Today's column is very strange. Apparently Broder thinks Obama can fix the economy by threatening a war with Iran:
With strong Republican support in Congress for challenging Iran's ambition to become a nuclear power, he can spend much of 2011 and 2012 orchestrating a showdown with the mullahs. This will help him politically because the opposition party will be urging him on. And as tensions rise and we accelerate preparations for war, the economy will improve.
I am not suggesting, of course, that the president incite a war to get reelected. But the nation will rally around Obama because Iran is the greatest threat to the world in the young century. If he can confront this threat and contain Iran's nuclear ambitions, he will have made the world safer and may be regarded as one of the most successful presidents in history.
In case it's not obvious, this is crazy for a number of reasons. One is that markets don't like tensions, and certainly not the kind that jack up oil prices. Second, World War II brought the United States out of the Great Depression because it was a massive economic stimulus program that mobilized entire sectors of society. Today's American military has all the tools it needs to fight Iran, and there isn't going to be any sort of buildup. Hasn't Broder been reading his own newspaper? The Pentagon is looking to find billions in cuts as it confronts the coming world of budget austerity.
I'll leave the question of whether Iran is truly "the greatest threat to the world" to others.
In a surprise move after it looked like the recent spat between Tokyo and Beijing was quieting down, China has just canceled a planned meeting between its premier Wen Jiabao and Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan on the sidelines of the East Asia Summit in Hanoi.
And it did so in spectacularly undiplomatic language, with Assistant Foreign Minister Hu Zhengyue (in remarks paraphrased by Xinhua, Beijing’s state-run news agency) accusing Japanese diplomats of “violating China's sovereignty and territorial integrity through statements to the media” and making “untrue statements about the content of a meeting between Chinese and Japanese foreign ministers held earlier in the day.”
Xinhua also said Hu accused “the diplomatic authority of Japan, in cahoots with other nations,” of trying to “create noises on the issue of the Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea in the lead-up to the summits between ASEAN and its partners.”
It’s no secret that China doesn’t much like Seiji Maehara, Japan’s new, unabashedly pro-American foreign minister, who after a 2005 speech characterizing China’s rise as a “threat” was all but declared persona non grata in Beijing. U.S. diplomats describe Maehara in glowing terms, a welcome breath of fresh air after a year of confused relations. Earlier this month, when Maehara described China’s reaction to the recent fishing trawler incident near the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu island chain as “hysterical,” he drew a harsh rebuke from Beijing. (To be fair, he also recently complemented Chinese president-to-be Xi Jinping on his “very gentle-looking appearance.”)
Japan’s Mainichi News sees the cancelation of the Wen-Kan meeting as “aiming to deal a blow” at Maehara, who pissed off the Chinese again Wednesday by reiterating Japan’s claim of sovereignty over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands during a press conference with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. In their remarks, the two diplomats pointedly emphasized the security aspects of the U.S.-Japan relationship, and Clinton also drew China’s ire by bluntly saying the Senkakus “fall within the scope of Article 5 of the 1960 U.S.-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security” -- though she was only reiterating what Defense Secretary Bob Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen had already made clear.
Clinton’s speech Thursday, billed as a major statement of U.S. policy in 21st century Asia, was nuanced, but noticeably chilly toward China -- making it clear that the United States is going to remain a player in Asia for the indefinite future, and that it isn’t going to let Beijing push around America’s allies in the region.
Things are about to get chillier. The Diplomat’s Andy Sharp notes:
Another element that could pour oil on the territorial squabbling is that video footage of the collision between the Chinese trawler and two Japanese patrol boats will be shown to a restricted number of Japanese lawmakers in the Diet on Monday. While the content of the video won’t be made public (opposition Diet members are demanding its full disclosure – and surely its only a matter of time before it finds its way onto the Internet), the reaction of lawmakers on both sides of the house will likely be a hot topic in the coming weeks.
UPDATE: It looks like U.S. diplomats are assiduously trying to calm things down between China and Japan, and Kan and Wen apparently did meet briefly on the sidelines of the summit. But it's not clear to what extent that meeting was Wen freelancing, or whether it was a conscious attempt by China to lower the temperature. One good sign: The People's Daily reports that Clinton and Dai Bingguo, the top Chinese official on foreign affairs, had a good meeting.
President Obama has gone beyond any simple congratulatory message for 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, he's called for the Chinese to free him:
I welcome the Nobel Committee's decision to award the Nobel Peace Prize to Mr. Liu Xiaobo... By granting the prize to Mr. Liu, the Nobel Committee has chosen someone who has been an eloquent and courageous spokesman for the advance of universal values through peaceful and non-violent means, including his support for democracy, human rights, and the rule of law...
Over the last 30 years, China has made dramatic progress in economic reform and improving the lives of its people, lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty. But this award reminds us that political reform has not kept pace, and that the basic human rights of every man, woman and child must be respected. We call on the Chinese government to release Mr. Liu as soon as possible.
Surely, this won't go down well with the Chinese, who were
already quite unhappy
about the first Chinese winner being
imprisoned for his pro-democracy work
a criminal while also facing other U.S. pressures.
FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images
Last night I went to one of those quintessential Washington odd-couple events, where Bianca Jagger in a floor-length leopard-print sheath said some words about research and rainforests and presented a trophy to President Obama's national advisor on science and technology, John Holdren, on behalf of the Federation of American Scientists. The take-home gift for guests was a reprint of the 1946 bestseller, One World or None, a collection of essays penned by scientists warning of the coming nuclear age.
Holdren talked a bit about the role of science and technology in the Obama administration. He noted the happy uptick in intellectual capital over the Bush years, pointing to the multiple Nobel laureates at the helm of federal agencies, and the administration's increasing willingness to examine the role of technology in achieving other priorities, such as healthcare delivery and development assistance. But even so, darn it's hard making progress, he said, in this political and economic environment. Not many big concrete, accomplishments to brag about. No projections on future climate or carbon policy.
Yet, one passing remark gave me some hope: When Holdren took the job, he had expected much of his role to entail educating the president. However, Holdren found, as he put it, "When I go in to meet with the president, I almost never have to explain to him how the underlying technology works. We go immediately to the question of: 'What should we do?'"
