logically to be Lebanon and Syria. Hezbollah in Lebanon has armed itself with 50,000 rockets and made clear that it is in a position to start a war at any time. Fighting on this scale would immediately bring in Syria, which would in turn invite Iranian intervention in defense of its major Arab clients — and of the first Persian beachhead on the Mediterranean in 1,400 years.

The idea that Israel, let alone the United States, has the slightest interest in starting a war on Israel’s north is crazy. But claims about imminent attacks are serious business in that region. In May 1967, the Soviet Union falsely told its client, Egypt, that Israel was preparing to attack Syria. These rumors set off a train of events — the mobilization of Arab armies, the southern blockade of Israel, the hasty signing of an inter-Arab military pact — that led to the Six-Day War.

Ahmadinejad’s claim is not supported by a shred of evidence. So what is he up to?

It is a sign that he is under serious pressure. Passage of weak U.N. sanctions was followed by unilateral sanctions by the United States, Canada, Australia and the European Union. Already, reports Reuters, Iran is experiencing a sharp drop in gasoline imports as Lloyd’s of London and other players refuse to insure the ships delivering them.

Second, the Arab states are no longer just whispering their desire for the United States to militarily take out Iranian nuclear facilities. The United Arab Emirates’ ambassador to Washington said so openly at a conference three weeks ago.

Shortly before the 1991 Persian Gulf War, Pat Buchanan famously said that the “only two groups” that wanted the United States to forcibly liberate Kuwait were “the Israeli Defense Ministry and its amen corner in the United States.” That was a stupid charge, contradicted by the fact that George H.W. Bush went to war leading more than 30 nations, including the largest U.S.-led coalition of Arab states ever assembled.

Twenty years later, the libel returns in the form of the scurrilous suggestion that the only ones who want the United States to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities are Israel and its American supporters. The UAE ambassador is, as far as ascertainable, neither Israeli nor American nor Jewish. His publicly expressed desire for an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities speaks for the intense Arab fear, approaching panic, of Iran’s nuclear program and the urgent hope that the United States will take it out.

Third, and perhaps even more troubling from Tehran’s point of view, are developments in the United States. Former NSA and CIA director Michael Hayden suggested on Sunday that over time, in his view, a military strike is looking increasingly favorable compared to the alternatives. Hayden is no Obama insider, but Time reports (“An Attack on Iran: Back on the Table.” July 15) that high administration officials are once again considering the military option. This may reflect a new sense of urgency or merely be a bluff to make Tehran more pliable. But in either case, it suggests that after 18 months of failed engagement, the administration is hardening its line.

The hardening is already having its effect. The Iranian regime is beginning to realize that even President Obama’s patience is limited — and that Iran may actually face a reckoning for its nuclear defiance.

All this pressure would be enough to rattle a regime already unsteady and shorn of domestic legitimacy. Hence Ahmadinejad’s otherwise inscrutable warning about an Israeli attack on two countries. (Said Defense Minister Ehud Barak to Fox News: “Who is the second one?”) It is a pointed reminder to the world of Iran’s capacity to trigger, through Hezbollah and Syria, a regional conflagration.

This is the kind of brinkmanship you get when leaders of a rogue regime are under growing pressure. The only hope to get them to reverse course is to relentlessly increase their feeling that, if they don’t, the Arab states, Israel, the Europeans and America will, one way or another, ensure that ruin is visited upon them.

Charles Krauthammer, Washington Post


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The Missing Word in Our Afghanistan Strategy

Neither the British prime minister nor the U.S. president is talking about ‘victory.’

What President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron didn’t say during last week’s joint news conference may have mattered more than what they did say. The omissions could lead to a grave setback in the war on terror and deadly results for the Afghan people.

The president and prime minister declared their solidarity on the Afghanistan war. Both leaders “reaffirmed our commitment to the overall strategy,” in Mr. Cameron’s words. Mr. Obama said that approach aimed to “build Afghan capacity so Afghans can take responsibility for their future,” a point Mr. Cameron called “a key part” of the coalition’s strategy.

All well and good. But neither leader uttered the word “victory” or “win” or any other similar phrase. They made it sound as if the strategic goal was to stand up the Afghan security forces, leave as soon as that was done, and hope the locals were up to keeping things together.

Neither man called for the defeat of the Taliban or declared its return to power unacceptable. Instead, Mr. Obama offered a lesser goal, namely to “break the Taliban’s momentum.” That is hardly a strategy that will galvanize people—as the King James Bible expressed it, “For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?”

Nor did Messrs. Obama or Cameron emphasize, as their predecessors did, the importance of liberty and human rights in Afghanistan. One of the remarkable achievements of the removal of the Taliban was the emergence of a nascent (if still imperfect) Afghan democracy, one that respects the rights of Afghan women. It would be a brutal betrayal to allow these rights to be extinguished.

Wars involve tactical shifts and adjustments. But they also involve “red lines”—and in Afghanistan, the red line must be to defeat al Qaeda and the irreconcilable elements of the Taliban, and to keep them from seizing power again.

The American and British people who are being asked to support this costly effort must know that is our objective. So must the Afghan people, who have seen much the last year to raise doubts about our resolve. And so must the Taliban and al Qaeda. America’s enemies need to understand one thing above all else: They cannot outlast us and, if they try, they will be broken and defeated.

Victory in Afghanistan requires two things: the right strategy and the resolve to see it through. Mr. Obama wisely recruited Gen. David Petraeus to head the Afghan campaign. There is no one better equipped to execute a successful counterinsurgency campaign. He is both the father of the “surge” in Iraq and the person most responsible for implementing it. If Gen. Petraeus has the time and support he needs, he can bring similar success in Afghanistan.

But is Mr. Obama’s heart in this fight? The commander in chief has said stunningly little about the war. He rarely explains to the American people what is happening or asks for their support.

Some congressional Democrats are growing restive, speaking more often and more loudly against the war and now voting against its funding. Ordinary Americans will also come to question the mission if the goal is not victory. Mr. Obama needs to deal with this by making it clear that when it comes to Afghanistan, he’s all in.

Winston Churchill demonstrated that in war, words matter. They signal resolve or weakness, fortitude or doubt. Right now, the uncertain trumpet of Mr. Obama’s words—those he has said and those he has chosen not to say—is emboldening adversaries, alarming allies, undermining confidence in the U.S., and dispiriting those who fight in dark and dangerous places for our security and liberty.

The president can and must correct those impressions—beginning with an unambiguous statement that America will stay and get the job done. Only the president can reassure our partners and allies, and strike the fear of God into our enemies. The world is looking for him to act as a commander in chief.

Mr. Obama has acted impressively so far on Afghanistan. He changed strategy based on facts on the ground, increased our troops by tens of thousands, and picked exactly the right man to lead our military into battle.

The president has the right pieces in place. Now he needs to signal to the world that he believes in the cause with all his heart. Let’s hope he does.

Mr. Rove, the former senior adviser and deputy chief of staff to President George W. Bush, is the author of “Courage and Consequence” (Threshold Editions, 2010).


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WikiLeaks ‘Bastards’

The website has endangered the lives of Afghan informants

Julian Assange, the editor of the WikiLeaks website that on Monday released some 92,000 classified military documents, has told the German newsweekly Der Spiegel that he “loved crushing bastards.” We wonder if the “bastards” he has in mind include the dozens of Afghan civilians named in the document dump as U.S. military informants. Their lives, as well as those of their entire families, are now at terrible risk of Taliban reprisal.

The past decade has seen more than its share of debates about the government’s right to secrecy, the public’s right to disclosure, and where the line between them should be drawn: Think warrantless wiretaps, Swift bank codes and terror financing, Valerie Plame, Judy Miller. We’ve had our say on all of these issues.

But the WikiLeaks story is a new and troubling event. Our initial reaction was that the documents expose no big lies about the war and, judging from what we’ve seen so far, no small ones either. They reveal nothing that wasn’t already widely known about Iranian and Pakistani support for the Taliban. In other words, their value in terms of the public’s right to know is de minimis.

But the closer we and others have looked at the documents, it’s clear that the WikiLeaks dump does reveal a great deal about the military’s methods, sources, tactics and protocols of communication. Such details are of little interest to the public at large, and they are unlikely to change many minds about the conduct, or wisdom, of the war. But they are of considerable interest to America’s avowed enemies and strategic competitors such as Russia and China.

“If I had gotten this trove on the Taliban or al Qaeda, I would have called this priceless,” says former CIA director Michael Hayden. “If I’m head of the Russian intelligence, I’m getting my best English speakers and saying: ‘Read every document, and I want you to tell me, how good are these guys? What are their approaches, their strengths, their weaknesses and their blind spots?'”

In his defense, Mr. Assange dismisses concerns about harm to U.S. national security, calling it ridiculous. That may be his right as an Australian national, although Australia deploys some 1,500 troops to Afghanistan and has lost more than two dozen men in combat. But Mr. Assange also says he takes threats to individual safety seriously, and he boasts that he has withheld or edited thousands of documents as a precaution against potential harm.

If so, he hasn’t done a very good job of it. Yesterday, the Times of London noted that “in just two hours of searching the WikiLeaks archive, The Times found the names of dozens of Afghans credited with providing detailed intelligence to U.S. forces. Their villages are given for identification and also, in many cases, their fathers’ names.”

The newspaper goes on to note that “named Afghans offered information accusing others of being Taliban. In one case from 2007, a senior official accuses named figures in the government of corruption. In another from 2007, a report describes using a middleman to talk to an alleged Taliban commander who is identified. ‘[X] said that he would be killed if he got caught interacting with any coalition forces, which is why he hides when we go into [Y].'” The deletions here were done by the London Times, not WikiLeaks.

Perhaps the various countries that host WikiLeaks’ servers can provide these informers and their entire families with refugee status now that their lives are in jeopardy. We’d say something similar about the New York Times, Britain’s Guardian and Germany’s Der Spiegel, which coordinated publication of the documents with Mr. Assange. The Times has made a show of seeking to corroborate the information it published, and to delete information the paper believed was especially sensitive (including the names of Afghan informants). It went so far as to urge Mr. Assange not to publish certain documents.

We don’t believe in prior restraint, but it is worth asking whether the Times, the Guardian or Der Spiegel are really serving the public, much less allied security interests, in validating Mr. Assange’s methods by flying in publishing formation with him. “I don’t know, and I’ll bet they [WikiLeaks] don’t know, if publication of this mass of material is in some ways genuinely harmful to national security,” Floyd Abrams, the well-known First Amendment lawyer, told the Journal yesterday. “That’s one of my problems with their modus operandi.”

Mr. Abrams went on to defend the behavior of the Times, which he credited for urging Mr. Assange not to publish certain documents. However, years after the Times exposed the Swift financing operation—an act we criticized at the time—we have still found no public benefit from that report. The most notable consequence is that Europe stopped cooperating with the U.S. on the program.

The Pentagon now says it is aggressively pursuing the source of the leak, and we hope the leaker is found and punished. As for Mr. Assange, governments should not be in the business of prosecuting publishers, a la Britain’s Official Secrets Act. But publishers should also understand that their rights to publish depend in part on publics that believe their media are doing a public service.

If American voters come to believe that newspapers or websites are cavalier about putting U.S. soldiers or allies at risk against our enemies, politicians will follow the public mood. The press will put its own freedom in jeopardy.

Wall Street Journal, Editorial


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Military Rule 2.0

Why bother with a coup when there are better ways to take control?

Over the past two decades, Mexico has been touted as a democratic success story. After decades of single-party rule by the Institutional Revolutionary Party, known as PRI, the country developed vibrant political contests, leading to the landmark election of several non-PRI presidents. But Mexico’s political system has also gone backwards in one key area: the role of its military. As the Latin American drug trade has blossomed and its neighbors have become less stable, the military has stepped in, and used its leverage to control an ever-widening sphere of the civilian political system.

In several Mexican states, in fact, the military essentially commands the area, dominating law enforcement and other civilian institutions. The Mexican armed forces now contain nearly 260,000 troops, an enormous leap from just 150,000 men in uniform in 1990. Military personnel now occupy hundreds of positions traditionally held by civilian personnel, especially those in law enforcement. “The military is becoming the supreme authority — in some cases the only authority — in parts of some states,” Mexican political analyst Denise Dresser told the Senate Judiciary Committee last year.

The Mexican military’s quiet power grab is emblematic of a new and disturbing trend throughout the developing world. In the past, when the military took control, it was obvious. The armed forces claimed the entire government, forced out the president or the prime minister, and then either ran the country themselves or appointed a servile leader. In this way, General Alvaro Obregón used the Mexican military to oust president Venustiano Carranza at the end of the Mexican revolution. Throughout the 20th century, Mexico’s neighbors, from Guatemala to Chile to Argentina, experienced bloody coups as military leaders took control of the government by force. During the Cold War, in fact, the idea of military men running governments became almost commonplace, from Idi Amin in Uganda to Zia ul-Haq in Pakistan.

Now military leaders are increasingly controlling governments from behind the scenes. From 1950 to 1990, there were more than 100 coups or coup attempts worldwide. Since the 1990s, however, violent military takeovers have dropped in number, and there have only been eight coups since 2005.

Since the end of the Cold War, unconditional American support for military dictators has diminished and democracy promotion has taken center stage in US foreign policy, making putsches less acceptable. Militaries also have had to adapt to a world where foreign investment has made the image of a government more important and new forms of communication have made it harder to simply install a servile prime minister and crack down on the populace. Instead, militaries today find it is easier to function as kingmakers rather than kings, while still maintaining the fiction that the armed forces are neutral in politics. The armed forces walk this fine line by using their influence, in the background, to keep governments in power or topple them. At other times, the military uses its expertise in handling dangerous security threats like drug trafficking or terrorism to build up its power again.

Call it military rule 2.0. And as a result, in many developing countries the military is more powerful than it has been in years. Thailand, where the military once seemed to have retreated to the barracks, now finds the armed forces playing a critical role in the current political standoff. In Pakistan, which also appeared headed toward democracy a decade ago, the military has returned to its role as the central power base. From Mexico to Peru to Honduras, Latin America has over the past five years witnessed a weakening of civilian rule over the military, as the armed forces act with increasing impunity.

It’s a dangerous kind of power. Armies can commit abuses virtually unpunished, dragging down developing democracies that seemed to be beyond the era of military influence. And, by presenting themselves as the only institutions with long-term stability — even as they simultaneously undermine that very stability — the new generation of military men undermine civilian leaders in another way: They make themselves indispensable to foreign partners like the United States.

For decades, Thailand’s military played politics the old-fashioned way: When it wanted to run the government, it just took over. Between 1932, the end of Thailand’s absolute monarchy, and today, the country has witnessed 18 coups or attempted coups. But after the last coup, which deposed the populist prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra in 2006, the army realized the old days were gone for good.

After a wave of anti-Thaksin protests by elites in Bangkok in 2006, the Thai military took over, forcing Thaksin out. But the army soon ran into setbacks. Its installed prime minister, a former general, appeared to have little idea how to manage Thailand’s complex and globalized economy. It threatened capital controls, which scared off foreign investors and precipitated a run on the stock market. It also failed to enact policies to boost Thailand’s global competitiveness, even as neighboring countries like Vietnam were attracting more investment. Two years after the coup, Thailand’s top military leader at the time, Supreme Commander General Boonsrang Niumpradit, told reporters, “Under the current situation, problems in the country are too complex to be easily tackled by a coup.”

Thailand was hardly unique. In next-door Burma, the ruling junta, which seems to manage most of the economy, has essentially run a once-promising country into the ground, according to a study by Sean Turnell of Macquarie University in Australia. Indeed, as capital has become more globalized, major developing nations have become more dependent on trade, foreign investment, and tourism, and need far more sophisticated economic management than a few generals can provide. Over the past three decades, developing regions like East Asia and Latin America have enacted a range of free trade deals, from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations-China agreement to the Mercosur trade deal in South America, all of which have had the effect of liberalizing trade among developing nations.

Compared to the 1960s or 1970s, too, militaries in developing countries can no longer effectively control the media, nongovernmental organizations, unions, or other avenues of dissent. New communications technology, including social networking, cellphones, and the Internet, allow the media in most countries to get around censorship; a flowering of nongovernmental organizations, many with links to the West, are much harder to control than the small number of nonprofits in developing countries in the 1960s or 1970s.

For example, following an attempted coup in Venezuela in 2002, supporters of Hugo Chavez were able to quickly link up and rally for him, helping install him back in power within 48 hours. And, after a military intervention in Bangladesh in early 2007, many private organizations that did not even exist during previous generations of military rule mobilized to fight the army takeover. Even in Burma, one of the most isolated countries in the world, local journalists in 2007 were able to get images of the military crackdown on monks’ “Saffron Revolution” out to international media outlets.

Of course, militaries can still effectively rule outright small, very poor nations like tiny Guinea Bissau in West Africa, which weathered a coup in early April, since these countries are less dependent on foreign capital and less connected to the global economy. The list of successful and lasting coups over the past decade consists mostly of small and poor African states, such as Mauritania, the Central African Republic, and Guinea.

During the Cold War, Washington was willing to sanction outright coups by military men who (at least theoretically) shared America’s anticommunist stance. Yet US policies often still aid militaries that seek more control of their governments. With Pakistan, the Obama administration, while rhetorically supporting the government of President Asif Ali Zardari — Obama’s envoy to Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, last year told Congress the White House “unambiguously” backs Zardari — has in reality conducted much of the relationship through Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Kayani, according to press reports in both the United States and Pakistan. In so doing, the White House seems to have bought into the Pakistani army’s line that civilian governments are inherently unstable and the armed forces alone can provide the continuity Washington needs.

From Mexico to Peru to the Philippines, armies have learned to portray themselves to beleaguered civilian leaders as the only chance to defeat the security challenges — so long as the government agrees to the military’s demands for greater funding, more autonomy, and a larger role in politics. In Pakistan, the armed forces last year grudgingly launched an offensive into Waziristan, an Islamist hotbed. And in so doing the army gained enough clout to sandbag several of Zardari’s major objectives, including better ties to India, according to Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid.

In other cases, militaries have learned that by uniting behind a certain politician, or by threatening to withhold their backing for a government without actually staging a coup, they can control civilian leaders. For example, in Nigeria, according to a study by John Campbell of the Council on Foreign Relations, a group of senior generals recently played a major role in maneuvering into power vice president Goodluck Jonathan, who took over for the ailing president Umaru Yar’adua. (Yar’adua died last Wednesday.) Similarly, because drug trafficking is a priority in US-Mexican relations, much of the relationship between the United States and Mexico has been built through their defense establishments. A majority of the $1.4 billion approved by Congress as part of the Merida Initiative will go to equipment and funding for the Mexican military. Coupled with a close training relationship between the militaries and frequent visits to Mexico by top US military officials, this aid gives the Mexican military even more leverage over civilian institutions.

The return of the men in green has many dangerous implications. In its latest report on the state of global freedom, monitoring group Freedom House noted that freedom and human rights declined in 2009, marking four years in a row of setbacks, the longest continuous slide in 40 years — and the result, in part, of weakening civilian control of militaries. And over the past decade, military spending worldwide has grown by over 45 percent, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, a sign of the renewed clout of armed forces. This decline of democracy is one of the most unsettling trends in the world today.

Wielding the power to make or break governments, armed forces also become virtually immune to criticism or critical investigations, allowing them to perpetrate abuses. In Thailand, the military in the winter of 2008-9 reportedly intercepted rickety boats carrying refugees from neighboring Burma, and then pushed many of these desperate men and women back to sea, where they died. No punishments were meted out. In perhaps the most egregious example, human rights groups accuse the Mexican military of disappearances, torturing suspects with electric shocks, and widespread extrajudicial killings. A recent report by Amnesty International chronicled a litany of human rights abuses by the security forces, conducted in an environment where, as one Amnesty interviewee says, “No one will do anything to us because we’re soldiers.”

Worse, behind-the-scenes military rule stunts the growth of other institutions that might be able to handle security threats more effectively. In Mexico, the militarization of the drug fight has not delivered many victories — Ciudad Juarez is now the murder capital of the world, and a blue ribbon panel led by former Latin American leaders last year reported that the drug war is a “failed war” — and that the militarization has marginalized the Mexican police and courts, which desperately need to be modernized, not ignored.

The return of military influence is not inevitable. In countries like Turkey and Indonesia, popular and politically savvy civilian leaders have drawn upon their popular appeal, and popular suspicion of the armed forces, to create laws restraining the armed forces and to finally convince some military officers that they are no longer needed as a stabilizing force in politics. Not coincidentally, Indonesia now has leapfrogged countries like Thailand to become the most vibrant democracy in Southeast Asia, while Turkey has in the past decade strengthened its democracy and become a major political player in its region. For now, though, Indonesia and Turkey remain very much the exception.

Joshua Kurlantzick is Fellow for Southeast Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations. Shelby Leighton is a Research Associate at the Council on Foreign Relations.


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Terror — and candor in describing the Islamist ideology behind it

The Fort Hood shooter, the Christmas Day bomber, the Times Square attacker. On May 13, the following exchange occurred at a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee:

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tex.): Do you feel that these individuals might have been incited to take the actions that they did because of radical Islam?

Attorney General Eric Holder: There are a variety of reasons why I think people have taken these actions. . . .

Smith: Okay, but radical Islam could have been one of the reasons?

Holder: There are a variety of reasons why people —

Smith: But was radical Islam one of them?

Holder: There are a variety of reasons why people do these things. Some of them are potentially religious-based.

Potentially, mind you. This went on until the questioner gave up in exasperation.

A similar question arose last week in U.S. District Court when Faisal Shahzad, the Times Square attacker, pleaded guilty. Explained Shahzad:

“One has to understand where I’m coming from . . . I consider myself a mujahid, a Muslim soldier.”

Well, that is clarifying. As was the self-printed business card of Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the Fort Hood shooter, identifying himself as SoA: Soldier of Allah.

Holder’s avoidance of the obvious continues the absurd and embarrassing refusal of the Obama administration to acknowledge who out there is trying to kill Americans and why. In fact, it has banned from its official vocabulary the terms jihadist, Islamist and Islamic terrorism.

Instead, President Obama’s National Security Strategy insists on calling the enemy — how else do you define those seeking your destruction? — “a loose network of violent extremists.” But this is utterly meaningless. This is not an anger-management therapy group gone rogue. These are people professing a powerful ideology rooted in a radical interpretation of Islam, in whose name they propagandize, proselytize, terrorize and kill.

Why is this important? Because the first rule of war is to know your enemy. If you don’t, you wander into intellectual cul-de-sacs and ignore the real causes that might allow you to prevent recurrences.

The Pentagon review of the Fort Hood shooting runs 86 pages with not a single mention of Hasan’s Islamism. It contains such politically correct inanities as “religious fundamentalism alone is not a risk factor.”

Of course it is. Indeed, Islamist fundamentalism is not only a risk factor. It is the risk factor, the common denominator linking all the great terror attacks of this century — from 9/11 to Mumbai, from Fort Hood to Times Square, from London to Madrid to Bali. The attackers varied in nationality, education, age, social class, native tongue and race. The one thing that united them was the jihadist vision in whose name they acted.

To deny this undeniable truth leads to further absurdities. Remember the wave of speculation about Hasan’s supposed secondary post-traumatic stress disorder — that he was so deeply affected by the heart-rending stories of his war-traumatized patients that he became radicalized? On the contrary. He was moved not by their suffering but by the suffering they (and the rest of the U.S. military) inflicted on Hasan’s fellow Muslims, in whose name he gunned down 12 American soldiers while shouting “Allahu Akbar.”

With Shahzad, we find the equivalent ridiculous — and exculpating — speculation that perhaps he was driven over the edge by the foreclosure of his home. Good grief. Of course his home went into foreclosure — so would yours if you voluntarily quit your job and stopped house payments to go to Pakistan for jihadist training. As The Post’s Charles Lane pointed out, foreclosure was a result of Shahzad’s radicalism, not the cause.

There’s a final reason the administration’s cowardice about identifying those trying to kill us cannot be allowed to pass. It is demoralizing. It trivializes the war between jihadi barbarism and Western decency, and diminishes the memory of those (including thousands of brave Muslims — Iraqi, Pakistani, Afghan and Western) who have died fighting it.

Churchill famously mobilized the English language and sent it into battle. But his greatness lay not in mere eloquence. It was his appeal to the moral core of a decent people to rise against an ideology the nature of which Churchill never hesitated to define and describe — and to pronounce (“Nahhhhzzzzi”) in an accent dripping with loathing and contempt.

No one is asking Obama or Holder to match Churchill’s rhetoric — just Shahzad’s candor.

Charles Krauthammer, Washington Post


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Espionage History and the ‘Russian 10’

The arrest of ‘sleeper agents’ on U.S. soil is the stuff of spy novels, not the Cold War.

The Justice Department’s arrest this week of 10 Russian spies posing as American citizens is not stranger than fiction; it mirrors fiction. Innumerable Cold War novels and films focused on “sleeper agents,” professional Soviet espionage officers superbly trained in language and culture who take on the identity of a native-born American to gain access to U.S. intelligence and policy making.

But in reality the most damaging Cold War spies were native-born Americans—Julius Rosenberg, Alger Hiss, Aldrich Ames, Richard Hansen—who for reasons of ideology, money or psychological perversity chose to betray their country.

Most Soviet espionage was supervised by “legal” KGB officers operating under official cover as diplomats who, when arrested, faced only expulsion, protected by their diplomatic status. Great Britain famously expelled 105 Soviet personnel linked to KGB intelligence in 1971. But none of them had been posing as a British citizen. The KGB also had “illegal” officers who had no diplomatic status, often used false identities and who usually functioned as covert liaisons with native-born traitors. Long-term sleeper agents, as these 10 appear to have been, are rare.

In the late-1950s, the U.S. government arrested, tried and convicted five Soviet illegals in connection with the Soble-Soblen spy ring: Jack Soble, his wife Myra, his brother Robert Soblen (the two brothers had anglicized their Lithuanian name, Sobolevicius, slightly differently), Jacob Albam and Mark Zborowski. None had diplomatic cover, but neither were they “deep penetration” agents. All used their true identities, simply pretending to be innocent immigrants.

Moreover, their espionage work was confined largely to “agent handling,” i.e., acting as liaison with native-born Americans, mostly Communists, who had been recruited as Soviet spies years earlier. Their major accomplishment was to infiltrate the American Trotskyist movement and the Russian emigré community, targets with no direct connection to the U.S. government. Soble and associates had no plans or prospects of entering American think tanks or other institutions with access to high-level American policy makers.

There were two Soviet illegals exposed in the late 1950s whose activities came a bit closer to the recently arrested 10. An illegal officer, KGB Col. Rudolf Abel (real name Vilyam Fisher), entered the U.S. in 1948 and operated under a variety of false identities. He was finally exposed when his assistant and fellow illegal, KGB Lt. Col. Reino Hayhanen, defected in 1957. (Hayhanen, of Finnish background, had been sent to the U.S. using false papers identifying him as an American of Finnish ancestry.) Abel, who never admitted his real name, was convicted and sentenced to 30 years in prison.

After only five years he was freed in exchange for Francis Gary Powers, the U-2 pilot shot down over the Soviet Union on a CIA reconnaissance mission. While Hayhanen and Abel assumed false identities as Americans, their function was to maintain contact and pick up information from native-born Americans who spied for the Soviets. Abel’s initial task, for example, was to re-establish KGB contact with Theodore Hall, an American physicist and secret Communist who had provided U.S. atomic secrets to the USSR while working at Los Alamos. Hayhanen and Abel were illegals but not deep-penetration sleeper agents.

Thus, the FBI’s arrest of 10 Russian sleeper agents on U.S. soil has no precedent in Cold War history, even if fans of Walter Wager’s novel “Telefon” (later a movie staring Charles Bronson) find it familiar. Also unprecedented, and reassuringly so, is that FBI counterintelligence had identified these Russian sleepers early on, had been monitoring them for years, and finally decided that it had gained what it could from such surveillance and rolled up the Russian networks.

Deep-penetration agents are a very, very expensive investment. Not only the training of the professional officers themselves, but covertly supporting them, communicating with them, and supervising their activities is a major bureaucratic expense for any intelligence agency. The loss of 10 such agents and the resulting collateral damage makes this a catastrophe for Russian foreign intelligence. The FBI also identified a number of Russian “legal” officers who made surreptitious contact with the sleepers and, thus exposed, these Russian officers are now useless for intelligence fieldwork.

The SVR—Russian Foreign Intelligence, successor to the KGB—also cannot be sure that the FBI has disclosed all that it knows of the 10 agents’ activities (11 with the arrest of a confederate in Cyprus). Prudence dictates that the SVR must assume that any other Russian officers who had covert contact with the 11 may have been identified by American security. Use of these potentially compromised officers in future espionage field-work would be risky and foolish.

We don’t know what additional shoes will drop in this case. Will any of the 10 talk to avoid a long prison term? Rudolf Abel was defiant and refused any cooperation. Jack Soble, however, dodged the death penalty by fully confessing, telling all he knew of KGB operations in the U.S. and Western Europe, and even testified against his brother. These 10 (or 11, if we count the agent arrested in Cyprus) don’t face the death penalty but do face potentially long terms in prison, and there aren’t any Francis Gary Powers available for exchanges.

Messrs. Klehr and Haynes are co-authors, along with Alexander Vassiliev, of “Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America” (Yale University Press, 2010).


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Afghanistan: Eyes Wide Shut

President Obama’s ambivalence toward the war is energizing our enemies and undermining our allies.

With a wink of its left eye, the Obama administration tells its liberal base that a year from now the U.S. will be heading for a quick Afghan exit. “Everyone knows there’s a firm date,” insists White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel.

With a wink of its right, the administration tells Afghanistan, Pakistan, NATO allies and its own military leadership that the July 2011 date is effectively meaningless. The notion that a major drawdown will begin next year “absolutely has not been decided,” says Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

The winks are simultaneous. When it comes to Barack Obama’s “war of necessity,” pretty much everyone thinks he’s blinked.

Not the least of the ironies of the president’s decision to sack Stanley McChrystal in favor of David Petraeus is that, in the name of asserting civilian control over the military, the president has a commander in Afghanistan whom he cannot realistically fire. It isn’t just that St. Dave has, for the GOP, the potential political potency of Dwight Eisenhower. It’s that the president needs the general’s credibility in Afghanistan because he has so little of his own.

Wars are contests of wills. If our efforts in Afghanistan have an increasingly ghostly quality—visible to the naked eye but incapable of achieving effects in the physical world—it has more to do with a widespread perception that we just aren’t prepared to do what it takes to win than it does with the particulars of counterinsurgency strategy or its execution. Gen. Petraeus won in Iraq because George W. Bush had his back and the people of Iraq, friend as well as foe, knew it.

By contrast, the fact that we have been unable to secure the small city of Marja, much less take on the larger job of Kandahar, is because nobody—right down to the village folk whom we are so sedulously courting with good deeds and restrictive rules of engagement—believes that Barack Obama believes in his own war. The vacuum in credibility begets the vacuum in power.

On Friday, the New York Times reported that Pakistan is seeking to expand its influence in Afghanistan. “Coupled with their strategic interests,” noted the Times, “the Pakistanis say they have chosen this juncture to open talks with [Afghan President Hamid] Karzai because, even before the controversy with Gen. McChrystal, they sensed uncertainty—’a lack of fire in the belly,’ said one Pakistani—within the Obama administration over the Afghan fight.”

The Times followed up the next day with a story about the effects of the Af-Pak rapprochement on Afghanistan’s minorities: “‘Karzai is giving Afghanistan back to the Taliban, and he is opening up the old schisms,’ said Rehman Oghly, an Uzbek member of Parliament and once a member of an anti-Taliban militia. ‘If he wants to bring in the Taliban, and they begin to use force, then we will go back to civil war and Afghanistan will be split.'”

Well, that would be bad, just as it would be bad if Pakistan reasserted itself in Afghanistan via its sometime “asset” in the so-called Haqqani network, which more recently has been an ally of al Qaeda but may yet want a seat in a future Afghan cabinet. But this is what inevitably flows when the U.S. can set no more ambitious a military goal for itself than the promise, as the president put it last week, “to break the Taliban’s momentum.” How about breaking the Taliban itself?

Perhaps the job-secure Gen. Petraeus could press the administration to stop talking about withdrawal schedules and start using the word “victory” with frequency and conviction. Or perhaps the general could, in his usual politic way, speak that way himself. Doing so would reassure our remaining Afghan friends and deter importuning outsiders. It might steady the unsteady Mr. Karzai. Above all, it would persuade the Afghans whose support we need that they won’t soon find themselves on the wrong end of a Taliban firing squad for having once sided with us.

But against these arguments must be weighed the president’s personal determination to end this war sooner rather than later. As Newsweek’s Jonathan Alter describes the president’s mind when he decided on an Afghan surge last fall, “this would not be a five- to seven-year nation-building commitment,” and July 2011 would mark the “beginning of a real—not a token—withdrawal.” The president, Mr. Alter reports, told his war council that “I don’t want to be going to Walter Reed for another eight years.”

No president would. Then again, few presidents would wage a war they weren’t fully committed to winning. This is where Mr. Obama finds himself now: seeking to calibrate some notional measure of “success”—how much Afghan “capacity” built; how much political “reconciliation” achieved, and so on—even as the rest of the world, the Taliban included, calls his bluff.

Gen. Petraeus will do what he can to turn things around, though he must know that every appearance of success will whet the administration’s appetite for a precipitous withdrawal. Maybe he can persuade the White House that this is a war without shortcuts, one that the U.S. has no choice but to win. Failing that, a president’s ambivalence will soon become a general’s nightmare. And that will be a tragedy for two countries.

Bret Stephens, Wall Street Journal


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Petraeus and Obama’s Uncertain Trumpet

There is a mismatch between the general’s Afghan mission and the president’s summons to his countrymen.

The chroniclers tell us that Lyndon Johnson never took to the Vietnam War. He prosecuted it, it became his war, but it was, in LBJ’s language, a “bitch of a war.” He fought it with a premonition that it could wreck his Great Society programs.

He had a feel for the popular mood. “I don’t think the people of the country know much about Vietnam, and I think they care a hell of a lot less.” We know how that war ended, and the choreography of President Obama relieving Gen. Stanley McChrystal of his command notwithstanding, there is to this Afghan campaign a sense of eerie historical repetition. There is no need to overdo the analogy, but there is a good measure of similarity to that earlier ill-fated campaign. There is the same ambivalence at the top, a disjunction between the military battlefield and the political world at home.

So a beleaguered president has replaced a talented but indiscreet military commander with a talented, discreet successor. The large questions about the war persist, and there persists as well that unsettling sense that the president is prosecuting a war he can neither abandon nor fight to a convincing victory.

For Mr. Obama, this Afghan campaign doubtless bears the crippling impact of its beginnings. It was out of Mr. Obama’s desire to demonstrate that he was no pacifist that his commitment to the Afghan war had begun. It was in the midst of his run for the presidency that he was to draw a distinction between “stupid wars” (Iraq as the primary exhibit) and wars worth fighting.

Afghanistan became the good war of necessity. He was to sharpen the distinction between these two wars in the course of his first year in office. On the face of it, this was a president claiming a distant war, making it his own. But there was a lack of fit between this call on Afghanistan and the president’s overall summons to his country.

Mr. Obama’s is an uncertain trumpet. He had vowed to fight in Afghanistan while belittling the challenge that radical Islamism posed to American security. He had told his devotees that the anti-Americanism in the Islamic world was certain to blow over in the aftermath of his election. He had attributed much of that anti-Americanism to the Iraq war and to the ideological zeal of his predecessors. His foreign policy was to explicitly rest on a rupture with the foreign policy of the past. Like Jimmy Carter’s in the 1970s, this was to be a foreign policy of contrition for America’s presumed sins.

A big battle loomed at home, and this was where Mr. Obama’s heart and preferences lay—a struggle between economic freedom and the marketplace on one side and an intrusive, redistributionist state on the other. In this new climate of national introversion, Afghanistan was at best a sideshow. The war was going badly, and Mr. Obama feared that this war would overwhelm his presidency.

So last December, after a period of drawn-out assessment, Mr. Obama opted to split the difference. He who had opposed the Iraq surge when in the Senate launched a surge of his own. He would give his commanders additional forces, but this was a surge with an Obama twist. The announcement of a new commitment was at once the announcement of an exit strategy. The troops would be sent but American withdrawal would begin in the summer of 2011.

Mullah Omar in Quetta may not be schooled in the arcane details of American politics, but he had all the knowledge he needed: The Americans were not in this fight for long. He would wait them out and then make a run at the regime in Kabul.

Our “ally” in Kabul, Hamid Karzai, also made his own calculations. The faithlessness he has showed in recent months was the nervousness of a man who feared that his American patrons and protectors were on their way out, and that he, like so many Afghan leaders before him, would be left to the wrath of the mob. In Mr. Karzai’s ideal world, the Americans, with their guns and machines, and their vast treasure and contracts, would never leave.

In the phase to come, the deadline for the start of the American withdrawal from Afghanistan, will stalk this military campaign. It will be fought in the inner councils of the Obama administration, and will, in time, become a matter of public disputation.

For the president and his vice president—and no doubt for Democrats in the House and the Senate—the July 2011 deadline will be what it is. For the U.S. military, and for the secretary of defense and the national security hawks, that deadline is, by necessity, flexible, meant to convey, as Gen. David Petraeus put it before the Senate Armed Services Committee in mid-June, a “message of urgency.” Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has put it this way: The withdrawal will be determined by “the conditions on the ground.”

The “conditions on the ground” are a euphemism for the ability of the Afghan forces to assume the burden of security for their own homeland. After all, counterinsurgency requires a native regime that would hold its own against insurgents and defend its own homeland. No serious assessment holds out the promise of a capable Afghan regime and a devoted national army that would fight for the incumbent government. Afghanistan is what it is, a land riven by corruption and sectarianism, a population weighed down by illiteracy and hardened by years of betrayal and abdication. The “Afghanization” of the war is a utopian idea.

The history of the Vietnam War offers a cautionary precedent. Deadlines of withdrawal, once announced, take on a life of their own. In his incomparable recollection of the American “extrication” from Vietnam—his word—former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger writes that the promise of “Vietnamization” served to confirm Hanoi “in its course of waiting us out.” Withdrawal of American troops, Mr. Kissinger memorably observed, became like “salted peanuts” to the American public, “the more U.S. troops come home, the more will be demanded.” If this pattern holds, the war at home over Afghanistan has only just begun.

We have a peerless commander on his way to the Afghan theater of war. He knows the ways of the East, and he has mastered them the hard way. In his time in Iraq he was fond of a maxim of T.E. Lawrence: “Do not try to do too much with your own hands. Better the Arabs do it tolerably than you do it perfectly. It is their war, and you are there to help them, not win it for them.”

Gen. Petraeus takes that maxim with him to the land of the Afghans; he and his soldiers can do their best for them. But he can’t rid them of their historic afflictions. Nor can his mission end in success if our country isn’t in this fight for real. The East is merciless this way. It has an unsentimental feel for the intentions and the staying power of strangers.

Mr. Ajami is professor at The Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution.


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Afghanistan: The 7/11 problem

President Obama was fully justified in dismissing Gen. Stanley McChrystal. The firing offense did not rise to the level of insubordination — this was no MacArthur undermining the commander in chief’s war strategy — but it was a serious enough show of disrespect for the president and for the entire civilian leadership to justify relief from his post.

Moreover, choosing David Petraeus to succeed McChrystal was the best possible means of minimizing the disruption that comes with every change of command, and of reaffirming that the current strategy will be pursued with equal vigor.

The administration is hoping that Petraeus can replicate his Iraq miracle. This includes Democrats who, when Petraeus testified to Congress about the Iraq surge in September 2007, accused him of requiring “the willing suspension of disbelief” (Sen. Hillary Clinton) or refused to vote for the Senate resolution condemning that shameful “General Betray Us” newspaper ad (Sen. Barack Obama).

However, two major factors distinguish the Afghan from the Iraqi surge. First is the alarming weakness and ineptness — to say nothing of the corruption — of the Afghan central government. One of the reasons the U.S. offensive in Marja has faltered is that there is no Afghan “government in a box” to provide authority for territory that the U.S. military clears.

In Iraq, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, after many mixed signals, eventually showed that he could act as a competent national leader rather than a sectarian one when he attacked Moqtada al-Sadr’s stronghold in Basra, faced down the Mahdi Army in the other major cities in the south and took the fight into Sadr City in Baghdad itself. In Afghanistan, on the other hand, President Hamid Karzai makes public overtures to the Taliban, signaling that he is already hedging his bets.

But beyond indecision in Kabul, there is indecision in Washington. When the president of the United States announces the Afghan surge and, in the very next sentence, announces the date on which a U.S. withdrawal will begin, the Afghans — from president to peasant — take note.

This past Sunday, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel reiterated that July 2011 is a hard date. And Vice President Biden is adamant that “in July of 2011 you’re going to see a whole lot of people moving out. Bet on it.”

Now, Washington sophisticates may interpret this two-step as a mere political feint to Obama’s left — just another case of a president facing a difficult midterm and his own reelection, trying to placate the base. They don’t take this withdrawal date too seriously.

Problem is, Afghans are not quite as sophisticated in interpreting American intraparty maneuvering. This kind of Washington nuance does not translate into Pashto. They hear about an American departure date and they think about what will happen to them when the Americans leave. The Taliban will remain, and what it lacks in popular support — it polls only 6 percent — it makes up in terror: When Taliban fighters return to a village, they kill “collaborators” mercilessly, and publicly.

The surge succeeded in Iraq because the locals witnessed a massive deployment of U.S. troops to provide them security, which encouraged them to give us intelligence, which helped us track down the bad guys and kill them. This, as might be expected, led to further feelings of security by the locals, more intelligence provided us, more success in driving out the bad guys, and henceforth a virtuous cycle as security and trust and local intelligence fed each other.

But that depended on a larger understanding by the Iraqis that the American president was implacable — famously stubborn, refusing to set any exit date, and determined to see the surge through. What President Bush’s critics considered mulishness, the Iraqis saw as steadfastness.

What the Afghans hear from the current American president is a surge with an expiration date. An Afghan facing the life-or-death choice of which side to support can be forgiven for thinking that what Obama says is what Obama intends. That may be wrong, but if so, why doesn’t Obama dispel that false impression? He doesn’t even have to repudiate the July 2011 date, he simply but explicitly has to say: July 2011 is the target date, but only if conditions on the ground permit.

Obama has had every opportunity every single day to say that. He has not. In his Rose Garden statement firing McChrystal, he pointedly declined once again to do so.

If you were Karzai, or a peasant in Marja, you’d be hedging your bets too.

Charles Krauthammer, Washington Post


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McChrystal Forces Us to Focus

Now Petraeus owes us a candid assessment of the Afghan effort

Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s greatest contribution to the war in Afghanistan may turn out to be forcing everyone to focus on it. The real news there this week was not Gen. McChrystal’s epic faux pas and dismissal but that 12 soldiers were killed on June 7-8, including five Americans by a roadside bomb, making that “the deadliest 24 hour period this year,” as The Economist noted. Insurgency-related violence was up by 87% in the six months prior to March. Agence France-Presse reported Thursday that NATO forces are experiencing their deadliest month ever.

There have been signal moments in this war since its inception, and we are in the middle of one now.

It has gone on almost nine years. It began rightly, legitimately. On 9/11 we had been attacked, essentially, from Afghanistan, harborer of terrorists. We invaded and toppled the Taliban with dispatch, courage and even, for all our woundedness, brio. We all have unforgettable pictures in our minds. One of mine is the grainy footage of a U.S. cavalry charge, with local tribesman, against a Taliban stronghold. It left me cheering. You too, I bet.

But Washington soon took its eye off the ball, turning its focus and fervor to invading Iraq. Over the years, the problems in Afghanistan mounted. In 2009, amid a growing air of crisis, Secretary of Defense Bob Gates sacked the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David McKiernan—institutional Army, maybe a little old-style. He was replaced by Gen. McChrystal—specials forces background, black ops, an agile and resourceful snake eater. “Politicians love the mystique of these guys,” said a general this week. Snake eaters know it, and wind up being even more colorful, reveling in their ethos of bucking the system.

Last August, Gen. McChrystal produced, and someone leaked, a 66-page report warning of “mission failure.” More troops and new strategy were needed. The strategy, counterinsurgency, was adopted. That was a signal moment within a signal moment, for at the same time the president committed 30,000 more troops and set a deadline for departure, July 2011. The mission on the ground was expanded—counterinsurgency, also known as COIN, is nation building, and nation building is time- and troop-intensive—but the timeline for success was truncated.

COIN is a humane strategy not lacking in shrewdness: Don’t treat the people of a sovereign nation as if they just wandered across your battlefield. Instead, befriend them, consult them, build schools, give them an investment in peace. Only America, and God bless it, would try to take the hell out of war. But the new strategy involved lawyering up, requiring troops to receive permission before they hit targets. Some now-famous cases make clear this has endangered soldiers and damaged morale.

The Afghan government, on which COIN’s success hinges, is corrupt and unstable. That is their political context. But are we fully appreciating the political context of the war at home, in America?

The left doesn’t like this war and will only grow more opposed to it. The center sees that it has gone on longer than Vietnam, and “we’ve seen that movie before.” We’re in an economic crisis; can we afford this war? The right is probably going to start to peel off, not Washington policy intellectuals but people on the ground in America. There are many reasons for this. Their sons and nephew have come back from repeat tours full of doubts as to the possibility of victory, “whatever that is,” as we all now say. There is the brute political fact that the war is now President Obama’s. The blindly partisan will be only too happy to let him stew in it.

Republican leaders such as John McCain are stalwart: This war can be won. But there’s a sense when you watch Mr. McCain that he’s very much speaking for Mr. McCain, and McCainism. Republicans respect this attitude: “Never give in.” But people can respect what they choose not to follow. The other day Sen. Lindsey Graham, in ostensibly supportive remarks, said that Gen. David Petraeus, Gen. McChrystal’s replacement, “is our only hope.” If he can’t pull it out, “nobody can.” That’s not all that optimistic a statement.

The U.S. military is overstretched in every way, including emotionally and psychologically. The biggest takeaway from a week at U.S. Army War College in 2008 was the exhaustion of the officers. They are tired from repeat deployments, and their families are stretched to the limit, with children reaching 12 and 13 without a father at home.

The president himself is in parlous position with regard to support, which means with regard to his ability to persuade, to be believed, to be followed. The latest Wall Street Journal/NBC poll shows more people disapprove of Mr. Obama’s job performance than approve.

When he ran for president, Mr. Obama blasted Iraq but called Afghanistan the “good war.” This was in line with public opinion, and as a young Democratic progressive who hadn’t served in the military, he had to kick away from the old tie-dyed-hippie-lefty-peacenik hangover that dogs the Democratic Party to this day, even as heartless-warlike-bigot-in-plaid-golf-shorts dogs the Republicans. In 2009 he ordered a top-to-bottom review of Afghanistan. In his valuable and deeply reported book “The Promise,” Jonathan Alter offers new information on the review. A reader gets the sense it is meant to be reassuring—they’re doing a lot of thinking over there!—but for me it was not. The president seems to have thought government experts had answers, or rather reliable and comprehensive information that could be weighed and fully understood. But in Washington, agency analysts and experts don’t have answers, really. They have product. They have factoids. They have free-floating data. They have dots in a pointillist picture, but they’re not artists, they’re dot-makers.

More crucially, the president asked policy makers, in Mr. Alter’s words, “If the Taliban took Kabul and controlled Afghanistan, could it link up with Pakistan’s Taliban and threaten command and control of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons?” The answer: Quite possibly yes. Mr. Alter: “Early on, the President eliminated withdrawal (from Afghanistan) as an option, in part because of a new classified study on what would happen to Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal if the Islamabad government fell to the Taliban.”

That is always the heart-stopper in any conversation about Afghanistan, terrorists and Pakistan’s nukes. But the ins and outs of this question—what we know, for instance, about the ISI, the Pakistani intelligence service, and its connections to terrorists—are not fully discussed. Which means a primary argument in the president’s arsenal is denied him.

It is within the context of all this mess that—well, Gen. Petraeus a week and a half ago, in giving Senate testimony on Afghanistan, appeared to faint. And Gen. McChrystal suicide-bombed his career. One of Gen. McChrystal’s aides, in the Rolling Stone interview, said that if Americans “started paying attention to this war, it would become even less popular.”

Maybe we should find out. Gen. Petraeus’s confirmation hearings are set for next week. He is a careful man, but this is no time for discretion. What is needed now is a deep, even startling, even brute candor. The country can take it. It’s taken two wars. So can Gen. Petraeus. He can’t be fired because both his predecessors were, and because he’s Petraeus. In that sense he’s fireproof. Which is not what he’ll care about. He cares about doing what he can to make America safer in the world. That means being frank about a war that can be prosecuted only if the American people support it. They have focused. They’re ready to hear.

Peggy Noonan, Wall Street Journal


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Those troublesome Jews

The world is outraged at Israel’s blockade of Gaza. Turkey denounces its illegality, inhumanity, barbarity, etc. The usual U.N. suspects, Third World and European, join in. The Obama administration dithers.

But as Leslie Gelb, former president of the Council on Foreign Relations, writes, the blockade is not just perfectly rational, it is perfectly legal. Gaza under Hamas is a self-declared enemy of Israel — a declaration backed up by more than 4,000 rockets fired at Israeli civilian territory. Yet having pledged itself to unceasing belligerency, Hamas claims victimhood when Israel imposes a blockade to prevent Hamas from arming itself with still more rockets.

In World War II, with full international legality, the United States blockaded Germany and Japan. And during the October 1962 missile crisis, we blockaded (“quarantined”) Cuba. Arms-bearing Russian ships headed to Cuba turned back because the Soviets knew that the U.S. Navy would either board them or sink them. Yet Israel is accused of international criminality for doing precisely what John Kennedy did: impose a naval blockade to prevent a hostile state from acquiring lethal weaponry.

Oh, but weren’t the Gaza-bound ships on a mission of humanitarian relief? No. Otherwise they would have accepted Israel’s offer to bring their supplies to an Israeli port, be inspected for military materiel and have the rest trucked by Israel into Gaza — as every week 10,000 tons of food, medicine and other humanitarian supplies are sent by Israel to Gaza.

Why was the offer refused? Because, as organizer Greta Berlin admitted, the flotilla was not about humanitarian relief but about breaking the blockade, i.e., ending Israel’s inspection regime, which would mean unlimited shipping into Gaza and thus the unlimited arming of Hamas.

Israel has already twice intercepted ships laden with Iranian arms destined for Hezbollah and Gaza. What country would allow that?

But even more important, why did Israel even have to resort to blockade? Because, blockade is Israel’s fallback as the world systematically de-legitimizes its traditional ways of defending itself — forward and active defense.

(1) Forward defense: As a small, densely populated country surrounded by hostile states, Israel had, for its first half-century, adopted forward defense — fighting wars on enemy territory (such as the Sinai and Golan Heights) rather than its own.

Where possible (Sinai, for example) Israel has traded territory for peace. But where peace offers were refused, Israel retained the territory as a protective buffer zone. Thus Israel retained a small strip of southern Lebanon to protect the villages of northern Israel. And it took many losses in Gaza, rather than expose Israeli border towns to Palestinian terror attacks. It is for the same reason America wages a grinding war in Afghanistan: You fight them there, so you don’t have to fight them here.

But under overwhelming outside pressure, Israel gave it up. The Israelis were told the occupations were not just illegal but at the root of the anti-Israel insurgencies — and therefore withdrawal, by removing the cause, would bring peace.

Land for peace. Remember? Well, during the past decade, Israel gave the land — evacuating South Lebanon in 2000 and Gaza in 2005. What did it get? An intensification of belligerency, heavy militarization of the enemy side, multiple kidnappings, cross-border attacks and, from Gaza, years of unrelenting rocket attack.

(2) Active defense: Israel then had to switch to active defense — military action to disrupt, dismantle and defeat (to borrow President Obama’s description of our campaign against the Taliban and al-Qaeda) the newly armed terrorist mini-states established in southern Lebanon and Gaza after Israel withdrew.

The result? The Lebanon war of 2006 and Gaza operation of 2008-09. They were met with yet another avalanche of opprobrium and calumny by the same international community that had demanded the land-for-peace Israeli withdrawals in the first place. Worse, the U.N. Goldstone report which essentially criminalized Israel’s defensive operation in Gaza while whitewashing the casus belli — the preceding and unprovoked Hamas rocket war — effectively de-legitimized any active Israeli defense against its self-declared terror enemies.

(3) Passive defense: Without forward or active defense, Israel is left with but the most passive and benign of all defenses — a blockade to simply prevent enemy rearmament. Yet, as we speak, this too is headed for international de-legitimation. Even the United States is now moving toward having it abolished.

But, if none of these is permissible, what’s left?

Ah, but that’s the point. It’s the point understood by the blockade-busting flotilla of useful idiots and terror sympathizers, by the Turkish front organization that funded it, by the automatic anti-Israel Third World chorus at the United Nations, and by the supine Europeans who’ve had quite enough of the Jewish problem.

What’s left? Nothing. The whole point of this relentless international campaign is to deprive Israel of any legitimate form of self-defense. Why, just last week, the Obama administration joined the jackals, and reversed four decades of U.S. practice, by signing onto a consensus document that singles out Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons — thus de-legitimizing Israel’s very last line of defense: deterrence.

The world is tired of these troublesome Jews, 6 million — that number again — hard by the Mediterranean, refusing every invitation to national suicide. For which they are relentlessly demonized, ghettoized and constrained from defending themselves, even as the more committed anti-Zionists — Iranian in particular — openly prepare a more final solution.

Charles Krauthammer, Washington Post


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The real thing

Salafists in Gaza

An extreme movement that makes Hamas look mild by comparison

SMUGGLERS complain that Egypt hampers three things imported through the blockade-busting tunnels that supply Gaza: weapons, dishwashers (their timers can double as detonators), and books. Of the three, the last may be the most regulated. One smuggler complained that the Egyptian authorities confiscated a delivery of 10,000 books, the bulk of them a classical commentary on the Koran. In the eyes of the impounders, the people of Gaza, who are governed by the Islamists of Hamas, are quite Islamic enough already.

Tunnel trouble is only one of the woes afflicting the book trade. The Hamas police are another. Gaza, a slither of land sandwiched between Egypt and Israel, has only three bookshops for its 1.5m people. Even these have empty shelves. In its drive for a monopoly over religious discourse, Hamas is forcing Islamists from other schools of thought to retreat to the web to publish their samizdat literature.

Of these the most prolific are the Salafists. Salafi literally means “disciple of the forebears” (the Prophet’s companions) but has come to refer to Muslim protestants who seek to slough off the corpus of Islamic tradition and return to the original purity of Islam’s early years. They particularly dislike the Muslim Brotherhood, a pan-Arab Islamist group, for making such 20th-century compromises as entering politics and campaigning in elections, a process they think usurps authority from God to man. They castigate Hamas, the Brothers’ Palestinian branch, for taking part in the territory’s 2006 elections (which they won), for failing to apply the sharia, or Islamic law, and most recently for suspending the armed fight against Israel.

Salafists arrived in Gaza when Palestinian exiles returned from Saudi Arabia dressed in their garb of ankle-length tunics. Most preach absolute subservience to a legitimate leader, deemed to be the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, whose forces Hamas kicked out of Gaza in June 2007. Most of Gaza’s Salafist leaders are university professors, doctors and graduates, who see themselves as an elite, a cut above those they view as the unprincipled populists of Hamas. But they have attracted broader interest among Gazans opposed to Hamas, not least Mr Abbas’s Fatah faction, which once ruled the strip but has been hamstrung by Hamas. Fatah’s fans flock to Salafist mosques on Fridays in part to spare them from having to recite a weekly prayer for Gaza’s Hamas rulers.

A few seek to revive the Salafist order by force. They declare the legitimate ruler to be not Mr Abbas but the global jihadist leadership. They dub Osama bin Laden their “righteous shepherd”. Some name their offspring after him. Many of them are barely literate, sprinkling their statements on the web with grammatical errors.

Their results have been patchy. Their most dramatic effort, a charge of three white horses with strap-on explosives last summer, ended when the cavalcade blew up before reaching its target, Israel’s border barricade. And though they profess to limit their jihad to the enemy outside, their most violent acts have been against other Gazans. To impose their Koranic writ they have bombed coffee shops, internet cafés and salons for women that employ male hairdressers. A spokesman for Jaish al-Umma (Army of the Muslim Community), the largest of the four armed Salafist groups, calls such acts “aberrations”.

The Palestinian authorities, Hamas and Fatah alike, have thumped them. Last August a Salafist leader publicly declared an emirate. In no time Hamas forces charged into his mosque in Rafah, a town on the border with Egypt, and killed him and 27 followers. Hundreds more were jailed. “In a democracy they would have been put on trial,” says Imad Falluji, a former leader of Hamas who abandoned it in the mid-1990s. “Under Hamas military rule they were simply tortured and executed.”

