Ever since the Obama administration first rolled out its signature Asia pivot policy, the effort seemed ambitious. The United States was wrapping up its war in Iraq and still surging troops in Afghanistan -- and yet, policymakers planned to "rebalance" military forces to the Pacific while strengthening business and diplomatic ties with partners in the region. Since then, events have stymied the administration's policy at seemingly every turn.
In the latest example, President Obama's summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday was overshadowed by new revelations of an extensive domestic surveillance program. But Asia getting pushed to the backburner is nothing new. The administration's series of high-profile trips to the region last fall had to jockey for attention with the news that Israel might any day launch a ground invasion of the Gaza Strip (and now there's Secretary of State John Kerry's initiative to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations). Since then, the administration's Asia policy has also been a bone of contention in the fight over cuts to the defense budget.
Even the administration's modest successes have suffered setbacks. Earlier this week, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel showed off the Navy's Littoral Combat Ship USS Freedom in Singapore in an effort to showcase the increased U.S. naval presence in Southeast Asian waters. But that came after the ship was stranded in port when its propulsion system gave out on its maiden deployment. Then there's the deployment of U.S. Marines to Australia -- when the first 180 Marines arrived in Darwin in April 2012, they were supposed to be followed by more than 2,000 more. That might never happen, though, as Australian enthusiasm for the project has waned. Despite plans for 2,500 U.S. Marines to be stationed in Australia by 2017, Australia is still evaluating the effects of a force less than half that size.
With all the setbacks, maybe the administration is happy that the media isn't paying attention to the pivot.
In his inaugural remarks as prime minister on Wednesday, Nawaz Sharif called for an end to U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan. "The chapter of daily drone attacks should stop," he told the Pakistani parliament. "We respect sovereignty of other countries but others should also respect our sovereignty."
Sound familiar? It's hardly the first time Pakistan has called for an end to U.S. drone strikes:
It's worth noting that these quick snippets from news stories only scratch the surface when it comes to the convoluted politics of U.S.-Pakistani security relations. For example, despite the public outrage, some Pakistani officials were still quietly green-lighting U.S. drone operations in February 2009, when Sen. Dianne Feinstein publicly noted that some of the strikes were being launched from bases in Pakistan.
Pakistani political opposition to U.S. drone strikes grew as the number of strikes increased -- though the first strike took place way back in 2004, there were no more than a few strikes each year until 2008, when there were 37. That number grew to 122 in 2010 but has been declining since. Still, the decreasing number of strikes hasn't extinguished Pakistani opposition, and calls for an end to U.S. drone strikes were a rallying cry for populist candidates in Pakistan's recent election.
It's unclear if the country's new prime minister will make much headway on this front, or if he'll even try. The New York Times suggested that Sharif's comments today may be more political doublespeak, noting that "Mr. Sharif's rhetoric may have been driven by political considerations, with some suggesting that he may be more pragmatic toward the United States once I office." But Sharif has also positioned himself as a counterweight to the Pakistani military establishment -- which forced him from office when he was prime minister in the 1990s -- and might challenge the cadre of generals who have been more permissive of U.S. strikes than elected officials. Today's announcement, though? It's nothing new.
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President Obama is giving a much-hyped counterterrorism address this afternoon at the National Defense University in which he'll announce new restrictions on drone strikes and targeted killings, and renew his push to shutter the Guantánamo Bay detention facility. But this isn't the Obama administration's first big speech on drone policy -- current and former officials, including Attorney General Eric Holder, former counterterrorism czar and current CIA chief John Brennan, former State Department legal adviser Harold Koh, and former Pentaon general counsel Jeh Johnson, have all delivered carefully crafted statements on the subject in recent years. Here's what we've learned so far.
The basics. Starting with the first major speech in March 2010 by Harold Koh, the Obama administration has sketched out a legal framework for drone strikes and other targeted killing operations -- though the fact that many of these strikes are conducted by remotely piloted vehicles wasn't acknowledged until a speech by John Brennan in May 2012. That justification rests on the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force against al Qaeda, which, in the administration's interpretation, allows for the use of force against al Qaeda-affiliated targets that pose an imminent threat to the United States in countries that have either given permission to the United States or are unwilling or unable to take action against the targets on their own. This rubric has been refined a bit -- but not much -- in subsequent speeches by Brennan and Eric Holder.
Yes, U.S. citizens can be targeted. There's legal precedent for the government using lethal force against American citizens abroad who have taken up arms against the United States, but the Obama administration did not lay out the rationale for such a scenario until a speech by Holder in March 2012. "The president may use force abroad against a senior operational leader of a foreign terrorist organization with which the United States is at war," Holder said in an address at Northwestern University, "even if that individual happens to be a U.S. citizen." Holder has since expanded on this in writing to indicate that the government does not have the authority to conduct targeted killings domestically. Additionally, in a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee released on Wednesday, Holder revealed that targeted killings have killed four U.S. citizens since 2009, but that only one of them was the intended target of a strike.
Former officials would like to see more transparency -- to a point. Jeh Johnson has expressed concern about how limited public information about the drone program is affecting its reputation. "In the absence of an official picture of what our government is doing, and by what authority, many in the public fill the void by envisioning the worst," he said in a speech in March 2013. That sentiment was seconded by Koh; in a speech earlier this month, he told an audience at Oxford University that the administration "has not been sufficiently transparent to the media, to the Congress and to our allies." But Johnson wouldn't go so far as to endorse a court for approving targets, which he said could not provide the transparency and credibility its advocates suggest.
For every vague explanation that has been given in these drone speeches, though, there are more questions. Here are a few things we still don't know:
Who is the government really targeting? As Micah Zenko pointed out last month, internal government assessments obtained by McClatchy demonstrate that, in addition to members of al Qaeda, U.S. airstrikes have targeted hundreds of "Afghan, Pakistani and unknown extremists" from "the Haqqani network, several Pakistani Taliban factions and the unidentified individuals described only as 'foreign fighters' and 'other militants.'" That goes far beyond the limited scope that the Obama administration has outlined in a Justice Department white paper: that the United States can lawfully target a "senior operational leader of al-Qa'ida or an associated force" who "poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States." In his speech earlier this month, Koh stuck with what Zenko has called "the fundamental myth of the Obama administration's targeted killing program" -- that those targeted are clearly "cobelligerents" of al Qaeda. The administration has yet to discuss publicly the use of "signature strikes," in which groups are targeted based on a set of observed behaviors that are similar to those of terrorist cells.
Just how imminent is 'imminent'? What determines when capture isn't 'feasible'? That Justice Department white paper has a lot of fuzzy language in it. Targeted killings are authorized by "an informed, high-level official of the US government" when there is an "imminent threat of violent attack" and capture is deemed "unfeasible." But really, who qualifies to make that call? Does simply being a member of al Qaeda make someone an imminent threat, or does there have to be a specific plot associated with the individual or cell? Capture was feasible for Osama bin Laden in a safehouse just outside a military base in the heart of Pakistan, but not for men riding in an SUV bumping along a rural Yemeni road -- who makes that determination, and how? Rosa Brooks has written more about how the white paper said a lot by not saying very much at all.
Where and when does the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force not apply? In his February 2012 speech, Johnson called the AUMF "the bedrock of the military's domestic legal authority" for drone strikes and the broader war on terror -- but the AUMF was written to target individuals responsible for the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. It's been a bit of a stretch for the administration to claim that this authorizes them to target organizations only tangentially affiliated with al Qaeda -- some of which didn't even exist in 2001, and some analysts and politicians have argued that it's time to revise the AUMF. Or, as Brooks has asserted, it might make more sense to scrap it altogether and start over with a new law that doesn't try to shoehorn new authorizations into an old law with more legalese.