Liu Jin/Getty Images
Nearly across the board, the president's initiatives are going down in flames. Nowhere is this more true than in Pakistan where, Jane Perlez reported Wednesday, the civilian government in which the U.S. has invested billions is perilously close to collapse -- if not facing a military coup.
Now comes word that Pakistan is cutting off NATO's supply lines into Afghanistan in retaliation for U.S. helicopter strikes in Pakistani territory -- strikes made necessary because the Pakistani military can't, or won't, crack down on militants unless they threaten the Pakistani state directly.
As for the war in Afghanistan, it's going very badly.
Further east, the United States seems headed for a disastrous currency war with China, although Beijing's recent diplomatic blunders have sent Asian countries running into Uncle Sam's loving arms.
To the west, Iraq still has yet to form a government after seven months of post-election deadlock, and attacks on the Green Zone are metastasizing in a frightening way.
One rare bright spot is Russia where, despite the complaints of Cold Warriors and human rights campaigners, relations are at their highest point since the Yeltsin era. But much of the good work Obama's team has done could easily unravel, especially if the Senate deep-sixes the new nuke treaty.
As for Iran, it's a mixed bag. Obama has kept Europe on board with tough sanctions, and brought along a few other players. But China is likely to undercut those efforts and relieve the economic pressure, leaving the United States and Israel with few options for stopping Iran's nuclear drive. Meanwhile, the drums of war are beginning to beat in Congress.
Of course, if Obama really wants to make a hash of the world, I can think of no better way than to start launch airstrikes on Iran. But I doubt he's going to do that.
Dennis Brack-Pool/Getty Images
Barack Obama's White House aides have been furiously spinning Bob Woodward's new book as one that paints a positive image of the president, a wartime leader making touch decisions in the interest of the American people.
Some may see that image in Woodward's first of three adaptations of the book, published in today's Washington Post. But once could also see a president who doesn't trust his military advisors and treats them a little bit like the help. Consider this anecdote about the Afghan strategy review:
He was looking for choices that would limit U.S. involvement and provide a way out. His top three military advisers were unrelenting advocates for 40,000 more troops and an expanded mission that seemed to have no clear end. When his national security team gathered in the White House Situation Room on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, 2009, for its eighth strategy review session, the president erupted.
"So what's my option? You have given me one option," Obama said, directly challenging the military leadership at the table, including Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen and Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, then head of U.S. Central Command.
"We were going to meet here today to talk about three options," Obama said sternly. "You agreed to go back and work those up."
Mullen protested. "I think what we've tried to do here is present a range of options."
Obama begged to differ. Two weren't even close to feasible, they all had acknowledged; the other two were variations on the 40,000.
Silence descended on the room. Finally, Mullen said, "Well, yes, sir."
Later on, we find Obama telling Gates that 30,000 more troops was his final answer:
"I've got a request for 4,500 enablers sitting on my desk," Gates said. "And I'd like to have another 10 percent that I can send in, enablers or forces, if I need them."
"Bob," Obama said, "30,000 plus 4,500 plus 10 percent of 30,000 is" - he had already done the math - "37,500." Sounding like an auctioneer, he added, "I'm at 30,000."
Obama had never been quite so definitive or abrupt with Gates.
"I will give you some latitude within your 10 percentage points," Obama said, but under exceptional circumstances only.
"Can you support this?" Obama asked Gates. "Because if the answer is no, I understand it and I'll be happy to just authorize another 10,000 troops, and we can continue to go as we are and train the Afghan national force and just hope for the best."
"Hope for the best." The condescending words hung in the air.
So which is it? Tough commander in chief or insecure armchair general? I suspect this will be a question for history to answer.
Gallup's annual Governance survey finds 57% of Americans expressing a great deal or fair amount of trust in the U.S. government to handle international problems. That is down from 62% a year ago, but remains higher than the percentage trusting Washington to handle domestic problems, now at a record-low 46%.
In some sense, this result is a very strange one during the bloodiest year of an unpopular, decade-long war. Especially considering that this administration actively decided to send more troops to Afghanistan -- however reluctantly -- while the economy was in sorry shape before Obama came into office.
But the polls may say less about the government's performance than where the country's attention and priorities right now. It's likely that the public gives the government decent marks on foreign policy simply because they haven't been paying very close attention to it.
Given the president that Americans' elected nearly two years ago, it's remarkable that foreign policy today seems too peripheral to the national conversation. Obama first distinguished himself from frontrunner Hillary Clinton because of his unwavering opposition to the war in Iraq and made restoring America's image in the world a major theme of his campaign, going so far as to hold a de facto campaign rally in Berlin at the height of the campaign.
As James Traub wrote last March, while most presidents are elected for their domestic plans but remembered for their handling of foreign policy crises, Obama -- at least in the first half of his term -- has often seemed like an international president forced by circumstances to focus on domestic priorities:
When the White House announced last week that Obama would postpone a planned trip to Asia to lobby for his health-care legislation, it confirmed that foreign policy would take a back seat to America's grave domestic and political problems. The economic crisis, of course, had radically reshaped Obama's scale of priorities long before he assumed office; foreign affairs took up less than a quarter of his inaugural address. And then Republican intractability sent the debate over health-care reform into one sudden-death overtime after another. The world beyond America's borders is of course no less salient, and no less threatening, than ever; but Americans are looking at it through the wrong end of the binoculars.
But with the Democratic majority in Congress likely to dwindle or even disappear in November, I wonder if foreign policy might play a larger role in the second half of this term (or at least what's left of it until the presidential election cycle overtakes events in 2011). As Peter Feaver has pointed out, there's less daylight between the White House and Congressional republicans on national security issues than on economic or domestic policy. And in any case, the president has far more leeway to act without congressional cooperation on foreign policy.
With major domestic initiatives likely stalled for the foreseeable future by an increasingly confident GOP, could we see a shift toward a more foreign policy-focused presidency? Lord knows there are plenty of neglected areas, from trade to Latin America to development policy (which Obama took on in another speech yesterday) that could benefit from some high-level attention, not to mention Afghanistan, Iraq, North Korea, the Mideast talks and climate change.
Michael Nagle/Getty Images
Bob Woodward's new book about Barack Obama's presidency promises to create enormous headaches for a White House that's already reeling from a weak economic recovery and a surging Republican opposition, judging by accounts in the New York Times and the Washington Post. The accounts paint a portrait of a president sharply at odds with the military and deeply ambivalent about the war in Afghanistan. And they rip the veneer off an administration that had hitherto been known for its tight message discipline and a relative lack of infighting.