Most have since been freed, but only after renouncing their creed. A few hundred strong at most, they no longer strut the streets with their guns or blow up cafés but are lying low. After Hamas recently put up taxes, it was secular left-wingers, not Salafists, who protested most loudly. Salafists for now have lost the battle. But they have tarnished Hamas’s Islamist halo by daring to query it. Dissent in Gaza is rising.

The Salafists’ one source of succour could lie among malcontents within Hamas who were raised on a diet of ideological militancy but fear that their movement is selling out. Their most prominent member was Nizar Rayan, a university professor who taught the Prophet Muhammad’s life and times while doubling as head of Hamas’s military wing. But he was killed during the Israeli bombardment of Gaza in January last year.

His followers, however, remain. Sometimes they help Salafist prisoners of Hamas to get out of jail. They criticise Hamas for taxing such evils as cigarettes rather than banning them outright, as they do alcohol. And they wonder glumly what other ideological compromises the Hamas government may make in pursuit of power. If Hamas is booted out, Islamists could yet look to the Salafists as Gaza’s next force for renewal—and rejection of Israel.


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The fruits of weakness

It is perfectly obvious that Iran’s latest uranium maneuver, brokered by Brazil and Turkey, is a ruse. Iran retains more than enough enriched uranium to make a bomb. And it continues enriching at an accelerated pace and to a greater purity (20 percent). Which is why the French foreign ministry immediately declared that the trumpeted temporary shipping of some Iranian uranium to Turkey will do nothing to halt Iran’s nuclear program.

It will, however, make meaningful sanctions more difficult. America’s proposed Security Council resolution is already laughably weak — no blacklisting of Iran’s central bank, no sanctions against Iran’s oil and gas industry, no nonconsensual inspections on the high seas. Yet Turkey and Brazil — both current members of the Security Council — are so opposed to sanctions that they will not even discuss the resolution. And China will now have a new excuse to weaken it further.

But the deeper meaning of the uranium-export stunt is the brazenness with which Brazil and Turkey gave cover to the mullahs’ nuclear ambitions and deliberately undermined U.S. efforts to curb Iran’s program.

The real news is that already notorious photo: the president of Brazil, our largest ally in Latin America, and the prime minister of Turkey, for more than half a century the Muslim anchor of NATO, raising hands together with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the most virulently anti-American leader in the world.

That picture — a defiant, triumphant take-that-Uncle-Sam — is a crushing verdict on the Obama foreign policy. It demonstrates how rising powers, traditional American allies, having watched this administration in action, have decided that there’s no cost in lining up with America’s enemies and no profit in lining up with a U.S. president given to apologies and appeasement.

They’ve watched President Obama’s humiliating attempts to appease Iran, as every rejected overture is met with abjectly renewed U.S. negotiating offers. American acquiescence reached such a point that the president was late, hesitant and flaccid in expressing even rhetorical support for democracy demonstrators who were being brutally suppressed and whose call for regime change offered the potential for the most significant U.S. strategic advance in the region in 30 years.

They’ve watched America acquiesce to Russia’s re-exerting sway over Eastern Europe, over Ukraine (pressured by Russia last month into extending for 25 years its lease of the Black Sea naval base at Sevastopol) and over Georgia (Russia’s de facto annexation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia is no longer an issue under the Obama “reset” policy).

They’ve watched our appeasement of Syria, Iran’s agent in the Arab Levant — sending our ambassador back to Syria even as it tightens its grip on Lebanon, supplies Hezbollah with Scuds and intensifies its role as the pivot of the Iran-Hezbollah-Hamas alliance. The price for this ostentatious flouting of the United States and its interests? Ever more eager U.S. “engagement.”

They’ve observed the administration’s gratuitous slap at Britain over the Falklands, its contemptuous treatment of Israel, its undercutting of the Czech Republic and Poland, and its indifference to Lebanon and Georgia. And in Latin America, they see not just U.S. passivity as Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez organizes his anti-American “Bolivarian” coalition while deepening military and commercial ties with Iran and Russia. They saw active U.S. support in Honduras for a pro-Chávez would-be dictator seeking unconstitutional powers in defiance of the democratic institutions of that country.

This is not just an America in decline. This is an America in retreat — accepting, ratifying and declaring its decline, and inviting rising powers to fill the vacuum.

Nor is this retreat by inadvertence. This is retreat by design and, indeed, on principle. It’s the perfect fulfillment of Obama’s adopted Third World narrative of American misdeeds, disrespect and domination from which he has come to redeem us and the world. Hence his foundational declaration at the U.N. General Assembly last September that “No one nation can or should try to dominate another nation” (guess who’s been the dominant nation for the last two decades?) and his dismissal of any “world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another.” (NATO? The West?)

Given Obama’s policies and principles, Turkey and Brazil are acting rationally. Why not give cover to Ahmadinejad and his nuclear ambitions? As the United States retreats in the face of Iran, China, Russia and Venezuela, why not hedge your bets? There’s nothing to fear from Obama, and everything to gain by ingratiating yourself with America’s rising adversaries. After all, they actually believe in helping one’s friends and punishing one’s enemies.

Charles Krauthammer, Washington Post


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Can Obama save his Afghanistan surge?

The countless red carpets rolled out for Hamid Karzai in Washington this week could not disguise an ugly emerging reality: So far, Barack Obama’s surge in Afghanistan isn’t working.

Yes, it’s early. As the president pointed out at his White House news conference with Karzai, only slightly more than half of the reinforcements he ordered to the country last December have arrived. They still have 14 months to make a difference before withdrawals are due to begin. But five months into the surge in Iraq in 2007, the evidence that it would succeed was already visible: Sectarian violence was dropping, Sunni tribes were turning against al-Qaeda and the Iraqi government was delivering on its promises.

In May 2010, it’s already pretty clear what will doom the Afghanistan campaign if nothing changes. Areas cleared by U.S. troops, such as Marja in Helmand province, are still not free of the Taliban — because no effective Afghan authority has emerged to take its place. In Kandahar, where a make-or-break offensive is getting underway, the chances of effective non-Taliban governance are being systematically undermined by assassinations as well as by Karzai’s refusal to remove his corrupt brother from his perch as a local power broker. At the moment, there appears to be no coherent political plan for the city.

Perhaps most disturbing, there is obvious discord among the U.S. and allied generals and diplomats who are supposed to be implementing Obama’s strategy. None of the multiple American civilians charged with doing business with Karzai appears to have his trust. Nor are they in sync with the top American military commander, Gen. Stanley McChrystal.

Despite avowals to the contrary, “the gap between the senior commanders on the ground and the political side has never been greater,” a senior Afghan told me.

Obama couldn’t avoid some of this mess. The lack of Afghan civilian capacity was always going to be the weak point of the counterinsurgency strategy. The problem starts with Karzai, who has little interest in constructing a modern government and has resisted U.S. efforts to build up provincial and local authorities.

“Karzai is not the leader of a modern state,” said the Afghan I spoke to. “He is not a commander in chief. He sees himself more as a mediator — and his personal aim is to stop the bloodshed.” Hence Karzai’s interest in negotiating with the Taliban — and arms-length approach to the Kandahar operation.

Obama compounded his Karzai problem by mishandling the Afghan leader until recently. After a year of coldness, he has now belatedly embraced the usual strategy for managing a weak client, which is to heap love on him in public and pragmatically push for deliverables in private. Whether it will work remains to be seen. The test will not be not so much what Karzai does but what he allows other Afghans to do in building working institutions at the national and local level.

What’s harder to understand is Obama’s failure to fix the dysfunctionality on the American side. A pivotal player here is Karl Eikenberry, the retired general Obama appointed as ambassador. Eikenberry’s relations with Karzai are bad; his relations with McChrystal may be even worse. Since January a steady stream of stories has documented their clashes over tactics, including Eikenberry’s opposition to the formation of local militias and quick development projects in Kandahar. Now they are at odds over how to respond to an Afghan request for an upgraded strategic partnership, including a U.S. security guarantee. Here’s another contrast with Iraq: There was no daylight between military commander David Petraeus and then-ambassador Ryan Crocker.

At a White House press briefing Monday, Eikenberry was put on the spot by a reporter who asked if he now believed that “President Karzai is an adequate strategic partner.” Incredibly, the ambassador refused to offer his personal endorsement to the man he is supposed to be working with. “President Obama has expressed his confidence in President Karzai and our work together,” he answered.

“Hamid Karzai is, for better or worse, the United States’ man in Kabul. He can be forgiven, though, for not knowing who his man is in the United States,” analyst Andrew Exum of the centrist Center for a New American Security wrote in a searing new critique of the administration’s civilian strategy. Exum, who sensibly proposed that Obama “settle upon one point person for dealing with the Afghan president,” asked: “Is either the ambassador in Kabul or the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan an effective interlocutor with Afghan policymakers? Is the U.S. Embassy in Kabul fully supporting the counterinsurgency campaign?”

The obvious answer to these questions — no — points to the first fix Obama must make if he is to save his surge.

Jackson Diehl, Washington Post


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A step closer to sanctions

America announces a deal with Russia and China, but the world is divided on how to deal with Iran

TWO leaders from two big regional powers, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil and Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, took a risk in travelling to Iran and negotiating over the country’s contentious nuclear programme. Surpassing low expectations, the two announced triumph on May 17th, clutching hands with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran’s president. But just a day later came the American response: the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, announced that the five veto-wielding members of the UN Security Council and Germany had agreed on a draft resolution extending sanctions on Iran, to be presented soon to the full council.

Under the Brazilian-Turkish deal, Iran would send 1,200 kg of its stockpile of low-enriched uranium to Turkey. In exchange it wants 120 kg of uranium enriched to a higher level (around 20%) for a research reactor which produces isotopes that can be used in medicine, within a year. In outline the deal is superficially similar to the one struck last October between France, Russia, Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), with American support. Under that plan, 1,200kg of low-enriched uranium (LEU) would have been sent to Russia for enrichment to 20%. The material would then have been sent on to France to be turned into fuel rods to be used in Iran’s medical reactor (which creates isotopes for use in treating cancer).

Iran backed out of that deal, demanding higher-enriched uranium immediately, and insisting any swap take place in Iran and that it should be limited to smaller quantities of the stuff. Now, Messrs Lula and Erdogan seem to have convinced Iran to give some ground on where and how quickly the enrichment would be done. With Iran’s apparent concessions in hand, the two mediating presidents now say there is no need for further sanctions from the UN Security Council (where both countries currently sit among the 15 members).

The permanent five Security Council members—America, Britain, France, Russia and China—obviously disagree, as Mrs Clinton lost no time in pointing out. The October fuel deal, however successfully revived by Brazil and Turkey, was meant, at the time, as a way of creating some breathing space to get Iran to do a broader deal that might eventually end the stand-off over its suspect nuclear work. But since Iran pulled out of the October deal it has gone on adding to its stock of LEU. As a result it would still have some 1,100 kg of the stuff after sending the other 1,200 kg to Turkey. Worse, it says it will continue enriching its own stock to 20%. Getting uranium from 20% enriched to the 90% or so needed for a bomb is an easier task than getting to 3.5% in the first place. Whatever trust Iran might have bought by doing the deal in October, it has bought a lot less this week.

Word at the UN has it that the sanctions package includes a full arms embargo, financial and shipping sanctions and further restrictions on Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. The permanent five will remind Iran that three sanctions resolutions have required that it suspend enrichment, not just send some of its reactor fuel abroad.

But the diplomatic picture has been clouded by the Brazilian-Turkish mission. A Security Council resolution requires 9 votes of 15 (with no veto from the permanent five). Lebanon is already publicly sceptical, and Gabon has called for a negotiated solution. Mexico may feel caught between its important American relationship and its regional partner and rival, Brazil. If the permanent five have to scrape for the nine votes needed, the signal they send is weakened. In any case, many Iran-watchers think that China has already enfeebled the resolution by opposing anything contrary to its own commercial interests, that UN action alone can do little to influence Iran.

Separately, America’s Congress is considering tougher sanctions that would clamp down on exports of refined petroleum products to Iran. But those who pin their hopes on Iran’s anti-regime “green movement” worry that such economy-wide pain will make ordinary Iranians rally round the flag. Barack Obama has been accused of stalling those bills in the name of buying time for his international diplomacy aimed at isolating Iran. But it now seems that Iran may have successfully repeated its old trick of confusing and dividing countries preparing to tighten the net around it.


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‘Nothing to Do but Kill and Wait’

An American bunker in the Korangal Valley, June 2008.

For five years American soldiers manned a series of outposts in what was perhaps the most hostile corner in all of Afghanistan. The place was the Korangal Valley, which unfolds beneath the crags and terraced ridges of Kunar Province about 25 miles from the border with Pakistan. The idea was to put Americans on the ground to intercept Taliban fighters who were passing through to fight in other parts of the country.

It worked, sort of: the Korangal became a magnet for insurgents, if not much else. Resident Korangalis loathed the Americans, whom they regarded as invaders. American soldiers got into firefights whenever they stepped outside the ramparts. Only six miles long, the Korangal Valley is a tiny place, yet 42 American soldiers have died in it.

Sebastian Junger, a contributing editor at Vanity Fair and the author of “The Perfect Storm,” spent months shadowing an American infantry platoon deployed in the valley between 2007 and 2008. The result is “War,” his absorbing and original if sometimes uneven account of his time there.

The best way to describe Junger’s book is to say what it is not. “War” does not attempt to explain the strategy behind the American war in Afghanistan, or the politics of Afghanistan, or even the people of the Korangal Valley. As the action unfolds, Junger makes no attempt to connect it to anything else happening inside the country.

Instead, he uses the platoon (the second of Battle Company, part of the 173rd Airborne Brigade) as a kind of laboratory to examine the human condition as it evolved under the extraordinary circumstances in which these soldiers fought and lived. And what a laboratory it is. The men of Second Platoon are young, heavily armed and crammed together inside a tiny mountain outpost supplied by helicopter and surrounded by enemies determined to get inside. Indeed, there aren’t many places on earth where such intense and bizarre circumstances could be duplicated.

Junger starts with the place itself. “The Korangal Valley,” he explains, “is sort of the Afghanistan of Afghanistan: too ­remote to conquer, too poor to intimidate, too autonomous to buy off.” Second Platoon’s job, as with the rest of Battle Company, was to kill insurgents and, with whatever time they had left over, persuade the Korangalis they were friends. It was a hopeless task. During the time of its tour, Battle Company, a mere 150 out of 70,000 NATO troops, was experiencing a fifth of the combat taking place in the entire country.

At one level, Junger’s book is a chronicle of Second Platoon’s days. He takes us up the mountains, along the valley floor, on helo-lifts, into firefights. We sit with the men in their bunks — infested with fleas and tarantulas — and we listen to their low-grade (and sometimes hilarious) ­philosophizing as they pass the hours.

Junger captures some nice moments. Here is one, some months into the tour: “As the deployment wore on and they got pushed farther into enemy territory it was sometimes hard to tell you were even looking at American soldiers. They wore their trousers unbloused from their boots and tied amulets around their necks and shuffled around the outpost in flip-flops jury-rigged from the packing foam used in missile crates. Toward the end of their tour they’d go through entire firefights in nothing but gym shorts and unlaced boots, cigarettes hanging out of their lips.”

And here is Lt. Col. Bill Ostlund, the battalion’s commander, instantly recognizable to anyone who has spent time in Iraq or Afghanistan, “seemingly immune to heartbreak, way more knowledgable than most of the press corps that came through and capable of working 18 hours a day for 15 months straight,” Junger writes: “He had such full-on enthusiasm for what he was doing that when I was around him I sometimes caught myself feeling bad that there wasn’t an endeavor of equivalent magnitude in my own life.”

But Junger is aiming for more than just a boots-on-the-ground narrative of the travails of American fighting men. As the book’s grandiose title suggests (along with its three sections, “Fear,” “Killing” and “Love” ), “War” strives to offer not just a picture of American fighting men but a discourse on the nature of war itself. This is no small ambition, and while Junger offers some incisive insights he does not always fulfill his larger goals.

At times, Junger appears to use virtually every moment in the Korangal as the occasion for an extended riff. He tells us what happens to a soldier’s body: levels of cortisol, a hormone associated with stress, actually drop in trained soldiers during combat. He tells us about the unusual physics of fighting in the Korangal: you can see a gunshot but not have enough time to move before it hits you. He even tells us about the odor emitted by the men as their tour drags on: they reek of ammonia because their fat is gone and their bodies are burning muscle.

And he writes some beautiful sentences about this ugly world. Here he is on Second Platoon’s outpost. “It’s a miraculous kind of anti­paradise up here: heat and dust and tarantulas and flies and no women and no running water and no cooked food and nothing to do but kill and wait.” Junger has found a novel and interesting lens through which to view the conflict in Afghanistan, and he captures many things a lesser writer might miss.

But he pays a price for it. For one thing, the characters of Second Platoon sometimes disappear in Junger’s digressions. Apart from the group’s tough but vulnerable noncommissioned officer Sgt. Brendan O’Byrne, none of the men of the platoon come to life for very long. And for all the discussion of combat, there isn’t enough of it in the book to sustain Junger’s discussion. There’s too much telling, not enough showing. The result is that for all its closeness to the men in the field, “War” lacks the emotional power it might have had if its characters had been described in more depth. Junger risked his life to be with the men of Battle Company’s Second Platoon, but I would have liked to have heard a little more from them and a little less from Junger himself.

“War” ends with Second Platoon, after 15 months and too many of its members killed or wounded, packing up and dispersing. Sergeant O’Byrne has a full-on mental collapse, as the release from mortal combat proves too much for him to bear.

But perhaps the most poignant moment for the men of Battle Company occurred after “War” went to press. In April, the United States Army closed its bases in the Korangal Valley and sent the soldiers to other places. After five years of fighting and dying, American commanders decided the valley wasn’t worth the fight. War indeed.

Dexter Filkins is a foreign correspondent for The Times. He shared a Pulitzer Prize in 2009 for reporting from Pakistan and Afghanistan.


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The Ghosts of Gandamak

THE name Gandamak means little in the West today. Yet this small Afghan village was once famous for the catastrophe that took place there during the First Anglo-Afghan War in January 1842, arguably the greatest humiliation ever suffered by a Western army in the East.

The course of that distant Victorian war followed a trajectory that is beginning to seem distinctly familiar. In 1839, the British invaded Afghanistan on the basis of dubious intelligence about a nonexistent threat: information about a single Russian envoy to Kabul, the Afghan capital, was manipulated by a group of ambitious hawks to create a scare about a phantom Russian invasion, thus bringing about an unnecessary, expensive and wholly avoidable conflict.

Initially, the British conquest proved remarkably easy and bloodless; Kabul was captured within a few months and a pliable monarch, Shah Shuja, placed on the throne. Then an insurgency began which unraveled that first heady success, first among the Pashtuns of Kandahar and Helmand, then slowly moving northward until it reached the capital.

What happened next is a warning of how bad things could yet become: a full-scale rebellion against the British broke out in Kabul, and the two most senior British envoys were murdered, making the British occupation impossible to sustain. On the disastrous retreat that followed, as many as 18,000 East India Company troops and maybe half again as many Indian camp followers (estimates vary), were slaughtered by Afghan marksmen waiting in ambush amid the snow drifts and high passes, shot down as they trudged through the icy depths of the Afghan winter.

The last 50 or so survivors made their final stand at Gandamak. As late as the 1970s, fragments of Victorian weaponry could be found lying in the screes above the village; even today, the hill is covered with bleached British bones. Only one man, Thomas Souter, lived to tell the tale. It is a measure of the increasingly pertinent parallels between the events of 1842 and today’s that one of the main NATO bases in Afghanistan is named Camp Souter.

For the Victorian British, Gandamak became a symbol of the country’s greatest ever imperial defeat, as well as a symbol of gallantry: William Barnes Wollen’s celebrated painting of the Last Stand of the 44th Foot — a group of ragged but determined British soldiers standing in a circle behind their bayonets as the Pashtun tribesmen close in — was one of the era’s most famous images.

For the Afghans themselves, Gandamak became a symbol of freedom, and their determination to refuse to be controlled by any foreign power. It is again no accident that the diplomatic quarter of Kabul is named after the Afghan resistance leader who oversaw the British defeat at Gandamak, Wazir Akbar Khan.

A week or so ago, while doing research for a book on the disaster of 1842, I only narrowly avoided the fate of my Victorian compatriots.

Gandamak backs onto the mountain range that leads to Tora Bora and the Pakistan border, an area that has always been a Taliban center. I was trying to follow the route of the British retreat, but had been advised not to attempt to visit the Gandamak area without local protection. So I set off in the company of a local tribal leader who is also a sports minister in the Karzai government, Anwar Khan Jigdalek. A mountain of a man, Anwar Khan is a former wrestling champion who made his name as the mujaheddin commander against the Soviet Union in the 1980s.

We left Kabul — past the blast walls of the NATO barracks that were built on the very site of the British cantonment of 170 years ago — and headed into the line of bleak mountain passes that link Kabul with the Khyber Pass. At Sarobi we left the main road, and moved into Taliban territory; five trucks full of Anwar Khan’s old mujaheddin comrades, all brandishing rocket-propelled grenades, appeared to escort us.

At Jigdalek, on the 12th of January, 1842, 200 frostbitten British soldiers found themselves surrounded by several thousand Pashtun tribesmen. The two highest-ranking British soldiers were taken hostage. It was 50 of those infantrymen who later managed to break out under cover of darkness to make the final passage to Gandamak. Our own welcome to the village was, thankfully, somewhat warmer.

It was Anwar Khan’s first visit to his home since he had become a minister, and the villagers treated us to a feast, Mughal style, in an apricot orchard. We sat on carpets next to bubbling irrigation runnels, under a trellis of vine and pomegranate blossoms, as course after course of kebabs and mulberry-scented rice were laid in front of us.

It was nearly 5 p.m. before the final pieces of naan bread were cleared away, and our hosts decided it was too late to head on to Gandamak. Instead, we went that evening to the nearest big city, Jalalabad, where we discovered that we’d had a narrow escape: there had been a huge battle at Gandamak that day between government forces and a group of villagers and Taliban fighters. Our gluttony had saved us from driving straight into an ambush.

The battle had taken place on exactly the site of the British last stand. In Afghanistan, imperial history seems to be repeating itself with almost uncanny precision.

The following morning I attended a jirga, or assembly of tribal elders, to which the graybeards of Gandamak had come, under a flag of truce, to discuss what had happened the day before. The story was typical of all I had heard about the current government, and revealed how a mixture of corruption and incompetence had helped give an opening for the return of the once-hated Taliban.

The elders related how the previous year, government troops had turned up to destroy the opium harvest. The troops promised the villagers full compensation, and were allowed to burn the crops; but the money never came. Before the planting season, the villagers again went to Jalalabad and asked the government if they could be provided with assistance to grow other crops. Promises were made; again nothing was delivered.

So, desperate, the villagers planted poppies, informing the local authorities that if anyone tried to burn the crop, they would have no option but to resist: they had children to feed. When the troops turned up, about the same time as we were arriving at Jigdalek, the villagers were waiting for them, and had called in the local Taliban to assist. In the fighting that followed, we were told, nine policemen were killed, six vehicles were destroyed and 10 police hostages taken.

Ever since, I’ve been thinking about the close parallels between the fix that NATO now faces in Afghanistan, and that faced by the British more than 150 years ago. Then as now, the problem is not hatred of the West, per se, so much as a dislike of foreign troops ordering people around in their own country.

There has always been an absolute refusal by the Afghans to be ruled by foreigners, or to accept any government perceived as being imposed on them. Then as now, the puppet ruler installed by the West has proved inadequate for the job: simultaneously corrupt and weak, and forced to turn on his puppeteers in order to retain a fragment of legitimacy in the eyes of his people.

Then as now, there have been few tangible signs of improvement under the Western-backed regime: despite the billions of dollars sent to Afghanistan, Kabul’s streets are still more rutted than those in the smallest provincial towns of Pakistan. There is little health care: for any serious medical problem, patients have to fly to India.

Then as now, the presence of large numbers of well-paid foreign troops has caused the cost of food and provisions to rise, and living standards to fall; Afghans feel they are getting poorer, not richer. Then as now, there has been an attempt at a last show of force in order to save face before withdrawal. As in 1842, this year’s surge has achieved little except civilian casualties, further alienating the Afghans.

It is not, however, too late to learn some lessons from the mistakes of the British in 1842. Then, the British officials in Kabul continued to send out dispatches of delusional optimism as the insurgents moved ever closer to Kabul. Those officials believed there was a straightforward military solution to the problem, and that if only they could recruit enough Afghans to their army, they could eventually march home and leave the pliable regime in place. By the time they realized they had to negotiate and reach a compromise with their enemy, their power had ebbed too far, and the only thing the insurgents were willing to talk about was an unconditional surrender.

Today, too, there is no easy military solution to Afghanistan: even if we proceed with the current plan to spend billions equipping an Afghan Army of half a million troops, that force will never be able to guarantee security or shore up such a discredited regime. Every day, despite the military muscle of the United States, the security gets worse, and the area under government control contracts.

The only answer is to negotiate a political solution while we still have enough power to do so — which in some form or other means talking with the Taliban. Otherwise, we may yet be faced with a replay of 1842. George Lawrence, a veteran of that war, issued a prescient warning in The Times of London just before Britain blundered into the Second Anglo-Afghan War in the 1870s. “A new generation has arisen which, instead of profiting from the solemn lessons of the past, is willing and eager to embroil us in the affairs of that turbulent and unhappy country,” he wrote. “Although military disasters may be avoided, an advance now, however successful in a military point of view, would not fail to turn out to be as politically useless.”

William Dalrymple, the author of the forthcoming “Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India,” is writing a book on the First Anglo-Afghan War.


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Pakistan Is Fighting Terror

But U.S. drone attacks continue to radicalize its citizens.

Once again a terrorist attack, albeit a failed one, has brought Pakistan under the microscope. Faisal Shahzad, the Pakistani-American arrested in connection with the Times Square bomb plot, is less American than he is Pakistani so the focus on Pakistan is not unwarranted. But caricaturing my country as the epicenter of global terrorism is not just misleading, but dangerous.

No one knows Pakistan’s problems better than the Pakistanis that endure them on a daily basis. Since 2006, almost 10,000 Pakistanis have been killed by terrorists. The toll that terror is taking cannot be measured in dead bodies alone. Pakistan’s economy has virtually tanked—with annual GDP growth falling to under 3% in 2009 from almost 8% in 2005—and capital is fleeing. Our dysfunctional government has had to free up more money for an already overbearing military as it takes on terrorists in the tribal regions bordering Afghanistan.

It is fair to say that this fight is the price Pakistan has to pay for its own sins: The problem of terrorism should never have been allowed to take root in those regions. But it’s also fair to say that terrorism has an international dimension. America’s own role in stoking Islamic fanaticism during the 1980s to whip up a counter-Communist front in the region is well documented. The fundamentalist ideology and petrodollars imported to Pakistan from Gulf states like Saudi Arabia have also fueled the current situation.

Wide-scale military operations against terrorists in Pakistan have been going on for years. Financed—and at times enforced—by Pakistan’s partners in this global war on terror, such operations are killing some terrorists. But they are also helping to create new ones. It doesn’t take a genius to understand that killing innocent people makes enemies, not friends.

About one-third of those killed in the drone attacks that the CIA and U.S. Special Operations conduct in Pakistan are innocent civilians.

But the damage caused by the drone attacks is less devastating than the innocent civilian deaths and the destruction of property caused by Pakistani military operations. On April 10, 61 Pakistanis were killed in air strikes conducted by Pakistani jets. The army apologized for what it acknowledged as a mistake, but we can’t possibly know how many such mistakes are being made because access to these areas is restricted. Innocent civilian deaths in the war on terror are already being cited as a prime motivator for Shahzad’s attack on Times Square.

Americans have legitimate concerns about Pakistan. And though we Pakistanis have done so much already, we need to continue to press our government to do more. But labeling Pakistan as a villain and ground zero of Islamist terror doesn’t help.

Eight years of drone attacks, artillery bombardment, and “precision” air strikes in Pakistan may have helped radicalize Shahzad, but they certainly did not prevent him from getting from Connecticut, to Pakistan, to Times Square and then to JFK Airport. Who caught the terrorist? The NYPD and FBI did. Until Pakistan develops a civilian infrastructure that enjoys the kind of confidence New Yorkers invest in New York’s finest, Pakistan’s problems will continue to threaten people far beyond its borders.

Most Pakistanis may not be enamored with the United States, but they are on the same side as Americans. Pakistanis are victims of terror, and they are trying to fight it.

Mr. Zaidi, a columnist for the News (Pakistan) and Al-Shorouk (Egypt), has advised governments and international organizations on how to deliver aid in Pakistan and Afghanistan.


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Lessons From Another ‘Long War’

The British stood their ground when they were under terror siege.

New York remains on high alert. There is virtually no one here who does not understand that we and Washington are what we were on Sept. 11 almost nine years ago: the main and primary targets. Last weekend’s events in Times Square demonstrated again that our enemies are persistent and focused if not, in the case of Faisal Shahzad and, 4½ months ago, of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the would-be underwear bomber, very good at murdering. They both appear to have been wayward sons of their nations’ establishments—Shahzad’s father was a retired vice marshal of Pakistan’s air force, Abdulmutallab’s a prominent Nigerian banker—and essentially stupid. But they will be followed by others who are not so hapless.

New Yorkers the past week have discussed all this with appropriate concern. We speak of who Shahzad is—how they found him, how they lost him, how they caught him—and of the sturdy T-shirt salesman, the mounted cop, the airport screener who spotted his name. We speculate about what happened in the moments before Shahzad, his keys still in the car, fled Times Square. But there is no air of panic; we knew we were a target, we have absorbed this information, factored it in, included it as a fact of our lives and concluded there’s little we can do about it. “If you see something, say something” as we’ve all memorized from buses and train stations.

The only time we feel a sharp edge of anxiety is when we’re between stations deep down in the subway. But even there—about five years ago, during another terror alert, anxious plainclothes policemen stormed onto our uptown subway at 42nd Street, holding the doors open with their bodies. They were breathless: Were there any unclaimed bags on this train? Look under your seats! A woman saw what looked like a full grocery bag. “Is this yours?” “No, give it to the cops.” “Is it yours?” “What’s in it?” A man’s voice rose from the middle of the jammed car, aimed at the police. “Take the blankin’ bag and close the blankin’ door, we’re goin’ home.” Pretty much everyone laughed and clapped, and the cops grabbed the bag and were gone.

Even in terror alerts, the practical trumps the abstract. We’re hungry, take your bomb, we’re going home.

But we are at this point in phase two of the long war, not the harrowing years just after 9/11 and the anthrax attacks. And here it may be instructive to look at the experience of another great nation that faced a long terror siege.

Britain faced a quarter-century of terror bombings from the Irish Republican Army, which literally calling its campaign “the long war.” But the IRA found itself up against a particular spirit, a national attitude that isn’t remembered enough or lauded enough. We see some of it in these words: “There is no excuse for the IRA’s reign of terror. If there violence were, as the misleading phrase often has it, ‘mindless,’ it would be easier to grasp as the manifestation of a disordered psyche. But that is not what terrorism is, however many psychopaths may be attracted to it. Terrorism is the calculated use of violence—and the threat of it—to achieve political ends.” That is Margaret Thatcher. More on her in a moment.

In the 1970s, the IRA weapon of choice was the car bomb. They used them to hit Belfast’s main shopping center in July 1972, killing nine and leaving 130 wounded. There were many bombings and assassinations, most famously Lord Louis Mountbatten and three others in August 1979. Meanwhile the IRA broadened its campaign in England. At first they bombed pubs. In Birmingham in November 1974, they killed 21 civilians and injured 162. In the early 1990s, they bombed the City of London, Canary Wharf, Manchester; in a bombing attack in the town of Warrington they wounded 50 people and killed, among others, a 12-year-old boy and a 3-year-old shopping with his family. By the end of their terror campaign, they’d injured more than 2,000 civilians and killed more than 100.

What helped the Brits through the long haul? Their particular nature as a people. The great English journalist Harold Evans, editor of the Sunday Times at the time of the Birmingham bombings, says, “I hate to use the word stoicism, but its true.” There is “a dominant British characteristic” that involves “understatement and irony.” Mr. Evans adds that “history counts in people’s lives.” He, and those who were leading Britain in those days, “grew up in the war and the fantastic pride invoked by Churchill. All societies have underlying currents of feeling. With the British one is tolerance, and the other is pride in British achievements, a universal acknowledgment . . . that we were a diminished empire but a great people.”

Also unshaken, “the British pride in their tolerance, their respect for fair play,” Mr. Evans says. “When the bombs started in Britain, my recollection is that there wasn’t any huge upsurge of feeling against the Irish.” There was some fury with America, “because America was supplying the guns” to the IRA, as was Moammar Gadhafi’s Libya. In the end the English saw the Americans as “deceived by the IRA.” Those who are indifferent to the special relationship might remember what the British not long ago suffered for it.

After he left office in 1974, former British prime minister Edward Heath was the target of two assassination attempts. The IRA bombed his London home while he was away—haplessness among terrorists did not start in Times Square—and tried to blow up his car. But in October 1984 they got close to killing a sitting prime minister. In Margaret Thatcher’s memoir, “The Downing Street Years,” she recounts with understatement and precision the bombing of the Grand Hotel in Brighton.

She was up late working on a speech. “At 2:50 a.m. Robin Butler asked me to look at one last official paper—it was about the Liverpool Garden festival.” Four minutes later “a loud thud shook the room. . . . I knew immediately that it was a bomb.” It had been placed above her suite, which was now strewn with glass. She made her way, covered in plaster dust, out of the hotel, met with aides, slept in her clothes for an hour at a police facility, woke to the news reports—five dead, including a cabinet minister’s wife—and turned to her remarks to the Tory party conference. “I was already determined that if it was physically possible to do so I would deliver my speech.” Urged to return to No. 10 Downing, she said, “No: I am staying.”

“I knew that I could not afford to let my emotions get control of me. I had to be mentally and physically fit for the day ahead. I tried not to watch the harrowing pictures. But it did not do any good. I had to know each detail of what had happened—and every detail seemed worse than the last.”

Contemporary politicians, please note: In the rewrite of her speech, Mrs. Thatcher removed “most of the partisan sections.” This “was not a time for Labour-bashing but for unity in defense of democracy.”

After she delivered it, the “ovation was colossal.” “All of us were relieved to be alive, saddened by the tragedy and determined to show the terrorists that they could not break our spirits.”

Harold Evans remembered it. “That day she was wonderful. She truly was the iron lady.”

I wonder if David Cameron will be anything like her.

Peggy Noonan, Wall Street Journal


Full article:

The Memoirs of a German Jihadist

Eric Breininger’s Death


“My Path to Paradise”: The cover of a German jihadist’s memoirs.

It is a document from the heart of the jihad: Eric Breininger, a German homegrown terrorist recently killed in Pakistan, worked on his memoirs until just days before his death. On Wednesday, the document was posted on the Internet.

“So much is written and said about me, with my given name Eric Breininger. The Internet and the media are full of it, but most of it is made up and lies.”

So begin the memoirs of Eric Breininger, the German jihadist who was killed by Pakistani soldiers in the border region of Waziristan at the end of April. His autobiography was posted on the Internet on Wednesday.

Right from the first pages, it seems as though Breininger, who went by the name Abdul Gaffar Almani, knew that death was near. “Even as this work is being composed, I am not sure that it will ever be completed, as we find ourselves at war.” The appendix, written by a comrade, makes it clear that Breininger worked on his memoirs until just a few days prior to his death.

Breininger called his memoirs “My Path to Jenna,” using the Arabic word for “paradise.” And it is an impressive document, offering a detailed look into militant jihadism. It is an account of the day-to-day life of radical Islamists fighting in the Hindu Kush and an intimate look at the thoughts of a radical who is certain he is in the right.

Breininger was an associate of the so-called Sauerland Cel, a group of German radicals who plotted to bomb US targets in Germany in 2007. Confessions from that group have provided an excellent source for insights into German jihadists fighting in the border regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Breininger’s autobiography sheds even more light on their activities and thoughts.

A Sweeping Document

The authenticity of the document has not yet been verified, but there are many indications that it is genuine. It was posted on a well-known Jihadist website and the appendix includes a photo allegedly of Breininger’s corpse. Furthermore, the document includes details that could only be known by Breininger and which are partially confirmed by other sources.

Still, there is room for doubt. The text is relatively clean and well-written and includes numerous footnotes — a departure from the somewhat sloppy style of the propaganda videos Breininger made for the Islamic Jihad Union. German security officials are currently evaluating the text. One possible explanation for the more professional style is that it could have been narrated by Breininger but taken down by a second party. Nevertheless, it is seen as likely that the text originates with the German jihadist — thus making it a document of great interest for German intelligence.

It is a sweeping document that Breininger has left behind. It starts with his first existential questions as a teenager and his initial meetings with a devout Muslim, who eventually convinced him to convert. It provides a look at his rapid radicalization, his path to the battlefield and his residence in the house occupied by a suicide bomber brigade. It includes scenes from his participation in battles against the “kuffar,” the infidels.

“I had only been in Islam for four months,” he wrote of the final weeks of his life in Germany in the summer of 2007. “Still, I knew my duty. I wanted to join the jihad…. We followed the events which were unfolding in the regions of jihad and watched films of mujahedeen battling the crusaders…. Hate of the kuffar grew in me,” he writes.

‘Deeply Unhappy’

By then, Daniel Schneider — a recently-sentenced member of the Sauerland Cell with whom Breininger briefly lived — knew the group was under observation. He sent Breininger out of the country, as the new book confirms. The young German visited a language school in Egypt, where he was visited by the German-Lebanese Hussain al-Mallah, who himself had just returned from an unsuccessful trip to the Hindu Kush battlegrounds. He encouraged Breininger, who then travelled himself to Waziristan, ending up in a training camp run by the Islamic Jihad Union.

His descriptions of the training he received are largely similar to those provided by other members of the Sauerland Cell. But he is open about the difficulties he faced. “After a time, I was deeply unhappy because I had nobody to talk to. There was nothing left for me but to stay patient, clench my teeth and complete the training.”

Breininger’s loneliness resulted in part from the fact that his friend al-Mullah left the IJU shortly after arriving, a detail that was unknown prior to the posting of Breininger’s memoirs. Al-Mullah was never mentioned again in the work. The assumption made by German intelligence services that the two friends spent much of the last three years together will now likely have to be revised.

Breininger writes that he was moved out of the suicide bomber house after several months. “These brothers were pearls,” the young German writes. Two of his acquaintances had since carried out suicide missions, resulting in, writes Breininger, “a drastic increase in the number of Muslims who want to carry out suicide bombings.”

Attacked by Fighter Jets

He himself received further training in the use of heavy weapons and took part in “numerous operations,” he writes. Some of them merit description, such as an attack on an unidentified “infidel base.” “When everything was ready, we waited for the order from Amir and then launched the first rockets. The kuffar attacked us with fighter jets.” Fighters from the Taliban and even al-Qaida were fighting alongside Breininger.

Breininger repeatedly indicated that he was lonely, mostly due to the language barrier. “I miss the opportunity to share my thoughts or simply that a brother gives me his support after a difficult day,” he writes. He was ecstatic when the IJU head told him that further German jihadists had been trained.

It is here where Breininger solves a riddle that has plagued German intelligence since the fall of 2009, when a group calling itself the German Taliban Mujahedeen first appeared and threatened Germany with attacks. The group of Germans trained by the IJU preferred to fight under the Taliban, leading to Breininger’s leaving the IJU and joining them. “The Taliban allowed us to create a sub-group. At the beginning, we were six brothers and founded the German Taliban Mujahedeen…. The group was to provide a home for all German-speaking Muslims who come here from all over the world … to fight.” It is, he claimed, the first German jihad group in the world and has grown steadily, even including “families with children.”

Breininger had plans of his own as well. He wanted to become a trainer, he writes. And he wanted to marry — an Arabic-speaking woman. He writes that it would be good were unmarried women to make their way to the Hindu Kush as there were many single fighters at the front.

‘Sow Terror in Their Hearts’

Just how rambling and radical Breininger is, despite his efforts in the book to appear thoughtful, becomes apparent in the last passage of his memoirs. The children present in the group’s camp would, he writes, “with Allah’s permission,” become “a very special group of terrorists that appear in no database or list created by the enemies of Allah. They would speak the language of the enemy, they would know their customs and traditions and because of their appearance could easily disguise themselves and thus easily infiltrate the countries of the kuffar … where they could carry out one operation after another against the enemies of Allah and sow terror in their hearts.”

It marks the end of a long path from a German youth trying to find his way — one who went to parties, drank alcohol and had a girlfriend. Breininger writes at the beginning of his autobiography, “I lived exactly the kind of life that every young person in the West wants to live. But I couldn’t see any meaning.”

Despite being full of pseudo-religious passages penned primarily for propaganda purposes, Breininger’s memoirs are important for the insight they provide into a world that would otherwise be difficult to understand. But one question remains unanswered: Why the jihad represents an answer to the search for meaning in life. Breininger’s death, his comrades write in the appendix, came after being fired on by soldiers. He was hit by several bullets, they write.

The day after the battle, the mujahedeen retrieved his body and laid him to rest.


Full article and photo:,1518,693216,00.html

A New Openness to Discussing Allied War Crimes in WWII

D-Day may have been the beginning of the end of Germany’s campaign of horror during World War II. But a new book by British historian Antony Beevor makes it clear that the “greatest generation” wasn’t above committing a few war crimes of its own.

It was the first crime William E. Jones had ever committed, which was probably why he could still remember it well so many years later. He and other soldiers in the 4th Infantry Division had captured a small hill. “It was pretty rough,” Jones later wrote, describing the bloody battle.

At some point, the GIs lost all self-control. As Jones wrote: “(The Germans) were baffled and they were crazy. There were quite a few of them still in their foxholes. Then I saw quite a few of them shot right in the foxholes. We didn’t take prisoners and there was nothing to do but kill them, and we did, and I had never shot one like that. Even our lieutenant did and some of the non coms (non-commissioned officers).”


Allied forces bringing in troops and equipment at Omaha Beach after it was conquered in bloody fighting on D-Day. At daybreak on June 6, the Americans, British and their allies launched “Operation Overlord,” the biggest amphibious landing of all time.

August 9, 1944. US infantrymen make their way past a wrecked German truck on the way to Avranches during the Allied invasion of Normandy. During the operation, Allied and German troops fought each other in one of the fiercest battles of World War II, first on the beaches and then in the countryside of Normandy.

US soldiers helping comrades ashore on Utah Beach, June 6. More than 250,000 soldiers and civilians were killed or wounded in the Normandy campaign, and Normandy itself was ravaged.

June 1944: German prisoners being marched through Cherbourg, after the liberation of the town. British historian Antony Beevor’s newest book, “D-Day: The Battle for Normandy,” addresses a subject that is currently a matter of much debate among experts. Some scholars say Allied soldiers committed war crimes in Normandy to a much greater extent than was previously realized. Beevor extensively quotes reports and memoirs of those who took part in the invasion, many of whom state that American, British and Canadian troops killed German POWs and wounded soldiers.

July 1944: German prisoners from Cherbourg behind a barbed wire fence somewhere in England. For German apologists, accounts of Allied war crimes shouldn’t be something to make them feel better about their own side’s behavior. In fact, although the extent of Allied war crimes may have been greater than previously known, it cannot be compared with the scope of German crimes against civilians. For example, shooting innocent hostages was part of the German strategy for fighting the French partisans who struck out after D-Day. Up to 16,000 French citizens — men, women and children — fell victim to the terror of the Wehrmacht and the SS


The dead will most likely never be identified by name, but one thing is clear: The victims of this war crime were German soldiers killed in Normandy in the summer of 1944.

At daybreak on June 6, the Americans, British and their allies launched “Operation Overlord,” the biggest amphibious landing of all time. During the operation, Allied and German troops fought each other in one of the fiercest battles of World War II, first on the beaches and then in the countryside of Normandy. When it was over, more than 250,000 soldiers and civilians had been killed or wounded, and Normandy itself was ravaged.

The Only Good German Is a Dead German

There is no shortage of books on the Battle of Normandy, which also goes by the name of D-Day. And the same can be said about films, such as Steven Spielberg’s award-winning film “Saving Private Ryan,” which was a global success. Indeed, it would almost seem that everything that could be said about the battle has been said.

Still, that didn’t deter British historian and best-selling author Antony Beevor from taking another stab at the material. While conducting research for his newest book, “D-Day: The Battle for Normandy,” Beevor stumbled upon something that is currently a matter of much debate among experts. If some of these scholars are correct, Allied soldiers committed war crimes in Normandy to a much greater extent than was previously realized.

Beevor extensively quotes reports and memoirs of those who took part in the invasion, many of whom state that American, British and Canadian troops killed German POWs and wounded soldiers. They also reportedly used soldiers belonging to the German Wehrmacht or Waffen SS as human shields and forced them to walk through minefields.

For example, one recounts the tale of a private named Smith, who was fighting with the 79th US Infantry Division. Smith allegedly discovered a room full of wounded Germans in a fortification while he was drunk on Calvados, a local apple brandy. According to the official report: “Declaring to all and sundry that the only good German was a dead one, Smith made good Germans out of several of them before he could be stopped.”

In another account, Staff Sergeant Lester Zick reportedly encountered an American soldier on a white horse who was herding 11 prisoners in front of him. He called out to Zick and his men and told them that the prisoners were all Poles, except for two Germans. Then, according to Zick, the soldier took out his pistol “and shot both of them in the back of the head. And we just stood there.”

Beevor also quotes John Troy, a soldier with the 8th Infantry Division, who writes of finding the body of an American officer the Germans had tied up and killed because he had been caught carrying a captured German P-38 pistol. Troy describes his reaction in the following way: “When I saw that, I said no souvenirs for me. But, of course, we did it too when we caught (Germans) with American cigarettes on them, or American wristwatches they had on their arms.”

Rage and Violence

The issue of war crimes is an incredibly sensitive one. But, in this case, the evidence is overwhelming.

Given the high number of casualties they suffered, Allied paratroopers were particularly determined to exact bloody revenge. Near one village, Audouville-la-Hubert, they massacred 30 captured Wehrmacht soldiers in a single killing spree.

On the beaches, soldiers in an engineering brigade had to protect German prisoners from enraged paratroopers from the 101st Airborne Division, who shouted: “Turn those prisoners over to us. Turn them over to us. We know what to do to them.”

When the same LSTs (landing ship tanks) were used to evacuate both German POWs and Allied wounded, the wounded attacked the Germans, and it was only through the intervention of a pharmacist’s mate that nothing more serious happened.

A New Approach to Writing History

Beevor frequently quotes from personal memoirs of Allied soldiers that have been available to historians for years. But could it be that they were ignored by them until now because they didn’t support the image of the “greatest generation,” the term that Americans have liked to use to describe their victorious soldiers from 1945? It would seem that no shadows were to be cast on the war that gave the Americans, in particular, the moral right to have a say in shaping Europe’s postwar future as well as creating the practical conditions for it to do so.

Still, that approach has recently been revised. In his 2007 book “The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1934-1944” Pulitzer Prize-winning author Rick Atkinson described various war crimes committed by the Allies. And now we have the same thing with Normandy.

Beevor primarily attributes the Allied crimes to the epic ferocity of the battles. The Germans themselves called it a “dirty bush war,” a reference to the bushes and hedgerows, ranging in height between one and three meters (three and ten feet), used to demarcate the fields in Normandy’s bocage landscape.

Indeed, Normandy’s terrain is ideally suited for ambushes and booby traps. For example, German units stretched thin steel cables across roads at head level, so that when an American Jeep came roaring down the road, its driver and passengers would be decapitated. They also attached hand grenades to the dog tags of dead GIs, so that anyone who tried to remove the dog tags was blown up. Likewise, it is an established fact that German soldiers, and particularly those in the Waffen SS, shot prisoners.

Allied Behavior Doesn’t Forgive Germany ‘s

The artillery fire from both sides and the Allied bombing attacks transformed Normandy into a moonscape. Beevor writes about soldiers who huddled in the craters screaming and weeping, while others walked around as if in a trance picking flowers in the midst of explosions. Indeed, American physicians reported 30,000 cases of combat neurosis among their troops alone.

In a letter to his family in Minnesota, a US infantryman wrote that he had never hated anything quite as much, adding: “And it’s not because of some blustery speech of a brass hat.”

But such “blustery speeches” did exist. According to the findings of German historian Peter Lieb, many Canadian and American units were given orders on D-Day to take no prisoners. If true, that might help explain the mystery of how only 66 of the 130 Germans the Americans took prisoner on Omaha Beach made it to collecting points for the captured on the beach.

It is also conspicuous that the Allies rarely captured members of the Waffen SS. Was it because the members of this organization — with its Totenkopf (death’s head) insignia — had sworn allegiance to Hitler until death and often fought to the last man? Or did the Allied propaganda about the SS have its desired effect on soldiers? “Many of them probably deserved to be shot in any case and know it,” a British XXX Corps report bluntly stated.

Of course, for German apologists, this new information shouldn’t be something to make them feel better about their own side’s behavior. In fact, although the extent of Allied war crimes may have been greater than previously known, it cannot be compared with the scope of German crimes against civilians. For example, shooting innocent hostages was part of the German strategy for fighting the French partisans who struck out after D-Day. Up to 16,000 French citizens — men, women and children — fell victim to the terror of the Wehrmacht and the SS.


Full article and photos:,1518,692037,00.html

Court Puts Pressure on Germany to Open Adolf Eichmann Files

Guilty — Adolf Eichmann during his trial in Jerusalem in 1961.

Germany’s secret service has lost a court battle to keep secret thousands of potentially embarrassing files on Nazi criminal Adolf Eichmann. Even though it remains unclear when and how many of the files will be opened, the ruling sets a precedent that could force Germany to reveal the full extent of collusion between West German authorities and fugitive Nazis half a century ago.

A German court has ruled against a decision by the country’s foreign intelligence service, the BND, to keep classified thousands of files on Adolf Eichmann, one of the main organizers of the Holocaust.

A German freelance journalist based in Argentina, Gabriele Weber, has been seeking access to the BND’s 3,400 documents on Eichmann, who escaped to Argentina after the war, was abducted by Israeli agents in 1960, put on trial in Israel and hanged. She took legal action after the BND refused to open the Eichmann files on the grounds that disclosure would damage Germany’s national interests.

The BND’s refusal to open the files, which date back to the 1950s and 1960s, has triggered speculation that they contain embarrassing information about possible collusion between West German authorities and former Nazis in the 1950s and 1960s.

The Federal Administrative Court in the city of Leipzig ruled on Friday that the refusal to declassify the files was unlawful. “The reasons given for keeping them classified were only partly justified by the contents of the files and did not permit withholding them completely,” the court said in a statement issued on Friday.

Files Could Show How Nazis Escaped

Historians say the files could show whether West German authorities knew about Eichmann’s whereabouts long before his capture, or even helped him. German law enforcement and intelligence agencies had many former Nazis, including SS and Gestapo officers, working in senior positions after the war.

“I am very curious to know what information was meant to be kept from the public,” Gabriele Weber said in a statement. “There have long been indications that not only the German government, but large German firms as well, had contacts in Argentina with Nazis and war criminals.”

However, it remains unclear when, whether and what proportion of the BND files will be disclosed.

A spokesman for the court said that despite the ruling, the files will remain closed until the BND and its government masters decide how to proceed. The agency has the option to impose a new disclosure ban but it would have to give new reasons for doing so, which would then have to be reviewed again by the court. Or it may decide to disclose part of the files.

The BND could not immediately be reached for comment. [On Tuesday, a BND spokesman told SPIEGEL ONLINE that no decision had been taken on how to respond to the court decision. “We are checking the ruling by the Federal Administrative Court. The court acknowledged some reasons given for the need to protect personal data on informants, and opened up the possibility of issuing a modified ban on opening the files,” the spokesman said. “But it hasn’t yet been decided what concrete action will be taken.” The spokesman said he did not know how long it would take to reach a decision. “The files are not yet declassified,” he said]

Pressure on the agency to release its old files on Nazi fugitives has increased since the CIA declassified many documents relating to Nazi war crimes in 2005 and 2006.

Lawyer Confident of Disclosure

Remo Klinger, a lawyer represting Gabriele Weber in the case, said he had little doubt the BND would declassify the files with various names blacked out, a standard practice in the release of intelligence documents.

“We think the case has shown that one can no longer assume that everything is a state secret just because it has been declared a state secret,” he told SPIEGEL ONLINE. “It sets a legal precedent. There has never been a ruling in which the BND was ordered to disclose documents.”

Uki Goni, an Argentine journalist who has researched the Nazi community in Argentina after the war, said the refusal to release the files so far was embarrassing to Germany.

“The whole episode is disgraceful and a deep stain on current-day Germany,” Goni told SPIEGEL ONLINE. “It is absolutely shocking that the German government continues to hide this information today. The German government should make not only the BND’s Eichmann file public, but all its secret documents related to fugitive Nazis.”

“The real reason the German govenment is withholding the Eichmann file is because it is afraid that if it gives in on Eichmann, then the floodgates will be opened and it will face a deluge of requests for all its secret post-war Nazi-related records, with potentially very embarassing consequences.”

Germany’s files on Eichmann and other Nazi fugitives could shed light on how thousands of committed Nazis and former members of Hitler’s SS, including more than 200 indicted war criminals, lived comfortably in exile in Argentina and other South American countries in the 1950s and 1960s, after escaping there with the help of former comrades, Swiss officials, the Catholic church and the Argentine government, said Goni.

BND Argued Disclosure Would Hurt German Foreign Policy

The BND had argued that the files contained information supplied by a foreign secret service which had not agreed to their disclosure, and that keeping the files closed was necessary for the sake of Germany’s foreign policy, especially in the Middle East.

The agency also said that the files contain private information about people still alive and was therefore subject to German privacy protection laws. Opening the files would entail unwarranted administrative costs because all that personal data would have to be blacked out, the BND argued.

But the court, which reviewed the top secret files in non-public sessions by a panel of judges, said the documents did not contain much information that was hitherto unknown. It said they referred to events so long ago that they were merely of historical interest.

“The files largely deal with the National Socialist tyranny, the persecution and systematic murder of Europe’s Jews, the role of various members of the Nazi regime, namely Adolf Eichmann, as well as events relating to that person in the post-war period,” the court said.

“Disclosing the files in question would only add facets to events already known,” it added. “Against this background, general references to foreign policy implications and Middle East policy do not suffice as reasons to argue that publication would harm the national interest. The same applies to the argument that continued cooperation with foreign intelligence services would be endangered.”

Eichmann, the most notorious of the senior Nazis still at large after World War II, coordinated the deportation of Jews from Germany and Nazi-occupied Europe to the concentration camps. He escaped from an Allied internment camp after the war and lived undercover in Germany until his escape to Argentina in 1950.

“The court even says there is nothing new in the file,” said Goni. “If this is so, Germany will have lots of explaining to do. Why did it kept it hidden for so long if there was nothing there? It would only increase the already prevalent suspicion that the file was cleansed before it was given to the court to review.”


Full article and photo:,1518,692748,00.html

Honest Ahmadinejad

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad should get out more. We mean that without irony. The Iranian President spoke yesterday in New York at the start of the U.N. conference reviewing the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, and nothing could have done more to expose the folly of relying on arms control to maintain global security.

The Iranian couldn’t have been clearer that his country intends to ignore any and all U.N. pressure to stop building its bomb. He averred that the world has “not a single credible proof” that Iran intends to build a bomb, notwithstanding the world’s discovery of its secret uranium-enrichment facility at Natanz in 2002 and its secret underground facility near Qom last year. He even said the U.S. should be suspended from the U.N. atomic agency’s board because “it used nuclear weapons against Japan” and depleted uranium weapons in Iraq.

Delegates from the U.S., U.K. and France walked out during the speech, to their credit. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs chimed in that the remarks were “wild accusations,” and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took to the podium later in the day to accuse Iran of “flouting the rules” and declaring it is “time for a strong international response.”

This is all true enough, but it ignores Mr. Ahmadinejad’s real message, which is that Iran won’t be deterred by a stricter world antiproliferation treaty, or by one more U.N. Security Council resolution, or by the moral example, as President Obama likes to put it, of a new U.S.-Russian arms treaty. Iran wants the bomb in order to become a more potent Mideast power that can do as it pleases without having to worry about opposition from the world’s largest nations.

Give Mr. Ahmadinejad credit for lack of artifice. He says what he and the ruling class in Tehran believe and thus betrays what they intend, however “wild.”

The truly humiliating spectacle is the sight of the world’s leading powers devoting a month to updating a treaty designed to stop proliferation even as Mr. Ahmadinejad makes a mockery of that effort before their very eyes.

If Iran does get a nuclear weapon, or even the capacity to make one at a moment’s notice, it would be the most damaging act of proliferation since Stalin got the hydrogen bomb. The event would set off a regional nuclear arms race, as Turkey, Egypt, the Saudis and perhaps even the Gulf states seek their own nuclear deterrent. The rest of the world would see that Iran was able to face down the world’s leading powers—and prevail. The damage to world order would be traumatic. And that is before the increased risks of global nuclear terrorism from Iranian proliferation.