But if past speeches are any indication, don't expect too many answers today.
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Ahead of President Obama's big counterterrorism speech tomorrow, Attorney General Eric Holder has written a letter, obtained by the New York Times, to the Senate Judiciary Committee disclosing the four American citizens killed by targeted strikes during the Obama administration, three of whom "were not specifically targeted by the United States":
Since 2009, the United States, in the conduct of U.S. counterterrorism operations against al-Qa'ida and its associated forces outside of areas of active hostilities, has specifically targeted and killed one U.S. citizen, Anwar al-Aulaqi. The United States is further aware of three other U.S. citizens who have been killed in such U.S. counterterrorism operations over that same time period: Samir Khan, 'Abd al-Rahman Anwar al-Aulaqi, and Jude Kenan Mohammed. These individuals were not specifically targeted by the United States.
The letter does not include the names of all Americans who have been killed in drone strikes. A fifth U.S. citizen, Ahmed Hijazi (a.k.a. Kamal Derwish) was killed in 2002 during the Bush administration in the first ever U.S. drone strike. That strike, in Yemen, was directed at Qaed Salim Sinan al-Harethi, who was associated with the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000. An unnamed FBI source told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer several years ago that another U.S. citizen was believed to have been killed by a U.S. cruise missile in Somalia sometime between 2006 and early 2009.
Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan were propagandists for al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and the U.S. government believes that Awlaki played a role in planning the attempted underwear bombing in 2009. His son, 'Abd al-Rahman, had reportedly linked up with AQAP members while looking for Awklaki when a drone targeted his vehicle. The three men were killed in a series of airstrikes in September and October 2011.
The only new name is Jude Kenan Mohammed, whose death in Pakistan was rumored in a February 2012 local news story in his hometown of Raleigh, N.C but had not been previously acknowledged.
With the letter, the Obama administration has now admitted killing more U.S. citizens than detainees the Bush administration admitted waterboarding. Hooray for transparency?
The full text of Holder's letter is included below:
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On Wednesday, Syrian rebels in the northeast outskirts of the flashpoint city of Aleppo made an ambitious attempt to storm the city's main prison, setting off two car bombs near the jail's entrance at dawn, according to the Associated Press. The AP, citing the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, reports that Syrian warplanes prevented the opposition fighters from breaking though the prison's inner walls.
The rebels were driven back even though they appear to have been observing the neighborhood for days, according to videos uploaded to YouTube. One, posted last week, shows a rebel pointing out a "counterterrorism building" down the street from the prison, while another, filmed as the attack began, shows a truck-mounted machine gun tucked away in a shelter overlooking the prison. A third appears to have been filmed from the opposite side of the prison complex, looking back toward the village where the machine gun was located.
At some point in the fighting, the rebels appear to have breached a wall near the prison. Below watchtowers, fighters take turns shooting AK-47s through holes in the plaster. One rebel, in the video below, tells the camera, "We have assembled more than 5,000 mujahideen ready to liberate the prison and to help the brothers and fight for the brothers.... We are mujahideen and we will liberate the prisoners in the central prison!" When he calls on his comrades to chant "God is great!" though, they sound disheartened.
According to the AP, the rebels have since withdrawn from the vicinity of the prison.
UPDATE: The Telegraph reports rebels have said they withdrew from the area of the prison to prevent more casualties after government forces began executing prisoners and throwing the bodies from windows.
Fraying cooperation in the drug war will surely be top of mind as President Obama meets with his counterpart Enrique Peña Nieto in Mexico this week. And perhaps nothing encapsulates Mexico's growing impatience with America's heavy-handed approach to combating drug trafficking than this nugget from a New York Times report on Tuesday. Apparently, the United States has been subjecting Mexican security officials to regular polygraph tests in an effort to identify rotten apples. But that could soon change:
Shortly after Mexico's new president, Enrique Peña Nieto, took office in December, American agents got a clear message that the dynamics, with Washington holding the clear upper hand, were about to change.
"So do we get to polygraph you?" one incoming Mexican official asked his American counterparts, alarming United States security officials who consider the vetting of the Mexicans central to tracking down drug kingpins. The Mexican government briefly stopped its vetted officials from cooperating in sensitive investigations. The Americans are waiting to see if Mexico allows polygraphs when assigning new members to units, a senior Obama administration official said.
While the practice is not widely publicized, it has been an element of the two countries' security relationship for some time. In a 1997 article on U.S.-Mexican plans to join hands in the drug war, the Associated Press noted that Mexican counternarcotics agents would undergo the "kind of extensive background, financial, and polygraph tests required of U.S. drug agents." The plans came after the arrest of Mexico's drug czar, Gen. Jesús Gutiérrez Rebollo, for taking bribes from drug traffickers.
What's more, the United States hasn't just applied this policy to Mexico. In 2012, the Los Angeles Times reported that Washington has given elite Colombian counternarcotics agents polygraph tests as well.
The bad blood over polygraph tests isn't the only sign that U.S.-Mexican cooperation on the drug war is deteriorating. In an interview with the Spanish news agency EFE on his new book, the Mexican journalist Jesús Esquivel claimed that the Mexican military recently waved off a U.S. offer to capture famed drug lord Joaquín "El Chapo" Gúzman. The United States had the Sinaloa cartel chief's location and said the operation would take only 15 minutes. So why the hang-up? Mexican military officials reportedly didn't want the American military to lead the operation.
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Amid international accusations of chemical weapons use by Assad government forces in Syria's civil war, Secretary of State John Kerry told NATO members on Tuesday that the alliance should consider contingency planning and prepare for possible threats to NATO nations emanating from Syria, including chemical weapons threats (after Kerry's remarks, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen clarified that NATO is not considering intervening in Syria).
Earlier this year, however, NATO did deploy three Patriot missile batteries in Turkey, a NATO state, in response to concerns in Ankara that southern Turkish cities could be targeted by Syrian Scud missiles. Other NATO countries are acting independently to facilitate arms provisions, non-lethal supplies, and training for rebels. And earlier this month, Pentagon officials announced they were doubling the U.S. military presence in Jordan to 200 military planners, with the potential to expand that presence to as many as 20,000 soldiers in an emergency.
In Washington, meanwhile, there is a mounting policy debate about the "least bad" options for the United States in responding to the protracted conflict in Syria. In a policy speech delivered last week, Sen. John McCain, a consistent advocate of intervention in Syria, outlined potential options for U.S. involvement in the conflict:
No one should think that we have to destroy every air defense system or put tens of thousands of boots on the ground to make a difference in Syria. We have more limited options. We could, for example, organize an overt and large-scale operation to train and equip Syrian opposition forces. We could use our precision strike capabilities to target Assad's aircraft and Scud missile launchers on the ground, without our pilots having to fly into the teeth of Syria's air defenses. We could use similar weapons to selectively destroy artillery pieces and make their crews think twice about remaining at their posts. We could also use Patriot missile batteries outside of Syria to help protect safe zones inside of Syria.
So, is McCain on to something? Could his options serve as blueprints for intervention? The United States already operates a clandestine training program for Syrian rebels in Jordan, and growing the program could be a "very significant gamechanger," Jeffrey White, defense fellow at the Washington Institute of Near East Policy, told FP.
Precision strikes, while feasible, would require "something like a mini-campaign" with a dedicated effort to find targets, some of which may have to be struck multiple times, White said. "It couldn't be done in one fell swoop."