If you thought the Rolling Stone article that got Gen. Stanley McChrystal fired was damning, you ain't seen nothin' yet. Get a load of some of these nuggets:
The most explosive revelations, however, center around the Obama's decision last year to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan but set a controversial July 2011 timeline for beginning to withdraw -- an awkward compromise that Woodward's sources seem eager to portray as very much the president's own. And Bob's got the goods: Obama, who comes across as deeply skeptical about the war and overwhelmingly concerned with finding an "exit strategy" rather than winning, personally dictated a six-page "terms sheet" outlining the conditions under which he was sending the troops. Woodward describes a tense Nov. 29, 2009, meeting where the president demanded that each participant read it and raise any objections "now." According to the Post, "The document -- a copy of which is reprinted in the book -- took the unusual step of stating, along with the strategy's objectives, what the military was not supposed to do."
As Woodward describes it, the memo represented Obama's attempt to keep the military from boxing him in and pushing to escalate the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan (a storyline we've heard before, though with fewer details). At one point, Woodward says, Obama told military leaders, "In 2010, we will not be having a conversation about how to do more. I will not want to hear, 'We're doing fine, Mr. President, but we'd be better if we just do more.' We're not going to be having a conversation about how to change [the mission] ... unless we're talking about how to draw down faster than anticipated in 2011." It's not clear just who's boxing in whom at the moment, though. The Post remarks on the irony that Petraeus has been tasked with implementing a strategy with which he clearly does not fully agree, but the general has been pretty savvy about thus far about establishing that the withdrawals will be "conditions-based."
Obama told Gates and Clinton at another meeting that he didn't want to stay in Afghanistan for a decade: "I'm not doing long-term nation-building. I am not spending a trillion dollars." He also made a similar remark to Lindsey Graham, telling the South Carolina senator, "I can’t let this be a war without end, and I can’t lose the whole Democratic Party."
Republicans are going to have a field day with this one.
Yesterday I touched on Fidel Castro's apology for anti-gay measures that occurred under his rule -- including detaining gays in forced labor camps -- calling it a "great injustice." But this is not Castro's only clarification of late. The former Cuban leader seems hellbent on crafting his legacy in a more positive light. Why the re-emergence, and why the rehabiliation campaign, now?
As revealed in La Jornado Monday, Castro was "at death's door" in 2006. At the time, speculation was rife that he had already died. Thus, it makes sense that Castro is pushing himself in the limelight -- faced with death, the old revolutionary wants to clean up his name while he has a chance. There's certainly also a chance that he has mellowed in his later years. As he's no longer facing the threat of assassination, his stress levels have also probably declined some.
Perhaps most interesting are the pictures of Jeffrey Goldberg -- yes, that Jeffrey Goldberg -- accompanying the old revolutionary on various stops throughout Cuba. How Goldberg -- rather than, you know, a journalist with a background in Cuban affairs -- came to be side-by-side with Castro is a total mystery. But I'm sure we can look for Goldberg to illuminate his trip in the near future -- though I imagine it'd garner a lot less interest than some of his other recent writings. (Council on Foreign Relations expert Julia E. Sweig was also on the trip.)
In addition to his comments on gay rights, Castro said during a press conference with Goldberg that he is by no means an anti-Semite:
I was never anti-Jewish and I share with him a deep hatred against Nazi-Fascism and the genocide perpetrated against the Jewish people by Hitler and his followers.
President Barack Obama has made tentative steps to end the hostility between Cuba and the United States, and Castro's words may be a recognition of that. While his brother is now president, it's obvious that Fidel's words carry great weight in the island nation. Maybe it's time for Obama to launch a more audacious foreign policy venture, one that may even bear some results: a direct meeting with Castro. Perhaps the old U.S. nemesis could aim to improve relations in his last years. More importantly, it'd prove that engagement is -- as it should be -- still a part of the Obama administration's strategy, and it would send another signal to the rest of the world that, if you are reasonable, the United States will deal with you.
ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/Getty Images
Is Joe Biden freelancing again?
According to CNN, the U.S. vice president told a VFW audience Monday that Iran's influence in Iraq is "minimal" and "greatly exaggerated."
But who, then, is doing the exaggerating?
As recently as Sunday, Gen. Ray Odierno, the outgoing U.S. commander in Baghdad, was warning about Iranian meddling in Iraqi affairs:
CROWLEY: Let me turn to Iran. We know that throughout this process, Iran has been involved at some level, certainly helping the Shia in the fight. What is the level, as far as you can tell, of Iranian involvement in Iraq, both in the government -- in trying to form a government and in the fighting that still exists?
ODIERNO: Well, they -- they clearly still fund some Shia extremist groups that operate in Iraq. They train them. They continue to try to improve their capabilities, partially to attack U.S. forces, partially to make sure everybody understands that they can have some impact in the country. They clearly want to see a certain type of government that is formed here.
CROWLEY: So is that Iran's ambition, do you think, in Iraq, to keep it from becoming a functioning democracy?
ODIERNO: I think they don't want to see Iraq turn into a strong democratic country. They'd rather see it become a weak governmental institution, so they don't add more problems for Iran in the future.
Now, that doesn't 100 percent contradict the veep's statement, but the general's tone is markedly different. So what's the administration's position? It was probably most clearly articulated by Colin Kahl, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East, who said last week in a briefing:
I think that General Odierno remains concerned about certain aspects of Iranian meddling in Iraq, principally the continued provision of certain kinds of lethal assistance to Shia militant groups. But I think that Iran has recognized in the last couple of years that its influence in Iraq is somewhat overstated. I think that they clearly – they tried to influence the provincial and national elections not very successfully. They tried to defeat the U.S.-Iraq security agreement not very successfully. And I think that their experience with the militias that they’ve backed is that when they’ve overplayed their hands, they’ve gotten a lot of Iraqi pushback on this.
And I think basically that’s because at the end of the day, there are kind of at least three antidotes to overwhelming Iranian influence in Iraq. The first and most important one is that the Iraqis don’t want Iran to dominate their country. Iraqi nationalism is real, it is powerful, and it’s a much more powerful force than whatever affinity might exist between Iraq and Iran.