If Mr. Obama and other world leaders were serious about Iran, they wouldn’t merely walk out on Iran’s president. They would rally the world to stop him, explaining the grave stakes to the public, and making clear to Iran that there is a deadline to diplomacy and that military force will be used if diplomacy fails. The only serious person at the U.N. on Monday was Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Editorial, Wall Street Journal


Full article:

The NPT Illusion

Disarmament fantasies help the Iranian regime.

These are strange days for New York City’s finest. Over the weekend, they deployed in force to find the terrorist who tried to bomb Times Square. Yesterday, they deployed in force to protect the terrorist who is president of Iran. One of these guys works in propane, fireworks and gasoline; the other guy in enriched uranium, polonium triggers and ballistic missiles.

That other guy—the one who didn’t roll into town in a Pathfinder—was in Manhattan to unload on this month’s U.N. review conference of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. And unload he did: on the Truman administration, on the Obama administration, on “the Zionist regime,” on U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, on the NPT itself. For all this, Iran is still considered a member in good standing of the treaty, entitled to its seat at the International Atomic Energy Agency and its right to the nuclear reactors.

Does this make sense? In the upside-down universe of Turtle Bay—the same one in which Iran was just elected by acclamation to the U.N.’s Commission on the Status of Women—it does. What’s stranger is that it also makes sense to President Obama, who has called the NPT the “cornerstone of the world’s efforts to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons.” If that’s the cornerstone, it’s no wonder the edifice on top of it is collapsing.

The case for the NPT is that it has slowed nuclear proliferation by offering a grand bargain between the world’s nuclear haves and have-nots. The haves promise to work toward the elimination of their arsenals via arms-control treaties; the have-nots get access to civilian nuclear technology while promising not to build weapons of their own.

As a show of global good citizenship, last month President Obama signed another arms-control treaty with Russia, and yesterday disclosed previously classified information about the exact size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal. This surely made a deep impression in Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Bhutan, where conspicuous displays of moral stainlessness are considered the essence of geopolitical strategy.

As for the effect of the administration’s gesture politics, it probably hasn’t been what Mr. Obama envisioned. A biting U.N. sanctions resolution on Iran is nowhere in sight. The regime’s nuclear bids proceed undeterred. Countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt are openly entertaining doubts about U.S. seriousness—while entertaining nuclear futures of their own.

And it turns out that when it comes to a U.N. beauty contest, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad beats Barack Obama every time. Twenty-four countries walked out of Ahmadinejad’s speech yesterday. Another 168 remained in their seats, including those virtuous Scandinavians.

There’s a reason the NPT has failed the administration. It enshrines a status quo that is 40 years out of date. Today, four of the world’s nine nuclear-weapons states are not signatories to the treaty. Of those four, three—India, Israel and Pakistan—are democracies and allies of the U.S. And yet the NPT treats them as pariahs for not subscribing to a treaty that fails to recognize their imperative national security interests, at least as they themselves perceive them. The Canadas of the world may be happy to go along with the NPT, secure as they are under America’s nuclear umbrella. That was a luxury India, Israel and Pakistan did not enjoy when they embarked on their nuclear programs.

Now Iran, in connivance with the usual Middle Eastern suspects (and their useful idiots in the West), is trying to use the NPT as a cudgel to force Israel to disarm. That makes perfect sense if you subscribe, as Mr. Obama does, to the theology of nuclear disarmament. It makes no sense if you think the distinction that matters when it comes to nuclear weapons is between responsible, democratic states, and reckless, unstable and dictatorial ones. Nobody lies awake at night wondering what David Cameron might do if he gets his finger on the U.K.’s nuclear trigger.

The world today is rapidly moving toward what strategist Andrew Krepinevich calls the “second nuclear age,” in which deterrence no longer works as it did during the Cold War. “It may be,” he writes, “that leaders of the newly armed nuclear states do not calculate costs and benefits in a manner similar to the United States.” Yet we haven’t even begun to think seriously about how to navigate these waters. Hillary Clinton’s mindless calls yesterday about strengthening the NPT won’t do.

One day a Pathfinder with tinted windows may park itself in Times Square with something more than propane tanks in the back seat. We may not be able to stop it. But we will live more securely if the driver of that car knows exactly what we intend to do next.

Bret Stephens, Wall Street Journal


Full article:

An awkward guest-list

The future of non-proliferation

The United States cannot count on a warm response, even from friends, to its campaign to strengthen the international regime on nuclear proliferation

IT IS one of those regular diplomatic fixtures, but the party seldom goes with a swing. Every five years, the 189 countries that have signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) are invited to gather to take stock of progress towards its stated goal: eventual nuclear disarmament, as part of a hoped-for process of more general disarmament. Over the years much of the news has been bad. But this time, the review that starts in New York on May 3rd, and lasts all month, convenes after a burst of unaccustomed good tidings. Will the 150 or so delegations that are expected in New York take this rare opportunity to make real progress in stopping the bomb’s spread—or let the chance slip away?

This will be the second time in as many months that the United States hosts an important global gathering on nuclear matters. But neither Barack Obama’s charisma, nor his record as a champion of disarmament, will be enough to guarantee that the guests enter the party spirit as fully as he and others would like; some significant countries are wavering, and a handful of spoilers are bent on wrecking the show.

Already the NPT has been badly undermined by rule-breakers like North Korea. (It quit the treaty in 2003 and has since boasted of having tested two nuclear devices.) Since then Iran, Syria and others have fallen under suspicion too. However, the aspiration for eventual nuclear disarmament—remote as that goal may be—got a big boost last year from Mr Obama, when, in a speech in Prague, he committed America to “seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.”

In April this year, after months of hard bargaining, America and Russia agreed to new, deeper weapons cuts and updated inspection rules that will see their strategic arsenals shrink to 1,550 warheads apiece, a third below previously agreed levels and a small fraction of the many thousands they built during the cold war—with more cuts to come. Mr Obama also pleased many people by announcing strict new limits on the circumstances in which America might even think of using its bombs. Days later, a hand-picked gathering of 50 world leaders in Washington, DC, recommitted to making nuclear stocks safer; and in their civil nuclear programmes, to rely less on materials (like highly enriched uranium) from which bombs can be made.

The hope on the part of America, most European governments, some in Latin America and many in Asia is that this momentum will now propel the NPT review towards consensus on steps to bolster the treaty’s anti-proliferation rule. The last such meeting, in 2005, ended in something close to a punch-up.

For example, the mandatory safeguards that accompany the treaty were devised in the 1970s, when any sort of inspection seemed a radical new departure. If they are to keep up with the new threats the treaty faces, and even with the spread of purely civilian nuclear technology as countries look for carbon-free energy, inspectors need to see more, receive more information and be able to use more effective and up-to-date methods.

Most countries have already volunteered for these extra checks and adopted an “additional protocol” as a bolt-on to their original safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN’s nuclear guardian. But it is the refuseniks—from probably honourable Brazil and Egypt to dissembling Iran and Syria—that most concern inspectors.

And there is the nub of the problem. Opposition from Iran, though regrettable, is to be expected. It seems determined to keep inspectors at arm’s length. Like Libya, Iran was caught cheating, having done secret deals over the years with a nuclear black market run by Pakistan’s now disgraced former nuclear scientist, Abdul Qadeer Khan. Unlike Libya, however, Iran is still trying to hide some of its nuclear work. (Libya may anyway side with the party-poopers in New York; it was miffed not to be invited to Mr Obama’s nuclear-security summit.) Syria has likewise dug in its heels: it was reported to have been building a nuclear reactor to produce bomb-usable plutonium with North Korea’s help, and possibly Iranian cash, until the almost completed structure was bombed by Israel in 2007.

Yet the push for tighter rules in support of a stronger NPT has met pushback from others too. After years of demanding that the world’s nuclear powers take bolder steps to cut and eventually eliminate their arsenals, you might think that non-nuclear Brazil, Egypt, Mexico and South Africa (all members of an informal “new agenda” coalition that also includes Ireland, New Zealand and Sweden too, and has helped in the past to broker NPT compromises) would be queuing to offer support.

Instead, in the lengthy run-up to this latest review they have sometimes seemed among the sharpest critics. They are all involved, in different ways, in a set of three overlapping rows: on compliance and inspections, on demands for universalisation of the treaty to bring in the remaining holdouts (now just India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea), and on the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. How these rows turn out will determine success or failure in New York, and the future of the NPT itself.

Brazil once had a nuclear-weapons effort. But when the military government that started it gave way to a civilian one, it went to great lengths, in co-operation with its neighbour and one-time nuclear rival, Argentina, to show that the programme had been dismantled. Yet it still refuses to let IAEA inspectors take a full look at its uranium-enrichment machines at Resende, and will not sign the additional protocol that would oblige it to do so.

Brazil says this is to protect home-grown technology. Yet inspectors have long practice at keeping commercial secrets, and plenty of other countries with their own advanced technology have no such qualms, argues Pierre Goldschmidt, a former chief nuclear inspector now at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a think-tank.

Brazil’s agenda

So does Brazil still have lingering military ambitions? Occasional remarks by senior politicians suggest it might. But its president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, insists not. He does have his own agenda though, which could complicate the NPT review. For he sees himself as a different sort of peace-monger. Like Turkey’s leaders, he has offered to mediate between Iran and the UN Security Council, which is again mulling tougher sanctions in the face of that country’s nuclear defiance. Indeed, Lula will soon visit Iran in an attempt to push a nuclear-fuel deal that, when agreed last October, might just have bought some real space for diplomacy. But Iran has since backed away from it.

The worry is that with the NPT review under way, Iran may use this visit to play games, as it has done in the past with Russia and others: seeming to show willingness to compromise for just long enough to tie everyone up in knots, but then pulling back. If Lula falls for such a gambit this time, that might seem to give Iran’s spoiling tactics greater support, both at the Security Council and at the NPT table.

Short of that, Iran can be certain only of the backing of Cuba, Venezuela, Syria and perhaps Libya. That is why its diplomats and its outspoken president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, have been canvassing support in places from Austria to Uganda and Zimbabwe to try to ease the pressure and prevent deepening isolation (only Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe gave backing, amid reports that Iran is also seeking to buy uranium wherever it can).

Yet Lula seems undeterred. Like South Africa, Mexico and others, Brazil has often resented the way the nuclear powers (though China and Russia try to keep their heads down here) have sought to set the NPT agenda. In particular there is resentment at efforts to impose new restrictions, such as the additional protocol, and at proposals for fuel banks that could be a way of discouraging countries from creating their own nuclear technology (as Brazil has done). Above all, this pressure on non-nuclear NPT members comes at a time when India, under a deal first negotiated by Mr Obama’s predecessor, George Bush, is being allowed to import technologies and materials others are discouraged from acquiring. India, critics point out, may have been Mr Bush’s best new friend, but it has never signed the NPT or taken on its obligations; meanwhile it has built an arsenal of bombs. Resentment grew when the America-India deal was strong-armed through the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), an informal 46-nation body that sets global rules for nuclear trade.

To many governments, therefore, compliance is mainly an issue for the West, says Mark Fitzpatrick of the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies. If they are to take on further obligations, they want things in return. In 1995 the NPT was extended indefinitely, as part of a deal that extracted other commitments from the five official nuclear powers at that conference and the next one in 2000. Few of these terms have been met.

They included a promise of a Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT); a separate treaty to end the production of fissile material for bombs (called an FMCT); and renewed commitment from the nuclear powers to eventual disarmament. Mr Obama says he will again press America’s Senate to ratify the test ban: it refused in 1999 on a partisan vote.

But it is Pakistan that is single-handedly holding up the start of negotiations on an FMCT, though others, including India are not keen to make speedy progress. Pakistan deeply resents the controversial Indian nuclear deal. India is now able to devote more of its limited supplies of domestic uranium to weapons production, letting imports cover more of its civilian needs. Pakistan argues that it needs to keep up, and China seems to be helping it do so by supplying technology that will boost its fissile-material productions and perhaps a nuclear reactor or two, though this would all be against NSG rules. What Pakistan would really love is a deal like India’s. Instead, given Pakistan’s past proliferation record, says George Perkovich of Carnegie, the pressure at the NSG is likely to be the other way: to come up with a set of rules that, in effect, closes the door to further India-style exemptions.

But the trickiest issue may prove to be the promise given in 1995 to explore ways of setting up a zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East. To Egypt, this is a way of pressing Israel to give up its nuclear arsenal. A nuclear-free zone, it says, could be a first step to a wider ban on weapons of mass destruction. Until it gets some meaningful progress, it will not support making the additional protocol on enhanced inspections obligatory for all. For its part, Israel says flatly the time to negotiate on nuclear, chemical and biological weapons in the Middle East (its neighbours may not have the bomb, but they have other nasty things up their sleeves) is after a peace agreement.

Not being a treaty participant, Israel will not be in the room in New York. Egypt is nonetheless impatient, after 15 years of waiting, to see some progress. The United States, Britain and others have been floating the idea of an exploratory conference—not a negotiating forum since there is no prospect of agreement even on what to negotiate. The IAEA and the European Union might also host workshops to look at some of the technical issues that would come up if such a zone were ever on the agenda.

In truth there is no chance of the additional protocol on inspections being adopted as a requirement at this month’s review. Iran will block such a move (it may yet be made a condition of nuclear trade by the NSG, though Turkey has been the recent holdout there). But broad support from a wide coalition of countries, including the Brazils, Egypts and South Africas, for strong language to back up the inspectors and to find ways to improve the workings of the NPT would help go some way to restoring the treaty’s battered authority.


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Guilt and Death, North and South

AT noon on April 30, 1975, when news that the liberation forces had captured Saigon spread to the North, we thought: “The war has ended. Now happiness will immediately arrive.” All of us, the youth volunteers of Hanoi who were digging a big lake in the suburbs, were allowed to go home, and the next day was May Day, a holiday.

I was so thrilled to head home and enjoy my afternoon off. National flags were flying everywhere. Young people cheered and chanted, “Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh! Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh!”

But then the image of a friend who had been in the North Vietnamese special forces appeared in my mind. He had been among 1,000 soldiers who had gone out to fight together, and one of only four who returned. Their mission had been to ambush dangerous Saigonese agents — and sometimes Americans.

Soon after his return, he and I sat together on a pile of straw, and he told me a war story. He and his group had happened upon some Americans, who started shooting. My friend and his comrades had been ordered to avoid capture, even at the cost of their lives, so they tried to escape. The Americans were drunk, but chased after them. When one American was about to jump on one of our soldiers, my friend stabbed the man from behind and he fell, mortally wounded.

My friend turned him over on the ground and saw his young and handsome face. “Mama,” the man said before dying — the same word so many of our own soldiers uttered before they died. My friend’s heart tightened and, from then on, he said, he could never forget the American’s cry.

No one could understand why my friend later decided to return to battle. I’m told that he was killed somewhere in the jungle. Only years afterward did I come to believe that after hearing the plea of the dying American, he had felt guilty about living. But why did I think of him that day, at that moment, among the cheers?

Phan Thanh Hao is a poet and translator.


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New Documents Reveal Truth on NATO’s ‘Most Damaging’ Spy

Betrayer and Betrayed

For years, from his senior position in Estonia’s Defense Ministry, Herman Simm leaked highly sensitive NATO intelligence and the names of Western spies to Russia’s foreign intelligence service. In a classified damage analysis, NATO concludes that the former KGB colonel was one of the “most damaging” spies in the history of the alliance. 

Simm was eventually caught and sentenced to over 12.5 years in prison. Even the hope of spending his golden years as a retired general in Russia proved to be an illusion. At their last meeting, Jakovlev, his handler, had informed him that his rank and the medals never existed — and that he was nothing but a paid traitor.

Everyone thought Hermann Simm deserved to be honored. It was Monday, Feb. 6, 2006, and he was dressed in his best suit to attend the day’s event. He had been invited to Estonia’s presidential palace to accept the “Order of the White Star” for his “service to the Estonian nation.” It was an ironic choice. 

It wasn’t the only medal Simm received for his services that year. The other honor was one that he could only see on his computer screen, supposedly so as to not jeopardize his cover. Sergey Jakovlev, his handler with the SVR, Russia’s foreign intelligence service, appeared on the screen to show him his medal. Jakovlev was also the one who informed Simm that he had been promoted to the rank of major general for having supplied Moscow with the names of all suspected and known Russians working as spies for NATO. Then-President Vladimir Putin was very impressed, Jakovlev told his best spy. 

Four years on, Simm has now reached the late phase of his career. Indeed, in his field — spying — it is not uncommon to spend one’s old age in a small prison cell. Simms is incarcerated in a functional, post-Soviet building made of reinforced concrete in the Estonian city of Tartu, where he wears a plain prison uniform and seeks comfort in the Bible. Photos depict him as an older, gray-haired man with a sad look in his eyes. 

This is the same man whom NATO, in a classified 141-page report, has recognized as the spy who was “most damaging in Alliance history.” The report alleges that Simm, as the former head of security at the Estonian Defense Ministry, had access to most of the classified NATO documents his country received after joining the alliance in the spring of 2004. Until his arrest, in September 2008, he is believed to have secretly handed over thousands of those documents to the Russians. Some of these contained highly sensitive information about NATO’s secret defense policies, “including installation, maintenance, procurement and use of cryptographic systems.” 

28 NATO Countries Sharing Secrets 

According to the classified NATO report, the master spy also “compromised a wide range of NATO intelligence reports and analyses,” including ones related to fighting terrorism, secret military plans and counterespionage. Never before, the NATO analysis concludes, has a spy betrayed such a large volume of military secrets for such a long time. 

Of course, Simm was not the only spy in NATO’s past. For years, Rainer Rupp, a West German who went by the codename of “Topaz,” supplied classified information to the Stasi, the secret police of the former East Germany. French officer Pierre-Henri Bunel supplied Yugoslavia with NATO bombing plans during the Kosovo crisis. And Daniel James, who was working as a British general’s personal interpreter, relayed sensitive details of his country’s military operations in Afghanistan to Iran. 

Still, the Simm case reveals just how much of a risk the alliance was taking when it gradually expanded eastward after the end of the Cold War. Each of its current 28 member states now enjoys access to almost all the classified information within the alliance. For experts, this is already unsettling enough. But even more worrisome is the fact that members of the old elite — whose loyalties once lay with a completely different political system — now work in the security apparatus of some of the new member states. In other words, people like Herman Simm. 

A Swift Rise to Power 

Simm was born out of wedlock in May 1947 in the small Estonian city of Suure-Jaani. When he was two years old, his mother barely escaped Stalin’s ethnic-cleansing operations and deportation to Siberia. Soon thereafter, she married and left the boy to live with his grandmother and aunt. In school, he was considered ambitious, hardworking and well-adapted. 

In 1966, when Simm was studying chemistry in Tallinn, he witnessed a brawl between a gang of youths and the police in front of a cinema on the city’s outskirts. He intervened and, with his help, the police managed to overpower the gang. The officers were surprised that a student, of all people, had come to their aid. So, they offered him a job. “It was the beginning of his career with the Soviet intelligence service, the KGB,” says journalist Mihkel Kärnas, who filmed “The Spy Inside,” a documentary on the Simm case for Estonian television. 

Simm kept his new job a secret from his family. The aunt, who had been persecuted under Stalin, was appalled when she found out. A short time later, her nephew was confirmed at the church in Suuri-Jaani, which he also kept from his family. 

Simm quickly carved out a career for himself with the police. In 1975, he graduated with honors from the Soviet Union’s Interior Ministry Academy. Likewise, he joined the Communist Party — a necessary step, given the fact that his job involved accompanying delegations abroad and that such jobs were reserved for those considered politically reliable. His daughter was born in 1974, the result of an affair with a flight attendant. Today, she works as a computer specialist with Europol, the European police authority. 

Changing Times and (Apparently) Allegiances 

When the Soviet Union began to decline, Simm was a colonel and had already received 44 awards, including all three of the medals awarded for exemplary behavior. But his old world no longer existed. When Estonia, a former Soviet republic, became independent in 1991, the KGB had to abandon its headquarters in Tallinn and sever all official ties with Simm. 

All of a sudden, Simm became a champion of Estonian independence. When communist hardliners attacked the parliament building and the seat of government on the Toompea hill in central Tallinn in May 1990, Simm took it upon himself to organize their defense. Thereafter, he was celebrated as a hero — and rumors that he had secretly help the Russians slip out soon faded away. 

At this point, Simm went back to advancing his career. He became chief of police in Harju County, which includes Tallinn, he supervised the withdrawal or the Red Army, and he secured the removal of Soviet nuclear warheads. In 1994, he was promoted to head the Baltic republic’s national police force. But hardly six months had passed before Simm was dismissed on charges of corruption, which he vehemently denied. He had been offered a lower-level position, but he turned it down and retired, instead. 

Re-Recruitment into the KGB’s Successor 

In July 1995, after his relationship with his girlfriend — 20 years his junior — fell apart, Simm made a spontaneous trip to Tunisia. This, at least, was the reason he would later provide. While there, according to Simm, an old acquaintance from his KGB days approached him among the souks of the medina, and said: “It’s me, Valentin.” 

Valery Zentsov — code name “Valentin” — was born in Berlin in 1946. Like Simm, he attended university in Tallinn and began his career with the KGB at an early age. Although he officially went into retirement in Russia in 1991, the classified NATO report states that he was involved during this period in building up a network of agents in the Baltic states. 

Simm claims that he resisted Zentsov’s initial efforts to recruit him. But, he says these days, he had just been fired and felt useless. “Don’t worry about it,” Zentsov reportedly replied — before using the threat of exposing Simm’s KGB past to put pressure on him. Four beers later, Simm relented, insisting that he be given the rank of colonel again should he return to service. From then on, he was an agent with the SVR, the Russian foreign intelligence agency and one of the KGB’s successor agencies. 

Getting Back into the Spying Game 

That’s what Simm claims, at least. But NATO investigators think it’s also possible that he never stopped being an agent, and that he remained in Estonia as a “sleeper” to prepare for his subsequent career. 

Shortly after his return from Tunisia — and without any apparent forewarning — Simm was summoned to Estonia’s Defense Ministry. There, he was given the surprise appointment of director of the analysis division. Part of the job involved nurturing contacts with the European Union and NATO and preparing his country to join the Western defense alliance. 

At the same time, he was secretly turning over to the Russians everything he came across, in the form of either photocopies or photographs of documents. Zentsov was giving him precise instructions. For instance, Simm was told to place the film rolls into empty drinking cartons — either red or orange — crumple them up as if they were trash and throw them away in park garbage cans. Each of these dead drops was used only once. Likewise, the agent and his Russian handler met 16 times, in 10 different countries. 

It was also at this time that Simm reportedly offered to provide information to the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), Germany’s foreign intelligence agency, and became one of its sources. He kept the BND up-to-date on the activities of Russians and criminal organizations in the Baltic states — and was paid handsomely for the information. 

A New Handler 

In July 2001, Simm married Heete, a former Soviet police officer, who had also carved out an astonishing post-Cold War career for herself and was the head of the police department’s legal division. She often accompanied him on his trips abroad. During a meeting in Helsinki in November 2001, Zentsov said his goodbyes. He was retiring, and Simm’s new handler would be a man named Antonio Amurett de Jesus Graf. 

This was the handler’s false Portuguese identity. His real name was Sergey Jakovlev, and he was an SVR officer not registered with any embassy. NATO believes that Jakovlev managed an entire network of Russian agents in the Baltics. Simm and Jakovlev first met at a train station on the outskirts of Tallinn. Simm was carrying a bag over his left shoulder — a sign that the coast was clear. 

Simm’s relationship with his new handler was cool, but professional. Simm received the standard agent’s salary of about €1,000 ($1,320) a month, plus a €200 subsidy for his health care. Jakovlev also outfitted him with a digital camera, a laptop, USB flash drives and a pill container with a false bottom for hiding memory cards. Simm photographed, copied and stored thousands of documents. He delivered his material at 14 meetings throughout Europe, except in Great Britain (“too many cameras”), Norway (“too expensive”) and Germany (“too many police contacts”). 

Before each meeting, Simm had to send a numerical code from a public, card-operated pay phone to Jakovlev’s pager. The code consisted of his identification number, 242, and the number 55, which indicated that the meeting could take place as agreed. Then he was supposed to wait for Jakovlev to approach him. If there was a problem, Simm was supposed to enter the number 77. But there were never any problems. 

Intelligence Coups 

Estonia became a member of NATO on March 29, 2004. Simm set up the National Security Authority, a department in Estonia’s Defense Ministry. In his new position, he decided who would have access to which documents. Likewise, he was responsible for managing the protection of classified documents, the system for secure data transmission with NATO and the EU, and background security checks of officials. 

Simm’s Russian contacts were particularly interested in encryption technology, and he delivered so much information on this subject that NATO would later conclude in its classified report that Simm’s activities made the alliance “more vulnerable to cyber threats and attacks” because “our weak points are now well-known by our adversaries.” The three-week wave of cyberattacks on Estonia in 2007, which practically shut the country down, offered alarming evidence of the severity of the threat. 

At the time, most of Simm’s official duties involved searching for potential spies. He was asked to find answers to up to 60 questions about candidates, including ones related to their hobbies and possible weaknesses for cars, women and alcohol. 

The NATO report cites as “particularly worrisome” Simm’s participation in the annual security conferences at the alliance’s military headquarters in Mons, Belgium, as well as in two counterespionage conferences, in 2006 and 2007. 

At the conference held in the Dutch town of Brunssum in 2006, a CD containing the names of all known and suspected Russian NATO spies, as well as detailed information on double agents, was distributed to attendees. The CD “landed directly on Putin’s desk” and “caused quite a stir” in Moscow, Jakovlev says, clearly in praise of the master spy. For the coup, Simm received a €5,000 bonus and was reportedly promoted to major general. 


According to the classified NATO report, this act of treason has damaged the alliance severely and indefinitely. A short time later, though, Western counterespionage officials grew suspicious of Simm. Exactly why this happened is unclear. The investigations, in which both the BND and the FBI participated, began on May 26, 2008 under the code name “White Knight.” Simm, who was at this time an adviser to Estonia’s defense minister, was placed under surveillance. 

On Sept. 16, 2008, in a blatant violation of security regulations, Simm’s handler called him on his cell phone. He had never established contact so openly. During the call, Jakovlev cancelled a scheduled meeting. “I’m sick,” he said during the conversation, which was being recorded by the KaPo, Estonia’s security police. 

Three days later, the noose tightened around Simm. For days, he had been under constant surveillance. On this particular afternoon, he and his wife drove to the Röömu (“pleasure”) shopping center in Keila, a small city near their row house in Saue, outside Tallinn, to buy cake for his stepmother. He was arrested while walking back to his car. An ambulance had been parked around the corner in case Simm violently resisted arrest. But he didn’t. 

In Simm’s country home, police found his spying equipment: stacks of classified documents, two pistols, two rifles and pieces of paper with instructions from Jakovlev, complete with the latter’s DNA. Jakovlev, for his part, had disappeared without a trace, and it was later rumored that he had defected to the United States. 


On Feb. 25, 2009, Simm was sentenced to over 12 years in prison. He was also ordered to pay damages roughly equivalent to €1.3 million ($1.7 million) and refund the government about €85,000 in salary payments. 

Several houses and pieces of property were seized as collateral, including half of his country house, his share of the row house in Saue, a dozen watercolors and oil paintings, and a collection of 44 coins. 

A year before his arrest, Simm had donated a candelabra to the church in his birthplace of Suuri-Jaani. The gift did not bring him any luck. Even the hope of spending his golden years as a retired general in Russia proved to be an illusion. At their last meeting, Jakovlev had informed him that his rank and the medals never existed — and that he was nothing but a paid traitor. 


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The North Korea Endgame

However difficult, unification must be the ultimate objective.

As the U.S. and its allies frame plans for dealing with North Korea in the aftermath of the recent sinking of a South Korean warship, political leaders must recognize that security will depend not just upon deterring Kim Jong Il today. Northeast Asia’s future security—and America’s—will be profoundly affected by the government presiding over the northern half of Korea in the long run.

For this reason, Korean unification—under a democratic, market-oriented Republic of Korea that remains allied with the U.S.—must be the ultimate objective. Today that looks like a daunting and risky prospect. But to paraphrase Churchill: Unification would be the worst possible outcome for Korea—except for all the other alternatives.

Consider first an indefinite continuation of the Kim Jong Il regime. This means on the one hand terror and grinding immiseration for its people. But on the other, it means a regime that poses a continual threat to its neighbors and to the world.

North Korea’s nuclear arsenal is integral to the international military extortion racket by which Pyongyang has been financing its state accounts since the end of the Cold War. More atomic bombs, better missiles by which to deliver them abroad, and a permanently warlike posture are indispensable to the regime’s own formula for long-term security. This is why a voluntary denuclearization by Kim Jong Il’s North Korea is fantasy—no matter what bribes outsiders including the U.S. offer—and true détente with the Dear Leader’s regime can never be in the cards.

North Korea’s present leadership will surely wish to ratchet up its threat to America and the Western alliance in the years ahead. It is entirely reasonable to anticipate Pyongyang’s eventual sale of nukes to hostile powers or international terror networks. The regime has already marketed abroad practically everything in its nuclear warehouse short of user-ready bombs. Even worse, there are troubling signs—repeated nuclear tests, continuing missile tests, and attempts at cyberwarfare probing American and South Korean defenses—that the regime is methodically preparing to fight, bizarre as it sounds, a limited nuclear engagement against the U.S.

What about an independent, post-Kim Jong Il North Korea? A number of scenarios can be envisioned—none of them pleasant. If succession proceeds on the lines apparently envisioned, the state’s existing “military-first politics” game-plan will continue on its current trajectory, with nuclear proliferation and nuclear war front and center in state strategy.

Another future for an independent North Korea could be internal instability, with vicious infighting between rival, heavily armed factions. Under such conditions, a civil war—with nuclear weapons—is by no means out of the question. A national elite that had no qualms about the hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths from famine in the 1990s is unlikely to be troubled by the prospect of mass domestic death from atomic radiation. Such a civil war could all too easily spill into adjoining territories—necessitating intervention by outside powers, and possibly prompting military confrontation.

Then there is the potential for Chinese suzerainty. This notion has been floated by Chinese authors in recent years, in the form of “academic” but officially sanctioned studies that depict an ancient kingdom—conveniently stretching from Manchuria to the current-day Korean DMZ—which was once historically part of greater China. In February, Beijing reportedly offered Pyongyang a massive investment program, valued at $10 billion by sources for Seoul’s Yonhap news agency. But China is apparently interested in North Korea’s natural resources—mines, mineral extraction, and the transport systems to ship these commodities home—not its human resources. Uplifting the beleaguered North Korean population does not appear to figure in these plans.

Chinese suzerainty might put an end to the North Korean nuclear threat. But it would change the security environment in East Asia—perhaps radically.

Immense pressures would build in South Korea for accommodating Beijing’s interests. Depending on China’s preferences (and how these were parlayed), accommodation could mean an end to the U.S.-South Korea alliance. Japan would find its space for international maneuver correspondingly constricted; continuation of the U.S.-Japan alliance could even look risky. Much would depend upon Beijing’s own conduct—but a Chinese hold over northern Korea would have devastating implications for the current U.S. security architecture in East Asia.

It is in the context of the alternatives—not in the abstract—that the pros and cons of an eventual Korean unification must be weighed. Even under the best of circumstances, a full reintegration of the long-divided peninsula should be regarded as a painful, wrenching and (at least initially) tremendously expensive proposition. That much is plainly clear—and helps to explain why a growing fraction of the South Korean public is unwilling to think about reunification at all. But a successful Korean reunification, in conjunction with a robust alliance with the U.S. security alliance, affords a whole array of potential benefits that no alternative future for North Korea can possibly provide.

Apart from the nontrivial question of human rights and living standards for the North Korean people, these include the promotion of regional and international security through a voluntary partnership with shared core principles and values. Furthermore, unification over the long haul can enhance security throughout Northeast Asia, generating dividends for this dynamic region and the world.

Western political leaders—in America, South Korea, Japan and elsewhere—can have no idea when or how opportunities for Korean reunification will present themselves. Much the same was true a generation ago in Europe, on the eve of German unification. It is therefore of the essence that policy makers and statesmen in these allied countries devote themselves to the rigorous thinking and preparations that will help to improve the odds of a successful Korean reunification. This will require “contingency planning,” to be sure—but much more than this as well.

Not least will be the need for leaders of vision in the countries concerned to make the public case as to how and why a Korean unification serves their national interests. Compelling arguments to this effect already exist. What they lack are their national champions.

Two decades after the collapse of Soviet Communism, political leaders throughout the West all too generally seem in thrall to the hope that we can temporize our way through the North Korean problem. In one possible version of future events, historians might look back on such thinking as an interwar illusion—a reverie maintained at mounting cost until a final hour of reckoning.

Mr. Eberstadt is a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. His latest book is “Policy and Economic Performance in Divided Korea during the Cold War Era” (AEI Press, 2010).


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The Rake’s Progress

A virtuoso ladies’ man and stealer of secrets. The skills were related.

In 1935 Adolf Hitler renounced the limits on German militarization that had been imposed by the Treaty of Versailles following World War I. Hitler publicly introduced conscription to vastly increase the size of the German army; more secretly he launched a massive rearmament program. An alarmed Soviet Union, desperate to learn the plans of this potential enemy, dispatched an intelligence officer, Dmitri Bystrolyotov, to Berlin. Bystrolyotov had already proved himself a deft operative, one particularly skilled at seducing women who had access to valuable information. But as Emil Draitser shows in “Stalin’s Romeo Spy,” Bystrolyotov’s latest assignment tested even his vaunted skills.

The agent’s target was a female SS officer whose face had been disfigured by fire in a childhood car accident. Dorothea Müller was “embittered and unpleasant to deal with,” Mr. Draitser says, and she was a fanatical Nazi Party member who had been entrusted with the safekeeping of military-industrial secrets. Flattering her appearance was out of the question, so Bystrolyotov embarked on a campaign to flatter Müller’s devotion to the Führer. Posing as a dashing, dissolute Hungarian count, he engineered a series of encounters with Müller, astonished her with his ignorance of the Nazis’ glorious policies and became her eager student.

A romance began, and when at last Müller “was completely under his power as a lover,” Mr. Draitser says, the count proposed marriage. But a complication stood in the way: An aunt who had (supposedly) subsidized his life in Berlin was cutting him off. Marriage was out of the question, he said, until his finances were secure. Then a solution surfaced: A friend of the count’s said that there was a lot of money to be made on the stock market if Müller would provide them with inside information about military industrial orders. She agreed; the hook was set.

Bystrolyotov’s seduction of the disfigured SS officer is just one in a bounty of improbable tales recounted in “Stalin’s Romeo Spy.” Mr. Draitser has consulted Russian, British, French, Czech and American archives in his research, and he has seen Bystrolyotov’s partially declassified KGB file. But the author has also relied on the spy’s own unpublished memoirs, which seem to have been responsible for some of the more credibility-straining elements of the story. There is no doubt, though, that Bystrolyotov was a remarkable spy even by the standards of an era when much of the world was crawling with intelligence agents.

Handsome, fluent in several languages, fortified with false passports, Bystrolyotov moved effortlessly through tense capitals, stealing secrets and sending them back to Moscow. Somehow romance seemed to play a role in his missions even when his target wasn’t a woman with information he needed. When he once “handled” a British Foreign Office clerk—who knew secret codes but who was also constantly drunk and in a crumbling marriage—Bystrolyotov kept “Charlie” on track by bedding the man’s unhappy wife, cheering her up. Another time, Bystrolyotov arranged for his estranged wife, who had worked alongside him, to begin an affair with a French intelligence officer in Locarno, Switzerland, and then even to marry him, ensuring that Bystrolyotov would have regular access to the house—and to the safe where the Frenchman kept sensitive cables.

Of course, being a productive contributor to the Soviet cause offered no protection from Stalin’s purges—as Bystrolyotov learned first-hand in 1938, when he was arrested in Moscow. After severe beatings he confessed, falsely, to committing treason against the Soviet state and was sentenced to 20 years in the gulag. He was later offered the possibility of early release, but he insisted on having his case reopened so that he could prove his innocence. For that audacity he was repaid with the most brutal treatment of his time in prison. He was finally freed in 1954, the year after Stalin’s death. “Now he was an old man,” Mr. Draitser writes, “totally unemployable and incurably ill.”

Mr. Draitser, who worked as a journalist in the Soviet Union before being blacklisted and moving to the U.S. in the 1970s, met Bystrolyotov in 1973—the year before his death. The old spy regaled him with anecdotes from his life and recalled his fruitless efforts to publish his memoirs. The editor of a literary quarterly scolded him for lines such as “I drew my pistol,” telling Bystrolyotov: “You can’t write that. A Soviet intelligence officer acts only in a humane way.” In the U.S., Mr. Draitser taught Russian and continued to write, but he never forgot, as he puts it, “the most remarkable man I had ever met.”

In the glasnost era and after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Bystrolyotov—who had been expunged from Soviet history—became known again, at least in Russia. Mr. Draitser resolved in 2002 to write his biography. As the work progressed, Mr. Draitser says, he became convinced that telling the spy’s story was “an urgent order of the day. While I was doing my research, an ex-KGB officer”—Vladimir Putin—”became the country’s president,” and Russia began “sliding back to its Stalinist past.” One feature of the regression: “the revision of history and attempts to whitewash the KGB’s bloody role in it.” Dmitri Bystrolyotov, to Mr. Draitser’s amazement, has in recent years been resurrected as a Stalinist wartime hero—with no reference to his imprisonment or to his disillusion with the Soviet dream.

It is impossible to read “Stalin’s Romeo Spy” without reflecting on the cruel and capricious nature of totalitarian regimes and without noting that, however good a spy may be, espionage is only as effective as the ability of political leaders to sort through the information they are handed. Bystrolyotov did his part to keep his country abreast of behind-the-scenes maneuvering by the European powers. But in June 1941, when equally adept Soviet spies alerted the Kremlin to the likelihood of a German invasion, Stalin ignored their warnings. The rest was a miserable history.

Mr. Rubenstein is the Northeast Regional Director of Amnesty International USA and the author of “Tangled Loyalties: The Life and Times of Ilya Ehrenburg.”


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Peace Processes Never Work

Wicked men are the only winners in this game of self-congratulation and deceit.

Kim Jong Il likes his metaphors to be as literal as possible. When he wants to blow up diplomacy with the U.S., he detonates a nuke. When he wants to torpedo relations with South Korea, he torpedoes one of their ships. Subtlety may not be the North Korean dictator’s strong suit, but look at it his way: Every time he bids to be the Worst Person in the World, some liberal chimes in to explain that he’s just a short, misunderstood man driving a tough peace bargain, badly in need of Jimmy Carter’s TLC.

By contrast, the brilliant diplomats of the Obama administration prefer complex, nuanced metaphors. So it’s probably asking too much that they notice that in the raising of the sunken South Korean gunboat off the seabed, one sees a metaphor for their whole approach to peace-making. Let’s just say this ship isn’t going to set sail again.

The approach goes by the name of the “peace process.” The term dates to the Kissinger State Department, but its heyday arrived in the 1990s, when the first Bush administration and especially the Clinton administration inaugurated or supported peace processes everywhere. There was the Korean peace process, known as the “Sunshine Policy.” There was the Israeli-Palestinian process—”Oslo”—and the “Syrian track” between Jerusalem and Damascus. There was “Good Friday” for Northern Ireland, “Abuja” for Rwanda, “Lomé” for Sierra Leone. There were peace processes in Colombia and Sri Lanka. Name your intractable conflict, and the U.S. State Department had its handy off-the-shelf appliance to deal with it.

Of all these processes, only the Good Friday Accords can be called a success, and it was a success that owed less to George Mitchell’s interventions than to the fact that the conflict—pitting prosperous, English-speaking Irish Protestants against increasingly prosperous, English-speaking Irish Catholics—no longer made sense to the bourgeois terrorists at the helm of the IRA.

A metaphor for a peace process. Ready to set sail again?

Elsewhere, the processes invariably ended in humiliation, bloodshed, and sometimes bloody farce. For Sierra Leone, the Clinton administration dispatched Jesse Jackson (really) to broker a deal that made Foday Sankoh—a man who’d made his reputation by chopping off the limbs of his opponents—the vice president of the country. The deal collapsed within months. For Colombia, Mr. Clinton endorsed a peace plan that ceded an area the size of Switzerland to the FARC. “I think that the path [then-President Andrés Pastrana] is pursuing is the one most likely to bring results,” he said in 1998. The FARC used its safe haven to better arm itself, take high-profile hostages, train foreign terrorists and nearly overthrow the government.

Much the same held true in the Korean and Middle East peace processes, only on a grander scale. The late Syrian dictator Hafez al-Assad made a fetish of humiliating one Clinton envoy after another and rebuffed the terms of a peace deal offered by Mr. Clinton himself in March 2000. Yet the Clintonites remained undeterred in their faith in the Syrian track, just as they remained undeterred by Yasser Arafat’s telling declaration in a May 1994 Johannesburg speech: “The permanent state of Israel—No! It is the permanent state of Palestine.”

As for the “Sunshine Policy,” it had the usual merits of other peace processes, along with the added distinction of having been purchased with political bribes by the South Korean government of the late Kim Dae Jung, including alleged payments of several hundred million dollars for a June 2000 photo-op summit that produced nothing. Nothing, that is, except to help prolong the life of a bankrupt and vile regime that might have otherwise collapsed on its own weight.

In the current issue of Foreign Policy, former über-peace processor Aaron David Miller offers a refreshingly honest assessment of what he calls “the false religion of Mideast Peace.” “Like all religions,” he writes, “the peace process has developed a dogmatic creed, with immutable first principles.” He then goes on to enumerate all the reasons why the administration’s current push to midwife a credible and lasting Arab-Israeli peace deal is doomed to fail.

Mr. Miller’s case is mostly unobjectionable; indeed, he could have written the same piece about the administration’s failed diplomatic overtures toward Syria and Iran.

But he misses a deeper point. Even as peace processes almost invariably fail between the warring parties, they also almost invariably succeed as political theater for the peace processors themselves. Kim Dae Jung, Arafat and Shimon Peres all burnished their prestige with Nobel Peace Prizes. President Obama won one pre-emptively. And Mr. Clinton still basks in an ill-founded reputation as a peacemaker. Ironically, the only real peace he ever achieved, in the Balkans, was through the strength of American arms.

So the ship will be hoisted again. The peace processors will bask in the glow of their good intentions. And wicked men, convenient partners in this game of self-congratulation, illusion and deceit, will plot their own advantage.

Bret Stephens, Wall Street Journal


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No Secrets in the Sky

THE highly classified C.I.A. program to kill militants in the tribal regions of Pakistan with missiles fired from drones is the world’s worst-kept secret.

The United States has long tried to maintain plausible deniability that it is behind drone warfare in Pakistan, a country that pollsters consistently find is one of the most anti-American in the world. For reasons of its own, the Pakistani government has also sought to hide the fact that it secretly agreed to allow the United States to fly some drones out of a base in Pakistan and attack militants on its territory.

But there are good reasons for the United States, which conducted 53 such strikes in 2009 alone, and Pakistan to finally acknowledge the existence of the drone program.

First, there is the matter of Pakistani civilian casualties caused by the drones. In a poll last summer, only 9 percent of Pakistanis approved of the drone strikes. A key reason for this unpopularity is the widespread perception that the strikes overwhelmingly kill civilians.

A survey we have made of reliable press accounts indicates that since January 2009, the reported strikes have killed at least 520 people, of whom around 410 were described as militants, suggesting that the civilian death rate is about 20 percent.

It’s possible, however, that the number is even lower. An American counterterrorism official told The Times in December that the civilian fatality rate is only 5 percent, saying that “just over 20” civilians and more than 400 militants were killed in 2009. Should the American government’s claims about the small number of civilian deaths be verified, some of the Pakistani hostility toward the United States might dissipate. This would be much easier if the now-classified videotapes of drone strikes were made available to independent researchers.

Acknowledging the drone program would also help advance our efforts — and improve our profile — in the region by providing an excellent example of the deepening United States-Pakistan strategic partnership. Since January 2009, up to 85 reported drone strikes have killed militants who are responsible for the deaths of thousands of Pakistanis. A good deal of the intelligence that enables these strikes comes from the Pakistanis themselves.

Last, Pakistanis once considered any military offensive against the Taliban as fighting America’s war. But because of the cumulative weight of the Taliban’s atrocities against politicians, soldiers, police and civilians, Pakistanis now believe that battling the militants is in the country’s own interest. As a result, over the past year, the public’s support for the Pakistani Army’s efforts in the Swat Valley and South Waziristan has surged. If Pakistan came clean about its involvement with the drones, public backing for the program might similarly increase.

Of course, by acknowledging the drone strikes, the Obama administration would also have to admit that civilians are sometimes killed in these attacks. When Afghan civilians are killed by American forces, their families are often compensated by the United States. Surely, the families of Pakistani civilians killed in American drone strikes deserve the same.

Peter Bergen is a senior fellow and Katherine Tiedemann is a policy analyst at the New America Foundation.


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The Palestine Peace Distraction

Announcing a comprehensive plan now—one that is all but certain to fail—risks discrediting good ideas, breeding frustration in the Arab world, and diluting America’s reputation for getting things done.

President Obama recently said it was a “vital national security interest of the United States” to resolve the Middle East conflict. Last month, David Petraeus, the general who leads U.S. Central Command, testified before Congress that “enduring hostilities between Israel and some of its neighbors present distinct challenges to our ability to advance our interests.” He went on to say that “Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of U.S. partnerships with governments and peoples . . . and weakens the legitimacy of moderate regimes in the Arab world.”

To be sure, peace between Israelis and Palestinians would be of real value. It would constitute a major foreign-policy accomplishment for the United States. It would help ensure Israel’s survival as a democratic, secure, prosperous, Jewish state. It would reduce Palestinian and Arab alienation, a source of anti-Americanism and radicalism. And it would dilute the appeal of Iran and its clients.

But it is easy to exaggerate how central the Israel-Palestinian issue is and how much the U.S. pays for the current state of affairs. There are times one could be forgiven for thinking that solving the Palestinian problem would take care of every global challenge from climate change to the flu. But would it? The short answer is no. It matters, but both less and in a different way than people tend to think.

Take Iraq, the biggest American investment in the Greater Middle East over the past decade. That country’s Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds are divided over the composition of the new government, how to share oil revenues, and where to draw the border between the Kurdish and Arab areas. The emergence of a Palestinian state would not affect any of these power struggles.

Soon to surpass Iraq as the largest U.S. involvement in the region is Afghanistan. Here the U.S. finds itself working against, as much as with, a weak and corrupt president who frustrates American efforts to build up a government that is both willing and able to take on the Taliban. Again, the emergence of a Palestinian state would have no effect on prospects for U.S. policy in Afghanistan or on Afghanistan itself.

What about Iran? The greatest concern is Iran’s push for nuclear weapons. But what motivates this pursuit is less a desire to offset Israel’s nuclear weapons than a fear of conventional military attack by the U.S. Iran’s nuclear bid is also closely tied to its desire for regional primacy. Peace between Israel and the Palestinians would not weaken Iran’s nuclear aspirations. It could even reinforce them. Iran and the groups it backs (notably Hamas and Hezbollah) would be sidelined by the region’s embrace of a Palestinian state and acceptance of Israel, perhaps causing Tehran to look to nuclear weapons to compensate for its loss of standing and influence.

Nor is it clear what effect successful peacemaking would have on Arab governments. The Palestinian impasse did nothing to dissuade Arab governments from working with the U.S. to oust Saddam Hussein from Kuwait in the Gulf War when they determined it was in their interest to do so. Similarly, an absence of diplomatic progress would not preclude collaboration against an aggressive Iran. Just as important, a solution would not resolve questions of political stability and legitimacy within the largely authoritarian Arab world.

Alas, neither would terrorism fade if Israelis and Palestinians finally ended their conflict. Al Qaeda was initially motivated by a desire to rid the Arabian Peninsula of infidels. Its larger goal is to spread Islam in a form that closely resembles its pure, seventh-century character. Lip service is paid to Palestinian goals, but the radical terrorist agenda would not be satisfied by Palestinian statehood.

What is more, any Palestinian state would materialize only amidst compromise. There will be no return to the 1967 borders; at most, Palestinians would be compensated for territorial adjustments made necessary by large blocs of Jewish settlements and Israeli security concerns. There will be nothing more than a token right of return for Palestinians to Israel. Jerusalem will remain undivided and at most shared. Terrorists would see all this as a sell-out, and they would target not just Israel but those Palestinians and Arab states who made peace with it.

The danger of exaggerating the benefits of solving the Palestinian conflict is that doing so runs the risk of distorting American foreign policy. It accords the issue more prominence than it deserves, produces impatience, and tempts the U.S. government to adopt policies that are overly ambitious.

This is not an argument for ignoring the Palestinian issue. As is so often the case, neglect will likely prove malign. But those urging President Obama to announce a peace plan are doing him and the cause of peace no favor. Announcing a comprehensive plan now—one that is all but certain to fail—risks discrediting good ideas, breeding frustration in the Arab world, and diluting America’s reputation for getting things done.

As Edgar noted in “King Lear,” “Ripeness is all.” And the situation in the Middle East is anything but ripe for ambitious diplomacy. What is missing are not ideas—the outlines of peace are well-known—but the will and ability to compromise.

The Palestinian leadership remains weak and divided; the Israeli government is too ideological and fractured; U.S.-Israeli relations are too strained for Israel to place much faith in American promises. The West Bank is the equivalent of a fragile state at best. What is needed are sustained efforts to strengthen Palestinian economic, military and governing capacities on the West Bank so that Israel will come to see the Palestinian Authority as a partner it can work with.

Also needed are efforts to repair U.S.-Israeli ties. The most important issue facing the two countries is Iran. It is essential the two governments develop a modicum of trust if they are to manage inevitable differences over what to do about Iran’s nuclear program, a challenge that promises to be the most significant strategic threat of this decade. A protracted disagreement over the number of settlements or the contours of a final settlement is a distraction that would benefit neither the U.S. nor Israel, given an Iranian threat that is close at hand and a promise of peace that is distant.

Mr. Haass is president of the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of “War of Necessity, War of Choice: A Memoir of Two Iraq Wars” (Simon & Schuster, 2009).


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Iran, Israel and the Bomb

Sorting the real, from the phony, nuclear proliferation threats.

As far as grand summitry goes, an American President hasn’t hosted something like the current two-day talk-in on nuclear security in Washington since—well, as the Obama Administration described it, not since the San Francisco Conference of 1945. That meeting created the United Nations and helped establish the postwar world order. The agenda for the party that started yesterday is far more modest, but also hard to dislike.

President Obama invited the leaders of 46 countries to brainstorm ways to secure weapons-grade plutonium and uranium and ensure that terrorist groups don’t get their hands on a bomb. At the end of the Cold War, the U.S. tracked and locked down nuclear material in the former Soviet Union with admirable success through the Nunn-Lugar program. In our current post-9/11 era, al Qaeda and like-minded Islamists badly want a bomb, and this Washington gabfest can usefully focus minds and highlight best practices for governments willing to stop global proliferation.

Any achievements will be modest. Ukraine yesterday agreed to eliminate its stockpile of highly enriched uranium, nearly 16 years after giving up the nuclear arsenal it inherited from the Soviet Union. Kiev isn’t a proliferator of nuclear weapons, and while welcome, this deal won’t make anyone in the free world sleep better at night.

In his remarks on Sunday, President Obama declared that: “The single biggest threat to U.S. security, both short-term, medium-term and long-term, would be the possibility of a terrorist organization obtaining a nuclear weapon. This is something that could change the security landscape in this country and around the world for years to come.”

That’s true enough, which only underscores what isn’t on the table this week. Namely, proliferation by Iran and North Korea. U.S. officials say they avoided these touchy subjects to ensure that all countries came on board. China might be annoyed by raising such state-sponsored proliferation, goes the argument, and in any case that’s being pursued at the U.N.

Really? Nuclear material in the hands of well-run democracies that play by international rules isn’t likely to fall into the hands of terrorists. However, were Iran to develop an atomic bomb and the means to deliver a warhead, the danger automatically rises that the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism might share it with its friends in Hezbollah or Hamas. Or imagine a North Korea hard up for cash and willing to sell a device to al Qaeda.

The restrictions on sensitive topics evidently doesn’t apply to Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cancelled plans to attend after Turkey and Egypt declared their intention to turn the spotlight on Israel’s presumed nuclear arsenal. Who wants to travel across the ocean to listen to insults?

Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently declared the Jewish state “the principal threat to peace in the region today.” But Israel’s nukes aren’t prompting him or the Saudis or Egyptians to kick-start their atomic programs; an Israeli bomb poses no threat to them. An Iranian bomb would.

In our view, “the single biggest threat to American security” would be to allow Iran to defy years of effort by the world’s leading nations and become a nuclear power. That would unleash a new age of proliferation that would swamp this week’s attempts at controlling nuclear materials. Prevent an Iranian breakout, and the risk of an al Qaeda nuclear attack falls sharply. High-profile nuclear summitry has its uses, but it won’t mean much if Mr. Obama dodges the hard decisions necessary to stop the world’s most dangerous proliferators.

Editorial, Wall Street Journal


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He’s a Dreamer, He’s a Realist

In matters of national security, confusion is always dangerous.

This week 36 heads of state gathered in Washington for President Obama’s Nuclear Security Summit. On Tuesday the Washington Post printed on its front page individual photos of 11 of them with Mr. Obama. It looked like the Christmas line at Macy’s for Santa Claus photos.

By Wednesday the invited leaders assented to a communiqué that said each would take “voluntary” measures to keep weapons-grade plutonium out of the hands of terrorists. Before the summit, when the Post conducted a poll asking how confident people were the event would achieve better controls on nuclear materials, 56% said not very.

What do these people know that three dozen nodding heads of state do not?

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh sits for photo with his host.

One lesson learned from the health-care odyssey is that when one enters the vortex of Mr. Obama’s always-sweeping vision, the devil is in the details.

A week ago, Mr. Obama signed a new START treaty on nuclear-arms reduction with Russian President Dimitry Medvedev in Prague, where a year earlier he said “as the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon, the U.S. has a moral responsibility to act.”

That treaty must be ratified by the U.S. Senate. The ratification hearings need to pursue a broad mandate to learn more than we know now about the Obama administration’s national security philosophy, which is something of a puzzle, though not all of it bad.

On Afghanistan, the expectation was that Mr. Obama would cut his losses and wind down the effort. He did not. His national-security team supported the McChrystal plan.

More intriguing was chief State Department legal adviser Harold Koh’s recent, strong defense of the legality of the pilotless drone killings of Taliban and al Qaeda in northern Pakistan. In this there is an ironic and useful avenue of inquiry for senators ratifying START.

The irony of the Obama administration’s embrace of the unmanned drones, which launch laser-guided Hellfire missiles, is that in the years of Ronald Reagan and his “Star Wars” program, they would have been on the front lines with Ted Kennedy, Joe Biden and current Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, fighting to suppress these technologies as “destabilizing.”

Amid those historic arms-control battles, those of us who supported missile defense and cruise missiles argued that the Russians’ goal in these agreements was to shut down superior U.S. technologies. These weapon technologies would be more precise and reduce collateral damage to civilians. As Mr. Koh argued, the incredibly precise drone wars demonstrate that is true.

Under Secretary of State Ellen Tauscher insists the new START treaty places no limits or constraints on what the U.S. can do with missile defense systems. That statement alone, from a Democratic administration, is nominally a sea change.

But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, in his press conference, pointedly referred to the U.S.’s 2002 unilateral withdrawal from the ABM Treaty (blessedly, George Bush really did do that). He argued that if there is a change in the parties’ “existing levels of strategic defensive systems,” Russia reserves the right to withdraw from future participation in this process, meaning the famous “reset,” Iran sanctions, and all the rest. For the Russians, arms control is chess.

Notwithstanding Sec. Tauscher’s commitment, the senators should ask whether under any circumstance U.S. missile defense programs could be used as a future bargaining chip in return for another Russian promise to keep the “reset” in place—a bad deal. Bluntly, what will Mr. Obama do if the Russian price for maintaining the “reset” is shutting down our missile defense technologies?

In 1985, the now-sainted former Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev offered to “reduce” nuclear weapons by 50% if the U.S., among other things, froze development of the now invaluable Stealth bomber technology. Reagan refused.

American technology, our “smart” weapons, assures America’s superpower status. Every U.S. enemy and competitor knows that if they can slow or close the technology gap, America’s power and status erodes. That includes nuclear-warhead technology (upgrades are already underway by competitors and allies).

It would be nice to think this generation of Democrats has come to recognize the worth of offensive and defensive weapon technologies. It is not clear, though, that they are comfortable with an America whose superpower status is a function of military superiority. On nuclear issues and national security, Mr. Obama’s policy thrust is emerging as an odd amalgam of starry-eyed Carterism (Iran, North Korea) and clear-eyed realpolitik (Afghanistan, the drone wars).