Joshua Landis, a professor at the University of Oklahoma who has consulted for the administration, suggests on his blog, Syria Comment, that the Obama administration may be receptive to the idea of Patriot-enforced safe zones:
For some time, the language used in the White House to frame the Syria problem has been that of containment. Here are some of the oft repeated phrases I have been hearing from White House insiders:
- "Keep the violence inside Syria"
- "Prepare for Syrian failure"
- "Shore up the neighbors"
- "There are no good guys in Syria"
Adm. James Stavridis, the supreme allied commander for Europe, told the Senate Armed Services Committee last month that, in his opinion, Patriot-enforced no-fly zones along Syria's northern border "would be helpful in breaking the deadlock and bringing down the Assad regime."
"Assuming we have permission to deploy Patriot missiles appropriately in Turkey and Jordan, they could be used to implement a no-fly zone," White told FP, though he pointed out that the density of the fighting in southern Syria would limit the effectiveness of a no-fly zone in establishing a buffer zone along the Jordanian border.
There is a potential downside to establishing safe zones, though. White pointed to the potential for retaliation, saying, "If you had Patriot missiles trying to enforce a no-fly/no-missile zone, they could be targeted. There could be some risk to these forces, I wouldn't say significant risk, but some risk." Landis also cites concerns raised by David Pollock, also of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, that safe zones, depending on how they're enforced, could lead to blowback. Bill Frelick of Human Rights Watch has also suggested that buffer zones could trap refugees in the war zone without access to necessary aid.
What's clear is that President Obama is now facing increased pressure to act in Syria based on comments made in Israel last month that the use of chemical weapons would be a "red line." What comes after that red line's been crossed? Well, that's far less certain.
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We may not know much about the man currently plowing full speed ahead toward international nuclear crisis, but one thing we do know for sure is that he is young -- 29 or 30. And this, most news outlets seem to agree, is an important factor in understanding how we wound up where we are today -- and where we may be headed. CNN calls Kim Jong Un "a rash young leader." "Young, reckless, without great political savvy," writes the Christian Science Monitor. The Daily Mail calls the North Korean supreme leader a "boy despot."
It's conventional wisdom that age and experience are calming forces in international relations -- that with a few gray hairs comes the moderation and wisdom to avoid, say, calling other, much larger states, "boiled pumpkin[s]." But one academic study on the question finds the connections between age and political crises to be a little more nuanced. For every brash, brassy Louis XIV -- who, at 29, invaded the Spanish Netherlands in 1667 and was forced to give almost all of it back a year later -- there is a Nikita Khrushchev placing missiles on Cuba in his late 60s.
A 2005 study from the Journal of Conflict Resolution examined the ages of the leaders involved in 100,000 interactions between states from 1875 to 1999, and found that, in fact, the older the leader, the more likely he is to both initiate and escalate conflicts. Having an experienced counterpart on the other side of a dispute didn't seem to help much either. The study found that the risk of escalation -- to use of force, and then to all-out war -- also increases as the age of the leader in the second state goes up.
What's going on? The authors of the study, "Leader Age, Regime Type, and Violent International Relations," speculate that older leaders may have fewer institutional constraints on them, having gained credibility and freedom to act by virtue of their experience:
One example of this is the presidency of George H.W. Bush in comparison to the presidency of Bill Clinton. Bush, as a former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, an ambassador, and a vice president, had amassed an enormous amount of institutional credibility ... that gave him a greater latitude to direct U.S. military policy.
In addition, the authors reason, the shorter time horizons of aging leaders may prompt them to take greater risks in the hopes of building a legacy.
So does this mean that we should all take a deep breath and relax about North Korea -- that young Kim is exactly who we want in charge in this situation? Not quite. The authors go on to look at how the relationship between age and leadership changes when the data set is reduced to just "personalist regimes" where power is concentrated in the hands of a single leader. Here, they find that the relationship is turned on its head: younger leaders are actually slightly more prone to initiate and escalate crises. Why? The authors hypothesize that young autocrats may face fewer institutional constraints from the get-go.
This is important to note when looking at Kim's behavior, because most North Korea watchers believe North Korea's institutions don't restrain Kim's behavior; if anything, they drive him to be more aggressive, as the only institution whose voice really matters in the Hermit Kingdom is the military (not an uncommon situation in many autocratic regimes -- perhaps suggesting that young despots beholden to the military are just as institutionally constrained as their counterparts in democracies, but pushed toward aggression rather than peaceful behavior).
The authors do close on a somewhat reassuring note -- they encourage further study of the effect having children has on leaders' aggression: "Testosterone concentrations ... [are] lowest in the new father population immediately after their wives" give birth, they write.
Good news for those of us who want peace on the Korean peninsula: Kim Jong Un is rumored to be a new father.
The Soviet Union's 10-year occupation of Afghanistan cost the country more than 15,000 lives, and an additional 50,000 were wounded. Before the USSR withdrew its forces in 1989, Mikhail Gorbachev described the Soviet efforts to fight the insurgency there as "a bleeding wound." And yet -- just over two decades after leaving what came to be considered the Soviet version of the Vietnam War -- Russia is now eager to return to Afghanistan.
Russian defense officials are exploring the possibility of establishing military bases on Afghan soil after the U.S. drawdown in 2014, according to Russian press reports. Sergey Koshelev, of the Russian Defense Ministry's Department of Cooperation, told Russia Today that the military "will look into various options of creating repair bases" to maintain the Afghan National Security Forces's Russian-made equipment. Further cooperation is also being considered, according to Russia's NATO envoy Aleksandr Grushko.
Russia certainly has an economic stake in post-war Afghanistan. In addition to maintaining Russian gear -- from small arms to armored personnel carriers and helicopters -- Russia is also considering expanding its supply routes into Afghanistan through Central Asian countries. These supply routes, often called the Northern Distribution Network, have been a troublesome logistical lifeline for ISAF troops in Afghanistan, and will likely remain important after the drawdown.
An article in the government-sponsored paper Pravda last November touted Russia's cultural projects in Afghanistan as a prelude to new projects like those being discussed now. "It's obvious that Moscow's interest after the withdrawal of NATO troops from Afghanistan ...will increase dramatically," Lyuba Lulko wrote then. "The country has always been in the zone of Soviet and Russian interests." The article went on to recast the Soviet occupation: "After what the Americans leave in Afghanistan, the Soviet presence seems to be a blessing. Soviet soldiers are remembered with respect," Lulko added. An Afghan student studying Russian was quoted saying, "Russia is our neighbor, we love its culture. All was well, when the Russians were here."
Nonetheless, as RT's report stressed, "Russian officials have repeatedly denied that Moscow is considering resuming its military presence in Afghanistan."
The presence of Aung San Suu Kyi in the front row of a military parade (above, next to Major General Zaw Win) earlier today was stunning to many observers: both for how unthinkable her presence would have been just a few years ago (she was locked up in her house, after all -- by the military), and for how far Aung San Suu Kyi appears willing to go to reconcile with an institution still distrusted by many of her fellow Burmese. (See this slide show of Burmese political cartoons in FP for one perspective on how 'reformed' the military and the government in Burma really are). On the same day the military announced its plans to retain a role in politics for the near future
Does The Lady's presence underscore how much has changed in Burma since her house arrest, or does it highlight how much power the military still has? Probably both. One thing for sure: the photo above is an amazing sight.
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The Chinese government on Tuesday continued to deny that a Chinese frigate locked its radar on a Japanese destroyer earlier this year. The denial comes a day after Tokyo-based Kyodo News quoted unnamed "senior Chinese military officials" admitting for the first time that it happened -- but only by accident, they said.
It's worth noting, especially in light of Beijing's official denial, that we don't know who these Chinese officials are, or why they're speaking up now. But the report, if true, is disturbing precisely because the alleged standoff happened accidentally. According to the officials, the radar lock was an unplanned, "emergency decision" taken by the commander of the frigate -- one that did not include communication with fleet command or navy headquarters. This line in particular from Kyodo's report does not inspire confidence:
"The communication system used by the Chinese navy is not as advanced as those of Japan and the United States, a senior official said, explaining why the commander did not seek guidance."