The second is the fact that Iran wants good relations with all its neighbors, not just Iran. So it wants good relationships with Iran, but it also wants good relationships with Turkey, it wants good relationships with Saudi Arabia and others, which means that it’s not inclined to have a desire to be firmly in Iran’s camp.
And the last point that I would raise, last but not least, is the vast majority of Iraq’s political parties want a long-term partnership with the United States, which, of course, is not consistent with being dominated by Iran. So I think when you factor all of those things in together, I don’t think we’re at risk of Iraq being dominated by Iran.
Indian-U.S. relations are going to be pretty important for the foreseeable future. I'd imagine, then, that implicitly threatening the victims of the Bhopal Union Carbide (now owned by Dow Chemical) disaster of 1984 to be quiet or else isn't a very smart thing.
Apparently deputy National Security Adviser Mike Froman didn't get that memo.
India's Planning Commission deputy chairman sent Froman an e-mail requesting U.S. assistance in securing a loan from the World Bank. Froman replied that he'd look into it, and then proceded to lose all common sense:
While I've got you, we are hearing a lot of noise about the Dow Chemical issue. I trust that you are monitoring it carefully... I am not familiar with all the details, but I think we want to avoid developments which put a chilling effect on our investment relationship.
In case, like Froman, you're not familiar with the details of Bhopal, 25 years ago, a large amount of methyl isocyanate leaked from the plant and spread over the city, killing at least 3,000 immediately and contributing to the deaths of approximately 25,000 more. Local journalists had repeatedly warned that the plant suffered from lax safety regulations to no avail. Birth defects, cancers, growth deficiency, and other health issues are abnormally high in the affected area.
Finally last June employees of the plant received punishment. Local Indian managers were convicted, but received what were perceived as little more than slaps on the wrist. Campaigners have demanded Union Carbide -- including then chairman Warren Anderson -- itself be reprimanded, but no action has been forthcoming. Amnesty International called the convictions "too little, too late."
Making Froman's e-mail even more asinine, his threat wasn't even credible. Regardless of further actions taken against Dow Chemical, the U.S. is going to invest a lot of money into India for both geopolitical and economic reasons -- making Froman's message one that really should have stayed in his drafts folder.
The Boston Globe reported this week that the judge in the immigration case of Zeituni Onyango -- best known as President Barack Obama's "Auntie Zeituni" -- had granted her asylum even though she was in the United States illegally because the publicity around the case had "exposed her to heightened threats of persecution in her native Kenya." The Kenyan government, needless to say, isn't happy about the insinuation:
Justice and Constitutional Affairs minister Mutula Kilonzo described the claims as “ridiculous and an insult to Kenyans”.
Zeituni convinced a US judge three months ago that she feared “persecution by some members of the Kenyan government” and was allowed to stay in the US although she had been classified as an illegal immigrant after her visa expired.
Said Mr Kilonzo: “The insinuation about Kenya’s inability to protect Ms Obama is outrageous, misplaced and an insult to the Kenyan state.
“President Obama’s grandmother is here and she is treated like a royalty. It is unfortunate because Kenya enjoys cordial relations with the United States.”
It has to be said that despite the initial excitement, Obama's presidency hasn't been all that great for Kenya's image so far. He has yet to visit the country as president. Instead they had to settle for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who took the opporutnity to publicly lambast the government's corruption. Kenyan leaders have also been smeared by the anti-Obama conspiracy theorists who, at least going by today's news, seem to be gaining ground.
Now, in a highly-publicized court ruling, a U.S. judge has implied that the president's family members aren't safe in their home country. Perhaps having your country's favorite son in the White House isn't all it's cracked up to be.
Hat tip: Ben Smith
U.N. Security Council members Brazil and Turkey have chosen very different paths since they both voted against the latest round of U.N. sanctions on Iran. While Brazil has pledged to abide by the sanctions, despite their disagreement with them, Turkey's energy minister has vowed to bolster gasoline sales to Tehran. Turkey's gasoline sales have reportedly boomed to over five times their daily average, compared to the first half of this year.
Turkey is not the only U.S. ally looking to increase trade with Iran. In Iraq, a new Iranian trade center has recently opened, and Iran's ambassador has promised to double trade between the two countries, which he estimated at about $7 billion last year.
Russia -- though few might call it a close U.S. ally -- is also getting in on the act. Its state atomic corporation is set to load fuel into Iran's first nuclear power plant next week.
It doesn't look like pressing more reset buttons with Turkey, Iraq or Russia is going to help the U.S. attempt to isolate Iran.
Politico's Ben Smith raised the question yesterday that's now on many minds in Washington: Why hasn't Barack Hussein Obama weigh in on the
Ground Zero Burlington Coat Factory Mosque Community Center controversy?
True, he's been busy shooting hoops with NBA all-stars, raising money for embattled congressional Democrats, and most likely spending his days staring into the economic abyss. But, as Smith writes, "This is, clearly, classic Obama turf" -- it allows him to rise about the petty politics of the moment and make a moving statement on religious freedom.
Of course, Republicans are probably salivating at the prospect. Sadly, polls show that a large majority of Americans think the facility shouldn't be built, and it's the perfect wedge issue for the midterm elections. So it would be rational, albeit cowardly, for Obama to remain silent on what is, technically speaking, a local issue (and by the way, there are no legal grounds to prevent the Cordoba Initiative folks from building).
Time's Adam Sorensen speculates that Obama might just be "biding his time for the right moment." He'd better speak out soon. Terrorism analyst Evan Kohlmann has been noting on his Twitter feed that al Qaeda sympathizers on the Internet are loving this debate, because, according to one supporter, "More pressure on the Ummah simply means more explosions... Adding pressure undoubtedly benefits us... This is what we want." Another reads, "Actually, this benefits us... let them complicate the situation so that we see the arrival.. of a new Faisal Shahzad."
Developing... and not in a good way.
Shannon Stapleton-Pool/Getty Images
Paul Richter of the LA Times reports that China, India, Russia, and Turkey are rushing to cut energy deals in Iran despite the recently passed U.N., U.S., and Europe sanctions -- a story that will come as a shock only to those who haven't been paying attention.
Many folks seem to be reading the article as proof that the sanctions aren't working. Well, maybe. As you can see here, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton doesn't have a very good answer as to what the administration is doing to convince China to be more cooperative.