Mr. Obama by instinct is a man of feints. He finds value in seeming “open” to any point of view, proposal or fix. That may have its place in domestic policy, but in national security, coherence and clarity matter more.

Before ratifying START, senators should try to find out whether our national security is being run by a dreamer who hopes our good faith will breed a mullah’s good faith, or a realist willing to kill enemies with laser-guided Hellfire missiles in the northern frontier. In national security, states of confusion are always dangerous.

Daniel Henninger, Wall Street Journal


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Iran, Israel and the Bomb

Sorting the real, from the phony, nuclear proliferation threats.

As far as grand summitry goes, an American President hasn’t hosted something like the current two-day talk-in on nuclear security in Washington since—well, as the Obama Administration described it, not since the San Francisco Conference of 1945. That meeting created the United Nations and helped establish the postwar world order. The agenda for the party that started yesterday is far more modest, but also hard to dislike.

President Obama invited the leaders of 46 countries to brainstorm ways to secure weapons-grade plutonium and uranium and ensure that terrorist groups don’t get their hands on a bomb. At the end of the Cold War, the U.S. tracked and locked down nuclear material in the former Soviet Union with admirable success through the Nunn-Lugar program. In our current post-9/11 era, al Qaeda and like-minded Islamists badly want a bomb, and this Washington gabfest can usefully focus minds and highlight best practices for governments willing to stop global proliferation.

Any achievements will be modest. Ukraine yesterday agreed to eliminate its stockpile of highly enriched uranium, nearly 16 years after giving up the nuclear arsenal it inherited from the Soviet Union. Kiev isn’t a proliferator of nuclear weapons, and while welcome, this deal won’t make anyone in the free world sleep better at night.

In his remarks on Sunday, President Obama declared that: “The single biggest threat to U.S. security, both short-term, medium-term and long-term, would be the possibility of a terrorist organization obtaining a nuclear weapon. This is something that could change the security landscape in this country and around the world for years to come.”

That’s true enough, which only underscores what isn’t on the table this week. Namely, proliferation by Iran and North Korea. U.S. officials say they avoided these touchy subjects to ensure that all countries came on board. China might be annoyed by raising such state-sponsored proliferation, goes the argument, and in any case that’s being pursued at the U.N.

Really? Nuclear material in the hands of well-run democracies that play by international rules isn’t likely to fall into the hands of terrorists. However, were Iran to develop an atomic bomb and the means to deliver a warhead, the danger automatically rises that the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism might share it with its friends in Hezbollah or Hamas. Or imagine a North Korea hard up for cash and willing to sell a device to al Qaeda.

The restrictions on sensitive topics evidently doesn’t apply to Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cancelled plans to attend after Turkey and Egypt declared their intention to turn the spotlight on Israel’s presumed nuclear arsenal. Who wants to travel across the ocean to listen to insults?

Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently declared the Jewish state “the principal threat to peace in the region today.” But Israel’s nukes aren’t prompting him or the Saudis or Egyptians to kick-start their atomic programs; an Israeli bomb poses no threat to them. An Iranian bomb would.

In our view, “the single biggest threat to American security” would be to allow Iran to defy years of effort by the world’s leading nations and become a nuclear power. That would unleash a new age of proliferation that would swamp this week’s attempts at controlling nuclear materials. Prevent an Iranian breakout, and the risk of an al Qaeda nuclear attack falls sharply. High-profile nuclear summitry has its uses, but it won’t mean much if Mr. Obama dodges the hard decisions necessary to stop the world’s most dangerous proliferators.

Editorial, Wall Street Journal


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Nuclear posturing, Obama-style

Nuclear doctrine consists of thinking the unthinkable. It involves making threats and promising retaliation that is cruel and destructive beyond imagining. But it has its purpose: to prevent war in the first place.

During the Cold War, we let the Russians know that if they dared use their huge conventional military advantage and invaded Western Europe, they risked massive U.S. nuclear retaliation. Goodbye, Moscow.

Was this credible? Would we have done it? Who knows? No one’s ever been there. No one’s ever had to make such decisions. A nuclear posture is just that — a declaratory policy designed to make the other guy think twice.

Our policies did. The result was called deterrence. For half a century, it held. The Soviets never invaded. We never used nukes. That’s why nuclear doctrine is important.

The Obama administration has just issued a new one that “includes significant changes to the U.S. nuclear posture,” said Defense Secretary Bob Gates. First among these involves the U.S. response to being attacked with biological or chemical weapons.

Under the old doctrine, supported by every president of both parties for decades, any aggressor ran the risk of a cataclysmic U.S. nuclear response that would leave the attacking nation a cinder and a memory.

Again: Credible? Doable? No one knows. But the threat was very effective.

Under President Obama’s new policy, however, if the state that has just attacked us with biological or chemical weapons is “in compliance with the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT),” explained Gates, then “the U.S. pledges not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against it.”

Imagine the scenario: Hundreds of thousands are lying dead in the streets of Boston after a massive anthrax or nerve gas attack. The president immediately calls in the lawyers to determine whether the attacking state is in compliance with the NPT. If it turns out that the attacker is up to date with its latest IAEA inspections, well, it gets immunity from nuclear retaliation. (Our response is then restricted to bullets, bombs and other conventional munitions.)

However, if the lawyers tell the president that the attacking state is NPT-noncompliant, we are free to blow the bastards to nuclear kingdom come.

This is quite insane. It’s like saying that if a terrorist deliberately uses his car to mow down a hundred people waiting at a bus stop, the decision as to whether he gets (a) hanged or (b) 100 hours of community service hinges entirely on whether his car had passed emissions inspections.

Apart from being morally bizarre, the Obama policy is strategically loopy. Does anyone believe that North Korea or Iran will be more persuaded to abjure nuclear weapons because they could then carry out a biological or chemical attack on the United States without fear of nuclear retaliation?

The naivete is stunning. Similarly the Obama pledge to forswear development of any new nuclear warheads, indeed, to permit no replacement of aging nuclear components without the authorization of the president himself. This under the theory that our moral example will move other countries to eschew nukes.

On the contrary. The last quarter-century — the time of greatest superpower nuclear arms reduction — is precisely when Iran and North Korea went hellbent into the development of nuclear weapons (and India and Pakistan became declared nuclear powers).

It gets worse. The administration’s Nuclear Posture Review declares U.S. determination to “continue to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in deterring non-nuclear attacks.” The ultimate aim is to get to a blanket doctrine of no first use.

This is deeply worrying to many small nations that for half a century relied on the extended U.S. nuclear umbrella to keep them from being attacked or overrun by far more powerful neighbors. When smaller allies see the United States determined to move inexorably away from that posture — and for them it’s not posture, but existential protection — what are they to think?

Fend for yourself. Get yourself your own WMDs. Go nuclear if you have to. Do you imagine they are not thinking that in the Persian Gulf?

This administration seems to believe that by restricting retaliatory threats and by downgrading our reliance on nuclear weapons, it is discouraging proliferation.

But the opposite is true. Since World War II, smaller countries have forgone the acquisition of deterrent forces — nuclear, biological and chemical — precisely because they placed their trust in the firmness, power and reliability of the American deterrent.

Seeing America retreat, they will rethink. And some will arm. There is no greater spur to hyper-proliferation than the furling of the American nuclear umbrella.

Charles Krauthammer, Washington Post


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Droning on

How to build ethical understanding into pilotless war planes

As ye sow…

WHAT the helicopter was to the Vietnam war, the drone is becoming to the Afghan conflict: both a crucial weapon in the American armoury and a symbol of technological might pitted against stubborn resistance. Pilotless aircraft such as the Predator and the Reaper, armed with Hellfire missiles, can hit targets without placing a pilot in harm’s way. They have proved particularly useful for assassinations. On February 17th, for example, Sheikh Mansoor, an al-Qaeda leader in the Pakistani district of North Waziristan, was killed by a drone-borne Hellfire. In consequence of this and actions like it, America wants to increase drone operations.

Assassinating “high value targets”, such as Mr Mansoor, often involves a moral quandary. A certain amount of collateral damage has always been accepted in the rough-and-tumble of the battlefield, but direct attacks on civilian sites, even if they have been commandeered for military use, causes queasiness in thoughtful soldiers. If they have not been so commandeered, attacks on such sites may constitute war crimes. And drone attacks often kill civilians. On June 23rd 2009, for example, an attack on a funeral in South Waziristan killed 80 non-combatants.

Such errors are not only tragic, but also counterproductive. Sympathetic local politicians will be embarrassed and previously neutral non-combatants may take the enemy’s side. Moreover, the operators of drones, often on the other side of the world, are far removed from the sight, sound and smell of the battlefield. They may make decisions to attack that a commander on the ground might not, treating warfare as a video game.

Ronald Arkin of the Georgia Institute of Technology’s School of Interactive Computing has a suggestion that might ease some of these concerns. He proposes involving the drone itself—or, rather, the software that is used to operate it—in the decision to attack. In effect, he plans to give the machine a conscience.

The software conscience that Dr Arkin and his colleagues have developed is called the Ethical Architecture. Its judgment may be better than a human’s because it operates so fast and knows so much. And—like a human but unlike most machines—it can learn.

The drone would initially be programmed to understand the effects of the blast of the weapon it is armed with. It would also be linked to both the Global Positioning System (which tells it where on the Earth’s surface the target is) and the Pentagon’s Global Information Grid, a vast database that contains, among many other things, the locations of buildings in military theatres and what is known about their current use.

After each strike the drone would be updated with information about the actual destruction caused. It would note any damage to nearby buildings and would subsequently receive information from other sources, such as soldiers in the area, fixed cameras on the ground and other aircraft. Using this information, it could compare the level of destruction it expected with what actually happened. If it did more damage than expected—for example, if a nearby cemetery or mosque was harmed by an attack on a suspected terrorist safe house—then it could use this information to restrict its choice of weapon in future engagements. It could also pass the information to other drones.

No commander is going to give a machine a veto, of course, so the Ethical Architecture’s decisions could be overridden. That, however, would take two humans—both the drone’s operator and his commanding officer. That might not save a target from destruction but it would, at least, provide room for a pause for reflection before the pressing of the “fire” button.


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How to Save Afghanistan From Karzai

IN February, the Taliban sanctuary of Marja in southern Afghanistan was attacked in the largest operation of the war. Last week, President Obama flew to Afghanistan and declared, “Our troops have pushed the Taliban out of their stronghold in Marja …. The United States of America does not quit once it starts on something.”

But what is that “something”? And, equally important, does Afghanistan’s president, Hamid Karzai, have to be a part of it?

The United States ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry, was guilty of understatement last fall when he told Washington that “Karzai is not an adequate strategic partner.” Still, getting rid of Mr. Karzai at this point wouldn’t be easy, and any major upheaval would clearly imperil President Obama’s plan to start withdrawing American troops next summer.

The Marja offensive, however, may have shown us an alternative approach to the war. For one thing, it demonstrated that our Karzai problem is part of a broader failure to see that our plans for Afghanistan are overambitious.

The coalition is pursuing a political-military strategy based on three tasks. First, “clear” the guerrillas from populated areas. Second, “hold” the areas with Afghan forces. Third, “build” responsible governance and development to gain the loyalty of the population for the government in Kabul. To accomplish this, the coalition military has deployed reconstruction teams to 25 provinces. We may call this a counterinsurgency program, but it’s really nation-building.

The problem with building a new and better Afghanistan is that, above the local level, President Karzai has long held the levers of political power by controlling provincial finances and leadership appointments, including those of police chiefs. Regardless of the coalition’s success at the district level, an obdurate and erratic Mr. Karzai is an obstacle to progress.

The success in Marja, however, changed the dynamics of the conflict. It now seems that the planned surge of 30,000 additional troops will likely achieve progress in “clearing and holding” Kandahar and other Taliban-controlled areas by mid-2011. At that time, the force ratio will be one coalition soldier for every three Afghan soldiers and policemen, and the Afghan Army will still rely upon us for firepower and moral support.

Ideally, we could then begin to withdraw major American units and leave behind small task forces that combine advisory and combat duties, leading to a new ratio of about one American to 10 Afghans. Not only would this bring our troops home, but it would shift the responsibility for nation-building to Afghan forces.

At the same time, we would have to pivot our policy in two ways. First, Mr. Karzai should be treated as a symbolic president and given the organizational “mushroom treatment” — that is, we should shut off the flows of information and resources directly to the national government.

President Ronald Reagan did something similar with another erratic ally, President Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines. In February 1986, Reagan warned Marcos that if government troops attacked opposition forces holed up on the outskirts of Manila, it would cause “untold damage” to his relations with the United States — meaning the aid spigot would be turned off. When his countrymen saw that he was stripped of prestige and support, they forced Marcos into exile.

Second, the coalition must insist that the Afghan military play a primary role in the governance of the districts and provinces, including in the allocation of aid and the supervision of the police. We should work directly with those local and provincial leaders who will act responsibly, and cut off those who are puppets of Kabul.

This is happening, to some extent, in Helmand Province, site of the Marja battle, where the coalition has independent control over $500 million in reconstruction aid and salaries. We have been fortunate that the provincial governor, Gulab Mangal, while a Karzai appointee, has proved an innovative partner. But in any case, we know that coalition aid need not flow through Kabul.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top American commander in the region, already seems to be considering this approach as the battle for Kandahar gains intensity. “One of the things we’ll be doing in the shaping is working with political leaders to try to get an outcome that makes sense” including “partnering inside the city with the Afghan National Police,” he told reporters last month.

Although isolating Mr. Karzai will strike many as a giant step backward, the truth is that we don’t have a duty to impose democracy on Afghanistan. The advancement of liberty doesn’t necessitate a “one person, one vote” system, as the 1.5 million fraudulent votes cast for Mr. Karzai in last summer’s sham election showed. We cannot provide democracy if we desire it more than the Afghans.

The Philippines — and South Korea as well — evolved into thriving democracies at their own pace, well after American aid helped to beat back the military threats facing them. It was enough to prevent the Communist takeovers and leave behind governments controlled in the background by a strong military. We didn’t spend tens of billions of dollars on material projects to inculcate democratic principles.

Similarly, a diminished Hamid Karzai can be left to run a sloppy government, with a powerful, American-financed Afghan military insuring that the Taliban do not take over.

Admittedly, this risks the emergence of the Pakistan model in Afghanistan — an army that has a country rather than a country that has an army. But we are not obliged to build a democratic nation under a feckless leader. We need to defend our interests, and leave the nation-building to the Afghans themselves.

Bing West, an assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration, has reported on the Afghan war since 2001.


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Unserious About Iran

Obama is acting as if he believes a nuclear Tehran is inevitable.

‘Our aim is not incremental sanctions, but sanctions that will bite.” Thus did Secretary of State Hillary Clinton seek to reassure the crowd at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee two weeks ago about the Obama Administration’s resolve on Iran. Three days later, this newspaper reported on its front page that “the U.S. has backed away from pursuing a number of tough measures against Iran” in order to win Russian and Chinese support for one more U.N. sanctions resolution.

This fits the pattern we have seen across the 14 months of the Obama Presidency. Mrs. Clinton called a nuclear-armed Iran “unacceptable” no fewer than four times in a single paragraph in her AIPAC speech. But why should the Iranians believe her? President Obama set a number of deadlines last year for a negotiated settlement of Iran’s nuclear file, all of which Tehran ignored, and then Mr. Obama ignored them too.

In his latest Persian New Year message to Iran, Mr. Obama made the deadline-waiver permanent, saying “our offer of comprehensive diplomatic contacts and dialogue stands.” Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had a quick rejoinder. “They say they have extended a hand to Iran,” the Iranian President said Saturday, “but the Iranian government and nation declined to welcome that.”

The Iranians have good reason to think they have little to lose from continued defiance. Tehran’s nuclear negotiator emerged from two days of talks in Beijing on Friday saying, “We agreed, sanctions as a tool have already lost their effectiveness.” He has a point.

The Chinese have indicated that the most they are prepared to support are narrow sanctions on Iran’s nuclear program of the type Tehran has already sneered at. As the Journal’s Peter Fritsch and David Crawford reported this weekend, the Iranians continue to acquire key nuclear components from unsuspecting Western companies via intermediaries, including some Chinese firms.

Yet the Administration still rolls the sanctions rock up the U.N. hill, in a fantastic belief that Russian and Chinese support is vital even if the price is sanctions that are toothless. French President Nicolas Sarkozy urged Mr. Obama a year ago to move ahead with sanctions even without the Russians and Chinese, but Mr. Obama insisted he needed both. A year later, everyone except apparently Mr. Obama can see who was right.

The Administration also argued upon taking office that by making good-faith offers to Iran last year, the U.S. would gain the diplomatic capital needed to steel the world for a tougher approach. Yet a year later the U.S. finds itself begging for U.N. Security Council votes even from such nonpermanent members as Brazil and Turkey, both of which have noticeably improved their ties with Iran in recent months.

The U.S. can at this point do more unilaterally by imposing and enforcing sanctions on companies that do business in Iran’s energy industry. But so far the Administration has shown considerably less enthusiasm for these measures than has even a Democratic Congress.

As for the potential threat of military strikes to assist diplomacy, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has made his doubts about their efficacy very public. The President’s two-week public attempt to humiliate Benjamin Netanyahu has also considerably lessened the perceived likelihood of an Israeli strike on Iran, thereby further diminishing whatever momentum remains for strong sanctions.

All of these actions suggest to us that Mr. Obama has concluded that a nuclear Iran is inevitable, even if he can’t or won’t admit it publicly. Last year Mrs. Clinton floated the idea of expanding the U.S. nuclear umbrella to the entire Middle East if Iran does get the bomb. She quickly backtracked, but many viewed that as an Obama-ian slip.

Most of the U.S. and European foreign policy establishment has already concluded that Iran will succeed, and the current issue of Foreign Affairs makes the public case for what to do “After Iran Gets the Bomb.” Authors James Lindsay and Ray Takeyh argue that a nuclear Iran is containable, and that it is better than the alternative of a pre-emptive U.S. attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

However, even they acknowledge that a nuclear Iran “would be seen as a major diplomatic defeat for the United States,” in which “friends would respond by distancing themselves from Washington [and] foes would challenge U.S. policies more aggressively.” And that’s the optimistic scenario.

Meanwhile, the CIA has recently reported that Iran more than tripled its stockpile of low-enriched uranium in 2009; that it has “[moved] toward self-sufficiency in the production of ballistic missiles”; and that it “continues to develop a range of capabilities that could be applied to producing nuclear weapons.” A senior Western official recently told us he is confident the Iranians either have or are building secret nuclear facilities beyond the one near Qom that was disclosed last year.

President George W. Bush will share responsibility for a nuclear Iran given his own failure to act more firmly against the Islamic Republic or to allow Israel to do so, thereby failing to make good on his pledge not to allow the world’s most dangerous regimes to get the world’s most dangerous weapons. But it is now Mr. Obama’s watch, and for a year he has behaved like a President who would rather live with a nuclear Iran than do what it takes to stop it.

Editorial, Wall Street Journal


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Publicly criticizing the Afghan president hurts the U.S.

Just four days after President Obama’s surprise visit to Kabul, Afghan President Hamid Karzai gave a major speech complaining heavy-handed international actions tarnished last year’s presidential election, diminished his legitimate status as clear winner and risked making the foreign military presence resemble the imperialist invaders of yesteryear.

Karzai went too far. His comments were unfair and risked encouraging critics of the Afghanistan mission who want to portray foreign forces as unwelcome. But his remarks were also a predictable result of American browbeating. Historically, negative treatment of the Afghan leader has produced these sorts of reactions. Kabul and Washington are partners in the effort to create a stable, democratic state; they should understand that public displays of rancor are best avoided.

The immediate catalyst for Karzai’s outburst appears to have been comments by Obama’s national security adviser. En route to Kabul, Gen. Jim Jones predicted to journalists on the record that Obama would pressure Karzai about corruption in governance and said that Karzai had made no progress on this front since his Nov. 19 inauguration.

Jones’s concerns were not without foundation. Even as the latest wave of U.S. troops began arriving en masse, and NATO forces, with limited Afghan help, were clearing towns such as Marja in Helmand province and preparing for a major operation in Kandahar city, the ruling elites in Kabul allegedly refused to clean up their self-serving approach to governance. Allegations of malfeasance have been reinforced by concerns about the president’s brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, a major power broker in Kandahar. His system of patronage and favoritism has been a concern for allied forces, who see it as angering local tribes that are on the outs — and thereby helping the Taliban’s efforts to recruit followers.

In the past year, Vice President Biden and other U.S. officials have strongly criticized the Afghan leader in public. But whatever one thinks of Afghan governance, and it’s true that it’s not improving fast enough, Jones’s remarks were flawed and self-defeating.

First, Karzai was largely a U.S. pick. Through the Bonn process that followed the Taliban’s overthrow in 2001, this country led an international effort to make him Afghanistan’s leader. His “big tent” approach to governance was seen as the most practical way to engender support from tribal leaders, warlords and other power brokers as the United States sought to maintain a light footprint in Afghanistan and avoided building up a strong central state. Circumstances have changed since 2001, but Karzai remains largely the same man. Moreover, some aspects of his strategy of inclusiveness resemble the American desire for reconciliation with elements of the Afghan insurgency. We have grounds to debate and criticize Karzai on many issues, but such conversations need to happen with an attitude of respect, an appreciation of nuance, and an awareness that 80 percent of Afghans still like him as their leader.

Second, Jones was wrong that no notable progress has been made against corruption since November. The pace of progress remains too slow, but Karzai began his second term as president by keeping in office many of his best ministers and governors. Helmand province Gov. Gulab Mangal, Interior Minister Hanif Atmar and Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak, for example, have accomplished a good deal for their country. The Major Crimes Task Force designed to pursue cases of high-level corruption is gaining strength. And the number of trained Afghan army and police forces accompanying NATO troops into Marja, while still modest, was double the number of locally available forces accompanying U.S. Marines on similar operations in Helmand last year.

Discussions continue about how to dilute Ahmed Karzai’s influence in Kandahar. But delays reflect disagreement among NATO governments about how to proceed, not just nepotistic interference from Kabul.

Third, browbeating Karzai, especially in public, does not work. A more respectful approach has proved effective. While keeping much of his counsel private, Sen. John Kerry was direct in meetings with Karzai last fall. Kerry persuaded Karzai to accept a second round of voting to determine the presidency, and though that second round was not implemented, Karzai’s willingness to approve it did much to shore up his legitimacy at home and abroad. Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s discreet approach to Karzai and his cabinet has generated cooperation with key ministers on reform of Afghan security forces. And Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s presence at Karzai’s second inauguration is part of a State Department effort to make diplomacy and development more effective, in part by reaching out to regional and local Afghan leaders in key places. Perhaps the professional rapport he seems to have with Clinton is an indication that Karzai responds to such efforts.

A transcript of the Obama-Karzai meeting was not released. Our guess is that it had a more balanced tone than much of the trip’s public remarks. To be fair, Jones may have underestimated how his comments could reinforce negative perceptions in Afghanistan and the United States and set the stage for another period of acrimony. But we are fighting a war. Our leaders need to stop relearning lessons about U.S.-Afghan diplomacy every few months. There is no time to waste.

Michael O’Hanlon is director of research and a senior foreign policy fellow at the Brookings Institution. Hassina Sherjan is an Afghan businesswoman and director of the nonprofit group Aid Afghanistan for Education. They are co-authors of “Toughing It Out in Afghanistan.”


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Iran Sanctions Are Failing. What’s Next?

Has the U.S. abandoned plans to target the Iranian regime’s access to banking and credit and to isolate Iranian air and shipping transport? While recent reports to that effect have been strenuously denied by the administration, it has become clear that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s promise of “crippling sanctions” and President Barack Obama’s “aggressive” penalties are little more than talk. The administration simply cannot persuade a critical mass of nations to join with it.

At this juncture, there are blunt questions that need to be asked. Can sanctions even work? Can we live with a nuclear Iran? Is military action inevitable? But first, some foreign policy forensics are in order.

Candidate Obama told us engagement would be his byword, and to give him credit, he proffered a generous, open hand to Tehran. If his hand remained outstretched a little too long, he was secure in the knowledge that the world rarely criticizes an American president who is willing to make sacrifices for peace (especially if those sacrifices are measured in terms of American national security). But Mr. Obama was more than committed to dialogue with Iran: He was unwilling to take no for an answer.

How else to explain Mr. Obama’s lack of interest in the Iranian people’s democratic protests against the regime. Or his seeming indifference to Tehran’s failure to meet repeated international deadlines to respond to an offer endorsed by all five permanent U.N. Security Council members (and Germany) to allow Iran to enrich uranium in Russia, receiving back enriched fuel rods that do not lend themselves to weapons production. One might have hoped the administration was using that time to build international consensus for a plan B. But apparently that’s not the case.

After months of begging, China will agree only to discuss the possibility of a fourth U.N. Security Council resolution punishing Tehran’s noncompliance with its nonproliferation commitments. But along with Russia, it has already ruled out any measures to target the regime or the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. Even nonpermanent U.N. Security Council members Japan, Brazil and Turkey have reportedly rebuffed the administration requests to support tougher sanctions.

Meanwhile, Tehran continues to work toward a nuclear weapon, with the International Atomic Energy Agency now looking for two new nuclear sites in the Islamic Republic. Any talk of a tidal wave of ad hoc sanctions among various like-minded Western nations has fallen by the wayside. True, companies like Royal Dutch Shell, major oil trader Vitol and others have decided to take a pass on new deals with Iran. Others are less cautious.

In the past few weeks, among other reported business with Iran, Turkey announced it was mulling a $5.5 billion investment in Iran’s natural-gas sector. Iran and Pakistan signed a deal paving the way for the construction of a major pipeline. And a unit of China National Petroleum inked a $143 million contract with Iran’s state-run North Drilling Company to deliver equipment for NDC’s Persian Gulf oil fields.

Sanctions increasingly appear to be a fading hope. Thus we are left with a stark alternative: Either Iran gets a nuclear weapon and we manage the risk, or someone acts to eliminate the threat.

Unofficial Washington has long been discussing options for containment of a nuclear Iran. Setting aside the viability of containment (I have my doubts), surely these challenges must be apparent to some on the Obama team. But you’d never know it from administration officials, who continue to privately profess faith in the (weak) sanctions route. Badgered by those in the region most directly menaced by a nuclear Iran, administration officials have reportedly refused to engage in discussion of possible next steps.

The implications of this ostrich-like behavior are grave. Some Gulf states (including, some say, Qatar, which hosts American forces and equipment) have begun to openly propitiate the Tehran regime, anticipating its regional dominance once it is armed with nuclear weapons. Others, not reassured by Clinton drop-bys and ineffectual back-patting, have begun to explore their own nuclear option. Repeated rumors that Saudi Arabia is negotiating to buy an off-the-shelf Pakistani nuclear weapon should not be ignored.

What of Israel? The mess of U.S.-Israel relations has ironically only bolstered the fears of Arab governments that the current U.S. administration is a feckless ally. If the U.S. won’t stand by Israel, by whom will it stand? Conversely, our adversaries view both the distancing from Israel and the debacle of Iran policy as evidence of American retreat. All the ingredients of a regional powder keg are in place.

Finally, there is the military option. Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu left Washington last week befuddled by Mr. Obama’s intentions on Iran. Should Israel decide to attack Iran, the shock waves will not leave the U.S. unscathed. Of course, Mr. Obama could decide that we must take action. But no one, Iran included, believes he will take action.

And so, as the failure of Mr. Obama’s Iran policy becomes manifest to all but the president, we drift toward war. The only questions remaining, one Washington politico tells me, are who starts it, and how it ends.

Ms. Pletka is vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute.


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This Time We Really Mean It

This newspaper carried a very troubling article on the front page on Monday. It detailed how President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan had invited Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to Kabul — in order to stick a thumb in the eye of the Obama administration — after the White House had rescinded an invitation to Mr. Karzai to come to Washington because the Afghan president had gutted an independent panel that had discovered widespread fraud in his re-election last year.

The article, written by two of our best reporters, Dexter Filkins and Mark Landler, noted that “according to Afghan associates, Mr. Karzai recently told lunch guests at the presidential palace that he believes the Americans are in Afghanistan because they want to dominate his country and the region, and that they pose an obstacle to striking a peace deal with the Taliban.”

The article added about Karzai: “ ‘He has developed a complete theory of American power,’ said an Afghan who attended the lunch and who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution. ‘He believes that America is trying to dominate the region, and that he is the only one who can stand up to them.’ ”

That is what we’re getting for risking thousands of U.S. soldiers and having spent $200 billion already. This news is a flashing red light, warning that the Obama team is violating at least three cardinal rules of Middle East diplomacy.

Rule No. 1: When you don’t call things by their real name, you always get in trouble. Karzai brazenly stole last year’s presidential election. But the Obama foreign policy team turned a blind eye, basically saying, he’s the best we could get, so just let it go. See dictionary for Vietnam: Air Marshal Nguyen Cao Ky.

When you can steal an election, you can steal anything. How will we get this guy to curb corruption when his whole election, and previous tour in office, were built on corruption? How can we be operating a clear, build-and-hold strategy that depends on us bringing good governance to Afghans when the head of the government is so duplicitous?

Our envoy in Kabul warned us of this before the election, but in his case, too, we were told to look the other way. On Nov. 6, the ambassador, Karl Eikenberry, wrote to Washington in a cable that was leaked: “President Karzai is not an adequate strategic partner,” he warned. “Karzai continues to shun responsibility for any sovereign burden, whether defense, governance or development. He and much of his circle do not want the U.S. to leave and are only too happy to see us invest further. They assume we covet their territory for a never-ending ‘war on terror’ and for military bases to use against surrounding powers.”

One reason you violate Rule No. 1 is because you’ve already violated Rule No. 2: “Never want it more than they do.”

If we want good governance in Afghanistan more than Karzai, he will sell us that carpet over and over. How many U.S. officials have flown to Kabul — the latest being President Obama himself — to lecture Karzai on the need to root out corruption in his administration? Do we think he has a hearing problem? Or do we think he believes he has us over a barrel and, in the end, he can and will do whatever serves his personal power needs because he believes that we believe that he is indispensable for confronting Al Qaeda?

This rule applies equally to the Israeli prime minister, Bibi Netanyahu, and the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas. There is something wrong when we are chasing them — two men who live in biking distance from one another — begging, cajoling and pressuring them to come to a peace negotiation that should ostensibly serve their interests as much as our own.

Which leads to Rule No. 3: In the Middle East, what leaders tell you in private in English is irrelevant. All that matters is what they will defend in public in their own language.

When Karzai believes that the way to punish America for snubbing him is by inviting Iran’s president to Kabul — who delivered a virulently anti-U.S. speech from inside the presidential palace — you have to pay close attention to that. It means Karzai must think that anti-Americanism plays well on the streets of Afghanistan and that by dabbling in it himself — as he did during his presidential campaign — he will strengthen himself politically. That is not a good sign.

As Filkins and Landler noted, “During the recent American-dominated military offensive in the town of Marja — the largest of the war — Mr. Karzai stood mostly in the shadows.” And if Karzai behaves like this when he needs us, when we’re there fighting for him, how is he going to treat our interests when we’re gone?

We have thousands of U.S. troops on the ground in Afghanistan and more heading there. Love it or hate it, we’re now deep in it, so you have to want our engagement there to build something that is both decent and self-sustaining — so we can get out. But I still fear that Karzai is ready to fight to the last U.S. soldier. And once we clear, hold and build Afghanistan for him, he is going to break our hearts.

Thomas L. Friedman, New York Times


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Lady Gaga Versus Mideast Peace

Are settlements more offensive than pop stars?

Pop quiz—What does more to galvanize radical anti-American sentiment in the Muslim world: (a) Israeli settlements on the West Bank; or (b) a Lady Gaga music video?

If your answer is (b) it means you probably have a grasp of the historical roots of modern jihadism. If, however, you answered (a), then congratulations: You are perfectly in synch with the new Beltway conventional wisdom, now jointly defined by Pat Buchanan and his strange bedfellows within the Obama administration.

What is that wisdom? In a March 26 column in Human Events, Mr. Buchanan put the case with his usual subtlety:

“Each new report of settlement expansion,” he wrote, “each new seizure of Palestinian property, each new West Bank clash between Palestinians and Israeli troops inflames the Arab street, humiliates our Arab allies, exposes America as a weakling that cannot stand up to Israel, and imperils our troops and their mission in Afghanistan and Iraq.”

Lady Gaga at the 2009 MTV music awards. The global jihad disapproves.

Mr. Buchanan was playing off a story in the Israeli press that Vice President Joe Biden had warned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “what you’re doing here [in the West Bank] undermines the security of our troops.” Also in the mix was a story that Centcom commander David Petraeus had cited Arab-Israeli tensions as the key impediment to wider progress in the region. Both reports were later denied—in Mr. Biden’s case, via Rahm Emanuel; in Gen. Petraeus’s case, personally and forcefully—but the important point is how eagerly they were believed. If you’re of the view that Israel is the root cause of everything that ails the Middle East—think of it as global warming in Hebrew form—then nothing so powerfully makes the case against the Jewish state as a flag-draped American coffin.

Now consider Lady Gaga—or, if you prefer, Madonna, Farrah Fawcett, Marilyn Monroe, Josephine Baker or any other American woman who has, at one time or another, personified what the Egyptian Islamist writer Sayyid Qutb once called “the American Temptress.”

Qutb, for those unfamiliar with the name, is widely considered the intellectual godfather of al Qaeda; his 30-volume exegesis “In the Shade of the Quran” is canonical in jihadist circles. But Qutb, who spent time as a student in Colorado in the late 1940s, also decisively shaped jihadist views about the U.S.

In his 1951 essay “The America I Have Seen,” Qutb gave his account of the U.S. “in the scale of human values.” “I fear,” he wrote, “that a balance may not exist between America’s material greatness and the quality of her people.” Qutb was particularly exercised by what he saw as the “primitiveness” of American values, not least in matters of sex.

“The American girl,” he noted, “knows seductiveness lies in the round breasts, the full buttocks, and in the shapely thighs, sleek legs and she shows all this and does not hide it.” Nor did he approve of Jazz—”this music the savage bushmen created to satisfy their primitive desires”—or of American films, or clothes, or haircuts, or food. It was all, in his eyes, equally wretched.

Qutb’s disdain for America’s supposedly libertine culture would not matter much were it not wedded to a kind of theological Leninism that emphasized the necessity of violently overthrowing any political arrangement not based on Shariah law. No less violent was Qutb’s attitude toward Jews: “The war the Jews began to wage against Islam and Muslims in those early days [of Islamic history],” he wrote in the 1950s, “has raged to the present. The form and appearance may have changed, but the nature and the means remain the same.”

Needless to say, that passage was written long before Israel had “occupied” a single inch of Arab territory, unless one takes the view—held to this day by Hezbollah, Hamas, al Qaeda, Jemaah Islamiyah and every other jihadist group that owes an intellectual debt to Qutb, including significant elements of the “moderate” Palestinian Fatah—that Tel Aviv itself is occupied territory.

Bear in mind, too, that the America Qutb found so offensive had yet to discover Elvis, Playboy, the pill, women’s lib, acid tabs, gay rights, Studio 54, Jersey Shore and, of course, Lady Gaga. In other words, even in some dystopic hypothetical world in which hyper-conservatives were to seize power in the U.S. and turn the cultural clock back to 1948, America would still remain a swamp of degeneracy in the eyes of Qutb’s latter-day disciples.

This, then, is the core complaint that the Islamists from Waziristan to Tehran to Gaza have lodged against the West. It explains why jihadists remain aggrieved even after the U.S. addressed their previous casus belli by removing troops from Saudi Arabia, and why they will continue to remain aggrieved long after we’ve decamped from Iraq, Afghanistan and even the Persian Gulf. As for Israel, its offenses are literally inextricable: as a democracy, as a Jewish homeland, as a country in which liberalism in all its forms, including cultural, prevails.

Which brings me back to the settlements. There may well be good reasons for Israel to dismantle many of them, assuming that such an act is met with reciprocal and credible Palestinian commitments to suppress terrorism and religious incitement, and accept Israel’s legitimacy as a Jewish state. But to imagine that the settlements account for even a fraction of the rage that has inhabited the radical Muslim mind since the days of Qutb is fantasy: The settlements are merely the latest politically convenient cover behind which lies a universe of hatred. If the administration’s aim is to appease our enemies, it will get more mileage out of banning Lady Gaga than by applying the screws on Israel. It should go without saying that it ought to do neither.

Bret Stephens, Wall Street Journal


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How the Next Middle East War Could Start

The three most plausible scenarios all involve Iran.

This May, Israel will celebrate its 62nd Independence Day. And barring the unexpected, the country will have good reason to celebrate. This will have been the safest year in a decade and a half for Israeli civilians—the year with the fewest fatalities in acts of war or terror.

Ironically, Israel’s most bitter foes are responsible for this achievement. The leadership of both Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza have imposed a temporary policy of nonconfrontation on their respective followers, as well as on other armed groups operating within the territories they control. They are now part of the administration and don’t want to be blamed for igniting another war in the region. As a result, the once almost daily rocket attacks on civilian targets in the north and south of Israel have been reduced to a trickle.

This is as good as it gets in this part of the world. But the truth is that the Middle East remains as ever on the brink of war. One careless move by any party, and the now dormant volcano could erupt once again.

Israel is certainly aware of this volatility, and it is preparing for the worst. In late February the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) conducted a secret war game, code-named Firestone 12, which simulated a general conflict in the region. Under the scenario used in the exercise, Iran instructs its Hezbollah proxies to initiate military action against Israel in order to divert attention from the Iranian nuclear project. Israel responds with massive force against Hezbollah in Lebanon, which draws Syria and Hamas into the conflict.

The exercise was supposed to conclude with the mobilization of a large number of reserves. But because military and political tensions were running high, the army decided not to call up the additional units.

Until recently, the most plausible scenario for the outbreak of the next war would have begun with an Israeli aerial assault on Iranian nuclear installations. This would lead to a response by members of the group that the Israeli intelligence community refers to as the “radical front”: Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. But for now, this scenario is regarded as somewhat less likely, since it appears that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will go along with the U.S. demand that Israel allow time for sanctions to achieve their purpose.

Yet there are other scenarios that create a very real danger of war breaking out.

Scenario I: Hamas attacks in order to break the impasse. These are hard times for Hamas. It sustained a military defeat at the hands of Israel in late 2008 and is now engaged in a bitter confrontation with Egypt over a barrier Egypt is constructing to prevent smuggling from the Sinai Peninsula into Gaza. Various sources, including IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, who briefed parliament on Tuesday, have suggested that Hamas may try to break the impasse by instigating a military operation to upset the balance of forces in the region. In addition, the organization’s desire to avenge the assassination of senior commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh last January in Dubai has only increased its motivation to act.

Scenario II: Hezbollah avenges Imad Mughniyeh’s assassination. Hezbollah believes that the Mossad was behind the assassination of the organization’s military commander two years ago. Mughniyeh was the most wanted terrorist on the FBI’s list before Sept. 11, 2001, and he was in charge of the suicide attacks on the American Embassy and Marine barracks in Beirut in 1982/1983. Mossad and the CIA tried to catch or kill him numerous times in the past.

In order to avenge Mughniyeh’s death, Hezbollah attempted to blow up the Israeli Embassy in Azerbaijan, attack Israeli tourists in the Sinai, and abduct Israeli businessmen in Africa. Yet these failures have not blunted its resolve. Any successful act of revenge—especially if it is a spectacular operation such as killing a large number of Israelis or Jews outside Israel, or assassinating a prominent figure inside Israel—would lead to considerable public pressure on the Israeli government to take action against Hezbollah inside Lebanon.


Scenario III: Syria supplies Hezbollah with “equilibrium-breaking” weapons. Today Syria is Hezbollah’s chief supplier of arms. Many Iranian-developed weapons are manufactured in Syria and transported to Lebanon where they are delivered to the Shiite organization. Syria possesses a number of weapons systems, mainly various types of long-range missiles and anti-aircraft and antinaval missiles, that Israel regards as “equilibrium-breaking” (i.e., systems that in the hands of Hezbollah would threaten Israel’s ability to operate with impunity in Lebanon’s airspace and along its coastline).

The Syrian ambassador to Washington, Imad Mustafa, was recently summoned to the State Department, where he was informed that the U.S. expects Syria to cease arming Hezbollah because of the very real risk of war. This meeting took place after Israel came close to attacking a Syrian arms convoy, deciding not to at the last moment.

This final scenario is perhaps the most dangerous. Syrian President Bashar Assad has taken significant risks in the past, most recently when he embarked on the joint Syrian-Iranian-North Korean nuclear project knowing full well that Israel would not be able to allow it to reach completion. If Mr. Netanyahu shows less restraint than he has so far and orders an attack on a Syrian military convoy, the high number of Syrian casualties that would likely ensue could force Mr. Assad’s hand.

What these three scenarios all have in common is the centrality of Iran: It is arming Hamas, it effectively controls Hezbollah, and it is doing its best to involve Syria in open confrontation with Israel. To date, these attempts have been unsuccessful. But only the U.S. has the ability to take decisive steps to prevent a general conflagration in the region.

Mr. Bergman, senior military and intelligence analyst for Yedioth Ahronoth, an Israeli daily, is the author of “The Secret War With Iran” (Free Press, 2008).


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The Dangerous Fantasy of a Nuclear-Free World

Nonproliferation initiatives should start from a realistic premise.

Making the world free of nuclear weapons has been the wish of many people of goodwill since the dawn of the nuclear age. It was formally proposed by the U.S. in 1946, when only it had nuclear weapons. But the hope soon was exposed as only that: a hope. The Soviet Union rejected the U.S. proposal and the nuclear arms race was off and running.

But hope springs eternal, and the desire for a nuclear-free world has been elevated by otherwise responsible people—including Henry Kissinger and William Perry—to a serious policy prescription. How nations behave provides a reality test that shows nuclear weapons cannot be eliminated in the world as it exists, and that acting otherwise diverts resources away from nonproliferation actions that can work.

Nuclear weapons are frequently sought and used to intimidate. In 2008, Russia threatened Poland and the Czech Republic with nuclear attack if they participated in a then-planned U.S. missile defense system. In 1996, a Chinese official threatened the obliteration of Los Angeles if the U.S. met certain defense obligations to Taiwan. Unlike the U.S., Russia’s military doctrine prescribes occasions for first use of nuclear weapons. Does anyone believe the Iranian nuclear program is not motivated by the intention to threaten?

A country’s desire for nuclear weapons also becomes pressing when distrust and enmity are high. The distrust between India and Pakistan is so profound that each has felt the need for a nuclear capability.

Countries depend on nuclear weapons for defense as well. This is the case for the 31 countries under the U.S. nuclear umbrella—where the U.S. commits to maintain a nuclear capability and use it to defend the others. Most of the countries under the umbrella have forsaken developing their own nuclear weapons so long as the U.S. deterrent remains available and credible.

Proponents of “nuclear zero” sometimes argue that if the U.S. and Russia eliminated their nuclear arsenals, other nations would follow their lead. But where’s the evidence? Since 1991, the U.S. has unilaterally moved toward nuclear disarmament. It reduced the number of operationally deployed nuclear warheads to fewer than 2,200 from 13,000. It ended nuclear testing. It neither produced nor designed new nuclear warheads. It ended production of fissile material for nuclear warheads. But these actions have not persuaded any nuclear countries to follow suit.

So long as countries threaten to use nuclear arms, others will require a nuclear answer. Even suspicion of nuclear blackmail will precipitate demands for a countervailing deterrent. As a senior official of a Middle East country told me in 2006, “If Iran develops a nuclear weapon, someone else in the region will become nuclear capable too.”

The nuclear zeroers argue that strict verification can overcome such suspicion. But the facts argue otherwise. Did the International Atomic Energy Agency inspections thwart covert and illegal programs in North Korea? In Iran? In Iraq? And when illegal nuclear weapons development is discovered, as in Iran, what U.N. or “international community” response will protect the immediately threatened states?

Suppose every country seriously considered relinquishing its nuclear weapons and accepting an inspection regime. Wouldn’t we anticipate that some would cheat, especially as the world approaches zero and the prospect emerged for a country to become the world’s only nuclear power? It would be irresponsible for national leaders not to consider such possibilities.

There are better ways to reduce the prospects for nuclear weapons being used. U.N. Security Council Resolution 1540 adopted in 2004 requires members to pass and enforce domestic legislation to outlaw the manufacture and trade of nuclear materials—but many countries need help to implement this. The Proliferation Security Initiative, which invites multilateral cooperation to interdict international shipments of nuclear materials, has had successes—but it would be more effective with greater financial and political support. Tough action to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons would be a welcome replacement for current threats and rhetoric. Greater resources could be allocated to developing new technologies to detect fissile materials.

But mustering support for effective measures would be easier if we focused on the problems and steps that might be of practical consequence, not on rhetoric about nuclear zero.

Mr. David is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute. He was deputy assistant secretary of defense for combating weapons of mass destruction and negotiations policy from 2004 to 2006.


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To only say Iranian nukes are unacceptable is to accept them

In March 1936, Hitler occupied the Rhineland. The French prime minister, Leon Blum, denounced the act as “unacceptable.” But France, Britain and the rest of the world accepted it. Years later, the French political thinker Raymond Aron commented, “To say that something is unacceptable was to say that one accepted it.”

In March 2010, as Iran moved ahead with its nuclear weapons program, the American secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, speaking at the policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee last week, said no fewer than four times in one paragraph that a nuclear-armed Iran would be “unacceptable.” It would be unacceptable simply, “unacceptable to the United States,” “unacceptable to Israel” and “unacceptable to the region and the international community.”

Then, perhaps sensing the ghost of Raymond Aron at her shoulder, Clinton hastened to add: “So let me be very clear: The United States is determined to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.”

But this attempt at reassurance merely conjured up (at least for me) another ghost: that of Richard Nixon. Didn’t Nixon always say, at moments of utmost insincerity, that he wanted to make something very clear?

What is becoming increasingly clear, from the Clinton speech and from the overall behavior of her administration — and for that matter from the action or, rather, inaction of the “international community” — is that we are all moving toward accepting an Iranian nuclear weapon.

Consider Clinton’s speech.

The secretary of state devoted six paragraphs out of 52 to Iran.

She began by acknowledging that “for Israel, there is no greater strategic threat” than the prospect of the current Iranian regime with nuclear arms.

She explained how threatening such a prospect would be to Israel, the region and the world, culminating in the cascade of “unacceptables.”

She then briefly defended the Obama administration’s decision to try engagement, acknowledged (basically) that engagement had failed, but claimed that at least “[t]he world has seen that it is Iran, not the United States, responsible for the impasse.” She noted that “with its secret nuclear facilities, increasing violations of its obligations under the nonproliferation regime and an unjustified expansion of its enrichment activities, more and more nations are finally expressing deep concerns about Iran’s intentions.”

And what are the newly perceptive and ever more deeply concerned nations of the world doing about Iran? “There is a growing international consensus on taking steps to pressure Iran’s leaders to change course.” What kind of pressure? New U.N. Security Council resolutions with “sanctions that will bite.”

Now, these won’t be quite the “crippling” sanctions Clinton promised last year — but they’ll be biting ones. (Then we learned, late in the week, that the sanctions were being adjusted so they wouldn’t bite too much — so as to get the “international community” on board.) Of course, three Security Council resolutions seeking to pressure Iran’s leaders were passed during the Bush administration, before the great international awakening brought about by President Obama’s engagement policy. Clinton had to acknowledge that “it is taking time to produce these new sanctions.” But she maintained that “time is a worthwhile investment for winning the broadest possible support for our efforts.” And she reiterated that “we will not compromise our commitment to preventing Iran from acquiring those nuclear weapons.”

Notice what Clinton conspicuously failed to mention as part of that “commitment” — another word, by the way, about whose unhappy diplomatic history Raymond Aron would undoubtedly have had mordant comments. What the secretary of state did not say is that all options are on the table. What she did not say is that force remains a last but credible resort against this regime’s nuclear plans. What she did not say is that we would try to help the opposition change who “Iran’s leaders” are.

So: Nothing about regime change. Nothing about the possible use of force. Just broadly supported “sanctions that will bite,” but not too much.

Then Clinton turned — one can almost hear the sigh of relief — to other issues, because, after all, “Iran is not the only threat on the horizon. Israel is confronting some of the toughest challenges in her history.” And we were off into the maze of the peace process, the settlements, and other ephemera and trivialities.

The Iranian regime and its pursuit of nuclear weapons constitute the dominant threat to the security of Israel and to the national security interests of the United States in the Middle East. While presidents Bush and Obama have proclaimed that this Iranian regime obtaining nuclear weapons would be unacceptable, they have done nothing effective to stop it. Now we are also apparently pressuring Israel not to act to stop Iran from getting nuclear arms.

Is it so hard to remember what happens when liberal democracies accept the unacceptable? Is it too much to hope that, for the government of the United States in 2010, accepting the unacceptable should be unacceptable?

William Kristol is editor of the Weekly Standard.


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More Questions About the Dubai Assassination

What was a senior Hamas figure doing in a city infamous for Iranian arms trade?

James Jesus Angleton, the legendary CIA counterintelligence chief, once discussed a series of suspicious deaths in Germany with me. “Any gang of thugs could murder someone,” he said, “but it took an intelligence services to make a murder appear to be a suicide or natural death.”

According to this precept, the assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai on the evening of Jan. 19, 2010, was almost certainly the work of an intelligence service. When Mabhouh’s body was discovered the next day in his room in the five-star Al Bustan Rotana hotel, it appeared he’d died in bed of natural causes. There were no wounds, bruises or other signs of foul play.

Room 230 had no balcony or windows that could be opened, and the electronic door latch appeared to have been locked from the inside. If an ordinary tourist died under such nonsuspicious circumstances, investigators would routinely assume he had died in his sleep from natural causes.

But Mabhouh was no ordinary tourist. He was a senior commander and a co-founder of Hamas’s military wing, Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades. His activities included the abduction of Israeli soldiers, and he was wanted in three countries: Israel, Egypt (where he had been imprisoned for almost a year for his Muslim Brotherhood activities and was wanted on suspicion of subversion) and Jordan, on suspicion of terrorism.

Based in Damascus, Syria, Mabhouh was also a key intermediary in the covert arms traffic between Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, the Syrian intelligence service, the Hamas government in Gaza, and other militants. He was ordinarily protected by a team of armed bodyguards. But they had not been allowed to accompany him to Dubai on Jan. 19 because there was no room on the flight, according to a Hamas spokesman in Damascus, Talal Nasser. So whether by design or accident, he was stripped of his protection, making his assassination easier to accomplish.

When the Dubai police, under pressure from Hamas, looked more closely into the crime scene, they found that the electronic lock on the door of his room had been reprogrammed to allow others to enter. The electronic lock can be accessed directly at the hotel room door by a sophisticated hacker.

Then a Dubai forensic lab retesting his body fluids discovered traces of succinylcholine. This is a quick-acting, depolarizing, paralytic drug that, by rendering Mabhouh incapable of resisting, could account for the lack of bruise marks on the body.

In February, Dubai’s chief coroner, Fawzi Benomran, reversed his verdict of a natural death. Instead, describing the death as “one of the most challenging cases” in the history of the emirate, he concluded it was a disguised homicide “meant to look like death from natural causes during sleep.”

Meanwhile, Dubai investigators examined 645 hours of videos from surveillance cameras at the hotel and elsewhere. They saw that, after Mabhouh left his hotel room, four suspicious-looking individuals got out of the elevator on the second floor near his room. Several hours later, at 8:25 p.m., Mabhouh returned to his room (according to the electronic lock). Shortly afterwards, the four men were seen via the cameras leaving the floor.

The police theorized that these men had surreptitiously entered Mabhouh’s room while he was out, incapacitated him with the paralytic drug on his return, induced a heart attack by suffocating him with a pillow, and reprogrammed the electric lock to make it appear it had been locked from the inside.

With the aid of facial recognition software, Dubai police then identified 26 suspects. All had been in Dubai at the time of Mabhouh’s brief visit. All had entered Dubai using fake or fraudulently obtained passports from countries not requiring a Dubai visa, including Britain, Ireland, France, Germany and Australia.

All the passports turned out to be stolen identities with faked passport photos. The charge cards, airline tickets and pre-paid phone cards these suspects used were also in the name of their stolen identities. The only real clue to their real identities was that eight of the identities had been stolen from people with dual Israeli citizenship. Since Mossad, Israel’s national intelligence agency, had previously used dual citizens’ passports to fake identities, Dubai authorities concluded the suspects were from Mossad.

Dahi Khalfan Tamim, the head of the Dubai police force, stated on a government-owned Web site, that he “is 99 percent, if not 100 percent, that Mossad is standing behind the murder.” While this authoritative finger-pointing was largely accepted as am “aha” moment by the media, Dubai is not exactly an uninterested party in the Mabhouh affair. It is, after all, the principal transshipment points for the lethal arms trade between Iran and Hamas—and Mabhouh had been one of the major players in this trade.

The much-publicized hotel surveillance videos, while highly diverting on YouTube, do not show any of the 26 suspects engaging in any illegal activities other than using false identities, a practice which is not unknown in Dubai. (Mabhouh himself reportedly had five different passports.) Even if all 26 identity thieves were intelligence operatives, as seems the case, it does not necessarily follow that they were all in Dubai on the same business, or even working for the same side.

Since Iran maintains its largest offshore financing facility in Dubai—which is used by the Revolutionary Guard, among others, to support its traffic in covert weapons— more than one intelligence service might be interested in Mabhouh’s trip. Consider, for example, the peculiar fact that two of the 26 Dubai suspects exited by boat to Iran, according to Dubai authorities; this is not a likely escape route for Mossad agents.

Two other individuals whom the Dubai police had named as suspects worked for the Palestinian Authority, an arch-enemy of Hamas. (They were arrested in Jordan and turned over to Dubai.) Another person wanted by Dubai for questioning returned to Damascus just prior to the killing. And then there is the question of who in Syria played a role in stripping Mabhouh of his protection just hours before his flight to Dubai.

The key missing piece in the jigsaw remains Mabhouh’s mission to Dubai—apparently important enough for him to travel there without his normal contingent of bodyguards.

Mabhouh arrived from the airport at his hotel shortly before 3 p.m., and after changing his clothes left for an unknown destination. He was gone for several hours. But even with its state-of-the-art surveillance cameras in Dubai, and extensive interviews with all the taxi drivers at the hotel, authorities claim they cannot determine either his whereabouts during these hours or the identity of whom he met.

The world-wide focus on the spooks—whose false identities allowed many of them to vanish in the intelligence netherworld—has diverted attention from the potentially embarrassing mission that brought Mabhouh to Dubai. The real intrigue here is not who killed a wanted terrorist, but what he was up to. Without this missing piece, any rush to judgment about who his killers were may be premature.

Mr. Epstein, who frequently writes on intelligence issues, is the author most recently of “The Hollywood Economist” (Melville, 2010).


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A wall of suspicion

Despite a rare dressing down from America, Israel’s leader shows no sign of yielding

GLUM Israelis likened the event to thieves entering in the night. When Binyamin Netanyahu and his aides met Barack Obama in the White House on March 23rd, the president forbade any media coverage—not even a quick photograph—in the Oval Office. The encounter with Israel’s prime minister did not seem to lead to the jovial reconciliation that politicians on both sides, after a fortnight of angry mud-slinging between Washington and Jerusalem, had hoped for.

The format was as odd as the extreme confidentiality. After the two leaders had sat alone for an hour-and-a-half, Mr Netanyahu closeted himself to “consult” his advisers, before returning for another half-hour discussion. Did Mr Obama, riding high after his historic victory over health care, choose to confront the silver-tongued Israeli prime minister with an unequivocal challenge to lay out his policy on peace with the Palestinians—and to back down over the controversial issue of building Jewish houses in Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem, which Palestinians see as the capital of their would-be state?

The need for such clarity was illustrated by yet another Israeli building project in East Jerusalem, which was publicised just hours before the White House meeting. In Israel there was speculation that someone had issued news of this untimely project, long in the works, in order, once again, to “trip up Bibi”, as the prime minister is known, when he was about to meet the president of Israel’s most vital ally.

The crisis in American-Israeli relations flared up a fortnight ago when, just as the vice-president, Joe Biden, was visiting Jerusalem, it was announced that 1,600 Jewish homes would be built in East Jerusalem. Mr Netanyahu apologised fulsomely for the bad timing but refused to rescind the decision. The suburb in question, Ramat Shlomo, is one of several all-Jewish ones built since 1967 in East Jerusalem, where 250,000 Israeli Jews now live.

The latest scheme is much smaller—just 20 units—but a lot more incendiary. Whereas Ramat Shlomo is built on a rocky outcrop on the northern rim of the Israeli-delineated municipality, the new scheme involves installing a score of Jewish settler families in a converted hotel in the densely populated all-Arab suburb of Sheikh Jarrah, close to the Old City.