Great. At a time when Chinese authorities seem to be making efforts to dial down tensions with Japan over disputed islands, could a war between East Asian superpowers be sparked by accident -- by some frigate commander gone rogue?
That nuclear war could come about in just such a scenario was, of course, a major concern during the Cold War. But decades of tension, as well as apocalyptic visions of global annihilation as a result of the U.S. and U.S.S.R. locking horns, produced carefully designed systems to minimize the damage any one rogue actor could inflict (only the president can access the nuclear codes), and to minimize misunderstandings from more minor incidents (the Kremlin-White House hotline).
But East Asia -- relatively free of military buildup until recently -- doesn't have these same systems in place. A soon-to-be-released report from the International Institute for Strategic Studies highlights the danger that emerges when a region's military systems develop faster than its communication mechanisms, and finds that accidental war in East Asia is a real possibility:
Across East Asia, advanced military systems such as anti-ship missiles, new submarines, advanced combat aircraft are proliferating in a region lacking security mechanisms that could defuse crises. Bilateral military-to-military ties are often only embryonic. There is a tangible risk of accidental conflict and escalation, particularly in the absence of a strong tradition of military confidence-building measures."
The Senkaku-Diaoyu Islands dispute has been marked by an increasing number of deliberate provocations on both sides: surveillance vessels entering nearby waters, patrol planes making passes by the islands, scrambled fighter jets. These are planned actions, designed to incrementally heighten tensions. But the more fighter jets that get scrambled without good communications systems in place, the higher the chances that these deliberate moves escalate beyond what either Japan or China is anticipating.
That being said, it's important to note that historians still question whether any wars have truly been started by accident. (War "is almost by definition a deliberate and carefully considered act," writes Michael Howard.) The origins of World War I -- sometimes dubbed the accidental war -- are still hotly debated, for example. But Reuters recently noted that China, while seeking to cool tensions with Japan, is at the same time taking steps to increase central control over its military (putting paramilitary agencies under a single command, for instance) to prevent accidents -- a sign, at least, that one party in this conflict is taking the possibility seriously.
Chinese government officials considered using an armed unmanned aerial vehicle to target a drug trafficker hiding in Myanmar, according to an interview with Liu Yuejin, the director of China's Public Security Ministry's anti-drug bureau that appeared in Global Times on Monday. The target, Naw Kham, wanted for a drug-trafficking related attack that killed 13 Chinese sailors, was eventually captured last April in a joint Chinese-Laotian operation in Laos and is now appealing a death sentence in China. Yuejin's comments are an unusual glimpse into China's considerations for the use of drone strikes, a tactic that is no longer used exclusively by the United States.
The proposed Chinese strike would have occurred in Myanmar's restive north, where the Naypyidaw government has struggled to control ethnic conflicts and a thriving drug trade. Much like the U.S. official rationale as for strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, China could have either sought Naypyidaw's support or credibly claimed that the government was "unwilling or unable to suppress the threat posed by the individual being targeted," in the words of the Obama administration's white paper on its own targeted killing program. Similarly, as a violent drug trafficker tied to the deaths of Chinese sailors, China could have justified the potential drone strike under the white paper's loose definition of the "imminent threat of violent attack" against the homeland -- much as the United States justified targeting al Qaeda militants tied to the bombing of the USS Cole with drone strikes, beginning Abu Ali al-Harithi in 2002 (well before the white paper was authored).
The admission that the Chinese government considered a drone strike comes as its relationship with Myanmar has become increasingly strained amid stalled economic projects and new competition for influence with the West. China also appears to have placed special emphasis on their UAV programs in recent months, unveiling new models (that look suspiciously like U.S.-made Predator and Reaper drones) and retrofitting old Shenyang J-6 jets to fly by remote control.
Yuejin told Global Times that the drone strike option was passed over because of instructions to capture Naw Kham alive, but his comments demonstrate that China is weighing targeted killings seriously. When -- almost certainly not "if" -- China conducts its first drone strike, it will join just three other nations -- the United States, Britain, and Israel -- and place itself among the drone powers in the ongoing international assessment of the legality of these operations and whether they abridge international law and the established concept of sovereignty.
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Wow, what an awfully long day! What a roller coaster of emotion!
Kevin Baron has the full rundown. There were spats between friends -- though it seems like if John McCain and Chuck Hagel are still on speaking terms, they'll be frenemies from here on out. There were flubs -- a frequently flustered Hagel fumbling on Iran (specifically the issue of containment), senators with gotcha questions (Sen. Lindsey Graham at one point even interrupted to point out to Hagel, "I gotcha!"), and pandering all around. All in all it was the most dramatic piece of Washington theater since...well, inauguration was only two weeks ago.
It remains to be seen what effect Hagel's performance will have on his confirmation prospects. Josh Rogin reports that today's hearing has lost Hagel votes, but it seems doubtful that support will crater completely. But that's for another day.
For now, we pause to take one last look...at the looks of Chuck Hagel. We feel you, Chuck. It was ups and downs all day.
And if you think this post is an excuse for this .gif we made, it is.
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Said al-Shihri is dead again, maybe this time for good. As the deputy emir of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, he is the highest ranking official in AQAP to be killed since the organization emerged in January 2009. He's had some near misses since then, and sources in the Yemeni military have been known to jump the gun in claiming his death. This time the news has been issued by the Yemeni government and its state news agency, and been confirmed by Mohammed Albasha, a spokesman for the Yemeni embassy in Washington.
Shihri was last reported killed in September 2011. We wrote about him at the time:
Shihri, who went by the pseudonym Abu Sufyan al-Azdi, had fought in Afghanistan and Chechnya before being captured by U.S. forces in December 2001, soon after returning to Afghanistan. After several years of detention at Guantanamo Bay, Shihri went through a rehabilitation program in Saudi Arabia and was released in September, 2008. Four months later, he appeared in a video announcing the formation of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, an aggressive offshoot led by a former bin Laden aide Nasir al-Wuhayshi, which quickly gained the attention of Western journalists and the intelligence community with a series of high-profile attempted attacks and flashy online periodicals.
Shihri is believed to have helped plan a 2009 assassination attempt against Saudi prince Muhammad bin Nayif, then-head of Saudi Arabia's counterterrorism program and a proponent of the jihadi rehabilitation program Shihri underwent. He also worked to raise funds and recruits from Saudi Arabia. Some of his efforts were met with criticism from within the al Qaeda network. Documents recovered from bin Laden's safehouse in Abottabad include a letter from bin Laden criticizing Shihri's communiqués demanding the release of a Saudi fundraiser for AQAP, and suggesting that the al Qaeda franchise clear their press releases with al Qaeda Central.
AQAP, though, seems to have made it a point to assert its independence from al Qaeda central command. In the same letter, bin Laden also advised against trying to hold territory in Yemen to establish an Islamic emirate -- a suggestion the AQAP leadership pointedly disregarded. Bin Laden's reasoning that it would leave AQAP tied to targets and exposed proved true.
AQAP disregarded those instructions and -- in concert with a more locally-focused affiliate organization -- briefly occupied portions of Jaar and Abyan provinces, including the town of Zinjibar. They were driven out by a joint U.S.-Yemeni campaign in the spring of last year. Since then, the organization has been scattered. Airstrikes have targeted suspected AQAP members in Hadramawt, a large, sparsely populated province east of AQAP's former stronghold. Shihri was reportedly wounded in Yemen's northern Saada governorate, where AQAP has engaged in sectarian clashes with the Houthis, a tribal-religious group agitating for government autonomy.