What we don't know is whether the actions of Iran's new friends outweigh whatever bite the sanctions are providing. For that, we'll need a lot more than the anecdotal evidence we've seen so far -- but we probably won't get it.
A few weeks back, I asked a senior administration official how we'd know that the sanctions were working. I expected him to talk about oil and gas deals drying up, insurers staying away, and so on. Instead, what he said was: We'll know it when Iran comes to the table, seeking to cut a deal.
That's probably the right way to look at it. According to Iran analyst Gary Sick, the key question isn't whether the sanctions are biting, but "whether Iran is capable under its present leadership to take a sober decision about how to deal with the outside world."
So far, most signs point to no.
The Obama administration has Washington tied up in knots this week after an Aug. 4, invite-only briefing on Iran attended by editorial writers and columnists that seems to have only sewn confusion among the attendees.
The star of the briefing was none other then President Obama himself, who told the crowd that he saw signs that the sanctions were beginning to work and that he wanted Iran to understand that it had a clear "pathway" to escaping from them by complying with its international obligations.
First out of the gate with a writeup of the meeting was the Washington Post's David Ignatius, followed by The Atlantic's Marc Amdinder and Jeffrey Goldberg, as well as another Washington Post writer, Robert Kagan. The New York Times editorial page weighed in with its own take today.
Kagan's article was the most interesting, because he politely suggested that "some of the journalists present" (read: Ignatius) had gotten the story completely wrong. They (Ignatius) thought the president was "signaling a brand-new diplomatic initiative" when in fact, according to Kagan, "the 'news' out of this briefing was that the administration wanted everyone to know how tough it was being on Iran." (That seemed to be Ambinder and Goldberg's impression as well.)
A White House official tried to clear up some of the confusion with Politico's Laura Rozen Friday, telling her that "what the president was trying to make very clear is that we have had a dual track approach" -- both pressure and engagment.
Now comes New York Times reporter David Sanger with an interview with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who tells him the administration has been sending "very clear messages" to Iranian leaders lately (most likely via EU foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton) that it's willing to talk. In other words, Ignatius was on to something.
"Clearly," Sanger writes, "the administration has decided to re-emphasize opening diplomatic channels." (Here's hoping it's more clear to Iran than it was to everyone else. Maybe the White House ought to release the transcript of the briefing, so we can see for ourselves what the overall tenor of the administration's message was.)
One additional comment. I realize it takes some time to get diplomatic initiatives going, and the administration is trying to nudge the Iranians toward being productive in their upcoming talks with EU officials, and perhaps tee something up for the U.N. General Assembly opening in September.
But isn't it a bit early to take the boot off Iran's neck? The U.N. sanctions were passed on June 9, the United States added its own on July 1, Europe followed suit with surprisingly tough measures on July 26, and Japan is bringing up the rear. So they haven't even been fully put in place yet, let alone implemented.
Meanwhile, Obama is already saying he hears "rumblings" that the sanctions are beginning to bite. Yes, as Sanger notes, there are signs that banks, energy companies, and insurers are starting to turn away from Tehran. But oil prices are still above $80 a barrel, the Iranian stock market hit an all-time high Monday, and who knows what China and Russia, let alone Germany, are willing to do. So it's a mixed picture.
My guess is that Obama folks understand all this, but are worried that Iran will be able to adjust to the sanctions over time, so they're trying to get a deal done before Tehran gets too comfortable. Still, I'm not sure Iran is feeling pressured enough just yet. We'll see.
Three news organizations -- the New York Times, the Guardian, and Der Spiegel -- today published explosive reports on a treasure trove of more than 91,000 documents that were obtained by Wikileaks, the self-proclaimed whistleblower site.
I've now gone through the reporting and most of the selected documents (though not the larger data dump), and I think there's less here than meets the eye. The story that seems to be getting the most attention, repeating the longstanding allegation that Pakistani intelligence might be aiding the Afghan insurgents, offers a few new details but not much greater clarity. Both the Times and the Guardian are careful to point out that the raw reports in the Wikileaks archive often seem poorly sourced and present implausible information.
"[F]or all their eye-popping details," writes the Guardian's Declan Walsh, "the intelligence files, which are mostly collated by junior officers relying on informants and Afghan officials, fail to provide a convincing smoking gun for ISI complicity."
The Times' reporters seem somewhat more persuaded, noting that "many of the reports rely on sources that the military rated as reliable" and that their sources told them that "the portrait of the spy agency’s collaboration with the Afghan insurgency was broadly consistent with other classified intelligence."
Der Spiegel's reporting adds little, though the magazine's stories will probably have great political impact in Germany, as the Wikileaks folks no doubt intended. One story hones in on how an elite U.S. task force charged with hunting down Taliban and Al Qaeda targets operates from within a German base; another alleges that "The German army was clueless and naïve when it stumbled into the conflict," and that northern Afghanistan, where the bulk of German troops are based, is more violent than has been previously portrayed.
Otherwise, I'd say that so far the documents confirm what we already know about the war: It's going badly; Pakistan is not the world's greatest ally and is probably playing a double game; coalition forces have been responsible for far too many civilian casualties; and the United States doesn't have very reliable intelligence in Afghanistan.
I do think that the stories will provoke a fresh round of Pakistan-bashing in Congress, and possibly hearings. But the administration seems inclined to continue with its strategy of nudging Pakistan in the right direction, and is sending the message: Move along, nothing to see here.
A U.S. military official in Islamabad told the American Forces Press Service: "The Pakistani military deserves our respect, and frankly, they deserve our support." Special Representative Richard Holbrooke endorsed the recent warming of ties between Islamabad and Kabul. In his statement condeming the leak of the documents, National Security Advisor Jim Jones said, "[T]he Pakistani government – and Pakistan’s military and intelligence services – must continue their strategic shift against insurgent groups." And finally, the White House sent around an eight-page document containing examples of President Obama and other U.S. officials urging Pakistan to turn decisively against the militants.
The other message coming from the administration, as noted in an email from White House spokesman Tommy Vietor, is: It's not our fault. "The period of time covered in these documents (January 2004-December 2009) is before the President announced his new strategy. Some of the disconcerting things reported are exactly why the President ordered a three month policy review and a change in strategy," Vietor wrote in an email published by the Times.