Mr Netanyahu contends that his building policy in Jerusalem is no different from that of all his predecessors since 1967, when Israeli forces conquered the entire city. “The Jewish people were building in Jerusalem 3,000 years ago,” he told 7,000-odd delegates to the annual conference of the influential American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a pro-Israel lobby, in Washington on March 22nd. “And the Jewish people are building Jerusalem today. Jerusalem is not a settlement. It is our capital.” He complains privately that Mr Obama is needlessly picking on him.

But American officials complain privately that Mr Netanyahu is dissembling. They point out that two of his predecessors, Ehud Barak (1999-2001) and Ehud Olmert (2006-09), negotiated with the Palestinians over a peace plan for Jerusalem proposed by President Bill Clinton, who suggested sharing out the city’s sovereignty by districts: Jewish-inhabited ones would go to Israel, Arab-inhabited ones to Palestine. The “holy basin” in the middle, including religious shrines, would fall under an international or divine protectorate.

Mr Obama now insists that Jerusalem, along with the other core issues of the conflict, such as the question of redrawing borders and the return of refugees demanded by the Palestinians, should be tackled in the “proximity talks” he is trying to launch between Israelis and Palestinians. He hopes they may lead to a resumption of long-stalled direct negotiations. Mr Obama also wants a series of “confidence-building steps” to bring the Palestinians back to the table. These include a release of Palestinian prisoners and the dismantling of Israeli military road-blocks that frustrate Palestinians’ lives and commerce on the West Bank. Mr Netanyahu says he cannot meet these demands because his allies on the nationalist and religious end of his ruling coalition would rebel if he did.

But Mr Obama’s team may no longer be willing to accept that as a reason. Some observers in Washington felt in his speech to AIPAC Mr Netanyahu gave unduly short shrift to Mr Obama and ignored the president’s insistence that fresh talks between Israel and the Palestinians should go straight to the big issues, such as adjusting borders. “Of course the United States can help the parties solve their problems,” said the prime minister. “But it cannot solve the problems for the parties. Peace cannot be imposed from the outside.”

It was even suggested that Mr Netanyahu’s speech may have been written before Mr Obama’s health-care triumph in the House of Representatives the night before. It was said that people in the White House had been brooding with resentment over Mr Netanyahu’s ill-disguised pleasure when Mr Obama’s political fortunes seemed earlier to be sliding.

Mr Netanyahu has indeed had a tough time keeping his coalition together. Just before he left for Washington, he and his extreme nationalist foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, both secular Jews, persuaded a cabinet majority to accept ultra-Orthodox demands for a new hospital emergency-room to be moved, at high cost, because its previously planned site might contain ancient Jewish graves. An ultra-Orthodox party that is an important coalition partner and holds the health ministry threatened to secede unless this was done.

A public outcry then ensued. Already in Washington, Mr Netanyahu had to backtrack by setting up a committee to “reconsider” the cabinet decision. But for the time being, he would rather compromise with his Orthodox partners than consider the prospect, much favoured by Mr Obama’s team, of dumping them (and, by the by, Mr Lieberman’s lot) and co-opting the more pragmatic Kadima party under Tzipi Livni. After winning most seats in a general election a year ago, she refused to join a coalition with Mr Netanyahu partly because he would not negotiate over Jerusalem.

The world gangs up on you

As if Mr Netanyahu had not been discomfited enough by his apparent dressing down from Mr Obama, he faced yet another embarrassment when Britain’s foreign secretary, David Miliband, publicly denounced Israel for forging 12 British citizens’ passports that were used in January in the assassination of a senior Hamas man in a hotel in Dubai. An Israeli diplomat in London, thought to be a member of Mossad, the external intelligence service, was asked to leave the country.

Palestinians have gleefully watched two of Israel’s main allies rebuking it. They have rejoiced, too, as the peacemaking Quartet (the United States, the European Union, Russia and the UN) roundly condemned Israel’s building plans in East Jerusalem. Earlier the EU’s constitutional court had said that Israeli products made in West Bank settlements should not be given EU preferential trade tariffs.

Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian leader, echoed Mr Obama’s demands for a settlement freeze in East Jerusalem, but he is wary of once again being left high and dry if the Americans were to buckle over the issue, as they have done before. Moreover, he is nervous that the violence between Palestinian protesters and Israeli security forces, that has increased in the past few weeks, may spin out of control. Four Palestinians have recently been shot dead in the West Bank. So far Palestinian and Israeli forces have co-operated rather effectively to contain the unrest. Even so, Palestinian leaders are worried that a wider intifada (uprising) may erupt, making it even harder to get talks going again.

Some Palestinians might settle for an Israeli assurance that settlement-building in East Jerusalem would cease while talks are under way, along with an Israeli promise seriously to negotiate borders and security straightaway. But Mr Abbas is unlikely to risk re-embarking on talks without the 22-country Arab League’s endorsement. The league’s impending summit is to take place in Libya, whose leader, Muammar Qaddafi, is keen for Mr Abbas’s Islamist rival, Hamas, to attend—a sure recipe for kiboshing a compromise plan to resume talks.


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A Soldier’s Story

Life with PFC Cold-Cuts and a stun gun dubbed Cultural Awareness.

For an officer, war is all about taking care of your own by balancing risk and reward. You don’t precipitately hurl your soldiers into a fight, but you don’t flinch from one either. American soldiers and Marines are killing machines; the more efficiently they accomplish war’s central task, the better for them and for our country. In a counterinsurgency, though, they have to kill the enemy and, simultaneously, protect civilians, among whom the enemy lurks. When soldiers write about counterinsurgency warfare, they automatically address the tension between these two fundamental parts of their mission—a tension that is often missing from accounts by high-profile journalists who have never served. It is important to be reminded that, in certain wars, we demand that our grunts be sympathetic toward the people and implacable toward the enemy sheltered by the people.

Matt Gallagher served as an Army platoon leader in Baghdad during a 15-month deployment in 2007-08, and in that time, writing under the name “LT G,” he entertained online readers with an irreverent blog called “Kaboom.” His posts—originally intended for family and friends before a wider audience took notice—captured the comic insanities that are an inevitable aspect of life within the military leviathan. The Army pulled the plug on the blog in June 2008 after Mr. Gallagher posted an account of how he had turned down a promotion to a staff position in order to stay with his men—or, rather, he mentioned that news as part of a hilarious rant about Army injustices, pitch-perfect for the millennium generation, and it reverberated through the military ranks. Unfortunately, his battalion commander lacked a sense of humor and banished the lieutenant to another combat unit, one delighted to make use of his leadership. Thus did Mr. Gallagher avoid being shipped to the rear.

Now he is writing again, having left the Army last year. “Kaboom” is based on his blog but composed without superiors looking over his shoulder. And it fills in what happened in the months after the blog went dark. A native of Reno, Nev., Mr. Gallagher (who now lives in New York) is proud of his Irish heritage and protective of his soldiers. He is also your classic mud grunt, disdainful of staffs, suspicious of outsiders, bemused by the eccentricities of higher headquarters (“we found ourselves playing dance, monkey, dance“) and angered by any Iraqi or American who is mendacious, clueless or lazy.

Understanding that comedy best captures the irony of the human condition, Mr. Gallagher pokes fun at himself, his soldiers and those above him. The nicknames alone are entertaining: an emotional soldier called PFC Cold-Cuts, a stun gun dubbed Cultural Awareness, a long-fingered Iraqi known as Sheik Banana-Hands. (The soldiers make up names for most of the Iraqis they deal with, “to keep the individuals straight and to avoid butchering Arabic names with American tongues.”) The word fobbits refers to “all noncombat-arms soldiers who tended rarely, if ever, to leave the safety of the FOB, or forward operating base.”

Above all, “Kaboom” is about the day-to-day travails of a typical platoon set smack among thousands of disillusioned and war-weary Iraqis. Events unfold in the period after the momentous decision in 2007 by the Sunni tribes to turn against the al Qaeda jihadists and ally themselves with the strongest tribe of all, the Americans. Mr. Gallagher’s platoon is primed for combat. They’re grunts; they want a fight. Instead, they’re thrown along a fractured urban fault line between Sunnis and Shiites vying for local control.

Without a trace of sentimentality, Mr. Gallagher draws the reader into the everyday complexities of leading 44 soldiers from every strata of American society. Among the members of a platoon that he calls the Gravediggers, we meet Staff Sgt. Boondock and Sgt. Axel, who “routinely bantered like a married couple, on only the most trivial matters”; a Texan who spent eight years in college without getting a degree; and Private Das Boot, a “gangly German-American hell-bent on proving his mettle in battle.” At first this seems like a gang that can’t shoot straight, but then violence flares up—”contact with enemy rifle on Route Swords” comes the report from Lt. Virginia Slim—and the platoon launches into action with smooth professionalism, even if Mr. Gallagher racks his mind, trying to remember his manual training, as his men come under fire.

One of the attractions of “Kaboom” is its first-hand reporting, unfiltered by a journalist’s interpretative “framing.” Whenever a tense situation arises, whenever bullets start flying, Mr. Gallagher and his soldiers rush to the scene and instinctively take charge through pure force—and we’re right at their side. Mr. Gallagher brings the reader down to the stinking streets, through the sewer water and into meetings with cunning sheiks and sycophants. Typical of a combat leader, he calls wartime Iraq “the suck.”

He is hopeful about Iraq’s future and realistic about the country’s selfish political leaders, but he doesn’t claim to know how things will turn out. He left the Army, we learn, because—as in the episode that resulted in his blog being shut down—he would inevitably be promoted and “have to order men into combat and not go myself.”

Mr. Gallagher is too modest, and too ironic, to tout his own accomplishments, so I’ll do it for him: He is a classic representative of the U.S. military, a force that imposed its will, both physical and moral, to shatter al Qaeda in Iraq and quash the Shiite-Sunni civil war and that is now withdrawing with honor, leaving Iraq a much better place than under Saddam Hussein. Mr. Gallagher’s platoon served in chaos and brought order. His book tells us what a grind it was. Victory over the insurgency wasn’t foreordained; it took the work of gritty soldiers and leaders.

Mr. West a former Marine combat infantryman and assistant secretary of defense, is the author of “The Strongest Tribe: War, Politics, and the Endgame in Iraq.”


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The Netanyahu Diaries

What Israel’s prime minister really thinks.

The following note was discovered aboard the plane that brought Benjamin Netanyahu to Washington yesterday. It appears to be the Israeli prime minister’s personal talking points—with deletions in brackets—for his meeting today with President Obama. Handwriting experts are unable to confirm the note’s authenticity.

Good to see you again, Mr. President. [And thanks for not having me skulk out the side door like the last time I was here].

And congratulations on your big health care victory! Well done, Mr. President, on your historic achievement. As you probably know, we Israelis have a similar system, and it has worked out pretty well for decades [though our doctors don’t labor under ruinous medmal premiums and the constant threat of tort bar annihilation and also we’re a tiny country with a huge tax burden that drives one in nine people, including many doctors, to live abroad.]

Point is, we’re a nice little liberal democracy, with women’s rights and gay rights, and Arab Israelis and black Israelis in parliament, and welfare and universal health care. Even when we go to war we don’t just carpet bomb our enemies, [like your hero Franklin Roosevelt did to the innocent civilians of Dresden and Tokyo]. I don’t get why we rate most-hated-nation status from all those so-called progressives [wearing your face on their tee-shirts].

[Question to self: Why are the same people who erupt at the thought of prayer in school so often more in sympathy with Hamas in Gaza than with us?]

But on to more pressing matters. We’ve had a bad few weeks, your administration and mine. I’m glad we can talk them over face-to-face. As Hillary told me the other day [isn’t she a charmer?], it takes a true friend to tell the hard truth. I’m sure you’ll agree that in our friendship that works both ways.

I know that, from your part, you think the hard truth is that we’ve got to get out of the settlements. You don’t have to sell me on that score. I’ve said repeatedly that we don’t want to rule over the Palestinians; I’m all for a two-state solution in theory. It’s the practice of it that’s got me concerned. In fact, it’s what got me elected.

So here’s the first hard truth: Just as you’ve got your Ben Nelsons and Bart Stupaks, I’ve got my Avigdor Lieberman ultra-nationalists and Eli Yishai ultra-Orthodox. Some of them have ideological red lines; some of them just want stuff. That’s how politics works. So what’s my Cornhusker kickback, or my executive order on abortion funding? I’d welcome your ideas; [you’re obviously good at this].

This brings me to the second hard truth, Mr. President: Most Israelis don’t trust you, the way they trusted George W. Bush or [even] Bill Clinton. And let me tell you why that’s a problem.

When my predecessor Arik Sharon pulled out of Gaza, he didn’t do so through negotiations with the Palestinians. Those negotiations fail time and again, in part because the Palestinians figure they can hold out for more, in part because they’re cutting their own deals with Hamas.

So what Sharon did was negotiate with you, the United States. And what he got was a promise, in writing, that the U.S. would not insist on a full withdrawal to the 1967 lines in any final settlement agreement.

My problem is that Hillary disavowed that promise last year, and you did so again by treating a neighborhood in Jerusalem as a “settlement.” So when you pledge your commitment to Israel’s everlasting security, how can we take your word for it, or know that your successor won’t also renege? We don’t want to wind up like Belgium before World War I, relying on phony guarantees of neutrality.

Mr. President, you need to start building some serious trust with Israelis if you mean to give me the political tools to negotiate with the Palestinians. Honestly, you didn’t help yourself by ratcheting up the rhetoric against us the way you did. If your purpose was to show the Palestinians that you’re going to play hardball with us, all you did was give them a reason to be even more uncompromising than before. And if your purpose was to try to drive me from office, it didn’t work either: To Israelis, you came across not as anti-Bibi, but as anti-Israel.

But the hardest truth is that Israelis are losing faith that you’ll do whatever it takes to stop Iran’s nuclear bid. The sanctions you promise keep getting delayed and watered down. Hillary gave a fine speech at AIPAC yesterday, but we all know that you’re already planning on containing a nuclear Iran. That’s not acceptable to me.

Let’s make a deal, Mr. President: Our settlements for your bombers. We can’t fully destroy Iran’s nuclear sites—but you can. You can’t dismantle our settlements—but we can. We’ll all come out the better for it, including the Palestinians. Think about it, Barack.

Bret Stephens, Wall Street Journal


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Obama’s Legacy and the Iranian Bomb

Neville Chamberlain was remembered for appeasing Germany, not his progressive social programs.

The gravest threat faced by the world today is a nuclear-armed Iran. Of all the nations capable of producing nuclear weapons, Iran is the only one that might use them to attack an enemy.

There are several ways in which Iran could use nuclear weapons. The first is by dropping an atomic bomb on Israel, as its leaders have repeatedly threatened to do. Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president of Iran, boasted in 2004 that an Iranian attack would kill as many as five million Jews. Mr. Rafsanjani estimated that even if Israel retaliated with its own nuclear bombs, Iran would probably lose about 15 million people, which he said would be a small “sacrifice” of the billion Muslims in the world.

The second way in which Iran could use nuclear weapons would be to hand them off to its surrogates, Hezbollah or Hamas. A third way would be for a terrorist group, such as al Qaeda, to get its hands on Iranian nuclear material. It could do so with the consent of Iran or by working with rogue elements within the Iranian regime.

Finally, Iran could use its nuclear weapons without ever detonating a bomb. By constantly threatening Israel with nuclear annihilation, it could engender so much fear among Israelis as to incite mass immigration, a brain drain, or a significant decline in people moving to Israel.

These are the specific ways in which Iran could use nuclear weapons, primarily against the Jewish state. But there are other ways in which a nuclear-armed Iran would endanger the world. First, it would cause an arms race in which every nation in the Middle East would seek to obtain nuclear weapons.

Second, it would almost certainly provoke Israel into engaging in either a pre-emptive or retaliatory attack, thus inflaming the entire region or inciting further attacks against Israel by Hezbollah and Hamas.

Third, it would provide Iran with a nuclear umbrella under which it could accelerate its efforts at regional hegemony. Had Iraq operated under a nuclear umbrella when it invaded Kuwait in 1990, Saddam Hussein’s forces would still be in Kuwait.

Fourth, it would embolden the most radical elements in the Middle East to continue their war of words and deeds against the United States and its allies.

And finally, it would inevitably unleash the law of unintended consequences: Simply put, nobody knows the extent of the harm a nuclear-armed Iran could produce.

In these respects, allowing Iran to obtain nuclear weapons is somewhat analogous to the decision by the victors of World War I to allow Nazi Germany to rearm during the 1930s. Even the Nazis were surprised at this complacency. Joseph Goebbels expected the French and British to prevent the Nazis from rebuilding Germany’s war machine.

In 1940, Goebbels told a group of German journalists that if he had been the French premier when Hitler came to power he would have said, “The new Reich Chancellor is the man who wrote Mein Kampf, which says this and that. This man cannot be tolerated in our vicinity. Either he disappears or we march!”

But, Goebbels continued, “they didn’t do it. They left us alone and let us slip through the risky zone, and we were able to sail around all dangerous reefs. And when we were done, and well armed, better than they, then they started the war!”

Most people today are not aware that British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain helped restore Great Britain’s financial stability during the Great Depression and also passed legislation to extend unemployment benefits, pay pensions to retired workers and otherwise help those hit hard by the slumping economy. But history does remember his failure to confront Hitler. That is Chamberlain’s enduring legacy.

So too will Iran’s construction of nuclear weapons, if it manages to do so in the next few years, become President Barack Obama’s enduring legacy. Regardless of his passage of health-care reform and regardless of whether he restores jobs and helps the economy recover, Mr. Obama will be remembered for allowing Iran to obtain nuclear weapons. History will not treat kindly any leader who allows so much power to be accumulated by the world’s first suicide nation—a nation whose leaders have not only expressed but, during the Iran-Iraq war, demonstrated a willingness to sacrifice millions of their own people to an apocalyptic mission of destruction.

If Iran were to become a nuclear power, there would be plenty of blame to go around. A National Intelligence Report, issued on President George W. Bush’s watch, distorted the truth by suggestion that Iran had ended its quest for nuclear weapons. It also withheld the fact that U.S. intelligence had discovered a nuclear facility near Qum, Iran, that could be used only for the production of nuclear weapons. Chamberlain, too, was not entirely to blame for Hitler’s initial triumphs. He became prime minister after his predecessors allowed Germany to rearm. Nevertheless, it is Chamberlain who has come to symbolize the failure to prevent Hitler’s ascendancy. So too will Mr. Obama come to symbolize the failure of the West if Iran acquires nuclear weapons on his watch.

Mr. Dershowitz is a law professor at Harvard. His latest book is “The Case for Moral Clarity” (Camera, 2009).


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Five myths about the war in Afghanistan

The war in Afghanistan is in its ninth year, and even officials supportive of the U.S. presence there acknowledge the challenges that remain. “People still need to understand there is some very hard fighting and very hard days ahead,” Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said during his trip to Afghanistan last week. But the conflict is not hopeless, nor it is eternal. If we want to develop realistic expectations about the war — how it might unfold from here and when it could begin to wind down — it would help to dispel some of the popular mythologies that have emerged about the Afghans, the enemy we’re fighting and the U.S. commitment.

1. Afghans always hate and defeat their invaders.

The Afghans drove the British Empire out of their country in the 19th century and did the same to the Soviet Union in the 20th century. They do fight fiercely; many American troops who have been deployed both in Iraq and Afghanistan in recent years have asserted that the Afghans are stronger natural fighters.

Yet, the people of Afghanistan do not despise foreigners. Despite downward trends in recent years, Afghans are far more accepting of an international presence in their country than are Iraqis, for example, who typically gave the U.S. presence approval ratings of 15 to 30 percent in the early years of the war in that country. Average U.S. favorability ratings in recent surveys in Afghanistan are around 50 percent, and according to polls from ABC, the BBC and the International Republican Institute, about two-thirds of Afghans recognize that they still need foreign help.

And before we mythologize the Afghan insurgency, it is worth remembering some history. In the 1980s, the United States, Saudi Arabia and others gave enormous financial and military assistance to the Afghan resistance movement that eventually forced the Soviets out. That group grew to about 250,000 in strength in the mid-1980s. But today, the Taliban and other resistance groups receive substantial help only from some elements in Pakistan — and diminishing help at that — and collectively, they number about 25,000 fighters.

Finally, though U.S.-backed Afghan forces overthrew the Taliban after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, today’s international presence there does not amount to an invasion. Foreign forces are present at the invitation of the host government, which two-thirds of Afghans consider legitimate, if somewhat corrupt.

2. The situation in Afghanistan is much more difficult than the one in Iraq.

The U.S. goals in both countries are similar — establishing better security and governance and eventually passing total control to domestic authorities — and there are certainly ways in which Afghanistan poses a tougher challenge than Iraq. There are more tribes to contend with, the drug problem is worse, literacy rates are lower, national institutions such as the security forces and the judiciary are weaker, and the economy is less advanced.

But Afghanistan’s history of violence and its relative underdevelopment also make its people realistic about the future; they are grateful for even incremental progress, as polls show. And consider the following signs of improvement: Seven million children are now in school (compared with fewer than 1 million under the Taliban), and some 8 million cellphones are in use among a population of about 30 million — compared with virtually zero before 2001. Health care is also getting better.

Also, the violence in Afghanistan today is far less severe than it was in Iraq. Before the troop surge in 2007, more Iraqi civilians were killed every month than have been killed from war-related violence in Afghanistan each year. In other words, Afghanistan is less than a tenth as violent as the Iraq of 2004-07. Communities were displaced and sectarian tensions were inflamed far more in Iraq than they have been in Afghanistan.

3. The U.S. military is for war-fighting, not nation-building.

This was a core philosophy for the incoming Bush administration in 2001 — until the tide of history made George W. Bush the president most preoccupied with nation-building since Harry Truman.

The debate about whether the U.S. armed forces should be involved in nation-building was big in the 1990s, but the nation-builders have won the argument hands down. The terminology has shifted, to be sure, from “nation-building” to “stabilization and reconstruction” missions, but these include efforts to improve governance and the economy as well as security and stability.

Among top civilian and military leaders, there is no real disagreement about whether the armed forces should engage in these types of activities — at least not in situations such as Afghanistan, where the weakness of a state threatens American security. While Gen. David Petraeus led the writing of the new counterinsurgency field manual, with its emphasis on protecting local populations and helping build up indigenous institutions, it was then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld who, in a November 2005 directive, wrote that “stability operations are a core U.S. military mission that the Department of Defense shall be prepared to conduct and support.” He added that such operations will receive a “priority comparable to combat operations.” That remains U.S. policy.

4. We should negotiate with the Taliban.

There is nothing wrong with negotiating with elements of the Afghan resistance, especially at the local level. If they are willing to renounce violence and accept the authority of the central government as well as the temporary presence of international forces, we can allow them to rejoin society, obtain jobs and perhaps, in some cases, hold government positions. Many insurgents who are motivated less by ideology than by money, opposition to the government or tribal rivalries may fit this bill.

But a major compromise with the central Taliban leadership is not only unlikely — it’s a bad idea. The Taliban is not interested in negotiation and is not the sort of organization with which the Afghan government or the United Sates should ever compromise. Its extremist ideology is misogynous and intolerant, and its history in Afghanistan is barbaric. Most important, the Taliban is extremely unpopular among Afghans.

President Hamid Karzai has repeatedly stated his willingness to negotiate with Taliban leaders willing to renounce insurgency, while British Foreign Secretary David Miliband has called for some form of political settlement with the Taliban and other insurgent groups, provided that our core interests are protected. But in general, NATO and Afghan forces will have to establish more battlefield momentum before widespread negotiations become plausible. Any talks must be pursued from a position of strength, so that deals will involve convincing the Taliban to lay down arms rather than pretending that it could share power while clinging to its current ideology.

5. There is no exit strategy or exit schedule.

Some Afghans (and Pakistanis) listened to President Obama’s Dec. 1 West Point speech, in which he promised that U.S. forces in Afghanistan would start to withdraw by July 2011, and worried that America’s commitment is weak. Many Americans, though, have the opposite concern — that this war is open-ended.

But if the new strategy being implemented by Gen. Stanley McChrystal is successful, we will see clear evidence of that by late 2010 or 2011. We should then be able to contemplate major reductions in the U.S. military presence starting in 2012.

There are two main reasons for large NATO and U.S. troop deployments in Afghanistan today. The first is to clear and hold key strategic areas, as with the current operation in Marja. This effort will largely culminate in 2010 and 2011. The second is to train Afghan forces. Given schedules for recruiting, training and forming Afghan units, this process will be most demanding through 2012 or so.

Put the pieces together and, while a rapid reduction in U.S. forces starting next summer is unlikely, the United States should be able to cut its presence by perhaps 20,000 troops per year thereafter. This is hardly a quick exit — at least not as fast as Congress or Obama might want — and such a time table implies that the United States will still have 60,000 or more troops in Afghanistan when Obama faces voters in 2012. But it is not unending, nor is it unrealistic.

Michael O’Hanlon is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. Hassina Sherjan is the president of Aid Afghanistan for Education, a nonprofit group in Kabul. They are the co-authors of “Toughing It Out in Afghanistan.”


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Writing and Rewriting Iraq

This is the first in a five-part series, “Retelling the War,” in which veterans discuss how books, movies and other tales of combat shaped their perceptions of themselves and of war.

In the spring and summer of 2003, I participated in Operation Iraqi Freedom as an infantry squad leader with Weapons Company, 25th Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division. I was 23 years old.  Being a Marine deployed to the combat zone was something I had dreamed of since childhood. In high school, while other kids studied basketball statistics, I knew off hand the performance characteristics of nearly every major weapons system fielded.

I grew up in Brooklyn, emigrating with my parents from the Caribbean in 1985. My family does not have a history of military service, so my fascination did not begin there; instead, one of my earliest memories is of seeing a Marine Security Guard standing at parade rest in front of the Barbadian embassy. He was sharp — in my mind, I still see the shine of his shoes, the crispness of the creases in his uniform. This image resonated for reasons unknown to me, but at the age of four, I knew that I would one day wear the same uniform.

As a child, I was studious; I read a lot. My father bought the family an encyclopedia and I spent most of my youth reading it. The encyclopedia sparked my curiosity. The pages came alive with pictures and words — aardvarks to Army, I devoured the content and it inspired me to focus my reading on topics that truly interested me. By high school, I was reading almost exclusively about Vietnam. As a teenager, I was not interested in politics. I understood the theory of domino effect, had seen the Berlin wall come down, could remember Tiananmen Square, but what drew me into reading about Vietnam in particular were the powerful personal narratives of the men and women who had fought there.

I read the “Rogue Warrior” series by Richard (“Dick”) Marcinko. For a young man intent on joining the military, the adventure of combat in the Mekong Delta was intoxicating. The candid writing of Mr. Marcinko, mixed with moments of humor and friendship, helped to further my interest. I followed his writing the way other kids followed athletes and musicians.

In addition to Vietnam, I became intensely interested in Marine Corps history. I studied the advance through the Pacific, the battles at Chosin and Hue, read and watched everything that I could get my hands on about the Corps. From these books, the romanticism of war — of being a warrior — began to take root within me and culminated with my decision to enlist at age 17.

On April 4, 2003, my unit received our warning order. We were to fly into the city of Nasiriya and provide mortar fire in support of sister units fighting to capture a bridge. By this time, I had spent my entire adult life in the Marine Corps, but still hadn’t seen combat. I thought that the dullness of sitting in the Kuwaiti desert would now finally be worth it. The dozens of field exercises, the desert training, the cold weather nightmare training, the fatiguing high altitude training, all of the invested time would be worth it. The collective weight of 228 years of history, the warrior ethos of Always Faithful, the few, the proud, the Marines, all of it made sense that April night in Kuwait.

We were to fly into Nasiriya and join the battle, but at the last moment our orders were updated and instead, we were directed to drive from Kuwait to Nasiriya. The unit didn’t need our cover after all. This news was somewhat disappointing: I was relieved that the other Marines were able to secure the objective, but I felt frustrated for not having been a part of the struggle.

My unit spent approximately five months in country. Our time there was filled with huge swaths of mind-numbing boredom punctuated by sporadic moments of extreme intensity. On at least two occasions our compound came under attack — once my squad was ambushed — but we all survived. Iraq was not at all the war that I expected. The majority of time was spent either on post or on patrol, looking for an enemy, who at that time was reluctant to fight us.

I came home from the experience carrying a solemn feeling of disappointment, and guilt. It was difficult for me to reconcile my mild experience, or what I felt to be a mild experience, with what I knew others had faced. For many years I tried to minimize my wartime experience. When someone asked, I would almost always answer that it was no big deal or that it was fine. Looking back, I believe now that this was just a reflex. I felt a certain amount of shame for what I thought of as an easy war, skating or getting away easy in comparison to others. The reflex developed as a way of deflating further conversation about the war, and for the most part, it worked.

Since February 2009, I have attended a writing workshop for veterans at New York University. The workshop is intended for veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan to meet, write and share their stories, if they choose. At the workshop, I began to write poetry. Poetry felt right. Here for the first time I felt comfortable sharing my experience. Through the writing and the sense of community engendered by the workshop, I began to re-evaluate my war experience. I came to find the value in it, the good work that we did in Iraq and for the people of Iraq. I came to appreciate my time in the service, not just in Iraq, but in general. I had done exactly what I’d dreamed of doing from the time in Barbados when I saw the Marine Security Guard.

Writing has different meanings for each of us. Though I am somewhat reluctant to call it catharsis, in some ways it is. It has helped me move past the books and movies that had shaped my ideas of warfare. I had taken control of the narrative. I was telling the story on my own terms and I was telling it for real.

This process continues to provide me with a way to manage my emotional stress about my service. Through writing and rewriting Iraq, I have managed to move away from the feelings of guilt, disappointment and shame. I write now not just to exorcise tension, but because I love to write. Really, I need to write.
Maurice Decaul served in the Marine Corps for nearly five years. He deployed to Nasiriya, Iraq in 2003 as a squad leader with Weapons Company, 2nd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment. He lives in Brooklyn with his family and is studying at Columbia University.


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The War Movie You Don’t Want to See

This is the second in a five-part series, “Retelling the War,” in which veterans discuss how books, movies and other tales of combat shaped their perceptions of themselves and of war.

I was eager to see “The Hurt Locker” since it is one of the first movies about my war.

I found it very interesting. I saw a lot of reality there. I have seen and dealt with, to a limited extent, the addiction to adrenaline. I do not know of anyone who loved it more than their wife and child, but I do know that it can be extremely addictive. Jumping out of an airplane affords great odds of survival. Combat or disarming a bomb does not afford such great odds. Your body will react similarly but with more intensity. When this occurs daily or more than once daily your body craves it like a drug addict craves a drug. I found the movie entertaining, but given my experience, I imagine it was scary to me on a different level than most.

War movies in general are great for what they are: entertainment. I grew up in the 1980s and saw almost all of the good war movies of that time. I was in the theater for “Full Metal Jacket” and have a copy of “Platoon” at home. I own “The Boys in Company C,” “Kelly’s Heroes,” “Sands of Iwo Jima” and a few others. Like I said, they are good entertainment. But of course there is a darker side.

These movies glorify a situation that has no real glory in it. Turn to one of your relatives or friends who has been in combat and ask them what they think of war. I am sure that they will tell you that it is scary, gruesome and requires extreme intestinal fortitude. There are no Sgt. Strykers or Gunny Highways in the real Corps. We don’t have a director who can step in when all hell is breaking loose and yell, “Cut!”

Marines facing battle, as depicted in Stanley Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket

I joined the Marine Corps because I was looking for a way to get my life on track. My grandfather did 28 years in the Corps (Korea and Vietnam) and my father did eight years in the Corps (Vietnam), then 13 in the Army. When I was given the opportunity to go to war in Iraq I was as happy as you can imagine. That was what I grew up watching in the movies. I wanted to be my own “Animal Mother” (see: “Full Metal Jacket”).

When I got to Iraq I soon learned that it was not the movies. In my first few weeks we drove over an I.E.D. We caught the guys as they were driving away by riddling their car with bullets from machine guns and few M-16’s. The driver was struck twice and the passenger was not shot but I think he was having a heart attack when we got over to them.

A few days later while on a foot patrol I spotted a blue blinking light in the road and walked up to it. It was a phone taped to a canister. While running for my life the thing exploded. I was not injured but was very shaken up.

We went to Falluja in April of 2004. Our company saw two to three firefights a day. It was the first time I saw one of my friends get shot. In one month we took light casualties (thankfully, no dead Marines). We then went to Zaidon and a handful of Marines received serious wounds. Our radio man lost his foot; one of our rifleman lost his arm. A friend of mine took shrapnel to the throat and there were other serious wounds. Thankfully, no dead Marines. After that it was back to Mahmudiya: on the second day there we drove over an I.E.D. The only casualty was our Marine “Big Country” getting a concussion from the overpressure.

Later in the deployment my Humvee was hit by a large I.E.D. I had my forehead crushed in, lost both eyes, had to have my right hand fully reconstructed and took severe damage to my left knee. One buddy lost a foot; one of the others took shrapnel to the forehead but lived; one took superficial shrapnel wounds to the arm and one of my best friends died.

Would you bring your children out to the battlefield to witness it live and in person?

On a later deployment to Iraq that I did not go on, I lost three more friends to I.E.D.’s. One of them was the Navy Corpsman (Marine medic) who saved my life on the battlefield back in Mahmudiya. I have a tattoo over my left breast (where my heart is) that says “Semper Fidelis,” the Marine Corps motto. It is Latin for “Always Faithful” and refers to always accomplishing the mission. Around the “Semper Fidelis” are four names. “Thompson,” “Belchik,” Cockerham” and “Hodshire.” All great guys that I would let date my sister.

“The Hurt Locker” and all the other movies I mentioned, whether they are good or bad as entertainment, are still war movies and war movies glorify the acts of violence that I described above. How do you feel about that? Would you bring your children out to the battlefield to witness it live and in person? There is no happy ending. Kelly does not get the gold, Stryker does not make it to the top of Mount Suribachi and 8-Ball gets cut down by a sniper. Please remember that when you watch a war movie you are watching stories about young Americans who went far from home and risked their lives; some of them died there with only their brothers in arms to witness. Hollywood is now taking our money by walking on their graves.

Maybe that’s extreme. Of course I understand why people watch war movies. I watch them, too. But I have seen my friends die and most of the movies just bring up very painful memories.

The author responds to readers on why he continues to use the words “see” and “watch,” even after he has lost his sight.

Michael Jernigan served in 2004 with Easy Company, Second Battalion, Second Marine Regiment in Mahmudiya, Zaidon, and Falluja, where he was severely injured and blinded by a roadside bomb. He was medically retired from the Marine Corps in December 2005.


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A Perfectly Framed Assassination

Stepped-up surveillance technology may be tipping the scales in the cat-and-mouse game between spies and their targets. Robert Baer on the current state of spycraft.

Some of the identity photographs of suspects in the killing of Mahmoud al Mabhouh released by the Dubai police on Wednesday.

It was a little after 9 p.m. when a Palestine Liberation Organization official stepped out of the elevator into the lobby of Paris’s Le Meridien Montparnasse, a modern luxury hotel that caters to businessmen and well-heeled tourists. The PLO official was going to dinner with a friend, who was waiting by the front desk. As they pushed out the Meridien’s front door, they both noticed a man on a divan looking intently at them. It was odd enough that at dinner they called a contact in the French police. The policeman advised the PLO official to go directly back to the hotel after dinner and stay put. The police would look into it in the morning.

When the PLO official and his friend came back from dinner, the man on the divan was gone, and the Meridien’s lobby was full of Japanese tourists having coffee after a night on the town. From here the accounts differ; in one version, a taxi blocked off traffic at the end of the street that runs in front of the Meridien, apparently to hold up any police car on routine patrol. In another, the traffic on the street was light.

What is certain is that as soon as the PLO official stepped out of the passenger side of the car, two athletic men in track suits came walking down the street, fast. One of them had what looked like a gym bag. When the friend of the PLO official got out of the car to say goodbye, he noticed the two but didn’t think much of it. They looked French, but other than that it was too dark to see more.

One of the men abruptly lunged at the PLO official, pinning him down on the hood of the car. According to the PLO official’s friend, one of the men put his gym bag against the head of the PLO official and fired two quick rounds into the base of his neck, killing him instantly. There was a silencer on the weapon. The two fled down the street and disappeared into an underground garage, never to be seen again.

A rally against the assassination of Mr. Mabhouh.

That was 1992. And the world of assassins has changed a lot in the intervening years.

 knew the PLO official, and his assassins have yet to be found. Israel’s Mossad security agency was quickly assumed to be behind the killing. Israel had accused the PLO official of having been a member of Black September, and his assassination seemed to be the last in an Israeli campaign to hunt down the perpetrators of the 1972 Munich Olympic attack. So far so good, but unable to identify even the nationality of the assassins, the French could do nothing but grumble. With no casings from the pistol found, no closed-circuit TV coverage in front of the Meridien, and no good description of the assassins, the French could not even send a strong diplomatic protest to the Israelis. If Israel indeed assassinated the PLO official, it got away with it cleanly.

Fast forward 18 years to the assassination of Hamas military leader Mahmoud al-Mabhouh on Jan. 20, and it is a graphic reminder of just how much the world has changed. Nearly the entire hit was recorded on closed-circuit TV cameras, from the time the team arrived at Dubai’s airport to the time the assassins entered Mr. Mabhouh’s room. The cameras even caught team members before and after they donned their disguises. The only thing the Dubai authorities have been unable to discover is the true names of the team. But having identified the assassins, or at least the borrowed identities they traveled on, Dubai felt confident enough to point a finger at Israel. (Oddly enough several of the identities were stolen from people living in Israel.)

Dubai had on its side motivation—Mr. Mabhouh had plotted the kidnapping and murder of two Israeli soldiers and reportedly played a role in the smuggling of Iranian arms into Gaza. And none of this is to mention that the Mabhouh assassination had all the hallmarks of an Israeli hit: a large team, composed of men and women, and an almost flawless execution. If it had been a Russian hit, for instance, they would have used a pistol or a car bomb, indifferent to the chaos left behind.

After Dubai released the tapes, the narrative quickly became that the assassination was an embarrassing blunder for Tel Aviv. Mossad failed spectacularly to assassinate a Hamas official in Amman in 1997— the poison that was used acted too slowly and the man survived—and it looks like the agency is not much better today. Why were so many people involved? (The latest report is that there were 26 members of the team.) Why were identities stolen from people living in Israel? Why didn’t they just kill Mr. Mabhouh in a dark alley, one assassin with a pistol with a silencer? Or why at least didn’t they all cover their faces with baseball caps so that the closed-circuit TV cameras did not have a clean view?

The truth is that Mr. Mabhouh’s assassination was conducted according to the book—a military operation in which the environment is completely controlled by the assassins. At least 25 people are needed to carry off something like this. You need “eyes on” the target 24 hours a day to ensure that when the time comes he is alone. You need coverage of the police—assassinations go very wrong when the police stumble into the middle of one. You need coverage of the hotel security staff, the maids, the outside of the hotel. You even need people in back-up accommodations in the event the team needs a place to hide.

I can only speculate about where exactly the hit went wrong. But I would guess the assassins failed to account for the marked advance in technology. Not only were there closed-circuit TV cameras in the hotel where Mr. Mabhouh was assassinated and at the airport, but Dubai has at its fingertips the best security consultants in the world. The consultants merely had to run advanced software through all of Dubai’s digital data before, during and after the assassination to connect the assassins in time and place. For instance, a search of all cellular phone calls made in and around the hotel where Mr. Mabhouh was assassinated would show who had called the same number—reportedly a command post in Vienna. It would only be a matter then of tracking when and where calls were made from these phones, tying them to hotels where the team was operating or staying.

Not completely understanding advances in technology may be one explanation for the assassins nonchalantly exposing their faces to the closed-circuit TV cameras, one female assassin even smiling at one. They mistook Dubai 2010 for Paris 1992, and never thought it would all be tied together in a neat bow. But there is no good explanation why Israel, if indeed it was behind the assassination, underestimated the technology. The other explanation—the assassins didn’t care whether their faces were identified—doesn’t seem plausible at all.

When I first came into the CIA as a young field operative, there was an endless debate about whether assassinations were worthwhile. The CIA was humiliated by its failed attempts to kill Fidel Castro in the early 1960s, and embarrassed by the accusation that it was complicit in the murder of Chile’s President Salavador Allende in 1973.

In the mid-1970s the Church-Pike committees investigating the CIA put an end to CIA assassinations. Since then every CIA officer has been obligated to sign Executive Order 12,333, a law outlawing CIA assassinations. It had—at least until 9/11—a chilling effect on everything CIA operatives did, from the informants they ran to the governments they dealt with. I myself ran afoul of E.O. 12,333.

In March 1995 I was brought back from northern Iraq, accused of having tried to assassinate Saddam Hussein. It was true there had been a running fight between the Kurds and Saddam’s army in the north, but if there had been a real attempt on Saddam’s life I wasn’t aware of it. And neither was the FBI, which was ordered by the White House to investigate the CIA for an illegal assassination attempt. The lesson I walked away with was that the word assassination terrified the White House, more than even Saddam. And as far as I can tell, it still does to a degree.

Post-9/11 the CIA got back into the assassination business, but in a form that looks more like classic war than the Hollywood version of assassination. The CIA has fired an untold number of Hellfire missiles at al Qaeda and Taliban operatives in the mountains between Pakistan and Afghanistan. One of its most spectacular assassinations was that of Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of Pakistan’s Taliban, last year. In addition to the intended targets, thousands of other people have been killed. What strikes me, and what makes it so different from the assassination of the PLO official in Paris and Mr. Mabhouh in Dubai, is that the assassinations are obscured by the fog of war. Western TV cameras are not allowed in to film the collateral damage, and that’s not to mention we’re all but at war with Pakistan’s Pashtun who live in these mountains.

Israel’s conflict in the West Bank and Gaza is less than clear cut in the sense that Israel is not at war with the Palestinians, or even really with Hamas. It is at war with Hamas militants, people who have shed Israeli blood. The Israelis know who they are, and as a matter of course send hit squads into Gaza and the West Bank to kill them. The Israelis call it “targeted killings”—assassination by any other name.

A couple of years ago I visited the house where the Israeli military assassinated a Palestinian militant in the West Bank. It was in a makeshift refugee camp, where you could touch houses on both sides of the path only by raising your arms. The place was teeming with people. How the Israeli team got in, assassinated the militant and got out without any casualties, I will never know. The point is that the Israelis have become very good at it.

If in fact Mossad assassinated Mr. Mabhouh in Dubai, it no doubt modeled its planning on targeted killings in Palestinian areas—with the use of overwhelming force, speed and control of the environment. The problem with Dubai, which should be painfully obvious to Tel Aviv, is that it is not the West Bank. Nor is Paris now with its web of closed-circuit TV cameras and the ability of the French to track prepaid telephones. The art of assassination, the kind we have seen over and over again in Hollywood movies, may be as passé as killing people by arsenic or with a garrote. You just can’t get away with it anymore.

In America’s war on terror, there has been a conspicuous absence of classical assassination. The closest thing to it was when the CIA kidnapped an Egyptian cleric in Milan and rendered him to Egypt in 2003. Most of the CIA agents behind the rendition were identified because, like the assassins in Dubai, the agents apparently did not understand that you can’t put a large team on the ground in a modern country and not leave a digital footprint. It took a matter of days for the Italian prosecutors to trace their supposedly sterile phone to their hotels, and from there to their true-name email accounts and telephone calls to family. We might as well have let Delta Force do it with helicopters with American insignia on the side.

Israel has yet to feel the real cost of the hit in Dubai. But the longer it is covered in the press, the higher the cost.

And was Mr. Mabhouh worth it? Other than taking revenge for killing the two Israeli soldiers, he will be quickly replaced. Arms dealing is not a professional skill, and as long as Hamas’s militants are at war with Israel they will find people to buy arms and smuggle them into Gaza. In short, it’s looking more and more like Mr. Mabhouh’s assassination was a serious policy failure.

In cold prose, it sounds inhuman, but there should be a cost-benefit calculation in deciding whether to assassinate an enemy. With all of the new technology available to any government who can afford it, that cost has gone up astronomically. Plausible deniability is out the window. Obviously, if we had known with any specificity 9/11 was coming, we would have ignored the high cost and tried to assassinate Osama bin Laden. And there’s certainly an argument to be made that we should have assassinated Saddam Hussein rather than invade Iraq. The bottom line, it seems to me, is that assassination is justified if it keeps us out of a war. But short of that, it’s not. The Mabhouhs of the world are best pursued by relentless diplomatic pressure and the rule of law.

Robert Baer, a former CIA field officer assigned to the Middle East, is the author of “See No Evil” and “The Devil We Know: Dealing with the New Iranian Superpower.”


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German Woman Writes Ground-Breaking Account of WW2 Rape

Harrowing Memoir

Gabriele Köpp was repeatedly raped by Russian soldiers in 1945, when she was just 15. Now, at the age of 80, she has become the first German woman to write a book under her own name about the sexual violence she experienced during World War II. 

By the time a person turns 80, her life has consisted of 29,200 days. In the case of Gabriele Köpp, that life has included a high-school education and a training program as a physical and technical assistant. It has also included an affinity for “pure mathematics,” as Köpp calls it, and for physics. 

She is fascinated with the power of the tiniest particles, or, quoting Goethe, with “what holds the world together in its innermost self.” Because of her fascination for elementary particles, she went on to earn a doctorate in physics and eventually became a university professor. 

Her life has also included many friendships, primarily with men, from doctoral students to colleagues to Nobel laureates. And there are also eight godchildren in her life. 

Nevertheless, for Gabriele Köpp, what happened in the space of only 14 days was enough to cast a dark shadow over the rest of her life, the remainder of those 29,200 days. 

No Home to Return To 

Köpp is sitting in an armchair in her Berlin apartment, talking about those 14 days. She serves freshly brewed coffee with condensed milk out of a can. She smokes the long, thin Kim brand of cigarettes, which have become rare in Germany. 

There are black-and-white photographs of her mother, her father and her sisters hanging on the walls. They are all dead. There are also photos of her parents’ house, including exterior and interior views. The house was in Schneidemühl, a town in the former German region of Pomerania; today the town is called Pila and is located in northwestern Poland. Where the house stood is nothing but a meadow today. 

Köpp describes the photos with German words from a distant era: the Salon with its chandelier, her father’s Herrenzimmer (“study”). Her pronunciation also betrays her roots. She says “Tack” instead of “Tag” (the informal version of “Guten Tag,” or “hello”), just like many others who originally come from regions that were once German and are now Polish. 

Köpp’s apartment is not one of those long-occupied flats that contain layer upon layer of the possessions its occupant has accumulated over the years. She only took the apartment about 10 years ago, when she retired from her position at the Technical University of Aachen in western Germany and moved to Berlin. When asked whether she thinks it’s unusual for someone to move at that age, she waves her hand dismissively. It doesn’t really matter, she says, because she never had a home to which she could return. 


Gabriele Köpp was repeatedly raped by Russian soldiers in 1945, when she was just 15.

Now, at the age of 80, Köpp has become the first German woman to write a book under her own name about the sexual violence she experienced during World War II.

A Russian soldier raises the Soviet flag over Berlin’s Reichstag on May 2, 1945: For 14 days in January and February 1945, Soviet soldiers came to the building where Köpp was sheltering and took the girl away to rape her.


But Köpp isn’t interested in issues like the loss of one’s home and the controversy over Germans displaced from Eastern Europe after World War II. “People get together in clubs for that sort of thing,” she says. “It’s not for me.” Nevertheless, the things she experienced during a 14-day period while she was fleeing from her homeland were so traumatic that she still has trouble sleeping today. There are times when she cannot eat, and she is much thinner than she wants to be. She wears slim-cut jeans with a shirt and vest. Her thighs look thin enough to encircle with two hands. 

Köpp has lived a full life in which she had everything — everything but romantic love. It was her bad luck, she says. Women outnumbered men after the war, and none of the few men that remained happened to be right for her. “Besides,” she adds, “I wouldn’t have been able to feel anything, anyway.” 

During those 14 days, Köpp was raped, again and again. She was 15 years old, and she knew nothing about sex. 

‘Door to Hell’ 

Köpp has now written a book about those 14 days and about the rapes, titled “Warum war ich bloss ein Mädchen?” (“Why Did I Have to Be a Girl?”). The book is an unprecedented document, because it is the first work of its kind written voluntarily by a woman who was raped in the final months of World War II, and who, years later, described the experiences and made them into the central theme of a book. 

There is “A Woman in Berlin,” the famous confessions of a woman who was raped in World War II, which was first published in the 1950s and republished in 2003. But the woman was unwilling to disclose her identity, and it wasn’t until after her death that it was revealed that the anonymous author was a journalist. To this day, there are doubts as to whether she truly wrote the book alone or whether there was a co-author who helped her to distance herself from the horrific events and, with distance, to achieve a voice — a surprisingly free, confident and even flippant voice. 

Köpp lacks this voice. She describes the first few days of her escape with precision, sequence by sequence, almost cinematically, but it is clear that she is not a practiced author. Nevertheless, her account is so gripping precisely because it was not polished for the sake of putting beautiful language on paper. Her story exerts a pull on the reader that stems from the authenticity of her words and experiences. And when the author herself is unable to comprehend what she experienced, even her voice reaches its limits. 

Köpp couldn’t find the words to describe the rapes themselves. She writes of a “place of horror” and a “door to hell,” and she describes the rapists as “brutes” and “scoundrels.” When asked why she was unable to describe exactly what happened to her, in all its horror, she shrugs her shoulders and says: “I can’t even say the word” — rape. 

Double Trauma 

Köpp is familiar with “A Woman in Berlin,” but she says that her book is different. That book’s anonymous author, she says, was a woman in her early 30s “at the time when it happened,” in other words, an experienced woman. Köpp, who was only half her age, says: “I was hardly more than a child.” Writing her account under her own name hasn’t made it easier, she adds, “but I had no choice; who else would do it?” 

Indeed, women have rarely reported voluntarily on their encounters with violence during and after the war. Experts describe this experience as a double trauma: the act of violence itself, and having to keep it hidden. Philipp Kuwert, a trauma expert and head of the department of psychiatry and psychotherapy at the University Hospital of Greifswald in northeastern Germany, began a research project last year on the repercussions of sexual violence in World War II, interviewing 27 women affected by such violence. He already has the results of his study but hasn’t published anything yet. “It is one of the first and probably the last study of this nature, because 95 percent of the women who were affected are no longer alive.” 

No one knows exactly how many women became victims of sexual violence during the war. A figure of 2 million has been mentioned in various studies, but is considered unreliable because of the lack of concrete evidence. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that it was a crime committed against large numbers of women. 

The average age of the women in Kuwert’s study at the time of their rapes was 16.7, and each of the women was raped an average of 12 times. About half of the women continue to suffer from post-traumatic symptoms, including nightmares, suicidal thoughts and what is known as avoidance behavior, with 81 percent stating that the experiences had a massive impact on their sexuality. An “emotional anesthesia,” or the avoidance of strong emotions, was typical for these traumatized women, says Kuwert. 

Problems Forming Attachments 

The horrific experiences also affected the subsequent generations. “A mother with post-traumatic stress symptoms can have trouble forming an attachment to her children in their early years,” says Kuwert. Mothers who are burdened by their own, repressed feelings have problems reacting to and regulating the emotions of their children. According to the theory, these children grow up in an atmosphere of fragility and nameless threat. According to Kuwert, nothing is as stressful as the experience of rape and torture. 

When soldiers commit rape during war, it is not just “to humiliate a particular individual,” says historian Birgit Beck-Heppner, who specializes in the subject of sexual violence and war. It also represents a “signal to the enemy population that its political leadership and its own army can no longer guarantee its safety.” This is why these rapes are often committed in public. 

Beck-Heppner, who wrote the epilogue to Köpp’s book, is 38 and part of the same generation as trauma expert Kuwert. People in their age group, in their late 30s and early 40s, are more or less the grandchildren of the Nazi generation. 

“The motivation to study rape in World War II stems from my age group,” says Kuwert. “We are running out of time,” he adds, and points out that there are still many questions to be asked. There is documentation, of course, but many of the contemporary witnesses will soon be dead. For Kuwert, the only way to obtain a true picture of what happened is to examine the stories of individual victims. “There is no such thing as objective trauma.” 

Köpp is living proof of Kuwert’s statement, that objective trauma doesn’t exist. Given her experiences, one would expect that she would have had difficulties interacting with men. On the contrary, Köpp has a problem with women. In her book, she explains why. 

‘Headlong onto a Knife’ 

On the evening of Jan. 25, 1945, Köpp was packing her things, preparing to flee. Her mother told her to hurry, because the Russians were approaching the town, and she said that she would join her later. Köpp wanted to talk to her mother on that evening, but she was silent and barely spoke with her daughter, not even to warn her about the many things that could happen while she was fleeing. “In a sense, she allowed me to run headlong onto a knife,” Köpp writes today, as an old woman. 

On Jan. 26, 1945, Köpp and her older sister left the house. She would later learn that Soviet soldiers liberated the Auschwitz concentration camp the following day, Jan. 27. The ordeal that was about to begin for Gabriele Köpp had its roots in the crimes committed by her fellow Germans. 

She hardly remembers saying goodbye to her mother. In fact, she writes, she has only recently allowed herself to think that there may have been no goodbyes at all. 

She boarded a freight train with heavy sliding doors. The city had already come under artillery fire. At the time, she says, she never dreamed that it would be decades before she could return home. Peering through the small windows in the freight car, she realized that the train was traveling south, and not leaving the city in a northerly direction, as she had believed. 

She knew that Russian tanks had encircled the south. After a short time, she heard the sound of artillery fire, and the train came to a stop. The locomotive had apparently been hit. The sliding doors were locked, and the only way to get out of the car was to crawl through one of the high windows. She was an athletic girl and managed to pull herself up to the window, and a soldier pushed her through the small opening. Her sister remained behind in the train. She would never see her again. 

‘I Despise These Women’ 

She fell into the snow, lying flat on the ground at first to protect herself from the gunfire. Other refugees had also managed to escape from the train, and they began running toward a farm and then a nearby village. Köpp followed them. A baker let her into his bakery. 

In the village, Soviet soldiers carrying large flashlights searched for girls in the dim light. One of them grabbed Köpp. The next day, she was chased to another house, where she was raped by a soldier, and then by another soldier soon afterwards. The next morning, she was pushed into a barn and raped by two men. 

That afternoon, she hid under a table in a room filled with refugees. When the soldiers came to the building, asking for girls, the older women called out: “Where’s little Gabi?” and pulled her out from underneath the table. “I feel hatred rising up inside of me,” she writes. She was dragged off to a ransacked house. “I have no tears,” she writes. The next morning, it was the women, once again, who “pushed” her into the arms of a “greedy officer.” “I despise these women,” she writes. 

It went on this way, “relentlessly,” for two weeks. After that, she was taken in at a farm, where she managed to hide from the soldiers. 

‘I’m So Afraid’ 

She wrote a letter to her mother in her light-blue pocket calendar, even though she had no idea where her mother was: “There is no one here to come to my aid. If only you were here. I’m so afraid, because I no longer have my ‘illness’ (ed’s note: menstruation) any more. It’s been almost 10 weeks now. I’m sure you could help me. If only dear God wasn’t doing this to me. Oh, dear mother, if only I hadn’t left without you.” 

Her menstrual cycle was interrupted for seven years, a widespread phenomenon some gynecologists called the “Russians’ disease.” 

When Köpp finally found her mother in Hamburg, after being a refugee for 15 months, she wanted to show her the letter. But the mother, who had not expected to see her daughter again, greeted her coldly, holding out her cheek to be kissed. 

The mother also told her to keep quiet about everything she had experienced while fleeing, although she could write it down if she wished. Köpp followed her mother’s advice. She was 16 when she wrote the notes that she quotes in her book today, notes that she has since donated to the House of History in Bonn. 

The Turning Point 

In conversation, Köpp repeatedly mentions the betrayal by the women and her disappointment in her mother for not wanting to listen to her, and perhaps not even wanting to have her as a daughter anymore. “I could have talked to my father, but he was dead,” she says. She searches for reasons to explain her mother’s behavior, speculating that perhaps the mother felt guilty for having sent her and her sister on their journey alone. 

Trauma expert Philipp Kuwert says that research on abuse victims contains other accounts of betrayal by fellow women. In cases in which people the victims would normally have trusted covered for or even supported the offenders, some have found it more difficult to come to terms with the betrayal than the violent act itself. 

Köpp went into psychoanalysis when she was 47. “The analysis was the turning point,” she says. Of course, she adds, she was aware that it was not customary for members of her generation to go to an analyst, and she would never have considered doing it on her own. But, she says, she had a breakdown at 47, while she was writing her post-doctoral thesis, and she was admitted to a psychosomatic clinic. 

She began analysis at the clinic. “I fell in love with my first analyst,” she says, chuckling quietly. And? Well, of course nothing happened, she says, adding: “he is very respectable.” 