Unconfirmed rumors of Shihri's death have been circulating for several days, and the circumstances of his death remain murky. According to the Yemeni government, Shihri was seriously wounded in Saada on November 28. The Yemeni government did not comment on the nature of the attack, and refrains from discussing clandestine U.S. operations on Yemeni soil. After the strike, Shihri then slipped into a coma and later died and was buried by AQAP. As with previous reports of Shihri's death, it should probably be taken with a grain of salt until confirmed by AQAP. Or denied by Shihri himself, as he has done before.
To everyone's surprise, 2013 might prove a historic year for women in the U.S. military, as Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced Wednesday that the Pentagon will remove the ban on women in combat.
All the attention is focusing on ground troops, but it's actually on the high seas that the last glass ceiling, or in this case high-strength alloy steel hull, is being shattered. Last October, the Navy announced that beginning in January, women will be allowed to serve on attack submarines for the first time, and the number of women in crews on Trident-class submarines will also be increased.
And the United States isn't alone. Britain has also said that this year will see the beginning of female participation on Royal Navy submarines, and countries such as Canada and Australia have already seen successful integration of women in submarine crews.
While these changes are being welcomed by men and women around the United States, the question remains: Why have submarines proved the final stubborn frontier? Out of the 42 countries that use submarines, only six allow women to serve.
According to the BBC, the British Navy banned women's participation for their own good, citing "health concerns about carbon dioxide." Unsurprisingly, two years ago, a study by the Institute of Naval Medicine deemed these concerns unfounded. The U.S. Navy, on the other hand, raised questions about cramped quarters and privacy:
On fast-attack submarines, approximately 150 personnel live in space the size of a three-bedroom house. Officers sleep in three-person staterooms, each the size of a small closet, and all 15 of them share a single shower, sink and toilet.
For female officers to live on the submarines, some three-person berths would be reserved for them and they would share the bathroom -- known as a "head" -- with men in a time-sharing arrangement.
But logistics and CO2 aside, the Navy has always been a bit behind the times when it comes to female participation. In the United States, it wasn't until 1978 that women were allowed to participate in surface warfare, and many of them left in the 1980s because of the lack of opportunities available. Now, as the Navy suffers from lack of personnel and women become more dominant in fields like engineering, they are finally being allowed below the surface.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
More than a year after President Ali Abdullah Saleh agreed to step down -- and almost two years after protests against his dictatorship flooded the streets of Sanaa -- Yemen's political crisis continues. Saleh was formally ousted in February in a referendum that made his vice president, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, his successor, but while the former president is in retirement, much of the government he built in his 33 year reign is not. This includes the former president's son, Ahmed Saleh, as well as his collection of Scud missiles.
The younger Saleh was once considered Ali Abdullah's heir apparent, but his presidential prospects were largely quashed by the popular uprising in 2011. For now, he appears to be biding his time as the commander of the Yemeni military's elite Republican Guard, a post he received while his father was still in power. The transition plan for Yemen calls for a reorganization of the Yemeni military to break up the influence of prominent power brokers in command positions -- and soon after taking office, Hadi removed several Saleh-connected officers from their posts, including the elder Saleh's relatives commanding the air force and presidential guard. Ahmed has managed to stay at the head of the Republican Guard for now, and Hadi has appeared wary of challenging him outright.
Hadi's efforts to whittle away Saleh's influence may have hit an impasse, though, as Ahmed Saleh has now refused to handover Republican Guard Scud missiles to the Yemeni Ministry of Defense. Sources in Hadi's office told Reuters that Saleh's refusal "has caused a crisis between the two sides," and that the president has threatened to rescind the immunity granted to Ahmed Saleh as part of the transition deal.
This latest round of power jockeying comes amid preparations for Yemen's national dialogue, in which representatives of Yemen's many tribal, political, and religious factions will meet to discuss a new constitutional framework for the country. Preparations for the dialogue have been slow, with some parties -- including key elements of Yemen's southern secessionist movement -- refusing to join other groups at the negotiating table.
The Scud standoff, though, is a reminder that Yemen's transition will not exclusively be decided at the much-discussed dialogue. During the country's political crisis in 2011, the popular movement was at times eclipsed by feuds in the capital between political, military, and tribal oligarchs, each wielding their own armed faction -- these included former President Saleh and his brood, but also prominent military commander Brigadier General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, and (unrelated to him) the al-Ahmar brothers, who are influential in the Hashid Tribal Federation, Yemen's largest tribal bloc. These tensions have been mostly dormant for the past year, but the power players are all still there, waiting. And if the national dialogue falls apart, no one wants to be caught unprepared.
MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images
Alright, I can't believe I need to say this, but the future will not look like Call of Duty.
The latest entry in the bestselling game series, Black Ops II, takes place in the not-too-distant future, a version of the year 2025 in which the United States and China are engaged in escalating tensions after a U.S. cyberattack hits the Chinese stock exchange, prompting officials in Beijing to halt exports of rare earth minerals. Chaos ensues. Drones! Invisibility cloaks! There's a villainous Nicaraguan drug lord pulling strings for good measure, and David Petraeus is the secretary of defense.
The technology is science fiction, but the politics, that's just fiction. You'd never know it by reading some of the responses, though. Probably as a result of game studio Treyarch's effort to bolster the game with the input of some high-profile consultants, including Brookings Institute future-warfare expert Peter Singer and disgraced gun runner-turned-media personality Oliver North, some people are taking the game's premise disturbingly seriously. Fox News' review points to the game development's "eerie resemblances with the serious war-gaming exercises conducted by the U.S. military and government officials," while CNN's review explains that the expert consultants saw the "dwindling supply of rare earth elements" as "a feasible backdrop for a new Cold War."
Yes, China controls 95 percent of rare earth mineral production today, and that does constitute an "undisputed monopoly," as Hal Quinn and Michael Silver wrote in their editorial for the Washington Times. But there's no reason for all this hyperventilating. Despite their name, rare earth minerals aren't all that rare -- the U.S. Geological Survey has estimated that the supply of these minerals, which are critical to high-tech gadgets from cell phones to advanced weapon systems, will last well into the next century, if not longer. Despite China's current market dominance, Chinese reserves constitute only half of global rare earth supplies, and other countries -- notably Brazil, Chile, Argentina, and Australia -- are beginning to exploit their deposits and become reliable suppliers in an increasingly diversified rare earth mineral marketplace.
As to whether competition over these resources could come to blows, Christine Parthemore, who now works in the office of the assistant secretary of defense for nuclear, chemical, and biological defense programs and is also an adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins University, cautioned against cold war alarmism in a Center for a New American Security report on rare earth minerals. "History," she wrote in 2011, "indicates that conflict over absolute scarcities is unlikely." While supply disruptions are possible, the report argues, they'll look more like the 1973 oil crisis than the Cuban Missile Crisis.
So let's certainly open up different sources of rare earth mineral supplies, but let's not have a collective freak out about a potential cold war with China over iPhone batteries. It really is just a video game.
U.S. and Pakistani officials signed a memorandum of understanding today, finally reopening supply routes to Afghanistan after a seven month blockade. In a statement to the press, Pakistan Foreign Office spokesman Mozzam Ahmed Khan assured that public that the decision to restore supply lines was made "without any financial benefit."
That may be true for Pakistan, but not everyone is coming out of this empty-handed. The Associated Press reports:
"Stopping these supplies caused us real trouble," a Taliban commander who leads about 60 insurgents in eastern Ghazni province told The Associated Press in an interview. "Earnings dropped down pretty badly. Therefore the rebellion was not as strong as we had planned."
A second Taliban commander who controls several dozen fighters in southern Kandahar province said the money from security companies was a key source of financing for the insurgency, which uses it to pay fighters and buy weapons, ammunition and other supplies.