In this case, I'd say that's spin I can believe in.
Reactions to U.S. Defense Secretary Bob Gates's recommendation of Marine Gen. James Mattis to head Central Command today are running the usual gamut of opinion, with nearly everyone pointing to his past statements on how "it's fun to shoot some people" and interpreting that in different ways. (For more of the Mattis treatment, check out this NSFW Twitter thread. My favorite? "Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet." He's kind of like the Poor Richard of counterinsurgency, but with a potty mouth.)
Plenty of folks seem to really like the guy. Gates today called him "one of the military's most innovative and iconoclastic thinkers." Tom Ricks, who floated his name as soon as Gen. David Petraeus took the Afghanistan job, has weighed in enthusiastically. The LA Times calls him "one of the military's premier strategic thinkers" and "a deft political operator." Wired's Spencer Ackerman, perhaps the Internet's premier COIN fanboy, says Mattis "has a larger reputation as a big brain," like Petraeus.
Retired Lt. Col. John Nagl, the president of the Center for a New American Security, is also a huge fan. He served under Mattis in Iraq's Anbar province in 2004 and helped him write FM 3-24 (pdf), the famous Army/Marine Corps Field Manual, in 2006.
Asked to comment on Mattis's likely appointment, Nagl emailed: "He is a warfighter and a counterinsurgent, a thinker and a warrior, and we are fortunate as a nation that he will oversee the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan."
Mattis, who is currently the outgoing head of Joint Forces Command, testified in March before the Senate Armed Services Committee. No real standout lines in there, but it's clear he's had a great deal of high-level exposure at JFCOM to the types of strategic and tactical questions he'll face at CENTCOM.
At his press conference this afternoon, Gates also had interesting things to say about the Pentagon's relationship with the media, following up on a memo he sent around last Friday that was quickly and predictably leaked.
"I have grown
increasingly concerned that we have become too lax, disorganized, and,
in some cases, flat-out sloppy in the way we engage with the press," Gates said. "Reports and
other documents, including on sensitive subjects, are routinely
provided to the press and other elements in this town before I or the
White House know anything about them." (For the record, military and DoD officials remain welcome to leak important documents and information to Foreign Policy.)
Asked why he hadn't said anything about General McChrystal's classified assessment on Afghanistan that was leaked to the Washington Post last fall, Gates gave this tantalizing answer: "Because I was never convinced that it leaked out of this building." Ahem.
On the infamous Rolling Stone article that led to McChrystal's firing, Gates made this emphatic comment: "General McChrystal never, ever, said one thing or in any way, shape or form, conveyed to me any disrespect for civilian authority over the military. Never. I have never had an officer do that since I have been in this building, in three-and-a-half years." He then went further: "I have never encountered, at any level of the military, any disrespect for civilian authority."
President Obama has just announced that General David Petraeus, head of U.S. Central Command, will replace now-booted General McChrstyal as top commander in Afghanistan, technically a lower position though probably a more strategically vital one . This isn't entirely unprecedented. In 1941, then-President Franklin Roosevelt demoted Douglas MacArthur as part of a strategic -- not punitive -- change of policy. A Time article from that year describes the general's surprising composure in the wake of professional reshuffling:
Field Marshal Douglas MacArthur, Military Adviser to the Philippine Commonwealth, had just taken a demotion in rank. As he stood at a window in his penthouse apartment atop the swank Manila Hotel, looking out on the bay, on the brooding fortress of Corregidor, he was (for practical purposes) no longer a field marshal or the four-starred general he had been when he retired three and a half years ago from the U.S. Army. His Commander in Chief had just called him back to that Army in reduced but impressive rank.
General MacArthur was not downcast at this technical demotion, and he had no reason to be. For he had also been made commander of The U.S. Army Forces in the Far East."
Ten years later, of course, MacArthur got the axe for real for his public disagreements with President Harry Truman over U.S. strategy in the Korean war. Strangely, Dugout Doug seems to have set a precedent for both the generals in the current controversy.
Amid all the chatter about whether Stan McChrystal should keep his job, one storyline in the Rolling Stone article is getting lost: the doubts many U.S. soldiers have about counterinsurgency doctrine:
[H]owever strategic they may be, McChrystal's new marching orders have caused an intense backlash among his own troops. Being told to hold their fire, soldiers complain, puts them in greater danger. "Bottom line?" says a former Special Forces operator who has spent years in Iraq and Afghanistan. "I would love to kick McChrystal in the nuts. His rules of engagement put soldiers' lives in even greater danger. Every real soldier will tell you the same thing."
Michael Hastings, the author, is clearly a skeptic -- a COINhata, if you will. He does little to present McChrystal's side of the argument, or any evidence that his strategy could be working. Admittedly, there isn't much evidence at this point. CFR's Stephen Biddle made a smart comment about this last week:
We're at one of those moments where it's very hard to tell whether things are going well or badly. Counterinsurgency always has this "darkest before the dawn" quality. When you start with a tough situation, you introduce reinforcements and you begin to contest insurgent control of population areas they now control, violence then rises. Enemy causalities go up, causalities to your own forces rise, casualties to civilians increase, general mayhem rises. If you succeed, you gain political control of these populations and violence eventually comes down. From an early increase in violence, you can't deduce that you're winning or that you're losing because you would see exactly the same thing either way at this point in the war.
That was true enough in Iraq; the surge looked to many like it wasn't working well into the summer of 2007. But I wonder if Afghanistan is really a comparable situation. It's a much more fragmented country, where trends in one area don't necessarily spill over into other places. Tribal leaders don't have the same ability to bring their communities along, especially as years of war and Taliban rule have undermined the authority of tribal elders. So it's hard to imagine the same kind of "awakening" spreading rapidly across the country. This is going to be a slog, valley by valley, village by village.
The thing is, though, it's not as if there is a viable alternative strategy out there. For years, the U.S. more or less tried Vice President Joe Biden's preferred approach of keeping a light footprint and limiting U.S. military operations to going after bad guys, while de-emphasizing nation building. That didn't work either. So I think it's worth giving COIN more time to succeed, whether or not McChrystal is the man implementing it.