The Stations of Her Life 

She remains in contact with her former analyst, who urged her to write the book. “The fact that it was even possible for me to feel anything for another person — that was the turning point,” she recalls. Since then, there have at least been moments, she says, in which she feels liberated. 

Has she had any other experiences of love and sexuality? No, she says, nothing at all. “For me, it was just violence.” 

Gabriele Köpp jumps up from her armchair, as easily as a young girl. She is 1.55 meters (5 feet) tall. She walks into the hallway, where her own paintings are hung on the wall. She has been painting a lot lately. 

One of the paintings depicts the stations of her life. There are crosses and skulls at the center of the image. A date is written across the top: Jan. 26, 1945. Other paintings show hearts and strong colors. 

They are the kinds of pictures that girls paint — 15-year-old girls. 


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The Slippery Nature of Secrets

The shah wasn’t supposed to fall; Iraq’s WMD were supposed to be a ‘slam dunk.’

When we hear the sound of hoofbeats, should we think horses or zebras? The question is a classic problem of intelligence analysis. Too often in recent years the CIA, FBI and Department of Homeland Security have got it wrong—most recently with the Christmas Day underwear bomber, who was able to board a U.S.-bound flight despite plenty of early warning signs. Political scientist Robert Jervis wants to know the reason for such error.

In “Why Intelligence Fails,” Mr. Jervis examines two important U.S. intelligence lapses and tries to account for what went awry. After both, the CIA hired Mr. Jervis—a longtime student of international affairs—to help the agency sort out its mistakes. He thus brings an invaluable perspective as a smart outsider with sufficient inside access to appraise the agency’s blind spots.

The first of his two cases is the CIA’s failure to grasp the weakness of the Iranian monarchy on the cusp of the Iranian revolution in 1979. “An island of stability” is what President Jimmy Carter called Iran just before the Islamic volcano erupted. No doubt the CIA estimates that Mr. Carter saw were not quite so ludicrously sanguine, but they were still dangerously inaccurate.

Mr. Jervis draws a striking portrait of an intelligence agency in disarray. He is particularly surprised by the “paucity of resources” dedicated to Iran in the late 1970s. The CIA had assigned just two analysts to assess Iranian politics and two more to study its economy, supplemented by a small, unproductive station in Tehran.

Making matters worse, the members of this tiny group were caught in a loop of circular reasoning. They were convinced that Iran’s burgeoning opposition was not a threat to Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi’s government because he had not cracked down on it. But as Mr. Jervis notes, the analysts’ key indicator of trouble—a crackdown—would occur only “if the crisis became very severe.” In the event, the crisis did become very severe—and the shah still did not crack down. The analysts relied on what turned out to be a worthless metric.

Even if the CIA’s analysts had not fallen into a logic-trap of their own devising, the agency would have faced a larger challenge. “Predicting revolutions is very hard,” Mr. Jervis aptly notes. Neither revolutionaries nor those in power know where their struggle is going. Why should outsiders have a better sense of what lies ahead? Foreign intelligence services are at a particular disadvantage: The “CIA and its counterparts are in the business of stealing secrets, but secrets are rarely at the heart of revolutions.”

Secrets did lie at the heart of Mr. Jervis’s second case: the intelligence community’s erroneous National Intelligence Estimate in October 2002 declaring that Iraq was accumulating weapons of mass destruction. Mr. Jervis examines the explanations offered for the mistake—perhaps the most closely studied intelligence lapse since Pearl Harbor—and finds them wanting.

Mr. Jervis rejects the contention that the CIA’s reporting was politicized, produced to align with whatever the Bush administration wanted to hear. “This narrative,” he writes, “conforms to common sense” but was refuted by several nonpartisan investigations and, implicitly, by the “uniform surprise—indeed disbelief” of the entire intelligence community when weapons of mass destruction were not found after the war. If anything, the charge of politicization “has been a barrier to more careful thought.” A host of other problems, Mr. Jervis says, explain the fiasco.

One was George Tenet’s mismanagement as director of the CIA. In the run-up to the war, a ferocious interagency battle raged about the significance of aluminum tubes that Iraq had been importing. The CIA believed they were intended for centrifuges to enrich uranium, hence part of Iraq’s supposed WMD effort. Other government entities, including the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research, insisted that the tubes were not well-suited to this purpose—which turned out to be the case. Although Mr. Tenet was responsible for coordinating the work of all 15 agencies of the U.S. intelligence community, he was, Mr. Jervis remarks, “physically, politically, and psychologically” distant from analysts outside the CIA. He thus did not even know about the long-running dispute until the intelligence estimate was actually being drafted, just months before the U.S. went to war.

Mr. Jervis calls Mr. Tenet’s inattention a “stunning failure.” But he concludes, surprisingly, that the aluminum-tube assessment and other theoretically “correctable errors”—like the CIA’s reliance on the worthless information funneled to it by the Iraqi defector known as “Curveball”—were not at the root of the problem. We might like to think that “bad outcomes are explained by bad processes and that fixing the intelligence machinery will solve the problems,” writes Mr. Jervis, but that is not always true.

In the case of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, the real failure lay not in the content of the National Intelligence Estimate but in the certainty—”slam dunk” was Mr. Tenet’s phrase—with which it was put forward. Such confidence gave policy makers little reason to pause. But even if they had paused—and posed hard questions—Mr. Jervis doubts that the intelligence community would have substantially revised its analysis. His conclusion is that the debacle was almost preordained by one overriding factor: The intelligence community’s interpretation of Saddam Hussein’s motives and behavior, however wrong it turned out to be, was “very plausible, much more so than the alternatives.”

In short, there are limits to the ability of intelligence agencies to understand the world and keep us safe. Those pounding hoofbeats might be horses or zebras—or zebras painted to look like horses.

Mr. Schoenfeld, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, is the author of “Necessary Secrets: National Security, the Media, and the Rule of Law,” due out in May.


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Mr. Holder’s Triumph

The Attorney General doth celebrate too much.

Eric Holder has had a rough few weeks—er, months—so it’s not surprising the Attorney General would try to celebrate some good antiterror news. To wit, this week he seized on a guilty plea in a terrorism case to rehabilitate his policy that emphasizes civilian law enforcement over intelligence gathering and military justice.

Afghan Najibullah Zazi admitted Monday to plotting to bomb the New York City subway system. U.S. intelligence had caught on to his travels in Afghanistan, tailed him and finally arrested him in Denver in September. Announcing the guilty plea on three terrorism charges this week, Mr. Holder said “the criminal justice system has proved to be an invaluable weapon for disrupting plots and incapacitating terrorists, one that works in concert with the intelligence community and our military.”

Well, let’s parse that one. There’s no doubt the arrest is an antiterror victory for which the CIA and FBI deserve credit. Zazi planned the kind of attack—on public transportation—that would spread fear and economic damage across the country, as it did in Madrid and London. He was arrested after he had begun to collect bomb materials and admitted to links to al Qaeda and training in Pakistan.

The stretch made by Mr. Holder this week concerns civilian justice. Few people we know believe that terror cases should never be handled in civilian courts, or that civilian courts can’t punish terrorists. Some cases are workable in civilian trials, especially when the defendants cooperate freely. The biggest problem is when these criminal prosecutions compromise intelligence gathering, or betray information that terrorists can exploit.

In this case, Mr. Holder insists Zazi has provided valuable intelligence, but how much and when he doesn’t say. Actionable intelligence is best gathered in the initial days after capture when the terrorists don’t know a comrade has been taken. A loud arrest can compromise that element of surprise.

Mr. Holder botched the case of Detroit Christmas bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who clammed up after being read his Miranda rights after only 50 minutes of interrogation. If Abdulmuttalab is now cooperating amid the inducements of a plea bargain, that’s good news. But valuable time was still lost. Abdulmuttalab should have been declared an illegal enemy combatant, held in military detention and interrogated, and then he could have been charged later in civilian court if he struck a deal.

In the latest case, Zazi reportedly cooperated only after the feds charged his father with conspiracy and threatened his mother with deportation. That came well after his arrest. It’s also amusing that critics who decry as “torture” such interrogation techniques as isolation or exposure to heat and cold don’t seem to mind threats to possibly innocent family members.

Another issue is where this Administration plans to hold the hardest terror cases if they capture them. Guantanamo is available, but that would offend Mr. Holder’s friends on the left. We suppose there’s Bagram prison in Afghanistan, but a Supreme Court case is pending that would grant habeas corpus rights to detainees held even overseas.

Would Mr. Holder feel obliged to charge Osama bin Laden in U.S. criminal court if he’s ever captured? Would he offer him a plea in return for cooperation? Or would he let the new White House interrogation team at him first? We know what most Americans favor, but Mr. Holder and President Obama haven’t answered those questions.

The reason Mr. Holder is having to play defense about his antiterror bona fides is because he’s let his ideological antipathy to Bush practices interfere with the practical realities of fighting terrorists. The Zazi case is a victory for America, but it’s no vindication for Mr. Holder.

Editorial, Wall Street Journal


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A Karzai Lament

Afghanistan’s president becomes a NATO scold.

Since U.S., British and Afghan troops began pushing into the Taliban stronghold of Marjah two weeks ago, they have gone to unprecedented lengths to minimize civilian casualties. Among other restrictions, they are forbidden from calling in air strikes until they have confirmed that targets pose a legitimate threat and that collateral damage can be minimized. Such caution may have its benefits in winning over the population, but it also has its price: As of Sunday, 13 coalition troops have been killed in the operation. Another 80 have died since the start of the year.

One would think Afghan President Hamid Karzai would applaud the sacrifice being made by his foreign allies as they seek to put cities like Marjah under his government’s control. Instead he has chosen to play the scold. At the opening session of the Afghan parliament last weekend, he held up a picture of a young girl whose family was killed in a Valentine’s Day strike and criticized the U.S. And this week, his cabinet blamed and condemned an air strike launched by U.S. Special Forces on Sunday that left 27 civilians dead, including four women and a child.

Nobody on the allied side of the war effort is indifferent to these tragedies, least of all U.S. Afghan commander General Stanley McChrystal, who yesterday went on Afghan TV to apologize for the accident. NATO also expressed its condolences—the second time it has done so since the Marjah offensive began.

But if moral responsibility belongs anywhere it is with the Taliban, which uses civilians as human shields while taking every opportunity to exploit their deaths for propaganda purposes. Mr. Karzai’s politically opportunistic carping only helps to validate their strategy.

We have always been of the view that Mr. Karzai’s failings as a leader should not serve as an alibi to withdraw from Afghanistan. The case would be easier to make if Mr. Karzai devoted more of his time to standing up for the allies who are standing up for his country.

Editorial, Wall Street Journal


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Five Best Books on British Military Deception

The British talent for wartime trickery and misdirection is fully revealed by these books, says Nicholas Rankin

1. ‘Blinker’ Hall

By David Ramsay
Spellmount, 2008

As David Ramsay recounts in this fascinating biography, Britain’s Machiavellian director of naval intelligence in World War I, Reginald “Blinker” Hall, was a man whose talent for tricks and bribes made the U.S. ambassador consider him “the one genius that the war has developed.” Hall’s organization, working out of Room 40 in the Admiralty offices, “tapped the air” for German wireless messages and scanned diplomatic cables. The codebreakers’ greatest coup came in 1917 with the interception and deciphering of “the Zimmermann telegram,” a secret message from Germany to the Mexican government offering money and the return of the American Southwest if the Mexicans would help wage war on the U.S. The furor that ensued after the message’s contents were revealed helped impel the U.S. into the war, thus clinching final victory for the British and their allies.

2. The Double-Cross System in the War of 1939 to 1945

By J.C. Masterman
Yale, 1972

J.C. Masterman was an Oxford don who, during World War II, chaired the secret Twenty Committee—20 is XX in Roman numerals, but XX is also a “double cross.” The group coordinated false information fed to German intelligence through Nazi spies who had been “turned.” Masterman waited nearly three decades after the war’s end to publish his account of how the committee and more generally the British Security Service (also known as MI5) actively ran and controlled agents of the German espionage service, but his book caused a sensation nonetheless. It was the first great, unsanctioned breach in the wall of British wartime secrecy. As an operating handbook of astonishingly successful deception, “The Double-Cross System” is without peer. But some of Masterman’s colleagues never spoke to him again for having exposed their work.

3. The Man Who Never Was

By Ewen Montagu
Lippincott, 1953

Operation Mincemeat, designed to divert German attention away from the Allies’ impending invasion of Sicily in 1943, involved planting false papers on a genuine corpse outfitted to be a British Royal Marine, “Maj. William Martin.” The body was dropped in the ocean off the coast of Spain; when it washed ashore, the Germans soon discovered what seemed to be plans for an invasion of Greece and Sardinia. Mincemeat worked perfectly—the Nazis took the poisoned bait and rushed to bolster their Greek defenses. A novel published soon after World War II told the tale of the operation, but readers had no idea how close to the truth the improbable story was until the appearance a few years later of “The Man Who Never Was.” Lawyer Ewen Montagu, who had been the naval-intelligence representative on the Twenty Committee during the war, was given official permission to write the book after a reporter began digging for the half-buried facts in the fictional version. Montagu produced a genuine wartime thriller.

4. The Deceivers

By Thaddeus Holt
Scribner, 2004

This scholarly yet entertaining magnum opus is the definitive account of all the stratagems used by the Allies against the Axis in World War II. The “master of the game” was the enigmatic Britisher Brig. Dudley W. Clarke, and “The Deceivers” follows the development of Clarke’s organization, from its origins in a converted bathroom in Cairo to a world-wide network with key nodes in Washington, London and New Delhi. It was during the desert warfare in North Africa that Clarke started using such ruses as dummy vehicles and fake radio traffic to make the enemy think the British were stronger than they were. The culmination of these ideas was the big lie that convinced the German high command in 1944 that the Allied invasion of Europe would come not at Normandy but with an Army Group led by Gen. George S. Patton at Calais.

5. Garbo

By Tomás Harris
Public Record Office, 2000

Catalan-born Juan Pujol— the greatest of World War II double agents—was such a brilliant actor that British intelligence gave him the code name Garbo. The Germans, who thought Pujol was working for them, called him Arabel (sometimes Arabal). His exploits were recorded by his handler, Tomás Harris, in an intelligence file that made such riveting reading that it was published in book form. It shows how Pujol and Harris collaborated in creating a network of fictitious sub-agents throughout Britain to channel bogus information through “Arabel” to the enemy. His ultimate coup was playing a key role in persuading the Germans to hold troops ready for the imminent D-Day invasion at Calais. During the war the oblivious Germans gratefully awarded the Iron Cross to Pujol; after the war, he was given the Order of the British Empire (fifth class) and a gratuity that allowed him to retire quietly to Venezuela, where he died in 1988.

Mr. Rankin is the author of “A Genius for Deception: How Cunning Helped the British Win. Two World Wars” (2009).


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Israel and the Dubai Murder Mystery

The circumstantial evidence all points to the Mossad, and the result is a diplomatic nightmare for the Jewish state.

Israelis woke up Wednesday morning to pictures of 11 individuals plastered on the front page of every newspaper. The familiar guessing game began immediately: Don’t I know him? Didn’t we serve in the same army unit? Isn’t that guy my geeky neighbor, the one who says he’s an accountant? An acquaintance of mine swore she had dated one of the men. “He behaved exactly like you’d expect a killer to behave,” she said.

Nearly everyone believes that the 11 alleged members of the hit squad that killed Hamas leader Muhammad al-Mabhouh last week in Dubai are Mossad agents. Seven of the 11 identities used were stolen from other Israelis with dual European citizenship.

The Dubai police chief has stated “with 99% certainty” that the Mossad is responsible and has promised to reveal additional evidence to prove it. The methods—including the use of false European passports—are certainly reminiscent of previous Mossad operations.

The mission was technically successful. The target was eliminated—allegedly smothered by a pillow in his hotel room—and the operatives left the country within hours. But it has turned into a diplomatic nightmare for Israel. The sovereignty of Dubai was violated, and the passports of four European countries were used for the purpose of committing a crime. Several rows Israel can ill-afford are currently brewing with England, Germany and France.

Israel, assuming it was behind the assassination, had good reason to want Mabhouh permanently out of the picture. He rose to infamy in 1987 by abducting and killing two Israeli soldiers. He then went on to become a central figure in Hamas’s fund-raising operations.

Later, Mabhouh became a key coordinator of Hamas-Iran cooperation. In this capacity he organized the shipment of weaponry and other sophisticated equipment to Gaza and arranged for Hamas fighters to be trained by the Revolutionary Guards at a facility outside of Tehran. It was in connection with his Iran operations that he was in Dubai last week.

But even so, did Mabhouh constitute an immediate threat? Was eliminating him worth violating international law and risking the ire of so many states at a time when the international community seems to have finally gotten serious on Iran?

No country that faces the threat of foreign terrorism on the scale that Israel does can afford to entirely renounce the use of targeted assassinations, despite the ethical and legal problems that such executions raise. But such acts need to be extremely rare. In the case of Israel, such operations require the explicit approval of the prime minister, and they are authorized only after the political risks are carefully weighed. In the case of Dubai, it seems that this did not occur. Either the risks were not explained to Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, or he made a serious miscalculation.

True, the details released by the Dubai police do not prove unequivocally that the people in the photos and surveillance videos were the ones who killed Mabhouh. There is no evidence directly linking them with the actual killing, nor with any crime beyond traveling under identities stolen from Israel dual-citizens who were nowhere near Dubai at the time. But the circumstantial evidence is strong: A group of 12—the 11 pictured and an additional unnamed women—acted in a highly coordinated and effective manner.

But the real, and so far unappreciated, achievement in this affair belongs to the Dubai police, who were able to integrate all the evidence at their disposal into one clear picture and do so with remarkable speed.

Whoever sent the hit squad to Dubai was not aware that the police and security services had such advanced capabilities at the ready. The investigators managed to put together still and video shots taken in seven different locations and place them on a single timeline together with the cellphone records of the individuals in the footage. Doing this requires sharp analysis and advanced computer skills, and computerized intelligence systems able to cross check information from various sources.

How did the Dubai police manage all this? Did they have help? For now, it remains a mystery. But in any case, misjudging the ability of the Dubai authorities so spectacularly is evidence of a serious intelligence failure on the part of the organization that sent out the squad.

The use of British passports is another issue that requires explanation. Back in 1984, a courier for a secret Israeli agency (not the Mossad) left a briefcase containing counterfeit British passports in a phone booth in Germany. The blunder tipped of the British authorities to the fact that Israel had been running agents inside a Palestinian cell responsible for killing a British citizen.

The Mossad station in London was closed down, and relations between the two countries went into deep freeze. Since then, the Israeli intelligence community has been under orders not to do anything that could upset the Brits. If Israel was involved in the Dubai operation, someone must have decided to countermand that order.

The most interesting question from the Dubai debacle is whether it will permanently affect the way operations of this nature are carried out by secret services around world. In a sense, this past week was the end of an era in undercover operations: It is no longer possible to carry out assassinations without leaving a trace.

The Dubai hit squad chose to carry out their mission in a hotel room, no doubt because they believed the setting provided them with the greatest degree of protection. But technology has turned hotels into centers of electronic surveillance, and it is safe to assume that in the future terrorists will regard the comfort of top-of-the-line hotels as safe havens. Those who hunt terrorists may be forced to practice their trade in the street, inevitably putting civilians at greater risk.

In addition to closed circuit TV systems and the ability to track cellphone and computer users, advanced biometric identification systems and online coordination across borders are becoming more and more widespread. Soon it will be much easier to identify and detain suspects in public places such as airports in real time. The technology isn’t quite there yet, but it is close. Many casinos in the United States already use facial recognition software to identify undesirables, apparently with a fair degree of success.

These advancements should be welcomed; they make the war on terror a lot more efficient. The problem is that the same technological tools we use to thwart terrorists can also be used against the people whose job it is to stop them.

Mr. Bergman, senior military and intelligence analyst for Yedioth Ahronoth, an Israeli daily, is the author of the “The Secret War With Iran” (Free Press, 2008).


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Netanyahu, continued

Israel’s prime minister bluffs it out

IT IS truly difficult to see how Binyamin Netanyahu can be surviving his latest debacle. A botched assassination attempt by Mossad agents on a Hamas official, Khaled Meshal, in neighbouring, friendly Jordan on September 25th has given new resonance to the doubts, even within his cabinet, about his fitness to govern. Army generals and senior officials are scrambling to distance themselves from the fiasco. Yet Mr Netanyahu is not only surviving, he can even point to progress this week on the long dormant Israeli-Palestinian peace track.

At 3am on October 8th—the business hour favoured by Yasser Arafat—Israel’s prime minister and the Palestinian leader met at Gaza’s border for their first face-to-face conversation in eight months. Dennis Ross, America’s peace envoy, announced at dawn that negotiations would now resume in several subcommittees, with a ministerial-level round of talks set for the end of the month. Israeli officials indicated that they propose to stop stalling over the long-delayed Palestinian plan to open an international airport in Gaza.

In Washington on the same day, Israel’s garrulous, doveish president, Ezer Weizman, said he had made the point to President Bill Clinton that Mr Netanyahu was the man to deal with if the peace process were to be re-energised. The implication seems to be that if Mr Netanyahu can emerge unscathed from the assassination episode, he must be domestically indestructible. One of the prime minister’s cabinet allies was suggesting this week, and not in jest, that the Likud party might table legislation to enable Mr Netanyahu to stand for a third term, in the year 2004.

Not everyone in the party would support that. Some prominent Likud members, including two former ministers, Dan Meridor and Binyamin Begin, have openly joined the opposition chorus excoriating Mr Netanyahu’s decision-making as a danger to national security. The foreign minister, David Levy, has made it clear that he knew nothing of the planned attack, and that had he known he would have done his best to stop it. The defence minister, Yitzhak Mordechai, has taken pains to stress how vague his information was—and thus how negligible his share in the blame.

Other central figures, such as the army chief of staff and the head of the Shin Bet internal security service, have let it be known through media leaks that they, too, were not consulted. In effect, they have accused the head of the Mossad, Major-General Danny Yatom, of lying by suggesting that he had shared the plan with them. Mr Netanyahu has been reported to be ready to accept General Yatom’s resignation. But the general was said to be preparing a spirited defence before a three-man “examination board” appointed by the cabinet on October 6th in a bid to head off demands for a full-fledged commission of inquiry.

Recriminations and denials fill the air, compounded by a report, at first denied and later sheepishly confirmed by Israel, that Hamas had transmitted an overture, through King Hussein, two days before the attack on Mr Meshal. The king confirms this, firmly. But that proposal, it now appears, never made it from General Yatom’s desk to Mr Netanyahu’s until the day after the ill-starred operation.

The composition of the examination board has fuelled further controversy. One of the three was a former head of Mossad who took to the air waves at the beginning of the week to defend the operation; he was later obliged to resign, further embarrassing the prime minister. Small wonder that 55% of those questioned in a Yediot Aharonot poll on October 8th said that they did not expect the truth to be revealed.

Mr Netanyahu privately cites polls showing support for his decision, taken after a suicide-bombing in Jerusalem on July 30th, to eliminate central Hamas figures. He believes that this support outweighs his critics’ contention that the risk to the delicate relationship with Jordan should have precluded any thought of carrying out an operation on Jordanian soil. He ignores the fact that he was able to prevent a complete rupture of relations with Jordan only by dispatching a chemical antidote to the poisonous substance that the Mossad assailants had injected into Mr Meshal’s neck. The doughty fighter against terrorism spent the next few hours fervently praying for the man’s recovery.

Far from contrite, Mr Netanyahu berates the left and the media for their lack of patriotism, confident that such sentiments find an approving echo among the people who voted him into power in May 1996. Resign? By no means, Mr Netanyahu retorted to a press conference on October 6th. He would continue his fight against terrorism.

October 9, 1997, The Economist


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Oil and troubled waters

Plans to drill for oil in the Falklands provoke angry words from Argentina

EACH year a well-rehearsed performance takes place at the United Nations Special Committee on Decolonisation. Argentina’s government protests that Britain’s sovereignty over the islands it calls the Malvinas is a colonial injustice, and that the principle of territorial integrity demands that they be reunited with the mainland. Representatives from the Falkland Islands counter that they have a right to self-determination; that they have no wish to be part of Argentina; and that they do not consider themselves to be a colony of Britain anyway. Most of the time the argument gets no further than that. After going to war over the islands in 1982, Britain and Argentina have enjoyed diplomatic relations for 20 years now. But the arrival of an oil exploration rig in the Falklands this month will give new fuel to dispute that dates back to 1833.

On February 16th Aníbal Fernández, the presidential chief of staff, announced that ships sailing between Argentina and the Falklands would henceforth require a permit. Earlier the government barred a ship which it said had previously called in the islands from loading a cargo of pipes. (Techint, the Argentine manufacturer of the pipes, said they were destined for the Mediterranean.) Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, Argentina’s president, said she would “work unceasingly for our rights in the Malvinas, for human rights.” A spokesman for the British embassy in Buenos Aires said that the application of laws in and around the Falklands was a matter for the islanders, and that Britain had no doubts over the sovereignty issue.

Exploratory wells were drilled in the waters of the Falklands in 1998. While suggesting there might be oil, further exploration was not seen as profitable at the low price then prevailing. Subsequent seismic surveys and the surge in the price of oil prompted Desire Petroleum, a small British company, to hire the rig, which will drill up to ten wells for it and Rockhopper, another British outfit. Most will be in the north Falklands basin, with perhaps one or two in the south Falklands basin, which has not yet been explored at all. By the end of this year the 2,500 islanders will have a better idea of whether the Falklands are to become the Saudi Arabia with penguins.

If recoverable oil is found, it will be doubly galling for Argentina. Since the war, income per head in the once-poor islands has substantially overhauled that in the would-be motherland. While the Falklands have grown rich on squid (and more), Argentina’s long decline has continued. Because Ms Fernández’s government, like that of her husband and predecessor, Néstor Kirchner, is unfriendly to foreign oil companies, its own oil and gas industry is steadily shrinking.

Ms Fernández is deeply unpopular, thanks to rising inflation and evidence that the first couple have grown rich while in office. But her outrage over the Malvinas plays well at home, even if few Argentines believe that it will achieve much. When Mr Kirchner suspended charter flights to the islands and banned Argentine scientists from taking part in a binational commission on fishing, he was applauded for this. With a presidential election next year, the only thing that will pour oil on the dispute is if the wells prove to be dry.


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A time to kill

Revelations in Dubai about a well-planned assassination of a Hamas man

USING subterfuge to entrap and kill adversaries, in locations far from any battlefield, has been a feature of conflict for the past 3,000 years or so—at least since Jael, one of the warrior heroines of ancient Israel, lured the enemy commander Sisera into her tent, lulled him to sleep with a refreshing drink of milk, and then used a tent peg to smash out his brains.

In modern times targeted killing is a more elaborate business, and many of the finer points—how the victim is stalked, how many people are involved—usually remain under wraps. But the plot to eliminate Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, a Hamas commander who was found dead in a Dubai hotel room on January 20th, has been laid bare in stark detail by the police in that country, not normally regarded as a model of open government.

Hamas instantly blamed Mossad, the Israeli intelligence service, confirming that the dead man was a founder of the movement’s military wing. Israel had fingered him in particular for the abduction and killing of two soldiers in 1989. Mr Mabhouh’s brother claimed that he had been killed by an electrical appliance that was held to his head. The local police said he had been suffocated.

The gory details of his end were not made public in Dubai, but many of the events that led up to it were starkly exposed. Indeed any amateur student of espionage and its tradecraft can now consult YouTube, the video-sharing site, to see closed-circuit television footage of some of the 11 people (all travelling on European passports) who are said by the Dubai authorities to have joined in the plot. On February 15th the country’s police chief offered a blow-by-blow account of the plotters’ doings, elucidating the images.

The key agents were “Gail” and “Kevin” who supervised the hit, and “Peter” who was in charge of preparatory logistics. In the films their appearances changed frequently. Kevin acquires glasses and a full head of hair, after going to the loo. It is clear that the plotters were expecting Mr Mabhouh’s arrival. One spotter waited at the airport; he duly tipped off a couple of colleagues, stout figures in tennis gear, who wait at the hotel and take note of the victim’s room number, 230. The plotters book room 237, which they use as a base. In later footage Gail and Kevin are seen pacing the corridor nearby. Four men in baseball caps, one also wearing gloves, are seen getting into a lift to leave; they seem to be the ones who did the job.

In Israel the initial reaction to the killing was of telling smirks, plus leaks to the effect that the victim was buying arms from Iran. But this gave way to embarrassment as the Dubai authorities produced their evidence, and as protests came from countries—Britain, France, Germany and Ireland—whose passports had apparently been faked or abused; and from individuals whose identities were “borrowed”.

The Israeli security services have never voiced any moral doubts about targeted assassinations (whether in the neighbourhood or farther afield) but there was a concern that the latest killing might go down on a list of plots that have misfired in unforeseen ways. In 1997, for instance, Mossad agents tried to eliminate Khaled Meshal, a senior Hamas official, in Jordan. Two agents posing as Canadians were caught trying to poison him and Israel, under threat that its agents would be executed, agreed to send an antidote. In 1973 Israeli agents murdered a Moroccan waiter in Lillehammer in Norway, mistaking him for the leader of Black September, the group blamed for a massacre of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics.

These bungles contrast with operations that Israeli spooks recall with defiant pride: the killing of Imad Mughniyeh, a top member of Hizbullah, in Damascus in 2008 (a particular coup since Syria is hostile territory for Israel); and the dispatch of Abu Jihad, a senior Palestinian official and founder of the Fatah movement, by a squad that swooped into Tunis in 1988.

The not-so-cold war

Israel has no monopoly on killing its foes far from home. European countries, including Britain (since the 1950s, anyway) claim to eschew such methods. But during the cold war both superpowers conspired eagerly to eliminate people they deemed undesirable. In America there was a rethink after a committee, under Senator Frank Church, disclosed that it was probing a web of plots to kill senior figures in countries like Congo, Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Vietnam. This led to a series of presidential decisions—most famously order number 12,333, signed by Ronald Reagan in 1981—which barred assassinations.

The real force of such orders was to squelch rogue plots hatched in the lower levels of the security services; procedures still exist for the president, in consultation with congressional leaders, to authorise the killing of a perceived adversary. In 1998, three years before the 9/11 attacks, Bill Clinton mandated the capture or killing of Osama bin Laden, after bombs at American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

Since the start of the “war on terror”, the boundaries in American thinking between legitimate military action and cold-blooded assassination have become fuzzier still. Among America’s foreign-policy pundits there were serious discussions, back in 2003, as to whether simply killing Saddam Hussein would be a humane alternative to waging war against Iraq. More recently, as the fronts in the battle with al-Qaeda have broadened from Afghanistan and Pakistan to Somalia and Yemen, so too has the scope of American actions to eliminate perceived foes. Last September, for example, American helicopters fired on a convoy of trucks in Somalia and killed Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, who was blamed for an attack on an Israeli hotel in Kenya in 2002, and for the embassy bombs of 1998.

On February 3rd Dennis Blair, the director of national intelligence, told Congress that American forces might sometimes seek permission to kill a citizen of the United States, if he was a terrorist. This followed a report that Barack Obama had authorised an attack on Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical American imam, in Yemen.

The operation in Somalia earned Mr Obama a rebuke in the Harvard law faculty, where he first shone as a progressive young legal scholar. Such actions were counterproductive and of dubious legitimacy, a columnist in the Harvard Law Record argued. But defenders of the right to kill selectively cite the shooting down of Japan’s Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto in the second world war, which was quite a cold-blooded business—though he was clearly an enemy combatant.

In truth, the factor that has changed the tactics of the American administration is less legal than mechanical: the advent of drones that can be directed with lethal accuracy (most of the time) from offices in Virginia. The best-known target was Baitullah Mehsud, leader of the Pakistani Taliban, who was blown up at his home in Waziristan last August. A study by the New America Foundation, a think-tank, points out that CIA drone attacks have become far more frequent since Mr Obama took office, with more strikes being ordered in his first ten months than in George Bush’s last three years.

In a world where Western voters demand maximum results for minimum expenditure of blood and treasure, assassination by machine has an obvious appeal to political leaders. Although they cost more “enemy” lives (including civilian ones) than old-time stabbing or poisoning, they also arouse less controversy. But for how long? Legal watchdogs say it makes unlawful killing more likely by dehumanising the process; and Pakistani officials, even those committed to fighting the Taliban, say the ruthless use of drones is alienating local people.

Whether death is by computer or by more old-fashioned methods, the antecedents and details of assassination are easier to hide in rough, remote locations than in rich, westernised ones. And even in wild places, awkward facts can come out—as they obviously did in Dubai.


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Gordon Brown pledges inquiry as Israel refuses to rule out Mossad plot in Dubai

International row deepens over use of fake UK passports as Israeli foreign minister fails to deny Mossad involvement

Gordon Brown today stepped into the growing international row over the alleged use of fake passports by the assassins of a Hamas leader in Dubai by promising a full investigation.

As demands were made for the Israeli ambassador to be summoned to the Foreign Office to answer allegations that the Mossad security service was behind the assassination, the prime minister told London’s LBC radio station: “We are looking at this at this very moment. We have got to carry out a full investigation into this. The British passport is an important document that has got to be held with care.

“The evidence has got to be assembled about what has actually happened and how it happened and why it happened, and it is necessary for us to accumulate that evidence before we can make statements.”

The Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca), led by Sir Ian Andrews, formerly at the Ministry of Defence, has been brought in to investigate the use of British passports in the January killing.

“We are assisting the Dubai authorities. The details are to be determined and meetings are currently taking place,” a Soca spokesman said.

Soca, or “Britain’s version of the FBI”, was set up in 2006 under the chairmanship of a former head of MI5, Sir Stephen Lander. It is co-operating with the Dubai police, according to Whitehall officials, who suspect that Israel is behind the assassination. However, British intelligence agencies are refraining from publicly accusing Israel or any other country until they have firm evidence to back up such suspicions.

Earlier, the Israeli foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, broke his government’s silence saying there was no proof that the Mossad was behind the killing.

However, he did not explicitly deny any Israeli involvement, saying his government had a “policy of ambiguity” on intelligence issues.

“I don’t know why we take it for granted that it was Israel or the Mossad that used those passports or the identities of that British citizen, yes or no. It’s just not correct. Why are we in such a hurry to take all kinds of tasks upon ourselves?” Lieberman told Israel’s Army Radio.

He was speaking after details in the case began to point back to Israel. Seven Israelis with dual foreign citizenship, six of them apparently Britons and one American, had their identities stolen to be used for the forged passports relied on by the suspected assassins. The seven, who appear unconnected, have denied any involvement in the affair and say they have no idea how their identities were stolen.

Dubai police released on Monday the passport details of 11 people – six from Britain, three from Ireland and one each from France and Germany – that they said were behind the killing of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, who was murdered in his Dubai hotel room last month.

The New York Times reported this morning that the hit team included a total of 17 people, six of whom had not yet been identified.

Some Israeli commentators delivered the first criticisms of the Mossad today , saying the operation was beginning to look like a blunder. One even called on the Mossad chief, Meir Dagan, to resign and suggested the incident could provoke a diplomatic row with Britain over the use of forged British passports.

Sir Menzies Campbell, the former Liberal Democrat leader who is also a member of the Commons foreign affairs committee, said Israel’s ambassador in the UK should be summoned to the Foreign Office immediately.

“If the Israeli government was party to behaviour of this kind it would be a serious violation of trust between nations,” he said. “If legitimate British passport holders were put at risk it would be a disgrace. Given the current speculation, the Israeli government has some explaining to do and the ambassador should be summoned to the Foreign Office to do so in double-quick time.”

A Tory MP, Hugo Swire, chairman of the Conservative Middle East council, also demanded a “full investigation”.

In 1987, Britain protested to Israel about what it said was the misuse by Israeli authorities of forged British passports and said it received assurances that steps had been taken to prevent future occurrences.

But Lieberman said he believed that relations with Britain would not be damaged. “I think Britain recognises that Israel is a responsible country and that our security activity is conducted according to very clear, cautious and responsible rules of the game. Therefore we have no cause for concern,” he said.

Rafi Eitan, a former Israeli minister and intelligence officer, told Army Radio that the Mossad was not behind the killing and that a foreign organisation was trying to frame Israel.

There was a mixture of praise and criticism of the Mossad in the Israeli press. Yossi Melman, a respected security correspondent for Ha’aretz, said the agency had used forged passports on operations in the past and noted that in this case all the “operatives” involved in the assassination had left Dubai safely without being caught.

“As such, unless dramatic evidence is found to definitively prove an Israeli connection, it is likely that the State of Israel will emerge from this affair unblemished and the Mossad will continue enjoying a reputation of fearless determination and nearly unstoppable capabilities,” Melman wrote.

However, another Ha’aretz columnist, Amir Oren, said there were now “enormous question marks” over the operation and said the Mossad chief, Meir Dagan, whom he described as “belligerent and heavy-handed,” should resign. He said the case would likely bring a diplomatic crisis for Israel and added: “Even if whoever carried out the assassination does reach some kind of arrangement with the infuriated western nations, it still has an obligation to its own citizens.”

Ben Caspit, in the Ma’ariv newspaper, described the incident as “a tactical operational success, but a strategic failure”. “When it becomes apparent that the passports belong to innocent Israeli citizens, who will now be subject to an international manhunt by Interpol, the embarrassment is great,” he wrote.

In Austria, the interior ministry said it had launched an investigation into the suspected use of at least seven mobile phones with pre-paid Austrian chips by Mabhouh’s killers. The killers reportedly never made direct phone calls to each other but dialled into a communications centre in Austria – described by Dubai as the “command centre” for the operation.


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Dubai hit-squad suspects caught on CCTV

Police have shown footage of some of the 11 suspected members of a hit squad who killed Hamas commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh


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New Hints of Skulduggery in Hamas Killing

 The murder was straight out of a cheap spy thriller. At least 11 professional assassins, some wearing wigs and fake beards, tracked a senior Hamas official to his Dubai hotel in January and killed him with cold precision, fleeing the country afterward on European passports, the Dubai police say.

But even as the Dubai authorities called Tuesday for an international manhunt, questions emerged about the identities of the suspects, deepening the mystery around the killing.

British and Irish officials said the suspects’ passports — which were unveiled at a news conference Monday by the Dubai police, along with their photographs and surveillance video — appeared to be fake, and in at least three cases appeared to have been stolen from British citizens living in Israel.

“We believe that the passports used were fraudulent and have begun our own investigation,” the Foreign Office in London said in a statement. Six of the 11 suspects identified by the Dubai police on Monday are British and three are Irish. In Dublin, the Department of Foreign Affairs said that it had been “unable to find any record of Irish passports having been issued with details corresponding to those published in Emirati newspapers,” and added that “we have received no evidence that any Irish nationals were involved.”

An Emirati official said the passports had been used repeatedly months before the killing, in Europe and Asia. He added that the hit team had included a total of 17 people, six of whom had not yet been identified.

In Israel, a British man named Melvyn Adam Mildiner told Reuters that he had the same name as one suspect, but that he was a different person from the one whose photograph was provided by the Dubai police, and that he had his passport with him.

“I am obviously angry, upset and scared — any number of things,” Mr. Mildiner was quoted as saying. “And I’m looking into what I can do to try to sort things out and clear my name.”

Two other British men living in Israel — Stephen Daniel Hodes and Paul John Keeley — also appear to have had their identities used by the suspects, according to Israel’s Channel Two News, which interviewed the men.

Because the victim, Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, was a senior Hamas official, many have suspected that Israel was behind his assassination. Hamas has accused Israel and vowed revenge. Israeli officials have not confirmed or denied the Hamas accusations.

The Dubai police chief, Dahi Khalfan al-Tamim, did not accuse Israel, but said it was possible that a foreign government had ordered the killing.

Mr. Mabhouh played a role in the kidnapping and killing of two Israeli soldiers in 1989, and was involved in supplying Iranian weapons to Hamas.

Dubai is an open city, often used by intelligence officials for covert meetings. But Israel has also nurtured a quiet friendship with Dubai leaders.

Jim Krane, the author of “City of Gold,” a recent book about Dubai, said, “If Israel did authorize the hit, it either found Mabhouh’s elimination worth the damage to its relationship with Dubai, or the hit squad made a big mistake.”

Dubai officials suggested that the killers — whoever they were — did practice some sloppy tradecraft. Although the assassination was carried out without attracting notice, the suspects allowed themselves to be photographed repeatedly on surveillance cameras, sometimes ducking into bathrooms and emerging with fake beards but still recognizable, the Dubai police say.

Assuming that Israeli agents were responsible, Dubai may be the only place they could kill Mr. Mabhouh, said Robert Baer, a former C.I.A. operative in the Middle East. Assassinations took place there during the 1990s and drew little attention. But Dubai is now concerned about its reputation as a tourism and financial hub, and may have deliberately publicized the suspects’ identities — rather than handling the matter through private channels — to embarrass whoever planned the killing, he added.

Robert F. Worth, New York Times


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Assassins of Hamas Official Caught on Tape, Dubai Says

Iran Has Designs on Iraq

Progress has been very real, but Joe Biden’s claims of victory are premature

Vice President Joe Biden recently told Larry King that Iraq “could be one of the great achievements of this administration.” Mr. Biden’s transparent attempt to take credit for Bush administration policies aside, it’s worth asking how exactly does the Obama administration define success in Iraq?

Mr. Biden said, “You’re going to see a stable government in Iraq that is actually moving toward a representative government,” echoing President Obama’s remarks at Camp Lejeune in February 2009. But he also said, “You’re going to see 90,000 American troops come marching home by the end of the summer,” echoing the only comment the president made about Iraq in last month’s State of the Union address: “I promised that I would end this war, and that is what I am doing as president.”

A campaign poster for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

The problem is that progress in Iraq is not as inevitable as Mr. Biden suggests. Iraq faces a political and constitutional crisis weeks away from the most important election it will ever hold. People working on behalf of Iran are actively seeking to spoil this election. They want to exclude Sunni leaders from the next government, align Iraq’s Shiites into a single political bloc, expel American forces, and create a government in Baghdad that is dependent on Tehran.

Success remains possible, but only if the Obama administration abandons the campaign rhetoric of “end this war” and commits itself to helping Iraqis build a just, accountable, representative government. It needs to establish long-term security ties that will bind our two states together, including the continuing deployment of American military forces in Iraq if the Iraqis so desire.

Many fundamental questions will be answered this year about how Iraq is to be governed that will shape its development for decades. Is the election free, fair and inclusive? Do all communities emerge from it with leaders who they feel represent them? Is there a peaceful transition of power? What is the relationship between the central government and provincial governments? What role will the military play in the evolving political system? Does Iran get to vet Iraqi political candidates? What relationship will the U.S. have with Iraq over the long term?

Tehran seems to know what answers it wants regarding Iraq’s future. Iranian officials, including President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki and Chairman of the Assembly of Experts Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, worked doggedly in 2009 to rebuild the coalition of the three major Iraqi Shiite parties that had run in 2005 as a bloc. That effort failed when Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki refused to join.

The Iranians then actively but unsuccessfully lobbied for Iraq’s parliament to pass a closed-list election law in October 2009 in which the people could not choose particular candidates, seeking to increase their control of political parties and thus electoral outcomes.

On Jan. 7, 2010, when Foreign Minister Mottaki visited Iraq, the Accountability and Justice Commission (which was established in August 2003 to vet individuals who might serve in the government for links to the Baath Party) announced that it was banning more than 500 candidates from the upcoming parliamentary elections. They included some of the most prominent Sunni leaders who had been running on cross-sectarian lists.

Ahmed Chalabi, a leading member of the Iranian-backed Shiite list, helped drive the ban through the commission. So did Ali Faisal al-Lami. Mr. Lami was arrested in 2008 for orchestrating an attack by the Iranian proxy group Aseeb Ahl al Haq (AAH) that killed six Iraqis and four Americans in Sadr City. AAH splinters re-activated its military activities, after a year long cease-fire, by kidnapping an American contractor on Jan. 23. AAH is nevertheless running candidates such as Mr. Lami for parliamentary seats.

But politics is by no means Tehran’s only sphere of influence in Iraq. The Iranian armed forces violated Iraqi sovereignty on at least two occasions in 2009—U.S. forces shot down an Iranian drone in Iraqi territory in March 2009, and Iranian troops ostentatiously seized an Iraqi oil well in December 2009 as the Iraqis completed a round of international oil bids.

Against this continuous Iranian campaign of engagement, intimidation and political machinations, the Obama administration has offered little more than moral support. In practical terms, this administration has done little to implement the nonmilitary aspects of the Strategic Framework Agreement (SFA) that would signal an American commitment to Iraq.

On the security side, the administration has wisely abided by the Iraqi insistence that we withdraw our forces from Iraq’s cities, conduct all military operations only in partnership with Iraqi forces, subordinate all of our military operations to Iraqi legal processes, and generally respect Iraqi sovereignty.

But it has remained publicly inflexible about the withdrawal of U.S. combat forces and the ending of all U.S. combat missions by August of this year. Those specific requirements were imposed solely and unilaterally by the Obama administration and were never part of the international agreements between the U.S. and Iraq. The time line for drawing down U.S. forces and changing their mission in 2010 must be based upon the conditions on the ground, not arbitrary deadlines.

The U.S. has steadfastly refused to discuss a long-term military partnership with Iraq beyond 2011, despite the fact that the Iraqi military will not be able to defend Iraq on its own by then. It has refused fully to increase civilian efforts in order to accomplish tasks that had been performed by military forces now withdrawing. It has reduced funding for the Commander’s Emergency Response Program, which allows the military to provide “urgent humanitarian relief and reconstruction” projects, as well as for other forms of humanitarian and security assistance.

Despite the vice president’s many trips, the administration has consistently defined success as complete disengagement. Many Iraqi leaders interpreted the SFA as an indication that their country would develop a special relationship with the U.S. Instead, the Obama administration has given them every reason to believe that they will be—at best—just another country in the Middle East.

Success in Iraq has been very real, and there is every prospect that it can continue. Nevertheless, American military forces continue to play a vital role in Iraq’s development. They are engaged in peacekeeping operations along the Kurd-Arab seam. They continue to support Provincial Reconstruction Teams and, thereby, a large portion of the U.S. civilian efforts. They are the ultimate guarantors of the upcoming Iraqi elections. And they ensure Iraq’s survival in the face of continuing Iranian military aggression. They also provide the U.S. with continuing leverage at a critical period in Iraq’s political development, if we choose to use it.

Mr. Biden’s comments and the administration’s actions suggest that Iraq is on a glide-path to success even as U.S. forces are on a glide-path to withdrawal. The reality is different.

The situation in Iraq is dynamic and evolving, and the U.S. cannot take any outcome for granted. Active American engagement will continue to be vital to achieving a just, accountable, representative government in Iraq, especially as Iranian senior leaders actively attempt to undermine the democratic, secular and cross-sectarian political process that has emerged in Iraq since 2008.

Ms. Kagan is the president of the Institute for the Study of War and the author of “The Surge: A Military History,” published by Encounter Books. Mr. Kagan is a resident scholar and director of the Critical Threats Project at the American Enterprise Institute.


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Major Hasan: The Counterlife

The Fort Hood killer just missed becoming a civil-liberties martyr.

Suppose that on Nov. 4, 2009—the day before he would open fire on his fellow soldiers at Fort Hood, killing 13 and wounding 30—Major Nidal Malik Hasan had been arrested by military police and charged with intent to commit acts of terrorism. Where would his case stand today?

My guess: a public uproar, complete with exacting doubts about the strength of the evidence against him. This would be followed by sage lamentations about how a “Christianist” military had indicted a patriotic Muslim-American simply for having religious scruples about the justice of our wars. Further down the line one can imagine a Pentagon apology, a book contract, a speaking tour.

This scenario is worth thinking about on news that as many as eight officers, most of them doctors at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, will be censured for failing to monitor, supervise and discipline Maj. Hasan properly as his behavior became increasingly suspicious. The censures will likely bring the officers’ military careers to an end. Whether they’ll do anything to change the mentality that permitted Maj. Hasan’s career to proceed unchecked until he brought it to its ghastly conclusion is another question.

Three salient facts stand out about Maj. Hasan’s case. One is that there was no shortage of available evidence prior to the Nov. 5 attack of his militantly Islamist inclinations. Among other details: An ABC story mentions that he once told his supervisor at Fort Hood that “she was an infidel who would be ‘ripped to shreds’ and ‘burn in hell’ because she was not Muslim.”

Nor was there any shortage of opportunities for the military to put an end to Maj. Hasan’s career. He received poor performance evaluations. His colleagues feared he was psychotic and could be a risk to fellow soldiers if deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan. Nothing would have been simpler for the Army than to pass him over for promotion and push him out the door.

This raises the third salient fact, which is that the Army failed to act. Why?

You won’t find much of an answer in the Defense Department’s “Lessons from Fort Hood” report, published last month. The report faults “some medical officers” for failing “to apply appropriate judgment and standards of officership with respect to the alleged perpetrator.” But it fails to explore just why there was such a failure of officership to begin with when all the lights were blinking red.

Instead, the report dwells at soporific length on how the Army can improve its monitoring mechanisms, such as in Recommendation 2.1: “Develop a risk assessment tool for commanders, supervisors and professional support service providers to determine whether and when DoD personnel present risks for various types of violent behavior.”

Creating “risk-assessment tools” is the kind of thing all bureaucracies excel at: It’s the proverbial nail for the guy with the hammer. But the core problem exposed by the trajectory of Maj. Hasan’s career is less about systems—the protocols by which Colonel X may authorize Captain Y to interface with task force Z—than it is about culture. Or, to be more specific, the intersection of two cultures: the Islamist culture in which Maj. Hasan was radicalized, and the military culture in which his lunatic views went unchallenged.

Much has been said and written about the first culture. About the second, I’m not the first to point out that the Fort Hood report never once mentions the word “Islam.” There’s a reason for that. Melting-pot institutions like the U.S. military prefer not to dwell too much on the particulars of a soldier’s culture: Much of their purpose is to substitute personal belief with common standards of behavior. What a soldier might think about the afterlife is his own affair.

No wonder the Army was uniquely ill-equipped to deal with a problem like Maj. Hassan. Its unease with the issue could only have been compounded by past experience with Muslim soldiers suspected of Islamist sympathies.

In 2003, Capt. James Yee, a Muslim chaplain serving in Guantanamo, was arrested on suspicion of sedition and espionage. Eventually the charges were dropped, officially because of “national security concerns that would arise from the release of the evidence.” The political fallout was swift. Sens. Ted Kennedy and Carl Levin demanded a full investigation. “This incident,” wrote one terminally outraged blogger, “is particularly noxious at a time when we need to reassure patriotic Muslim-Americans that they are not going to come under clouds of suspicion for their faith or their identity—especially Muslims who are actually serving this country in uniform.”

Capt. Yee went on to write a book and cast a nominating ballot for Barack Obama at the Democratic National Convention.

In another life, something similar may have been Maj. Hasan’s fate. In another life, eight officers could be under a cloud for casting aspersions on him based only on his identity and beliefs. In another life, too, 13 men and women would be with us today. That they are not reflects more than the failure of eight fall guys. It is a failure, by people far more senior, to heed a more fundamental military command. It’s called Know Thine Enemy.

Bret Stephens, Wall Street Journal


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Under duress

Judges force the disclosure of secret intelligence, and deliver a damning assessment of British spies’ complicity in torture

SINCE the beginning of the so-called war on terror, many Britons have been appalled by the dirty tactics employed by American intelligence. Though British freedoms have been eroded—most infamously through detention without charge—torture itself has been thought off limits since the prime minister of the day gave assurances in 1972 that British forces would never use it to aid interrogations. No one got waterboarded in Ian Fleming’s “Goldfinger”.

Slowly and painfully, many are beginning to reshape their view of MI5 and MI6, Britain’s home- and foreign-intelligence services. Evidence is building that, in their pursuit of intelligence on Islamic extremists, British spies have been complicit in torture, even if they have avoided turning the thumbscrews themselves. An appeals-court judgment on February 10th has added fuel to the fire.

The case concerned Binyam Mohamed, an Ethiopian-born British resident who spent the best part of seven years imprisoned in Pakistan, Morocco, Afghanistan and Guantánamo Bay, before being released without charge last year. In 2008 Mr Mohamed applied to see evidence held by Britain supporting his claims that confessions he had made during his imprisonment were extracted under torture. The Foreign Office resisted publishing even a judicial summary of that evidence on the grounds that the information had been provided by American intelligence agencies, which did not intend it to be made public. The three judges ruled that the information must be published anyway.

A seven-paragraph summary of intelligence which now appears on the Foreign Office website shows that Mr Mohamed was shackled, deprived of sleep and told that he would be “disappeared” unless he co-operated. The tactics constituted “at the very least cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment” by the American authorities, the summary said. Though British agents did not carry out the abuse themselves, the evidence suggests they knew the extent of Mr Mohamed’s maltreatment before one of their number flew out to ask the broken man a few questions of their own.

That was awkward enough. But it has emerged that an earlier draft of the judgment contained much more sweeping criticism of MI5. Lord Neuberger, the Master of the Rolls and one of the three-member panel that made the ruling, watered down his opinion at the request of the Foreign Office’s counsel, Jonathan Sumption. Mr Sumption’s letter to the court suggests that Lord Neuberger’s original opinion said MI5 operated under a “culture of suppression” in its dealings with the government, such that the court should distrust any official assurance based on its advice. Lord Neuberger believed MI5’s problems were systemic, the letter implied.

The judge has admitted that he was “overhasty” in tempering his criticisms. The court has set a deadline of February 12th for other parties to express their views on whether the original draft should prevail. But as the spooks well know, once a secret is out it is hard to cover it up again.

British spies now face a separate worry about their relations with American intelligence. The “secrets” published this week contain nothing that is damaging to anyone’s national security: names and other details were omitted. In any case, most of the material had been disclosed by an American court in November, in a separate case. Nonetheless, they were not Britain’s beans to spill. David Miliband, the foreign secretary, warned that the case had caused “a great deal of concern” in America. The White House confirmed that the judgment “will complicate the confidentiality of our intelligence-sharing relationship with the UK, and it will have to factor into our decision-making”. This could well be boilerplate. But spies may think twice now before passing on information.

Mr Miliband has tried to soothe the Americans by saying that the court would have ruled differently had the information not already been aired in America. That is uncertain. In his ruling Igor Judge, the Lord Chief Justice, held that the principle of confidentiality between intelligence agencies was “not absolute”. Sir Anthony May, sitting with him, wrote that “a real risk of serious damage to national security, of whatever degree, should not automatically trump a public interest in open justice”.

This case leaves a bitter residue, as cover-up upon cover-up is revealed. It was bad that the government tried to conceal the facts, worse that its counsel intervened to alter a court ruling. It now faces the possibility that its own spies are lying to it.


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The Grotesque Vocabulary in Congo

I’ve learned some new words.

One is “autocannibalism,” coined in French but equally appropriate in English. It describes what happens when a militia here in eastern Congo’s endless war cuts flesh from living victims and forces them to eat it.

Another is “re-rape.” The need for that term arose because doctors were seeing women and girls raped, re-raped and re-raped again, here in the world capital of murder, rape, mutilation.

This grotesque vocabulary helps answer a question that I’ve had from readers: Why Congo? After a previous visit to eastern Congo, a reader named Jim D. objected. “Yes there are horrible things happening in Africa,” he wrote on my blog. “None are anything we can do anything about by ourselves.”

“My question is why do you not concentrate on this nation’s poor,” he asked. “Yes, Africa suffers, but you need to look in your own house first.”

Jim D. has a legitimate complaint, echoed by other readers: We have enormous needs at home, and we shouldn’t let foreign crises distract us from them.

But do we really need to say that we can’t address suffering in Congo or Haiti, or anywhere else, because we have our own needs? Particularly when the Congo war has claimed so many lives (perhaps more than six million), isn’t it time for the U.S. to lead a major, global diplomatic push for peace?

Sometimes it’s said that women and children bear the brunt of the brutality in Congo. That’s not quite right; a United Nations official estimates that the population here in South Kivu Province is 55 percent female because so many men have been executed. Women are less likely to be killed but more likely to be tortured.

So can anything be done about this abattoir, or is Jim D. right that it is just one more tragedy to which we must wearily resign ourselves?

One answer is simple: Some people are already showing that it is possible to make a difference here. International Rescue Committee is helping rape survivors recover. The World Food Program averts starvation with its food distributions. And Eve Ensler, author of “The Vagina Monologues,” is working with Unicef to build a City of Joy here to train women — some of them shattered by war — to transform their communities. City of Joy will teach legal rights, self-defense and skills for economic empowerment, and a team of female construction workers is helping build it right now.

“The intention is to transform pain into power,” explained Christine Schuler Deschryver, who manages the project in Congo.

As for whether it is possible to end the war itself, it helps to understand why Congolese civilians are subjected to autocannibalism and re-rape. It’s not just mindless savagery. Rather, after talking to survivors and perpetrators alike over the years, I’ve come to believe that the atrocities are calculated and strategic, serving two main purposes.