"We are able to make money in bundles," the commander told the AP by telephone. "Therefore, the NATO supply is very important for us."
The U.S. military estimates that theft, bribery and mismanagement put $360 million in the hands of the Taliban, regional war lords and criminals in 2010 alone -- with more than half that amount pinched from convoys along the supply routes.
Citing evidence "rang[ing] from sobering to shocking," a 2010 House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform report titled Warlord, Inc illustrated the extent of extortion and corruption along the Afghanistan supply routes and called for increased efforts to cut losses. Efforts to protect supply routes and diminish the influence of local power brokers have gained little traction and convoys remain a target for attack and theft.
Though today's MOU banned the transport of arms and ammunition, the Taliban's glee remains unabated. "We have had to wait these past seven months for the supply lines to reopen and our income to start again," cheered one commander, "Now work is back to normal."
NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP/Getty Images
Energy resources are a hot commodity in the Levant Basin days, and with 1.7 billion barrels of recoverable oil, 122 trillion cubic feet of recoverable gas, and 5 billion barrels of natural gas liquids at stake, the Israeli defense ministry is asking for a "one-time budget increase" of about $760 million to boost its naval capacity in the Mediterranean Sea so it can better protect the country's offshore natural gas platforms. Though Israel purchased its fourth Dolphin-class diesel-electric submarine from Germany earlier this year to the tune of over $500 million, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Israel Defense Forces chief of staff Benny Gantz are on board with the plan, which "calls for adding four new warships to Israel's naval fleet and deploying hundreds of soldiers in the area."
Natural gas discoveries in the early twenty-first century have created a military debacle for Israel, which does not have demarcated maritime boundary with Lebanon. All of the multinational gas platforms are privately owned and fall within Israel's exclusive economic zone of 200 nautical miles from the coast, but they are located beyond Israel's territorial waters, which only stretch 12 nautical miles from land.
Israel's first offshore natural gas discovery, Tamar, is not slated to come online until 2013, but the defense institution fears that the platforms are already targets for terrorist attacks from Hezbollah, which receives long-range missiles from Syria. The Israeli navy does not traditionally get the lion's share of the defense budget, and top officials are worrying. As one anonymous senior Israeli military planner told Reuters, "We will do our best, but not without a major boost to our capabilities." In May, senior naval officer Capt. Sassi Hodeda told the Los Angeles Times that the navy wants to improve its radar systems and use unmanned surface vehicles to patrol, but added that they require "special technology" the navy does not have.
If the navy does receive the extra funding, the vessels it purchases "will have to accommodate an advanced radar system, a helicopter and a launch system capable of firing long-range air defense and surface-to-surface missiles." According to the Jerusalem Post, the options include designing the ships in the U.S. using foreign military aid, and building them in South Korea, but if Israel is really looking for international help, maybe it should consider ratifying the Law of the Sea Treaty first.
Although the Arab Spring hasn't won Israel many friends in the Middle East, Haaretz reported yesterday that its navy "recently strengthened its cooperation with the Lebanese Navy in the Mediterranean." The partnership, Israel hopes, will prevent provocations in the form of possible pro-Palestinian flotillas to Gaza on May 15, or Nakba Day, which commemorates "the displacement of Palestinians following the establishment of Israel in 1948, and on Naksa Day, which takes place in June and commemorates the displacement of Palestinians after the 1967 war."
It's no surprise that Israel would turn to regional multilateralism in order to avoid a repeat of the Gaza flotilla incident of 2010. According to the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, "pro-Palestinian activists from Sweden [have] announced their intent to organize another Gaza flotilla this year, saying they have already bought the ship."
Whether this friendly strategic cooperation will last, though, is an entirely different question. Israel and Lebanon may soon be engaged in nasty disputes over natural gas fields in the Levant Basin, which as Robin M. Mills reported for FP last year "spans not only Israel's offshore but also that of Lebanon, Cyprus, and Syria." In 2009, U.S. exploration company Noble Energy found Tamar, a deepwater field that holds 8.5 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of natural gas. Noble discovered Leviathan, which has an aerial area of 125 square miles and contains a potential 20 Tcf, in early 2010. As Mills noted, the U.S. Geological Survey estimates that the entire basin "could contain 120 Tcf of gas, equivalent to almost half of U.S. reserves."
With Tamar set to come online in April 2013, and Leviathan expected to begin production by 2016, what is for now just a dispute over maritime borders could soon turn into a regional conflict over natural gas.
Uriel Sinai/Getty Images
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has an interesting definition of the word "provocative." After meeting with Secretary of State Hilary Clinton at the U.N. this week, Lavrov commented on March 14 that the recent resumption of U.S.-Georgia military exercises "seems somewhat provocative."
This might make sense if only Russia wasn't organizing military exercises of its own in the Caucasus. In December 2011, Russia announced a new strategic command-and-staff exercise, "Caucasus 2012," to take place in September 2012. The purpose is to prepare for a possible Israeli attack on Iran (and the potential repercussions in the Caucasus region). The exercises are to involve all areas of the armed forces, and will take place not only in the Russian territories of the North Caucasus, but also in neighboring Armenia, as well as the Georgian breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia (over which the 2008 war was fought).
It also conveniently occurs right before the scheduled parliamentary elections in Georgia for October 2012. The Georgian Foreign Ministry is obviously skeptical of these "military exercises" on its borders, claiming Russia is "seeking to instigate a permanent state of tension" in the region.
Then again, Russian foreign affairs rhetoric isn't exactly known for its consistency. Last year, during the NATO decision-making to provide the Libyan rebels with military assistance against Qadaffi, Russia's NATO ambassador Dimitri Rogozin commented that creating a no-fly zone over Libyan air space was "a serious interference into the domestic affairs of another country." Similar words came from Putin himself, who described the NATO mission as a "medieval call for a crusade ... [that] allows intervention in a sovereign state."
Ah, Putin condemning foreign military intervention
in a sovereign state. How quickly he forgot his intentions
KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP/Getty Images
The new secretary of defense -- on the job for just 11 days -- expressed frustration with Iraqi leaders, who have yet to tell the United States what their position is about keeping American troops there past the expiration of the current Status of Forces Agreement. All U.S. troops are supposed to leave by the end of this year, under the terms of the 2008 deal. Washington has indicated it would be willing to negotiate a continued troop presence there, but Iraq must first ask it to do so.
"I'd like things to move a lot faster here, frankly, in terms of the decision-making process. I'd like them to make a decision, you know: Do they want us to stay? Don't they want us to stay? ... But damn it, make a decision," he told a gathering of troops, according to NPR.
Panetta was in Iraq today after spending two days in Afghanistan, where he met with Hamid Karzai -- his first trip to both countries as the new Pentagon chief.
The longer Iraq takes to make up its mind, however, the more costly it will be for the United States to reverse course.
Meanwhile, the United States believes that Iran is behind an increasing number of attacks against American troops in Iraq -- part of a campaign to convince it not to stay on in the country. June was the deadliest month in over two years for American troops there -- with 15 soldiers killed.
"This is really crunch time with the clock what it is and Ramadan approaching," said Brian Katulis, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. "The U.S. wants a sense of whether the Iraqi political system will give approval. For the U.S. side of things, Iraq is in the rearview mirror."
Katulis told Foreign Policy the administration doesn't want to give the impression it is dictating to the Iraqis what it needs.
"There's a sense in the Obama administration that we want to help the Iraqis complete the mission of helping train the security forces," he said. "But it's all about balancing that with the sensitivities of Iraqi leaders" -- many of whom do not want U.S. troops to stay and are actively fighting to claim the mantle of the leader who forced them out.
Katulis said that quietly, behind closed doors, a range of Iraqi leaders tell U.S. officials they want troops to stick around -- given Iraq still lacks key security infrastructures like an air force or border control -- but it's hard for them to say that publicly.