Which raises another question about the general's leadership in Afghanistan. As any COIN expert will tell you, theory is one thing; implementation is quite another. What made General Petraeus so effective in Iraq was that he was brilliant at operationalizing COIN concepts and ensuring that everyone down the chain of command was carrying them out properly. Is McChrystal doing that effectively? I have my doubts. He certainly isn't following the COIN dictum that "unity of effort" is paramount -- he and Karl Eikenberry, the U.S. ambassador in Kabul, can't seem to get along; nor can Eikenberry get along with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. If winning a counterinsurgency war is mainly a political effort, what does it tell you if the politics guy isn't even in the game?
The president believes that Gen. McChrystal is the best commander that NATO and coalition forces have had in Afghanistan over the past nine years."
That's a nice compliment for McChrystal, but it's also a back-handed slap at Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, who commanded the U.S.-led efforts in Afghanistan for 18 months in 2006 and 2007.
Eikenberry the current U.S. ambassador in Kabul, isn't impressed with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and said as much in a leaked memo that made McChrystal furious. In the Rolling Stone article, McChrystal says he felt "betrayed" by the memo, and accuses Eikenberry of "cover[ing] his flank for the history books." Omar's comments probably won't help the two men get along.
You may have heard by now that Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. general in Afghanistan, inexplicably gave Rolling Stone unparalleled access to his inner circle, and the magazine dropped a bomb on him today, feeding reporters a story that finds him dissing Ambassador Karl Eikenberry on the record and quotes his aides mocking Vice President Joe Biden, special representative Richard Holbrooke, and National Security Advisor Jim Jones. We also learn that McChrystal was none too impressed when he met President Barack Obama for the first time last year.
As you might imagine, folks in Washington are not pleased. "Within hours after today's Rolling Stone story broke," reports the Atlantic's Marc Ambinder, "McChrystal was called by the White House, the Secretary of Defense, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. They were not happy."
Here's McChrystal's statement:
I extend my sincerest apology for this profile. It was a mistake reflecting poor judgment and should never have happened. Throughout my career, I have lived by the principles of personal honor and professional integrity. What is reflected in this article falls far short of that standard. I have enormous respect and admiration for President Obama and his national security team, and for the civilian leaders and troops fighting this war and I remain committed to ensuring its successful outcome."
Too late? It's hard to imagine how McChrystal survives what is going to be an epic sh*tstorm all week long. And then the article itself goes up Friday.
As James Dobbins noted last fall in a prescient article for FP, the disagreements between McChrystal and Eikenberry have been unusually public, to the long-term detriment of U.S. efforts in Afghanistan. But I wonder why Eikenberry was able to stick around so long. After all, he clearly didn't believe in the mission, as his leaked memos made clear. And those memos made it impossible for him to get along with Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai -- which is one of the main jobs of an ambassador. How could he possibly be effective?
MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images
One of FP's 2009 Stories You Missed was the growing U.S. involvement in efforts to wipe out Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army rebels -- this included a bill sponsored by Senators Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) and Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) committing the U.S. to "eliminating the threat posed by the Lord's Resistance Army." The bill was held up for a while by a hold from Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn, but passed in March and signed by President Obama on Monday.
In April, Michael Wilkerson wrote about why the LRA has been so hard to wipe out.
If you were in Washington D.C. a few weeks ago you might have noticed the enormous security measures taken for the 46 world leaders who convened for the Nuclear Summit. A huge portion of the city was closed, sidewalks were lined with D.C. police, and streets were regularly blocked off for passing twenty-car motorcades.
South Africa will be in a similar position with the start of the World Cup next month, with 43 leaders already having confirmed their attendance. Turns out though, 43 leaders isn't seen a big problem -- rather, it's the potential of a 44th visitor that has South Africa's police department sweating. And, surprisingly, he happens to be the 44th president of the United States.
Speaking before a cabinet meeting on World Cup security, South Africa's police chief, General Bheki Cele, estimates that a visit by the U.S. president, and the subsequent crowds that would clamor to see him, would double the scale of the security requirements, saying, "that 43 will be equal to this one operation." It would be such a headache that the police chief is "praying" that the U.S. is eliminated after the first stage because of rumors that Obama might visit if the U.S. national team makes it any further.
Here's hoping his prayers aren't heard.
ALEXANDER JOE/AFP/Getty Images
Telling the following joke in public, at a meeting of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy no less, was not National Security Advsor Jim Jones' finest moment in public service:
I'd like to begin with a story that I think is true, a Taliban militant gets lost and is wandering around the desert looking for water. He finally arrives at a store run by a Jew and asks for water. The Jewish vendor tells him he doesn’t have any water but can gladly sell him a tie. The Taliban, the jokes goes on, begins to curse and yell at the Jewish storeowner. The Jew, unmoved, offers the rude militant an idea: Beyond the hill, there is a restaurant; they can sell you water. The Taliban keeps cursing and finally leaves toward the hill. An hour later he’s back at the tie store. He walks in and tells the merchant: “Your brother tells me I need a tie to get into the restaurant.”
The White House clearly felt uncomfortable with the joke, and edited it out of an official transcript of the event.
Does this mean that that Jones is an anti-Semite? No. But it was an unnecessary and frankly stupid move that has the potential to do an awful lot of damage to both his career and his administration's credibility. Assuming Jones gets the chance to speak on behalf of the U.S. government again, he's probably better off leaving this kind of material to Jackie Mason.
Just a suggestion to Radio France International, if you're going to release a poll claiming to show the "world's most popular leaders," you might want to poll people in more than six countries, or maybe even one or two outside of Europe and North America.
In any event, in the countries that were polled -- Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the United States -- Barack Obama came in first, followed by the Dalai Lama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Muammar Qaddafi and Hu Jintao were the least popular, though I suspect at least a few hundred million Chinese people might feel differently about that.
(For the record, I'm not saying Obama isn't the most popular -- larger surveys have shown that too -- just that Western Europe isn't "the world.")
Everybody's talking about this New York Times story by David Sanger and Thom Shanker, which tells us that U.S. Defense Secretary Bob Gates sent a memo in January to "top White House officials" warning them that the United States "does not have an effective long-range policy for dealing with ’s steady progress toward nuclear capability." Some are reading the story as a bombshell, but I think there's less here than meets the eye.
This is the quote that folks have seized upon:
One senior official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the memo, described the document as “a wake-up call.” But White House officials dispute that view, insisting that for 15 months they had been conducting detailed planning for many possible outcomes regarding Iran’s nuclear program.