First, they terrorize populations and shatter traditional structures of authority.

Second, they create cohesiveness among the misfit, often youthful soldiers typically employed by warlords. If commanders can get their troops to commit unspeakable atrocities, those soldiers are less likely ever to return to society.

So don’t think of wartime atrocities as some ineluctable Lord of the Flies reversion to life in a natural state but as a calculated military strategy. We can change those calculations by holding commanders accountable.

A four-step approach would be:

• Pressure on Rwanda to stop funding its pet Tutsi militia in Congo. Rwanda also should publish a list of those facing criminal charges for its 1994 genocide so that more Hutu militiamen not on the list might go back. A Rwandan war shouldn’t be fought in Congo.

• An international regime to monitor mineral exports from Congo so that warlords do not monetize their militias by exporting minerals through Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi. Legislation to do this, backed by an advocacy group called the Enough Project, is pending in Congress.

• A major push to demobilize Rwandan Hutu fighters and return as many as possible to civilian life in Rwanda or settlements in Congo or Burundi. That should be coupled with a crackdown on leaders in Congo and those who direct action from Europe and the United States.

• A drive to professionalize the Congolese Army and end the impunity for murder, torture and rape, starting with the arrest of Jean Bosco Ntaganda on his warrant for war crimes.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to eastern Congo last year was a landmark, but it needs more follow-up from the Obama administration. What is required isn’t some new formula but much greater political will. Otherwise, the fighting will go on for years to come — and this lovely, lush land will spawn even more horrific vocabulary.

Nicholas D. Kristof, New York Times


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Annotated Version of Hitler Polemic in the Works

The Kampf for ‘Mein Kampf’


Hitler’s polemic “Mein Kampf” cannot be published in Germany until the copyright runs out in 2015.

Annotated Version of Hitler Polemic in the Works

The copyright on Adolf Hitler’s book “Mein Kampf” won’t expire until 2015, but historians in Munich have already starting working on an annotated edition. They’re hoping that the copyright holder, the state of Bavaria, will allow the new edition to go into print before it expires.

There have long been periodic calls from historians for “Mein Kampf.” Adolf Hitler’s seminal work of hate and prejudice, to be republished in German. If an annotated, academic version of the polemic comes out, so goes the argument, it could take the wind out of neo-Nazi sails once the book is no longer protected by copyright.

Now, a new version is in the works. According to a Wednesday report on German radio, the Munich Institute of Contemporary History is working on an annotated edition complete with notes on where the ideas Hitler expounds on in his book originated.

But the state of Bavaria, which holds the “Mein Kampf” (“My Struggle”) copyright, says that it doesn’t plan on allowing the new version to hit the shelves before the book enters the public domain.

“The state government is not planning on changing course,” the Bavarian government said in a statement to the Bayerischer Rundfunk public radio station. “No permission has been granted to the Institute of Contemporary History.”

70 Years after Hitler’s Death

Nevertheless, institute head Horst Möller says that work on the new edition, undertaken by historians Edith Raim and Othmar Plöckinger, will go ahead. “If we complete the text prior to the end of the copyright, we can approach the authorities once again,” he told Bayerischer Rundfunk.

The “Mein Kampf” copyright expires in 2015, 70 years after the death of the author Adolf Hitler, as mandated by law. The copyright fell into the hands of the Bavarian state in 1945, when Bavaria took over the rights of the main Nazi party publishing house Eher-Verlag as part of the Allies’ de-Nazification program. Out of fears that the book could promote neo-Nazis, Bavaria has not allowed “Mein Kampf” to be published in Germany since then.

Several foreign language editions have appeared in the meantime. Indeed, Bavaria has even initiated legal proceedings against some of those editions in the past. The book is not banned in Germany, but can only be sold for “research purposes.”

‘Off the Rails’

Möller is concerned that, once the copyright expires in 2015, neo-Nazis will immediately begin disseminating the work. He says that an academic edition could help counter the sensationalism that he fears will accompany the book’s republishing.

Other academics aren’t so sure. “I think the idea is absurd,” Wolfgang Benz, head of the Center for Anti-Semitism Research (ZfA) in Berlin, told SPIEGEL ONLINE in 2007. “How can you annotate an 800-page monologue exposing Hitler’s insane worldview? After every single line you would have to write, ‘Hitler is wrong here,’ and then ‘Hitler is completely off the rails here,’ and so on.”


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Obama’s Iraq policy must be focused on more than withdrawal

In a 71-minute State of the Union address, President Obama managed no more than 101 perfunctory words about Iraq. Throughout its term, the administration has recoiled from discussing Iraq’s geostrategic significance and especially America’s relation to it.

Yet while Iraq is being exorcised from our debate, its reality is bound to obtrude on our consciousness. The U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq will not alter the geostrategic importance of the country even as it alters that context.

Mesopotamia has been the strategic focal point of the region for millennia. Its resources affect countries far away. The dividing line between the Shiite and the Sunni worlds runs through its center — indeed, through its capital. Iraq’s Kurdish provinces rest uneasily between Turkey and Iran and indigenous adversaries within Iraq. It cannot be in the American interest to leave the region as a vacuum.

Nor is it possible to separate Iraq from the conflict with revolutionary jihad. The outcome in Iraq will influence the psychological balance in the war against radical Islam, specifically whether the ongoing withdrawal from Iraq comes to be perceived as a retreat from the region or a more effective way to sustain it.

But Iraq has largely disappeared from policy debates in Washington. There are special envoys for every critical country in the region except Iraq, the country whose evolution will help determine how American relevance to the currents of the region will be judged. The Obama administration needs to find its voice to convey that Iraq continues to play a significant role in American strategy. Brief visits by high officials are useful as symbols. But of what? Operational continuity is needed in a strategic concept for a region over which the specter of Iran increasingly looms.

Before the war, the equilibrium between Iraq and Iran was a principal geopolitical reality within the region. At that time, the government in Baghdad was a Sunni-run dictatorship. The Shiite-dominated, partly democratic structure that has emerged from the war has not yet found the appropriate balance among its Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish components. Nor is its long-term relationship to Iran settled. If radicals prevail in the Shiite part, and the Shiite part comes to dominate the Sunni and Kurdish regions, and if it then lines up with Tehran, we will witness — and will have partially contributed to — a fundamental shift in the balance of the region.

The outcome in Iraq will have profound consequences, above all, in Saudi Arabia, the key country in the Persian Gulf, as well as in the other Gulf states and in Lebanon, where Hezbollah, financed by Iran, is already a Shiite state within the state. The United States therefore has an important stake in a moderate evolution of Iraq’s domestic and foreign policies.

The Obama administration is stalemated in negotiations with Iran to contain the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Whether the nuclear issue is settled by diplomacy or other evolutions, the stability of the region will be crucially affected by the ability to bring about a political and strategic equilibrium between Iran and Iraq. Without such an arrangement, the region runs the risk of living indefinitely on top of a heap of explosives toward which a smoldering fuse is burning.

The formal expressions of administration policy on Iraq primarily concern the rate of withdrawal. Even President Obama’s reference to Iraq in his State of the Union speech was largely in that context. Few high-level Iraqi leaders are invited to Washington, and their reception is reserved. America needs to remain an active diplomatic player. Its presence must be perceived to have some purpose beyond withdrawal. An expression of political commitment to the region is needed. In executing an exit strategy, we must make sure that strategy remains linked to exit.

Mr. Kissinger was secretary of state from 1973 to 1977.


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Getting to closure

If not this year, if not next year…

 Still with us

THE experts have now combed through all the case files of those still held at the Guantánamo Bay prison camp in Cuba and decided who should be released, who tried and who kept behind bars no matter what. Yet Barack Obama is no closer to being able to shut the place that has caused America such soul-searching at home and brought it such shame abroad.

Guantánamo was supposed to have been history by now. Mr Obama’s deadline of a year to close it has passed unmet. The prison may still be open a year or more from now. The president has long argued that the cost to America’s reputation and security of keeping Guantánamo open outweighs all the difficulties of closing it down. But it is still proving hard to do.

A painstaking review by a 60-strong task-force of lawyers and other experts from six different government agencies, including the State Department, the Pentagon, the Department of Justice and the Department for Homeland Security, came to a unanimous verdict this month on each of the 192 inmates who remain. Some 106 have been cleared for eventual release. Around 35 others will stand trial in either civilian or military courts.

But that still leaves 50 or so deemed too dangerous to release and, for one reason or another, unable to be put on trial. In the absence of compelling new evidence to put them in one of the other two categories, they are to remain in detention under the Authorisation for Use of Military Force Act, passed by Congress in 2001 soon after the September 11th terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, DC. But where and under what rules is still unclear.

Uncomfortably for Mr Obama’s supporters, George Bush used the same law to justify detaining people at Guantánamo in the first place, and then went on to authorise interrogation techniques, such as waterboarding (simulated drowning), which many people, and this newspaper, regard as torture. Such practices have since been outlawed, but continued detention still looks to critics like Guantánamo under an assumed name. Others fear that those brought to the United States for trial, if acquitted, could win the right to remain.

Congress has so far authorised transfers to the mainland only for those standing trial, not for their release (or for indefinite detention). Among the ten cases assigned to trial so far are five detainees to be charged in federal court with masterminding the September 11th attacks. Another will face a military court, accused of the bombing of a navy ship, the USS Cole, in 2000 in the port of Aden, in Yemen.

And those stuck in limbo? Mr Obama has talked of setting “clear, defensible and lawful standards” for continued detention, with periodic review and in co-operation with Congress and the courts. But no such standards exist yet.

The Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that all Guantánamo inmates had the right to challenge their detention in court. Many have, and the government has lost more cases than it has won. But the justices gave no further guidance. Whose habeas corpus suit is accepted and whose rejected depends too heavily on which judge hears the case, argues Benjamin Wittes of the Brookings Institution, a think-tank. Eventually appeals courts will iron out the worst anomalies. Better still would be fair rules that apply to all. Otherwise the temptation, says Mr Wittes, will be to rely in future.

Editorial, The Economist


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Seven Myths About Iran

How long will it take for the lesson to stick?

‘We have been trying to negotiate [with the Iranians] for five, six years. We’ve tried everything. We have met every Iranian. We have tried to open every possible channel. We’ve had new ideas and the result is this: nothing.”

Thus did a senior Western diplomat recently describe to me his country’s efforts to reach a negotiated settlement with Tehran over its nuclear programs. In doing so, he also finally disposed of the myth, nearly a decade in the making, that Iran was ready to abandon those programs in exchange for a “grand bargain” with the West.

Let’s dispose of a few other myths—and hope it doesn’t take years for the lesson to stick:

(1) Military strikes on Iran’s nuclear facilities would accomplish nothing.

That’s the argument made by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who last year told a Senate Committee that “a military attack will only buy us time and send the program deeper and more covert.”

Maybe so, but what’s wrong with buying time? Israel’s 1981 attack on Iraq’s Osirak reactor also bought time while driving Saddam’s nuclear programs underground. But it ensured that it was a non-nuclear Iraq that invaded Kuwait and threatened Saudi Arabia nine years later, a point recognized by then-Defense Secretary Dick Cheney when he thanked the Israeli commander of the Osirak operation for making “our job much easier in Desert Storm.”

(2) A strike would rally Iranians to the side of the regime.

The case would be more persuasive if the regime had any remaining claims on Iranian patriotism. It no longer does, if it ever did. It also would be more persuasive if the nuclear program were as broadly popular as some of the regime’s apologists claim. On the contrary, one of the more popular chants of the demonstrators goes, “Iran is green and fertile, it doesn’t need nukes.”

Yet even if the nuclear program enjoyed widespread support, it isn’t clear how Iranians would react in the event of military strikes. Argentine dictator Leopoldo Galtieri whooped up a nationalist fervor when he invaded the Falklands in 1982, but was ousted from office just a week after Port Stanley fell to the British. When a regime gambles its prestige on a single controversial enterprise, it cannot afford to lose it.

(3) Sanctions don’t work, and usually wind up strengthening the regime at the expense of its own people.

That’s only true when the sanctioned regimes have strong internal controls, relatively pliant populations, and zero interest in international respectability. It’s also true that sanctions alone are never a silver bullet. But as Mark Dubowitz of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies points out, they can be “silver shrapnel,” particularly when the target country is as politically vulnerable as Iran is now, and when it is also critically reliant on the consumption of imported gasoline.

That’s why the House was right when it overwhelmingly approved the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act in December, and when the Senate unanimously passed a similar bill (against the administration’s objections) last Thursday. Over time, the regime will surely find ways to skirt the sanctions, which prohibit companies that do business in Iran’s energy sector from also doing business in the U.S. But in the critical short term, these sanctions might provoke the kind of mass unrest that could tip the scales against the regime.

(4) The world can live with a nuclear Iran, just as we live with other nasty nuclear powers.

Assume that’s true. (I don’t.) Can we also live with nuclear Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey? The problem with the “realist” view is that it fails to take account of the fears a nuclear Iran inspires among the status quo regimes in its neighborhood. Containment was complicated enough during the Cold War. Now imagine a four- or five-way standoff among Arabs, Persians, Turks and Israelis, some religiously fanatic, in the world’s most volatile neighborhood.

(5) The Iranian regime is headed for the ash heap of history. The best policy is to do as little as possible until it crumbles from within.

Communist regimes were also destined for the ash heap. Unfortunately, it took them decades to get there, during which they murdered tens of millions of people. It matters a great deal to Iran’s people, and its neighbors, that the regime go quietly. But it also matters that it go quickly, and waiting on events is not a policy.

(6) The more support we show Iran’s demonstrators, the more we hurt their cause.

This was the administration’s view after the June 12 election, as it walked on tiptoes to avoid the perception of “meddling.” The regime accused the U.S. of meddling all the same.

But protest movements like Iran’s (or Poland’s, or South Africa’s) are sustained by a sense of moral legitimacy that global support uniquely conveys. When will American liberals get behind Iranian rights, as they have, say, Tibetan ones? Maybe when President Obama tells them to.

(7) Israel will ultimately dispose of Iran’s nuclear facilities.

The more policy makers fall for the first six myths, the less mythical the seventh one becomes.

Bret Stephens, Wall Street Journal


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Tony Blair’s 2010 vision

Britain’s Iraq war inquiry

The prime minister who took Britain into Iraq defends his record

TONY BLAIR arrived early to give his much-anticipated evidence to Britain’s Iraq inquiry on Friday January 29th, avoiding the small band of protesters who braved the drizzle outside, waving placards proclaiming “Jail Tony” and the now-traditional “Bliar”. The relatives of British servicemen killed in Iraq who had been allocated seats at the hearing were mostly respectful. And Mr Blair was rarely discomforted during six hours of questioning from the panel, chaired by Sir John Chilcot—even if he was not always entirely convincing.

In recent weeks, questioning other ministers who were involved in Iraq policy in 2002-03 (it has become clear that not very many of them really were), Sir John and his colleagues have become increasingly aggressive. But over what, in Britain, is the most controversial aspect of the build-up to the invasion of March 2003—the case Mr Blair’s government mounted over Saddam Hussein’s alleged weapons of mass destruction (WMD)—Mr Blair got a soft ride.

Asked why, in his foreword to the government’s dossier on WMD of September 2002, Mr Blair wrote that the case had been made “beyond doubt”, despite the limitations of the available intelligence, he explained that he himself had felt no doubt. Asked about the claim that some of Saddam’s WMD could be used within 45 minutes of an order to do so—an assertion that was widely misinterpreted to refer to long-range weapons rather than battlefield munitions—Mr Blair, like Alastair Campbell, his former spin doctor, implied that the issue had only become controversial because of a subsequent row with the media over its provenance.

But the questionable involvement of Mr Blair’s own aides in the preparation of the dossier went largely unexplored. He maintained that he would have wanted to confront Saddam even if he had known the Iraqi dictator had only an intent to acquire WMD, rather than the things themselves: “The decision I took—and frankly would take again—was if there was any possibility that he could develop weapons of mass destruction we should stop him.” That, of course, was not the case he made, and it would have been a tough one to sell.

Mr Blair’s explanation of his world view hinged on the terror attacks of September 11th 2001. This, he said (as he has done previously), created a “different calculus of risk”, in which the possible collusion of rogue states such as Iraq and terrorists could not be tolerated.

The trouble with that argument, as Mr Blair’s questioners gently pointed out, is that there was and is no proven link between Saddam and al-Qaeda, and indeed many reasons to doubt that such a link, between religious fundamentalists and a Baathist tyrant, was even feasible. Unlike the Americans, the British acknowledged as much before the war, and Mr Blair did so again at the inquiry. He filled the gap in his argument by waffling about the risk posed today by Iran, also roping in Yemen and Somalia. It sounded like a distraction.

His greatest distraction, or deflection, however, was what he termed the “2010 question”: “What’s important is not to ask the March 2003 question [ie, whether it was right to wage war], but to ask the 2010 question.” Mr Blair speculated that, had Saddam not been deposed, with the oil price at $100 a barrel, “he would have had the intent and he would have had the means [to produce WMD], and we would have lost our nerve.” In other words, it would have been worse if America and its allies hadn’t acted. That, of course, will never be known.

Otherwise, Mr Blair’s answers—to questions he has faced many times before—were mostly predictable. He denied that there had been insufficient planning for the post-war occupation, saying only that different “eventualities” had arisen than those the government anticipated; in particular, he stressed the meddling influence of Iran. He defended Lord Goldsmith, the former attorney-general, who dramatically changed his view on the legality of the war soon before it started (and who appeared at the inquiry earlier this week). If Lord Goldsmith had said the war could not be justified legally, Mr Blair said, Britain would not have participated.

As for the controversial meeting with George Bush at Crawford, Texas, in April 2002, Mr Blair said he had been determined “to stand shoulder to shoulder” with America, but had made no covert deal that committed his country to the war. Britain’s former ambassador to Washington told the inquiry that such a deal had been “signed in blood” at Crawford.

Mr Blair looked tense at the beginning. And he struggled to explain a recent interview in which he seemed to suggest that he would have favoured invading Iraq even in the absence of a WMD threat—a compromising remark that he repudiated, attempting to laugh it off as naivety in the face of an interviewer. The old charm fell flat at that point. He conceded that Britain’s military planning could have been more open at an earlier stage, and said that intelligence assessments (on WMD) could have been published raw, rather than assembled in a government dossier.

But Mr Blair evinced no real contrition. He blamed the subsequent deaths in Iraq squarely on the terrorists and insurgents: “Nobody,” he said, “would want to go back to the days when they had no freedom, no opportunity and no hope.” The lesson, he said, was “to stick it through until the end”. Finally he said he felt “responsibility, but not a regret for removing Saddam Hussein…I genuinely believe that the world is safer as a result.”


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Another Inconvenient Truth

Back last November. … Wow, that seems like a long time ago. Health care was passing. Jay Leno was popular. Dinosaurs roamed the earth.

As I was saying, last November, the Justice Department announced that the terror trial of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed would be held in Manhattan. Almost everyone in New York rallied around. This was seen as standing up to terrorism.

“It is fitting that 9/11 suspects face justice near the World Trade Center, where so many New Yorkers were murdered,” said Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Now everything’s flipped. The politicians are running for the hills, and the issue has been repackaged as standing up to traffic jams.

“There are places that would be less expensive for the taxpayers and less disruptive,” said Bloomberg.

And the Justice Department is backing down. The trial will happen somewhere else. People in Lower Manhattan will breathe a sigh of relief.

But this feels very wrong.

The Bloomberg rebellion fits right into the sour, us-first mood that’s settled over the country. It’s part of the same impulse that caused Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska to decree that a historic overhaul of the country’s messed-up health care system was not going to happen unless his home state got a special exemption from sharing the costs.

Or the Not-in-My-Backyard uprising that followed President Obama’s attempt to move the Guantánamo prisoners into American maximum-security lockups. No matter how remote the prison, local politicians said that the danger was too great to bear. Both of Montana’s Democratic senators immediately decreed that their entire state was a no-go zone.

Or the Republican race to the other side of the room any time the Obama administration proposes anything. Rudy Giuliani, who watched “in awe of our system” when terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui was convicted in a civilian court in Virginia, instantly attacked the plans for the Manhattan trial. Giuliani kept finding everything Obama did worse and worse until he finally flipped completely over the edge and claimed that there had been no terrorist attacks in the United States during the Bush administration.

It’s all part of a cult of selfishness that decrees it’s fine to throw your body in front of any initiative, no matter how important, if resistance looks more profitable.

The economy has a lot to do with this. So does Washington’s increasing confidence that Barack Obama can be rolled. We’re currently stuck in a place where people no longer feel as though they need to be part of the solution.

Democrats are starting to join the Republicans’ call to toss out the Constitution and try suspected terrorists in military courts. Some of the same senators who gave you the endless health care bill obstructions have already signed on, saying federal trials are too expensive and too dangerous.

Safety is always a concern, but Al Qaeda doesn’t operate like a season of “24.” Terrorists don’t generally strike when it’s most symbolic or best serves a story line. They do the things that happen to work out. So Barack Obama is inaugurated and the 9/11 anniversary passes in peace and quiet. Then a guy tries to explode his underwear while heading for the Detroit airport.

New York’s sudden resistance certainly wasn’t about safety, even though Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, sent a whiny letter to the White House saying a trial in Manhattan could “add to the threat.”

The problem was inconvenience. People were fine with having the trial here until the police commissioner, Raymond Kelly, started describing his plans for permanently cordoning off a goodly chunk of Lower Manhattan. Businesses and residents hadn’t appreciated what a huge, life-disrupting inconvenience standing up to terror could be.

And no one was applauding them for their potential sacrifice. If anything, they were regarded as saps for agreeing to go along with something that Montana found to be unacceptable risk.

This is a change. The city experienced the worst of terrorism on 9/11, but we also saw the best of the country in the weeks that followed. People rushed in from everywhere — often at great inconvenience — to help. And for months afterward, you could not travel anywhere outside the state without having other Americans come up to you and ask if there was anything they could do.

They wanted a task. A whole nation was hungering to be inconvenienced for the common good. And President Bush’s response was to give them a tax cut.

Whatever muscles we used in cooperating have atrophied. Barack Obama ran for president promising to change that, and he hasn’t. Part of the fault is his. Sometimes at crucial moments, there seems to be no hands on the tiller. The Republicans are impossible. Many Democrats are both frightened and greedy.

But figuring out how we got here is irrelevant. We need to get out.

Gail Collins, New York Times


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Intelligence from Tehran Elevates Concern in the West

The Secret Nuclear Dossier

The West has long been suspicous of Iran’s nuclear program. SPIEGEL has obtained new documents on secret tests and leadership structures that call into question Tehran’s claims to be exclusively interested in the peaceful use of the technology.

A suspected uranium-enrichment facility near Qom, as seen in a satellite photograph from Sept. 27, 2009. The discovery has renewed suspicions that Iran is working on a secret nuclear program.

It was probably the last attempt to defuse the nuclear dispute with Tehran without having to turn to dramatic new sanctions or military action. The plan, devised at the White House in October, had Russian and Chinese support and came with the seal of approval of the US president. It was clearly a Barack Obama operation.

Under the plan, Iran would send a large share of its low enriched uranium abroad, all at once, for a period of one year, receiving internationally monitored quantities of nuclear fuel elements in return. It was a deal that provided benefits for all sides. The Iranians would have enough material for what they claim is their civilian nuclear program, as well as for scientific experiments, and the world could be assured that Tehran would not be left with enough fissile material for its secret domestic uranium enrichment program — and for what the West assumes is the building of a nuclear bomb.

Tehran’s leaders initially agreed to the proposal “in principle.” But for weeks they put off the international community with vague allusions to a “final response,” and when that response finally materialized, it came in the form of a “counter-proposal.” Under this proposal, Tehran insisted that the exchange could not take place all at once, but only in stages, and that the material would not be sent abroad. Instead, Tehran wanted the exchange to take place in Iran.

Once again, the Iranian leadership has rebuffed the West with phony promises of its willingness to compromise. The government in Tehran officially rejected the nuclear exchange plan last Tuesday. To make matters worse, after the West’s discovery of a secret uranium enrichment plant near Qom, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad defiantly announced that he would never give in, and in fact would build 10 more enrichment plants instead.

Highly Volatile Material

But officials in Washington and European capitals are currently not as concerned about these cocky, unrealistic announcements as they are about intelligence reports based on sources within Iran and information from high-ranking defectors. The new information, say American experts, will likely prompt the US government to reassess the risks coming from the mullah-controlled country in the coming days and raise the alarm level from yellow to red. Skeptics who in the past, sometimes justifiably so, treated alarmist reports as Israeli propaganda, are also extremely worried. They include the experts from the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), whose goal is prevent the spread of nuclear weapons.

After an extensive internal investigation, IAEA officials concluded that a computer obtained from Iran years ago contains highly volatile material. The laptop reached the Americans through Germany’s foreign intelligence agency, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), and was then passed on to the IAEA in Vienna.

Reports by Ali Reza Asgari, Iran’s former deputy defense minister who managed to defect to the United States, where he was given a new identity, proved to be just as informative. Nuclear scientist Shahram Amiri, who “disappeared” during a pilgrimage to Mecca in June 2009, is also believed to have particularly valuable information. The Iranian authorities accused Saudi Arabia and the United States of kidnapping the expert, but it is more likely that he defected.

Iran’s government has come under pressure as a result of the new charges. They center on the question of who exactly is responsible for the country’s nuclear program — and what this says about its true nature. The government has consistently told the IAEA that the only agency involved in uranium enrichment is the National Energy Council, and that its work was exclusively dedicated to the peaceful use of the technology.

But if the claims are true that have been made in an intelligence dossier currently under review in diplomatic circles in Washington, Vienna, Tel Aviv and Berlin, portions of which SPIEGEL has obtained, this is a half-truth at best.

According to the classified document, there is a secret military branch of Iran’s nuclear research program that answers to the Defense Ministry and has clandestine structures. The officials who have read the dossier conclude that the government in Tehran is serious about developing a bomb, and that its plans are well advanced. There are two names that appear again and again in the documents, particularly in connection with the secret weapons program: Kamran Daneshjoo and Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.

Secret Heart of Iran’s Nuclear Weapons Program

Daneshjoo, 52, Iran’s new minister of science, research and technology, is also responsible for the country’s nuclear energy agency, and he is seen as a close ally of Ahmadinejad. Opposition leaders say he is a hardliner who was partly responsible for the apparently rigged presidential election in June. Daneshjoo’s biography includes only marginal references to his possible nuclear expertise. In describing himself, the man with the steely-gray beard writes that he studied engineering in the British city of Manchester, and then spent several years working at a Tehran “Center for Aviation Technology.” Western experts believe that this center developed into a sub-organization of the Defense Ministry known as the FEDAT, an acronym for the “Department for Expanded High-Technology Applications” — the secret heart of Iran’s nuclear weapons program. The head of that organization is Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, 48, an officer in the Revolutionary Guard and a professor at Tehran’s Imam Hossein University.

Western intelligence agencies believe that although the nuclear energy agency and the FEDAT compete in some areas, they have agreed to a division of labor on the central issue of nuclear weapons research, with the nuclear agency primarily supervising uranium enrichment while the FEDAT is involved in the construction of a nuclear warhead to be used in Iran’s Shahab missiles. Experts believe that Iran’s scientists could produce a primitive, truck-sized version of the bomb this year, but that it would have to be compressed to a size that would fit into a nuclear warhead to yield the strategic threat potential that has Israel and the West so alarmed — and that they could reach that stage by sometime between 2012 and 2014.

The Iranians are believed to have conducted non-nuclear tests of a detonating mechanism for a nuclear bomb more than six years ago. The challenge in the technology is to uniformly ignite the conventional explosives surrounding the uranium core — which is needed to produce the desired chain reaction. It is believed that the test series was conducted with a warhead encased in aluminum. In other words, everything but the core was “real.” According to the reports, the Tehran engineers used thin fibers and a measuring circuit board in place of the fissile material. This enabled them to measure the shock waves and photograph flashes that simulate the detonation of a nuclear bomb with some degree of accuracy. The results were apparently so encouraging that the Iranian government has since classified the technology as “feasible.”

SPIEGEL obtained access to a FEDAT organizational chart and a list of the names of scientists working for the agency. The Vienna-based IAEA also has these documents, but the Iranian president claims that they are forged and are being used to discredit his country. After reporting two years ago that the Iranians had frozen their nuclear weapons research in 2003, the CIA and other intelligence agencies will probably paint a significantly more sobering scenario just as the UN Security Council is considering tougher sanctions against Iran.

Mulling Sanctions

When France assumes the Council’s rotating chairmanship in February, Washington could push for a showdown. While Moscow is not ruling out additional punitive measures, China, which has negotiated billions in energy deals with Iran, is more likely to block such measures.

China could, however, approve “smart” sanctions, such as travel restrictions for senior members of the Revolutionary Guard and nuclear scientists. Fakhrizadeh is already on a list of officials subject to such restrictions, and Daneshjoo could well be added in the future.

But the West would presumably be on its own when enforcing sanctions that would be truly harmful to Iran — and to its own, profitable trade relations with Tehran. The most effective trade weapon would be a fuel embargo. Because of a lack of refinery capacity Iran, which has the world’s second-largest oil reserves, imports almost half of the gasoline it uses. Sanctions would trigger a sharp rise in the price of gasoline, inevitably leading to social unrest. Experts are divided over whether it would be directed against the unpopular regime or if the country’s leaders could once again inflame the Iranian people against the “evil West.”

This leaves the military option. Apart from the political consequences and the possibility of counter-attacks, bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities would be extremely difficult. The nuclear experts have literally buried themselves and their facilities underground, in locations that would be virtually impossible to reach with conventional weapons.

While even Israeli experts are skeptical over how much damage bombing the facilities could do to the nuclear program, the normally levelheaded US General David Petraeus sounded downright belligerent when asked whether the Iranian nuclear facilities could be attacked militarily. “Well, they certainly can be bombed,” he said just two weeks ago in Washington.


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The Anthrax Attacks Remain Unsolved

The FBI disproved its main theory about how the spores were weaponized.

The investigation of the 2001 anthrax attacks ended as far as the public knew on July 29, 2008, with the death of Bruce Ivins, a senior biodefense researcher at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) in Fort Detrick, Md. The cause of death was an overdose of the painkiller Tylenol. No autopsy was performed, and there was no suicide note.

Less than a week after his apparent suicide, the FBI declared Ivins to have been the sole perpetrator of the 2001 Anthrax attacks, and the person who mailed deadly anthrax spores to NBC, the New York Post, and Sens. Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy. These attacks killed five people, closed down a Senate office building, caused a national panic, and nearly paralyzed the postal system.

The FBI’s six-year investigation was the largest inquest in its history, involving 9,000 interviews, 6,000 subpoenas, and the examination of tens of thousands of photocopiers, typewriters, computers and mailboxes. Yet it failed to find a shred of evidence that identified the anthrax killer—or even a witness to the mailings. With the help of a task force of scientists, it found a flask of anthrax that closely matched—through its genetic markers—the anthrax used in the attack.

This flask had been in the custody of Ivins, who had published no fewer than 44 scientific papers over three decades as a microbiologist and who was working on developing vaccines against anthrax. As custodian, he provided samples of it to other scientists at Fort Detrick, the Battelle Memorial Institute in Columbus, Ohio, and other facilities involved in anthrax research.

According to the FBI’s reckoning, over 100 scientists had been given access to it. Any of these scientists (or their co-workers) could have stolen a minute quantity of this anthrax and, by mixing it into a media of water and nutrients, used it to grow enough spores to launch the anthrax attacks.

Consequently, Ivins, who was assisting the FBI with its investigation, as well as all the scientists who had access to the anthrax, became suspects in the investigation. They were intensely questioned, given polygraph examinations, and played off against one another in variations of the prisoner’s dilemma game. Their labs, computers, phones, homes and personal effects were scrutinized for possible clues.

As the so-called Amerithrax investigation proceeded, the FBI ran into frustrating dead ends, such as its relentless five-year pursuit of Steven Hatfill, which ended with an apology in 2007 and Mr. Hatfill receiving a $5.8 million settlement from the U.S. government as compensation. Another scientist, Perry Mikesell, became so stressed by the FBI’s games that he began to drink heavily and died of a heart attack in October 2002.

Eventually, the FBI zeroed in on Ivins. Not only did he have access to the anthrax, but FBI agents suspected he had subtly misled them into their Hatfill fiasco. A search of his email turned up pornography and bizarre emails which, though unrelated to anthrax, suggested that he was a deeply disturbed individual.

The FBI turned the pressure up on him, isolating him at work and forcing him to spend what little money he had on lawyers to defend himself. He became increasingly stressed. His therapist reported that Ivins seemed obsessed with the notion of revenge and even homicide. Then came his suicide (which, as Eric Nadler and Bob Coen show in their documentary “The Anthrax War,” was one of four suicides among American and British biowarfare researchers in past years). Since Ivins’s odd behavior closely fit the FBI’s profile of the mad scientist it had been hunting, his suicide provided an opportunity to close the case. So it held a congressional briefing in which it all but pronounced Ivins the anthrax killer.

But there was still a vexing problem—silicon.

Silicon was used in the 1960s to weaponize anthrax. Through an elaborate process, anthrax spores were coated with the substance to prevent them from clinging together so as to create a lethal aerosol. But since weaponization was banned by international treaties, research anthrax no longer contains silicon, and the flask at Fort Detrick contained none.


Yet the anthrax grown from it had silicon, according to the U.S. Armed Forces Institute of Pathology. This silicon explained why, when the letters to Sens. Leahy and Daschle were opened, the anthrax vaporized into an aerosol. If so, then somehow silicon was added to the anthrax. But Ivins, no matter how weird he may have been, had neither the set of skills nor the means to attach silicon to anthrax spores.

At a minimum, such a process would require highly specialized equipment that did not exist in Ivins’s lab—or, for that matter, anywhere at the Fort Detrick facility. As Richard Spertzel, a former biodefense scientist who worked with Ivins, explained in a private briefing on Jan. 7, 2009, the lab didn’t even deal with anthrax in powdered form, adding, “I don’t think there’s anyone there who would have the foggiest idea how to do it.” So while Ivins’s death provided a convenient fall guy, the silicon content still needed to be explained.

The FBI’s answer was that the anthrax contained only traces of silicon, and those, it theorized, could have been accidently absorbed by the spores from the water and nutrient in which they were grown. No such nutrients were ever found in Ivins’s lab, nor, for that matter, did anyone ever see Ivins attempt to produce any unauthorized anthrax (a process which would have involved him using scores of flasks.) But since no one knew what nutrients had been used to grow the attack anthrax, it was at least possible that they had traces of silicon in them that accidently contaminated the anthrax.

Natural contamination was an elegant theory that ran into problems after Congressman Jerry Nadler pressed FBI Director Robert Mueller in September 2008 to provide the House Judiciary Committee with a missing piece of data: the precise percentage of silicon contained in the anthrax used in the attacks.

The answer came seven months later on April 17, 2009. According to the FBI lab, 1.4% of the powder in the Leahy letter was silicon. “This is a shockingly high proportion,” explained Stuart Jacobson, an expert in small particle chemistry. “It is a number one would expect from the deliberate weaponization of anthrax, but not from any conceivable accidental contamination.”

Nevertheless, in an attempt to back up its theory, the FBI contracted scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Labs in California to conduct experiments in which anthrax is accidently absorbed from a media heavily laced with silicon. When the results were revealed to the National Academy Of Science in September 2009, they effectively blew the FBI’s theory out of the water.

The Livermore scientists had tried 56 times to replicate the high silicon content without any success. Even though they added increasingly high amounts of silicon to the media, they never even came close to the 1.4% in the attack anthrax. Most results were an order of magnitude lower, with some as low as .001%.

What these tests inadvertently demonstrated is that the anthrax spores could not have been accidently contaminated by the nutrients in the media. “If there is that much silicon, it had to have been added,” Jeffrey Adamovicz, who supervised Ivins’s work at Fort Detrick, wrote to me last month. He added that the silicon in the attack anthrax could have been added via a large fermentor—which Battelle and other labs use” but “we did not use a fermentor to grow anthrax at USAMRIID . . . [and] We did not have the capability to add silicon compounds to anthrax spores.”


If Ivins had neither the equipment or skills to weaponize anthrax with silicon, then some other party with access to the anthrax must have done it. Even before these startling results, Sen. Leahy had told Director Mueller, “I do not believe in any way, shape, or manner that [Ivins] is the only person involved in this attack on Congress.”

When I asked a FBI spokesman this month about the Livermore findings, he said the FBI was not commenting on any specifics of the case, other than those discussed in the 2008 briefing (which was about a year before Livermore disclosed its results). He stated: “The Justice Department and the FBI continue working to conclude the investigation into the 2001 anthrax attacks. We anticipate closing the case in the near future.”

So, even though the public may be under the impression that the anthrax case had been closed in 2008, the FBI investigation is still open—and, unless it can refute the Livermore findings on the silicon, it is back to square one.

Mr. Epstein is currently completing a book on the 9/11 Commission.


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The Forgotten Persecution of Women in World War II

The ‘Dishonorable’ German Girls

Concentration camp surviver Maria K. in Ravensbrück: K. and other survivors say the humiliation from other residents of their towns continued for years.

Hitler’s Gestapo arrested thousands of women for admitting they had affairs with foreign forced laborers in Germany, despite many confessions being false and made under duress. Men were often executed and women sent to concentration camps for the crime of “racial defilement.” Some continued to suffer the consequences long after the end of the war.

On Sept. 19, 1941, Maria K. signed the record of her interrogation. In her written statement to the police detective, the 14-year-old girl confessed that she had “shared the bed of Polish national Florian Sp. and also had sexual relations with him.”

The incident allegedly took place on a Saturday evening in July. She had tended the cows during the day, and that evening she and her 18-year-old friend Hedwig invited the two Polish men to join them.

According to her signed statement, they kissed, and then the four of them went to the bedroom, Hedwig with Josef G. and she with Florian. Once in the bedroom, the Polish man removed her panties. They had slex three times that evening and twice in the next few days, once after lunch, behind a bush in a nearby field. This is the account given in her signed confession.

Maria K., who is 82 today, covers her face with her hands when she talks about the “confession” that changed her life forever and led to the death of the two young men. She is ashamed, even though the Gestapo detective concocted the statement and beat her into signing it. This is her story today, and other documents support its veracity.

Gisela Schwarze, a historian from the western German city of Münster, has spent years investigating cases like hers, digging through the files of special courts in cities like Dortmund, Bielefeld and Kiel. She uncovered Maria K.’s story in a local archive. It unfolded in Asbeck, a village with a wartime population of 850 in the western Münsterland region.

‘Racial Defilement’

As a result of her research, Schwarze discovered a group of victims of the Nazi regime that has been neglected to this day. It consists of the women and girls who government officials accused of having sexual relations with foreign forced laborers. Some of the romantic relationships did exist, while others were made up, but the punishment was almost always extreme. The women were sent to concentration camps by the thousands, while the men were usually executed.

“Fellow Germans who engage in sexual relations with male or female civil workers of the Polish nationality, commit other immoral acts or engage in love affairs shall be arrested immediately,” Heinrich Himmler, the head of the SS, ordered in 1940.

The crime the Nazi lawyers had constructed was called “racial defilement.” At first, it only applied to relationships between Jews and non-Jews, but the racist construct was later expanded to include Slavs.

Prisoners of war and deported civilians were forced to work in factories and in fields, where they came into contact with local residents, many of them women. The men were fighting on the front. But informers prepared to denounce wrongdoers were everywhere — neighbors, co-workers and teachers — contributing to a hellish atmosphere of racial hatred and bigotry.

Maria K., the third youngest of 11 siblings, was orphaned as a child. An older brother took in the siblings, but he was eventually drafted into the German army, and his 27-year-old wife was left to care for the children on her own. To help her out, the landlord sent Florian Sp., a young Polish forced laborer, whom the children quickly came to trust.

‘Necessary Welfare Measures’

The comfortable relationship between the Polish worker and the family was viewed with suspicion in the village. Maria was arrested, and during her interrogation the Gestapo officer hit her in the face and told her to admit that she had had sex with the Pole. The helpless and naïve girl signed the confession, which only marked the beginning of her worst ordeals. In October 1941, the Gestapo in Münster submitted a request to “initiate the necessary welfare measures” against Maria, who was now classified as a “dishonorable German girl.”

She was placed in various reformatories and was eventually taken to a place that the SS had set up to house young female delinquents: the “Uckermark Youth Protection Camp,” a subcamp of the Ravensbrück concentration camp.

She was given a prisoner number, 290, and from then on she no longer had a name. She suffered beatings, whippings, hunger and acts of humiliation. She was released in the fall of 1944 and taken to a preparatory school for children’s nurses near Berlin. At the end of 1945, she managed to return to Asbeck by traveling through occupied Germany. The two Polish forced laborers had already been hung in Asbeck on August 28, 1942. The cause of death listed on their death certificates was “unknown.”

The people who carried most of these executions remained unpunished after the war, and in 1963 the Münster public prosecutor’s office closed its investigations into the cases. But the humiliations continued for Maria K. During church services, villagers berated her as a “Pole’s whore” and “Pole lover.” Many women who had survived the Nazi persecution were treated in much the same way.

A few weeks ago, Maria K. and historian Schwarze traveled to the Uckermark camp together, where a memorial, a stone wrapped in strips of iron, stands today. Maria K. scattered a handful of earth at the site, which she had collected in the forest where the two young Poles were killed.


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Torture’s Loopholes

TOMORROW will be one year since President Obama signed an executive order outlawing torture, yet our debate about interrogation methods continues. Though the president deserves praise for improving matters, the changes were not as drastic as most Americans think, and elements of our interrogation policy continue to be both inhumane and counterproductive.

Americans can now boast that they no longer “torture” detainees, but they cannot say that detainees are not abused, or even that their treatment meets the minimum standards of humane treatment mandated by the Geneva Conventions, the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 (the so-called McCain amendment), United States and international law, or even Mr. Obama’s executive order.

If I were to return to one of the war zones today — as an Air Force officer, I was sent to Iraq to head an interrogation team in 2006 — I would still be allowed to abuse prisoners. This is true even though in my experience, torture or even harsh but legal treatment never got us useful information. Instead, such tactics invariably did just the opposite, convincing detainees to clam up.

The adoption last year of the Army Field Manual as the standard for interrogations across the government, including the C.I.A., was a considerable improvement. But we missed a unique opportunity for progress last August when the president’s task force on interrogations recommended no changes to the manual, which was hastily revised in 2006 in the aftermath of the Abu Ghraib torture scandal.

For example, an appendix to the manual allows the military to keep a detainee in “separation” — solitary confinement — indefinitely. It requires only that a general approve any extension after 30 days. Rest assured, there will be numerous waivers to even that minuscule requirement.

Yes, there are legitimate reasons to isolate detainees. Domestic law enforcement agencies do it to prevent suspects from colluding on alibis and allow investigators the leverage to use non-coercive interrogation techniques like confronting one detainee with the other’s statements.

But military interrogators do not operate in a vacuum. The consequences of their actions have far-reaching effects — like Al Qaeda’s exploitation of American abuse of prisoners as a recruiting tool. And, in any case, extended solitary confinement is torture, as confirmed by many scientific studies. Even the initial 30 days of isolation could be considered abuse.

If we truly wanted to come up with a humane limit on solitary confinement, we would look at the Golden Rule: what would we consider inhumane treatment if one of our own soldiers were captured by the enemy? My answer: Given the youth of our men and women in uniform, that number is probably around two weeks. This limit, however, should be determined by medical professionals, not soldiers or politicians.

The Army Field Manual also does not explicitly prohibit stress positions, putting detainees into close confinement or environmental manipulation (other than hypothermia and “heat injury”). These omissions open a window of opportunity for abuse.

The manual also allows limiting detainees to just four hours of sleep in 24 hours. Let’s face it: extended captivity with only four hours of sleep a night (consider detainees at Guantánamo Bay who have been held for seven years) does not meet the minimum standard of humane treatment, either in terms of American law or simple human decency.

And if this weren’t enough, some interrogators feel the manual’s language gives them a loophole that allows them to give a detainee four hours of sleep and then conduct a 20-hour interrogation, after which they can “reset” the clock and begin another 20-hour interrogation followed by four hours of sleep. This is inconsistent with the spirit of the reforms, which was to prevent “monstering” — extended interrogation sessions lasting more than 20 hours. American interrogators are more than capable of doing their jobs without the loopholes.

The Field Manual, to its credit, calls for “all captured and detained personnel, regardless of status” to be “treated humanely.” But when it comes to the specifics the manual contradicts itself, allowing actions that no right-thinking person could consider humane.

The greatest shame of the last year, perhaps, is that the argument over interrogations has shifted from debating what is legal to considering what is just “better than before.” The best way to change things is to update the field manual again to bring our treatment of detainees up to the minimum standard of humane treatment.

The next version of the manual should prohibit solitary confinement for more than, say, two weeks, all stress positions and forms of environmental manipulation, imprisonment in tight spaces and sleep deprivation. Unless we rewrite the book, we will only continue to give Al Qaeda a recruiting tool, to earn the contempt of our allies and to debase our most cherished ideals.

Matthew Alexander is the author of “How to Break a Terrorist.”


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FBI admits Photofit of Osama Bin Laden had Spanish features

The age-progression image of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin-Laden

Spanish politician Gaspar Llamazares

A MOCKED-UP image of how Osama Bin Laden may look today has been withdrawn by the US State Department after the FBI admitted it was partly based on a photograph of a Spanish MP taken from the internet.

The Photofit image of an older, greying Al-Qaeda leader bore a striking resemblance to the left-wing politician Gaspar Llamazares, a member of Spain’s Communist party and a critic of the US “war on terror”. It turned out Llamazares’s grey hair, jaw line and forehead had been simply cut and pasted from an old campaign photograph by an FBI technician.

The FBI originally claimed it used “cutting edge” technology to come up with new images of terrorist suspects for the State Department’s Rewards for Justice website.

However, Ken Hoffman, an FBI spokesman, admitted yesterday that the agency had used a picture of Llamazares taken from Google Images to update the Photofit.

He told the Spanish newspaper El Mundo: “The forensic artist was unable to find suitable features among the reference photographs and obtained those features, in part, from a photograph he found on the internet.”

The US government had previously been using a 1998 photo of Bin Laden, including on a wanted poster that offered a reward of up to $25m (now worth £15m) for information leading to his capture or killing.

Llamazares, former leader of the United Left party, was elected to Spain’s parliament in 2000. He said he would no longer feel safe travelling to the United States. “I was surprised and angered because it’s the most shameless use of a real person to make up the image of a terrorist,” he said.

“It’s almost like out of a comedy, if it didn’t deal with matters as serious as Bin Laden and citizens’ security.”

Llamazares intends to ask the US government for an explanation and is considering legal action. He said he has “no similarity, physically or ideologically, to Bin Laden”.

They do share one trait: they are both 52.

Bin Laden, who is wanted for the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the 1998 US embassy bombings in Tanzania and Kenya, is believed to be hiding in the lawless Pakistan frontier region bordering Afghanistan.

His exact whereabouts have been unknown since late 2001, when he and some bodyguards slipped out of the Tora Bora mountains in Afghanistan, evading airstrikes, special forces and Afghan militias.


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The Iranian Exile’s Eye

One day last June, on the quiet Tehran street where I lived, I noticed a man in a white Peugeot across the street looking at me, straight in the eye, as I started to drive out of my garage. “There she is,” he said, and he rushed to start his own car.

I pulled onto the street and looked in the mirror. Behind me was a gray car, already tailing me. Next to it rode two disheveled men on a motorcycle.

So, I said to myself. I’m under surveillance. They’ve sent a whole team.

I drove around the block and returned home. I called a lawyer. My driver went to his office and fetched me papers to sign, so the lawyer could represent me if I was arrested.

But I took no chances. I stayed inside my apartment building for three days. Then I went straight to the airport.

It was time to leave Iran.

I am an Iranian, a journalist now living in exile like hundreds, perhaps thousands, of others. We were driven out after the June elections that were widely considered fraudulent, and the protests and repression that followed. Our offense was that we covered them too thoroughly.

A daughter of a modern, middle-class family, I was raised to be ambitious and independent. I grew up in Tehran, and studied English translation at the university there. I worked as a stringer for Western media, then studied political science at the University of Toronto from 1999 to 2001, and returned home to report from Tehran for The New York Times.

During periods of turmoil, I learned to lie low and report what I could, through a screen of warnings that some things — demonstrators’ slogans, even executions that had been announced domestically — were too sensitive to be reported outside Iran. But I thought the Iranian government was learning to tolerate us.

All of that changed last June.

Faced with furious street protests by an inconsolable political opposition, the government went to extraordinary lengths to suppress any news about the aftermath of the election. Taking pictures of protests became a crime; reporters working for foreign news media outlets were banned from leaving their offices. Many friends and almost all of my sources were thrown in jail.

One day, the phone rang and a sympathetic hard-line source warned me I would be shot by snipers if I was seen on the streets. Still, I kept going out to report. Only after the surveillance team arrived, about 10 days later, did I and my family decide to leave.

And yet, when we boarded the plane, two emotions were pulling me apart. I was relieved at my narrow escape. But a large piece of me longed to stay. Tehran’s familiar maple-shaded streets were now convulsed in some of the largest and bloodiest protests since the 1979 revolution; I wanted to tell the story, to continue being part of Iran’s fate. I was desolate at the thought of being cast out, with my friends dispersed, my contacts unreachable.

More than anything, I feared falling into what Iranian journalists call “the exile syndrome” — my understanding of Iran would be frozen in the moment of leaving, and I’d be unable to keep up with events on the ground. No doubt the government expected the same for me and others.

As things worked out, we could not have been more wrong. Protest was not about to die in Iran. Neither was news about it, nor our part in telling the story. Three things have made all the difference: the global reach of the Internet; the networking skills of exiled journalists and our sources; and the resourcefulness of Iran’s dissidents in sending information and images out.

When I reached Toronto (I had acquired dual citizenship there while a student), I did feel alone and overwhelmed at first. I realized, for the first time, the toll that the stresses of working in Tehran had been taking on me. I felt a bit like an abused child who had not dared speak about the abuse while it was occurring.

In my mind, I went over the times when sources who had been released from prison told me that interrogators had shown them pictures of people outside my home — a signal of how closely my life was being monitored. It had made me fear anything odd happening in public, like the time a sloppily dressed man on a scooter cut me off, flashing a pistol and handcuffs under the back of his shirt as I drove near my home. He dismounted to yell at me. I locked myself in the car. Then he disappeared. After that, I never again took my two toddlers to a public park in Tehran, fearing they would learn too much about the dangers their mother faced.

Soon after reaching Toronto, I went to New York to cover a hunger strike in support of the Iranian opposition. I was stunned to see more than a dozen former sources of mine — onetime members of Parliament, activists and bloggers — who had gone into exile a few years before. Some were so well informed that they seemed to have just come from a meeting in Tehran.

For me, that was like a new dawn: rather than being cut off, I had made contact with another Iran — a virtual one on the Internet, linking reformers abroad to bloggers and demonstrators still inside the country, and to reporters and sources outside. In fact, by following blogs and the cellphone videos seeping out of Iran, in some ways I could report more productively than when I had to fear and outwit the government.

For example, my contacts helped me find and interview a young man who had left Iran after being in prison, where he said a guard had raped him. That interview could not have happened in Iran. Last month, I could freely translate the harsh slogans that protestors hurled about the supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. There were palpably genuine videos on YouTube from places I recognized, with crowds chanting slogans I knew — or new ones. The slogans were now in fact fiercer, the leaders of the movement less timid, and at least some of the demonstrators clearly angrier.

So I could report, free of government edicts, that the protests were entering a new phase, even as I remembered a cardinal self-imposed rule for any reporting from Iran: There is no way to predict where any movement might be heading, or when it might be stopped.

There is an irony in all this; the years of authoritarian control had educated much of Iran in the need for circumventing restrictions on the Internet, and now I was seeing and hearing the results on my computer and television.

Last month, during and after the funeral of the reformist Grand Ayatollah Hossain Ali Montazeri, one of the demonstrators’ most useful tools was the Bluetooth short-range radio signal that Americans use mainly to link a cellphone to an earpiece, or a printer to a laptop. Long ago, Iranian dissidents discovered that Bluetooth can as easily link cellphones to each other in a crowd.

And that made “Bluetooth” a verb in Iran: a way to turn citizen reportage instantly viral. A protester Bluetooths a video clip to others nearby, and they do the same. Suddenly, if the authorities want to keep the image from escaping the scene, they must confiscate hundreds or thousands of phones and cameras.

The authorities have tried to fight back against such techniques and the Internet itself, but have fallen short. In November they announced that a new police unit, the “cyber-army,” would sweep the Web of dissent. It blocked Twitter feeds for a few hours in December, and an opposition Web site. But other blogs and Web sites mushroomed faster than the government could keep up.

Perhaps the first leader to use the Internet against Iran’s rulers was Ayatollah Montazeri himself, a revolutionary in 1979 who turned critical of the government and was dismissed as Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s heir in 1988. In 2000, while under house arrest, he posted on the Internet a banned 600-page memoir revealing that while in power, he had opposed the execution of some 3,000 political detainees.

That changed his public image from an architect of Iran’s theocracy to a human-rights champion, one reason that hundreds of thousands turned out for his funeral on Dec. 21 despite government restrictions, making it a flashpoint between the protesters and the government.

Five days after the funeral, images of members of the pro-government Basij militia disrupting a speech by former President Mohammad Khatami, a reformist, were posted on the Internet. At the same time, from Canada, I could speak over the phone to people marching to northern Tehran in support of Mr. Khatami. I heard gunshots in the background and, the next day, I spoke to a doctor at a hospital where protesters who had been shot were being treated.

On Dec. 30, the government staged a demonstration to counter those by the opposition. Ayatollah Ahmad Alam Olhoda condemned the reformist protesters as “followers of the path of Satan” and praised the pro-government demonstrators as “followers of the path of God.”

But that exhortation did not stand on its own in my mind. Against it played a video captured three days earlier, on Dec. 27 on Karim-khan Street, in a middle-class area of Tehran that I knew well. The video showed a man shooting blindly into the crowd; I could hear protestors identify him as a member of the Basij.

Then came a cry: “Hamleh!” — “Attack!” And dozens of men and women rushed menacingly toward the armed man, in an amazing turnaround. It seemed, to this reporter, safe to conclude that fear had evaporated among many of those who joined the opposition that day.

It is not clear what happened next, but the government has confirmed the deaths of at least eight protesters in Tehran on Dec. 27. The opposition claims the toll is higher. And, as I write, its voice is still being reported.

Nazili Fatha, New York Times


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Using Music as a Weapon at Guantanamo

The Pain of Listening

An odd sense of pride: Metallica singer James Hetfield appears to be pleased his band’s songs were chosen for torture. “Part of me is proud because they chose Metallica!” he said.

For years, US interrogators at Guantanamo used painfully loud music on prisoners at Camp Delta. Rock musicians like Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine and civil rights organization are demanding an investigation into the practice. 

In May 2003, a military policeman came to Ruhal Ahmed’s cell in Camp Delta at the military prison in Guantanamo and took him to an interrogation room. There, he was forced to squat while the M.P. tied his leg irons to a ring set in the floor. Then his hands were placed behind his back so that his handcuffs could also be attached to the floor ring. In this “stress position,” the prisoner is unable to sit, stand or kneel, and can only crouch in an intermediate position that quickly causes cramping. Ahmed was familiar with this treatment, which was part of the “standard operating procedure” used to prepare prisoners for interrogation. 

Ahmed had been in Guantanamo for more than a year. For weeks, the interrogators had been asking him the same question, again and again: What were he and two of his friends, who were captured with him, doing in Afghanistan in the fall of 2001? All three men are British Muslims. Ahmed’s family originally immigrated to Great Britain from what is now Bangladesh. The men were referred to as the “Tipton Three,” a reference to the small city in the British Midlands where they were from. On this particular day, there was also a boom box in the small, eight-square-meter (86-square-foot) interrogation cell. The soldier inserted a CD by rapper Eminem, turned up the volume and left. 

“I thought: What’s going on now? Did he forget his boom box?” says Ahmed. “When he returned, I asked him: ‘What’s this about? Why are you playing Eminem?’ He looked at me and said nothing.” 

The next time Ahmed was taken to the interrogation cell, the music was heavy metal instead of Eminem. The volume was earsplitting and the music was played for hours, even entire days. Sometimes they also stuck a stroboscope in front of his face. The cell was dark and he could see nothing but the flashing lights in his eyes. The interrogators also turned down the temperature on the air-conditioning, forcing Ahmed to endure hours of the music and flashing lights in an ice-cold room. He wasn’t permitted to use the bathroom and was left to urinate or defecate in his pants. The shackles caused his legs to swell up while the deafening music continued incessantly. 