Slip of the tongue?
Meanwhile, Panetta's trip made headlines for another reason -- the new defense secretary made two separate slips in comments to the press.
As defense analysts focus on escalating tensions in the South China Sea, recent events in Nepal confirm that China's geopolitical influence is growing in South Asia as well. From a report yesterday by the AP:
Nepalese authorities prevented exiled Tibetans from celebrating their spiritual leader the Dalai Lama's birthday on Wednesday over concerns that gatherings would turn anti-Chinese.…
Nepal says it cannot allow protests on its soil against any friendly nations, including China.
Police guarded the Chinese Embassy and its visa office in Katmandu against any protests, and areas populated by Tibetans were put under heavy security.
Authorities earlier said they would allow celebrations inside monasteries provided there are no banners or slogans against China.
PRAKASH MATHEMA/AFP/Getty Images
It's time for one of Washington favorite parlor games -- predicting what the president will say before he says it. What we know is that tomorrow President Obama will announce his plans for a troop reduction in Afghanistan. Thirty-three thousand surge troops were added in 2009, with the promise that by this summer they would begin to come home. But how many and how fast is still an open question.
Officially, the White House says the president is still "finalizing" his decision. And indeed, some of his key advisors reportedly disagree on what to do. Gen. David Petraeus-- the current Afghanistan commander who will soon take over the CIA -- and many of the generals are pushing for a pretty small initial withdrawal of no more than 3-4,000 troops. On the opposite extreme, some in the administration and outside want a far broader withdrawal. Lt. Gen. Douglas E. Lute, the president's senior advisor on Afghanistan, advocates pulling 15,000 troops out by the end of the year and another 15,000 by the end of 2012, according to the New York Times. Carl Levin, the influential senator and chair of the armed services committee, backs that approach as well. Vice President Joe Biden -- who was a critic of the surge before it was cool -- reportedly wants all 30,000 surge troops gone within 12 months. Defense Secretary Bob Gates is pushing for something in the range of 5,000 troops -- a brigade -- this year and another 5,000 over the next winter, according to the Times.
Where will Obama come down?
The L.A. Times cites Pentagon and administration officials saying the reduction will be about 10,000 by the end of the year. If true, it would be a significant move by Obama. Petraeus has warned Obama that taking out that many troops that quickly "could create problems for the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan" especially if other countries follow America's lead and begin withdrawing, the paper said. But a faster withdrawal decision would seem to bolster the president politically at home. A recent NBC News/ Wall Street Journal poll found that 54 percent of the country approves of Obama's handling of the war but are growing impatient with the decade-old conflict.
The Washington Post cites administration officials saying Obama will likely remove far fewer than 10,000 -- probably in the Pentagon-approved range of 3-5,000, though the officials warned that no final decision has been made. Interestingly, according to the Post, the president had hoped to announce progress on another front at the same time as the troop withdrawal -- reconciliation talks with the Taliban. But those talks have stalled and there is political confusion over the U.S.'s partner in Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, whose rhetoric has been growing more and more incendiary -- some would say unhinged -- of late.
The New York Times presents a third theory, attributed to an "official," that the president tomorrow might not give any specific withdrawal number. He might only announce a date for the final drawdown of all the surge troops sometime in 2012 -- but leave the timetable vague and rely on commanders in the field to make suggestions. This was the approach he used in Iraq. According to the Times, administration sources said the president would most likely pull out "the entire 30,000 troops by the end of 2012."
When one woman made a mistake at work, her boss called her a "stupid fucking female" and spit in her face. She was later stalked, sexually harassed, and raped. Another woman got drunk with her coworker, who was her superior, when he raped her. She spent the next two years forced to continue working with him; her work assignments were downgraded because she took medication to cope with the trauma of the ordeal. A third woman was sexually harassed by a supervisor and raped by a coworker. When she sought help from her workplace's chaplain, she was told that "it must have been God's will for her to be raped" and was recommended to attend church more often.
Where do these women work?: The U.S. military.
These are the stories of some of the plaintiffs in a class-action suit filed in an Eastern Virginia federal court yesterday against Defense Secretary Robert Gates and his predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld. The litigants are current and veteran service members, 15 women and two men, and they charge that, even twenty years after the landmark Tailhook case, the military has allowed a dangerous culture of rape and sexual abuse to proliferate. Specifically, Gates and Rumsfeld are charged with running "institutions in which perpetrators were promoted; ...in which Plaintiffs and other victims were openly subject to retaliation...and ordered to keep quiet."
Since 2005, when Congress mandated that the Defense Department create a task force on military sexual assault, other similar efforts have attempted to do something about this increasingly egregious problem. Last March, the Pentagon released the latest Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military which showed an 11 percent increase in reports of sexual assault in the military during fiscal year 2009 (equivalent to one-third of female service members reporting sexual violence). The Pentagon even says that reported incidents probably represent only 20 percent of those that actually occur.
While sexual assault in the military carries its own unique implications -- a particularly high-stress workplace environment, a traditionally male-dominated work culture, a strict mandate to follow superiors' orders, among much else -- the military is not the only workplace where women (and men) are assaulted. According to one statistic, one out of every six American women has been the victim of attempted or completed rape in her lifetime. And, on average, 36,500 incidents of rape and sexual assault happen annually in the workplace.
This year, that number unfortunately includes Lara Logan. The CBS news correspondent is recovering in an American hospital after being sexually assaulted and beaten by a mob in Tahrir Square last Friday. The media firestorm surrounding Logan's ordeal ranges well into the vulgar. As Jezebel points out, "media outlets are clamoring to respond -- in the most offensive way possible" detailing Logan's looks, sex life, and past experience reporting from war zones and other dangerous places, implying that she had it coming.
Today, journalist Nir Rosen (who has written for FP) resigned from his fellowship position at New York University's Center on Law and Security after some heavy backlash to his critical tweets of Logan, including "Jesus Christ, at a moment when she is going to become a martyr and glorified we should at least remember her role as a major war monger." On the opposite end of the political spectrum, Debbie Sclussel, an extreme right-wing commentator, wrote that Logan "should have known what Islam is all about."
Sadly, the "Muslims did it" argument has found its way into the mainstream. Alexandra Petri at the Washington Post noted that Egypt is a place where women "are not free to pass through the street without being groped and catcalled." The Daily Beast, today, ran a piece titled "Egypt: Unsafe for Women." Even film critic Roger Ebert joined the debate, tweeting: "The attack on Lara Logan brings Middle East attitudes toward women into sad focus."
While the statistics on women's experiences in Egypt are terrible and alarming -- 83 percent of Egyptian women and 98 percent of foreign women visitors have experienced harassment -- Egyptian culture is by no means the only one where rape, sexual assault, and harassment are embedded and pervasive.
Sadly, Logan's story is not an isolated event: Not isolated to an attractive foreign reporter pursuing a story, not isolated to those 18 days in Tahrir, not isolated to broader Egyptian culture, not isolated to the experience of women in every country around the world. Yet the way this incident has been explained in popular media -- as a result of Logan's looks, her job, and the unique cultural environment in which she was working -- reduces Logan's experience into a singular, rather than societal, problem.
Perhaps the most unique thing about these cases is that they are so public. As we can see in the cases of the 17 service members suing the Pentagon, and the countless others who remain silent, sexual violence in the workplace (and everywhere else) is notable not for its rarity but for the stigma and difficulties attached with reporting it.
More than a few readers, including Salon's Glenn Greenwald, complained that I hadn't rebutted Hersh's arguments. That wasn't my intention -- I was relaying what Hersh said. I did make two editorial comments: that his speech was a "rambling, conspiracy-laden diatribe" and that it "quickly went downhill" after its opening line. But I imagine that when most reasonable people read the transcript -- I don't have a video, unfortunately -- they will see what I'm talking about. As far as I know, nobody, including Hersh, is disputing my quotes.