Gates fired back today with an unusual statement on a classified memo, saying the Times and its sources had "mischaracterized" him. "The memo was not intended as a 'wake up call' or received as such by the President's national security team," Gates said. "Rather, it presented a number of questions and proposals intended to contribute to an orderly and timely decision making process."
That's probably an accurate explanation of what Gates was trying to do, but clearly some in the administration are trying to push a different narrative.
The Times also reported that Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, urged his staff in December to make sure they had military options ready in case President Obama chose that course. Shocking! Mullen also made an effort Sunday to respond to the Times story, stressing that a military strike against Iran would be "the last option for the United States."
The Times is standing by its characterization of the memo: "Senior administration officials, asked Sunday to give specific examples of what was mischaracterized in the article, declined to discuss the content of the memo, citing its classified status."
So how about it: Do the Obama folks have a clear strategy for stopping Iran?
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
The State Department was quick to portray Wednesday's meeting between Cheryl Mills, Hillary Clinton's powerful chief of staff, and Cuban Foreign Minister Bruni Rodriguez, as a big old nothingburger -- even though it was the highest-level contact between the countries in ... well, I don't know how long.
"They talked about Haiti," said departmental spokesman P.J. Crowley during this afternoon's press conference. "In particular, she did meet with Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez to ensure that our assistance is consistent with the priorities established by the Haitian Government. Cuba has volunteered, I think, in the significant assistance in the health sector, and they want to see -- make sure that this assistance is implemented in a coordinated fashion. So it was a specific meeting about Cuba’s -- the support that they wish to provide to Haiti."
"[W]e don’t agree with Cuba and Venezuela on very much, but we all agree on the importance of assistance to Haiti," Crowley said.
Asked whether Mills brought up human rights, Crowley responded: "[W]e do have regular meetings with Cuba in the context of migration talks and specific issues, like postal services."
"When we do have discussions with Cuba, we always bring up the issue of human rights, we always bring up our concerns about prisoners who are held there," he continued. "And in this particular case, we did. I’m aware of that the specific issue of Alan Gross came up. I just don’t know if the broader issues were touched on as well." (Gross is the USAID contractor who was arrested in Havana late last year and accused of espionage.)
Some people will see this development as a sign that Obama is stepping up his engagment with the Cuban regime, but I strongly doubt it. Just last week, the president ripped the Cuban government for using a "clenched fist" -- a reference to his inaugural address -- against "those who dare to give voice to the desires of their fellow Cubans.'' A Cuban journalist who is calling for the release of the country's political prisoners is said to be near death after a hunger strike that has stretched longer than a month, and the regime has just brutally cracked down on a dissident group calling itself Las Damas de Blanco, the Ladies in White. The timing is awful for any sort of attempt to cozy up to the Castro brothers, and I'm sure the Obama folks know it.
More broadly, there's not much political upside in trying to engage the Cuban regime, given the entrenched opposition to any kind of rethink of the decades-long failure of U.S. Cuba policy on Capitol Hill. Nobody in Congress is laying down any political cover for Obama on this issue, so the odds are long that the administration would make the first move. If anything, U.S.-Cuba relations are heading south.
The only bright spot here would be if the Cubans seriously engaged on Gross -- which U.S. officials say they haven't done thus far. But Crowley gave no details on that front, so we'll just have to wait and see.
Roger Cohen engages in some egregious rhetorical sleight of hand here :
Already, there are shifts in Israeli attitudes as a result of the new American clarity. Last year, Netanyahu described Iran’s leaders as “a messianic apocalyptic cult,” which was silly. Of late we’ve had Ehud Barak, the Israeli defense minister, setting things right: “I don’t think the Iranians, even if they got the bomb, are going to drop it in the neighborhood. They fully understand what might follow. They are radical but not total ‘meshuganas.’ They have a quite sophisticated decision-making process.”
This is persuasive if you ignore a couple stubborn facts. One, Barak's comments predate the recent blowup between the Obama administration and Israel. Two, Barak has long believed that Iran doesn't pose an existential threat to his country. Here's him saying as much back in September, and I'm sure I could find earlier examples. Three, Barak and Netanyahu come from different parts of the Israeli political spectrum; the two men aren't even members of the same political party. They have different points of view. There's precious little evidence Netanyahu himself has shifted his rhetoric.
Lesson: Beware pundits who throw around vague language like "of late." It's a sign they're trying to trick you, or at least being sloppy.
ABC News today published an "exclusive" scoop saying that an Iranian nuclear scientist, Shahram Amiri, has defected to the United States with the assistance of the CIA.
Except, er, Britain's Daily Telegraph reported the defection back in December, though the paper didn't say that Amiri had come to America and placed him in Europe at the time. The Telegraph's story was, however, more clearly sourced to "French intelligence sources" and contained a much richer account of how Amiri supposedly left Iran. The Telegraph also credited the subscription-only website Intelligence Online with breaking the news.
Also back in December, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki directly accused Saudi Arabia and the United States of colluding to "abduct" Amiri (amplifying some more indirect comments he had made back in October). The Telegraph story broke three days later.
The two accounts differ in important respects. According to ABC, "The CIA reportedly approached the scientist in Iran through an intermediary who made an offer of resettlement on behalf of the United States." But ABC doesn't say who reported that, and its story is sourced only to "people briefed on the operation by intelligence officials." (FYI: It so happens that a French delegation is in town for President Nicolas Sarkozy's visit.)
But Intelligence Online, the Telegraph says, reported that "The agency made contact with the scientist last year when Amiri visited Frankfurt in connection with his research work" and that "A German businessman acted as go-between. A final contact was made in Vienna when Amiri travelled to Austria to assist the Iranian representative at the IAEA. Shortly afterwards, the scientist went on pilgrimage to Mecca and hasn't been seen since."
Another apparent discrepancy between the two accounts concerns when the CIA began trying to recruit Iranian scientists. Citing "former U.S. intelligence officials," ABC says efforts to do so "through contacts made with relatives living in the United States" date back to the 1990s, whereas the Telegraph says a program called "the Brian Drain" began in 2005. It's not clear, however, whether the former officials were familiar with Amiri's case, or whether "Brain Drain," said to be aimed at inducing Iranian scientists to defect, was a separate initiative.
More to come, no doubt.
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