A Journey that Went Terribly Wrong 

Ahmed, now 28, is back at home in Tipton, a small city near Birmingham. He has a short, trimmed beard, wears a tracksuit and speaks with a northern English accent. His wife, who is pregnant, opens the door of their apartment in a working-class neighborhood, where their two-year-old daughter is running around. Two of Ahmed’s younger brothers also live in the house. 

He was released in March 2004, after spending more than two years in the American military prison. Director Michael Winterbottom’s award-winning film “Road to Guantanamo” is based on the experiences of the Tipton Three — and a journey that went terribly wrong. 

The three friends had traveled to Pakistan to attend a wedding in September 2001. Ahmed was 20 at the time. With a thirst for adventure, they naively crossed the border into Afghanistan, even though the “War on Terror” was already in the works. As they tried to return to Pakistan with a group of Taliban, fighters with the Northern Alliance arrested the three men, and they were eventually turned over to the Americans. They arrived in Guantanamo in early 2002. 

“When I tell people that music can be torture, they look at me and think I must have a screw loose. How can art, which gives people so much pleasure, be torture? But it’s true. You can handle normal torture, but not music torture. I told them everything they wanted to hear: that I had met bin Laden and Mullah Omar, and that I knew what their plans were. But I just said it to make them stop.” 

In Guantanamo, Afghanistan and in Iraq, and in other American secret prisons, military and intelligence personnel tortured terrorism suspects. Their methods included water-boarding and sleep deprivation, as well as loud music. Prisoners were strung up by their wrists for days while being blasted with music by artists like Dr. Dre. They were bound, with headphones placed on their heads, and forced to listen to Meat Loaf for hours. They were locked into wooden boxes and forced to endure “Saturday Night Fever” by the Bee Gees for entire nights at a time. Ironically music, the art form that has often been used to change the world and — at events like Woodstock, Live Aid and Germany’s Rock Against the Far Right — has sometimes succeeded, was turned into a weapon in the war against terrorism. 

Artists Fight Back 

Some musicians have now sharply criticized the practice, including the British trip-hoppers Massive Attack, American industrial rock musician Trent Reznor and country star Rosanne Cash. They are demanding that pop not be used as a weapon, and they want to know how their music is being used in American prisons. 

British and American organizations are supporting the musicians’ efforts. The National Security Archive, an American civil rights organization that fights the US government’s document classification policies, has filed Freedom of Information Act petitions requesting the declassification of secret government documents on the use of music for interrogation. The petition requests the release of documents from 11 government institutions in which the following terms appear: “AC/DC, Aerosmith, the ‘Barney & Friends’ song, The Bee Gees, Britney Spears, Bruce Springsteen, Christina Aguilera, David Gray, Deicide, Don McLean, Dope, Dr. Dre, Drowning Pool, Eminem, Hed P. E., James Taylor, Limp Bizkit, Marilyn Manson, Matchbox Twenty, Meat Loaf, the ‘Meow Mix’ jingle (an ad for cat food), Metallica, Neil Diamond, Nine Inch Nails, Pink, Prince, Queen, Rage Against the Machine, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Redman, Saliva, the ‘Sesame Street’ music, Stanley Brothers, the Star Spangled Banner, Tupac Shakur.” 

Employees at the National Security Archive spent weeks of research to develop the list, and it could take several more weeks before a decision is reached on the petitions. It could take months or even years for the documents to be declassified. 

A Shadowy World 

Up until now, the secret prisons operated by the CIA and US military have been part of a shadowy world that can only be reconstructed through the painstaking analysis of documents and statements. The effort is also aimed at tracking chains of command and learning more about the system of secret prisons set up by the administration of former US President George W. Bush. The public is the activists’ most important ally in this struggle. And the most effective way to win over the public is with the support of artists. 

The use of a music as a weapon isn’t anything new. For instance, for the past few years authorities at the main railway station in Hamburg have used piped-in classical music to drive away junkies from the plaza in front of the station. 

When the Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, fleeing from US troops in 1989, took refuge in the Vatican Embassy in Panama City, the soldiers bombarded the building for days with hard rock and other music. 

And in 1993, when the FBI was preparing to storm a ranch near Waco, Texas, where members of a sect had barricaded themselves in their compound, the agents blared the Nancy Sinatra hit “These Boots Were Made For Walking” from loudspeakers. The purpose was simple: to wear down the besieged sect members. 

Flooding the Senses 

US interrogation specialists are pursuing the same goals in the war on terrorism. The method dates back to research conducted by American and Canadian government agencies during the Cold War. A 1963 CIA manual, “KUBARK Counterintelligence Interrogation,” describes a method of torture in which prisoners are either inundated with or deprived of sensory input. 

It is believed that the US Army stopped using the method after the end of the Vietnam War, but the knowledge is still applied today. In a program known as SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape), soldiers learn how to resist torture if they are taken prisoner. 

No-Touch Torture 

In the winter of 2001, the CIA commissioned a psychologist in the SERE program to develop interrogation methods for the “War on Terror.” In the summer of 2002, George W. Bush authorized the resulting “special interrogation methods.” An important component of these methods is to expose prisoners to loud music for long periods of time, often in combination with other ordeals, including restraining them in uncomfortable positions and exposing them to extreme temperatures and glaring lights. The method, which produces no visible traces, is also known as “no-touch torture.” 

It is still unclear whether a central authority controls the program. A declassified CIA document contains a few sentences that specify the volume levels to which a prisoner can be exposed, and for how long, but the rest of the document is blacked out. 

There are anonymous reports by FBI agents who describe how prisoners were tortured, and Tony Lagouranis, a former interrogation specialist, has even written a book about it. According to Lagouranis, an interrogation room called the “Disco” was to be set up in a prison at the US airbase in Mosul, Iraq, in the spring of 2004. Lagouranis writes that the base commander “pointed to a shipping container right outside the wire of the prison and described what he wanted us to do. He obtained a strobe light from aviation and a boom box from a private. He asked the guards for CDs of the most awful death metal music they had. He gave us these tools and told us to clear the container out and get it ready for use as an interrogation chamber saying, with finality: I want to do this.” 

‘It Takes Over Your Brain’ 

The specialists used these rooms to conduct their prisoner interrogations. Sometimes, says former British prisoner Ruhal Ahmed, they would come into the room and shout questions into his ear. But often no one came into the room, and the constant music only increased the sensation that the agony would never end. 

“It’s as if you had very bad migraines, and then someone shows up and yells at you — and take that times a thousand,” says Ahmed. “You can’t concentrate on anything. Before that, when I was beaten, I could use my imagination to forget the pain. But the music makes you completely disoriented. It takes over your brain. You lose control and start to hallucinate. You’re pushed to a threshold, and you realize that insanity is lurking on the other side. And once you cross that line, there’s no going back. I saw that threshold several times.” 

Suzanne Cusick, a professor at New York University, specializes in European music of the 17th century. For the past few years, however, she has studied the use of music in torture, and she has given many talks on the subject. She says she is constantly surprised by how casually the issue is treated and how the notion that music could be a means of torture is so readily dismissed — and that there are those who seriously discuss which songs and styles are best suited for torture. 

But why music and why not just loud noise? “Sometimes it was noise,” says Cusick. “And music is available. Noise often is not. Furthermore, for some sects of Islam, listening to music is sinful, except under specific circumstances. And the circumstances are vocal music. Vocal music that is made to lead the listener to an apprehension of the divine. It’s never instrumental music. Forcing them to listen to it is a kind of cultural insult. The music itself tells us a lot about the cultural preferences of American soldiers and contracters.” 

Britney as Torture 

The list of songs used to torture prisoners in Guantanamo reads like a book about popular culture of the last 30 years. 

There are triumphant songs, songs used to celebrate American victory and constantly rub in the notion that the prisoners were the defeated, songs like Queen’s “We Are the Champions” or Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA,” which is still misunderstood as a salute to American greatness and self-certainty. The song “Babylon,” by British soft-rocker David Gray, probably also fits into this category. 

There are the torture songs, the Heavy Metal and Industrial music, like Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” or “March of the Pigs,” by Nine Inch Nails — music deliberately selected to hurt the prisoners. 

And there is the male-oriented, top-of-the-charts music, the country music, the mainstream rock and the hip hop — music the soldiers listen to while on patrol, partly to drown out their surroundings. And because it’s the kind of music they like to listen to, it doesn’t bother them as much when they constantly hear it coming from the interrogation cells. 

Finally, there is pop music, songs by artists like Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears that were used for the purpose of sexual humiliation — as a part of wider scenarios in which the prisoners were debased. 

“The fact that our music has been co-opted in this barbaric way is really disgusting,” Tom Morello, guitarist with the left-leaning band Rage Against the Machine, told the American music magazine Spin. “If you’re at all familiar with the ideological leanings of the band and its support for human rights, that’s really hard to stand.” 

‘Kids in the US Pay Money for That’ 

Pop has great emancipating power, but there is also a long tradition of rebellious styles of music that are constantly flirting with torture, music made to grate on the nerves of parents. 

As it happens, many a rock song is just as likely to end up in Guantanamo as being performed on a stage at a Live Aid concert — Bono Vox and all Rock against the Radical Right ventures notwithstanding. 

“I can’t imagine it’s that bad,” says Stevie Benton, bassist with the nu metal band Drowning Pool. “Listening to loud music for a few yours — kids in the US pay money for that.” 

Metallica Singer: ‘I Take It as an Honor’ 

The American band Metallica, founded in Los Angeles in 1981 and still one of the world’s best metal bands, doesn’t side with the activists, either. In interviews, lead singer James Hetfield has even said that he was pleased to hear that his music was being used to torture prisoners. 

“People assume we should be offended that somebody in the military thinks our song is annoying enough that, played over and over, it can psychologically break someone down,” he says. “I take it as an honor to think that perhaps our song could be used to quell another 9/11 attack or something like that.” 

There is probably a dose of patriotism behind his remarks. Hetfield sees himself as someone who is helping American troops defeat the enemy. But they also reflect a peculiar form of pride in his craft. “We’ve been punishing our parents, our wives, our loved ones with this music forever. Why should the Iraqis be any different?” he said. “Part of me is proud because they chose Metallica!” 

In fact, metal, more than other styles of music, is a direct product of a young man’s hell, music that tells of the anguish and pain of being a young man. For many fans, going to metal concerts is also a way of proving to themselves that they can stand the music, no matter how jarring. In interrogations, the tables are turned, and prisoners are forcibly taken beyond the limits of the endurable. 

There are also technical developments in the pop music of the last 30 years that have made it suitable for use in interrogation cells in the first place. Take, for example, the obsessive efforts of sound engineers to extract every last bit of the frequencies using sophisticated studio techniques. 

And in the fringe zones of pop culture, such as industrial music, bands like Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV were already experimenting, back in the 1980s, with the idea that music can also express the dark side of power and violence. 

“When you go to a concert or a club, you’re looking for loud music and flashing lights. You want to be transported into ecstasy. We experienced exactly the same thing, except that it was turned on its head,” says Ahmed. “You could call it black ecstasy.” 

Life after Guantanamo 

In 2004, after more than two years, Ahmed was released from Guantanamo into a world in which music is everywhere, in every commercial, in every shop and in every taxicab. But Ahmed says that it doesn’t bother him. 

He says that he saw many people who almost went insane, people in the camp who would bang their heads against the wall and try to kill themselves when they were brought back from the interrogations. When Ahmed returned to the United Kingdom, a psychologist told him that he was probably lucky to be so young. 

Ahmed now lives the curious life of a former Guantanamo prisoner. He has started a family with his current wife, a former schoolmate whom he married shortly after his return home. He rarely has work in Tipton, where unemployment is high. Life will become more difficult for the couple when Ahmed’s wife gives birth in February and will no longer be able to work. She now has a job with the city administration. 

An enormous multimedia system stands in the couple’s living room, which Ahmed bought with the money he earned working on “Road to Guantanamo.” When he goes on the Internet he uses the large flat-screen TV on the wall as his monitor. He uses Facebook to stay in touch with other ex-prisoners. He says that a former Guantanamo guard recently contacted him through Facebook and wrote that he wanted to apologize. The two men went to a restaurant together. 

A shelf in Ahmed’s apartment contains a Koran and a few old cassettes with recordings of prayers. He doesn’t own a single CD. 


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The Terrorist Mind: An Update

What moves people to kill themselves and innocent bystanders?

This mystery of the mind became an issue again in recent weeks as a suicide bomber in Afghanistan — a double agent — killed seven C.I.A. officers; a man plowed a truck full of explosives into a crowded playground in Pakistan, and a Nigerian man tried to blow himself up on a plane bound for Detroit on Christmas Day.

Until recently, the psychology of terrorism had been largely theoretical. Finding actual subjects to study was daunting. But access to terrorists has increased and a nascent science is taking shape.

More former terrorists are speaking publicly about their experiences. Tens of thousands of terrorists are in “de-radicalization” programs around the globe, and they are being interviewed, counseled and subjected to psychological testing, offering the chance to collect real data on the subject.

Terrorist propaganda has flooded the Internet and the thinking of sympathizers is widely available. There are entire cable television channels operated by extremists, and researchers have access to the writings and “farewell tapes” of the growing number of suicide bombers as well as the transcripts of terrorism trials.

The new research has its limits. The accounts of the extremists — generally militant Islamists — are difficult to verify. And researchers often differ over the path to radicalization. Some boil it down to religion, others to politics and power, others to an array of psychological and social influences.

But even if the motivations for terror can be wildly idiosyncratic, a range of patterns have been identified.


Despite the lack of a single terrorist profile, researchers have largely agreed on the risk factors for involvement. They include what Jerrold M. Post, a professor of psychiatry, political psychology and international affairs at George Washington University, calls “generational transmission” of extremist beliefs, which begins early in life; a strong sense of victimization and alienation; the belief that moral violations by the enemy justify violence in pursuit of a “higher moral condition;” the belief that the terrorists’ ethnic, religious or nationalist group is special and in danger of extinction, and that they lack the political power to effect change without violence.

Research has also shown that some terrorists have a criminal mentality and had previous lives as criminals. Paradoxically, anxiety about death plays a significant role in the indoctrination of terrorists and suicide bombers — unconscious fear of mortality, of leaving no legacy, according to new research.

Many researchers agree that while there is rarely a moment of epiphany, there is typically a trigger of some kind to accelerate radicalization — for example, the politically related killing of a friend or relative.

Ervin Staub, professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Massachusetts who is finishing a book on what drives terrorism and conflict, has identified three types of terrorists. “Idealists” identify with the suffering of some group. “Respondents” react to the experience of their own group. (Perhaps they were raised in a refugee camp or saw relatives killed; they may also be responding to unrelated individual trauma, like child abuse.) Finally, “lost souls” are adrift, isolated and perhaps ostracized, and find purpose with a radical group. Dr. Post said the lost souls are “ripe for the plucking” by recruiters.

Clark McCauley, a professor of psychology at Bryn Mawr College, sees four general trajectories: “revolutionaries,” who are involved in the same cause over time; “wanderers,” who are involved with one extremist group after another, whatever their causes; “converts,” who suddenly break with their past to join an extreme movement; and “compliants,” whose involvement occurs through persuasion by friends, relatives and lovers.


The collective, not the individual, identity has drawn the most attention in recent years. Only in rare cases, like those of the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski, and the Washington sniper, John Allen Muhammad, have individuals acted on their own, with no connection to a group. (The Unabomber was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, while most terrorist groups weed out the mentally unstable, experts say; they even prefer to select those with higher status for the suicide missions. in the belief that sending those with the most to lose will raise the credibility of their cause.) Most researchers agree that justification for extremist action, whether through religious or secular doctrine, is either developed or greatly intensified by group dynamics.

The Internet has come to play a huge role in increasing the number of jihadi groups, many of them offshoots of larger networks or inspired by Al Qaeda. Dr. Post said the Internet has given rise to what he calls a “virtual community of hatred.”

Marc Sageman, a psychiatrist, former C.I.A. operations officer and Al Qaeda scholar, and others say personality theory does no good in explaining terrorism — and that only an understanding of the group’s impact on the individual illuminates the causes of the phenomenon.

One theory holds that when people are in groups they are more likely to make risky decisions because the risk is perceived as shared and therefore is less frightening. As the group becomes more radical, so does the individual, who is also likely to feel enormous social pressure to agree with the group consensus.

At the same time, the group may provide camaraderie and a sense of significance. The group can become extremely cohesive under isolation and threat. Counterterrorism rhetoric like former President George W. Bush’s description of a planned tactic against Al Qaeda — “to smoke them out and get them running and bring them to justice” — often serves to unify the group. So do invasions and escalations of campaigns against them, which can draw more sympathizers to the group. Most terrorist groups crumble quickly because of internal strife, many experts say. But groups that go underground and are cut off from competing groups and outside opinions develop the most intense bond. With a charismatic leader, an individual’s identity and morality will be subordinated to that of the group.


A play by Albert Camus, “The Just,” is sometimes cited in explanations of the moral complexities of terrorism. It tells the true story of the assassination by a revolutionary group in 1905 of a grand duke in Russia. The assassin planned to kill the duke while he was riding alone in a carriage but the duke’s niece and nephew accompanied him. So the assassin went back and killed him when he was alone, having drawn from what John Horgan, director of International Center for the Study of Terrorism at Pennsylvania State University, calls the “internal limits” of terrorists.

For a book published last year, Dr. Horgan collected the accounts of 29 former terrorists, many of them defectors from groups like the Irish Republican Army and Al Qaeda. He found that terrorists must inherently believe that violence against the enemy is not immoral, but that they also have internal limits, which they often do not learn until they are deeply embedded in a group.

Some terrorists who accepted killing off-duty soldiers abhorred the killing of animals. Some are comfortable with only a limited number of casualties. When a key I.R.A. bombing instructor was ordered to shoot a police officer whose mother was a widow, he said he felt he “would have to pay for it.” He went into hiding when the I.R.A. killed a pregnant officer and he overheard his mentor say, “We might get two for the price of one.”

Some interviewed by Dr. Horgan told of becoming disillusioned when other group members stole or robbed banks. It was the stealing that bothered them, not the killing.

David C. Rapoport, professor emeritus of political science at the University of California, Los Angeles, and a longtime expert on terrorism and morality, said that the final common pathway is a moral calculus, driven by the conclusion that the terrorists’ enemies have “done something so bad, so terrible that they can’t get away with it.” Moral quandaries have often splintered groups, or caused them to disband.

If your objective is to create a world in which innocents (the members of your persecuted group) prevail, but you have to kill innocents to get there, you are in essence destroying your own dream, Dr. Rapoport said. Nevertheless, he said, many terrorists believe “the pathway to paradise is straight through hell.” And to kill or in any way violate their own personal moral codes, many terrorists must believe they will achieve a higher moral condition for the group or society as a whole.


Once a terrorist, it is often difficult to turn back. This is particularly true for prospective suicide bombers. Once assigned to their fatal missions, they become known as “walking martyrs.” Backing down would create too much shame or humiliation.

Fathali M Moghaddam, a professor of psychology at Georgetown University, describes a “staircase to terrorism,” as a way to understand the process of radicalization. The stairs narrow toward the top. It becomes harder to turn back with each step. As with killing, there are varying interpretations among Muslims of Islamic doctrine on suicide. The Koran prohibits suicide, religious scholars say. But some Muslim groups insist that by classifying the bombers as martyrs, their self-destruction becomes permissible because it is a form of self-sacrifice, and because it is honorable to die in battle against infidels. Much new research also ascribes the phenomenon to other motives that are more personal or temporal, including a desire for honor, dedication to a leader, vengeance, peer pressure (first identified as a motivation among the Japanese Kamikaze fighter pilots), and the material support that a terrorist group promises to extend to a martyr’s family after his death.

Arie W. Kruglanski, a professor of psychology at the University of Maryland, College Park, who has studied videotapes of suicide bombers’ final words and interviews with their mothers, argues that the overarching motivation of suicide bombers is the quest for personal significance, the desperate longing for a meaningful life that appears only to come with death.


Dr. Horgan has led much of the research into what is known as disengagement — a terrorist’s departure from the organization. He has concluded that terrorists can disengage from violence without abandoning their radical views, and he has also found that some leave after becoming intensely disillusioned with the reality of life in terrorist movements.

The reasons terrorists leave the life provides great insight into how their minds work, and their beliefs may be more subject to change than previously thought, Dr. Horgan said.

Recruits are often promised an exciting, glamorous adventure and a chance to change the world. But what they often find, Dr. Horgan said, is that the groups they join are rife with jealousies and personal competition. Also, the life, is boring. You end up in a safe house drinking tea. For those who maintain an existence outside the group, the pressure of living a double life can be exhausting. Some may, as they grow older, find that their own priorities change — for example, they may want to start a family. They may see that the group’s goals appear unattainable and they may find, as the group becomes more extreme, that they have reached their internal moral limits.

In one case, a former Al Qaeda recruit told Dr. Horgan that when he arrived to fight in Afghanistan, he was dismayed to find that children and the elderly were being forced into battles. The man’s “image of this all-seeing, all-powerful, all-noble movement was receiving its first hard knock,” Dr. Horgan said.

Sarah Kershaw, New York Times


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Bin Laden’s legacy

Terrorists hurt America most by making it close its borders

HAVING removed his shoes, coat, gloves, hat, jacket, wallet and keys, Lexington walked through the metal detector. It beeped. Your columnist had forgotten to remove his belt. The two security guards in attendance began to shout and make disparaging remarks about his ability to perform simple tasks. This scene occurred outside the American embassy in London last month, when Lexington was renewing his visa. The rest of the process passed smoothly, but those boorish security guards were a poor advertisement for the greatest country on earth.

Americans are, by and large, a courteous bunch. Interactions with strangers are typically sweetened with a generous frosting of “Sir”, “Ma’am” and “Excuse me”. Yet in a survey commissioned by the travel industry, more than half of visitors found American border officials rude and unpleasant. By a two-to-one margin, the country’s entry process was rated the world’s worst. This is not a problem only for whingeing journalists and other foreign riff-raff. It is also a problem for America.

The system is geared towards keeping out a tiny number of terrorists. Fair enough—such people should indeed be kept out. But there should be a trade-off. An immigration official lives in fear of admitting the next Mohammed Atta, but there is no penalty for excluding the next Einstein, or for humiliating tourists who subsequently summer in France. Osama bin Laden has arguably inflicted more harm on America indirectly than directly. To stop his acolytes from striking again, the government has made entering America far more difficult and degrading than it need be.

This has slowed the influx of foreign brains. In 2001, 28% of students who studied abroad did so at American universities. By 2008 that figure had shrunk to 21%, though since the absolute number of globally mobile students grew by 50% over that period, the absolute number in America has flattened, not fallen. Does this matter? Well, foreigners and immigrants make up more than half of the scientific researchers in the United States, notes Edward Alden, the author of a fine book called “The Closing of the American Border”. Among postdoctoral students doing top-level research, 60% are foreign-born. Boffins flock to America because its universities are the best, but the ordeal of getting a visa prompts many to take their ideas elsewhere.

A similar problem afflicts even short-term visitors. Organisers of international scientific conferences are increasingly reluctant to hold them in America because not everyone they invite will be able to attend. Last year, for example, Alik Ismail-Zadeh, a prominent Russian geophysicist, applied for a visa to attend a meeting of the American Geophysical Union. He allowed three months, but did not get his passport back until after his plane had departed. Kathie Bailey-Mathae of the National Academy of Sciences says that the hassles have eased in the past year, but only somewhat. When foreign scientists run into problems repeatedly, they become loth to collaborate with their American peers, she says.

Barack Obama came to office promising to reform the immigration system. So far, he has made only small changes, such as ending commando-style raids on factories suspected of hiring illegal workers; other matters have demanded his attention. But behind the scenes there are rumblings about immigration. Chuck Schumer, a Democratic senator from New York, and Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, are working on a comprehensive reform bill, which they may unveil soon. Angela Kelley of the Centre for American Progress (CAP), a think-tank closely aligned with the Obama administration, says she is optimistic that something will happen this year.

Last week her think-tank published a study touting the benefits of reform. Its author, Raúl Hinojosa-Ojeda of the University of California, Los Angeles, models what might happen if immigration laws are made more welcoming. First, he assumes that Congress creates a pathway for the estimated 12m illegal immigrants already in the country to earn legal status and eventually citizenship—by paying taxes, staying out of trouble, and so on. Second, he assumes that the current rigid cap on the number of visas issued to economic migrants is replaced with one that takes into account what the American labour market needs. These two changes would raise America’s GDP by $1.5 trillion over ten years, calculates Mr Hinojosa-Ojeda. A less generous programme (allowing only temporary work visas) would swell the economy by only half as much, he reckons. Mass deportation would cost more than the Iraqi and Afghan wars combined.

Fear not, said he

American blue-collar workers fear that Mexican immigrants will undercut their wages. Mr Hinojosa-Ojeda says they won’t if they are legal. The fear of deportation makes illegal workers accept worse conditions, he finds. Once legal, they demand higher wages, and no longer drag down those of the native-born. And once immigrants are confident that they can stay, they are more likely to invest in the future, for example by starting a business.

Such arguments may help nudge immigration reform through Congress. But it will be a heck of a fight. (When George Bush tried, nativists in his own party kneecapped him.) With a more Democratic Congress, reform may be easier. But it is unclear whether reformers will try to make the system more talent-friendly. In 2008, more than four times as many people earned green cards (ie, permanent residency) because of family ties to America than because of their skills. While other countries, such as Canada and Australia, seek to attract the best brains from around the world, America’s immigration system is a recipe for stagnation. In the long term, it poses a serious threat to America’s status as top nation, argues a report from the Council on Foreign Relations, a think-tank. But in the short term, it could be fixed.

Lexington, The Economist


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Midnight Masquerade

A mix of apocalyptic politics and utopian dreams.

‘Prediction,” the Danish nuclear physicist Niels Bohr once observed, “is very difficult, especially about the future.” For more than 60 years, the folks at the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists have been merrily discarding this useful piece of advice with dire warnings that the seconds are ticking toward a nuclear and, more recently, climate catastrophe. As of yesterday, their clock stood at six minutes to midnight.

And that’s the good news. “For the first time since atomic bombs were dropped in 1945, leaders of nuclear-weapons states are cooperating to vastly reduce their arsenals,” the Bulletin announced yesterday, by way of explaining its decision to move the hand of doom back by a minute. “A key to the new era of cooperation is a change in the U.S. government’s orientation toward international affairs brought about in part by the election of Obama.”

That’s a funny judgment. The Administration has failed to negotiate so much as a pause in Iran’s nuclear programs or rein in North Korea. Pakistan remains in a precarious political state. Russia and China are building a new generation of nuclear weapons even as the reliability of America’s aging arsenal is increasingly in doubt. Meanwhile, the risks of a Middle East arms race involving current nonnuclear states like Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt grows as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad comes closer to getting his bomb.

But these facts apparently don’t impress the Bulletin’s editorial staff or its governing board. The driving motivation here is the familiar mix of apocalyptic politics and utopian dreams that now typifies so much thinking about disarmament and global warming. That both of these causes now march under the misleading banner of “science” tells us more about the times than it does about the future.

Editorial, Wall Street Journal


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A long war of the waters

Somalia’s pirates

Thanks to greater vigilance and naval patrols, the seas off Somalia may be a bit less dangerous than they were. But they are still the riskiest in the world

TWO years ago Somalia’s weak transitional government agreed to let foreign navies chase pirates into its territorial waters. Since then, the sea off Somalia’s coast has seen an increasing number of warships mainly from rich countries trying—with partial success—to fend off pirates from the poorest. Ships steaming along maritime corridors in convoys are safer than they were. So the pirates are being forced to venture ever farther out into the Indian Ocean to seize their booty. This means that the remoter reaches are still very dangerous.

Many of the world’s most powerful navies are involved. The French and American ones have killed Somali pirates while freeing their own citizens. For the past year the European Union has deployed its first-ever joint naval force, named Operation Atalanta, to protect ships passing in and out of the Red Sea on their way from or to the Suez canal. Russia has an active anti-piracy mission, helping, among other things, to revive its rusting navy. China has asked if it could set up a naval base in Kenya or elsewhere in the region to support its anti-piracy patrols. The Japanese and South Koreans have sent warships to protect ships carrying their cars. India, Malaysia, Indonesia and South Africa have also joined the anti-piracy fray.

Yet the pirates are still hijacking ships and receiving ransoms with apparent impunity. In the past fortnight they have captured four more big ships. Two of them, the Singaporean-flagged Pramoni and the British-flagged St James Park, both tankers carrying chemicals, were nabbed under the nose of the foreign navies patrolling the Gulf of Aden.

The pirates’ methods remain rudimentary. They use hijacked tuna-fishing boats or local dhows as the mother ship, then launch attacks from skiffs, usually at dawn or dusk. They hold the crews hostage with machine-guns and semi-automatic pistols, then force the captain to anchor off the northern part of Somalia’s coast for several weeks until a ransom is paid.

The patrolling navies say they have begun to do better. Yet the number of recorded hijackings rose from 32 in 2008 to 42 in 2009. The average ransom paid by shippers also rose, from $1m to $2m. If unpublicised pay-offs are included, some by Spain’s government, the pirates probably earned around $100m last year. That must be shared with their financial backers, especially in Lebanon, Somalia and the United Arab Emirates. Well-organised criminal gangs in Yemen also help.

To avoid the patrols, the pirates’ geographical range has increased sharply (see map). Shippers must pay extra insurance premiums, even if they ply a course far from Somalia’s waters. A Greek-owned freighter, Navios Apollon, was captured by Somalis on December 28th, fully 370km (200 nautical miles) east of the Seychelles, which is more than 1,300km from Somalia.

Plainly there is no purely naval way to stop the pirates. Somalia’s coast is more than 3,000km long. They seem unafraid of the warships. If accosted, the pirates usually dump their guns and grapple-hooks in the sea. The patrolling navies are reluctant to arrest them because of the legal complexities. On the rare occasions when pirates are taken aboard, they are usually given medicine, water and enough fuel to go back to Somalia. Within days they will set off again to seek their prey.

The EU has signed a deal with Kenya to imprison captured pirates. But there are concerns that Kenya is asking for too many favours in return for embarking on what is bound to be a messy legal process. If the EU and other concerned countries could get the governments of Tanzania, the Seychelles and other countries in the region to agree to prosecute pirates in their own courts, the legal deterrent against them would be stronger.

The pirates’ main advantage is the lawlessness of Somalia which has long been enmeshed in a civil war. Western governments fear that if they were to send their security forces to attack towns such as Haradheere, a pirate haven, the Islamist fighters of the Shabab militia, which controls much of south and central Somalia and is linked to al-Qaeda, might be strengthened.

Besides, the pirates could yet prove to be odd allies in stopping the Islamists from spreading their jihadist net. The Shabab considers piracy for profit unIslamic. The militants violently disapprove of the pirates’ boozing and whoring. The pirates and the Shabab could yet fight each other, which might benefit everyone else. So far, however, the pirates’ wealth protects them at home. Somalia is one of the world’s poorest countries, yet a low-ranking pirate can probably earn at least $20,000 a year.

The EU says its naval force’s main mission is to protect freighters carrying the food aid on which Somalis have depended for the past five years, and has thus staved off a full-blown famine. Its next priority is to “deter and disrupt” piracy in general. The warships may also deter illegal fishing in Somali waters and the dumping of toxic waste. But they are a small force in a big sea. At last count, there were seven patrolling vessels from six EU countries.

In any event, some shipping people privately say that the effects of piracy have been exaggerated. It may still be cheaper and more convenient to pay higher insurance fees and risk being attacked by pirates than to incur the extra cost of diverting vessels around the Cape of Good Hope.

The International Maritime Bureau in London says that last year 22,000 ships passed safely through waters in range of Somali pirates, whereas actual attacks were in the low hundreds. The bureau also reckons that, as ships take more precautions, the pirates’ success rate will drop.

Most ships now steam along narrow corridors at night and at full speed. In the Gulf of Aden they are usually in a convoy. Many raise the height of the freeboard (between the waterline and the deck) to make it harder for pirates to haul themselves up the side. Others are poised to use sirens and fire hoses. Some American-flagged vessels now have security guards, though it is generally agreed that they should remain unarmed, otherwise the violence and deaths would probably increase.

Plainly, the problem is far from solved. As ransoms go up and get paid, pirates will think it worth taking the risk. Above all, they are sure to persist as long as most of Somalia, including its ports along the coast, remains an ungovernable hell.


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An Obama-GOP Entente on Terror

Republicans should stop politics at the water’s edge.

After Barack Obama won the election, several Bush appointees running the war on terror came by our offices to sum up. On each visit, one point recurred: Coming into this world from the outside, they soon realized the scale of responsibility was larger than anything they had imagined.

If the Hasan massacre at Fort Hood didn’t bring Barack Obama to this moment, I’m guessing the holidays’ two terror horrors did. On Christmas, a suicide bomber came close to filling the Michigan sky with several hundred bodies. Days later, physician and suicide bomber Humam Khalil Abu Mulal al-Balawi blew up and killed seven CIA officers or contractors in Afghanistan. The Taliban then released a pre-bomb video of Balawi promising more revenge “inside and outside America.”

The Internet guarantees there is little chance this madness will burn itself out. A Jordanian doctor and a kid from a Nigerian banking family show how for the first time in history we have a homicidal ideology yoked to religion, which relentlessly draws energy and soldiers from the new phenomenon of the Web.

We have arrived at a familiar place—a U.S. president realizing that he is facing a determined and cruel enemy. Who in our politics, besides his foreign policy team, will stay the course with him the next three years?

His own party?

For seven years after 9/11, the Democratic Party and its legal and media satellites waged a pitched battle against the Patriot Act and the rest of the Bush antiterror program—Guantanamo, wiretaps, the Swift program to monitor terrorist money flows.

From Jordanian doctor…to terrorist killer

The generation of Democrats who now hold seats in Congress appear to have no real interest in the operational details of national security, other than thwarting it or complaining about it. Their energies and interests appear to be wholly directed to gathering political power to pursue an exclusively domestic agenda, such as the health-care slog, card check or carbon taxes. It’s a weird form of isolationism.

Mr. Obama’s domestic agenda reflects these biases, and that has produced a relentless counteroffensive from the GOP and conservatives.

National security, however, is another matter.

The Afghanistan decision was a big deal; if it went wrong, we were cooked on national security. It didn’t. Mr. Obama’s decision to support Gen. Stanley McCrystal’s counterinsurgency plan in Afghanistan was a procedural mess but arrived at the right result. Surely this happened because his national-security team pushed hard for that.

What emerged from the Afghan decision is that unlike the Congress or Cabinet, the Obama national security team has serious people on it. Defense Secretary Bob Gates, who served George Bush for two years, has re-upped for another. Leon Panetta is at CIA, Denny Blair is the national intelligence director, Adm. Mike Mullen is chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and Mr. Obama retained Doug Lute, Mr. Bush’s adviser on Iraq and Afghanistan. His top Army generals are David Petraeus, Stan McCrystal and Ray Odierno. The Marines are solid. By most accounts, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was a factor in getting the Afghan decision to the right place.

This crucially important corner of the Obama presidency deserves the support from Republicans and conservatives. The Reid-Pelosi Democrats obliterated Sen. Arthur Vandenberg’s useful Cold War dictum that politics stops at the water’s edge. That was one of the most dangerous casualties of the past decade, telling the al Qaeda network we were hopelessly divided about our own security.

Republicans have a chance to show the Democrats, and the American people, how a responsible opposition handles national security and foreign policy. No opposition should roll over for a president, but rolling over its own country is worse. As with the support for the president on Afghanistan, an Obama-GOP entente on terror is in the nation’s immediate national interest.

This won’t be easy. Even with these good Obama advisers in place, it seems this administration is always drawing to an inside straight on national security.

They make it harder than it should be. No coherent intellectual framework exists for their version of fighting terror. The rhetoric is frequently awful. The White House political staff is an unreliable ally. Eric Holder’s indictments of the CIA interrogators loom (would anyone have objected to waterboarding Dr. Balawi if his cover had been blown?). Mr. Obama’s left wing in Congress and the party base won’t help, and the days of organized labor’s reliability on national security are gone. The cool Mr. Obama’s own commitment will always be hard to read.

Who’s left? The right. The right has to find a way to separate the daily anti-Obama domestic policy wars (the front on which the 2010 election should be fought) from the hard complexities of the war on terror. Those two holiday horrors were a cold shower. I don’t care what they call this war if they start pushing antiterror policy in the right direction. The price of not giving this president more support than he gave George W. Bush is to let all the stone killers the jihadis can create over the next three years think they’ve got a shot. No thanks.

Daniel Henninger, Wall Street Journal


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CIA Had Secret Plan to Kidnap German-Syrian Suspect in Hamburg

Extraordinary Rendition Plot

Mamoun Darkazanli — investigations against him have failed to uncover evidence.

The CIA wanted to kidnap and interrogate German-Syrian businessman Mamoun Darkazanli under its so-called ‘extraordinary rendition’ program in a move that would have provoked a diplomatic crisis, SPIEGEL has learned. The plan was abandoned after an internal dispute.

The CIA wanted to kidnap Mamoun Darkazanli, a naturalized Syrian-born German citizen, from Hamburg, but it triggered a diplomatic crisis instead. Internal disputes put an end to the operation.

Mamoun Darkazanli is a well-traveled businessman. He has arranged the sale of printer ink to Syria, lamps to Jordan and cars to Albania. He once had plans to open a bed-and-breakfast in Spain and to invest in an embroidery business in New Jersey. He liked to travel — until Sept. 11, 2001 changed the world. Since then Darkazanli, 51, has not left Germany. He spends much of his time in his apartment in the middle-class Hamburg neighborhood of Uhlenhorst.

Darkazanli’s caution probably saved his life. If he had left Germany after the attacks on New York’s Twin Towers, he would have been guaranteed a cell in Guantanamo. Darkazanli, a native Syrian who has also been a German citizen since 1990, has been on the CIA’s most-wanted list for years. The agency, based in Langley outside Washington, DC, believes Darkazanli is part of the first generation of al-Qaida terrorists. It would like to arrest him — and perhaps even go a little further.

The American magazine Vanity Fair claims that the CIA even sent a “hit team” of agents to Hamburg after Sept. 11 to kill Darkazanli. According to the magazine, the men observed the Syrian-born German there for several weeks and devised a plan to assassinate him. “Find, fix and finish” was allegedly the motto of the clandestine team created during the era of then US President George W. Bush and his CIA director George Tenet. In the end, the plan was abandoned on the orders of the US government.

Shortly after the supposed assassination plot was made public, Christoph Ahlhaus, the interior minister of the city-state of Hamburg and a member of the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU), called upon the German government to demand an explanation from Washington. As a result, parliament’s domestic affairs committee and the parliamentary control committee, which is in charge of monitoring Germany’s intelligence services, will look at the accusations, as will the public prosecutor’s office in Hamburg. The case revisits a past in which almost everything seemed possible, even government-ordered murder.

The parliamentarians and investigators will have to make do with a denial that US diplomats conveyed to German security officials at a December meeting in the US Embassy in Berlin. In a statement, the officials insist that the accusations are false, and that no CIA hit team was dispatched to kill Darkazanli. A CIA official who was involved in the case at the time and knows it well told SPIEGEL: “That would have been completely impossible in a country like Germany.”

Kidnap Plot

But the US government is saying nothing about a very different approach to Darkazanli that was discussed at the CIA, and it has good reason to remain silent, because implementing such a plan would have sparked a diplomatic furor.

“There was the idea to conduct unilateral actions in Germany,” says a CIA official involved in the case at the time. “It had to do with operations that would take place without German knowledge, and Darkazanli was one of the people on that list.” The bearded German of Syrian descent was to be included in the so-called “extraordinary rendition” program under which Islamists around the world were kidnapped and taken to secret prisons. Khaled el-Masri, a German citizen from Neu-Ulm in southern Germany, became a victim of this strategy, as did Hamburg resident Mohammed Haydar Zammar, a friend of Darkazanli’s.

For both German and American investigators, businessman Darkazanli was already seen as the incarnation of evil when few people had even heard of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden. His name figured in the investigation of a case in which a ship intended for al-Qaida was procured, and he had access to an account whose owner was believed by investigators to have links with al-Qaida.

To this day, the German-Syrian says that he “had no contact with al-Qaida at any time.” Although he was involved in the purchase of the ship in question, “I was not aware that the buyer was supposedly the head of al-Qaida.” He offers a similar argument to dispel the bank account charges: “I am unaware, to this day, that the owner of the account was al-Qaida’s head of financial operations.”

The CIA, on the other hand, believed that Darkazanli was an important figure in the Islamists’ network, and its agents went on the offensive in the fall of 1999. Rumors were circulating about a planned “millennium attack,” and the resident CIA representative at the US Consulate in Hamburg urged his counterparts at the Hamburg office of the German domestic intelligence agency to recruit Darkazanli as a source. This led to a meeting between the German intelligence officials and the presumed terrorist in late 1999. But the meeting was unproductive, say the officials, and it did not lead to cooperation.

Investigations Fail to Yield Evidence

The German Federal Prosecutor’s Office in Karlsruhe began investigating Darkazanli in 2001. But its charges did not stick, and in 2006 the Federal Prosecutor’s Office shut down its investigations due to a lack of evidence. An arrest warrant that Spanish courts had issued in the fall of 2003, which cited Darkazanli’s supposed connections to al-Qaida, could not be executed. It appeared that it was simply impossible to take Darkazanli into custody.

Back in Langley, the resentment that had been growing since Sept. 11 only confirmed the view generally held by the US agents: That although the German government was cooperating, the Germans were in fact a spineless lot who hid behind the laws of the constitutional state whenever important questions were asked. When a high-ranking delegation from the US Congress, led by Democratic Senator Nancy Pelosi, visited the US Embassy in Berlin, German-American cooperation in fighting terrorism was discussed. “Even the Syrians” were “more cooperative than the Germans,” one of the CIA agents present at the meeting said sarcastically.

This prompted agents in the European division in Langley to propose a radical step: Darkazanli and other Islamists were to be abducted and interrogated, without attorneys, without charges and without a chance. “We had operations planned that would have been completely illegal,” says a CIA employee. After Sept. 11, 25 agents were apparently working undercover in Germany, where they were scrutinizing the Islamist scene in Hamburg and elsewhere.

Kidnap Operation Abandoned

The plan was pursued to a point at which other departments were brought into the loop. But the agents stationed in Germany were skeptical, arguing that the methods the agency envisioned would be more suitable in a place like South America. In the end, the operation was abandoned partly because of the objections from the CIA group in Germany. “We said no at the time because we believed that we couldn’t do this sort of thing in an allied country where many American soldiers are stationed.”

Darkazanli, for his part, was smart enough not to travel abroad. He had heard about what had happened to his friend Zammar, who had flown to Morocco for a divorce six weeks after the attacks in the United States. The Moroccan intelligence service had arrested the Islamist at the CIA’s request and flown him to Syria, where he was tortured and interrogated in a basement. He is still behind bars in Damascus.

To this day, the police continue to classify Darkazanli as a “threat.” According to one investigator, he is “much sought-after and shrouded in mystery.” And what German authorities are observing today must seem like déjà-vu to them. Once again, Darkazanli is attending the mosque on Hamburg’s Steindamm Street, where he occasionally served as an imam last year — the same mosque where the Sept. 11 hijackers met before they departed for the United States.


Generals should be guided by truth, not politics

In his Dec. 27 column, [“An admiral who found the center,” op-ed], David Ignatius distorts the proper role of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He glosses over Adm. Mike Mullen’s professional failures, particularly on Afghanistan and his handling of the firing of Gen. David McKiernan.

Ignatius is wrong to argue that any military officer, especially a member of the Joint Chiefs, is supposed to find the center of the political spectrum. An officer has a responsibility to give the president and Congress his or her best military advice, whether that is embraced by the right or the left, whether it is popular or unpopular.

In 1965, Gen. Earle Wheeler infuriated President Lyndon Johnson when he told him that winning the Vietnam war would take a million troops and a decade of combat. Gen. Colin Powell similarly annoyed the Clinton national security team in 1993 by pointing out the high costs and risks of military intervention in Bosnia. Gen. Eric Shinseki, the Army chief of staff, irritated his civilian superiors in the Pentagon in 2003 by publicly recommending at least twice as many troops as the Bush administration was planning to send to stabilize Iraq after Saddam Hussein’s regime was overthrown.

What about Mullen? In late 2007, when Congress asked him about the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, Mullen shrugged it off. “In Afghanistan, we do what we can. In Iraq, we do what we must,” he told the House Armed Services Committee. Was that his professional opinion, or was it the policy of President George W. Bush, who gave short shrift to Afghanistan because of his obsession with Iraq? Is that what the combatant commanders were telling him? The answer is no.

About the same time, according to reports, Gen. Dan McNeill, then U.S. commander in Afghanistan, told President Bush in a videoconference that he needed at least 30,000 more troops to stem the advance of the Taliban, particularly in the south. This position was endorsed by Adm. William Fallon, chief of U.S. Central Command. Did Mullen support this? In fact, when the White House told McNeill not to go public with the request, Mullen did not complain, nor did he tell Congress. We learned about this because journalist David Sanger interviewed McNeill for his book “The Inheritance.”

Ignatius wrote that Defense Secretary Robert Gates recommended replacing David McKiernan as U.S. commander in Afghanistan because McKiernan did not answer an important question during a video briefing for the secretary of defense. Really? What was the question? According to The Post’s Rajiv Chandrasekaran,” front page, Aug. 17, 2009], the questions concerned reconstruction and counternarcotics, and they were asked before the Obama White House completed its first review of the war in Afghanistan. How could McKiernan answer the question satisfactorily when he did not know whether he would receive the 30,000 additional troops he had first requested in April 2008 and did not know where President Obama was going to come down on the issue? Mullen wanted McKiernan replaced because he wanted someone to take the fall for the fact that he and Gates had been derelict in their duty on the situation in Afghanistan for several years.

Ignatius is right that this country needs more Mullens in our national life than Rush Limbaughs. But that’s a low bar. What this country needs even more are generals like Shinseki, McNeill and McKiernan, who speak truth to power regardless of the consequences and take responsibility for their actions, even if it means getting fired.

The writer, who served as an assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration, is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.


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Obama’s Guantanamo obsession

On Wednesday, Nigerian would-be bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was indicted by a Michigan grand jury for attempted murder and sundry other criminal charges. The previous day, the State Department announced that his visa had been revoked. The system worked.

Well, it did for Abdulmutallab. What he lost in flying privileges he gained in Miranda rights. He was singing quite freely when seized after trying to bring down Northwest Flight 253 over Detroit. But the Obama administration decided to give him a lawyer and the right to remain silent. We are now forced to purchase information from this attempted terrorist in the coin of leniency. Absurdly, Abdulmutallab is now in control.

And this is no ordinary information. He was trained by al-Qaeda in Yemen, and just days after he was lawyered up and shut up, the United States was forced to close its embassy in Yemen because of active threats from the same people who had trained and sent Abdulmutallab.

This is nuts. Even if you wanted ultimately to try him as an ordinary criminal, he could have been detained in military custody — and thus subject to military interrogation — without prejudicing his ultimate disposition. After all, every Guantanamo detainee was first treated as an enemy combatant and presumably interrogated. But some (most notoriously Khalid Sheik Mohammed) are going to civilian trial. That determination can be made later.

John Brennan, President Obama’s counterterrorism adviser, professes an inability to see any “downsides” to treating Abdulmutallab as an ordinary criminal — with a right to remain silent — a view with which 71 percent of likely voters sensibly disagree.

The administration likes to defend itself by invoking a Bush precedent: Wasn’t the shoe bomber treated the same way?

Yes. And it was a mistake, but in the context of the time understandable. That context does not remotely exist today.

Richard Reid struck three months after 9/11. The current anti-terror apparatus was not in place. Remember: This was barely a month after President Bush authorized the creation of military commissions and before that system had been even set up. Moreover, the Pentagon at the time was preoccupied with the Afghan campaign that brought down the Taliban in two months. The last major Taliban city, Kandahar, fell just two weeks before Reid tried to ignite his shoe on an airplane.

To be sure, after a few initial misguided statements, Obama did get somewhat serious about the Christmas Day attack. First, he instituted high-level special screening for passengers from 14 countries, the vast majority of which are Muslim with significant Islamist elements. This is the first rational step away from today’s idiotic random screening and toward, yes, a measure of profiling — i.e., focusing on the population most overwhelmingly likely to be harboring a suicide bomber.

Obama also sensibly suspended all transfers of Yemenis from Guantanamo. Nonetheless, Obama insisted on repeating his determination to close the prison, invoking his usual rationale of eliminating a rallying cry and recruiting tool for al-Qaeda.

Imagine that Guantanamo were to disappear tomorrow, swallowed in a giant tsunami. Do you think there’d be any less recruiting for al-Qaeda in Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, London?

Jihadism’s list of grievances against the West is not only self-replenishing but endlessly creative. Osama bin Laden’s 1998 fatwa commanding universal jihad against America cited as its two top grievances our stationing of troops in Saudi Arabia and Iraqi suffering under anti-Saddam sanctions.

Today, there are virtually no U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia. And the sanctions regime against Iraq was abolished years ago. Has al-Qaeda stopped recruiting? Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda’s No. 2, often invokes Andalusia in his speeches. For those not steeped in the multivolume lexicon of Islamist grievances, Andalusia refers to Iberia, lost by Islam to Christendom — in 1492.

This is a fanatical religious sect dedicated to establishing the most oppressive medieval theocracy and therefore committed to unending war with America not just because it is infidel but because it represents modernity with its individual liberty, social equality (especially for women) and profound tolerance (religious, sexual, philosophical). You going to change that by evacuating Guantanamo?

Nevertheless, Obama will not change his determination to close Guantanamo. He is too politically committed. The only hope is that perhaps now he is offering his “recruiting” rationale out of political expediency rather than real belief. With suicide bombers in the air, cynicism is far less dangerous to the country than naivete.

Charles Krauthammer, Washington Post


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A terrorist war Obama has denied

Janet Napolitano — former Arizona governor, now overmatched secretary of homeland security — will forever be remembered for having said of the attempt to bring down an airliner over Detroit: “The system worked.” The attacker’s concerned father had warned U.S. authorities about his son’s jihadist tendencies. The would-be bomber paid cash and checked no luggage on a transoceanic flight. He was nonetheless allowed to fly, and would have killed 288 people in the air alone, save for a faulty detonator and quick actions by a few passengers.

Heck of a job, Brownie.

The reason the country is uneasy about the Obama administration’s response to this attack is a distinct sense of not just incompetence but incomprehension. From the very beginning, President Obama has relentlessly tried to play down and deny the nature of the terrorist threat we continue to face. Napolitano renames terrorism “man-caused disasters.” Obama goes abroad and pledges to cleanse America of its post-9/11 counterterrorist sins. Hence, Guantanamo will close, CIA interrogators will face a special prosecutor, and Khalid Sheik Mohammed will bask in a civilian trial in New York — a trifecta of political correctness and image management.

And just to make sure even the dimmest understand, Obama banishes the term “war on terror.” It’s over — that is, if it ever existed.

Obama may have declared the war over. Unfortunately, al-Qaeda has not. Which gives new meaning to the term “asymmetric warfare.”

And produces linguistic — and logical — oddities that littered Obama’s public pronouncements following the Christmas Day attack. In his first statement, Obama referred to Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab as “an isolated extremist.” This is the same president who, after the Fort Hood, Tex., shooting, warned us “against jumping to conclusions” — code for daring to associate the mass murder there with Nidal Hasan’s Islamist ideology. Yet, with Abdulmutallab, Obama jumped immediately to the conclusion, against all existing evidence, that the would-be bomber acted alone.

More jarring still were Obama’s references to the terrorist as a “suspect” who “allegedly tried to ignite an explosive device.” You can hear the echo of FDR: “Yesterday, December 7, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy — Japanese naval and air force suspects allegedly bombed Pearl Harbor.”

Obama reassured the nation that this “suspect” had been charged. Reassurance? The president should be saying: We have captured an enemy combatant — an illegal combatant under the laws of war: no uniform, direct attack on civilians — and now to prevent future attacks, he is being interrogated regarding information he may have about al-Qaeda in Yemen.

Instead, Abdulmutallab is dispatched to some Detroit-area jail and immediately lawyered up. At which point — surprise! — he stops talking.

This absurdity renders hollow Obama’s declaration that “we will not rest until we find all who were involved.” Once we’ve given Abdulmutallab the right to remain silent, we have gratuitously forfeited our right to find out from him precisely who else was involved, namely those who trained, instructed, armed and sent him.

This is all quite mad even in Obama’s terms. He sends 30,000 troops to fight terror overseas, yet if any terrorists come to attack us here, they are magically transformed from enemy into defendant.

The logic is perverse. If we find Abdulmutallab in an al-Qaeda training camp in Yemen, where he is merely preparing for a terror attack, we snuff him out with a Predator — no judge, no jury, no qualms. But if we catch him in the United States in the very act of mass murder, he instantly acquires protection not just from execution by drone but even from interrogation.

The president said that this incident highlights “the nature of those who threaten our homeland.” But the president is constantly denying the nature of those who threaten our homeland. On Tuesday, he referred five times to Abdulmutallab (and his terrorist ilk) as “extremist[s].”

A man who shoots abortion doctors is an extremist. An eco-fanatic who torches logging sites is an extremist. Abdulmutallab is not one of these. He is a jihadist. And unlike the guys who shoot abortion doctors, jihadists have cells all over the world; they blow up trains in London, nightclubs in Bali and airplanes over Detroit (if they can); and are openly pledged to war on America.

Any government can through laxity let someone slip through the cracks. But a government that refuses to admit that we are at war, indeed, refuses even to name the enemy — jihadist is a word banished from the Obama lexicon — turns laxity into a governing philosophy.

Charles Krauthammer, Washington Post


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Obama administration is right to prosecute alleged Detroit bomber in U.S. court

FORMER VICE president Richard B. Cheney on Wednesday joined a Republican chorus criticizing the Obama administration’s decision to charge alleged bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab in federal court. Mr. Cheney and others argue that Mr. Abdulmutallab, who is accused of trying to down Northwest Flight 253 over Detroit on Christmas, should have been held as an enemy combatant and pumped for information, rather than read his Miranda rights and provided a lawyer. They further argue that the decision to shuttle him to federal court shows that President Obama is in denial about the dangers of terrorism.

This last claim has no merit. Just as it would be a mistake to approach all terrorist acts as a law enforcement challenge, so would it be imprudent to dispense with strong and available law enforcement tools, and to deal with all such incidents as acts of war. Recall that the Bush administration prosecuted shoe bomber Richard Reid in federal court for attempting to down a transatlantic flight using the same type of explosives allegedly found on Mr. Abdulmutallab. No one then questioned the Bush-Cheney administration’s judgment or its resolve — and rightly so.

The prospects for Mr. Abdulmutallab’s prosecution are good. Multiple eyewitnesses can testify to the incident on the plane, and physical evidence, including the failed explosive device, has been recovered. If the case goes to trial, there is probably little danger that secret sources or methods will be exposed.

Yet part of the critics’ argument is worthy of discussion. Mr. Abdulmutallab could have been detained without charge and interrogated outside of the constraints of federal rules to give the administration an opportunity to gather information in hopes of thwarting a future attack. The Supreme Court has acknowledged this authority, and the Obama administration has gone so far as to argue that Congress, through the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force, gave the president the right to hold combatants indefinitely as long as a court of law rules that the initial detention was justified.

So why not bundle the Nigerian suspect to a secure location for intensive questioning by the CIA? First, because he already has been talking to authorities about his affiliation with al-Qaeda and the possibility of other attacks. Second, because he is no Khalid Sheik Mohammed — he is not a seasoned al-Qaeda operator but a disturbed young man whom the group tried to use as cannon fodder.

Most important, the Bush administration’s own experience has showed that holding suspects as enemy combatants creates more problems than it solves, because of the lack of due process and legal accountability. We have called for the creation of a national security court to govern presidential decisions to detain those who are too dangerous to release but against whom there is insufficient evidence to hold under federal criminal statutes. This authority could be valuable in interrogating those high up in a terrorist organization who are believed to possess significant operational information. It would be wasted on Mr. Abdulmutallab.

Editorial, Washington Post


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A Cold-Blooded Foreign Policy

No despot fears the president, and no demonstrator in Tehran expects him to ride to the rescue.

With year one drawing to a close, the truth of the Obama presidency is laid bare: retrenchment abroad, and redistribution and the intrusive regulatory state at home. This is the genuine calling of Barack Obama, and of the “progressives” holding him to account. The false dichotomy has taken hold—either we care for our own, or we go abroad in search of monsters to destroy or of broken nations to build. The decision to withdraw missile defense for Poland and the Czech Republic was of a piece with that retreat in American power.

In the absence of an overriding commitment to the defense of American primacy in the world, the Obama administration “cheats.” It will not quit the war in Afghanistan but doesn’t fully embrace it as its cause. It prosecutes the war but with Republican support—the diehards in liberal ranks and the isolationists are in no mood for bonding with Afghans. (Harry Reid’s last major foreign policy pronouncement was his assertion, three years ago, that the war in Iraq was lost.)<