I thought it was self-evident that several points Hersh made were off-base and conspiratorial, but perhaps it's worth spelling things out for everyone.
1. The idea that "we're gonna change mosques into cathedrals" is "an attitude that pervades … a large percentage of the Joint Special Operations Command." This is essentially unverifiable unless you do a survey of JSOC personnel. Good luck with that. For now, the weight of evidence suggests that JSOC is on the whole a highly competent and professional organization that has no intention of converting Muslims to Christianity around the world. If it were otherwise, I'm sure we'd be hearing about it from others besides Seymour Hersh.
2. Retired General Stanley McChrystal, who headed JSOC before briefly becoming the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, and his successor, Vice Adm. William McRaven, as well as many within JSOC, "are all members of, or at least supporters of, Knights of Malta.… Many of them are members of Opus Dei." McChrystal has already denied being a member of Knights of Malta; McRaven and JSOC have thus far declined to comment. But so what if they were? Everything I've seen tells me that the Knights of Malta are a public service organization, not some kind of Catholic extremist group. And Opus Dei is hardly the secretive cabal of ruthless assassins depicted in The Da Vinci Code. It has a Facebook page.
3. "They do see what they're doing -- and this is not an atypical attitude among some military -- it's a crusade, literally. They see themselves as the protectors of the Christians. They're protecting them from the Muslims [as in] the 13th century. And this is their function." I have no doubt that many in the U.S. military are religious, and yes, I've heard about Jerry Boykin, Erik Prince, and those rifle scopes. But the plural of anecdote is not data -- and acknowledging there are devout Christians in the military and implying that top military leaders are embarking on a "crusade" against Muslims are two very different things. "Zealotry is viewed as being unprofessional [in the SF community]," former Special Forces officer Kalev Sepp told Stars and Stripes. "Anyone who professes religion in an open way like that is suspect to where their real loyalties lie." (Do I really need to explain this?)
4. "They have little insignias, these coins they pass among each other, which are crusader coins.… They have insignia that reflect the whole notion that this is a culture war." I believe Hersh is referring here to challenge coins, a common sight across the U.S. military. They seem pretty innocuous to me.
There's a lot more, but you get the idea. So I'm going to go out on a limb here and just say it: Odds are good that JSOC is not being overrun by Catholic fanatics.
Are we surprised to learn, via WikiLeaks, that American diplomats in Colombo blame Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his top officials for the massacre of tens of thousands (by most estimates) of Tamil civilians during the final months of Sri Lanka's bloody civil war? The goods are in a Jan. 15 cable sent by U.S. Amb. Patricia A. Butenis on the eve of Sri Lanka's presidential elections (which Rajapaksa won handily). Butenis was assessing the country's ability to come to terms with the atrocities committed in the protracted conflict between the government and the Tamil Tigers rebel group, which was defeated in May 2009 after nearly three decades of fighting.
In May, the Sri Lankan government announced plans to launch a "truth and reconciliation commission," modeled on South Africa's post-Apartheid investigation, to look into the brutal last phase of the war, in which large numbers of Tamil civilians were trapped between the government and rebel troops. Human rights groups aren't exactly holding their breath for the results of the ongoing inquiry, led as it is by the same government that was allegedly responsible for most of the carnage. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and International Crisis Group -- which released a sweeping and damning report on the war crimes in May -- all turned down invitations to participate. Butenis, it turns out, was similarly nonplussed, writing:
There are no examples we know of a regime undertaking wholesale investigations of its own troops or senior officials for war crimes while that regime or government remained in power. In Sri Lanka this is further complicated by the fact that responsibility for many of the alleged crimes rests with the country's senior civilian and military leadership, including President Rajapaksa and his brothers and opposition candidate General [Sarath] Fonseka.
This last observation gets headline treatment from the Guardian, and it is notable for Butenis's willingness to name names. But the State Department has been fairly clear, albeit more diplomatic, about what it thinks happened in the spring of 2009, in a report released in March:
The government's respect for human rights declined as armed conflict reached its conclusion. Outside of the conflict zone, the overwhelming majority of victims of human rights violations, such as extrajudicial killings and disappearances, were young male Tamils, while Tamils were estimated to be only 16 percent of the overall population. Credible reports cited unlawful killings by paramilitaries and others believed to be working with the awareness and assistance of the government, assassinations by unknown perpetrators, politically motivated killings, and disappearances.
An August report from State also (cautiously) expressed concern about the integrity of the government's commission. In short, Butenis's assessment is generally consistent with what humanitarian workers on the ground in Sri Lanka at the time of the conflict thought State's position was -- one that may not have been shared by American defense and intelligence personnel, who were believed to be less squeamish about the military campaign against the Tigers.
I asked Alan Keenan, Sri Lanka project director for ICG, about the cable. He says it contains few surprises:
It's certainly consistent with how the embassy and the State Department are looking at the situation. They knew bad things happened -- they're calling them "alleged" war crimes, but I think in a quiet moment they would say they were war crimes. They recognize that that happened. But they don't think there's the space internally for it to be addressed. So I don't think we're learning a whole lot new. What would tell us more, and what will be more interesting, and where the issues are a bit more gray, is what happened during the war -- what did the U.S. government know, and what did it do, or not do, to prevent the worst abuses and suffering?
Ishara S.KODIKARA/AFP/Getty Images
As the debate over "don't ask, don't tell" rages on in the United States, it seems Turkey is also facing its own domestic dilemma over military participation.
While gays are barred from military service in Turkey, the armed forces allegedly are "asking for 'photographic' proof that people seeking an exemption from compulsory military service on the grounds of their homosexuality are actually gay," Hurriyet reports.
The practice is not official, and the military has firmly denied the claims but there have been consistent accusations from Turks who were allegedly subject to the practice, and the 2009 European Union progress report also cited concerns over the issue.
Turkey's dilemma is not so much "don't ask, don't tell," -- it's more over "show and tell."
ADEM ALTAN/AFP/Getty Images
In a move aimed at punishing potentially naughty
citizens, the government of Tajikistan is trying to get its students studying
abroad at religious schools to return
home. Fearing a politically and religiously coupled radicalization against
its authority, the Tajik state stepped up the conflict by blocking websites
supposedly critical of the government and armed forces. AFP reports that the blockage:
comes after Tajik Defence Minister General Sherali Khairullayev accused local media at the start of the month of supporting the Islamist militants.
He said that journalists' coverage had been one-sided and focused solely on alleged shortcomings of the armed forces. 'They do not ask who has carried out a[n] act of terror, on whose orders,' he complained.
The broad backlash follows a series of attacks carried out inside this Central Asian state by what the government suspects are radicalized Muslim elements. In recent weeks, scores of government soldiers have died, some in unclear circumstances, but clearly linked to fighting operations in the particularly volatile Rasht region of Tajikistan.
Apparently, the state does not want to slide back into a repeat of civil war which ravished the country during the 90's and pitted the current government, backed by Russia, against a more diverse opposition of Muslim fighters and non-religiously affiliated resistance, at least partly based in Afghanistan at the time.
While there have been reforms in the country allowing political opposition, there are still problems with the political will and administration in carrying them out; thus the recent chaos reflects what seems like a still non-placated opposition which stems, in part, from the authoritarian and non-inclusive tendencies of the current government.
For the poorest of the post-Soviet Central Asian republics, the prospect of armed conflict is a tremendous expense -- both economically and politically -- that Tajikistan truly cannot afford and would be a setback to any nascent post-war progress that may have been acheived.
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.
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